“Tired of Keeping My Chin Up”

Have you ever come to a point in your life where you admitted to yourself that you are simply tired of keeping your chin up?  I grew up going to church and, short of a few years in my late teens and early twenties, I have always associated my life with the things of God.  When I was 16, I made for certain that I was a child of God by accepting His grace by His blood on the cross.  Since that time, life has been full of some incredible joys and some of the lowest lows.  In the midst of my expereinces as a pastor in the corporate church world, there have been days, weeks, and even seasons of my life where I was just tired of trying to hold my head high in the midst of adversity.  (Yes, pastors go through this just like everyone else.)  I’m certain that all of us can relate to this exhaustion on some level.  But what do you do when you are just plain tired?  What do you do when you feel like throwing in the towel and having a pity party for yourself because you have certainly at least earned the right to do so?  Well…I’m glad you asked.

Step One: Call your closest friend and bleed on them a bit.  We are called to rejoice with those who rejoice, and mourn with this who mourn (just remember to return the favor).

Step Two: Instead of abandoning the guide to life…open it and start digging.  Sometimes our tendencies are to turn our backs on the mainstays of our lives when we are experiencing heartaches.  The Word of God is rich with promises and truths, laments and praises that we can certainly make our own as we traverse the path of dissapointment.  Dig deep…and He will speak to You.

“Your words have been hard against me, says the Lord. But you say, ‘How have we spoken against you?’ You have said, ‘It is vain to serve God. What is the profit of our keeping his charge or of walking as in mourning before the Lord of hosts? And now we call the arrogant blessed. Evildoers not only prosper but they put God to the test and they escape.’” Then those who feared the Lord spoke with one another. The Lord paid attention and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who feared the Lord and esteemed his name. “They shall be mine, says the Lord of hosts, in the day when I make up my treasured possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him. Then once more you shall see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him.” Malachi‬ ‭3:13-18‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Step Three: Tell someone else about the blessings that God has freely given to you.

Step Four: Pick your chin back up and serve God…YOU are His treasured possession.

Are You Doing Jesus a Favor?

Each person who has ever encountered the saving grace of Jesus has been at this crossroad.  We embrace the forgiveness of the Cross of Christ and we begin this journey of walking daily in the truth of the Gospel.  This should completely change the lens through which we view the world.  Unfortunately I believe for many, if not all of us, that lens becomes clouded over time; jaded; bent towards our own contribution to this world “in the name of Jesus.”  I don’t believe any of us intend for this to happen, but the human condition of pride slides its way back into our lives undetected.  We turn our eyes towards our value to God and away from the central truth around which our lives are to be built: His value to us.

In Matthew‬ ‭17‬:‭1-8 we catch a pretty clear view of what it means to be “me-focused” instead of “God-focused”:

“And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.” (ESV)

Jesus took these men and led them.  Jesus’ glory was made known to them.  Peter’s first thought was his own importance and how he could help God out.  I completely understand the yearning to show kindness to Jesus and to want to come to his aid by providing a place of rest for him…but Peter missed the bigger picture.  Jesus didn’t need his help.  Jesus didn’t bring them up onto the mountain so they could be of some assistance to Him.  Jesus brought them up there so they could more fully understand who He was in all of His glory.  God’s words didn’t instruct these men to come to Jesus’ aid.  His words were simple: I love my son Jesus; I am pleased with who He is and what He is doing; listen to Him.  That’s it!

The most important thing you can do in this life is not doing something for Jesus, but rather doing something with Jesus.  Although He died a brutal death just so that you and I could live in the grace and freedom of the cross for eternity, it’s not about you and me or what we can do to help Him out.  It is soleley and completely about Jesus…period.

As Christians, from senior pastors to the little children running the halls of the church, we must stop centering our attention on how valuable we are and the contributions we are making.  There’s a name for that: pride.  Instead of talking about how valuable we are, we need to listen to how valuable Jesus’ words are.  Yes, Jesus loves me…this I know, but you and I cannot be at the center of our experience with Christ and ever expect Him to use us mightily.  He is the center; He is the nucleous around which we revolve and exist and have purpose.

The next time you are tempted to “do Jesus a favor” by serving Him, don’t.  Jesus doesn’t need your favor.  Instead, Jesus wants your very being to be knit together with His.  Don’t settle into the modern Christian experience centered around your contribution to the Kingdom.  Settle into what He did for you.  

Don’t do things for Jesus; live life with Jesus…the rest will come naturally.

