You’re a Failure…and That’s Okay

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This is the time of year where we hear a certain story.  I’m not talking about Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, His crucifixion, or His resurrection.  Those would be too easy.  Rather, I am talking about Peter’s denial of Christ.  It is a common story to talk about and think about.  And…in the midst of doing so…you will probably hear Peter being criticized for his actions.  But…my reading for today got me thinking:
 
Peter asked, “Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I’ll give up my life for you.”  Jesus replied, “Will you give up your life for me? I assure you that you will deny me three times before the rooster crows.
 
It must have been an embarrassing moment for Peter.  To be called out like that is never fun…especially in front of all your friends.  And…it must have been even worse when Peter lived into Jesus’ prediction.  But what captures my attention is not that Peter failed or the fact that Jesus knew he would.  What captures my attention is the fact that Jesus knew what Peter would do…and it was okay.
 
Don’t get me wrong.  It is never a good idea to deny Jesus.  However, in the midst of this story, Jesus never kicks Peter to the curb.  He never treats Him any differently.  He does not expect Peter to be anyone other than who Peter was.  Remember…this is the dude that Jesus called “Rock” and established as, at the very least, one of the inner 3.  Peter wasn’t just some random dude.  No, Peter was an intimate friend of Jesus and he is about to fail Jesus severely.  But…again…it seems okay.
 
I realize as I look at this story, that it is okay because of what has not yet happened.  It is okay because at this point Peter doesn’t really get the fullness of who Jesus is.  It is okay because in a very short amount of time Jesus would die on a cross for people just like Peter.  And…it is okay…because in a few days, Jesus would rise from the dead and overcome the death that is the result of our sins.
 
I often wonder if I am like Peter.  The answer is almost always a “yes”.  I fail Jesus…and so do you.  We make mistakes, we sin against our Savior, and we fail to be the people that God created us to be.  But, because of what was about to happen for Peter…and what we will celebrate this weekend…it’s okay.
 
There is a strange truth this time of year.  You are a failure and that’s okay……because Jesus Christ has died and rose again so that you can be forgiven.

Identity Crisis

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ImageI am really looking forward to Palm Sunday this year.  For starters, I get to preach which is always exciting to me.  Secondly, this year we are being intentional about not just focusing on the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem.

Palm Sunday is always interesting to me because it is like an identity crisis day.  Jesus comes into town riding on a donkey and people celebrate his arrival.  This was the guy who was going to save them.  Jesus was going to be the guy who would bring about a new age.  They were right…they just thought it would all happen differently than it did.  They thought one thing and Jesus knew another.

You see…as I read through that story…I am convinced that Jesus is the only one who knew who He really was.  There was no identity crisis for Him.  It was all on our part.  Then again, I think we struggle with and identity crisis on a regular basis.

Every morning we look in the mirror and we see ourselves through our eyes.  Worldly eyes.  Eyes that are influenced by the media, our peers, our family, our enemies, the neighbor who you have had a feud with for years, and anyone else you come across.  We see ourselves through these worldly influenced eyes and we begin to believe the things we see.  The problem is…what we see is often not who we really are.

Colossians 3:13 says:

For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.

This, I believe, is a whole new perspective!  Our life is hidden with Christ in God.  So, Christ does something to us and in us and through us.  We look different.  We are not the person we see through those worldly eyes anymore.  We are a new creation.  We are change.  We are transformed.  We are……different.

This is the whole premise behind our upcoming series called #SeeMySelfie.  As people continually take selfies to project the best possible image of themselves to the world, we began to ask…what if that “best” image isn’t good enough.  What if the best is yet to come?  What if…through Christ…the best image of who you are can’t be captured in a selfie?  What if who you are is better than anything you could imagine?

I cannot wait for this series!  I am so pumped to think about all the people in Newburgh who need to hear these messages and the potential for radical life transformation. 

