The Announcement!

I’ve been dying to make this announcement, but Megan and I had to wait until she could announce it at work. Well, last Friday, she did, and so let me officially put the news out there!

WE’RE MOVING TO BELL GARDENS, CALIFORNIA!!!!!

If you had told me back in the beginning of April, as my seminary life was ending, that Megan and I would be going to the Los Angeles area, (which Bell Gardens is a part of), I would have called you crazy.  We were putting plans together for after graduation, but God often interrupts our plans so that we can be in His. And so He did.

The interruption started when Pastor John Johnson of Covina Assembly was here in Springfield for a two day meeting, and he had lunch with my father, Megan and me, and somewhere in the middle of bites of Cracker Barrel he started talking about this church in Bell Gardens. As he talked about it, I could sense the Holy Spirit opening my heart to the possibility of taking the risk, moving to a land I had never been, and doing something I knew God called me to do: Pastor a multicultural church!

A week later, Pastor John called me up and asked me to send my resume, to start the process.  Megan and I could not get this church out of our hearts and minds, and God grew our love for the people of Bell Gardens even though we didn’t even know what the community looked like. Well, Google Earth helped us out with that, as we would “drive” through the town, looking at it, and praying.  You have no idea how hard it was for me to focus on finishing out the semester, finish writing my papers, taking my finals, when all along I just wanted to think and pray about Bell Gardens.

A few days after graduation, Megan and I flew out to LA for 5 days.  And God started blessing us from the moment we landed. For cheaper than our original reservation of a Mitsubishi Galant, the folks at Dollar Rental hooked us up with a Mustang convertible! We then hit the ground running. We got to the church at about 3pm, and we had meetings with the interim pastor, Pastor John, the advisory council of the church, the leadership team, the pastors of the Spanish Church, and finally many from the church. 

Our hearts grew and grew for the people of Bell Gardens, and we knew that God had opened this door. I often wondered why God led me to major in Spanish at Evangel 20 years ago. I figured back then that it was to become a teacher, but after doing that for a few years, I knew that wasn’t it. Then I went to Bell Gardens, where 98 percent of the community are Hispanic. Even 20 years ago, God knew this was where we were going to be, and He was preparing me even then!

As I preached that Sunday morning, May 11, I knew that God was in this! We said yes, and so we are now the Pastors of Full Gospel Assembly of God in Bell Gardens, California. We’ll be moving there later this month, but our hearts are already there.

Please, keep us in your prayers! And if you’re in Bell Gardens, come on over to the church where we LOVE GOD, LOVE OTHERS, AND REACH THE WORLD!

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Have You Done All You Could?

What You Could

Intro:

            I love having my parents back from Africa.  They live just 4 miles away, and so I often find myself driving there to hang out with them.  I call them, text them, and I just love it. Another perk for having them back, is in how they both challenge me, and encourage me.  It’s so wonderful to be able to ask them questions about the ministry, and get their guidance and encouragement, but also because they are my parents, they feel free to ask me the hard questions.

The other day, while doing his devotions, my dad was reading in the Gospel of Mark.  I’m sure he’s read this chapter thousands of times, and I’m sure many of you have too, but while reading this time, his eyes were struck by 5 words Jesus spoke.

Let’s turn our Bibles to Mark 14:1-9

14 Now the Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread were only two days away, and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were scheming to arrest Jesus secretly and kill him. 2 “But not during the festival,” they said, “or the people may riot.”

3 While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head.

4 Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? 5 It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly.

6 “Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 7 The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. 8 She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. 9 Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

My dad is in his 60’s, so he’s supposed to be easing up on the gas.  My mom is, according to her, in her late 30’s, but she too should be easing up.  However, when they look at these Scriptures, they are inspired to do more.  Instead of winding down, they are ramping it up a notch.  Why?

“She Did What She Could”

As those around the situation watched this woman break open this expensive bottle of perfume, and anoint Jesus, washing his feet, they were incensed.  But in verse 8, Jesus’ five words just rock us to our core:

“She did what she could”

This woman did all that she could!

My dad sat with Megan and me, and at 62, proclaimed, “I haven’t done all I can do.”  This is the same guy who pastored for many years in the states.  This is the same guy who has planted many churches in a country where no Assembly of God church ever existed, yet he refuses to sit on his laurels.  He refuses to wind down.  He refuses to prop up his feet in his really comfortable recliner and watch hours and hours of Fox News on his ridiculously amazing LG Super Amazing Picture TV that is probably the number 1 reason I go over there to visit!  Why? Because he has not done all he could.

