Life Change: Getting to “There” from “Here”

Newport, Rhode Island“You can’t get ‘there’ from ‘here,’” said the old New Englander after I had asked for directions. I thought to myself, “Why not? Both “here” and “there” is on the map, you have to be able to get from ‘here’ to ‘there’ somehow.

When you’re trying to get from “here” to “there”, you need to know where “here” is and where “there” is. Since each person comes with their own “here”, it will take a discerning heart to know where to start. Therefore, the “here” is person dependent.

However, we can know the “there” that God wants us to help one another get to. There is a life change that God desires for all His people, those in the church and outside the church.

As the pastor of Lincolnway Christian Church, our vision is to create environments where life change is probable. Our mission is to connect people to Jesus and to one another for life change. There is a life change that God wants for every person within driving distance of us to experience. God wants each person to become a disciple of Jesus Christ. This is where Jesus is the teacher of life, and we are his students.

So what is the life changed that God desires for His human creatures? Let’s look at three aspects where God wants to see life change happen in everyone.

  • First, God wants a life change where there is a past that is forgiven, healed, and renewed. In order for some one to experience forgiveness, healing, and renewal, he or she must connect to Jesus Christ. In connecting to Jesus Christ, our sins are washed away. In connecting with Jesus, our wounds begin to heal. And in connecting with Jesus Christ, our lives become new.
  • Second, God wants a life change where our future is secured in heaven and in the resurrection from the dead. By connecting to Jesus Christ, our heavenly home is secured until that day of the Lord when the dead in Christ shall rise. (See N.T. Wright’s book Surprised by Hope).
  • Third, God wants a life change where our present is empowered, equipped, and encouraged. This is where we don’t simply connect to Jesus, we must also connect to one another. The early church came together consistently. In Acts 2:42 we read: And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (ESV). In order for the early church to experience life change that comes from being a disciple of Jesus, they were required to devote themselves to each other as well as to Jesus.

The life change that God wants for each of us is all-encompassing. Jesus did not simply come to give us a way to heaven and to forgive our sins. Jesus has a “there” for us that is for “here and now.” Jesus came to transform us into his disciples, to become like Him. Dallas Willard wrote:

“Disciples of Jesus are those who are with him, learning to be like him. That is, they are learning to lead their life, their actual existence, as he would lead their life if he were they.” (Renovation of the Heart, 241).

If Jesus was a wife and mother, living in the 21st century, how would he live that life? If Jesus was a single African-American man, how would Jesus live that life?If Jesus was a middle aged pastor with a wife and four adult children, how would Jesus live that life? If Jesus were you, how would he live the life that you are living?

I would love to hear from you. How are you getting from your “here” to Jesus’ “there” in your life?

Reasonable Doubt that God is Good

The greatest challenge to the Christian faith is the fact of suffering. They have done surveys and asked people, “What is it that keeps you from believing in God?” The number one answer that comes up repeatedly is the problem of pain. Let’s look at some realities about the problem of pain

The problem of pain is the #1 Problem

Woman from MyanmarGreat suffering like the Holocaust or smaller disappointments like losing your job, or having a loved one who despite all your prayers remains unhealed is a significant challenge to our faith.

“Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart”—Psalm 73:1

The Problem of Pain is the Problem for Theology 101

Sometimes there seems to be exceptions to reaping and sowing. Sometimes life hits us in a way that challenges the idea that God is good.

So, Asaph looks at his life and life around him and he almost falls into unbelief or at least despair.

“But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold”— Psalm 73:2.

Why is Asaph’s foot almost slipping?

13 Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure; in vain have I washed my hands in innocence. 14 All day long I have been plagued; I have been punished every morning”—Psalm 73:13-14.

Now, Asaph does not tell us the nature of his problem. Maybe he had a chronic illness, a pain that kept him up all night. Whatever it is there is a problem.

If you are in pain, or you have a child or a parent or a spouse or some other loved one who is in pain, please know that throughout the history of the Christian church we read of many wonderful men and women, men and women who love God and who followed him more closely than any of their contemporaries, who suffered with great bodily pain.