I encourage you to invite everyone you know!  This is going to be a good series…and a fun one too!  We are even going to have a #SeeMySelfie booth every Sunday where you can take fun selfies and share them with the world.

In fact, you can take selfies now!  We want to use your selfies throughout our series.  Just take a selfie and post it to Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram using the hashtag #SeeMySelfie and tag @newburghumc.  You just might find your selfie used in some fashion throughout the series.  Don’t worry though…every selfie we use will be used in a positive way.

Get out those smartphones…take some selfies…let us see them!  Be creative and have some fun with it!

Happy selfying! (is that a word?)

P.S.  Here is a selfie of me and one of my Journey Group friends to get the ball rolling!

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Yes…in case you were wondering…we really are that cool!

I’m a Little Jealous of This Guy

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ImageThere is this guy.  His name was Solomon.  And I am a little jealous of him at times.

It wasn’t because he was rich.  It wasn’t even because he is a famous king from Scripture.  It has everything to do with how he responded when God said, “What do you want?”

Solomon just got done offering 1000 burnt offerings (that is a lot no matter how you picture it).  In the midst of this worshipful experience, Solomon encountered God in a different way.

That night God appeared to Solomon and said, “Ask whatever you wish, and I will give it to you.”  (2 Chronicles 1:7)

I think there is a part of us that wish God would ask this question.  Whether we hope He will ask this or not, we typically pray in a way that answers the question.  Right?  Our prayers are often centered on what we want for ourselves, how God can make us happier in this lifetime, or what we think God should be doing in our lives as opposed to what He is actually doing.  Our prayers are often geared toward answering the question from God (whether it is asked or not).

Fortunately for Solomon, the question was actually posed to him…so he answered:

“You showed so much kindness to my father David,” Solomon replied to God,”and you have made me king in his place.  Now, Lord God, let your promise to my father David be fulfilled because you have made me king over a people as numerous as the earth’s dust. Give me wisdom and knowledge so I can lead this people, because no one can govern this great people of yours without your help.”  (2 Chronicles 1:8-10)

Seriously?  Wisdom and knowledge so you can lead the people?  It sounds a bit…well…opposite of the kinds of things we tend to pray for.  Rather than ask for riches and fame, Solomon asks that God equip him to care for and lead God’s people.  Very selfless.  Very noble.  And…very irritating.  Jealousy would be a good word to describe my initial reactions to this.

But when I take some time to think about it, I am not jealous of Solomon as much as I really desire to be in the place that he is.  To ask of such a thing when it seems that God is ready to grant any request is a testimony to the heart of the man.  He is willing to forego fame, fortune, riches, and adoration…in order that God’s promises to the nation be fulfilled.

As we grow in our faith…we begin to see a picture of the person we want to be in Christ.  It takes time.  It takes discipline.  It takes commitment.  I wish so badly to be able to snap my fingers and be the person that I know Christ has laid down a path for me to become. But, there is no easy button for this.  There is no switch to flip.  Which means we have to be diligent about feeding on the Word of God.  We have to be fervent in our prayer life.  We must be willing to die to ourselves each and every day so that Christ may life in us and through us.  And…over time…we will begin to be more like Solomon.  Placing the good of the Kingdom before our own desires.

I hope that if I was in his shoes I would have responded the same way.  I hope that you would respond that way too.  But…for now…I will commit to doing all I can to grow in Christ so that…if it happens like it did for Solomon…I will be ready with the answer God desires.  Not because it is the answer He desires…but because it is the answer that is birthed from my heart.  A heart that is immersed in Christ.

If you were in Solomon’s shoes…how would you respond?

What spiritual practices do you need to attend to to ensure that you grow with Christ today?

