Mar
24
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Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.  -- Psalm 34:8

“Taste and See.” Few likely remember, but that was the very first message I delivered here at Gibbon Baptist Church. I was 23 years old. Fresh out of Seminary. Still wet behind the ears. And you took a risk to invite me to come candidate here. I told you that I wanted to help you all taste and see how good Jesus is. Then you voted me in.

So my question to you is: Have you tasted and seen?

Many of you have expressed your sadness at seeing Melissa, McKinley, and me go. You’ve told us you’ll miss us. We’ll miss you too--you have no idea. I hope I’ve been a good pastor to you. I’ve given my best to preach dynamic messages to keep you engaged and spiritually fed. I’ve led you to some places you maybe didn’t think we would or could go. I hope you can say that I’ve been good. But what I want even more so is for you to declare unequivocally that God is good. That his Son Jesus is awesome. That you’ve personally experienced his powerful Spirit in your life.

It’s one thing to watch a Husker game on TV, it’s another to be surrounded by a sea of 90,000 cheering fans all wearing red. It’s one thing to hear about Tornado Alley, but it’s another to see the dark clouds raging, hear the hail pounding, and feel the 70mph gusts blow around everything that isn’t bolted down. It’s one thing to play with a baby, it’s another to hold your own child in your arms for the first time. These were just a few of the experiences I’ve had here in my five-and-a-half years in Nebraska. Even if I had read about them, or heard someone talk about them, or even saw them on TV, it would pale in comparison to the first-hand experience. It is for this reason David encouraged us in Psalm 34 to experience the goodness of God first-hand. He wanted you to know it personally, as if you had tasted it in your mouth. As if you could feel it on your tongue and on your taste buds. (I think that’s one of the reasons Jesus taught us to physically eat the bread and drink the cup in communion).

I hope that through my preaching, leadership, and personal ministry you’ve been able to taste and see how good God is. We say you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. Week after week I’ve put before you God’s Word. And I’ve highlighted the Gospel at the center of it all. I tried to imitate Paul, who told the Corinthian Church, “I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified”, because Jesus and his work on the Cross is what’s it’s all about. I’ve wanted you to be able to see Jesus in your mind’s eyes. I’ve wanted you to personally experience God’s goodness in a profound way. So again I ask: Have you tasted? Have you seen?

My time at GBC has now come to a close. But God is working fresh and exciting things right here and right now. He’s opening up new hearts for the gospel to stream through. He’s calling some of you to step up into new positions of ministry and leadership. Using the language of Narnia, “They say Aslan is on the move.” He has big plans for GBC and for your life. He is very good. Don’t ever forget it. The good news is still the best news in the world and the only news that saves. I’ve tasted and seen, have you?

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Mar
22
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I haven’t written here in several weeks. And I write even today to let you know this is my last time. God has led my family and I to move to a new church in Denver. This Sunday, February 26th, is my last as the pastor of a church I love. Even though we are moving back to our roots in Colorado, we never want to lose what we gained here in Nebraska.

Before moving to Nebraska, I had only driven through the state once. I was a city boy, born in the sprawling suburbs of the Los Angeles area and raised in Colorado Springs. I didn’t listen to country music. I had never hunted. I had only set foot on a farm one time. I came in as a cultural outsider to the Midwest, to small towns, and to Nebraska. It was totally unexpected, and outside of where I felt comfortable. Yet it was totally worth it.

The people here are kind. Certainly, Gibbon Baptist Church welcomed us. They made us part of our family. But so did so many of the community. “Nebraska nice” may be derided by some, but to me, it is a rare jewel to be treasured. Neighbors here are neighborly. You wave at people you don’t even know! Someone in our church approached to me early on and asked if I was mad at him. What had I done? When driving past him I hadn’t waved! Whether it’s at Adam’s Corner Market or the Post Office, people are genuinely polite. You may think this kind of human decency is normal--because you’ve lived here forever--but it’s actually uncommon in our nation. I hope to never lose Nebraska neighborliness, no matter where God takes me.

The people here are humble. Though I love mountains of Colorado, there is something profoundly beautiful about a sunset that stretches as far as the eye can see. Or watching the sunrise over a corn field in the morning. The lakes, the rivers, the openness of Nebraska are special. I take umbrage now at the idiots who call this flyover country. There is great beauty here. There are hard-working business-people and farmers who provide for their families. There are women who love and cherish their families. This area feeds our country and the world. There is so much to be proud about, yet there is a powerful humility to Nebraskans. Now I don’t say this just because the Cornhuskers have had a “rough” patch (which is by far better than any patch Colorado schools have endured over the last twenty years). You are humble by choice. My wife Melissa has told me she never wants to lose the humility of Nebraska and take on the unfettered arrogance prevalent in city-life.

The people here are generous. Not everyone has a lot, but even those with little use it to help others. As a pastor I have worked to meet the physical needs of those in poverty. But then I’ve seen some of those same people volunteer their time or give away something they don’t need to someone down the street. Also, I had never seen benefits like yours. When someone has a major health issue, people rally to support them. Just a few months back, it seemed like everyone in the area showed up at our church to give their hard earned dollars to help Virgie Widdowson when her kidney had failed and she needed a transplant. I hope to never lose that sense of open-handed generosity.

But just as I had to be open to God calling me to a place I had never considered when coming to Nebraska, I had to be open to God calling me to a city in need of Jesus. I hope through my writing and my presence here I’ve added something to Central Nebraska--to the small towns of Gibbon, Shelton, and WoodRiver. But know this: I’ve gained even more.

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Mar
01
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Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

-- Jesus, Matthew 5:16

Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.

--Jesus, Matthew 6:1

Which is it? Are we supposed to do good deeds so others will see them as Matthew 5:16 teaches? Or are we supposed to do it in secret as Matthew 6:1 suggests? At first blush these appear contradictory, but they’re not. Jesus wasn’t dumb. He taught both verses in the same sermon, minutes apart.

Whenever you come across apparent biblical contradictions, God is asking you to examine it--to chew on it in meditation. We must prayerfully consider a deep truth. Such is the case here.

So first, check the context. Matthew 5:16 comes immediately after the Beatitudes, Jesus’ teaching of what the people of the Kingdom are supposed to be like. He then jumps in to point out that such a lifestyle is not supposed to be like a monk cloistered in a tower in the mountains. We are to live among people. To be salt and light. To allow God to impact others through us. Therefore, Jesus says we must do good deeds so others can see them? Why, because God deserves all the glory. Everyone is supposed to see him as awesome. And we, as his ambassadors make that happen through our deeds. No one knows you are a singer until you sing. No one knows you are an artist until you make art. If you only sing in the shower or paint in your closet, no one will experience your gifts. God, the giver of gifts, wants us to do good deeds in full view of others, so He can be displayed through us.

On the other hand, Matthew 6:1 opens a section in the Sermon on the Mount directed against the teaching of the Pharisees. They were the religious leaders of Jesus’ day. They liked to show off how spiritual they were by praying loudly in the streets and letting everyone know they were fasting or giving money to the poor. They would wear clothes so everyone would see them as a holy person. They were religious show-offs. To them Jesus gives a number of rebukes, including not to practice their righteousness in front of others. The contexts show that Jesus was addressing two distinct issues.

Moreover, it’s in the motivations of each deed where the difference is made clearest. In Matthew 5:16, Jesus teaches we should do our good deeds in public to bring God glory. In Matthew 6:1, Jesus warns against practicing righteousness to bring glory to oneself. It’s completely divergent motives. Do we want the credit? Or do we want God to get it? Do we want to be known as super-spiritual giants or do we want God to be seen as the one-and-only Spiritual giant who creates, sustains, rules, and redeems the universe?

Our Stand Out Series is all about how we should stand out as Christians. Why should we not stand out? Because of our religious pomposity, our overly wordy prayers, anything that makes us look uber-spiritual. Why should we stand out? Because we help the poor, serve the orphan, create food pantries for the hungry, love the mentally-handicapped child, assist the elderly widow. Because this shows God for how good he is. So, should we do good deeds to shine? Or stay secret? It depends. It depends on our motivations. It depends on our goal. Is it for ourselves? Or for our God?

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Feb
22
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Based on feedback, youtube views, and my personal opinion, these are my top messages from 2016, ranked.

  1. "God Speaks in Unlikely Ways" 1 Samuel 5:1-7:2a. I wouldn't have attempted it, except it was required for a class. But my first attempt at a first-person message was impactful. Kids and adults alike loved it. One man asked if I could preach like that every week. I presented the message from the perspective of someone who was there, Kalathos, the commander of the Philistine armies. Kalathos, the Philistines, and the Israelites learned an important truth. Through this message, you too will experience God's power and holiness.
  2. What's the Bible All About? John 5:39. In this message I covered the whole sweep of the Bible, going through each book to tell what it is about, then showing how they all point forward to one person. This message is crammed full, and one man said it's the kind you listen to again and again.
  3. "Will I Like it There?" Isaiah 65:17-26. Though the entire Heaven series was well-loved, this one received the most feedback. One widow borrowed the DVD and watched it four times. Another woman diagnosed with terminal cancer found it uplifting. Isaac Asimov once said, “I don't believe in an afterlife, so I don't have to spend my whole life fearing hell, or fearing heaven even more. For whatever the tortures of hell, I think the boredom of heaven would be even worse.” Have you ever been afraid of heaven? This message addresses and corrects some of the fears we have about heaven, and talks about what kind of place it will actually be.
  4. "He Came for Joy" Luke 2:8-20. Though it was the last sermon of the year, and it was a small crowd because it was delivered on Christmas Day, it was on one of my favorite topics: joy. One person emailed me to tell me she had watched the message or parts of it 10 times. Want to be truly happy? Learn to grasp joy for yourselves in this message.
  5. "You're Not Alone" 1 Samuel 31. Though this wasn't a topic or a passage I would perfer to preach, it is part of God's Word, and therefore important. And though I didn't want to talk about it, this message had an ENORMOUSLY DEEP impact on those who heard it. For the dark and tragic story of Saul has a strange ending. In it we find a truth that will bring hope to the hopeless and light in our darkness.
  6. "I Am Transformed" Ephesians 4:17-24. I borrowed a mannequin for great visual effect for this message on transformation. How do we go from the person we are to the person we want to be? In this message discover the three must-haves of transformation. It's time for a new wardrobe because of the gospel.
  7. "The Sins of the Father" 2 Samuel 13-18. Does what we do as parents impact our children? This message was a special first-person sermon from David's perspective covering his mistakes and sins as a father so we can learn from them. This message is for fathers in particular and parents in general. Warning: this message references rape and violence.

What do you think? Which was your favorite? Did I miss one? Would you change the order?

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Feb
21
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Read the Bible. Let the Bible Read You. 2016 was a year to dig deep into God’s Word, and allow the Holy Spirit to work. A number of us read the Bible through from beginning to end. Amazing! We kicked off the year with a five week series called, For the Bible Tells Me So as we grew in our understanding of what the Bible is and where it came from. We also tried something new as we did a question and answer time after the message. The biblical foundation this series laid enabled our church to take huge strides forward for the Kingdom.

Grow: We grew as we studied God’s Word. Following our January series, we began a nearly year long trek through the books of 1 and 2 Samuel. It was made up of five shorter series: God Speaks (1 Samuel 1-7) about the emergence of Samuel in a time of spiritual darkness; Give Us A King! (1 Samuel 8-15) as the Israelites rejected God as their king and were given the sinful Saul; After God’s Own Heart (1 Samuel 15-31) as we saw David mature into a leader; A Better King (2 Samuel 1-10) observing David’s loving reign as king; and A Royal Mess (2 Samuel 11-24) as David fell into sin that messed up his life and the lives of others. We learned a ton and (especially helpful in a volatile election year) we were pointed to an even greater King, Jesus. We took two short breaks from Samuel, with a September vision series called Because of the Gospel as we learned the centrality of the Good News to what we do as a church, and the crowd favorite Heaven: Questions Answered right after Easter. We closed our the year with He Came For Me a series looking at four reason why Jesus came. We also grew in numbers. Our average attendance in 2016 rose to 120 from 108. We had a record-setting 259 on Easter in two services.

Build: Our regular ministries continue to build up others. AWANA, Food 4 Kidz, and VBS reached the broader community. We also engaged in a project to help families of small children called “Showers of Blessings.” We are Christ’s presence, building his Kingdom.

Connect: Connect groups met in people's homes or here at the church for 4 to 6 sessions to bring our church body together. Two of the groups were for women, one helped married couples, and another helped with finances. A men’s breakfast also began, meeting on the first Saturday of the month. Doug Cline taught a new class on Revelation in the Fall.

Your Pastor: In 2016 I attended my first Doctoral residency at Talbot School of Theology in California. This first year focused on preaching. I learned a ton and tried to implement everything I learned. I continued some involvement with the Gibbon Chamber of Commerce and as president of the Gibbon Ministerial Association. I also met with pastors in Kearney for prayer, fellowship, and mentoring. In the second half of the year Melissa and I prepared for the birth of our daughter.

I had the opportunity to visit many of you this year. If you want a visit or counseling, please schedule a time with me. In 2016 I conducted eight baptisms, one wedding, eleven child-dedications, and five funerals.

2016 was a great year building on the Foundation of God’s Word. In 2017, let’s live Unashamed of the Gospel (Romans 1:16).

Here are my best sermons from 2016.

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Tags : Pastoring, GBC

Feb
01
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I’ve heard parents say it. Everyone told me it would happen to me too. Yet still, that powerful first moment when your baby is born changes your heart forever. Scientists now are able to observe a biological transformation of a mother’s brain after she has a child. This dramatic remodeling of the neural system makes a mother’s care and protection her child a priority. (I always love when a new scientific or psychological study shows us what we already knew for millennia). I think something similar happens in a father’s heart.

Our first child, McKinley Lou, was born at 10:25 PM on January 5th. All 7 lbs, 12 oz and 20 inches of her. That moment of seeing her did transform my heart. Tears welled in my eyes. It was pure unadulterated joy. I was so thankful to God for this long-awaited blessing.

But before I even had the chance to hold her, nurses snatched her away. They moved rapidly. She was barely breathing. That moment of elation gave way to terror. They whisked her away to the NICU. I followed two steps behind. They gave her under oxygen to stabilize her. Yet her lungs were moving almost 200 times a minute (they wanted it under 60). When she breathed her entire torso shook as she attempted to get in enough air. Yet as the amount of oxygen they gave her went up and up the oxygen saturation in her blood kept going lower and lower. I prayed like crazy.

It’s been eye-opening how many people shared with me similar tales of scary births and NICU stays. Some much more frightening than ours. But even for those with healthy, normal births, every parent, one by one, has experienced those moments of fear, worrying about the health and safety of their child. Whether it’s a sick infant or a rebellious teenager, a genetic abnormality or a car crash, every parent has that deep desire to protect their child.

After a short time of observation, with McKinley’s lungs still failing to stabilize, our pediatrician came in and kicked me out. After her assessment, the doctor came and calmly told Melissa and I that she would need to put McKinley on a ventilator to help her breathe. “Do it!” I interjected. I wanted to protect my child more than anything else. So the doctor ventilated her and she stabilized. It turns out McKinley had an infection in her lungs and would need ten days of antibiotics. She is now healthy and at home.

These two feelings--the flood of joy and the protective instinct--combine in one word: love. It was love that brought tears of joy to my face. It was love that caused my heart to yearn to do anything to save my child’s life. Though I’ve felt this love for others before, the immediate, definite arrival of both feelings so rapidly amazed me. I love McKinley unconditionally and will forever. She brings me so much happiness and I will do whatever I can to protect her from harm.

What’s even more amazing to me about the whole thing is that this is the love God already has for us--for he’s a better father than I’ll ever be. “I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.” (2 Corinthians 6:18). “Your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish” (Matthew 18:14).

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Tags : Parenting, God, Father

Jan
09
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Last week I demonstrated from the Bible that God wants you to be happy, truly happy. But I’m sure some you think it’s hogwash: why would God tell us to do things we dislike and stop doing things we like if he were such a fun-loving guy?

God tells us how to live our lives, not so he can take away our happiness, but because he loves us. That may seem odd to you. You may wonder: If God loved us, wouldn’t he let us do the things that make us happy? So if I want to have sex with this person or consume that substance or do this or do that, shouldn’t a loving God just let me do it--I mean it makes me happy, right? But this is a complete misunderstanding of love (and happiness).

In one of CS Lewis’ more obscure novels, Till We Have Faces (start with The Chronicles of Narnia and then the Space Trilogy) I read an interesting line. The story’s female protagonist comes to a realization: “I perceived now that there is a love deeper than theirs who seek only the happiness of their beloved. Would a father see his daughter happy as a whore?” She expresses the truth that a Father who loves his daughter doesn’t want her to grow up to sell her body as a prostitute even if she thought it would make her happy and rich. For a loving father knows that such a profession is degrading, demeaning, and dangerous. Though she might make money and be happy in the short-term, in the long-term it will ruin her life. This analogy explains why God tells us how to live: he wants the best for us, he wants a deeper happiness for us than the cheap, temporary thrills our pleasure-seeking hearts do.

Even Christians misunderstand this. There’s a popular saying among something like this: “God cares more about your holiness than your happiness.” This saying is utterly false. In reality, God wants you to be holy, yes, but as the way to happiness. It is not one or the other, it is both.

We have sadly forgotten the ancient truth that holiness and happiness go hand in hand. “Those only are happy, truly happy, that are holy, truly holy,” Matthew Henry declared over three hundred years ago. Nearly four hundred years ago, Thomas Brooks explained “Holiness differs nothing from happiness but in name...holiness is happiness in the bud, and happiness is holiness in the full.” And two thousand years ago Jesus himself taught, “If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love...I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” If we live as God wants us to live, striving for holiness, it will lead us to the fullest, deepest happiness ever.

God is not a cosmic killjoy. He is loving Father. He tells us how we ought to live not to take away our happiness, but to show us the way to true happiness.

Want to learn more about happiness? Check out my message "He Came for Joy" or listen to the audio from my entire series called "Joy to the World: How Jesus Makes Us Happy." Messages include, "The Pursuit of Happiness" "Happily Ever After" & "Happy, Happy, Happy."

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Jan
02
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"Resolved, to endeavor to obtain for myself as much happiness...as I possibly can, with all the power, might, vigor, and vehemence, yea violence, I am careful of, or can bring myself to exert, in any way that can be thought of." This resolution is not the resolution of a selfish hedonist, it is the resolution of Jonathan Edwards, who is often referred to as “America’s Theologian” and even one of the greatest thinkers our country has ever produced. Yes, a Christian made it his goal to be as happy as possible. I think you should make it your goal this year too.

What!? You may think: Christians don’t seem all that happy. Aren’t they just boring and repressed and doom-and-gloom? Sadly, there are Christian who fit that bill--though it shouldn’t be the case. They too should make it their resolution to pursue happiness this year. Isn’t God just a killjoy, you may wonder? No, actually, he wants you to be as happy as possible. Yes, it’s true!

The Bible regularly addresses happiness. In the NIV translation, there are 545 references to joy, merriment, happiness, laughing, and rejoicing. On the other hand, there are only 158 references to sorrow, pain, tears, and suffering. The Bible talks about happiness three times more than sadness. Also, whenever you read the word “blessed” in the Bible you could translate it as “happy,” which is what you see in Psalm 1:1 “How happy is the man…” or in Jesus’ Beatitudes: “Happy are those…” Moreover, Jesus himself taught us in order that, “Your joy may be complete.” According to the Bible, again and again, God tells us he wants us to be happy.

The happiness God wants for us is greater that the sugar rush and good feelings you get from the Holidays too. That happiness is fleeting and gone as soon as the first Monday of work rolls around. God instead wants us to have a deeper, truer happiness that can overcome all the crud the world throws at us.

So do you want to be happy this year? Go after it. God wants you to be happy. The problem, you’ll soon find, however, is that you’re looking for happiness in the wrong places...so stay tuned for next week’s post.

Want to learn more about happiness? Check out my message "He Came for Joy" or listen to the audio from my entire series called "Joy to the World: How Jesus Makes Us Happy." Messages include, "The Pursuit of Happiness" "Happily Ever After" & "Happy, Happy, Happy."

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Jan
01
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Each year I pick a theme. It is based on a verse that really goes to the core of what we are meant to be. This year’s verse jumped out at me. I knew it HAD to be about the centrality of the gospel.

You see, 500 years ago--exactly 500 years ago--an obscure monk posted his 95 Theses on the door of a church in Wittenberg, Germany. His name was Martin Luther, and his document spelled out how the Church of his day had distorted the most important aspect of the Christian faith--the Gospel. He had spent years studying the Bible in the original languages and knew that the eternal fate of souls depended on restoring the Gospel. Thus, in 1517 Luther kicked off what became known as the Protestant Reformation, as many other Christians joined with him to protest the ways the Church had distorted the truth in hope of reforming it to be as Jesus intended.

Though most of us know little of Church history, what that one man did half a millennium ago paved the way for us to know the Gospel today. Because of this 500th anniversary, I deemed it important enough to be the theme for our entire year. Martin Luther faced censureship, persecution, and potential execution for his work. We should remember that brave men and women like Martin Luther have assured us access to the Gospel, the one true Gospel, for it alone has the power for our salvation.

Four years after Luther kicked off the Protestant Reformation, he was called to stand before a tribunal so he would recant his teachings. He did nothing of the sort. Though threatened with torture and death, he gave an impassioned speech and, as history records, declared “Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen.” Luther was truly unashamed of the Gospel.

Thus, our theme in 2017 is “Unashamed,” taken from Romans 1:16. I hope we can fall in love again with the Gospel of Jesus Christ this year, and be unashamed to proclaim it as the only power that saves. We will start the year with a series called Stand Out, which will challenge us to be the “strangers” God has called us to be in this world. Then, throughout the year, we will reexamine the Gospel to experience anew it’s power unto salvation.

If you want to learn more about Martin Luther, watch the movie “Luther,” listen to the audio of the message from John Piper from the Bethlehem Pastor’s Conference, or read the great biography about him called Here I Stand--or better yet, do all three.

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Dec
15
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This week Rogue One, the latest installation in the Star Wars franchise, debuts in theaters worldwide just in time to get families together to stare at a screen and not talk to each other for the holidays. I kid. This movie is the first to move the Star Wars franchise to become its own “universe” (keep reading, I’ll explain). It got me thinking about all of these science fiction and fantasy worlds. Some find them a waste of time and mere escapism? Are they?

I loved Star Wars growing up (with the exception of the atrocity that was Jar Jar Binks), yet when this new movie was announced I was confused. As if the two trilogies weren’t complex enough (starting with episodes four through six then back to one through three, then forward to seven through nine last year), this movie increases the complexity. Rogue One takes place between episodes three and four but does not involve the main plot-line George Lucas created in his trilogies. Instead, the storyline of this newest offering is based on one single sentence from a previous film, which mentioned rebel spies who stole the plans to the death star.

I find it fascinating that an entire feature-length film can be based on a single sentence. When Disney bought the rights to Star Wars (for $4 billion) they planned to not just continue the storyline into episodes seven, eight, and nine, but also introduce Rogue One and at least two other films telling more about the characters and history of a long time ago and a galaxy far, far away. Disney saw this entity as a potential “universe” for movies, tv-shows, etc. and therefore worth a boat-ton of money.

When I say “universe” I don’t just mean that it takes place in outer space. Cinematic “universes” are where the money is with sci-fi and fantasy, becoming mainstream with Marvel. Marvel Comics created the X-Men movies, a universe where the next step in human evolution bred a race of mutants with special powers. From these X-Men movies, Marvel spun off the character Wolverine with his own storyline. Then they created a second universe with superheroes like Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Ant Man, etc. all coming together to form The Avengers. In each universe the characters have their own stories, but they also interact together within a bigger storyline. With this second universe, Marvel basically figured out how to print their own money. Others have followed suit. DC Comics combined Batman and Superman for their own universe. These super heroes though would never interact with the marvel superheroes because they exist in a parallel dimension. DC even created a secondary universe called the “Arrowverse” containing a number of their TV-shows (Arrow, Supergirl, The Flash). JK Rowling (of Harry Potter fame) got in on the action too with her new film Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, which exists in the wizarding universe of her original series, but taking place decades before Harry first waved a wand in Hogwarts. If you saw the new trailer for Tom Cruise in a remake of The Mummy (yes, you read that right), you witnessed the birth of a new universe of monsters, including future films with werewolves, vampires, etc. Universes are all the rage.

This may or may not interest you, but you are probably wondering why I bring it up. I have always enjoyed science fiction and fantasy. Long before Marvel made their first movie, I was engrossed in the universes of JRR Tolkien’s Middle Earth and CS Lewis’ Narnia. I loved the fantastical worlds these authors conjured up. Complete with their own languages, topography, histories, economies, and spiritualities, these universes transport the reader out of our own world and into another. Many other millennials like myself grew up loving not only the characters of these fantastical stories but the worlds themselves. This is why now that we have expendable income, these tv-shows and movies have become multi-billion dollar enterprises.

Many are concerned that this love of engrossing alternate realities is just escapism--a way to hide from the burdens and responsibilities of the real world. For some it might be. But I contend that the imaginative power good fiction stirs in its readers/viewers is actually beneficial for our world. All of these superheroes and mutants and Jedi knights rise to the challenges and problems their universe is facing. They courageously take on evil and fight for good. As excessive as these universes have become, I believe they are more than mere distractions. They can and will lead young men and women to step up to face the challenges of our own universe.

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Dec
01
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O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

And ransom captive Israel

“O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” translated from an old Latin Hymn

We certainly hear a lot about about “the reason for the season” each Christmastime. There is religious iconography around us--like the nativity scenes with a white baby Jesus (wasn’t he a middle eastern Jew?)--which leads us for a few moments to forget about getting gifts shipped in time and figuring out what the heck a Hatchimal is. Most of us hopefully are reminded, ‘Oh yeah, we celebrate Christmas because of Jesus’ (even though Jesus may have been born in the springtime). I certainly hope we will all think about Jesus this December.

But have you ever thought about Advent? The word advent means 'coming.' You may know advent from our traditional Sunday candle lighting or from those calendars with chocolate in them (why can’t every calendar be like that?). With the bustle of family events, holiday concerts, and company parties we rarely stop to ponder the concept of advent.

We sing Advent hymns every year: “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” and “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus,” among others. Each song is written from the perspective of Israel or the world waiting for a savior to finally come and set them free. We also light candles to anticipate the one true light who would come into the world. Advent is a time then to enter into the psyche of the distant past.

Advent’s weird that way. During this season we look into the future for something that already took place in the past. We act as if the Messiah hasn’t already come to remind us that he has come. Confusing? It is quite a strange tradition. But that is what makes it so provocative.

For thousands of years people were waiting for something or someone. Adam and Eve were told of an offspring of theirs who would one day crush the head of that ancient serpent, Satan. Abraham anticipated all nations being blessed through one of his seed. David longed for his descendant to establish a new Kingdom forever. It was foretold this King would be from the tribe of Judah, born in the town of Bethlehem, and the child of a virgin mother. We read that prophets for centuries “searched intently and with the greatest care” like CSIs to discover when this Messiah would come. Even the angels looked forward to it. When we anticipate this “coming” through Advent, we can experience the great excitement these heroes of the faith and angels in heaven felt as they waited for the coming of Christ. In this way, we renew the joy and love of our hearts toward our savior (and likewise look forward to his second coming).

So please join with us each Sunday as we look forward to the coming of a Savior. Yes, he’s already come. In fact, our December series is entitled “He Came for Me” to examine how Jesus came to bring us peace, love, hope, joy, and so much more. Then, on Christmas Eve, we will have a special evening at 6:30PM as we experience the drama, “He Came for Me,” in which historic eyewitnesses tell us their experience of Jesus’ coming. Plus, we will sing great Christmas carols, listen to moving music, and have that powerful moment of candle-lighting. This is the perfect night to invite family and friends to hear about the savior who came for them.  Jesus came in the past, but let’s look forward to his coming this Advent season so we might be renewed.

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Tags : Christmas, Advent

Nov
09
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We’re still here.

As much doom and gloom that politicians and prognosticators predicted, we’re all still here. As I write this, I don’t yet know who won the election, but I do know this--life goes on.

It’s pretty much a given things will never get as bad as they warned you, nor will they get as good as they promised you. So whether you’re overjoyed your candidate won, or fearful, or apathetic, the important thing to remember is that there is something more important.

Sure, politics can impact many things, but we can never forget that it isn’t the end all be all. I’ve written for several weeks about the intersection of faith and politics. So I just have this one last message: faith is more important than politics. Whether you’re Christian, or Jewish, or Muslim, or something else, it’s bigger than politics.

I remember early on in our marriage. Melissa decided to try her hand at a Hollandaise sauce. I came home one day to find her hard at work, creating a whole breakfast for dinner feast (brinner is the best isn’t it?). Everything looked and smelled delectable. I was impressed! Yet she was frazzled. The Hollandaise sauce was clumpy. She scrapped it and started over. I tried to help her, but I knew nothing about that strange yellow stuff. Neither did she. For the second time in a row, the sauce didn’t come out right. She tossed it. Now we were out of the necessary ingredients to try again. She was visibly upset. All her hard work was ruined. Except it wasn’t.

“Don’t worry about it,” I consoled her, “I don’t even like Hollandaise sauce anyways.”

“Really?” She asked. “Neither do I!”

We had gotten all worked about something that really didn’t matter. She could’ve concocted the best Hollandaise sauce in the world perfectly the first time, and neither she nor I would’ve enjoyed it! We were worried about something that wasn’t as important as the worry it caused. We were gonna have an amazing brinner, plus felt loved that she went through all the effort to put the magnificent meal together!

Though elections certainly are important, as are politics, many tend to put too much emphasis them. We miss sight of what’s important, just like we did with that stupid sauce. I have a feeling that a few months from now, we may be frustrated about this policy or that decision, but we’ll all still be here. We’ll still live in an awesome nation. And we’ll still have faith in a God who rules over the highest rulers of the land. There’s something more important than politics.

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Nov
01
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I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.

-- Paul in 1 Timothy 2:1-2

Whether you’re an elephant, a donkey, or just a plain old human, you’re likely sick of this election cycle. Good news: it’s almost over. But until then? Can we do anything that makes a difference?

I’ve observed that most people feel pretty helpless about their impact on the national stage. Sure, our vote can make a difference for local & state personnel and issues, but for our Commander-in-Chief? Not so much. You see this in the lame turnout for national elections. In 2012, only 57.5% of eligible voters showed up at the polls. This means that some 93 million eligible voters stayed home! Moreover, in 2012, Columbia University political scientist Andrew Gelman, statistician Nate Silver, and UC Berkeley economist Aaron Edlin co-wrote a paper exhaustively studying 2008 election results. Their conclusion? A single vote has never determined the outcome of a presidential election. The likelihood of your vote making a difference? 1 in 60 million. Yes, you read that right. In swing states the odds are slightly higher, but in a non-swing-state like Nebraska the odds are even lower. To top it all off, many are dissatisfied with any of the options this election cycle. It all leaves us feeling unimportant. Do we matter?

So is there anything we should do? Well you can and should vote anyway. You may choose to advocate for a candidate or issue to persuade others (though think about if it is actually effective). But what in my opinion makes the biggest impact? Prayer.

We are commanded again and again to pray for those in power in our nation. The Bible declares, “There is no authority except that which God has established.” God is sovereign over national leaders, their hearts are like a “stream of water” in his hands that he channels. Even malevolent dictators, like Cyrus of ancient Persia, God controlled and directed. So if God has such power over national leaders, shouldn’t our first inclination be to ask him to do something? This is why Paul commands us to pray, to petition, to intercede, and to give thanks for those in authority.

And what do we pray? Paul instructs Timothy to pray “that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.” He asks us to pray for peace. For a nation that allows godly people to be godly. He asks us to pray for an environment in which Christians can lead quiet lives--not loud, angry, discontented lives. So are you praying? Are you praying for the right person to be in the White House? Are you praying for a wise next Supreme Court Justice? Are you praying for a new Secretary of State who seeks peace? For a Commander-in-Chief who will keep us safe? For senators and congressman who will solve issues and serve faithfully? And are you giving thanks we live in a nation without coups and violence whenever a new leader takes power? Are you thanking God we live in a free country?

As people who care about the future of our country, we want to make an impact. Jesus commanded us to be “salt” and “light” in our world. We want to serve and make the United States better. So yes, vote. Yes, influence others. But most importantly: pray.

We are joining with other churches in Gibbon for the four days leading up to the election to pray for our nation. We’re calling it 8 to 8 for November 8th. We are taking Saturday, November 5th. Autumn Pena is organizing the day so each person will sign up for a 15 minute slot. Thus, from 8 AM to 8 PM we will shower our country with prayer. Let’s pray to the one who is sovereign over all...no matter who wins on November 8th.

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Oct
28
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This week I will be preaching a message in our series, A Royal Mess. But it will not be a "normal sermon." I will be delivering the message from the perspective of David.

That may be odd to you. That's ok. It's weird for me too. I preached my first first-person sermon using this form back in February as I told the story from 1 Samuel 5 & 6 of the Ark of God being captured by the Philistines from the perspective of my invented character, Kalathos, a Philistine commander. Watch it here. It was one of my best received sermons to date. Many asked me to do a first-person sermon again, and one person even asking if I could do it every week!

Some of you love first-person messages, but others wonder if it is even okay to preach this way. You ask: is it biblical? That is a REALLY good question! I asked myself the question too. I don't want to just entertain people--you can just lounge or your sofa and get entertained from Netflix. Plus, I don't want to do something sinful. I believe that when I preach, I present the very words of God. Plus, teachers like me face a harsher judgment. So, how do you determine if one form of preaching is biblical?

Think about this: what is the "biblical" way of preaching? If your mind immediately jumps to the three points and a poem format your preacher used growing up, or the verse by verse commentary of your favorite mega church preacher, or the rhetorical flourishes of an old-school pulpiteer, ask yourself 'why?.' Is it because it's what you grew up with? That's it's just tradition. Is it the type of preaching you got saved listening to? Now you're just being pragmatic. Is it because that's the type of sermon that best speaks to you? That sounds like personal preference to me. Though those things are all significant, it doesn't mean they're "biblical."

Is there a certain type of preaching the Bible teaches? Actually, no. Though the Bible has lots to say about the content of the message and the character of the person delivering it, not once does it lay out the form a preacher must use.

What about the sermon style we find in the Bible, isn't that the "biblical" way of doing it? Well here again a preacher would struggle. Should he preach like Peter telling the full story of the Bible and calling for repentance on the Day of Pentecost? Or like Paul using pagan philosophy to persuade the intelligentsia on Mars Hill of the validity of the Resurrection. Or maybe he should be like Jonah ranting, "Forty more days and Ninevah will be overthrown!" (You could get to lunch early with a sermon that short!) Or should he be like Nathan, confronting the King with an invented story of a poor man and a lamb. I could go on. Throughout the Bible there are dozens of different sermon forms preachers utilize to speak God's Word.

Well, you may say, shouldn't a preacher just use Jesus' format? Which format do you mean? The made-up parables that tell a story to convey a truth? Or the lengthy explanation on how to fulfill of the law in the Sermon on the Mount? Or is it the angry diatribe Jesus levels at the Pharisees? Even Jesus varied his sermon form.

So what is the "biblical" way of preaching? Well, it is preaching that bring out God's truth from the Bible.

I am an expository preacher. I am convinced it is my job not to come up with my own creative words and ideas, but instead to expose God's truth. My task is to take what God has already said, and bring it out so all can see it. I want everyone to be also to understand, to believe, to feel, and to put into practice what God's Word. This means I will use whatever form necessary to do so. As my professor Kent Edwards taught me, we must do everything short of sin in order to teach God's Word. As the title of John Ortberg's article indicates, "Biblical preaching is about life change, not sermon form." 

So which sermon form is best then? Whichever form best gets God's Word from out of the page and into my hearer's hearts.

In Preaching Today, Torrey Robinson explains how first-person sermons can be a powerful way to convey emotion. In his book, Effective First-Person Biblical Preaching, my professor Kent Edwards shows that some scriptures are best preached in this format. This is why I will use first-person messages whenever I believe it is the best way to help you all understand a Bible story and apply it to your lives. Like it does this week. You're not gonna wanna miss this biblical sermon.

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Tags : Preaching

Oct
27
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Each year I write a Halloween themed article. I’ve written about mutilated bodies, monsters, ghosts, werewolves, vampires, and zombies. This year: fear.

Though you wouldn’t know it driving by the lines for Kneeknocker Woods that stretch to Alda, some people want to overcome fear. Most of us want to overcome our fears, which is why the Bible contains 365 different commands to help us not be afraid, good enough for one every day of the year. FDR warned us that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” but fear itself can be crippling. So how do we overcome it?

The fear that I’m talking about is the fear of the unknown: what will happen to our nation? Will my child be safe? What will they think of me if I can’t do it? We don’t know what will happen in the future, and the absurd possibilities our creative minds can cook up terrify us. So here’s a couple lessons we can learn from scary movies.

The scariest thing for us is the unknown. There’s a reason why scary movies don’t reveal the monster right away. In Jaws, Steven Spielberg only gave us glimpses of a fin or movement in the water, or the devastating effects of the great white, but not the creature itself for a long time. Even Godzilla, a lizard as big as the empire state building, somehow didn’t appear until 45 minutes into the 1998 film. Why do directors do this? To build suspense. Fear and tension are created by the unknown. Once we see the alien or demon or killer or whatever, our mind immediately puts it into categories in our brain...and no matter how good the CGI, it looks a little silly.

So what is the first step to overcoming fear? Identify it. We need to first see our fear for what it is. Don’t run away from it. Look at it. Examine it. Take it all in. Once you think about the possibilities for the future of our nation, you’ll realize we still will live in the greatest nation on the earth. Once you think about it, you’ll see that your family will love you even if you tell them that secret. Once you ask your doctor about that ailment, you’ll figure out it’s common and treatable. For some of our fears, taking time to identify it is all we need to do. That’s not an intruder coming to rape and kill me, it’s just a squirrel in the attic--much more manageable. Identify what it is that’s scaring you. Don’t allow anxiety to keep you from looking it in the eye.

Yet there are some fears which, even after identifying it, still have devastating potential. It is cancer. That money is gone. The relationship is on the rocks. So what do we do then? Well, you just need something bigger than you fear. It movies, the heroes comes up with a plan of attack, they find a bigger gun, or for the aliens in Signs (spoiler alert) they just need a glass of water. You have to find something bigger than your fear, and then hold onto it. Sure, in movies there’s always some added tension (the remote detonator doesn’t work!) which leads to a scramble before the enemy is defeated, but to defeat the fear, you need something bigger.

Sometimes, you will find a bigger solution--it’s time to quit that job and get out of the terrifying grip you may be fired. But other times you don’t have it. That’s when you need some help. A counselor, pastor, or friend can help. But I can tell you there is one friend who is bigger than your biggest fear. Yes, his name is Jesus. Before you scoff, try him out. So what if this is the end of United States dominance? Jesus is still King and his Kingdom will prevail. So what if your relationship is irreparable? Jesus loves you unconditionally. So what if the condition is life-threatening? Jesus offers a life beyond this one which is better by far. Even the biggest fears can be conquered by the bigger Jesus. It’s never simple. There will still be some tension, but stick with it, hold onto the one who is bigger that all your fears.

If you watch any scary movies this Halloween, see if it has these two steps that help you overcome your fears, then implement them: first, identify the unknown; second, find something bigger to take it out.

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Tags : Jesus, Fear, Halloween

Oct
24
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In our nation, do we have freedom of worship or freedom of religion? Or are the two synonymous? As Americans we hold fast to our first amendment, which protects the right of individuals to assemble, to believe, and to speak out whatever they choose. So when I write the freedom of “worship” or “religion,” most people see little differentiation. They would be wrong.

For the majority of our current president’s administration, the phrase “freedom of worship” has been used in speeches and even material to apply for US residency. Beginning at the memorial service for the Fort Hood victims, President Obama routinely referred to the religious protection of the First Amendment as the “freedom of worship.” Hillary Clinton, as Secretary of State, also used the expression. The State Department has claimed that the two phrases are synonymous.

You may agree. The two phrases sound similar. In most settings the overlap between the words “worship” and “religion” is enormous. However, organizations like the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom disagree. Worship is the gathering of a group that holds a particular faith. It may involve music, rituals, prayers, teaching, etc. Religion is a much broader term. Religion includes worship, but it also includes the religious education of children, the publication of religious material, the living out of religious principles in public, and so much more. Religion encompasses worship, but worship doesn’t encompass all of religion. It’s like saying that all Nebraskans are Americans. This is true, but you can’t reverse it. Not all Americans are Nebraskans. Please don’t confuse worship with religion.

You see, most faiths teach that faith is not just personal. It is not merely what happens in a weekly gathering. It is not merely a private belief or practice. Faith is something to be lived out. For Christians, Jesus said if you love him you must obey him. His brother James said that faith without actions is dead and worthless. People of faith are supposed to seek justice, do good, and fight evil. To restrict this to private worship is denying our First Amendment Right. A true believer, whether they are Christian, Mormon, Muslim, Hindu, etc., will live out their faith in the public sphere, and this includes political engagement. “The freedom of religion is much more than just the freedom of worship,” Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma declared. “Worship confines you to a location. Freedom of religion is the right to exercise your religious beliefs—it is the ability for Americans to live out their faith or to choose to have no faith at all.”

Before you write me and this article off as a case of semantics, consider the implications. If you limit someone’s religious expression to only what happens in weekly gatherings, then you would have no Martin Luther King Jr., no religious hospitals, no religious schools. You would have fewer food pantries, less non-profit organizations fighting poverty, and zero Bibles in hotel rooms. To those of you who like the sound of that--no one’s forcing you to live here. Our country is a much better place because of the public actions of religious individuals.

Each person should be allowed to live out their faith in the world. To vote as their conscience leads them. To engage as activists. To be vocal and public about their beliefs--even if you disagree with them. And this is much more than worship...it’s the freedom of religion

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Oct
17
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Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” This clause in the first amendment of our constitution is popularly referred to as the ‘separation of church and state.’ For generations it was assumed and accepted that this protected the “freedom of religion.” But many don’t believe this today.

Recently, some have reinterpreted this clause as “freedom from religion” and have worked diligently to eradicate any semblance of religion from the public. Organizations like the Freedom From Religion Foundation, the ACLU, and others have fought to stop school prayer, remove the ten commandments from courthouses, ban churches from public spaces (yes, this has happened in NYC), end the tax exemptions of religious institutions, and more. They argue that if a government “shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion” then prayer, faith, and scripture from any holy book must be banned from the public sphere. If a high school football team kneels for prayer before a game, how will the atheist students feel? So is “freedom from religion” what our constitution created?

We print “In God we trust” on our money. We pledge allegiance to one nation “under God.” Our presidents quote scripture. Religion, particularly Christianity, is part of the moral and even political fabric of our nation. Do these things contradict the first amendment?

In my opinion the answer is simple: no. Our Declaration of Independence explicitly refers to “Nature’s God” and “Our Creator” and the “Supreme Judge.” The entire idea of rights protected in the bill of rights is the concept of Natural Law--that a divine being has endowed each human being with “inalienable rights.” In the Constitution, there is one passing reference to faith, the “year of Our Lord,” but it is built entirely on the foundation of a Judeo-Christian worldview. Thus, even when the first amendment declares the US government shouldn’t make a law to “respect” a religious institution, it assumes that religion will profoundly impact our nation. Either that, or the writers of our constitution were hypocritical or stupid. Clearly, they were not.

So why did the founders include the separation of church and state in the Bill of Rights? Our founding fathers wanted to protect the rights of American citizens to worship whoever or whatever in whichever way they see fit. This meant not having a state church like many European nations. For when there was a state-sponsored-church, over and over again religious minorities were persecuted and driven to hide or flee. The separation of church and state was not intended to remove every vestige of religion from American politics, rather, it was created to protect the rights of people of all religious beliefs from persecution. The first amendment therefore was never intended to create “freedom from religion” rather it was intended to create the“freedom of religion.”

Why are so many in the “freedom from religion” camp then? In my opinion, it’s because they only look at the phrase “separation of church and state” without reading the first amendment, understanding its historical context, or realizing that the phrase is not even in the constitution anywhere! So please, don’t make their mistake. Our nation has “freedom of religion” not “freedom from religion.” Religion can and should impact politics. More on that next time.

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Oct
03
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The Puritans, Quakers, and others religious minorities fled the restrictive religious climate of England to sail months in treacherous seas and establish a new life in a new world. Why? Because the Church of England was inextricably linked to the British monarchy and it was dangerous to be anything but Anglican in England. Being beheaded or tortured for what you believed actually happened. So the religious minorities of England moved to a new place where they could worship exactly how they wanted to worship.

As students growing up in the United States, we were taught our origin story. Our teachers indoctrinated us to how religious freedom was mixed into the mortar that formed our nation’s foundation. In the United States, not only do the many Christian denominations find freedom and thrive, but so do Muslims, Mormons, Hindus, Wiccans, even Satanists and all the various branches of each faith. Here in America, you can worship whichever god, or gods, or ancestors, or philosophy you want. Or you can even worship none of them. You can even pray to the aliens who are supposedly hiding among us. No matter what you believe, you are free to hold those beliefs. Right at the beginning of the First Amendment James Madison penned the powerful words: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” You are free to believe whatever you want to believe, no matter how true or stupid it is.

We hold this freedom as a given. Most of us hold it dear. Yet do we truly understand what religious freedom means? Over the next few weeks, I will write a series on religion and how it relates to our current political climate. In anticipation of the election, I’d like to offer my own two cents. I will seek to demonstrate not only from a historical perspective, but also from a practical perspective why the freedom of religion is central to our nation and must never be diminished. I hope you’ll stay with me. Next week: is it freedom of religion, or freedom from religion?

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Oct
01
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Don’t revel only in the past, or spend all your time recounting the victories of days gone by. Watch closely: I am preparing something new; it’s happening now, even as I speak, and you’re about to see it.

-- God, Isaiah 43:18-19a The VOICE

Five years. I’ve officially been your pastor for five years. It’s been fun, hasn’t it? But it’s no time to revel in the past, it’s time to fix our eyes to the new things God has planned for our future.

When I first came to GBC I heard a lot about the past. I heard about full choirs, trips to major league baseball games, and faithful perseverance through years of financial struggle. I heard about years of so many brimming Sunday school classes that they had to meet in the kitchen or behind the stage. I even heard about Marilyn Smyth’s hair catching on fire. As these tales were retold, I could see the powerful glint of nostalgia in your eyes.

Yet these days I hear these stories less and less. Maybe that’s not totally true. I still hear them, but their powerful magic has diminished. We continue to value and honor our long heritage of faithfulness to Jesus. We even discuss and learn from the mistakes and successes of our history. Yet we don’t revel only in the past as we once did. And you know what...I think that’s really good.

In Isaiah’s day, Israel was in a difficult chapter. The nation was divided into two separate kingdoms. And both of these kingdoms would soon be conquered by foreign empires and their citizens exiled to foreign lands. Their kings were mostly worthless and sinful. God’s people were embroiled in injustice, iniquity, and idolatry. So they fixated on the past. Grandparents relived past memories. Children read about the glories of Abraham’s faith, of miracles in Egypt, of King David’s triumphant reign--all glories long past. The nostalgia was thick in Isaiah’s day, and the future held little promise. But God wanted to change all that. He wanted his people to look to the future, to a soon and coming king, to a new covenant, a new way of doing things that would transform the world forever. This is why God wanted to change Israel’s perspective from the past to the future in Isaiah 43:18-19. For God is a God of the new. A God who secures a better future. A God who is not finished yet.

We haven’t and we won’t forget our past here at GBC. But we now look to the future. It is full of exciting new possibilities. Of new effectiveness at reaching the lost. Of new programs and new ministries, which might not even be formed in our brains yet. Of new blessings to be poured out on us. Our past is sweet, but our future is sweeter. God is doing something new. Our gospel ministry is only getting started.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed our last five years together. Even the difficult moments have shaped us. But I know for GBC, the best is ahead. God’s got something new for us.

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Tags : Church, Vision

Aug
30
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He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

-- A lawyer and Jesus, Luke 10:27-29

“And who is my neighbor?” the lawyer asked Jesus. Jesus responds with his most famous parable, the Good Samaritan, to show us how and who to love. Jesus’ parable is profound, yet for right now, I don’t want to focus on the parable, I want you to focus on the question: “Who is my neighbor?”

Why did the lawyer ask that question? It seems that as a lawyer, he was interested in getting a ruling from an authority just as lawyers today appeal to the Supreme Court to determine the scope and extent of a specific law. The lawyer in Jesus’ day wanted to know the extent this love command reached: who did he have to love, and who could he simply be civil with? Does he have to love the foreigners who come in, break the law, speak a foreign language, and don’t belong? Does he have to love the person who keeps making bad decision after bad decision and is in debt, is dirty, and enjoys debauchery? Jesus of course flips the whole question around, because it is neither the holier-than-thou-priest nor the supremely religious Levite who loves his neighbor--it is the foreigner who loves rightly.

What’s intriguing to me about the question is that Luke provides us the lawyer’s motive: “he wanted to justify himself.” This lawyer didn’t just want to know the extent of the command to love your neighbor so he could teach it to others, he wanted to know so he could see if he himself was good enough.  Whenever you talk to Christian teenagers about sex (that God wants sex to be enjoyed within a marriage relationship and not before), a variation of the same question always emerges: How far is too far? Teenagers want to know what type of intimacy is ok before marriage. Kissing? How about making out? Where can we touch? Etc. etc. Now there are some general guidelines that are helpful here, so parents please talk to your kids about them! In general, most Christian kids want to know where the line is, so they can push right up to the edge of it without sinning. I think this lawyer had the same idea. He wanted to know what he could get away with and still not sin.

I think we all have this question, and it reveals our heart. Don’t we want to see what we can get away with? Don’t we want to make sure we’re good enough? But as Jesus revealed through his story, that’s not what love is all about. Love isn’t about figuring out who to love and who we can get away with merely treating civilly and who we‘re allowed to despise. No, love your neighbor means love whoever is near you. Love the person you work with. Love the person you work for. Love the person who works for you. Love your clients. Love your students. Love your teachers. Love your politicians. Love the refugees who move into the area. Love the foreigner who refuses to learn your language. Love the sinner. Love your family. Love that person you can’t stand. Do I need to go on?

Since we know “love your neighbor” includes so many people, it certainly includes our physical neighbor: the family next door, the old man down the road, the couple you share a fence with. So after the service on Sunday 9/4 we’re gonna go door-to-door to hang up door-hangers and invite people to church. We’ll invite them to our “Love Your Neighbor Block Party” taking place on Sunday, 9/11. And through these invitations and through our block party, we can begin to show love to at the very least, our physical neighbors. So let’s quit asking who we need to love and get on with loving.

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Tags : Event, Love, Neighbor

Aug
30
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I didn’t want to talk about it. It weighed heavily on me. But there I was.

Part of my philosophy of preaching is that I preach through entire books of the Bible, so I cover passages and topics I would never choose to cover otherwise. So after 18 weeks through the Old Testament Book of 1 Samuel, I came to chapter 31, the death of Saul, or more accurately, the suicide of Saul.

Yes, you may not know the story, because most don’t want to talk about it. Most children’s lessons never cover it. Saul--the very first king over God’s people, the man God chose  to lead his nation--took his own life. And it wasn’t an honorable thing, like he was going in as a martyr to take out the enemy with his last gasp of breath (like Samson). It was gruesome and sad. A true tragedy.

So I shared the story last Sunday, not really wanting to. (Watch the full message here).

The reaction was overwhelming. Many thanked me. So many words of appreciation. Because so many of us have been affected by suicide. In the last 50 years, suicide rates have risen by almost 140 percent among US teens. Suicide is now the third leading cause of death among Americans under eighteen years of age. Young men are somewhere between 5 and 7 times more likely than women. But the rates are even higher for middle-aged men. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in our nation overall: 42,000 deaths in the US each year. And for every death there are 25 attempts. The rates have been going up, but it doesn’t have to be this way.

During and after my message, tears were shed. Afterwards some shared about the time they went and helped a friend or relative who was struggling with suicidal thoughts. Some shared their own struggles with wanting or trying to end it all. I received text messages of those going to help someone the next week. Even one brave person reached out for help that week and entered into psychiatric care.

Suicide is a true epidemic. And it’s time to stop it.

So if you’re reading this and struggling with depression or thoughts of hurting yourself, get help. Life will get better. High school doesn’t last forever. You will be able to love again. S/he is not the only person there is who will care about you. You can overcome this. I don’t know exactly what you are struggling with, but REACH OUT. Don’t keep it to yourself. No one will judge you. I won’t. Call me. We’ve all had moments or months of desperation. Just reach out and get help. It may be a chemical imbalance you could easily get help for.

And if someone tells you they want to end it all. Take them seriously. Go be with them. Stay with them until they’re stable. Ask if they have a plan. If they do, call the police and they will come intercede. Give someone the number to the suicide prevention hotline (1-800-273-8255) if you don’t know what to say. The reality is that you won’t know what to say. You won’t even want to go help, it will feel like a burden to heavy to carry. I know, because years ago a close friend’s girlfriend called me up and asked me to come because my friend was threatening to take his own life. I was scared, but I prayed and went and he’s still alive and thriving.

The most tragic thing about the story of Saul is that after he died, a group of brave men risked their lives, traveling over 20 miles in the middle of the night into enemy territory to recover Saul’s body. They were an ancient Seal Team Six. There were people who cared and would have been there for Saul if he would have just reached out. But through it we can learn that there is someone who cares. I care. Your friends and family care. Even when you don’t feel like it, others care.

And God cares. He sent Jesus into the world on his own dangerous rescue mission, to “seek and save the lost.” And he did, literally going to the grave to rescue you from death. Don’t end your own life, there is hope.

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Aug
25
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Ah, the Olympics. I love them. I’ll be sad to see them go. As many of us have grown accustomed to, I particularly enjoy the every fourth year love affair with Michael Phelps. What an incredible performer and competitor! We’ll miss him in Tokyo (or will we?).

Rio’s highlight for me may have been Phelps’ ongoing feud with Chad le Clos of South Africa. After le Clos barely outreached Phelps in the 200 meter fly in London, the two fought back in forth in the intervening years. Words were not absent. 2016 was the ultimate rematch. We all waited eagerly for them to hit the pool. And as Phelps aimed his cyclops-like death beam eyes before the match as le Clos playfully (mockingly?) shadowboxed in the waiting room, the whole world knew one thing: IT WAS ON.

Yet the race to end all races never happened. All the hype fizzled out. Within the first 25 meters it was clear le Clos was trying and failing to play catch-up to the most decorated olympian of all time. Michael Phelps, the American Poseidon, easily reclaimed the gold snatched away from his grip four years earlier. So what happened?