Here is the real issue: There is this is Basic Theology 101.

“Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart”—Psalm 73:1

But, my basic experience is:

“Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure; in vain have I washed my hands in innocence”—Psalm 73:13

He is the struggle. It does not seem to matter what I do. It does not seem to matter if I pray or not. If I seek God’s face or not. If I obey or not. So why bother? I love the brutal honesty of Asaph

The problem of pain is a problem for everyone.

Blind evolution is naturalistic evolution that pain has no rhyme or reason behind it. That natural selection depends on death, destruction, and violence of the strong against the weak then pain and suffering should not be a problem for them. But, in reality pain is still a problem for everyone.

Asaph also looks at the successful people around:

3 For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. 4 They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong. 5 They are free from the burdens common to man; they are not plagued by human ills. 6 Therefore pride is their necklace; they clothe themselves with violence. 7 From their callous hearts comes iniquity; the evil conceits of their minds know no limits. 8 They scoff, and speak with malice; in their arrogance they threaten oppression. 9 Their mouths lay claim to heaven, and their tongues take possession of the earth. 10 Therefore their people turn to them and drink up waters in abundance. 11 They say, “How can God know? Does the Most High have knowledge?”—Psalm 73:3-11

The psalmist sees the successful, ungodly person so well. He sees their wickedness and the “good stuff” that goes his or her way.

And the psalmist says: “What gives, God? These folks spit in your face. They blaspheme you. They deny your knowledge. They deny your existence. They deny your judgment. They abuse your people. They hate your people. They make movies about your people. And yet, you seem to bless them.”

The bottom line – this normal man does not understand what he sees.

“When I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me”—Psalm 73:16

The problem of pain is the problem of understanding

Asaph doesn’t understand his pain in light of the what “good stuff” is going to the evil. We want to understand our pain. We want to understand God.

When I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me 17 till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny”—Psalm 73:16-17.

Where does Asaph go to understand his pain? The study, the university library, the hang-out with my friend, the bar?

The problem of pain is a problem that is helped in the sanctuary

Asaph goes to the temple where heaven and earth come together. He goes to church to hear from God and to hear God’s Word and His Will proclaimed with others.

  1. In the sanctuary, I discover that God is just.

Surely you place them on slippery ground; you cast them down to ruin. 19 How suddenly are they destroyed, completely swept away by terrors! 20 As a dream when one awakes, so when you arise, O Lord, you will despise them as fantasies”—Psalm 73:18-20.

God will judge and even the score. His justly may move slower than I want but it will move forward.

  1. In the sanctuary, I discovered that my feelings are not final

When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, 22 I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you.

What I discovered is that I don’t know all that God is doing. I can allow myself to become so embittered that I cannot see what God is doing around me”—Psalm 73:21-22.

  1. In the sanctuary, I discover that Jesus is present

Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. 24 You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory. 25 Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. 26 My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. 27 Those who are far from you will perish; you destroy all who are unfaithful to you”—Psalm 73:23-28

  1. In the sanctuary, I discover that God is good.

But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge; I will tell of all your deeds—Psalm 73:26.

Because Jesus is with me and for me, I know that God is good.

Get Dressed

When we get dressed; we clothe ourselves; we cover ourselves with the cloth. The cloth can be made of different kinds of material: wool, cotton, and polyester, even lotus fibers. This cloth can be all kinds of patterns or no patterns. The cloth can be any color. Peter calls us to clothe ourselves not with cloth but a characteristic of Christ.

“Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another”— 1 Peter 5:5 (ESV)

What is humility? Humility is not thinking that you are worthless. It is not thinking of yourself as useless? It is not devaluing yourself. Rather, humility is as you really are especially in light of being a sinner in need of a savior and as a creature with a creator.

How do we get humility? How do we put on humility?

Peter gives us three hints to putting on humility in the context of commanding us to clothe ourselves with humility.

  1. Give help to others

“To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed: 2 Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; 3 not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. 4 And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away”— 1 Peter 5:1–4 (NIV84)

Peter calls elders to serve their flock as overseers and to be eager to serve them. When a person serves others and gives help, that person puts on humility.

