Make Some Changes (12-31)

As we are closing out 2016 and entering the brand new year of 2017, I have been thinking a lot about new starts.  It is no secret that 2016 has been a year of turmoil, and I think we can all agree that we hope for a better 2017 all around.  Just as every other year, as we close out one year and jump into the next, people everywhere are talking about their New Year’s Resolutions.  Whether it be getting healthier with eating habits and exercise (I really need to get back to the gym), trying to be better with your finances, improving your relationships, or whatever else you can think of, New Year’s Resolutions are very popular.

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The frustrating thing for me, however, is that no matter what resolutions I try to make, they never seem to last past February (sometimes not even that long).  My guess is that you can relate.  Think about it.  Gyms are packed in January, but over the next month or so, space frees up more and more, because people just drop out.  Why?  Why do we make these resolutions to make major changes in our lives at the start of a new year, and then not follow through? 

Do not get me wrong here.  I am not arguing against making resolutions.  What I am getting at, however, is that we may need to make some changes in why and how we make those resolutions so we can finally stick with them.  In all honesty, we need a change in perspective in how we see the world and our motivation in doing anything. 

We make these resolutions because we want a better life.  We want to lose weight, get out of debt, have better relationships, or advance in our careers by strengthening our work ethic.  None of those things are bad.  In fact, you could argue that they are really good things.  But if your motivation is only about being a better version of yourself so that you feel better about yourself, then that may be why we fail at sticking to the changes we set out to make.  Think about it.  If you are making changes for selfish reasons, the minute something gets difficult, it is easier to stop.  Our motivation runs out.

If you are a Christ-follower (or even if you are not yet), there is a shift in perspective that can help us all make changes for the better in our lives…and actually stick with them.  Now before I go any further, I want to point this out.  This is not “magic”.  It will not be easy to make this shift, because our human nature will fight it.  So it is something that you will have to work at (I am still fighting the battle to make this shift myself).

Paul writes in Colossians 3:22-25; “22 Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to curry their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. 23 Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, 24 since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. 25 Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for their wrongs, and there is no favoritism.

Do not get caught up in the word slave there.  When we are doing things for ourselves, we can become slaves to selfishness.  What I want you to focus on is verse 23.  Basically, the shift I am writing to you about today is starting to do everything we do for God not ourselves or another person.  When we can make that shift, our motivation and our perspective changes, and maybe we can finally start making improvements in our own lives as well.

Thoughts From a Crosseyed Jesus Freak

It is All About The Cross

We are in one of my favorite times of the year right now.  We are about a week away from Christmas Day as you read this.  There is not very much about this season that I do not like.  Yes, I could do without much of the commercialism that is going on, but in all reality, as long as the main reason for the Christmas season is remembered, then I can deal even with that.

That main reason I mentioned above, let me be very clear what I mean by that.  Christmas is the time of year that we set aside specifically to remember the birth of Jesus Christ.  I personally love the way that John recorded the event in John 1.  In verses 1-5 and 14, John wrote this; “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it…14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

While Matthew and Luke record the story in a little more of a concrete way, there is just something poetic about the way that John chose to record Jesus’ birth.  While December 25 is more than likely not the actual date of Jesus’ birth, it is the time that we have set aside to remember that each year. 

December 25 is on a Sunday this year, and we have decided to do something a little different at Central Christian Church.  Instead of a service on Christmas morning, we have chosen to do a service on Saturday, December 24, at 5:30 P.M., and we would like to invite you all to attend.  This will be our first Christmas Eve service, at least to my knowledge, and we could not be more excited about it.  It will be a simple, candlelight service, but I can promise you one great thing.  We will proclaim the main reason for our celebration of Christmas each year, and we will do it proudly. 

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Jesus chose to leave God the Father, and to take on flesh.  He did this by being born of the virgin Mary, and living a human life.  Why would He do this?  You see, we live in a broken world;  a broken world due to our sin that separates us from God.  Jesus came to live the perfect, sinless life, and to go to the cross to pay a debt that we could never pay ourselves.  You see, Christmas is not about snow.  It is not about presents.  It is not about spending time with family.  It is not really even about a baby born in a manger.  All of those things are good, but you see, Christmas is all about the cross!

