2016 Summer Series at The Gathering

I love the summer!  I enjoy the other three seasons, but I have a definite favorite.  It is possible that I’m more excited about this summer than I have been in quite a while, at least as far as it relates to my time as Lead Pastor at The Gathering goes.  I’m so ready for summer that we’re going to start a little early.

This Sunday, May 1, we’re kicking off our new summer series…

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The Psalms are an amazing collection of the most interesting, relevant and Christ-exalting songs ever written.  It has been said that it is all of Scripture in one book.  James Montgomery Boice, in his 2nd volume of his work on the Psalms, has said of this book:

I have always thought of the psalms as the deepest and most spiritual portion of the Word of God…the psalms touch deeply on the hurts, joys, and spiritual aspirations of God’s people…they never lose their grasp on God or their faith in Him as the great, sovereign, wise, and loving God He is.

Steven Lawson, in his book, Preaching the Psalms, describes this book as having the power to comfort the afflicted, renew the soul, and magnify the Lord.  He says, “From the pinnacle of praise to the pit of despair, this book captures the full range of human emotions, “ but most of all, he continues, “the psalms led God’s ancient people in worshiping Him.” (pp. 78-79)

Those are a couple of reasons I am looking forward to this new series.  We all have struggles and joy and pain, and successes and the book of Psalms helps us to work through each of these and, ultimately, lead us to the throne of Christ in worship.

To me, summer has always been about taking a little time to relax, maybe travel a bit and take some away from the normal stresses of life, reflecting on what has happened in the year so far, and planning how we’re going to finish it out.  That’s what I see this series being about, as well.  Taking time out from our normal Sunday morning series to look at these reflections of the heart as the writers plumb the depths of their emotions as they deal with all the stresses of life and finding their way to the foot of the throne of God.  That’s something that I think we all need to experience!

Another reason I have chosen to spend the summer in the Psalms is that this is the season of vacations.  Everybody is on the go (as, to some extent, it should be).  When the kids are out of school, that time with family should be taken advantage of if there is an opportunity to travel together.  That doesn’t mean we take the summer off from gathering together as a church family, but it does take into account that some time out of town inevitably happens.

Because the Psalms can be looked at as individual units, this will be an expositional series where you won’t be lost if you miss a week.  I wanted to continue walking straight through a book, but one that isn’t dependent upon the last weeks message.  Psalms gives us that best of both worlds approach.

Finally, I decided to tackle this admittedly challenging book this summer because it seems everything I’ve been involved in over the last couple of months has been pushing me in this direction.  For a long time, I sort of avoided the Psalms because of the sheer volume of Psalms to cover–I’m not sure we’re ready for a 150-week series!  Actually, it would be even longer because there’s no way we’re covering Psalm 119 in a week!  Now, I think we’re ready. So, the plan is to begin working through it this summer and, if the Lord directs, we may pick it back up where we leave off next summer and on and on.  The prospect of an ongoing summer series in the Psalms is pretty exciting to me and I hope it excites you, as well.

So, take a week or two to enjoy sitting under the palms, if you get the chance, but make sure you commit the rest of the summer to sitting under the Psalms!

A Theology of Serving

With every passing year, people find more ways than ever to fill their time.  Between work and family and all the extra-curricular actives that go along with that, there is very little time for anything (or anyone) else. For many Christians, just getting to church on Sundays is a major success. “Surely, God understands my schedule.  After all, I can only do so much. So, why should I serve?” That’s the question we have started the year asking at The Gathering. It’s an important question and one that must be asked if we, as the Church and as individual disciples, must ask (even for those who are already involved in life up to their noses).  This is perhaps most important for the “busy” since a failure to prioritize can often lead to a greater sense of busy-ness and decreasing levels of peace and joy!

Recently, I preached on “A Theology of Serving,” attempting to answer that all-important question of, “Why should I serve?”. I have presented four major reasons as to why we should serve, both within your church and in your community. These reasons form the basis of a theology of serving.

  • I serve because it fulfills my purpose.

Many people ask this question: What is my purpose. The answer is simple, but it might not be what you think. Many define their purpose with their job, be it a doctor, a builder, a homemaker, or an accountant. That misses out on purpose. There is a difference in calling and purpose. Calling is what you do (hopefully, based on your determination of what God has called you to do), purpose is what you ultimate accomplish by what you do. For a children of God, there may be hundreds or thousands of different callings, but all have only one purpose! That purpose is nothing more and nothing less than to glorify God! (Romans 11:36, Ephesians 2:10, Matthew 5:16, 1 Peter 2:12). So, in whatever I do, I am to glorify God in the way I serve.

