Graduation or Golf?

Erin Hills 1
Erin Hills Golf Course

As you know if you read my articles regularly, I often find stories about sports or athletes that relate to elements of our Christian walk.  I’m a huge sports fan, so these stories just seem to stick out to me. 

Erin HillsThis week, the U.S. Open golf tournament is set to be played at Erin Hills Golf Course in Erin, WI.  Actually as I type these words, the tournament is already under way.  The U.S. Open, for those of you not familiar with golf, is one of the four annual tournaments that are classified as “Majors”.  These are the toughest tournaments of the year, with usually the toughest golf course set ups that truly test the skills of professional golfers that are good enough to earn their way in to them.

Majors have the most prize money and the most prestige for those that are fortunate enough to win them.  To win a major tournament is to set yourself apart from the rest of the golfing world.  That’s why the story that broke officially this morning is so special.  Phil Mickelson, otherwise known as “Lefty” because he plays left-handed, has won multiple majors over his 25-year professional career.  He’s won three of the four majors at least once.  But he’s never won the U.S. Open.  He’s come close, earning second place six times, but he’s never been able to win it.

He’s been playing professional golf for 25 years, which means that he is getting close to the end of his competitive prime, and will not necessarily have too many more chances to win this elusive tournament.  Yet, Phil officially withdrew from the tournament this morning before play started.  Why?  It wasn’t an injury.  It was so that he could attend his daughter’s high school graduation in San Diego, CA.  He waited until the last minute to withdraw, because there was a chance he could make it to his tee time if there was a weather delay, but once it was clear that there would be no delay, he withdrew.

Phil chose family over the chance to finally win the U.S. Open, not knowing how many more chances he will have at this tournament going forward.  And I applaud him for that!  I think it is incredible that he would make this choice.  He had been talking about this for a couple of months, so it’s not necessarily a huge surprise.  But then again, in the culture that we live in today, it’s refreshing to see someone choose his family over potential prestige and money.

Our society glamorizes work and “providing” for our family so much that it tells us that we should do anything and everything to get further ahead, for our family, even if that means taking valuable time away from our family.  Or, society tells us that we need to take care of ourselves and then our family comes second, only after we have done what we need to do to get to the top.

We even find this in those in ministry sometimes.  There is so much pressure to make sure you are taking care of the people of your church, visiting hospitals, showing up at every event, being on call 24/7 because you are doing what you have been called to do, that often the family suffers.  I get it.  We all should strive to make God first in our lives above anything else.  Doing ministry is often equated to putting God first.  But doing ministry as our job is not the same thing as keeping God first in our lives.  Whether we are in vocational ministry or not, as Christ followers there needs to be a certain order of priorities in our lives.  Something like this; God first, family second, career third.

That is what is so refreshing about Phil this week.  Sure, most people that have commented on the story as it broke officially this morning are commending him for it.  But honestly, there were some that were saying he made the wrong decision.  I don’t know if Phil is a Christ follower.  I’m not sure I’ve ever heard him discuss his faith.  So, I don’t know if he puts God first in his life.  But he at least gets the family and career stuff in the right order.

We can learn a lot from Phil this week.  Keep God first, absolutely.  But after that, your family should come way before striving to grow in your career.  Priorities matter.  He will probably get another chance at the U.S. Open.  He wouldn’t have gotten another chance to see and celebrate his daughter’s graduation.  Props Phil!  Well done.

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Betrayal

I was texting with a friend of mine back east this week.  I hadn’t had a chance to check in with her in a few weeks, and I could just sense something was wrong through some things on social media.  So I checked in on her.  I asked if everything was ok.  She had recently started dating someone, and I just had the sense that something bad had happened to that relationship.  And unfortunately I was correct.  He had ended the relationship with my friend, and she felt betrayed.  Her heart was broken, and she was still processing what was going on. 

We didn’t have a lot of time to chat at the time, but the whole situation got me thinking about betrayal.  I don’t know what it is, but there is just something in human nature that seems to make us betray one another.  If you have never faced the betrayal of another human being, I would count you very fortunate.  Even Jesus Himself was betrayed.  And that betrayal came from one of His twelve closest companions over the last three years of His life. 

