Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Unwrap at Your Own Pace

We all remember those times as a kid when we wanted to open or at least know what our gift was before we could open it. You know, those times when you’d try to sneak a peek inside the wrapping paper of the gifts under the Christmas tree or the birthday gifts your parents hid in the top of the closet. I’m more patient in waiting for my gifts these days. But I absolutely cannot stand to wait when I have a gift that I want to give to someone else. My wife has to make me keep her gifts until Christmas or until any other special day arrives on which I plan to give her a gift. That’s because the very moment I get her gift I can’t wait to give it to her so she can go ahead and use it, enjoy it.

Sometimes it’s the same way with preaching and teaching. This past Sunday was one great example. A smarter man than me would have had the forethought to teach for 3 weeks on Acts 16 because there are so many gifts wrapped up in the story of that passage, all of which are incredibly encouraging and helpful for life. But as a teacher, sometimes I get over-eager and want to give all the gifts at once, right now. I get so excited about helping people unwrap the gifts God has given them, use them and enjoy them that it’s hard to pick just one then wait to give the others next week. Since I dumped all of Acts 16 with all of its wonderful gifts on folks in one sitting last week…more than most people can unwrap and carry with them at one time, I thought it would be good to give them again in a form that you can unwrap at your own pace. Use them all. Enjoy them all. And take some time to find the ones still tucked away in the passage. I'm sure there are more, but here are some that we touched on:

1. God tends to steer moving vessels

  • Paul was actively searching out God’s will, not passively sitting still until he understood perfectly the next 10 steps he was supposed to take. In Proverbs 3:5-6, we are told “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your path straight.” God will bend your road where it needs to go if you are genuinely seeking Him and His will. Or as in Paul’s case, God will redirect you: “You’re cold. No, getting colder…let me give you a hint”. This seems to be what he did for Paul.

2. We can assume that the needs of people, especially their calls for us to come and help, are also God’s command for us to GO AND SHARE CHRIST WITH THEM.

  • The man in Paul’s vision said “come over to Macedonia and help us” and Paul and his fellow laborers “conclud(ed) that God had called us to preach the Gospel to them”

3. Act NOW on what you know for sure of God’s will

  • “Immediately” after Paul had the vision and understood it to be God’s call to go and preach in Macedonia, “(they) sought to go on into Macedonia”
  • We spend so much time waiting on what we do not know before moving, when God in all likelihood is waiting on us to act on what He has shown us before revealing the next steps.
  • Knowing God's will for sure can be tricky if you don't know how to discern it. Soon you will be able download from a "checklist" that I have used for discerning God's will in every major decision of my life over the last 10 years.

4. God’s will for you is not mutually exclusive of intense suffering

  • Paul obeyed God’s call to go to Macedonia and share the good news of Jesus. As a result, Lydia and her whole household believed in Jesus (and with her family & trade connections in Thyatira would take the Gospel to Asia where Paul had been prevented from going). In addition to Lydia and her household, an exploited slave girl who was in bondage to a demonic spirit was freed. All of these are incredible God-sized results! Nevertheless, obeying God’s command and being an instrument of God’s love still landed Paul and Silas in the hands of angry magistrates and an angry mob who stripped them, beat them, and threw them in the bowels of a jail and placed them in stocks.


  • Beaten, bloodied, naked, and bruised while in stocks in the bowel s of a Philippian prison, Paul and Silas began to pray and sing! It surely was not because they were masochists who loved being beaten and abused and placed in chains! It was because they were in the center of God’s will! They could rejoice in what God was doing in and through them—Lydia’s whole household had come to know Jesus, a slave girl was free of a demon—THEY WERE IN THE SWEET SPOT!
  • Furthermore, when an earthquake opened the prison doors and broke loose the stocks that held them in bondage in the prison, Paul and Silas did not bolt through the door interpreting it as a windfall for them to be relieved of their discomfort. Why? Because they were in the center of God’s will. Therefore, why would they leave?
  • We tend to look for joy and happiness in situations that are comfortable, convenient, and pleasant, but Paul and Silas had joy that most modern Christians don’t know—joy that sings in dark smelly prison cells, from lips swollen by beatings—joy that transcends circumstance.

