Monthly Archives: November 2013

What’s in a Name? (or A Matter of Murder)

Baby-Name-Photo-Well, here we are once again… 

Faced with yet another passage (if you can believe it) too often ripped out of its context, twisted into a pretzel, and made to say something other than what Jesus intended it to say.

There is an issue addressed in this passage, and in this PODCAST — a monumentally important issue — so important that we must understand what this passage means.

The fact of the matter is that this issue — what this passage DOES actually mean — is so absolutely important that Jesus said something here in this passage that He never said anywhere else. 

Jesus actually said that we must even stop worshipping God and first fix this issue — whatever this issue is (I’ll tell you in a moment) — before we can resume our worship.

So this issue, addressed in this passage, must indeed be a vitally important issue, yes? Yes!

Please remember that depending upon your web browser and connection speed, it might take up to 60 seconds for this podcast to begin to play.

God bless YOU as you listen!

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The Safe Haven: A Place to Come Home

safehavenI had an epiphany last week. Though I must admit the circumstances are kind of embarrassing.

Embarrassing only because my brilliant burst of insight came as I was speaking at The Safe Haven. (Kind of like when years ago I asked my senior pastor why he was listening to a tape of one of his own messages. To which he replied, “I’m getting blessed.”)

Well, believe it or not, as I was in the midst of listening to myself even as I was giving the message, I got blessed. I received an epiphany.

We were explaining exactly what Jesus meant when He said in the Sermon on the Mount, 

But I warn you—unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven! (Matthew 5:20 NLT)

Strong words that demand an explanation. (In case you’re curious, you can listen to the entire explanation by clicking on this PODCAST LINK.)

Naturally, Jesus presupposed that His listeners knew all too well what He meant by “the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees,” while we might not.

So, as I love to do (as you well-know if you ever listen to the podcast), I let Jesus explain His own reference in His own words. Turns out, He told a trilogy of stories in order to leave absolutely no ambiguity about who and what these “teachers of religious law and the Pharisees” were and are. (Cuz truth be told, Pharisees are not limited to the Jewish tradition of Jesus’ day; we have plenty of modern-day Pharisees haunting the hallowed halls of our churches in our day. But I digress.)

The third of this trio of stories that Jesus told — directed squarely at the Pharisees each — is the most familiar of the three. We typically refer to this story — inaccurately so — as the Parable of the Prodigal Son. But it’s not a story about the prodigal son at all. Oh sure, the prodigal son (the younger son, the one who represents so many of us in this tale of two sons) is featured quite prominently in the story. But the younger son is not the focus of the portrait that Jesus so eloquently paints. The younger son is the frame of the portrait; the focus of the portrait is the older son — the son who represents the “teachers of religious law and the Pharisees.” I know this because if you read the opening verses of Luke 15, wherein this story appears, you see quite clearly that Jesus told these stories to the Pharisees about the Pharisees.

Long story short, the younger son squanders his still-living father’s estate as he defiantly descends into the netherworld of lascivious living, heaping scorn and sorrow upon his family in the process.

The dad in the story never gives up on his son, even as it seems the son has forsaken his family forever. Dad’s out on the front porch, scanning the horizon in the hopes that one day, maybe, perhaps, his son will come home.

And come home he does.

Broken, repentant, sorrowful — his son just wants to come home.

homeAnd dad (the God-like-figure in the story) welcomes him home with open arms, a bear hug, a lavish display of gifts, and nary a word of rebuke. He pulls out all the stops and commences to throw his now-returned son one wingding of a party.

Which is where the rendering of this story usually stops, #MissingTheWholePoint!

Dad’s acceptance of the younger son causes the older son — the Pharisee-like-figure in the story, as in the people to whom Jesus told this story — to blow a gasket. He judges the younger son. He condemns the younger son. He compares his righteousness — his self-righteousness — to the younger son’s sinfulness. 

And that’s the point of the story.

And that’s the same point Jesus made in the Sermon on the Mount.

The “righteousness of the Pharisees and teachers of religious law” was a self-righteousness, a self-righteousness that Jesus abhors.