Even with an untrained eye, I remarked to my wife immediately that something was off. Chad le Clos, the rare swimmer who could best Phelps at his own race, kept looking over at Phelps. You see this occasionally on the track, but never do I remember seeing it in Olympic swimming. Yet every fourth stroke or so, le Clos would deliberately swivel his head over at Phelps to see where he was in comparison to his opponent. It happened again. And again. What was he thinking? At the touch finish the outcome was confirmed. Phelps: gold. Le Clos: silver? No. Bronze? No. He didn’t even medal.

The next day I saw a quote that summarized the race well: “Winners focus on winning. Losers focus on winners.” Throughout the entire over-hyped matchup Phelps was focused on winning his race. He was motivated to win back the prize he had let slip away. His goal was in sight and he focused on nothing else. Le Clos on the other hand? He kept his eyes fixed on his opponent.

Though most of us aren’t racing in any sport, we all are in our own race. Of life. Of faith. Of persevering through a trial. And I hope we all can learn a simple lesson from this race on the world’s stage: Focus on the end game. Your personal goal. Don’t focus on those around you. You’ll get sucked into running their race for the things they care about: money, bigger houses, career achievements, etc. Run your own race. Don’t get distracted. Keep your eye on the ultimate prize.

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize” (1 Corinthians 9:24).

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Tags : Perseverence

Aug
01
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He can no longer have God for his Father, who has not the church for his mother.

-- Cyprian of Carthage (d. 258)

People sometimes think they’re being avant-garde for saying things like “I like Christ but I don’t like Christians” or “I’m spiritual but not religious” or “You don’t have to go to church to be a Christian.” But the concept of wanting a faith without all the trappings of being a part of a church has been around for generations. Even in the third century, Cyprian, one of the early fathers of Christianity, addressed this problem: “He can no longer have God for his Father, who has not the church for his mother.” Hmm.

I get the sentiment. Christians can be weird. Christians can sometimes be annoying. Christians can put undue pressure on you. Nobody denies any of this. But that’s all besides the point if you are believer. We are commanded to be with other Christians (Hebrews 10:24-25). So if for no other reason than that, it is vital to your faith to be and stay connected with a group of believers.

Non-church-going-Christians often bring up Matthew 18:20, “Where two or three are gathered together…” ‘Touché!’ they boldly think, ‘I don’t need a church, I just need to know a couple other Christians and hang with them every once in awhile.’ While it is true that Jesus shows up in a profound way when even two believers are together, this misses out on so much we need church for: being challenged (your two friends will agree with you too much--you need diversity), benefitting from the full array of spiritual gifts (you’re not Jesus, you don’t have all the gifts yourself), and being encouraged (there will be times when you need the emotional, financial, and spiritual support of strong Christians, trust me). This doesn’t even take into account all the things other church members need from you! It is in fact selfish to not be a part of a church--maybe you are the one called to fix a problem or be a voice of reason or start a new initiative--without you the church is suffering.

Though we could always parse Cyprian’s theology, his point is valid. If we want to be a true Christian, we need the church. We’re gonna need others to to encourage us, to love us, to accept us, to help us, to challenge us--and they’re gonna need us to do likewise. They will let us down on occasion, yes, but we too will let them down--we’re just a group of sinners saved by grace somehow.

This August we will be finishing 1 Samuel (we made it!). We will then begin short series about God’s vision for our church. We will talk about what we’re about and where we’re going. While this is going on, I want everyone in our church to take seriously God’s command to “not stop meeting together” (Hebrews 10:25a). One of the best ways to accomplish this is in a connect group.

A connect group is not a Bible study (though you will study the Bible), it is not a social club (though you will make friends). Neither it is a prayer group (though you will pray for each other). It is all of those things. It is a group that meets together to connect with others as we connect to God. We will be the church together. Groups meet around six to ten times from September to Christmas and cover various topics and meet at different times and places. So join one or start your own. If you are interested in hosting a connect group, come to our training on Sunday August 21st. Then for the next few weeks we will have sign-ups. The connect groups will kick off in September.

So please, make a real commitment to church and not just to Christ--it’s Christ’s church after all.

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Tags : Church, Connect

Aug
01
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Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you yourself will be just like him. Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes.” Proverbs 26:4-5.

Did you catch that? This is one of the most interesting proverbs. It seems to contradict itself, doesn’t it? But the author wasn’t so stupid he didn’t realize his second sentence was an apparent contradiction with the first. So what gives?

The first part of the proverb teaches that we often have foolish people in our lives who just spout off nonsense. They say and do ridiculous things. And when that happens, we shouldn't even respond to them. The crazy man who wants you to debate him about how the moon landing was staged. The neighbor who wants you to get riled up with him about the latest political fiasco of which you care nothing nor are affected by it. Don’t we have fools in our lives who try to just drag us down into the mud with them? Proverbs 26:4 teaches us that we should just keep our mouth shut and move on, or else we too will be like the fool.

Yet the second half of the proverb, verse 5, recommends we should answer a fool. There are times when the fool is speaking to a group of kids and teaching them something morally deplorable. Or one board member is steering the whole group astray and you know someone needs to stop the madness. In these situations, if you don’t speak up, the fool will be “wise in his own eyes” and lead others into foolishness as well.

So which of the two verses should we live by? The first: stay quiet? Or the second: speak up? The answer: both. The key is the wisdom to know in which situation to shut your yapper and in which situation to say something.

I spoke with a man who was getting reamed by his boss. The boss was the one having an issue, not him, but for an entire day he was berated and barraged by his boss’ verbal vomit. The boss was acting the fool. So for all of Thursday this man kept his mouth shut. He didn’t want to be involved in a fight or come out tainted by his boss’ nonsense. So he lived the first half of the proverb.

Then I spoke with a woman who recalled a time when her kid’s teacher was planning on showing an inappropriate movie to the elementary school classroom. This woman spoke up, because she wouldn’t let her kids watch such a movie at home. At first the teacher fought back saying no other parents cared--until a whole bunch of other parents jumped in to say they didn’t want their kids seeing it either--they just needed someone to speak up first. This woman lived the second half of the proverb.

The wisdom of this proverb isn’t so much to know it’s content. We all know there are times to keep quiet and times to speak up. The wisdom is knowing which is which. In the manner of Mr. T, I pity the fool who doesn’t learn when to shut up and when to speak up.

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Jul
18
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Louisiana and Minnesota: black men killed by police officers. Dallas: police officers murdered by a maniac. Increasing racial tensions. Sometimes it seems like our world is getting darker, more violent, more depraved. And that’s just last week.

I hear comments from concerned parents and citizens about the seemingly increasing evil in our world. Sometimes it’s violence or national tragedies. Sometimes it’s racism or pure hatred. Sometimes it’s the what-more-can-we-get-away-with attitude of TV and movies when it it comes to violence, sexuality, and language. Sometimes it’s the reality that graphic pornography is one click away for small children on a smartphone--the worst images you can imagine can literally be at your children’s fingertips. Sometimes it’s the casual attitude towards alcohol and so-called “recreational drugs.” Sometimes it’s having zero politicians who have a clue how to help. Sometimes it’s the lack of morality in our school system. Pick your poison. To many I converse with, there abounds a worry our world is getting darker. People fear for the next generation--for their children and grandchildren. They also fear for their country--is America the beautiful destined for decay?

Here’s the reality. Our world is dark. There is evil lurking. Often our world seems as if it is cloaked in a shadow-filled night and we fear what is behind the next corner. Of course not everything is getting worse. The evidence shows that there are major improvements in life expectancy, technology, comfort, etc. and major decreases in murder, diseases, poverty, hunger, lack of access to clean water, etc. around the globe. To say everything is getting worse is a lie. Perhaps the reason we think that is simply because anything can now be live streamed on Facebook. Yet still, there is darkness. It’s undeniable.

But there is hope, there is light that can shine in the darkness. Jesus told those who followed him, “You are the light of the world.” Some of us are still waiting for a Messiah from Hollywood or Washington or academia to step up and fix our mess, but it’s not gonna happen. The Messiah already came and he told US to go into the darkness. To not stay home and hide under our blankets like children in a thunderstorm. He told us to burn bright and cast out the darkness.

Worried about the darkness of our world? Do something about it. It’s time to light up our world.

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Tags : Mission, Sin, Culture, World

Jul
01
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Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.

-- Matthew 11:28

Working. Studying. Cleaning. Cooking. Gardening. Driving to work. Driving kids around. Taking care of family. Being busy. We all have so much going on in our lives. It seems as if we’re always moving. The next thing is here before the last thing is finished. What can we do about it?

Well it’s not what we should do per se. It’s that we need to stop doing anything at all. That’s what rest is. Sure, some of us need to throw off a few things from our schedule and learn to say “no,” but the work and responsibilities we have in life will not ever fully go away (though they will change). Rather, we need to learn to stop. To stop doing. To rest.

The concept of rest is thoroughly biblical. God commanded his people to take a Sabbath, a day of rest, once a week--even animals were supposed to rest. God commanded his people to take holidays throughout the year to stop working for days on end (yes, vacations are biblical). Jesus himself had to escape the crowds looking for him so he could take some time to rest. Even God Himself rested. And it’s not like his muscles were fatigued. He didn’t need to recover because designing the anteater was too complex for his limited brain-capacity. No, God wanted to set an example for us. We NEED rest.

The concept of rest is also thoroughly practical. Dr. Matthew Sleeth, a former emergency room doctor wrote a book called 24/6: A Prescription for a Healthier, Happier Life. The medical world is calling for a day off to rest and rejuvenate during the week. The Wall Street Journal ran an article entitled, “The Secret to Running: Not Running” focusing on four-time Olympian Bernard Lagat. The native Kenyan (now a US Citizen) holds seven American records in long distance races. And his secret to success is running only for eleven months. For five weeks every year he literally, “Puts his sneakers in the closet and pigs out for five weeks. No running. No sit-ups.” In his words, “Rest is a good thing.” We need rest to accomplish more.

We need daily rests. We need weekly rests. And we need rests in the form of holidays and vacations throughout the year. To not rest is unhealthy, unwise, unbiblical, and even sinful! Some of you will say, well we need to work, we have responsibilities. But in reality, if you don’t take regular rest, you will decrease your effectiveness and productivity in the long run and be able to handle less responsibility. Others worry that talk of rest promotes laziness. Well, that’s an alternative problem, which the Bible addresses, but that's not what I’m writing about. I write this to you because most of us are too busy and work too much and are too neurotic to stop doing. We need rest.

I challenge you to rest sometime before the busyness of school and harvesting and sports and activities come around again. Deliberately don’t do anything. If you take a vacation, don’t pack it so full of stuff that it’s not restful. You don’t need to pay a fortune to fly to the white sand beaches of Mexico either. Just take some of those vacation days you’ve been hoarding and go camping or on a road trip or even take a staycation and turn off your phone for a few days. It’ll be cheaper anyways, and you won’t get Zika. Please, rest, relax. Stop doing.

Oh, and I’m on vacation now, so it’s time for me to take my own advice.

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Tags : Rest, Sabbath

Jun
13
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Brother John would come to my campus at Colorado State University ready to preach judgment on us sinners. He wore a brownish smock and had an unkempt brown beard. He would stand up on a stump (literally) in the plaza in front of the student center and rail on the sinners and fornicators of CSU saying they would all to go to Hell. He would recite Bible verses in old English. He sometimes brought his wife, who always kept her head down and wouldn’t look anyone in the eyes, and his small children, who they somehow found time to homeschool in between hell-and-brimstone tirades at various college campuses. He was a living, breathing Hollywood-stereotype preacher.

Now here’s the thing. There were sinners at CSU. I saw them grow weed in their dorm rooms (back in my day it was illegal), I heard them tell filthy jokes, I smelled their vomit and urine soaked clothes after they passed out drunk for the fifth night in a row. Heck, I was one of them. Brother John had part of the truth. There were many sinners at CSU.

CS Lewis once wrote, “The safest road to Hell is the gradual one--the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.” I think he’s right. A lot of people are on that path, and they might need someone to warn them. But everyone--I mean everyone (except brother John)--seems to know that this stump-sermon, hell-fire and brimstone, judgment and condemnation only preaching doesn’t seem to work anymore. (Though I have my doubts if it ever worked, fear only motivates for so long. Plus God wants a changed heart, not merely changed external activity. But that’s for another day.) So what are we to do? Many people are living lives of sin. Their destination is destruction. Some don’t even know it.

There are a dozen problems with Brother John’s approach, but there’s one that we can all learn from: his attitude was dead wrong.

At Gibbon Baptist, we’ve been going through the Old Testament book of 1 Samuel. The book tells of Israel’s first king Saul. Saul sinned majorly. He disobeyed God’s direct instructions twice. So God told the prophet Samuel to give Saul a message: he was done. His time as King over God’s people was to come to an end. He was rejected. Now Samuel was tasked with taking this message of judgment and telling it to the king. So how did Samuel do it? Samuel spent a whole night in tears. He cried out to God. He wept. He was angry. It says that Samuel mourned for Saul. And it wasn’t just one night, it went on and on. He was saddened. He was devastated.

Do we have that attitude? When we have to give someone difficult news, does it hurt us? When we tell someone they are wrong, or that they sinned, does it rock us to our core? I can tell you if we Christians wept like Samuel wept, maybe we’d have a better approach. No one should take delight in spewing judgment on another human being. No one should take sick pleasure in telling someone they are on the way to hell. We should weep about it. For all of us are sinners in desperate need of grace. Who are we to revel in another sinner’s need for that same grace?

Please don’t be Brother John or any of his ilk. Let’s mourn for the fact that many are destroying their lives and their marriages and their children’s lives because of their sin. Let’s weep that there are some who will choose to reject Jesus. And let’s pray their hearts might be opened to the radical, inestimable, lavish grace God freely offers to sinners like us. Then maybe, just maybe, we’d have the right attitude.

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Jun
01
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The Lord has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him ruler of his people.

-- 1 Samuel 13:14b

Well, here is June, and we’ve made it to David. Our two series through the book of 1 Samuel have focused on Samuel (God Speaks) and then Israel’s first king, Saul (Give Us A King!). From chapters 16 on in 1 Samuel, David is the man. Yes, Saul will remain on the scene and even occasionally be a protagonist until the end of the book, but now David will rise as the one chosen by God. For eight weeks (give or take), we will focus on David, the king chosen by God, someone “after God’s own heart,” which is the title of our new series.

David is an intriguing figure. He emerges onto the scene boldly and slays a giant that terrified his people’s greatest warriors. He reaches the highest of heights in his public life and in his relationship with God. Yet he also engages in some questionable activity (does David really fight for the Philistines?) and some downright sinful actions (if you thought the Clinton/Lewinski scandal was bad, just wait till David/Bathsheba). So why was he someone “after God’s own heart?” Why did God choose him, love him, establish his kingdom forever, and enable his line to lead to our savior, the Son of David?

Throughout After God’s Own Heart, I hope that you will come each week seeking to uncover these questions and more: What is different about David? What sets him apart from Saul? And what are we supposed to learn from his character and example? Come with an open heart and an open mind, so that we might grow and mature through this series as the Holy Spirit transforms us through God’s Word. Also, the “Digging Deeper” will provide an opportunity to see connections from David’s life to his Psalms, portraying the depth of a complex man. Stay connected throughout your summer travels and vacations by listening to our sermons (subscribe through a podcast app on your phone and you won’t miss any) or watching them on YouTube. It’s gonna be an intriguing summer.

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May
23
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Ana is excited for a first date with Pete. She puts on her best outfit. Her smile somehow seems to touch her earlobes. Pet picks her up and the date goes great. When he drops her off, like a gentleman, he walks her up to the front door. She lingers for a moment, wondering if their lips might meet for the first time. Instead he steps back, waves goodbye, and skitters off. Odd, Ana thinks. Maybe he’s nervous, or maybe he’s just a gentleman.

The couple goes on several more dates. On each one they talk more and more, sharing stories and getting to know each other. Their conversations seem to flow naturally, as if they don’t have to try at all. Things are going amazing. Except for one thing. Every date’s ending is a repeat of that first date. No kiss. No hug. Not even a handshake or a high five. Only an abrupt wave. Hmm. Is he nervous? Ana wonders. Is he worried about bad breath or clammy hands?

Ana’s traditional, so she wants the man to initiate, but by the tenth date she decides to take matters into her own hands. While they are talking at a coffee shop she reaches out her hand and gently lays it on top of his. She can feel the warmth run through her body. But Pete pulls away. He yanks back his arm. Ana is stung. That night she cries herself to sleep.

In the morning Ana is despondent with her friends. “I don’t think Pete likes me the same way I like him,” she tells them, holding back tears. “No way,” her friends console her, “or else why does he keep taking you on these dates?”

Ana is surprised when Pete calls her that evening and asks her to dinner. Though a little apprehensive, she agrees. As they talk, Pete continues as if nothing happened. But it’s eating Ana up. Finally she broaches the subject, “About last night,” she blurts out. “Why didn’t you want to hold my hand? And why won’t you ever kiss me or even give me a hug?”

Pete is taken aback. “I thought that’s what you wanted?” he asks, rather puzzled. “You know, over these last few months I’ve fallen in love with you. It’s like we’re in tune with each other. I have gotten to know you so well through our conversations. When we talk our souls connect. It’s amazing!”

“It is amazing,” Ana responds, “but don’t you want our relationship to go deeper?”

“What do you mean, go deeper?” Pete counters. “I thought a modern woman wanted to be valued for her mind? I want to have the kind of relationship that connects on the level of the mind. Why do we need all that gushy stuff--touching and kissing? That’s just for pop songs.”

Ana is shocked. “What?!?” she remarks, her volume rising so the tables nearby could easily overhear. “Are you not attracted to me? Is there something you don’t like about my body? Do you just not have a libido? Are you gay?” She bombards him.

“No, it’s none of those things,” Pete interjects. “ I just think our relationship is about our minds connecting, that’s all. I don’t want to get involved in a physical relationship with you, or with anyone for that matter. It’s all about connecting mind to mind.”

“Well, are you ever gonna want our relationship to move beyond our minds?” Ana asks confusedly.

“Probably not.” Pete replies.

“Ever?”

“No, I don’t think so.”

“What if we got married?” She asks incredulously.

“No, even if we were to get married, I don’t think we would,” Pete answers. “I like your mind, I don’t need to like your body too, do I?”

Are you sympathetic to Ana’s plight? Think she should dump him? Most would. This scenario’s kind of absurd, isn’t it? In our romantic relationships, we know intrinsically that you should love the whole person, mind and body, not just one part.

So why do we forget about this when it comes to our faith? For those of us who are Christians, we’ve declared that we love Jesus. Yet we ignore, neglect, and disparage his Church. Over and over again we are told that Jesus is the head of the Church and the Church is his body (Ephesians 4:15-16; 5:23-30; Colossians 1:18; 2:19). Too many of us forget that the Church is what Jesus created. It’s his chosen people. And he considers it his very body. There are too many “Christians” who say they love Jesus but they don’t attend church. They don’t give to their church. They don’t serve in the church. They avoid it like a dumpster filled with fish guts. But Jesus wants us to love him (the head) and his church (the body).

Yes, churches has problems. I’ll be the first to admit it. The body’s not always much to look at. But if we are to love Jesus, we must love all of him, head and body. Just like Ana deserved better from Pete, Jesus and his Church deserve better from us.

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Tags : Church

May
09
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Politics. I’m just sure you want me to talk about politics. Nope. You’d rather hear me wax on about your money or your sin or anything else in the whole Milky Way besides politics. For nearly a year now we’ve been bombarded with politics and politicians. This election cycle seems as if it will never end. You’re sick of it. However, I want to address this topic because there is often confusion about the role of Christians in politics, and I want to clear a few things up.

First, let’s look at what the Bible says about politics. Hmm. This one’s tough. God’s people have gone from lowly slaves with no rights in Egypt to an invading nation as they entered the Promised Land. In the book of Judges, God’s people were a loose collection of nation-states regularly at war with others and even among themselves. Then the twelve tribes united under a king forming a theocratic monarchy, only to be divided again into two nations. Then, God’s people were captured and sent into exile under foreign dictators. Though they eventually received back some autonomy, oppressive foreign rule lasted right up until the time of Christ. None of those situations was a Democratic-Republic with a capitalist economy that protects the rights of the individual.

Yet in spite of many of God’s people living in sometimes hostile political climates, they never failed to leave a mark on their society. Joseph rose to power becoming second only to Pharaoh himself, and by trusting God he saved a nation from famine. Moses was a political activist calling for the liberation of the lower class from the oppression of one-percenter Egyptians. Joshua was a military commander who served his nation with distinction. David ruled an entire nation as a man after God’s own heart, not afraid to worship God and repent publicly of his sins. Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, and Daniel all became advisors to evil dictators and they stood up for what was right despite political pressure. Esther married into a position of great influence, and used her position to provide life and freedom for others. Paul used his citizenship to gain an appearance before the emperor of the entire Roman Empire in hopes of converting him to Christianity. Even Jesus proclaimed a new kingdom in spite of the radical sound it would have to the ears of an oppressive empire. He had no qualms with telling the governor that the governor’s power was completely derived from God. I could go on.

Thus, even though the Bible doesn’t give clear instruction on how a Christian citizen should engage in a democracy, we have a wide range of biblical examples of political engagement by God’s people. Indeed, I would contend that in any and every political situation, whether slave or free, low ranking or high, dictatorship, monarchy, anarchy, or any-other-archy, throughout the Bible God’s people always make their mark.

So will you leave a mark on your nation? Whether through prayer or protest, running for office or simply voicing your opinion, being on the school board or voting, there are many ways we could allow our faith to impact our nation. Now we may not agree on every issue. Christians are democrats, republicans, libertarians, and independents. But we all are commanded to let our light shine before others, to use our gifts for the common good, and to love our neighbors. Let’s not allow this political season to divide us, instead let’s be united and kind as we make a mark on our nation for the better.

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Tags : Politics

May
02
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Do all dogs go to heaven? This question is based on the dumb, and rather dark, animated movie of my early years, of the same name. I ask it somewhat provocatively, because the answer is simple: Golden retrievers, german shepherds, labs, and beagles will be in heaven, but Pit Bulls, doberman pinschers, and poodles don’t quite make the cut. Chihuahuas? Satan has a special place in hell for them. All kidding aside, I think it is right for us to wonder if there will there be animals in heaven? And for the pet-lover, of which 60% of Americans are, we wonder if our pets will be in heaven.

This theological question was in the news not too long ago. As the story was told, Pope Francis sought to comfort a boy whose dog had died. The pontiff told the youngster not to worry, that he would one day see his pet in heaven. “Paradise is open to all of God’s creatures,” Francis consoled him. These comments blasted out across the internet, as the provocative headline caught eyeballs: “Pope Francis declares ‘All dogs go to heaven.’” PETA, vegetarian groups, and animal rights activists began retweeting the story and forwarding it to every Christian they knew. It even made the front page of the New York Times where various religious experts debated its merits. Theologians wrote essays on it. Strangely, it never happened. It was a bad news story based on a vague blog post referencing the comments of a different pope decades earlier that were themselves badly misrepresented.

This story became so widely disseminated because it was so interesting. Animals, our animals, our pets--which we often like better than our people--will be with us in heaven? Now that’s a pleasant thought. Plus, if there is some theological weight to it, it’s a much better story to tell your five-year-old after Gumby the guinea-pig chokes on a Star Wars action figure and dad hastily buries him behind the shed, rather than the rather banal, “We took him to a farm in the country.” It’s more pleasant all around to think of him chilling with Jesus as gentle harp-music wafts over the open meadows of glory.

Yet I am convinced there will be animals in heaven. There are five lines of evidence from the Bible that persuade me. First, the prophet Isaiah gives two visions of heaven which depict animals, including cows and bears, wolves and lambs. Second, God cares about animals. He created them, all of them, and afterwards said they were, “Good.” God uses animals throughout the Bible, like Balaam’s donkey and Jonah’s big fish. In the ten commandments, God even demanded animals receive a day of rest. Third, God saved not just humans on Noah’s ark, but also animals. Isn’t it likely he will do something similar at the end of the world? Fourth, the New Heaven God will create contains a Tree of Life and a river, identical to the tree and river in the Garden of Eden. Since heaven appears as the restoration of the Garden of Eden, couldn’t the similarities extend to the animals there too? Fifth, the Bible portrays “all creatures” worshipping God. It’s not just humans who worship God. In all, even though the Bible in no one place definitely tells us there will be animals in heaven, I am convinced by the evidence.

What about our pets? Well, there is no evidence in the Bible about our animals, but it’s entirely possible. I like Joni Earackson Tada’s line of thought here: "If God brings our pets back to life, it wouldn't surprise me. It would be just like him. It would be totally in keeping with his generous character….Exorbitant. Excessive. Extravagant grace after grace." I’m not sure about our pets, but you can postulate your own thougts.

So do all dogs go to heaven? The word “go” might not be correct, but the concept is. Animals will roam in Heaven, including our canine friends. Even though we too often think of heaven as a world of floating clouds, the biblical heaven is a real world filled with life. Will Rogers once quipped, “If there are no dogs in heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went.” Don’t worry Will, I’m convinced there will be dogs in heaven.

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Tags : Heaven

Apr
25
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Isaac Asimov once declared, “I don't believe in an afterlife, so I don't have to spend my whole life fearing hell, or fearing heaven even more. For whatever the tortures of hell, I think the boredom of heaven would be even worse.” And I don’t think he’s alone in holding this sentiment. Too many people have a fear of heaven. They worry that all the fun things of life will be gone. One pastor even remarked, “Heaven makes me depressed; sounds like hell.”

Growing up, I would lay awake at night pondering eternity. I mean, it goes on, and on, and on, and on and on. I worried that I would have to be in a perpetual church service, singing old dirgy hymns and listening to organ music day after day. It scared me.

"Some of Satan's favorite lies are about heaven,” author Randy Alcorn writes, “Satan need not convince us that heaven doesn't exist. He need only convince us that heaven is a place of boring, unearthly existence." If this is true, it seems as if Satan has succeeded. Pop culture regularly paints pictures of heaven being angels floating around on clouds playing harps and wearing diapers. Who wants to wear a diaper? Who even likes harp music? Comedians often joke about choosing the excitement of hell (where all the fun people are) over the boredom of all heaven (where all those boring and wierdo religious people are). Whether it’s Satan’s doing, or just popular sentiment, heaven sure does sound boring.

Thank goodness the Bible doesn't teach this at all. The Bible presents a heaven that is a place of joy, for laughing and camaraderie without jealousy or competition. CS Lewis wrote that “joy is the serious business of heaven.” It won’t be boring serious stuff all the time. The Bible presents heaven as a place of life, people creating new lives with houses and activity, animals living peacefully with each other. It will life, but life without sickness, sorrow, pain, death, sin, loss, fear, brokenness, cancer, I could go on. Plus, God himself will be there to talk with us, share meals with us, and have fun with us. Boring? I think not.

Please, don’t be afraid of heaven. It will be better than you could ever imagine. So will you be there? I sure don’t wanna miss out.

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Tags : Heaven

Apr
11
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Andres Ruzo grew up in Lima, Peru. As a boy, his grandfather would tell him stories about the Spanish conquistadors who came to Peru to conquer it. Many of them would venture into the Amazon in search of gold. The few that survived would tell tales of warriors with poisoned arrows, trees so tall they could blot out the sun, spiders that could eat birds, snakes that could swallow a man whole, and a river that boils. As a child, he loved hearing those legends.

When he grew older, Ruzo went to pursue a Ph.D. at SMU to become a geothermal scientist. While there, he recalled the legend of the boiling river, and he decided to ask his professors about it. He asked them plus professors at other universities. Then he spoke with government leaders in Peru. He even spoke to those working in the oil and gas industry in South America. They all replied the same way, “No.” There was no boiling river in the Peruvian Amazon, nor was such a thing possible. You see, in order for a river to boil, there must be an extremely hot heat source for the water to reach 212 degrees Fahrenheit. Yes, there were other rivers that boiled around the globe, but they were always around volcanic activity. In the Amazon, there were no volcanoes. The experts were unified in their denial of the existence of a boiling river in the Amazon.

One night, at a family meal, Ruzo brought up this subject to his family. “But no Andres,” his aunt interjected. “I’ve been there!” His grandfather jumped in. It was real, he agreed. His aunt, who worked with some of the indigenous tribes of the Amazon told him about being led by a shaman deep into the rainforest and witnessing this boiling river first-hand. Ruzo was spellbound. He had to see it for himself.

Ruzo then traveled deep into the Amazon, by plane, then jeep, then motorized canoe, then finally hiking in by foot. He was led by a shaman deep into the rainforest. Suddenly he heard a rumble. Then it grew louder. Next came a mist. A fog. Steam all around them. Finally they came upon it. There, in full view, was the boiling river--too hot for animal life, steam rising above the massive treetops.

Ruzo was certainly not the first person to lay eyes on this boiling river. The locals knew about it and had enjoyed it for centuries. Yet to the “experts” it could not be. Here was a boiling river, over 400 miles from the nearest volcanic activity. It was one of a kind, but it was real. Sometimes, legends are true.

For the next several weeks at Gibbon Baptist, we are studying heaven--the mythical place that sounds too good to be true. Many wonder if it even exists, but as with the boiling river, some legends are true. On Sunday mornings we are learning whatever we can about heaven, things like: Who’s gonna be there? Do we get wings? Are there animals there? Plus, I will write on this blog about heaven. So if you have questions about heaven, please email me, or come join us on a Sunday morning. I will do my best to answer whatever questions you throw my way.

Heaven may seem like a mythical place, but some legends are true. Will you venture to explore this subject with me?

Hear the rest of Andres' story from the TED stage.

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Apr
01
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I remember as a child lying awake at night dreading the thought of heaven. Yes, you read that right. I imagined how boring it would be to be in church for ever. And ever. And ever and ever forever more. Would we just sing those same church songs again and again? Would we just float around and be serious all the time.

I don’t think I’m the only one. If you see the popular depictions of heaven in pop culture you see people floating on clouds, wearing diapers, and playing harps. No one seems to be having any fun, rather it’s like they’ve been brainwashed into the most boring cult in the world. Some things seem pretty cool--don’t you get wings and turn into an angel? But is even that true? Many people are scared of the very place that is supposed to give Christians the greatest hope and excitement.

And even if you weren’t (or aren’t) somewhat afraid of heaven, there are so many questions we have about this place. What is it like? Where is it? Will we miss earth? Would it be better to go to hell instead?

For the next six weeks, we are embarking on a sermon series that will seek to answer some of the questions we have about heaven. In Heaven: Questions Answered we will uncover what God tells us about the eternal fate of his people. I won’t be able to answer every question you’ll ever have, but we will see that God has already given us many of the answers already.

These are the questions about heaven we’ll seek to answer:

  • Who’s gonna be there? April 3rd.

  • Do I get wings? April 10th.

  • Will I like it there? April 17th.

  • Do all dogs go to heaven? April 24th.

  • What difference does heaven make now? May 1st.

  • What about those who don’t know Jesus? May 8th.

Are you curious? We’ll address these questions and many more. Through this study, I think you’ll not only learn a lot about the place believers are gonna live for eternity, but also, it will change your life and attitude now. And like me, soon you won’t be dreading heaven, but longing for it.

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Mar
24
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Jimmy was an alcoholic. At first he could hide. He became the life of the party. Always up for a beer, always a flask nearby. People loved him. It was just fun until he started to need a drink every afternoon to calm him after work. Then shortly thereafter one to get him through the work day. He was never a binger, just an all-the-time kind of drunk. Some didn’t even know he had been drinking because he did his job, went shopping, and even attended family events after having a few drinks. Then it went downhill fast.

He lost his job. He got two DUIs. He missed important moments with his kids and they resented him. His marriage was rocky even though she stood by him. Then he lost his house. You see, he hadn’t paid taxes, and though he drank to numb himself and pretend everything was fine, he was broke and miserable. Everything he had was taken away. He hit rock bottom.

Where is Jimmy today? Sober for years. Happy. Family relationships are healthier than ever. He’s got a steady job, and though he’s not rich, he’s secure. Life is good. What brought about this transformation?

Annette had a good life. Homeowner. Loving husband. Two bubbly daughters. Steady job. It looked great to everyone else. But she was pretending. Inside she was a mess. Because of things that had happened when she was a child, she was tormented by her past. She spiralled into deep depression. She didn’t want to get out of bed. She had no energy. The smallest activity would drain her. She didn’t think she could go on living.

Anette had tried twice before, by taking a whole bottle of meds. Yet after passing out both times, her stomach kicked in and she vomited up the pills. This time she was figuring out how to connect a hose to her car’s exhaust pipe and end it all painlessly.

Where is Anette today? Full of joy. You should see her grin! It runs from ear to ear. There are still times when she’s sad, but she’s not afraid to talk with someone about it. It isn’t debilitating, it's just a small blip in a life that is full of hope and expectation. What caused this transformation?

Tim and Pamela had been happy once, hadn’t they? After years of fighting it was hard to remember. Their marriage was just a piece of paper now. They couldn’t talk without yelling. They didn’t sleep in the same bed. They hadn’t been intimate in who knows how long. But it was doomed from the start. They were just too different. Neither of their parents’ marriages lasted, neither had their siblings’. They were headed towards a nasty divorce.

Where are Tim and Pamela today? A little too lovey-dovey in the opinion of some. They hold hands again. They kiss in public. They talk to each other in calmer tones and compliment each other often. Oh, they still have disagreements, and even some fights, but they always work towards a resolution. They take extra time to get away from the kids and just be together. And they are happy. How did this transformation happen?

All three of these stories I’ve seen. Yes, I’ve changed the names and some details, but I’ve personally witnessed these basic stories of transformations. And many more besides. And all these transformations have the same cause: the Gospel.

The word gospel literally means “good news.” And we all have bad news in our lives. Addictions. Depression. Broken relationships. Sin. Past Trauma. Baggage. Fear. Doubts. Anger. And there are a lot of things out there that will fix those symptoms for a while. But they won’t cure the underlying disease. Because there is bad news. But there is also good news. And his name is Jesus.

This Sunday is Easter. Easter is the day we share and talk about this good news that transforms lives and can transform yours as well. So get your butt in a church this Sunday and hear it for yourself. Come to Gibbon Baptist. We have two services (for the first time) at 8:45 and 10:30AM. Or go to your nearest church. As long as it’s a Christian church it doesn’t matter the denomination. We all have different styles, but we all will talk about and celebrate the exact same thing this Sunday: the Gospel. Who knows, yours might just be the next transformation story.

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Mar
14
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“How can a Christian be a Democrat?” I was recently asked. The question was sincere and legitimate. But I’ve also heard its inverse: “How could a Christian be Republican?” It was asked in just as sincere a manner. I’ve been writing a lot about politics recently, but that’s how it goes in an election year. Today, I’ll look at the question of where our political parties and Christianity intersect.

In 2011, the Pew Forum published an in-depth study connecting religious faith to those who affiliate or lean towards a particular party. 70% of white evangelical voters identified as Republicans and 24% as Democrats. Among white mainline Protestants (denominations like PCUSA, UMC, & ELCA), 51% were Republican and 39% Democrat. For white Catholics, the numbers were even closer: 49% Republican and 42% Democrat. Yet among black Christians, only 6% were Republican and a whopping 88% Democrat. Why do I cite all these numbers? To show you that even though in the Midwest Christians are overwhelmingly Republican, the difference is less and even reversed depending on the culture and denominational affiliation of each believer. Moreover, Christians in places like the UK would be overwhelmingly democratic in their concept of government and they scoff at America’s love of the second amendment. Undoubtedly, Christian faith doesn’t predetermine a political position.

So why do many Christians choose the GOP? In my experience, it is for social issues. Because of positions on marriage and especially abortion, many Christians would never dream of supporting a Democratic candidate. Yes, there are Christians who are economic conservatives and even Libertarians who believe the government has no right to interfere with the social lives of its citizens, but for many Christians being pro-life is the decisive issue. This could explain a 4% increase in the percentage of Christians who support the GOP from 2008 to 2011, since the Democratic party has moved from abortion as worst-case choice to promoting it as a good choice. Republican Christians often view life as the first and most important right. If we cannot secure that right, nothing else matters.

Then why do other Christians choose the Democratic Party? From what I observe, it is typically because they want the poor and the downtrodden and the struggling mother to be taken care of by the government. They may or may not be pro-choice, but they want better wages for those who work full-time and still can’t provide for their families. There are some who are dreadfully worried about global climate change or decreasing gun-violence, but most believe the government needs to step in and help the poor. That we need better schools and universal pre-K to help underclass citizens compete. That no child should ever go hungry. That no one should have to worry about losing a job when they’re on maternity leave. That people should be secure financially even when laid-off or in old age. Democratic Christians want the poor to be provided for, and that is most vital to them is that the government provides programs to make that happen.

Hmm. So should a Christian be Republican or Democrat? If you’re reading this I know you have your opinions. My point is not to sway you one way or the other; instead, it’s to show that both Republican and Democratic Christians have priority issues that are good. Protecting life seems like it’s pretty dang fundamental. So does providing for the poor. So let’s not knock someone, or write them off as stupid just because they prioritize a certain issue as most important, and put up with the baggage or the rest of the party’s political platform. You can be an elephant or a donkey, just don’t be an ass.

 

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Tags : Politics

Mar
07
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There’s been a dustup in the news circuits and within the Christian community: is Donald Trump a Christian? He says he is a Presbyterian who believes in God, yet people wonder about whether he knows the Bible and the fact that he never has asked God for forgiveness. Others say everyone should just butt out of someone’s private faith. Some wonder if it even matters.

Even Max Lucado, dubbed “America’s Pastor” by Christianity Today and “The Best Preacher in America” by Reader’s Digest jumped into the fray as well. He wrote that Trump’s rude and demeaning comments, “Wouldn’t be acceptable even for a middle school student body election. But for the Oval Office? And to do so while brandishing a Bible and boasting of his Christian faith?” Lucado pointed out a discrepancy in Donald Trump’s words and his faith. He provoked his readers to question the genuineness of Trump’s belief.

This type of theological vetting keeps popping up in American politics like it’s a whack-a-mole game. Romney’s mormonism put him on the outs with Evangelicals and may have cost him the election. There are many who are still convinced Obama is a closet Muslim. People questioned Bill Clinton’s faith because of his sexual antics. Many feared JFK could not be trusted since he was a Roman Catholic--would he be a lackey for the Pope? Over and over again politicians' faiths are poked, prodded, dissected, and analyzed as if they are frogs in a ninth grade biology lab.

Yet many say it is indecent to question someone’s faith. Is such questioning a candidate's faith (or anyone’s faith for that matter) even acceptable? These more conscientious citizens wade into such conflicts, attempting to rise above by quoting the one Bible verse everyone (even militant atheists) seems to know. “Judge not, lest ye be judged,” they trumpet as if the debate is henceforth settled. But is it?

Now I’m all for quoting Scripture. We need more of it in public discourse, not less. But though everyone knows “Judge not,” few keep reading the rest of Matthew chapter seven (where the line is pulled from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount). Just a few verses later Jesus revealed that there are indeed fake Christians. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven,” Jesus warned. “But only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” Jesus made it abundantly clear: There are some who will even call Jesus “Lord,” who will perform miracles, and do great things in the name of Jesus, but who Jesus will send to hell. Why would he do such a thing? Because they never truly “knew” him. In other words, people can claim to be Christians, know some religious lingo, and engage in some religious activities but have no real relationship with Jesus, and thus are not true Christians. Hmm.

Moreover, there is a way to know if someone is a Christian. Yes, that’s right. Jesus said so. In John 13:35, Jesus said the way to show others you are a Christian is simple: love. “As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Jesus taught that people will know we are Christians if we love each other in the same way Jesus himself loved us--by serving each other, by being humble enough to wash the feet of others, by caring for those who others don’t care about, and by being willing to lay down our lives for others.

Now I don’t know Donald Trump. Neither do I know Rubio, Cruz, Clinton, or Sanders. And I’m not going to share my personal thoughts on these candidates (despite what you may have thought from the title). I do think the question is a good one. If you are a person of faith, the faith of your candidate should matter to you. But I think you’re smart enough to come to your own conclusions. So let’s look at what Jesus taught us to look at. Instead of questioning someone’s faith because they say “Two Corinthians” instead of “Second Corinthians” we should look for the thing Jesus taught us to look for...them loving others as Jesus loved us. The love that is willing to sacrifice oneself for the good of others.

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Mar
01
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Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders? Donald Trump or Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz or Ben Carson or John Kasich? Whatever your political bent, this is the unrelenting season of politics. 2016 is particularly like a car wreck--awful, yet hard to look away. Until November we will be bombarded by ads...“and I approve this message.” We will see “expert analysis” that seems to shift every day. We will listen to the phrase “polls indicate” more times than we’ll go to the bathroom. We will unfriend those on Facebook who out of nowhere become vocal for their cause. We will hear rumors and innuendos and flat out lies as candidates seek to set themselves apart from the pack. Why? Because our nation wants leadership.

If you had to summarize the theme of 1 Samuel in one word it would probably be leadership. We’ve already seen a nation in desperate need of a leader, since Eli & his corrupt sons led people further and further away from God. Then, at the first battle of Ebenezer, the Israelites were defeated, Eli’s sons killed, the ark captured, and Eli himself literally falling down dead. This left Israel even more anxious for a real leader. In came Samuel. He demonstrated he was the type of leader who chooses God first. He was fit to lead God’s people. But they want something more. They want to be like the nations around them. They want a strong, powerful leader who can get domestic issues under control and protect the nation from foreign powers who want to destroy them.

Israel’s desire for a strong leader is a desire we share. We want someone who will lead us well--and this doesn’t apply just to national leadership--it applies to our businesses, our schools, our communities, and even our homes. We want the man or woman who will rise to the occasion, step into the gap, and usher in a time of flourishing. This all makes 1 Samuel an important book for us.

Studying 1 Samuel will help us learn what to look for in a leader, and if we are privileged enough to serve as a leader somewhere, it will instruct us in what type of leader we should be.

In chapter eight of 1 Samuel, we will see God’s people cry out for a king. This is a desperate and foolish maneuver by the people, yet God hears them and responds by giving them what they want. In enters a “man of standing” who was as “handsome a young man as could be found in Israel.” He was tall and respectable. Aha! The perfect leader for the nation, right?

On March 13th, we enter into the second section of the Samuel epic. This section will be a series fittingly called “Give us a King!” For two weeks we will be introduced to Saul, and then, with a break for Easter and a series on heaven, we will return to learn all about the powerful but strange leader Saul was. Through it I know we will learn important lessons about leadership like who to follow and how to lead.

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Feb
22
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At age 26, Kristoffer Glestad caught the bug for adventure. He decided to spend an entire winter in rural Canada. He examined a map and picked out the most remote lake in the Northwest Territories. He chartered a plane and was dropped off with some tools, rations, and a tent. Then he was there. Alone.

Canada was extraordinary. The terrain was rugged and raw. Glestad built his own log cabin from a handmade mallet. He hunted and fished. He looked out day after day onto his own private, serene lake. It was beautiful.

All was great, except for one thing. He was lonely. Glestad longed for anyone to talk to. He tried talking to himself, but it felt strange. He tried singing, but couldn’t carry a tune. It was too quiet. He had brought along a satellite phone that he would use every once in awhile to call friends and family back home. But it wasn’t enough. At one point he counted 14 whole days without speaking or hearing a single word.

After six months of isolation, it was too much. He called the pilot to come pick him up. He wanted to go home, to family. "I knew I liked my family. I knew I like being with friends," Glestad explained. "I didn't know I cared that much, that I could long for being with those people so hard." Kristoffer longed for others, for community.

Even for the worst criminals, our prison systems won’t use total solitary confinement. They are given one to two hours a day out of the box and they are allowed to interact with prisoners. Why is this? Because pure isolation has proven to be psychological destructive. Individuals who suffer the torture of complete isolation become depressed, suicidal, and even suffer complete mental breakdowns. It’s almost as if we were wired to need other people.

What Kristoffer Glestad discovered in Canada, and what the Justice Department knows is what God declared when he first created man: “It is not good for man to be alone.” We long for others, for family, for community. We need each other. We can’t go it alone.

So if you’re reading this, I challenge you to surround yourself with community. And I don’t just mean the kind of people who tell you what you want to hear. Don’t just have friends who are just like you. Surround yourself with the kind of community who cares about you and your future, who will challenge you when you’re wrong and encourage you when you’re down.

That’s the kind of community we try to develop through church. Men and women. Children and the elderly. Teachers, farmers, factory workers. Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians. The kind of community who will not just be there for you, but provide the relationships you need to be the person you were meant to be. You can’t go it alone. Even the most adventurous get lonely.

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Feb
15
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Andrew Solomon has a Ph.D. from Cambridge in psychology. He researched depression extensively for most of his career. He even wrote an award winning-book, The Noonday Demon, on depression. But then he experienced depression himself. It rocked his world. Here was an award-winning scholar and esteemed expert who was put through the ringer. Could he himself cope with this condition and fight through it?

Once, Dr. Solomon was speaking at a weekend long conference on depression. After finishing up speaking on Friday night, a woman approached him. She had been struggling with depression and asked his opinion on some medications. He advised as best as he could. Then she chimed in, “There are not very many people who know I have depression. So could you please not say anything, especially to my husband. He’s such a man’s man and wouldn’t understand. It’s just between us.” To this, Solomon replied, “Of course.” On Sunday, at the same conference, a man walked up to him after his talk--it was the woman’s husband. “My wife wouldn’t think I was much of a man if she knew this…” he began. It turns out that both the husband and wife were suffering from the same demon, depression, but both thought they were alone and the other couldn’t handle it. It turns out they were hiding the same medication in different parts of the same bedroom.

What Andrew Solomon’s personal experience and his interaction and that conference demonstrate is we all have something. We have something that is nagging at us. Something dragging us down. No one is immune and no one is perfect. There are others around us struggling even if we don’t know about it. Whether it’s depression or some other mental health issue, whether it’s a miserable family or work situation, whether it’s physical, emotional, spiritual or whatever, we all have something.

So please, let’s stop pretending like we’ve got it all together. Let’s quit hiding the fact that we could use some help. We all have something, and we need someone to help lift us up.

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Feb
08
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Are you already sick of election coverage? Before the year even started, we were already inundated by angry debates, Donald Trump quips, and “expert” predictions that will never come true. So why do we endure it?

We all want a leader. Whether you like the current one or not, you want to make sure the new president leads well--makes wise decisions, protects our interests at home and abroad, and ushers in a new era of flourishing. We want a leader.

But how do you determine who will be a good leader? Many people do it completely on ideological lines. If you’re a Republic, you want a pro-life, pro-guns, pro-capital-punishment politician who talks tax cuts, a small federal government and a big military. If you’re a Democrat, you want a pro-choice, pro-gun-control, pro-criminal rights politician who seeks to increase social benefits, provide more government regulation, and de-escalate our nuclear arsenal. Often people decide who they want as their candidate based on who can check off the most boxes in the right-leaning or left-leaning party platform.

However, most people truly aren’t completely dyed-in-the-wool for either of the major parties. These people pick one or two of these issues to stand on. Whether it’s wanting more school choice, ending mass-incarceration, expanding social-security, or taking care of our veterans, most people have an issue or two that sticks in their craw. They will vote for the candidate who most ardently supports their cause. Despite another candidate's expertise, accomplishments, and vision, if they are weak or don’t line up on that one issue, they’re out.

Still others want the exciting candidate. They want the looks of a JFK, the stirring rhetoric of an Obama, or the presence of a Regan. They decide their leader based on seeing them once in person or hearing one speech.

Then there are the religious voters. They won’t even consider a candidate unless he or she is a regular church-goer. This made Kennedy out-of-bounds for Protestants and Romney a stay-away for Evangelicals. These voters were shocked by Obama’s association with Reverend Jeremiah Wright and are appalled to learn that Thomas Jefferson literally cut the parts out of the Bible he didn’t like.

Now we analyze and overanalyze these various aspects of a leader to death in private conversations and in the national dialogue. They’re somewhat helpful. But are any of these ways of determining a leader the way God would do it?

Thankfully, God lets us know his method of choosing a leader. When the nation of Israel had a well-known king who was a tall, respected, military man, God still wanted someone else. “The Lord does not look at the things people look at,” God explained to the prophet Samuel. “People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). It is the heart that is the first, foremost, and only aspect God looks for in a leader.

Do we look at a candidate’s heart? Their character? Their motivations? Their willingness to lead when everyone else cowers? Their courage to do what’s right and not just what’s politically expedient? What do you think would happen if we did?

I know you’re already fed-up of the election hype of 2016. But before you pick your candidate, consider God’s way. Look at their heart.

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Feb
01
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The LORD doesn't see things the way you see them.

1 Samuel 16:7b

Are you already sick of election coverage? Before the year even started, we were already inundated by angry debates, Donald Trump quips, and “expert” predictions that never come true. So why do we endure it?

We all want a leader. Whether you like the current one or not, you want to make sure the new president leads well--to make wise decisions, to protect our interests at home and abroad, and usher in a new era of flourishing. We want a leader.

Over the course of the next year plus (we will take a few breaks), we will examine the books of Samuel (1 & 2 Samuel are considered one book, separated only because the full thing didn’t fit on a scroll). We will look at a nation, Israel, seeking a leader. Would it be Eli, the priest? Or Samuel, the special child? Would it be the tall warrior, Saul? Or the shepherd boy, David? We will examine these characters, and the many interesting people and situations around them. And through them we will learn what God wants from a leader. 1 & 2 Samuel are one epic story. It is true history. It actually happened. But it is God’s history. Through it God is teaching us vital lessons about life, faith, and leaders.

In order to understand Samuel though, you have to understand the times. So I encourage everyone to read Judges chapters 17-21. Then you will feel the situation Samuel is born into (plus, as a bonus our nation’s problems won’t seem so bad). Then you will begin to realize how God sees things differently than we do, and we will learn how to look at life and leaders like he does.

Whether you’ve heard these stories your whole life, or the only Samuel you know of is Samuel L. Jackson (hint: it’s not him), you will be amazed at how God speaks through these stories and into our lives. Plus, I can guarantee you’ll rather be fed by God’s Word than be fed up by this election.

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Jan
18
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I worked at a deli for a few months in college. Yes, I was a ‘sandwich artist.’ (Who came up with that ridiculous job description?) It mainly involved the tedious prep work of getting all the meats, cheeses, and veggies ready prior to lunchtime, then a stressful lunch rush to rapidly cut and toast and heat and wrap and be sure to add a pickle. I found the job frustrating. But even more frustrating than the tedium of prep work and the anxiety of trying to get an order up in under six minutes was one conversation I had with a coworker.

This coworker, let’s call him Ted, was quite bright. He was intelligent, but had himself dropped out of college so, in his words, he could smoke pot. One day Ted and I started discussing the topic of religion. He asked why I believed in Christianity. “Because the Bible is true,” I replied. “How do you know?” he asked.

‘Aha!’ I thought to myself. I finally had an opportunity to unload the information I had been filling my mind with like it was an episode of Hoarders. It all came out at once: “Archaeological research has found hundreds and thousands of pieces of evidence to verify many of the events and people in the Bible. The Bible itself contains dozens of prophecies (sometimes hundreds of years ahead of time) that came to pass. It is internally consistent and tells one grand story despite being written by kings and peasants, shepherds and doctors over a period of fifteen hundred years on three different continents. We have thousands and thousands of manuscripts of the early Hebrew and Greek Scriptures, carefully transcribed and preserved. It is the bestselling book of all time (by an enormous margin). It in no way contradicts the historical record (unlike the other so-called ‘sacred writings’ of other world religions). I created a Dagwood of an argument.

I don’t remember every argument I made, or whether I explained myself, or whether I even spoke English. But I do remember Ted’s reply. I expected him to try to poke holes in one of my arguments, and I had specific examples chambered and ready in case he did. But he didn’t even attempt to refute my argument. I also thought maybe he would accept my argument and ask how he too might become a Christian. But he didn’t do that either. I’ll never forget Ted’s reply. “So what?” he murmured.

I was frustrated. No, exasperated. I had presented a cogent, powerful argument for the trustworthiness of Scripture, that had been convincing to me. Yet Ted brushed it all aside as if it were a pesky fly.

I don’t know what happened to Ted. I got a better job just a few weeks later and never saw him again. I don’t know if my verbal vomit of an argument defending the veracity of the Bible ever sunk into his skull. I don’t know if he ever became a Christian or if he continued his pot-infused lifestyle (which I suppose is now legal in Colorado). But I do know I learned something that day.

I learned that it often isn’t because of rational reasons people reject the Bible and Christianity. There are some rare exceptions. But I think more often it is something else entirely. I think it has more to do with people wanting to do there own thing. They don’t want there to be a God who tells them how to live. They want to smoke what they want to smoke, have sex with whomever they want to have sex with, and do what they want to do. If they do maintain a belief in God, they transform their god into a god who condones their life choices. Paraphrasing Nietzsche, “If there were a God, who could bear not to be him?”

I learned that the only thing that can change some minds is for something powerful that gets their attention. If you’re reading this and I’m describing you. I hope this article will be that thing. I hope it’s not a near-death experience, or a tragedy, or hitting rock bottom. The Bible is true. And you must confront its truths head on. You will have to decide--will I believe and obey the God of the Bible? Or will I reject Him and it knowing there will be consequences? Whatever you do, don’t read this and say, “So what?”

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Tags : Apologetics, Bible

Jan
11
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When I was a teenager I went with a friend to church. After we took our seats, I set my Bible on the floor (I planned to pick it up later to follow along with the sermon). My friend’s eyes widened. She was shocked and appalled. I HAD LET MY BIBLE TOUCH THE GROUND! I had committed a sacrilege.

When I was young my parents read the Bible to me. My dad would read it after dinner to the whole family. When I was old enough I was encouraged to read it on my own. I thought I had a healthy respect for the Bible. But during that one church experience I felt as if I had spit on God himself.

I think many in our culture have a great respect for the Bible. They know it is a holy book. That it is sacred and more valuable and important than other books. From my friend's response to me putting this holy book on something so unholy (the ground) I got a taste for this superstitious reverence that many have for the Christian Scriptures.

But there is another aspect to our culture's reverence for the Bible: most don’t know what’s inside it. According to one study, a whopping 88% of Americans own a Bible. On top of that, four out of five consider it to be sacred. Yet only one out of five have read it from start to finish. Additionally, the American Bible Society published a study that found that three out of four Americans believe “the values and morals of Americans are declining” and the most cited reason for this decline was a lack of Bible reading. Yet nearly 60% “don’t personally want wisdom or advice for the Bible.” We respect the Bible, but do we know what it says? LifeWay polled 2900 active church-goers. Only 19% personally read the Bible every day. Even Christians don’t always know what’s in the Good Book.

Now there are many reasons why people think the Bible is sacred yet don’t read it themselves. Many find it difficult to understand. Others think it too long (our attention spans keep shortening, don’t they?). Some don’t know where to start or which version to use. But then there are deeper questions. Is the Bible relevant to my life at all? Isn’t it just out-of-date? Can I even trust it?

Throughout the month of January our church is going through a sermon series about the Bible itself. In it we will answer questions like: Is the Bible relevant? Does it have errors in it? Is it coherent? Can we trust it? In addition, after the message each week we are allowing people to ask any questions they have about the Bible. As hard as your question, as critical as it might be--it’s fair game. So I want to invite you to come. You can even email me your question now.

