Thursday, October 8, 2015

So What? Now What? - Sunday Questions

So What?  Now What?

For the last couple of weeks, we have focused on Sunday morning on Paul’s call for us to be fully devoted.  Over the next two weeks, the sermons will focus on what a redeemed life looks like.  We will be looking at how a mind transformed by the Lord should function.  This study will help you dig a little deeper into that topic on your own.

1.       Read Philippians 4:2-3.  Two ladies (Euodia & Syntyche are feminine names) are fighting so publicly it is doing harm to the church.  What do we know about these women?  Why doesn’t Paul take a side in the conflict?  What does it mean to “agree in the Lord”?  On the subject of Christians in conflict, the gold-standard text is Matthew 18:15-20.  How does Jesus suggest you deal with conflict?  90% of conflicts would go away if we just obeyed verse 15!  Why don’t we?  What kind of power does he promise to those who agree?

2.       Read Philippians 4:4-5.  How can you be commanded to rejoice?  Isn’t happiness sort of out of your control?  Why does Paul mention that the Lord is near?  How would that affect your joy? Read John 15:10-11.  What does following commands have to do with joy?  Read Romans 12:12.  How do all these things work together:  joyful-hope-patient-faithful?  Consider James 1:2-3.  How do you choose joy in the middle of trouble?

3.       Read Philippians 4:6-7.  One of my favorite verses!  What is Paul’s prescription for stress/anxiety?  Compare it to what you hear from culture.  How does thanksgiving give power to getting through anxiety?  What do you think the peace of God feels like?  What should someone expect here?  How did Jesus exhibit God’s peace no matter what he was going through?

Saturday, September 26, 2015

My New Normal - Sunday Questions

Today’s sermon is from Philippians 3:7-16.  Paul discusses the intensity with which he pursued knowing the Lord, and he presents his radical striving as normal for the Christian.  This study is intended to help you go over those verses again on your own.  First, see if you see things like Paul did.  Second, consider how that type of zealous focus would look in your own life.

1.       Read Philippians 3:7-11.  The things to Paul’s “profit” were all the things that made him look good, righteous or holy to others.  What kinds of things accomplish that today?  In one way, this seems like bad advice from Paul… isn’t a good reputation a good thing?  Paul has talked this way in other letters.  Read 1 Corinthians 4:3-4.  When Paul does boast, he brags different than most folks.  Read 2 Corinthians 11:22-30.  Can you sum up, in a sentence or two, what Paul thinks about our achievements?
2.       Paul says he wants to know Christ (3:8, 10), and you get the sense it is his highest priority.  How do you think he accomplished that goal?  For you to be able to honestly say “Knowing Christ is my highest priority”, what kinds of life changes, if any, would you need to make?
3.       Read Philippians 3:12-16.  Using the imagery of a track race, where did Paul feel like he was at in his spiritual life?  Where are you?  What is the prize?  How was Paul planning to reach it?  Paul used this picture of a race in other letters he wrote.  Read Acts 20:24; 1 Corinthians 9:24-27; Galatians 5:2-7; 2 Timothy 4:6-8; and Hebrews 12:1-3 for other examples.  Why is “running a race” such a great metaphor for the Christian life?
4.       In Philippians 3:15-16, Paul says that all mature people see Christianity the same way that he does.  Compare that statement to what you see in church today.  Is it still true that 100% devotion is the only mature way to look at the faith?  If it’s true, how would that change how you see “maturity”?  Maybe maturity is not defined by titles, outward successes, great speaking ability, etc.?

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Maturing Together in Christ...

Today’s sermon is from Philippians 2:12-30.  You can use the study as an aid to better understanding that passage!

1.       Read Philippians 2:12-13.  Note the similarities between 2:12 and 1:27.  Paul was greatly concerned he wouldn’t be there to help them become mature in Christ.  What kind of accountability do we have for one another?  How is it my problem if someone else doesn’t mature?  Paul says to work out your salvation with “fear and trembling”.  What does that mean?  How does fear/trembling go with verses likePhilippians 4:4?  How does 2:1-4 explain Paul’s thoughts on working out your salvation?  How does God work in us in this process?

2.       Read Philippians 2:14-16.  How does our complaining and arguing get in the way of our growth?  Is this a real problem for Christians today?  How so?  The ancient Israelites grumbled frequently against Moses.  Read Numbers 14:1-24.  How did their grumbling affect their destiny?  How does grumbling affect your faith (and the faith of those around you)?  When we obey, without grumbling/argument, Paul says we’ll shine (Matthew 5:14-16; John 8:12).  What do you think Paul means by “shine”?  By “holding out the word of life”?

