Archive for the 'Devotional' Category

Honoring My Dad on Father’s Day

With today being Father’s Day I can’t help but take a moment and express how grateful I am to my Heavenly Father for giving me such a godly man as an earthly father. I haven’t written much about my Dad here on the blog, but I do want to take a few minutes to honor him here publicly because so much of who I am is a direct result of the investment that he has made in my life.

My Dad is a really simple guy, he gets up in the morning, goes to work, takes care of his family, serves as a shepherd at his church and that’s about it. He does love playing with new gadgets (that’s probably where I get it from :-)), right now he’s having a great time with his iPad 2! When I think of my Dad I can’t help but think of 1 Thessalonians 4:10b-11, “But we urge you, brothers, to do this [love one another] more and more, and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders…” My Dad lives a very quiet life and yet this quiet life has been one of the most profound influences on the entirety of my life, if for no other reason than the fact that my Dad has always been there:

  • My Dad was there when I was born, he was the first person to give me a bath.
  • My Dad was there when I got saved.
  • My Dad was the man who baptized me, when I was in High School.
  • My Dad was there for all my graduations.
  • My Dad was there when I needed to talk to someone about asking Amy to marry me.
  • My Dad was the man who married Amy and I.
  • My Dad was there when my first son was born.
  • My Dad was one of the first people I called when I was in a world of trouble in ministry.
  • My Dad was there when I was ordained by Emmanuel Baptist Church, he actually preached the ordination service for me (which you can watch below).
  • My Dad was there when I became the Senior Pastor of my beloved Church here in Cool, CA.

At every major event in my life, my Dad has been there. He is my biggest fan and one of my best friends.

It’s not too much to say that my life and ministry would simply not have been possible if it weren’t for my Dad being there, because by his presence in my life he’s set an example for me of what my Heavenly Father is like who not only cares about all of the great things in the cosmos, but who cares about every detail of His children’s lives.

My prayer this Father’s Day is that I could be the same kind of Dad to my kids, that my Dad has been to me. I love you Dad.

June 19 2011 | Devotional | 1 Comment »

Complaints & Concerns

One of the things that pastors are constantly wrestling with is the problem of complaining. Complaining in our own hearts and complaining in the hearts of the people that we love and care for. I can think of far too many times in my own ministry where my heart has complained about an individual who was standing in opposition to me, or a situation that I didn’t care for, or a responsibility that I didn’t want. I can also recall a number of different times where individuals in the church have come to me with complaints about everything from where the church vans were parked, to what kind of pulpit I was using. While complaining is obviously sinful and is always wrong, it’s important to recognize that there are times when we need people in our lives to come alongside of us and gently correct us. So, how do you know if your complaining or just trying to be helpful? I think the key distinction lies in understanding the difference between a complain and a concern.

When I complain about someone I am holding them up to my standards and letting them know that they have fallen short of what I expect of them. When I am concerned about someone I am not thinking about my standards that have been violated, but of God’s standards that are clearly revealed in Scripture. When you begin to discern who’s standards you are holding the other person to, you’ll be able to judge whether what you have to say is a complaint or a legitimate concern.

June 06 2011 | Devotional | 1 Comment »

Unexpected Joy in All Circumstances

In chapter four Paul wraps up this marvelous letter with a personal testimony to his own joy.

10 I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. 11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

The testimony of Paul’s life was that in whatever circumstances he found himself, he was content because his joy was found in Christ where it could not be shaken. The secret of Paul’s contentment was that it was found in Christ and therefore he could rejoice in being brought low, or abounding, in plenty, in hunger, in abundance, and in need. His joy was not tied to this world, but rather it was rooted in His relationship with Christ.

What about your joy and what about mine? To the degree that you find yourself bothered, anxious, worried, or distracted by the circumstances of life (whether they be financial, family, or work related), to that degree your joy has been placed somewhere other than in Christ. The only way to increase your joy in Christ is to pursue Him as your greatest treasure, which means that you spend your time, you spend your money, you invest your life into knowing Christ and pursuing the joy that is found in Him.