You see, fact of the matter is, repentant people just want to come home. God will ALWAYS welcome them home. 

You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God (Psalm 51:17 NLT).

But many so-called “Christians” will.

Which goes to the heart of the story, and the heart of the Sermon on the Mount.

While self-righteous, Pharisee-like, judgmental church-goers live to wag an accusing finger at and spout out verses to those of us who are acutely aware of our imperfections, thereby making us feel so worthless, so beaten down, so spiritually exasperated, so religiously-wounded, so unaccepted and unacceptable…

…God constantly scans the horizon ALWAYS at the ready to give us the warm and sustained embrace of His acceptance, and a heartfelt “Welcome home,” to each of us who just want to come home.

You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God (Psalm 51:17 NLT).

Which leads me to my epiphany: That’s exactly why we started The Safe Haven. 

The Safe Haven is an older-son, Pharisee-free zone where anyone can come at any time. People just like us who are acutely aware of our imperfections, who are broken and repentant, who just want to come home. Home to God. Home to His loving embrace. Home to His never-condemning, always-welcoming, unconditional acceptance. 

A place where people can come home no matter how distant they have traveled, how far they have fallen, or how epically they think they have failed. A family of the flawed. A place where anybody can come home anytime, from anywhere — NO QUESTIONS ASKED!

People ask me weekly, what is this Safe Haven thing you’ve started. And now, thanks to my mid-sermon epiphany, I finally know how to answer them.

The Safe Haven: A Place to Come Home.

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On the Outside Looking In

dogEver feel like you are on the outside, looking in? You don’t need to.

I am SO excited about this PODCAST. Excited because so much is about to become so clear as we look at this together.

If you took the entire Sermon on the Mount, and boiled it all down to one singular soundbite, the over-arching theme, its one takeaway…

It would be Matthew 5:20, “But I warn you—unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven!”

OK. But… What in the world did Jesus mean by that?

We are about to find out. 

And I promise you this. When we do find out, we will be so incredibly encouraged.

Please note that depending upon your web browser, it may take up to 60 seconds for the podcast to begin to play.

HAPPY LISTENING!!!

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How Can I Know God’s Will for My Life?

Time to tackle yet another question from camp. And this one just happens to be one of my all-time favorites. 

This student phrased the question as follows:

How do I know if God is “calling” me to do something? How do I know if it’s just what I want to do?

I can’t wait to get into this. For two reasons:

1. Because the question reveals a heart of obedience, someone who genuinely wants to please God with his or her life.

2. Because the answer to this question is so practical.

To rephrase the question, what this person is asking is this: 

How can I know God’s will for my life?

Do you know how many books and pamphlets have been written in an attempt to answer this very common question? Neither do I. I can’t count that high.

You’ll read everything from “God just tells me what He wants me to do,” to complicated formulas where means, motive, and opportunity must all be in their proper alignment before God’s will can be known.

roadsignwillThe more cynical among us might be tempted to conclude that God is playing some sort of hide-and-seek game with us, as if God’s will is buried treasure, the Bible is our map, and we must discover the clues or solve the riddles in order to unearth God’s will.

I, for one, do not for a second believe that God is a cosmic tease, someone who gets some perverse pleasure out of watching His children stumble around in the dark, searching for His will.

God would not encourage each of us…

…to know God’s will for you (Romans 12:2 NLT)…

…unless He wanted us to know it!

Oh, and by the way, while we’re talking about this, let’s once and for all time put away this faulty notion that God’s will for your life must be the opposite of everything you want out of life. Or worse, God’s will might just be the most horrible thing in the world that you can imagine. As if God’s will is something to be feared.

Just because someone hates heat, doesn’t particularly like to get soaking wet, and screams at the sight of spiders does not mean that God has called him or her to sweat in a mud hut in the middle of some deep, dark rain forest living on a nasty diet of beetle-grubs.

How do I know this? Because in that same blessed verse (Romans 12:2), God Himself describes His will for your life as…

…good and pleasing and perfect.

Hear this:

God’s will for your life is “good and pleasing and perfect.”