When Jesus was on earth, he gave help to others.

  1. Get help from God (and from others)

See what Peter says on the other side of clothing yourself with humility:

“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you”— 1 Peter 5:7 (NIV84)

I have heard some people say they pray but they don’t pray for themselves. They see that not praying for themselves as a virtue. However, Jesus prayed when he wanted help from His heavenly Father. He prayed before He chose the twelve and before he went to the cross.

Asking for help from God is one way to show dependency upon God and humility before God. Also, asking for help from others grows our humility.

  1. Get tough with the devil

Look at what Peter says next:

“Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 9 Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings”— 1 Peter 5:8–9 (NIV84)

He tells us to resist the devil. One of the ways to resist the devil is to realize that he often works to fill us with pride. In the garden of Eden, Satan’s first strategy is to get Eve to doubt God’s goodness and secondly to stir up her pride with 5 “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil”—Genesis 3:5). Satan wants you to take off humility and put on pride.

As we resist the devil, we resist pride, and we get dressed with humility.

So as you get dress, don’t forget to put on humility.

How have you tried to dress yourself with humility?

How to Clean Up with Some S.O.A.P.

“I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you”—Psalm 119:11 (NIV).

Most followers of Christ do not want to intentionally sin against God. Yet, sometimes we do. So, how do we clean up our hearts so that we are less likely to sin against God? By applying God’s Word to our lives. So, I want to give you a simple strategy for applying God’s Word to your life. It is called using some S.O.A.P.

What is S.O.A.P.?

S.O.A.P. stands for Scripture, Observation, Application and Prayer. It is a way of getting more out of your time in God’s word. I got this from a pastor named Wayne Cordeiro who serves our Lord in Hawaii (nice place to get a call to).

How does it work?

When I sit for my daily quiet time read the Bible as anyone normally would with one simple difference. Underline or make note of any verses that jump out at you with special significance. Let me show you a real life example.

Say I begin reading Colossians 2.

Scripture: As I’m reading I find a verse or verses that stuck out to me.  For me it was the following:

Colossians 2:6–7 (NIV84)—So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.

ObservationWhat did I observe about the scripture that struck me. This can be one sentence or a whole book. So, I write out my observation:

Jesus is who and what we need. We received Jesus in faith, so let us live daily in faith in Jesus. Our foundation and strength and source of our faith is in Jesus Christ. Let our lives overflow with thankfulness.

ApplicationHow can I apply the observation so that it affects my life today. So, I wrote this:

Focus my faith in Jesus because the foundation of my faith is Jesus.

PrayerWrite out a prayer to God based on what you just learned and ask him to help you apply this truth in your life.

Thank you, Jesus! You are more that enough and all that I need. Keep my focus on your today.

See how the text comes alive when you do that? Try it for a week and let me know how it works for you.

Living in Hope

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future”Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV).

This is an often quoted text within the Christian subculture. When people quote this, it seems that life is going well, or at least there is hope that life will go well soon. When we examine the context of this verse, things are not going well for the people of God. They are in exile. And it will be quite sometime before anything will change for them. God tells His people settle in this exile from Jerusalem for the long haul. It will be about seventy years before things change. The elders who receive this letter are too old to ever see it fulfilled in their life time.

On the world stage we find Christians being targeted for death. We saw this last week in the news when Al-Shabaab targeted Christians for death at a Kenyan university. In America, we are getting mixed messages from our media. On one hand last week, the popular Christian group, Hillsong UNITED, performed on NBC Today Show. Yet, on the other hand Christians in America seem to be increasingly living in exile in our own country. An example of this is found in John S. Dickerson’s, The Great Evangelical Recession:

In 2011, The Chronicle of Higher Education reported that in a formal survey, American sociologists said they would be “less likely to hire” a job candidate who is evangelical. Of the sociologists interviewed, 39.1 percent overtly said they would discriminate against a job candidate who is evangelical.