“My Chocolate Bunny Was Hollow”

When I was a child I loved getting candy on Easter Sunday morning.  But in spite of the heavenly experience of gorging on chocolate and sugar coated peeps, there was something the Easter Bunny never brought me…Hope.

The writer of Hebrews said, “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” Hebrews 2:14-18 ESV

Jesus stepped out of Heaven and into a mortal body to ransom us from ourselves and the death that sin brings.  He has walked in our shoes and suffered beyond what we will ever suffer, so that we would have a hope and a future beyond what we could ever imagine.   The gift of eternity with the Father brings much more joy than that found in a chocolate bunny.  It came through 33 years of sinless humanity, a bloody cross that didn’t keep Him, and an empty grave that couldn’t hold Him.

I’ve learned that the difficulties in this life can easily overwhelm us to the point of despair, but Jesus knows that.  I’ve learned that the pain and anxiety from the burdens of this world can seemingly crush our spirits, but Jesus knows that, too.  I’ve also learned that Satan loves to fill us with regrets over the “what ifs” of our past decisions which can consume us at times, but our hope lies not in the pain of our past but rather in the anticipation of what lies ahead.  Our hope is found in the certainty that Jesus takes the brokenness of yesterday and turns it into a beautiful tomorrow while he walks with us through the opportunity of today.

“You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.”  Isaiah 26:3

…and an ocassional chocolate bunny never hurt anyone.


“The Perfect Church”

Many years ago I took a group of young singles from Tampa to Atlanta for the weekend. We went to a Braves game, ate at the Hard Rock Cafe’ and went to Northpoint Community Church on Sunday to hear Andy Stanley preach. It as a great trip. But the greatest experience we had was when we got up early on Saturday morning and helped paint a house for an older woman who was in need and unable to do it herself and then prayed over her before we left. It was a great day.

While we were heading to this woman’s house that morning, we passed by a church and I just had to stop. The sign on the church said “The Perfect Church.” That was the actual name of the church! We took a quick opportunity to discuss that the only time that sign was true was on a bright and sunny day like that day…Saturday…when no one was actually there.

Until Jesus comes again there will never be a perfect church because people make up the church and people are messy and imperfect. But this shouldn’t stop us from striving to be everything God desperately desires His people to become. In 1 Thessalonians, Paul briefly reminds us exactly what it means to become the perfect church (as much as it is possible on this side of eternity).

“We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil. Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.”
1 Thessalonians‬ ‭5‬:‭12-24‬ ESV

From this passage we can derive the following checklist for becoming the model church:

1. Respect those doing the work of the ministry

2. Respect those who hold a position of authority in the church (pastors, elders) who are also charged to caution, advise, or counsel you against something and to reprove or scold you, especially in a mild and good-willed manner

3. Be at peace among the church body

4. Caution, advise, or counsel those who are just taking what the rest of church has to offer but are not contributing themselves, and then reprove or scold them when necessary especially in a mild and good-willed manner

5. Encourage those among you who feel hopeless

6. Help those among you who are struggling to help themselves

7. Be patient with everyone among you

8. Make certain that there is forgiveness and good-will instead of vengeance among the church body when someone is wronged by another church member

9. Do good to all people, both inside and outside the church walls

10. Do not get in the way of the what the Holy Spirit desperately wants to do among you; be a people in a place where He is welcomed and expected to show up and move among you every time you meet

11. Do not ignore or be careless about for what the Bible says about what will happen in the days to come

12. Test every situation, every feeling, every intuition you have against what Scripture says about who you should be and what you should do, and then cling to those things that line up with what God says

13. Completely remove yourselves from every initiative, effort, or situation that is Godless or runs against what God desires for His people

If you do these things, God will do what only He can do; and that is to set you apart and make you a holy people who are His. You will become His Bride, His Prize, and His Joy! Be the Church…

T.G.I.F. with a twist…

‭T.G.I.F. has traditionally stood for Thank God It’s Friday. Friday’s are good. I like Fridays. The weekend lies ahead and for most of us that means a little “me” time. But I am challenged this morning to look beyond today and thank God I have so much more ahead of me than Friday or the weekend.

