Refreshing the hearts of the Lord’s people

Since I heard Bob’s sermon this Sunday, I have been thinking a lot about how we should respond to one another as a family in Christ. Hebrews 10:24 challenges us to “consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting with each other….but encouragine on another all the more as we see the Day approaching (NIV).”  This verse is one of the many that show us that church is so much more than worshiping on Sunday mornings. We are a family of brothers and sisters in Christ, and yes, many of us gather on Sundays to worship God together and learn from God’s Word.

But does church stop after that?

What the church does throughout the week is encourage each other as we all go into our lives and daily routines of work, family, responsibility and ministry. I think we can all agree that daily life includes many moments of struggle, temptation, challenge, and stress that can all too often cause us to miss the beauty and joy that we have in front of us.  We know that our lives are to be filled and defined by faith, hope, and love but we can’t get past the discouragement and pain that can dominate our lives. Sometimes we can even get so focused on “good” tasks and causes that we burn out, and our wells run dry. To avoid this, we must intentionally insert ourselves into each other’s lives so that we can point each other to Christ, remind each other of the great things God is doing in our midst, and encourage each other to stay strong in the faith.

Sounds refreshing doesn’t it?

Wouldn’t it be great if no matter how difficult life got, we always knew that we had an unshakable network of full of faith and hope to support us? I read Paul’s brief letter to Philemon this week and noticed that Paul encourages his friend by telling him “Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the Lord’s people”. (v.7 NIV). Wouldn’t it be amazing to be known as someone who refreshes the hearts of the Lord’s people? Wouldn’t it be amazing if you knew someone who refreshed your heart?

We all have long days, hard weeks, and difficult years. I know when I am in a rough patch, I need someone to talk to me about Jesus. Jesus is the author and perfector of our faith, He is the one who gives us abundant life, He is the one who makes our burdens lite, He is the healer, and the prince of peace.

We don’t have to wait until Sunday to talk to each other about Jesus.

How much thought do you put into your interactions with your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ? I know it might sound weird to be so strategic about your friendships, but we should really consider how we can intentionally encourage each other and remind each other of God’s grace and love in the middle of an ordinary day.  This is a very, very big part of what church is.

Jesus and Lazaras: Living Unbound

Then Jesus shouted, “Lazarus, come out!” And the dead man came out, his hands and feet bound in graveclothes, his face wrapped in a headcloth. Jesus told them, “Unwrap him and let him go!”  (John 11:43-44 NLT)

Jesus brings us out of death and into life. Out of darkness and into the light. That is a major theme of the John’s gospel and it is clearly on display here. Jesus wants us to live life abundantly (John 10:10), He wants us to be a new creation transformed by  God’s love (II Corinthians 5:17), and he wants us to be set free from our sins and the things that bind us (Galatians 1:4).

He wants us to live free, not all bound up in the things of this world.

Anxiety, insecurity, addiction, shame, fears that control us, loss, pain, and the deep wounds in our hearts can all cause us to be end up bound up. They make us like Lazarus, standing there alive but still looking like we are dead all wrapped up in our graveclothes. Jesus wants to set us free, he wants to see us unbound from the gravesclothes and set free from our burdens.

Take some time today and search your heart. Pour out to God in prayer the things that you feel are binding you up and keeping you from being fully alive.

And then ask Jesus to start unwrapping you.

Jesus and Lazarus: Being Present in the Moment

Last night at our weekly Fusion event I prepared a devotional message for the teens about the story of Jesus and Lazarus. I was so impacted in my personal study of the story, I ended up with a few things that I would like to share with you all here on the blog. This story unfolds in John chapter 11 and is the penultimate story of Jesus’ ministry before the events of “passion week”. If you haven’t read it in a while, I would encourage you to, it is a good one!

There is an unexpected lesson in this story, an almost hidden one, about the power of being present in the lives of those around us. It is contained in what is famously referred to as the shortest verse in the Bible (every child’s favorite verse to “memorize”), John 11:35 which in most translations simply says “Jesus wept”. Why is this so significant?

Earlier in the story we see that Jesus receives word from his friends, the sisters Mary and Martha, that their brother Lazarus (also a close personal friend of Jesus it would appear) had fallen so sick they were fearful he would die. Jesus is not shy about his intentions when he hears this news. He announces to his disciples and those around them that  “This sickness will not end in death” and “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am gong there to wake him up”. Apparently this caused the disciples to scratch their heads and ask Jesus why they couldn’t just wait for Lazarus to wake up from his nap on his own. So Jesus tells them in crystal-clear language “Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe”.

