Thursday, June 23, 2011

One on One - Providential Relationships

This week we launched into our iFaith series, 6 messages on discipleship and the 6 common denominators to most Christ-centered stories. God personalizes His work in our lives. He brings people into our lives whom He can use to shape us, to knock off our sharp edges and mold us into His image.

Proverbs 27:17 "As iron sharpens iron so one man sharpens another."

   God has used many people to shape my heart and life. Sometimes it's through a momentary bump, other times it's people of the road - those that journey with us at certain periods of our lives - and others are people of the heart - those that journey with us no matter what road we are on ourselves.

   Mike Slaughter, Mark Rowland and John Larsen all had a profound impact on my early years of following Jesus. They remain friends of the road today. Sometimes I can't believe they were willing to invest time into my life. I was obnoxious (stop it those of you are are questioning "was"). I bugged them. I was always hovering nearby. It was probably more pride and wanting to be in the know but I pray it was immature desire to imitate faith. Either way I'm glad God used it to shape and grow me.

   I've started long journey's with others where I feel like we can pick up even if we've been apart for years: the Asbury Seminary mentors like Steve Harper who listened and gave incredibly wise insights for my life; Bob Mulholland who I got to know and respect through my wife working for him. He added wonderful depth to my life. Steve Seamands who taught me much in class but also in the raquetball court.  The late David Seamands who encouraged me and taught me so much. Lawson Stone who gave me a love for the Old Testament and sat with me for hours in total answering questions. Maxie Dunnam who came after I left Asbury but whom I met later was and is a great encourager in my life.

There are more. Many more who have played a role in my spiritual shape. I'm sitting in a room right now with friends of the road, colleagues whom God has used to shape me. I'm thankful for each and pray I'll pay attention to the ones He brings into my life.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Staying Power v Running Power

Before writing some words about the message, I can't say enough about the ministry with our 5th & 6th Graders. Yesterday we celebrated a "graduation" of the 6th Graders into Student Ministry. As they finished out the "Grapple" curriculum, 30 6th Graders made commitments to Jesus or re-commitments to remain followers of Jesus. Yesterday was a great snapshot of the vision of Cornerstone Church: Building Lives with Christ as the Cornerstone. Thanks Club 56 teaching team. You're the best!!

Going through the story of Joseph yesterday I touched on a principle that deserves a little more attention. It goes along with the principle of waiting. Joseph's story is filled with the principle and it comes with more rewards than the way we often approach difficult or unwanted circumstances in our lives. There is more in the scripture about staying power than about running power.

Scripture is clear that there is one thing we ought to run from - temptation. Joseph did that. The New Testament tells us to flee from two other things: the love of money (1 Timothy 6) & idolatry (1 Corinthians 10:14). Run from these things as hard and fast as you can.

The story of Joseph's life is one of staying power. It's the New Testament message of perseverance. Too often we try to get out of the unwelcome and unwanted circumstances of our lives and in doing so we short-circuit the growth God wants for our lives. Instead of seeking a way out - except from the dungeon - Joseph served others. It wasn't about him. It was about God. God blessed him as a slave, a prisoner nad as a ruler I think because Joseph chose to serve God, to stay, in unwanted and undesirable circumstances. More often than not we run instead of stay.

We switch teams & relationships. We trade one imperfect thing for another. There are times to make a switch - God calls us or abuse drives us out. But staying reaps greater rewards than running. For a long time I've watched people run from churches. They trade one imperfect church - pastor - people - for another. The thing about running is it's easier the next time. Pastors call them "church-hoppers" because we so often watch them go from place to place as things get tough or something happens they don't like.

Joseph served God in places he didn't choose and didn't want to be. He learned more about himself and about God that way. And God was able to shape and mold him in a way that running would not have provided. When we run we take ourselves with us.

Perhaps you've heard the story of Mr. & Mrs. Tony Campolo. They are both intelligent people who have a serious disagreement on a hot button topic - homosexuality. They are both able to read the original Greek of the New Testament but they come to different conclusions. Years ago I heard Tony say that of course they were staying together. It was the right thing to do. It was also an example to the Church. They choose to stay and allow God to work in their lives.