Now repeat after me: 

God’s will for my life is “good and pleasing and perfect.”

OK, so back to the question at hand, 

How do I know if God is “calling” me to do something? How do I know if it’s just what I want to do?

God answers that question in just sixteen words, Psalm 37:4 (NLT).

Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you your heart’s desires.

Or to put it another way, If you make God the delight of your heart, His will for your life is to follow your heart.

Follow your heart. Yes, it is that simple.

What does it mean to delight yourself in the Lord, or to make Him the delight of your heart? It simply means to do those things that you know will please Him, and refrain from doing those things that you know will displease Him.

This is not complicated. I’ll give you a few examples, and you tell me if these things please or displease God.

Tell a lie. (Displeases God)

Tell the truth. (Pleases God)

Gossip about someone (Displeases God)

Speak favorably about others (Pleases God)

Do your best at school, at work, or in your home (Pleases God)

Cheat at school, at work, or in your home (Displeases God)

Fill your mind with pure pictures, lyrics, etc. (Pleases God)

Fill your mind with filth (Displeases God)

Harm someone (Displeases God)

Help someone (Pleases God)

This is NOT complicated.

So His promise is this… Make God the delight of your heart (by doing those things that you know please Him), and then follow your heart. 

Why does this work? Because as you make God the delight of your heart, His heart will become your heart, His heart’s desires will become your heart’s desires, His will will become your will.

It really will!

One last thought… This does not necessarily mean that when you follow your heart, God will reveal His entire plan for your entire life, all at once. Let me share with you one more equally precious verse, 

Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path (Psalm 119:105 NLT).

Not to get too technical here. But the lamp to which the verse refers is a handheld oil lamp, which were as common in biblical times as light bulbs are to us today.

But here’s the thing: An oil lamp gives off exactly the right amount of light to allow you and me to take one more step.

Did you get that? #OneMoreStep.

Take that step, and voilà! The lamp will give you exactly the right amount of light to take one more step. The next step.

Step-by-step is how this Christian walk is meant to be lived. Step-by-step, one step at a time.

So here it is: Make God your heart’s delight by doing those things that you know please Him. Follow your heart’s desire in order to follow God’s will. And take the first step to fulfilling your heart’s desire. Just one step. Take that step, and sooner rather than later God will give you just enough light to take the next step, and the step after that.

Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you your heart’s desires.

Happy walking, my friends. And be sure to enjoy the journey!

(Any thoughts? Just click on the title, scroll down to the bottom, and leave a reply. I’d LOVE to read it.)

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A Matter of Interpretation

This is going to be fun, and oh-so-instructive.

This is the kind of a lesson I LOVE to teach.

Did you realize that in Matthew 5:18, Jesus made one of the single most dramatic, declarative statements He would ever make?

In one sweeping sentence that we explained at length last week, Jesus affirmed the Bible — every book, chapter, verse, word, letter — as absolute truth.

bible-light-raysThrough the process of Revelation, whereby God revealed Truth to His writers, and the process of Inspiration, whereby God guided His writers to write down that Truth w/o error, we now hold in our hands a precious book that 2 Timothy 3:16 (CEV) rightly calls “God’s Word.”

Revelation. Inspiration. In this PODCAST, we consider together a matter of Interpretation. How to understand the Bible… properly.

#WhatDoesItMean??? 

Because the sad fact is this: By stringing a few unrelated verses together, people can literally make the Bible say anything they want it to say. Anything! And they do.

We.Do.Not. We have far too much respect for the Bible to play fast and loose with its divinely inspired text.

Please note that depending upon your web browser, it might take up to 60 seconds for the podcast to begin to play.

HAPPY LISTENING!

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An Inconvenient Truth for Every Church Member/Attender to Consider!

broken-churchYesterday I posted this rather brief, yet complementary (to Rick Warren) and self-disclosing (since my highlighting this one quote out of an entire sermon did not come out of a vacuum) statement on my Facebook Timeline:

Rick Warren rocked it today @R13 conference. “The average Pastor leaves because of 7 people.” Woe to those who run out their pastors.