The 2010 movie The Book of Eli told the story of Eli, played by Denzel Washington, carrying a book across a post-apocalyptic landscape to safety. Many evil people tried to stop him, kill him, and take the book. What was this book? A Bible. Eli suffered for years to protect his Bible because it was the last copy in existence. It was sacred. Yet when he finally brings the book to the safe city, they take it and put it on a shelf right next to the Quran and other religions sacred texts. The book was revered and respected...yet it was simply left on a shelf.

I don’t want you to stop respecting the Bible. But I do want you to know what it says. Read it. Come to Gibbon Baptist this January so you can learn more about it. There’s some good stuff in there. The real sacrilege isn’t letting a Bible touch the ground, it’s leaving it on a shelf unopened.

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Tags : Bible

Jan
06
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I wanted to update everyone about something personal that I’m working on: the pursuit of a doctorate. With the approval of the deacons and the official board, in 2015 I applied and was accepted into a doctoral program through Talbot Theological Seminary (the seminary of BIOLA University). Yes, the school is located in Southern California, but I am staying here to do it. Now to answer some frequently asked questions:

  • Is this like a PhD? The program I am in is the Ministry Skills Track of the Doctor of Ministry Program. It is not a PhD, which is more a theoretical degree designed for those who want to be professors and researchers. I am instead getting a DMin (yes, it sounds a little like I’m getting a demon), which is a doctoral degree for those in paid ministry positions so they can continue to do ministry and become more effective at what they are already doing. Our regional executive ministers, Robin Stoops and Greg Mamula, also are working on their DMins.

  • What are you studying? I am in the Ministry Skills track, which means I am focusing on becoming an expert pastor. Most all of my work will be done here in Nebraska and online. Each January for the first three years I will travel to California for a two-week residency. The first year will focus on preaching, the second on leadership, and the third on discipleship. This is exactly the stuff I want to be better at. After those first three years, I am allowed up to two additional years to finish a ministry project based on my studies.

  • Does this mean you are leaving? No. Getting a doctorate has always been a dream of mine. I didn’t know if I’d be able to do it while still being a pastor (which is all I ever want to do), but modern DMin programs make this possible. Likewise, going to BIOLA has always been a dream of mine as well. I applied and was accepted for undergrad there, and I visited Talbot for seminary before deciding on Colorado State University and Denver Seminary, respectively, for a variety of reasons. Now, it finally works out for me to go to the school I’ve wanted to go to for over a decade.

  • I think you’re a fine pastor, why do you need to do this? I believe God has called me and equipped me to be a pastor, and I want to do everything in my capacity to become the best pastor I can possibly be. Also, I want to be able to write books. Having a doctorate will help me develop my writing skills and allow my writing to be more widely respected.

  • What does this mean for the church? The official board has graciously allowed me an additional two Sundays out of the pulpit for this study. So each January for the next three years I will be gone two additional Sundays. Don’t worry, we already have some exceptional guest speakers lined up for this year, and we’ll do the same in the future. Also, most of my assignments are things I will implement here at GBC. For example, this first year I am assigned to preach four specific sermon types between February and May. I will be involving teams of people from our church to help me prepare each sermon, and you all will get to hear them.

  • So what do we get out of it? This church will directly benefit from all of the assignments I implement in the church. Also, I will, God-willing, become a better pastor to feed you, lead you, and disciple you into the future.

  • Are you excited to begin? Heck yes!

  • Do I have to call you Dr. Wolf after this is all over? No, I’ll still just be Pastor Matt.

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Tags : DMin

Jan
01
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“...for the Bible tells me so.”

Many of you remember singing this line growing up in Sunday school. It may have been the first time that you heard that Jesus loved you. You may now have that melody stuck in your head for the rest of the day.

When we were small children, hearing the phrase, “for the Bible tells me so” or “because God says so” was all the reasoning we needed to know whether something was right or something was wrong. We knew to honor our parents because it’s in the ten commandments. We knew to not lie, cheat, or steal because God said so. We knew to love even our enemy (like your brother when he stole your favorite toy), why? Because Jesus commanded it. For a child, such an explanation works and it’s proper.

Yet as we grew older, we began to second-guess this explanation. We had our doubts. Well, aren’t there certain times when a lie is okay (like when it gets me out of detention)? Isn’t it okay to judge certain people (I mean even Mom says some awful stuff about Becky’s mom)? Isn’t it fine if I don’t believe God created the world (my biology teacher says that we evolved from primates)? To answer these questions, we wonder, is “for the Bible tells me so” enough?

This January we will be examining the Bible in a series entitled, “For the Bible Tells Me So.” during each of the five Sunday mornings we will look at the Bible itself to see if we can still trust it. We will discuss whether God’s Word is still relevant today or whether it needs revamping. We will uncover whether the Good Book should have the authority to change how we think and act.

I know that you have questions. Some that have been in your head for years. In addition to Sunday messages about the Bible, we will have a special Q&A time after the message each Sunday when you can ask your questions about the Bible. Also, you can invite your skeptical friends so they can try to stump me with their questions. I will attempt to answer all the questions I can. I may not get to all of them, but I’ll give it a shot.

As the series progresses. I believe that you will see that in the end, God has deep reasons for giving His Word to us. “For the Bible tells me so…” may seem childish, but in the end, you will rediscover that this Book is trustworthy, sure, perfect, and powerful.

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Dec
28
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Each year I pick a theme verse to focus our growth as a church. In 2016, our verse is Hebrews 4:12, and the concept is to “Read the Bible. Let the Bible read you.” I want to challenge GBC to not only read through the entire Bible in 2016, but also to allow the Bible to change you. Because it’s not just about memorizing facts and figures. You don’t open up the Bible like you would another book of history, poetry, or biography. The Bible contains those elements but it is much more than that. It is God’s Word. It is meant to penetrate our soul. It is supposed to read us, not just us it. For God’s Holy Spirit works through His Holy Word to change our lives.

Please join us as a church congregation by reading through the entire Bible this year. We handed out a nice page (download it here & here) that you can cut to make four bookmarks that will bring you through the entire Bible. We have more available. This plan is great because it builds catch-up days into the schedule, and you won’t get bogged down in one book like Leviticus, it allows you to read from four different sections each day. If you don’t like this reading plan, or want to do another one (like any of the amazing plans available through the YouVersionBible App or the Faithlife Study Bible App), feel free to do so. Choose your favorite translation of the Bible (mine is the NIV, but I also like the NLT [easier to read] and the ESV [closer to the original languages]), then go for it! The point isn’t for everyone to read the same plan, the point is for everyone to read the same book!

After church on each of the first Sundays of the month, we will also have a time for all the people reading to discuss what they’re learning and celebrate their progress together. We will also have some prizes for those keeping up on their reading.

So let’s make 2016 the year when not only do we grow in our understanding of God’s Word, but also see God’s Word transform us from the inside out!

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Tags : Theme, Bible

Dec
17
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“Keep Christ in Christmas!” signs shout this time of the year.

“I don’t wanna hear any of this ‘Happy Holidays’ nonsense!” your uncle interjects.

“Writing ‘Xmas’ is a travesty!” bemoans a talking head on the news.

You’ve heard this backlash to what the media has termed ‘The War on Christmas.’ You know what I’m talking about: The insistence on saying ‘Happy Holidays’ (instead of, God forbid, ‘Merry Christmas’). The push to remove nativity scenes from public spaces (what did the baby Jesus ever do to you?). Getting references to dreidels and Kwanzaa shoved down our throats (I empathize with George creating Festivus for the rest-of-us on Seinfeld). The desire to avoid mouthing the name Jesus (as if he were Voldemort in the Harry Potter series). Christians get fed up with all the politically correct butchering of what is arguably the greatest holiday of the year.

I get it. People go way over the top with political correctness. I tell people, ‘Merry Christmas’ whether they want to hear it or not. Can’t we recognize that people celebrate different holidays without erasing them from society? But there’s one of these complaints I can’t stomach. I keep the X in Christmas. Yes, you read that right. I, a Christian pastor, write ‘Xmas.’

Xmas is a nice shorthand for sure. It makes a long word easier to jot down. It’s an abbreviation everyone comprehends. But that isn’t the only reason I think it’s alright to keep the X in Christmas. I believe it is okay, even good to write Xmas because of the meaning of X.

Did you know that X has long been significant in Christianity? The Greek letter chi is in the shape of an English 'X.' And chi is the first letter of Christ (Χριστός), as well as the first letter of Christian (Χριστιανός) in Greek. Since Greek was the lingua franca during the first centuries of Christianity’s emergence, the Chi became the symbol for early Christianity. In addition, Andrew, one of the twelve disciples was himself executed on a tilted cross in the shape (you guessed it) of an X. Such a figure is called ‘St. Andrew’s Cross’ to this day. Thus, the X shaped letter became a symbol not only of Christ and Christians, but also of the cross itself, the central symbol of the Christian faith. In fact, it may have been religious scribes who started using the X to abbreviate Christ and Christian (perhaps to save their hands from cramping!).

But Matt, you may counter, there are some today who deliberately write Xmas to eliminate any reference to Jesus. Yes, I recognize that. But they don’t realize what they’re doing. Not only have left in a nod to Jesus, but they’ve also pointed us to the ultimate reason why Jesus had to be born--to die on a cross for the redemption of sinners. This is similar to this year's brouhaha about the red Starbucks cups because they retain zero symbols of Christmas. A seminary colleague of mine observed an interesting point: doesn’t their red color remind us of the blood of Jesus? Whether people try to remove Christ from Christmas or not, he’s still there. The profound significance of God-with-us in the form of a baby will always stand each December.

As for you, write Christmas or Xmas. Go ahead and get your knickers in a bunch if you want. Xmas doesn’t bother me anymore. Even with an X, you can’t take Christ out of Christmas.

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Dec
14
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Last week, the New York Daily News front page headline read, “God isn’t fixing this.” Surrounding this provocative claim were tweets from several politicians. From Ted Cruz, “Our prayers are with the victims, their families, and the first responders in San Bernardino…” From Lindsey Graham, “Thoughts & prayers are with #SanBernadino.” All of the tweets mentioned or requested prayer for those affected by the shooting in San Bernardino, California. The tabloid’s tagline explained further, “As latest batch of innocent Americans are left lying in pools of blood, cowards who could truly end gun scourge continue to hide behind meaningless platitudes.”

Always provocative, the New York Daily News put their finger on the pulse of a certain segment of skeptical and doubting Americans. Yes, the tabloid was pushing a certain political agenda, but it also conveyed a feeling that a much larger segment of the population has. They wonder, why keep praying, when God isn’t fixing this? Why taste time talking to a divinity who either doesn’t exist, doesn’t have the power to do anything, or doesn’t care? Even with believers, after the tragedies continue to mount in our nation, they wonder, Where is God? Why doesn’t he bring an end to injustice?

So where is God?

As we celebrate Christmas, billions of Christians around the globe anticipate the birth of Jesus. Even though this event already took place 2,000 years ago, we still practice this sense of anticipation and hope. We call it the season of advent. Advent means, “the arrival of a notable person, thing, or event.” Many churches celebrate this rhythm by lighting candles each week. Perhaps you’ve used a calendar with a new chocolate for each day leading up to the 25th. Why is this anticipation important? Because it reminds us that the world is longing for this savior to come. The entire world cried out, “Where is God?!?” God heard and answered by coming in a way different form than anyone could have ever expected.

You’ll probably see or hear the phrase “Prince of Peace” in reference to Jesus. Perhaps you’ll even hear of the ancient prophecy that the “government shall be upon his shoulders.” We don’t believe that Jesus came only to be a personal savior to give hope to a few, but to totally transform the entire world. Jesus came to bring peace and end all injustice. He came to establish a new kingdom one person at a time which would no longer have mass murders or tragic deaths. When we ask, “Where is God?” God already gave us an answer, I came in Christ.

Since Jesus has come, he created a people, an army, a kingdom who are called to bring peace and hope and reconciliation to end injustice. It is the role of Christians to change our world and make it better. God has sent us to act. The Daily News got it partially right, we must act and not just pray. Jesus brother James said that if someone comes to you in need, and you basically says you’ll pray for them, then it is a dead faith. We are charged with ending injustice.

Yet even still, there is evil in this world. Even Christians sin and do wrong (you don’t need me to tell you that). So will God act again? Will he do something new? The answer to this is yes as well. The season of advent also serves to point us to the second advent, that Jesus will come again. And this second time he will come and judge the living and the dead. We will put all wrongs to right. He will crush all evil people who perpetrate such violence and punish them for their sins. Why is it taking him so long? As Peter wrote, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). God will act decisively in judgment. And it will bring an end to all who sin and do wrong. God wants everyone to be ready, so that none will be destroyed unnecessarily. He will act, will you be ready?

The season of advent answers the question, ‘Where is God?’ definitively. Therefore, we must pray, and yes, we must act.

I explain this concept more deeply in my sermon, "The Father's Justice."

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Dec
07
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Our president plans to accept 10,000 refugees from Syria. Nebraska and 30 other states are fighting against that possibility. Someone asked me what I thought. Well, none of this is surprising from a historical point of view. Yet, for some reason I think both sides of the issue fail to understand and have empathy for the other. I think there’s a way forward if we understand why people are fearful and what it means to be a foreigner in America.

From the beginning of the American Experiment to this day we have been wary of foreigners. Because of the horrendous nature of the French Revolution, in 1798 we passed the “Alien and Sedition Acts” to stop firebrands from moving to our nation and voting to destroy our fledgling democracy. During WWII we deported Germans and locked up Japanese in internment camps. In the Red Scare we were terrified of Russian communists. Saccho and Vanzetti were given the electric chair since they were anarchists. Senator Joseph McCarthy went on a witch-hunt to root out and destroy all of the communist sympathizers. Whether it was a fear of our government being overthrown, foreigners taking our jobs, or terrorists killing us, Americans have always been wary of foreigners.

Put it all in a pot and let it boil. What’s left: fear. Xenophobia is what they label it: “the fear of that which is foreign or strange.” But I think that label misses the point. People aren’t fearful of foreigners per se, they’re fearful of danger. Imagine walking by yourself at one in the morning. No one’s around. You hear a rustle behind you. You pick up the pace. You hear and footsteps behind you. Your heart is pounding like a double-bass drum. The streetlight up ahead is out and it’s dark. I don’t care if you’re downtown, on a college campus, or out in the woods. You would be freaked out. That’s scary! That doesn’t mean you have nyctophobia, a fear of the dark, you’re simply a normal human being!

When it comes to foreigners, Americans are afraid of a change to our way of life. It’s being afraid for our kids--that someone could destroy their futures. Yes, it is much more likely that you will die driving down a rural highway than by the machinations of a terrorist, but the latter is much more frightening. The unknown. The unpredictable. They’re scary. Perhaps FDR was right when he intoned, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Fear drives us to hide. Fear causes us to be wary about traveling. Fear leads us to avoid big events and major city centers. The endless awful possibilities frighten us. Fear is worse than the terrorists themselves.

So what do we do about this Syrian refugee situation? Well I’m not a governor. I’m not a senator. I’m not the president. I can’t decide. But it does seem to me there is an obvious compromise between letting some desperate, bedraggled refugees (some of whom are Christian or Yazidi), while screening and shutting out potential terrorist sympathizers. Yes, there will be a majority of these incoming refugees who are Muslim, but we already have millions of Muslims living peacefully in our nation. Why are we so afraid of new ones? We have excellent intelligence agencies who can track and watch them once they arrive. We have incredible law enforcement individuals who can keep us safe.

So should we exclude Syrians from our state? That’s not my place to decide. Yes, at least one of the Paris terrorists was a Syrian national. We must pay extra attention to them. But others were French. I am part French (my maternal grandfather is French-Canadian). Does that make me dangerous? I also grew up in Colorado--so did the shooters at Columbine and the theater shooter in Aurora Colorado. Does that make me a potential threat? Our origin does not determine our destination. Nearly everyone reading this has a background outside of our nation, yet we or our ancestors came to the greatest nation on earth to make a better life. Should we stop those fleeing the hell-on-earth of ISIS ruled Syria from coming to the land of opportunity?

Did you know that God’s chosen people were foreign refugees? They fled the terrorizing foreign power of Egypt to make their home in a new land. Thus, God told them, no, he commanded them to love the foreigners who came and lived among them because they had once been foreigners themselves (Leviticus 19:34). For Christians, we are called “foreigners” (1 Peter 1:17 & 2:11). This land is not our final home. We may be from here, but we’re not gonna be here forever. We’re just passing through. Therefore, let us not be fearful of foreigners, for we ourselves were once foreigners, and are foreigners in this world still.

The fear of Syrian refugees is real and justified. Will we be cautious and protect ourselves? At the same time there are individuals in desperate positions who need help. Will we love them? Aren’t we intelligent enough to do both?

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Dec
01
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The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.
John 1:9
When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world.”
John 8:12a
“You are the light of the world.”
Matthew 5:14a

As we continue through the book of Malachi, we approach the climax of the prophecy. “The sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays,” Malachi predicted (Malachi 4:2). He foretold of a light that would come and be unlike any other light, it would transform the world. This same theme is picked up in the gospels as we read about the “light of the world.” This title is ascribed to Jesus by his followers and claimed by Jesus himself. In a world of darkness, where people are wandering around trying to figure out the meaning of it all, in comes Jesus shining brightly and bringing direction and hope.

Yet what is amazing about the title “light of the world” is that Jesus would go on to say that his disciples are themselves the “light of the world.” Hmm. What happened there? Who is the light of the world? Jesus? Or us?

Have you ever tried to light up a dark space? Perhaps it’s a room that you’re redecorating. Perhaps you’re outside and want to light up the yard. Maybe you have a flashlight in the cellar. Maybe you’re shining your headlights out in the country. Wherever you are, you’ll realize that even with the brightest light you can find, you can’t drive away all of the darkness. Even if you have a 10,000 lumens floodlight, there will be corners of the room still enveloped in darkness. Because of the angle of a lightbulb it is difficult, sometimes impossible, for a single light to remove all of the blackness. It takes multiple lights to infiltrate every nook and cranny.

I believe that God understood this concept. He knew that it takes a lot of lights to remove all darkness. And the world is a big place, filled with lots of darkness. Therefore, God send the one true light into the world, and Jesus in turn sent us out to be miniature lights reflecting his glory to every square inch of the globe. As a follower of Jesus you are part of the divine plan to vanquish all the darkness in the world. You will bring light to your office, your street, your relationships, your world.

This Christmas season, as you hang Christmas lights or watch candle flames flicker, as you put a star on top of of your tree or throw a log on the fire, remember that this season is about the light of the world--Jesus. And just as Jesus brought hope and meaning and the darkness fled before him, so too do we bring his light into the world. Jesus is the light of the world. We are the light of the world.

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Tags : Mission, Christmas

Nov
23
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I heard it from professors in college. You read it in social media posts. You see it from the talking heads on cable news. What? The accusation that the terrible acts of violence in our world, like the attacks in Paris, are caused by “religious extremism.” But is that true?

I had a professor in college who adamantly declared that near all major violence in the world is caused by religious extremists. He and others like him cite the Crusades, the Salem witch trials, and the Spanish Inquisition then rest their case. They assume they have proved their assertion, but they’re wrong. For one, this is taking a tiny slice of history and ignoring huge swaths of human history. What about Hitler murdering six million Jews? What about Stalin slaughtering some 40 million of his own countrymen? What about Mao Zedong executing 48 million? All three were atheists. No religion there. The largest mass murders and reigns of terror the earth has seen since that comet exterminated the dinosaurs were caused not by religious extremism, but irreligious extremism. Thus, historically, religion is not the only cause of all violence, nor is it even the biggest. In fact, it may be the lack of religion which leads to more violence and evil.

The way to understand the root cause of violence, murder, and atrocities would be to examine the specific religious beliefs and ideologies that lead to violence rather than lumping in all religions together. Take Hitler for instance. He and the Nazi party believed in an Aryan race--that there was a superior race of human beings better than all others. They believed that Jews, Romas (Gypsies), the handicapped, homosexuals, and all who opposed the party were inferior and must be exterminated. They took the concepts of Darwinism (yes, another atheistic system), and made them most important. They embraced “Darwinist extremism” not religious extremism. They married a “survival of the fittest” ideology with ethnocentrism and violence was conceived. Eugenics, the killing of impure people so that the race might be purified, became their modus operandi. Yes, Hitler pretended to support the German national Christian church at first, but he only used it to gain power and then shortly rejected faith entirely.

What about Islam? Well, I’m no expert on Islamic faith. But I do know that in the Quran Muhammad told his followers to attack those who opposed the fledgling religion. There is some debate about whether the Muslim concept of “Jihad” teaches violence against those who oppose Islam. Most Muslims interpret it as a spiritual struggle instead of a physical one. Plus, Jihad is not even one of the core pillars of the faith. Therefore, if you were to be an extremist of this peaceful interpretation of Islam, you would want Islamic Sharia Law to be the law of the land. You would bow for prayer five times a day. You would go on a pilgrimage to Mecca. But you wouldn’t murder and cause mass violence to make those things happen. However, if you interpret Jihad in the sense of violent aggression and take it to the extreme, as Al Qaeda and ISIS do, you would want to murder any who disagreed with you. Thus it is not religious extremism, but ideologies and religions that promote or allow violence that lead to evil when they are taken to the extreme.

What about Christianity? Jesus taught his followers to love their enemies, not hate them or murder them. In fact, when he was arrested  before his execution, one of his disciples pulled out a sword to defend him and sliced off a soldier’s ear. Jesus made him stop and then healed the man’s ear. Jesus taught and modeled nonviolence and peace. If you were to be a Christian extremist then, you would pursue peace at all costs. You would forgive people who hurt you and you would love even evil people. So why have Christians in history acted violently? Not because they were Christian extremists, but because they weren’t extreme enough.

The six coordinated terror attacks in Paris are an atrocity. It saddened and sickened us all. We must pray. We must figure out how to end these acts of terror. However, Islam and religion in general are not the cause. Extreme Islamic Jihadists are, however. Religious extremism isn’t the cause mass violence and war, it is religions and ideologies that allow and promote violence.

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Nov
09
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Maybe you wished you would have asked her out. Maybe you wished you would have said ‘I love you’ before it was too late. Maybe you wished you would have taken that job or tried that sport. We all have regrets. It’s impossible not to. But please, don’t put off getting right with God.

I often talk with people going through crises in their lives. Depression. Death. Disappointment. And many people say something along the lines of, ‘Someday I’ll get right with God.’ They want to have a good relationship with God and not feel guilty all the time, but they’re not quite ready. You will have some regrets at the end. PLEASE, do not let this be one of them.

Some people put off reconciling with God because they think it will be too hard. Some people do it because they're afraid that people will think they’re one of those weirdo Christians. Others (the most common reason) are clinging to some sin or activity in their life and don’t want to let it go.

There’s an old episode of Seinfeld when Elaine is considering a proposal from her boyfriend. She isn’t sure if she’s ready to get married. What makes her decision even harder is that her boyfriend is bald, and she’s a self-proclaimed “baldist.” In the episode, Kramer buys a hen, which he names “Little Jerry,” but it turns out he bought a rooster. “Well, that would explain Little Jerry’s poor egg production,” Kramer comments. Thus, he decides to enter his rooster into a fight. The episode’s final scene occurs in a filthy basement with a small crowd. While they’re waiting for Little Jerry to enter the ring, Elaine tells Jerry she’s going to say yes. Jerry points out that marriage is an enormous, life-changing decision. “Jerry, it’s 3 a.m. and I’m at a cockfight,” she responds. “What am I clinging to?”

There will come a point when you realize all of the stuff you’re clinging to--your quasi-comfortable life, fear about what people might think, or something you might have to give up--you’ll realize it isn’t worth it. Whether it’s today, ten years from now, or when you stand before God at the end, like Elaine you’ll have the epiphany that you’re clinging to something worthless. So don’t put it off.

But here’s the thing. Getting right with God isn’t settling. As Jesus said, “Whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.” What are you clinging to? I’m sure it’s nothing compared to real life with Christ.

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Tags : Faith, Sin

Oct
29
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Is it wrong for Christians to allow their children to read books about witchcraft or fantasy? For example, Harry Potter. For me it seems harmless as long as you teach your kids right from wrong. Many people agree with me. Others think otherwise...So am I wrong about fantasy books like Harry Potter?

Sincerely,

Concerned Parent

I grew up reading fantasy. I LOVED reading it. My dad was an avid reader as well and would regularly take me to the library so we could check out a few sci-fi or fantasy books. I started reading The Lord of the Rings in elementary school, so by the time Harry Potter came out, I thought I was too cool for such childish fare (yet I ended up reading them and thoroughly enjoying them). So was my dad a bad father for allowing (even encouraging) my head to be filled such evil ideas? I don’t think so.

First off, every parent needs to decide what is right for their child. Every child is different, so each child needs specific rules and guidance. Some children will have nightmares and develop extreme fears. This doesn’t have to happen! What you allow them to put into their brains will affect them. Some children will be drawn towards dark and violent things. They need clear instruction that evil is real and that violence is wrong. They will not know this naturally. Protect them. Also, make sure it's age-appropriate. Parents--that’s your job--not a teacher’s job or a youth pastor’s job. You need to do it. Therefore, some parents should restrict what their kids read--all should to a certain extent. There is too much rape, murder, and disturbing language in some books that even adults shouldn’t read them, because they make you feel awful. You wouldn’t serve your kid a dinner of racoon brains, why do you let such awful things enter their minds and souls?

On the flip side, there are great benefits to reading fantasy. Certainly it is good that your child is reading, it will help them get improve at school because reading proficiency is vital to all areas of learning. If they are sucked-in by a page-turning series, good! Moreover, the genre of fantasy itself is beneficial, especially if you want your child to be a Christian! Allow me to explain. The genre of fantasy is about the imagination. The good authors of the genre will create lush landscapes and deep characters and complicated conflicts and even their own languages. The imagination is a powerful force that must be developed. On their own, children don’t necessarily have great imaginations. But reading fantasy or sci-fi or mythology will help them begin to understand a world beyond themselves. Then they will begin to yearn for a better world in reality. Moreover, fantasy can teach morality, because it involves the battle between good and evil. Children will begin to desire heroes and to be a hero themselves. Then one day they will courageously step up like a Harry Potter or a Frodo to fight evil’s many machinations.

The Bible itself, and the Christian faith requires us to use our imaginations. Not because anything in it is imaginary, but because with the ancient stories--we weren’t there--we need help to see the stories in our minds-eyes. And with the prophecies about the future, we need our imaginations to capture the heavenly glories and the power of Jesus who will one day come and conquer death and evil forever. Heck, the Bible even has dragons in it! We certainly don’t see heaven around us--we need to have the power of a vivid imagination to push our world forward out of this present darkness.

But Matt, doesn’t Harry Potter contain witchcraft? Yes. And for that some parents would be justified in steering their kids in a different direction. Every book presents a worldview that is either good or bad. But also remember that lots of Christian tales utilize magic as well--CS Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia and JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. (Yes, Tolkien was a Christian.) These Christian authors utilized magic to demonstrate a more powerful force that can defeat evil. And we do have such powerful forces--faith, hope, and love. And Jesus himself healed the sick, calmed storms with his voice, and raised the dead. A peculiar magic indeed.

What matters is that parents teach their children well. They need to be taught that there is such a thing as evil. We must avoid its temptations and fight it with good. We must also teach that there are people who are really witches and who do practice magic, and that there really are a devil and demons who want to harm us.

So concerned parent, some things are just not good for your child’s mind to absorb. Be wise. Look up a Christian review on the internet. If you can’t find one, read the book yourself. But don’t stifle the development of your child’s imagination, use fantasy to teach them the truth.

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Oct
29
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Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of the Messiah and the glories that would follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you...
1 Peter 1:10-12a

I’ve often heard people say something like, “I wish God would just speak to me.” Or, “If I could just hear from God, I would believe.” Well here’s the thing. God has spoken. He wrote 66 books for you to read. And in particular, he spoke through a number of people called Prophets who spoke on behalf of God. So it’s time to hear what God had to say.

In November and December of 2015 we are jumping into a book that, if you know anything about it, you know it is the last book of the Old Testament. Yes, we’re talking about Malachi. This new series is called “A Messenger Prepares the Way.” In the Jewish Bible, Chronicles is the final book of the Bible, but in the Christian Old Testament, Malachi holds this distinction. It was the last message that our Father wanted his children to hear before the “400 years of silence” that were to come. For it would be 400 years with zero divine revelation. Until something came that transformed our planet more than the meteorite that took out the dinosaurs. This is the last word God wanted his people to hear so their hearts would be prepared for this cataclysmic event.

Malachi relates a message from God answering six different criticisms that God’s people were struggling with. Wouldn’t you like God to directly answer some of your questions about him? For example, the first criticism they have for God is, how can you love us if things are going so badly in our lives right now? Hmm, it seems like our questions are the same today as they were 2500 years ago. Malachi also foretells the coming of a messenger who would prepare the way for the Messiah. Here is a clear prediction that would be fulfilled in the 1st century AD. What’s more intriguing is that the word Malachi literally means “my messenger” in Hebrew. Some scholars have theorized that “Malachi” is itself a title and not a name. Whatever the case may be (I think it’s a pretty sweet name myself), it’s as if God is basically saying, Here is a message about a messenger through my messenger.” In other words, “LISTEN UP!” God wants us to hear him loud and clear so we aren’t left to wonder if he would ever speak to us.

This series is especially timely for Christmas. Think of it as an extended Advent series. For in the same way Malachi prepared the Jews for the coming of the Messiah, it can create in our souls that same sense of preparation for the arrival, i.e. the advent, of Jesus. This seven week series will challenge you. If you’ve become apathetic, it will convict your soul. If you’re too comfortable, it will shake you up. If you’ve forgotten the importance of Christ, it will prepare your heart for Him. For as Peter explained in 1 Peter 1:10-12a, the prophets, like Malachi pointed forward to Jesus to serve us.

Please open your Bible this week and read through this short book (if you’ve gotten to Matthew you’ve gone too far). Come eager to hear God speak to us in a fresh way. Then, our hearts might be prepared for Jesus to come in and revive us again.

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Tags : Malachi, Prophet

Oct
26
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On the weekends, Melissa and I will sometimes watch TV when we eat dinner. After we pray, we’ll turn on the tube. One show we watch is Bones, the FOX show about a forensic anthropologist who examines corpses to catch murderers. On more than one occasion we will just be putting the first savory bite into our mouths as a rotting, maggot-infested, carrion-eaten corpse is stumbled upon by a shocked bystander. Every time we turn to the other and ask, “Why are we eating right now!” You’d think we’d learn.

As a society, we seem to have a morbid curiosity with bodies. Crime shows like Bones capture our attention like a semi-truck overturned on I-80. In this Halloween-related series (part 1 is here), I will talk about how each church is the body of Christ, but sadly, often has been hurting itself and mutilating itself for far too long. Today, I argue that just like the vomit-inducing body mutilation of Bones, we are prone to make our church bodies into disturbing, man-made monsters.

The Bible utilizes the metaphor of the human body to represent a church. Each person is a part of the body. One person is the eye and sees the truth clearly. One is the hand and regularly helps others out. Another is the foot and is ever eager to go out and do another mission project. Every part is important for the whole body to operate effectively.

Furthering the metaphor, the apostle Paul wrote, “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ And the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!’” (1 Corinthians 12:21). You see, what can happen among Christians is that we begin to selfishly think that everyone should be like we are. If you are generous, you think everyone should be just as generous, and you begin to scorn the stingy hypocrites who have such a nice house but never seem to give. If you are studious and and know the Bible better than Tom Osborne knows football, you get sick of the ignoramuses who believe whatever they hear. If you spend every weekend serving at the homeless shelter, you despise those who are too self-centered to give up one meager afternoon! This feeling is the impetus for this second type of church body mutilation.

Individuals who elevate themselves and their gifts, passions, and callings to the place of utmost importance tend to distance themselves from those who are unlike them and only associate with those Christians who are just like themselves. Using the body illustration, it would be like a man covered with eyeballs. Or a woman with eighteen hands and no feet. Or a child with nostrils covering their posterior. Just take a moment to imagine those scenarios. Grossed out yet? Such images brings to mind a carnival freak show or a monster created in Dr. Frankenstein’s lab. The poor creature is humanoid, yet mutilated and grotesque.

Today we have a plethora of churches in close proximity to us, the internet to tell us all about them, and vehicles to transport us to them. People therefore seek out their favorite worship style, their particular emphasis in outreach, and their precise theological positions and attend only that church. This leads all of the other people just like them to that same church. This problem is even more complex with parachurch organizations. These are organizations which specialize in one area of service. These are food pantries, campus organizations, missionary-sending groups, adoption agencies, etc. These organizations are WAY better than individual churches in their niche, because churches which do a little bit of everything could never be as effective as the specialist organizations. Christianity needs these organizations. My father worked for one for most of his career and I have many friends in these organizations. They are vitally important and effective. However, some Christians want to only be around others like themselves so much that they end up going to these organizations and abandoning their home church.

This movement to be around individuals only like yourself has birthed monster churches and organizations that are filled with only one or a few body parts. They are bodies who can smell but can’t see or think because they have no eyeballs or brains. These are churches which master the study of the Bible, but don’t reach out to help the community. These are organizations which minister to the elderly but will die out in a decade because they don’t reach the younger generations. These are mutilated bodies.

We need each other to be different, not the same. We need to be around people with different gifts, passions, opinions, and thoughts. We need fully-formed, healthy church bodies that can make an impact in a world that desperately needs the help that only churches can provide. We don’t need these man-made monsters.

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Tags : Church, Halloween

Oct
19
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The scene begins. A hapless maid goes about her work as a housecleaner by dusting the fireplace. She picks up a coat on the edge of the couch. She moves towards the closet to put it away. She opens the closet door. A blood curdling scream. She drops the coat and dusting wand and darts out the front door. The camera pans to reveal to the audience what the maid had discovered: A dead body that has had its eyeballs violently removed.

The music starts: “Bum BUM, bum bum bunump bum, bum…”

“In the criminal justice system…” the narrator intones.

Whether it’s one of the Law and Orders, CSI's, NCIS’s, or Bones, Criminal Minds, or any one of another dozen cop shows, they all seem to start with a variation on this same scene. Someone unwittingly stumbles upon a mutilated body.

As a society, we seem to have a morbid curiosity with bodies. These crime procedurals are continually popular in the Nielsen ratings. Whatever the macabre pull of these shows, it captures our attention like a semi-truck overturned on I-80. It’s the same gory reality that will have kids dressing up as “man-with-axe-in-head” for Halloween, the Walking Dead America’s favorite TV show, and people of all ages watching horror flicks this October. Sadly, I think this prevalence of mutilated, decapitated, and dismembered bodies has carried over into our churches. In this brief series I will talk about how each church is the body of Christ, but sadly has been hurting itself and mutilating itself for far too long. In today’s article, I will demonstrate how we are unnecessarily amputating healthy limbs.

The apostle Paul wrote a letter to a church in the city of Corinth that was dealing with some issues. He used the metaphor of the human body to describe what the diverse group of people which comes together in the church is like. The church is the whole body, and each person makes up a part, or member, of the body. One person is the eye and sees the truth clearly. One person is the hand and regularly helps others out. One person is the ear and hear’s God's voice. Another person is the foot and is ever eager to go out and do another mission project. Every part is important for the whole body to operate effectively. Even if you don’t like your weenus (that’s your elbow skin, by the way), you need your elbow to help your arm bend and be able to pick things up and hold them. In the same way, every person is important to the church.

Sadly, some people who believe in God leave churches and thus amputate the church body. There are dozens of reasons why people leave churches, some pretty legitimate: The pastor started preaching something other than the Bible. They lost a spouse so sitting in the same pews floods them with too many emotions. They moved. They had doubts and questions. Others not so legitimate: They got too busy. Someone looked at them funny. The new pastor did things differently than they’re used to. The church stopped serving real wine. Whatever the case may be, Paul wanted all Christians to know that being a Christian isn’t a solo endeavor, it’s a community effort. It’s not a one-man race, it’s a relay. It’s not for lone rangers, it’s for teams. So, when people leave a church they are not only cutting themselves off from encouragement, teaching, support, love, and community, but they are also cutting other people off from the contributions that they could be making. It’s like a person with no hands, attempting ineffectively to open a can of tomatoes.

There is a bizarre phenomenon that occasionally pops up. Psychologists call it Body Integrity Identity Disorder (BIID). It is when people express a strong and specific desire to amputate healthy limbs. Others are sexually aroused by the image or fantasy of being an amputee. That’s called apotemnophilia. Do you find that bizarre? It is. It’s not normal. It’s a psychological disorder for which people need real help. It’s extremely rare--at least with people. But with churches? It happens all the time. Lots and lots of people are amputating themselves by leaving or not getting involved with a church even though they are a believer. And it’s just as wrong.

Please don’t mutilate the body of Christ. It needs you and you need it.

Part 2: Monsters

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Tags : Church, Halloween

Oct
01
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Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
Matthew 19:26

Holy water. Healing oil. Tears streaming down a statue’s face. The Virgin Mary appearing on a grilled cheese. Miracles? Or superstition? A man bound to a wheelchair regaining his ability to walk. A woman who was told she would never bear a child conceiving twins. The hole in an infant's heart being closed after a prayer. Supernatural? Or science? To determine whether things we see, hear about, or read in the news are natural or supernatural is a difficult task, yet it is a task we must do, so let’s not make the two common errors.

A few weeks ago, we visited Sherman lake. We drove on top of the steep retaining wall--the lake on one side, a virtual cliff on the other. If we had veered off the road in either direction, we would have fallen off and been in trouble. In a similar manner, most people are prone to falling into one of two equal and opposite errors when it comes to miracles. They either are gullible and believe everything, no matter how outlandish or how scarce the proof, or they are skeptical and believe nothing, no matter how clear and abundant the proof.

The skeptic looks with derision on all of the faerie tales, myths, and superstition of uneducated yokels. She calls any arguments for finding God in creation or in unexplained phenomenon as a “God of the gaps” philosophy. She is unaware that when science has no rational explanation that she has a “naturalism of the gaps” philosophy that says, oh, someday we’ll find a scientific reason. The gullible person scoffs at the brash arrogance of the modernist who knows a lot less than they think they do. He knows, knows, knows what he and others have seen and experienced, and will unflinchingly grip onto his supernatural beliefs even if a Boeing 747 full of contrary evidence came flying at him.

Yet both worldviews are wrong for the Christian (or any person who can think for themselves). We are commanded not to quench the Spirit, nor to despise prophecy (1 Thess 5:19-20). The only sin Jesus said was unforgivable was “blaspheming the Holy Spirit” after the Pharisees insisted that the miraculous work of Jesus was demonic (Mt 12:22-32). We must be wary not to dismiss God’s miraculous activity. Yet at the same time, God clearly laid out rules for determining if a prophet was from God or not (Deut 13; 18:21-22). Jesus called us to watch out for false teachers (Matthew 7:15-19). And the Bible clearly warns us that some supernatural activity is not from God (Mt 7:21-23; 2 Cor 11:13-15; 2 Thess 2:9-12).

Sadly, Christians do fall into both errors. There are some Christians who are “practical atheists”--living their entire life without ever trusting in the Spirit, praying for God to intervene, or expecting God to do something extraordinary. Christian Smith, a sociologist, found that a form of deism (believing God created the world but does not intervene in it) is the majority belief of young people raised in churches today. These skeptical Christians will miss out on the supernatural power of God in their lives. Other Christians believe everything and can be duped by charlatan “miracle-workers” and healers. They will be devastated when they were counting on a miracle to save them. They fail to realize that God gave them a brain to think for themselves. Let us avoid either extreme.

God is the God of the supernatural. For him, nothing is impossible. Therefore, we must believe that he can and will move in miraculous, incomprehensible ways. Yet at the same time, miracles are miracles because they aren’t the norm. We can’t cough up the supernatural on demand, for the Spirit moves where it wills. We must be discerning and testing and wise.

As we look at 1 Corinthians 12-14 in our Connect in Christ sermon series, we will again and again come to read about supernatural gifts. Let us not be gullible and think everything claiming to be supernatural is. And let us not be skeptical and dismiss it all and miss out.

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Tags : Faith, Doubt

Sep
28
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It’s not by the fish on the back of your car. It’s not by the cross on a chain that hangs from your neck. It’s not by the “Jesus is my homeboy” shirt you think is still cool. It’s not by a sweet Hebrew tattoo that you have to explain multiple times a day. It’s not by the leather-bound Bible you keep on your living room end table. It’s not because of a Scripture you post on Facebook.

It’s not because you don’t drink, smoke, or chew or go with those who do. It’s not because you don’t watch rated-R movies. It’s not because you say “dag-nam-it” instead of words they won’t put in print.

It’s not because you’re a registered Republican. It’s not because you got your pro-life bona-fides by picketing Planned Parenthood.

It’s not because you're American. It’s not because you live in the Midwest. It’s not because your parents are Christian. It’s not because you're on a church’s mailing list. It’s not even because you go to church. It’s not because you were confirmed or even baptized (shocking, I know).

It’s not even by telling people what you believe.

None of these things is wrong. In fact, most of them are pretty darn good. But the way to show you’re a Christian is by one thing: your love for others.

“A new command I give you: Love one another," Jesus taught his disciples. “As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35).

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Tags : Faith, Evangelism

Sep
23
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For my sermon series through 1 Corinthians 12-14, "Connect in Christ," there are several resources I am consulting often. For those who are curious and/or eager to learn, check them out:

  • D.A. Carson's Showing the Spirit: A Theological Exposition of 1 Corinthians 12-14Don Carson is brilliant. He provides insight into the text, plus he does a great job of providing a theological overview and engaging with various charismatic and cesassionist arguments. Since this book began as a series of lectures, it is more condensed than some of his other works can become. Highly recommended. 
  • 1 Corinthians by Craig Blomberg. I don't love the three-section format of the NIVAC commentary series, but it does provide modern applications. Since Blomberg was one of my favorite professors at Denver Seminary, so I'm a little biased, but this commentary is excellent.
  • 1 Corinthians by David Garland. I really like the entire BECNT series. Garland has some unique perspectives on various interpretative issues, but is good.
  • The Message of 1 Corinthians by David Prior. Good for application.
  • 1 & 2 Corinthians by Richard Pratt. A more pastoral perspective.

I also reread The Spirit of Revival by Archie Parrish. I skimmed through this once in seminary for a paper, and knew I missed some of it. I was right. This book basically is a modern version of Jonathan Edwards examination of the spiritual manifestations occurring during the great revival. I may not agree with everything he says, but he always goes to Scripture. I love his perspective of basically not throwing the baby out with the bathwater when it comes to manifestations of the Holy Spirit.

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Sep
23
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1 Corinthians 12:4: "There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them."

On Sunday we spoke about the various spiritual gifts God gives. I encourage everyone to take a spiritual gifts test to help identify their spiritual gift(s). These tests aren't perfect, but they, along with talking to people who know you well, will give you a better idea of what gifts you have. And they're simple!

Download the App:

God has uniquely gifted YOU for HIS purpose. Don't miss out on it.

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Sep
07
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You might have seen the bumper sticker or the internet meme: “Jesus, save me from your followers!” It’s the cry of disenfranchised Christians, mocking atheists, and those who want to take a dig at the so-called establishment religion. There was even a documentary by a similar name (“Lord, save us…”). This satirical prayer expresses the annoyance, anger, confusion, exasperation, etc. that people feel, not towards Jesus, but towards those who call themselves Christians.

Sadly, in our world there have been people who have been turned off to an entire religion because of its adherents. There are various reasons for this, but none of them come from Jesus himself.

Sometimes it’s because Christians will preach one thing and do another. Who wants to be around a person who says, “love your neighbor as yourself” and then keys your car because  your rear bumper extended into his driveway? No one, I mean no one, likes a hypocrite. But Jesus didn’t like hypocrites either. He railed on them and called them a “brood of vipers” and “white-washed tombs.” You know, because they looked upright and good on the outside, but inside were as rotten as a corpse.

Sometimes it’s because one church or branch of Christianity will go off the rails. Billboards claiming the end is nigh? Then, “Oops, I guess we got the date wrong.” Yeah of course you did! Jesus himself said, “But about the date and hour, NO ONE knows.” Westboro Baptist Church picketing funerals of fallen servicemen and women? No church should be characterized by hatred and vitriol. Didn’t Jesus say, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another?” (By the way, zero baptist churches recognize Westboro as Baptist, and I don’t know of any churches who even recognize them as Christians!)

Sometimes it’s because Christian teachers are charlatans. When you see televangelists raising 20 million dollars to purchase a new private jet, or ordaining their custodians so they won’t have to pay taxes, or telling the poor that if they just give $2,000 in faith then God will multiply it tenfold back to them, you get a little jaded. But Jesus taught, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God,” and “it is more blessed to give than to receive.” He himself was poor.

Sometimes it’s because Christians can be weird and annoying. Yes, I’ll admit it. We have our quirks and our issues (just like you do).

I can admit it. There are many reasons why Christians have scared off people. But as you can see, these sins, flaws, and eccentricities do not demean Jesus Himself. My plea to you is to not reject Jesus because of his followers. For one, many of them are not true Christians. Jesus himself warned that there are false teachers. And Jesus knew there would be some who claim to be Christian, and he promised to tell them at the judgment, “I never knew you. Away from me you evildoers!” Jesus is just as angered and disgusted by the actions of false Christians as you are.

So please don’t reject Jesus because of some bad apples. Think about it. There are bad republicans. Bad democrats. Bad teachers. Bad students. Bad parents. And bad administrators. There are bad Muslims and bad Hindus. Bad mormons and bad atheists. In every group there are some that give the group a bad name. With 2 billion people around the globe who claim the name of Christ, there will be some bad ones. You don’t swear off apples forever because one has a worm in it!

Don’t reject Jesus because of bad Christians. Instead, seek him out. Learn from him. And pretty soon instead of praying, “Jesus save me from your followers!” you’ll realize you are one of those followers (though a good one, I hope).

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Sep
01
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Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud,

but be willing to associate with people of low position.

Do not be conceited.

Romans 12:16

In his powerful letter to the church in Rome, Paul spends the first 11 chapters delving into the theological significance of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Then, in chapter 12, he suddenly starts telling us how to live. Basically, Paul says that since Jesus saved you, this is how you ought to live. In this section comes a command to “live in harmony with one another” and “associate with people of low position.” You see, the gospel shouldn’t just change our relationship with God, but it also transforms our relationships with those around us.

Paul explains how we must overcome our pride and self-conceit in order to do this for pride gets in the way of our relationships. Sometimes we think others are stupid in how they think or act, and we pridefully don’t want to spend time around such lowly pond scum. Sometimes we have been hurt in the past, and we selfishly want to keep ourselves from getting hurt again, not thinking that perhaps they need us. Sometimes we are self-centered with our time, thinking we have “better” things to do.

But to “live in harmony with one another” is not a polite suggestion. It is a command. Indeed, the gospel demands we spend time with others. Community is a command. For if Jesus died to accept us, mustn’t we accept other people? If God adopted me into his family, shouldn’t I be willing to associate with my new brothers and sisters in Christ? If Jesus was willing to call me his friend, shouldn’t I be open to hanging with others?

You need a group of spiritual friends around you to encourage you and help you. And they need your help and encouragement. Joining a Connect Group is a great way to make that happen! If you are interested in hosting one, let me know soon. To everyone else, join one of these amazing groups. Sign-up after church on September 20th or the 27th. These groups will meet six times between September and December. They will meet for about an hour-and-a-half. They provide time to study the Bible, discuss life with others, and a time of prayer for each other. They each meet in different locations at different times and study different material. So find the one that is best for you.

I can hear the objections now:

  • I’m an introvert! Don’t worry, you won’t have to sing Karaoke in front of a crowd. Instead, join a group, and be quiet. Say, “No thanks,” if you get called on to say a prayer in public. Your INFJ (or whatever you are on the Myers-Briggs) personality is an important part of the Christian community.

  • My plate is just too full. Yes, it may be. Don’t pile it on. Figure out what you can take off that isn’t as important. Or, sit out this round, and plan ahead for January so you can have a clearer schedule. Or heck, maybe right now you need to have some friends who can pray for you and encourage you to make it through the next few months!

  • What if I don’t like my group? You might not at first. That’s ok, it’s only 6 weeks. Try a different one starting in January. Consider this your chance to help encourage others. (It’s not all about you!) Plus, I think you’ll learn a lot and end up enjoying it much more than you first expected.

  • I don’t know that much. Well then a connect group is exactly what you need. These groups are comprised of individuals who have different levels of knowledge and faith, so we can learn from each other and grow together.

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Aug
31
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No one wants to be forced to anything. Even church. (Some would say, especially church.) Over and over again I hear from people of a certain generation that they hate church or refuse to attend a worship service because they were forced to go as a child. Even if they believe in God and appreciate Jesus, they refuse to go to a church service. It’s gonna be tough to get their corpse into a sanctuary for their own funeral.

I do not think being forced to go church is their problem. Some parents were rude about how they got their kids to go to church, but I still think this interpretation is ignoring the real culprit. So why is it that so many people despise church and claim this same reason for why?

Well, is it that many churches treated children poorly--making them shut up and sit up in hard wooden pew? Although there were (and sadly still are) some churches who treated children poorly and did nothing to engage children (the same thing that made Jesus “indignant” in Mark 10:14), I really don’t think that is the issue either.

I contend that the reason why some adults leave the church when they come of age is not that they were forced to go by their parents, rather it is that their parents didn’t live out the faith. In fact, George Barna did an extensive survey with parents to determine why some kids continue on in the Christian faith and others leave. In his book, Revolutionary Parenting he explains that one of the most important things they found was that children are most likely to be Christian after they move out of the home if their parents truly lived out their faith when they were in the home. On the other hand, children were least likely to keep being a part of a church if they saw parents who didn’t live as Christians.

Tragically, many children witnessed their father dressing up in a suit and tie and playing the part of the church-goer every Sunday, then pulling out the belt to whip their hide as soon as they pulled out of the church parking lot. They endured parents who put on a reverent face for their pastor and then lied, screamed, and gossiped about others during the week. If children see their parents ripping off each others heads and sending their shaky marriage right toward divorce, they find it difficult to want to follow the same faith that their parents claim to uphold. If there are only thorns and no berries, the bush probably isn’t a raspberry bush, but rather a thorn bush. Kids observe their parents 24/7, they see the contradictions and the hypocrisy. Who could blame them for growing up and not wanting to have the same type of fake faith?

Do you agree? If you do, and you were the hypocritical parent, repent. Apologize to your child for letting them down. God has grace for you. If you are the adult still reeling from the hypocrisy of your parents, give church another shot. The Church is Jesus’ bride, and you are hurting him if you disrespect her.

And if you are a parent right now, don’t worry about forcing your child to attend church services. That is not the reason why they will reject the faith...they’ll probably reject it because they have no clue about who Jesus is and what the Bible teaches because they don’t regularly go to church. If your child complains that they’re being forced to brush their teeth, do you let them off the hook? No, you make them brush their teeth, because they’re gonna need to learn proper dental hygiene if they don’t want dentures in their mid-twenties. If your child says you’re forcing them to go to bed, or eat dinner, or do their homework, you don’t let them skip those things (if you do, you need someone to smack you upside the head), instead you lovingly do “force” them to do it.

In my opinion, being forced to go to church is rarely the problem, instead, the issue is being forced to go to church by someone who isn’t living like a church-goer.

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Tags : Church, Parenting

Aug
24
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Routines are being established. You’re setting that alarm clock and groggily realizing you’re gonna have to get yourself and your kids ready. Clubs are kicking off. Practices for football and cheerleading are leaving you feeling like an unpaid and underappreciated chauffeur. You feel like a ball of bread dough, being squashed and pulled, flipped and flattened. The light at the end of the tunnel is the weekend. Then, when you get there, you realize you have fifteen activities lined up.

With all of the great sports, school, and activities starting to mold your fall calendar, it’s time to think about what really matters. Is it sports? Is it it activities? Yes, it is good for your child learns teamwork and discipline. Yes, learning in instrument can give them a lifelong skill. But what if your child can throw a perfect spiral but grows up to cheat on his wife and abandon his children? What if she can play a Mozart Concerto but cracks under the anxiety of a career. Too many children are entering into the world like a Maserati without a motor or an iPhone without a battery. They may look good and have the specs (diploma, skills, knowledge), but the internal driving force (maturity, perseverance, faith, morality) is missing.

Are your children growing into mature human beings? Are they becoming the men and women who will shape the world and serve others? Are you thinking about the moral and spiritual development of your child? Or merely the academic and athletic?

There will be hundreds and thousands of things vying for your time. A new slate of fall TV shows, the almighty football, the busyness of work. But nothing deserves your time more and will benefit you and your family more than a meaningful involvement in a church. I can guarantee it.

So, instead of forming your entire schedule around the away games, begin with God then work outwards. If you commit to you and your family regularly hearing God’s Word on Sunday morning (or Saturday night), you won’t miss much, but will establish a firm foundation for you and your family. This foundation will provide you and them the strength to not just make it through another year, which it will, but also to face the storms of life. Your children will be worse off if they are not connected to a church. You will be worse off. On the other hand, meaningful involvement with a church family will provide tangible benefits.

There’s my pitch. But I feel that it’s much more significant than that. Do you want your kids to succeed? Do you want to develop maturity? Do you want your family to be stronger? Be a part of a church. Any church. Come to Gibbon Baptist. Or go somewhere else. Please, do it. It’s vitally important.

“And let us not give up meeting together. Some are in the habit of doing this. Instead, let us encourage one another with words of hope” (Hebrews 10:25a NIrV).

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Aug
17
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Have you seen them? Trumpeting, “Repent!” Yelling at “fornicators.” Planting themselves on major street corners or major events. Carrying gigantic leather-bound King James Bibles. I’ve seen them, I’m sure you have too.

In a conversation the other day with a well-meaning Christian, he wondered aloud if we who were true to our faith should do the same as those sidewalk prophets (not the band, of course). But for most Christian that is just too much. Most of our nation would agree. Those fanatics are just too out there. So here’s a question, can someone be too Christian? As a pastor, you might presume I’d give a hearty, “No way!” But that’s not the case. I think the premise is wrong.

Individuals often have powerful conversion experiences that can’t be easily explained. There is something transformative when someone first encounters the living God. And this powerful experience causes people to drastically change their lives. They start talking about Jesus more. They began singing praise music all the time. They pray in public. They’re like different people. There was a song in the 90s that captured it well, they’re “Jesus freaks.”

People (Christian and nonChristian alike) see these Jesus freaks and assume that the natural progression of a Christian convert is to become Bible-thumpers. Some Christians think they’re not being good enough if they don’t go to this extreme, going door to door to confront sinners. Often I have people say to me (and I’m sure I’m not alone), “Oh, it’s good you’re a Christian, just don’t be one of those Christians.” They of course mean they’re glad I’m not an in-your-face sidewalk prophet. The too Christian Christians. But I contend that this is not the natural progression of faith. Those people are not too Christian, they are not Christian enough.

