God isn’t as religious as you think He is.

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“It is your father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Luke 12:32

This statement might just be among the most anti-religious things Jesus is recorded to have ever said. In one sentence, Our Lord turns over the tables of our religious presumptions and drives out the money changers of self made religion.
The words of Jesus here, must have made every Pharisee in town feel squeamish. He says something here that flies in the face of two prevalent forms of religion. In one joyful declaration or Lord knocked the legs out from under what I call, “The probationary gospel” and the “Cash and Carry Gospel.” Both of these are rampant in our culture today, and are as deadly to the soul today as they were in Jesus day.
1. “The probationary gospel” is a lie that portrays our heavenly father as nothing more than an irate deity, fuming over us with his bony finger poised over the Hell-button, just waiting for an excuse to drop the trap door open and send us screaming into the abyss. It’s a probationary gospel because it is entirely dependent on our good behavior. Imagine God saying to us at conversion, “Alright you little sinner. You’re forgiven for now, but if you don’t keep it clean you’re going back to the darkness.” It’s a fake gospel that says, ” If you die having even the smallest sin unconfessed, you’re going to hell !” Really? A salvation that is only as strong as my ability to confess? A gospel that depends on my goodness is no gospel at all.
Jesus says, “It’s your father’s good pleasure…” Your father was and is pleased to give you the kingdom. His salvation is not an act of obligation, but of divine love. If you are saved you are not on probation. You are not under the wrath of God any longer. God is your father and He is pleased to give you his kingdom and everything that comes with it. This leads to the second point.
2. “The cash and carry gospel” otherwise known as the health and wealth gospel. There are many preachers who are selling the gospel short, by making it primarily about money and health and material things. While I have no problem believing that God will meet all our needs and even give an abundance at times, the notion that the kingdom of God is about material things falls short of the message of Jesus.
The Pharisees loved money. If Jesus message had been about wealth and financial gain, they would never have crucified him. They would have flocked to him. I fear today that many preachers would have quite a following of Pharisees had they preached their messages in his day. The gospel is not about making it in this world, but in the next. Jesus said, “Its the father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” The kingdom of God is what is being offered here, not the kingdoms of this world.
The message of the gospel is not about how God can make you wealthy, healthy and successful in this life. Too many people become Christians because someone told them Jesus could improve their lives. While that is certainly true, that is not what makes the gospel good news. The good news is that we have an eternal kingdom that never fades, an eternal hope with greater riches than this world could ever offer.
Our lives are hidden with Christ (Col. 3). When prosperity preachers offer us mansions and cars and money they are thinking too small. If you read the verses that follow Luke 12:32 you will see Jesus inviting us to strip ourselves of any concern for material things and go after the real riches found in him. Paul tells us that “The kingdom of God is not meat and drink (i.e. material things) but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 14:17)
Friends, Jesus came preaching a message that is liberating to the soul! It liberates us from legalism and materialism, among other things. He liberates us by showing us a father in heaven who is not nearly as religious as we are. God is not religious, God is love. He is Holy love. He calls us to free ourselves from the bondage of sin and self, by faith in him. When we turn to Him by faith we find a heavenly father who takes great pleasure in giving us a kingdom that never fades, never falls, never dies. He’s not inviting you to the burden of religious duty or the greater burden of materialism. But to the freedom and joy we were created for. This comes only through turning by faith and surrender to Jesus Christ, who died to open the door for us.

53 and counting….

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I turned 53 yesterday. That puts me two years away from a senior citizen’s discount. I’m trying to wrap my brain around the fact that in seven years. Lord willing, I’ll be sixty. Say what? After 50 birthdays start to become more and more important. (insert chuckle here)

It’s kinda weird to celebrate 53 years, partly because I still feel much younger than that. Even though it takes me longer to get up out of a chair, and I’m getting used to the fact that I can’t read anything without whipping out my reading glasses, I still feel pretty young. I still have lots of energy…most of the time, but I go to bed much earlier now than I did just a few years ago. But whatever delusions of immortality I had in my twenties are long gone. I know that one day this earthly life will come to an end, and statistically, that could happen in just a couple of decades, despite my hopes of living to be a hundred ( I think that would be very cool but only God knows about that.).

It’s kinda creepy to think about your life ending, but at my age I can’t help but at least tip my hat in acknowledgement to that weird guy with a sickle, standing in the shadows. I know one day he’s gonna come knocking and escort me to glory. Fortunately, because of Jesus the trip will be a short passage into life. I think if it weren’t for Jesus I would be in great fear of death. How sad it would be to think that my life was just an existence until death. But I have great hope that this short life is just  a warm up for eternity.

