Confidence for the new year…

“The floods have lifted up, O LORD, the floods have lifted up their voice; the floods lift up their roaring. Mightier than the thunders of many waters, mightier than the waves of the sea, the LORD is high and mighty.” –Psalm 93:3-4

Few things in our natural world are as powerful as the ocean and as powerful as the seas. We live close to the coast, we’ve seen the damage that the ocean can do. We saw the flooding in Charleston not so long ago and all of the destruction that caused. When the ocean starts to roar, or when the flood waters start to rise there isn’t anything that is going to stand in its way.

But we serve a God who spoke the waters into existence. We have a Christ who calmed the sea with the word of his mouth. In Mark 4:39 Jesus rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!”…and it listened…

After this happened, the Bible says that the disciples were then “filled with great fear.” The Bible says that they said, “Who then is this that even the wind and the sea obey him…”

We should be asking this ourselves. Indeed, who is this Christ that we serve!?!

We serve Jesus, the one who not only calms the water by the word of his mouth, but he walks over the water and he walks ON the water.

Throughout ancient literature and even in the Bible, floods and waters were symbolic of and metaphorical for turmoil, chaos, and trouble, and I have no doubt that God wants us to learn from this and that God wants us to apply these truths to our own lives. God often teaches us in metaphor, because pictures are sometimes (often times) more powerful that words alone. Therefore, I have no issue saying that I think there is a powerful metaphor that we need to get here.

Just as God is more powerful than the ocean, and any sea, God is also more powerful than any trial, turmoil, or chaos that we have going on in our lives. Just as Jesus says to the disciples after he calmed the sea, I think he is often saying to us, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?”

And just as he said to the disciples as he was walking on the water, and they were so frightened, he tells them “take heart, it is I…”

We truly have no reason to fear. We can look back at our lives and over the last year and we can center ourselves on the promises of God. We can take heart. As we look forward into 2016 and beyond, we can walk with no fear. We serve a God who is all powerful. Not only is our God more powerful than any ocean, any trial, any storm, or any turmoil in our lives, but He is in complete control of them.

This is the God we walk with. This is the God we serve. This is the God whom we are to be telling people about. This is the God who is working through us! And if that doesn’t give you boldness and confidence going into 2016 then I don’t know what will!

Christmas Reflections

CR

I wonder how many of us truly grasp the miracle of Christmas. This time of year we are filled with warm and fuzzy feelings, there seems to be joy in the air. I think is by providential design. I wonder though, how many of us truly grasp the gravity of what took place that first Christmas night.

We talk about the miracle of the birth of Jesus. Some marvel at the miracle of a virgin birth, and rightly so. But God says, “I see that miracle, and I raise you one.”

John 1:1 says that, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” A little later in verse 14 of that same Chapter it says, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

1 John 4:9-10 says, “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”

The miracle of Christmas, is not a cute little baby boy in a manger that grew up to do some amazing things. The miracle of Christmas isn’t that this baby boy was born to a virgin. The miracle of Christmas isn’t that this baby boy with the miraculous birth is still able to help us feel warm, fuzzy, and full of joy one season out of the year. The miracle of Christmas is that God himself took on human flesh, became a man, and lived a sinless life despite being tempted in all things just as we are. Yes, this man performed many miracles and this man taught many great things about how we are to live. But, this man, was the God-Man who wrapped himself in a human body, who condescended to earth in order to one day die on a Roman cross for the sins of all those who would accept his sacrifice.

Jesus didn’t come to the earth just to allow us to be filled with joy one season out of the year. Jesus allows us to live lives of perpetual joy. To live lives defined by joy, knowing who we are in Him. Knowing that we are reconciled to God because of what He has done…

I don’t think we can fully grasp this. We may have an idea, but to fully grasp this concept, I don’t think we can. And thank God that we can’t.

All praise be to God.