Thoughts From a Crosseyed Jesus Freak

Death, Loss, and Devastation: How Do We Respond

I want to take a moment of your time to brag a little bit about the people in my home state of Tennessee.  First, I am not the first or the last that will make this observation, but none the less I feel that I need to make it.  You see, this past week a devastating fire burned a good portion of Gatlinburg, TN and the National forest around it.  At least seven people are confirmed dead in the fire, and thousands have lost everything, just a month before Christmas.  Hundreds of homes, cabins, and businesses have been completely burned to the ground.

But Tennesseans are resilient people.  Fire departments from at least and hour and a half drive all converged on the blaze, attempting to salvage as much as they could.  Not only that, there has been zero reports of rioting or looting in the area.  Instead, there are reports of generosity toward those who lost everything that is almost unfathomable.  Food, clothing, and supply drives popped up all over the state, and generated so much that Sevier County, where Gatlinburg is located, had to ask that no new drives be started for the time being because they could not find anywhere else to store the donations.

Dolly Parton, who is originally from there, has made a very generous offer to any that lost everything.  I will not go into detail here, but the figures she has offered simply amaze me.  I have always been proud to be from East Tennessee, and the south.  The response to this devastation, however, has only deepened that pride in where I am from.  It is great to see people come together in a time of need, and do whatever they can to help one another out, instead of only looking out for themselves. 

I have a theory as to why this has been the case during this tragedy, and I would like to share that with you today.  East Tennessee is part of what is known as the “Bible Belt”, and while a lot of people in this country are trying to distance themselves from Christianity (that is a whole other article for another time), Christian-living seems to still be alive and well there.  Even those that do not claim to follow Jesus, or the Bible seem to live by some of the principles found there. 

Seeing what is taking place in Gatlinburg and the surrounding areas where this devastation has taken place reminds me of something that we can read in the book of Acts, chapter 2:44-45, which states; “44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.”  They took care of one another, just like the people in Tennessee are taking care of one another right now. 

We need to learn to look out for other people, and not just ourselves.  May we all take this to heart, and seek to help one another when needs arise.

Thoughts From a Crosseyed Jesus Freak

Do You Trust God? (11-19)

Thanksgiving is upon us.  Where has this year gone?  It simply amazes me that we are just over a month away from ending the 2016 calendar year.  As we get into the Thanksgiving holiday, we are all reminded to take a step back and reflect on what we have to be thankful for.  And we have so much, even if life is not going exactly the way that we thought it would this year.

This has not been the most straight-forward of years for me.  There have been things that have happened along the way that I did not see coming.  Such is life, though.  It started off with my mom falling and shattering her shoulder in three places.  On top of that, she lives in East Tennessee, so I was not even able to be there to help her. 

My wife was working for a family here in town, and really enjoying her job.  The family, however, ended up moving out of state due to a job promotion, and due to some other unforeseen circumstances, she has not been able to find another job yet. 

Most recently, my wife’s grandmother was diagnosed with a very aggressive form of cancer, and passed away so quickly that we were not able to make it to Ohio until two weeks after she passed away.  That does not even start to cover things not going the way we thought in regards to friends and church members that we know. 

I am sure you can relate, because life usually does not go the way we think it should or the way we want it to.  It just does not work that way.  So, what do we have to be thankful for?  For me, I have a job that I love, a family that loves me, good friends, and most importantly, Jesus who went to the cross to die for me, even when I did not (and still do not) deserve it.  He went there for you as well!  That should be the best news you have ever received in your life, and something that you can be thankful for, even in the hard times of life.

There is a story found in Acts 16:1-10 that I believe can show us what can happen when we trust God and are thankful for Him, even when life does not go as planned.  I will let you read it on your own if you want, but basically it is a story about a man named Paul.  Paul is going around, preaching about Jesus, and desperately wants to go preach the gospel in the province of Asia.  He is laser focused on the idea of going to Asia to preach, yet every time he tries, the story says that he is prevented by the Holy Spirit. 