My heart hurts for my friend.  She deserves so much better than what happened.  But the fact remains that we all face betrayals from time to time.  That doesn’t make it any easier to process them when they happen though.  Whether it’s a significant other turning their back on you, a friend spreading a rumor about something that you told them in confidence, a co-worker stabbing you in the back to get ahead, or whatever other betrayals you could imagine, being betrayed hurts.

Betraying others hurts as well.  And whether we want to admit it or not, as much as we have faced betrayals from others, we have probably betrayed someone ourselves at some point. Whether we wanted to or not.  That doesn’t make it right, but that is the reality of sin.  It makes this world that we live in broken.  And broken people treat each other horribly at times.  That’s where God’s grace comes in.  Through a relationship with Him, through the blood of Jesus, we can set aside that human nature, and strive to treat each other with love and respect. 

God will never leave us or abandon us.

That doesn’t mean that we will never sin or mess up again.  Of course we will, because we live in a broken world.  But that is no longer our default setting if we have truly given our lives to Jesus in being a Christ follower.  People are going to betray each other, and that hurts.  Pretty much everyone of us knows that firsthand.  But here is the best news of all.  God will never leave us or abandon us.  He will never betray us.  The author of Hebrews puts it this way in Hebrews 13:5; “Keep your life free from the love of money. Be satisfied with what you have, for he himself has said, I will never leave you or abandon you.”  He is quoting a passage from Deuteronomy 31, where God promised that He would never abandon His people.

Put your trust in God.  Give your life to Him.  Life will always be tough.  We will mess up, and we will hurt one another.  But we have a promise from God that He will never betray us!

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Pray for Me (That God will Shine Through)

Steal My Show

I normally don’t do this, but I’m asking publicly for prayer this morning.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful for prayer on my behalf anytime, but I just don’t ask for it (maybe I should do that more anyway).  But today is a little different.  Today is the eighteenth anniversary of the day my dad died.  I was fifteen at the time, so that means I’ve spent over half of my life without him now.

It’s always a hard day.  This year, however, is a little different only because this is the first year that I will actually be preaching on this anniversary.  I love preaching, and I know that my dad would be proud of me being in ministry.  My mom told me after I had accepted the call into ministry that my dad always said he thought I would be a minister (I had no idea he thought that).

Preaching is one of those things, though, that I need to be as clear headed as I can be.  Not because my sermon depends on me.  But I need to be able to step out of the way and allow God’s message to be what is heard. 

I’m sitting here in my office as I do my final prep time.  There is a little less than two hours from the start of our worship service, which means I have a little over two hours before I will be preaching.  The closer I get to that time, it seems the more I think about my dad.  So, I am asking you to join with me in prayer that I will be able to focus this morning, step out of the way, and let God’s message shine through.

As I type this, TobyMac’s song, “Steal My Show” come to mind.  That’s what I want to happen every time I preach or teach.  It’s not about me.  It’s about letting God shine through what He allows me to do.  If you aren’t familiar with the song, the chorus is as follows:

If You wanna steal my show, I’ll sit back and watch You go

If You got somethin’ to say, go on and take it away

Need You to steal my show, can’t wait to watch You go

So take it away

Thank you for your prayers, and let’s all ask God to steal our show!

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Let Me Be Honest

I’m usually a pretty easy going person.  At least I try to be.  And I try to have a positive outlook on things as much as possible.  Although, like I wrote here, I can get caught up in negative attitudes from time to time if I don’t watch myself.  So, I try to look for things to be thankful for.  I have so much.  A loving wife, good friends, family, a church family, and most importantly, a loving God full of grace. 

There are a few things in this world, however, that can instantly cause me to react negatively when I see them happen; children being abused, senseless acts of terrorism, people being taken advantage of, human trafficking; the list could go on.  But something that may seem small caught me off guard this week.  It made me realize that I cannot stand being lied to, or seeing a lie be told about something that I am a part of.

Actually, someone lying to me about something isn’t as big of a deal as someone lying about something that I am a part of and am passionate about.  I found out this week that someone blatantly lied about some circumstances that I was involved in within the past couple of years.  I know the truth about what happened, and have some suspicions about some of the other details.  But what I found out this week was no where near the truth.