I have not done all I could do!  When I was a youth pastor I wasn’t in the schools enough.  I didn’t go enough to their games.  I didn’t go enough to their plays.  I didn’t spent enough time in prayer for the students.  I didn’t disciple them enough.  I did not do all that I could.

Have You Done All You Can?

So let me ask you tonight, have you done all that you could?

Have you worshipped all that you could?

This woman poured out her most prized possession in worship of Christ.  And I’m not saying we need to come in here with our bottle of Acqua di Gio, Chanel no. 5, or even our Brut aftershave, but what about our pride?  Are you holding on to your pride, refusing to let go of it, and because of that, not worshipping with all that you could?  She poured out her all for Christ in worship, have you?

Have you given all that you could?

I haven’t.  I love to golf.  I love to do triathlons.  I love to do cycling events.  I love to get 42oz sodas from Hy-Vee, but it’s hard for me to give.  So can I do more? Yes.  Can you? Probably.

You may be reading this, and you want to give more, but you give yourself an out all the time.  I hear this one at school sometimes, and I even heard myself say it once: “I’ll give to the church and to mission when I get out of school and am pastoring or working full time.” Guess what? No I won’t.  You may have made a similar deal. Perhaps, you have said you’ll give when your kids are out of college, or give when you’ve bought your daughters prom dress, or give when your kids are out of the house.  But you probably won’t.  There will always be an excuse not to give.  Trust me, I’ve used them all!  Yet, this woman gave all that she could! She did not make an excuse. 

She could have saved that nice perfume for her wedding day.  But she didn’t.

She could have saved that perfume to pass down to another generation. But she didn’t.

She gave all that she could! Have you?

Have You Shared Christ, With All That You Could?

Finally, have you shared Christ with all those that you could?

Have you shared him with those in your family that do not know him?

Have you shared him with those that you work with that do not know him?

Have you shared him with those who live next to you, down your block, in your apartment complex, and play sports with your kids?

Have you told all that you could?

 

Another Doggone Noah Blog For Ya

I don’t know if you have heard about it, but just a couple of weeks ago this little movie came out.  Paramount Pictures spent a ton of money on it, and I’m sure they were hoping that this epic tale would roll up Indiana Jones, Star Wars, and Titanic all in one two hour movie.  I’m sure you have figured it out by now, but just in case you didn’t, I’m not talking about The Lego Movie, I’m talking about Noah.

A few Sunday’s back, I was driving to Hy-Vee for lunch after church, and had the Top 20 countdown show on the radio.  On a side note, do you all realize how many Christian bands are trying to sound like Mumford and Sons?  Well, during one of the commercial breaks, they had a radio trailer about the movie.  Now, I’ve seen a lot of movie trailers, and I’ve heard a few on the radio, but what made this trailer different than any other I have ever heard was the disclaimer at the end of it.  In a really quick and quiet voice, the voice said: “Though based on the Bible, artistic license has been used.”

So this morning, you may have questions on what aspects of the story of Noah and the flood the producers of the movie used their license.  What I hope to do for you over the next few weeks is simply tell you what the Bible says.  So let’s get into it, by going in our Bibles to Genesis 6:9-22.

6:9-This is the account of Noah and his family. Noah was a righteous man, the only blameless person living on earth at the time, and he walked in close fellowship with God. 10 Noah was the father of three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth.

Noah was a righteous man. The word used here for righteous is tsaddiq, and this verse is the first time that it’s used in the Bible.  He lived his every day, ordinary life in a way that pleased God.  He didn’t do it for fame.  He didn’t do it for prosperity.  All we see is that he did it.

He was blameless.  He was a man of integrity.  When God looked at the life of Noah, he saw a human being that did what was right in the sight of God, and did it consistently.  Not just when he felt like it, or when he thought he might get something for it.  He just lived it!

And he walked in close fellowship with God.  He chose friendship with God over friendship with the world.  James 4:4 says that if you are a friend of the world, you are an enemy of God, and the world that James is talking about is not the trees, rivers and grass, but the value system and worldview that people choose.  Noah chose to share the value system with God.  He chose to be of one mind, and one soul with God.  He chose God’s plan, and God’s way of living.  So God chose him!