6. “Suffering is God’s megaphone”—C.S. Lewis

  • It’s not that God speaks louder to us when we are suffering. Perhaps to us, our own suffering might be said to be our hearing aid, helping us to listen for God and hear him like we were not able or willing to hear him before. But through our suffering, if like Paul and Silas we are singing and not complaining, God shouts to people around us who see where we are and hear our songs!
  • Acts 16:25 not only tells us that Paul and Silas were singing, but “the prisoners were listening to them”. Are you going through something difficult, something painful? People are listening to you. What are they hearing? A song? Or a complaint?
  • As a result of their song and their staying when they could have escaped perhaps, the jailer and his entire household came to hear of and believe in Jesus!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Afterwords--Take Off Your Prison Clothes

"This is the end, but for me it is the beginning of life." These were the words Dietrich Bonhoeffer spoke to an English officer and fellow prisoner as two men arrived to lead him away on the day before he was executed. Bonhoeffer had previously written, "When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die."
The prison doctor later wrote of observing him on the day of his execution, "Through the half-open door of a room in one of the huts I saw Pastor Bonhoeffer, still in prison clothes, kneeling in fervent prayer to the Lord his God. The devotion and evident conviction of being heard that I saw in the prayer of this intensely captivating man, moved me to the depths."

Long before that early morning when he was ordered to strip naked and walk to the gallows where he would be hanged for his participation in the resistance movement against Hitler's Nazi regime, Bonhoeffer had already laid down his life. Being stripped of his prison clothes, facing injustice, facing death itself was not nearly so daunting for a man who had already crossed what Craig Groeschel calls the Third Line of Faith. That's the line where one moves past loving Christ enough to benefit from Him (1st Line) or even contribute comfortably to Him (2nd Line) to loving Him enough to lay down your life and follow Him where he has already death.
What do you need to be stripped of? What prison clothes are you desperately holding on to? Are you willing to take off those things peacefully, calmly, willingly...even joyfully as Bonhoeffer did, and make your way naked to the gallows with Christ? What part of your life are you still "leading" rather than simply following Christ? Cross the Third Line.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Leader's Trap

The most dangerous temptation for a Christian leader may be the temptation to focus on leading others rather than following Christ (cf. John 21:17-19). Whether you are a pastor, a parent, or just a peer to people you work with, it's easy to give all your attention to where others are in their journey, where they need to be, and how you can get them from one point to the other. But in doing so, it's possible to lose sight of where you stand yourself--in relation to the footsteps of Christ.

If we follow hard after Christ, we will find ourselves mingling with people who need leadership--not so much ours but Christ's. And it will be our following Him that they follow, not our pointing the way. People need models not pointers. Isn't that funny when you think about it? In focusing on leading you can stop following, but if you focus on following, you will be a leader.

"Be imitators of me as I am of Christ"
(Paul the Apostle) 1 Corinthians 11:1, etc.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Easter After-words

Wow! What a day! So many new faces that I couldn't keep up with them all. As I stood at the back of the room today, I remembered what it was like to have 30-40 people in attendance almost 4 years there were 263! And those weren't just nameless faces; everyone of them has a story and every one of them was connected to someone without whom they never would have come to The River Church.

Some of the stories in the room today:

  • A long time professing agnostic who is having his assumptions challenged by seeing real people live out a real relationship with Christ...and welcome him to journey with them
  • Students who came with friends to hear great news while their moms and dads slept
  • Multiple people who once assumed that they were doomed to live in bondage to addiction forever, but are now experiencing freedom and real life in the risen Christ
  • People who have been broken by divorce who are experiencing healing in relationship with the one who will never leave them
  • Households who spent years immersed in man-made religion and are now getting to know the simple truth of the genuinely good news that forgiveness is free to those who receive what Jesus already purchased
263 stories...For some of them, Jesus hasn't yet come to play a pivotal role. But He will. For others, Jesus has already become the pivotal "switch" in their story who turns things from dark to light.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Desperation: Mother of Invention & Prerequisite to Change

Desperation, not necessity, is the mother of invention. Food is necessary, but it's famine that makes you figure out new ways to get it. For proof of my theory, look no further than the neti pot. Popularized by Oprah and Dr. Oz (& heck no this is not an endorsement of Oprah!), the neti pot is a little "teapot" you can buy in any pharmacy which is used to clean your sinuses by irrigating them with saline solution.

It's not the pot itself but the procedure that looks so strange. The very idea is one that neither has nor would ever--EVER--occur to me (pouring water into one side of my nose and allowing it to drain out the other with the help of a long-necked little teapot, that is). But with the onslaught of pollen, the prospect of my head exploding from sinus pressure, and the raving of others who swear by it. I thought "Why not?" Long story seems to have worked. But that got me thinking...

I had the testimonies of friends I trust who'd used the neti pot successfully before me. Hey, we all had the endorsement of Queen O and Dr. Oz, right? But here's the question, how desperate was the first person who decided to wash out his nose and sinuses with some saline solution and the help of his long-necked teapot? That dude or lady had some kind of headache. He or she was desperate for a change, for the sinus problems to go away. Really, really desperate! Desperation led to the unthinkable...what would never have been considered before. And what do you know? It worked!