I will not go into detail about what happened.  That’s not important.  Plus, I haven’t talked to the person involved, so it would not be right to put the detail out here.  But what I want to write about is integrity.  We have to have integrity, especially if we are going to claim to be Christ followers.  Speaking in truth is a big part of honesty.  Whether the truth is harsh or not, lying is worse in the long run.  And in the case that prompted this, the truth would not have been that bad.  Like I said, I pretty much knew what really happened when the situation originally took place.

Jesus spoke to the issue of telling the truth.  In fact, it is included in what He calls the two most important commandments.  Matthew 22:37-40 read;

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

I know the words “tell the truth”, or “don’t lie” are not included here, but the idea is there none the less.  These two commands that Jesus tells us are the two most important commands basically sum up the Ten Commandments.  Love God and love others is what the Ten Commandments are really made up of.  And one of the Ten Commandments is basically about lying.  Exodus 20:16 reads;

16 “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.

So, it’s right there in the Ten Commandments.  But Jesus speaks on this issue more than just here.  He speaks even more directly to this issue in what we call the “Sermon on the Mount”.  In Matthew 5:33-37, he speaks on the issue of using oaths to make an agreement with someone.  Basically, He makes the argument that you should not need to use an oath, because your yes should be yes, and your no, no.  This means that it should be expected that what you say about something is the truth.  And the only way that happens is if you are honest as possible about situations.  If you are caught in a lie, then it is going to be hard for that person to trust your word in the future.  The passage reads;

33 “Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’ 34 But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. 36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. 37 All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.

I write this more as a healing process for me.  I needed to get my thoughts out.  I needed to deal with some anger about finding a lie.  I have prayed for forgiveness of my anger, and I have forgiven the lie that I found out about.  But I also wanted to caution all of us.  As Christ followers, our honesty and integrity are paramount.  We are going to mess up and sin.  That’s unfortunate, but it’s also part of our human nature.  As much as we want to get rid of all the sin in our lives, it’s going to catch us from time to time.  But lying is something that we should be able to control, and again, without integrity and honesty, our witness to others is going to be damaged.  Let your yes be yes, and your no be no.

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Keep Your Focus

CleVs.Bos

Last Friday night, the Cleveland Cavaliers took a 2-0 lead in the Eastern Conference Finals over the Boston Celtics with an embarrassing 40+ point win.  Boston couldn’t do anything, and it looked as if they had just completely given up.  I, along with just about anyone that I heard say anything about the series assumed it was over.  Cleveland, who had won both of the first two games in Boston, was coming home and was going to easily win the next two games to sweep the series and go to the NBA Finals.  There was little doubt, especially since Boston’s star player had been ruled out for the rest of the playoffs due to an injury in the first half of game two.

The problem is that Cleveland seemed to take this for granted as well.  They seemed to just assume they had the series won, and it was going to easily fall to them.  And during the first half of game three on Sunday, that is exactly what seemed to be happening.  The Cavaliers took a commanding 21-pt lead at one point, entering halftime with a 16-point lead.  I actually stopped watching the game at that point, helping out with something else around the house.  I thought the game was over.

That is, until the fourth quarter started and I happened to glance at the game again.  That huge halftime lead had been cut to single digits.  So, I started watching the game again, hoping that the Cavs would hold on and start playing with some purpose again.  But that didn’t happen.  Boston, who looked completely out of the series and ready for the off-season fought back and hit a game-winning three-point shot with .01 seconds left.  LeBron James, who played the entire fourth quarter, went scoreless in it.  If you follow basketball at all, you know that is something that rarely happens. 

So what happened?  How did a team that was dominating the entire playoffs, and especially this series, give up a 21-point lead to allow Boston to steal a game in Cleveland?  It’s a pretty simple explanation, and it is definitely something that we, as Christ followers, can learn a lot from as well.  Continue reading “Keep Your Focus”

Community: Passionately Pursuing Jesus Together

A few days ago, I wrote about passions.  How as Christ followers, we should be passionate about following Him and carrying out our mission.  We can have other things that we are passionate about, but Jesus should be something that we undoubtedly have a passion in our souls for.  Around the same time, I came across an article that stated we should not rely on our passion for ministry, because passion can run out.  After reading the article in disbelief, I discovered that it was written by someone that I have never agreed with on anything that he has written, and his argument against passion is just added to the list.  Let me explain.