In sharp contrast to the description of Noah, (righteous, blameless, walks with God), the narrator describes the rest of humanity as corrupt, and violent.

6:11-12: Now God saw that the earth had become corrupt and was filled with violence. God observed all this corruption in the world, for everyone on earth was corrupt.

So how corrupt were they? Well, when you want to emphasize a point with someone you repeat it right? Notice how many times the writer uses the word “corrupt” in this short passage. THREE TIMES.  “The earth had become corrupt.” “God observed all this corruption.” “Everyone on earth was corrupt.”  I think it’s safe to say that these folks were pretty corrupt.  Noah was blameless and righteous, and these dudes were the complete opposite.  Their corruption knew no boundaries.  Whereas seeking righteousness provides boundaries and guidelines for life, corruption just wants to break down those rules and expectations at every turn.

We’re not talking about a few people living this way either! EVERYONE was living this way….except Noah. Despite all of this corruption and violence, God would not abandon the earth, because he knew that he had one man he could count on!

God Provides a Plan

6:13-21: So God said to Noah, “I have decided to destroy all living creatures, for they have filled the earth with violence. Yes, I will wipe them all out along with the earth!

“Build a large boat from cypress wood and waterproof it with tar, inside and out. Then construct decks and stalls throughout its interior. Make the boat 450 feet long, 75 feet wide, and 45 feet high. Leave an 18-inch opening below the roof all the way around the boat. Put the door on the side, and build three decks inside the boat—lower, middle, and upper.

Look! I am about to cover the earth with a flood that will destroy every living thing that breathes. Everything on earth will die. But I will confirm my covenant with you. So enter the boat—you and your wife and your sons and their wives. Bring a pair of every kind of animal—a male and a female—into the boat with you to keep them alive during the flood. Pairs of every kind of bird, and every kind of animal, and every kind of small animal that scurries along the ground, will come to you to be kept alive. And be sure to take on board enough food for your family and for all the animals.”

God lets Noah know what’s going on in his heart.  He lets him know what he’s about to do.  Since humanity has ruined the earth, God is going to ruin humanity.  God’s got a plan, though, and he is going to use Noah to accomplish it.  So God interrupts Noah’s plans, so that Noah can be a part of his.

Now, let’s go back to the description of Noah a few verses earlier.  He is righteous.  He is blameless.  He is consistent.  I have looked at every definition of those words, and I have looked at every other alternative definition from the original Hebrew and nowhere can I find anything that describes Noah as being some amazing shipbuilder, a good sea hand, a licensed zookeeper, or anything else that would provide for him the human tools for the job.  So God gives him the instructions.  God gives him the blueprint.  God covers even the minor details.  Why? Because God is in control.  Noah cannot do this on his own.

God tells him how to build the ark.  He tells him what kind of wood to use.  He describes how to waterproof it.  He gives Noah the interior design plans.  He sets the dimensions that the ark needs to be, and gives the exact placement of the roof and the door.

God doesn’t leave Noah hanging on the rest of the plan either.  God tells him exactly who can come on the boat with him, and what animals he needs to bring along for the ride.  Now, I don’t miss a meal, in fact, I schedule my day around my nutrition, so God might not have needed to remind me of the last detail he gives to Noah to me, but he made sure to remind Noah to bring some food for the trip.  I wonder if Noah’s wife is like mine and made sure that he got some salt and vinegar chips because they go great with travel (although they stink up the whole car!).

God gave Noah the plan.  Then Noah had a choice.  He could either follow the instructions exactly the way God prescribed, or he could pick and choose which ones he wanted to follow, and which ones he could choose to ignore.  What did he do?

6:22- So Noah did everything exactly as God had commanded him.

Noah did everything exactly as God commanded him.  He followed the easy instructions, and he followed the hard ones.  He followed the ones he could understand, and he followed the ones that made no sense to him.  He simply did what God commanded him to do.

God gives us a plan to.  He gives us instruction.  He gives us commands.  So what do we do?  Do we pick and choose?  Do we do the easy ones?  Do we ignore the hard ones?  What do we do?

We live in a world that tells us to choose what makes us happy.  A world that tells us to take the easy way out.  A world that tells us that if something is hard, then it is not worth doing. So this mindset has crept into the Church, as well.  We pick and choose what makes us feel good, making Christianity about us, and what God wants to do for us, and how God wants to make us feel good, look good, and get rich.  So we ignore the instruction and plan God gave us in the first place.

