It’s Time to Thrive

One of the songs we sing at Adrian Christian Church is called “Thrive.” I originally heard the song in 2014 as performed by the band Casting Crowns. Personally, it is a favorite song of mine. It has become a theme song to my life and ministry through words like “Just to know you and to make you known.” The chorus hits another nerve as it proudly declares, “It’s time for us to more than just survive, we were made to thrive.”

I have now been the preaching minister at ACC for 1,460 days. So far, we have had a good run together as a community of Jesus. We have seen both numerical growth and spiritual growth. We have shared the ups and downs of ministry as we served alongside each other in the name of Jesus. Lives have been changed, and viewpoints have been shaped.

Yet, I still feel like we are standing on the edge of something bigger and better. In my previous ministries, I have seen that this is the time for a minor shift. People begin to view me as part of the community, and their trust in me grows. Everyone has recovered from past hurts and can now focus on the future. New dreams form and God moves as only he can. In the words of the song, “It is time for us to more than just to survive,” now is the time to thrive.

As I stare out my office window, I look forward to the next 1,460 days.

I am praying God will bring 100 people to Jesus in that time. I am asking God about the possibility of multiple campuses. I am hoping to build a connection with areas ministries and ministers. I want us to become an integral part of a worldwide mission. I look forward to watching people grow in their faith as they live for him in new and exciting ways.

The past is done, and I am thankful for everyone who has helped me on this journey. Now is a new day and I believe it is time to thrive.

Listening to Negative Voices

Recently I noticed a dramatic change in a person I know. I asked a couple of other people if they had seen the difference in this individual too. They confirmed my observation and echoed their joy over this new attitude.

Once we agreed on this transformation, the follow-up question involved what had changed in their life. Out of a list of several possibilities, the one thing everyone could confirm was the impact of another person who was no longer a part of their life. The negative attitude was the result of one dissenting voice which continually spoke into his life.

This story made me think about the impact of the negative voices in all our lives. Here are five negative voices that can drag you down with their words.

1. The Angry Person – Some people are always mad. Their anger is spurred by everything and anything. They spew their rage on other people and expect them to feel the same way.

2. The Complainer – Some people can find something wrong in everything. They see the glass as half empty. The make sure everyone knows they are not happy.

3. The Critic – The critic knows how everything should be done. They see the good, but they can also point out all the flaws in anything. They rarely act but know they could have done it better.

4. The Gossip – The gossip loves to share stories about other people’s lives, especially if they are ones of failure and mistakes. The feed other people stories with a steady diet of poor choices and defeats. They make sure everyone knows that failure is inevitable.

5. The Manipulator – These people have an agenda of their own, and so they begin to undermine anyone who stands in their way. They ask seemingly simple questions that created an environment of mistrust. They are only happy if you are promoting their cause and plan.

Quite often we encounter people who have a negative attitude not just because of their own feelings, but because of the voices that are speaking into their life.

Which leads me to some significant questions: What voices are speaking into your life? Whose words hold the most value to you? Where are you receiving the most information?

Is it possible that your life has a negative tone because of the voices that you listen to each day? One part of Godly wisdom is knowing who has the right to speak into your life.

I Am Still Trying to Follow Jesus

The best definition of a Christian is a follower of Jesus. It is a person who has claimed Christ as their Lord and Savior and is trying to live in the shadow of the cross.

Lately, I have read numerous posts on all types of media stating that someone is not a Christian if they say or do this particular thing. Judgment runs rampant in the Christian community, and it is tearing us apart.

I want everyone to know; I am still trying to follow Jesus …

1. Even when we disagree. You have heard it said, “We will have to agree to disagree.” There is an element of truth to that statement. In matters of opinion, it is okay to be on the different side of the fence. I think of the 12 disciples. One was a zealot and another a tax collector. Two people on completely different sides of the political spectrum. Even in Christ, we can disagree and still keep the faith.

2. Even when I am wrong. There are moments in my life that I look back on in which I was utterly wrong. Of course, I believed I was right when it was happening. Then I learned the truth and found out I was incorrect in my understanding. At times like that, I can choose to walk the way of Jesus or I can deny him with my words. I can place blame on others, make excuses and offer up half-hearted acceptance of my actions. I believe I have another choice when I find that I am wrong.