The Greatest Gift

greatest gift

Whether we like to admit it or not. We all like gifts. The thing I like about children is that they are way more honest than most adults. Adults talk about the “true meaning” of Christmas and pretend that they don’t get excited about the presents they see wrapped up under the tree with their name on it. But, I have good news for us all, we can stop pretending. It’s okay to get excited about gifts, because God designed us that way. Not only did God design us to like gifts but he gave us the greatest gift of all, His own Son.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.” -John 3:16

This verse is by far one of the most familiar verses in all of the Bible. Even people who don’t read their Bibles or don’t know anything about the Bible have heard this verse, and what a beautiful verse it is. I was speaking to a pastor friend of mine recently about this verse, and the gift of Jesus, and he made the point that he thinks sometimes people don’t understand why it is that Jesus is a gift.

To answer this question fully would take way more time than a single blog would allow, but I think the book of Romans helps us to shed some light on the question at hand. Romans 3:23 tells us that, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

Every person reading these words right now has sinned against God. The Bible time and time again tells us that God is Holy. Since God is Holy, he cannot dwell in the presence of sin. Most of us would like to believe that God could just look past our sins or just “get over it.” But to do that would violate who He was as God. So, if we know and believe that God is indeed Holy, but we are sinful, and that God and sin cannot dwell together, then that creates an obvious problem.

But, here is the amazing thing. Romans 5:6, “…Christ died for the ungodly.” In Romans 5:8 the Apostle Paul said it like this, “…but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

I can’t think of a more beautiful picture or a more wonderful thing to celebrate this Christmas than the fact that a Holy God would love sinners so much that He would give his only Son to the world. Many times when we read John 3:16 we think of God “giving” Jesus to the world simply in terms of his birth, or maybe even his life and ministry while on earth. And while the birth of Jesus, His incarnation and everything that flowed from that is an amazing thing, and something we should celebrate…God went even further than that.

Not only did God send His Son Jesus to be born into a world of sin and to live amongst sinners and to teach us about God and do all of the amazing miracles that He did. But God the Father actually sent His Son to earth to die for sinners. Christmas isn’t simply about the cute baby Jesus in a manger, but it is also about a Roman Cross and the death of our Savior for us. It is about Jesus coming to earth to take upon Himself the sins of His people.

God gave His Son to the world so that we might believe in Him and receive eternal life. Is there a greater gift than this?

Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

You and me, through our sin we earned death. But God has gifted us with His Son Jesus, and in Him Eternal life. In Matthew 7:11 Jesus says, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”

Friend, the greatest gift God could give us is His Son Jesus. My question this Christmas season to you is, have you received this gift? Those of us who have children know, there are few joys greater than giving our children gifts. God feels the same way about his children, and if you are yet to ask him for this gift of eternal life that only comes through Jesus, I ask you today to come to Him and ask. It is a gift. There is nothing you can do to earn it, the gift is free…all you have to do is ask.

Breath of God

breath

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:16

We live in a world today in which we have more access to the Bible than at any other time in history, especially here in our own country. If I were to go into almost any home I would find at least one Bible, and perhaps several. On my smartphone right now I have every major translation of the Bible along with several commentaries and other reference materials to help me understand the Bible. You can go into almost any bookstore and purchase a Study Bible that has notes to help you understand the Bible and gives you information that Bible Scholars of yesteryear only dreamed of having at their fingertips.

Yet, even with all of this being true, we have never lived in a time in which people were so ignorant of the Bible and what it says. This is a sad truth.

Psalm 1:2 tells us that the blessed man takes his delight “in the law of the LORD.” Basically the Psalmist is speaking of the Word of God, or God’s instructions. So that is my question, do we delight in the Word of God? My dear reader, do you delight in the Word of God? Do you read it? Do you meditate on it? Is it on your mind in your day to day life, and is it your guide?

Why should you read the Word of God? Why should you delight in God’s Word? 2 Timothy 3:16 that I quoted above tells us that the Scriptures are breathed out by God. The Bibles that we read, the Bibles that we are able to hold in our hands are the very breath of God. So, when we sit down and read the Bible, when we meditate on the Word of God, when we drink deeply of the truths of Scripture…we are breathing the very breath of God. This is an amazing truth.