3.       Read Philippians 2:17-18.  Do you think Paul expected to see them again?  (Maybe look over Philippians 1:21-24).  How did Paul view his life?

4.       Read Philippians 2:19-30.  How did Timothy and Epaphroditus exemplify Philippians 2:1-4?  How can the church honor such people today?

Friday, August 21, 2015

To Live is Christ, to Die is Gain...

So - here are the questions to ponder, before, during, and/or after the sermon this week...

1. Last week, Jeff began a series in Philippians, entitled, "To Live is Christ, to Die is Gain".  When you think of that title, how does it immediately strike you?  It is from Philippians 1:21, which we will look at today in the sermon, but what are your initial thoughts?  Jeff said last week, "It takes courage to be a Christian, and we get our courage from Christ."  Would that mesh with the thoughts of 1:21?

2. Read 1:6.  The idea of completion Paul talks about has to do with Greek sacrificial rituals, language this Greek city would have been familiar with.  The language used for "begin a good work, and perform it (or complete it)" had to do with sacrificing something.  Here, God does the sacrificing, and who is the sacrifice?  Yep!  You and me!  How do you feel about that idea?  Its a good work for God to sacrifice you - it takes you someplace you might not go on your own (see Romans 12).

3. If God sacrificed His own Son, what might He want with you?  Paul emphasized this idea of living sacrifice (Romans 12), old man dead, rising as new man (Romans 6), crucified with Christ (Galatians 2:20).  Now look at 1:12, "I want you to know that the things which have happened to ME...,  have worked for the furtherance of the gospel"  We have a saying, "It is what it is..."  I've thought a lot about that statement since first hearing it.  Its always bugged me, but I used it along with everyone else.  I'm not sure everyone had the same fatalistic bent to them that I can have, but it really seems a hopeless statement, used to express exasperation with situations that seem beyond our control.  While Paul could certainly say of his imprisonment and shipwrecks and trouble that, "It is what it is," it seems that over and over again, Paul says something more like, "It is what God wills," or, like Joseph, "what you meant for harm, God has used for good."  The things that have happened to you - are they useful to God?  Have you let go of them sufficiently for Him to grab hold and make beauty from ashes?

Have a great week!

Peace in Christ,

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

To Live is Christ...

Philippians: To Live Is Christ, To Die Is Gain

Beginning August 16th...                        

So as we have considered the makeup of our county, the 25,000 that are not experiencing the life-giving joy of a relationship with Christ and/or His church, and as we have considered the apologetic response to many of the arguments for not coming to Christ and/or His church, and for the last few weeks considered our own devotion level (is it 100%?), we turn our attention for the next several weeks to a little church from a couple thousand years ago, made up of elites, scoundrels, and all points in between - the Philippian Church.

Paul wrote the book of Philippians, and we have record of some of its happenings and activities in the book of Acts.  We will be looking at how that rag-tag group became a solid launch point for ministry, and how that might apply to us today.  How do we really live?  If it is all-in, our talents and creativity, and even our weaknesses, when taken together, make a pretty awesome spot for Jesus to show up and blow the lid right off this thing - and for us to literally develop the "to lives is Christ, to die is gain" mentality/discipline of life!

We've had the RightNow Media resource for a few months now, and we have several using it, but I would like to encourage you to jump into this particular study (if you haven't signed up, just go to the church web site,, and follow the links to free resources).  You can search on Matt Chandler, and it will bring this up.  Jeff won't be copying this study word for word, or anything like that - its just another really good resource on what we will be looking at.  Stay tuned for more blogs on this church and how it relates to our church as we move through this series.


Wednesday, July 8, 2015

To All Who Are New-ish to MPCC - Please Pass the Ketchup!

A handshake.  A simple gesture used for a variety of reasons.  Resolution to a disagreement (I remember the schoolyard fights when I was a kid).  The "good game" of sportsmanship when we'd all line up and, win or lose, shake (loosely) the hands of each of our opponents.

How about when you would settle on a price for something, say, a car?  Yep, handshakes are employed there, too, to seal the deal.

When you meet someone new, what is the first physical contact you normally have with that person?  Yep - a handshake.

Resolution. Sportsmanship. Sealing the deal.  Greeting.  All of them valid uses of the handshake.  We also employ handshakes also to indicate fellowship, acceptance, even love.

Our newcomer lunch at MPCC is like a collective handshake.  Or knuckles.  Or maybe even a high five.  We use it to inform, greet, help folks make a decision about MPCC, show love, affection, acceptance, and fellowship.