There have been plenty of times I've wanted to run from unwanted circumstances. Sometimes I stayed because I had no other choice. Sometimes I stayed by choice. Sometimes I ran. I never learned and grew more from running than I did from staying. It's uncomfortable to stay. It's hard to stay. Pride - selfishness - cheap grace - lax discipleship - unteachable heart. These and more are the fuel for running.

I've never known a strong marriage when there hadn't been a time to make a choice - stay or run. I've never known a strong Christian when there hadn't been the same choice. Joseph teaches us that even if life is full of injustice, unfairness and unwanted, unwelcome and unchosen circumstances God will use them if we'll focus on Him instead of on us. Joseph rose above his circumstances because his life was about serving God not himself.

I'm praying for Joseph's character to grow in me. That may mean there are some circumstances I'll need to stay in instead of run. But if God is the goal then it'll be worth it.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Jonah & Joseph

This week I thought a lot about Noah and his ark but have tried to live out Jonah and Joseph in my everyday life. Will did such a great job with Jonah last week - thanks, Will, for helping us take a giant leap forward in Student Ministry. You add value to our team and Church community.

Jonah and Joseph both ended up in places they didn't want to go to. Joseph was sold and forced. Jonah was reluctant and running eventually being hurled by what I believe would be projectile vomit, something every parent has experienced but imagine it from a BIG fish!!

God used them both but I'd much rather be known as a Joseph than a Jonah. Jonah was reluctant, a racist, prideful and full of anger. Yet God still used him. I'm thankful for that but may my life be less difficult for God to use.

Joseph had a spirit and perspective about him that eludes me - and most of us who seek to follow Christ. He complained. He didn't like his circumstances. He did everything he did with excellence, a heart aware that God was with him. It wasn't a promise. It was a fact. It wasn't a feeling. It was a reality, felt or not. When I wonder about my circumstances; when I am confused by false accusations and dungeons, it's Joseph that gives me hope and a goal. Can I trust God to use those things? Can I live out Romans 8:28 as Joseph did long before it was written?

This week I have been haunted by thoughts of people with whom I am no longer in relationship. I have been encouraged by my prayer partner as we pray through making sure those now distant voices don't drown out God's present voice. It's not about learning from mistakes. It's more about refusing to own what is not mine to own. I'm wondering why this week and what God is wanting to teach me and how it works in the tapestry He is weaving. That's not mine to own either - God has a plan and my job - our job - is to live into it with the information we have at the time not worrying about what we don't know yet.

So I'm praying to have the heart of Joseph, wondering if I have more of Jonah than I'd like. We're talking about Joseph this week @ Cornerstone as we finish out "It's Not Over." He sought to live faithfully to God and his Egyptian Master while enduring circumstances he didn't like. It's the teenager who doesn't like his teacher. It's the spouse who doesn't like his or her partner. It's the child who doesn't like the home he or she lives in. It's the pastor who doesn't like his or her people (not self-reflective by the way - I love Cornerstone). It's the parishoner who doesn't like his or her pastor. The list could go on as you can see. What I see more often than not in Scripture is a God concerned with how we live in the midst of unwelcome, unwanted circumstances rather than running away from them. It's the application of a principle someone once taught me - God is more concerned about our character than our comfort. He is more concerned that we encourage rather than tear down. He is more concerned with that our words lift up instead of spread gossip, that our heart reflects His heart rather than anger and retribution.

Jonah and Joseph. Not a lot in common except the most important thing - God used them both to accomplish His purpose. I wonder what threads God will use today to weave my tapestry for His Kingdom?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

What If I Had One Day to Live

Last Sunday night our small group gathered at our house for a cookout. One of the times I came inside from the grill, the house was silent, no one was in sight. I heard and saw no one. The first thought that occurred was, "O my, I missed it!" Thankfully they were in the garage looking at some furniture purchases which are being stripped and refinished for our girl's apartments next year.

