January 14, 2015

A Tribute to a Friend

Tom and Me in 2012
I haven't published on this blog for quite some time. I have considered shutting it down, maybe starting something else, or just doing away with it altogether. But this morning I received some upsetting news from a family I used to pastor in Missouri. The news caused me to want to process somethings in written form, so this blog is where I'm going to post it for now.

When I first moved to the small town in Missouri where I was going to plant my first church, I went with a lot of excitement and too much bravado. I was going to change the world by planting this church. Within the first few years I managed to build a church of about 20. The most people to ever attend the church was just over 30 on a Sunday morning. Needless to say I felt a great deal of failure.

But early on I received a phone call from someone in the community asking me to do a funeral for her mother. I met the family, who was leery of pastors, and performed the funeral. Something I did must have won some appreciation because they came to respect me.

One member of the family started attending the church, and brought her young niece along. A few months later, the little girl invited her father, Tom, to attend our Father's Day service with her. Tom became a regular attender.

Over the next few years he became more and more involved in what we were doing at the church. From the beginning we did a ton of compassionate and servant evangelism style outreach events. Tom fell in love with serving people.

To be honest, though, I wasn't sure where Tom was spiritually.

It has been more than 35 years since he had even set foot in a church. He had faced some difficult physical struggles. He was on kidney dialysis three times a week, and within two years of knowing him he had a kidney transplant.

So one evening I presented the Gospel to him using the old bridge drawing. When it came to the appropriate time, I asked him, "If you were to put yourself on this drawing, where would you be? Would be ready to cross the bridge and accept Jesus? Would you say you are in a relationship with Jesus?"

"I wouldn't even be on this piece of paper," Tom said. "I would be down the block!"

I was surprised. I would say that he had been following in the way of Christ since he got to the church. He had been following after Jesus harder than anyone I ever knew. I learned it was probably more baggage from his upbringing than anything thing else.

Tom explained, "I have been holding God a long way off for a long time, and He has been drawing me closer and closer. Before I started coming here and got to know you I wouldn't have even been in this state."

I told him I would be praying for him as he continued his journey. He asked if he could keep the piece of paper, and then explained. "Hanging on the wall in my garage is a blue pillow in an old plastic grocery bag. That is the pillow I used for years to rest my arm on during my dialysis. The first time I did dialysis my arm hurt so bad when I left because it sat on that hard wooden rest. So I got the pillow. When I got the kidney transplant, I hung that pillow on the wall so that every time I pull my truck into the garage I see the pillow and know what I have come through. Maybe one day, I will hang this picture up there with that pillow as a regular reminder that I have fully crossed over and started following Jesus."

Over the next few years, things didn't improve at the church. I struggled emotionally, physically, financially, every possible way you can think of. It beat me up. I finally resigned in 2006, and was pretty sure I was down planting, and maybe even done pastoring. God had other plans; though. He opened some doors for me to move back to Ohio and work toward planting what is now my current church.

On the evening we were packing the truck to move, Tom came over and worked like mad to make sure everything we had fit into the truck. When he finally had to take off, he asked me to take a quick ride with him. I had less than 12 hours to finish packing the rest of my house, get it loaded into the truck, and get on the road...but it was Tom...There was no way I could refuse him anything after the years and years of friendship he had given me.

I got in the truck, and he drove us to his house. He opened the garage door, and there, hanging on the wall was the blue pillow. Pinned to the front was the picture I had drawn for him 3 years earlier. He said, "I just wanted you to know that I'm all in!"

I struggled to keep from crying, and when I got back home had to find a private place away from everyone so I could cry.

Of all the memories I have of Tom...playing tennis with him in bibbed overalls and work boots...him getting a bouncy castle and a large Barbie cake for my wife's 29th birthday just to keep things fun...every birthday and family function he included me and my family in...of all those things, I remember him most for his determination to serve and love others. I felt like a failure because of that church plant. I was defeated and broken. Tom's encouragement enabled me to stick things out on so many occasions.

Right now Tom is struggling for life on a ventilator. Whatever ends up happening, I know Tom will be ok. He will either recover and keep fighting and serving and loving people...or He will go home and give Jesus a run for his money. I can only write a rambling blog post, but even this can't put into words how much I care for Tom and his family; how much he means to me.

On the journey of life, we get the privilege of meeting some people who impact our lives forever. Most of those people will never be famous. They will never do anything amazing enough to be written about in newspapers or books. They will just live the best life they know how to live and care for people along the way...that is Tom.

April 29, 2014

Overcoming Obstacles-Gideon-Inadequacy

We are in a message series looking at Overcoming some of the major Obstacles we face in life. And we are looking at them through the lives of seem major Bible characters. Today we are looking the obstacle of inadequacy. 

Actors and Leaders and people who have accomplished some great things come up with some great quotes about believing in yourself and having the perseverance to push through…

Maya Angelou says, 
“You want me to do something…tell me I can’t do it!”