Think about Jesus. He was not afraid to call someone a sinner. He told those he encountered to go and sin no more. When he preached, he spoke with an air of authority. Jesus didn’t even say to follow a certain religious path, he told people to be perfect! Yet at the exact same time, Jesus cared deeply for people. He loved them. He hung out with the prostitutes and the drunkards. In fact, he got the nickname “friend of sinners.” Jesus was at the same time kind, compassionate, loving and he spoke truth, calling sinners to repent. He was full of grace AND truth.

If someone is to become more Christian, they would necessarily become more like Jesus. Thus, if they are merely a sidewalk-prophet calling others to repent, they are not showing enough love and grace. If they are kind and thoughtful and caring, but not telling others to repent then they don’t have enough truth. Christians often fall into one of those two sides, but Jesus was perfect in showing kindness while also maintaining the truth. Therefore, the Bible-thumpers are not too Christian, but not Christian enough.

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Aug
10
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Buddha, Mohammed, Moses, Jesus, Zoroaster, Confucius. You will recognize most of these names. They were all individuals who either founded a religion, or were integral in a faith group being established. Nearly all are widely respected. For most of us the commonalities end there. However, to others, they are all pioneers exploring the same mountain.

I’ve written about this concept before (In a five part series entitled “Is There Only One Way?” Part 1) Many Paths; 2) Different Beliefs; 3) The Whole Elephant; 4) Arrogant Belief; 5) Tolerance). I think it’s fundamentally illogical. Still, the idea is perpetuated again and again and even taught to our children through popular kid’s books.

Recently, I was reading CS Lewis’ Letters to Malcolm, a series of letters Lewis wrote to a close friend about prayer. In one of the letters he described this concept, but he pointed out how this popular ideology gets things backwards. He shares an analogy on which I wish to elaborate.

Imagine five sailors leaving a port in Los Angeles and traveling for the small paradise island of Bora Bora. All five travel on the same ocean. Each one sees dolphins, whales, and shark fins that leave them in awe and/or fear. Each one contemplates their insignificance compared to the vast expanse of the Pacific. Each one learns the importance of discipline in order to get their sails to catch the wind each day. Each one recognizes his powerlessness when a storm causes the wind, rain, and waves to pummel their craft. If all five sailors were to keep a diary, you might think each one was on the same voyage, even though some details were different. They might see different sea creatures or encounter different sights, but the voyage would make them all the same, right?

However, what if you learned after reading all five accounts that only one of the sailors actually reached the destination. Hmm. What happened? Perhaps the first sailor made it a third of the way and abandoned the voyage because he didn’t bring along enough drinkable water. Maybe the second stopped at the first island he saw even though it was hundreds of miles short of his destination, he figured all islands are alike. The third fell overboard when he imbibed too much Corona. The fourth never even left the dock. He had read other accounts of sailors and forged a fictional account of the voyage. The fifth was the only one to make it to the paradise that is Bora Bora.

Like Lewis, I contend that this same thing happens with our world religions. All the various religions of our world have some similarities: they offer new insights, they include practices of meditation or prayer, they each require personal discipline, and they provide experiences of awe, fear, and wonder. But perhaps this is more that the journey is on the same ocean rather than that they have the same destination. In fact, I would say, as one who has studied the world religions, that once you look closer, the various religions turn out to have major differences. Just like if you read those diaries you would discover that each of the voyages was totally different, despite their few points of similarities.

The religions of the world may have some similarities. But that doesn’t mean they're the same. Stalin, Hitler, FDR, and Winston Churchill all were old white men who led powerful nations in the 1940s. They each fought a war and were all highly esteemed by many. We could find even more similarities between them. But they were radically different. Similar characteristics do not mean equivalent content, neither do they mean equivalent outcomes. Just because religions share experiences, practices, and even some teachings doesn't mean they are the same. You don’t wanna just go on any old sailboat, you’re gonna wanna get on the boat that takes you to paradise.

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Aug
03
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Dark is popular right now, isn’t it? The “heros” of TV on Breaking Bad and House of Cards are actually criminals. The Wolf of Wall Street (who in reality ruined many lives) is celebrated. Julian Assange of Wikileaks is hailed as a reformer. The most popular TV show is “The Walking Dead” and the most popular book is the latest 50 Shades rubbish. Dark is in.

There is something alluring about the darkness within us. Each person feels its pull. From it’s depths emerge complex characters to fill the page and the silver screen and captivate our attention. I get it.

In the Bible there is a book that fits in this category as well. The book of Judges. It covers the time period between God leading his people out of slavery in Egypt and the time when Kings like Saul, David, and Solomon finally established Israel as a unified nation. The book tells about a series of judges (the traditional name for heros) who would unite the 12 tribes of Israel to fight the foreign enemies who would attack them.

Over and over again, God’s chosen people would ignore God and do whatever they pleased. They would worship other gods and break all of the commandments God gave them. Even their heroes became depraved. Gideon, who destroyed an enemy army with 300 soldiers, ended up creating a shrine where people worshipped him as a god. The mighty warrior Jephthah burned his only daughter alive as a human sacrifice. The final, and most famous of the judges, Samson, had a penchant for prostitutes and petty crimes. Then he fell in love with Delilah, and returned to her again and again, like a dog to his vomit, even though she was seeking to sap him of his strength and allow her fellow countrymen to gouge out his eyes and enslave him.

The book of Judges ends with no heroes stepping forward. Instead, a concubine is raped and abused by a crowd of men then left to die in the street. The next day her owner awakens and is livid. He carves her up into twelve pieces and sends her to each of the twelve tribes of Israel to show how evil and grotesque they were. Didn’t know that was in the Bible, did you?

The theme of Judges is that people left on their own follow after whatever their hearts desire, which again and again is the same thing--sin and darkness. There is a sentence that occurs twice at the end of the book that summarizes the time period: “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” This dictum is meant to be judgmental, that each individual lived for himself and only himself.

Today, to say that, “everyone did what was right in his own eyes” would actually be accepted and even championed. What is more important to some people than to “follow your heart”? Our ethical mantra, isn’t “do what is right,” but rather, “do what feels right in the moment.” The world is upside down. In his recent book, The Road to Character, author and New York Times columnist, David Brooks, describes how we have become a people who cares more about “resume virtue” than “eulogy virtue.” In other words, we are far more concerned about degrees and accomplishments than their character. They care more about getting ahead in their career that about being the type of person that is admired. It is about doing what’s right in our own eyes rather than the eyes of our loved ones, and most certainly not the eyes of God.

The book of Judges is a dark book. Far darker than even some of our media today. And it’s in the Bible! But it is only one book among the other 65. The book of judges leaves the reader, as it left the people living in those dark times, longing for hope, longing for a better future, longing for a hero who wouldn’t let them down. The book of Judges exists, because it is reality. There is darkness. Sometimes we even like it. And we do what is right in our own eyes, which makes our lives and our society worse. We are left longing for a hero unlike the rest. A hero who won’t embrace darkness. A hero who will rescue us from ourselves. It leaves us longing for Jesus.

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Aug
01
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Scripture cannot be broken.

Jesus in John 10:35b

A few of you have asked me about the Supreme Court decision in the Obergefell v. Hodges case. I haven’t felt a particular need to address it from the pulpit specifically because it introduced nothing new. Sure, the five justices who discovered the constitutional defense of homosexual marriage allowed something already occurring to go national, bringing it to the Cornhusker state, but it has already been legalized for our neighbor to the east for years. Instead, I feel like my previous words should stand.

Since I started as your pastor in 2011, I have been clear that I stand with the Bible. I have done my best to do like Paul and preach “the whole will of God” (Acts 20:27). When a topic emerges in the Scriptures, I address it, no matter how unpopular God’s words may be to our culture or in our time. I have addressed homosexuality before, as well as abortion, cohabitation, pornography, alcohol, sex, greed, pride, idolatry, even Hell. My statements have often been unpopular, but hey, who said we should be popular?

The Bible speaks; we must listen and obey. If we just looked at the words of Jesus, and ignored clear teachings on homosexuality in Romans 1:18-32, 1 Corinthians 6:9, and 1 Timothy 1:9-10, the Bible is still clear about what marriage is, and therefore what it excludes. Jesus himself addressed marriage in Matthew 19:1-12 and he ties marriage as one man and one woman to the way God created the world. And he spoke clearly that “Scripture cannot be broken.” It stands as written. We can either submit to God and his Word, or commit, as RC Sproul calls it, “cosmic treason.” There are often Scriptures that convict me of something I have done or am doing. Sometimes I have a disagreement with a particular passage because it doesn’t feel right to me. However, instead of allowing my biases and proclivities to influence how I interpret Scripture, I strive to read Scripture as it was originally intended to be read. For the Holy Spirit “carried along” (2 Peter 1:21) each human author so that God’s Word would be found “flawless” (Proverbs 30:5) and “perfect” (Psalm 18:30). All Scripture is “breathed-out” by God (2 Timothy 3:16). We must obey God rather than man.

So yes, I realize this note, as well as my preaching will often be unpopular. But hey, isn’t that what we were told would happen? Jesus prayed to the Father for his disciples saying, “I have given them your word and the world has hated them” (John 17:14a). Paul says persecution is bound to happen: “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12). We’re not gonna be popular for obeying a 2000 year old book. That’s ok with me.

What matters in all this is that we don’t forget to lose sight of the Gospel. Because the whole Bible, every word of it, is about the good news of Jesus--that he came into a sinful world that hated him and despised him and executed him despite the fact that he was from the Father, accomplishing his plan of redemption. And through the ultimate treason of the cross God put the punishment we sinners deserved onto Jesus and we receive through faith forgiveness and his reward. It is this Gospel that we must proclaim to all the world, because the world is full (as it always has been) of sinners like you and me in desperate need of God’s mercy through Jesus Christ. And that mercy is ready and waiting. Thank God that word cannot be broken.

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Jul
27
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In my past two articles (Self-Evident & Don't Be Naive About Your Capacity for Evil), I wrote about a concept in theology, imago dei. Before your eyes glaze over because of the latin, I believe this concept could actually change the world. Imago dei is latin for “the image of God” because in the Bible it says that God created humans in his image and likeness. Many foolishly think this means that God is supposedly looking humanoid. But this cannot be, because the second commandment gave to his people was to not make any image that depicts God. One morning in Sunday school a girl was drawing a picture with crayons. Her Sunday school teacher glanced over her shoulder and asked, “What are you drawing?” “It’s a picture of God,” the girl responded. Sensing a teachable moment, the teacher said, “Well actually no one knows what God looks like,” to which the girl retorted, “Well in two minutes they will!” Sometimes you will see images of God as an old man with a beard like Jolly Old Saint Nick. Whatever the picture is, it is wrong, and completely against what God would want.

Instead, when it says that humans are created in his image, it means that we represent him. Just as a king would put his image on a coin, God puts us on the earth to represent him in the world. There is something unique in a human being's ability to think, reason, and love that not even the smartest chimpanzee, dolphin, or Air Bud can achieve. Therefore, we as humans specially represent the divine being here on earth.

Now last week I described the concept that even though each person is unique and wonderfully created by God, they have the capacity to great evil. This dual nature of man has been the constant theme of literature, TV, and movies. The philosopher Blaise Pascal, yes he did more than triangles, said that we are “deposed royalty.” By this he means that we have something inside of us, such that we are kings and queens, princes and princesses, yet we no longer live with the power and high living that we ought to. Still, this imago dei remains deeply imprinted in every single person, do you recognize it? Do you treat people with the love and respect they deserve?

Oliver Chanler’s parents had a portrait of George Washington that hung in their home. Oliver explained that the painting was never cleaned, they thought it had no value. They assumed it was a copy. But it was not. Appraisers determined that it was the original portrait painted by Gilbert Stuart himself. It sold for $925,000 at auction. For years the painting was ignored and treated poorly, never taken care of because it was considered common. Sadly, this is how we treat our fellow human beings. We see people of a different social class or a different ethnicity or a different race or even a different political persuasion as lower than ourselves. We treat them poorly, like they are a copy. But instead, God created each of them specifically and individually in his image. Each human being is not common, they are of the greatest worth. Do you treat them as such?

If we simply took to heart the ancient teaching of imago dei the world would be transformed. In “The Weight of Glory,” CS Lewis spoke rightly, “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations - these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit.”

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Jul
20
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Whenever a heinous crime is committed, we hear a constant refrain from friends, parents, neighbors, and exes that goes like this: "He seemed like such a good person." Even after a murder you will hear the mother say, “He really is a good person in his heart.” Often after a person is immediately charged with a crime or an offense, those who know her will say, “She could never be capable of something like that,” right before proof of her culpability emerges. Many just went through this scenario with comedian Bill Cosby.

When finally a person is proven guilty they get pegged as depraved or somehow psychologically impaired--insane, a psychopath, a sociopath. We like evildoers to be the other, somehow a different type of human being than the rest of us, perhaps even a different species. We like to pretend that somehow they are unlike us for we could never do something that awful. I think such a mindset is naive. Yes, you and I are all capable of great evil.

But wait, Matt. Didn’t your article a couple weeks ago talk about God created humans in his image (the imago dei), making them special and unique and wonderful? Why yes, I’m glad you remembered! But that doesn’t tell the whole story of humanity. Humans are beautiful and capable of much good. But also, because the first man, Adam, sinned, every man (and woman) since has followed in his footsteps and sinned on their own.

Humans are sinners. The Bible clearly teaches this: “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). “There is no one on earth who is righteous, no one who does what is right and never sins” (Ecclesiastes 7:20). By nature and by choice, humans do what they shouldn’t. And humans don’t just break God’s law, they break their own. Christian philosopher Francis Schaeffer used to say that if you simply took a tape recorder and put it around the neck of any person, and you recorded every statement of judgment that they declared about others, they would condemn themselves. Because if you took that tape recorder and played it at the end of someone’s life, they would all have broken their own laws. They would have done many things they had at one point declared to be wrong and evil.

Within ourselves is the capacity for great evil. We have within us various temptations, that if indulged would eventually lead us down a path toward greater and greater sin. This is why Jesus said it is not just a sin to murder someone, but it is also sin to simply have anger in your heart towards another person. For when we brood in anger over and over, it turns into spiteful words, then mean-spirited actions, and finally into murder. You can say that you would never murder, but you have had hatred in your heart for someone--this is the seed of murder, not fully grown.

Don’t be naive. Humans are created with the imago dei imprinted in their very DNA. They are each unique, equal, and wonderful. But at the same time they are each and every one capable of great evil and wickedness. For this reason we need relationships and community to keep us from straying too far. We need government to keep us in check. But most importantly, we need someone to redeem us from ourselves.

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Tags : Imago Dei, evil

Jul
04
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“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these…” We have all heard, cherished, and likely memorized these transcendent words. When the thirteen American colonies first declared their independence from the tyranny of King George, they predicated their entire right to exist on our intrinsic human equality and dignity, realities that were “self-evident.” But are they really “self-evident?”

It is interesting to note that when Thomas Jefferson originally penned the magisterial Declaration of Independence, his first draft began, “We hold these truths to be sacred and undeniable…” but Benjamin Franklin recommended it be altered to the more memorable “self-evident.” Either way, our founding fathers argued for our right to become a free nation based on an intrinsic logic that should be recognized by all. As Americans, we tend to agree with our forefathers, and therefore we take it for granted that such an idea truly is “self-evident.” But is it?

If these truths were self-evident, why then was the United States called the “American Experiment?” Why then would the planet, throughout history and to this present day, be replete with monarchies and oligarchies and despotism and totalitarian states? Why then were there not other nations and peoples all over the globe who attempted to create free nations prior to 1776? Sure, ancient Athens practiced democratic ideals and Rome created an early republic, but they emerged and receded more than 1600 years before Columbus ever crossed the Atlantic.

I contend that the truths that form the bedrock for American freedom are in fact self-evident. However, due to human sinfulness and the sad-but-true dictum of Lord Acton, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” these truths were and are repressed by mankind yesterday and today. The reason why they were allowed to shine forth and transform the world was Christianity and its influence.

Yes, the Jewish Scriptures first taught the idea that God created mankind in his image, but it was Christian influence that saturated the Enlightenment with its reality. For if God really did create human beings in a special and unique way, then each person, no matter their creed or color or mental capacity was equal in a profound way. Humans must also be given special benefits attributing to their divine origin. Think about it, Monets and Picassos sell for exorbitant amounts of moolah. They are stored behind glass and treated with respect. Why? Because they were created by important painters. How much more valuable should we treat humans who were created by God Himself in a manner unique even from the angels? Intrinsic human value and dignity is a foundational piece of Christian theology. It is encapsulated in the latin phrase imago dei, the image of God. For Genesis 1:26 tells us that God created mankind “in his image.” It is this principle that allowed freedom and democracy of human personages to exist as it does today.

Certainly, there were “Christian nations” that existed prior to the U.S. But all of those nations had monarchies and a ruling class that predated Christianity's emergence in those nations. So when a new continent was discovered nearly uninhabitable, it allowed great Christians thinkers, no, Christian dreamers, to allow the doctrine of imago dei to finally gain full steam and shape a nation. Certainly, old sinful institutions like slavery, an unfair treatment of women, and white supremacy were sadly carried on from the Old World, but even those things have been fought based on the same principles of human dignity that were trumpeted by our American Experiment’s Christian foundation.

Since 1776 American democratic ideals have infiltrated many corners of the globe, though there is still much more ground to cover. Our world is a better place because of it. Our nation is the greatest nation on earth because of it. And from where did these self-evident truths emerge? Christians promoting the concept of imago dei. Yes, that all men are created equal and endowed with certain inalienable rights is self-evident. But it was hidden from view until Christianity opened the eyes of the world to these truths.

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Jul
01
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I’ve never liked Samson. Sure, he killed a lion with his bare hands. Yeah, he used a jawbone to decimate an army. But as incredible as his physical accomplishments were, he always seemed majorly lacking when it came to godliness. I don’t know know about you, but I’ve always pictured him as a brute of a man (picture a WWE wrestler), with long, oily hair, huge muscles, and an even bigger ego. I have always perceived him as an extremely flawed person.

All this has caused me to wonder: why is Samson even included in the Bible at all? Samson isn’t even just mentioned, but given four whole chapters in the book of Judges. Then, to top it all off, Hebrews inducts Samson into the “hall of faith,” commemorating the great men and women who displayed other-worldly faith through their lives. He, above nearly any any other biblical “hero” seems completely out of place, like a redneck at Harvard. So why is he in the Bible?

Here at GBC, we believe that there is something for us in the “full counsel of God” (Acts 20:27), that “all Scripture is God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16), and that the Holy Spirit “carried along” (1 Peter 1:21) all of the human authors of the Bible; therefore, there must be a reason, even if it’s hard to determine upon first glance, why Samson is depicted on the pages of Scripture. So what is it? Why is this hulking sleazeball included in the Bible?

This summer, we will tackle this question head on. For five weeks, starting on July 19th, we will examine the life of Samson through a series entitled The Strongest Man in the World.” Through this series I hope we will not only learn the importance of Samson’s birth, life, and death in the Bible but for our lives as well. We have much to learn from Samson. Through him we will learn that even the strongest human has his flaws; even Superman has his kryptonite. We will glean important life lessons that will apply to all of us. And we will be pointed to the One who is even stronger than Samson.

Please read Judges chapters 13 through 16 prior to the first message, and come ready to grow some faith muscles through this series. No steroids needed. Only Scripture. We’re gonna get ripped.

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Tags : Sermon Series

Jun
22
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I grew up with my parents telling me about the moment that woke up their reality to the world: President John F. Kennedy’s assassination on November 22, 1963. It was when many children of the fifties grasped the world beyond their childish naivete for the first time. I recently did an informal straw poll and found that this was the number one event by which young minds emerged. Each person was eager to tell of where he or she was when they first received the news.

Others of different ages remember the moon landing, some the Challenger explosion, some the fall of the Iron Curtain. Everyone seems to have a significant political or world event that awakened them to the modern world.

As I was pondering this phenomenon, I realized what my event was. I asked my wife, and she said the same thing: The Monica Lewinsky Scandal. Where other generations awoke to a saddening event that brought the country together or a great achievement to be celebrated, we awoke to a sex scandal. For those of us born in the mid to late 80s, our sensibilities and morality emerged in quite a precarious time.

The more I think about it, the more I believe that the Monica Lewinsky scandal was what dealt the deathblow to any sense of Judeo-Christian sexual ethic that had lingered on since the founding of our nation. Sure, the “free love” movements of the 60s, feminism, legally sanctioned abortion on demand of Roe v. Wade, and Hollywood and MTV all did their part to erode American ideas of chastity and sexual morality, but Clinton’s infidelity was the final straw.

Many parents attempted to explain it to their kids: “Well, Clinton is a great president, except for this one thing...” Integrity of the whole person became unimportant. And nothing really happened. There was no punishment. Sure he was impeached, but it was all for show. Bill and Hillary went on like nothing had happened. The Clintons continued a long political career that has Hillary eyeing the White House once again. President Clinton’s reputation among a large share of the population is running sky high. My generation was taught implicitly that sexual matters don’t really matter. All sexual relationships were fair game. Yes, parents may have told their children that sex was meant to occur only within marriage, but if the leader of the free world couldn’t keep it in his pants, how could anyone else?

Yes, there have been scandals before, even involving the president. Watergate left the nation jaded against the federal government. But The Monica Lewinsky left an indelible mark on the sexual morality of a nation of young people. Yes, there have been affairs in the past: Thomas Jefferson with his slave, Sally Hemings. JFK was rumored to have quite a few trysts. But they were all hush-hush. However, in 1998, every news agency, every talk show, every joke on late night was about one thing: Bill Clinton’s dalliance with Monica Lewinsky.

Is it any wonder that overwhelming numbers of my generation, who are now entering positions of leadership in the world, have the highest rates of premarital sex ever? That cohabitation is the norm? That more children are born out of wedlock than ever before? That no one even remembers why marriage should only be between a man and a woman? That a book and movie highlighting BDSM is all the rage? That “whatever floats your boat” is the mantra?

Even though the most powerful man in the world effectively rewrote sexual ethics in our nation, there is a sexual ethic given to us in our conscience by the Creator of the world. Even though a generation woke up to a new morality, there was a leader in world history more powerful than any before or since, and he did not sin. I pray that my generation will awaken to the glorious, freeing power of Jesus.

Image Credit.

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Jun
11
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In one of his stories, Ernest Hemingway told a joke about Madrid. You see, in Madrid at the time, Paco was a very popular boys name. One day, a father, feeling guilty about abandoning his son years ago, decided to put a bulletin in the El Liberal newspaper. It read: “Paco, meet me at the Hotel Montana Tuesday at noon. All is forgiven, Papa.” That tuesday, the national guard had to come and disperse the crowd of 800 Pacos who showed up at the hotel.

This past Sunday I (brashly) preached a message to parents. Since I am not a yet a parent, I studied extra. One thing that captivated my attention like a car wreck was the research on fatherless children. The Fatherhood Initiative collects much of this research in one place. Let me summarize the most devastating findings: In comparison to children with both a biological father and mother, children who grow up without a father display much higher levels of aggression, depression, and drug and alcohol abuse. They perform poorer academically and do worse socially and emotionally. They are more likely to go to prison. They engage in sexual activity earlier and were more likely to experience teen pregnancy. They are four times more likely to live in poverty.

A lack of fathers is a major issue in our nation. 24 million children, or one out of every three, live in a home with an absent biological father. 40.3% of all children are born to mothers out of wedlock. If you look at our overflowing prisons you will find men who had no fathers. Ken Robinson, pastor for the Kearney Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Center, told me he counsels nine to ten boys daily who are in detention there. Nearly every single one doesn’t have a father in his life. Now, these troubled youths are having children of their own. One teen already had three children--his age? 14.

In sum, fathers matter. They impact their children in millions of tiny ways from birth to childhood to adolescence. Canadian Andrea Doucet, a professor of sociology and gender studies, has performed numerous studies examining children’s interactions with their parents. She discovered that fathers are much more likely to tickle and toss and play with their kids than mothers. They get their kids more involved in outdoor activities and are more likely to encourage them to take risks. Fathers also respond to a child’s emotional issues in different ways than mothers. All of these things are extremely important in the development of a young mind. Children need not only a mother but a father as well.

Children in our nation are in desperate needs of fathers. So will we step up?

If you are a father, spend more time, a lot more time, with your children. A study conducted by Cornell University mic’d a thousand homes and found that on an average day dads spoke with their kids a mere 37 seconds. 37 seconds! Being physically present and bringing home the bacon is not enough. Man up and be a real father. If you are estranged from your kids, do whatever it takes to get right with them and their mother. They need you.

If you are a mother, don’t get divorced or separated. Work out your differences through counseling and spiritual counsel. Splitting up could have devastating effects on not only you, but also your children for decades to come. Encourage and praise your spouse when they are a good father.

If you are a single mother, my heart goes out for you. Our church, or another church, would love to come alongside you to help you. Seek out men and good teenagers in a church or in the community to mentor your kids, to play with them, and to love them. Organizations like Boy Scouts and sports can help. Also, don’t rush into a relationship with a new guy. You probably already recognize how important it is for your kids to have a father, but things could be worse for them with an abusive step-dad.

If you are a man, find a child you know missing a dad, and step in and help. Offer to their mom your willingness to take them out for fun times or a camping trip. Ask them to help you work on a project around the house and teach them some important skills.

If you are a human being, pray. Our nation needs fathers. Thankfully, we have a Father in heaven who we can call out to for help for this desperate need. “A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling” (Psalm 68:5).

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Jun
04
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In college I was a member of a Christian organization called the Navigators. One of the things we did was bring a bunch of pizza and sodas onto a dorm floor, and by invitation, host an "investigative Bible study" in someone's dorm room. I took part in two of these.

For the first session of these Bible studies, we would invite anyone and everyone to participate and get free pizza. But there was one stipulation: You had to bring a spiritual question. That first time together, there was no teaching, no set lesson plan; instead, people brought something that had been bothering them. And everyone seemed to come. Those who hadn’t been to a church service in years. Those who had never been to church. Those who hated Christianity. And everyone had a question. In fact it wasn’t a problem to get people to ask one question, it was a problem to get them to ask only one question.

What I learned through those Bible studies was that everyone has questions about spiritual realities. People wonder about heaven and hell. The goodness of God. Karma. Ghosts. Reincarnation. Prayer. Denominations. Etc. Etc. Etc. But what I also learned was that very few people ever truly seek out answers.

Most of the college students were busy with school and activities and finding love and recreating, and they had been for years. On top of that, they had grown up in public schools that never talked about spiritual things, a families that didn’t know what to believed, and friends who were too timid to talk about faith. Add that all up, and many of these college kids had lots of questions, few answers, and thought they were too busy to seek out the truth. Some of the students confided in me that they had never ever talked about those spiritual things until that day.

Do you have questions about spiritual realities? Don’t put it off any longer. Life will only get busier and full of more worries. But if there really is a heaven and a hell, don’t you want to know how to get to the former and avoid the latter? If there really is a way to find deeper peace and joy now don’t you want it? If there is a meaning to life don’t you want to discover it? We get absorbed in life and are ignoring the fact that there may be something greater.

There was once a poor sheep rancher named Yates during the Great Depression. His ranching operation was struggling. He wasn’t making enough money to pay his mortgage and was in danger of losing his ranch. Since he had little money, he could barely feed and clothe his family, he was relying on government subsidies. Day after day, his sheep grazed over the hills of West Texas, and he wondered how he could go on.

One day a crew arrived from an oil company and wanted to drill a wildcat well to check for oil. He signed a contract. At 1,115 feet they struck a huge oil reserve. The first well came in at 80,000 barrels a day. They dug more wells and some were larger than the first. Thirty years later, one of the wells continued to pump out 125,000 barrels a day.

Yates owned all of it. He was a multimillionaire. He had all of that oil underneath his feet for years, but had been living on relief. He didn’t realize the riches that were right there around him but were invisible to him for so long.

There are spiritual realities. Though you can’t see them now, they are there, and they can transform your life right now, but you can’t just go about business as usual. I know you have questions. Seek some answers. Go to church this Sunday. Join a Bible study. Come talk to me, or email me. Don’t miss out on the reality all around you.

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Tags : Spirituality

Jun
01
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Even though princes sit plotting against me,
your servant will meditate on your statutes.

Psalm 119:23

There’s a famous story about Martin Luther. He was a busy man. Translating the Bible into German for the first time. Leading the Protestant Reformation. Writing books. Yet, on one extremely busy day, he remarked “I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.” Hmm.

When most of us think of the summer, we think that it will be a break from the busy-ness of school activities or planting. We think that we will finally have time to get to that project that’s been neglected for months. We think that we’ll now have a few minutes to breathe and relax. Then all of the sudden, summer is over and we’re back into the rhythm of the fall. So what happens?

We get busy! This summer, many of you have plans for travel and fun. You will have family reunions and kids going to camp and vacations and yard work and baseball games and who knows what else. You will get busy. But through it all, there’s something you’re too busy not to do: grow in your relationship with Jesus.

The author of Psalm 119 is mainly famous for writing the longest Psalm/chapter in the entire Bible. 176 verses! I noticed in verse 23 something I’d never noticed before. The Psalmist describes the situation: “Even though princes sit plotting against me, / your servant will meditate on your statutes.” Basically, he says that even though there are powerful people who were plotting to harm him, maybe even kill him, he still will take time to meditate on the Bible. Most would say that this is foolishness. Shouldn’t he be running for his life? Or plotting his own way to get out of the mess? Why would he waste time meditating on an old book?

Most of us go about our lives like this. There is something pressing here. A decision that must be made there. Something comes up. Something happens. We live from one thing to the next, letting our lives be dictated by the events and people around us. We think, “Oh, praying, meditating on the Bible, even just reading it--that’s all well and good. Perhaps when I’m less busy.” But the reality is that we’re all too busy not to do those things.

A while back Melissa and I were driving to Gibbon from Colorado. As we come to Fort Morgan on I-76 we see great, ominous storm clouds forming. We check our weather app and learn that there’s a severe thunderstorm warning. Then comes reports of raining and flash flooding. Next we hear about golfball sized hail. A Tornado warning is issued. But we can’t stop. We’re directly in the storm’s path on the wide open plains. We need to drive quickly and push through. We encounter rain. It gets worse. At some points it is raining so badly I think we will have to pull over because of low visibility. It’s dark. And wet. But we keep slowly pushing forward. When we finally get to the edge of the storm we speed on because we know that the storm is moving the same route that we are following, now on I-80. But I look down and the gas gauge shows the tank is running close to empty.  Should we stop and waste precious time fueling? Or should we push on and see how far past empty we could push it?

We stop for gas. Of course we do. Any sane person would. It would be better to lose a few minutes now, then risk being stranded in a major storm. There was so much going on that we couldn’t think not to stop.

We do this all the time when we’re driving. We fill up regularly so that we can keep going forward. Yet few of us do this in our spiritual life. Why don’t we take a few minutes every day to spend time with God? If we did, I think we’d be much better able to handle the storms when (not if) they come. Life’s too busy to not stop and grow in your relationship with Jesus.

I challenge you to take 15 minutes every morning this summer to read a chapter of the Bible, and sit and pray. Pick one thing from the passage to meditate on. This doesn’t mean sitting cross-legged and clearing your mind until it has nothing in it. Christian meditation is focusing on a truth and filling our mind with that truth until it seeps into our souls. It’s marinating in God’s revealed truth. It will help you get through the storms. You’re too busy not to.

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May
21
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Everyone is religious. Yes, you. You are religious. Even if you don’t go to church or synagogue or pray or meditate. You’re religious if you’ve never once given away a dime of your money. You’re religious if you’ve never been baptized or gone on a pilgrimage. It’s popular to say “I’m spiritual, but not religious,” but that’s a cop out. In our hearts, we are all religious.

When I say that everyone is religious, I mean that we all have a set of moral values in our hearts. With or without a so-called religious upbringing, we all have a concept in our mind for what is right and what is wrong. For many in the U.S. it is based on the Ten Commandments or Jesus’ sermon on the mount. The so called Judeo-Christian ethic. But for everyone, there is a set of values that determines what is acceptable behavior and what is not. And this set of values is a religious law, part and parcel of any religion.

Even those who would laugh at being associated with religion have strong sets of values. The advocate for “free love” is outraged at bestiality. The hippie who abuses their bodies with illicit substances is appalled when someone litters and abuses the planet. The atheist who argues that there is no right or wrong thinks that it is absolutely wrong to teach Creationism in school. The philosophy professor who teaches that all truth is relative will flunk a student when the answer on their exam isn’t absolutely the same as the answer key. The woman who wants to have the choice to abort a child will scoff at the mother who chooses to not vaccinate her child.

Everyone has a morality by which they judge the actions of others. Go ahead and admit it. This morality is one of the characteristics of any religion. Certain things are acceptable, other things are off limits. Some people agree with the morality of Buddhism or Taoism or Judaism or Christianity or some other religion. Others don’t want anything to do with those ancient codes of law--but yet they still have a strong sense of morality.

My question: if you choose not to accept a historic set of values that determine what is right and what is wrong...what gives your morality any bearing on anyone else? Have you simply invented a new religion?

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May
21
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  1. WATCH: Here is a 3 minute video to encourage singles to love this chapter of life.
  2. LISTEN: Listen to this audio from Matt Chandler: Is your boyfriend mature enough for you? Has Facebook ruined dating? Should my church help me get married? Should I date a godly girl I do not find attractive? Should a boyfriend "lead" his girlfriend? Signs a single should stop dating? Dating and marriage for the victims of past abuse & What hope does God give lonely singles?
  3. READ: A helpful article by John Piper.
  4. READ: 'We're Just Friends' and Other Dating Lies: Practical Wisdom for Healthy Wisdom. This book gives a helpful model for Christian dating. You won't necessarily follow every detail author Chuck Milian lays out, but he will help you think through what is best and honoring to God in dating.
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May
11
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Every once in a while, not all the time, mind you, but every once in a while, someone comes to me with a pressing issue. Well, maybe pressing isn't the right word. They have an issue that’s important to them. Sometimes it's a theological issue, like the time of the so-called Rapture. (You know, like "in the event of rapture, this vehicle may be unmanned.”) Other times it's a social issue, like abortion or gay marriage. Other times it's a political issue, like the U.S. response to ISIS. When these people come to me, they don't say their position at first, though I can often guess by their phrasing. But they always want to know my position, or the position of our church, on that issue.

You've probably had people approach you about these things before. They pretend to simply be inquisitive and find out your take on something...but really they're a bloodhound sniffing for blood. Because they don't really wanna know what you think, they wanna see if you think the same thing that they do. They don't wanna know your position, they want to see where you stand in relation to their position. I'm sure you’ve talked to these people. You've even been this type of person before.

As a pastor of a church, I think I get a disproportionate amount of people who are setting the bait: What's your position on female preachers? Are you a Calvinist? Do you support homeschooling? What’s your take on contraceptives? Do you think we’re living in the end times? Do you believe fondant is from the devil? The answer to that last one is yes. Fondant is not real cake frosting. Taste > Appearance. But with all of these types of questions, people set out the hook and feign open-mindedness, but they are really just laying in wait to reel in the poor sucker who answers their question not exactly to their liking. These types of questions drive politicians to be, well, like politicians--vague, non committal, and open-ended.

Whenever people come to me with these questions, they are almost always personally invested. They have an aunt who was a pastor, they plan to homeschool their kids, or they are themselves a cake decorator. For these individuals this secondary issue, on which it is okay to disagree, has become to them the most important issue in the world. I already know I’m gonna get emails blasting me by claiming that an issue I mentioned is most certainly not a secondary issue. Fine. These issues are important. Learn, study, pray. Form a conviction on them and even form a conviction on tertiary issues. But recognize that these issues are not the crucial, primary issues.

We must recognize that certain issues are essential, and others are secondary. We must learn to make the main thing the main thing, to not major on the minors, to not make a mountain out of faux-frosting. When it comes to being in community with other people, especially when it comes to church, you will disagree with others on many issues. However, before classify them as an idiot, think through to see if your pet issue is really that important. Friendships, businesses, churches, even marriages can fall apart because of positions on minor issues. (I could never be with someone who roots for the Hawkeyes!) If you try to find friends or a church that agrees with you on everything, you’re gonna be looking for a long time. And then when you find them, they’ll liable to change at some point and ruin it. It’s good to agree. But we are not going to agree on every little issue. I hope you don’t have an issue with that.

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May
11
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Show me your ways, LORD,
teach me your paths.
Guide me in your truth and teach me.

Psalm 25:4-5a

The other day I was playing a friendly game of tennis. Playing isn't the right word. I rolled over for the worst match of my life. I blame the wind. Whatever the reason, whether the atmospheric conditions or my ineptitude, I stunk. Afterwards, my opponent kindly came over to give me a good-game handshake. He then politely asked if he could give me a tip. I struggled, because I definitely didn’t want to hear what I was doing wrong. Reluctantly, I gritted my teeth and forced out a reply, “Sure.” Turns out, his advice was actually pretty good. Next time I play I’m gonna test it out and I think it will improve my game. Boy, though, even that is hard to admit!

Do you struggle to receive advice? I did (and do). I felt stubborn. It’s tough to listen to somebody who thinks they know better than me butt-in and tell me what to do. Is that hard for you too? My tennis partner did it right, and I still felt stubborn!

King David, struggled with this too, yet he prayed to God to teach him and guide him in Psalm 25. He admitted that he needed help in his life, and he asked God to teach him, to guide him, to lead him. This is hard for anyone to do, especially a king--for a king is in charge, he tells other people what to do and how to live. Still, David humbly acknowledged his need for instruction.

What David demonstrated is a character trait, teachability, which is one of the most important traits of a spiritually healthy person. It’s an aspect of humility. Someone who is teachable is open to receiving wisdom and instruction from others. The teachable person even seeks out others to help them and speak into their life.

Is all advice good advice? Certainly not! Some, maybe a lot of advice will not fit your life and situation. But in most advice, even in criticism, through prayer you can sift out the nugget of truth that will help you live a better life.

Now if you’re reading this and thinking of someone else who really ought to hear this, it might be a sign that you are the one with the issue. It’s often the people who are quickest to dole out advice who need wisdom the most! You have to demonstrate wisdom in your life first before you can give it. Then you have to earn the right to speak into someone’s life. This is earned through a loving relationship. Then, when you do want to give advice, find the appropriate time and ask if you can give them advice before you do.

Throughout the Seasons of Life sermon series, I will be drawing on the wisdom of God and of others so that I can speak to people in each of their seasons of life. In case you didn’t realize, I haven’t gone through all the seasons myself, yet I will still speak directly to you in your season. Others in the congregation too may give you wisdom as well. Listen to me. Listen to them. Chew it over. If it’s good, hold on to it. If it doesn’t fit, spit it out. But be teachable. If you want to mature as a man or woman of God, you need to be quick to listen and learn. I encourage you to pray that God would give you a teachable spirit.

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Apr
23
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The other day I had someone ask me to pray for something that was causing much consternation in her life. She said she needed someone like me to pray since I had much more faith than she had. Since becoming a pastor I have gotten this type of request time and again: People not thinking their prayers had much power because they had little (in their opinion) faith.

Many people view faith in this way. It’s about how much of it you have. People compare themselves in this regard, saying one has a lot (“she’s a saint”) and another has next to nothing (“he’s a sinner”). People think of faith like a commodity or like the size of someone’s bank account. They imagine that a life of church-going and regular Bible reading and prayer stores up more faith-bucks that you can then cash in through prayer, as if it were tickets saved up at an arcade (only 10,000 tickets for a giant stuffed gorilla!).

Regardless of the fact that the accumulation of money has no bearing whatsoever on someone’s faith (see Teresa, Mother), the amount of faith we have does not determine the effectiveness of our prayers. It is not the amount of your faith that matters, but rather the object of your faith.

Imagine you are visiting the Grand Canyon gazing out into the vast expanse. All of the sudden you feel the ground below you begin to give way. You panic as you realize you are falling headlong into the gorge. As you plummet you see a small tree growing precariously out of the side of the canyon. You don’t know if it has the root structure to hold your weight, in fact you doubt that at the rate of your acceleration it could stop you. Still, you shoot out your arm just in time to grab ahold of the trunk. It holds. You are safe!

Now did the amount of your faith in the tree matter? No. What mattered was that the object of your faith, the tree, was strong enough. In the same way, your faith in God, even though it may not be as large as someone with whom you’re comparing yourself, still has power. Why? Because God is strong enough. It’s about the object of our faith, not the amount of it. This is why Jesus said the faith of a mustard seed (the smallest seed farmer’s planted in the Middle East) could move mountains.

Yes, we should want to grow in our faith. Without faith it is impossible to please God. But don’t get caught up on the fact that you have doubts and are unsure. Your lack of faith doesn’t diminish God’s abundance of power.

So those of you who feel that you don’t have enough faith for your prayers to be answered--you’re wrong. You don’t need a pastor or a saint to pray on your behalf (though you should ask them to pray with you), if you even have the tiniest amount of faith, you have enough to see God do the impossible.

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Tags : Faith, Prayer

Apr
16
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In Ancient Rome, the emperor was more than a king. He was revered as a god. People bowed down and worshipped him as a divine being. The Emperor’s word was law and he had absolute rule. So what happened in 390 A.D. was unprecedented.

In April of that year, a popular charioteer in the games was arrested for an attempted rape. The populace loved him and demanded his release. A riot ensued. The emperor at the time, Theodosius, was enraged. He ordered his army to enter the rioting city and massacre the inhabitants. It did. The army killed the guilty and innocent alike. Brutally. Seven thousand men, women, and children were said to have been murdered without any trial or hearing. The emperor had spoken; it was done.

Soon after, Theodosius showed up at a church. The church’s pastor, Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, stopped him at the door and rebuked him for his actions. He brazenly refused the emperor’s entrance until he should repent.

For eight months the emperor Theodosius stewed in his palace until he finally went again to see the bishop. Ambrose still refused his admission to church until Theodosius agreed to institute a law that required at least thirty days in between arrest and execution.

We laugh at the idea that an emperor could think himself god. However, it doesn’t have to be despotism, dictatorship, or monarchy to fall into this trap. Any government, even a democracy, can get to the point where it performs actions and creates laws that are viewed as absolute. But they’re not. Human law and government are not the highest truth. There must be something above and beyond all human law, or else you would have to say that Ambrose was in the wrong, as was MLK and Nelson Mandela, and our founding fathers. Even if something is “lawful,” it is not necessarily right.

Many today attempt to silence the religious voices by labeling them as quacks and undermining them. However, in our nation, we need religious voices to speak out. To declare that things like slavery and racial discrimination and prostitution are wrong and harmful even if they are lawful. Yes, it was the (good) religious voices who spoke out against them so that now the government agrees too. We need religious voices to remind us that morality is not mandated by government.

You can debate the merits of Indiana’s religious freedom law versus the federal one versus Utah’s versus Arkansas. But if we take away the right for religious individuals (and the organizations they run and companies they own) from speaking out, our society makes a grave error.

Governments ruled by one tyrant and those decided by majorities can both do wrong and evil. No one looks back on slavery or the Trail of Tears with admiration. Government in any format is not the end-all-be-all. We must have in our nation, or any nation for that matter, the right for the religious to stand up and speak out. There is something by which all human laws and governments must be measured outside of themselves. Don’t silence or belittle religious voices. Certainly they (we) too have issues. But we speak of a morality, of a law, beyond and higher than any human law.

The Bishop Ambrose later explained why he stood up to the Emperor: “Should I remain silent? But then the worst thing would happen as my conscience would be bound and my words taken away.” We all have consciences. We must be allowed to speak out and takes stands on issues that are not popular or respected or even lawful. Might does not make right and neither does majority opinion. Even if you and the whole government disagrees with them, don’t silence the consciences of the religious, protect them.

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Apr
06
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This morning I officiated a graveside service for a twenty-four year old man. He not only shared his name, Zach, with my younger brother, but he also was the same age as my brother. Death makes you think, doesn’t it?

My wife and I went to see “Furious 7,” the seventh installment in the Fast and the Furious franchise. I can’t say I’ve seen all of the movies in the series, but in this one, Paul Walker, one of the lead actors, died in a car accident after filming. Though he survived dozens of gravity-defying and bullet dodging car maneuvers in the film, reality is a different story. Death makes you think, doesn’t it?

Last week, I avoided reading articles about the horrendous terrorist attack that happened in Kenya. Then my wife told me that the shooters went into the school and asked if people were Christian. They would murder the Christians and allow Muslims to go free. I’m a Christian. Death makes you think, doesn’t it?

It is better to go to a house of mourning,” a verse in the Bible’s book of Ecclesiastes claims, “than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart.”

We fear death. We try not to think about it. We avoid it. We ignore it. But sooner or later it confronts us all. We will all die. Cryogenic sleep won’t cut it, we can’t come out of kryptonite like Han Solo did. We will all die. Have you thought about it?

But death doesn’t have to mean despair.

Last Sunday, we celebrated Easter. We celebrated that death doesn’t have to be the end. I shared a story from Joni Eareckson Tada. Joni was in an accident when she was seventeen, and ever since she has been a quadriplegic, paralyzed from the neck down. While she was trying to come to terms with all of it, she would go to church in her wheelchair. The problem was that during her church’s service, the priest would ask everyone to kneel. She was reminded that she was stuck in a wheelchair. Once, at a convention, the speaker asked everyone to get on their knees and pray. Everyone did but Joni. “With everyone kneeling,” she recalled, “I certainly stood out. And I couldn’t stop the tears.” But she didn’t cry out of self- pity. “Sitting there, I was reminded that in heaven I will be free to jump up, dance, kick, and do aerobics. And...the first thing I plan to do on resurrected legs is to drop on grateful, glorified knees. I will quietly kneel at the feet of Jesus...I, with shriveled, bent fingers, atrophied muscles, gnarled knees, and no feeling from the shoulders down, will one day have a new body, light, bright, and clothed in righteousness— powerful and dazzling. Can you imagine the hope that the resurrection gives someone who is spinal cord–injured like me?”

Death makes you think. But it doesn’t have to lead to despair or apathy, it can lead to hope. All you have to do is look to the Jesus we celebrated yesterday, the Jesus who conquered over death by death. Now that’s a good thought.

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Tags : Easter, Death

Apr
02
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Jesus is everywhere. Sunday night on TV, Bill O'Reilly's Killing Jesus debuted in its dramatized form. I also saw a commercial on ABC advertising “The Ten Commandments” scheduled for next week. “The Bible” was a hit mini-series last year, and “A.D.: The Bible Continues” premieres on NBC next Sunday. Flipping through the channels I saw one show wondering if their was a “secret brother of Jesus” another examining a “hidden gospel” that perhaps told a different perspective of Jesus’ life. Jesus is everywhere.

Whether you love him or hate him, Jesus is a fascinating historical figure. Everyone wants to find out more about him. And everyone has to decide what to do with him.

When it comes to Jesus, it seems that everyone (even beyond Christianity) wants to claim him as their own. Muslims call him a great prophet and he is mentioned dozens of times in the The Quran. In Killing Jesus, Jesus was portrayed by a Muslim actor who admitted, “It’s an honor to play Jesus.” Buddhist’s see Jesus as an enlightened being. Many Hindu and New Age thinkers call Jesus an “avatar,” or one of many incarnations of the divine. Even secularists who decry religion grab ahold of Jesus as a good moral teacher. Besides some rabid atheists and Satanists, everyone likes Jesus.

But to merely like him is not an option that Jesus gave us. In fact, when these other religions and philosophies co-opt Jesus they are ignoring what he said about himself.

Within the Bible we have four witnesses to Jesus’ life called the Gospels (a word that means “good news”), Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Matthew was written by Matthew, a Jewish tax-collector who followed Jesus as one of the twelve disciples. Matthew recorded his own first-hand account and the accounts of others. Mark is the earliest of the accounts. Mark was a traveling companion of Peter and he recorded Peter’s retelling of the events he witnessed. Mark conveys quite a bit of embarrassing material about Peter, the top leader of the early church, which highlights the veracity of his account. Luke was a doctor, a very intelligent man who was the historian of the early church. He thoroughly investigated eyewitness accounts and talked with friends and family members of Jesus to provide a detailed account. John was the youngest of the twelve disciples, and he wrote his Gospel the latest, possibly 50 to 60 years after Jesus’ death. He filled in a lot of stories that the other three missed.

These accounts vary in the details, teaching, and stories they convey Jesus, but there is not a single contradiction when you compare them. They are trustworthy. Yes, there are differences in the details (e.g. Mark says the rooster crowed twice the night Peter denied Jesus, whereas the others record only one crow), but these differences in detail and perspective make their accounts more truthful as any historian or detective could attest. When all of the witnesses say things the exact same thing it probably means there is collusion. These four accounts of Jesus were written very early (within the first generation after Jesus’ death). All other “gospels” of Jesus come from hundreds of years later, and lack any eyewitness testimonies. If you read them (which I have) you will see that they are like comic books alongside the four biblical gospels history books.

Why do I tell you all this? Because within every single one of those four accounts, Jesus is recorded as predicting that he will die on a cross. ‘Okay,’ you may say, ‘It wouldn’t be too hard to foresee that the Romans would kill a firebrand who preached the coming of a new kingdom.’ Yes, you’re right. But would Jesus have also been able to predict that after three days he would rise from the dead? And then actually do it? This fact sets Jesus apart. He is not just a prophet, nor an enlightened being. He is no mere avatar nor moral teacher. He predicted his own death AND resurrection and then it happened. Something is different about this Jesus. He is not just someone to like and move on with your life. Whatever he said and did is something we all must grapple with.

Please go to church this Sunday. It’s Easter. We tell all about Jesus’ Resurrection and what to do with it. Come to Gibbon Baptist. Go to any Christian church around you. Because you need to do something with Jesus.

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Apr
01
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There is a time for everything,  and a season for every activity under the heavens.
Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

After a Sunday morning service I was approached by one of the widows in our church. That Sunday I had preached primarily to married couples. She asked pointedly, “When are you gonna preach for us widows?” “Good question,” I thought to myself. At that point I had been here for nearly three years. I had addressed kids. I had addressed students. I had addressed parents. However, not once had I directly addressed that demographic of our church.

I gave this valid question some more thought. I realized there are various groups in our church that I would not address in a given sermon or even a sermon series. Yes, certainly I include points that apply to everyone but I rarely give entire messages to bring God’s Word directly to the needs of a group of people in the season of life they are in right then. After prayer and discussion with others, an idea emerged. The result: a new sermon series called Seasons of Life.

One of the greatest characteristics of our church is that it is multi-generational. I preached once in a church where the youngin’ of the group was a woman in her 60s. This tiny group of blue-hairs was brimming with experience and knowledge, but they had little energy to reach out to their community. I also attended a church that met on Tuesday nights in Denver that was chock-full of passionate teenagers and twenty-somethings. In that church the “old-dude” was a pastor barely into his 40s. That church had lots of energy, but needed some wisdom to direct them. I’ve also observed a church heavy on families with young children. All of those new parents were great friends because they were in the trenches of parenting together, but they lacked the empty-nesters to come alongside them and help them avoid the mistakes they had made during that stage. None of these churches is Gibbon Baptist Church. At GBC we have individuals from every age group and in every situation of life, which is exactly how God intended it.

Starting Sunday April 26th and running for ten weeks, we will be digging together into the Bible to learn the wisdom and instruction God has for us for each season of life. Each week we will focus on Scripture addressed to those in our church in a specific season. Therefore, when we get to the season you are in right now, you will have a message specifically for you. Still, you should not miss any of the other weeks, because you can listen attentively to prepare for the day when you too will enter that upcoming season. Also, you should learn what others are undergoing that you might be able to better empathize with them and help them in their own particular situation.

My hope and prayer is that this Seasons of Life sermon series will not only speak directly to all the various age and life-stage groups within our congregation but will also help us learn from each other and for each other. Let’s do it together! Please note that the following schedule is subject to change:

 

  1. April 26th: Series Introduction
  2. May 3rd: Childhood
  3. May 17th: Youth
  4. May 24th: Singleness
  5. May 31st: Marriage
  6. June 7th: Parenthood
  7. June 14th: Work
  8. June 21st: Empty-Nest/Retirement
  9. June 28th: Widows & Widowers
  10. July 5th: Death
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Tags : Sermon Series

Mar
23
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1. Our coffee will be brewed and waiting for you.

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2. Free Breakfast at 9:00AM.

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3. There's gonna be a kid's egg hunt at 9:30AM.

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4. Childcare is provided (for nursery-aged kids).

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5. See lots of Easter lilies.

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6. There will be a gigantic crown made from pool noodles.

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7. You can rock out with the band during worship at 10:15AM.

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8. You'll hear a hope-filled sermon.

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9. We'll take communion together.

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10. It's a celebration!

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11. Jesus is risen.

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For more info click here.

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Tags : Easter, Event

Mar
23
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There are many sayings and proverbs and mottos that you hear thrown around a lot. They sound religious. They sound profound (and maybe they are). Yet just because they are culturally accepted and oft repeated, they are not necessarily in the Bible--even if they sound like they could be. In this series I am examining some of these sayings in a series called: "Is that in the Bible?" I have examined God helps those who help themselves, God never gives you more than you can handle, and Cleanliness is next to godliness. Today is the final installment: “Give a man to fish, feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime.”

I include this saying in this series because it is often attributed to Jesus. In fact, when I first heard the saying I liked it so much I thought it must have come from Jesus. But it didn’t. This saying is frequently referenced as an ancient Chinese proverb, but there is no evidence of this origin. The oldest form of this statement in English comes from an old 1885 novel: “If you give a man a fish he is hungry again in an hour. If you teach him to catch a fish you do him a good turn.” But it may go back to the medieval Jewish philosopher Maimonides. Whatever the case, it  is not in the Bible.

Many people like this proverb because it emphasizes not mere handouts, but genuine help so that the poor can become self-sufficient and not reliant on outside aid. This is a noble desire, since everyone is made in God’s image and is designed to work hard and provide for their own. The lazy and the idle are rebuked again and again in the Bible. The ideal is for diligent work and self-sufficiency. Ephesians 4:28 says, “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.” This is a form of teaching to move the beggar/thief to transition to not only feed himself, but to also have the capacity to feed others.

However, there are times when we must give a man a fish. Jesus himself did say “the poor will always have with you” (Mark 14:7). This is why he, along with the entire biblical witness, teaches us to give to the poor (Matthew 5:42). The Bible highlights the importance of giving to the hungry and thirsty (Matthew 25:35). There will always be the impoverished who do need a fish that day. There are orphans and widows and the sick and the mentally handicapped who are unable to provide for themselves. Not everyone can fish for themselves, not all can work to provide enough for their own sustainability.

Jesus never spoke the words, “Give a man to fish, feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime;” instead he called people to become “fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19). Jesus recognized that sustainability (the ability to “fish” for oneself) was not the ultimate goal. Instead, the eternal life of God’s Kingdom was an even greater goal. This is why Jesus wanted people to not just learn how to fish, but to fish for people, which means they love, and invite, and share with others how they to might enter the Kingdom of God and live life as it was meant to be. There is something greater than merely the ability to fish that we can give to another person. Perhaps we could say something like: “Give a man a fish, feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime; be a fisher of a man; feed him for eternity.”