  • I serve because it defines my identity in the Kingdom of God.

I serve because I am a child of the King and to be a child of the King is to serve the King and to serve the King, I serve others. Jesus, Himself set the example by coming not to be served, but to serve (Matthew 20:28). As disciples of Jesus, our identity is found in Him. We serve because we are to be like our Master (Philippians 2:5-7). If you refuse to serve, you are refusing to follow Jesus.

  • I serve to fulfill my role within the Body of Christ (the Church).

Every person who has been adopted into the Family of God (Romans 8:14-17) has been given both ability and responsibility to fulfill a calling within the local church. If God has called you here, to this specific church family, it is for a reason. You matter! If you are not serving in some capacity, then you are not accomplishing your calling and, consequently, are not experiencing the level of joy Christ has for you, and we are lacking in something that God has for His church that you are to provide (1 Corinthians 12:12-26).

  • I serve because to do so stands against the spirit of darkness and declares the existence and work of God.

We are the “Imago Dei”; the Image-bearers of God (Genesis 1:26). Since the fall of man in Genesis 3, we have preferred “self-serve”.  Sin has made us into self-centered creatures, living to feed our wants, our desires, our needs and our lusts.  Those who believe that there is no God and that the universe is simply a product of chance observes this tendency towards self-preservation and argues that we have a natural instinct towards the survival of the fittest; that we will only do that which assures our own survival or the continuation of the species.  All “serving” would then be utilitarian with the goal of serving our own interests.  When we give and serve, expecting nothing in return, we are declaring “PURPOSE!”  We are demonstrating the fact that we are made in the image of the living God, reflecting His character to a dying world.

If we are going to call ourselves disciples of Jesus, there is no alternative. If we are not serving, we are not following. Look for ways to serve both your church and your community. Get involved in some of the ministry or pray about what ministry God may be calling you to start in 2016. Whatever it is, get off the sidelines and engage in the ministry you were designed to do!

Blessed With Another Year at The Gathering

imageDecember4, 2006 was a Monday.  On that day I was excited, uncertain, confident, humbled, overwhelmed and a knotted bundle of a hundred other emotions.  I was beginning my first week as the Pastor of Memorial Baptist Church, the foundation upon which The Gathering would be built and I had no idea of what all was in store.

With today being the start of my ninth year as Lead Pastor, I still feel a little of all of those things.  I am so grateful for all that God has done through this faith-family and am looking forward, with great anticipation, to all He has yet to do.  He has raised up leaders that are second to none, built a community of faith that is solid.  He has matured Believers, taking them from infants needing milk to Disciples feeding on the Word.  He has, in short, done more than I could ever think, hope or even dream of.

To say this journey thus far has been easy would be a joke.  To say it has been free of deep heartaches and pains would be a lie.  To say it has been joy-filled would be a gross understatement.  Through everything so far–all of my mistakes and all of our accomplishments–I can’t imagine being anywhere else or doing anything else.

I am grateful to God for letting me be His undershepherd for a church like The Gathering, Chattanooga.  To Him be all the praise and glory!

More Thoughts on Refugees

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote some initial thoughts on the refugee crisis.  I mentioned that there is so much we cannot know in order to determine whether or not we should support taking in refugees.  After listening to endless officials and pundits over the last several weeks analyze and argue their views, I still don’t know if letting refugees in is safe or not.

What I do know is that the idea of absolute physical safety is an illusion.  I’m sitting in front of the TV now watching reports of a mass shooting in San Bernadino, California that is unfolding live before my eyes.  There are no details yet on who did it or why, but if follows closely on the heals of another shooting that took place in Colorado less than a week ago.

My point is simply that whether or not there are refugees, there will be danger.  Always.  Danger is already here.  The potential for and reality of mass killing is a domestic problem as much as a foreign one.  Terrorists can already get into our country and reports are they’re already here.  All of this is outside of my control.  What is not outside of my control is how I think about and what I do for people in need.  I can allow myself to become fearful, paranoid and cynical, or I can choose to live a life of fearless compassion in a dangerous world.

I have no control over who does or does not come into the Unites States.  So, with so many unknown variables, I fall back on who I am, who I’m called to be and what I believe about God and about people.  I am called to love and care for those God brings to me to love and care for.