In Colossians‬ ‭2‬:‭9-14‬, Paul wrote:
“For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.” ESV

Christ is fully God;

Christ cut away my old self and brought me new life;

Christ took all my sin, past, present and future, and nailed them to the cross;

I refuse to live like a prisoner of my past or a felon without a future;

My soul was ransomed by every drop of Christ’s blood that hit the ground;

By His wounds I was healed;

By His death I now live;

By His resurrection I have been set free…

I’m reclaiming my T.G.I.F. of old, and giving it a meaning with more promise: “Thank God I’m Free.” #grace #hope #purpose #promise #heaven

“Context 4:13”

“I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” ‭Philippians‬ ‭4‬:‭13‬ ESV

We hear this verse quoted quite often, but much of the time it is claimed it is done so outside of its original context. Football player, Tim Tebow, is well known for displaying the words “Phil 4:13” on his cheeks during football games and many people have admired his public stand for his reliance on Christ. But when Paul originally penned these words to the Christians in Phillipi, it was more than just depending on Jesus. It was on the heels of speaking about his life journey and what he had learned through both hardship and blessing when Paul used these words. Verses 11 and 12, immediately preceeding this verse, set the intended context for this often misquoted life phrase.

“…for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

I don’t believe that we can honestly claim the confidence that Paul had in explaining that he can do all things through the strength of Christ until we’ve experienced the extreme benefits of being both blessed and being in desperate need of those same blessings while all-the-while clinging to His promises and never wavering in our love, devotion, and complete dependence on Christ.

Father, thank you for the full times and for those that seem empty. Thank you for the perspective of both needing nothing and needing much while following You. I love You and trust in You for absolutely every facet of my life…and in that I can rest strong. Amen.


“Empty is the New Full”

Fads come and go. What was in this year will be gone next month and what was cool this year will be considered out-of-date in the near future; we are a culture of change. We love to get in on the latest “thing” that will make us better, stronger, skinnier, smarter, richer, more successful, more desireable…and the list never ends. We say that 40 is the new 30, 50 is the new 40, what was old yesterday is young today, etc. But absolutely none of this is really true; 30 is 30, 40 is 40, 50 is 50…period. The key lies in how we view our lives. But have you ever been to the place where empty is the new full?

At a glance, most people would say they don’t like the experience of emptiness. Emptiness can come at the loss of a job, death of a loved one, divorce, when a child leaves home, when you move to a new city…and this list, too, never ends. There are countless experiences in life which can create a void in our souls; an emptiness that hurts. But in the midst of that emptiness God breathes hope.

While reading Eugene Peterson’s book, The Pastor, I was enlightened to something I hadn’t thought a great deal about before. When Moses was commanded to make the ark of the covenant, where he was to meet with God, the design was one of emptiness. The top of the ark was called the Mercy Seat and it was the place where God would show up. The top of this ark was flanked with two cherubim with their wings outstretched towards each other seemingly protecting the empty space from being filled with anything but God himself. Fast-forward to the the resurrection of Christ and, there again, were two angels who gave witness to another empty space: the tomb where Jesus was laid. God reserved an empty space to meet with one man and then created an empty space to change all of mankind who would accept his gift of emptiness. For it is in the wake of Christ’s empty cross and empty tomb that the fullness of life can truly be found.

As we experience emptiness caused by what we see as unfortunate and sometimes catastrophic events in our lives, may we be reminded that God uses emptiness to purge us, to mold us, to re-create us and to save us. In a day and age where we run to fill every crevice of our lives with something that will make us more significant, may we embrace the emptiness that life brings and give it over to the Father who loves us. He desperately wants your life to be fuller than you could ever imagine it to be. What are you doing with the emptiness in your life? Do you see God in the midst of it? Ask him to fill the void and wait for Him to move. #embracetheemptyspaces

“Welcome Home, Son”

Christmas is a time of homecoming for many. We gather with friends and family, we pile in our vehicles and shove all the presents in the back with the dog and off we go to see those who matter most. Although Christmas is a time when we usually have the opportunity to see extended family, the most special times for me are those with the immediate family, watching the kids open up gifts, making Christmas cookies, watching Elf and Christmas Vacation…10 or more times each! And every Christmas Eve, we pick a time to sit around the Christmas Tree as I read the story of Christ’s birth as recored in Luke Chapter 2. Although this is the classic account of this eternity-changing event, Christ’s birth is actually referred to in many other places in Scripture.

In Galatians chapter 4, Paul wrote the following reminder to us all:

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. (‭Galatians‬ ‭4‬:‭4-7‬ ESV)

Because God refused to let us remain in a hopeless, sinful existence with no possibility for escape, He did what only He could do; God gave His Son so that we all could become His Sons. Many people misunderstand this passage and some are even offended thinking God favors sons over daughters, but that misses the meaning completely. In the day and age when these words were originally penned, first born sons received the largest inheritance from their father. When Jesus came, died, and rose again to ransom us from ourselves, He gave each of the opportunity to become not only His children, but to receive the inheritance of sons…the greatest and best He has to give!