It is coming up on July 26, right after church.  Group leaders are ready to serve, and we want you, if you are new to MPCC, to know that we would love for you to be there.  No one is going to pressure you to do anything other than to eat a burger or dog, and to maybe pass the ketchup.  Pretty low pressure.  And did I mention dessert?  You will get to know our leader folks here at MPCC, and you will get to ask questions in a low key setting.

So, think of us reaching out a collective hand to you :-)

Monday, June 8, 2015


Ok, so if the title captured your interest, I have to confess to just a bit of bait and switch here...  TV - Theological Vision.  That's where I'm going.  Sorry.

But, check this out - its from the book I Knew Jesus Before He Was a Christian, and I liked Him Better Then, by Rubel Shelley:

So long as church is a place or a series of events on certain days and at certain times, it will continue to have minimal-to-decreasing influence for changing the world.   It will continue to create unhealthy dependence by the many on the few and preserve our focus on externals as measurements of Christian life and maturity.
To the contrary, if wee could rid ourselves of the debilitating effects of institutionalized religiosity - which has passed for Christianity over the past 1700 years - and enter the experience of God's life-giving presence in Christ, EVERYTHING (emph added) would change.  As the authentic body of Christ in the world, such a church would turn the world upside down again.  The medium would become the message of rescue and renewal.
Church would not be something to "do" but would be experienced as who Christ's followers are everywhere, with everybody, all the time.  Worship would no longer be a place to "go" but would be the offering of our bodies as living sacrifices.  Our outreach would not be a "program" but would be touching people with acceptance, love, and nurture that honors and imitates Jesus himself.
What do you think?  How are you doing at this?  Does your life, my life, reflect a heavenly DNA, or are we just playing church? 

This book is really challenging me to examine myself, my motives, my life, in light of Jesus, and not the expectations of others.  I would love to read through this book with a couple other folks if any of you are interested, its a really good eye-opener!

Peace in Christ,

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

A fine mess...


"Two men went to church on a Sunday morning.  One was a deacon and the other a closet homosexual.  The deacon called the service to order and prayed, "God, I thank you that we are a strong and growing church that is unashamed to take a stand on abortion, X-rated movies, and divorce.  We fear for our country, Lord, with all the blatant homosexuality being glamorized in the media and defended by our politicians.  I'm truly grateful for the youth ministry here and that you have taught us to be generous enough to send our teens to help rebuild a school in quake-ravaged Haiti."

Meanwhile, the gay man was sitting toward the back of the sanctuary and didn't think he was good enough even to join in the prayer.  He was so miserable over the conflicts in his heart and life that he could only whisper, as a tear rolled down his cheek, "God, have pity on me!  I am such a sinner.

Then Jesus said, "When the two men went home that day, it was the homosexual and not the deacon who was pleasing to God.  If you put yourselves above others, you will be put down.  But if you humble yourself, you will be honored."

This is Rubel Shelley's paraphrase of Luke 18:10-14 (I Knew Jesus Before He Was a Christian, 2011).  Yes, it offends our modern (Christian) sensibilities.  I think probably the original offended the Pharisaically modern sensibilities of the day.

Imagine, the scandal of the gospel, that sinners could be made right with God under the blood of Christ, and can continually be brought to humility and repentance until that day when the faith will be made sight.

If that is the hope we communicate, then the 25000 reasons in our county that are walking without or away because they misunderstand the gospel of peace will be drawn back by messengers (us'n's) who are transformed by the message - or, even better, have become the Message.

If we remember our first love (Jesus), we can't help but get that message out there.  But if our message is simply, "You can get socially acceptable and cleaned up by respectable society's standards," we've lost the heart of the gospel - that The One True God reached into us and said, "I want you.  I call you Sonny not because you shine, but because you are mine," (James Ford, Jr.).

So - this is not a blog about gay rights (the homosexual was repentant), church piety (the deacon was puffed up), etc, this is a blog about you and me being the transmitters of eternal hope.  Evangelism isn't a program for participants to choose, its life to the lost, and each of us were that at some point.

Grab hold anew of the life raft, and extend a hand to others!

in Christ,

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Adjusting Jesus

Ever think Christianity just doesn’t work?  Have you ever, deep down, didn’t want to share your
faith, because you weren’t sure you had any, really?

There’s a series on RightNow Media, 8 Reasons Why I am Not a Christian, that has, as its first session, a clip titled, Christianity Doesn’t Work.  It got me thinking about a couple things I want to share with you.

First, when we think about what Christianity promises – peace, blessing, hope, etc – and we compare it to our lives, we often find what we think of as Christianity to be sorely lacking.  Sufficiency?  Don’t talk to me about that when I can’t make my mortgage payment.  Peace?  In the face of my diagnosis?  And even that – why do I get sick?  I’m basically a good person.  Hope?  For what?  Heaven someday, because if there is a God, He’s letting me go through hell right here.

