On My Mind and Heart: Practicing the “Presents” of God

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During a recent conversation with a friend, she mentioned that we often hear about practicing the “presence” of God (i.e., remembering that God is always close to us) but don’t hear as much about practicing the “presents” of God (i.e., recognizing the numerous blessings that He gives to us each day).  So, this morning as I was praying I started thanking God for the many, many “presents” He gives me all the time.  There are way too many to list here, but I wanted to share a few from my list with you:

My wife, Carrie.  She loves the Lord, is a great mom and friend, and always is trying to make my life better. I experience Christ’s love deeper through her love and forgiveness of me.

My daughters, Sara Beth and Rachel.  I thank God for them every day and am proud of the young women they have become.

My family (Dad, Jamie, Al, Judy, Mike, Kim, Madeline and many more).  God has put awesome people in my life who love me and support me no matter what.

My church family, Adventure Christian Church.  I know that as a pastor I am super blessed.  Our church reaches people for Christ, new families join our church regularly, people are involved in serving and helping one another, we have a wonderful group of staff members, elders and leaders.  It’s an honor to pastor the Adventure family.  Thank you, God!

My country and our freedom.  Too often we forget that we have been blessed by being born into a great country.  Our country guarantees the exercise of freedoms given to us by our Maker in a way never before experienced in history.  (I recognize that some of these guarantees are constantly being challenged, but I’m still very happy I live here rather than anywhere else in the world).

The Bible and the ability to read and understand it.  The Bible transformed my life.  I am grateful for this present from God.

My awesome friends.  God has blessed Carrie and I with many friends who love us not because we can do anything for them, but just because.  That’s pretty wonderful.

Food and Water.  This may sound silly, but I really don’t mean it too.  I am grateful that I always have food and water.  Not a day goes by that I don’t have access to clean, healthy food and clean water.  Many, many in this world do not.

Opportunities to Help Others.  I am grateful for opportunities to help others and the ability and resources to often help.  Sometimes it’s a physical need, sometimes emotional, sometimes professional, and often it is spiritual.  I’m grateful that God gives me the present of reaching other people for Him in practical ways.

The Ministry of the Word.  I am very grateful to be able to teach the Word and share the Gospel with others.  It’s really the most important gift He gives me because it has such a direct, eternal impact.

I could go on and on and on, but these are just a few of the things for which I am grateful to God.  How about you?  What’s on your list?

On My Mind and Heart: Second Chances

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This week I’ve been thinking about second chances, how blessed we are that God gives us second and third and fourth and many more chances, and, how we should give others a second chance (or third or fourth) a lot more often than we do.

God gives us a second chance.

Christmas is the celebration of the ultimate second chance.  In the beginning, God created a perfect world in which mankind could live, thrive and commune with God.  But, man blew it.  And because of that, man suffered by being separated from God.  But, through the birth of Jesus Christ (which we celebrate on Christmas Day every year), God gave mankind another chance – a new opportunity to commune with Him.  What a great gift!  We didn’t do anything to earn this second chance.  We didn’t deserve it.  But God gave it to us anyway.

We should give others a second chance too.

The Bible exhorts us to forgive others because in Christ Jesus God forgave us.  Because God gives us a second chance even when we don’t deserve it or earn it, we should be a lot more forgiving of the people in our lives who need a second chance for relationship with us.  I know you’ve been hurt.  I realize that someone has disappointed you, betrayed you, and fallen short of your expectations and needs.  But, guess what?  You’re no peach either.  And either am I.  That’s why we all need to be a little less bitter and lot more forgiving.  When you do that, you’ll be surprised at how much better a restored relationship feels than the broken one you are living with right now.  Try it.

Final thought.

Who do you need to give a second chance to today (just like God gave you a second chance)? 

Everyone Invite Someone!

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Easter Sunday, April 20, is approaching soon. Did you know that more than 50% of people say that they would attend church on Easter Sunday if someone just invited them to come. Wow! A simple invite could lead someone to encounter Jesus! It sounds so simple.