3. Even when you are wrong. This might be the most challenging place to remain a follower of Jesus. When I am sure that I am right, and I am also sure that you are wrong, evil finds an open door to my heart. Pride stirs inside me. Anger comes inside me. Hatred and malice are knocking at the door. It is tough to be correct in a godly manner. Jesus is able to find the balance between truth and instruction throughout his life. As a follower of him, I must seek to be a light that does not burn but reveals.

Yes, we need to stand up for Jesus and make sure people are headed in the right direction. Yes, we need to confront evil and be an agent for positive change. Yes, some views are wrong, and people need to be taught.

But the way we disagree is essential. Can we promote the way of Jesus in a way that dishonors him? I think it is possible to have different views without resorting to evil methods of persuasion.

Following Jesus is seen in the way we handle our differences as well as our similarities.

You Should Write That Book

Every person has a unique perspective, knowledge, and experience, including you. God has created you to be a one of a kind masterpiece for his kingdom. You have a story to tell, even if you do not think it is that interesting.

You have a story of adversity. I know your life has overcome its fair share of obstacles. Others might have created the walls you have climbed, or your own hands may have formed them. Either way, you have walked through pain and disappointment with faith. You have failed and made mistakes without them derailing your life.

You have a story of faithfulness. There have been moments you wanted to quit. For reasons you do not entirely understand, God sent a person or an experience into your life that helped you stand firm. You overcame what you once thought would overtake you. You stand here today as a believer in spite of discouragement and many dark nights of the soul.

You have a story of growth. When you look in the mirror, you cannot believe the person you have become today. You were once angry and bitter. You were once far from God. You were once the person whom people thought was most likely to end up in jail. And yet, here you are today, both a believer and happy about it. You have been reading your Bible and listening to Christian teachers. Sometimes you read a Christian book and a little worship music. You attend Church, and you are making decisions you once thought impossible. You are a follower of Jesus, and you would have never thought that possible.

You have a story of prayer. Either you have prayed for something, and it has happened. You can’t explain it, but a quiet little miracle occurred in your life. The other option is that you are the result of prayer. Your mother once knelt quietly and asked God to work in your life. You didn’t know it and probably would have thought she was crazy, but she prayed anyway, and things happened that you didn’t expect. You stand here today as a result of your prayers and the prayers of others.

You have a story of joy. For you, the glass is always half full. Other people might complain or be cynical about their situation, but you see God working. You might have every reason to be angry and mean, but grace has filled your soul to overflowing. When you walk into the room, people smile and are blessed by your presence. There is a testimony about the goodness of God on your lips no matter what is going on in your life.

Each one of us has a unique story that we can share with the world.

Maybe you should write it down, even if it is only for those people closest to you. If you do not write it down, then I encourage you to share it with someone. Tell your children or your grandchildren. Recount the work of God in your life to a small group or Sunday school class. God has given you a unique experience, and you can lock all of that inside of yourself or be a blessing to the community of faith.

I, for one, want to hear your story and I am sure I am not the only one.

The Church of the Ungodly

The words and behaviors of some Church people disappoint me.

How could they be so shallow and uncaring? Why do they act so little like Jesus? What an embarrassment they are to Christians everywhere.

These are the thoughts I feel after talking to some people on Sunday. Then the week comes, and I read some real trash on social media. Generally, I develop this feeling of shame for my fellow “so-called” believers.

The Bible calls me back to reality.

Romans 5:6-8 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. (7) Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. (8) But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Paul writes to the Church at Rome, and he gives three images of the people who Jesus saves. He says we are “ungodly,” not good people, and sinners. Do you see it? If Jesus died for me and my sins that I might have a connection with God and the hope of heaven, then I am the person Paul is describing … and so are you … and so are they.

I need to be continually reminded that Jesus did not come to make good people better. He came to make ungodly, unworthy sinners into his people.

Unfortunately, that process doesn’t happen overnight. Sometimes it takes years. Other times it takes dozens of years. God wants to change all of us into the image of Jesus, but the timeline does not match mine. I think that if you claim to be a Christian, then you should immediately act like Christ. It just doesn’t happen that way.

The Church, that collection of Jesus followers who call on his name for salvation are a mess. They are the worst ungodly people being transformed over a lifetime of teaching, encounters, and experience.