If you read about Paul, one of the things you will see is that once he sets his mind to something, he is going to do everything he can to get it done.  When he is prevented from doing something he feels strongly about, he does not take it very well.  This would be the case with being prevented from entering Asia as well.  But Paul trusts God, and is thankful for His guidance. 

How do I know that he trusts God?  Paul is able to sleep that night, right after being prevented again from going to Asia.  In his sleep, he has a dream that basically calls Paul and his companions to go to Macedonia instead of Asia to preach.  And that is exactly what he does.

It was not where he saw his life going, but he did not lose sleep over it either.  He trusted God, and was grateful for God’s guidance in his life.  So what about you?  Does anything keep you up at night, or are you able to trust God and be thankful, even when life is not what you think it should be?

Thoughts From a Crosseyed Jesus Freak

Legacy (11-5-16)

Legacy.  I have been thinking about that term a lot recently.  We all have a legacy of some kind that is passed along through our families, or those that we spend the most amount of time with.  In a lot of ways, we get to help build those legacies and pass them along to the generations that are going to follow us as well.  Just in case you are not with me on the term legacy, Merriam-Webster.com defines legacy as “something transmitted by or received from an ancestor or predecessor or from the past”.  There are other definitions as well, but this is the one that I have been thinking long and hard about.

Why?  I am a first generation preacher on my side of the family.  As far as I know, I am the first person to make preaching my career path in my family.  My family, however, has a long legacy of being Christ-followers.  More than that has me thinking about legacy though.  My wife’s grandmother just passed away a few weeks ago.  Last week, we were finally able to travel to Ohio to spend time with her family, and a lot of memories were shared.  It was a very quick trip, but well worth it. 

While we were there, we got to talking about the fact that my wife’s dad, brother, and I have all preached from the same stage at their church in Georgetown, OH.  I new that, but being there and seeing it again, it was a great reminder.  I love that we have all had the opportunity to preach God’s word from that stage.  I was sharing that with my mother-in-law, and that is when the real idea of legacy hit me.  Their side of the family has a lot of preachers.  I already knew that, but she told me that they had been counting.  Including me marrying into the family, and my brother-in-law who is currently in Bible College, we have 20 active preachers in the family.

I was blown away by that number.  That is crazy, but that is awesome.  And my wife’s grandmother is a huge part of that legacy.  Her and her husband helped start a church early in their lives, in their living room.  That church today has thousands of people that attend weekend services.  While I have a legacy of being faithful to Jesus in my side of the family, I married into a legacy of preachers and missionaries as well!

But that is not where I want it to end.  I want to live my life in such a way that I can help build that legacy and pass it to the next generation.  Not to make a name for me, but to exalt the name of Jesus Christ throughout this world.  And I have a challenge for you as well.  Find your legacy.  If you find that you have a legacy that you want to change, do so. 

Hebrews 12:1-3 states, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”

You see, we have a legacy of those that went before us.  They set the example of how to live as a Christ follower.  But we also have Jesus himself.  This passage also tells us how to continue that legacy so that we can pass it along to those that follow us.  And when the world makes us lose our focus, just remember, “let us fix our eyes on Jesus”.  What legacy do you want to pass along to the next generation?

Thoughts From a Crosseyed Jesus Freak

Make It Real (10-22-16)

A few months ago, I wrote about preparing to be a sponsor at a week of church camp at Guadalupe Christian Camp.  The week went extremely well, as did the whole summer schedule there.  In fact, I would say that none of us involved could have expected it to go any better than it did.  God moved in the lives of all those involved. 

As we enter the fall, with only a two and a half months left in 2016 (which is unbelievable), my attention is turning to another camp event.  I have the privilege of getting to plan Guadalupe Christian Camp’s MidWinter retreat.  This event is for Jr. and Sr. High students (6th-12th Grades), and is held on January 13th through January 15th with the option for each group to stay through lunch on the 16th if they do not have to be back for school (it’s also Martin Luther King Jr. weekend).