“Go and make disciples.” But that’s hard!

“Love your neighbor.” But she’s a meany head!

“Pray for those who persecute you.” But I want them to die!

“Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, mind and soul.” But I need to save some of my heart for the St. Louis Cardinals, or for the real heathen in the bunch, Dallas Cowboys.

Noah did exactly what God told him to do without question.  He just did it.  God’s got a plan for you too, so what is your answer.  When God gives you instructions, when God gives you his plan for your life your yes or your no impacts eternity.  What is your answer?  What will you do?

 

 

My Masters Swim Group Rocked My World Again

As I was running my long run, well long for me, this morning, it started hitting me that ten weeks from today, I’m going to be competing in the Kansas 70.3 Half Ironman (1.2 mile swim/56 mile bike/13.1 mile run).  This is a step towards the dream of doing a full Ironman race (2.4 mile swim/112 mile bike/ 26.2 mile run).

I really wanted to do Kansas in June, but as each month went by, it just wasn’t looking like it was a possibility financially for me, since the money Megan and I do have has to go to bills, food, and debt. I just couldn’t bring myself to spend the money it would cost to do this race, no matter how much I wanted to do, especially not knowing what’s going to happen after I graduate from school in May and my GI Bill stipend goes bye-bye.

Back in February I wrote about the Masters Swim group that has developed out of the triathlon club I’m a part of (here’s the link to that- https://impacteternity.wordpress.com/2014/02/04/how-my-masters-swim-group-is-teaching-me-to-be-a-better-pastor/).  Many from this group, and even more from the team are going to Kansas, not only to race, but to support those racing.  I told Brad, the club president and leader of the swim group that I wouldn’t be able to race it, but that Megan and I would still be going up to camp and cheer on the team.

Acts 4:32 says:

All the believers were united in heart and mind. And they felt that what they owned was not their own, so they shared everything they had.

This last Thursday, I found out how my teammates put this verse into practice.  After the warm-up, and before Brad laid the smack down on us with a tough 1200 meter main set, Brad told me that my friends on the team were taking care of my entry because they knew how much I wanted to race this event.

They aren’t doing this for what they can get in return, because when I’m about 10 miles into that run after everything else, I’m probably not going to be glad they did this!  They did this because they could, and because they care.

So this week, I want to challenge you. What can you share to someone else? You have no idea how big a blessing you can be until you try!

The Healer, The Haters, The Healed (Final Part)

The Healed

           The blind man did not have the education of the Pharisees.  He did not have the sight of his neighbors.  All he had were two eyes that did not work.  But when Jesus put that mud on his eyes, and the blind man went and washed it off, more than just a physical healing took place.  At the moment his eyes began to see, his life began to transform, as well.

            Though the Pharisees are spiritually blind, the blind man is not, and as the story progresses he becomes more and more aware of the true identity of Jesus. At the beginning of the story, the man does not do or say anything. He is merely a flat character used as an opportunity for the disciples to ask a question and for Jesus to teach a lesson. As soon as Jesus speaks to him, however, the blind man does as Jesus tells him. His unquestioning obedience is rewarded by the immediate cure of his blindness. His prompt obedience is remarkable, considering that he knows very little about Jesus; just how little he knows is made clear when he refers to Jesus as “the man called Jesus” in verse 11. Clearly he expects his neighbors to know who Jesus is, but he does not yet understand that Jesus is more than a normal person. He does, however, recognize that it was Jesus who healed him. The man’s amazed neighbors take him to the Pharisees, who ask him how he received his sight. The man’s response is often passed over without more than a cursory glance, but J.L. Staley reveals that the man’s response is a fascinating insight into his character. Unlike the lame man of John 5, who baldly stated that Jesus was the one who healed him, the formerly blind man seeks to protect Jesus from the persecution of the Pharisees. The man tells the Pharisees, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see” in John 9:15. The man does not mention Jesus by name because he is aware of the Pharisees’ attitude towards Jesus.

            The blind man plays a part in this, as well.  Jesus told him to wash off the mud in the pool of Siloam.  Now, he could have just as easily been walking, heard that there was water closer, and used that water, but he completely obeyed the instructions Jesus gave him.  His readiness to obey the command of Jesus is an essential element in the cure.  Jesus didn’t go with him to make sure he followed the directions, he went on his own.  Jesus provided a way to get rid of the label he had, and the blind man did what Jesus told him to do, and the blind man now became the healed!

