Archive for the ‘Church’ Category

There is something special – even sacred – about our relationships with fellow believers.

I had the opportunity to have breakfast with some wonderful people this morning – one of which has been a friend for 15 years.  His kids call me Uncle Brian even though there is no familial relationship.  It’s that kind of relationship!  He is like a brother to me in many ways.  He is in town for the day for work and he carved out some time to get together this morning.Having Coffee

One of the things that I noticed as we talked and caught each other up on family news was that it was as if we picked up where we left off the last time we spoke.  There is something powerful about a relationship with another when hearts are aligned.  There is a sacred bond between people of faith.

As I have reflected on our time together, I have had two parallel thoughts.  One is that I am so thankful for my friendship with Lew – he is a blessing in my life.  The other is a conviction that I should see all the relationships to which God draws me as being just as sacred.

We are wired for relationships – that is God’s design.

What relationships do you see in your life today that you would count as sacred?  Do those people know how you feel?

Let them know they matter!

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As a believer in America, what is going through your mind this morning?  What can we do to ease the suffering of those directly affected by the shooting yesterday?  How do we move forward toward celebrating a new Sunday this week without the horrific tragedy of yesterday at the forefront of our minds?  Will we gather free of fear and able to focus on heart-felt worship?  Or will we be tentative and distracted?

Yesterday was the first of two consecutive Sundays set aside as International Days of Prayer for the Persecuted Church.  We live in an era in which Christians are persecuted.  There are countries around the world that do not allow open worship of Jesus.  And even in our own country, the church is being painted as an institution of hate instead of the gathering of believers who love.

Jesus prophesied and said that if we follow him, we will be hated by the world.  This is nothing new.  But when something like the shooting in Sutherland Springs happens so close to home, this prophesy takes on powerful significance.

So what do we do?  How do we move forward?

First, we pray.  We pray for our brothers and sisters in Sutherland Springs.  We ask for God to bring healing – both physical and emotional as well as spiritual.  We ask God to find us faithful as the larger church in being strength and encouragement for those who were directly impacted by this act of cowardice.

Second, we trust.  Not one of us knows what tomorrow will bring and because of that fact, we must approach the day in one of two ways.  We either hide in hopes of finding protection, or we trust God to walk with us through whatever this day may bring.  I choose to trust.

No matter the evil we face in this world, God is bigger!

Never forget that fact!

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Yesterday marked the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses being nailed to the church door in Wittenburg, Germany.  As we have reflected on the changes brought about by that act, we have recognized the debt we owe to those early reformers.  Our focus on grace alone through faith alone comes directly from this movement.Wittenburg door

But I have wrestled with something for the past several weeks leading up to this momentous day.

Are we still in need of reform?

It is said that the generation of leaders after Martin Luther held that every generation is in need of reform.  I believe that is true.  The Gospel message does not change.  The fact that all people are sinners in need of saving does not change.  The truth that salvation comes only by God’s radical free gift of grace does not change.  The reality that this grace must be received by each individual through a heartfelt trust and faith does not change.

But what does change is how we live with these truths and how the church seeks to carry out her calling into God’s mission in light of these truths in an ever-changing culture.  We walk a line between being in the world but set apart from it.

I believe we are guilty of gross negligence if we acknowledge the courage and boldness of Martin Luther and other reformers but do not take a serious look at where we may need reform today.  What are the areas we have conformed more to the world than been transformed to God’s kingdom and rule?  Are there areas of life and ministry where we have lost sight of what matters most?

Holy God, show us your ways!

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Vacation Bible School starts this morning.

The sights and sounds are very different for a Monday morning here in our building.  Hundreds of hours of preparation have gone into this week.  Prayer, sweat and maybe even a tear or two have been part of the process.  And now here we are – time to open the doors and let the children in!

There is little the church does throughout the year any more important in the scheme of eternity than this outreach and ministry to children and their families.  Jesus scolded the disciples when they tried to keep children from rushing to him.  Jesus showed compassion and even reminded us that to truly embrace a relationship with him, we need to approach Jesus with child-like, innocent faith – complete surrender.

What will you do to minister to the next generation today?

How will you show them the way to Jesus?

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Yesterday, I shared my thoughts on what a model church should look like based on 1 Thessalonians 1. The picture painted there is a body of Jesus followers who allow their faith to produce work that is characterized by love and carried out with hope in Christ.

But what is the work? If our faith is to produce work, what should that work entail?

Book shelves are easily filled with books talking about the work of the church. Seminars and conferences draw attendees looking for that next big plan that will push their churches to the “next level.”

We spend hours crafting mission statements and strategies.  We evaluate and plan, we research, investigate and develop ideas.

All of those things are extremely important.  And each ministry setting is unique.  But I think the work of the church can be defined universally, at its core, as making disciples.  ThChurch Line Drawinge church that is making disciples who in turn make disciples is living out the Great Commission – the church’s marching orders.

With this understanding then, our faith should lead us to lovingly make disciples, placing our hope not in our own efforts but rather in the savior we serve.

Lord Jesus, may you find us faithful!

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A Model Church

Last week, we began a new study on Wednesday night.  Over the next few weeks, we will be digging into the letters to the church at Thessalonica.  Paul wrote to encourage the new believers there and he opened his first letter with some glowing words.

He told them that he prayed for them often.  He gave God the praise for what these believers were doing.  He shared that he no longer had to tell other believers about the good things happening at the church in Thessalonica because the believers in other parts of the world already knew.  People were talking about a church on fire for God.

Paul even used the word “model” to describe the believers in 1 Thessalonians 1:7.

As I have continued to study this passage, I have become convicted that I can’t name any churches that I would consider using the word “model” to describe.  Don’t get me wrong, there are wonderful churches in the world full of sincere believers.  But I don’t know of any model churches that fit what Paul described in 1 Thessalonians 1.

