Wednesday, February 28, 2007

the danger of following christ

I gave up all that inferior stuff so I could know Christ personally, experience his resurrection power, be a partner in his suffering, and go all the way with him to death itself.” Phil. 3:10

One of the key characteristics of a dangerous church-one that poses a threat to the kingdom of darkness is that its members suffer for it. At the very center of what it means to be a follower of Christ is the inevitability of suffering for His name’s sake. Jesus was clear to his disciples that the world would not feel any better about them than they felt about Him. He warned them that they would suffer for the authentic expression of their faith. He told them to personally embrace the cross on a daily basis. Anyway you look at it, the cross means pain.

I have experienced suffering. Granted, some of it has been because of my own stupid choices (Ok, a lot of it!). But other times I have endured through very difficult seasons for no other reason than my heart to obey and follow the teachings of Jesus. Let there be no mistake, the road to becoming like Christ has many challenging moments. These times must be met with resolve to honor Christ, or we will become discouraged or even bitter about our hardship.

Paul once said, “I am glad when I suffer for you in my body, for I am completing what remains of Christ's sufferings for his body, the church.” Col. 1:24

He realized that the Kingdom of God moves forward against much opposition. The powers of darkness have many resources available to push back against the unstoppable force of the church. It is through “much tribulation” that the church of Jesus takes ground for the Kingdom of God. It may be a wife who endures in a difficult marriage or a man who suffers at the hands of cruel coworkers or a student that is ridiculed by fellow students for his faith. Sometimes we endure through stressful seasons in our private life all the while continuing to volunteer service in our church. We could go on and on.

Simply put, as Jesus’ followers we must be prepared to suffer if we truly intend to advance the Kingdom of God. We must not be surprised and remember that God gives special reward and honor to those who willingly endure underneath it.

"Dear friends, don't be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you. 13 Instead, be very glad—because these trials will make you partners with Christ in his suffering, and afterward you will have the wonderful joy of sharing his glory when it is displayed to all the world." I Pet. 4:12-13

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Its not safe

It is nice and safe to be in an environment where keeping me happy & entertained is the priority. Where there is no controversy and everyone remains very cautious. Where there is no confrontation, no one challenging, no one calling for change or even sacrifice. This is the environment of the average American church.

The church was born into a world of suffering and evil and given a dangerous mission: To overcome evil; to fight injustice; to defend the cause of the oppressed; to enter into the suffering of this world and bring hope to the hopeless.

Jesus told Peter that the mission would be to charge the gates of hell, set free that which is bound and bind that which holds it. This is a dangerous mission. It is not safe to attack Satan’s territory. Jesus’ church is a dangerous church.

Taking on this mission leads to a disturbing discovery-there is a covert enemy behind all of the evil. This enemy often leaves well enough alone as long as no real threat is posed. He too is on a mission of stealing and killing and destroying. The church of the “weekend show” warrants little of his attention. It is not dangerous to the kingdom of darkness.

In its beginning (Acts), the church prayed for boldness, took risks, stood firm against evil religious & political systems and gave rise to an unselfish community with a consuming focus to put the Kingdom of God first. I do not believe that what they had in mind meant simply going to meetings-if that where true we would have never heard of them. The church today is fast becoming like going to a pep rally with no real game the next day. I am concerned we have lost sight of our mission.

Recently the question was posed to me, “If your church were to close its doors, would it matter to anyone besides those currently attending?” The question bothered me. Would the surrounding community even notice?

Come hear the series “Dangerous Church”
Begins this weekend!

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Love yourself

1 Corinthians 13:7 (NLT) “Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.”

Ever had love end on you? Have you ever had someone say, “I just can’t do this anymore?” Have you ever been that person? I know that I have been tempted to quit on people that God wanted me to continue to love. Sometimes I have quit.

How do we make our love go the distance? How can we arrive at the end of our lives having not given up but hopefully endured through every circumstance?

I cannot love my neighbor as myself if I don’t love myself. If I do not take care of myself physically so as to be strong and healthy I will find it exremely difficult to love others. What happens to your relationships when you're run down? Little issues become big problems when you're tired. You're more cranky, defensive, critical when you're physically unfit. I believe that in many relationships love would clearly resurface by simply getting into better shape. Things like rest, real food (that actually has nutrients in it), and moderate exercise could dramatically change the way one feels and impact the way one loves.

What about my emotions? How do you know when you need physical recharging? Your stomach growls -- it's time to eat. Your eyelids get heavy -- it's time to sleep. We often overlook the signs and symbols that say our emotional tank is on empty. We often tend to ignore it more than eating and sleeping. Jesus often withdrew for times of solitude when he was drained emotionally. Time all alone can serve us well. Away from people, phone, TV--just silence. Some form of recreation can recharge emotions as well. Something you truly enjoy. Playing is for adults too you know (healthy ones anyway). Laughter is medicine for strapped emotions. Do you have people in your life to laugh with? Fun people who can help you not take everything so seriously? Believe it or not, God made you to laugh. It is a way to stay healthy, alive, and strong. Love is greatly enhanced when emotions are recharged.