I want to challenge EVERYONE TO INVITE SOMEONE to one or more of our Easter events and services. On Saturday, April 12 at 10 a.m., our annual Easter Egg Hunt & Pancake Breakfast is scheduled. (And, it’s going to be great weather!). On Friday, April 18 at 7 p.m., we have a special Good Friday Service planned. And, on Easter Sunday, April 20, there are two worship services from which to choose – one at 9:30 and another at 11 a.m.

Although inviting someone to church is as simple as saying “Hey, would you like to come to church on Easter?”, we’re offering you some tools to make it even easier:

We have two sets of cards you can pick up on Sunday announcing our Easter programming times and events. Both are easy to carry and easy to hand out. Take as many as you want. Hand them to people at work. Hand them to your friends at the ballpark. Leave them for your food server. Give them to your family. Take a walk and give them to your neighbors.

On the Adventure Facebook page you can find easy to copy pictures of our Easter Invitations. Place them on your FB page. Like them. Send them to your friends via email. Tweet them from your Twitter account. Add them to your Linked In page. One simple post and a note from you saying “Come and check out my great church this Easter!” may be all someone needs to decide to visit.

We are sprucing up the building, adding new directional signs, painting, cleaning, etc. so everyone feels comfortable and at ease when they visit. (There is still work to be done btw – our next scheduled work day is Tuesday, April 15 from 9 a.m. until it’s all finished so please plan to come and help paint, do some light carpentry, move furniture, and clean.)

Our website is new and updated. Go to adventureky.org and check it out. Make sure to create a profile and register to receive email updates.

Inviting someone to something at church is just about the easiest thing that we can do as Christians. It costs nothing. It takes very little time and effort. There is no downside. And, it could change someone’s life for eternity. So, who are you planning to invite?

Pastor Buddy <><

Open Your Eyes!

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Do you wish you could see the way that Jesus sees?  In a recent post, 3-D Vision, I discussed how Jesus saw things perfectly.  Jesus saw people, circumstances, situations, conversations — everything with perfect vision because his vision always came from the inside perspective of love.  On the other hand, we often have flawed vision.  Our vision can be distorted, seeing only from our own needs and our own perspective.  In this post, “Open Your Eyes”, I want to expand on that idea of vision and discuss how our vision becomes “distorted” and what we can do to correct it.

Distorted Vision Comes from Self-Pity

In Luke 24, we read the story of two pilgrims traveling to a village called Emmaus.  It was just after Jesus had been crucified.  These men had been followers of Jesus.  Now, with Jesus killed, they were walking back home, disillusioned.  “As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them” (Luke 24:15) but they did not recognize him.  Even as Jesus spoke to them, they did not recognize him as Jesus.  Instead, the Bible says “they stood still, their faces downcast” because they had “hoped that [Jesus] was the one who was going to redeem Israel.” (Luke 24:21.

These men had Jesus right next to them.  He was personally walking with them.  But they didn’t even realize who He was.  Why?  Because they were absorbed in their own self-pity.  What these two men had hoped for from Jesus hadn’t come true.  Their own desires had not been met.  And, because of that self-pity, they couldn’t even recognize their Savior when He was right next to them.

Aren’t we like that at times?  Don’t we also let our vision of Jesus and what He is doing in and around us become distorted and even blocked because we didn’t get what we wanted from God?  It can happen easier than we want to admit.  A boyfriend or girlfriend breaks up with us.  We don’t get the job we wanted.  It rains on parade day.  Whatever it might be for you or for me, the truth is that sometimes when we don’t get what we want, and we wallow in self-pity, distorting our ability to see Jesus right next to us.