We wouldn’t say those things out loud, but they float around in any given Christian’s head moment by moment.  Why?  Could it be that we’ve missed the heart of the gospel?

John 3:16, you say.  Yes, but what about Matthew 4:17?  Ever heard of it?  “From that time Jesus began to preach and say, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand.’”

You see, we start adjusting Jesus when He doesn’t meet our expectations, because our expectations are born of a desire for salvation without repentance.  But foundational to the gospel message is the idea of turning from our old way of life to grab hold of a new way of life.  Life without end.  But only in repentance, only in submission to God, can we find the gospel to “work”.

Now, the “work” word can be a taboo in our church culture of 2015.  It should be, if work is understood to be the means by which we gain salvation.  Jesus finished the work of salvation, but it doesn’t absolve us from following Him.  Maybe though we don’t gain salvation by work, we find our salvation in work.  Meaning and purpose come from turning from the old man and grabbing hold of the new.  But we can’t hang on to both.  Something has to give.  And that is the point of frustration for many of us who would utter in our minds, “Christianity doesn’t work.”

If you find yourself just like “everybody else”, then maybe you haven’t given your foundation adequate thought.  Maybe what’s missing is your participation in your own salvation story.  Maybe you are desiring redemption without repentance.  So while you can pray a prayer, be baptized, go to church for a month of Sunday’s, serve at a mission, etc – without repentance, you are left with empty religion.  And that, for sure, doesn’t work.

So – re-read Matthew 4:17.  Read the first 7 chapters of Matthew to get a really good feel for what is important to Jesus.  Then get on board.  You won’t do it perfect, but He has, so you are off the perfection hook.  He says repent, then tells us how to live.  Let’s do it!

Peace in Christ,


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Blessing

Every day, I try and spend a few minutes reading my bible study plan.  It usually is two or three Old Testament chapters, and one chapter from the New Testament.  Sometimes, I will see a thread of thought that runs through the Old and the New.  Well, it happened today.  Let me explain...

When the Israelites marched into the Promised Land, God promised them victory.  He told them that He would be with them at every turn.  They started by conquering the land of Gilead, where two Amorite kings named Sihon and Og ruled.  Israel defeated them quickly, and it made a fantastic impression on all the people who lived there.  One of the natives said their victory over the Amorites "made their hearts melt and their courage fail".

The walls of Jericho fell.
They defeated an alliance of Southern kings.
They swept through an alliance of Northern kings.
85 year old Caleb conquered a city of giants - trusting God for strength.

And God delivered.  Again, and again, and again.

Joshua 21:43-45 says, "So the Lord gave the people all the land he had promised their ancestors.  The people took the land and lived there.  The Lord gave them peace on all sides, as he had promised their ancestors.  None of their enemies defeated them; the Lord handed all their enemies over to them.  He kept every promise that he had made to the Israelites; each one came true."

Look at the first part of that verse again... I think the phrasing is interesting.  I underlined it and made it bold.  God gave the land... the people took the land.  I believe that the author is saying that the Promise was only fulfilled when the people took action.  It's a sure thing, but you have to do the work.

This was the same arrangement Adam and Eve had in the Garden of Eden.  They were told to work the land, but that their work would always be productive.  When they sinned, they are cursed with work that doesn't always produce.  Thorns and thistles were the result of sin, but work was always part of the plan.  God will give his people victory, but they still have to move forward.

So it was with the Israelites.  God kept every promise.  If they moved forward, he would give victory.  Now, if you read through the book of Joshua, you find that the Israelites didn't always move forward.  Sometimes they refused to keep fighting.  Sometimes they were too afraid of the obstacles.  God doesn't punish them for it... other than the punishment of unfulfilled destiny.  There were blessings to be had that the Israelites never received.

That was my Old Testament reading.

Then, in the New Testament, I read about the church in Corinth.  They were fighting about their rights.  Some believed that it was morally inappropriate to buy groceries from idol temples... all the profits were subsidizing false religion.  Others believed that you should buy your groceries wherever they were cheapest.  If that money went to bad stuff, well, it couldn't be helped.

So the argument was about freedom.  Are we, in Christ, free to do whatever we want?  Here's how Paul answers...

"I have the right to do anything," you say - but not everything is beneficial.  "I have the right to do anything" - but not everything is constructive.  No one should seek their own good, but the good of others... Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.  Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks, or the church of God - even as I try to please everyone in every way.  For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.                                                                                            - 1 Corinthians 10:23-33

Yeah, Paul says, you have the right to do anything.  You are free.  But then he asks them to remember the bigger priorities.  There are bigger fish to fry here than saving a dime/pound on cube steaks.  Paul says that in everything we do, we want to advocate for God's glory.