Because of what I don’t know, I neither argue for nor against the acceptance of refugees.  As I stated in my last post, there are really good arguments on both sides.  Frankly, I don’t see a reason to pick a side.  I can look at it philosophically, theologically and ethically and argue a position, but last I checked, those who make the decision don’t ask what my views are.  That’s not to say that speaking up isn’t important, but on this issue, I can’t know what I don’t know; I can’t make a fully informed opinion (and there are enough uniformed opinions already out there).

What I CAN do is respond to what actually happens.  I can work towards helping those families who might enter the Country and do what I can to show them the love of Christ, if it is determined that they will be allowed to do so.  That’s what I’m called to already, even though I so often do an inadequate job as it is…but I can work on improving.  I can refuse to operate out of fear. I can trust in a sovereign God who will ultimately determine whether or not refugees from Syria or any other nation enter our borders.  Many times, God calls us out to the Nations…sometimes, God calls the Nations to us.

I can’t decide what will happen.  I can decide how I will respond.

When It’s Good to be in a Gang

Paul tells Timothy that if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, “he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work.” (2 Timothy 2:20-21)

This is a concept I’ve been dealing with a lot lately in messages at The Gathering, though it’s a concept I’ve not mastered.  I certainly struggle, not so much with the concept or idea of “cleansing oneself”, as much as the practice of it.  The concept basically addresses the outworking of sanctification (the process by which the Holy Spirit begins making changes and also empowers us, through discipline, to bring about changes, as well).  Whereas salvation/transformation is solely the work of the Holy Spirit, sanctification is a divine partnership, in which I have responsibility.  Admittedly, it would be much easier if God just DID IT all, Himself, but that’s not the way He’s chosen.  Instead, He has equipped me to do battle within myself and those deep-seeded sins that “so easily entangle” (Hebrews 12:1).

Because of the work Christ has already done in my life to change my position before the Father to that of Holy and blameless, I have the power to say no to conditional sin that, before, I could not.  Before, sin had me chained…I was under it’s power, fulfilling all the things that my flesh dictated to me (Ephesians 2:1-3).  Now, the Word tells me I’m no longer a slave to sin and that the only reason I am under any authority of sin is that I, willingly, place myself under it’s control, wrapping myself again with the chains that once held me, choosing the sin from which I’ve been freed.  In short, I sin now because I want to, not because I have to (Galatians 5:1).  That’s what is troubling.  I want to sin. Man, I hate even saying that, because I really don’t and, yet, if sin ever dominates my life, according to Scripture, it’s because I let it.

I think this is why Paul encouraged his young son in the faith to “Fight the good fight of faith.” (1 Timothy 6:12a)  It is most certainly a fight, but it’s a fight that involves retreating…running away from an enemy.  Sounds crazy when talking about standing firm and fighting, but being an overcomer, in this case, involves running away from enemies we cannot beat if we remain in their presence.  Samson was the strongest man in the neighborhood, but the only way he could have beaten the Philistines was by running away from that which tempted his heart…the great temptation of Delilah.  He was defeated, not by the brute force of an army, but by remaining under the influence of a single individual who offered him all that he wanted…momentary pleasure.

Wow, that’s it right there.  Momentary pleasure.  Even though it doesn’t last, it still has the ability to train wreck our spiritual lives.  This is why Paul kept encouraging Timothy to run away from it.  Don’t try to stay and fight because, eventually, you’ll let your guard down and the fight is over.  Clean knock-out.  As a matter of fact, right after Paul encourages Timothy to cleanse himself, he tells him how:

So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. 23 Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. 24 And the Lord’s servant[e] must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, 25 correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will. (2 Timothy 2: 22-26)

In this passage, there is both a “run away from” and a “run towards”.  Both words used, “flee” and “pursue”, communicate both an urgency and an exertion of effort.  One involved running away from as hard and fast as you can while the other involves chasing after something as to catch it.  In other words, we should never be standing still!  The question is where should the most emphasis be placed, on fleeing or pursuing?  Which one do I focus on more?  The great news is that they are in opposite directions, but only sort of.  Here’s what I mean: I can flee from unrighteousness, but that doesn’t mean I’m necessarily pursuing godly righteousness.  It might mean that I’m simply pursuing self-righteousness.  I might still be trying to overcome sin under my own power and that will just lead to a pride that is nothing more than unrighteousness in disguise.  So, in truth, I’ve never actually run away from anything!