My encouragement to anyone who is a Christian is simply to be patient with people. Develop a thick skin. Practice grace. Show the love of Christ, especially to Christians who do not act like Jesus yet. God loves people who are far him, and so should his followers, especially if we attend the same Church.

The Devil Knows the Bible

This Sunday I am preaching on the baptism of Jesus from Matthew chapter three. While writing the sermon, I occasionally look to my left and see the story of the temptation of Jesus. I will not preach on this story till next February, but it still haunts me.

If you remember the story, Jesus is led out into the wilderness after his baptism to be tempted and tested by the devil. There is where evil has its chance to grab Jesus before he makes an impact for God, as he often likes to do.

According to Matthew, the first temptation was to turn stones to beard. Jesus responds with a quote from the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy. Then the devil changes his tactic. He takes Jesus either spiritually or physically to the highest point of the temple and asks Jesus to throw himself down. Then, the Devil quotes a passage from the Psalms that makes the action seem like it is part of God’s plan. Jesus responds by quoting another Old Testament passage that is contradictory to the way Satan used it. Knowing he is defeated, he moves on to another test.

This second encounter is the one that troubles me the most. It seems clear that the devil knows his Bible and he knows how to misuse it. He can twist a passage out of context to make us think we are in line with God’s will when we are not. This one prospect keeps me up at night.

So if you care about following God in your life, I would suggest you do a couple of things.

1. Actually Read the Bible. We cannot live on a diet of fond childhood memories, bits we learned in sermons and a handful of passages. We need to know all of what it says for us not to be fooled.

2. Learn the Rules of Bible Interpretation. My freshman year I was required to take a class in “How to Understand the Bible” called hermeneutics. You need one too. Find an online class or a book that will help you. I always suggest the book, “How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth.” You need to learn how to read all the genres of scripture.

3. Strive to Understand Theology. For me, learning theology is about learning the big picture of the Bible. Things like, what can we know about God in Genesis and Daniel and Acts and Revelation. How do all those pieces fit together? The goal is to move you beyond building all your thinking on one or two passages of scripture. The Devil tried to isolate one passage and pull it from the overall theology of the Savior, and Jesus knew what he was doing. Would you?

4. Read Heavy Books. By heavy, I mean books that have weighty topics and discussions. Commentaries are a great place to start. These books divide verses into small pieces and then apply them to the whole. I have a few thick books that walk through the entire New Testament. You would not want to read them before bedtime, but they are worth the effort to understand the Bible entirely.

The Devil is crafty. He knows how to take the truth and twist it in just the right way to confuse and deceive us. Most people think they are smart enough to see the errors and not fall for his tricks. Believe me, if Satan believes it will work on Jesus, he is sure it will work on you.

The Joy of Repentance

Recently I have been preaching about John the Immerser, although you might call him John the Baptist. He is the one who comes to prepare the way for Jesus. The Gospel writers all give us a few basic facts about this wild-haired preacher out in the region of the Jordan. First, they all say his sermon was a one line as a refrain, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” Second, they tell us that he performed a “baptism of repentance.” It is clear that repenting and repentance were the foundation of his ministry.

The primary image of repentance is to turn around or do a 180-degree rotation. I am told it was used in the military as a call for a change of direction. I am also told it was used of runaway slaves when they changed their heart and no longer wanted to run. It is a change of attitude seen in our actions.

John came preaching, and the gospels tell us that people went out in large numbers to hear him. They came from miles away walking in the hot sun to listen to a sermon and then stand in line to be baptized. All of this as a chance at repentance. Repentance was a powerful message that the people wanted to hear.

You are not bound by your family of origin. Your lack of parents, the words of your parents and the attitudes of your family do not direct your actions. The future is yours to create.

You are not defined by your youth. The naïve mistakes you made when you were younger do not define you. Those failures of your former self are not chains that bind you from a better tomorrow.

You are not defined by your sin. That sin that you cannot shake is not a permanent condition. You can break free from your addiction. There is hope to overcome your struggles by walking a new path into the future.

If you have been around Church very long, you have heard the words repent and repentance so much that they might not get you excited anymore. For the people of John’s day, the message was life changing. It meant the chance to let go of the past and form a new future. The word for us today is still the same, and maybe we need to be reminded that there is hope for a better tomorrow, only if we live a life of repentance. Today is your day. Take life in the direction of your dreams with Jesus as your guide. In other words, repent.