It seems that Christianity is out of step with the prevailing culture. Today the prevailing culture is demanding that Christians keep their religious views more and more private. Your religious opinions can stay in your church buildings. But, do not bring the Lordship of Jesus Christ to have any influence over your life once the Sunday morning closing song has been sung.

How do you and I live in hope when life is hard and hard for a long time? How can we keep from going into despair? If we look to the surrounding verses, we find some action steps we can take to strengthen our hope:

  1. Continue to live even when life is hard (Jeremiah 29:5-6)
  2. Seek and pray for the welfare of the culture around you (Jeremiah 29:7)
  3. Be careful to whom you listen to as secular people try to shape your worldview (Jeremiah 29:8)
  4. Seek the Lord Jesus with all your heart (Jeremiah 29:13)

When you do this you will be able to cope with the hardships of life (including living in exile) and with death because of the hope you have in Jesus Christ. Because the eternal life is ours, we can life with hope and courage!

“Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure” (1 John 3:2-3).

Reasonable Doubt: The Resurrection

Throughout my life, I have to admit I’ve had my doubts about God. Sometimes, I wondered if God even exists. Are we all alone in this universe? Is there a creator out there who made this place or are the atheistic scientists correct that everything could be explained by the big bang theory, not the television show with Sheldon and Leonard. It is the theory that the beginning of the universe was self-started with a big bang.

My sophomore year in Bible College, Dr. Gary Hall was explaining the reasonableness of a Creator God. He went through his proofs and I said, “That doesn’t hold a much water when you think of it.”
At other times I doubted if God cared. It seemed like everything in my life was going upside down and sideways and not in any good way. I doubted God loved me. Often I’ve doubted if God was able to use me.

These kinds of doubts are common to most of us. But, the heartbeat of Christianity is found in THE Garden. Not the Garden of Eden, but in an empty tomb in a garden near Jerusalem. In that garden is the heartbeat of the Christian message, “He is Risen.” These three words literally mean: “to wake up from the dead.” The heart of the Christian faith is not moral teaching. The heart of the Christian faith is not certain philosophy. The heart of the Christian faith is a historical event.

In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul, a man who once persecuted the Christians then became one, wrote that the most the gospel can be summarized as this: Jesus died for our sins according to the scripture, was buried, and on the third day raise from the dead and he was seen by people. BUT, “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins… 19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied”— 1 Corinthians 15:17 & 19 (ESV).

So, “He is risen” is a big deal. The most famous doubter in the church is nicknamed Doubting Thomas. Let’s read his story from John 20:24–29 in NIV:

Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.”
A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”
Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; 29 blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

See what happens to Thomas. He moves from honest doubts to total trust. And you can move from honest doubts to total trust. Jesus says there is something a bit better than seeing and then believing. It is believing without seeing. When our faith is faith without sight does not mean that it is faith without reason. It is faith that is shaped by reason but requires much more than just reason; it is a relationship.

What Jesus is saying here is this, “it is possible to move beyond reasonable doubt – without having to see with our own eyes or touch with our own hands.”

There are many reasons to believe in “He is Risen,” let me give you the top four.
1. “He is Risen” because Jesus predicted his death and resurrection (Mark 8:31).
2. “He is Risen” because The Tomb was Empty (Luke 24:3).
3. “He is Risen” was seen by over 500 witnesses (1 Corinthians 15:3-4)
4. “He is Risen” transformed the Disciples from cowards to courageous witness. (Acts 4:13)

You may continue to wrestle with the idea that Jesus rose from the dead. Could I suggest that you read a book called: A Case for Christ?

On my key ring there is only one key that fits the front door at my home and there is only one key that will open up the door to Heaven for you and me. That is a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. What does that personal relationship look like? See what Thomas says in verse 28, “Thomas said to him, ‘My Lord and my God!’” That defines the new relationship with Jesus. He is my Lord, the One who rules me, and my God, the One I worship.