John Wooden said, 
“Don’t let what you can’t do interfere with what you can do.”

The problem with quotes like this, for me, is they give the false sense these people never experienced moments of insecurity or doubt. They set up this idealized world where a person is always positive, forward facing, and never once think to themselves…I think I might be over my head on this one…

I like the honesty of Robert Hughes. He says, 
“The greater the artist, the greater the doubt. Perfect confidence is granted to the less talented as a consolation prize."

I think Hughes reminds us unless we have a healthy sense that we are in over our heads…we get a little carried away with ourselves….

This morning I’m going to let you in on a not-so-secret secret. Unless they are pompous, arrogant, self-deceiving jerks…everyone who has accomplished anything worth doing has struggled with feelings of insecurity and inadequacy. They are able to write these quotes because they are on the other side of their goal…the other side of their dream. And they have forgotten what it was like to live in the uncertainty of fulfilling a challenging dream.

I believe if your goal doesn’t scare you…it isn’t big enough. 

And when we think about this in regards to our calling from God…if what God is calling you to do doesn’t scare you…it probably isn’t from God.

This doesn’t mean you are going to go out and pastor or plant a church…it doesn't mean you have to be called to be a missionary…it might, but God’s call comes with fear because it calls us out of our comfort zone…it calls us to do something we are not able or prepared to do.

Throughout the Bible God’s call scares the snot out everyone who received it. And not many more than Gideon. Today we are looking at a couple of chapters from the book of Judges, chapters 6 and 7. Let me give you a little background…

A Little Background

Throughout the book of Judges the Israelites, God’s chosen people, go through a cycle. It is a bit like the instructions on a shampoo bottles. Lather, Rinse, Repeat. Except they aren’t getting clean.

It starts with the Israelites sinning and turning from God to worship other idols. God then allows another nation to come and oppress them as punishment for their sin. The people cry out to God for forgiveness and for Him to rescue them. God sends someone to lead them out of the oppression and back to God. Then after the leader dies the people start the process all over again. 

In Judges 6 we are in the middle of another sin cycle.

Judge 6:1-6 says, 
The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord, and for seven years he gave them into the hands of the Midianites. 2 Because the power of Midian was so oppressive, the Israelites prepared shelters for themselves in mountain clefts, caves and strongholds. 3 Whenever the Israelites planted their crops, the Midianites, Amalekites and other eastern peoples invaded the country. 4 They camped on the land and ruined the crops all the way to Gaza and did not spare a living thing for Israel, neither sheep nor cattle nor donkeys. 5 They came up with their livestock and their tents like swarms of locusts. It was impossible to count them or their camels; they invaded the land to ravage it. 6 Midian so impoverished the Israelites that they cried out to the Lord for help.

So Israel sins…the Lord hands them over to the Midianites…they realize the trouble they are in and cry out to the Lord… So God has to send a judge, a leader, someone to rescue them and He gets Gideon.

Judges 6:11 says
The angel of the Lord came and sat down under the oak in Ophrah that belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, where his son Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites.

I find God’s choices surprising. He doesn’t go looking for the man who is already plotting a rebellion against the Midianites. He isn’t looking for the man with a powerful presence, a man with wealth or standing or even respect in his community. When we look at Gideon we see none of these things.

In Judges 6:15, Gideon says,
“Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.”

Near the end of chapter 6 God tells Gideon to destroy the shrines and altars his people had made to the false gods…Gideon does it, but Judges 6:27 says

So Gideon took ten of his servants and did as the Lord told him. But because he was afraid of his family and the townspeople, he did it at night rather than in the daytime.

Gideon is hiding from the Midianites. He is hiding his actions from his family. Yet in Judges 6:12 when the angel of the Lord first meets Gideon it says…
When the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, he said, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.”
Mighty hero!?!? He doesn’t sound like a mighty hero to me. But…

God sees things in us we can’t even see ourselves…

When God looked at a childless couple named Abraham and Sarah…he said, “I will make you the father of a great nation!”

When God looked at a puny shepherd boy named David…he said, “Here is a man after my own heart! He will be Israel’s greatest king!”

When he looked at a loud-mouthed, flip-flopper named Simon…he said, “You will be the leader of the church and I will call you a rock…You are Peter.”

When he looked at an angry, murdering Pharisee name Saul…he said, “You will be our greatest theologian and church planter. I will call you Paul!”

God sees things in us we can’t even see ourselves. So when God calls us…when he chooses us and asks us to take part in or start a ministry…he sees something we can’t even see ourselves. 

We may look ourselves in the mirror and not see much that matters, but when God looks at us he says, “Mighty hero, the Lord is with you!”

Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t some motivational speech. 

Most of those speeches sound a bit like this to me…

One of the funniest commercials ever.

