Category Archives: Spiritual life

Is Jesus enough?

In the quest to know God’s will for our lives, I think we sometimes blend together the typical secular goals with our faith.  But I’ve been wondering:  what if we don’t achieve our goals?  What if we don’t land that dream job?  What if the person you’ve been pursuing isn’t interested?  What if you’ve felt called to do a certain type of ministry and it never seems to work out?

Is Jesus enough?

What do I mean by that question?  I’m not saying we shouldn’t have goals.  I’m not saying we shouldn’t put forth effort and go for it.  I’m saying that our faith needs to be grounded in such a way that Jesus is enough to satisfy.

When I was younger, I felt called to full-time pastoral ministry.  Others I knew affirmed it.  I was a volunteer youth pastor and began preaching and working with the youth in our church.  I went back to school to study ministry full-time and got my degree in church ministry.  I studied theology, leadership, preaching and counseling.  I worked on staff at a few different churches and ultimately left the ministry after two back-to-back bad experiences, the last one being quite abusive and demoralizing.  Since then I’ve only ever volunteered.  It was a challenge to trust again after being burned.  Even as a volunteer, I’ve experienced several churches where it seems difficult to get connected for whatever reason.  What’s the message there from God?  I thought I was called?  At one point I felt recovered enough and tried to look for ministry positions again but by then I had gaps in my ministry resume and didn’t have the connections.  Ultimately I followed the career path that was in front of me to pay the bills and provide for my family.

I’ve had to let go of what I think my life should look like and follow the path God has set before me.  Because if you take away the job, the ministry, the connections or friends or whatever else we hang our hats on, we are still Christ followers living out our faith.

So if the dream job doesn’t materialize, is Jesus enough to carry you?

If you lose the house in the suburbs or your standing in the community, is your faith enough?

If the person you thought would love you is no longer in your life, can you carry on?

I think about people in the Bible who had it all and then faced tragedy or obstacles.  Moses never got to see the promised land.  David never got to see the temple built.  The prophets never got to meet their Messiah.  Peter was shamed by denying Jesus.  Paul was imprisoned for preaching.  You hear stories of missionaries who don’t see the fruit of their ministry but after they pass the seeds they planted took hold.

Is our faith in Jesus enough to carry us through life?  Trusting in Him, following His will and allowing Him to order our steps?

In the movie City Slickers, the main character talks about having one thing that means everything.  Think about that “one thing” in your life besides God.  If that one thing were taken away, how would your faith in Christ be affected?

Is Jesus enough?

Philippians 3:7-11

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[a] 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.

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Looking for answers in a world of tragedy and hatred

Every generation looks at the news and changing values around them and believes the end must be coming soon.  Each generation believes things are getting worse and it’s only a matter of time.  The early Christians felt there could be no greater evils than what they faced:  a corrupt Roman rule that sought to torture and execute them, feed them to lions for sport and drive them underground.  Every generation believes that things are so bad, Jesus must be coming back soon.

We see awful stories in the news that shock and outrage us.  School shootings, terrorist bombings, domestic violence, acts of discrimination and hatred, families torn apart and treating each other horribly.  We look from afar and judge and wonder how people could act such a way.

The Bible discusses the sinful condition of humans repeatedly.  It began with the original sin that ended utopia in Eden and brought brokenness to the world.  It continued with religious people that ridiculed, imprisoned and killed  God’s prophets, even mocking, torturing and killing the Son of God who brought the hopeful message of the Kingdom of God.  History has seen horrible dictators, genocide, murder, terrorism and evils that shock and sicken us.  In the Bible, Paul wrote the following phrases in his letter to the Romans:

“all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23)

“I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature” (Rom 7:18)

Writing about sinful people he said they will “invent ways of doing evil” (Rom 1:30)

It’s not all bad news.  Because we are made in God’s own image and likeness humans have the capacity to do good, but because of our sin we have the capacity to do evil.  Paul writes extensively about this dichotomy throughout Romans.  In chapter 7 he notes that he knows the good he should do and the evil he should avoid, but the good and evil inside him constantly do battle.

We all have that battle within us.  When things are going well, most of the time the good side wins.  We may fall into some sinful habits here and there but keep them in check.  Other times, we give into our darker side and allow ourselves to be tempted into sin.  At some points in our lives – and for some people most of their lives – we can become broken, worn out, depressed and decay deeper into sin.

We see awful stories in the news that shock and outrage us.  School shootings, terrorist bombings, domestic violence, acts of discrimination and hatred, families torn apart and treating each other horribly.  We look from afar and judge and wonder how people could act such a way.