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Tags : Bible, work

Mar
16
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There are many sayings and proverbs and mottos that you hear thrown around a lot. They sound religious. They sound profound (and maybe they are). Yet just because they are culturally accepted and oft repeated, they are not necessarily in the Bible--even if they sound like they could be. In this series I am examining some of these sayings in a series called: "Is that in the Bible?" I have examined “God helps those who help themselves” and “God never gives you more than you can handle.” This week: “Cleanliness is next to godliness.”

As much as your mother or grandmother may have chided you in your youth, the saying “cleanliness is next to godliness” is not in the Bible. John Wesley, preacher and founder of Methodism, provides us with the first example of this expression. In a sermon he delivered in 1791 he proclaimed, “Slovenliness is no part of religion. Cleanliness is indeed next to Godliness." But it is not in the Bible.

When you read through the Bible, cleanliness is often spoken of, but almost always in the context of holiness. In ancient Israel a person would be considered “unclean” if it was something that took away from a person’s holiness. For example, contact with a dead body, an infectious skin disease, or forbidden meat would make a person “unclean.” Thus, that unclean person would have to stay outside of the camp and undergo ritual ceremonies of cleansing to be “clean.” At that point they could again be around God’s people. This cleanliness code was especially important when it came to priests and the temple. Since God is totally and perfectly holy, to be in his presence, there must not be a hint of anything defiling. If you are interested, read through Leviticus 11 to 15 (these chapters are some of the most riveting in the whole bible--I’m kidding). Yet these laws and regulations applied to ancient Israel, when Jesus came, he fulfilled all of that so we don’t have to.

Still, the idea of cleanliness fits into a Christian perspective. God wants people to love their neighbors. It’s not very neighborly to have body odor that repulses others. God wants genuine love between a husband and wife. It’s not loving to never shower for your spouse--man musk is not a cologne. God wants people to treat their bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit. It’s not maintaining your body as a temple if you live in a house of filth straight out of an episode of Hoarders (with rats carrying diseases or piles of trash allowing mold to form and poison the air and slowly kill you). In these ways, cleanliness is important, but is it next to godliness? Should you clean your bathroom more than once a year and live like a frat-guy? Yes. Is cleanliness as important as a person’s character? Maybe not.

Instead of focusing on physical cleanliness, the Bible repeatedly stresses being clean of sin. In Isaiah 1:16 we are commanded, “Wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight;  stop doing wrong.” In James 4:8 we are bid to, “Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” What God cares more about than our physical cleanliness is our spiritual cleanliness. Have you sinned? Are you living in a way that is destroying yourself and others? Are you living in the filth of evil? If so, we need to pray like David, “Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean, wash me, and I will be whiter than snow” (Psalm 51:7). Then God will forgive us through Jesus and make us totally clean.

According to the Bible it’s good not to be covered in sweat and grime all the time. But it’s more important to not be covered in sin and shame.

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Tags : Bible, Health

Mar
12
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Easter is a big deal for us.

For Christians, it is the day we remember the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. For our church, it is a huge celebration. And you're invited!

  • 9AM: Free Breakfast. Come for rolls, fruit, coffee, & juice.
  • 9:30AM: Easter Egg Hunt. All kids up to 6th grade can take part in this fun activity.
  • 10:15AM: Worship. Join us for a worship service focused around the resurrection of Jesus. What should you expect? Click here. We will worship through traditional Easter hymns and dynamic new contemporary songs. Then Pastor Matt

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Tags : Easter, Event

Mar
09
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There are many sayings and proverbs and mottos that you hear thrown around a lot. They sound religious. They sound profound (and maybe they are). Yet just because they are culturally accepted and oft repeated, they are not necessarily in the Bible--even if they sound like they could be. Over the next few weeks I will examine some of these sayings in a series called: "Is that in the Bible?" Last week I tackled “God helps those who help themselves." This week: “God will never give you more than you can handle.”

We give this saying as a platitude when someone is suffering or after a death. In those situations it is hard to ever know what to say, and we want to be encouraging but it’s hard. For those who are spiritual, it is easy to say something like “God will never give you more than you can handle,” in the hope they will pull through. The sentiment is good, as is often the motivation. But the saying? It’s not exactly in the Bible.

1 Corinthians 10:13, does teach us that there will always be a way out of every temptation you will face. No matter how enticed you are to sin, there is always a way to overcome it. But there is no promise ever that says we won’t endure suffering or loss so great that we will be able to handle it all on our own. In fact, at one point, the Apostle Paul wrote, We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure.” This is clearly evidence contrary to the saying, “God will never give you more than you can handle.”

In the Bible Paul was a strong man. Stronger than most of us. He survived three shipwrecks, including a day and night drifting in the Mediterranean. He was given the “forty-lashes” (the legal limit) on five separate occasions. He was imprisoned. On one occasion people threw rocks at him and left him for dead. Yet Paul struggled with something he called his “thorn in the flesh.” People have long wondered what this “thorn” was. Some have speculated that it was a health issue, perhaps a problem with his vision. Others think it was a person who kept threatening him and spreading rumors about him. No one really knows, which I contend is a good thing, for it allows us to put ourselves in Paul’s situation. Paul prayed over and over and over again that God would remove this thorn from him. Yet over and over and over again God said “no.” Instead, Jesus told him, “My grace is sufficient for you. My power is made perfect in weakness.”

Jesus himself reached a point of absolute despair. He realized he would soon be betrayed by one of his closest friends and then executed by the people he loved. At that moment he lamented, My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” And what did he do? He prayed all night, crying out for God to take away the suffering he would soon endure. Jesus needed help at his darkest hour, and so will we.

There will come moments in our lives that will seem too difficult to endure. They will overwhelm us. Left on our own...you may not be able to handle it. Thankfully, there is someone who can help. If you go to him, God will provide the strength and endurance you need to make it through anything. You might not be able to handle it. But God? Oh yeah, he’s got it.

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Tags : Bible, Hope

Mar
02
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During a conversation the other day I heard a man utter, “God helps those who help themselves.” I’ve heard this sentiment many times. So have you. It is often touted by hard-working conservatives. It underlines the American spirit of ingenuity, thrift, and hard work. It’s a good maxim. But is it in the Bible?

There are many sayings and proverbs and mottos that you hear thrown around a lot. They sound religious. They sound profound (and maybe they are). Yet just because they are culturally accepted and oft repeated, they are not necessarily in the Bible even if they sound like they could be. Over the next few weeks I will examine some of these sayings in a series called: "Is that in the Bible?"

First up: God helps those who help themselves. If you attempt to research the origin of this saying some attribute it to Benjamin Franklin. Others say it goes all the way back to Aesop or another Greek philosopher. Whatever the case, it's been around a long time. In fact, there's a variation of the saying in the Islamic scripture the Quran. However, as common and accepted as this saying is, it's not in the Bible.

The Bible does teach us to work hard. The Proverbs of the Bible teach us to farm diligently (Proverbs 10:5) and to be like an ant that labor to store up for the future (Proverbs 6:6-8). It teaches us to “mind your own business and work with your hands” (1 Thessalonians 4:11), that whatever you do you should “work with all your heart” (Colossians 3:23). The apostle Paul point blank declares: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10) and also if you don’t work to provide for your family, you have “denied the faith” (1 Timothy 5:8). Hard work is valued in the Scriptures.

The Bible also teaches to trust in God through all of life while we labor. Nehemiah is a good example of his. Nehemiah did the seeming impossible by rebuilding the protective wall around Jerusalem. There was severe opposition from enemies who wanted to kill them, and the Bible says that Nehemiah prayed for God to help...and set up a guard to protect from the enemy. In the bible we regularly see people working hard to do their part and trusting God to come through for them.

Throughout the Bible we observe instructions to work hard. But it never teaches anywhere that if we do--if we “help ourselves” then, and only then, God helps us. Hard work, thrift, and diligence are biblical values, but the Bible doesn’t teach that this will lead to God’s help and blessing. Instead, over and over again we see God helping people who don’t deserve help--people who are imperfect and weak and sinful that God uses anyways. The consistent biblical message is not “God helps those who help themselves,” rather it teaches that God helps the helpless.

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Tags : Bible, work

Mar
01
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Then he said to them all: "Whoever wants to be my disciple must
deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”
Luke 9:23

The cross is not just for Jesus.

When Jesus died on the cross, he did say, “It is finished.” These are amazing, powerful, world-altering words. Jesus is the final sacrifice. Jesus is the final high priest. All debt between us and God is paid in full. He did what we could never accomplish--perfect obedience. Therefore, there is nothing we will ever have to do to achieve a right-standing with God and eternal life. Jesus did it all on our behalf, we just have to accept the gift. Yet at the same time, Jesus tells us that we too must take up our cross.

I was deeply saddened by the news that 21 Christians were beheaded by the Islamic State in Libya. How disturbing. How tragic. Yet this is what was foretold. Jesus knew his followers would be persecuted and killed for their faith. We are even specifically told in the Scriptures about Christians being beheaded in Revelation 20:4 “And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony about Jesus and because of the word of God....They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years.” We should be saddened by these deaths. But to take up your cross and give up our lives for Jesus was predicted by Jesus and should be expected by all Christians.

When Jesus called us to follow him, he told us point blank that we would have to do the same--we will carry a cross too. Jesus in Luke 9:23 puts it succinctly: If you want to be a disciple, you must take up your cross. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer avows, “When Christ calls a man he bids him come and die.” The cross means self-denial. When you take up Jesus’ cross you declare that Jesus is King, and if Jesus is King, you are not. You don’t get to decide what parts of the faith you want to keep--Jesus is King, therefore he must be obeyed. Jesus also said carrying your cross is a daily thing. It is not once and done. Being a Christian means a life of carrying the cross.

Few who read this, if any, will give their lives in the way those blessed Coptic martyrs did in February. But all of us will have to give up our lives. We will turn away from sin. We will stop giving ourselves to idols. We will obey King Jesus instead of the world. The cross is for all Christians.

Easter is coming April 5th. I hope and pray you will invite your family, friends, neighbors, coworkers, random acquaintance, and even the people you can’t stand to join us. But as we prepare for Easter, let’s look to the cross. Let’s take the month of March to think about Jesus’ death. To meditate on his suffering. To grasp the depths of his sorrow. For on the Jesus cross finished everything for us; yet  we too must take up our cross. We are called to imitate Jesus. We are taught that the servant is not greater than the master. Therefore, there will be suffering, and hardship, and giving up everything as we follow Jesus. Charles Spurgeon once proclaimed, “There are no crown-wearers in heaven who were not cross-bearers here below.”

The cross is not just for Jesus.

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Tags : Jesus, Cross, Obedience

Feb
23
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In college I worked a number of odd jobs. Perhaps the oddest was when I worked in animal care for the Colorado State University laboratory. Basically, I made sure that the mice, rats, guinea pigs, rabbits, etc. had food and water. I took care of the lab animals so the scientists could perform various studies on the creatures. Though the mice could be disgusting, the rats would bite, and the rabbits would kick, the worst part of the job was that at the end of every two month period I would spend two weeks in the cage cleaning room.

Just imagine being in one giant room where hundreds and thousands of animal cages come through on an assembly line. Each cage needed to be dumped out, sprayed out, and scrubbed out. Excrement and animal bedding would be everywhere. I had to wear a mask and goggles to prevent debris from getting in my eyes or mouth. Still the pungent odors could stay in your nose hairs for hours after leaving the facility. Many of the animals were infected with diseases and viruses so that they could be studied (like the tuberculosis infected guinea pigs). To prevent the spread of disease, any cage that housed an infected animal had to be thrown into an autoclave--basically a giant oven--at 400 degrees for four hours to kill all traces of bacteria, virus, or toxin. Several of these autoclaves led directly into the cleaning room to be unloaded and cleaned. These autoclaves were dangerous and you could easily burn yourself (I only made that mistake once). Plus, the heat they produced caused the cleaning room’s temperature rise to unbearable levels. With all of the sprayers going to rinse out cages, the place was wet and humid, a virtual sauna (in the worst possible way).

For those two weeks periods, I had one of the “dirty jobs” that Mike Rowe used to highlight on his Discovery Channel show of the same name. It was hot. It was stinky. It was dangerous. It was dirty. It was grueling. Yet it paid the bills.

Have you ever had a difficult job? One that was dirty or disgusting? Maybe cleaning houses or scrubbing toilets? Or maybe a job that was exhausting or back breaking? Maybe a job that was so difficult because of coworkers, or that awful boss, or demanding customers?

Almost everyone has worked tough jobs. It’s why we quip, “Work is a four-letter word.” It’s what led the “Teacher” of Ecclesiastes to write, “I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me, all of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.”

Work is hard isn’t it? We often do it to just get by. To keep up on our rent or mortgage. To make it to the weekend. Working nine to five, or night shifts, or weekends, or holidays, because that’s what you have to do. But no matter how hard work is in our world, it should be more than what we have to do to get by in life. Work should not just be that awful thing you to to make it to the weekends or to the next vacation. Work is much more significant than that.

When God created the world he put the first humans into a garden. It was perfect. There was no evil. No sin. No death. No sadness. Everything was as it should be. He declared it to be “very good.” It was heaven on earth. Yet even in that perfection, God designed the garden to be worked. And he tasked the first man to work it and take care of it.” That first man was a gardener, a groundskeeper, a florist--however you want to picture it. Thus, God made a perfect world (before humans sinned) that included work.

Work doesn’t have to be awful (though there will always be difficulties in our broken world). It can and should be meaningful for us. John Calvin wrote, “In following your proper calling, no work will be so mean and sordid as not to have a splendor and value in the eye of God." God wants us to have a much deeper understanding of work because it is valuable to him. You don’t just have to work to live, for God created you for a life of meaningful work.

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Tags : work

Feb
09
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One of the questions I often get from people is about innocents in Hell. They wonder about the fate of those who are genuinely good but don’t believe in Jesus. Is Gandhi in the eternal flames? They wonder about the fate of children not old enough to understand things. Do toddlers get thrown in the lake of fire? They wonder about the fate of someone who never had a chance to hear about salvation. Are the reclusive tribesmen of the Amazon cast into the outer darkness? Hell (pun intended), I’ve wondered about these things myself. Whether it’s a teenager asking theological questions for the first time, someone new to Christianity, or a lifelong saint, many wonder if there are innocents in Hell.

People seem to equate Hell to the U.S. justice system. Between 1973 and 2014, at least 150 inmates on death-row were acquitted, had charges dismissed, or were pardoned because of a lack of evidence. Whether it’s due to new DNA evidence, or biases in the system, or something else, many were found guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt” and now their guilt is filled doubt. People are rightfully afraid to punish, especially execute, those presumed guilty because they may not have gotten the right guy. This growing realization of wrongful imprisonments and executions makes us rethink the validity of eternal punishment.

It is a good concern we show through these questions, but it assumes God is just like us. It assumes that God doesn’t take into account a person’s capacity to respond to him. It assumes God doesn’t know the ins and outs of the human conscience. It assumes that God doesn't see every little thought, word, and deed of every person who ever lived. It assumes God is finite like an uninformed jury or a self-protecting prosecutor or a biased judge. But God is none of those things. He sees all. He knows all. He has the perfect balance of justice. And God never makes a mistake.

God shares the same concern for innocents that we have. There’s an interesting account in the Bible in which God tells Abraham that he would destroy two towns along with their inhabitants. Abraham, pleads with God to spare the city if there are 50 righteous people residing in it. Abraham literally says, “Far be it from you to do such a thing—to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right? (Genesis 18:25). Abraham displayed the same compassionate concern that we have. God responds and says, sure, I can do that for you. Then Abraham pleads again, making the amount 45 then 40 then 30 then 20 then finally 10. Still, God agrees to spare the town if there are 10 innocents. However, there were not 10 innocents. But there was one family, and God saves that family in the very next chapter before he destroys the wicked city. From this passage we learn that God is just. We can rail against him all we want and assume he doesn’t know what he’s doing, but he goes out of his way to rescue innocent people every time.

God declares rhetorically in Ezekiel 18:23, “Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked?” God is just like us. He wants no innocent person to be punished. In fact, no innocent person is ever unjustly punished by God. There will be no one in the eternal flames who did not absolutely deserve and choose to be there. There are no innocents in hell. God knows all thoughts. He doesn’t make mistakes. There will be no evidence brought forth because God knows the past, present, and future in full detail.

The reality is that if you are reading this you aren’t innocent. You have sinned against God. You have sinned against your own conscience. Haven’t you done things you regret? If all your thoughts, words, and deeds were released to the public by a hacker, would you not be ashamed of things you have done? You are not innocent. Thankfully, there is one person who was innocent, Jesus, who made a way for all of us guilty ones to live eternally in heaven.

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Tags : Judgment, Hell

Feb
02
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Col. Claus Von Stauffenberg was executed by firing squad for his part in the failed assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler’s life. He knew the risk involved when he set out to deliver a briefcase filled with explosives into the secret war room where Hitler and his advisers were meeting. The mission, codenamed “Valkyrie” nearly succeeded. (Tom Cruise played Von Stauffenberg in the film of the same name). Four German officers were killed and most others in the room were wounded. The Fuhrer only survived because someone had moved the briefcase and the giant oak leg of the table shielded Hitler from the blast.

While that assassination attempt was being planned in 1944, Von Stauffenberg himself was the one who made an impassioned speech to the conspirators to push their plan into action: “It’s time now for something to be done. He who has the courage to act must know that he will probably go down in German history as a traitor. But if he fails to act, he will be a traitor before his own conscience.” Von Stauffenberg knew the dangers of execution and feared the reality that he could be labeled a traitor, yet his conscience revealed to him that he must act.

We will all have moments in our life, even seasons in our life that require courage. Perhaps our life may not be on the line, but we will all experience times when our reputations, our comfortable future, and our well-being are on the line. We will all have moments that require great courage. Do you have the courage to act in those times?

We all wonder if we could have taken the actions that courageous people like Von Stauffenberg did. Sadly, we look at them and say, they were heroes. We deify them to be stronger than the rest of us mortals. We think they must be fearless. We look at Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani girl who stood up for human rights and women’s education in Taliban controlled Pakistan and was nearly murdered. We look at “American Sniper” Chris Kyle who regularly went into dangerous locations to take out enemy combatants to protect our nation and her allies. We see these heroes and we think they are something “other” than us, but they are human just like us. I know they all faced fear like we do. What makes them different is that they acted in the face of that fear.

Your fears--about health, danger, the future, failure, what others will think of you, and whatever other thing you dread--will not dissipate or disappear in the moment you need to act. They will likely be felt at their strongest in those moments and seasons. Fear will be there. Everyone is afraid in those times. What makes heroes is their willingness to act in spite of fear.

Some of you may be facing something like cancer or death or a life change or unpopularity or a grueling challenge or possible failure. The fears you have will not go away. The question is, will you act anyway? As is said, courage is not the absence of fear but action in the face of fear. Like Von Stauffenberg, what we should really be afraid of is betraying our own conscience.

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Tags : Courage, Fear

Feb
01
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Live in harmony with each other. Don't be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don't think you know it all!
Romans 12:16 NLT

Human connection is a powerful force. Recent studies on addictive substances have found that one thing that leads to addictions is an absence of community. When someone is lonely and lacks real bonding they are likely to turn to something destructive to fill the void.

According to an article in the Huffington Post: "Professor Peter Cohen argues that human beings have a deep need to bond and form connections. It's how we get our satisfaction. If we can't connect with each other, we will connect with anything we can find -- the whirr of a roulette wheel or the prick of a syringe."

Though not all of us are dealing with addictions to substances or gambling, we all face strong pulls towards sin and doubt from the world, the flesh, and the devil. It's the reality of the world we live in. I believe that we all need to form real connections with other believers in order to survive and more than that, to thrive in life.

We Americans like to think we can do it on our own. We want to be strong and pull ourselves up by the bootstraps. We want to say we did in through our own power. But that's just pride talking.

The Bible highlights the importance of commnuity. David had Jonathan. Jesus had the twelve disciples. Paul had Barnabas, then Silas, then Timothy. Even God our Father has God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. The biblical record continually highlights how important personal connections are to a life of faith.

So who are you connecting with? With the Spring launch of our Connect Groups, I encourage you all to find a group of other believers with whom you can connect. You could use the help. And so could they. You will get as much out of these groups as you will put in, so give yourselves fully to others, don't pretend you can do it on your own.

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Tags : Community, Connect

Jan
26
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That moment. When you completely forget about yourself. Something great is happening. Something powerful. Something sublime. You feel goosebumps on your arms. You’re in awe.

In a book entitled All Things Shining the authors call this feeling “whooshing up.” Maybe to happened to you when the Huskers won the national championship. Maybe it was the first time you heard MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Or maybe you experienced it standing at the edge of the grand canyon.

We’ve all had moments like this. I felt it when I heard a full symphony playing in harmony for the first time. When my college team held their opponent for four downs on the goal line to win the game, and we screaming fans felt that we had somehow made a difference. I felt it at the end of “Saving Private Ryan” and when I read through The Lord of the Rings. The best of these moments was as I saw Melissa for the first time on our wedding day, walking down the aisle toward me. My lip started to quiver uncontrollably--which hasn’t happened before or since--thankfully no one was looking at me. These are just a few of the “whoosh” moments I’ve experienced. I’m sure you have your own list.

We long for these transcendent moments. Yet as soon as we realize they’re happening the moment is fleetingly gone. We have a nostalgia for them nearly as soon as they’ve passed. Then we long for it again. It’s why we go pay exorbitant prices to go to stadiums and theaters so that we won’t miss them. It’s why we rewatch movies and reread books to try to find them again, but it’s never quite the same as the first time. Whenever we are deeply moved by a game, or a novel, or a movie, or music, or nature, or a hobby, or whatever, we tell everybody else about it and we try to experience it again. But it is nearly impossible to capture it again for ourselves. And we are so disappointed when someone else has the same experience and doesn't experience "it." But the truth is they might never find it there, because it was never there to begin with.

The search to recapture these “whooshes” reveals that they were never there within the thing to begin with. CS Lewis described this phenomenon: "All the things that have ever deeply possessed your soul have been but hints of it – tantalizing glimpses, promises never quite fulfilled, echoes that died away just as they caught your ear...The desire–much more the satisfaction–has always refused to be fully present in any experience. Whatever you try to identify with it, turns out to be not it but something else." The game or the music or the situation may have brought about this feeling, but it was not the feeling itself, for that comes from elsewhere.

There must be something greater than this world that breaks through in those moments, because nothing in this world actually contains it. This “whoosh” is not the thing we ought to seek, it should be the source that lies behind it. For the “whoosh” is merely a hint that there is something greater out there.

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Tags : Heaven, Joy

Jan
19
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I have been out of town over the past couple of weeks, on vacation with family, but it’s good to be back in Central Nebraska! Over my vacation I read David McCollough’s The Path Between the Seas, a book about the creation of the Panama Canal. I know I’m odd, but reading history on a vacation is enjoyable for me. And I learned an important lesson.

The building of the Panama Canal was the biggest project the world had ever seen. The French were the first who attempted to build the canal. At the start of their effort, nearly nothing was known about the transmission of yellow fever and malaria. They did not realize that tiny mosquitoes could carry such death, as we know now. During the early years of construction, these tropical diseases killed thousands. Within one group of 17 engineers fresh off the ship, only one survived a month of work. During the worst days, 40 men died daily. Even of the workers lucky enough to survive, in 1884, nearly one third, or 6,000 of the 19,000 workers was sick and incapacitated at any given time.

Yet it was their own decisions that were leading to their own demise. For example, it was widely believed that gases emanating from the swamps and wetlands caused malaria and yellow fever, so people did not put screens on their windows in order to get fresh air. Little did they know that with these open windows invited those disease-carrying insects to sneak in among them. Also, beautiful gardens surrounded the enormous hospitals housing the many sick and dying. In order to protect the gardens from ants, ring shaped pottery dishes were filled with water and surrounded the plants. Indeed, the beds of patients were set in shallow basins of water to ward off ants. They did not realize that they were providing perfect breeding grounds for mosquitoes. The death toll from these tropical monsters would have been much lower if they had not made these decisions that increased their danger.

Are there any decisions you have made in your own life that are hurting you? Though we can always say hindsight is 20/20, sometimes the things that are hurting us the most are obvious if we would simply stop and think through the situation. Is there a relationship in your life that is bringing you down? Is there a habit you have developed that is hurting you? Is there something about your lifestyle that will have devastating repercussions down the road?

I challenge you to take a few minutes to think through your life. If there is something that is causing unnecessary damage that you could avoid or be rid of, do it today, before the toll is too great. Dr. William Gorgas, the American who would be primarily responsible for the near eradication of mosquitoes, yellow fever, and malaria in the canal zone, estimated that if conditions hadn’t changed, 78,000 workers would have been killed before the completion of the canal. Don’t ignore the decisions you are making that are hurting you. Don’t allow yourself to to get bitten.

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Jan
15
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A NEW SERMON SERIES BEGINS THIS SUNDAY

Don’t miss it!

Have you ever looked around you and seen brokenness? Perhaps it’s within your family? Or maybe it’s in relationships that once were strong but now are floundering. It could be the individuals in the community that you know are struggling? In all of our lives, there are things that are broken down. We see them in us and around us. In Nehemiah’s day, he saw his people, God’s people, struggling without a home or an identity. They were unprotected from the ravages of the world literally and figuratively. Through his faith, he stepped up to build the wall around Jerusalem. From Nehemiah’s courageous action and God’s powerful work what was broken was rebuilt. We too can learn to build the walls that are broken in our lives. Join us for a 14-week series through the book of Nehemiah beginning this Sunday called “Build the Wall.”

We’ll see you there!

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Tags : Sermon Series

Jan
01
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And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses
entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.

2 Timothy 2:2

I grew up living in a cul de sac. Actually, we were the house right no the edge of the cul de sac in suburban Colorado Springs. Cul de sac’s are widely (and appropriately) considered a safe location for a young families since there is no through traffic and little kids are able to play freely. Yet living for ten years on a cul de sac I also noticed that many drivers would make their way down our street, realize they had driven down the wrong street, and turn their vehicle around. A cul de sac is basically a family-friendly dead-end.

Sometimes that can happen with churches and Christians. They are nice. And polite. And safe. But they are dead-ends. However, Jesus called us to make disciples. To tell others around us of the good news of eternal life. And yet, we take this good news and keep it for ourselves. But it’s too good to keep for just us we must share it. Instead of being cul de sacs we need to learn to be connect.

Therefore, our theme verse for 2015 is 2 Timothy 2:2. In this verse we observe the multiplication of disciples that Paul initiated in his ministry. He taught the truth of the gospel and sound biblical teaching to Timothy and “many witnesses.” They were in turn expected to pass all that good stuff on to “reliable people,” because they also would be “qualified to teach others.” There is a baton getting passed for the next runner to run. There is a train not reaching its terminus but continuing along the tracks. There is a chain reaction of disciple-making. So I want us all to realize that biblical teaching, wisdom, and the gospel are not meant to end with you. You are to take what you know know and pass it on to someone else.

I have already witnessed this in our church as new people come and hear the gospel, then all of the sudden, they are inviting others to come. I see this in widows who care for, pray for, and share the gospel with their neighbors. I see this in the youth group, when teenagers eagerly bring along their friends to the next youth group meeting.

I hope that all of us can catch this idea of being a connection point for the gospel, and not a cul de sac. Then we will see God use us to multiply his Kingdom around us.

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Dec
24
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Have you ever tried to give someone a gift and they refused to accept it? Or done a kind act for a friend who felt obligated to repay you? What do you tell them? “It’s a gift!” You do the back-and-forth, “Please, it’s for you!” then, “No, it’s too much.” Sometimes this see-saw shows no sign of stopping.

There are many reasons people find it difficult to receive a gift. Some are too proud to have someone do something they could do themselves. Others are offended that the other person might think them poor. Some are wary that there are strings attached: what gift do I have to give to you now? Or how much time am I obligated to spend with my mother-in-law now that she paid for that vacation? Some fear that there are expectations with what they can do with the gift: Do you really want me to wear that sequined fanny-pack? Even when the gift is really good, it still is hard to accept.

When it comes to this time of gift-giving, many of us have forgotten that there is such a thing as a straight-up gift. We think everyone has ulterior motives. We want to make sure we give a gift to match the value or sentimentality of the gift received. But eternal life from God is a pure gift. Our forgiveness, our restored relationship with God, our eternal life is itself a true gift. There are no strings-attached. It does not require us to work to pay it off. It does not require a gift in return. That’s why the translators of the ESV translated Romans 6:23 to say, “the FREE gift of God is eternal life.” It’s already been paid for. You just have to receive it.

It’s hard for us to believe eternal life is truly a gift. We’re always looking for the strings attached: Do I have to enter a monastery? Do I have to give up beer? Do I have to start dressing funny and crack corny jokes? And we don’t want to swallow our pride long enough to admit we need it. It’s hard for us to think we can’t be good enough of a person to make it to heaven. But eternal life is a free gift. Jesus paid it all. He was righteous enough and good enough and did more than enough. Then he received the death penalty for the crimes we committed. And that cosmic injustice that Jesus underwent paid the full cost of eternal life. There’s nothing we could ever do to cover the cost and nothing we could give back would ever come close to what God gives us. Thank goodness it’s gift!

Therefore, this Christmas season accept the gift. It’s free. It’s not like winning a car and you have to pay the taxes on it. It’s totally 100% yours if you’ll accept it. So accept it. Enjoy it. Take it out and admire it. Revel in it. You’ve won the lottery and you get to keep all the proceeds. It’s all yours. After all,it’s a gift!

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Dec
15
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I’m a millennial. You know, someone in the demographic coveted by all advertisers and TV executives--those born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s. If you read or watch the news you will see all sorts of coverage polling and studying the differences between millennials and their predecessors Gen-Xers and baby-boomers.

Plain and simple, the data show that Millenials are the least churched demographic out there. They are less likely to trust churches. 59% of millennials leave their faith (at least for a time) in the first decade of their adult life. Indeed a growing 52% of Americans in my demographic are unchurched.

There have been studies and articles offering all sorts of opinions on why Millenials don’t do church. I could share my thoughts as well. But I won’t. Because I can’t speak for anyone else, I can only speak for myself and why I haven’t followed the trend. I can only share why this Millennial has devoted his career and life to serve the church.

For a long time I liked God and Jesus and even the Bible (though I didn’t quite understand it). But I was embarrassed by the church. For one, the church I spent most of my formative years in split. I was too young to understand why it all happened. Then the church my family attended was small and there was hardly anyone my age. I never wanted to invite my friends. I became disillusioned with it all.

At that time there was quite a few voices I heard saying it’s enough to follow Jesus on your own. I heard statements like, “Jesus didn’t come to establish an institution but to call individuals to follow him.” And I began to assume it was true. I remember discussing if someone could theoretically be a good Christian and never go to church. I mean, couldn’t they pray, and love their neighbor, and have private times of worship with God? It seemed to make sense. But it wasn’t true.

I went for a time living my own way. But then I had a powerful encounter with God’s grace. I finally understood Jesus and his powerful free gift of forgiveness. Knowing the controlling grip of sin firsthand, I knew I needed others around me who were following Jesus and could encourage me to do the same. I recognized I had gifts and experiences and passions that could build others up. I needed them and they needed me. It was a symbiotic relationship like those birds who eat the parasites off of hippos. (Not that the church is a big fat pachyderm.) I realized that it was all too selfish to think I could or should do it on my own. I realized it dishonored Jesus, who himself had in fact established a church to continue his mission to redeem the world. I realized that instead of complaining about and being embarrassed by the church I could actually do something to show the church as the exciting and vibrant and powerful it could be.

Yeah I’m a millenial. But I don’t see any less of a need for the church. I see a bigger need for it than ever before, for myself and for the world.

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Dec
01
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For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 6:23 ESV

Have you ever tried to give someone a gift and they refused to accept it? Or done a kind act for a friend who felt obligated to repay you? What do you tell them? It’s a gift! You do the back-and-forth, “Please, it’s for you!” then, “No, it’s too much.” Sometimes this merry-go-round shows no sign of stopping.

There are many reasons people find it difficult to receive a gift. Some are too proud to have someone do something they could do themselves. Others are offended that the other person might think them poor. Some are wary that there are strings attached: what gift do I have to give to you now? Some fear that there are expectations with what they can do with the gift: what if I break it? Or sometimes the gift stinks: do you really think I’ll wear that sequined fanny-pack? However, when the gift is really good, it still is hard to accept it.

When it comes to this time of gift-giving, many of us have forgotten that our forgiveness, our restored relationship with God, our eternal life is itself a gift. And it it truly is that: a gift. There are no strings-attached. It does not require us to work to pay it off. It does not require a gift in return. That’s why the translators of the ESV translated Romans 6:23 to say, “the FREE gift of God is eternal life.” It’s already been paid for. You just have to receive it.

It’s hard for us to believe eternal life is truly a gift. We’re always looking for the strings attached. We don’t want to swallow our pride long enough to admit we need it. But it is a free gift. Jesus paid it all. There’s nothing we could ever do to cover the cost. Nothing we could give back would ever come close to what God gives us.

Therefore, this Christmas season accept the gift. It’s free. It’s not like winning a car and you have to pay the taxes on it. It’s totally 100% yours if you’ll accept it. So accept it. Enjoy it. Take it out and admire it. Revel in it. You’ve won the lottery and you get to keep all the proceeds. It’s all yours. After all, it’s a gift!

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Dec
01
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One of the reasons that many people aren’t a part of a church is that they don’t know which one is right. They may believe in a God who is out there, or even that Jesus was amazing and his teachings insightful, but they don’t think any churches get it quite right.

Well, you’re right. There is not a single church that gets everything right. I’ll admit it. I’m obviously fond of one particular tradition over some others, but even it has its flaws. For even if a church were to get every doctrine and teaching right, they would just become prideful and judgmental of others messing the whole thing up. Humans are sinful, and in our world of fallenness, not one church will get it all right this side of eternity. Once we get to heaven, we’ll say “Aha! That’s what that passage of Scripture meant. I can see it now! There will be Catholics and Methodists and Pentecostals and even us Baptists who will get to acknowledge, yep, we didn’t have every part of the picture right.

I like the perspective C.S. Lewis expounds in his book Mere Christianity. You see, he taught from a ‘mere Christian’ perspective that downplayed the distinctives that separate Christians, like baptism, speaking in tongues, the end of the world and the like. He instead focused on the things that unite us. But he refused to allow ‘mere Christianity’ to be his final destination. You see, C.S. Lewis himself was an Anglican. (Americans refer to Anglicans as Episcopalians--don’t we like to change everything the British do? E.g. the metric system, driving on the left side of the road, having a monarchy.) And CS Lewis argued that we should all end up in a specific denomination, or else it’s like living in the hallway. You need a hallway in your house. It helps you move between rooms, but no one does life in the hallway. It is in the rooms not the hallway where we eat, hang out, and do life. Therefore, you cannot remain a ‘mere Christian.’ At some point you must pick a church and stick with it. Just like with dating. You don’t keep dating around forever, or else you will never have the joys and benefits of marriage.

Let me tell you my background: As an infant I was baptized Roman Catholic. Then, because of moves and the like I attended churches that were in order Evangelical Free, Congregational, non-denominational, Christian and Missionary Alliance, Nazarene, a house church, Assemblies of God, then finally baptist (though of a different association than Gibbon Baptist. I often tell people I’m a denominational mutt. Each of these denominations had some amazing things going for them, and also had issues.

I’ve studied the differences between churches and denominations in seminary and I take a personal interest in the subject. Yet still, it can be confusing to pick which one is right. There are denominations, non-denominational churches, and whole networks of churches like Calvary Chapels that don’t like the label “denomination” but operate in similar ways. These are non-denominational denominations. Confusing right?

So let me help you out. None of them is perfect. In fact, if a church or denomination says they have everything figured out and they are the one true church above all others, it may mean that they have more issues than the rest.

What I recommend to you is to pick one. You should read the Bible and study theology. You may develop some convictions that make it so you can’t be part of a specific church or denomination. Yet once you’ve developed a conviction, there are still many churches that you can reasonably connect with. Then do it. Stop thinking it’s too hard to tell which one is right.

You will never find a church that you agree with 100%. You just won’t. Period. Even if you do, you’ll eventually find some minor issue that you disagree with the church leadership about. Or perhaps a new senior pastor will step in and differ slightly from the last. Should you then leave? Probably not. Instead, get over yourself. Realize that you’ll never find the absolute right church. Just go be a part of one and enjoy the benefits. Quit wandering about in the hallway and come hang out with the rest of us in the living room.

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Nov
25
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This advent season (December 1st to the 25th) we will not have a special advent series as we have in years past. However, this season of expectant waiting is very important for our faith. So please use this advent devotional Good News of Great Joy. It is written by John Piper, former pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, MN. You can use this advent devotional privately, perhaps waking up each morning to read and pray. Or you can use it with your family this December at dinner time. It will definitely help you and your family GROW in faith.

You can find out more about the devotional at Desiring God's website here. We will have FREE printed copies for your use. They will be available at GBC starting Sunday, November 30th. We ask that you take one per family. If you would like additional copies, or just would prefer a digital format for your tablet, e-reader or smart phone, the devotional is available for a FREE download here in several different formats: EPUB, MOBI, & PDF. If you want to purchase a fancy printed version, you can order it on Amazon here. Also, if you use the Bible app on your tablet or smart phone, you can get the devotional there as well.

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Tags : Christmas

Nov
24
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When I was younger I asked a good friend of mine to come with me to our church’s youth group. The first time I asked, he gave me the polite-but-uninterested, “Maybe some other time.” When I persisted he responded, “Church is just not my thing, it’s your thing.” After I pried a little further. “I’m just not religious!” he finally exclaimed. His statement left me pondering for some time. Was I just different from him? Was it because I was from a Christian family and he wasn’t? What made him so uninterested?

Over the years I’ve discovered that my friend’s position is not unique. Over and over again I’ve heard his words echoed by all sorts of people from all sorts of backgrounds. In fact, recently a woman responded to my invitation to check out a church service with, “I’m not religious.” Her comment captures a common sentiment: ‘Why would I even go to a service or an event at your church, because I’m not of your religious ilk.”

Though I didn’t know how to respond to my friend then, the more I thought about it the more I empathized, because I feel the same way. As a child I thought the formal pastors sitting on stage in their tall wooden thrones were a bizarre sight. I worried whether I should stand or sit, or sit or stand, it’s so hard to remember what to do! I couldn’t figure out why certain people who could cuss with the best of them would be all prim and proper come Sunday. I hated the candles and the robes and all the religious nick-nacks covering every inch of the church building. The traditional prayers and the religious rites being repeated over and over again seemed to me like the cuckoo clock that was on time but always annoyed. Often I still feel fed up with it all. And guess what, so did God.

God set up a way to be worshipped in Ancient Israel. But slowly people forgot about the God they were worshipping and worried more about the religious garb they wore and the rituals they performed. In fact, at one point God spoke through the prophet Amos to assert, “I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me.” Hmm. So God thinks all that religious stuff reeks like a hog farm? God was disgusted by the religious people fixating on their stupid traditions and ceremonies so much that they ignored the God those ceremonies were meant to celebrate. In another place, he declared flat-out, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” Basically, God was sick of people always making sure to offer the right sacrifice at the temple, but never helping the poor and needy.

Things got so bad, that God himself came down to tell the religious people what’s up. Jesus arrived on the scene and was brutally harsh with the religious people. Read Matthew 23. He calls them snakes and blind guides. He coined the term hypocrite to put a name to their two-facedness. Over and over throughout the four accounts of his life, he tells story after story of how the religious people were getting it wrong. At one point, Jesus saw people in the temple ripping off poor travelers before they could enter the temple, so he made a whip, flipped over some tables, and drove out all the religious thieves like a one-man S.W.A.T. team. In a Bible study once a non-religious friend heard that story for the first time and exclaimed, “Jesus was a bad @^#!” He was. He didn’t care about all that religious stuff. He didn’t care about religious activity, he cared about where our hearts were.

That’s why I still don’t care about the religious stuff. The organs, the standing and sitting, the old songs, the rote prayers. Now that I’ve studied them I understand why they started. And some can be helpful. But those things aren’t what’s important. The important thing is Jesus and how he transforms us.

Jesus himself said he was “greater than the temple” so we don’t need fancy temples to worship him anymore. He became our final high priest so we don’t need someone to talk to God on our behalf anymore. And he became the final sacrifice so that we don’t have to go through religious rituals to be made right with God anymore. Christian churches, built on the foundation of Jesus, make all of the religious stuff peripheral. They’re not what’s important. Jesus is.

Now, when someone says, “I’m not religious.” I reply, “Me neither.”

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Tags : Church, Jesus, Religion

Nov
10
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Today I am starting a new series. I don’t know how long it will run, or even right now all of the subtopics I will cover. What I want to do is the answer a simple question: why church?

In my conversations I have discovered that many people tend to have one of two attitudes when it comes to church. They either assume that church makes sense and it is a normal part of life. Or they assume the whole thing is kind of silly and pointless. Now mind you these two attitudes do not determine whether a person will be a part of a church. For a person may assume church is a normal part of life but have no desire to give up part of their weekend (and certainly not part of their income) for church. Others may think the whole thing is pointless, but be forced to go because of social or familial pressures. But the reason I bring this up is that both responses to church begin with the same thing. Assumptions. You either assume church is normal, or you assume it is silly. I have found that not enough people really stop to think through the why of it all.

Do we ever ask why anyone does church at all? Why not just have a local Kiwanis club? Why not social hour at the local coffee house? This “why” question can be narrowed even further? Why sing songs? Why listen to someone ramble on about crazy things like the end of the world for so long you think the world might literally end before he’s done? Why read that old book that is so hard to understand and everyone seems to have different interpretations of it anyways? Why gather with people you don’t care too much for and wouldn’t say more than a passing “How are you?” if you saw them at the post office? Why give such a high percentage of your money to some institution? Why give up so much of your most precious commodity, time? Why eat bread and drink wine/grape juice which stands in for the blood and corpse of a man who was executed 2,000 years ago? Sounds pretty morbid right? Whether you assume it’s all normal or you assume it’s all ridiculous, have you ever stopped to ask, and answer the simple question: why church?

We will dive in next week, but for today I want you to stop for just a few moments to ask why? Why church? Whether you are a faithful member of the bell choir or would refuse to go to church even if you were in a coffin, I want you to stop and ponder the why of it all. For I believe that answering some of these why questions will reveal how vital church is to the world, the community, and to you. Sadly, many simply assume. But that’s not good enough for me. Let’s ask “Why church?” together.

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Tags : Church

Nov
01
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One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice.
He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.
Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine?
Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?”

Luke 17:15-18

Luke records the story of ten lepers, which reveals the human condition. Only one of the ten lepers, who were all healed by Jesus, returned to give thanks. All of them sought Jesus for help, yet when they got help, few returned to thank him or praise God.

Likewise, we often desperately seek something from God. We want strength for our time of need, healing for a condition, or a prayer answered. Yet afterwards few of us return to God with thankfulness and praise. Indeed, we forget we even asked in the first place. We foolishly think it came about by natural means or happenstance. But it is God who answers prayers, gives every good gift (James 1:17), and coordinates life’s circumstances. God deserves praise.

May I suggest that we return thanks to God, especially in regards to our church? Let’s be honest. A few years ago the church was struggling. Our volunteers were running ragged. Attendance had taken a dip. Things were moving slowly. But I know many of you began to pray. Fervently. That God would do a new thing in our midst. That he would bring a fresh breath of the Holy Spirit to bring life to old bones and old bricks. You sought God to bring new life to a church that has been a rock-steady presence of the gospel for so many generations.

Well guess what? God heard your prayers. He answered them. Though we still seek him to bring more fruit and move in new ways, we know that God has worked in us and through us over the last few years. Therefore, this month, let us be like the Samaritan leper, and quickly return to give thanks to our Father who has done a great, new thing here.

 

  • Let’s be thankful for AWANA. I spoke with a new mother the other night whose sons begged to be a part of AWANA, even though they had missed the first few months. Kids long to be a part of a program whose goal is to spread the gospel and make disciples.
  • Let’s be thankful for the youth group. Celeste, Glen, and Chelsey continue to give their time and energy to reach our largest group in a long time at a moldable age.
  • Let’s be thankful for our growing Sunday morning attendance.
  • Let’s be thankful for our Connect groups who form the deeper relationships we need.
  • Let’s be thankful for our band for their dedication to excellence through practice.
  • Let’s be thankful for the many servants who work behind the scenes and often receive no recognition doing boring things like setting a budget or cleaning a greasy kitchen.
  • Let’s be thankful for our children’s church. When we added a second class, we doubled our need for volunteers, but also greatly increased our effectiveness.
  • Let’s be thankful for God moving in hearts and minds. People have repented of sin, marriages have been restored, and lives have been transformed by the gospel.
  • Let’s be thankful for Lue Allan and the deacons who stepped out in a new way to host the Kristina Craig Band concert in a new effort to reach our community for Christ.
  • Let’s be thankful for the Harvest Bonanza, which assisted over 350 who are in need.
  • Let’s be thankful for generosity. GBC is setting an example of generosity for our region.

In all, let’s make sure we give all the glory to God. Its is not some great programs or excellent leaders who bring the growth, though we are appreciative of hard work and ingenuity. We’re thankful to God because it is Him who makes things grow (1 Corinthians 3:7).

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Oct
30
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It’s time for a Halloween themed article. Last year I wrote about werewolves, vampires, and zombies. This year I take on ghosts.

Some think of a friendly guy like Casper, others of a trickster wearing a sheet like an episode of Scooby Doo. Some imagine paranormal activity sending off vibrations that can be measured by an EMF detector, others think of Bruce Willis (oops, guess I should have said spoiler alert). I prefer to simply picture the Stay Puft Marshmallow man. Ghosts have always been a part of popular culture, though their perceived activities in our world seem to change regularly. Whatever you think of when it comes to ghosts, today, I want to look at what the Bible says.

First off, there are two instances in the Bible in which it does appear there are ‘ghosts.’ First, in 1 Samuel 28, Saul, King of Israel visited a medium in an attempt to figure out what to do about an enemy army amassing at his border. He asked the medium to summon up the spirit of Samuel, the recently deceased prophet. In a startling scene, Samuel appeared and delivered a message to Saul. Biblical commentators have long argued that this is either a vision into the afterlife or the devil appearing in the form of Samuel to deceive. Yet the Bible simply states “Samuel said…” with no indication that it is anything but an appearance of Samuel’s spirit post-death. Which is what most call a ghost, right? Second, in the gospels (Matthew 17:1-9; Mark 9:2-8; Luke 9:28-36), Jesus went on top of a mountain and was “transfigured” to appear brightly and full of glory. At the same time, three of the disciples witnessed Moses and Elijah (two long-dead prophets) talking with Jesus. Once again, the Bible simply says they were there, with no extra details. In my humble opinion, both of these instances seem to suggest the spirit of a dead person appearing to the living. Yet in both these situations, they are extremely out of the ordinary; so though it may be possible, the dead appearing to the living occur only in very special instances.

Moreover, the Bible has special instructions about what not to do when it comes to the dead. The Bible absolutely forbids consulting with mediums or spiritists who dabble in conversing with the departed (Leviticus 19:31, 20:6, 27; Deuteronomy 18:10–11; 1 Chronicles 10:13–14; and Isaiah 8:19–20). Jesus even tells a parable that implies that the dead cannot contact the living (Luke 16:19-21).

For most, ghosts are merely an interesting question to ponder, unable to be proved by science, and merely a matter of personal belief/superstition. But for those who are grieving the loss of a loved one, there is often a yearning to speak with the recently departed. For these individuals, what do we do with those alleging to have messages? Or who claim to be able to contact the dead through mediums and seances? Well, the Bible teaches that these activities are sinful, akin to spiritual adultery (Leviticus 20:6). Saul himself was condemned, among other things, for consulting a medium (1 Chronicles 10:13). Moreover, even the most famous mediums admit they are not accurate (John Edward, James Van Praagh), they often describe vibrations they receive, or that the spirit plays “psychic charades” with symbols and images appearing that are difficult to interpret. Unlike these spiritualists, God speaks through clear revelation, the Bible, and through his own Son, Jesus.

But what about when the spiritist or medium gets it right? Well, they often fish for information and make suggestions and watch people’s reactions. Also, they make educated guesses about people based on their audience. Also, the Bible clearly teaches that there are spiritual forces at work in this world, angels, and those that oppose God and want to deceive, demons. I believe that demons are in fact behind much of what people attribute to ghosts. In fact, 2 Corinthians 11:14 teaches that demons can disguise themselves as angels of light and give messages to people.

Whether you think it’s all hocus pocus, or not, doesn’t matter. No one should contact the dead, as tempting as it can sound for someone in the throes of grief. Instead of looking for ghosts, and claiming paranormal activity next time you get goosebumps, let’s learn to trust the one person in all of human history who died, and returned: Jesus.

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Oct
27
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Harry and Anna Norman were married 72 years when Harry, a World War II veteran died after a fight with pneumonia last week in Ohio. Anna, who had shown no signs of being seriously ill, died six hours later. Most of us married folks would like for their story to be ours. Melissa and I have even talked about how we’d both like to go at the same time. But for nearly half of us, we will become widows or widowers.

In our church we have had a strong group of widows and widowers since I arrived. This summer, one widow approached me and asked if I could preach to them. You see, I’ve preached sermons directed at kids and youth, others towards young singles, many for married couples, and others for parents and grandparents. But not once in three years had I preached specifically to widows. In James 1:27, we read that “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress.” Widows in particular are important to God, who is called the “defender of widows” (Psalm 68:5), and therefore they should be important to all of us. I realized I had neglected an important group within our church and our community. Therefore, this past Sunday, after some study, I preached a section of my sermon for the widows and widowers of our congregation, and I wanted to share with all of you what I learned.

First off, nearly all of us who stay married will become widows or widowers. On top of that, there are an estimated 18 million widows in our nation, including about one third of those over 65 years of age. Yet most of us think about them as much as we think about the migratory patterns of African swallows. We rarely recognize those who have gone through an excruciatingly hard time of life unless they are our own family members.

CS Lewis, who himself lost his wife to cancer, talked about his own journey in his book, A Grief Observed. He described how he had friends tell him that he would “get over it.” But after struggling through his beloved’s death he realized that getting over the death of a spouse was not like getting over appendicitis--you’d be down for a few weeks and then all would be virtually back to normal. Rather, getting over a lover’s death is like getting over the loss of a leg. You may be able to move around after some time, but you will always need assistance. Your whole life will now be approached differently. That is how it is with the loss of a spouse.

In her book, From One Widow to Another, Miriam Neff explains the multitude of changes that accompany widowhood. When she lost her husband, his family, who for decades had been her family, no longer connected with her in the same way. Moreover, on average, 75% of a widows friend structure will disappear. Some will leave because they were his friends, others because they don’t know how to deal with a grieving friend, and others because losing a spouse changes the one left behind. On top of the changes in connection to others, widows have to assume responsibilities, like finances which they may know little about. Others with children at home are forced to fulfill both the parental roles, a difficult task for anyone.

If you are a widow or widower and you read this, know that you are valued and important. Even though you did not choose your new life, God has a plan for you. He can provide new friends, new opportunities, and new freedoms. There may be something you’ve always wanted to do, or a place you’ve always wanted to visit that you couldn’t before--now’s your chance. Or perhaps God is calling you to do something new and powerful, that only you can do because of the strength and perseverance formed in you from the forge of grief.

If you’re reading this and you were unaware of the situation of situation of widows and widowers, let them know how much you appreciate them. And recognize that they are stronger than you would think because of the ordeal they have endured.

Most people don’t get that perfect ending of dying the same day as their spouse. Most people live for years or decades without the love of their life they wanted to grow old with. Though this change is excruciating, good can and does come of it. It makes men and women who  are stronger than nearly all of us.

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Oct
21
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The rage these days is to be open minded. I'm all about that. We need to listen to other's ideas and weigh them to see if they are true. We have to listen to those we view as divergent from the mainstream. But that doesn't mean we forego convictions.

Whether it's politics or religion or taste in music, we tend to have strong, differing opinions. Yet you often hear the sentiment that if the two opposites could get together at one table and share a beer (it's always a beer isn't it?) then all the world's problems wouldn't matter and we could all just get along. And I have seen this happen. I have been around persons who would NEVER do something or think a certain way, until they are swayed to the other side through 15 minutes around a person with a new viewpoint. The vegan activist who despises the "murder" of helpless animals until she meets the thoughtful hunter who kills to feed his hungry family. Or the always packing NRA member who sells his firearms after meeting the mother of a child who accidentally shot himself with his parent’s handgun. In many cases, we should maintain an open mind so that we can allow truth to win out.

Being able to discuss our differences and listen to others are vital skills all too lacking in our society. Still, these communication skills do not diminish our real differences. For I contend that we all should have beliefs and convictions that bend but don’t break. On any issue we must think deliberately, seek wisdom from God’s Word, pray thoroughly, and discuss with others we trust. Yet after doing all of that, we shouldn’t continue to be “open minded” or agnostic about the issue, we should take a position. Then, we should only change that position when new evidence is brought to light. This is what our court system does. We realize that you can’t leave someone in judicial limbo forever, the judge and jury deliberate to reach a decision which is held until new evidence arises. We must do the same with issues in our minds.

Decide where you believe the lines of right and wrong are and don't stray from them. Determine if you think a certain policy or activity or substance is good by approaching with an open mind. Then arrive at a conviction. Decide: I will not consume that substance. I will not affiliate with those people. I will not participate in that activity. When new information or ideas or information are presented don't ignore them. And certainly don't be a jerk to those who disagree. But become a person of conviction. The apostle Paul taught us that on issues on which we disagree each person should be “fully convinced in his own mind” (Romans 14:5).

The point of an open mind, like an open mouth—paraphrasing G. K. Chesterton here—is to shut it again on something solid. So please don't have a closed mind. You'll miss out on life because of your pride. But don't keep your mind open forever. Develop some convictions before your brains falls out.

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Tags : Conviction, Belief

Oct
06
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Generosity feels good. There it is, I said it. Being generous and giving away your time and money and stuff to others makes me feel good. Selfish isn’t it?

This may sound strange to some of you. Doesn’t altruism mean we do things for the benefit of others? If you do something to help others, and you really do it to make yourself feel good, isn’t that wrong! For some, to enjoy giving is wrong. The goal instead is to be a completely ‘selfless giver.’

However, the ideal of the “selfless giver” isn’t a biblical concept. Jesus in fact teaches to love your neighbor AS YOURSELF. Therefore the golden rule assumes that we love ourselves. Indeed, there is true joy in considering others better than yourself. In fact, it feels pretty darned good to give away your times, talents, and treasures away to serve others. Yes, the idea of self-denial is biblical--Jesus demonstrated this for us by giving his life--but even Jesus suffered the cross “for the joy set before him” (Hebrews 12:2). The Bible teaches us to generously give all we have to God and to others--but it also teaches us that this will make us the most happy!