May 27 2011 | Devotional | 2 Comments »

Unexpected Joy in Tremendous Loss

Philippians chapter 3 is in large part the account of Paul’s personal repentance from his life as a Pharisee.

7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

What Paul understood was that the height of your joy is directly proportionate to the depth of your sorrow and repentance over your sin. You cannot know true joy, until you know true grief and sorrow over sin, because you cannot appreciate salvation unless you truly apprehend what Christ has saved you from.

May 26 2011 | Devotional | Comments Off on Unexpected Joy in Tremendous Loss

Unexpected Joy in Humble Service

footwashingPhilippians 2 is one of the richest theological passages in all of the Bible. Nowhere does the Bible go into such explicit detail about the nature of Christ’s incarnation as Philippians 2, especially in verses 1-8.

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Verses 5-8 are known as the Kenosis passage. The word kenosis means “emptying”. It refers to the fact that while Jesus lived here on the earth, he emptied himself of his divine attributes in order to serve us. Now, Jesus did not cease to be God while he walked among us. Nor did he relinquish his rights as God. But rather, he set aside the use of those attributes so that he could live the same life that you and I live.

This is so important for us to understand. Because Christ emptied himself of the use of his divine attributes, he lived the exact same life that you and I have to live and in that he is our great example. Jesus was/is omniscient, yet when the woman with the flow of blood was healed by touching him, he did not know who she was (Mark 5:24-34). Jesus was/is omnipresent, yet he was only ever in one place at a time. Jesus was/is omnipotent, yet on the cross he had to ask for a drink so that he could speak (John 19:28). The point is that Jesus lived the exact same life that you and I live, completely dependent upon the Holy Spirit for everything and that life was the life of a servant.

We live in a culture that passionately pursues service. We want to be served in so many different ways. We want to be served at the church we attend, so we find churches that meet our “needs” rather than churches where we can meet needs. Sometimes we outsource our need for service to various gadgets, devices, etc. that are supposed to make our lives easier even if they steal our attention away from our families, friends, etc. We want children who will serve us, by not needing to be parented. We want spouses that will serve us by having dinner ready on time, being available for intimacy on demand, and hopefully not talking while the game is on. We even want the government to serve us by giving us money that we did not earn, and rights that take away from other people’s freedom. Into our self-absorbed, self-focused, selfish society Jesus comes and say that if you want to find real joy, you will only ever find it by serving. Let me say it like this, if you are not actively serving right now than you are actively sinning and the tragedy of your situation is not that the church is impoverished by your lack of service, but that you are impoverished by your lack of joy.

May 25 2011 | Devotional | Comments Off on Unexpected Joy in Humble Service

Unexpected Joy in Great Suffering

If there is a sub-theme for the book of Philippians it would certainly be the theme of suffering. Paul introduces this theme early on the book in chapter one:

1:12 – “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel.” (What had happened to Paul was that he had been beaten countless times and was now awaiting a trial that would determine whether he lived or died.)

1:20b – “…Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”

1:29 – “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, engaged in the same conflict that you said I had now hear that I still have.”

The theme of suffering runs throughout this entire book, but especially through the first chapter. Right here at the very beginning we are confronted with the difficulty of this book. How can Paul possibly say that “to live is Christ and to die is gain”? The last time I checked, dying was something we usually try to avoid. Or, how can Paul say that “it has been granted to you for the sake of Christ to suffer”? These statements should smash into our sensibilities. They are unexpected at best!

The only way that these things can make sense is if, in spite of the loss, we have a treasure that is so far surpassingly more valuable than even our life or even our suffering that no matter what happens to us in life, we can call it GAIN! That far surpassing treasure is Jesus Christ. John Piper has said, “What makes God look good is when we can suffer the loss of all things and still call it gain b/c Christ is so precious to us!”

The foundation for this radical way of living is the gospel.

Philippians 1:27 – “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel.”

In other words, Paul is saying that the gospel of Jesus Christ is of such far surpassing value and worth that even in the midst of terrible suffering, there is no comparison to the treasure that is mine in the gospel. Peter reminds us of that in 1 Peter 1:18-19 – “knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.”

