Wednesday, July 26, 2017

On Sports Camp and VBS and the Kissing of Pigs

I am happy that I will be kissing a pig this week.

Weird huh?  I agreed that if we would collect 400 items for Camacho that I would kiss a pig. So I am happy because we will be providing over 400 items to the back pack program at Camacho Elementary school to provide food for students who would not have a weekend meal otherwise.

I am happy that I am kissing a pig because it has brought incredible joy to the young people who have come up to me to say how excited they are to see their pastor kiss a pig. I do what I can to make people happy. Actually, that isn't true, I am not really in the happiness business, but I am in the discipleship business.

I think about Matthew 19:13-15 "Some people brought children to Jesus so that he would place his hands on them and pray. But the disciples scolded them. 'Allow the children to come to me,' Jesus said. 'Don't forbid them, because the kingdom of heaven belongs to people like these children.' Then he blessed the children and went away from there."

If Jesus thought that it was important for the children to be a main part of this crazy group of people we call the church, then it should be a priority for us as well! I am their pastor as much as anyone else in the entire church. That is why I believe in events like Mega Sports Camp where the entire church works to help disciple the children (and youth for that matter)! That is why we need to make worship that connects with our youth and children; have a place in worship for youth and children to participate and even lead!

I encourage each of you to think about how you are helping disciple young people in your church. Are you committed to raising up a new generation of leaders? Or are you just concerned with making church conform to your preferences?

So I am happy that I am kissing a pig. I am glad that my church, Rockbridge, is reaching out to help young people who are hungry. I am also happy because we are reaching out to fill their spiritual hunger too. I'll kiss a pig any day for that!

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The Sad Story of Solomon

The title of this blog may give you pause, and you might ask some questions like:
'Wait isn't he the wisest human who ever lived?' or 'Didn't he build the temple?' The answer is yes! By the time of his death, however, he had fallen so far away from God that the Lord took away 10 of the 12 tribes of Israel from the line of David! How did he fall so far, a man with untold potential, to a King who was punished by God? He was the third king of Israel following his father David. He was the child of David and Bathsheba (yes the Bathsheba that David fell in love with and had her husband, Uriah, murdered. Big time failures were definitely a family legacy) and was not the oldest son but he was the one whom God chose to rule after David. Early on things were great! He was following God and God was so joyous that he offered to give Solomon anything he wanted as a reward. Solomon asks for wisdom (a discerning mind 1 Kings 3:9) and God is so pleased that he didn't ask for wealth or victory or any number of other things, God gives him wisdom but basically everything else too. This is why Solomon is considered the wisest man who ever lived and why many believe he wrote the book in the Bible called Proverbs. Everything is great right?

Well, Solomon eventually got full of himself and got to love his wealth, his women and even other gods! If you are familiar with the Ten Command you know that the first three are:  I am the Lord Your God; You shall have no other God before me; You shall make no graven images or likeness. Solomon failed, and God was not happy with him.

You can read all about Solomon's fall in 1 Kings 11. He put having literally thousands of women, money and other gods before his mission of leading the kingdom of Israel in their everyday lives and being the example of what it means to serve God. So, of course, there were bad consequences for his choices, unfortunately for Solomon, it affected more than just him. That is a truth of how we live our lives. We are so interconnected that what we do, deeply affects others. Our choices can bring heaven on earth: when we share the love of God with neighbors and God is present, so is heaven! Or, if we choose to be selfish, to focus on what we desire over what God wants, then we bring hell on earth. If you live on planet earth you have experienced this. Maybe it was a parent or spouse who made bad choices and was abusive. A friend who betrayed you. A politician who put their own power before the needs of the people. We see it where we see hunger and there is food but the local warlords have prevented those who need the food from getting it. We have seen it with individual and corporate greed. And I am sure you have seen it within yourself and you have witnessed how your choices can give life or destroy it. 

Philippians 2:13 tells us that "God is the one is able to make you want and actually live out his good purposes." Once we receive God's love and accept the free gift of Salvation, God expects the church, just like he expected Solomon, to live out his good purposes so that God's "will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven (Matthew 6:10)." God is not the type of parent to ask us to do things just for God's own enjoyment but because of our choices, how we live our lives, affect everyone else around us! What happened to Solomon is that the temptations of the world and his riches got to him, so much so, that it is said of Solomon in 1 Kings 11:9 that his heart turned away from God. Solomon! This great hero of the faith fell away from Gods own heart because he was distracted by the glitz and the glam of the world around him. Rather than transforming the world, he allowed the world to transform him. We must keep God at the center of our lives, to love God with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength! When we stop doing that we begin to worship other gods: greed, unforgiveness, lust, hate, and envy. Those things consume us until one day we look back and cannot even imagine how we got to the place we are currently at. So if you have not yet done so, take some time and fall in love with your savior all over again. Just think, the creator of the universe wants to spend time with, and that's pretty awesome. May you fall more in love with our God every single day, every time you meet. May you always center your life around the one who gives true life and gives it abundantly. And may you make better choices than Solomon, so through you those around you get to experience heaven on earth.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Time to Grow Up

This morning I lost my wallet. Well lost is probably not the correct word, I temporarily misplaced it. Whenever I lose something, especially something important, I get anxious, even frantic. Most people have outgrown the problem of losing their keys or their wallet by having specific places to put it. I struggle with this (I often give the excuse that it's because it is how my brain works, while true it's an excuse) because I have not taken the time and effort to develop a pattern of where to put my important stuff. I am a very forgetful person, my dad used to say I would forget my head if it was not attached, but with the proper effort and training, I could learn to change my ways.

