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 Morning Meditation

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Romans 8:1

brokenchainsThis is an amazing passage, especially in light of the fact that Paul has just concluded chapter 7 by talking of the war that wages within us; of the struggle, as Christ-followers, to do what we want to do, all the while finding ourselves doing what we don’t want to do as it relates to sin.  His conclusion is that of wretchedness as he declares his imperfection before a holy God…but then immediately follows with an answer to the question of who will deliver him from this body of death with spontaneous praise to God through Christ!  Why?  Because he knows it is not based upon his own righteousness, which does not exist (Isaiah 64:6), but upon that of Christ.  Paul admits the continual struggle between serving Christ in his mind and with his will, desiring to always be faithful, but wrestling with the law of the flesh (sin) that is always close at hand.

That is a struggle with which I am familiar.  That is something that I can identify with.  I desire to follow Christ closely; desire to obey with my whole heart, but I find that I am often found horribly lacking.  I have wrestled with fear and doubt and depression over the condition of my life…why can’t I be a better dad or husband or pastor…a better follower of Jesus?  The enemy is always close at hand, seeking to devour me (1 Peter 5:8), to destroy me (John 10:10), to accuse me before the Father (Revelation 12:10).

What do I do?  I keep reading!  Because of what Christ has done in me, redeeming me from the penalty of the Law of sin and death, there is no condemnation!  NONE!  The Father does not look at me as the failure that I am, but the new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17), the child of the King that Christ has made me (Romans 8:15-17).  The Father looks at me and sees the righteousness of Christ that has been imputed to me (2 Corinthians 5:21); credited to my account to such an extent that I shine righteously in the Father’s presence, the only way He can look upon me with pleasure…and He does!

I still struggle with sin and I am to always be at war with my sin nature, but I am not defeated by it.  I can never be defeated because the law of sin and death was destroyed by the means of a Roman cross (Colossians 2:13-15), never to have victory over me because in Christ, I stand redeemed!

Morning Encouragement

Remember my affliction and my wanderings,
    the wormwood and the gall!
20 My soul continually remembers it
    and is bowed down within me.
21 But this I call to mind,
    and therefore I have hope:

22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;[b]
    his mercies never come to an end;
23 they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
24 “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
    “therefore I will hope in him.”

25 The Lord is good to those who wait for him,
    to the soul who seeks him.
26 It is good that one should wait quietly
    for the salvation of the Lord.
27 It is good for a man that he bear
    the yoke in his youth.

28 Let him sit alone in silence
    when it is laid on him;
29 let him put his mouth in the dust—
    there may yet be hope.

~Lamentations 3:19-29 (ESV)

The Equipping Work of God

Our folks at The Gathering have heard me say quite often, “What God calls you to, He equips you for.”  I thoroughly believe that.  Ephesians 2: 10 affirms that “we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”  So, He’s definitely called us.  Jesus told His disciples in Acts 1:8 that we would “receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon [us]…”.  Because that is followed by Jesus telling them that they would be His witnesses throughout the world, the power is what enables the witness.  The writer of Hebrews gives a benediction in Hebrews 13, where in verses 20-21, he speaks a blessing that his readers might be equipped to accomplish God’s will:

Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, 21 equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.

It seems pretty clear, then, that God really will equip us for everything He calls us to. The question that remains is, “how?”

We have to say, first of all, that we may not be able to determine every way in which God may equip us.  Certainly, the act of the Holy Spirit abiding within the Believer means a supernatural and instantaneous equipping can happen at any moment He desires.  We know that in Luke 12, Jesus told his disciples that, “when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, 12 for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.”  Obviously, then, instant equipping can happen for specific tasks, but is that the primary method God uses?  Probably not.  I believe the way God’s equipping of His people happens most regularly and systematically is found in 2 Timothy 3.

In Paul’s instruction to his young son in the faith, he encourages him to “continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.”  So, Paul affirms that the systematic learning of Scripture over time leads to godly wisdom.  Then, in verses 16-17, we get the famous affirmation of the inspiration and sufficiency of Scripture:

 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

There it is!  How are we equipped? Through the Word of God. By regularly engaging with the Word, which is adequate for shaping us into what God wants us to be, we become equipped for every good work.  Whatever you are called to is wrapped up in that one little word, “every”. 