However, despite my great hope, I still feel some apprehension about the future. I’m done looking back with regret about the past. I’ve looked back and seen God’s hand on my life and for that I give thanks. God has blessed me beyond my expectations. But I can see also that I wasted a lot of my life being way too self concerned. God has graciously worked in and through this little clay pot of a life despite some basic mistakes. Here’s a short list of things I could get really depressed about if I tried.

  1. Too much talking. Too little listening.
  2. Too many hours spent on computer games. Too little on relationships.
  3. Too much time looking for affirmation. Too little time giving it.
  4. Too much self preservation. Too little self sacrifice.
  5. Too much concern for appearances. Too little concern for substance.
  6. Too much convenience. Too little perseverance.
  7. Too much fear. too little faith.
  8. Too much self. Too little others.
  9. Too much resentment. Too little forgiveness.
  10. Too much flesh. Too little Spirit.

I’ve spent enough time thinking about previous years and how I could have given more and loved better. I wept. I’ve confessed. I’ve mended fences…or at least tried, some refuse to mend. But as the Bible says, “There’s a time to weep and a time to laugh.” I’m done trying to fix yesterday. It’s time to move ahead into the life God has for me and my loved ones.

The great news of the Gospel is that God is always calling us forward to new life. I’m ready to move into the gift of life with a new zeal for God and His kingdom. In my short 53 years, despite all the ups and downs, one thing has remained. Jesus Christ, my wonderful savior has held my hand all the way. His love is greater than my regrets, stronger than my fears, and more powerful than my insecurities.

He has been unswervingly faithful and undeniably capable in all situations.My king has kept me in His nail scarred hands even in my worst moments. He has given me a wonderful family, amazing friends and tremendous opportunities. The great news is that no matter how long I live on this planet the best is always yet to come. Quite frankly, I have no intention of winding down at this point. My God has given me a great gospel to preach and a great life to live and I feel that I’m just now getting started. I want the second half to be greater than the first. I want my life to burst with God’s glory so brightly that you’ll have to wear sunglasses to my funeral!

If you have read this far, thank you for indulging me. I want to encourage you to live your life completely for Jesus Christ. He is the very ground of your existence. He is the reason for every breath you breathe. He alone can give meaning and lasting purpose to your life. In fact, He alone can give you your life. To Him be the glory now and forever. Amen.

 

 

 

 

The Invisible boy on the train track.

An invisible boy traipses along a deserted railroad track. He looks as far down as he can see, wondering what it was like, back in the day, when this track was filled with steel cars and hurried passengers. The smell of railroad ties intertwined with the whir of passing cars along the highway draws him further down the line. He’s surrounded by activity, but on that empty track he feels disconnected from it all. He wonders how far he could walk and how long he could be gone before anyone noticed his absence. He’s afraid to walk too far. He’s afraid his suspicions will be true. He’s afraid he’ll discover he could walk to China and the world would just keep moving like the traffic on the highway. Oblivious. Preoccupied. Not even aware he was gone.  But one day he decides to give it a try. He gets out on the track and walks. Alone. Invisible. Disconnected from the world speeding around him. Tired of being invisible. He just wants someone to see him. So he walks.

He walks for miles, waving at the oblivious passers by, imagining they’re waving back. As he travels along the track he leaves his home far behind, occasionally wondering if any of his siblings are looking for him. Once in awhile he thinks he hears a voice calling him home, but when he turns around to look no one is there. Must have been imagining things. So the invisible boy walks on. He walks on hoping someone will be able to see him. As he gets a little older and wiser he decides maybe it’s his own fault no one can see him there. He’s not trying hard enough. When you’re invisible you have to work a little harder to be noticed.

So be starts turning somersaults along the track. He discovers that when he’s performing, he becomes visible. But when he stops, he’s gone from sight again. So it’s best to keep doing tricks along the track.  Maybe if he turns enough really good flips the by passers will take note and someone will join him on the track. It works, well, sort of. At first no one seems to care about his attempts at acrobatics, but as he perfects his art, people start to notice. The slowing of traffic and the photos being taken by amused drivers, give him reason to flip even more. Finally, someone has noticed the invisible boy! So he flips more, turning and twisting, jumping and throwing himself in all directions, whatever it takes to keep the growing crowds cheering. But a boy can only turn so many flips before the has to slow down and rest. Then they’re gone again. Seems like all they wanted was the show. When he looks up from his rest he is invisible again.  His aching joints and the dimming of the sky  make it clear to him that he has wandered farther down the track than he thought, and the time has gone by faster than he imagined. He has spent way too much time doing tricks for attention. Eventually the time comes when he just can’t keep up the show. All he can do is keep walking. At the end of the day he’s still an invisible boy walking along the tracks. Disconnected. Invisible. Tired of turning flips. Wondering if anyone out there is able to see him.

Three things you need to know before you walk out the door.