The response in terms of both “Likes” and “Shares” and comments took me completely by surprise.

Sadly, Warren’s observation resonated with a whole lot of people.

So with that in mind, allow me, ever-so-briefly, to pull back the curtain and let rank-and-file church members in on a dirty little secret — an inconvenient truth that not too many worship service attendees know, but one that every pastor without exception fully and completely and sadly understands.

At first blush, one might be tempted to think, “7 people? How can only 7 people (on average) commandeer an entire congregation?” 

Well, before I answer that, let me assure you that Warren’s observation is spot-on. I’ve been devastated by two churches, both times because of the influence of — yes, it’s true — only 7 people.

Add to that the fact that within the last few weeks, I spoke to a now-former pastor of a mega-church who was kicked to the curb by the negative influence of — Are you ready? — a grand total of only 3 families. Do the math. We’re talking 6 adults out of a congregation of some three thousand, who effectively and systematically spread such malicious gossip about my friend to the masses that he could no longer minister effectively in that church.

How does it happen? you ask.

Here’s how. The inconvenient truth:

Those who oppose their pastors may be small in number, but they are free to spread their discontent about the leadership to anyone and everyone who is willing to listen.

Not only that, but they are free to name names. They are free to level any accusation that they want with impunity. They are free to spread outright lies. They can twist the truth and shade it to their advantage. Or they can tell the truth out of context, creating out of the truth a totally false reality. It doesn’t matter which tactic they employ. The results are the same. The damage caused is far-too-often irrevocable.

Now, here’s where we pastors are sitting ducks, defenselessly so. 

We refuse to lower ourselves to that level. We strive to stay above the fray. We do not name names. We do not traffic in malicious gossip. We take the high-road.

Simply put, they are free to say anything that they want to about us, while we refuse to return evil for evil, and therefore we say nothing. We can’t. We don’t. We won’t.

We refuse to discredit our critics, even as they work overtime to discredit us. We do not respond to gossip with gossip. We do not engage in a he-said, he-said defense of ourselves. We do not tell our side of the story. We can’t. We don’t. We won’t.

We do none of that because 1. It would be sin to do so; and 2. It wouldn’t do any good anyway because such self-defensive measures only intensify the conflict, leading to endless meetings producing conflicting/contradictory/confusing information. Congregational food-fights never lead to any positive or productive outcomes. And frankly, to engage in such worldly tactics is beneath the office of Pastor.

We can’t. We don’t. We won’t.

Look, not to put a personal spin on this by making this all about me, but only so that you know that I know where so many pastors are coming from. Much to my everlasting sorrow, there are people in my community (perhaps even some who will read this blog) who believe that I am fundamentally evil. They turn away from me when they see me coming down the aisle in WalMart. They warn other Christ-followers about me. In some cases, bad reports about me have been spread by individuals who have never even met me!

Why do you think that Jesus said,

A prophet is not without honor except in his own town…

Jesus knew something about being on the receiving end of malicious gossip. And He, in response, said nothing.

Neither do we.

God is our defense. And I’m OK with that. God takes care of His own. And that’s fine by me. He has, and He will.

But the devastation caused to the innocent bystanders — in churches of dozens, hundreds, or even thousands — is incalculable. Not to mention the damage to countless pastors, many of whom have left the ministry. This because the viciousness of a few (an average of only 7) cost them far too much in terms of their families and/or their health. Men and women who just wanted to serve God and love their people.

Yes, as I posted yesterday on Facebook, so say I now…

Woe to those who run out their pastors.

So what’s the answer? 

First: STOP LISTENING. Gossip is gossip, whether you are on the telling end, or the hearing end. Both the gossiper and gossipee is equally guilty before God for all of the damage done by the gossip.

The next time someone approaches you with a complaint about a pastor, humbly, graciously, lovingly, but firmly tell them to SHUT THE HECK UP!!! And then calmly walk away.

HAVE NOTHING TO DO with those who traffic in malicious gossip. Is that too strong for you? Then ponder this niggling little point: If they gossip about the pastor, what makes you think they won’t one day gossip about you???