It might seem too hard.  You might think that it's just not worth it.  But God's glory is where we are most blessed.  God honors those who honor Him.  As we lay our lives down, He lifts us up.  As I reach more and more people for the Lord, I am empowered with joy, peace and purpose.  He fills me up as I use myself up for Him.

I thought about the ancient Israelites.  All of the Promised blessings were there, they just had to move forward.  But they didn't.  It seemed too hard.  It seemed too scary.  They chose momentary comfort over a fully delivered Promised Land.

If I want to receive the blessing of a strong spiritual life, I might have to lose some of my comfort, time, energy, money, reputation, and influence. I will certainly have to lose some control.  I believe that the rewards will be worth it!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Sermon on the Mount Wrap-Up... Or Can We?

In Richard Foster's Streams of Living Water, he says, "If you seek holiness of life, I encourage you to make a friend of the Sermon on the Mount.  It is an expanded commentary on the royal law of love.  And Jesus' life is an expanded commentary on the Sermon on the Mount...  Always appropriate.  Always able.  Always giving the touch that was needed.  Always speaking the word that was needed...  We see Jesus consistently doing what needs to be done when it needs to be done."

He goes on to say that this is purity of heart, and in talking about various things related to Jesus' embodiment of the Sermon on the Mount, he touches on the utopian idea of social justice and our role in it.  Then taking a step back, Foster looks at the whole of Jesus' life and says maybe Jesus was living a utopian dream.  "Perhaps.  And yet this is exactly how Jesus himself lived...  Compassion... Cleansing... raising a child from the dead...  says Jesus, the messianic kingdom of perpetual jubilee is indeed coming, but in a way no one would have guessed."

Would anyone guess that YOU might proclaim freedom to them?  Would anyone guess that YOU would have courage in the face of adversity?  Would anyone guess that YOU would heal, or cleanse, or speak life into someone else?  That's what he's talking about, you know.  He's talking about you and me and regular folks like us proclaiming this freedom that comes from knowing He's got you covered!

So as Easter approaches, and we start looking around our community, let's think about how we might be the proclaimers of freedom for folks wrapped up so tight in the bondage of darkness they get no glimmer but YOU.  Then be light.  Have courage.  Be kind.  Love like Jesus loves!

in Christ,

p.s. there are a ton of resources on RightNow Media that deal with talking with your neighbor about the Lord, living it out.  Search on outreach, evangelism, or just look up "Perfect Blend".  Work through the videos on your own or with a friend.  Let me know how you are doing!

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Get RightNow, right now!

So we have put out there a new media library partnership that MPCC has entered with RightNow Media.  They are a non-profit ministry dedicated to putting Christian content in everyone’s reach, 24/7.  To that end, they are constantly adding small group studies, training videos, and even Christian conference videos to their site.

So how do you use this thing?  I know if you’ve jumped in to look at it, it can be pretty daunting.  6,000+ videos, including kids content, so where do you begin?
First, you got to go get the thing! 

Then, get in there and play around a little - at no point will RightNow ever ask you for a credit card or any kind of payment, so jump in there.  You can do this on your computer, phone, or if you have a Roku stick or apple tv, you can watch it on your bigger screen.  If you are technically challenged, we have our own tech support folks at MPCC (translation - eager to serve teenagers) who will help you!

There is a little spy glass looking thing up in the right hand corner that will let you search on various topics, authors, or titles – and is it ever thorough!  So, for example, you like geography and history, and you want to learn more about the area of the New Testament church – you could type in a search on “geography”.  Or maybe you know that Ray VanderLaan has a lot of good geo-historical material, so you search on his name.  Or maybe you know the title of such a study.  It’s a lot like using the card catalog in a library, because, well, that’s what it is.

Maybe you need some help in a sin area like pornography, or drug or alcohol abuse, or anger, or pride – these are all topical searches you can do.  Maybe your marriage needs some help.  The system is anonymous on purpose – no one knows what anyone else is viewing or searching on (with the exception of targeted training posts that we send you).

RightNow is also an outreach – you can add anyone you want to without raising the cost to the church.  Our hope is that you use this as a missional tool with friends and family.  So maybe you are in a conversation with someone about one of the video series that has helped you.  They say they would like something like that.  You can give it to them right on the spot.  It is a pretty awesome way to engage others without feeling like you need to have all the answers.