The gospel was the lens through which Paul could look at terrible loss and suffering and say that it is GAIN! Because in the gospel we learn how bad off we really are (everyone of us justly deserves eternal torment in hell), but we also learn what Christ has done for us on the cross.

The issue that is always before you in the midst of suffering is, where is your treasure? You can try to store up your treasures in your finances, you can try to store up your treasures in your family, you can try to store up your treasures in your 401k, but it is only when your greatest treasure in life is the precious Lord Jesus Christ that you can with Paul suffer the loss of all things and still cry out GAIN!!! All I have is Christ and all I need is Christ!

May 24 2011 | Devotional | 2 Comments »

Unexpected Joy

Philippians - Unexpected JoyWhen I came to Cool Community Church a year ago, I found a church that was doing well but was in need of some serious encouragement. Looking through the New Testament, God lead me to the book of Philippians and so for the last year I have immersed myself in this book and have been tremendously blessed by it’s message. What I am convinced of is that the theme running through the entire book of Philippians is “joy”. In fact, the word joy is used more than a dozen times in the four short chapters that comprise this book.

1:18 – “What then? Only that in every way, whether in presense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice”

2:17-18 – “Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. Like wise you also should be glad and rejoice with me”

3:1 – “Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you.”

4:4 – “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.”

Richard Lenski wrote, “Joy is the music that runs through this epistle, the sunshine that spreads over all of it. The whole epistle radiates joy and happiness.”

You see, there is a difference between joy and happiness. The world can experience happiness in the birth of a child, a great meal, excellent music, etc. but that happiness will always be fleeting and it will always be circumstantial. Joy on the other hand is permanent, undiminished by circumstances, and can only be found in Christ. Joy is a satisfaction, it is a contentment, it is a peace that is only available to those who have made Christ their greatest treasure!

You see, you can try to find joy in lots of difference places. You can try to find joy in your finances,“if I only had a little more money, than I’d be secure”; but Solomon tells us that “when your eyes light on it [money], it is gone, for suddenly it sprouts wings, flying like an eagle toward heaven” (Prov. 23:5). You can try to find joy in your position in life, but you don’t need to look any further than the book of Job to realize that positions of influence are no place to look for joy. The issue is your treasure. What is it that you value more than anything else? The point of this book is that while you may expect to find joy in all kinds of different places, Jesus is the only one who will ever truly satisfy you.

As you work your way through Philippians, what you find is four sources of unexpected joy that roughly correspond to the four chapters of the book. They are:

  • Unexpected Joy in Great Suffering (Chapter 1)
  • Unexpected Joy in Humble Service (Chapter 2)
  • Unexpected Joy in Tremendous Loss (Chapter 3)
  • Unexpected Joy in All Circumstances (Chapter 4)

Over the next few days, I’ll try to unpack these four sources of joy in a summary fashion.

May 23 2011 | Devotional | Comments Off on Unexpected Joy

Suffering as a Gift of Grace

weepPhilippians 1:29 says, “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake.” Now, you have to admit that even in English that’s a pretty hard verse to take. I mean how do you reconcile Paul’s words that “it has been granted to you to suffer” with the reality of the darkness and the despair of suffering in this fallen world? But when you dive into the Greek text underneath it, it becomes even more difficult.

Paul uses the word exaristhe, which means “gift of grace” to describe two significant realities, 1) That salvation is entirely a gift of grace, 2) that suffering is in the same way a gift of grace. It’s as if Paul is saying that the same grace which brought about salvation also brings about suffering. They are both equally gifts of grace and if we are to “walk in a manner worthy of the gospel” as he says in verse 27, then we must embrace them both as gifts from God.

So, the question is “How on earth do you get to a point where you can actually look upon suffering as a gift of grace?” I believe that there are two complimentary truths that help us to understand what Paul is driving at here. The first is that when we suffer for the sake of the gospel, we are actually suffering in the place of Christ.

Paul alludes to this on several occasions:

Romans 8:16-17 – 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

In Colossians 1:24 – 24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.