Five Things I Never Regret

One of the struggles of faith for me is letting go of my past failures. Regret and remorse seem to be my default emotions. Frequently my mind wanders into the vault of past mistakes and lingers there as it flips through the files of my shortcomings. Unfortunately, there are numerous stories to remember. There is that time I said this, and that time I did that which fill my brain.

It is incredible to me that with all my regrets some actions never leave any residue of negative emotion. Personally, I never regret …

1. Saying a Kind Word. Those moments when I thought I should compliment or encourage someone is never a wrong decision. I think one positive practice in our life would be to speak one word of kindness to every person we encounter each day. If you don’t have the opportunity to say it, then text it, email it, Instagram it or snapchat it. Find a way to build people up with your words.

2. Showing Appreciation. This is letting people know how much their words and actions mean to you. I know how much it means to me when someone stops to say “Thank You” for anything. This helps people to understand that their work is noticed and their actions are making a difference.

3. Doing a Kind Action. When I find myself in a place to help someone, I never feel sorry for doing it, no matter how inconvenient. Helping someone has a built-in reward of good feelings. Sure, at the moment it might be a hassle, but once the task is complete, there is a sense in which you know you have done something meaningful.

4. Being Present. As an introvert, I struggle with this one. There are times in life when the best thing to do is show up. That visit to someone who is sick or in the hospital is always a blessing. Stopping to see those elderly folks is generally a joy in disguise. Attending a ball game of a young person is a special gift, even if they do not say it. There is nothing like being there for someone.

5. Praying.
Whenever a special need comes across my desk, I try to take a moment to pray. If I am busy, I try to put it on my list of daily prayers. Now, I never entirely know what those prayers do for the person. I am not sure how God will work in their life, but I know it makes me feel more connected to God and that person just by saying a few lines of supplication.

Wouldn’t it be great if every day were full of positive events like these more than those negative regrets? The only way that will happen is if we purposely remind ourselves of the need for unregrettable behavior every day. To say to ourselves inside our souls, “Today I am going to do and say things I will not regret.” Whenever I am tempted to good, I will respond in a way that will bring me joy in the future instead of sadness.

Changing the World Like Jesus

One essential Christian belief is that Jesus is God in the flesh. He is the embodiment of all things holy in a person who lived 2,000 years ago. He is the object of our worship and the savior of our souls.

With that said, you would think that when Jesus came to earth, he would demand the highest quality of life. Giving him the best of everything would be the only fitting way to treat our leader and God. Spare no expense for anything. Fine clothes, gold jewelry, the nicest form of transportation and all the luxuries this life will allow should be at his disposal.

Yet, Jesus is born in a stable. He lives 30 years in obscurity. Then he spends the next three years living as an itinerate preacher on handouts and sleeping in borrowed beds. His life is lived without any of the luxuries that we so desperately seek. To explain this less than glamorous life to his followers, he said in Mark 10:45 “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Jesus came not to be served, but to serve. He came to change the world. He would ultimately defeat sin and death for all of humanity. The way he would do it was through service. A man who could have demanded anything instead chose to serve to the point of giving his life.

I need to remind myself of this daily.

I want the world to change for good. I want a happy home with a great marriage, wonderful children and the admiration of the neighborhood. I want people to make moral choices and forgive the failures of others. I want to see a world in which people care for the poor, hurting and lonely. I want a world that looks like the kingdom of God.

Most of the time I try to achieve this in ways that seem very unlike Jesus. I want to change the world through shouting. If I get angry and use a loud voice, I somehow think that will change people. I want to change the world through condemnation and judgment. If people knew that I did not approve of their actions, then they will change. I want to change the world through criticism and sarcasm. If I put people down and make sure they see their mistakes clearly, then they will change. If I post my disapproval all over social media in a funny and insightful way, then I am sure the world will begin to change for the better. Jesus understood that world revolution comes not with power or policy, but in a kind hand and an encouraging word.

Every day I need a reminder that the world is only changed through service.

Great families are built through service. Great marriages are about two people serving one another. Great Churches are those where people selflessly serve other people. Great communities are filled with people who serve behind the scenes for the betterment of others. A great world comes when we serve one another in the name of Jesus.

This week is the perfect opportunity for me to change the world, at least my little part of it.