Thursday, August 20, 2015

Charlie's Oak

When we read through the gospels there will be times Jesus will say "the kingdom of God is like . . ." right before he illustrates the kingdom with a story. If we are looking to become more like Jesus maybe it would be wise to read through the gospels making note of the time Jesus illustrates the kingdom. 

In Mark 4:30-32 Jesus said, "The kingdom of God is like . . . a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds of the air can perch in its shade." 

What is Jesus trying to say to us about the kingdom? I think he is trying to say, focus on the small things and let God make it something big!

Look, I am all for Big Hairy Audacious Goals, but if that is all you focus on you can really miss some of the greater things of God. 

Sometimes it is the little things that have the greatest impact because God is in the little things also. 

On one of my relatives farms in West Virginia there is this enormous oak tree. It is called Charlie's oak. I don't know why other than I have a great uncle named Charlie and somehow his name is attached to this tree. I am sure there is a story attached to it--but I don't know what it is and it really doesn't matter today. 


So this big oak, started from an acorn that fell from another tree, a tree that does not exist. I wonder how far it's roots extend. I wonder how many oaks around it have started from an acorn that fell from it's branches. I wonder how many birds or squirrels have made their temporary home in Charlie's Oak. 

Isn't it amazing God can take a small acorn and make such a difference within this small portion of space on earth. 

Can you imagine what God can do if we learn to live in the small stuff, letting God make it grow? Can you imagine what God can do through you if you let Him do his work?

What small thing can you do today, that God can use to make a big impact? 

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Storms

In Matthew 8:23-27 there's this story of Jesus and his disciples in boat on the lake. Without warning, a furious storm came up and was sweeping them across the lake. There are two types of storms, ones we can see approaching on radar and then those that just seem to come out of no where.

The first, while it can be rough to go through at least gives you time to prepare. My father who lives in Florida has been through several hurricanes. He knew a head of time they may reach land about where he lives so he was able to prepare for the storm. He has hurricane windows that he can put into place and he can get supplies ready in case they are confined to the house for several days. He can even prepare for clean-up. The storm is still hard to go through, but if you are proactive you can make things a little easier.

It is the storms that just seem to come out of no where that can make us panic. I was on Lake Erie fishing with a friend. We had checked the weather and everything seemed like it was going to be a perfect day. Even though it seemed like it was going to be a good day there is always a chance on Lake Erie a storm can come out of no where. It did.

Panic set in as we headed toward the shore line. As the water got rougher the ride in got more intense. You begin to wonder if you you are going to get to a safe place in time. We did, but it was a rough journey.

Life is the same way. There are storms that arise sometimes with warning and sometimes with no warning. They can both be difficult. They both can end badly. Yet there is one constant when you are a follower of Jesus. Faith.

In the story from Matthew while the boat is being blown across the lake the disciples wake Jesus and say, "Lord, saves us! We are going to drown!" Sometimes in the middle of life's storms we think we are going to drown. And in the middle of those storms there is only one place to turn--God.

Jesus gets up rebukes his disciples, "You of little faith, why are you so afraid?" Then he rebukes the storm and it was completely calm.

I think he got upset with His disciples because they had forgotten who was with them.

The thing is these storms that come up in life can cause us to forget or at least not acknowledge who is with us, who is in our presence. While these life storms don't always cease in a moment like the storm in this story, we can be at peace knowing we are in the presence of a God who is powerful enough to calm a storm on a lake. A God who tells us not to fear, who takes a hold of our hands and walks through the storms with us.

The way we can prepare for these spontaneous storms is to have a relationship with the one who walks with us no matter how hard it can get. The one who allows us to trust him when our instinct is to have fear.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Living (Loving) God

The Vision Statement at Northwest is "Living God, Loving People, Changing Lives."

It is only a statement unless you begin to put it into practice.

Here is how this vision statement works for Northwest. We are going to challenge people to first Love God with all of their being. But what does that mean? Saying you Love God is only a statement unless you put it into practice. So the question is, how do you put into practice "Loving God?"

1 John 5:1-3 says, "Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves his child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. This is love for God: to obey his commands."

If we are going to practice loving God, we are going to live by his commands and we are going to live for him everyday.

So the question for each of us today is: How are you living out you love for God?

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Cheerful Giver


Nobody really likes being asked to give money. And nobody likes to ask for people to give either. Yet the Bible is filled with passages that teach followers of Jesus to give regularly. Nobody wants to hear and nobody wants to ask. So there is this natural tension within the church.

If followers would just strive to give 10% then nobody would ever need to ask and the church could do incredible things throughout its neighborhoods and the world. One of the reasons Christianity is struggling in the United States is because we are not making an impact on our communities. Because we are not in the habit of giving. When the church does have good offerings they seem to be using it all on their own wants rather than investing it into building God's kingdom.

Look, I get it, those multi-million dollar buildings are being used to attract people to the church. It is being used for kingdom work. But couldn't we build buildings that are more functional rather than so extravagant? I know what you are saying, we should build the very best for God, like Solomon did when he built the temple. How did that turn out?

I really think God is more into advancing his kingdom and reaching people who are far from Him rather than maintaining a nice building that has a lot of people in it every week. I know what some of you are thinking--that is success. By who's standards? Mans or Gods? It reminds me of Isaiah 1 when God tells Judah that he is tired of "meaningless offerings" and when they pray he "will not listen." Look, Judah was doing all the right things, but when it came to worship, he was still not pleased.