As I am starting to get a framework put together for this weekend, the theme of “Make it Real” has me thinking a lot about how we make our faith real in our own lives.  Mark 8 records a conversation between Jesus and His disciples.  Jesus has asked them who the people say He is. They give Him some of the titles and names that others are saying about Jesus.  And then Jesus turns the conversation.  Mark records Jesus’ next question in verse 29 this way, “‘But what about you?’ he asked. ‘Who do you say I am?’” (emphasis mine).

I have talked to way too many people throughout my life that say they are a Christian, but when I ask about how they are living out their faith, they cannot really give me an answer.  Once you do a little more digging, what you discover is they say they are a Christian (or more commonly they identify themselves with a denomination, Methodist, Baptist, Catholic, etc.) because that is where their family members go to church.  It is how they were raised, and they identify themselves that way.  But when it comes down to if it is real in their lives, their faith and the way they live their life in regards to following Jesus has never become real to them.

Before you think I am being harsh, let me say that I was in the same position early in my life as well.  That is why Jesus’ question is so important.  He does not say to us individually, “who do your parents or grandparents say I am”.  He looks straight at us and asks, “Who do you say I am.”  How we answer that question has a huge impact in how we live our lives as well.  Making our faith in Christ real, or our own, is sometimes a difficult process, but it is a necessary process if we are going to truly follow Him.  So my challenge for you today is simply this: Make it Real!

Thoughts from a Crosseyed Jesus Freak

I Will Never Forget

There are a few days from my past that stand out.  The one’s that are hard to forget.  Getting baptized, feeling God’s call on my life to go into ministry, meeting my wife for the first time, asking her to marry me, and our wedding day.  Those are all days that I will never forget. 

There are two dates, however, that are etched in my mind, that were not good days.  For some reason, they stand out so much more.  June 4, 1999, the day I lost my dad to a massive heart attack when I was 15-years old.  That day was a shock, and one that will always stand out.  I have a feeling that the other day that stands out in my mind is one that many of you remember well.  September 11, 2001 is my generations December 7, 1942.  The day airplanes were used to crash into buildings, on purpose, and kill thousands of people. 

I was a senior in high school on 9-11, and I do not think I will ever forget where I was, what I was doing, and the general emptiness that I felt when I heard about the World Trade Center and Pentagon.  It was an absolutely gorgeous day in East TN that day, and the sky was a crisp fall blue color.  But it was so erie seeing that beautiful day, knowing what was happening in our country. 

I will never forget the pit in my stomach the next week at a high school football game, when an airplane, coming in to the local airport for landing, flew over the stadium, and it got dead quiet.  There is something more that I will always remember, however, about 9-11 and the response to this tragedy.  Local churches were a little fuller the next few weeks.  There were community wide prayer services.  This nation forgot our differences and came together supporting one another and crying out to God. 

This Sunday, we come to the 15th anniversary of 9-11.  Can it really be 15 years?  I long to see a return to unity and crying out to God in this country.  No, I do not want another 9-11 type event, but we need to come together again, and turn to God.  Jesus is the only hope we have in this world.  That is why this Sunday, at Central Christian Church, we are starting a sermon series about becoming a follower of Jesus. 

We are also following that service with a cookout, and would absolutely love for you to join us at 10:30 for our worship service.  There will be hamburgers and hotdogs provided by the church, and church members will be bringing sides, desserts, and drinks.  You are welcome to come, and just bring yourself.  Better yet, bring some friends.  It is time that we come together and cry out to God, not because of a tragedy, but because we realize our great need for Him.  Join us!

Thoughts From a Crosseyed Jesus Freak

Fueling Our Souls (8-20-16)

My wife and I have really started trying to take our health seriously.  One of my first articles that I submitted for the faith section here, I wrote about the fact that we had joined a gym, and how all of us should not only take our physical health seriously, but more importantly we all need to take our spiritual health seriously.