So where did the idea of a ‘selfless giver’ come from? Probably the philosophy of Immanuel Kant and the influence of a group from ancient Greece called the Stoics. These well-meaning people, along with many today, elevated selflessness as the highest of ideals. But selflessness is not the end goal, it is the means by which we all can glorify God and achieve happiness for ourselves. God wants us to give away our very selves. To be extremely generous. But he created us in a way that we will enjoy the giving and the generosity at the same time.

I have witnessed true generosity over the past few weeks here in Central Nebraska. A woman whose house was battered by the hail this summer, and couldn’t even afford the deductibles (why is it that insurance companies are legally allowed to charge more than one deductible when they only pay for one repair?--but that’s a rant for another day), that woman was anonymously given a generous sum of money to help get her house repaired. I’ve seen a man be so thoroughly moved by the desperation of a down-on-her-luck single mom, that he encouraged her and helped her find a job and is working to get her small home liveable for the winter. With the Harvest Bonanza arriving this week, companies, organizations, and individuals in our town have overextended themselves to donate food, clothing, household goods, and money to give away to those in need among us. Do I think all of these people acted selflessly? Of course! They could have kept all they had! Even if they get a tax-break, they still have less money than they could have had. But were they also selfish. Yes, you could call it that. But in a good way. They did it to bring themselves true happiness now and receive rewards in the life to come.

So I encourage you. Be selfish for once. Give! Be generous. Give yourself away to others. Give your time and money away. Give it to support a cause or a church or a neighbor. Pick your poison. Just be generous. Then enjoy!

And guess what...I have the perfect opportunity for you: The Harvest Bonanza! If you want to generously give your time, we could use your help bagging the generously donated 4,000 lbs. of potatoes this Friday at 5PM at Gibbon Baptist Church. Or your could help on Saturday from 1-4 to give the food, household goods, etc. away. Be at the Gibbon Public School at 12:30 if you want to help. Or you could generously give your money, or bring by some imperishable food items or household goods to Gibbon Baptist Church before Saturday. Come on, be selfish, it’ll be fun!

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Oct
01
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But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height
of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees:
man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

1 Samuel 16:7

Muhammad Ali’s boxing gloves from his 1965 fight against Floyd Patterson are valued at $1.1 million. An original Honus Wagner baseball card from 1909 sold for $2.8 million. In 2012 a jersey worn by Babe Ruth in 1920 went for a whopping $4.4 million.

To most of us these prices are absurd. But at the same time we get it. We understand why a sports nut would crave these valuable objects, because they’re the real thing. And what we crave is the real thing. Knockoffs? They’re worth next to nothing. Even if they look virtually the same. Whether it’s artwork, or sports memorabilia, or historical artifacts, or autographs no one wants a replica, they want the genuine article. Everyone knows intrinsically that authenticity is of great worth.

Yet we all put on a good show when it comes to our faith. We all are tempted. We stumble and fall. We are not perfect. We’re far from perfect. Yet at the same time we act like we’re strong in our faith, though we falter when we face a trial. We present ourselves like we’re generous, then we hold on to our stuff too tightly. We talk a big game, but often fail to deliver. We’re pretending. And it’s time to stop pretending like we have it all together. It’s time to admit we need to grow in our faith. We all need to grow. We’re not the genuine article yet.

This Fall, starting October 4th we will be diving into James in a series called “James: Grow Authentic Faith.” James is a letter written by Jesus’ younger brother, James, to Christians like you and me who have a long way to go. But James, like his older brother, doesn’t want people who look good, or even act good around others (see Matthew 23). What he wants is what God wants, real faith. True faith. Genuine faith.

So as we begin to examine this short letter (it’s only five chapters), be prepared to be stretched. Be prepared to be challenged. Be prepared to grow genuine faith.

Please read through the letter of James in one sitting. Plan about 16 minutes give or take. Once you finish, read it again. And again. Then come prepared to listen each Sunday, to take notes, to think and pray about how each verse applies to your life, and then to live it out.

We’re all at different points in our faith journey. But whether you’re brand new or getting dusty, we all have a lot of room for growth. And if you allow the Holy Spirit to work in you and bring about growth this Fall, then through God’s grace you will be one step closer to being the genuine article. And you’ll be worth a lot more than a paltry baseball card.

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Sep
22
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Football in the eyes of many has supplanted baseball as “America’s Favorite Pastime.” And yes, I still like baseball (go Dodgers!--I was born in L.A.), but I tend to think they’re right. However, there may be a new favorite sport that has even supplanted football: judging famous people.

This is observed within football itself. How long should Ray Rice’s suspension be for cold clocking his wife? Should Roger Goodell, commissioner of the NFL, be culpable as well? Did he knowingly cover up extreme domestic violence by feigning ignorance of  the videotape of the Ray Rice incident? What about Adrian Peterson, running back of the Minnesota Vikings? Did he use excessive force in disciplining his son? By the time this article is published there will likely be seven more scandals within football itself that America will judge.

This of course extends beyond football. We judge Kanye West & the Kardashians, Phil Robertson’s candid comments, and Lance Armstrong’s doping. We ask: Is Paula Deen a racist? Was Michael Brown a hulligan? Is our president shirking his responsibility to lead? We judge their actions, then we analyze their motives, then you even hear people then we declare their sentence--how long they have to be contrite and how much community activism do they have to do before they can be made right.

Whether it’s the talking heads on sports and news programs or our own thoughts expressed on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media, everyone has an opinion. Everyone judges. But I think one reason why we are so vehement in our judgments of someone else’s sin is because we know that deep down that same seed of sin is within ourselves.

One thing that scares us (or should scare us, if we thought about it) is that every single sin that we see in these prominent figures, is found in seed form inside ourselves. Allow me to explain. When we observe someone spouting racist nonsense, we know that within ourselves are unwarranted thoughts of discrimination we have of others based on superficial observances of their outward appearance. Whether we defend or excoriate the police officer who shot Michael Brown, we know that we too could make a split second decision to hurt another person. When we watch the awful video of Ray Rice knocking out his then fiance (and now wife), we know that we have been angry with another person and in the past may have thrown something, or said something terrible, or acted out in an inappropriate manner. We may suppress these seeds of sins, and they may be way beneath the surface (anger, lust, greed, pride), but we all know they’re in there.

1 Corinthians 10:13 says, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind.” This verse can help us realize we are not the only one. But it should also make us realize that we are not morally superior to another person because they acted on their temptation and we haven’t had the opportunity yet. We all have temptations, though our particular desire for that specific sin may not be as strong as someone else, it’s still in there.

Instead of jumping straight to judgment and condemnation, we should instead admit that we have sinful desires inside ourselves and we, like them, we too need help. We too need forgiveness. We too need Jesus.

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Sep
01
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And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds,
not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging
one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Hebrews 10:24-25

You can’t do life on your own. It’s too tough. I can’t do it either. We need others to help and encourage us. We need to connect. For the past few years here, I have found that the connections I’ve developed through our small group have helped me to flourish. I need the connection. I think we all do. That’s why we’re launching our Connect Groups this Fall.

Why change the name to “connect” groups?

This isn’t just a change like Ron Artest changing his name to Metta World Peace or Prince becoming The-Artist-Formerly-Known-As-Prince. It’s a change in focus and purpose. For the name “small groups” tells us nothing more than that these groups relatively smaller than the Sunday morning gathering. We will call them “connect groups” because they will fulfill the God-given vision of our need to connect to one another.

These are not Bible studies (though yes, you will dive into the Bible together). These are not book clubs (though you may discuss books or ideas together). These are not fellowship groups (though you will develop real Christian friendships). What they are is a way to connect with other believers so that you can do life and faith together.

 

  1. Connect with God. You will pray to God and rely on him. They will involve examining God’s Word and discussing his principles with how they relate to life.
  2. Connect with other believers. You will challenge each other and be challenged. You will encourage each other and be encouraged. You will find fellow Christians who will fight in the trenches of life with you.
  3. Connect with outsiders. In our lives there are believers, unbelievers, seekers, and a lot of I-don’t-knowers. A connect group is a great way to invite these people to come, ask questions, and find Jesus.

So what does a connect group do?

  • They will meet in various places--homes, here at the church, maybe at the park.
  • They will be led by a HOST who will open up a place and start the study video and help facilitate discussion.
  • Each group may study a different subject and discuss things like work, marriage, kids, or other aspects of life and how they intersect with faith.
  • Groups will meet at various times during the week--Sunday night, Thursday night, Sunday afternoon, etc.
  • They will meet 6 times from September to December then again six times between January and May (however, after connecting with these brothers and sisters in Christ you may find yourself getting together a lot more often!).
  • We will have a sign-up time following worship on Sundays 9/7 and 9/14 so you can meet each of the hosts and find a connect group with a time, place, and study that fits you.

I want EVERYONE in our church to be a part of a connect group. Try it this fall, even if you’re skeptical of busy. It’s 6 times. You can do it. And you will be blessed. You need the connection. I need the connection. Join a Connect Group!

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Sep
01
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Ron Artest, who infamously punched a fan in the stands while playing for the Indiana Pacers, famously changed his name to Metta World Peace when he went to play for the Lakers. Since he is now headed to play for a professional basketball team in China, he decided to change his name again. Of course, anyone could have predicted his obvious new moniker: The Pandas Friend.

Ron, or Metta, or The--whatever his first name is now--felt he needed to change his name in order to leave a past identity behind. But he is not the first nor will he be the last who felt the need to change his name.

Famous authors often assume a nom-de-plume: Samuel Clemens became Mark Twain; Eric Arthur Blair became George Orwell. Many adopt a stage name to perform: Marshall Bruce Mathers III became Eminem, Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta became Lady Gaga. Some change their name for religious reasons: Lew Alcindor became Kareem Abdul Jabbar; Jorge Mario Bergoglio became Pope Francis. Some simply can’t decide: Sean John Combs became Puff Daddy, then P. Diddy, then just Diddy, and now is back to Puff Daddy. Others do it to simplify: Stanley Martin Lieber became Stan Lee; Florian Cloud de Bounevialle Armstrong became Dido. Others do it to make their name sound less ethnic: Allen Konigsberg became Woody Allen; Krishna Pandit Bhanki became Ben Kingsley. Others change their name to avoid being made fun of: Joaquin Rafael Bottom became Joaquin Phoenix; Ralph Lifshitz became Ralph Lauren. Then there’s Prince, who chose the funky Love Symbol to represent himself after a copyright dispute and now is often referred to as the-artist-formerly-known-as-prince.

I could go on. People often change their names. For a whole host of reasons. Some make sense. Others are bizarre. Yet behind every single name change is a desire for a new identity. It might be so others find them more attractive or appealing. Or it could be to distance themselves from a sordid past, hoping others will forget as well. Others just want a fresh start or to try something new. People choose to change their name, because that is what represents themselves to others. They want others to see them and think of them differently than they are.

I have nothing against name changes. In fact, they’re biblical! Abram became Abraham when God chose him to be the Patriarch of a new chosen nation. His wife Sarai became Sarah. Their grandson Jacob then became Israel as he would father the nation. Simon became Peter (the original ‘The Rock,’--sorry Dwayne Johnson). Saul became Paul.

At the core, I think most of us have a desire to become a new person. We want to be seen by others differently. To leave a past behind. To reinvent ourselves. And one of the steps may be changing your name in that process. However, I know this for sure: it’s not gonna solve the problem. You still are the same person you were. You may even be able to make most other people forget who you were, but you will still know.

Instead, there’s a better, more effective way to become a new person and to take on a new identity. Through Jesus we can have the sins of our past completely removed from us (Psalm 103:12), we can become entirely new and better (Galatians 2:20), we can be an entirely new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17).

It may be fun or funny to look at these celebrity name changes, but the reality is that all of us long for a new identity. And none of us are capable of achieving that through a mere name change. We need Jesus to give us a new identity.

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Tags : Identity

Aug
18
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Our culture has for years attempted to systematically eradicate sin. No, I don’t mean they have fought to get rid of lying, stealing, cheating, murdering, etc. That would be nice. Instead, the culture has attempted to eradicate the word sin and in so doing they have eliminated hope of things getting better.

It’s never been popular to talk about sin. It’s been even less popular to call someone a sinner. But’s its been getting worse. If you talk about lying, most would say it’s not a good idea. But when it comes down to getting yourself out of trouble, most think, ‘oh it’s the lesser of two evils.’ We have become less and less apt to call any particular action a ‘sin.’ We call it a mistake. We call it a lapse in judgment. We say it was the alcohol that made you do it. We blame it on the people who enticed you. We blame it on the situation. Heck, we even blame it on the heat or the fact that we were hungry.

On top of these redefinitions of sin, there are two methods especially popular among the intellectual crowd. First, some say that our actions and desires are just natural instincts that have developed because of a millennia of evolution and natural selection. Of course you covet your neighbor's wife! It’s your natural instinct to desire to procreate with as many women as possible and carry on your progeny and the human race. Second, psychology and Freud have convinced us that all actions have a distinct cause stemming from our childhood or even our time in the womb. Of course you hate women! Your mother made you eat brussel sprouts. Sin has officially been rebranded.

Now I’m not saying that religious folks haven’t gone overboard calling things like dancing, card-playing, and shuffleboard (I made that last one up) sin. But there is sin in this world. We know it is sin when one third of all teenagers report being physically, emotionally or sexually abused in their dating relationships. We know it is sin when there are more slaves today than were seized from Africa in four centuries of the trans-Atlantic slave trade with an estimated 21 million in bondage across the globe. We know it is a sin when Christian children are being systematically beheaded because of their faith in Iraq.

The more we diminish calling things ‘sin’ and in so doing assigning moral value to them (independent of what we or others want to do in a specific time or place), the more we diminish hope. For unless we can call something sin, we cannot call people to repent. We cannot build a world without hate, without abuse, without suffering, because anyone can come up with a million rationalizations for why what they are doing isn’t sin. ‘I personally feel that this is right for me.’ ‘My past psychological trauma/my genetic make-up/the way I was raised led me to do this thing, what gives you any right to say I can’t.’ Without sin there is no hope, for there is no wrong and therefore, no way to right it.

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Tags : Sin, Hope

Aug
11
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Star Trek, Star Wars, Starship Troopers. E.T., U.F.O.s, M.I.B., X-Files. First Contact, Third Rock from the Sun, The Fifth Element, District 9, Area 51, 2001 A Space Odyssey. Spaceballs, Space Jam, Jar Jar Binks, The Borg, Battleship, Battlefield Earth, Battlestar Galactica, Galaxy Quest, Guardians of the Galaxy. Avatar, Alien, Alien vs. Predator, Cowboys & Aliens.

We’re fascinated with aliens aren’t we? Whether it’s TV, movies, books, comic books, etc., non-earth entities have captured our collective imagination. We wonder: Is there something out there? Are we not alone? Is there intelligent life in the universe?

The more we learn about our universe the more questions about extraterrestrial life emerge. For some time now, astronomers at NASA have calculated that there are 8.8 billion planets in the habitable temperature zone in the Milky Way alone. These planets orbit a star similar in size to our Sun and are at a distance that is not too far as to be too cold, and not too close so as to be too hot. They exist in the aptly named “Goldilocks” zone. On top of this, in April of this year NASA announced that their Kepler space telescope spotted a planet, called Kepler-186f, about 490 light-years from earth that is in the Goldilocks zone and contains water on its surface. Is there life on these planets?

When we contemplate the reality of life in the universe it can lead to real theological questions as well. If there are other life forms out there, does it mean we are not as special in God’s eyes, for why would he care about puny earthlings? If there are aliens, have they sinned and need redemption? Do they need Jesus? Do they need us to go out and bring them the gospel?

Before I address these questions, I want to say that I do not believe in extraterrestrial life. Even if we were to find some, I highly doubt there would be intelligent life. There isn’t even any other intelligent life form on earth, which is teeming with life. There is something unique about humanity. The smartest chimpanzee and the most elegant dolphin are an enormous chasm away from human intelligence. From a biblical perspective, it is humans and humans only (not even angels) who are created in God’s image (Genesis 1:26-27). Being created in God’s image means we are like God and we represent him. He created us in a special way, and when he came to save us, he came as a human. Therefore, even were we to discover extra-terrestrial life (a long shot), even intelligent life (an even longer shot), that life form would not be as special in God’s eyes.

However, humans being special in God’s eyes does not mean we are the end-all-be-all of the universe. There very well could be other creatures out there and they could be important. C.S. Lewis, in his book Miracles writes about this very concept: “It is, of course, the essence of Christianity that God loves man and for his sake became man and died. But that does not prove that man is the sole end of nature. In the parable, it was one lost sheep that the shepherd went in search of: it was not the only sheep in the flock, and we are not told that it was the most valuable—save insofar as the most desperately in need has, while the need lasts, a peculiar value in the eyes of Love.” So would aliens need a savior? Well, all sorts of scenarios could be imagined about aliens. Would they sin? Would they need salvation? Would they need their own savior? But it’s just that, imagination. What we do know is that God became human to save US.

Some think that these new questions about alien life disprove Christianity. But these questions have been around for a long time, the ancient Greek philosopher Lucretius (100 years before Jesus) wrote, “Nothing in the universe is the only of its kind...there must be countless worlds and inhabitants thereof.” People have long ago imagined extraterrestrial life. And no matter which way you slice it, the questions that emerge do not disprove Christianity. The central tenets of our faith remain the same. Yet I still went and saw Guardians of the Galaxy opening weekend. I mean, aliens are fascinating!

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Aug
04
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What? Stop going to church? Why would a pastor ever say that!?

When we talk about going to church, we get the whole idea backwards. Jesus was the one who first used the term church, and he established the church to carry on his message. Thus, the English word “church” is derived from the Greek word ekklesia, which means assembly. In other words, it’s about the group of people that assemble, or come together--it’s not about a place to go. As Jesus established it, the church is a group of people who come together for a common purpose, not a building you go to. In fact, when one woman asked Jesus where the proper place to go to worship God was, he responded that from now on the location doesn’t matter, all that mattered was that people worship in spirit and in truth (John 4:19-24). We don’t need to go to some ornate cathedral or some sacred mountaintop. Church is not about going to a location, it’s about belonging to a group.

Thus, when I say stop going to church, what I mean is that it’s not about GOING somewhere, it’s about BEING something. The act of coming together is absolutely vital to our lives. You cannot thrive as a person on your own, you need to assemble with others. You need them to encourage you. You need them to remind you what is important. You need them to call you out when you’re being an idiot. You need them to love you. And they need you just as much.

In the Bible, the church gets compared to a body. So if you are a Christian and aren’t a part of a church, not only are you missing out on the benefits of a community, they are missing you. They need you! Perhaps you’re the eyes, so when you’re not a part of it, they may be walking around bumping into stuff like Mr. Magoo. Perhaps you’re the feet (isn’t that what you’ve always wanted to be?), without you your church can’t even walk, they’re hobbled and can’t stay balanced. If I may be so blunt: quit being selfish! It’s time to be a part of the bigger community. It’s time to assemble.

We also need need to assemble to carry out a mission. Just as Ron Burgundy called his news-team to assemble in the movie Anchorman, we must assemble as a church. We have a mission that only a team can accomplish. There is a world that is lost and in need of help. There are people living in poverty and hopelessness. There are individuals who are dying and we have the only way to save them. We need to come together in order to accomplish this mission together.

If you aren’t a part of a church. Join one! Just check it out. Ask questions, give it a chance. Any Christian church is good, though I’m certainly biased toward Gibbon Baptist. If you are part of a church, stop just going. It’s not something you have to check off on your divine scorecard to avoid hell. It’s an awesome team you get to be a part of. I’ll let you in on a secret, we’re gonna win the championship, you’re not gonna wanna miss being on the winning team.

Stop just going to church. It’s time to BE the church.

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Tags : Church, Mission

Aug
01
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How good and pleasant it is
   when God’s people live together in unity!

Psalm 133:1

When Melissa and I first moved to Nebraska we felt out-of-place. We were the new guys. We wondered if we would fit in. I know some of you still feel that way. Whether you’re new to Gibbon, to our church, or even been here for years, it is common to feel like everyone else is on the inside and you are on the outside.

All this changed once we started a small group. After praying about it, we felt like we needed a group. We started inviting people we met, and encouraging them to invite others. Having a small group has been life-giving. It has made us feel a part of this community. It has enabled us to form deep friendships. We needed that connection. And I think you need it too.

This September we will be rebranding and relaunching our small groups. We will call them “Connect Groups.” These are not Bible studies (though you will dive into the Bible together). These are not book clubs (though you may discuss books or ideas together). These are not fellowship groups (though you may share meals). They are a combination of all of those things. Connect Groups will help us live out the third part of our church’s vision to “Grow. Build. Connect

In order to get these connect groups going in full force, we need some H.O.S.T.s.

To be a H.O.S.T., you don’t need to be a perfect Christian (there’s only been one of those--Jesus--anyways). You don’t need to have the book of Philemon memorized (you don’t even have to know where that tiny book is in the Bible).

Instead, there are four simple things you have to do:

 

  1. Have a heart for people.
  2. Open up a place to meet.
  3. Serve something to drink.
  4. Turn on a video.

That’s it! It takes someone who cares about others and wants them to grow in their faith and join a real Christian community. It takes someone who is willing to open up their home (or open up the church sometime, or their office) for others to come in. It takes some hospitality to provide something like coffee, water, or lemonade. And it takes someone who can pop in a DVD or pull up a video off the internet. Do you think you can do that? Then you would make an awesome H.O.S.T.!

I want EVERYONE to prayerfully consider becoming a H.O.S.T. Whether you feel left out of the loop or you’re the queen bee, we can all help connect with others.

We will have an information meeting to find out what it means to H.O.S.T. a connect group immediately following the worship service on Sunday, August 17th. Be there! Contact me if you’re interested or have any questions.

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Tags : Church, Community

Jul
21
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After many near misses, we finally got hit. I’ve lived in Southern California and Colorado, and I’ve never seen anything like the two storms that hit Gibbon this year. I’ve been in wind and I’ve seen hail. But I’ve never witnessed 68 mph wind catapulting golf-ball sized hail horizontally through the air for near 20 minutes.

A few weeks ago, in one of my sermons I shared how the enormous hail (we had a couple in our yard the size of tennis balls) from the first storm had just missed our backyard garden. We had a one oregano plant with a 3-inch wide hail-induced-divot immediately adjacent to the plants, and yet somehow we didn’t lose a single plant. I used that as an illustration for how we should praise God for the times we rescues us from almost certain demise. For there is coincidence with God, only providence.

But what do I say when the storm does hit? What do I say when our entire garden is wiped out? And that’s the minutest problem. Every house with plastic siding looks like Al Capone took a tommy-gun to it. Nearly every north facing window was smashed to oblivion. Houses and vehicles were flooded. Most devastating of all, field after field of crops were ruined. What had recently been eight foot tall lush, green cornstalks are now knee-high and lifeless. Several farmers lost all of their fields. And this doesn't just affect them, this affects their employees, the people that provide them chemicals, and all the local substructure that supports the farming operations. So what do I say now?

It’s easy to talk about God being in control when the good things happen. But when the bad things happen many fall away. But God is not any less in control. In fact, after the entire nation of Israel was destroyed by foreign invaders, the land ransacked, and the people expelled from their homeland, the Bible asks: “Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both calamities and good things come?” (Lamentations 3:38). The answer to the rhetorical questions is yes. God does not sin or perpetuate evil, but he is in control of all circumstances.

Sadly, some people reject God or the idea of a sovereign God when the storms of life hit. They scream, “How could a good God allow this!” But this should not be. As Charles Spurgeon once said, “When you go through a trial, the sovereignty of God is the pillow upon which you lay your head.” The fact that God is in control, means that he knows what’s going on. Even though your life may feel like a tilt-a-whirl off spinning off its moorings, God’s got you in his hands. And because of that, if you trust him (Romans 8:28-29), he will work in all of those things for your ultimate good. As the prophet Joel put it, then God can “repay you for the years the locusts have eaten” (Joel 2:25). He will make all things right in his time, because he is in control.

Just because the storm does hit you (or the death, or the broken relationship, or the financial hardship, etc.) God is still good. He is still in control. Let your head rest on the pillow of that truth.

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Tags : Sovereignty, God

Jul
14
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Step 1: Keep a list of all the ways your spouse has let you down. It helps to have a moleskin journal at arms length to keep an account of every night he comes home late from work without calling or a detailed description of her dried-out meatloaf.

Step 2: Yell a lot. Sure s/he might react better if you explained how you felt quietly and calmly, but the higher decibel level you reach the more likely you are to win the fight.

Step 3: Stop going on dates. Always bring the kids with you to dinner. When you do have some free time make sure to always have a poker night with the guys or a night out with your girls.

Step 4: Only look good for people other than your spouse. Women, get yourself all dolled-up to go out with your girl-friends. Men, only shower, shave, and get a hair-cut when your mom comes to visit.

Step 5: Establish no boundaries with other people. Have a buddy who is always welcome to chill on your couch, watch the game, and devour what he wants from the fridge. Or allow your parents to continually show up unannounced and barge in without knocking.

Step 6: Only get gifts for your spouse that you really want. Men, get her that Harley you’ve had your eye on for years. Women, buy him that diamond necklace--yeah you might wear it, but he gets to look at it, right?

Step 7: When you’re making a difficult decision together, ask someone for help who will always take your side over your spouse. Men, your mom is often the best choice. Women, find a girl-friend who says things like, “Oh no he didn’t!” and “I wouldn’t put up with that!”

Step 8: Keep all of your sexual frustration to yourself. Instead of talking about what your sexual needs are and finding common ground, hold it in until you become bitter and toxic. Then take out your frustrations in an inappropriate way.

Step 9: Develop a ‘purely platonic’ relationship with someone of the opposite sex while harboring feelings for them. It will work quicker if you try to rekindle a relationship through Facebook from a long lost girlfriend/boyfriend. Lie to your spouse about not having any feelings whatsoever. Most importantly, lie to yourself.

Step 10: Always compare your spouse to someone else. Try saying things like, ‘Honey, I wish you had Emma Stone’s smile.’ Or, ‘I just wish you were as funny as that guy I work with.’

There are lots of ways to ruin a good marriage. Add your steps to the comments below!

This post was inspired by the title of a sermon by Robin Maxson called "Nine Simple Steps to a Miserable Marriage."

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Jul
07
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“I love mankind...but I find to my amazement that the more I love mankind as a whole, the less I love man in particular.” This is the amazingly honest statement of Ivan, a character in Fyodor Dostoyevsky's The Brother’s Karamazov. He confessed what most would never admit--that the idea of humanity in general is much easier to get excited about and love than one person in particular. In the story, Ivan loves talking and dreaming about society and the possibilities of bettering mankind, but when he sees a dirty, stinky homeless man on the street, he despises him.

You see this issue emerge in politics. The political types all wax eloquently about overcoming party lines and furthering bipartisan government, but when they sit down in a room across from a member of the opposite party, they can’t stand them. The Democrat despises the backwoods Republican who ignorantly clings to his guns and religion. The Republican loathes the hippie Democrat who pretends to be Robin Hood but instead robs from everyone and makes the poor dependent on government social programs. It’s a lot easier to love an idea than it is to love a person.

If you asked most every person around if they would agree that it is a good idea to “love your neighbor as yourself” they would concur. However, if you were to follow them with a hidden camera would they actually be loving their neighbors? I mean, think about your actual neighbor--the person living on your street. Do you talk with them? Do you share meals with them? Do you help them out when they need a hand? Or are you more apt to call the cops on them because of their annoying dogs? Or yell at them for letting their yard go to pot and their weeds now blow into your yard? Or much more likely, live your life as if it they don’t exist at all?

It can happen with anything, this love for an idea but not a person. You could love the idea of marriage, but struggle to want to clean up after your flesh-and-blood spouse. You could love the idea of having kids, but dread dealing with your actual misbehaving kids. You see this happen with Christians all the time. They get this idealistic vision of what God’s people could do if they worked together for the common good. They fall in love with the idea of a community that supports each other through thick and thin. However, when they actually join a church, they get irritated by the hypocrites sitting in the pews around them as if they were all just dogs pooping in their garden.

Ideas are nice. Reality is better. Don’t just love an idea, love a person. Stop daydreaming of the ideal spouse or child. Love the one you got. Don’t say it’s good to “love your neighbor as yourself.” Get off your duff and do something to show love to that neighbor this week

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Tags : Politics, Love, Ethics

Jul
01
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Our newest mission project is to support the Emanuel Foundation (check out their website or their Facebook page for more info). They are dire need of a new vehicle, a van, to transport the kids. Please give generously as we offer opportunities to give.

Watch the video about the Emanuel Foundation:

Goretty & Foundation Emanuel from Matt Wolf on Vimeo.

We had the honor of having Goretty Jora come and visit us here in Nebraska. If you want to watch video from their visit to Gibbon Baptist, watch the video here.

We are working in coordination with American Baptists Churches of Nebraska and International Ministries (specifically Mario Morales). Four different church in Nebraska are teaming up to reach the combined goal of $20,000 to provide them a servicable van.

Find out about the trip of Pastors Gordon Braun (FBC Norfolk), Paul Marine (Benson Baptist), Matt Toupin (FBC Omaha), and Matt Wolf (Gibbon Baptist) along with Executive Director of ABCNE Robin Stoops and others from the Rocky Mountain Region and the IM staff to Bolivia in October of 2013. Watch the video below:

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Tags : Bolivia, Missions

Jun
30
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‘You don’t wanna be on the wrong side of history!’ This statement, along with it’s countless iterations, has been popping up regularly in political and social discourse. When Putin seized Crimea, our president chimed in, “Russia is on the wrong side of history on this.” I have heard the expression used by both sides of the aisle when addressing a whole host of issues. The question I have is, what does it mean?

Without putting words in the mouths of others, it seems that when people use the saying “wrong side of history” they are proposing that human history is going somewhere. That with social issues like slavery, women’s suffrage, sexuality, etc. there is a definite trajectory of what we will one day find acceptable and that which will be unacceptable.

What it amounts to is saying, ‘I think you’re wrong, and I predict that in x amount of years people will look disparagingly on you. For instance, we look back at medieval barbers who drilled holes in people’s heads to heal them, the judges and jurors of the salem witch trials, and the doctors who prescribed cocaine to cure toothaches in children (yes this really happened) as complete numskulls. When we read in history books the founding fathers kept slaves and Galileo was declared a heretic for his scientific discoveries we are appalled. It seems that every politician is afraid they might turn out like George Wallace, the former governor of Alabama and infamous bigot. In 1963 he pronounced, “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever!” but later went on an ‘apology tour’ to confess how wrong he had been. No one wants to be blind to the sin/evil/crime that is considered right/good/acceptable now.

But here’s the problem with saying that something or someone is on the wrong side of history: We don’t know the future. As Yogi Berra once quipped, “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.” Indeed, when we attempt to persuade others with this phrase we actually influence what that future might become. So in reality, we assign losing status to something that may not actually have losing status yet. History is not some moral force that automatically pulls humanity in one direction or the other.

So, who determines what is right and what is wrong? If you were to teleport back to the founding of our nation, few would decry slavery. The large majority would favor it as a way to bolster the struggling economy of a fledgling nation. Or imagine if the Nazis had won WWII. Would the genocide of an entire race for the purposes of purifying offspring and human experimentation be the norm, and those that opposed them on the “wrong side of history?” Unless there is an outside standard of appeals, a moral measuring stick that is independent of the here and now, there can be no right side or wrong side. There just is.

When people declare that history will pull us toward what is better, that we are always moving forward, that there is an upward trajectory to human morality, we assume a lot of things. We assume that new and modern is better and old is worse. This is what CS Lewis called “chronological snobbery.” But who among us hasn’t noticed that as much as our new technology creates new ways to get clean water to remote tribes, we also have a plethora of new and devastating ways to murder? Newer is not always better. What may be socially acceptable tomorrow may not be good at all. It may just be what people in that time and place think is good. Until the next day comes.

In order for the assertion that something is on the wrong side of history to have any force at all, there must be a clear moral law for us to measure everything against, or else everything just is the way it is. I hope you understand my argument here, I mean, I wouldn’t want you to be on the wrong side of history.

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Tags : History

Jun
30
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Lord, hear my prayer,
listen to my cry for mercy;
in your faithfulness and righteousness
come to my relief.
Psalm 143:1

‘There’s an app for that.’ This catchy Apple advertising slogan highlights the diversity of the 1.2 million and counting apps that Apple has in its App Store for smart phones and tablets. There’s an app that can tell you your blood pressure, another can identify tree species, another can organize your library. If there’s something you need to do, Apple boasts that they provide in app that fits your situation.

I believe we can adapt this slogan for our prayers. Whatever your challenge in life, whatever you’re experiencing, whatever your emotional state, there is a Psalm that fits your situation. ‘There’s a Psalm for that.’

John Calvin called the Psalms a “mirror of the soul” for they reflect the human heart. Sometimes it’s with beautiful poetry, other times it’s with raw language, but there is a Psalm in the 150 Psalms that could provide the words you need to tell God what’s going on. You hear pure elation, “The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy. (Psalm 126:3). You hear anger, “From my youth I have suffered and been close to death; I have borne your terrors and am in despair” (Psalm 88:15). And you hear the psalmists saying things that you didn’t think any good religious person ought to say, “Happy is the one who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks” (Psalm 137:9). Whatever the state of your soul, there’s a Psalm that expresses the same thing. There’s a Psalm for that.

These Psalms have shaped the prayers of Christians from the beginning until today. Did you know that when Jesus prayed, he often used the Psalms? For example, when he hung on the cross, Jesus prayed, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” (Psalm 22:1) and then, “Into your hands I commit my spirit” (Psalm 31:5). Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote, “The Psalms are the prayer book of Jesus. When we read them, we encounter the praying Christ.” On top of that, the early church, continued the practice of praying/singing the Psalms as they were instructed (see Colossians 3:16; Ephesians 5:19). Even today. we continue to use these powerful songs in corporate worship. Many of our hymns (“As the deer…” Psalm 42) and contemporary songs (“I lift my eyes up, to the mountains” Psalm 121) are derived in part of in whole from the Psalms.

Therefore, this summer, I want you to learn to pray the Psalms. I encourage you to seek and find the words that express the longings of your hearts. These Psalms teach us to pray, but first we must be willing to dive in. Sometimes we can just repeat the Psalms word-for-word, “My soul is in deep anguish. / How long, LORD, how long?” (Psalm 6:3). Other times we have to adapt them to fit our current situation. We don’t say,“Woe to me that I dwell in Meshek, / that I live among the tents of Kedar!” (Psalm 120:5), but we can say, “Too long have I lived in a broken-down world filled with sinners.”

As we continue through our series, Songs for the Journey. Take full advantage of the Devotion Guide and practice praying through the Psalms. Go through the 15 Psalms of Ascent, then try praying through additional Psalms. If you haven’t yet come to a Psalm that expresses what you are feeling or thinking, pick a different one. For you’ll soon discover: ‘There’s a Psalm for that.’

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Tags : Prayer

Jun
23
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50% of marriages end in divorce. That means that if you are married now or plan to be in the future, you have no better chance of a lasting marriage than of calling “heads” or “tails” correctly. But the reality is much different. Last week I demonstrated through some new studies that more than seven out of ten people are still married to their first spouse. So the 50% statistic has some ‘splainin’ to do.

You also hear that the same 50% rate applies to Christians. But again, is it true? I’ve heard the statistic from the pulpit before. (As a sort of ‘drive-by-guilting’). It made me quite fearful of having a successful marriage. Which is healthy, as far as it led me to determine how to be a good husband even before I ever met my wife Melissa. But it also both induced in me a sense of shame--Does our faith even make a difference in real lives? And it creates an overall sense of discouragement--Is there any hope for my marriage?

But once again, when you hear that 50% of marriages end in divorce and among Christians the rate is no better, you’re missing out on some vital distinctions. Professor Bradley Wright, sociologist at the University of Connecticut, discovered that those active in their faith are much less likely to divorce. Active Catholic couples were 31% less likely to divorce and active Protestant couples 35% less likely. But here’s the interesting thing: those who claimed Christianity as their faith, but were not active participants actually were 20% more likely to get a divorce. What defines an “active Christian?” It is a couple who attends church regularly, reads their Bibles and other spiritual resources consistently, prays privately and together, and takes their faith seriously. Hence the adage, “A couple that prays together, stays together.”

Indeed, author and researcher Shaunti Feldhahn, found through an in-depth survey that for those who attended church the previous Sunday the divorce rate dropped by 27% compared to those who didn’t. In her book The Good News About Marriage: Debunking Discouraging Myths she found that many studies have pointed out a 25-50% decrease in the divorce rate for those who attend church. Moreover, church attendance increases happiness in marriage overall. Our faith does matter!

Sociologist Scott Stanley from the University of Denver found that Christian faith makes stronger marriages for several reasons. "Those who said that they were more religious reported higher average levels of commitment to their partners, higher levels of marital satisfaction, less thinking and talking about divorce and lower levels of negative interaction.” And these patterns were the same even when taking into account different incomes, education levels, and age of marriage.

Even though you may hear that a Christian is just as likely to divorce as the rest of the country, that doesn’t mean it’s true--even if you heard it from the pulpit. Real faith makes a real difference in real marriages. Whether you’re thinking ahead to marriage, in the honeymoon phase, or your marriage is on the rocks--no matter where you’re at, divorce is not inevitable. There is hope.

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Tags : Marriage, Divorce

Jun
16
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50% of marriages end in divorce. Fifty percent? Perhaps I should begin the next wedding service I officiate like a football game--with a coin flip. If it’s heads, ‘til’ death do us part.’ If tails, go ahead and hire a divorce attorney. Fifty percent? That would mean that for every two weddings you attend, one will fail.

This statistic has led people going to all sorts of drastic steps. People are waiting longer than ever to get married. And when they do, they want a prenup as a failsafe. Some swear off the institution entirely. Others want to redefine marriage as a contract, renewable every seven years if desired. There is a palpable sense about the futility of marriage in the air of our culture. Do you feel it? Though there are many contributing forces, I believe that the statistic of the 50% failure rate has led many couples to view their own marriage’s demise as a foregone conclusion. But is the statistic even true?

Shaunti Feldhahn recently teamed up with Barna to unearth the truth about the likelihood of marriages ending in divorce. Yes, there are some high risk groups (like those married in their teenage years) who get divorced 50% of the time, but the reality for most is different. In actuality, around 72% of people are still married to their first spouse. Among baby-boomers, who on average have been married close to 30 years (i.e. 30 years of chances to get divorced), seven out of ten are still married to their first spouse. The increased divorce rate comes from those who enter their second, third, etc. marriages.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying there is never any legitimate reason for a divorce, but I do think that most of the common rationales for a divorce are highly suspect: We just weren't compatible. We fell out of love. We wanted different things. We grew apart. S/he wasn’t the same person I married. We were unhappy. Okay. You may be feeling that way, but would you have jumped to the next step of dissolving the marital ties if you hadn’t thought it was common practice? Would you have broken the knot if you didn’t think everybody did it?

One study of 3900 couples found that they would have been happier had they stayed married. Another study by scholars at the University of Chicago found zero evidence that unhappily married adults who divorced were any happier than unhappily married people who stayed marriage. Instead, after following those couples for five years, they discovered that of the couples who were least happy at the beginning of their study, eight out of ten who avoided divorce were now happily married. Sometimes it takes pushing through the hardest times to make it to the even better times. Sadly, many who think that divorce is inevitable never break through to the other side.

You don’t have a 50% chance of getting a divorce. You can break through your current situation. You can get help. Because it’ll be worth it to make it to the next stage. ‘Til death do us part’ is not just a pipedream. It’s a reality you can experience.

Next week, I’ll debunk the myth that Christians divorce at the same rate as everyone else.

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Tags : Marriage, Divorce

Jun
03
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We had the honor of hosting two amazing women, Goretty and Carmen, from Cochabamba Bolivia who are doing amazing work there. In case you missed it, here is the video from that night.

First is a video about Bolivia I put together after our trip last October:

 And the video from June 2nd:

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Tags : Event, Bolivia

May
29
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The LORD will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.
Psalm 121:8

A buddy of mine and I went on a camping trip deep in the Rocky Mountains. First a drive through windy mountain highways. Then we took a few turns on dirt roads. Finally we off-roaded on a trail to get us far away from civilization before we discovered the perfect spot to pitch our tent. (In case you Nebraskans are wondering, that’s how real camping is done).

Before we embarked on this long, winding journey my friend burned us a CD to listen to in the car. This CD contained a compilation of brand new songs that had just been released as well as some tried-and-true hits we had both sung along to for years. There were upbeat songs with catchy melodies that made your heart soar, and others that brought you back down to earth. You see, when you embark on a journey, you need to have the right songs. You’ve got to put together a playlist that will keep you going when you’re tired and add a level of joy and excitement to the whole trip. I contend that a good mixed tape, burned CD, or mp3 playlist can make any journey into a great one.

The fifteen Psalms of Ascent (Psalms 120 to 134) were a series of songs sung hundreds and thousands of years ago by pilgrims on their way to the temple in Jerusalem. These songs dealt with the ups and the downs, the excitements and the hardships they all experienced along life’s journey. These Psalms were perhaps the first playlist--a series of songs written by various artists in different styles and addressing a whole host of topics. I believe they can be a powerful playlist for your life’s journey as well.

This summer, we will be going through the Psalms of Ascent on Sunday mornings in a series called “Songs for the Journey.” These songs will help you on your journey of life, for they will teach your heart to sing in prayer. I’ve been blessed as I pray through the Psalms, and I hope you will experience these blessings well. Jesus and the Early Church used the Psalms as their prayer-book and we too can learn to pray through the Psalms.

But I don’t want this series to be just for Sunday mornings; therefore, I developed a devotional guide to help lead you and your family into prayer. We’ll have a copy available for everyone. If you prefer, there is an electronic version of it available online so you can use your tablet or smartphone (download it here). In the guide you’ll find a page to take notes on the sermon, a family devotional, and five weekday devotionals for each of the fifteen psalms. My hope and prayer is that this devotional guide will enable you and your family to grow in faith and teach you to ‘sing’ from your hearts to God’s heart in prayer.

In the words of J.R.R. Tolkien, “Not all who wander are lost,” but all of us wanderers need a good playlist of songs to keep us going. Enjoy these “Songs for Journey.”

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May
26
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This past week, a Sudanese woman was sentenced to receive 100 lashes for her adultery and hanging because of apostasy. In reality, she is a Christian, and since her father is a Muslim, she is required by her nation’s law to follow her father’s faith. On top of that, she married a Christian and is eight months pregnant with their child. According to Sudanese law, she is not allowed to marry anyone other than a muslim, so her pregnancy is proof of having sex outside of a state-recognized marriage. Appalling, right?

A news story like this slips past us often without us even noticing. It seems like somewhere on our globe there is fighting and persecution happening between people of different religious traditions. And it certainly is not only against Christians. Christians can be the perpetrators as well. Sometimes religious beliefs are at the center of the conflict, other times it is peripheral to the regular instigators of money, land, and power.

The conflict experienced around the world between adherents of different religions can lead many to refuse to discuss religion altogether. We rightfully fear that talking about religion can lead to heated arguments, hurt feelings, lost friendships, or worse. So most people treat religion as a taboo topic, not to be discussed at all. However, the point of my current series of articles is to tackle these taboo topics, so I’ll face it head on.

The religions of the world are complex. There are by some estimates 4,200 different religions in the world, not including denominations, factions, and various family and tribal practices. Because they are diverse and complex, few understand their nuances, leading to stereotypes that create conflict. Moreover, many do not understand their own religion! For if Jesus said “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” why would any true Christian ever attack someone of another faith? Sadly, it happens.

The answer is to develop true tolerance, but not the phony tolerance you hear espoused nowadays. We have a fancy notion today to “coexist.” We see it on bumper stickers and the like. Yes, we must coexist. Yes, we must be tolerant. But, this doesn’t mean we hide our faiths. This doesn’t mean we make it “private” as so many wanted Tim Tebow to do. It is possible to have dialogues and even friendships with people of different faiths without losing your faith. Indeed, you can and should believe that you are right and they are wrong. For if you think they are right, then you don’t actually hold to the belief you yourself express. Moreover, with many of the world’s faiths, Christianity and Islam included, we are to seek to convert others to our faith. It would be disingenuous to pretend otherwise. I had one college professor, incensed at religion, who wanted to get rid of efforts to convert completely, because the attempt to convert someone to your faith is supposedly “intolerant.” Yet how tolerant is it to expect me to change my entire faith (for Christians were commanded by Jesus himself to make disciples) because it is currently politically incorrect to do so?

What we need is not modern day faux-tolerance, we need love. We should discuss our religions, and their differences. And we should believe our faiths (sounds redundant, eh?), and want others to believe the same thing. This doesn’t mean we fight. It doesn’t mean there should be hatred and ill-will. There can and must be love within our differences. Religious differences don’t need to be taboo. In fact, I’d love to talk religion with you anytime!

Other posts in this series:


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Tags : Religion, Taboo

May
22
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Goretty & Foundation Emanuel from Matt Wolf on Vimeo.

This past October, I had the unique opportunity to travel to Bolivia. While there, I met two amazing women of God, Carmen Choque & Goretty Jora. Carmen is the director for an awesome ministry called House of Hope, that houses 70 ministries that provide food, water clothing, etc. as they bring the hope of the gospel into severely impoverished areas in the Andes Mountains. One of the ministries supported by the House of Hope is an organization called the Foundation Emanuel, directed by Goretty Jora.

Let me tell you about Goretty. She grew up in Bolivia, but moved to Germany where she went to school and found a good-paying job. During one trip back to Bolivia, she spoke with her mother, who managed some apartment buildings in downtown Cochabamba, a city of about two million people high in the Andes mountains. Goretty discovered that many of her mother’s tenants were prostitutes. She then noticed that there were also many children around who lived in poverty, had no education, no health-care, and little hope. Their father’s were obviously absent, and their mothers worked nights and slept during the days. These children had no hope; nearly all the girls ended up entering into the same profession as their mothers.

Goretty’s heart broke for these lost and hurting children. She returned to Bolivia and set up an organization to bring humanitarian help and spiritual hope to these children.

When I visited, I spent the afternoon playing with the children. One boy kept giving me hugs and asking me to pick him up and throw him in the air. It was a blast! As our team was leaving, that boy looked up at me with his huge dark eyes and asked, “Can I go home with you?” My heart almost burst. I was ready to start an international incident to smuggle him to the U.S. The sun was beginning to set. As he left down the city streets I knew when he would arrive at home, he would have no father, and his mother would be out working.

The ministry of Goretty and her organization is giving hope to children like that boy every day.

I tell you this story, because I want you to meet both of these women, who will be visiting Nebraska for just a few days. We have the awesome honor to host Goretty & Carmen at Gibbon Baptist Church. At 6-8 PM on Monday, June 2nd at Gibbon Baptist Church come for dinner (FREE FOOD!) and a chance to meet and be inspired by these women.

This will be of interest to you and anyone who has a heart for missions or a heart to bring an end to poverty and human trafficking. Really, everyone should jump at the chance to be inspired by these courageous women of faith. Would you spread the word and PLEASE COME!!!


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Tags : Bolivia, Missions

May
19
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For several weeks I have boldly (read haphazardly) written about those subjects that are taboo in polite dinner conversations: how much money you make, your political affiliation, how much you weigh. Today I tackle a topic that really brings down the mood of a room; because of this, most avoid talking or thinking about it at all costs. The topic: death.

Since becoming a pastor two-and-a-half years ago I have attended and performed more funeral services than I ever expected to attend. Yet I’ve noticed a peculiar thing. Even at funerals, we don’t want to talk about death, even as it stares us in the face. We want to have “celebrations of life,” which is a good, a beautiful thing, but bad in the fact that we neglect discussions of that thing we will all endure.

That’s right. You will die. Despite medical advances, despite increasingly powerful technologies, the death rate is still 100%. Even if you cryogenically freeze your brain or get trapped in cryptonite like Han Solo, you ain’t coming back. You will die. Your life, whether it is long or short, will end. And most of the time we have no idea when that end will come. They say, “nothing’s certain but death and taxes,” but since less than 50% of Americans pay no federal income tax, perhaps the only thing that is certain is death.

The Bible clearly reports this as well. Hebrews 9:27 says that “people are destined to die once, and after that face judgment.” Death comes to all. Yet the Bible tells us it’s more serious than that. Not only we will die, but we will all spend eternity somewhere. Daniel 12:2 says, “Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.” Not only will everyone die, everyone will go to heaven or hell based on their life here and now.

To enter into heaven, it’s not about who you are, but who you know. It’s not about what you’ve done, but what’s been done for you. It all comes down to accepting God’s gracious gift of salvation through his Son Jesus, who paved our way into heaven by his death. Death was defeated by death.

Death is the one taboo topic that we should not be afraid to talk about. For when we think and talk about death, it should change how we live now. 1 Peter 1:24 says, “For, "All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall.” You will die, and everything you’ve done will either echo into eternity or fade into obscurity.

Other posts in this series:


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Tags : Hell, Heaven, Death

May
12
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In March I started a series called “taboo topics” in which I addressed the topics that are off-limits for polite dinner conversation. Why am I addressing these subjects? Perhaps I’m stupid, but the real reason is because the Bible addresses these subjects. Today’s topic: weight. “How much do you weigh?” is NEVER an appropriate question.

Of all the taboo topics I have addressed, this is by far the hardest. For there are a lot of aspects that go into someone’s weight. Each body is unique. There are things like a person’s thyroid or genetic makeup or medical conditions that affect their weight.

Therefore, when we talk about weight, there are no blanket statements we can make. In fact, the Bible doesn’t make blanket statements either. Yes, gluttony is described as a sin (Proverbs 23:20-21); however, someone who is overweight is not necessarily gluttonous in the same way that someone who is wealthy is not necessarily greedy. In fact, the real sin is when we judge someone based on their outward appearance.

What the Bible does make clear is that we must take care of and steward the bodies that he has given us in our short lives. In the beginning God created human beings “in his image,” meaning that we represent him on this earth. Thus, every human being is special--each person’s mind, soul, and body must be cherished and protected. The Bible is not just pro-life for the unborn, it is also pro-life for all. Moreover, Jesus taught us that the greatest commandment is to “Love the lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.” The strength part means our bodies too are meant to honor God. We are commanded to “offer our bodies” to God as our “spiritual act of worship” (Romans 12:1). Indeed, for the believer, “Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit.” Many moms have used this statement (taken from 1 Corinthians 6:19-20) to scare their kids away from getting a tattoo, but it really has much deeper implications than that. Our bodies are to be viewed as temples, and that means we take care of them. Maintaining our bodies is not just a physical thing, but a spiritual thing as well.

Taking care of your body is not just about living longer. None of us has control over how long we will live anyways! We don’t get to choose the day of our death. Yet if we live a healthy lifestyle, not only will we live longer, but each day we will be able to live more fully. When you exercise regularly you have more energy, not less. When you stay fit you can keep up with the kids and grandkids and enjoy your time with them more.

Taking care of your body is not just about being overweight. There are underweight people who have just as many or more health issues. Even though the emaciated body image may be thrust upon young women because of Barbies and super-models, it is not good. Being underweight can be dangerous. Moreover, there are people who stay within the doctor recommended BMI, but who eat poorly and don’t exercise. So weight is only a small factor in assessing whether we are taking care of our bodies.

I don’t write any of this because I feel like I’m an expert. I certainly am not. I am just beginning to learn how to eat healthy meals with lots of protein and vegetables. I am just starting to learn how to exercise properly. But I have begun to recognize that the way we treat our bodies is not just a physical thing but a spiritual thing as well. In conclusion, please don’t ever ask someone how much they weigh. Instead, do ask yourself, “Am I taking care of my body?”

Other posts in this series:


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May
08
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Following the regular worship service on May 18, 2014, everyone is invited to come down to the Platter River South out of Gibbon. We will meet on the South side of the South Fork in the gravel parking lot for the crane viewing area. There will be a BBQ following the baptism at the home of Chris & Jodi Petersen. Everyone is invited!

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Tags : Baptism

May
05
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I went to a church in Colorado Springs on the Northwest corner of Powers and Dublin in Colorado Springs. My buddy went to the church on the Northeast corner of Powers and Dublin. I was jealous of the cool new building when their church moved into the neighborhood. That is, until the incident.

You see, some overzealous youth pastor had gone on Google to find out about this new craze that was sweeping the nation--Pokémon. You may not remember that particular fad, but it was a series of video games, trading cards, toys, and TV shows about collecting little pet monsters to battle others’ pet monsters. The catch phrase was, “Gotta catch ‘em all.” It all sounds cheesy now, but when I was in 5th and 6th grade it was a huge deal. Well when that overzealous youth pastor googled Pokémon, he found a report comparing those imaginary pet monsters to demons. Therefore, as anyone can see, Pokémon was demonic. Furthermore, anyone who enjoyed Pokemon was selling their souls to the devil. One night at youth group, said youth pastor took a stuffed pokemon on stage and lit it on fire to demonstrate in dramatic fashion the eternal fate of any blasphemous sinner who dared play such a devilish game. I heard about it from the eyewitness testimony of my friend who was in attendance that night, but not before it was an international headline.

The story was all over the news, and more embarrassingly, the story all over my school. It was all any boy could talk about, since they all seemed to love Pokémon at the time. When asked if I was that type of Christian, I would scoff and say, “No, I don’t go to that church, I go to the one across the street.” Later, I would feel guilty, because the Apostle Paul clearly taught us “not to be ashamed” of the gospel. I realized then an important lesson. Some Christians are weird.

At the time, I distanced myself from that particular church. But that could only last for so long. Even if you can say, “That’s what Lutherans, or Pentecostals, or Methodists, or Baptists do,” eventually you will realize there are weird Christians in my denomination. And if you are nondenominational, you will realize there are weird Christians in my church. You can’t avoid them. They’re like the broccoli on a veggie platter. It’s always there, but nobody knows how or why it got there.

But hey, the same is true with your family. Everyone has that one set of cousins who are just different. Everyone has that crazy aunt or uncle. Recently someone introduced a family member to me as the-one-you-have-to-explain-beforehand-and-apologize-for-afterwards. We all have weird people in our families. And if you don’t know who it is in your family--it’s probably you.

Instead of being ashamed or feeling you have to distance yourself from other believers who are weird, shouldn't we do the same thing we do with our weird family members--love them? You don’t have to admit they’re right--that youth pastor took his idea a tad bit too far--but you do have to love them. And you know what? You might just fit right in.

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Apr
22
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Are you ready for something new? From April 27th to May 25th, we will begin a sermon series called "new" that examines what it means to be "new" in Christ.