You Should Really Do Your Laundry Today

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ImageI remember it like it was yesterday.  I was serving on the Chapel Design Team at Asbury Theological Seminary.  Our fearless leader, J.D. Walt, decided that we would all get up super early…travel to the field where the Icthus Music Festival was held and have a sunrise prayer meeting of sorts.  I remember it well for two reasons. 1.  I am, by no stretch of the imagination, a morning person.  The gas station was not even open yet for crying out loud! (Wilmore Kentucky only had one) 2. We took a few moments to share a Bible verse that we had been thinking about.  Mine still sticks with me today.

“Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done.  I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.  Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city.  Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.  “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.” (Revelation 22:12-16)
I remember reciting this passage that morning as the sun rose.  I had it memorized because I had read it so many times.  And that one line that sticks out for me is:  Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city.
For the longest time, this passage always made me think of our acceptance of Jesus.  You know…that time when you surrendered your life to Christ.  Your salvation moment.  But…the more I read this passage and the more I thought about it…the more I understood that that is not what this passage is talking about.
The washing of our “robes” (or our identification with Christ) is not a one time thing.  Could you imagine not washing your clothes more than once?  Eventually…especially having kids around…they get soiled and need a new washing. The same is true when it comes to our lives…our souls…our hearts.
Surrender to Christ is not a one time thing.  It is an every day thing.  You gave your life to Christ yesterday?  That is great!  Praise God!  Now…do it again today.  And…when you wake up tomorrow…do it again.  Keep it up every day of your life.  Because truthfully…we need it.  Day in and day out we find ways to soil our “robes”…to allow sin and temptation to cause our “garments” to get a little dingy…and they need to be washed.  But…these are special garments and they need a special cleaner.  That cleaner is the blood of the Lamb.  The sacrificial love of Christ.  The atoning sacrifice on a cross.  Then…and only then…will you receive the right to the tree of life.
The author says it best:
And he said, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.  Therefore, “they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence.  ‘Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst.  The sun will not beat down on them,’ nor any scorching heat.  For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; ‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’ And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (Revelation 7:14-17)

Escaping Moral Filth

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I think one of the hardest things for me to deal with as a pastor is to watch people who have experienced the love and grace of Christ return to their previous lives of fallenness and brokenness.  It truly is frustrating to me.  John Wesley wrote about this idea of Christian Perfection and the idea that we could actually be perfected in this lifetime.  Now, to be perfected, Wesley was referring to our complete freedom from voluntarily breaking known laws of God.  Will we make mistakes?  Sure.  Will we fail at things?  Absolutely.  But, Wesley believed (and I share this belief) that we could actually get to a point in our growth with God that we would no longer knowingly go against the desires of God.

I know this is one of the reasons it is so frustrating to see people revert to their “old ways” (because I believe you are actually capable of breaking free of your old ways).  But, the more troubling reason is found in 1 Peter 2.

If people escape the moral filth of this world through the knowledge of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ, then get tangled up in it again and are overcome by it, they are worse off than they were before. – 1 Pet 2

It goes to show that when you know what the right thing is…and you CHOOSE not to do the right thing…it is much worse than if you never knew in the first place.  As a leader and Pastor this carries a lot of weight.  How do I lead?  How do I handle staff?  How do set an example as a leader?  How do I, in the midst of difficult situations, do the right thing?  I will be honest with you, many times it is tempting to do something other than the right thing because it is…well…easier.

But, in the end…we are not called to what is easy.  We are called to what is right.  Period.

When do you get tempted to return to the “moral filth” of this world rather that staying true to what God desires?

What does this mean for you in the areas in which you lead?

Learn How To Stand Out

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We all want to be set apart.  We want to excel…we want to achieve…we want to reach the top…we want to stand out and we all have a picture in our minds of what that looks like.  Whether we are climbing the corporate ladder, in the midst of sibling rivalry, or keeping up with the Joneses…we always have an idea of what makes us “set apart”.

The problem is, these things we think about that set us apart are often very worldly.  We think about how well we do certain things, the types of things that we own, experiences we have had, etc.  Don’t get me wrong, those things are not inherently bad.  Not until they become the means by which we define ourselves that is.