In looking at the passage, I think we can point to verse 3 as the goal we should all strive to attain in our churches.  I would summarize it this way:

The work of the church should be a direct product of the faith of the people motivated by a love for God and others and continued, even in the midst of trials, through a living hope in Jesus.

If our faith moves us to serve God in concrete ways, that service will reflect a love for God and others and continue, regardless of circumstances, because of a genuine hope in Jesus.  That is a picture of a healthy church – a model church.

That is a picture of the church we should strive to become – the church the world needs.

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Several months ago, I was approached by a young man who said, “My birthday is in January and all I want for my birthday is to preach.” Having been in ministry more than a few months and working with students in the past, my approach to his request was, “Let’s pray about that for a while and let me think about what that would look like.”

I did give it some thought but in all honesty, I assumed it was an excitement he would soon forget and I would never hear from him again. In late October, he brought the subject up again and at that point, I knew he was serious. So we scheduled a time to meet and discuss what he thought he might speak about.

I instructed him to put his sermon together and then get back with me, which he did in December. So when we met, I told him I had decided that the best place for him to start would be with our Wednesday night group.

Last night was the night – and I have to tell you, two facets of the role of the church were clearly visible in our Bible study time. The first facet visible was proclamation. God’s truth was proclaimed by a passionate young man. God used him to deliver a message that all need to hear. He challenged God’s people to be set apart – a message that is always in season.

The second, maybe less obvious, facet of the role of the church made visible last night was a clear picture of discipleship. The church’s mission is to share the message of God’s hope and to make disciples. Last night I sat back and watched our church pour into this young man by giving him a podium and their attention. They saw the value in allowing this young man an opportunity to follow through with what God had moved him to do.

I saw passion and persistence in the young man and I saw love and support and encouragement in the congregation.

A clear picture wouldn’t you say?

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I started a new sermon series this past Sunday that will continue for two more weeks.  The series title is Living Out Loud.  I pray that this series will inspire each of us to really live out our faith.  This confidence that we have – or profess to have – in Jesus as our eternal savior should make a difference in the way we live our lives.

People should be able to see that we are serious about following Jesus in the decisions we make and the way we relate to others.  This past Sunday the sermon title was Faith Unleashed.  The faith we profess is not for our benefit – not for our own security.  This faith is given to us so that we can share it with others.  Ephesians 2:8-10 reminds us that our salvation is a free gift of God’s grace; it is nothing we deserve or earn.  But itleading also says that we were created for good works in the same passage.  This faith we have should be turned loose on the world.

As I have been preparing for this coming Sunday, I have been focusing on Jesus’ calling of some of his disciples recorded in John 1:43-46.  In this passage, we find Jesus saying, “Follow me.”  Then we see Phillip going to Nathanael in excitement and telling him that the one Moses talked about has come.  Nathanael was a little skeptical.  But in three short words Phillip persuaded him – “Come and see.”  

Our striving for faith lived out begins with following Jesus and should have one primary focus – to illustrate him to others.  These three words should become a part of our everyday vocabulary – COME AND SEE.

Show others Jesus today!

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Sunday GatheringGod is with us each and every day.  Jesus’ promise is dependable – he will never leave us nor forsake us.  But so often, we live our lives unaware.  We pass through our days marking time but oblivious to God’s presence and interaction in our lives.

But every once in a while, we get a glimpse.  In a moment of clarity, we come face to face with the creator and we find ourselves overwhelmed with God’s grace and grandeur.

For me, this past Sunday morning was that way (and I was not alone in that experience).  Every Sunday is special.  The gathering of God’s people to worship and just enjoy being together is always a blessing.  But Sunday was different for many.  God’s spirit was moving in the hearts of our family and it was obvious.

As I headed to lunch, I prayed, thanking God for reaching into my life and for moving in the hearts of so many.  As I prayed and reflected on the morning, I asked – “Why can’t church be like that every week?”  I have continued to reflect on that question.  What I keep coming back to is sensitivity.  We don’t manipulate God, so it is not anything we can do to duplicate the experience.

But if we truly believe that Jesus never leaves us.  And if we accept the reality that where two or three are gathered together to honor God, God is in their midst, then we must acknowledge that God is always present when we gather.  If that is the case, then the issue is not God’s presence but rather our awareness.  We need to remember today that God is always present and at work, we just need to wake up and be more sensitive to what he is doing.

I pray that God’s presence will be just as visible this coming Sunday in our church.

But why wait until Sunday?

God, wake us to your presence and love this day – in this moment!

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Worship BWWe talk a lot about praising God.  In any given church around the world on the weekends, you most likely will encounter an effort to praise God.

Praise, by definition, is the act of expressing admiration or thanks to someone.  When we think about God and all that he has done, we are moved to express our thanks and admiration.

But as I have been pondering this most important element of worship, I have wrestled with this question:  Is praise just an intellectual assent or does it require action?

Psalm 148 calls all beings (even inanimate objects – mountains and hills) to praise the name of the Lord.   How can a mountain praise God?  How can a bird or snow or the moon praise God?

Granted,  the Psalms are given in poetic form, but I think there is more going on in this Psalm than poetic license.  What we learn here is that praise has as much to do with being God’s best version of ourselves for his glory as it does with giving verbal acknowledgement or intellectual tipping of the hat to his grandeur.

God created us with gifts, passions and talents with the sole purpose of living out those gifts, passions and talents in a way that honors God and points those around us to him.

Maybe praise has a lot to do with living in such a way that God can cross his arms and say with a smile, “Yeah, that’s my kid.”

Just something to ponder today.

Be blessed.

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