I’m not giving you a pep talk about your potential. I’m saying God sees things in us we can’t see ourselves, He calls those gifts and abilities out of us, and He challenges us to use them to make a difference for the Kingdom…

For some of us it might mean getting involved in a ministry. Do you want a good, general way to know when God is calling you to take part in a ministry? It is when you start a sentence with, “Do you know what we should do as a church…” or “You know what we need to do…” 

Your idea may not be the right one, but when you see a need it means you have a heart for that area. You see a need for an area to step up. You see an area of ministry that is lacking. When that thought comes to mind, it might be God saying, “I want you to help in this area.”  

For some of you it means you need to recognize God’s call in the skills you already have. God will often use the the areas we are already gifted in to make a difference. For me, I loved to teach and speak…for others they like to do the behind the scenes stuff. Others are great cooks and so they minister by cooking for the homeless or making meals for shut-ins and the sick. We have a great opportunity to do that this week. Rhonda Bade had surgery and we have a sign-up sheet for people to take her and her families some meals. Others have carpentry and construction skills and God can use those…I mean our contractors who built the walls of this church could have used someone with actual construction skills!

God looks deep inside us and sees things we might never see ourselves. And don’t get caught up in the excuse of, “There are better people than me!”

God works through ordinary people like you and me.

We have the tendency to overspiritualize and glorify those we read about in Scripture. Moses, David, Peter, Paul…they are seen as heroes and we romanticize them. They become these spiritual giants and we could NEVER be like them.

That was Gideon’s thought…He wasn’t one of THOSE guys. 

But look at Judges 6:14,
The Lord turned to him and said, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?”
There are two things happening here.

God has given us giftings and strengths He expects us to use…but it isn’t all about us.

Go with the strength you have…there is something in Gideon God wanted to use. He needed Gideon to step up and use those skills.

But God also says, “I am sending you!” When God sends us, when God calls us to get involved it is He who sends us and He will give us the strength to do it!

Judges 6:16 
The Lord answered, “I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites, leaving none alive.”
I will be with you!

God has placed something in each one of us. He has placed a dream, a call, a ministry…something meant to bring glory to the Kingdom…and He asks us to go in the strength we have…he asks us to trust that when obey his call on our lives that He will go with us. 

This isn’t just about you. This isn’t just about me. We have a part to play…but it is about God using our willingness.

But do you know the great challenge that will come our way? The thing that will challenge our insecurities to the max? 

The Greatest Challenge we will face to our insecurity will be God himself. Because He will regularly lead us into areas and challenges where we could never succeed on our own.

God did this over and over for Gideon. Judges 7 tells the story many of us know about Gideon. He gathers an army ready to go after the Midianites, but God says, “You have too many men!” 

So Gideon says, “If you are afraid to fight, go home!” So 22,000 men leave. And 10,000 are left. 

Not the direction I would want to God…but we’ll go with it.

10,000 men is still a respectable army. 

But then God says, “You have too many men!” 

By the time God is done….there are only 300 men left in Gideon’s army. 10,000 was cutting it close…the Midianites had a vast army! Possibly hundreds of thousands…far more than 300 men would be able to handle…

Do you know why God led Gideon to use so few men? Judges 7:2 says, 
“The Lord said to Gideon, “You have too many men. I cannot deliver Midian into their hands, or Israel would boast against me, ‘My own strength has saved me.’

God will call us to tasks that are too big for us to handle on our own. They will scare us to death! And he does this because HE is the one accomplishing this dream through us. It so big we have to depend on him to see it accomplished. We have to use His strength. We have to pray. 

That old cliche “God never gives us more than we can handle…is nonsense. He gives us more than we can handle all time because the dream is bigger than us and only God can accomplish it.


As we move into our new space, we are entering a new stage of ministry at Crossroads Vineyard. When God called us to start the church it felt like a large, almost insurmountable task. Where were we going to meet? Who was going to help start it? How were we going to pay for it all?

Here we are 3 years later entering a new phase. We have our own space. But we also have a new challenge ahead of us. We are faced some similar questions, but also with some new ones. 

We have the opportunity to make a difference here in the north side of Dayton; throughout Huber Heights, Riverside, Vandalia, Northridge, and Fairborn. God is calling us…he is leading us into a task that is far too big for us…a task where everyone of us is needed to make this happen. Our goal is to be a place where people are loved into a relationship with Jesus Christ. Where people are regularly taking that next step whether it be salvation, or a step into ministry, or a step into serving, or a step into deeper levels of discipleship. We want to be a place that serves and loves and cares for those who are hurting and broken. 

In order to do this we have to regularly ask What is God be calling me to do so see this accomplished? 

I know the difference God can make in a person’s life. I know the difference God can make in people’s lives through those who are following Him too. I want to see us become a place that follows God with all that we have…that follows him into those impossible dreams on a personal level and as a church…I want us to be a place and people who have dreams of the Kingdom that are so big they scare us to death…but we charge in because God says to go!