Jesus knew what he was going to do, and he even told everyone else. Lazarus is asleep (dead), I’m going to go wake him up in a way that will glorify God and strengthen your faith.

Even though Jesus knows the end result, that Lazarus will be raised from the dead, when he arrives at the home of his friends and sees their grief and their pain he is overcome with emotion.

And he cries with his friends.

Jesus could have easily dismissed their pain and mourning knowing full well the miracle that was going to take place in a few minutes. He e doesn’t hough, because Jesus is so present in the moment with his friends he responds to their immediate need: mourning their loss with a close friend.

As we follow Jesus, we could learn a lot about how present he is with the people around him. Jesus had distractions, tasks, and missions to accomplish each day just like us; but in this story we see the power of the ministry of presence in the present moment.

Let’s all challenge ourselves as we head into the end of our week and a busy weekend to slow down enough, put down our phones enough, relax the to-do list enough, to actually listen to those around us in the present moment. When we do, I know that the Holy Spirit will show us ways that we can have moments of ministry and service to others in small, seemingly random parts of the day.

If we will be quiet enough to listen. Listen to those around us, and listen to the still small voice of the Holy Spirit within us, showing us how to respond.

Ambassadors for Christ

This Sunday’s sermon about living as foreigners in our own world explained the reasons why God wants us to live this way. But what do we do once we have made the decision to live as citizens of heaven instead of citizens of this earth?

Become ambassadors of course!

If we are going to be foreigners in our own hometowns our job is to represent Christ in this world, just like a political ambassador represents their homeland while they are on assignment in a foreign country. We are on assignment too; and we have a very specific message to proclaim according to Paul in his 2nd letter to the Corinthians:

“…He has committed to us the message of reconciliation.We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God”

I have always found it amazing that God chooses to work through us. We are often inadequate, needy, and bumble through our days- but we are God’s chosen method for proclaiming His truth to this world. He is making his appeal through us! As ambassadors of the Kingdom of God in this world, the way we serve God is by proclaiming and living out His message. According to this passage in 2 Corinthians reconciliation is a very important part of the good news that God wants us to proclaim.

And it makes perfect sense if you think about it.

Is reconciliation really that valued in our culture today? What better way to show the world how amazing life in Christ is other than reconciliation? Our job is to be ambassadors of this new, abundant, joy and hope-filled way of living that we find in Christ. A life where the creator of all things has reconciled us to Him, no matter what we have done. In addittion, we believers in God are to seek reconciliation in our relationships with those around us. If God can love us even when we are at our absolute worst, how can we deny reconcilation to our brothers and sisters in this world? Our final goal as ambassadors is to help others in this world find reconciliation with God themselves. We can live our lives in a way that points others to the beautiful reconciliation with God that they may have never realized that they needed or never thought possible.

It really is an awe-inspiring calling. Too few of us who follow Jesus have embraced it.

This one isn’t easy- Following Jesus pt. 3

Being committed to following Jesus means being willing to love him above everything else in our lives.

That sentence is much easier to type than it is to live out.

There are times in the gospels where Jesus speaks in parables and metaphors and we can study and debate the meaning of His words together as a church. There are also times, where Jesus’ words are as plain as day and we run from them because the truth cuts deep. The key to following Jesus is found in Matthew 11:37-39, they are verses that expose the true nature of walking with Jesus and remind us that discipleship does not come without cost.

“Those who love father or mother more than me aren’t worthy of me. Those who love son or daughter more than me aren’t worthy of me. Those who don’t pick up their crosses and follow me aren’t worthy of me. Those who find their lives will lose them, and those who lose their lives because of me will find them”(CEB)

The first part of that passage seems almost mean and unfair if we are honest about our feelings. Is Jesus so demanding that we are going to be chastised for loving our families? Seriously!?

That isn’t the case at all though. Remember that Jesus created us humans and he had lived amongst humans for the better part of 3 decades when he said this, he knows us pretty well.  He knows that our spouses, our children, our friends are all gifts and blessings from God and that for many of us it very easy to slip into worshiping the gift more than the one who gave the gift.  He knows that we can make so many legitimate and wonderful things into idols.