The key, then, to dealing honestly with sin, is to chase after godly righteousness “along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.”  In other words, I will never actually overcome sin in my life using a “Lone Ranger” approach because I’ll just drift towards self-righteousness and never even notice.  It’s actually a great weapon of the Enemy, “the Father of Lies”.  However, if I am in a community of humble people who are honestly seeking these same things, we can ” gang up” on sin, keeping each other in check, moving towards true godliness together, pointing out that slow drift away from our godly pursuits.

This is why “Gospel friendships” are so important, where we are deliberately speaking into each others lives; where almost every conversation contains some level of Gospel conversation, encouraging and challenging each other and simply “checking up”.  It doesn’t happen by accident and takes a great deal of cultivation.  If, though, I want to overcome sin in my life, sin that my flesh really wants to give in to because I like the momentary pleasure it offers, I have to pursue such relationships with everything I have, knowing that it’s worth the effort.

Shallow Church

Of late, I’ve been dealing in my own mind with the sillyness that is the American church.  We are ridiculously petty and self-absorbed.  Like in the days of the early Church, today in many parts of the world, persecution exists and is running rampant.  Just last week, I heard of four children in Baghdad, under the age of fifteen, who were beheaded because they refused to denounce Jesus to ISIS terrorists.  Seriously?  Kids who died for their faith?  Would I do that?  Would my children?  Are we too tied up with important stuff like getting our feelings hurt because of the way someone spoke to us or because someone simply did something we didn’t like?  Are we too concerned with getting a good parking space, flipping off the driver who cut us off or other earth-shaking “First-world problems” to worry about serious spiritual growth that would result in a boldness that would allow us to die for Jesus if called upon?

God help us in this crazy world.  God help this crazy institution we call the American church.  May it not come to the point of requiring persecution to wake us up to the realities of the spiritual realm.  May we not have to be threatened with death in order to get serious about our walk with and commitment to Christ.  I don’t hope for or wish for persecution.  On the other hand, if it did (or does) come, the Church would undoubtedly be strengthened almost immediately.  Would you be a part of it?  For more of my thoughts on the subject, watch my message from Sunday:

John – Portrait of a Savior, Part 39 from The Gathering on Vimeo.

I Am a Hypocrite

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Listen to an audio version of this post.

 

Yeah, it’s true…I am a hypocrite.

There.

Said it.

You want to try it? Really, you should give it a shot.  Ok, say this with me, “I am a hyp…”. Wait, not yet.  Let’s make sure you should say it.  I suppose it’s possible (though not likely) that there may be someone to whom that label doesn’t apply.

Let’s find out:

1.  Are you perfect?
2.  Have you ever been perfect?
3.  Do you ever plan to be perfect this side of the grave?
4.  Have you ever acted like you are perfect?

Alright, let’s evaluate a little bit because, frankly, I think it would be pretty easy to come up with a big negatory on all four of those.  That is, unless we explore question number 4 a little bit closer.

So, you’ve never acted like you’re actually perfect…I mean literally perfect…but have you ever acted like you have it all together?  What I mean by that is, you don’t have any really serious sins in your life; you’ve managed it all pretty well so that if anyone looked at you, they would say, “Hey, he’s got it all together” (or something like that).

Let’s look at it another way:  Would people be shocked if they knew how you really were on the inside?  Would they be disappointed if they saw the ugliness that you know is there, but can’t bear for anyone else to see it?  Would you be embarrassed or downright humiliated if you let them know the real struggles you deal with regularly?  You talk the talk, but the walk doesn’t look quite so polished and pretty.  Do you feel the pressure to hold it together so that you don’t disappoint or discourage someone who may be looking at you as an example?

Congratulations…you’re a hypocrite.

Ok, so back to where we started.  Altogether now:  “I am a hypocrite.”  No, really, because I know you did not say it out loud.  Once again and for real this time…with feeling:  “I…”  You can do it… “I am a hypocrite.”

There, now.  Feels better, doesn’t it?  Owning it is the first step in killing it, and kill it, we must.

Hypocrisy is one of the greatest enemies of the Church.  Think about it:  What is the number one reason unchurched people give for being unchurched people?  Right!  “That place is full of hypocrites.”

You know what?  They’re right.

Before you go and jump to conclusions about what we hypocrites look like, let’s unpack it a bit, shall we?

If you’re like me, the first thing you think of is this:  “I need to bring my actions in line with my words.”  In other words, “I need to try harder to actually LIVE the life I SAY I live.”