April 21, 2014

Overcoming Obstacles-Peter and Judas

We are in a message series looking at some common obstacles that get in the way and keep us from being what God has called us to be.  We are doing this by looking at the lives of some of the people the Bible’s. 

One of the biggest obstacles you and I will face in our lives is How do we handle, how do we recover from failure? Whether our failure is the result of our sin, a mistakes, or it is just things not ending the way want…failure is not easy. But as Mythbusters says, “Failure is always an option!” 

Failure is a part of life…we are not going to succeed at everything. In fact, some of our greatest lessons can be learned because we fail.

One writer simply says, “If you aren’t making mistakes, then you aren’t doing anything!” 

To try, to push forward, to attempt something new, to accomplish a difficult goal…all will have failure along the way. And since failure is going to happen…we must be prepared for it when it does. We have to know how to handle it. We have o prepare ourselves psychologically.

One of my favorite quotes is from Theodore Roosevelt. He says, “It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes short again and again, who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause, who at best knows achievement and who at the worst if he fails at least fails while daring greatly so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat." 

During this time of year two men serve as prime examples of failure…Peter…he constantly stuck his foot in his mouth…said the wrong thing…pulled his sword and almost started a war… but those were nothing compared to what happened the night Jesus was arrested. Three times Peter denies even knowing the man whom he had followed and professed just a few hours earlier to defend to the death.

The other man hung in the shadows for most of Jesus’ ministry. His name is synonymous with traitor. For a few silver coins, the price of a slave sold at market, Judas Iscariot betrays Jesus into the hands of the authorities who will push for his execution. 

Both these men’s stories intertwine in the pages of Matthew 26 and 27. Each failed deeply, but it is how they handled their failure that made all the difference in the outcome…

Let’s start with Judas…

Matthew 26:14-16, 
“Then one of the Twelve—the one called Judas Iscariot—went to the chief priests and asked, “What are you willing to give me if I deliver him over to you?” So they counted out for him thirty pieces of silver. From then on Judas watched for an opportunity to hand him over.”
Matthew 26:47-50, 
“While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, arrived. With him was a large crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests and the elders of the people. Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: “The one I kiss is the man; arrest him.” Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and kissed him.
Jesus replied, “Do what you came for, friend.”
Then the men stepped forward, seized Jesus and arrested him.
Matthew 27:1-5
Very early in the morning the leading priests and the elders of the people met again to lay plans for putting Jesus to death. Then they bound him, led him away, and took him to Pilate, the Roman governor.
When Judas, who had betrayed him, realized that Jesus had been condemned to die, he was filled with remorse. So he took the thirty pieces of silver back to the leading priests and the elders. “I have sinned,” he declared, “for I have betrayed an innocent man.”
“What do we care?” they retorted. “That’s your problem.”
Then Judas threw the silver coins down in the Temple and went out and hanged himself.
No one is sure why Judas did what he did. He wasn’t an honest person, as John tells us, he was the treasurer but helped himself to the money that was supposed to help the poor. But here in Mathew we see a man who is trying to force Jesus’ hand…he is looking to push Jesus into taking a stand, declaring war on the Roman Empire, call everyone to arms, and become the Kingly Messiah that would make Israel free from its oppressors.

But when Judas saw his plan backfire…he was overcome with grief. His purpose was not to see Jesus crucified…this was not what he wanted to happen…

The grief and pain of his failure and sin was overwhelming, and like so many even today, he saw suicide as his only escape. He couldn’t see a way out of the pain…It drove him to hopelessness…he couldn’t see forgiveness of any kind…what he had done was not unforgivable…His failure literally became fatal.

Peter’s failure was just as bad in many ways. I think that is why the writer of Matthew links the stories in these two chapters…Peter then Judas then Peter then Judas. They both fail the man they have been following and calling their teacher, and rabbi.

Matthew 26:69-75
Now Peter was sitting out in the courtyard, and a servant girl came to him. “You also were with Jesus of Galilee,” she said.
But he denied it before them all. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said. 
Then he went out to the gateway, where another servant girl saw him and said to the people there, “This fellow was with Jesus of Nazareth.”
He denied it again, with an oath: “I don’t know the man!” 
After a little while, those standing there went up to Peter and said, “Surely you are one of them; your accent gives you away.” 
Then he began to call down curses, and he swore to them, “I don’t know the man!”
Immediately a rooster crowed. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken: “Before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly.
Peter also knew he had failed. Just a few hours earlier, Jesus told him, ““This very night you will all fall away on account of me…” and Peter swore he would never turn on Jesus! “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.”
And now…with the actual possibility that he too could be killed just for being with Jesus…Peter moves into self-protective mode. Deny, Deny, Deny…I don’t know this man. I don’t know Jesus!