You can listen to the complete message: A Reasonable Doubt: The Resurrection

Believing in the God of the Impossible

At Mustard Seed Christian Church, Sunday was a big day. With 89 people in the building that safely holds about 60, it was time to do something. The leaderaship team met today with hearts to dream about what could be and how to get into a space to grow. In a metro area with a population of 17 million people with less than 1% Christian something must to be done for all those who are facing a Christless eternity. Jay Greer, the lead pastor, laid out a plan. Step one: find a new larger temporary subway accessible location by February 28th. This would save the ministry a full month’s rent. The team dreamt of space that would allow the church to expand to over 1000 people but would be flexible enough to not feel like an empty cavern before it gets full. Sounds impossible? Not for a God who majors in the impossible.

With a lead on a facility closer to a major subway hub and pleanty of space to grow, Seth and Jay have found a great spot. There are options with this rental space that can be adapted for a growing congregation. Tomorrow a sound test will be done to make sure that the music would not disturb other renters. Please pray that the sound will not travel from one floor to the next. It is great to see God answer the prayers of a church who is on mission to reach lost people and grow disciples in the 10/40 window.

Worshipping the God Who Invites Risk Takers

My first evening in Japan, Seth and I ate at McDonald’s. It tasted pretty good after many meals of rice and vegetables. I experienced a train ride and subway ride as I connected with Seth. One I arrived at their small three story house, Megan and Asher greeted me. It was fun.

This morning we traveled to the church building where Mustard Seed Christian Church meet. We arrived with the team preparing the building for worship and fellowship. The staff swept, set up chairs, completed video, and cleaned off scuff marks off the wall. The space is small but appears to be maximized. A Japanese chef is preparing a healthy meal for those who will be staying afterwards.

The spirit of the place is that “we are on a mission with God.” The team is on this adventure together.

With patience the lead pastor, Jay Greer, enlists the help of his son, Rowen, with various was a gentle demonstration that we are in this as a family. The band practices under the leadership of Matt with his wife managing the artwork, sound, and pro-presenter.

Andy from the sister church started 5 years ago preached the message. He called those who are exploring Jesus to take the risk of following Jesus. We will never be able to enjoy the rewards of following Jesus without taking a risk.

Seth is an amazing young man who loves Jesus and so desperately wants the Japanese to come to a saving relationship with Jesus Christ and to see them grow up into Him. He gave his day to significant spiritual conversations. Megan also invested in connections with various people while keeping her eye and attention on 2 years old Asher and baby Pheobe.

88 people showed up today for the worship service. The building could hold only about 60 comfortably. Mustard Seed is looking for a new place to worship and do ministry. Please pray for God to supply a larger and affordable an accessible space.

Access to the Internet: So post

From 2015-02-16 Grateful for the Day

Some days are just hard to sum up. Today is such a day. It began easliy enough with breakfast with a couple of my coworkers. We laughed and shared our cold meal that we have gotten use to as if it has simply become our normal routine.

We went to Lisu Christan Church (as it says on the sign) where Tom Moen began teaching hitting it out of the park with teachings on integrity and passing the baton of leadership to the next generation. After lunch, I taught a lesson on preparing a preaching calendar. I was going along with my North American assumptions on preaching, laying out a year of preaching, and showing how I did it for 2014. I then asked if there were any comments or questions. Timothy, one of the wise experienced pastors, asked how many times do you preach in a week? I said, “I preach the same sermon twice.” Then he asked, “How does this work if you have to prepare 5 sermons each week?” That just blew me away. His people gather to worship God and learn from His Word Thursday night, Saturday night, Sunday Morning, Sunday at noon, and Sunday evening. I asked, “Are these the same people?” He said, “Yes.” Amazing!

After the classes were completed and things were rapping up, I was invited into a conversation about coming back to teach Community Health Evangelism and a Leadership Conferences up to twice a year. Is this just a good idea or a God idea? I don’t know but I am searching for God’s will.

Before dinner an elderly pastor of 88 years old, the man who preaches 5 different sermons a week, and the new young college president shared their passion for reaching southeast Asia for Christ. Earlier today day, Simon shared with me about what it would take to start more churches.

We finished off the day with dinner in a small Myanmar diner and topped it off with some ice cream.

Grateful for the day!