Uh, yeah, thanks for playing, but WRONG!
If that’s your game you will simply solidify yourself as a life-long, devout, professional hypocrite.  Look, did the Old Testament teach us nothing?  The WHOLE THING was written to unveil God’s plan of redemption and I assure you, it had nothing to do with your goodness or Super Christian…..ness.  Whatever.

What it DID have to do with was God giving us His Law and saying, “Keep it.”  The problem?  Nobody could do it.  Ah-hah!  Now, we’re on to something!  Nobody could…that’s the point.  What happens when you are told that the ONLY way to have relationship with God is to keep the Law fully only to realize it can’t be done?  (check out Galatians 3:10 – For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.”)

What happened in the OT was that people finally began to realize their inability to please God through the Law.  What does that lead to?  Yep, hopelessness.  What’s the point in even trying, right?

Unless…

See, what happened at that point was God stepped in with some really great news. Catch this:

Jeremiah 31:31-34 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

You got that, right?  God steps in and says, “Hey, you know that covenant I established that you didn’t keep?  I’m replacing it.  See, the reality is that you couldn’t keep it because you are fallen humanity.  You had to experience the hopelessness of trying in order to learn that you couldn’t do it.  Now that you realize that you can’t earn your own salvation, I’m stepping in to do the job myself…because I’m the only One who can.” (That’s from the New Modern, Uninspired Davidic Paraphrased Edition).

Then you get word through the prophets that a Messiah (or Deliverer) is coming and it just sweetens the pot!  So, you get that kind of news, what do you do?  Uh-huh…you start looking for that Deliverer!

Then He comes!  That’s where the New Testament picks up.

Alright, all of that and where does it leave us?  Back to that passage in Galatians 3:10, but now we go a little bit further.  Let’s run by verse 10 again and then go from there:

Galatians 3:10-14 For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.

So what Paul did there was establish that anyone who tried to be justified under the Law is cursed because they can’t do it though commanded to in order to earn eternal life.  Then he points to Jesus who did fulfill the Law! Perfectly. Every proverbial jot and tittle.  Then, having fulfilled the Law through His life, He satisfied the wrath of God towards sin in us through His death (taking our place) and then secured our eternal resurrection through His own from the dead.  That, then, is the free gift of salvation given in Romans 6:23.  That’s incredibly cool!  Seriously…think about that…cool!

Now, back to the hypocrite issue.

Life under the Law declares you must be perfect, but get this:  CHRISTIANITY DOESN’T!!!

It is precisely THAT you are a filthy sinner that you NEED a Savior.  If that is the case, why do we act as though we don’t!  (The exclamation marks are evidence I’m getting fired up, huh?)

So, seriously.  When we ACT as though we have it all together, failing to be honest before the world about our sin and short-coming, we are actually communicating that, though we may have needed the Gospel INITIALLY to save us and deliver us from sin, we really don’t so much any more because we’ve got this sin-thing managed pretty well.

That, my friend, is called deception.  YOU are deceived into thinking that you must look good to be a good Christian and you are deceiving the WORLD into thinking the very same thing.  Further, it puts you in a position of looking down on the other filthy sinners who haven’t done nearly as good of a job as you have to cover up their sin.  At least when they flaunt it, they’re being honest (and don’t forget, lying is a sin).

In fact, to be a good Christians assumes you’ve been a very bad person.  Because you screwed up being a perfect human before God, you need the God-Man, Christ Himself, to do what you failed to do.

Alright then.  If this is true, what, do I just own my sin and flaunt it?  Um, Paul says no.

Warning: This is a little bit long, but very important.

Romans 6:1-14 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

This means that sin no longer has me under its spell, but does not mean that I will be sin-free.  It means that I am free to live honestly about my sin nature; that I can openly communicate to those around me that I am still wrestling with this sin, but that I am no longer destroyed by it; that I am no longer a slave to it.  I can confess that I am no better than anybody else and that my sin bought me a ticket to hell just like the rest of humanity.  The ONLY difference in my sin and someone who has not trusted in Christ is that mine has been paid for.  See what Paul later said in Romans 8:1-4:

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

No condemnation!  None.  Zilch. Nada!  This means very simply that I don’t have to walk according to the flesh anymore, but I don’t have to act as though I’m perfect, either.  I can admit the fact that I needed the Gospel initially to save me and I need the Gospel NOW to sustain me.  It’s all about Jesus!Now, rather than trying harder to actually LIVE the life I SAY I live like I’m tempted to, I simply need to submit honestly and humbly before Christ so that HE can live His life through me, killing the sin in me, not trying to hide it (like we hypocrites are prone to do) but rather flaunting the work of Jesus so He gets glory in re-making a sin-soaked guy like me.