I do not mean to make lite of anyone’s profession when I say this.  But ministry and preaching every Sunday is not an easy thing to do.  If you haven’t done it personally, realize that you might just not understand what all goes into it.  And that’s fine.  Again, I’m not arguing that my job is any harder than anyone else.  But it is difficult.  And I don’t think I could do it week in, week out if God had not given me a passion for preaching His word.  That’s why I changed from Youth Ministry to Preaching, because God changed my passion.  I still really enjoy working with and being around teenagers.  But my passion is preaching His word week in and week out.  Without that passion for Jesus and for preaching His word, I don’t think I could handle all the demands that ministry and preaching have.

But that is not what I want to focus on in this post.  It was just something that got me thinking.  You see, in my last article about passion, I stated again that passion for Jesus and learning more and more about Him should be paramount.  I heard about a 12-year old this week that is doing just that, and it gave me a renewed hope.  Our Wednesday night Kid’s ministry lost one of our own a couple weeks ago.  His family moved out of state.  The last week he was here, we cancelled Adult Bible Study, and the Kid’s ministry along with myself threw him a going away party.  The teachers, on their own, got together and bought him a teen study Bible, we played games, and ate pizza.

My wife told me after this past Wednesday night that the Kid’s ministry must have really had an impact on our friend that left.  You see, the week before was spring break, and we don’t do any Kid’s programming that week.  But this past Wednesday, our friend who now lives in Michigan, called one of the teachers and asked if he could participate in the Bible lesson time over the phone.  Even better than that, we know that he was truly listening, as he was apparently answering questions after the lesson time.

Now, it is my heartfelt prayer that our friend can find a group to connect with in MI, not because we don’t want him in our group, but because he needs to be in a group that he can connect with face to face.  But the fact that he has been impacted enough to want to continue learning even over the phone is pretty incredible.  He has a passion building for Jesus in his heart, and it shows.

Passionately Pursuing JesusLet me ask you.  Do you have that kind of passion for Jesus that you would call so that you could be a part of a lesson?  Do you have a group of people that you have connected with so much that you would do anything you could to continue connecting with them?  That’s what the local church is supposed to be.  That’s why I love the idea of small groups, even if you’re in a church that could be classified as a small group itself. 

My wife and I have a group that meets at our house.  Right now, it’s just four of us, but we hope to expand that.  Actually, the prayer is that we can reach our neighbors through this group.  But for now, it’s just the four of us.  And I can tell you this.  I miss it terribly when something happens and we are not able to meet one week.  Sometimes we meet and just talk about life.  Other times we actually do a session of a Bible study.  Sometimes it’s both.  But here’s the thing.  We, as Christ followers, have been built to be in community.  And that community should be together more than just an hour or two on Sundays. 

Following Jesus passionately means finding a community of Christ followers to be connected with.  That’s why I have a passion for the local church as well.  The Church has a lot of flaws.  How could it not, it’s run on earth by flawed human beings.  But it is the Bride of Christ, and a community meant to help each other walk as Christ followers.  If you are in the Carlsbad area and don’t have a church that you gather with regularly, we would love to have you at Central.  If you are not in the Carlsbad area, please find somewhere that you can join a community of fellow Christ followers!

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The Most Loving Thing You Can Do…

There is a growing trend that I’ve been noticing for a while.  If you’re honest with yourself, you’ve probably seen it as well.  Some of you maybe have even gotten caught up in it.  I get it.  It’s easy to do, and our human nature wants us to believe it.  But I believe it is a dangerous trend that can end up hurting more people than we could ever help with it.  What is it?  It’s the idea that everything is alright, nothing is as bad as we could make it out to be, and in the end, God’s love wins. 

Let me say one thing before I go any further.  Yes, in the end God’s love wins, but not in the way that many are trying to argue now.  God wins in the end.  But for us that means we have to be in a right relationship with Him.  There are going to be those that, through their decisions, do not end up on the right side of eternity.  Jesus went to the cross for our sins, and it is through His blood that we have a chance at a relationship with God.  But that means making Jesus our Lord and Savior.  That means attempting to live the life that He has laid out for us.  That means loving others as our selves and becoming servants. 