Finally, it is our hope that our small group leaders will use this tool to pull their curriculum from.  A couple reasons – first, it is paid for in full, so there would be no additional expense in bringing new folks in.  Second, if you are in a group, you know how the time flies by, you have more questions, you’d like to view a part of the video again, etc.  By being in a group that uses RightNow Media for curriculum, you will be able to go back and review what you needed to.  And if you miss a session, you won’t have to chase dvd’s around, you can view it when you can.

If you haven’t jumped in yet, I encourage you to follow the following link, take advantage of this, and change your viewing habits.  What you put in your head is not neutral – put good stuff in, and you will bear good fruit!

Friday, February 6, 2015

Jacob & Esau

From the time they were born, Jacob knew what it was like to be second best.

His twin brother Esau was an athletic marvel.  His father bragged on him to all his friends, the same way a dad might boast today.  His boy Esau was the strongest, fastest, bravest kid in school.  He was shaving daily in second grade!  I imagine he never lacked for female companionship.  He was loved and admired by all his peers.

And Jacob was his brother.

Jacob was smooth skinned well into adulthood.  While Esau was fighting women off, Jacob had to work years to get a woman to pay attention to him.  Jacob was less strong, less fast, and less brave.

Jacob was less.

And he was sneaky.  Perhaps it was because of his brother's large shadow, but Jacob was always proving himself to everyone.  He wanted to have the things that Esau had.  I suspect it was a bit of an obsession for Jacob.  He would've given anything to have his father's approval, even for just a few moments.

The Bible says that their father, Isaac, had been chosen by God to be a blessing to the whole world.  One day, he would pass that mantle on to one of his sons... the responsibility to be God's ambassador to the world.  In Isaac's mind, that son has to be Esau.  He was the oldest (by a few seconds), but he was everything you would want in a leader.  Esau was bold, well-balanced, honest to a fault, and imposing.

And Jacob was less.  

The confusing part of this story is that God chooses Jacob.

In spite of his flaws.
In spite of his weaknesses.
In spite of him being second-best.
In spite of his sneakiness.

In spite of the fact that Jacob didn't really even believe in God.  It takes a powerful vision of a stairway to heaven ("Jacob's Ladder") that inspires him to seek God at all.  But God chooses Jacob to be his standard bearer.  And I have to confess, it's always been a little confusing to me as to why God chose as He did.  I would have picked Esau.  Sure he was overly hirsute, but he seems more reliable.

Over the course of one long afternoon, Jacob cheats his brother and lies to his father in a way that did powerful damage to their family.  The kind of damage that makes you have to move away from home for 20 years.  On the way home, while he is terrified about meeting his family again, he spends a whole night wrestling with an angel of God.  At the end of the night, as the angel is about to leave, Jacob - in great pain - refuses to let go until he receives a blessing.

It's a metaphor of Jacob's whole life.  He was always striving, always wanting to be someone different... something MORE than what he was.  Now, on this quiet night when he is all alone, he discovers it is really God that he has wrestled since the day he was born.

It was God who made Jacob who he was.  God is the potter who makes us into what He decides.  Jacob, like Paul would a thousand years later, had used every waking hour to kick against God's plans for him.  It's like he finally realizes it, and he lays down his pride and begs God for a blessing.

Jacob gets a new name.  He will now be called Israel, which means "he struggles with God".  It is said that Jacob has struggled with men and with God and prevailed.

This is likely the reason that God chose Jacob to begin with - his willingness to stubbornly hang on.  Jacob would wrestle with God, while Esau never gave it too much thought.  Jacob's faith is messy, but it's real.

I think God meets us where we are,  He recognizes how our past scars can drive us to new poor decisions.  He sees how our hunger for approval will sometimes push us to seek it from the wrong people.  He knows all that.  Yet, he can see deeper into our hearts than anyone else - He knows us better than we know ourselves, I think.  He keeps calling.

When I learn to lay down my pride, and hang on to him, then in my weakness, I am strong.

-- Jeff Hudelson

Tuesday, February 3, 2015


As Easter comes towards us, I always tense up. I love the focus on Christ, His centrality in our lives, the undiluted gospel of peace that restores us into a right relationship with God, and even the commands to love and make disciples, to obey, teach, etc. It seems like when that is the focus of our lives, we are headed someplace. Its like we are looking through binoculars, headed for that next hill to climb, going someplace beyond the sunset, as the old hymn goes.

And then Easter comes. We celebrate big, and lots of people come. Jesus never had much trouble drawing a crowd. And often, our celebrations water down the very gospel we are coming together to proclaim.