I mean, look… Silly me… I thought church was about worshipping God. When did it become about finding fault with one another? Finding fault with our pastors?

How can we keep our eyes focused on God when we are looking for the faults in others? How can we keep our ears attuned to God’s Word when we give an ear to other peoples’ gossiping words? Especially about the pastor, the one tasked with teaching us God’s Word?

This is not complicated, my friends.

Second: PRAY FOR YOUR PASTORS. We’re just human. No one of us ever claims perfection. (If we did, you should run for the hills!)

Please. I beg you. Let us be imperfect. Let us lead from weakness.

Let us in our brokenness help to heal your brokenness. And when we do need breaking, trust me when I say that God is perfectly capable of breaking us without others lending Him a helping hand.

You know, it wasn’t long after I was thrown under the proverbial church bus that I stumbled into a friend’s church on a Sunday morning, and literally broke down and wept. Know why? Because the pastor of that church said this to his congregation:

You just love me, and are thankful I’m here.

I sobbed because that’s all I (or any pastor) has ever wanted. Just to be loved, and for the people to be thankful that we are here.

I really don’t think that’s setting the bar very high. Do you?

Finally: If you just can’t bring yourself to support your pastor, QUIETLY walk away. Don’t pitch a fit. Don’t raise a ruckus. Don’t devastate a church by sowing seeds of division within the church. If asked, just simply and quietly tell your friends that you are being led to worship elsewhere, period. Nothing else needs to be said.

Want to hear a lie? I mean a devilish lie. Straight from the pit of Hell itself. A lie that goes like this…

Pastors come and go, but this is my church.

Ummm, excuse me. Your church? I thought it was Jesus’ church. If it is Jesus’ church, it’s His call, and only His call, as to if or when He removes a pastor. Not yours! And certainly not the self-appointed seven.

So let Jesus be the head of His church. And if you are uncomfortable with the way Jesus is leading His church, QUIETLY find another one.

“Wow,” you might now be thinking. “You sound so angry.” To which I say, “I don’t sound angry. I am angry.” 

I am angry about all of the many pastors who once filled pulpits who are now sitting on the sidelines, this because of an average of only 7 sinning people in those churches.

I am angry about all of the “innocent” people who once went to church and loved it. But today, they will not darken the door of a church because of all of the in-fighting caused by an average of only 7 ungodly people within those churches.

I am angry about the many hurting people in our communities who will never turn to the churches in their communities for their longed-for answers. But why would they? Not when we can’t even keep our church-houses in order. All because of an average of only 7 self-focused people inside of those churches.

Listen. Don’t you worry about me being angry. Worry far more about God being angry. Because He is.

So, yeah. My Facebook post — or more accurately, Rick Warren’s astute observation — sure did resonate with a lot of people.

I am just oh-so-thankful for God’s gift of grace in my life, a humble little fellowship of loving, affirming, committed Christ-followers called The Safe Haven. A redemptive community where they just love me and are thankful that I’m here.

I pray that every pastor is as blessed as me.

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Our Firm Foundation

foundationThe scene could not have been more chaotic. Crowds clamoring for Jesus’ blood. The blood-thirsty mobs hurling their false accusations at Jesus as they tried to convince the Romans that this man needed to die. The Roman soldiers salivating at the prospect of torturing yet another helpless victim.

And through it all, once the mayhem ended, once the maelstrom calmed down, the echoes of one question continued to reverberate against the city’s walls and over her cobblestone streets. You can read this singularly significant question in John’s account of Jesus’ execution.

Pilate, the Roman governor who held Jesus’ fate in his blood-stained hands, looked Jesus right in the eye and inquired of Him a three-word question that, in a haunting sort of way, continues to resound in our day.

Jesus had just said to Pilate, “What I say is true.” Pilate then sneered and cynically asked Jesus, “What is truth?”

In this PODCAST, we will discover the answer together.

And that answer IS the FIRM foundation of our faith!

Please note that depending upon your web browser, it may take up to 60 seconds for the podcast to begin to play.

May God richly bless you as you listen.

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