You see…the Bible tells us what it means to be set apart.  The author writes:

As you set yourselves apart by your obedience to the truth so that you might have genuine affection for your fellow believers, love each other deeply and earnestly. - 1 Peter 1:22

This is a different kind of set apart than what we are used to.  Here the author tells us that we are set apart by our obedience.  And that obedience causes us to have genuine affection for other believers.  So…as per the author…as you are setting yourself apart…you should love each other deeply and earnestly.

Now, I could spend a good deal of time on each of those segments…but I think there is an important overarching theme we have to deal with first.  Are you ready for it?

To be set apart is to turn your focus and love toward others.

I know!  This is completely contradictory to what we tend to do…and contrary to what feels right about being set apart.  The worldly view says that in order to be set apart we must focus on ourselves and “better” ourselves in order to excel above others.  The Biblical view says that you must focus on others and raise them up above yourself.  Then you will be “set apart”.

Maybe the confusion comes in who does the “setting apart”.  If we are so proud as to think that we set ourselves apart…then we will tend to believe that we must focus on ourselves.  However, if we are humble enough to recognize that God is the one who sets us apart…we will realize that we must become last and put others before ourselves.  We must become obedient.  We must love others deeply and earnestly.

Being set apart is not about how others see you or how you rank among your peers.  Being set apart is how God sees you.  Not in comparison with your peers, but in comparison to the expectation that God has on your life.

How have you tried to be set apart in your life?

What must you surrender in order to allow God to set you apart in accordance to 1 Peter 1:22?

Dude…You Know It’s 2am Right?

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Is-God-TrustworthyIt was 2am.  Melissa and I had been married for a couple months at this point.  The phone rings.  In case you missed it…it was 2 o’clock in the morning!  You know what happens next.  You jump out of bed and run to the phone because, even though you are not fully awake yet, you assume that something is wrong.  I mean, seriously, who in the world calls at 2 o’clock in the morning?

So…bounding out of bed and into the living room, I grab the phone and say “hello?”  I have to say, I was a bit surprised.  On the other end of that call was an old high school buddy.  I had not talked to him in something like 2 years.

Do you know what he wanted?  Well…he was in Brooklyn, NewYork where he lived trying to find his way back to his apartment.  He was a little intoxicated and was a bit disoriented.  I have never been in that situation but I imagine it can be difficult to remember how to get home from the bar under those circumstances.  So…at 2am…I jumped on the computer, accessed mapquest and did my best to guide him home.  A very odd phone call to say the least.

Let’s fast forward to last year.  At this point I had only talked to this friend once since the 2am wild goose chase 6 years before.  I am driving down the road and my phone rings.  Yes…you are correct.  It was him again.  He needed help breaking free from some issues that he was facing.  We talked for some time and I did all I could from 4 hours away to help him along the way.

For some reason, in times of need, this dude thought of me.  At 2am from 5,000 miles apart, he called me.  When life seemed to be crashing down around him, he called me.  I thought a lot about that and it struck me.  If my world was crashing down around me…he is on my short list (very short list) of people I would call.  We have not seen one another for many years and we have barely spoken to one another during that time.  Yet…there is a bond there that overcomes years of absence.  Very simply…we are friends.  I am talking about the kind of friends found in Proverbs 17:17:

“Friends love all the time, and kinsfolk are born for times of trouble”

Am I the best friend to him.  NO!  In case you missed it, I have been pretty much absent from his life for years!  But he called me and it was a touching thing to know that he thought highly enough of me to give me a call.

We often paint a picture of what we think a friend has to look like. We often deceive ourselves and think that a friend has to be in your general vicinity.  The truth of the matter is, a true friendship is something that surpasses time and distance.  Why?  Because…friends love all the time…and they are born for times of trouble.

Think about it.  Who would you call if your world was crashing down around you?  Who do you know that is that kind of friend in your life?  And, on the flip side, who would call you?