Peter was known for sticking his foot in his mouth and making bold claims, but I wouldn’t have predicted this…

Just as a side note: one of things that helps me see the biblical account as having integrity is stuff like this…Peter goes on to be one of the key foundational leaders of the Early Church and they are more than willing to air the dirty laundry of his failure.  

For some reason Peter held on…his story doesn’t end the way Judas’ story ends.

Following the death and resurrection of Jesus, the Gospel of John gives us this amazing story about Jesus and Peter…

John 21:15-19
When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” 
Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” 
The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. 

Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”

So often on Easter Sunday morning Pastors give a long list of reasons as to why the resurrection is true…why it should be believed…And there are some great resources that do that…Lee Strobel…William Lane Craig…But this morning I don’t want us to focus on the proofs and evidence demonstrating that a resurrection took place. I want you to know that Peter’s end is possible for us because a resurrection did take place. Judas’ story could have ended the same way I believe…

The reason our failures and sin do not have to end the way Judas’ ended is because of the power of the resurrection. Our failure, our mistakes, our sins…can turn to hopelessness if we do not understand the power that Jesus’ resurrection offers us.

You know the cross itself looked like a failure. The failure of a man to bring change to the world. The failure of Jesus to be the Messiah everyone hoped he would be. A man put to death in the most brutal way the Roman Empire knew how. Jesus’ life and ministry ended with a crucifixion…with failure.

But that “failure” was turned to victory in the resurrection.

Ephesians 1:19-20 (NLT), 
“I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms.”
It is easy for us to focus on our failure...to see all the ways we fall short, the ways we have sinned, the ways we have screwed up...but the resurrection reminds us that even death does not end in defeat. The worst possible thing that could happen to us is not the worst possible thing. 

Even more is the resurrection is not just a reminder that we get to spend all this time with God after we die...the resurrection offers us power to live fully in today...here and now…it calls us and empowers us to make a difference in our world

When we look at this story of Peter and Jesus we discover

We are offered forgiveness.
No matter how bad the offense…no matter how bad the sin…so matter how far away from God we feel we are offered forgiveness. His love for us is beyond measure…So often we get this view of an angry God who doesn’t want to heal, but sends Jesus to the Cross to take our punishment.  That is not the picture offered at all. Jesus reveals the heart of God and that is a heart of forgiveness.

Three times Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?” Many believe that each one reflects the 3 acts of Peter’s denial, and in each one…Jesus is offering forgiveness!

I found this clip and knew I needed to show it…watch the power of forgiveness in action…

Our sin and failure is like a noose around our necks… a death sentence…but Jesus steps up and offers to remove the noose from our neck and give us this life-giving forgiveness.

And when Jesus offers us forgiveness

We are offered a future.
After Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?” He then told Peter, “Feed my sheep.” 

This isn’t a promise that we will never fail again…that from now on we will get everything right…No…Jesus says once we receive forgiveness he wants to give us meaning and purpose by giving us a responsibility. 

For Peter it meant leading the Early Church. He became its first pastor. 

When God forgives us He also calls us…he has a purpose…a responsibility for each and everyone of us. He knows we will falter and fail…there will be times when we have to resist sin and ask forgiveness for our sins, but Jesus says, “Follow me!” 

That is what makes all the difference…the direction of our movement…Do we get up when we fall down? Do we keep following Jesus when we get back up?

When you fail do you lay there and wallow in how bad you performed? Do think about all the ways you SHOULD have done better? COULD have done better? 

The offer of Forgiveness and a Future says it doesn’t matter what you should have done and could have done…from now on Follow Me! 

I have failed at a lot of things in my life. I have made some bad mistakes. Some of my failures were caused by bad decisions. Others were the results of deliberate sins I committed. Some were just the fact that things did not turn out the way I wanted.

The resurrection reminds us that our failures…whether in spiritual lives or in any other area of life…our failures do not have to have the last word.

It is easy in our culture to ignore the spiritual side of our lives…but how bad it must be to get to the end of this whole thing and realize we have neglected…we have failed…to recognize the most important aspect of our existence. 

Jesus’ resurrection tells us that not only can we be forgiven and have a relationship with God, but you and I have a calling and purpose in life that is bigger than just having a good job and a nice family.

Overcoming Obstacles-Jesus

This morning we are starting a new message series called Overcoming Obstacles. We are going to be looking at some major Bible characters and the obstacles they overcame. Everyone of us faces obstacles throughout our lives…the challenge is to face them and overcome them. We learn through our own trial and error, but we can also learn by looking at the lives and examples of others.

This morning, being Palm Sunday and all, I thought I would start with Jesus. It might be hard for some of us to think of Jesus as having overcome any obstacle…he was God, wasn’t he? As God he should have been able to simply side step any challenges. But being fully human Jesus was subject to the same challenges and difficulties you and I face on a daily basis. The biggest of which was dealing with the expectations of others.