  • April 27th: "New Birth" John 3:3
  • May 4th: "New Life" Galatians 2:20
  • May 11th: "New Heart" Ezekiel 36:26
  • May 18th: "New Mind" Romans 12:2
  • May 25th: "New Family" John 1:12

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Apr
18
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The word Easter is derived from the Old English word Eostre, the name of an Anglo-Saxon pagan goddess, who interestingly enough was symbolized by a bunny-rabbit. Ancient pagans gave eggs as gifts to signify new birth. The holiday originally celebrated the Spring Equinox, not the resurrection of Jesus. Even Peeps represent--just kidding--no one knows why we have Peeps.

With all of this ancient pagan ritual attached to Easter, shouldn’t we boycott it? Shouldn’t we scrap the whole thing? This same argument gets leveled about the Pagan roots of a celebration on December 25th, or of bringing in an evergreen tree into our houses. Who took the Christ out of Christmas?! Many Christians also question whether they should participate in Halloween, for isn’t it of demonic origin?

I can’t answer every objection to the cultural underpinnings of these popular holidays. And I can’t decide for you if, or to what extent, you and your family participate in the various traditions of these holidays. Instead, each person should pray, discern, and follow their conscience. However, I can tell you what I think: I ain’t scared of bunnies, egg hunts, and pagan holidays.

The Christian Church from the very beginning centered it’s faith on the idea of redemption. In fact, the central message of Easter is redemption. A man condemned as a thief is raised a King. A dead man is given new life. Sin, death, and evil are defeated. Sinful, hell-bound, wicked people are offered the gift of forgiveness, eternal life, and hope. Redeeming the broken, downcast, and evil is what Easter is all about. Therefore, shouldn’t we expect the day we celebrate Easter to redeem a pagan holiday? And that is exactly what the early Christians did; they adapted the pagan holiday and redeemed it into something new.

Instead of worrying about the name of our holiday, let us understand that it refers not to a pagan goddess, but the one true God who has power to redeem. Instead of fretting that eggs are a symbol of new birth, let’s tie them to Jesus who offers new birth freely to all. Instead of getting your pants in a bunch because the holiday is celebrated near the Spring Equinox, let’s tie the new life of spring-time to the new life available in Christ. Now that sounds like redemption--exactly what Easter is all about.

I hope all of you have a church to celebrate with this Easter. If you don’t, come check out Gibbon Baptist. We’ll have a free breakfast at 9:00, an easter egg hunt for the kids at 9:30, and our worship at 10:15.

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Apr
07
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How much money do you make? Though we may all be itching to know, most have enough social etiquette to know that this question is off limits. It’s rude. It’s nosy. It’s unfair. Money, especially income, is a taboo topic.

We like to compare ourselves to others. We want to be the best. But these comparisons can lead to jealousy, then hatred. So our culture has maintained that you don’t talk about how much money someone makes to mitigate these evil sides of our human natures. Ironically, at the same time we slip in little bits about how much we spent on a certain piece of furniture or we make sure that everyone knows we got the new pickup off the lot. We may not come out and say it, but everyone seems to know in general how much each other makes. But the exact dollar figure of income or someone’s net worth is never discussed.

Instead of treating discussions of money like an infectious disease, Jesus spoke about it a lot--even more than he did about heaven and hell combined. The Bible is not shy when it comes to our income. Instead, Jesus said things like, “It is hard for someone who is rich to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” Whoa! That should cause all of us to pause. Because most reading this are rich (wealthier than 80% of the world!), and the rest wish they were rich. I have yet to meet someone who wants to be poor.

The reason Jesus said that about money is that money can control a person. You work so hard to get a good education. Why? So you can have enough money. Then you work hard to get a good paying job. Why? So you can have enough money. Then you buy a house and get nicer stuff so you need a raise or be find a better paying job. Why? So you can have enough money. Our keeping up with the Jones’ mentality (whether we talk about it or not) is killing us. It controls our lives. We’re slaves so we can have enough benjamins. But there is never enough. Even if you were to say, “If I just made (fill-in-the-blank with a bigger salary) I would be content,” I guarantee that were you to start making that much you would spend it! And you would then just come up with a higher figure to fill-in-the-blank.

Another reason money is so important is that it is a good indicator of a person’s character. Jesus’ brother James wrote, “Believers in humble circumstances (aka poor) ought to take pride in their high position. But the rich should take pride in their humiliation --since they will pass away like a wild fire.” What? That sounds like the opposite of what most Americans would say. However, there are no u-hauls behind hearses. You can’t take your wealth with you. And even if you leave some for your kids and grandkids, they’re not going to value it as much as you did. Wealth is not the measure of a man. Rather, it is how we use our wealth to bless others, to help the lowest among us, to give generously and sacrificially. The Bible paints a clear picture that it doesn’t matter whether you’re a top earner or living paycheck to paycheck. It’s not about how much you have, but what you do with what you do have.

How much you make may be nobody else’s business, but it’s definitely God’s business.

Other posts in this series:


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Tags : Money, Taboo

Mar
31
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Last week I introduced a new series: “taboo topics.” There are certain things that when you are at a dinner party you do not talk about. However, the Bible seems to have no problem addressing them. Today’s topic: politics.

The issue that can be more offensive than any other is probably politics. We each have political ideals deeply ingrained within us. Because of this, political discussions (except among compatriots) inevitably lead to bitter arguments, offended parties, and each person thinking the others are ignoramuses. Whether you’re a Democrat, Republican, Tea Party Member, Libertarian, Socialist, or a So-Called-Independent, we all have opinions that make polite dinner conversations about politics nearly impossible, even between family members.

So what does the Bible say? Economically, Paul teaches the rule that “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10). Score one for the capitalists? Except for in another place he promotes redistribution: “At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need” (2 Corinthians 8:13-15). In fact, Acts 2:44-45--“All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need”--sounds almost like the early Christians established a commune. Hmmm.

What about immigration? Romans 13:1-6 clearly teaches us to submit to the governing authorities, in other words, don’t break any laws--including immigration laws. Yet Deuteronomy 10:19 commands God’s people to “love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners,” which applies to us too (since all but Native Americans were foreigners at one time). So illegal immigrants aren’t supposed to be here, but we’re supposed to love them if they’re here? Which party platform does that fall under?

What about gun laws? Well, weapons were a little different in the Bible, but at least one of Jesus’ disciples had a sword--which was used for more than slicing apples (Matthew 26:51); however, in the very next verse Jesus asserts “For all who draw the sword will die by the sword.” So which is it? Are private citizens allowed to possess and carry weapons or not?

If you happen to think the verses I referenced above provide a definitive answer to any of these political issues, remember that I only provided a tiny sampling of the Bible’s vast teaching. Instead, I hope you will realize that some political issues are not as clearly taught as you might have first thought.

In Colorado Springs, where I grew up, Christians almost invariably were right-leaning conservative capitalists. However, in another locale, like Scotland, Christians almost invariably are left-leaning socialists. So please, study and think, and make up your mind about your own political positions, but don’t assume another person is an idiot, or a non-Christian for disagreeing with you.

What the Bible does teach clearly, however, is that more money distribution (whether from trickle-down economics or government regulated social programs) will not solve our deepest problems. “Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction” (1 Timothy 6:9). It also teaches that no political leader (whether it’s the Reagan 2.0 Republicans long for, or FDR reincarnated the Democrats pine for, or the new Lincoln who all sides want) can bring heaven to earth. “Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save” (Psalm 146:3). Instead, our hope, and our nation’s hope can only come from a different kind of savior.

I may have just about offended everyone, but hey, what did you expect from a “taboo topic”?

Other posts in this series:


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Tags : Politics, Taboo

Mar
24
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There were two bridesmaids who were to give toasts. I preemptively braced myself for the awkwardness. Toasts at weddings almost always include at least one awkward moment. (More toasts = higher cringe potential.) The first bridesmaid shared how the lovely couple first met, taking pride in being an integral part in their nascent romance. The second bridesmaid stood and blasted the first girl and relayed a completely different story about how the bride and groom first met, much to the chagrin of the first girl. It was quite awkward and entirely inappropriate for the event (have some decency and have your cat-fights in private). Yes, I know some of you thrive on that kind of drama (case-in-point: Reality TV), but I typically lower my head, avert my eyes, and pray that the awkwardness will soon pass.

Unlike that wedding I attended some years ago (and every wedding for that matter), most of the time people understand there are certain things you do not say in public. Their is social etiquette and protocol. I mean, didn't your mother teach you anything? You don't tell people they're overweight. You don't ask a lady her age. Whether you're at a dinner party or in "mixed company" (whatever that means) there are certain things you just don't talk about. Sometimes these items are offensive, other times vulgar, other times bound to cause needless conflict.

Now I've noticed that people have varying lists of these "taboo topics": money, politics, age, health, death, religion, sex, etc. And they differ from culture to culture. But I've also noticed that no matter where you go or who you spend time with, there are certain things that are off the table as a topic for discussion. Recently I've noticed something else: nothing is taboo to God. The Bible isn't afraid of the most taboo topic--it often addresses them head on.

So even though you, or your family, or the entire country finds something taboo, for my next several articles I will tackle some of these "taboo topics" from God's perspective. Even if it's awkward or offensive, or I feel too chicken, I want to face these things head on. Are you ready?

Other posts in this series:

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Tags : Taboo

Mar
17
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My wife and I ate at HuHot Mongolian Grill in Lincoln a few weeks ago. It was reminiscent for us, because that’s where I took her on our first real date (you’ll have to ask her about the other dates we went on before that, but they may have involved one of those awkward plays where you’re two feet from the actors, going to see a movie with two of my guy-friends, and bottle-feeding some dying calves).

If you've never been to a mongolian grill, you go through the line and fill a bowl with your meat(s) of choice, add a noodle of your choosing, throw in your favorite vegetables, then ladle one (or a few) of sauces before taking the whole thing to a large grill where a special grill-master cooks your concoction. It’s a lot of fun. We, like most Americans, love being able to pick and choose our favorite foods and put them together into something new.

Many people approach Christianity like they do a nice buffet. Take a little "God is love," mix in some "love thy neighbor" (when it's convenient), throw in a little "faith can move mountains" and enjoy. But please, leave out the stuff about wrath, Hell, sexual ethics, and predestination (just thinking about that can make your head hurt).

Thomas Jefferson is the most well-known historical example of buffet-Christianity. His “Bible” is famous because he took out a knife and cut out all the lines and pages he didn’t like. He kept all the morals that Jesus taught, but excised the miraculous. You can go and see it on display at the Smithsonian.

The problem with buffet-style Christianity is not just that you’ll be terribly unhealthy (only eating red meat, as much as I love it, leads to a whole slew of medical issues--you need some fruits, vegetables, and vitamins too), it actually would offend God. Jesus said that someone who is a disciple will be taught to obey “all” that he commanded. And the Apostle Paul explained that “all” Scripture is breathed by God and useful for our lives. If you want to follow Jesus, you are called to obey everything God has taught us through the Bible--even the parts you don't like.

So what do we do with the Biblical brussel sprouts, you know, the parts you can’t stand? Scarf them down and hold your nose? Maybe. There are times when you need to. But perhaps we need to learn to enjoy it. When I was a kid, I was a super picky eater--I still don’t eat green beans--but a lot of the vegetables I loathed as a child, I enjoy now. Though I still haven't some around on those pesky green beans. It may take a while. But your appetite will change as you mature in your faith. Then, You might just find that Christianity is not a buffet for picking and choosing, it's a veritable feast for your enjoyment.

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Tags : Christianity

Mar
03
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In the movie Midnight in Paris, Gil Pender, played by Owen Wilson, is trying to make it as a serious writer. While on vacation in Paris, he wanders the streets one night and is picked up at midnight by a car and transported back to the 1920s. Night after night he escapes to the golden age of art and literature while meeting his heroes Ernest Hemingway, Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Gertrude Stein. He even encounters famous painters Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dalí. He is mesmerized and longs to live forever in that wondrous time and place. He even meets a girl from 1920s Paris and falls in love with her.

It seems as if his dream of living in the past is realized until he discovers that his new love longs to live back in the 1890s, the Belle Époque, which for her is the golden age. One night they catch a ride and are thrown back even further to that time period. Finally, Gil realizes that he is living in the past and must return to the present. In this thought-provoking and award winning film, we see that everyone has nostalgia for some time in the past. Yet if we could turn back time and go there, we would find that those people too long to live in another age.

Nostalgia is a funny thing. Sometimes it’s a longing to go back to childhood, or the early years of marriage, or to life before kids. Other times it’s a desire to live in another age entirely, like women who love Pride and Prejudice and want to go back to the age of chivalry so a Mr. Darcy could sweep her off her feet (I shouldn’t admit to seeing that one!). Or like men who watch war movies and dream of being a soldier in WWII. But whatever period you may have nostalgia for, whether it is your personal past, or something you see in movies or read in a book, we look with rose-colored glasses.

And rose-colored glasses tint things. They don’t reveal things clearly. For those that long for the days when men went to war, they forget that it also was a time of great bloodshed and families losing loved ones. For those who long for Victorian England, they forget that it was a time when the poor were repressed and slavery was rampant. Even in our own past, we forget that though things seemed so great to be a kid, you just wanted to be grown up. And when you didn’t have kids, you couldn’t wait to have children.

I could end this article by telling you to simply live in the present. To enjoy the moments that are given to you. To savor life. And there is wisdom in that. But mainly I don’t want you to get trapped in the past and forget to be a part of what the future could be.

In your personal life, don’t get mired in the past. You will never get back that old relationship. That feeling of being “in love” you had with your high school girlfriend is nowhere to be found, there is something new and better for you. That time when you had less responsibility will never come again, even then, it was just someone else taking responsibility for you.

The same holds true in churches and society. Churches may not look or feel the way they did decades ago, but that’s okay! We will never return to the Leave-it-to-Beaver 1950s, and we probably wouldn’t want to even if we could. Instead of bemoaning what we have lost, let us create something new ahead.

Solomon nailed it: “Do not say, ‘Why were the old days better than these?’ For it is not wise to ask such questions” (Ecclesiastes 7:10).

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Mar
01
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See, I am doing a new thing!
   Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
   and streams in the wasteland.

Isaiah 43:19

We are under construction. Each day you can hear a cacophony of nails pounded, boards sawed, plus a radio tuned to classic rock. Mixed in is the smell of fresh paint and sawdust. The Renewal for Growth remodel has begun.

We are praying, as I hope you are, that these changes in the physical makeup of our building will make our church more capable of impacting our community. We envision the foyer will be a place where each visitor is greeted with warmth. We visualize the new fellowship area as an environment where Bible studies love to meet and friendships are kindled each Sunday as we sip coffee and share lives. We foresee the updated sanctuary and new sound system creating a space in which the gospel can be preached clearly and God is worshipped more nearly. Are you starting to see it too?

Yet with all that is going on, let us not forget that the reason we are remodeling, is so that God can more than just remodel lives. Let me explain: You have probably begun to notice the changes around the place. It looks different. It feels different. But the underlying structure of the entryway and sanctuary hasn’t changed. Likewise, the way we fellowship and worship on Sundays will adapt, but our church community will maintain the same heart. We will worship the same God, declare the name of the same Jesus, and delve into the same Bible. However, what God does in our lives is a much deeper change.

God doesn’t just change outward things. I mean he does. When you choose to follow Jesus, you begin to speak differently and act differently. You stop doing certain sinful things and begin to do more righteous acts. But God does more than just remodel us, he makes us completely new.

Many people come to God wanting a few things changed. There may be a particular sin they find deplorable they want out of their lives. Others have a relationship that is on the fritz they want restored. Some want to be a better person than they are now. Others just want help to get through a tough spot. Yet however people come to Jesus, he doesn’t just fix their surface issues--he gives them a complete overhaul from the inside out. Many people come to God thinking they just need a remodel; he knows they need a brand new house.

God transforms lives. He is not content to make us into a better person, he wants to make us into a new person. He wants to change our hearts to be filled with love. He wants to change our souls to be worshippers of him. He wants to make us like Jesus. And he does it.

I hope you are excited about our remodel. I hope you are praying for Jane and the Trustees to make good decisions. I hope you are praying that God would use these changes in mighty ways. But overall, I hope you remember that we remodel so that God can give more than just a remodel to many lives.

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Tags : Remodel, RFG

Feb
24
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2000 years ago, the Pharisees were the really religious people that everyone looked up to. They were very moral and devout, and everyone knew they were close to God. That is, until Jesus came around. He didn’t care about how upright they looked or how religious they were. He cared about their hearts, which sadly, were far from God.

When we read about those Pharisees, it is easy to see their many faults from a distance. However, few of us realize how much of their religious hypocrisy we can have in ourselves. If you are a non-Christian, go ahead and relax, this article isn’t about you. But if you are a Christian, see if you might at times act like one of these “modern-day Pharisees.” (And yes, I, like you, say “ouch” at some of these.)

 

  1. Danny Doctrine. Danny knows his theology. He even knows what a term like ‘supralapsarianism’ means. He looks down on any Christian who doesn’t believe the exactly right statement of faith, and wonders if they are even saved. He also can sniff out bad theology from a mile away, and will rain on your parade by pointing out the flaws in your favorite Bible teacher.
  2. Right-verse-wrong-time Ricky. Ricky means well. He has good Bible verses memorized, but he always seems to share them in a way that hurts rather than helps. When you just lost a loved one he will say: “Count it all joy!” when you really just need a hug. Or when you just break your arm, he would say “All things work together for good!” when you just need him to drive you to the ER.
  3. Life-changing event Louis. Louis just had a life-changing event (often a mission trip), and he has now reached enlightenment. He looks down on anyone who hasn’t had the same amazing experience, and laughs at their ignorance of the things that really matter.
  4. Issue Izzy. Izzy has one issue that is vitally important to her--like human trafficking, or adoption, or the need for clean water in Papua New Guinea--and devotes her life to it. Which is awesome--until she judges you for not being fully on board.
  5. Disciplined Dexter. Dexter is amazing when it comes to spiritual disciplines. He gets up at four every morning to start his three hour prayer time. He fasts for weeks at a time. Great! Except that he expects every other Christian to do the same and looks down on those less-disciplined heathen.
  6. Good-Parent Paula. Paula is an excellent mom and has read dozens of books on parenting. She even has a detailed summer learning plan for her kids which is more intense than their regular school year. Props to her--until she starts judging all the good-for-nothing parents around her who let their kids play video games. She knows a lot…and she doesn’t hide it. Even when she doesn’t say anything, her eyes tell the story.
  7. Impatient Ingrid. Ingrid has grown a ton in her faith. She has her smartphone loaded with sermons from the best Bible teachers in the country. It’s evident that she’s grown leaps and bounds in a short time-frame...which makes her impatient with her lagging friends. What are they doing? Why aren’t they getting into the Word? Why haven’t they simplified their lifestyles?
  8. Combat Carl. Carl has had a challenging life. Everyone knows it. But when you’re having a tough time he always tops your tragic story with one ten times worse. You may have gotten a demotion, but he got fired and was unemployed for three years. When you just need a listening ear, he just wants to compare battle scars.
  9. Gifted Gabby. She has a unique spiritual gift (like hospitality, or evangelism, or teaching children). She uses it and is such a blessing, until she starts judging everyone for not having the same gift. She thinks you’re not a good Christian if you don’t serve in the same ministry she does.
  10. Judgmental Jesse (a.k.a. Plank-Eye Pete): Jesse has his own sins, but they’re just pride and greed--you know, the socially acceptable ones--so when your sin comes out in the open he lets you know you’re going to hell for sure. Before trying to understand your personal past with that sin, or your own struggle, he judges you.

Convicted by one or more of these caricatures? Me too. Thankfully, Jesus not only calls us out on our sin, but he offers unlimited forgiveness and grace. Because when we act like these modern day Pharisees we sure need it!

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Feb
17
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Facebook turned ten. You probably heard it all over the news. If you’re on it, you were bombarded with personal facebook movies in your news feed.

I jumped on Facebook in 2005. It started in 2004, but it was only accessible if you had a college email address. I heard rumors of it from an older cousin. It was mysterious and exclusive, like some underground party. As soon as I got my college email address after getting into Colorado State University in the Spring of my senior year (yes, I know how young I am), I set up my account. There were no photos. There was no news feed. But it was cool. It was “The Facebook.” (Literally, that was it’s name. They lost the “the” pretty quickly).

Facebook has changed a ton in the nine plus years I’ve been on it. First, high schoolers were allowed, then parents got on, and then grandparents (which in turn scared off the high schoolers). There are now billions of high resolution pictures. Video games that waste hours. Even our church posts updates. With all the change, few have really thought about what they’re posting on it.

Facebook piques our curiosity. We can find out helpful information about people we just met. We can stay connected with people across the world. We can reconnect with long lost friends. We can find out important news and other’s thoughts in almost real time. But for all it’s benefits, it has some negatives.

With over 1.1 billion other people online, you always see someone who got a new car, got engaged, had a baby, went on a swanky vacation. A Time Magazine poll found though that 60% of respondents do not feel better about themselves after spending time on social media. 76% believed that people make themselves look happier, more attractive, and more successful than they actually are. One group of researchers found this greatly increases jealousy and actively harms relationships. In the UK, one out of three divorces cited Facebook as a mitigating factor (often caused by reconnecting with an old flame). One psychologist found that Facebook becomes addictive and causes negativity among its users. Psychologist Timothy Wilson, in ongoing research, has found that college students now can’t stand being alone for a few minutes without a phone or computer. In an interview for The New Yorker, he concluded: “One would think we could spend the time mentally entertaining ourselves, but we can’t. We’ve forgotten how.”

Many people have taken a Facebook “hiatus.” The solution may be a “fast” of this sort. Or perhaps we just need to think before we post. Few have thought carefully about their interactions online. In order to help, here’s some questions to ask yourself before a post or interaction on Facebook:

  • Does EVERYONE need to know? Your mom might want to know your progress, but the rest of us don’t need to know whether the Metamucil you took finally cleared you up.
  • Do you post too much? One study found that “those who frequently post photographs on Facebook risk damaging real-life relationships.”
  • Do you have permission to share? Yes it’s nice to ask for prayer for your uncle, but does he want everyone to know about the rash on his keister?
  • Are you just being prideful? Eventually your friends will eventually get sick of your arrogance.
  • Are you sharing naked pictures or embarrassing anecdotes about your children that will someday haunt them? Maybe that time your toddler pooped in the sink is hilarious now, but when their teenage friends find it in a few years, they will be the brunt of ridicule.
  • Will your private feelings and rants alienate your friends? You might loathe Obamacare, or hate Monsanto, but not all of your Facebook friends will agree. A politically volatile comment may seem benign to you but it could end a real friendship with someone you care about. And you will lose your ability to persuade the person you want to persuade the most!

Since Facebook is 10 now, it’s time for us to grow up in our use of social media. Though Solomon wrote over 3000 years ago, his wisdom is still timely: “There is more hope for a fool than for someone who speaks without thinking” (Proverbs 29:20 NLT).

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Feb
10
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My mom always cautioned me to choose my friends carefully. To a nerdy kid that had a bowl-cut and glasses (I looked like Harry Potter before there was a Harry Potter), her advice made little sense. Whatever friends I could get I was happy to have.

Many parents tell their kids to not get mixed up with the wrong people. To choose their friends wisely. Sound advice. In middle school I asked my Dad if I could start a band with one wild kid, to which he uttered the age-old line: “As long as he doesn’t drink or smoke or go with girls who do.”

Most of the time this advice is given to help a kid avoid temptation. If you are around people who engage in bad behavior long enough, you’ll more likely be peer pressured into it. But I think it goes beyond that. I think that certain people bring out our worst characteristics and others bring out our best.

I was quite a shy kid. I rarely got in trouble. But when the teacher assigned me to sit next to Joey, I would regularly get disciplined for talking during instruction time. Was it Joey’s fault I was talking? Partially. But I was equally to blame! When I was around him my own disrespectful attitude would come out.

I noticed the same thing as an adult. When I would be around certain individuals I would do things I never would otherwise. Were they pressuring me to do it? No. Were they dragging me along to get into trouble? No. Rather, I think my negative, selfish disobedient side was brought out by those people.

But the opposite is true as well. When I am around certain people, I am challenged to be a better person: To achieve more. To love my wife more affectionately. To be less judgmental and more merciful.

Think about food. A patty of ground beef by itself is pretty lousy to eat, but team it up with thick strips of bacon, cheddar cheese, barbeque sauce, crispy lettuce, fresh tomatoes, and a toasted Ciabatta bun and that beef patty has evolved into something awesome. Sometimes there’s odd pairings like chile peppers and chocolate that mysteriously work together. Othertimes it just makes sense, like peanut butter and jelly.

It happens with people that way. Sometimes it’s the nervous man who comes alive once he gets into a relationship with the right girl. Sometimes it’s the dropout who becomes a CEO because he has a friend who challenges him. Sometimes it’s the screw-up who gets in a good Bible study group whose life is transformed.

The advice to choose our friends carefully is not just advice for kids. It’s for us adults too. But don’t just avoid the people who bring out your worst, seek out the people who will bring out your best. Who is it that for you?

Howard Hendricks once said, “Show me a man’s closest companions and I can make a fairly accurate guess as to what sort of man he is, as well as what sort of man he is likely to become.” I think all of us want to become the best version of ourselves. So do whatever you can to find the friends who bring out the good aspects of who you are and stick close to them. Get around those who will challenge you. Befriend those who won’t put up with your immature antics. Get mixed up with the right people.

“The righteous choose their friends carefully, but the way of the wicked leads them astray” (Proverbs 12:26 NIV).

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Feb
03
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Karl Marx, German economist and philosopher once asserted, “Die Religion...ist das Opium des Volkes.” Or for those of us who speak American, “Religion...is the opiate of the masses.” When he wrote those words he challenged the world to stop being lulled, or drugged really, into complacency by religious structures and institutions. He contended that religion often dulls one’s senses to the injustices of the world.

Though few are as bold as Marx to put it into those words (them be fightin’ words), many feel that religion is like a drug, like morphine, that deadens the pain and takes our focus away from the real injustices of the world. That we become so focused on our individual piety that we forget about the hardships of the world around us.

Truth be told, this does happen. In many of America’s cities, there are churches with magnificent buildings and wealthy members that exist in the midst of impoverished urban areas. And those churches continue to spend to beautify their property without giving any assistance to the poor. But when this happens, I don’t think it has anything to do with their faith, they are blinded by their wealth.

In a recent Op-ed piece in the New York Times, Sam Polk wrote about his experiences as a trader on Wall Street. In his last year, his year-end bonus, was $3.6 million. You read that right, his bonus. He described how he became a “wealth-addict.” He had enough money. He made more than enough, but he kept having the dreadful fear that he would lose it. And he kept fighting to earn more than his colleagues.

At one point, after the 2008 economic crash, the government made some new regulations for hedge-funds. In one meeting, everyone around him was talking about how awful the new regulations were. In response he innocently asked, “But isn’t it better for the system as a whole?” He described the ensuing scene: “The room went quiet, and my boss shot me a withering look. I remember him saying, ‘I don’t have the brain capacity to think about the system as a whole. All I’m concerned with is how this affects our company.’” From that point forward, Polk began to notice the negative effects of wealth in distorting one’s vision of reality. A few years later he left Wall Street altogether.

I contend that money is the thing that blinds us to the harsh realities around us. Now I don’t want to make any declarations about wall street reform, or about better wealth distribution, debate that among yourselves.

But I don’t think that Christianity rightly understood blinds us to the realities of the world. Our faith should not make us complacent and accept the terrible conditions and situations of the those struggling around us; rather, it should rather awaken us to see what needs to be done and to do it.

Look to our founder: Jesus overturned the tables of the merchants in the temple who “stole” by capitalizing on the religious fervor of the poor. Jesus rebuked the religious leaders for ignoring the poor. For tithing from their herb garden but neglecting justice and mercy. He called us to love even the worst of sinners, to go the extra mile, to give the coat off our very backs to those who ask. Jesus calls us to awaken to the injustices and evil around us and to fight for something better.

To steal a line from Tim Keller, Christianity shouldn’t be the opiate of the masses, but rather the smelling salts.

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Feb
01
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Go out into the busiest intersections in town and invite anyone you find to the banquet.

Matthew 22:9; The Message

Jesus uses the metaphor of a banquet to describe the Kingdom of God. He wants us to picture an amazing feast that puts to shame the fanciest restaurant you ever ate at and the best Thanksgiving you ever had. The Kingdom of God is a party. And in the Parable of the Wedding Banquet, Jesus tells of a King who wants to throw a huge party and invite everyone.

In the parallel to this parable in Luke, we read: “The master said, ‘Then go to the country roads. Whoever you find, drag them in. I want my house full!’” (Luke 14:23; The Message). Drag them in! Don’t just invite, “compel them” as the NIV puts it. The King is God, and he wants us to do whatever we can to get people into the Kingdom. He wants a full house. He wants a party!

And if God wants the Kingdom to be a party where everyone is invited, why don’t we start now by throwing parties and inviting everyone to them?

Right now, at parties and hangouts we can get a foretaste of the Kingdom of God. When we invite over friends, relatives, neighbors, co-workers, and random people we meet in our homes we get a small glimpse into the future. But not every party is this way, only the parties with a purpose. We must use parties and get-togethers as a means to connect in love with people outside the Kingdom--to build a relationship bridge over which the Holy Spirit might travel.

I wanna challenge you to have a party this Spring. It could be a Superbowl party or a tea-party. A hang-out with a few or a bash with a few hundred. It could be an Easter dinner or a Tax-Day burrito bar. Whatever it is, find a time to invite, even compel (in love of course), people over. Choose the people outside the Kingdom. And when you throw the party, deliberately invite people outside the Kingdom. There’s lots of room, and God wants it to be packed.

Some tips (adapted from theResurgence.com):

  • Invite people personally and early. Don’t just send out a blanket Facebook invite. Pick up the phone and call or walk next door and ask.
  • Be the connector. Initiate conversation. Think ahead of time about what topics might be interesting. Ask lots of questions. People like to share about themselves.
  • Have great food. If you’re not a chef, buy something. Or, try a potluck.
  • Look for a moment of redemption. Pray ahead of time for an opportunity. Perhaps one of the people will bring up a hardship that is an opportunity to talk about Jesus. If you are having a meal, pray in the name of Jesus.
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Tags : Missional

Jan
28
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Image credit: threadless.com

In my message on Sunday (check out the audio & video), I spoke of the "trilemma" that CS Lewis pointed out in his book, Mere Christianity. Examining the claims of Jesus: to come from heaven, to be able to forgive sins, to be God himself, etc. you must decide one of three things: he is a lunatic, a liar, or Lord. Some have since pointed out that there is a fourth option, legendary, that he didn't actually make those claims. However, we have 4 different extremely early accounts by individuals with quite different backgrounds reporting the words of Jesus. And they are reliable, if you are willing to study the material with an open mind. Check out my old prof's awesome book: The Historical Reliability of the Gospels.

All that to say, I want you to think it through for yourself, so here is Lewis' own words: 

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: 'I am ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept his claim to be God.' That is the one thing we must not say. The man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic – I level with that man who says he's a poached egg – or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you could fall of His feet and call Him Lord and God. Let us not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, in The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics. (HarperCollins, New York, 2002), 50-51.

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Tags : Jesus, Apologetics

Jan
27
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I like to argue. My older sister taught me well. She went on to graduate law school. I learned from her the importance of using logic to win arguments. Also, when helping my Dad with one of the hundreds of home-improved projects he did, he often had Rush Limbaugh playing on the radio, and whether you like him or hate him, he certainly stirs up arguments. Whether it be politics or theology or which Harbaugh brother is the better NFL coach, I like to argue.

I don’t ever mean to hurt another person when I argue. I had one roommate in college and we would argue about anything. To an outsider it might appear like we were going at each other’s throats, but always within a few minutes we were back to a congenial friendship. When I first started dating my wife, she thought for sure he and I would come to blows, but that never happened. We fought like friends, not enemies.

Which brings me to today’s article. Years ago, I had a different friend with whom we held similar verbal sparring contests. One day we were knee deep in an argument on religion and its affects on society. At one point he asserted that religion was for the weak. That a faith like Christianity was merely a crutch for people without wherewithal and toughness to make it in life.

Though we continued as friends after that argument, I was stung for a time by his remark. For he knew I valued my faith, so I thought he was putting me down personally. I went home that day upset, and thought he was just plain wrong. I thought and reasoned as much as I could to come up with a good argument to come back at him to point out he was wrong. But now, years later, I don’t think he was.

Let me make this clear. I do not think he was right in implying that non religious people have more tenacity than their religious counterparts. I don’t think there is some inherent weakness in Christians that isn’t found in the atheist and agnostic crowd. No, I think that weakness is inherent in everyone.

You read that right. I think we are all weak. I think we lack the willpower we wish we had. I think we are not as strong as we think we are.

Look at someone like Lance Armstrong. For millions around the world he was a hero. He was the pinnacle of human fortitude. For he overcame cancer to win the Tour de France seven times, an incredible feat. His life and achievements caused many to “live strong” and believe that if they tried harder, gave it their all, and believed they could do it they would achieve the impossible. I mean, he did it! We all know how that story ended. Our greatest heroes all have their faults. Thomas Jefferson owned slaves. Abraham Lincoln had a tragic family life. Bo Pelini struggles with rage (that last one’s a joke). If you dig deep enough into the real lives of our “heroes” you will always find weakness.

And if they can’t do it, how can we? The truth is that all of us--religious or irreligious, believer or atheist, Christian or agnostic--are weak. We are frail human beings who give in to temptations. We fail at tasks. We let others and ourselves down. We (at the very least) walk around with a limp. We need a crutch to prop us up. In fact we need much more than that. We need to be rescued.

Jesus spoke the perfect words to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” To which Paul realizes: “That is why...I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). Christianity may be a crutch...but hey, I’m just happy I can walk!

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Jan
20
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It was not too long ago in US history when no one could get elected to public office without being a self-proclaimed Protestant Christian. In fact, many feared that JFK, a Roman Catholic, would be too influenced by the Pope and thus did not see him fit for the highest office in the land. Much has changed since then.

Bill de Blasio, New York City’s newest mayor, represents a growing percentage of Americans who call themselves ‘spiritual but not religious.’ “Although my mother was raised a Catholic, she did not bring me up in the Church,” he explained in an online forum. “I considered myself a spiritual person but unaffiliated.” Though he certainly has been impacted by religious influences, and is much more congenial to religious organizations than his predecessor, his self-designation demonstrates where many Americans are today.

According to the Pew Research Center, about one in five Americans now consider themselves ‘nones.’ This does not mean they have sloughed off all vestiges of faith, rather that they choose not to affiliate with neither the major and minor faiths nor any of their plethora of denominations.

In college, at the start of one class, each student was instructed by the professor to introduce themselves with what was important to their identity. I was surprised by how many described themselves as ‘spiritual but not religious.’ These people were unwilling to call themselves an atheist or agnostic, and they considered their spirituality important enough to not leave it out altogether, but they didn’t want to be stuck with the designation of a particular religious affiliation.

I certainly understand a desire to avoid the trappings of religious affiliation. I personally don’t like the fact that if I say I am a baptist certain people automatically tune me out. Also, I don’t consider myself ‘religious’ because it is not any ritual or religious activity that gets me saved. Many churches understand this as well, hence the rise of the ‘non-denominational’ church (though I like to joke that these are really just Baptist churches with a good website, since so many of them share more with baptist theology than any other tradition). There is also a sense in our ‘open-minded’ society that to be religious is to be ignorant. In addition, many simply do not know where they belong, but do believe in something bigger than themselves. In all, it makes sense why individuals in our fine nation want to avoid religious affiliation while maintaining some spiritual connection.

But can’t we do better than that? From personal observation, I’ve noticed that the individuals who claim to be ‘spiritual but not religious’ end up having nearly zero spiritual practices that enhance their lives. They lack connections to spiritual friends who can pull them through tough situations. And they become more and more muddled in their belief system which in turn leads to confusion in life. I think we can do better than ‘spiritual but not religious.’ We must strive to determine what we do believe, then be bold enough to proclaim it despite the social repercussions. Though he spoke to a different situation, I think we should do what Paul said: “Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind” (Romans 14:5b).

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Jan
13
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Christianity is the world’s largest faith in terms of number of adherents. The United States is often termed a “Christian Nation.” Though it might be Catholic, Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran, or Other, you can’t go hardly a block in most cities without seeing a Christian church. Christianity is everywhere in our culture. Because of it’s widespread influence, most people have never stopped to consider how bizarre it is.

I’m not talking about things like the Virgin Birth, or Noah stuffing all those stinky animals onto a wooden ship, those things are extraordinary (I think we realize that). What I’m talking about is the central core of Christianity. It is completely different than any other religions the world has ever seen.

As one British preacher pointed out, when Christianity first emerged on the world’s stage it was not called a religion. It was a non-religion. Imagine a Christian moving onto the block in an ancient neighborhood. After they unloaded their packing mule, the neighbors might come over and ask about them and their faith. “So where’s your temple?” they’d ask. The Christian would respond that he didn’t have a temple. “But how does that work? Where do your priests labor?” The Christian would’ve explained that they didn’t actually have priests. “But…” the neighbors would continue, perplexed, “How do you make sacrifices to please your gods?” To which the Christian would answer that they didn’t offer sacrifices anymore. Left scratching their heads, the Christian would elaborate to their new neighbors that Jesus was the temple to end all temples, the last high priest, the final sacrifice. Ancient Romans literally called Christians atheists, because it seemed that they despised the gods.

I once explained the Christian faith to a young girl: that if you trusted Jesus and believed in his name, you would be forgiven and given the gift of eternal life without having to “do good” or perform rituals to earn it. She looked at me like I was crazy, so I asked her what she thought. She sputtered, “That’s weird!” She expressed what most of us would if we grasped its reality. Christianity is weird. Christianity is bizarre! Every other religion in the world has a list of things you have to do to achieve salvation. Not Christianity. You don’t have to DO anything. It’s already been DONE by Jesus.

Christians themselves have struggled over the centuries to come to terms with the bizarre nature of our non-religion and have made church buildings act as temples, church leaders act like priests, and duties become sacrifices, but that is not the Christianity of the Bible. At its core, Christianity is a non-religion. It is different. It is not do this, don’t do that, then you’ll be saved. It is you are saved, therefore you get to do this and not do that in response. There is a fundamental difference.

I don’t tell you all this to scare you away from the faith. Rather, I hope you can see and appreciate how different and unique Christianity is among the world’s faiths. Then maybe you’d see that no human would make up something like it. Stealing a line from the band OMC, a 90’s one-hit wonder: “How Bizarre. How Bizarre.”

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Jan
01
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“I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.”
1 Corinthians 9:22b

I was 16 during my first mission trip. I travelled with a team to Ukraine. I was informed beforehand we would often eat in the homes of local families. They would put on a feast for us. These poor families would spend a large chunk of change in order to honor us with their hospitality. And I was instructed that to show them respect I would need to eat whatever was set before me.

During those house visits I was served some fascinating new foods. Some I loved, like blueberry varenyky (a dessert dumpling), others I liked, like borscht (a purple beet and potato soup), and others I endured, like liver (I learned from Matt Toupin, Senior Pastor of FBC Omaha, on our trip to Bolivia that even if you can eat every animal, you don’t have to eat every part!). But even the foods I endured, I endured with a smile and a thousand thank-yous.

The reason why my team and I acted in this manner was because we were going as missionaries. And missionaries don’t just carry the gospel on their lips, they bring the gospel with their lives. In order for the good news of Jesus’ victory to be heard by the world, we must not only speak in a language the hearer can understand, but also act in a way that prepares them to receive it.

We just celebrated the birth of Jesus. Theologians call this birth the “incarnation” which means ‘in flesh.’ Jesus was God in human flesh. What is so significant about the incarnation is that Jesus was the first missionary. He was sent by God. And in order for his message to be proclaimed he became like us. He ate meals with normal people in their houses (I’m sure goat chops in ancient Israel paled in comparison to the heavenly feasts he was used to). He dressed like the people of his time. He spoke with metaphors they understood. He adapted to reach them and offer eternal life. He contextualized his message. He became like them in order to save them.

In 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 we learn that Paul picked up this strategy and became like the people he was trying to save. When he spoke to philosophers he used logic and quoted poets. When he hung with Jews he gave up bacon. When he chilled with the Greeks he ate bacon (talk about a sacrifice!). He contextualized himself and his message. He became “all things to all people so that by all possible means he might save some.”

This year, we are taking the cue from Paul, and from Jesus himself. Our theme verse for 2014 is 1 Corinthians 9:22b: “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.” This year my hope and prayer is that we will grow into a people who incarnate the gospel. That we will become a team of missionaries right here. That we will be shaped into a church that contextualizes our message by all possible means in order to save some.

Our Renewal for Growth project is set to begin this month. Our building will be adapted into a space that is more accessible to people in our culture. Hopefully we will find other ways to adapt our ministry to more effectively reach the lost. But most importantly, we will strive to become like our neighbors just as God became like us in Christ. Then we might save some.


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Dec
30
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Another year is in the rear-view mirror. Another 15 lbs of holiday weight gained. Another set of resolutions forgotten about by mid January. Oh yeah, resolutions. It’s time for that again?

The first time I set New Year’s resolutions was when I was 18. I decided as an adult, I should have some direction for my life. So I wrote down a few things I wanted to accomplish in the following year. Then a several ways I wanted to grow personally. Then I wrote a few goals. I ended up with quite a long list. Too long. There was no way I could do all of that in one calendar year. Fairly quickly into that year I jettisoned the majority of my list and focused on just a few items.

At the end of the year, I could then look back and was quite encouraged. Though I hadn’t accomplish my laundry list of goals and resolutions, I had grown as a person. I was more mature. In those few areas where I felt particularly inept, I had made great strides. And isn’t that why we make goals and resolutions to begin with? Over the years, I have continually begun to focus on less things and in the end I believe I have grown all the more.

In this week leading up to the start of a new year, some of you will be writing out resolutions. Others will be too busy. Some will be anal about it and stick to your list even if it kills you. Others will fall off the bandwagon before the end of the month. (Have you ever been to a gym in January? It’s crazy packed!) However, for all of us, I think we should ask ourselves: How will I grow in 2014?

Whether you write resolutions and goals or think that’s all hogwash, can’t we all agree we aren’t perfect? Can’t we agree that we have some work to do? Can’t we agree that we could do better? Can’t we agree we ought to grow as people?

This year, don’t come up with a lengthy list. Don’t spread yourself too thin. Just pick one area in your life where you can grow. Perhaps you need to grow in patience with your kids. Perhaps you need to learn how to date your wife. Perhaps you need to become a more laid back boss. Whatever it is, my encouragement to you is to pick one thing. JUST ONE THING. Now resolve to do it already.

Good planning and hard work lead to prosperity, but hasty shortcuts lead to poverty” (Proverbs 21:5; NLT).

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Dec
23
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“He knows when you are sleeping. / He knows when you’re awake. / He knows when you’ve been bad or good, / So be good for goodness sake!” Though this stanza may be an effective way to encourage tots to obey their parents, many mistakenly carry over this childhood idea of naughty-or-nice, coal-or-present Santa into their conception of God.

In two ways, the God of the Bible is like the imaginary St. Nick. But in a third way he is entirely different. God sees everything. Hebrews 4:13 says, “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” There is nothing we have ever done, said, or thought (yes even your deepest, darkest, thoughts) of which God is not aware. Moreover, God judges each person according to what they have done. You will be judged according to your life (2 Corinthians 5:20). Thankfully, this is where the similarities end.

God does not want to give humans the eternal equivalent of coal in their stockings, though this is what we deserve. Instead, he made a way to give bad people like us good gifts. In fact, he planned a way, and then carried out that plan at great cost to himself, for any sinner to receive the greatest gift: forgiveness, a new life now, and an eternity in heaven. That doesn’t sound like Santa Claus, now does it? God is much different and much greater than our idea of Santa because he offers even bad people rewards.

Why should God reward a bad person? That’s the thing: he shouldn’t. God has the divine prerogative to do whatever he chooses. When people that continue to disobey his law throughout their lives and have the nerve to presume they deserve to be in heaven (even though they would just continue to break God’s law and in turn ruin heaven’s perfection if they were let in), they do not have a “right” to enter the pearly gates. Instead, God is the one with the right to just act like Santa Claus, doesn’t he? He is all-knowing and could reward good and punish evil with perfect justice. But he chooses not to do that, he chooses in his mercy to lavishly give us a present of eternal life.

There was a tried and convicted criminal being executed on the same day as Jesus. Yet when that convict proclaimed his fear of God and his belief in the innocence of Jesus, Jesus told him point blank, “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). Later we learn that it was because of his faith in Jesus, God’s Son, that God forgave him and gave him the gift of eternal life despite the fact that he deserved hell. God offers that gift to all who believe in Jesus.

It’s time to grow up in your conception of God. He is not Santa Claus. He may know when you’re sleeping or awake. He may know when you’ve been bad or good. You do deserve his judgment; however, he freely offers you a gift. God is not Santa Claus. Thank God!

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Dec
16
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Karen Armstrong once said, "Most of us first hear about God at about the same time as we are told about Santa Claus. Over the years, our ideas of Santa change, mature, and develop, yet our idea of God can get stuck at an infantile level." Many people continue to think about God like they do about Santa Claus. But God is not Santa Claus.

To a small child, Santa Claus is renowned for his list-making skills. He also serves as both judge and jury to either reward with presents that were asked for while sitting on his lap at the local mall or mete out the dreaded punishment of a lump of coal. This idea in its simplest form is that good people are rewarded and bad people are punished.

Many presume (or were taught) that God works in the exact same way. Those who are good are rewarded and blessed by God and those who are bad have awful things happen to them. But it never works out that way, does it? Instead, there are seemingly good people who have awful things happen to them and bad people who live lives of luxury. So what’s going on?

We all know that bad things happen to good people, and that preschool theology can’t explain it. But the reality of sin does.When God created the world it was perfect. Yet because our first parents broke God’s command, sin entered the world and it tainted everything. From that point on every person ever born has been sinful. Look at any disobedient toddler and you know the behavior is intrinsic. So in reality, there are no purely “good” people. Instead we all do some good and some bad. Therefore, no one can say the bad things in our lives are purely undeserved. So when something bad happens it doesn’t necessarily mean it is your punishment (check out John 9:1-12 or the entire book of Job) but it should lead all of us to look inward and repent (read Luke 13:1-8).

But sin tainted everything. It marred God’s beautiful world. Therefore, there are diseases, and natural disasters, and birth defects in which no one person’s sin can be to blame, all humanity is to blame. Therefore, until God restores all things at the end, there will be bad things that happen to “good” people.

We also observe good things happening to very bad people. Though the hope we all have is that in end they will receive their punishment (which explains every gangster movie’s ending), it seems like there is a lot of good that God gives to bad people. Which he does. Jesus himself said, that God “causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45). Theologians call this concept “common grace.” It is God’s grace given to everyone, whether they deserve it or not. God is a loving God, and he wants every single person, the globe over, to know his loving kindness. In his mercy he wants to lead them to himself.

The concepts of sin and common grace should help us to grow in our perspective of who God is, and not get stuck in our Santa Claus theology. Next week we’ll finish this series by looking at how God is much greater than Santa Claus.

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Dec
09
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Do you remember when you first learned the truth about Santa Claus? Perhaps you walked downstairs and saw your parents stuffing your stocking. Perhaps you had one of those annoying older cousins who took cruel pleasure out of squelching your joy. Or maybe you still put out milk and cookies. (Remember, Mrs. Claus requested only soy milk this year...Santa needs to lower his calorie intake.) I uncovered the devastating truth when I saw that my Mom saved the "To: Matthew; From: Santa" tags and they mysteriously reappeared under the tree the following year.

Even though we grow in our understanding of Santa Clause, many people think about God the same way they did when they were children. Karen Armstrong once said, "Most of us first hear about God at about the same time as we are told about Santa Claus. Over the years, our ideas of Santa change, mature, and develop, yet our idea of God can get stuck at an infantile level." Many people continue to think about God like they do about Santa Claus. Their theology is stuck in preschool, which creates major issues when life becomes more and more complex.

What are you told about Santa when you're a kid? He keeps a list and checks it twice. In his omniscience he knows whether you are naughty or nice then either rewards or punishes you. Yet after that first two or three years of not receiving coal in spite of some of those sins you committed, or that nasty cousin receiving (that-sweet-present-you-wanted-but-he-got-instead) despite him putting your hand in warm water when you were asleep and you wet the bed, you slowly realized it's not quite that simple. No child ever seemed to get coal. Santa always left presents.

Yet many people still think of God like that "naughty-or-nice" Santa. If they are good and avoid the particularly awful sins, go to church weekly, and are nice to others, they expect God to bless them. But if they sin and quit going to church, they are fearful God will strike them with a disease or their car will will break down. Many believe in a "naughty-or-nice" God.

But life doesn't fit with this infantile theology of God. You do something particularly sinful, but instead of receiving the expected smiting, something amazingly good happens. Or you do all the right things, but you still lose your job. You know someone who is a kind, loving person, yet Murphy's Law is her life mantra. Or you know some awful jerk who found a legal way to deceive others out of their money, yet he's living the high-life. Instead of good people receiving blessings and bad people being punished, life is much more complex.

When your life didn't mesh with your underdeveloped theology, instead of growing in your understanding of God, many of you slowly began to reject God. Maybe you stopped going to church, because, what's the point? Or you eventually decided that some old fashioned list of sin had no bearing on you anymore. But you weren't rejecting the real God of the universe, you were rejecting an unrealistic view of God.

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Dec
01
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"But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid.
I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people."

Luke 2:10

The angels proclaimed to the shepherds on that fateful night, "I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people." Joy? Great joy? How does the birth of Jesus bring joy?

For the longest time I just assumed that the joy the angels spoke of was the happy (yet reverent) faces you see on the shepherds, wise men, Joseph, Mary, and those lucky barnyard animals found in every nativity scene. But the shepherds said this was joy for all people, not just the handful who got to witness the birth of the Messiah. And it wasn't just good news of a birth that had already taken place, it was good news that will cause great joy--it has a future impact. So the joy attached to this good news must be different than a happy nativity scene.

This December, we break from our sermon series, The Real Jesus, to examine how it could be that great joy truly is available to all people through the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I'm calling this advent series "Joy to the World: How Jesus Brings Happiness."

Sadly, many Christians only see joy as something we will have...in the future...after we're dead. Yes, we will have joy forever when we get to heaven in the presence of a God who has "eternal pleasures" at his right hand (Psalm 16:11). However, the joy God has for us doesn't start after we die, it's for the here and now. God wants you to have joy right now. He wants you to be happy right now.

That sounds pretty nice right?

The schedule:

  • On December 8th in "The Pursuit of Happiness" we'll learn that God wants us to pursue happiness (though in a different manner than you might think).

  • Next, on December 15th in "Happily Ever After" we'll talk about how it is possible to have joy even in those sad, depressing, turbulent times of our lives.

  • Then on December 22nd in "Happy, Happy, Happy" we'll examine how joy should overflow into action.

  • Finally on Christmas Eve (at 6:30PM) we will bask in the joy of the birth of Christ.

You're not going to want to miss any of this series. Unless you don't want to be happy. In that case go ahead and stay home and watch infomercials on your couch. But I have a feeling you do want happiness. And more of it. Let's learn how the birth of Jesus truly was the beginning of great joy for all people, expecially you.

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Nov
28
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Turkey. Mashed potatoes. Cranberry sauce. Football. Spending time with family. Spending too much time with family. Inedible corn decorations. Turducken. Tryptophan induced napping. Shopping. Shopping for things you don’t need. Shopping for things you don’t need at an ungodly hour. Shopping for things you don’t need at an ungodly hour with more people than vote in a national election. Yes! That’s right! It’s Thanksgiving!

In all of this week’s mirth and merriment we often forget to do the action hiding in plain sight within this holiday’s moniker: giving thanks. I ask you: what does it actually mean to give thanks? For those of us who give such a thing a second thought amidst the feasting, we typically do one of two things on Thanksgiving: We either attempt to “feel thankful,” which amounts to us stopping for 3 or 4 seconds to savor life, or the whole family is forced by Aunt Beattie to go around the dinner table reluctantly expressing the things that make them happy. These are good things to do, but I wonder: to whom do we give thanks?

Let me put that another way. Usually, when we are thankful, we thank someone. When a friend graciously allows you to stay at their house while on a trip, you might buy them flowers to say “Thanks!” When you unwrap the fourth blender you received as a wedding gift, you might send a thank-you-card via snail mail. When someone holds the door open for you, you say, “Thank-you!” When your kid gets that XBox One for Christmas this year--they darned well better say thank you! For nearly all of life we give thanks to the person to whom our gratitude is due. Yet for many this time of year, when you are told to give thanks, the question becomes, to whom? To whom do you give thanks when we have unexpectedly great weather that produces a bumper crop--NTV meteorologist Kent Boughton? To whom do you give thanks when by happenstance you sit next to a good looking guy (or girl) on a crowded bus and and true love is born--the public transit authority who wrote the bus schedule? For the big things that matter in life, we often don’t have a specific person to thank. Yet still, we feel thankful.

But if the act of giving thanks is meant to move from one person to another, to whom do we give thanks for the life changing events that have no single person behind their occurrence? The Christian gives thanks to God. To those of other faiths, it is to their deity, but to the unspiritual, the agnostic, and the atheist, I ask you: to whom do you give thanks?

This question is at the heart of what we Christians come together to do at every Sunday morning: praise. We acknowledge to God what he has done for us. Without this, I think that there would be a feeling inside of me, of joy, or contentment, of fullness that would be stuck inside, and therefore, not quite as good. It would be like drinking an entire Big Gulp and having to hold it in! Not a pleasant thought!

CS Lewis wrote about the concept of praise:

“The world rings with praise—lovers praising their mistresses, readers their favourite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favourite game – praise of weather, wines, dishes, actors, motors, horses, colleges, countries, historical personages, children, flowers, mountains, rare stamps, rare beetles, even sometimes politicians or scholars...Just as men spontaneously praise whatever they value, so they spontaneously urge us to join them in praising it: “Isn’t she lovely? Wasn’t it glorious? Don’t you think that magnificent?”...I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation. It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are; the delight is incomplete till it is expressed.”

If Lewis was right, and I think he was, without giving thanks--praise--to God this Thanksgiving, you’re missing out on the consummation of the good in your life. There is something inside you dying to come out. That is why we attempt to have that moment of “feeling thankful” or saying to others the things we are thankful for, but we still are lacking that someone to whom we should be thankful. Which seems quite odd, if you ask me.

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Nov
25
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“Friends with benefits.” This term sadly has become a reality in our culture since it refers to couples who want zero emotional involvement with all of the sexual perks of a committed relationship. It is awful and severely damaging to all involved, so despite Hollywood’s best attempts to glamorize it, it still is a horrible, destructive idea.

Yet I think perhaps we’ve forgotten that the phrase--friends with benefits--should be one of (though not the only thing) to describe a healthy marriage: companionship alongside intimacy. If the romance in your marriage has dwindled, if you’ve found yourself fighting incessantly with your spouse, if you just want something more, perhaps it’s time to go back to the beginning: be friends.