On top of joining a gym and working out, we have recently tried to nail down our nutrition as well.  This means tracking our calorie intake each day and really cutting back on “junk” food.  While it is not always easy to stay away from the not so healthy choices around us, we have both been committed to making this change, and are staying faithful to it.  I am starting to see a big difference.  My body is getting smaller, and the number on the scale is gradually going down.  More importantly, I am feeling better, with more energy.

While we track what we eat on a daily basis, we allow ourselves what we call a “cheat” day each week, where we can eat whatever we want, no matter if we go over our desired calorie count for the day.  And it seems to be working.  That is until this week.  We normally have our “cheat” day on Sunday, and we did.  Then Monday evening came around, and we were both craving pizza, instead of the healthier option that we had planned.

We caved and ordered pizza.  And it tasted so good.  In fact, I completely blew my healthy eating for the day, and finished an entire medium pizza on my own.  Then I got up for the gym the next morning.  I could not figure out for a while why I felt sluggish and just not myself with no energy.  All of a sudden, while finishing my workout, it dawned on me.  I had eaten junk the night before, and a lot of it.  It caused me to have no real energy the next morning.  While that pizza tasted good, and satisfied a craving, I felt like junk the next day.  It was not because I felt guilty either.  I had not missed a calorie count except for a cheat day in over a month, so I did not feel guilty about missing it on just one occasion.  I know that is going to happen from time to time.  I felt like junk because I did not fuel my body correctly.

This all got me thinking about what our souls consume on a daily basis.  We are doing a new series at Central Christian right now titled “Soul Detox: Clean Living in a Contaminated World”.  The premise is that our souls become toxic because of the “junk” that is going on around us in the world.  Think about it this way.  When we eat junk, it changes how we feel.  How much more do our souls get affected when we are not conscious about what we allow ourselves to consume spiritually and emotionally? 

We all need to make a conscious effort to change what our souls consume, as well as our bodies.  What is weighing your soul down?  Do you need to cut something out of your life so that your soul can thrive?  Just like cutting out junk food, therefore “detoxing” our bodies, we need to cut out the toxins that poison our souls, and detox them.  And there is only one thing that can really help detox our souls: Jesus Christ.  I Timothy 4:7,8 reads, 7 Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly. 8 For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.

Let’s get serious about our spiritual health!

Thoughts From a Crosseyed Jesus Freak

Well That’s Encouraging! (Newspaper 8-6-16)

This world is full of frustration, disappointment, anger, sadness, and a long list of other words that just get us down. You know that just by looking at everything taking place. And if you let it, it’s easy to just get beaten down by everything negative. Sometimes it just seems so impossible to find anything positive going on around us, and it just drags us down even more. It’s so important to look for the positive things taking place, even if it means that we have to look even harder. Finding something that we can turn to when we are discouraged is vital.   

I bought something for my office this week. It is a simple bulletin board, and I have hung it directly over my desk, where my computer sits, that way I see it just about all day long. There were a few different reasons that I got the board, and hung it where I did, but the most important reason is what I already have hanging on it. Over my years in ministry, especially working with teenagers, I have been given encouraging note cards from time to time. Some people would not hold on to things like that, especially since one of them just says “You are amazing”. No name or any other identifying mark on it. But if I have received a card from you in the past, I have tried to keep it. In fact, it has more than likely been laminated so it does not get destroyed accidentally, and it is now hanging on the bulletin board over my desk. I will see them everyday, and that it very much strategic on my part.  

 

It is easy to forget why you are doing what you are doing, and it is no different in ministry. There are days that everything else going on, and even “failures” on your end, get you so discouraged. That is what those notecards are for for me. They remind me of why I do what I do. I have a chance to make a difference in someone’s life, and these cards remind me that I have done so, even in some small way, in the past. They are notes of encouragement that I can look to when I need to be reminded that no matter how hard life gets, there is hope.  