So, how can Paul say that he is filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions? I mean, didn’t Jesus suffer enough on the cross? I think what Paul is getting at is that when we suffer for the sake of the gospel, we are doing so in the place of Christ because Christ has already ascended to the Father and yet He has left the church here as his body to continue suffering for him until he returns.

John Calvin said, “The highest honor that is conferred upon us by Divine grace is that we suffer for his name either reproach, or imprisonment, or miseries, or tortures, or even death, for in that case he adorns us with his marks of distinction.”

There are many different ways of suffering for the sake of the gospel in this life. It may be a situation at work where you won’t be able to advance any further because of your faith in Christ, or it may be a more public situation. Back when I lived in WA, there was a time when my name was dragged through the newspaper’s mud because of my stand for the gospel. It may even be from within your family. Maybe your husband is spiritually lazy, or maybe he’s just plain spiritually dead. Perhaps your wife is antagonistic to your faith and your attempts to lead her spiritually. My friends, can I remind you that as John Calvin said every tear that you cry is a mark of distinction for a man or a woman suffering in the place of Christ for the sake of the gospel.

The second complimentary truth that helps us to understand why suffering is a gift of grace is that Christ has gone before us in our suffering. Hebrews 2:10 says, “For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering.” Suffering is one of God’s primary means of drawing his people into closer fellowship and intimacy with Christ, because in suffering we have no place else to turn than to Christ who has gone before us.

Paul talked about this in Philippians 3:10 he said his desire was “that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.” Paul actually desired to share in the sufferings of Christ, because in those suffering he believed that he would grow to know Christ better. You see, there is no valley so deep and there is no darkness to black that the precious Lord Jesus has not already gone before you and prepared the way for you.

I’ll wrap things up with one of my favorite quotes from Charles Spurgeon

Christ was also chosen out of the people that he might know our wants and sympathize with us. “He was tempted in all points like as we are, yet without sin.” In all our sorrows we have his sympathy. Temptation, pain, disappointment, weakness, weariness, poverty—he knows them all, for he has felt all. Remember this, Christian, and let it comfort thee. However difficult and painful thy road, it is marked by the footsteps of thy Saviour; and even when thou reachest the dark valley of the shadow of death, and the deep waters of the swelling Jordan, thou wilt find his footprints there. In all places whithersoever we go, he has been our forerunner; each burden we have to carry, has once been laid on the shoulders of Immanuel.

May 16 2011 | Devotional | 2 Comments »

Suffering & Satanic Attack

The other morning I woke up almost in a panic. You see for the last several months I’ve noticed a greater and greater number of individuals and families within our church who are undergoing significant suffering. The issues range from marital troubles, to lack of work, to financial troubles, to death and disease but the common denominator is the issue of suffering.

Now on the one hand, this is life as it is in a Genesis 3 world where everything is broken. On the other hand, I remember enough from my theology classes in seminary to realize that every church has an enemy (the enemy) who prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking to destroy us (1Peter 5:8). In the end, whether it’s the brokenness of this world or our adversary the devil, the result is the same: suffering.

As I made my way over to my early morning men’s group that day, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of despair over the heartache all around me. That is, until God broke through with some powerful reminders about Satanic Attacks and Suffering from the book of Philippians. Here are just a few of the things that warmed my heart that morning.

1) Satan may be able to cause suffering in the lives of believers, but Philippians 1:29 tells us that suffering is actually a gift of grace. So, when I suffer I am actually receiving grace from God, even if Satan is the dispenser of that grace.

2) Suffering is often times the harbinger of greater blessings. This isn’t as much from Philippians as from practical experience, but it seems that oftentimes when the clouds are the darkest God is actually preparing a very special blessing for His people. Spurgeon said that he actually learned to accept times of suffering as messengers of greater blessings to come, because the clouds are always darkest just before the rain.

3) I am not alone when I experience suffering, because Christ has already walked this path before me. The doctrine of the kenosis should be one of the most comforting doctrines in all of Scripture, because it reminds that Jesus has gone before us and has already experienced the full force of Satan’s fury and yet he arose victorious.