And then we look in the mirror.  And we contemplate the hatred we have in our heart for someone that hurt us, the strained relationship with a person we’ve refused to speak to for a long time, the habit that no one knows about and we keep hidden in a dark place, or whatever sin is weighing heavily on our hearts.

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At the end of Romans chapter 7 Paul writes “What a wretched man I am!  Who will rescue me from this body of death?”

Now this is coming from a man who was an Apostle of the early church, who wrote most of the letters of the New Testament and did many great things for God.  To some people, this kind of writing dwells too much on the negative.  Many people just want to talk about happy thoughts and focus on the good things that humans do and are capable of.  And we should do that.  We should celebrate great human achievement, acts of love and kindness and unselfish behavior.  It’s true there is enough bad news out there, we need more positivity.

At the same time, when tragedy strikes or when we have those moments where we feel like we’ve hit rock bottom or are in a bad way, we need to realize the struggle within us.

Some would say we are getting more sinful each generation as morals change.  There are also ways that our morals improve by shedding off ignorant or judgmental attitudes of the past.  But at the same time, stories come along that remind us that for all of our progress, people are still broken and sinful people.

We will never conquer this ourselves.  We will never see peace, healing and love on our own.  Yes, humans are capable of it because of the imprint of God He’s put in us.  But real change comes from real change of heart, a change that only God can bring. In Romans chapter 7, Paul asked “Who will rescue me from this body of death?”  And then he answered his own question:

“Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

People can put their faith, energy and hope in things like political candidates or parties, in social justice initiatives, in communities bound together by common interests and even deep love for each other…and those can be good things but ultimately lacking full potential without the answer Paul points us to:

“Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

We know that we will never see perfection this side of heaven.  There will always be sin, there will always be tragedy, there will always be people using their free will to commit crimes and horrible acts.  And if we’re honest with ourselves we realize we will always struggle with that same area of sin, we’ll gossip about someone behind their back from time to time, we’ll say something we don’t really mean, we’ll hurt people we love with our words or actions.  We aren’t perfect.  At the same time, we can do good.  We can help people, we can stand for truth and justice and help our communities.

We can do good things because our Creator made us in His image and likeness.  We can access the love and charity in our hearts and do good, even great things.  To truly combat evil, we’ll need more than what we’re able to achieve ourselves.  We’ll need a powerful ally.

“Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!”


The Freedom of Confession

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

–1 John 1:9

“The confession of evil works is the first beginning of good works.”

–St. Augustine

Call it a cultural thing, or societal, generational or even part of the natural human condition.  But people generally don’t like admitting they’ve done anything wrong.  Usually confessions are actually celebrating bad behavior such as in a made-for-TV movie or a “tell-all” book.  However, there is great power and freedom in confessing your guilt and admitting your need for forgiveness.

The mother of a murdered child forgiving the man that pulled the trigger.

A pastor stepping down from his position and stepping up to admit his need for counseling.

A parent asking a child for forgiveness for wrong doing.

Being the first to make contact after years of not speaking to someone.

 

Confession

 

When it comes to our spiritual life, the Bible says that if we confess our sins before God he forgives us.  He is a just God that demands holiness yet we don’t have to fear confessing our sins before a holy God.  John 3:17 tells us:

“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”

Confessing sin frees us from guilt, from shame and from the trap of counting rights and wrongs and hoping the good outweighs the bad.  The Bible tells us not only to confess to God, but also “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other.” (James 5:16)

Every week at my church, we read a confession together out loud.  I think this is one of the most important and powerful aspects of our weekly worship.  Sometimes as I’m praying the words displayed on the screen I wish that skeptics and people burned by church would be there to witness it.  We confess that we don’t show the love of Christ to people like we should, that we judge people or treat them unfairly, that we let our anger or bitterness get the best of us, and other things that are openly admitting we’re fail as followers of Christ and as the Church.

People usually say they stay away from church because of hypocrites who don’t practice what they preach or have a “holier than thou” judgmental attitude toward others.  I wish those people would hear the Church confess these things and see humble people admitting they fall short but strive to do better with God’s grace.  Now imagine we had a humble spirit and confessed to people in our lives that way.  Imagine the impact it might have on people.

Confession frees you from guilt, builds accountability with close friends and family and can even be a powerful witness tool to share the Gospel.


Fog machines, motorcycles, mosh pits, Desperate Housewives, free plasma TVs…my 5 most popular posts.

According to the site stats, these are the top 5 most popular posts on this blog.  The stats also show me if someone found the site from search results on Google or Bing.

#1  “My Church has fog machines!”