You want to be equipped for what God calls you to?  Do not forsake the Word.  Abide in it (John 15:5).  Read it every day, several times a day.  Memorize it. Meditate on it.  Pray it.  It is true: What God calls you to, He equips you for…and He does it primarily through His Word.
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Conversational Scripture Reading

Have you ever tried praying Scripture back to God? I’m talking about actually speaking the text back to Him using conversational pronouns (I may have just made that term up, but you get the point), for example, changing “He” and “the Lord” to “You”.  It makes for an amazing prayer and worship time.  Give it a shot.  Here’s a good one to start with: Psalm 18:1-3

Ummmm…just one word of warning: be careful to know the context.  Every passage in Scripture is not suitable for this kind of reading.  There are sometimes specific prophecies, instructions, etc. that were for a particular people at a particular time.  Pick the ones that are obviously more universal, in nature.  If you have questions about whether a specific passage fits the bill, shoot it to me and I’d be happy to try and help you figure it out.

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Portrait of a Savior, Part 11 video

Portrait of a Savior, Part 11 from The Gathering on Vimeo.

According to John, Jesus has the authority to both give life to whomever He pleases and to judge the living and the dead.  What does it mean to truly live the life given by Christ?  Is it possible to have eternal life and yet live a life of unrepentant sin?  I fear many people have received a false sense of security by holding onto a moment in which they prayed a prayer asking Jesus into their hearts, but after which have lived a life where there is no indication of transformation.  What does the Scripture say about this?  Can you be a disciple of Jesus if you aren’t actually being discipled by Him?  Can you say that you are a follower of Jesus if you aren’t actually following Him?

This was a difficult message to preach and I’m certain a tough one to hear, but I think it was an important one.  I pray God’s Spirit will be your guide if you decide to watch.  Blessings!

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Holy Rebellion: Making the Determination to Stand

lighthouseI refuse to be defeated.

That statement sounds a bit absurd, if you think about it. I mean, if I’m standing in a boxing ring in front of a 230lb well-tuned fighting machine, I’m not sure that my attitude matters very much. I don’t think he cares what I refuse to do. He’s going to feed my rotting flesh to the dogs. I’m toast. Done. Kaput.

How can anyone simply refuse to be defeated?

The only way anyone can ever refuse to be defeated is if he has overwhelming power, knows how to use it, and uses it.

Having said that, I refuse to be defeated.

That’s just something I live by. I will not be defeated by any of the things that life throws my way. I will not be defeated by trials and difficulties. I will not be defeated by hurt or despair. I’m not being arrogant. I have nothing to be arrogant about. I’m not practicing the power of positive thinking, either, and I’m not delusional or naive. I simply believe. Believing I will not be defeated is something I have to remind myself of when things are going well, because when things get tough, sometimes it’s hard to remember that I don’t have to be defeated. Sometimes, I need people to help me remember that I must not be defeated…I don’t have to be.

James, the brother of Jesus, said this:

Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.

Earlier he said that we should embrace all the various kinds of trials because they make us stronger. How can things that defeat you make you stronger? Unless they don’t…defeat you, that is.

If you believe that the Bible is God’s Word, giving us instruction on how to live life, the purpose of it and who gave it, then you have to believe that what we are told to do, we can do. Now, some of you may not believe these things. Unfortunately, there’s not much I can offer you. My hope is that you can come to experience the grace that God has provided, but beyond that, the promises of hope in Scripture simply don’t apply to you. Unfortunately, promises of judgement do.

In Romans 8:28, Paul said, “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” The simple truth here is that, contrary to popular belief, “It’ll all work out” is a false statement. That’s delusional.

If you don’t love God (Jesus said to love God is to do what He says) and are called according to His purpose (i.e. coming to God on HIS terms and obeying) this promise isn’t for you. You can’t necessarily refuse to be defeated. I say this not out of a sense of superiority or pride in order to rub it in your face, but to encourage you to consider that maybe this hope and certainty can be for you, too, if you trust in Christ and repent of self-idolatry (ie calling your own shots, living according to your own standards and generally rebelling against God) as we all have to.