Ongoing spiritual renewal is perhaps most vital. Allowing God access into my spirit brings insight and truth moments that make the difference in love. God shows us things about ourselves that are hindering love. He shows us the other people in our lives from His perspective, re-energizing our ability to love them. He softens a hard heart toward one who has offended when we are fed up and ready to quit. In short, God’s Spirit produces the vital fruit of the Spirit that makes lasting love possible. Good ole’ Bible reading and prayer is what the doctor orders. Without it, love will not go the distance in many, many relationships. But a spirit empowered by a word from God can bring some series love to the table.

You need to love yourself in order to love others. Do yourself a favor. Take care of yourself physically, emotionally, and spiritually so that you can make love go the distance.

Too weak to love

Having taken on this project of planting and pastoring New Community Church, I have found out that love can be exhausting. It takes tremendous energy to keep on loving. Yet real love is lasting love. It is durable, strong and not easily abandoned.

Considering that half of all marriages end in divorce and countless friendships are discarded as quickly as yesterday’s clothes. The question is why? For many the answer is there is simply not enough strength. They do not have enough physical, emotional, and spiritual gas in the tank to make it through the difficult seasons of real love. Their landscape is littered with debris of relationships that have crashed and burned because they didn't know how to refuel their love so it could last.

One of the most loving things you can do for others is take care of yourself. That’s right. Take care of you! In order to make your love go the distance you have to be strong-and strong in every way.

Your physical condition has an impact on your ability to love. Tired, stressed people often fall short. When my physical body is out of shape or undernurished, I lack energy for those I need to love. When my emotional batteries are drained, I can be short and unloving or even detatched. When my spirit is empty and unrenewed, I can become self-focused and unloving. It takes God’s help to make love go the distance. There are too many challenges along love’s journey. God’s Spirit can infuse our spirit with power to press through barriers between us and the finish line.

Someone once told me, “It is not how you start, but how you finish”. I believe this now more than ever. I want finish love’s race having developed the strength to keep on loving those along my path until I get to the end.

Are you losing your strength? Do you want to know how to increase your energy reserves? Would you like to be able to respond to the needs of others with more vitality than you currently have? Attend NCC this weekend and hear the message, “Developing a love that lasts”.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Redefining Love

When it comes to love, you get a lot of opinions. Frankly, the whole concept has become quite blurry.

What is real love? And is there a difference between that and the heart-pounding adrenaline rush you feel when you see...? You know the person I'm talking about. It’s that hot guy playing basketball at the gym. Or the amazing girl who makes eye contact as she passes by. The friend of a friend of a friend-maybe a best friend. It's that person we keep track of when he or she is in the same room, whose comments and actions we analyze to no end.

What about feelings? Love certainly involves feeling doesn’t it? I mean, I remember when I met my wife Michelle, Bam! I was in a world of emotions and feelings. How do I manage these wonderful gifts called emotions? Are they friends or enemies? How do they play into this thing called love?

And sex-what about sex? Love involves sex right? The entertainment industry tells us that whenever two people hook up in pop culture, they have sex. What does this mean to the possibility and the growth of love?

The Bible says that God is Love. What does He have to say? Are there answers to these questions that cut through all the blur and confusion?

Join me this weekend at New Community Church as we bring the blur of love back into focus and celebrate together clarity from God's viewpoint.

Monday, February 05, 2007

My old friend-Pain

“Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you.” 1 Peter 4:12

The Bible teaches us that pain is a certainty in life. It is unrealistic for us to expect or even hope for a life that does not involve pain. I do not totally understand pain nor do I claim to have reconciled pain completely with my understanding of God. By faith I understand my way through it-or I should say, by faith God sees me through it.
Pain is a high mystery. I am also convinced that pain is never a neutral experience. It either deforms you or it transforms you-it never leaves you the same. Suffering is both teacher and torturer. Its lasting effect on us becomes our choice. Scripture tells us that Jesus was a student in the school of pain and so are we.
“Though he was God's Son, he learned trusting- obedience by what he suffered, just as we do.” Hebrews 5:8 (MSG)
Nothing teaches with such precision and clarity like the sharp sting of pain. It is true that many of us will not learn and grow apart from pain. A divorce that opens the eyes to the value of real love-but only after it is lost. An abrupt firing that finally shows us we are difficult and stubborn. A public moral failure that at last humbles ushering in grace that before could not reach us because of our persistent independence and pride. Lessons like these and a world of others are made possible only through pain.
I am no stranger to pain I assure you. The last three years of my life are marked by painful loss, betrayals, and damage to my God-given dreams. My question is what is the effect? Am I more of a reflection now of the Image of God? Am I becoming more like Jesus? Do I trust God more as a result of my pain or less? Am I bitter or am I better? I like to think that I am growing but I cannot see myself the way that others do-the way that God does. They/He can be the judge. I can only agree with this:
“And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son.” Rom. 8:28-29 (NIV)

May your pain work to better your life.
May you choose to believe your way forward.
May you trust until you are better.