There is a picture of a church sign that has been circulating through social media the past few days.  I’ve seen in pop up a few different times from different connections I have.  At first glance, I was all for it (even though I truly do have a disdain for church signs, because most do more harm than good).  It reads, “Just love everyone I’ll sort’em out later. —God”.  While I agree with this on the surface, I think there is a deeper meaning that people are trying to take out of this that, in the end, is just plain wrong. 

Love Everyone

Yes, we are supposed to love everyone.  I agree with that wholeheartedly, even though I understand that some people are just down right hard to love at times.  That’s ok.  God never said it was going to be easy to follow His commands, just worth it.  The deeper part of this, however, is a potential issue.  With society the way it is today, I see people taking this as saying “Never correct anyone, never disagree with someone, live with tolerance, even if they are doing something that is completely opposite of what the Word of God says.”  In other words, there is no right and wrong, so just love each other and God will sort it out in the end.

Here’s the problem with that.  If someone is going against the very Word of God, and you don’t try to help them see where they are wrong because you love them, that is the very opposite of love.  And that is where I am afraid our society is heading.  There are differences in how we need to react to others depending if they are fellow Christ followers or not.  I’ve written here before about how we can never expect a culture that doesn’t claim to follow Jesus to live by the morals that we try to live by.  And that is very much true here as well.  Pointing out to someone that they are not living according to the Bible when they don’t claim to be trying to follow Jesus is not the best way to go about this.

But think about it.  You wouldn’t let someone walk into the path of an oncoming bus that they didn’t see just because they don’t see it would you?  That’s why we need to be building relationships with others and introducing them to Jesus.  If not, they are just walking into the path of destruction. 

PennPenn Jillette is one of the members of the duo better known as Penn and Teller.  They have a very famous show in Las Vegas, where they perform regularly.  Penn is a very outspoken atheist, but I came across a video he posted a few years ago on Youtube that opened my eyes to something profound.  In the video (which you can watch here), Penn describes meeting a man from the audience of one of his shows.  The man gives Penn a Gideons pocket edition New Testament, and tells Penn about Jesus.  In the front of the Bible, the man has written contact info down so that Penn can contact him to ask questions if any arise from reading.

Now Penn states directly that he knows there is no god, a point that I disagree with wholeheartedly.  But he goes on to talk about how much respect he has for the man that approached him.  He says that he has no love for any Christian that doesn’t try to share their faith.  Penn goes on to use the analogy of a bus, saying if you see a bus coming that someone else doesn’t, you do everything in your power to pull them out of the path of the bus.  This is where it gets really interesting.  He says if you believe in God, heaven and hell, how much do you have to hate someone to not try to tell them about it. 

Penn Jillette makes one the best arguments for evangelism that I’ve ever seen.  Not only is it not loving to not share your faith with someone that doesn’t have a relationship with Jesus, an atheist claims that you must hate someone not to do so.  Think about that?  Love everyone and God will sort them out later.  How can you love someone and just sit idly and watch them go to hell?  

How much do you have to hate someone to not share your faith with them?

Now, there is another side of this that we need to deal with as well.  What about fellow Christ followers?  Just love them.  Never correct them.  Never call each other out for sinful behavior, right?  It’s not that simple.  In Jesus’ most famous sermons, recording in the early chapters of Matthew, and known to us as the “Sermon on the Mount”, Jesus addresses judging.  I’ve heard this passage used countless times trying to say that we should not judge each other.  And while there is some truth in that, it is not entirely what Jesus is talking about.  In Matthew 7:1-5, Jesus is recorded as saying;

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

I hear most people talk about how can we judge someone else when we have our own sin.  And that is true.  Jesus asks how can we help our brother get the speck out of his eye with a log in our own.  But most stop there.  Jesus continued.  He said to take the log out of our own eye (get rid of the sin) and then we will see clearly to remove the speck from out brother’s eye.  In other words, we are called to help one another remove sin from our lives.  Not just let each other continue in sin with a log in our eyes. 

So I would say the same thing about our fellow Christ followers.  How much do you have to hate them to not try to help them correct sin in their lives?  It’s not judging them, it is loving them.  God even disciplines us because He loves us.  Sometimes He uses others to point out where we’ve goLove Everyonene wrong.  But make not mistake about it, His discipline comes from a place of love. 

“Just love everyone I’ll sort’em out later.—God”  I’m fine with that, as long as you realize this.  Sometimes, the most loving thing you can do for someone is point out that they are sinful and in need of a loving Savior.