OK, enough of that for now. I’m not here to preach at you, but to tell you how and why I refuse to be defeated.

See, I have this shoulder problem (just by way of example). I’ve had it for well over a year and it has, at times, been nearly debilitating. It hurts…it always hurts, even though I’ve experienced some relief from time to time. They say that dealing with chronic pain over time can wear you down, leading to all sorts of mental and emotional issues to go along with the physical issues.

I may have to have surgery. Surgery might help. It might not. That doesn’t matter.

It doesn’t matter because regardless of the pain, I have hope and comfort to know that shoulder issues or any other issues DO NOT HAVE TO DEFEAT ME. In places like Philippians 4:13, I’m told that I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength. I’m told in Ephesians 6:11, “Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.” Then in verse 13, I’m told to “put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. In Romans 8, I’m reminded that, “in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” In 2 Corinthians 12:9, I’m reminded of what God told Paul when he suffered pain, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Finally, Jesus, Himself, said, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

So, if Scripture is true (and for years I’ve seen evidence in my life and others that it is), then Christ in me is the hope of glory. This means that in me is a power that is overwhelming, at my disposal that I can use. I DO NOT HAVE TO BE DEFEATED.

I won’t be.

Whatever you are going through, if you are in Christ (having trusted Him to save you and forgive your rebellion), you do not have to be…you MUST NOT BE defeated.

So, take a rebellious stand. Determine that through the power of Christ in you, you will not be overcome by anything this world throws at you. You may grow weak and struggle. You may weep and mourn. You will probably need the support of others. But when all is said and done, you will stand.

T-Shirt Theology

CrossHillBWI’m often amazed at how easy it is to become so focused on a thought we want to convey that we lose sight of truth, often derailing the very point we set out to make.

Here’s an example of what I mean:

This morning, I heard a guy on the radio make the following statement:

The cross was no cosmological accident; no knee-jerk reaction. It was a calculated plan. The moment the forbidden fruit touched the mouth of Eve, the shadow of the cross appeared on the horizon.

Sounds, beautiful, no? It really does.

“The moment the forbidden fruit touched the mouth of Eve, the shadow of the cross appeared on the horizon”.

That could be printed on a T-shirt and sold for $15 with every major Bible bookstore stacking it on its shelves.

The only problem is that, in spite of claiming that the cross was no knee-jerk reaction, the explanation sounds like a knee-jerk reaction.

Think about it.

According to this statement, the cross was a response to the action of Eve. Sounds logical, right?  Problem arises, solution follows.  Sounds palatable. But is it accurate?

If that’s true, then this is false:

18 knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. 20 He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you21 who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God. [1 Peter 1:18-21. Emphasis added]

And this:

7 Also it was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. And authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation, 8 and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain. [Revelation 13:7-8. Emphasis added]

In these two passages, both communicating a pre-determined plan of God prior to the creation of the world,  the first part of the above quote is affirmed: The cross was no cosmological accident or knee-jerk reaction. The second part, however, implies the opposite.

Though it sounds good, it’s not good. The only way for this not to be a knee-jerk or something that God had to react to (an assault on his omniscience) is for it to have been part of his plan from the beginning. That affirms the passages in 1 Peter and Revelation.  If that was what was meant, it’s not what was communicated.

Somehow, God had planned to reveal Christ to the world long before creation in the exact way in which He did. At the right time, God began to put the plan in motion (i.e. when the fruit was tasted and the fall occurred), revealing to us the glorious Christ as it unfolded.

I admit, that makes for a bad t-shirt, but it makes for a wonderful, sovereign, omniscient God.

It is especially important for those of us who are charged with communicating Truth to the masses (but applies to anyone conveying Truth), to be extra careful with our theology so that, in our desire for pithy slogan-making and sentimental ideas, we don’t misrepresent the character of God and miscommunicate the very Truths we are trying to convey.

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