What’s funny about this is seeing the search terms used.  People are actually wanting to use fog machines in their services and are trying to find out how.  Maybe I have evangelized some folks about gimmicks and showy productions.  If I have saved but one soul…  lol.

#2 Trends: the flavor of the month

This one is about building your faith on Biblical and spiritual principles, not on fads and what is currently popular like The Prayer of Jabez craze or WWJD bracelets.

#3 Gimmicks – if you build it, they will come

The video of a youth pastor crashing a motorcycle into the snack table alone makes this post worth viewing.

#4 Sermons in 20 minutes or less

I’d love to see the stats from Saturdays on Google for all the pastors researching easy sermons they can steal to preach the next day.  This post pops up in search results for pastors looking for quick 20 minute sermons they can preach, so in this sense the post is “preaching to the choir.”  I need to get the word out to the preachers who like to ramble on for 45 minutes or more, repeating the same ideas and boring the congregation to tears.

#5 True Freedom in Worship

In this post I manage to insert references to “the frozen chosen,” mosh pits, and the song “Safety Dance” by Men without Hats.  That song is now in your head and will be stuck there the rest of this day, you’re welcome.

 


The simple path to God.

You would think more Christians would be fulfilled and content in their faith now than in the past.

 We have more information, resources, material, access and connectivity than ever and we are well past the point of information overload.  We have great buildings, excellent leaders and large congregations full of talent and commitment.  We have thousands of books, websites, blogs, seminars and conferences.  We have rich tradition and heritage, modern mega church campuses, online streaming services and charismatic pastors and leaders.  And there are also a lot more of us than in the first century.

 Yet in each generation, we still find ourselves searching for God and trying to find fulfillment.  It’s not for lack of the afore-mentioned things that our spiritual lives suffer, nor is there anything wrong with them in and of themselves.  But sometimes we over complicate things.

 Jesus liked to boil things down to some simple points.  Love  God, love others.  Forgive people.  How many times do you forgive them?  Too many to count, you just forgive. 

 Serve others.  If someone is hungry, give them food.  If thirsty, a drink of water.  If they’re cold, offer them your coat.  You don’t need a complex theological model with charts and graphs to tell you how to help someone in need.

 I think sometimes we make approaching God and growing our faith more complex than it needs to be.  What I’ve found is that it’s hard enough to get the simple things right.  We are sinners that fall short every day but we can keep striving for better. 

 Just take time out of your week to pray to God.  And when you pray, try not to make it all about yourself and asking for things.  Crack open the Bible more often than you used to.  Attend church and try to focus and not be distracted.  Sing along with the hymns and songs and try to mean it.  Turn off the media and quiet yourself and get some perspective and think about God, and sense His presence.  Get through your week doing more good than bad and try to be a good example of Christ to others.  Try harder at showing people love and mercy than trying to be right or win the argument.

 If we do better at those simple things, we might catch a glimpse of the Divine.  Our differences in theology and the name on the church sign might not matter so much.  Non-believers might be more open to a faith they see lived out honestly and genuinely.  Remember the acronym KISS:  Keep it simple, stupid.  If you had to apply that spiritually:  pray, read the Bible, go to church, get involved, love others.  And mean it

 That last part could change the world.


God’s faithfulness – a personal story

I’m excited to share some great personal news and to celebrate a testament to God’s faithfulness.  In the span of a couple weeks God has added to my life a newborn baby and a new job promotion.  It’s almost surreal but I feel very blessed.  Here’s the story of that journey and how God has had his hand on my life the whole way.

The brief backstory is that my wife and I went through a long period of struggling from layoffs during the recession, unemployment, past due bills and debt collectors to medical problems and surgeries that resulted in a mountain of medical bills.  We struggled to find employment and took various odd jobs and temporary assignments until we were able to get permanent work and start building our lives back up again.  It was an uphill climb that was slow but steady over a few years.  Where I was previously a manager of an HR office, all I could get was a temp filing clerk and worked my way back up by getting hired full-time and then transferring when a new job opened up.

Earlier this year we decided to start a family.  We trusted that God would provide but we knew that my wife would need to take time off from work and didn’t know how we would afford to lose her income for a while.  My prayer was that before my wife had to stop working I would have a new job with a raise.  I knew I was underpaid at my job and would need to be promoted or find something new.

In the summer of 2012 we had a lot of life change.  Our lease was up and we moved to a new house.  At work, I took on the Lead Project Manager for implementing a new HR software with which I had prior experience.  In addition to that plus my regular job, someone left the company and I took on some of her work.  I was essentially doing two and a half jobs and working a lot of overtime, while trying to unpack in a new house and prepare for a baby on the way.