“And we are witness to these things and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”  (Acts 5:32)

The Apostles were on trial for preaching the gospel. Don’t kid yourself, the day is fast approaching when the church in America will be forbidden to boldly preach the gospel. But the Apostles boldly proclaimed anyway, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Only that power can enable us to faithfully proclaim the gospel, not the churchy feel good message of those who would water it down, but the gospel…the one in the Bible, that still calls people to repentance of sin and faith in the crucified, risen and returning Christ.

The Apostles of this century will boldly preach this gospel by the power of the Spirit. In the verse above we see three things any serious disciple needs to know about the Holy Spirit. Go back and read it again. In short form, here are the three things you need to know before you walk out the door.

1. The Holy Spirit has made you a witness. They said, “We are witnesses…” Earlier, Jesus had told the apostles, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you and you will be my witnesses….” The Spirit came upon them and gave them a Holy boldness and power to be witnesses of the good news of Jesus Christ. You may not have seen him raised from the dead, but you are a witness of what Jesus has done in your life. The Holy Spirit will give you power to boldly proclaim your unique gospel message. Not your own Gospel, but your own experience with the good news of Christ. Without that power you cannot be an effective witness.

2. The Holy Spirit bears witness to Christ. “And so is the Holy Spirit…” The Holy Spirit came alongside the Apostles to confirm their message with powerful signs and wonders. He still does that today. When the gospel witness goes out, the Holy Spirit steps in and demonstrates the reality of Jesus life. Do you expect God to show up in power when you witness? He longs to come alongside and show the truth of the gospel. So how do you get this power in your life?

3. The Holy Spirit is given to those who obey God. “Who has been given to those who obey him.” The Apostles experienced the power of the Spirit as they stepped out in faith and obedience. Friend, if you want to experience the Spirit’s power in your life, get up off your pew and go do something about the great commission. I’ll tell you that is the only way you will really experience his power. Some are wasting away wondering why God isn’t more real to them. Listen,  God will be as real to you as your obedience is to him. No excuses, no games. When you get out there and get about the business of communicating the gospel, God will show up in power.

So before you go out today know this, You are a witness of what Jesus Christ has done for you. Second, The Holy Spirit is also a witness of who who Jesus is. In other words, you give witness and He bears witness. Third, power follows obedience, nothing less. Now go out today and see what God will do when you obey his call.

Texts, Temples and Traditions ? Is that all God’s got?

“His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.”   (2 Peter 1:3-4)

Every religion on earth says basically the same thing: “Here’s the textbook. Here’s the temple. Here are the traditions. See ya at the finish line…if you’re good. Good luck.”

You’re left with a text, a temple, and tradition. Every religion hands you the book of choice and leaves it up to you to make it through. But only the message of Jesus Christ says, “Yes we have rules, we have traditions and beliefs, but there’s more.” The good news of Jesus Christ is that God doesn’t just hand you a book and say, “Good luck, see ya at the finish line”…though many Christians live as if that’s exactly what God did. They’re missing the most crucial element. God offers you his very presence and power.

The good news is that God says, “You can’t make it on your own. If you try you will fail. So I have come to live inside of you and be with you along the way. It wont be you doing the work, but my Holy Spirit within you. Let me change you, and empower you to live the live I have called you to.” You see, when a person repents of their sin, and believes in the Lord Jesus Christ, they are not only forgiven, they are indwelt by God himself.

Preaching the first Christian sermon ever, the Apostle Peter said it like this, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38) It’s the presence of the Holy Spirit who makes us truly Christian. He also makes us victorious over the sin and corruption of this world. In the passage at the beginning of this blog we see four powerful truths that help us live victoriously, the way God designed us to. Read it again then see below four life changing truths every believer ought to know.

1. God’s divine power has given us all we need to live godly lives in this present world. This means that we are not called to just be forgiven, then continue wallowing in sin, just consoling ourselves by saying, “God accepts me.” He does accept you but he also expects you to put away the old life and walk powerfully in the new one.  We are called to live godly lives as God’s children. You have all you need to do that if the Spirit of Christ is in you.

2. This power comes through knowing God personally. As you get to know him and rely on him, he imparts his power into your life. But you can’t have God’s power without a personal commitment to Christ. You can’t just believe God is out there somewhere. You have to develop a personal relationship with him. This relationship is with a person, not a system. The person’s name is Jesus Christ. He died on the cross and rose from the dead to open the way to eternal life, and to give us access to God’s very life on this earth.

3. We access the power of God by obeying his word and believing his promises. As a society we are great at analyzing the promises of God, but are slow to just believe them. You want to know why we don’t see as many miracles as they saw in the Bible? It’s not because God went on vacation. It’s because we have become so self reliant and cynical that we have trouble just trusting  a God who is way beyond us. But when we trust him, miracles happen. I’ve see high school students literally healed of sickness in my class room because they simply believed God.