Paul later reminded the Ephesians of this truth:

“…In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” (‭Ephesians‬ ‭1‬:‭4-10‬ ESV)

As 2014 winds down to a close, I thank God that He sent His Son, who was born in a manger, nailed to a cross, and rose from the dead so that I could become His son. Jesus submitted Himself to the Father and yielded himself to a trough, a tree, and a tomb so that we could receive the greatest gift possible…a homecoming of heavenly proportion. Please know that Christ was, is, and will always be the greatest gift you can ever receive. I pray that you truly realize what it means to come home and receive the inheritance of a son this Christmas.

“Shaken, Not Stirred”

If you are a movie fan, especially the secret agent, action-packed type of movie fan, you’ve no doubt heard the line “shaken, not sitrred” when James Bond (007) orders his vodka martinis. In an article published in the Los Angeles Times in 2013, “Docs explain why James Bond prefers his martinis ‘shaken, not stirred” the reason behind Bond’s preference for his martinis is tackled:

Scientists know that the best way to make a vodka martini is to mix the ingredients with a thin wooden spoon — it combines the ingredients effectively without raising the drink’s temperature the way a metal stirrer would. So why would James Bond, the world’s most sophisticated martini drinker, routinely order his cocktail “shaken, not stirred”?

You can read the article for yourself if you want their answer but that isn’t the point of this post. The point, is that it doesn’t make sense. The greatest secret agent in movie history seems to have it backwards. (I would suggest eliminating vodka martinis altogether but what do I know?)

In the sixth chapter of Luke’s Gospel he records a “shaken, not stirred” moment of heavenly proportion. Beginning in verse 27, Jesus spoke to a multitude of people by addressing cultural interactions in counter-cultural ways. In summary, he told his hearers to love their enemies instead of hating them, to judge themselves instead of judging others, and that there was no cover up for unrighteous living; the fruit of their lives would bear witness to their souls.

To the sin-stained, human heart it seems counter-intuitive to love someone who has wronged you or focus on yourself with honest eyes instead of passing judgment on the actions of others. Many of us also believe we can hang whatever fruit we want to on the tree of our lives for others to see whether it is genuine or not. But the key to a peace-filled life lies in doing things that don’t make sense to anyone but God. Only when we live out the Gospel in the ways Jesus prescribed do we find a peace that is indescribable which produces inside of us a life that won’t be shaken or stirred. As Jesus finished his teachings He brought it all together:

“Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you? Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built. But the one who hears and does not do them is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the stream broke against it, immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great.” (‭Luke‬ ‭6‬:‭46-49‬ ESV)

Laying a foundation for your life that will endure storms will only be found doing what seems backwards to the world…and it’s got nothing to do with martinis.

“Truly my soul finds rest in God; my salvation comes from him. Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.” (‭Psalm‬ ‭62‬:‭1-2‬ NIV)

“No Regrets”

Chances are, you’ve recently overindulged in something and experienced some level of regret this weekend. On the heels of Thanksgiving there is a good chance you know all too well what it means to have too much of a good thing. Unfortuntely, countless people won’t experience that same fullness this season. When Jesus sent out the twelve disciples to do the work of the Gospel, he had just a few instructions that, if followed, would allow the disciples to experience what it means to be full, without regrets, and yet to spread that fullness to those who needed it most.

And he called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in their belts— but to wear sandals and not put on two tunics. And he said to them, “Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you depart from there. And if any place will not receive you and they will not listen to you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” So they went out and proclaimed that people should repent. And they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them.

The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves. (‭Mark‬ ‭6‬:‭7-13, 30-32‬ ESV)

Jesus wanted his disciples to experience three opportunities where they needed to impose limits on themselves for their own good and the good of others; to simply have no regrets. He told them not to (1) Overpack, not to (2) Overreact, and (3) not be Overwhelmed.

These are great truths if we are ever going to experience the fullness of Christ without regrets. When we can draw limits around what we need and what we really don’t, we learn to trust God to provide for tomorrow. When we learn to shake the dust from our sandals when people don’t accept us as we represent Christ, then we keep ourselves from being offended. When we experience the fullness and balance of being used by Christ to leave this world a little better than we found it, then we can truly enjoy what it means to find a desolate place and rest; and that is a soft pillow at night. #noregrets