 Now, before I get too far ahead of myself, let me explain what I mean by "watered down". When we present a gospel that speaks only of the gift, and not of the sacrifice, when we speak only of love without truth or obedience, when we speak only of the empty tomb without the weight of an occupied cross, we do the "visitors" a huge disservice. I need the whole gospel, the 1 Corinthians 15 gospel parsed out, written every word in red on my heart, because I so easily get sideways!

And often, when Easter is over, when all the ham has been eaten, when the deviled eggs have been digested, it comes down to a nice spring festival, complete with bunnies and candy and ham and eggs, and hunts for all kinds of things other than the risen, victorious, redeeming Christ. I mean, we did our hour and a half of homage to the bringer of spring-tidings, but we have no real intention of actually obeying the gospel of peace, the truth that demands an answer of us.

Many would disagree with me, and that's ok, as I don't pretend to have all the answers on this. It just seems that as lent approaches, we (and in that we is a healthy dose of me) don't have a very good idea of what it would mean to (re)lent. To really surrender. All. Like the hymn.

So - instead of ending as a rant, I want to end with encouragement. Jump in! Really press in to the reality of a risen Christ Who loves you and gave Himself for you, so that He and His Father and His Spirit can and will dwell in you right now! Don't let your focus get askew in all the trappings of spring, only to culminate in a celebration of something other than Him. He is sufficient, He is enough, He is worthy to be celebrated. If you do all those other things, do them to the glory of the One Who made you, not to any other glory. Be impressed with Him, be moved by Him, be taken captive by Him. Love Him. Obey Him. 

And don't be afraid to talk with others about Him.  In fact, if this risen Christ is real to you, you won't be able to help yourself.  It will come out.  Naturally, intentionally, and wonderfully.  Oh, and yes, sometimes even a little confrontationally (the cross confronts the sin).  But always lovingly. 


Friday, January 30, 2015


She was a spoiled girl.

He father was richer than most of the men in town, and he doted over her.  He took her side when her mother scolded, and she learned how to manipulate him.  She had no true friends.  Convinced of her own superiority over everyone else, she was easily condescending to her peers.  When they would abandon her, her mother would say they were just "jealous".  Her father would throw a party in her honor, and fill the house with playmates for her.  They would sing her praises until they went home, and she would be there alone.

The loneliness was ever-present.  It's a sad thing to watch someone create the narrative of their own destruction, where you can see how every decision is making them more isolated, more ridiculed, and more alone.  But she never saw it, not once.  She saw the others as beneath her station, envious of her big house and her servants.

When she became of marriageable age, she did not lack for suitors.  Though quite unattractive on the inside, she was stunningly beautiful on the outside... and she was quite adept at leveraging her looks to control weak-minded men.  Because her family had wealth and influence, several men hoped to improve their own station by marrying her.

But her father and she decided that she needed to marry someone who could keep her up in the manner in which she'd become accustomed.  Her father settled on a wealthy blacksmith, almost three decades older than she.  They had nothing in common, and she was repulsed by him inwardly, but he was very, very wealthy.

And he adored her.  Delighted by his good fortune, he showered her daily with compliments and gifts.  But he bored her, and within a few months of their wedding, she began to cheat on him.

She was not discreet.  It became a scandal of sorts in their small community.  Everyone talked about it.  "Oh, that poor man."  Her associates, of which there were few, began to keep more distance from her.  His friends, of which there were many, told him to divorce her.  But he wouldn't.  Instead, he built her a bigger house.  They had two sons together.  He would brag on her to whoever would listen.

She still ran around on him.

One day, a preacher came to town.  The elders of the town seized the opportunity provided by this very influential man to do away with this woman.  They interrupted one of her liaisons, and dragged her half-dressed to the town square.  "In the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women.  What do you say?"

There is a story about a woman caught in adultery in John 8.  Jesus lets her off the hook.  When I have read the story, I always let her off the hook too... but I do it before Jesus gets a chance to do so.  I assume she probably was a good person who'd just made a bad decision.  When Jesus shows her grace, I reason, it's because he could see her potential.  She probably immediately turned her life around.

But the Bible doesn't say that.  We have no idea what made the woman act as she did, and we don't know if she ever repents.  We only know Jesus lets her off the hook.

I've thought a lot about this story the last couple of days.  There are people in this world who have made so many bad decisions that they have very little potential left.  I can be too quick to give up on Jesus breaking through.  He has grace for the broken.