            What this blind man knows is that once he was blind, then he had an encounter with Jesus Christ, and now he can see.  The label he had on himself his entire life, the blind guy, no longer exists anymore because of what Jesus did.  And Jesus can do the same for you.

Conclusion

  • Perhaps you label yourself as depressed.  Will you allow Jesus to take that label off?
  • Maybe you label yourself by your addiction.  Will you allow Jesus to take that label off?
  • What label have you put on yourself?  What label have others put on you?  Regardless of the label, Jesus Christ can, and will, take that label off.

Will you let Him?

Will you let Him?

Will you let the Healer replace that label, that label that the haters put on you, and let you be the Healed?

The Healer, The Haters, The Healed (Part 2)

The Haters

If you grew up in church, you see the Pharisees as villains.  You see them as really bad dudes.  Yet, if they were sitting next to you today, I have a feeling you would not think that at all.  In fact, you may have aspired to be like them.  These men came from all walks of life.  You did not have to be from a certain village, social strata, or economic status.  If you were a man, you could be a Pharisee.  The Pharisees were men passionate about the law.  They loved the law, and desired with all of their heart to live in such a way that they never disobeyed it.

For example, we all know we should wash our hands before we eat.  They even took that to an extreme. They were so focused on keeping themselves from being unclean that they would thoroughly wash their hands, for if they didn’t, by putting their unclean hand in their mouth when they ate, they automatically became unclean.

They weren’t bad people.  They did not do these things to be evil.  They lived this way because they desired to be godly.  Unfortunately, they missed it.  They were so wrapped up in how things should be done, that when God Himself came in and changed the game, they were blinded to what was happening.  They could not see the Healer.  They only saw the hated.  They were haters!

It wasn’t just the Pharisees, though.  Even those who knew this guy, and had seen him beg for years struggled with what happened.  Some thought it was the blind beggar, and others didn’t.  They couldn’t grasp that this guy could see, and then when they heard how the guy described this Jesus did it, they did the only thing they could think to do.  They took him to the Pharisees.

The neighbors, the friends, the Pharisees, and even the parents focused on the wrong thing.  Instead of seeing this miracle that just happened, instead of seeing how this blind man now possessed sight, they focused on the fact that Jesus worked on the Sabbath.  Jesus spit in some dirt, and physically made mud to put on this man’s eyes.

These haters became blinded by their religion, when right before them was the One who could give them sight.

So before we move on, how do you think you would react if something like this happened today? Let’s put the story in today’s context.  Imagine Jesus is tattooed up, pierced all over, and instead of doing something like this in a church, He runs into this blind man in a bar.  He takes some whiskey; puts in in his mouth; swishes it around, and then combines it with some cigarette ashes and puts it on the blind man’s eyes, and then tells him to go wash it off in the James River.

What would you focus on? Would you focus on the fact that Jesus was in a bar? Or that He put whiskey in His mouth? Or would you focus on the healing? Would you focus on the sight restored? Or, would you be a hater?

The Healer, The Haters, The Healed (Part 1)

John 9 provides for us an amazing story.  Many of you have either read it yourself, or heard of it.  Perhaps you saw it in a clip in part of a movie about Jesus, or when you grew up as a kid you saw it on a flannel graph, although, that reference is probably pretty dated and only those of you over thirty-five caught it.  Maybe, though, there are those of you who have never heard this story at all.  Regardless of whether or not you have read this story, studied this story, or have no clue about this story, we can learn something today.

            In this story we see different characters.  There is the healer.  There are the haters.  And then, there is the healed.

The Healer

            This story in chapter nine follows a series of debates between the Pharisees and Jesus about who He was, and what team He was on. Jesus just went against everything they thought was the way to go.  He kept on siding with the wrong people for some strange reason.  He SUPPORTED the woman caught in adultery.  Instead of picking up a stone, He picked her up and told her “go and sin no more.”  He gave her a new label.

            He challenged the Pharisees on what they believed in, and questioned if they even knew God at all.  This was some seriously controversial stuff.  Since there is no break with chapter 8, Jesus is presumably still in Jerusalem, and presumably not still in the Temple area. The events of chapter 9 fall somewhere between the Feast of Tabernacles (7:2) and the Feast of the Dedication (10:22).