4. God desires that we live as free people, not as slaves. We were not meant to just be forgiven. We were meant to be victorious. You can overcome that stubborn sin that keeps tangling you up. You can put away the porn addiction, the cutting, the gossip. You can live free of crippling anxiety and depression. You can walk away from the wreck of an immoral life. God’s power is real and available to all who turn from sin to Christ by faith.

Jesus Christ is offering you more than a text, and temple and a tradition. He offers himself to you. Will you trust him? Will you receive him?

Beautifully Broken…Celebrating the Risen One.

How was your Easter, or Resurrection Day, Yesterday? Mine was beautiful, although not much went according to plan. I started the morning off with a community Sunrise service..in which I forgot that it was my job to arrange the service and get people to handle various parts of the service. Nothing like staring out at a sea of expectant faces looking at you, then suddenly realizing you have no order of worship, or songs etc. But thankfully Pastor Tom handled the music, and Bob Schaeffer, our speaker did a great job. Then on to my service, where we traditionally have a brunch combined with worship, which includes a blossoming of the cross. Brunch went well, and it was a nice service. We had some funny moments with the music as Jeremy and Meg tried to negotiate chords and notes between guitar and piano. They always do a great job, but there was a bit of laughter with a couple of songs. They both are great worship leaders, but this was the first time they had led together. But even with the minor chord confusion the song service was joyful and beautiful. Then came the blossoming of the cross. Usually we cover the cross in flowers from our gardens, but due to recent flooding and morning frost the cross was sparsely covered. A couple of folks were able to bring in flowers and my resourceful wife went outside before the service and got some wild flowers from the church yard. Oh and I forgot to mention that my daughter had trouble with her brakes on the way to church, so I was dealing with that early on. Then she got sick and Mary, my wife, had to take her home before the service. So any visions of a high powered super duper, cutting edge, crowd drawing Easter services quickly vanished. They won’t be writing about this in church growth magazines.

But it was one of the more beautiful days of celebrating the risen Lord I have ever experienced. We may not have wowed the crowds and mystified the seekers. I may not have preached an unforgettable message. But Jesus showed up in a beautiful way. Our service was pretty regular. Pretty unspectacular. And pretty awesome. I’ve been to a lot of Easter services, but only a few really got me in touch with the resurrection of our Lord in such a profound way. Why was it profound?

First, it was profound in it’s simplicity. For example, a simple wooden cross sparsely decorated with the flowers of the field, showed a depth of love from the people that you just can’t manufacture. I loved watching the children hang little wildflowers and Tulips on the cross. I’ll take that over a cool video any day.

Second, it was profound in it’s joy. Everything from singing a birthday song to Lauren, to clapping together when Theresa announce that her ailing grandfather, for whom we had been praying, was now getting better, to hearing the congregation sincerely repeat, “He is risen indeed!” as the service began. The joy was not pumped with hype and pretense. It was simple, pure and real. We have a church that truly loves Jesus and believes he is alive forever.

Third, it was profound in it’s impact. No, we didn’t baptize anybody. There was no flooding of the altar. Doggone it we didn’t even get a truckload of guest names to follow up on next week. But God’s people were inspired to live as those who have been risen with Christ. My Twelve year old friend Mike, who I’m training to preach, came up to me, after the service, and said two things that almost bring tears. First, he said, “I’m excited about being a preacher some day.” Second he said, “Can we start visiting the nursing home? I feel bad for those people who have nobody to visit them.” Mike wants to live the risen life. He wants to bring life to those who need it. Did I mention that Mike is twelve years old? He wants to bring the gospel to people who are too often forgotten.

Finally, it was profound in it’s brokenness. Like I said the services I attended were both a little imperfect, but still very powerful. Isn’t it just like our risen Lord to come to us in our brokenness and bless us. That’s what the story of the resurrection is all about. The risen one showing up in our midst, and blessing us just as we are. It makes me think of his first appearance to his disciples. They were hiding in an upper room, broken, afraid and in need of his presence. Then he walked through the wall and said, “Peace be with you.” May we allow the risen one to walk through our walls and bless us in our beautiful brokenness.

One persons trash is the Lord’s treasure.

When the woman broke the jar of perfume and poured it out on Jesus, her act of love was called “a waste” by his disciples, but Jesus called it a “beautiful thing she has done for me”. He said, in fact, that the world would not be allowed to forget it. Remember this today, the love you pour out for your savior may not be appreciated by anyone but him. Even fellow disciples may call your acts “A waste” because they don’t understand your heart. But know this, Jesus sees it differently. He knows your heart and he calls your outpouring “A beautiful thing that will never be forgotten.” So move past the critics and pour it out on the king who is worthy. He sees what no one else sees. And He will never forget it.