And what happens when we breathe in the breath of God? We get life! In Genesis 2:7 we see that it was when God breathed the breath of life into the nostrils of man that he became a living being. This is an amazing truth…that we can breathe in the very breath of God, and through it we find life! Yet, so few of us take advantage of this awesome privilege.

Many people will say, “Well I don’t really need to read the Bible, I just follow my heart and do what I think is right.” But this is a dangerous thing. Jeremiah 17:9 tells us that “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick.” Friends, just “following your heart” will lead you astray. We are humans with human emotions. We are fickle. We change our minds. But the Word of God doesn’t change. God doesn’t change.

If we want to know who God is, the only place we can learn that is through His Word. If we want to know how to live a life that pleases God, that truth is only found in the Scriptures. If we want to know the blessings of God, and the wonderful treasures that he has in store for us through His Son Jesus Christ…we can only learn these things in His Word.

Please don’t forsake the reading of the Word of God. Delight in the Word of God. You have the amazing privilege to breathe in the very breath of God and find life in its pages as it points you to the One who is the Life. Jesus Christ Himself. Turn to the Bible and be blessed.

And he shall be their peace…

 

peace

Micah 5:1-5 is one of the clearest and most obvious passages in the Old Testament that points to Jesus Christ – His birth, his life, his ministry, and of course his eternal reign as King over His people. Around this time of year, as we approach Christmas, we hear this passage quoted quite often.

Micah 5:5 says this, “And he shall be their peace…”

For some of us, this could present a problem. I’ve just said that the opening verses of Micah 5 refer to Jesus, and then in verse 5 we are told that Jesus himself shall be our peace. But, we look around at the world today, and we see so little peace. Isn’t this true?

Many of us want to ask the question, “Does God not reign?” Some might ask, “If Jesus was to bring peace, and who himself would be peace has come, why do we see so little peace? Not just in the world as far as wars and violence and terrorism and such, but even in relationships of all kinds. Externally and internally within ourselves, and in our world there is so little peace!”

So, the obvious question is…Has Jesus failed? Did Jesus fail as Immanuel, “God with us?”

One day, peace will cover our physical existence and our physical world in the new heavens and new earth. But before we can know that peace, before we can experience that peace, there must first be peace between us and God…between sinful human beings and a perfect holy and righteous God. Because it is only then that we can truly know peace. Only then can we have true peace in our hearts. Peace between God and his people is the precursor to our ultimate peace that we long for…true and lasting peace with God in His presence as he dwells amongst His people.

This peace between God and man is the peace that God gives and offers in his coming to earth as a man, as the prince of peace, Jesus Christ.

Like Israel who in the book of Micah was laid siege against physically, so spiritually we have all been laid siege against by our spiritual enemies – The powers of Satan, demons, death, and of course and ultimately our sin which empowers all of these things to pull us away from God and destroys our peace.

But Jesus conquered the powers of darkness, the power of sin and death. He did that on the cross and through his resurrection. He now lives in and through us his people, his possession through His spirit. We all now, if we belong to Him, have the very life of God living in us. As we cling to Him, we have peace in the here and now as we wait for our ultimate peace in His new creation.

But apart from Christ, we have no peace…

So, this is what we celebrate at Christmas.

The incarnation of the God who became a man, to make this peace possible…Praise be to God.

Through the righteousness of Christ we find our righteousness. Through his life, the life of God, the life of God become man we find our life. The perfect peace of Jesus with God has now become our peace…

This blows my mind. I hope it blows yours. If not, I really have to wonder if you know it, or if you’ve experienced it. If not I implore you to seek it, to beg for it, to cry out for it. Seek Christ, because Jesus is the ONLY WAY to peace…

Embracing Weakness

thorn

One thing I love about the Apostle Paul is that he was a man who was keenly aware of his sinfulness, his limitations, and his weaknesses. We see in Romans 7 his lamenting of his own sinfulness. In 1 Timothy 1:15 he refers to himself as the chief of sinners. In 1 Corinthians chapter 2 you see him talking about the fact that he did not come to them with lofty words of wisdom, but he came to them preaching only Christ Jesus and Him crucified.