In Isaiah 1:16-17 it says, "Stop doing wrong, learn to do right! Seek justice, encouraged the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow." Just because we give it does not mean we are doing the right things. Like Dave Browning says, “It is more important to do the “right things” than to do things right.”

I heard this great quote the other day that I am going to change around a little bit to apply to giving a regular offering-- "We are asking the wrong question, which is, 'How do we make people give a regular offering?' What if we started to ask, 'How do we let people give a regular offering?'"

The first question is out of law, the second is about grace.

We know the Bible teaches that we should give a regular offering yet the average for a Christian who faithfully goes to church gives an offering of about 2% of their income. And church leaders are constantly asking how can we make people give more? When they do give more a lot of leaders just turnaround use it for better things and not necessarily for ministry (encouraging the oppressed, defending the fatherless and pleading the case for the widow).

If the church could change how it uses it resources so that people could see real ministry and life change happening people would then become cheerful givers. They would live like 1 Corinthians 9:7 says, “Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”

Leaders need to begin to ask the question, “How can we let people give?”

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

If At All Possible . . . Live at Peace


We shouldn’t be surprised with the ruling that came down from the Supreme Court concerning gay marriage. The more secularized the United States has become over the last 50 years decisions like this are going to happen. So what should a Christian’s response be to the decisions that go against their core beliefs? The way Christian’s respond is so important.

First, we can never forget that we are dealing with people. While we may disagree with each other we are all people in need of a redeeming God. We can’t come across arrogant or dismissive because each of us have dealt with and are dealing with sinful issues of our own.

Second, disagree respectfully. Defend your values with all your heart but don’t be argumentative. Don’t resort to name calling or labeling others. Be confident in your defense. Ask questions to gain a better understanding of someone else’s opinion. When someone turns it into an argument and starts using name calling as a tactic—walk away. Don’t get caught up in the intolerance of others.

Third, pray for the consequences that will arise from these kinds of decisions. When emotional decisions are made whether they are personal or national, there are consequences that have not been thought through. Pray for wisdom to say the right thing and to react the right way. Jesus even said, “Pray for those who persecute you.”

Finally, Love Wins. Here is a new twist to all the “#lovewins” I have seen over the last few days. Jesus tells us that the second greatest command is to love people. In the Sermon on the Mount he tells us to love our enemies not just those who agree with us, but everyone. When we are able to discuss issues out of “love” rather than “hate” it changes the culture. When love wins it does not divide—even when there are disagreements.

For those who may read this that have been hurt by Christians who disagree with you, but have done it disrespectfully, have labeled you, have been hateful, have come across dismissive or arrogant—I apologize because that is not the way of Jesus.

Even though Jesus did not defend our sinful nature he always saw us as people who need grace and mercy. He always respectfully disagreed. He always prayed for us to be one and wanted us to avoid the consequences of all sin. Ultimately, it is His love for us that wins and it is that love that made him attractive to the people he comes in contact with even today.
Romans 12:18-21

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

No Names, No Titles, Just Christ

I know this is unrealistic in our polarized culture today, but what if . . . what if we could become a culture in which the only identity we had was tied to our identity in Christ? I have to believe a lot of things would be different.

Jesus treated everyone with the same love when he was here on earth. The thing that made Jesus angry the most was when his kingdom was divided by labels--labels like Jew, Gentile, male, female, sinner, righteous. Some of today's labels are sinner, Christian, American, foreigner, racist, male, female, democrat, republican, wealthy and poor.

Quite frankly, I am tired of all the labels. It is divisive and counter productive. It is completely opposite of what Jesus stood for and practiced. Jesus sees us all as people who need a redeeming God to bring us together as one.

Paul wrote in Galatians 3:26-28, "You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ Jesus have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male or female for you are all one in Christ Jesus."

Jesus sought a culture where people were brought together as one--not divided. Those who constantly want to divide our culture are creating the polarization. Leaders of our country constantly want to pick a side, promote their side and drive a wedge of division deeper into our culture. Think about that as you search for people to put into leadership positions in this great country.

Honestly, the church could take the leadership in our culture. We can begin to create a space where people come and are not labeled. They are seen as people who need to be clothed with Christ. We should all be able to find our identity in the one who came to bring us together as one. The church needs to set the example.

It should be an easy example to set if we submit ourselves to find our identity in Christ.



Thursday, June 11, 2015

Love Neighbor As Yourself

Jesus tells us the second greatest command is to "Love your neighbor as yourself."

If someone were to ask you "Do you love your neighbor?" Would you be able to say "Yes."

How would you even know? How about if we were to ask your neighbor? What would they say?

The thing is Jesus is not just talking about the people who live around you. He is talking about anyone you may come in contact with during the day. As I sit in Starbucks right now I am surrounded by neighbors. Some of them have values different from mine, some of them come from different countries and some I  may even be uncomfortable around, but that does not mean I can't listen to what Jesus' says.

I am to love people no matter who they are, no matter where they live and no matter where they come from.

This is not a suggestion from Jesus, it is a command. This is the second greatest command behind loving God. I can not escape it.

The thing is it can be hard sometimes because there are some people I just don't like to be around. Jesus says that is not an excuse. He wants us to be different than what is considered normal. Jesus put it this way in the Sermon on the Mount, "If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even sinners doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Are not even pagans doing that?" (Matthew 5:46-47)

When Jesus says we need to "Love our neighbor as yourself" he is telling us this includes the unlovable--those who are different from us and those who may even be our enemies.

So let's ask ourselves this question again, "Do you love your neighbor?" How would those around you answer that about you?

Now go love your neighbor! Whoever that may be today!