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Pressing On!

ANWPerseverance.  I just can’t seem to get the word out of my head the last few days.  It keeps coming up in different ways, almost playing a constant theme everywhere I look.  My wife and I enjoy the show “American Ninja Warrior”, and so many stories of the athletes that compete there are all about perseverance.  Just a couple of weeks ago, they aired their all-star challenge, and we got to see some of our favorites compete, and persevere through obstacles that they have never faced before.  Some of them even got to compete and complete obstacles that had taken them our during the regular season a few months before.

ETSUMy home town college basketball team, the East Tennessee State University Buccaneers from Johnson City, TN have shown some great perseverance this season.  This past Monday evening they won the Souther Conference Tournament, earning a spot to play in the NCAA March Madness Tournament that kicks off next week.  This was a team that only had one shot, winning their conference tournament, and they did so beating the number one seed UNCG team that had beaten ETSU twice already this season.

Even a movie that Kelley and I watched just a couple nights ago was full of the theme of perseverance.  The 2001 film The Musketeer is a lesser know versions of the story often known as the “Three Musketeers”.  In it, the main character perseveres through the hardships of life after his parents are murdered in front of him.  He is trained in the ways of the Musketeers and travels to Paris to join them, only to find that they have been disbanded.  Not to give away too much of the story if you haven’t seen the movie (or any of them), I’ll just say the rest of the story is about pressing on through hardship after hardship to accomplish his task.  In other words, he continues to persevere.

Much of this life, especially as a Christ follower, is about perseverance.  That’s why I have been noticing this theme all around me recently.  Life may go smoothly for a while, but inevitably, it is going to get rough again at some point.  Like I told our faith family this past Sunday, Jesus never promised following Him would be easy, only that it would be worth it in the end. 

Much of this life is about perseverance.

The fact of the matter is life is not fair, easy, or smooth most of the time.  How can we expect it to be easy when Jesus Himself said that we must take up our cross daily?  Luke records Jesus’ words in Luke 9:23-26;

23 Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. 25 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self? 26 Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.

So, without perseverance, without pressing on through all of life’s hardships, then we will just simply get overwhelmed.  We are going to face trials of many kinds in this life.  But we have to keep focused on Jesus.  We have to be focused on the goal rather then what is going on around us at the time.  Paul knew this first hand.  He lived it.  That is why I take so much comfort in his words to the church in Philippi.  He starts out talking about how much he could have boasted in himself at one point in his life, but he realized that only in Jesus Christ is there anything to boast about.  Then he wraps up this section by stating that he realizes that he hasn’t obtained this yet, but he is going to keep on pressing toward the goal.  He writes in Philippians 3:1-14;

Further, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you. 2 Watch out for those dogs, those evildoers, those mutilators of the flesh. 3 For it is we who are the circumcision, we who serve God by his Spirit, who boast in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh— 4 though I myself have reasons for such confidence.

If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.

7 But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. 10 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

We have to be focused on the goal rather then what is going on around us at the time.

That’s my goal.  Forgetting what is behind me.  The good and the bad things that I’ve accomplished in my life mean nothing if I don’t keep focused on the prize ahead.  This life is a battle, and perseverance through Jesus Christ is the only way to get through it.  Not only do I take comfort in the words of Paul here in Philippians, I take comfort in the idea that he accomplished his goal.  Not that he was perfect, none of us will be.  But his words to Timothy in II Timothy 4:6-8, near the end of his life, are words that I want to be able to echo in my own life.  Paul writes;

6 For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.

May we all press on, forgetting what is behind and strain for what is ahead.  That’s the type of perseverance I long for in my life.

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Confessions of a Flawed Preacher

There is so much on my mind right now as I sit in my office getting ready for our Sunday services.  First, I’m tired.  I don’t know why, but I just feel worn out this morning.  Maybe it’s the fact that I didn’t make any coffee today.  Do I have everything ready that is under my control?  Did I put enough prayer, thought, and time into my sermon this week?  How many people will be here this morning?  Will that semi truck that keeps parking in our lot without permission be back next week (fortunately he pulled out of the parking lot about a half hour ago)?  Is this new series that we’re starting today, and leading all the way up to Easter, connect with our people?  Are all the families that I know of that are hurting in one way or another finding comfort in the arms of Jesus, or are they trying to do it on their own?  Have I done enough or could I be doing more?  Am I enough?