Distorted Vision Comes from Self-Focus

Unfortunately, self-pity multiples into self-focus.  What happens next in the story in Luke is that the two men relate how some of their companions “confused” them. (verse 22).  The two travelers were confused by the stories of some of their friends.  Some said that they had gone to Jesus’ tomb and it was empty and that they had seen an angel who said that Jesus was alive.  Some others double-checked the tomb and also found it to be just as the first friends had said although they “did not see” Jesus. (verses 23-24).

The “companions” whom the travelers were talking about were Jesus’ closest disciples.  They had been on the front lines with Jesus.  They were the leaders that these men were starting to look up to.  But, now, these two travelers refused to join in this wonderful, fantastic miracle experience that the “companions” had.  Instead, the travelers remained self-focused and self-reliant.

Our vision to see Jesus and to see the world the way that He sees it becomes impaired when we refuse to participate in the God-experiences of others.  We see and hear stories of lives being transformed by Jesus, marriages being healed, addictions being overcome, relationships being restored, forgiveness being offered, baggage being left behind.  But, if they aren’t MY STORIES then I am not going to allow them to change my sight.  “I’m only going to see God through my experiences,” we say.

“How foolish you are!” Jesus said to those two travelers (verse 25).  He says the same to us when we refuse to participate in the experiences of others.

The Word Comforts

When our vision becomes blurred, distorted and impaired, there is still hope.  In the story were are reading in Luke, the Bible says that Jesus heard the disillusionment of the travelers so He “explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.”  (verse 27)   Then, when they had reached their destination, we are told that Jesus acted as if He was going farther but the pilgrims urged Jesus to stay with them.  (verse 28).  The travelers had heard the Word and they wanted more of it!

When we become disillusioned and distracted with self-pity, when we become self-absorbed in our own lives without seeing what God is doing in others, the one thing that can begin to clear our vision, the one thing that can give us hope, is the Word.  As we read the Bible, as we study what God has said and is saying to us in Scripture, we gain new perspective, new vision.  And, just like the pilgrims on the road to Emmaus, we want more!

Jesus: The Eye-Doctor

What happens next in the story is remarkable.  It can be life-changing when you “grasp it.”  Jesus sits down to eat with the pilgrims.  While “at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them.  Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him!” (Luke 24:30-31).  Jesus “gave” them something that caused these men to see Jesus for who He was; he “gave” them something that opened their eyes.

And He does the same for us.  When we spend time with Jesus, He will do something that will open our eyes and repair our vision.  Jesus is the perfect eye-doctor.  He may “give” us a verse that especially speaks to us on a particular day.  He may give us a conversation that we so desperately need.  He may give us insight and wisdom into a situation.  He may give us peace that is beyond our understanding.  And, on and on.  That’s who God is — He is a graceful, merciful, loving God who desires for us to know Him, relate to Him and commune with Him so that we might see Him and the world around us better.

 

Opposition – Why and What to do with it.

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A crisis hits us.  Someone treats us unfairly.  Sickness abounds.  We face troubles with our finances, our jobs, our relationships.  Opposition is no stranger to anyone, including Christians.  In my 9/15/2013 message, we look at Acts 4 and learn about the 3 major types of opposition that we face and how, with God’s help, we can persevere through the trials.

Note:  these are my sermon notes.  You can listen to the message on the Adventure website.

“Come as you are and become who God wants you to be.” — That’s our vision for Adventure Church.  It’s who God has called us to be.  When we read it / say it, it seems like it should be so easy — just come and let God help you become who He wants you to be.  But the reality is that it isn’t very easy at all at times.  Opposition abounds in becoming who God wants you to be.

It shouldn’t surprise us.  In 1 Peter 4:2, the apostle Peter reminded the church of such by writing: “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you.”  Trials happen.  They happen to everyone.  So when they do, we shouldn’t be surprised.  Being a Christian isn’t a ticket to Easy Street.  It was never meant to be that.