Harold Camping is predicting the end of the world on May 21st in a cataclysmic earthquake at 6 p.m. (not sure if it's Eastern, Central, Mountain or Pacific). So that got me to thinking, what if I had only one day left to live? What would I do differently? How would I live my life in those final 24 hours?

First let me say that Mr. Camping is probably very wrong. He was wrong in 1994 too. No one knows the time or the hour God clearly states (Mark 13:32). To try to figure it out would be an exercise in futility, especially for someone who can't read the New Testament in the original Greek.

But what if I knew - what if you knew - and there were 24 hours left? Would my priorities change? If I knew the whole world were ending, that would be a different question. I'm saying it's just me.
   I'm pretty certain I wouldn't be trying to figure out when it's not going to rain in Ohio and therefore I can cut the grass. I wouldn't be concerned with laundry, changing the oil in a car, fixing two chipped windshields, and a plethora of other daily details.

Friday I have the following plans: teaching my daughter how to drive a 5-speed Toyota which we will drive from Columbus to West Chester and she will return by herself to Columbus and officiating at a swim meet with my son. I love that I will get to spend time with my family. I wouldn't change that.

I will get up tomorrow, fix my son's lunch, driver him to school and be off to Columbus. I will spend time in the car praying and thinking, listening to the Word on CD, perhaps making a few calls.

So maybe if I knew it was my last day I wouldn't be teaching a child to drive but then again it's a way to make sure she is safe when I am gone. So I'm not sure I would change that.

I think I would pray for my family more diligently and passionately if I knew I was in my last 24 hours. I would pray for their safety and growth in their faith. I would probably make a video as a legacy.

What would you change? How would your life be different? Let's live life so that if we really knew it was our last 24, we wouldn't change a thing.

Friday, May 13, 2011

The Worst News is Never the Last News with Jesus

Mother's Day and sunshine. What more could you ask for?

Mother's Day is one of the more difficult days for me as a Pastor. I know the stories. I see the faces, present and absent. There is great joy - lunch out somewhere - phone calls - flowers. There is sadness - at loss - at infertility - at disappointment. It's a difficult world to navigate, but God's Word is full of all these emotions and circumstances.

Hannah and Sarah come quickly to mind. Long struggles to wait for God's intervention. But we just know about the joys in those cases. In Hebrews 11 can be read the struggles and heartache and difficulties that ended in death for many. Their hope was in what they had not yet seen. This earth gave them nothing in which to rejoice.


I'm back - it's Friday. I struggled both with time and thoughts for this week until today as my thoughts turned to my dad who died 3 1/2 years ago. His oldest brother died last night in FL and so for me, my mom, my sister and our families, it's brought back some memories and a flood of feelings. Faith means we hold on that the worst news won't be the last news when God is involved. Death is one of those things that will expose what we really believe.

And I've thought about family. Family can sure cause heartache and joy, laughter and pain. We've all known it or will because no family is perfect and God uses every family to teach and shape us. Dysfunction infects us all. Children go astray. Relationships are strained. Miscommunication surrounds us. The Enemy seeks to tear us apart every chance he gets. Hang on.

I'm thinking about one of my heroes in the faith - Alan. I shared about him a few weeks ago. Alan and his family have had their share of hurdles and speed bumps, mountain tops and celebrations. What I have admired up close as a colleague is the way he allows each circumstance to be a chance to learn and grow in faith. He doesn't like everything that life has brought his way. He doesn't look forward to it all. He does focus on Jesus and what he can learn while he's passing through. He lives before my eyes that the worst thing isn't the last thing with Jesus. Thanks, Alan, for being one of the bright lights on my road of faith.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Reflections on Sunday - morning and evening

How many thoughts can one person have about an issue? Apparently more than I can count. The events of Sunday evening in Pakistan have caused many in our nation and around the world to speak, reflect, rejoice, condemn, criticize, politicize and more. I've been reading and thinking and praying and talking with others about if and how Cornerstone Church should or could say something. The excellent staff here helped me clarify that today through some good wrestling with issues and approaches. I thank God for their presence and impact in my life.