            In John’s narrative the connection exists—the healing of the blind man recorded in chapter 9 (along with the ensuing debates with the Pharisees) serves as a real-life illustration of the claim Jesus made in 8:12, “I am the Light of the world”. This is in fact the probable theological motivation behind the juxtaposition of these two incidents in the narrative. The second serves as an illustration of the first, and as a concrete example of the victory of light over darkness.

            C. K. Barrett summarizes the chapter this way:

This chapter expresses perhaps more vividly and completely than any other John’s conception of the work of Christ. On the one hand, he is the giver of benefits to a humanity which apart from him is in a state of complete hopelessness: it was never heard that one should open the eyes of a man born blind (v. 32). The illumination is not presented as primarily intellectual (as in some of the Hermetic tractates) but as the direct bestowal of life or salvation (and thus it is comparable with the gift of living water (4.10, 7.37 f.) and of the bread of life (6.27)). On the other hand, Jesus does not come into a world full of men aware of their own need. Many have their own inadequate lights (e.g. the Old Testament, 5.39 f.) which they are too proud to relinquish for the true light which now shines. The effect of the true light is to blind them, since they wilfully close their eyes to it. Their sin abides precisely because they are so confident of their righteousness.

This healing is so key in John’s narrative because of its great messianic significance.  In the Old Testament it is God who provides sight for the blind, and here, we see the Healer doing what God does. Healing the blind.  Jesus Christ in the healer.  He’s the one who transforms the lives of those He touches. It is in fulfillment of these prophecies that Jesus gives sight to the blind. As the Light of the world he has defeated the darkness. Thus the miracle recorded here has significance for John as one of the seven “sign-miracles” which he employs to point to Jesus’ identity and messiahship.

            I don’t know about you, but if I knew that Blindy McBlinderson, who I had known was blind since we were in preschool together, had a guy put mud on his eyes, giving him sight, I would be pretty amazed.  I would hope that I wouldn’t question the method, and just be astonished and thankful my buddy had sight.  But maybe, just maybe, I would be like another group in this story.  The Haters.

We’ll look at the Haters next time!

 

Who’s Your Friend?

Who’s your friend?  That’s a pretty easy question to answer.  Just as you read that, you probably thought of one, two, three names really quickly off the top of your head.  It’s an easy question. 

Back when I went to Evangel, we used to play this game called, “Who’s Your Friend,” when we had eaten an apple.  Once one of my buddies finished his apple (I can use the masculine here and not worry about gender neutrality because for some reason, in college, no girls wanted to hang out with my crew) he would say, “Apple Core!” To which one of us would reply “Baltimore,” not because we liked the city, but just because it rhymed with apple core.  He would then respond with, “Who’s your friend?”  Then one of us would say a name of someone we could see, and say that person’s name.  Why would we say this person’s name? Because then the one with the apple core would fling said core with all his might at the one just named.  All because that person was named as our friend.  This story has nothing to do with the rest of what I’m going to write.  I just thought you all would enjoy it!

In between what many label a mini-sermon in the book of James, the writer drops this little nugget basically asking, “Who’s your friend?”

James 4:4

4 You adulterers! Don’t you realize that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God? I say it again: If you want to be a friend of the world, you make yourself an enemy of God.

He is basically saying: Are you a friend of the world, or are you a friend of God?

James isn’t writing about trees and cities here, but rather a system of unhindered desires and arrogance.  The “want to be a” phrase indicates that this a choice that one is making.  It’s not a passive thing, but an active decision he or she has decided to make.  ii.  Wanting to be a friend has another consequence.  “Makes himself” is too weak for the Greek verb kathistemi, which found elsewhere in the New Testament takes on more of an official tone.  It may better be translated then, “to establish oneself as an enemy of God.”

What really puts this verse into perspective for us today is how the original readers would have understood the term “friend.”  We use it today pretty haphazardly in our Facebook generation, and sometimes we even use the term to throw an apple core at someone.  Back when James wrote this, though, it meant something far stronger. It can be defined as being of the “same soul.” To be of one soul with another meant to share the same attitudes, values and worldview.  A friend in this context sees everything the same way as the other. If one is a friend of God, there is oneness with Him. The opposite, therefore, is also true. 

The goal for every Christ-follower is to become more like Him.  We need to be of “one soul” with Him.  We end up being more and more like Him when this happens.  So we can’t be friends with the world, and become like Christ at the same time.

So, who’s your friend?