But remember:  “Opposition is really a growth opportunity!”  God uses tough times in our lives to grow us spiritually.  It’s like running a marathon; at some point you will hit a wall.  It’s then that you have 2 choices:  you can give up and go home OR you can persevere and get through the tough time.  When we choose the latter, we learn from it.  Our faith grows.  Our belief grows.  Our experience grows.  That’s the way to spiritual maturity:  “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

Peter & John Face Opposition

At the beginning of Acts 4, we see Peter and John, fresh off of the healing of a crippled beggar, speaking to the crowd.  Hundreds of people, if not more, had rushed to see what was happening.  We see that the religious leaders and the temple guards also came and were disturbed by what Peter and John were teaching – in particular, that they were teaching about Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.  This was the beginning of the opposition they would face in 3 ways.

Opposition from Circumstances

Acts 4:3 – “They seized Peter and John, and because it was evening, they put them in jail until the next day.”  This had to be a little unnerving to say the least.  Just a couple of months ago, Peter and John had witnessed Jesus arrested in the evening.  The next day he was crucified.  Now Peter and John were in a tough circumstance.  It could easily have challenged their faith and particularly their “becoming who God wanted them to be” which was to “be [His] witnesses in Jerusalem, ….”

At times, your circumstances can be an opposition to becoming who God wants you to be.  Maybe it’s a problem with your job.  Maybe it’s an illness.  Maybe there’s been a death.  Maybe you have a relationship problem, even a divorce pending.  There are all sorts of circumstances that can make us feel alone, forgotten by God, ignored by Him, or, worse, even that He is punishing us or that He hates us.  None of that is true.  Those are lies.  But circumstances can work in such a way as to make us believe lies.

Opposition from Others

Acts 4:7 – “They had Peter and John brought before them and began to question them: ‘By what power or what name did you do this?’”

People will question your faith at times.  They will doubt whether you’ve really changed.  They may even diminish or ridicule what you believe.  Relationships may change.  Some won’t want to be around you any longer.  It’s not easy to become who God wants you to be when you feel like so many are against you.  It can cause you to doubt or cause you to want to give up.

Opposition from You

Maybe the greatest opposition we face in becoming who God wants us to be is ourselves.  We have issues with pride and anger.  We harbor grudges and refuse to forgive.  We have secret sins that we hold on to.  We fail to accept the forgiveness and grace God offers for our past and continue to be weighed down by guilt and shame.  We are lazy.  We make unwise choices.  All of those things interfere with our spiritual growth.

What should you do when opposition comes?

Rely on God’s Power

Acts 4:8 – “Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: ‘Rulers and elders of the people!”

Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit.  He knew that to be true.  If you are a Christian, you also are filled with the Holy Spirit.  God can help us overcome opposition.  He is stronger and bigger than any trial we are facing.  The first step to persevering is asking Him for help.  Rely on His power.

Remember What Is True

In the next part of Acts, we see Peter stand up for what he knew to be true — “Salvation is found in no one else” but Jesus, Peter says.  When we wish to overcome opposition, we need to remember what is true about God and His promises to us.  The devil wants us to believe lies like God has abandoned us and is mad at us.  The truth in the Word tells us that God loves us with an everlasting love, that He is always present, that He desires us to have life to the full, that He gives us a peace that is beyond understanding (and not like the world gives), that He desires for us to have understanding, that He chooses to forget our sins, and so much more.  We need to hold on to those truths in times of trial and suffering.

Resist the Temptation to Compromise

Next the religious leaders admonish Peter and John and tell them to “speak no longer to anyone in” the name of Jesus.  Note that they were going to allow them to continue to teach, not just in the name of Jesus.  They could heal, but not in the name of Jesus.  They didn’t kick them out of town, they just didn’t want them to mention Jesus any longer.

But Peter refused to compromise.  In Acts 4:19-20, he responds with: “‘Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God.  For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.’”