Am I enough?

That’s a lot to have floating around in your brain, especially just an hour or so before you are going to preach.  With that much on my mind, it’s hard to be clear headed and focused on faithfully preaching the Word.  This doesn’t happen every Sunday, but it happens more often than I would like to admit.  It would be nice if I could come into my preaching duties completely clear-headed, focusing on God and God alone as I preach His word.  That’s the goal.  That’s the way it should be.  But in my brokenness as a flawed human being, I let those worries above creep into my mind.  And realizing that, it puts even more worry on my mind because I realize how much I truly resist relying on God’s all sufficient power. 

I realize how much I truly resist relying on God’s all sufficient power.

I’ve mentioned on here before how much I listen to music when I am in the office.  This morning is just like the rest.  My Pandora station is playing, and there has been a great mix of worship music pumping through my speakers.  Most of the time, music goes to the back of my mind, meaning I don’t always focus on what is actually playing.  That was the case for most of the morning as all the questions and worries above were just rolling around almost uncontrollably.  That is until songs like “This I Believe (The Creed)” by Hillsong Worship, “My Victory (Feat. Crowder)” by Passion, “Your Grace is Enough” by Matt Maher, an “How He Loves” by the David Crowder Band came on.

These songs helped me focus in like normal, but I was paying attention to the lyrics as well.  I know all these songs by heart, and found myself singing along.  And something clicked.  I remembered that in Jesus, I am enough.  I can rely on Him and His grace.  Through the relationship I have with Jesus and my belief in Him as my Savior, I am free.  All those questions and concerns listed above may or may not go the way that I want them, but God is the One that is in control.  It’s not up to me anyway.

It’s not up to me anyway.

We don’t know what Paul’s so-called “Thorn in the Flesh” was, but it could be that it was something like the concerns and worries that I listed above.  Maybe not, but I think the response that Paul received when he pleaded to have the thorn removed can be applied to us today.  II Corinthians 12:1-10 is where Paul records this event in his life.  Here’s what he wrote to the church in Corinth;

I must go on boasting. Although there is nothing to be gained, I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord. 2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. 3 And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— 4 was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. 5 I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. 6 Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, 7 or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

I don’t have all the answers to my questions above.  And I may never see the answers to all the questions above.  But I realize that it’s not all up to me anyway.  I feel inadequate as a minister on many occasions because I always feel like I could do more or do better.  Or I could find a way to bring more people to the church.  This morning, I was reminded, however, that I am just called to do the best I can do, and be faithful to God and His call in my life.  So, let me echo the words of Paul.  First, the response he received is a great comfort to me.  “My grace is sufficient to you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” 

I am just called to do the best I can do, and be faithful to God and His call in my life.

That has always been my prayer.  To glorify God.  His grace is sufficient because His power is shown through my weakness, meaning that anything I accomplish in ministry is through His power anyway.  Paul goes on writing about boasting in his weakness because Christ’s power rests on him in those times.  In his weakness, insults, hardships, persecutions and difficulties, he can delight.  That is the opposite of human nature, but then again, so is just about everything in trying to follow Christ.  For when I am weak, then I am strong.  That doesn’t make sense to most of us.  But we have to remember that we live on God’s power and grace, not our own.

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Busyness as a Badge of Honor

I could not believe what I had just read.  In a lot of ways, I still can’t.  As I was getting ready for my day this morning, I was scrolling through Facebook on my phone, and an article popped up from “Church Leaders” that lead to the actual article hosted on churchplants.com.  They title of the article got my attention, but I never thought that it would actually read like it did.  The article was titled “Do Christians Spend Too MUCH Time Studying the Bible?” 

Do Christians Spend Too MUCH Time Studying the Bible?

I opened the article, fully expecting to read an argument for more Bible study, or maybe a little different approach to Bible study.  What I read, however, was an argument from a minister claiming that we study the Bible too much.  An argument that early Christians didn’t even have the Bible as we know it (which is true), and because of that, we shouldn’t waste as much time studying scripture as we do.  I’m still in shock over what I read.  If you’d like to read the article, you can find it here. Continue reading “Busyness as a Badge of Honor”