 

We all need encouragement in our lives. Did you know that being an encourager of others is actually listed by Paul as one of the gifts that Christians can be given? In Romans 12:6-8, Paul writes, “6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; 7 if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; 8 if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.” (bold added for emphasis is mine). Find someone that can encourage you. Other than the notecards that I wrote about above, I have a select number of people that I turn to when I need encouragement. We all need that. I try to be an encourager as well, but it comes naturally to some people.

 

In fact, Paul was joined on some of his missionary journeys by an encourager. Is that something you knew? I know many do not realize this, but a man named Barnabas accompanied Paul for a time. Barnabas’ name means “son of encouragement”. His name literally means that he is an encourager. If Paul, a man that wrote a majority of the New Testament, and saw God’s works up close and personal needed a friend that was an encourager, then I think it is safe to say that we all do. Find someone that can be an encouragement to you today. Do not continue to just see all the negative things in this world. Find encouragement, and try to encourage someone else that needs it as well!

It’s All Greek To Me (Newspaper 7-23-16)

I was sitting in my office this past Sunday morning (7-17-16), preparing for our Sunday services to start, when news came across my computer screen of more police officers being attacked, this time in Baton Rouge, LA.  To say it effected me is a large understatement.  Before the news broke, I was in a great mood, looking forward to worshiping and spending time with those that would be joining us that morning.  After, the only way I can describe it was complete heartbreak. 

I posted the following on my personal Facebook page moments after reading the first reports:

“My heart is breaking for this world. Another attack on police officers, this time in Baton Rouge. And I think what is breaking my heart more than anything is that Christians are not rising up unified doing what we need to do. We are fighting amongst ourselves, over what differences we have in our doctrines, instead of trying to introduce a lost and dying world to Jesus. Jesus is the only thing that can make any of this better, but instead of trying to proclaim Him, those of us that profess to follow Him fight with each other and keep Him to ourselves. IT’S TIME TO STOP! Whether you’re liberal, conservative, or somewhere in-between in your political views, I think it’s time that we come together as Christ followers. There will always be things that we disagree with each other over, but one thing, and one thing only should unite us. Jesus is King, and those that don’t know Him as such need to be introduced to Him. There will always be pain and suffering in the world, but when are we going to rise up and do our part by living out our Christianity in such a way that others want what we have? Pray for this world, pray for Baton Rouge, but also pray for opportunities to share Jesus with someone today…and then do it.”

I have had even more time to digest what is going on in our world today, and want to take a few moments to address it.  It is not that I think I am any smarter than anyone else, but it seems obvious to me that whatever we are doing now is just simply not working.  And it is not just these shootings that seem to be popping up everywhere.  It is any time the subject of politics is brought up.  We are so determined to be “right” that we forget we have to find our common ground.  In doing some research for another project, I came across a ancient Greek word that we really do not have a good translation for, but when the idea is fleshed out a little, I believe it speaks to exactly the problems that we are facing today.  Bear in mind, I do not claim to be a Greek scholar by any means, but stick with me for a moment.

The Greek word in question is metriopatheia.  The ideas that follow come from William Barclay’s commentary The Letter to the Hebrews in the section on Hebrews 5:1-10.  He says that the Greeks used this word “as the mid-point between extravagant grief and utter indifference.”  Barclay quotes W. M. Macgregor, saying, “the mid-course between explosions of anger and lazy indulgence.”  Again, Barclay wrote that Macgregor spoke of it as “that sympathetic feeling which enabled people to lift up and to save, and to spare and to hear.”  Finally, Barclay describes it in his own words as, “It means the ability to put up with people without getting irritated; it means the ability not to lose one’s temper with people when they are foolish and will not learn and do the same thing over and over again.  It describes the attitude which does not get angry at the faults of others and which does not condone them, but which to the end of the day devotes itself to offering gentle yet powerful sympathy which by its very patience directs people back to the right way.”

I will leave you to draw your own conclusions, except for this question; Would the world not be a much better place if we all learned to live with more metriopatheia?

Thoughts from a Crosseyed Jesus Freak