It’s much easier to compromise than to stand firm in what we know to be true.  It’s easier to just do good, but not mention the name of Jesus.  It’s easier to just attribute the change in our hearts and our lives to “living right” and “making good choices.”  That’s what our society wants us to say.  That’s what Oprah and Dr. Phil want us to believe as well — that we somehow can engineer these great personal changes in our lives.  But that’s compromising.  If you really want to persevere through opposition that will stall your spiritual growth, you can’t compromise the truth.

Refuel

Finally, to get through trials.  To overcome opposition.  You have to refuel.  That’s what Peter and John did.  After they were released, “Peter and John went back to their own people …” (Acts 4:23).  How awesome is that!  They went back to their people.  Together they praised God for protecting them and prayed.  The Bible says they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the Word of God boldly.  (Acts 4:24).

Opposition is tough.  Trials, even small ones over time, take a toll on you.  You have to get back to your people — and that means your Christian fellowship!  That’s a big part of what church is for — we are each other’s people.  We are support for each other.  We can pray for each other.  We can refuel!

Conclusion

Opposition is really a growth opportunity!  At the time it’s happening it’s not much fun.  But overcoming the trials and the suffering lead us to spiritual maturity.

3-D Vision

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How we perceive people and situations can be distorted by our own preconceptions and, especially, by the condition of our hearts. What our “starting point” is makes all of the difference in how we see things.  Are you seeing clearly?

How Is Your Vision?

Spiritual Near-Sightedness — It’s all about me.  I’m not focused on others.  What matters to me and to my ministry is what is most important. Others should see it that way too.

Spiritual Far-Sightedness — I can see everyone else’s faults, but never my own. It’s easy to see what others are doing wrong. If they could just see it too, then things would be so much better for all of us, especially for me.

Spiritual Astigmatism –  I see people with a distorted perspective. Instead of seeing people for who they are and where they are, I see them as challengers or as weak or as not useful. I fail to recognize people as wonderful creations of God, instead seeing looks, money, power, etc.  My main thought is often: what can they do for me?

Spiritual Protective Goggles — I’m always afraid to be involved, open, honest and vulnerable.  I play it safe in relationships and in ministry.

3-D Vision — Jesus saw things perfectly.  No one could see things as perfectly as Jesus did and does.  He saw people and situations from a holy perspective. He had that kind of vision because he saw the world through a lens of love.

Faith Expressed Through Love

Love Is a Decision — Jesus chose, intentionally, to love.  In fact, love is the highest goal and the best decision. “Go after a life of love as if your life depended on it – because it does!” (1 Corinthians 14:1). Make conscious choices to love people.

Love Is a Demonstration — Don’t just pretend to love people, actually love them!  Love is an action and must be demonstrated.  Isaiah 58 reminds us that the kind of fasting that God desires is not one that is “fake” and all for show.  Instead he says that our sacrifices to Him are to be about feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, speaking up against injustice, housing the homeless.  Note that all of those things are the basic NEEDS that we all have (food, clothing, shelter). Isaiah wasn’t just saying those are the only things we should do; he was saying that ALL needs for people should be addressed in a way that is sacrificial and pleasing to God, i..e, in a loving way.

Love Is the Difference — If I am not motivated by love, everything else is just noise, like a clanging symbol or a creaking, rusty door.  (See 1 Corinthians 13).

Credit:  A lot of this post was gleaned from a devotion given by Pastor Mike Breaux at the 2012 NACC Continuation Committee Leadership planning session.  Thanks, Mike!

Time to Grow Up?

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I just finished an article in the Christian Research Journal by Thomas E. Bergler who asserts that churches need to put spiritual maturity high on their agenda, pointing what we say, what we model and how we lead toward helping Christians attain spiritual maturity.  This post’s content is inspired by Dr. Bergler’s article with much of the content coming from there.  This post contains some tough teaching.  Hang on and hang in there!  There is hope at the end so read it all!