What happens if we can finally get this?  We can at last live in the freedom of Christ, having been liberated from the pressure to appear perfect, while demonstrating to the world around us that they can find the same solution for their own sin problem, AND the Church will become a much nicer place when the Christian elite stop thumbing their noses at fellow sinners who haven’t learned to wear the masks yet.

Then the Church can move from being a museum full of spiritual relics (I believe Jesus called them “white-washed tombs”), setting examples of what it looks like to fake it well, to what it is intended to be: a hospital full of people being healed and made whole by a Great Physician.  A place where He gets the full glory and man gets a very…yes, cool…blessing!

Making Time: Learning to Invest This Precious Gift From God

TIME has been on my mind a lot lately.  As I near the end of another year, I’m analyzing what has gone well and what hasn’t gone quite as well (notice the gracious way in which I didn’t say those things bombed?)  One thing that I haven’t done so well on is managing time.  I can think back to many opportunities missed and time that I let get away from me.

On Sunday, I preached a message called “Making Time,” in which I looked at some of the characteristics of time and then what Scripture says about it.  Three important things for us to remember about time is that it is a gift, it is limited and it is progressive.  It is the only gift that God gives that we can’t receive again.  Once time is gone, it is simply gone.  It can’t be saved, paused or rewound.  It moves forward without mercy.  So the only thing we can do is manage the time we’ve been given.  The problem is that most of us have done a really bad job at this. We’ve spent so much of our lives killing time, we should probably be convicted of murder!

Look, I know that it’s virtually impossible to make every minute productive.  Frankly, I’m not saying that we should.  We’re not made to “produce” 24/7.  God built in rest and has made us to enjoy free time, having fun and re-energizing our lives.  I do, however, think that it is possible…and proper…to work towards making every moment, even free time, meaningful.  That’s the idea behind 1 Corinthians 10:31 which says, “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”  This clearly says that everything is to be sanctified before God, taking all aspects of life, even the simple and mundane, seriously regarding the time that is dedicated to it.

So, what else does the Bible say about how we spend our time?

First, it communicates that we need to approach how we manage our time with humility.  Look at what James says about it:

“Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.  Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.”

Since time is a gift that we’ve done nothing to receive, we need to humbly consider how we are going to use what we’ve been given.  We need to realize that we are mortal and, as mortals, vulnerable.  We are not, in any way, promised tomorrow, so we do well to make the most of today, grateful to God for the “then” and the “now,” without assuming the “later.”

That leads to a second thing the Bible tells us to consider in managing our time:  We must take stock of our time using the gift of wisdom (James 1:5).  This means that we need to think about how we are spending our time and what we’re using it on. Here’s how Paul put it to the Ephesians:

“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore, do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.”  Ephesians 5:15-17

Are we using our time in accordance with our calling?  If you do not understand what God wants you to, specifically, do with your time, you will fill it up with things that waste time; things that don’t honor God or bring satisfaction or purpose to your life.

The remedy, then, once we understand where our time is going, is to invest it.  Once we take stock in our time, we can find the culprits that steal our time and re-claim or redeem it.  As we eliminate those things, we see margin being built into our lives–precious free time that can then be used for those things that are of the most value–things like family and friends, church, work and rest.

It is often very hard, but if we’re going to be healthy individuals, we have to find the balance between work and rest, the extreme of either bringing us to a state of imbalance, leaving us either workaholics or slugs!

 

Video: Relentless, Part 7: Sowing the Wind, Part 2

It’s easy to waste our lives chasing after meaningless things.  In this message from Sunday at The Gathering, I talk about how to realign your life so that your time, money and energy are leveraged towards that which makes a difference for the Kingdom of God.

The Gathering Chattanooga 05-26-13 Sermon from The Gathering on Vimeo.

Video: The Calling of Parenthood

Sunday, I dealt with very touchy issues related to parenting at The Gathering. These included the challenges of parenting and the pain that comes from the inability to have children, along with the dangers of engaging in extraordinary means of impregnation, such as IVF.

My goal was to deal with these issues from a biblical, rather than an emotional perspective. Below is the video of that message. The length of the video is because we included child dedication and special prayer for various groups within the sermon time. I hope it’s a blessing and encouragement to you. Feel free to leave feedback or questions.

The Gathering Chattanooga 05-12-13 – Sermon from The Gathering on Vimeo.

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