How My Masters Swim Group is Teaching Me to be a Better Pastor

Every Tuesday and Thursday morning, my alarm goes off at 4:40am.  I love the alarm. My wife recorded it for me when I got my Iphone, and it says, “Wake up sunshine, it’s morning time, and I LOOOOOOVVVVEEEEE you!”  I hear my wife’s voice, a smile comes on my face, but then it’s time to start getting focused on the work that lies ahead of me.  I shuffle into the kitchen to get my V8 Fusion energy drink, eat a banana, and I’m out the door.  By 5am, I’m walking through the doors of the local Y, just bursting with excitement for the workout.  It’s all I can do to wait around until 5:15 when we actually start.

The group has grown over the year.  Really, it started with two guys who love to swim, and love to swim hard, while at the same time desire to help others get better in what many consider the scariest (though shortest) part of a triathlon.  One day, one of them looked at me and said, “You’re swimming with us.”  I was intimidated.  These guys, in my view, were perfect and amazing when it came to swimming.  They didn’t need me slumming in the lane with or next to them.  I wasn’t good enough.

Yet they embraced having me there anyway.  They would take their workouts, and tweak it so I could do it.  They would help my form, and encourage me every single morning I was there.  A month later, we started what we now call the OMC Masters Swim, and more and more began to come.  We’ve got slow swimmers, fast swimmers, skinny swimmers, and well, I’m in it, so fat swimmers.  We’ve got doctors, lawyers, architects, money embezzlers (inside joke with a girl named Kristin), IT guys, and even a preacher.  We differ politically, spiritually, and economically, but when Brad tells us to get swimming, we get swimming.  We’re there for a common purpose: To become the best triathlon swimmers we can possibly become.

What has happened over the last year is that we have developed a community and a culture that breeds improvement, and though we  compete with each other every workout, at the end, we are friends that just wants to see the one to your right and your left get better than they were the workout before.  That may mean we have to sacrifice aspects of our workout for the betterment of the group.  That may mean we don’t get to swim in the lane with our buddy (I want to cry when I don’t get to swim in the lane with Jeff and Brad P.).  We do it, though!

The next time I’m a youth pastor, I hope my group looks like that Masters group.  A diverse group of young men and young women who join together to accomplish what the church is supposed to accomplish and do.  To love God with all of their hearts, and to love people.  To set aside selfishness, and other negative things that unfortunately many label youth groups with, and be a group that’s all about helping the student to their right, and the student to their left grow and become more like Christ.  I want to guide these students, making disciples, because that’s what God desires.  I want to help foster an environment that seeks to make that happen.  I just hope I get the chance someday.

What are You Passionate About?

As we get closer and closer to the Super Bowl this coming Sunday (Go Broncos), the word that describes both the play on the field, and the fans in the stands, is passionate.  The Broncos and Seahawks players are passionate about winning, and putting it all out there on the field.  The fans are passionate about cheering them on as loud as they can, spurring them on to victory.  This Sunday for the game, I’m going to be passionate about eating junk food, because I do it rarely now in preparation for a half Ironman I am doing in June.

The other day I asked the question on Facebook: What is your church passionate about and how would I see that if I walked into your building?

I got some good responses. One wild thing for me is that the first three responses were from teammates from the triathlon club.  I fully expected many of my pastor friends on Facebook to respond, but none of them did.  I wonder why? (I’m guessing they just didn’t see it)

What I often see and hear are two different things when that question is asked.  I often hear the right thing:

  • We’re passionate about discipleship
  • We’re passionate about missions
  • We’re passionate about reaching the lost
  • We’re passionate about worship
  • We’re passionate about….

But that’s not always what I see.  What would happen if we as a church quit saying what we were passionate about and instead started doing those things.  If we say that we are passionate about discipleship, then what are we doing to show that? If we say that we are passionate about missions, are we doing anything that displays that to others?  If we say that we are passionate about reaching the lost, then why haven’t I led one person to Christ in 2014?! (That’s right, I went there on myself!)

If a man or woman walked into your church, walked into your home, or simply watched you in your every day, ordinary life, he or she should be able to say without question what you are passionate about.

So are they saying the above examples? Or are they saying…

  • They’re passionate about making each other feel good and happy
  • They’re passionate about keeping their small group of friends….a small group of friends
  • They’re passionate about playing games
  • They’re passionate about putting on a good face

I want to be passionate about impacting eternity, and I got to start acting that way!