In 2 Corinthians Paul also seems to be thinking quite a bit about this idea of weakness. He talks in Chapter 4 about how we have this great treasure, and the treasure of course he is referring to is the Gospel, in jars of clay. What he means by that is that we in our flesh have mortal bodies. We experience affliction, we experience trials, we go through times of despair…but in that same chapter he tells us that in these trials we can persevere because of the power of God that is at work within us. Not only that though, through trials the grace of God is seen even more powerfully as we endure these trials, and God is seen to be even more glorious. This is true for those of us going through these times, but also for those around us, as they watch us go through and experience these things and see God’s faithfulness through it all.

One of the most powerful, and most encouraging passages of Scripture for me as I think about this idea of trials, weaknesses, or even suffering is 2 Corinthians 12: 7-10:

“So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Now Paul starts of this chapter by talking about some of his spiritual highs, and the amazing visions and things that God has revealed to Him. He says that he has seen things that cannot be told, and that a man may not utter…Someone who has had such powerful experiences with God could easily be driven to conceit or pride. But Paul says, in order to keep him from becoming conceited, God has given him a thorn in the flesh.

Now, no one knows what this thorn in the flesh is. Some have speculated it was disease or sickness, a painful limp when he walked, or some other physical ailment. Some have speculated it was poor eyesight, or maybe even a speech impediment. But what it is, we just don’t know.

What we do know, is that it was a painful thing for Paul. Whether it’s physical, mental, or spiritual, it was something that Paul did not want to go through. Paul says that he pleaded with God three times to take it away. But what does God say?

Verse 9, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

I think all of us, on some level can identify with Paul here. All of us, I believe have a thorn in the flesh. All of us have things, or have gone through things that we have begged for God to take away, yet for his purposes, God chooses not to do so.

We live in a society that in many ways does not tolerate weakness. We glorify strength, whether it be physical or mental or spiritual. We run from weakness. Even ourselves, we tried to hide or cover up our weaknesses so that no one else can see them. We are embarrassed by our weaknesses, whether they be physical, mental, or spiritual…

But what does Paul do? Paul says he boasts in his weakness. He says that he is content with his weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities…because when he is weak, then he is strong.

It is through Paul’s weaknesses that God’s strength can be seen. So Paul glories in his weaknesses, because the glory of God was Paul’s main concern. How people viewed Paul’s God was more important to Paul than how people viewed Paul.

We are a people who like to do things in our own strength and in our own power. But God will often put us in a place in our lives in which we cannot do anything without Him. God will often put us in places in our lives so that we will understand and come to know, that unless we are leaning completely on God, we are done for.

The most powerful way I’ve experienced this in my own life is in my call as a Pastor. If you spend much time around me, you will see that I struggle with a stutter. In day to day life it is often a struggle for me to carry on normal conversations that most people have no issue with. Especially on the phone. Now, most times when I preach, I don’t have much issue with it, though occasionally even then it will flare up. Most of you will say, well that’s no big deal, but as one makes his living by speaking and talking to people it can be a bit of an issue.

So, when I first felt like God was calling me to preach I thought there was no way it could be true. Why in the world would God call a stuttering man to preach his word? But then I read passages like this here in 2 Corinthians 12 and I read about Moses and his being slow of speech. So, I submitted myself to God’s call and allowed him to do what He would. And praise God he has blessed me to be able to serve him as a preacher and pastor.

I don’t want to go on too long, or make this all about me, but last year around Easter I had a bit of a crisis. I was asked to speak at an Easter event with 6 other preachers. Many of them were my friends. There was going to be a good crowd there, and I was very excited. But, for whatever reason, as I tried to speak that night I struggled getting words out in a way that I had not experienced in quite some time…especially in preaching.