Friends, the same is true with our faith. We must choose to put effort and energy into growing in mature followers of Jesus. Check out Hebrews 6:1-9:

So let’s press on to maturity, by moving on from the basics about Christ’s word. Let’s not lay a foundation of turning away from dead works, of faith in God, of teaching about ritual ways to wash with water, laying on of hands, the resurrection from the dead, and eternal judgment—all over again. We’re going to press on, if God allows it.Because it’s impossible to restore people to changed hearts and lives who turn away once they have seen the light, tasted the heavenly gift, become partners with the Holy Spirit, and tasted God’s good word and the powers of the coming age. They are crucifying God’s Son all over again and exposing him to public shame. The ground receives a blessing from God when it drinks up the rain that regularly comes and falls on it and yields a useful crop for those people for whom it is being farmed. But if it produces thorns and thistles, it’s useless and close to being cursed. It ends up being burned.
Imagine if we decided to stop learning as soon as we learned about our ABCs or basic arithmetic. It would seriously stunt our growth. This scripture in verse 4 and 5 lay out a great description of becoming a Christian. First you 'see the light' and are able to recognize the desperate need for a relationship with God through Christ and see the truth of the world around you. From there you taste the heavenly gift: which is to experience new life through Jesus (not just waiting for eternal life to begin with death, but a renewed life today!). Then you are given the Holy Spirit and a taste of the good word. Experiencing Jesus and scripture is like a refreshing jump into a pool on a hot summers day! Finally, we get a taste of what is to come in the new age, of the heaven on earth through the faith and the Christian community. That gives us a longing for what is to come. He also (in verse 1 and 2) describes the basics of the faith: repentance from dead works, faith towards God, baptisms, laying on of hands, resurrection and the judgment of the coming age.

So what is all this about 'impossible to restore people to changed hearts and lives (repentance)' once they have followed Jesus and then chosen to actively oppose what God is doing in this world and reject him? This seems to directly oppose what Paul is saying in Romans 5-8, that nothing can separate us from the love of God! Perhaps the author is using one of Jesus' techniques, hyperbole. If we believe nothing is impossible for God and then there is no place that Jesus cannot reach us. I think the main point the author is making is the deep importance to press on toward maturity in faith. That if we do not continue to grow in our faith, that we might end up rejecting it and it is incredibly difficult to come back to where you were before. So many young people are in this place today. Where once they believed, they fell away from the church and now that they are in a place of comfortable complacency, they may never return to following Jesus. We must 'drink up the rain regularly' so that we can continue to progress toward the goal of a deep and abiding relationship with Jesus and being his disciples who work with God toward the transformation of the world.

Have you settled for 'the basics' of the faith rather than pushing forward toward maturity? If so I invite you to dive deep. Find a life group to help you walk into the deeper waters. Find a mentor who is a little wiser, a little more experienced. Find a way to use your gifts for God and see where that takes you. Spend time with our Lord in prayer and scripture, deepening your relationship. Because if we stick to the basics, we are in danger of walking away from God, from the church. And when we do, it is much more difficult to come back. So I invite you to press on to maturity!

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

New Beginnings

He put a new song in my mouth,
a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear the Lord
and put their trust in him.
Psalm 40:3

It is a season of new beginning for me, as of July 2, I am the Pastor of Rockbridge Church. When change happens we are full of a lot of emotions and many of them are painful: fear, anxiety, loss, insecurity and even depression. I believe, however, we serve a God of change, a God who designed a dynamic world that is given the ability to create and reproduce: "God blessed them and said, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.’ (Genesis 1:22)."

For me this change is of God and yet I have definitely felt many of these emotions. What has reassured me is the sure and certain knowledge that this change is part of God's plan. I shared a story in worship this week about a moment I had when I was still the pastor of the Tarleton Wesley. I was sitting, listening to my intern, Hanna Newcomer, preach about one of the signs in John. I was already overwhelmed by the growth of our worship team and now here was one of our interns preaching a sermon so deep and mature that I was in awe that it originated from a college student. That moment I received a message from the Holy Spirit and it was this warm reassurance from the Father that everything would be okay if I left. At this point I had not even considered leaving, nor did I want to. And all of this is BEFORE I even knew that Rockbridge was going through a pastoral change! Often we struggle because we have such a narrow view of our lives, and yet God can see the whole picture. 

I truly believe "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28)." This does not mean that God is some micro-manager controlling every action. What I believe is that God allows our free will and yet is constantly remaking a plan that will set us on track to be the people that God has made us to be. One of my personal mantras is from Philippians 1:27, "Live in a manner worthy of the gospel you have received."
Are you going through a change right now? I want you to know that God is deeply in the midst of that change, not that God caused it but that God is working with you to make good come of it. It is up to us to not let our lives be overcome by fear, anxiety, stress and insecurity. Those are natural responses, but God gives us the strength to carry on in the face of the greatest challenges.
I'll leave you with the words from a great worship song by Elevation Worship, O Come to the Altar:

"Leave behind your regrets and mistakes
Come today there's no reason to wait
Jesus is calling
Bring your sorrows and trade them for joy
From ashes a new life is born
Jesus is calling
O come to the altar
The Father's arms are open wide
Forgiveness was bought with
The precious blood of Jesus Christ"

May you know that God is the peace in the midst of the storm, that God is always writing a new song for you and that darkness is never the final word.