I decided to use this blog instead of a Sunday message but we will say a few words this weekend as well.

The question that I believe is most relevant to us is this: what does a Biblical worldview tell me about my thoughts and response to the death of Bin Laden? What is the Christian worldview of the death of a terrorist?

I've read posts and tweets and blogs and commentaries that have taken every viewpoint imaginable. Some look at these events through the lenses of politics. Some are wearing emotional lenses. Others see through Biblical lenses that take up one verse or another while ignoring the whole. Some have chosen to look through both lenses, using the whole counsel of God in His Word.

My purpose here isn't to tell anyone what is THE right worldview or even the right Bibilical worldview. I do want to challenge us to have a Biblical worldview, to look at the circumstances of our lives and our world through the lens of Scripture and not from our personal preferences or political leanings. Scripture is not one verse. It's Genesis to Revelation.

With a Biblical worldview I'm reminded of the core issue - Jesus versus sin. It's not a battle fought with military weapons but with spiritual ones. The best SEAL team in the world can't win this battle. Our world is fallen and no military action can cure that.

A Biblical worldview makes me ask if my heart is in agreement with God's heart. There are instances of wiping out enemies as well instruction to pray for enemies. God's heart is grieved about 9/11 and every death that has occurred since - the obscure tribal native in the jungles of South America to the most recent casualty in Afghanistan or Syria or the streets of Cincinnati. The only time I see God rejoicing in Scripture is when a sinner turns to Christ. He throws lavish parties for the undeserving because their hearts have turned to Him.

A Biblical worldview reminds me that God is not a citizen of the United States. We don't have a status like that of Israel in their covenant with God in the Old Testament (way too little space to flesh that out and not the main point anyway). Therefore I can't look through the lens of nationalism. 

A Biblical worldview causes me to ask personal questions as I interpret world events: Where am I pursuing the Light of Christ, to make Him known? Where do I need to resist evil and temptation in my own life? What does my response say to others about the Lord I serve?

My heart is thankful for well-trained SEALS who protect and fight for my freedoms. I'm grateful that I live in a nation like ours where freedom is valued. I'm thankful that a source of evil has been silenced even while I'm not jumping with joy that a human being is dead most likely without Christ. I'm grieved that we may look no different than those who would burn American flags and cheer at the death of thousands.

In the end it's a question of my heart and what my actions say about my Lord. I want to reflect His heart to the world and I have to start at home, in my community, in my nation and in my world.

So Church, wrestle with your worldview. Is it Biblical? Is it Christ-centered? 

Monday, April 25, 2011

Easter Monday

Yesterday we read from Ephesians 1:

"I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength 20 he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead..."

It's not over. We talked about it on Sunday but what does it mean for my Monday? God's Easter, resurrection power is available every day this week. But....Monday means back to work, school, garbage, dirty diapers, rain and more rain and yard work. I've personally got two cars that need some attention while trying to fulfill requests of my better half to run to Florence to pick up a cheap dresser, Milford for a bedframe and John and I are heading to Columbus for a swim meet on Saturday. O yea, and Sunday's coming again! There are decisions to be made at Cornerstone, meetings to attend, a message to write, time in the Word, time listening to God's voice, time to sit, time to spend with family.

The power I need isn't to get everything done more quickly. I need discernment and wisdom and grace and the power to say, "No" when I'm trying to do too much.

I asked the question yesterday: "Is anything to hard for God?" Of course we know the answer but sometimes we try to apply it in ways that simply won't work. We can't fill up our week with activity, effectively pushing God out, and hope that God's power will miraculously be available. The power God makes available in us is the power to become more like Jesus.

His power reminds me that it's not over when - I don't know what to do - my life is infiltrated by disaster because of the decisions of others - I'm anxious about a test - my body won't stop aching and nobody can tell me why - I'm dealing with dysfunctional extended family - I fail and when I sin.

I believe I can schedule God out of my life and that Easter power simply can't work its miracles. Putting myself in a position for that power to work becomes my goal. What will you do to make yourself available to God's work in your life?