"Earth has no sorrow that heaven can't heal" - David Crowder

Monday, January 12, 2015


— from Jeff Hudelson
My mom subscribes to People magazine.  Sometimes when we visit, I catch myself reading one.  It’s a little embarrassing.
They get on me about it.  ”Glad you could come down here to read”… that sort of thing.  I don’t know what it is that draws me in.  There are pictures of beautiful, rich, powerful people in it, of course.  That’s enough to hold your interest right there.  But I think there’s more to it.  I find myself fascinated that they still have all the same problems that the people who live around here.
They can’t maintain a relationship.  There are secret addictions.  This one won’t work with that one because of a long, hateful grudge.
How can you get to the top and still hurt so much inside?
When I first started in ministry, I wanted to be well known.  I don’t think I ever planned it or wrote it down as a life-goal… but that ambition was there.  I wanted people to be proud of me.  I was regularly attending church growth conferences.  I would listen to the speakers there and think, “I could do better.”
It’s all a little embarrassing to think through now, but I would come home from these conferences with sharper leadership skills, but still buried in sin.
My identity wasn’t securely in Christ, but in being a big deal.
The irony is that, even in odd moments when I was sort of a big deal, it still wasn’t satisfying.  There would always be someone else who was a bigger deal.  I suspect that even if I got to the very top, I would still have been broken… I probably would lash out at the people around me, angry at them for keeping me from being happier.
Remember People magazine?  Is that what’s happening there?
Timothy Keller, in his book The Reason for God, discusses some of that. He talks about a mom, whose whole identity is in being a mom.  Well, what happens if the kids want to spend more time with friends than at home?  What happens if one of the kids comes home drunk when they’re 14?  What happens when they get married and move away?
The mom whose whole identity is in being a mom will feel like a failure, sooner or later.  Her kids, no matter how great or sensitive they are, cannot fill this brokenness inside of us.
If all the money, fame, power and beauty in People magazine can’t fill it, what can?
I have to come back to a couple of core realities:
1. I am broken.
2. I can only be made whole in Christ.
I try to camouflage my brokenness with material things, with relationships, or with success on the job.  I even try and mask that hard truth by ministry achievements… but to no avail.  Sooner or later, anything else will disappoint.  That disappointment will lead to anxiety and fear and anger.
I need to remind myself that I am broken.  I am out of order.  I need to give all of me - my sin and my successes - to Christ.  I will pursue him, and let him take care of the rest of it.  He won’t ever fail me.  And even when I fail, he forgives.
On this, Paul said, “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”
Paul reminds me, I still have much to learn.

Humble & Confident

I have been reading Tim Keller’s, The Reason for God.  I recommend this book.  It has challenged my thinking about my faith, and it has pushed me to consider again why I believe in Jesus.
Keller believes that Jesus, unlike most other religious teachers, never taught a new way to God.  Rather, Jesus said He was the only way to God.
This is pretty significant, though I don’t know that I ever thought too hard about it.  See, if Jesus taught some new way, then I would be obligated to learn it, study it, apply it, and try very hard to do it.  But if Jesus is the only way, then I trust that He has already paved the road.  It is not really about me, or my performance, at all; the only “good work” that matters is the work Jesus did on the cross.
I know this, yet there is a temptation to forget it now and again.  I don’t do it on purpose, and I am always sort of fuzzy on when exactly I get off course, but I can start relying more and more on my goodness as proof that I am really saved.  Sometimes I live as if I don’t know that I am saved by grace.
How could I forget something like that?
It’s a subtle shift in focus.  When I am working hard, and succeeding…
… I am not falling to the same old sins, and,
… I am not “forgetting” to read and pray, and,
… I am not struggling to connect in my relationships, and,
… Walking with God seems natural and easy…
Then, I am extremely confident, but I am not very humble.  I can be way too proud of my (usually) momentary success.  I might look down on people who struggle in areas that I has recently struggled too.  There’s a temptation to be especially judgmental on those who are different than me.  I feel very good, but I don’t feel very Christlike.
Then, of course, there’s also moments when I work hard and fail…
… I am falling into the same old sins, and,
… I am “forgetting” to read and pray, and,
… I am struggling to connect in my relationships, and,
… Walking with God seems challenging and lonely…
Then, I am extremely humble, but I am not very confident.  I wonder if I am ever going to figure this Christianity thing out.  I feel like a fraud and a hypocrite.  I assume that I will never, ever become the kind of “overcomer” that the Bible talks about.  I am aware of my need for a Savior, but I can’t imagine He could ever really change me.
But, in Christ, I can be humble and confident.  I recognize that He saved me, not because of anything I ever did (or will do).  The Cross proves, once and for all, that God is for me.  He will pay any price to bring me home.  What confidence this inspires!  I can be very bold, because if God is for me then nothing can truly knock me down.
I also recognize that all of my righteous acts piled together will never bring me closer to Him.  The cross paid the whole fare.  I can’t let Him down for I was never holding Him up.
Jesus is the way, and I am glad I am letting Him lead!