So, So True

The observation by Dr. Bergler that many people in our churches are “juvenilized Christians” (i.e, self-centered, emotionally driven, and intellectually shallow) hit home for me.  I’ve experienced first hand this kind of thinking and feeling from many, many people.  And, I’m not talking about “young” or “new” Christians who just are beginning their spiritual journeys and are expected to be immature in their faith and walk with God; I’m talking about people who have had ample opportunity, ample time and ample experience at least to be maturing, if not yet mature, in their faith.  Maybe that’s you; maybe not.  It’s probably more of you than would care to admit it.  I suspect after you read the rest of this post, you’ll have a better idea of whether you are maturing or not.

Spiritual Maturity is Desirable and Expected

Hebrews 5:11-6:1 – “We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn.  In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again.  You need milk, not solid food!  Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness.  But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.  Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity ….”

Spiritual maturity is expected because it means becoming more and more like Christ.  That’s what being a Christian means: “little Christ.”  Over time, through the work of the Holy Spirit, we should be increasing our knowledge of the Lord as well as our “likeness” of Him.  We should be developing more fully the fruits of the spirit as outlined in Galatians 5:22-26.  We should become like our teacher, Jesus Christ (Luke 6:40).

Here are some of the areas/ways in which we should be attaining spiritual maturity:

Intellectually — A MATURE Christian knows the basics of the faith and is able to communicate them to another.  A MATURE Christian recognizes false teaching and is not swayed by such.  A MATURE Christian is routinely and regularly expanding their knowledge of who God is, what His Word says and what the Word means for all of us. An IMMATURE Christian doesn’t think it really matters what you believe as long as you earnestly believe it.  They don’t seek to dig deeper into the Word and are satisfied with what they think they already know.  They often say things like: “I don’t like to read” or “I don’t have time to study the Bible” or “I’m not comfortable in groups.”

Church commitment — A MATURE Christian recognizes the importance of the corporate church body as a place to connect with one another, and, more importantly, care for each other.  (Ephesians 4:7-16).  An IMMATURE Christian feels that a church home, and in particular regular corporate worship attendance, is an option if you need it or like it.  There is little value placed on commitment to a local church body beyond the individual feeling of whether it “does anything for me and my life.”  Their attitude is often “What has the church done for me lately” rather than “What have I done for the church lately.”

Serving and Kingdom growth — A MATURE Christian lives for others, serves others and joins others in serving others, all for the benefit of showing God’s love and introducing Him to other people.  They are “on mission” for God before themselves.  (Matthew 28:16-20).   They are sacrificial with their time and money.  However, IMMATURE Christians tend to see service as something that can be done to help the community at large, if and only if, they have the time, energy, money or interest to help a particular person or group of people.  They are happy to help someone as long as it fits in their schedule and makes them feel good.  They often point to one “community service project” event in the last year or a once-every-few-weeks service in the church as being “more than enough” to help the Kingdom.

Emotionally — A MATURE Christian is in control of their feelings rather than allowing their feelings to control them.  They do not feel sorry for themselves and they reject feelings of jealousy and anger towards others who are in different places economically, socially or physically.  They recognize that both suffering and comfort are regular parts of the Christian life.  (2 Corinthians 1:3-7; 4:7-18).  An IMMATURE Christian believes that negative emotions, experiences and circumstances are unfair, unique to them, and that they have a “right” not to have them.  They often believe that one of the benefits of being “on God’s side” should be that life should be care-free, struggle-free and happy-me.  They often “get mad at God” because He’s not doing what they think He should be doing in their life, or, at least He’s not doing it quickly enough.

This is just an exemplary list, but it should get us all thinking.  Even while writing this, I had to stop and really, really think about myself and my own spiritual journey.  It was scary.  I have a long way to go.  Too many of the “immature” descriptions described me.  I didn’t like that and I don’t want that for me, for my family or for my church!  So, I had to ask myself these questions:

Am I allowing God to mature me?

Am I satisfied with spiritual milk rather than seeking deeper things of God?

Will I do anything about where I am and where I need to be?

I hope that you ask yourselves these questions too.  And, that you answer them!