You and I face expectations all the time. We have expectations for ourselves and nearly every area of the world we enter has expectations for us…

There are expectations of law…it is expected that you won’t speed through a school zone…it is expected you won’t run red lights or drive away from an accident.

Your boss has expectations for you…that you will show up on time ready to work…that you will be honest about your hours…that you will work hard.

Your family has expectations that you provide for them…that you will love them.

When Bri was little, her pediatrician did all the standard weight and measurement things doctors are supposed to do. We were told Bri was normal weight and healthy, but she was above average in height and verbal skills. The doctor then warned us this could cause problem we needed to watch out for. Because she was taller and spoke more clearly teachers and other adults would automatically assume she was older and lay expectations on her she would be unable to fulfill because of her age and development.

Luckily Bri was just a brilliant child who never did anything wrong…

We all face expectations. But sometimes those expectations can become a burden…these are the expectations that no matter how hard you try…you just can’t live up to, and so they weight us down. And if you add in the weight of others failing to meet the expectations we have of them…we can enter this horrible cycle of disappointment that never seems to end.

And Jesus offers us some great insight into this area of expectation. See, Jesus failed to meet a lot of the expectations laid on him, and He failed to do so on purpose…

Jesus was not the Messiah people expected.
Today, Palm Sunday, really represents a day of broken expectations…
Mark 11:7-11 tells us 
When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted,“Hosanna!”“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!”“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple courts. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.
As Jesus enters Jerusalem, the people are shouting and cheering, they are welcoming a prophet who just might be the expected Messiah…and yet by the end of the week…they turn him over to the occupying Roman government and hang him from a cross.

I used to ask, “What could cause them to make such a dramatic shift?” Now, I know…Jesus didn’t meet their expectations….and nothing brings out the worst in someone than when their expectation are not met.

The Jewish people expected a Messiah to ride in on a white horse, vindicate all their suffering, and lead them to overthrow their Roman rulers…Jesus, however, rides in on a donkey, talks about another Kingdom, heals and feeds and cares for the poor and the hurting…but does nothing about the Romans. He isn’t talking about overthrow…he talks about loving your neighbor…he talks about turning the other cheek…this isn’t the Messiah they expected, and when those expectations aren’t fulfilled they want to crucify him. 

But they weren’t the only ones who felt betrayed by Jesus not fulfilling expectations…

Jesus was not the Messiah the Pharisees expected either.
If this man was going to be the Messiah, much less a prophet, the religious leaders of the day had some expectations. They expected him to conduct himself in a way that represented the Jewish faith well. They expected to be treated with respect. They expected him to socialize with the right kind of people. If you are a religious person you do certain things…and Jesus didn’t live up to their expectations.

Luke 15:1-2 says, “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.””

Jesus was expected to hang around with certain kinds of people…and he hung around with tax collectors and sinners. They were appalled that he would eat with these men and women who willfully sinned against God! 

The Pharisees knew their people had suffered much…been exiled…all because they had turned from God and committed sin. Now, this man who claimed to be a prophet and possibly even the Messiah was eating with the very people who caused God’s judgment to fall on them in the past.

In Matthew 12 Jesus has the audacity to heal a man…on the Sabbath! 

Matthew 12:11-14 says,
“He said to them, “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other. But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus.”
Breaking the Sabbath was a serious offense. The OT Testament warns against those who break the sabbath…they even stoned a man for gathering wood for a fire. It is one of the 10 Commandments. “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy!” And here Jesus is doing “work” on the sabbath. 

Again…Jesus does not live up to the expectations they have for him because any real prophet would live according to the commandments!

But let’s make this a little more personal…

Jesus was not the Messiah His disciples expected.
All those following Jesus had their expectations of who Jesus would be, what he would do, and how things were going to go…and He failed to meet those expectations too…

In John 6:26-27, Jesus feeds more than 5,000 people with 5 loaves and 2 small fish. When the people realize Jesus has slipped away they go looking for him, and Jesus says, “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.” 

They wanted him to be a miracle-worker! Best food program and medical offered by anyone! And Jesus refused to be the monkey dancing to their music…

It might be expected of the followers at large, but you would think those closest to him would be better informed and more understanding, but they weren’t. 

John the Baptist, who baptized Jesus and announced his arrival, had failed expectations.
Matthew 11:2-3 says, “When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”

Some see this as depression brought on by his time in prison, and that may be part of it. But I think it was blown expectations. John, the fiery preacher who dressed like an OT prophet and called people to repent of their sins, expected Jesus to bring the pain to the sinners…and Jesus was offering grace and forgiveness. John was looking for something else.

Even members of the 12, felt it too. I believe the primary reason Judas betrayed Jesus is because Jesus was supposed to bring a Kingdom, destroy the Romans, and set up the disciples as His leaders…and Jesus wasn’t doing that. So Judas, a man always looking for an opportunity felt it. He betrayed Jesus and handed him over to be killed because Jesus wasn’t living up to his expectations. 