Jesus isn’t telling us that we can’t follow Him if we love our families; He is telling us that when we love our families more than Him we put our hearts in a very dangerous place.  It is no coincidence that the next thing Jesus says is that we need to be willing to take up our own crosses (Just like Him) if we want to follow Him. I was reading an old Methodist devotional today that pointed out that when we think of taking up our cross we often relate that to enduring some tragedy or form of suffering ( serious illness in our families, financial troubles, inability to find work) that is completely out of our control. While those can be crucial moments when we make conscious decisions to trust in Jesus, it is important to remember that Jesus’ cross was something that He chose. That night in the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus begged God for a different path if there was any way possible. But, when Jesus heard from God he made the loving choice to take up the cross knowing it was a choice that would lead to pain, suffering, death,  and most of all hope and freedom for those that chose to follow his steps.

Friends, these are not easy things to discuss but they are so important. The cross we must pick up is a choice to live a life that is so drastically different from the life of this world that it is going to cause pain, suffering, death to ourselves, and most of all hope and freedom.  No one ever said giving up our lives would be easy, Jesus is pretty clear in this passage that it is not.  However, once the choice is made our chains are broken and we are free to live abundantly in Christ.  Think back to your family, the beauty of following Jesus is that when we put Him first we will be able to love our families more deeply and in a more God-honoring way than when we make them the sole object of our devotion.  When we submit our hearts and our lives to God, we learn that He can take better care of them than we ever could have with all of our controlling and worrying.

I am by no means an expert here. Just a fellow pilgrim on this journey sharing some deep-cutting truth God has been working on my heart with this week.  Take some time this weekend to examine your heart  and pray. Ask God to give you the strength and courage that it takes to make the choice to pick up your cross and follow Jesus. Then, dwell on God’s grace and God’s love for us. Remember that the cross is a symbol of God’s never-ending love for us and that He can’t wait for you to get closer to Him.

Looking for the other posts in this series? Here they are : Part 1  Part 2

God’s Wisdom vs. The World’s Wisdom- Following Jesus pt. 2


“Friends, this world is not your home, so don’t make yourselves cozy in it”

That is how the Message translation renders 1 Peter  2:11 and I think it conveys the point very well.Jesus challenged His followers to live a life in stark contrast to the way the people of this world live. He called us to live life upside down, putting others before ourselves. Unfortunately, it is pretty easy in our society to live more like the world than Jesus and still fit in pretty well in Christian circles. Getting cozy in this world is pretty acceptable these days, but it is not the type of life that Jesus wants His followers to live.  So how can we keep from getting too comfortable here? James (who was probably Jesus’ brother) gives us a great illustration in his short letter to the early Christians.

James reminds us at the end of chapter 3 that the world’s wisdom, the world’s way of doing life revolves, around two values: envy (or jealousy in some translations) and selfish ambition. If you think about it, these two ideals are at the core of wickedness and strife that we see in the world, and in our own hearts. Jealousy and selfish ambition crop up far too often in our personal relationships with friends and family, in our decisions, and are sometimes even encouraged in the workplace. In fact, I would go as far to say that our whole culture encourages selfish ambition. Success and security at any cost seems to be encouraged and rewarded more often than not. Don’t be seduced by the voice of this world, even if it sound reasonable. God’s wisdom looks very different. Here is what James says in 3:17

“But wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere.” (NLT)

That is the wisdom that people who follow Jesus value, and it is completely counter-cultural. It’s hard to yield to others in a world that teaches us to make sure we take care of ourselves first. It is hard to be gentle in a world that teaches us to always be strong and to make sure our point and our voice  is heard. It is hard to not show favoritism when there are so many people who clearly do not “fit in” with the way we live our lives.  But when we live like this, Jesus is glorified and not ourselves. That is the point. Followers of Jesus always point others back to the source of our hope, love, and joy. We are lights in this dark world because of Jesus, not ourselves.

Are greed, jealousy, and selfish ambition common motivating factors in your life? If they are you might be getting too cozy here.

Looking for part1? Find it here

Following Jesus pt.1

Following Jesus is what being a Christian is all about, it is what we are literally called to do. When Jesus was calling his first disciples he did not ask them to obey any certain list of commandments, adhere to any certain cultural or political beliefs, or to “fix” anything about their lives. He asked them to do something much more simple, and exponentially more challenging. He asked them to “follow him”.