How desperate are you for change? Are you willing to try something previously unthinkable? Are you willing to try something right in front of you in a whole new way (i.e.--teapot for a nasal rinser)? The solution may be right in front of you...maybe you're just not desperate enough...yet.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Quote to Note

This week's "Quote to Note" is once again from Mark Batterson's Wild Goose Chase. In fact, Mark dropped a couple of hammers on me this week (I'm sharing another one on Easter Sunday as we kick off "Switch"). Here's one to chew on for now:

"...spiritual maturity has less to do with long-range visions than it does with moment-by-moment sensitivity to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. And it is our moment-by-moment sensitivity to the Holy Spirit that turns life into an everyday adventure."

Sure we have to know where we're headed in life, what we're trying to accomplish. But can we be honest? Many of us stick a goal on the horizon and then make it our idol. We become so focused on that goal that we stop paying attention to God. If it's a God-given vision, we'll get there. But God may very well have a meandering course planned for you along the way that sends you to places, experiences, and people that you did not anticipate. That's adventure! And that's far better than the tunnel-visioned course we tend to set for ourselves. If we are so focused on our long-range goal that we are ignoring God's voice in this moment, we may very well miss a turn--and miss an adventure God has planned for us and others! God is just as concerned about our journey with him as He is the destination.

"The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps"

"A man’s steps are from the LORD; how then can man understand his way?"

We have a tendency to find comfort in some point of certainty in the future. We want the 1,000,000 candle power Q-beam view of what's coming. But God wants us to walk with him now in the soft glowing lamplight that illuminates only one step beyond where our feet are now, that illuminates His heels so we can follow close.

"Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path."

Don't focus so much on the horizon that you lose sight and sound of the one you are following. Listen close and follow closer.

Sunday, March 29, 2009


I had to run out immediately after our Sunday AM celebration this morning to attend the SC Science Fair awards ceremony for my daughter in Columbia (And yes, that was a shameless proud parent plug for Hannah who received 3rd Place in the Engineering Division as well as the US Navy and Marine Corp Distinguished Achievement Award for Science). As a result of bugging out so quickly I missed one of my favorite parts of Sundays. I missed hanging out afterward talking to people, listening to their stories, finding out how God is at work in their lives, hearing how the day's message impacted them. I missed the "After-words" that come afterwards. Here are mine for this week...
  • I'm really jacked up about seeing more people and new faces step up and contribute each week--greeting people, helping with children, running sound and video, playing an instrument, setting up and tearing down our "church in a box" operation. Thanks to all the people getting involved and especially to those who are helping others find a place of significance.
  • Our children's ministry gets better every week thanks to great servant leaders--Thanks Denee and Lisa! Both of my children, independently and without being prompted, thanked God today for having so much fun at church. And they did that while being taught Biblical Principles. Cynthia Rabon, you rock! Thanks for loving my children, preparing so well to teach them and helping them to have fun in the process of discovering God.
  • Another person discovered during the course of this past week that even though we live in the "Bible Belt", there are people around us every day who literally have no idea who Jesus is or what he means to them today. Thanks Martin for stepping into the void for someone in your workplace. God is using you, and you are watching a broken life become a trophy of grace right before your eyes. Keep reaching for "people in trees".

I can't wait until next week to hear how loud our voices are heard this week as we couple Obedience with our profession!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Quote to Note

Thanks to the helpful goading of some of you reading this, I'm back in the blog saddle again. This will be my first of weekly blogs on quotes that grabbed me by the throat, the funny bone, the heart, or maybe the knoggin. Some may be from books I'm reading, like the one that follows, or from the news, or from a friend, or from who knows where else. I hope they grab you too.

I ran across this week's quote to note in Wild Goose Chase by Mark Batterson. It's actually a quote from Peter Marshall, former chaplain of the US Senate and was originally printed in his book Mr. Jones, Meet the Master :

"I wonder what would happen if we all agreed to read one of the Gospels until we came to a place that told us to do something, then went out to do it, and only after we had done it, began reading again? There are aspects of the Gospel that are puzzling and difficult to understand. But our problems are not centered around the things we don't understand, but rather in the things we do understand, the things we could not possibly misunderstand. Our problem is not so much that we don't know what we should do. We know perfectly well, but we don't want to do it."

Can you envision how different our lives, our families, our communities would be if we started practicing--putting into action--what we know to be true? If we stopped using what we don't know as an excuse for passivity? I'd love to hear your stories over the coming weeks of what happens as you and I take Mr. Marshall's challenge.