We kept praying that God would provide and we put our trust in Him.  God said to us “Move forward.  Step into what I have for you.”  We saw him come through with provisions for our house and donations and gifts for our baby from family, friends and co-workers.  Still, I knew the day would come that my wife would have to stop working and we’d need to replace her income.

At work, some of my bosses began hinting that the project I was leading might expand and become a full-time job.  It seemed that God was up to something, but they said “if” it happened it might not be until later in 2013 based on budget approval.  Toward the end of September (baby due Oct 12th) my would-be new boss was in  town for a visit on some other business and scheduled a meeting with me.  I figured he wanted to discuss how the project was going and discuss the possibility of the new job next year.

Instead, after some small talk he said “I’m going to cut to the chase.  We’ve got position approval for the System Administrator job and we want to offer it to you.”  Just like that.  No application, no interview, no struggle.

Finally.

We had struggled so long and it was nice to finally have something come to us a little easier.  I was not aware but he and a few other leaders had been talking about this new job for a couple months.  He said every co-worker and manager agreed I was the best person for the job.  He asked about my baby’s due date, how much time I’d be taking off and when I’d be back.  I said I’d be back around the end of October.  He said “great, we’ll start November 1st then.”  I was shocked.  I thought for sure that at best this would be a discussion about what might happen sometime in 2013.  He said he would research salaries in this market and make a fair offer before I left for child bonding leave.  Now remember, my prayer and hope was that before my wife stopped working that God would provide me with a promotion and increase.  My wife’s last day of work was Friday Oct. 5th.

On  Thursday Oct. 4th I was handed an official offer letter.  I did a double take as the salary was more than I expected – it not only covered my wife’s income but more – and the start date was October 1st.  They decided to move it up one month.  There was only one reason to do that:  for my benefit.  Both to get the increase earlier but also because any raises after November 1st disqualify employees from the annual raises in April.  My new boss did this to bless me and told me to take care of my little boy.  He also told me to have a life-work balance – “not the other way around, always make sure life comes first.”  What a blessing!

After struggling through unemployment, debt collectors, trips to the ER, medical bills and other challenges God had come through.  I feel very blessed and it further strengthens my faith that God is in control, His hand guides our lives and that He knows what He’s doing.  I have been thanking and praising Him every day.  Life is tough sometimes, and we know that we will have troubles.  We need to look back on the positives and remember how God brought us through so it can fuel our faith and encourage others.

Here’s a picture of my newborn son, Micah.  I also like to acknowledge and promote talented artists and this photo was taken by a friend Anna Roberson of Anna Roberson Designs.  (Another one of Micah’s photos is currently on her main website page also).  We love him to death and he’s such a blessing.  God is so good!


Truth vs Perception

Did you know that Olive Garden is an awful joke of a restaurant and no one likes to eat there?  That’s the impression you’d get from stand-up comedians and late night talk show hosts, yet most people I know like it.  Their parking lot is always full so their business seems to be doing ok.  Yet somehow, Olive Garden has become a target for jokes.  I think one main reason is that people today don’t care if something is true or not, they just want to follow the trend and be in on the joke.  So someone laughs off how bad Olive Garden is because other people did it, too.

This happened to Sarah Palin.  This is not a political point and I’m not saying one thing or another about her politically.  But this is about perception.  Tina Fey famously impersonated her on Saturday Night Live during the 2008 campaign.  Tina’s caricature of Palin said “I can see Russia from my house.”  That is the quote people now often attribute to Palin.  However, what Palin actually said was “They’re our next door neighbors and you can actually see Russia from land here in Alaska, from an island in Alaska.”

This kind of thing happens all the time in politics but also in simple things like movie quotes and song lyrics.  It’s like the telephone game kids play where you whisper a message from one person to another and as it progresses, you find that the message has changed over time.

A famous movie quote regarding truth comes from Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men: “You can’t handle the truth!”  His character’s take is that there are truths in life that we sometimes would rather not know about.  We’d rather ignore them and go along with the popular perceptions, or keep our heads in the sand altogether.

The prophets in the Old Testament knew a lot about trying to speak truth to a people that preferred popular perceptions.  They dealt with kings who only wanted to hear good fortunes, and people that only listened to what they wanted to hear.  Not only did that problem extend to the New Testament era as well, but is a problem with humanity of any time period.

2 Timothy 4:3-4 says “For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.”

I’m going to begin taking a look at some misquotes, misperceptions and myths about Jesus, the Bible and Christianity.  I’m not a Bible scholar but I did do some study in college toward my pastoral degree and I’ve observed plenty of poor perception of Jesus and the Church.  Some things are simple enough to look at the context in the Bible or dig deeper into the story and find the truth.