This means that Jesus did not want people to just proclaim belief in him or casually observe him from a distance. Following Jesus mean accompanying him and working alongside him. It meant spending time on the things (and people) Jesus wanted to spend time on, and living life like Him. It meant living like Jesus to the point that we even take up our own cross. In Matthew 16 Jesus said “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.( NLT)”.

Following Jesus means letting go of ourselves to be more like Jesus. It means abandoning our selfish desires to live more like Jesus. One of my favorite Christian authors, Scot Mcknight says it best, “If you want to follow Jesus, you have to follow Jesus.”

So what does it look like to follow Jesus in practically in 21st century life? We will be exploring that more in-depth this week. For today though, spend some time in prayer and ask Jesus to guide you in becoming more like Him. What desires need to change? What do you need to let go of?

How do you know if you have had a successful day?

After church this week, my almost three year old son came with me back to my office while I packed up my things. Since my office is in the choir room there were a few other people in there with us, and one of the men in our choir got to over hear my son telling me about his major accomplishment for the day.

“I didn’t punch anyone today Dad! And! I didn’t push anybody!”

I told my son what a great job he had done and then looked over to the choir member and said “Wouldn’t it be great if life was still that easy? If all we had to do to have a successful day was to manage to not punch somebody?” We both laughed and went on with our day, but I continued to think about the conversation as we drove home in light of Bob’s sermon about Mary and Martha.

We allow our days to become so busy and complicated, for many of us it’s over good things like work and family. Unfortunately, our culture overvalues busy-ness and has all but made it a virtue. We all walk around talking about how busy we are all the time. I think this is because being busy makes us feel important and needed. It validates our self-worth to ourselves and those around us. Frankly, busy-ness is an idol to many of us. We put our schedule and our busy-ness before God in our hearts and practically worship it with our actions. When we give into the lie that busy-ness is not only acceptable, but mandatory for 21st century living we are conforming to the patterns of this world.

In Romans chapter 12 Paul writes “Do not conform to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is- his good, pleasing, and perfect will “(NIV). Let God set you free from the modern day schedules and way of living that we subject ourselves to. Let God be in control of your schedule and your to-do list and listen to His voice during the day so that you can know what His will for you is.

Our lives may always be more complex than feeling a sense of accomplishment because we managed to make it to the end of our day without hitting anybody, but I would like to propose something nearly as simple. At the end of your day if you have made space in your life to hear from God and been obedient to Him, than call your day a success. Let the simple indicator of success in your life be obedience to God, not your to-do list. You might be surprised at how full of joy your day can become!

When God writes your to-do list


It is amazing how fast I can fill up my to-do list each day. I can keep myself pretty busy without even trying very hard. It is very easy for my first thoughts of the morning to be, “Who do I need to call, what meetings do I have, what responsibilities do I have to plan for?”  It is way of life that makes you feel productive and meaningful, especially when many of the tasks are ministry related. Recently though, God has been reminding me that this isn’t quite the way that we wants me to look at my day.  James reminds us in chapter 4 of his letter to early Christian believers that it is really an act of pride to look at our day and say “I’m going to go here and do this, and then this or that will happen (that was heavily paraphrased).” When we live this way, It’s like we are passively saying to God that we have a better idea of how to spend our time than He does. Like even though we literally can not accurately predict what is going to happen in the next moment, we have a more comprehensive idea about what is going on down on this earth.

I was recently challenged in my Sunday school class (and the book Crazy Love that we are reading) to stop putting myself in charge of my daily schedule, and turn it over to God. This was a lesson God taught me awhile ago, but I really needed reminded. Does that ever happen to you  too?

I have been amazed at how different my day turns out when I take time in the morning, even if it is just a few quiet moments before I get out of my car, to tell God that I am His and that I want to accomplish His purposes in my life for that day. That act of submission, and the Holy Spirit’s gentle voice throughout the day, lead me into conversations and situations that I am sure I would have walked right on past on the way to my next to-do-list checkpoint otherwise.

So I want to encourage you to take the same challenge. Quiet yourself before God and actively let Him lead you throughout your day. Let Him show you the purposes that He has for you, that you would otherwise be unable to anticipate or too likely to ignore. This is an important part of Kingdom living.