Philippians 2:8-10 – And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth.

4) Suffering is a means of gaining Christ. As Paul reflected on his pursuit of gaining Christ he wrote, that his desire was “that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. “

I don’t think any of these truths lesson the heartache that goes along with suffering, but each of them is a precious reminder to me that suffering is not without purpose and that is a source of hope even in the midst of tears.

May 09 2011 | Devotional | 2 Comments »

Leaders Don’t Defend Themselves

michelangelo_moses

When I was in seminary, I remember receiving counsel on several occasions that went something like this, “When you’re in the ministry, it doesn’t do any good to defend yourself. You’re going to be accused of wrongdoing and of mishandling situations and one of the worst things you can do is try to defend yourself.” I always wondered, then what on earth are you supposed to do? As the years have gone by and God has given me more and more experiences the local church, I’ve come to really appreciate this advice and find it to be absolutely true. A Pastor who is obsessed with defending himself and his own reputation will never be a good shepherd, because his focus is entirely inward on what people think of him.

I was reminded of this principle recently when reading through the book of Numbers. Numbers 16 contains the account of Korah’s rebellion against Moses in the wilderness, the account begins:

Now Korah…took men. And they rose up before Moses, with a number of the people of Israel, 250 chiefs of the congregation, chosen from the assembly, well-known men. They assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron and said to them, “You have gone too far! For all in the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them. Why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the Lord?” (vv. 1-3)

Apparently Korah did not like the fact that Moses was calling the shots in this congregation, so he gathered a group of malcontents and complained about the direction Moses was taking the congregation. Sound familiar? Korah was even able to appeal to the priesthood of believers in his argument against Moses’ leadership! The story continues:

When Moses heard it, he fell on his face, and he said to Korah and all his company, “In the morning the Lord will show who is his, and who is holy, and will bring him near to him. The one whom he chooses he will bring near to him.

What strikes me about Moses’ leadership is the fact that at no point during this entire ordeal does he defend himself. He simply refers the complainers back to God, who is the one they are really complaining about.

Apparently, Korah had gathered a substantial following because the next day when God does answer he very nearly destroys the entire congregation for their rebellion against Moses’ leadership. In fact, Moses’ has to intervene to stop God’s wrath from breaking out against the entire body. The story concludes with these words:

Then Moses rose…and he spoke to the congregation, saying, “Depart, please, from the tents of these wicked men, and touch nothing of theirs, lest you be swept away with all their sins.”…And Moses said, “Hereby you shall know that the Lord has sent me to do all these works, and that it has not been of my own accord. If these men die as all men die, or if they are visited by the fate of all mankind, then the Lord has not sent me. But if the Lord creates something new, and the ground opens its mouth and swallows them up with all that belongs to them, and they go down alive into Sheol, then you shall know that these men have despised the Lord.

And as soon as he had finished speaking all these words, the ground under them split apart. And the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, with their households and all the people who belonged to Korah and all their goods. So they and all that belonged to them went down alive into Sheol, and the earth closed over them, and they perished from the midst of the assembly…And fire came out from the Lord and consumed the 250 men offering incense (vv. 25-35).

As I reflect back on this troy, here are a couple more leadership lessons that have been impressed upon me.

  • People will complain no matter what. The Israelites experienced miracle after miracle from the hand of Moses and yet they still grumbled against him. I’m convinced that as Larry Osborne says, “Some people would vote against the second coming if given the opportunity.” Some people will just complain no matter what.
  • When dealing with rebellion and complacency refer the complainers back to God. The worst thing you can do in the midst of church controversy is to take it personally. Ultimately, even your doctrine is not your own it is God’s and He is more than able to defend it.
  • Be Courageous. When speaking on behalf of God, it is good and right to be bold and courageous. We never want to shrink back from speaking the truth in love, even in the midst of controversy.
  • Entrust yourself to the sovereign care of God. God probably wont’ open the earth to swallow up the complainers in your office, but He has certainly proved Himself to be more than capable of taking care of His own.

April 11 2011 | Devotional | Comments Off on Leaders Don’t Defend Themselves

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