“You want answers?”
“I want the truth.”
“You can’t handle the truth!”


Ok, I just love that scene.  :)

I’ll end with a somewhat funny one that happens in church.  At least it’s funny to me.  In the song “A Mighty Fortress is Our God,” the last line of the first verse is “on earth is not his equal.”  When this song is sung in church, you’ll inevitably find someone raise their hands or pump their fists in excitement.  Yes!  There is no equal to God on earth!  Except, wait.  Look at the lines just before that:

For still our ancient foe
doth seek to work us woe
his craft and power are great
and armed with cruel hate
on earth is not his equal

That portion talks about our ancient foe:  the devil!  He seeks to work us woe, he’s crafty and armed with CRUEL HATE.  That’s not God, that’s the devil.  On earth, there is no equal to how incredibly evil, cruel and hateful the devil is.  In contrast, the song describes how our God is greater.  But those specific lines are describing the devil.  I always get a kick out of someone raising their hands in worship…singing about how there is no greater evil on earth than the cruel hate of satan.

Glory!  :p


Avoid the trap of a boring church routine

Let’s face it:  sometimes we don’t feel like going to church.

Most don’t like to admit that because it doesn’t sound spiritual.  Or worse, people might call you a heretic or ask you if you’re back-sliding.  But when church gets boring or stale, it can cause people to skip and spend their time in other ways.  Anything we do in life can become stale at times, from work to relationships to our favorite TV shows or weekly restaurant choices.  Sometimes, it’s good to shake things up.  Take on a new project or hobby.  Have a date night on a random weeknight or take a spontaneous trip.  Try a new restaurant or prepare a recipe at home you’ve never tried.  Turn off the TV and do something different.  We encourage individuals to freshen things up now and then.

So why not do the same for church ministries?  Even the most unique churches usually follow a certain format or pattern.  It can feel too programmed, regimented or manufactured. 

Church leaders go to conferences, read books and websites and talk amongst themselves about how to attract people, keep people, grow in number and spirituality.  They say that to reach adults, have a great children’s ministry and provide great programs.  They say that doing a series that lasts 4-6 weeks will make people want to come back to enjoy that series.  (They don’t consider if someone doesn’t like the series, they could choose to skip the next 4-6 weeks).  It’s “different” to have coffee and donuts in the lobby, or call your small groups “life” groups, or “community” groups or some other wording.  I’ve sat in on meetings where pastors discuss calling it a program instead of a bulletin to not be too religious, or have to plan how they’ll walk up the steps.  They think they are doing things “outside the box” when really they’re just slightly rearranging items inside the box.

Pastors these days have to plan and regiment everything.   Services are timed in great detail.  While it’s good to have a plan, and try to accommodate a schedule that includes more than one service on Sunday, the spontaneity and fun (and passion) can often be subdued. I’ve been to many churches that claim to be edgy and different, but really are a carbon copy of every non-denominational styled church these days.

Regimented.  Programmed.  Manufactured.  Cookie cutter.

I took a leadership class in college taught by the President of the University.  The school had a policy to take attendance each class and to write students up for skipping too many times.  He took attendance the first class and told us that he won’t be doing that every class, only the first couple times.  He just wanted to get to know our names.  He acknowledged the policy (again he was the President) but said that the responsibility should be on the professors:  “if your class is interesting enough, students will want to attend.  If students aren’t attending your class, maybe you need to do a better job of keeping them there.

Don’t get me wrong, I know churches mean well.  And some people like repetition and shy away from change.  You don’t want to change just for change’s sake and you do need structure and stability.  But we also could use some variety, to experience something fresh and new.  Mix it up a little. 

In the same way that individuals are encouraged to shake things up to bring some refreshing to their lives, here are some suggestions churches can do to bring variety to their ministry life.

  • Do an acoustic worship set, or even acapella (or a totally different style of music altogether). 
  • Do something creative like more visual demonstrations and modern day parables. 
  • Get more people from your church involved so it’s more about community and less about watching a show on stage.
  • Shake up the order of service: perhaps spend more time on worship and prayer and shorten the sermon
  • Have special services with no sermon but more involvement from people, creative performances or even viewing a Christian short film.
  • Invite guest speakers, artists and performers to bring some fresh perspective (and give your volunteers a break)
  • Plan more community events
  • Team up with other churches in the area for joint service and outreach projects, and have a joint worship gathering after to celebrate what God is doing in your community.

 There really is no limit to the number of ideas you can try.  I encourage you to pray and seek God about what ways you can liven things up to bring some variety and add interest to your ministry.

What are some creative things you’ve tried in your ministries that you’ve found successful?


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