This past Sunday I preached about the topic of marriage. Yes, I know. I’m young. I’ve only been married for four and a half years. That’s nothing compared to some of you. So when I talk about a subject that I have comparatively little experience in, I tend to seek help from outside resources. One of the resources I consulted this last week was a book entitled Real Marriage by Mark and Grace Driscoll. There are a plethora of books out there on marriage. But this book offers the unique perspective that to help your marriage grow deeper, to get the romantic fire back, and help move past conflict you need to focus on the friendship.

Most of us dated our spouses before getting married. During that dating phase, not only does the romance burn bright, but the couple becomes good friends. For Melissa and myself, when someone was curious why I wanted to get married so young (at age 21) I told them it was because I wanted to spend the rest of my life with my best friend. I’m sure there are others of you who felt the same way.

To have a thriving marriage, a strong friendship is essential. John Gottman, one of the most respected sociologists who studies marriage, concluded that, “The determining factor in whether wives feel satisfied with the sex, romance, and passion in their marriage is, by 70 percent, the quality of the couple’s friendship. For men, the determining factor is, by 70 percent, the quality of the couple’s friendship. So men and women come from the same planet after all.” So often we focus on the differences in needs and wants between the husband and wife, but at their core, both sexes want their spouse to be a close friend.

Yet with life and work and kids and bills and stress that friendship can get put on the back burner. There are so many good things in our lives to focus on, that the attention gets drawn away from the friendship relationship. Friendship between a married couple, like any relationship, needs cultivation. However, like our neglected basil plant this past summer, with a little attention, friendship with your spouse can be restored. Mark and Grace Driscoll in their book offer some great advice in this regard:

  • Men: cultivate a face-to-face relationship with your wife. Take her out just to talk. Face her, look into her eyes. Share your soul. Don’t pretend you're too tough to be emotional. Draw her out: Her likes and dislikes. Her fears and dreams. Then listen (but don’t fix!).
  • Women: develop a side-by-side relationship with your husband. Just do stuff together. Find some activity he enjoys and join him. Don’t let him stiff arm you by saying it’s a guy thing or that he needs his space. Don’t suffocate him, but find one thing you could do together. Or find some new activity you would both enjoy. It could be hunting, or it could be playing music together, like my wife and I do.

It’s time to take back our marriages. And it’s gotta start with friendship. With our spouses, let’s make sure we’re “friends with benefits.”

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Nov
18
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At the end of October, I traveled with a team for 10 days to the nation of Bolivia. We called it a Mission Study Tour for though we taught, helped construct a house, etc., our main purpose was to learn. And I certainly learned, especially about what it means to be rich.

Landlocked in the center of the South American Continent, Bolivia contains two widely divergent climates. To the west are the towering Andes Mountain, housing cities like La Paz which sits at over 14,000 feet (as tall as Pikes Peak!). There llamas and alpacas roam and some 150 varieties of potatoes are cultivated on the slopes. To the east lies the Amazon basin. The hot, jungle-like area contains all the riches of a tropical climate like mangos and coffee.

Our team first visited the city of Santa Cruz in the east. Santa Cruz is now approaching 5 million citizens and a decade ago contained only 2 million. This rapidly growing city is becoming an economic force in South America and people are flocking there from the countryside and nations like Brazil to find work. We saw urban sprawl as I never had before.

Our team then traveled to Cochabamba, high in the Andes mountains. This city is filled with many Quechan people, descendants of the Incas, who are leaving their shepherding and farming in the mountains to make a life in the city. Cochabamba sits in a dormant volcanic crater and houses the largest open-air market in South America.

As different as the two cities and climates are, it was impossible to escape the thing that both had in common: poverty. Not everyone was poor. There were nice houses, luxury hotels, and fine dining to be had. But unlike any other place I have traveled, there was almost no divide between rich and poor. In the US, as in other nations I have visited, we have rich neighborhoods and poor neighborhoods. With the gentrification of many urban centers this is changing somewhat, but nothing I have ever witnessed compares to Bolivian cities. Entire families live in a small wooden shack that sat adjacent to mansions with high-walled gardens. Nice cars sped past horse-pulled buggies on the streets. Feral dogs and goats roamed the streets even near shopping centers that could rival an American mall.

Yet in the midst of this poverty I witnessed pure generosity. Church members gave up entire days to show us around and teach us about their culture. Families prepared extravagant meals to feed us. Churches provided food and drink when they couldn’t even afford to put windows in. They’re income was little to nothing, yet their hospitality rivaled none.

The churches were even more generous. Several churches serving in an area called the “Red Zone” (where the police offer little protection because the drug lords rule) were scraping together their meager income to build a drug rehabilitation center. In another city, a church had driven around a tanker truck filled with water to a highly populated area without any running water or sewer system to provide baths for children. One church in Cochabamba housed a daycare to provide the only known support for children with physical and mental disabilities (the government provides nothing, and most families simply hide these children in backrooms). One lady we met left a high-paying engineering job in Germany to return to her home country and start a daycare for the children of prostitutes in the redlight district because they had no government aid, no fathers, and mothers who were out every evening. Their generous giving of time, money, and talents astounded me.

I did learn much during my trip to Bolivia: In our nation we measure riches by the size of bank accounts and investment portfolios, or the square footage of houses and the amount of stuff we accumulate. But I saw true riches during my short trip to Bolivia that had nothing to do with these shallow metrics. In Bolivia, I learned that true riches are revealed not by how much you have, but by how much you give.

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Tags : Money, Bolivia

Nov
12
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photo via algemeiner.com

In Sunday's sermon, "Dealing With Sin" (audio and video), I offered some tips on how to rebuke someone based on Matthew 18:15-17. Most of it is straight from the other Bible passages. These aren't exhaustive lists, but they should help you think through difficult task.

How to Rebuke:

  1. Pray for wisdom (James 1:5-6)
  2. Pray for the person
  3. Get right with God first (Matthew 7:3-5)
  4. Be prepared to be disliked (Proverebs 9:7-8)
  5. Do it gently (Galatians 6:1)
  6. Don't be judgmental (Matthew 7:1)
  7. Do it in love (2 Thessalonians 3:14-15)
  8. Be humble and willing to listen (1 Peter 5:5)
  9. Always seek restoration (2 Corinthians 2:7)

How Not to Rebuke:

  1. Involve other people too soon (Matthew 18:15)
  2. Involve unbelievers (Matthew 18:15-17)
  3. Involve the courts (1 Corinthians 6:7)
  4. Share it as a prayer “concern”
  5. Post about it on Facebook
Want to find out more? Watch the full video here.
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Tags : Church, rebuke

Nov
01
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I write this note to you from Bolivia. In my life, I have been to areas of poverty. I have also been in rich neighborhoods. But unlike anywhere I have ever traveled, Bolivia contains no separation between the two. There are parts of the city with no running water or sewer systems. The children are dirty and have little to eat. Packs of dogs roam the streets. There is so much need. Yet in the midst of this, there are cell phones and new nike shoes, fancy gardens and mansions. There is no separation. In the states, we typically separate our neighborhoods, and those who have rarely see the living conditions of those who lack. Yet whether we see it or not, there exist great needs in our world.

In this poverty stricken nation, the churches give so much. One church we visited met outside with only a roof over their heads. No walls yet. Certainly no windows. They have plastic chairs instead of pews. There is no sound system. Yet, they are giving funds to build other churches. And though their churches are small, they regularly raise up leaders then generously send them out to plant other churches and reach the lost even in other countries.

Nearly every church in Bolivia also has dynamic ministries like free medical clinics, job training for the uneducated, and ministries for drug addicts. Several of the churches in Yapacani are located in the "red zone" where the drug lords often clash with the military. They have enough to worry about with their own church. Yet it doesn't stop nearly every church from funding a new "preaching point" or "mission" to reach the lost with the Gospel.

On top of all of that, these churches welcomed our team with gracious, open arms. They served us food. They bought us refreshments. They loved and served us. They embraced us. They gave up days of their amazingly busy lives to drive us gringos around. Their generosity astounded me. Their love for the Lord filled me with joy. Their desire to give even when it hurt blew me away.

It reminded me of what Paul wrote about the church in Macedonia:

And now, brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people. And they exceeded our expectations: They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us (2 Corinthians 8:1-5).

It has been an honor to spend time with these saints here in Bolivia. I hope that you will be spurred on by their generosity as I was and as Paul was by the Macedonians.

This November, as we collect our World Mission offering (that goes to support the work of churches like the ones in Yapacani) and M&M offering (funding ministers and missionaries), let us mimic the generosity of the Bolivian Baptists. Let us learn to out-do them in giving. Let us give even when it hurts. There is much work to do around the globe, so let us grow in generosity.

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Oct
31
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Halloween is here. Two weeks ago we looked at werewolves. Last week it was vampires. Today in the final article in this series, we’ll talk about zombies.

The zombie emerged in American culture with George Romero’s 1968 film, Night of the Living Dead. He continued the genre with Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead, Land of the Dead, Diary of the Dead, and Survival of the Dead (creative titles, right?). From movies to video games to comic books to the most popular cable TV-show of all time (“The Walking Dead”) zombies have surely made their mark on popular culture.

A zombie is an animated corpse. It roams around even though it already died. Yet the zombies I see among us are the people who walk around with no real life in them--as if their soul is gone. They are merely a shell of a person. There can be a number of real and legitimate reasons why someone becomes a zombie (and it is not voodoo or a virus). It could be due to the death of a loved one, which leaves you depressed and despondent. It could be a sense of existential despair, which leaves you feeling like nothing in life has any meaning. It could be a bad situation or relationship in your life, which makes you feel down in the dumps.

Do you feel like you have no life or energy? You might just be a zombie. Before I go further, if you are feeling suicidal, stop and immediately call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255). If that’s not you, try these 8 ways to get your life back:

  1. Get some sleep. Don’t say, “You can sleep when you’re dead.” Because you’re acting like you’re dead already. An R.E.M. cycle takes about 90 minutes, and you want to have several of those every night. Everyone is different. Even though some survive on five hours of sleep a night, you might need eight or nine. It will help you feel revived.
  2. Exercise. It sounds counterintuitive, but burning off energy will give you more energy throughout the day. Since I started running in the morning, I feel I am much more alert in the afternoon.
  3. Start eating right. Your diet can have a huge impact on how you feel. Cut back on the fried and packaged foods and throw in some fruits, vegetables, and nuts. Don’t feel like you have to eat nothing but eggplant from now on. Start by picking one vegetable that you like (I started with green peppers) and just eat that until you find more you enjoy. Potato chips don’t count.
  4. See a doctor. You may have a chemical imbalance. Talk with a trained professional about what steps you could take to get rebalanced. They may prescribe medication, but please don’t start here. If you jump too quickly to antidepressants if can have severe side-effects.
  5. Mourn. Whether it was a person, pet, or an idea that died, you need to take time to mourn.
  6. Make a change. Do you need a new job? Do you need to end that destructive relationship? Or get some counseling to heal an unhealthy marriage? You may need to make a drastic change in your lifestyle if you want to stop being a zombie.
  7. Get counseling. There are caring people who would love to help you get some joy back. If you’re worried about the cost, see a pastor or a wise person you trust. They can help you through the emotional and spiritual issues that are making you a zombie.
  8. Find Jesus. Jesus came that we might “have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). Jesus wants us to have joy, meaning, and fullness of life right now (not just when we get to heaven). He delivers freedom from hopelessness, guilt, and despair like nothing else can. Ephesians 2:5 even says that Christians were “made alive with Christ when we were dead in our transgressions.”

If you want to kill the zombie, you’ve gotta aim for the head. All 8 of these ways will help bring you back to the realm of the living, but it is that final way that will finish the job.

I hope the best for you as you fight your monsters. For unlike the halloween costumes and the scary decorations, the monsters among us won’t just go into storage till next year, you’ve got to kill them or they’ll keep coming back.

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Oct
28
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Halloween is nearly upon us. When people get excited to go to “goblin feeds” and the like. Yet in spite of all the monsters we see in costumes, movies, and decorations, the scariest monsters are ourselves. Last week we looked at how sometimes we turn into werewolves when a trigger sets us off in a rage. Today we’ll examine vampires.

Years ago I travelled to the Transylvania region of Romania, where there once lived a despised ruler named Vlad Dracul (affectionately called Vlad the Impaler). Bram Stoker reworked his legend into the novel Dracula and the the vampire was enshrined in popular culture. The concept burst onto the American scene through the unauthorized 1922 movie “Nosferatu.” My middle school band teacher had us watch it, and since it was a silent film, he played music for it on his grand piano as we all watched in horror. No, the movie itself wasn’t scary, but how much my teacher enjoyed playing the soundtrack to it was pretty creepy. Since that first bloodsucker was depicted on the silver screen, vampires have been all the rage in popular culture up to today’s lovable pale-faced vampires in the Twilight books and movies. (Yet their plot is so unrealistic: No one would anyone choose to be stuck going to high school for eternity!) We know what vampires are. They look like the rest of us, but they survive by sucking the life out of others.

I got the idea for this article originally from a pastor in North Carolina named Steven Furtick. He spoke of how we allow people in our lives to keep coming back over and over again to suck the life and energy out of us. They become our vampires. So what do you do if you’re lifeblood is getting sucked out? Just like the mythical creatures, there are two primary ways to keep the vampires in your life at bay:

  1. Say “no” more. For us people-pleasers, it is difficult to say that two-letter word, but we have to learn to do it. When you say “no,” don’t backtrack. And you don’t have to give an explanation. If you say you can’t do something, your vampire will attempt to persuade you: “Can’t you afford to buy me half a tank of gas? I won’t ask again!” They will try to guilt you into it: “That’s not very Christian!” They will explain how you’re their last resort: “How else will I get there?!” Stand your ground. Don’t be mean, but be firm. Paraphrasing D.A.R.E., “Just say ‘no’ to vampires.”
  2. Set boundaries. People do need help. We must love our neighbors as ourselves, but at some point that other person needs to stop hurting you. And you need to stop hurting them by always giving in and enabling them to never grow up. As Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend teach in their book Boundaries, “We are responsible to each other, but not for each other.” Thus, make a clear boundary and tell it to your vampire. For example: “I will only help you pay rent once and then no more” Or, “If you come over unannounced again, we will not invite you in. Please call first.” Then stick to your boundaries.

These two simple plans will work. They will hold that bloodsucker at bay. It is not good for them or you for them to keep surviving as a parasite. I once had a friend who was relying on me for everything. The more I helped him out, the more his life went downhill so he needed more help. It was rides, then money, then a place to stay, then on and on. It was draining, but I naively thought I was helping. Finally I was encouraged to set up a boundary for him and cut him off. It was so hard to do. I felt like a jerk. But finally after saying “no” several times and sticking to my boundaries, he was able to get back on his own two feet. Now he has a good job and is self-sustaining.

You can do it too. Wearing garlic and carrying a wooden stake won’t work; instead, say “no” and set up boundaries. Then, in love, you will kill your vampires.

Part 3: Zombies.

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Oct
21
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Halloween is just around the corner. When a girl dresses as a fairy princess and a boy as man-with-axe-in-head. When kids fill sacks with enough candy for a small nation (hey at least pediatric dental is provided under Obamacare!). In light of Halloween, I thought it would be good to focus on us adults. And not about the fact that we watch movies that make us need a change in underwear. Nor how a costume for an adult female now just takes any normal occupation and adds “sexy” as the modifier (yet there’s never a “sexy plumber”). Over the next few weeks I will write about how the real monsters are actually ourselves.

First up: werewolves. Whether you think of the dark creature from Grimm’s Fairy Tales, a young Michael J. Fox, or a hunk from Twilight (did you know there is a section in bookstores called Teen Paranormal Romance--I wonder if Dewey put that in his Decimal System?), we all know what a werewolf is: A seemingly normal human being who is triggered by a full moon and transformed into a raging, ferocious wolf. Now look inward. Don’t we all turn into werewolves at some point? Whenever that thing happens you get furious. When that person is around you can’t contain our anger. When that topic comes up in a conversation you fly off the handle. When you are triggered you turn into an uncontrollable monster.

I remember playing sports with a guy in college. He was nice...until he started losing. Then he would yell. Throw stuff. Cuss people out. His trigger was losing. Like that guy, people have a trigger that sets them off. And when you’re set off, you become a werewolf.

Let me tell you something. It’s not okay. Don’t pretend like everyone does it or people should just learn how to leave you alone. No matter how you rationalize it, your rage is damaging yourself and the people around you. Now if you’re ready to kill the monster, try these steps:

  1. Determine your trigger(s). Is it a time? Like when Friday afternoon comes around you feel so exhausted that you treat your wife and kids terribly? Or is it a person? When your ex is around you say and do things you would never have otherwise? Or is it something else? People often have no idea what triggers there angry outbursts. Ask someone you trust to help. Think carefully and isolate the common link(s) between your outbursts.
  2. Delay your reaction. Try breathing exercises, or a short prayer, or leave the situation for a few moments. You will eventually delay your reaction so much that you can control it. Remember, there’s nothing wrong with being angry, but it is wrong to take it out on others.
  3. Uncover the deeper source of your anger. In reality, it isn’t your sister-in-law who makes you angry, it’s that her comments about your cooking leave you feeling hurt and insecure. So whenever you see her you blow up even when she’s silent. There always is an underlying reason for angry outbursts, and it takes time to reflect and find it. Discuss it with someone you trust. With men especially, angry outbursts may stem from depression. Women show their sadness, but men bottle it up and it bursts out at seemingly unrelated times. For example, you’re depressed because you feel undervalued at work, but you rage at home when your wife doesn’t say anything about your excellent yard work.
  4. Resolve the underlying source. Do you need to ask for forgiveness so your guilt won’t burst out in an angry tirade every time you see that person? Do you need to forgive yourself? Do you need to find peace with that thing you never got that you longed for all those years? Do you need to tell someone how much they hurt you? Do you just need to move on to a new job?

If you can make your way through these steps it may just be the silver bullet needed to slay the beast inside of you. Then the next “full moon” won’t send you howling. And all of us would be safer.

Part 2: Vampires.

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Oct
14
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There was a time in our nation when around 50% of the population attended church. Today that number by some estimates is down to 18%. This drastic change in the nation’s religious climate was linked in the 1960s with the sexual revolution, Vietnam, feminism, and other broad cultural changes. Starting in 1960s a sentiment has grown from a whisper to a murmur, to a dull roar: that the church must change or it will die.

People say that times have changed: That our advances in science have made a belief in miracles obsolete. That our modern sensibilities have rewritten sexual mores. That our technological improvements have replaced our need for faith. As Bob Dylan crooned, “The times they are a-changin’.” Therefore, Christianity must also change or go the way of the Dodo bird.

Of course some changes need to occur in relation to music, dress, language, etc. But the changes that many from outside and some inside Christianity call for are major alterations to central tenants of the faith: Modern sexuality embraced. Marriage redefined. Other religions affirmed as true. Talk of hell eliminated. Psychological methods approved as the only way to help people. A belief that God created the world left behind. “Fundamentalism” eradicated.

When modern people call for Christianity to change, what they really want is a completely different religion. They want the traditional, orthodox faith to disappear forever. There are a few like Christopher Hitchens, Timothy Tennet, and Bill Maher who are bold enough to say it aloud, but most would not dare say it that explicitly. Behind the calls for Christianity to change is really a call for a completely new religion.

Yet despite the predictions of its demise, we’re still here. The Church has existed for nearly 2,000 years and nothing has killed it off yet. Though Christianity had its heyday in Europe and in our own nation, in what is called Christendom, it wasn’t always popular. Christianity emerged in the Roman Empire, where it was outlawed and its adherents persecuted. Ancient Rome was completely hostile to Christianity and many believers were killed because of their faith. Yet like Bear Grylls always does, Christianity not only survived but flourished. It even became the official religion of the Roman Empire. Revisionist historians say that Christianity became popular because Constantine declared it the official religion, but Constantine declared it the official religion because he knew how popular Christianity had already become! He decided to get with the party in fear of losing his power like his predecessor Julius Caesar (Et tu Brute!). Even today Christianity is growing by millions of converts in places like China where they must meet in underground house churches since it is illegal for them to assemble.

Christianity grows even when the world is completely against it. And why should we think it would be otherwise? Jesus foretold it: “I will build my Church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it,” (Matthew 16:18). Despite changes in culture, technology, and public opinion, the Church Jesus established 2,000 years ago is still going strong. It will never be extinguished. We’re still here.

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Tags : Church, Culture

Oct
07
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“The world is rated R, and no one is checking IDs,” suggests N. D. Wilson in his captivating book, Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl.

I grew up in a church-going family. I remember few Sunday mornings (or Wednesday nights for that matter) when I wasn’t at church. Being raised in a religious family, like some of you I imagine, I did not get to do what friends my age did. I remember when Jurassic Park was all the rage, but I couldn’t go see it because it was PG-13 (yes, I’m young) and my parents said I wasn’t old enough to watch it. But all my friends got to see it! They even brought their lunches to school in Jurassic Park-themed lunch boxes with those sweet thermoses. I brought my lunch in a brown paper sack. That was just the beginning. There were movies and TV-shows I could not watch, words I could not say, and things I did not dare do, because my parents said so. Looking back, there was good reason behind my parents “sheltering” me from some things in the world, though at the time I didn’t always agree with them.

Those of you who grew up in similar households (or ran similars households) recognize that there is a strong desire from parents to protect their kids at all costs. So much so that parents will homeschool their kids, or hold them out of sex-education (which may be even more embarrassing than having to be in the class), or do similar things to protect their kids. This is a good desire. We must protect our children.

Yet no matter how hard we try to shelter our children at some point the world will break in. Or our children will break out and in their rebellion encounter a world that can be harsher than expected. We need to make sure they are prepared. Even if someone could completely shelter their child until they turn 18, when they start their first job, or head off to school, the world will often blindside them, and Michael Oher isn’t there to protect them. I’ve witnessed this happen and the effects can be devastating.

On average a child first encounters pornography at age 11. Pre-teens are now sexting with their peers. Drugs and alcohol are widely available in most high schools, if not middle schools. Grand Theft Auto V (which recently grossed $1 billion in sales in it’s first two days, making it the greatest entertainment launch in history) introduces teenagers to graphic violence and interactive lewd behavior. Though there isn’t a clear link between virtual and actual violence, kids have enough violence and bullying happening around them anyways. Plus, there are the inescapable tragedies of our imperfect world. You cannot shelter our children from everything. The world is rated R, and they will eventually see it.

The answer is not to open the floodgates with an anything goes mentality that allows young children to experience the rated R too soon. That would be borderline abuse. Instead we must train and prepare our children, gradually, to face the world head on.

Wilson finishes the above quote with this, “Do not try to make it G by imagining the shadows away. Do not try to hide your children from the world forever, but do not pretend there is no danger. Train them. Give them sharp eyes and bellies full of laughter. Make them dangerous. Make them yeast, and when they’ve grown, they will pollute the shadows.”

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Tags : Parenting, Sin

Oct
01
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One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin,
   but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.

Proverbs 18:24

We often admire those tough people who can pick themselves up by their bootstraps. We longingly want to be the type of man or woman who can face every hardship head on. We immortalize those with grit. In reality, we can’t do any of that on our own.

In the Lord of the Rings, Frodo is given a difficult task to destroy the one ring in Mount Doom. When Gandalf first tells him of the quest, he explains to Frodo that he needs people to go with him. Thankfully his friends, Sam, Merry, and Pippin are willing to go to, in fact they insist upon it. Merry voices their feelings, “You can trust us to stick with you through thick and thin--to the bitter end. And you can trust us to keep any secret of yours--closer than you keep it yourself. But you cannot trust us to let you face trouble alone, and go off without a word. We are your friends, Frodo.”

Isn’t that what a true friend is? The person you can trust not to let you do it on your own. Even when we think we want to be independent and tough, we need to realize it’s foolish to attempt to make it through by yourself. Even superheroes have sidekicks.

A friend who has the same faith as you is essential. For when you are facing hardship, they will push you towards God, not away from him. They will seek after you when you wander away into sin. We all need friends like that. And we want GBC to be church to be a place where friendships like that are normative. That’s why part of our vision here is to connect. We need each other. I think the Beatles summed it up well, “I get by with a little help from my friends.”

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Tags : Church, Friends

Sep
23
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I have now officially been a pastor for two years. I love my church so much. But it’s far from perfect.

Growing up I went to several different churches and this continued when I went to college or seminary. Each church I attended was a different denomination: E-Free, Congregational, Nazarene, Assemblies of God, etc. I’m really a denominational mutt. It might surprise some of you, but of the seven different denominations of which I have been a part, only one was Baptist. Yet in attending all these different “brands” of church, I never found once a perfect church.

When I was younger I naively thought of the things I would do differently if I were pastor and I day-dreamed of forming the perfect church. But now that I have led a church for two years, I can say without any hesitation that our church isn’t perfect (cut to half of Gibbon nodding their heads). In reality, there are no perfect churches.

I talk to many people who are “church shopping.” They move from church to church seeking music that appeals to their ears, a children’s program that entertains their kids, a pastor that has a pleasant personality, or simply a church with some decent coffee. In Denver, it was especially bad. With such an extensive menu of nearby churches, Denverites would find one they liked and stay for a few months or years, then grow bored and move on to find a new church. Yet people always seemed to have a deep theological reason for their moving on like “I just wasn’t getting fed.” Though there are definitely reasons why you should leave a church, I think you should ask yourself, am I looking for the perfect church? Then stop. For the perfect church is like sasquatch, Atlantis, El Dorado, megalodon, and Miley Cyrus’ talent: a few people claim to have seen it, but we all know it’s not actually there.

Charles Spurgeon once said of the church, “You that are members of the church have not found it perfect…” Ain’t that the truth! Then he goes on, “...and I hope that you feel almost glad that you have not. If I had never joined a church till I had found one that was perfect, I would never have joined one at all! And the moment I did join it, if I had found one, I should have spoiled it, for it would not have been a perfect church after I had become a member.” That’s right: even if you found a perfect church deep in the Himalayas, don’t go...you’d ruin it.

Yet in spite of the imperfections and flaws inherent in the church, Spurgeon said, “Still, imperfect as it is, it is the dearest place on earth to us.” Are you looking for a perfect church? Might as well give up the search now. There already is the “dearest place on earth” ready and waiting for you. Just go already.

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Tags : Church

Sep
16
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Hawaii. Alaska. Croatia. England. These are just a few of the places my “friends” on Facebook have traveled to in the past month. There are some great advantages to social media, yet there are downsides too. One is the feeling that my life isn’t quite exciting enough. For those of you online, you know what I mean. When you scroll down your Facebook news feed you are bombarded by a barrage of exciting trips, exhilarating dates, fun parties, and rollicking adventures.

It is enough to make us begin to wonder if we’re missing out. We want to know why our life is so dull. We question whether we are living the way we ought. Where is my adventure?

The more I’ve thought about this I’ve realized that people only share online the most exciting events of their lives; the dull, the rote, and the mundane are left out. Who would blog about brushing their teeth, tweet about going to the bank, or instagram themselves sitting on the john? Well I’m sure there are some--but those are the people we quit following! People only post the extraordinary. We may think the adventurous life of our “friends” is their normal, but in reality it is out of the ordinary by definition. Couple that with the fact that we are “friends” with more people than we would normally interact with, and it makes sense why many of us have this feeling that we are missing out.

But the true adventures are not the ones we seek, they are the ones thrust upon us. In JRR Tolkien’s The Two TowersSam and Frodo begin to doubt whether they will succeed in their quest and Sam remarks to Frodo: "We shouldn't be here at all, if we'd known more about it before we started. But I suppose it's often that way. The brave things in the old tales and songs, Mr. Frodo: adventures, as I used to call them. I used to think that they were things the wonderful folk of the stories went out and looked for, because they wanted them, because they were exciting and life was a bit dull, a kind of sport, as you might say. But that's not the way of it with the tales that really mattered, or the ones that stay in the mind. Folks seem to have been just landed in them, usually–their paths were laid that way, as you put it.”

For everyone in the world, including you and me, God planned the exact time and place where we would live in (Acts 17:26). So instead of wondering if you are missing out on someone else’s adventure, realize that God has “laid a path,” in the words of the hobbit, for you. You don’t need to seek out an adventure, the real adventures are the ones we “have been just landed in.” God has a thrilling quest planned for each of us. Perhaps your life already is the real adventure, and you haven’t even realized it yet.

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Tags : Faith

Sep
09
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I was called to pastor here in Gibbon a week after I turned 24. I was young. I still am young. Before I began I had a man look me straight in the eyes and ask, “Are you prepared to be a pastor? Are you prepared to pray over my grandchildren when they’re born? Are you prepared to officiate when my daughter marries? Are you prepared to bury me in the ground?” With that simple line of questioning he exposed how important God is in every moment of life. From birth, to marriage, to death--and everything in between, faith in God is truly a matter of life & death.

Two Saturdays ago I officiated the wedding of a lovely couple. Their anticipation brimmed over into a joy that was infectious. Though we focus on the “witnesses” it is truly God who blesses us with this union.

The next day a baby decided to sing at the top of his lungs in church. I noticed because it was after our time of signing. Parents often rush the infant out or are worried what others think. They often apologize for the “interruption,” but I love that sound. Children truly are a blessing from the Lord.

That same Sunday morning a woman who I came to know and love was at church on Sunday morning, smiling and encouraging as always. That night she passed away. When I received the phone call I thought they gave me the wrong name. Even death teaches us to long for the presence of God in heaven.

O that we were like David who prayed, “Show me LORD, my life’s end / and the number of my days; / let me know how fleeting my life is.” (Psalm 39:4). There is wisdom in learning to number our days (Psalm 90:12). If we rightly understood the fleetingness in life it would completely alter our lives. And I don’t just mean to “live like you were dying” though we can all be thankful to Tim McGraw for making that concept popular. What I mean is that were we to actually think about and talk about death it would completely change us.

Were we to view all of life realizing that our lives are short, that every moment is a gift, that new life is precious, marriage beautiful, death inevitable--were we to have that perspective God would be much more important to us. For we would learn to be filled with thankfulness to God at the moments we do have, for who are we to expect these blessings? And we would learn to prepare for the end, for despite our best efforts at science and technology the death rate is still 100%. We would long for the assurance of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a german pastor who was hung for his part in a plot to assassinate Hitler, when he said, “This is the end, but for me is the beginning of life.”

Were we to see the importance of God in every moment of life it would change everything.

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Tags : Pastoring, Death

Sep
02
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People set aside a morning (either Saturday or Sunday) every weekend to sit with a crowd for an extended period of time in spite of the uncomfortable seats. They stand up and sit down, then stand up again. They sing songs together. Some of the more fervent ones shout out their own comments. There are moments when they wait intently. Sometimes they are bored and “rest their eyes.” They have a little something to eat and drink. They develop a camaraderie with those around them (though sometimes they get upset at each other). They feel nostalgic for the good old days. Then they get back in their cars and go home.

Now did I just describe your experience attending a worship service, or did I just describe a visit to the football stadium?

When I ask, “Where will you worship this fall?” I don’t just mean what church/synagogue/mosque will you attend, though that may be the case. I mean, where will you worship.

Do you know what worship is? According to Merriam-Webster, to worship is to: “regard with great or extravagant respect, honor, or devotion.” I like to say that worship is giving your heart over to something. And Jesus said that where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Matthew 6:21). So you worship what you treasure--what you value the most. For many Americans, especially Nebraskans, that’s football.

A good way to see what you are worshipping is by looking at three things: your heart, your wallet, and your calendar. Heart: If you are happier after the first TD of the season than you were on your wedding night but in the pits of depression when you lose another bowl game, you might worship football. Wallet: If you would give up multiple meals to keep your NFL Sunday Ticket and watch every game or you would take out a second mortgage on your house to purchase season tickets, you might worship football. Calendar: If you missed the birth of a child to attend training camp or you spend more hours researching the stats of redshirt freshmen than you do working in a given week, you might worship football. You could look at these three areas in relation to a lot of different people/things. For the next four to five months in our state the most common thing people worship is football and the most likely place to worship is in a stadium.

The problem with football is that it makes a lousy god. It doesn’t love you back. It always lets you down. It never satisfies. It leaves you miserable more often than happy. Football is fun. I enjoy watching it, playing it, and talking about it. But it doesn’t deserve to possess all my heart, time, or money. It doesn’t deserve worship.

The theologian John Calvin once wrote that the human heart is “a perpetual forge of idols.” In other words, we are always making something to give our hearts over to, spend out money on, and devote our time to. We will always be worshipping something. So don’t just stop watching football. (Heck, I always like watching my Broncos in spite of their recent arrest/injury/PEDs/you-name-it problems.) Instead choose something or someone who truly deserves your worship. Choose Jesus. And hopefully I’ll see you worship in church this fall.

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Tags : Football, Worship

Sep
01
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I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.

Jesus to Peter, Matthew 16:18b

Have you ever asked, “What would be different if our church didn’t exist?” Or, “If Gibbon Baptist disbanded tomorrow, what would our community miss about us?” Challenging, right? The answer to these questions reveals a couple of things: First, it uncovers where our church already makes the biggest impact for the Kingdom. Second, it unearths where we have not fulfilled our purpose to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world (Matthew 5:13-16). We believe GBC’s new Vision will help address both of these areas: to bolster our strengths and to further our mission.

Earlier this year, a team from our church met for six months to study the Bible and pray diligently to seek God’s will for our church. Through our efforts God led us to a fresh way to capture the direction God is leading us. It is three simple words: Grow. Build. Connect. These three words are memorable because is the same initials as our church, GBC.

Last year we engaged in a similar process to revise our mission statement to what we have now: “Glorifying God through worship, discipleship, & service.” So you may wonder, how does this Vision fit it? Let me explain: Our mission statement is universal and could be transplanted to any other church, but our Vision is specific to our church in our time and place. Moreover, Vision is what God is leading us to do that we alone are called to do. Vision is what we see God doing in us and among us as we move into the future. Another way to think about it is that Mission is the "what" (what we exist to do); Vision is the "how" (how we accomplish that mission). So it answers the question, 'How will we glorify God through worship, discipleship, & service?'

The way we will aim to fulfill God’s mission is through “Grow. Build. Connect.” Our dream is that everyone in our church will grow to be more like Jesus, that each will build our community up in dynamic ways, and that all will connect in formative relationships with believers and strategic relationships with unbelievers that the Kingdom might expand. These three concepts will effectively further God’s mission to seek and save the lost here in Central Nebraska and move our church forward into the exciting chapter God has ahead of us. Can’t you just imagine how what God might do in us and through us? We will witness lives transformed, our community strengthened, and our church intensely committed to one another.

If you want more clarification or are unsure what any of this means that’s okay. It’s new. Therefore, through the first three weeks of September we will take a break from our “Real Jesus” series to look at God’s Vision for our church in a series called (you guessed it) “Grow. Build. Connect.” See you there!

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Tags : Church, Vision

Aug
26
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What do you picture when you think about hell? Maybe you visualize immense caverns filled with flames and lava pits. Perhaps you see a horned devil wearing red satin pajamas carrying a pitchfork and commanding his flying minions--shrieking demons that swoop around like giant bats. You may even conceive of Dante’s seven levels of an increasingly deplorable inferno, with lawyers of course trapped for eternity in the third tier (along with whoever thought putting “Teen Mom” on TV was a good idea). Possibly you imagine a hooded man reaching out his skeletal hand to collect the toll to cross the River Styx and enter the underworld.

Yet almost all of these ideas do not come from the Bible. They come from superstition, folklore, and mythology. Most of the nonsense we see in TV and movies showing us hell is not ever found in the Bible. The caves, the goat-like devil, and his flying demons all are passed down through medieval superstitions. The concept of multiple levels of hell comes from Dante Alighieri's 14th-century epic poem. Even the boatman over the River Styx is straight out of ancient Greek mythology.

So what does the Bible actually say about hell? Well Jesus tells us that it was created by God primarily for the punishment of the devil and his angels, yet it is also one of the two eternal destinies all humans face (Matthew 25:41). Jesus describes it as a place of “unquenchable fire” (Matthew 3:12). Elsewhere he calls it the “outer darkness” (Matthew 25:30). Yet how could there be flames without any light? It is for this reason, that many believe that hell is not literally filled with flames. Instead this language is metaphorical, figuratively pointing out that hell will be that awful. Indeed, the Bible describes it as a place of conscious punishment, as depicted in one of Jesus’ parable (Luke 16:22-24), and in the book of Revelation (Revelation 14:9-11). Jesus several times calls hell ‘Gehenna’ (Matthew 5:22). Gehenna was a real place, the Valley of Hinnom, an ancient locale where evil people sacrificed their own children to pagan gods (Jeremiah 7:31-32). Though we may not get a visual depiction of hell in the Bible, it sounds like a terrible place.

Now you might be thinking, “How could the God who “is love” ever send someone to that wretched place?” But God is just: the punishment fits the crime. God never doles out a punishment that is excessive. Humans who are cast out into the outer darkness receive exactly what they earned.

The philosopher Thomas Aquinas explained it this way: “The magnitude of the punishment matches the magnitude of the sin. Now a sin that is against God is infinite; the higher the person against whom it is committed, the graver the sin—it is more criminal to strike a head of state than a private citizen—and God is of infinite greatness. Therefore an infinite punishment is deserved for a sin committed against Him.” In other words, if you deck me in the face, you might get a fine, but if you punch the president (after you are spear-tackled by the secret service) you’d be tried for treason and face a lengthy stay in a maximum security prison. Then take that and times it by a billion, for God is the creator of all things, the one who deserves all glory and obedience. Therefore, every time we sin against God (which we do all the time in thought, word, and deed and by not doing the things we should do) we deserve an even higher punishment--hell.

Hell is likely not what you first imagine it to be like, it is probably much worse. Thankfully, there is someone who faced hell for us. Thankfully there is Jesus.

Part 1: Can There Be True Justice in this Life?

Part 2: Your Heaven Sucks!

Part 3: Different Than You Think; Worse Than You Imagine

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Tags : Hell

Aug
19
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Source for picture

A 2003 Harris Poll discovered that 84% of Americans believe in the survival of the soul after death. Of those people who believe in the afterlife 63% expect to go to heaven, 6% expect to go to purgatory, 11% expect to go somewhere else (to haunt their alma-mater perhaps?), and 18% don’t know where they’re going. That leaves just over 1% who believe their soul is destined for hell.

Yet Jesus said, “Wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matthew 7:13-14). If he was right, then there will be a lot more people getting their rump roasted in the fiery furnace than would have imagined beforehand. So this leads us to the question: who is going to hell?

Most people I’ve talked to say something along these lines: you go to heaven and escape hell if throughout your lifetime you do more good than bad. This judgment involves character as well. For if a person has a “good heart” (whatever that means) they will likewise make it through the pearly gates. Basically people imagine a Judge with a giant scale in the clouds weighing each person’s life as a sort of entrance exam. Also, people tend to believe that our deeds get compared to others...“Hey, at least I didn’t do what that person did.” They somehow instinctively see God grading on a curve like on one calculus test I took (I got an ‘A’ even though I only got 46% of the questions right--thankfully most everyone else did worse!). In this widely accepted view of the afterlife, only the most awful criminals (the Ariel Castros, Hitlers, and Stalins that we spoke of last week) would get their butts deservedly exiled to hell.

But let’s follow the logic of this perspective to the end. If each person who committed some sins but had a “good heart” can get their own mansion in the golden city, wouldn’t heaven suck? For wouldn’t they just keep doing what they’ve always done?

Think about what you want heaven to be like: You wouldn’t want petty crime in your celestial neighborhood. Even a neighbor kid teepeeing your dream house would make heaven seem pretty aggravating. There certainly would be no lying and cheating spouses. If that were to happen in heaven, it just wouldn’t be heaven, would it? In our heavens, there would be no drunken driving leading to accidents. If people continued to lie, cheat, and steal, heaven would cease to be heaven, it would just be earth 2.0.

If we were to open up heaven to anyone who has a ‘good heart’ it would be almost the exact same thing as earth (minus the worst criminals). If your heaven is just earth as we know it but you get wings, I’m saddened for you. For heaven to be the perfect haven that we long for, it’s gotta be perfect. Meaning it’s made up of perfect people who never even commit minor sins. That’s why the standards for heaven are so high. If heaven really is to be a place where there is no more sickness, sorrow, pain, and death, only perfect people are allowed. One bad apple slipping in would ruin it for the rest of us. In fact, anyone who refused to abide by the perfect rules of heaven would have to be sent somewhere else.

But I don’t think heaven sucks. There is a higher standard than our arbitrary and subjective judge in the sky. I believe the Bible is right when it says we must be perfect to be in the presence of God the Father.

In the end, there will be a lot more people going to hell than would expect to be there. For as it says in Romans 3:23, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” We all deserve to face hell according to God’s perfect standards. Yet instead of lowering the standards like we selfishly desire, and making heaven suck, perhaps there is some other way to meet God’s standards. Perhaps we need someone to stand in our place and face hell in our place. Perhaps we need someone to change us into the perfect people we need to be to get into heaven. Perhaps we need Jesus.

Part 1: Can There Be True Justice in this Life?

Part 2: Your Heaven Sucks!

Part 3: Different Than You Think; Worse Than You Imagine

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Aug
12
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This past week, Ariel Castro, the Cleveland school bus driver who pleaded guilty to the kidnapping and abuse of three young women that went undetected for more than a decade received his sentence. For the heinous crimes he committed against multiple innocents, the judge sentenced him to life in prison plus 1,000 years with no opportunity for parole.

Have you stopped to think about the length of his sentence? Were the 53 year old Castro to live a long life, say till he was 93, his total punishment would be 1,040 years. That is a long imprisonment. I would guess that many feel like he deserves longer even if he were to live for an entire millennium. But the problem is that he won’t live that long. He might not make it past 76, which is the average lifespan of an American male. And few would contend that 23 years in prison would be just punishment for the depraved crimes he perpetrated.

Though many might use this as the basis for an argument supporting the death penalty, that is not what I’m getting at. In my eyes, even a cruel and unusual death (prohibited by our bill of rights) would not bring justice to this situation. This is the reason why that Cleveland judge and the watching world all clamor for life plus a lengthy amount of time. For the most heinous of crimes, even a life in prison feels to us like the criminal is still getting away with something. It seems too lenient.

For those who believe life is all there is, death is an infringement on justice. For if there is no afterlife, no punishment could ever bring to justice to someone like an Ariel Castro, or a September 11th terrorist, or an Aurora movie theater killer. The victims would not receive the justice they deserve. Justice would not prevail. For the criminal would have an escape. Socrates once wrote, “If death were a release from everything, it would be a boon for the wicked.” I think he was right.

Though people like to treat it as old fashioned belief and it is no longer in vogue to preach on it (was it ever?), hell is something that our hearts know is necessary for true justice to occur. I’m not saying people want to go there or even want to send others, but most of us know that there must be some form of conscience punishment after death for the worst offenders if there is to be justice.

In one poll 69% of the United States public said they believe in hell. Yet I think we all long for true justice that nothing in this life could bring. I think at our core, we all want there to be a hell, or a purgatory, or a worse reincarnation, or some extra punishment for the worst criminals. Therefore, for the next few weeks, I will be writing about perhaps the most unpopular doctrine in the Christian faith: Hell. And please, don’t say, “to hell with that.” For where then would there be true justice?

Part 1: Can There Be True Justice in this Life?

Part 2: Your Heaven Sucks!

Part 3: Different Than You Think; Worse Than You Imagine

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Tags : Justice, Judgment, Hell

Aug
01
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Not too long after moving out from under my parents roof I was broke. The money I had saved up disappeared quickly. Like the young bird putting his wings to the test, I fell before I could fly on my own. I quickly got a minimum wage job serving and cleaning up after unsanitary college students in a dorm cafeteria. My financial situation was dire and I needed some help just to survive.

I remember one rough patch: My Jeep Cherokee got a flat. I changed it out for the spare. Then I drove five feet and found out it too was flat. When I finally arrived at the tire shop things got worse. There wasn’t just one nail in the tread (easily repairable) there was a second one in the shoulder (irreparable). So I had to buy a new tire. Then they informed me that they stopped making the size of tire I had on the other three axles. (Of course.) So I was forced to buy a second tire opposite the new one so as not to throw my alignment out of whack. I had already planned out how I could stretch my meager dollars to simply survive (heck I only had $20 for groceries a month!) and my budget did not include “new tires.”

Some of you have been there: wondering how you will survive until the next paycheck, being afraid to crunch the numbers to see how much you’re in the red, or figuring out how you can pay next round of bills (which is when the car/dishwasher/heater breaks down!).

The only way I survived those tough years was through the generosity of others. My dad offered to pay for the tires. My roommates gave me rides when I couldn’t afford gas. A friend even helped me build a bicycle from recycled parts so I had cheaper transportation. My uncle offered me a short-term job and paid me handsomely so I could afford rent when my dorm job was on hiatus for Christmas break. Without others sharing with me what they had I don’t know how I would have made it through.

When God gave laws to his nation Israel he included some about sharing. For instance Leviticus 23:22 commands, “When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and for the foreigner residing among you.” (See also Deuteronomy 14:19-21.) God wanted farmers and producers to leave a remnant of wheat/grapes/corn/etc. behind so the poor & the foreigners could harvest them and have a little something to live on.

Though we don’t live in Ancient Israel and we are not under this law, this principle is still valuable. Basically, if we allow those in need to come behind and take a little for themselves everyone would have enough. Even if you’re neither Jewish or Christian, this principle is still good.

Yet unlike Ancient Israelites, most of us don’t own a farm or vineyard. Even those who do have advanced combines that harvest every last kernel of corn (plus no human eats the corn most local farmers grow). So we have to find new, creative ways to apply this principle today--to share what we have with those who have less.

There are many in our communities who are in these financially difficult places. The poor and the foreigner still reside among us. And I challenge you to share with them out of the compassion in your hearts.

Coming up on Saturday August 3rd, Gibbon Baptist is hosting a creative event to help our community share. We’re not doing it all ourselves. We’ve teamed up with many local businesses and producers. We will give away 2000 lbs of pinto bean, 1000 lbs of rice, other foodstuffs, produce from local gardeners, and basic household items. We know there are people in tough situations among us. We also know there are some generous people among us too. That’s why we’re calling the event “Harvest Bonanza! A Celebration of Sharing.” It will last from 10AM to 2PM (or let us know if you can’t make it and we will bring you a box). We want EVERYONE to come share lunch with us no matter your financial situation, because sharing is not just something worth doing, it’s something worth celebrating.

Update: We gave away 2,000 lbs. of pinto beans, 1,000 lbs. & over 6,000 lbs. of canned/boxed food items, plus lots of household goods and fresh produce. Over 215 people came and were helped and over 100 ate lunch. It was a huge success!

A big thank you to our generous sponsors: Gibbon Family Dental, Adams Corner Market, Dan & Cheryl Clevenger, Kearney Walmart, Kearney Target, Rendencion Eterna, HR Poppin' Snacks, IronRescue.com, Garcia Farms, Gibbon Pack, Exchange Bank, Cornerstone Bank, Landels, CSS Farms, Codner Realty, Gibbon Insurance Connection, Gibbon Public Schools, NCTC, Gibbon Chamber of Commerce, & Gary Stubbs.

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Tags : Mission, Event

Aug
01
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The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say,
‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’

Matthew 11:19a

August marks the beginning of the school year and with it sports, academics, clubs, and more. This not only drastically changes life for the many kids and teenagers, but it also alters things for teachers, administrators, & support staff. Perhaps most impacted are the parents. My question to you is: “How will you leverage this new school year for God’s Kingdom?”

I want to encourage you to use the new interactions you will have with people to see those who are far from God find him. For we long to see people redeemed out of sin, find eternal life, and true joy. To do this we must first befriend sinners. And we ought to learn from the best: Jesus.

Jesus shared meals with unbelievers. He ate and drank with them. He went to parties at their houses. He was described as a “friend of tax collectors and sinners,” in fact he was accused of this by the religious people of his day. Jesus is the perfect embodiment of living out God’s mission to save sinners.

Six Ways to Befriend Sinners & Bring Them Closer to God:

  1. Position yourself to have regular interactions with non-Christians. Some of you already do this. Keep it up! Don’t get too busy (even with good church stuff) that you neglect these relationships. Others who feel like all their friends are Christians should join a club, become a regular at a coffee shop or restaurant, volunteer somewhere, or do your hobby with non-Christians.

  2. Develop a genuine interest in their lives. God gives his common grace to all people. There are things we can & should learn from everyone. Ask lots of questions. Don’t worry about how interesting you are; find out what makes them tick. If you ask enough questions soon you will discover something that gets a person really going. Talk about that and learn from them.

  3. Connect with them in an authentic relationship. Truly seek the other person’s good. Don’t just view them as an evangelistic target. Share some of yourself as well. Don’t pretend to be perfect.

  4. Share a meal with them. Go to lunch with a co-worker. Invite them & their family over for a barbeque. Don’t underestimate the significance of breaking bread with someone. Jesus didn’t! Sharing food (especially in your home) is a powerful way to show love & respect. Even just inviting them over to watch the game with some appetizers is good!

  5. Invite them into our community. Invite someone to a church event or offer to take their kids to AWANA. Pick them up for church in the morning and make them feel comfortable. A small group meeting in a home is also a nonthreatening first step for many non-believers. Don’t just invite though, give them a compelling reason to come. Don’t say, “The preaching is good” or “there are nice people there.” Instead try, “God’s Word has changed ________ about my life” or “having a community that always look out for me has been so critical to my life.”

  6. Trust the Holy Spirit to transform lives. Though we plant seeds and water, it is God who makes things grow. Pray hard and trust God to change lives! Never give up on anyone.

I hope that you will look strategically to see how you might leverage this new school year for the Kingdom. And more importantly who you might invest in. Maybe then some would accuse you of being a friend of sinners.

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Tags : Mission, Missional

Jul
29
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The biblical Christian would contend that it doesn’t matter how dedicated or sincere a person is to their religion, if they don’t put their faith in Jesus alone, they will not make it to heaven. In a sense, it doesn’t matter how long or how much effort you put into pedaling, you’re not going anywhere on a stationary work-out bike. Yet today the media and our society has begun to look at this position of exclusion as intolerance. If I claim that my faith is the only true path, they would say I am showing intolerance to other faiths. So is it possible to show tolerance while holding on to an exclusive belief system?

I would say that the answer is yes. Our nation is built on this principle!

The United States was established in part so that people from various religious traditions could coexist and thrive even though each believes he or she is right. Therefore, when I encounter a Muslim who says that I will not make it to heaven, I understand! I think the same thing about him. I would expect him to desire for me to confess Allah as god and Mohammed as his prophet. I too want to tell him the good news about Jesus so that he might believe. This is not intolerance, it is true tolerance. With this we can surely coexist.

But this true tolerance has been distorted to mean something different. I had a professor in college who said that when someone holds onto their exclusive faith absolutely, it will always lead them to a “convert or die” mindset. While this has occurred in the past, and even in some places currently, holding onto an exclusive faith does not lead me or many others to declare “convert or die.” This same professor encouraged our class to move to promote not just tolerance, but affirmation. In other words, we must accept each other’s belief systems and affirm that what they believe is just as right as our own beliefs.

But when the term “tolerance” gets hijacked to mean “affirmation,” it actually leads to intolerance. Basically, when people declare that “tolerance” means we must accept and validate other faiths to the point of declaring all paths as equally good, it in turn is very intolerant to those of us who claim to know the only way to heaven. For if I must affirm another faith as equal to my own, then I am in turn declaring that my faith is not the exclusive path to heaven, changing a core doctrine of my faith. And when I deny a core doctrine of my faith, why is any of it worth living?

Dorothy Sayers, the British essayist, observed of this false tolerance: “In the world it is called Tolerance, but in hell it is called Despair…the sin that believes in nothing, cares for nothing, seeks to know nothing, interferes with nothing, enjoys nothing, hates nothing, finds purpose in nothing, lives for nothing, and remains alive because there is nothing for which it will die.”

It is not intolerant to believe an exclusive faith. Yet to hold tolerance as your highest virtue in the end is intolerable.

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Jul
15
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Not too long ago I found a huge chocolate egg from Easter hidden in the recesses of a kitchen cabinet. I love chocolate. So I gleefully anticipate sinking my teeth into it to discover what type of gooey goodness lay at it’s center. Would it be caramel? Nougat? Cherry? A man can dream right? So I delicately remove it from its foil wrapper and take a mouth-filling bite. But it was not the gooey goodness I expected. It was full of white, hairy, mold.

Unlike a fine wine, or our wives, some things do not get better with age.

So now that our church, Gibbon Baptist, is celebrating its 125th anniversary, I’ve asked the question, have we gotten better with age? Or are we getting moldy?

I’ve known some moldy churches. I preached once at a church in Denver whose pews were sparsely inhabited by 20 blue-hairs; the “youngest” was 75 years-old! And that wasn’t even the stale-est church I’ve been too! I’m sure many of you have attended a church and wondered if it were getting moldy. And I’m not talking about old buildings. I’m not talking about rising age of membership. I’m not even talking about diminishing numbers. The moldy churches are the ones who become stale in their mission...to love God and to love others.

Jesus told believers to be the “light of the world”(Matthew 5:14). So when a church doesn’t shine brightly in the dark places of the world--bringing hope to the hopeless & good news to the downtrodden--than it’s a shame. And many would say that it’s “Good for nothin.” They might be right.

Throughout its 2,000 year history, Christians have made a huge difference in our world. Many of the world’s greatest poets (Milton, Wordsworth), philosophers (Aquinas, Locke) scientists (Copernicus, Newton), political leaders (Washington, Adams) and social reformers (Wilberforce, MLK Jr.) were all Christians. Alvin Schmidt in his tome How Christianity Changed the World, points out that women in the western world received higher dignity, hospitals were started the world over, orphanages established, education was made more readily available, slavery abolished, and so much more was done because of Christians influencing the world. And this influence continues as Christians spearhead movements to eradicate human trafficking, quash extreme hunger, and provide access to clean water in the world’s remotest villages.

Christianity and churches do not need to grow stale. They don’t have to become worthless. They have had an impact and can continue to change the world for the better.

When I first came to Gibbon Baptist, a church 100 years my senior, I noticed right away that it is a church that continues to influence the world. We host a weekly AWANA club that reaches kids throughout the area. We feed dinner to those kids before AWANA each week. We’ve given away pie and ice cream cones. We’ve donated lots of time and money to serving the needy around the globe. We hosted the “Spudtacular” and (with the help of this community) got over 10,000 pounds of potatoes into the hands of those who needed them. And coming up on August 3rd, we’re gonna give away lots of food and groceries in an event called “Harvest Bonanza” (so keep your eyes open). And this is just the past two years! Think about the impact this church has had here over 125 years!

I know first-hand that this church is far from moldy. (We’ve even got a remodel in the works.) It is a vibrant place where Jesus is at work so that we can grow and continually build up our community. So please come and celebrate 125 years with us on Sunday July 21st. The celebration service will be at 10:15 AM, and a lunch will follow (find details at gibbonbaptist.org). If you have been impacted in any way by this church please come and celebrate with us! Don’t be afraid to take a bite, I promise we’ve gotten better with age!

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Tags : Church, Pastoring

Jul
08
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