I was crushed. I was embarrassed. And honestly I was mad at God. I was mad that he allowed that to happen. I decided I was done, and that I wasn’t going to preach any more. I remember telling several of my friends this. They all tried to encourage me, but I wasn’t going to listen. But praise the Lord, someone finally woke me up…

My Pastor friend Joey, whom I often come to for advice and who was obviously frustrated with me said, ”Walk away. God obviously isn’t great enough to use someone like you.” I’m paraphrasing here, but his words cut me to the heart. I realized that I had been more worried what people thought of me, than what they thought of my God.

I then came to the Scriptures again, and read these very words…

“My grace is sufficient for you…Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses…When I am weak, then I am strong.”

Perhaps it was through my weaknesses, and through my struggles that God would be glorified. Not in delivering me from them, but helping me to persevere through them. I won’t say that I don’t still struggle with this issue, and learning to be content in my weaknesses is still hard, but I have chosen to accept that God is God and I am not. My job is to be faithful, and to be content in Him.

So I’ll leave us here. What are your weaknesses? Is it in physical ailments? Is it a trial in your life you are having trouble dealing with? Is it a spiritual issue, some sin that you are yet to turn over to God? Maybe even you have yet to give your life and surrender to Christ.

Whatever it is, I plead with you. Come to Jesus. Give him your weaknesses. Give him your failings. Allow his strength to show through you. He may not take away the issue. He may not remove your thorn, but you can boast in your weaknesses because it is through them, the power of God is seen.

Of First Importance: The Real Problem With The Church

“Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you – unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins…” 1 Corinthians 15:1-3

I read so many blog posts and see so many status updates on social media about “What’s wrong with the church?” Now this isn’t an altogether bad thing. Just like with our physical health, we must be ready to diagnose sickness and other ailments in order to maintain good health. The same thing is certainly true with our churches and their health. When we see negative patterns, or symptoms of a sick church it is good and right to point out those things. You can’t “get well” until you’ve diagnosed the sickness.

My issue though, is too often I see pastors and other church leaders only harp on the symptoms and not on the actual illness. I see many blog posts on faulty programs, wrong methodology, bad leadership structure, misguided views on church membership, or just poor church polity overall. These things are certainly issues that need to be talked about and discussed, but my question is…are these issues truly the main thing we need to be talking about, or are they simply the symptoms of the actual sickness?

When I look at our churches, the biggest issue I see with the church isn’t any of the issues I’ve just mentioned, but the fact that we’ve got a large number of people in our churches and professing Christians that have never tasted and seen that the LORD is good. (Psalm 34:8) The Apostle Paul says in the first few verses of 1 Corinthians 15 that it is the gospel that he’s preached, and they have received, and the gospel by which they are being saved…that is of first importance. The biggest problem I see in our churches is that the gospel is no longer of first importance…even amongst those sitting in our pews…and sadly even those standing in our pulpits.

So many people think the problem in our churches is that we don’t have the right programs in place, or we aren’t “doing worship” well enough…or even that we aren’t evangelizing as we should be doing. I’m sure there is truth in all of these statements. Some people think that everything would be better if we could simply get more people to come to church…but I don’t think any of those things are the biggest issue. I don’t think new programs, better worship, or even more evangelism and bringing in more people to our churches is going to solve the biggest problem in our churches.

The biggest problem in our churches is that we have a bunch of half-hearted lukewarm Christians who are yet to fall in love with Jesus. We have preachers who are so passionate about secondary issues or are so concerned with being “relevant” that they’ve forgotten what is “of first importance.” It’s entirely possible for us to spend so much time talking about good things that we fail to talk about the greatest thing, Jesus Christ and His Gospel. It is possible for us to spend too much time talking about stuff other than Jesus, but it is impossible for us to spend too much time talking about Jesus.

I’m a firm believer that if we get Jesus right, and if the people in our churches fall in love with Jesus…then all of this other stuff that we spend so much time harping on will fall into place. As pastors/preacher/church leaders…this is our main job. To point people to Jesus so that they will fall head over heels in love with Him. If we do that, we’ve done our job…maybe if we focused on this more…maybe if we talked about the root cause of the sickness more…we’d see the symptoms that we are so worried and that dominates so much of our conversations about start to fade away…