Even after the resurrection and all they had seen…they still didn’t get it. Jesus is about to ascend into the heavenly realm and Acts 1:6 says, “Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

They had expectations and Jesus wasn’t meeting them.

There were all these expectations swirling around Jesus on a regular basis and He refused to succumb to them…

We too have expectations of Jesus…and he refuses to be held to some of those expectations.

Jesus failed to live up to the expectations…he refused to live up to those expectations because

Jesus knew who he was made to be…
At Jesus’ baptism it says, Matthew 3:16-17, “As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” 

Jesus knew God had a purpose for him and that he was loved by God. There may have been times he didn’t feel that love or closeness, but Jesus trusted in God’s purpose and love for Him, and that enabled him to push through the expectations others tried to lay on him.

For us this holds true as well.  Simply knowing God’s purpose for us and knowing He loves us can help us overcome an abundance of bad expectations. We are not looking to please other people…we are not looking to be meet their expectations. 

God has a purpose for you and you are loved beyond anything another human being can offer. I believe God says the same thing over us as He said about Jesus…This is my child, whom I love; and I am well pleased!”

This doesn’t mean there aren’t times when we are hurt by the expectations of others. We have all lost friendships and been hurt by family members and others at our church and at our work because of a failure to live up to expectations…we have all been there and will face them over and over again in our lives.

The challenge is to recognize them as faulty expectations and live whole-heartedly for the one who really matters.

Everyday I make a choice will I live up to the expectations others have of me or the ones God has for me…I don’t always do this well. Everyday I make the choice to allow the expectation based love others have for me dictate my actions or recognize that God loves me without condition…there are expectations He has for me, but they are they expectations based on a deep understanding of who I am and an infinite love fro me.

So often we live our lives trying to live up to the expectations of others…expecting others to live up to our expectations…and when people fail to live up to expectation then anger and frustration erupt.

We expect someone to act a certain way and they don’t so we get angry. They expect us to behave a certain way, and we don’t so they get angry. 

We even get angry when we fail to live up to our own expectations for ourselves. On Wednesday I watched as several of the kids in my class played basketball at lunch. One kid, who doesn’t shoot well, kept expecting himself to make these long shots from behind the 3-point line…and when he didn’t make them he got more and more frustrated. I could see him getting angry with himself for missing them even though there was no reason for him to expect that because he has never been a good shooter and especially not from that far away.

It isn’t that we should do away with expectations though…just that we should have a healthy view of them. 

Steve Jobs once said,
“Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything - all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.”

I believe the same thing is true when we realize that God’s opinion is the one that matters…our identity is based in Him and not what others think…and our greatest sources of love comes from Him. When these are in order then we are able to appropriately manage the good and bad expectations of others and of ourself. 

It isn’t the expectations that are the problem…we all have expectations…the problem is when those expectations make us feel like less, make us fell less loved…and they are not expectations we are equipped to meet or called to live up to.

This morning you might be struggling with the obstacle of expectation. Others have laid expectations on you and you cannot possibly meet…maybe you have laid some expectations on others and there is no way they could possibly meet them. And today you need freedom from those expectations…

October 1, 2013

Daniel 4

We have been working our way through the book of Daniel. We have been looking through the lens of how we, as people of God, can influence the world around us and draw them closer to God. Just like the Israelites, we are called to be a missionary people. As Jesus told the disciples, Matthew 28:18-19, ““All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Our commission, like the disciples and the Israelites, is to reach the world around us with the love and forgiveness offered by Jesus Christ. Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego give us great insight into how to reach our culture and make difference for the Kingdom of God. We see three young men who maintained their integrity, lived lives of holiness, refused to literally bow their beliefs to appease those around them, but were humble, respectful, and concerned about those around them...and in the process helped the ruler of the greatest empire of its time find God.It was their attitude and approach that led King Nebuchadnezzar to greater and greater recognition that Yahweh God was the Lord of All.

Let’s review for just a moment:
Chapter 1 starts out with Nebuchadnezzar destroying Yahweh’s capital city and ransacking His temple. He had no respect for this God because, in his eyes, Yahweh could not protect His own people or His own temple. But by the end of chapter 1, Nebuchadnezzar found these young men superior to everyone else, and they did that because they were obedient to their God. Not in a pushy or public way...just obedient. Daniel 1:19-20 says, “The king talked with them, and he found none equal to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah; so they entered the king’s service. In every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king questioned them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom.” It starts with us doing our jobs, doing them well, and people liking us.

In Chapter 2, Nebuchadnezzar has a dream that troubles him, but wants to know his advisors and spiritual leaders are not just blowing smoke. So he wants them to both tell him the dream and interpret it. They can’t do it. So they remind Nebuchadnezzar, Daniel 2:10-11, “There is no one on earth who can do what the king asks! No king, however great and mighty, has ever asked such a thing of any magician or enchanter or astrologer. What the king asks is too difficult. No one can reveal it to the king except the gods, and they do not live among humans.”

So Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego pray, and God uses Daniel’s spiritual gifts to do something great! Daniel stands before Nebuchadnezzar and declares, Daniel 2:27-28, “No wise man, enchanter, magician or diviner can explain to the king the mystery he has asked about, but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries.” By using the gifts and abilities and position God had given him, Daniel was able to help the King take one step closer to Yahweh.

Daniel 2:46-47 says, “Then King Nebuchadnezzar fell prostrate before Daniel and paid him honor and ordered that an offering and incense be presented to him. The king said to Daniel, “Surely your God is the God of gods and the Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries, for you were able to reveal this mystery.”

Daniel 3 tells how Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego faced certain death because they refused to bow before the idols placed before them. Because of their integrity and their trust that God would work everything out for His glory...even if He didn’t rescue them from the fire...Nebuchadnezzar took another step closer to Yahweh God.

In Daniel 3:28-29 Nebuchadnezzar says, “Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants! They trusted in him and defied the king’s command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God. Therefore I decree that the people of any nation or language who say anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego be cut into pieces and their houses be turned into piles of rubble, for no other god can save in this way.”

We see that Nebuchadnezzar has moved from a complete lack of knowledge to liking some of God’s servants...to acknowledge God’s reality...to praising Him...and now, in Chapter 4 his spiritual journey continues.

Nebuchadnezzar himself is writing this chapter of Daniel...the only non-Jewish male to write a anything included in the Bible...and he shares his testimony.

Read Daniel 4

Looking at these 4 chapters from Daniel it becomes very clear that

God’s uses us to reach others.
So often we want the church to reach the lost. We want others to speak up. We want others to take the initiative in spiritual discussions...but God wants us to do it. He places us in the position He does so we can make a difference for the Kingdom...so others can be drawn closer to Him because of their relationship with us.

Each step of the way God used Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to reach and influence those around them. Here, again, in Daniel 4, Nebuchadnezzar has a God-given dream that no one can interpret for him, and God uses Daniel. He has placed Daniel in this situation for a reason. Daniel would not have chosen this life. He would much rather have been safe and secure in Jerusalem, with his own people, and worshipping in the Yahweh’s temple...but he couldn’t be because God had placed him here in Nebuchadnezzar’s court. Because of that Nebuchadnezzar was taking one step after another closer to worshipping God.

Maybe you chose that neighborhood because of the nice house and good schools, but God places you there because He wants you to be an influence for the Kingdom of God. There are neighbors who need a relationship with Him, and He places us in our neighborhoods so He can speak into their lives through us.

Maybe you would choose a different family if you could, but God wants to use you to reach those closest to you and draw them closer to Him. For those of us who are parents, that starts with our spouse and our children. In Daniel 5 we will see that Nebuchadnezzar, though he drew closer to God himself, did not help his son Belshazzar draw closer to God. But we have parents, in-laws, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews who need to know God, and we have been placed where we are to help influence the Kingdom of God in their lives.

You accepted that job because they offered it to you and you needed the money. Or you made the change because it was in the best interest of your career trajectory. But God places you there so you can work hard, with integrity, and be a positive influence for the Kingdom of God. You have coworkers who need the power of God’s Kingdom in their lives...they are searching for God, and you are the one God has placed in their path.

One of the biggest hurdles that we have to overcome in our faith journey is that God want to use us...that we are His only plan for reaching this world. God promises to act and work...we have to be willing to step up and do our part. There are millions of people who are headed straight to hell, and it is given to us to be the messenger of God’s love and salvation to them.

We can’t change their hearts. We can’t force them to accept. God’s Holy Spirit will do the internal work, but we are to be the voice, the offer, the loving embrace and kind act that helps them move one step closer to God.

We reach them with our gifts
You know Billy Graham has an amazing gift of evangelism...I’m no Billy Graham.

Mother Theresa had an amazing gift of compassion and empathy...I’m no Mother Theresa.

And yet, just because I can’t be Billy Graham or Mother Theresa doesn’t mean I am excused from the act of evangelism or the act of compassion...it simply means that I must do what I can do. I am not called to be either of those two, and neither are you. We are called to use the gifts we have been given to do what we can do.

Daniel had the gift of interpreting dreams. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, as far as we know, did not...and yet God used all of them to help change the spiritual life of King Nebuchadnezzar. Each one of us have talents, abilities, and spiritual gifts that God has given us so we can expand and influence for His Kingdom.

1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12, 1 Peter 4 and Ephesians 4 all give us a glimpse into some of the spiritual gifts God gives us to expand and influence for His Kingdom. We all have one or more gifts. And we all have a responsibility to use them to further the Kingdom of God.

Richard, who visited with us last week, claims he doesn’t can’t do evangelism. But every one of his neighbors know they can come grab a soda out of the refrigerator in his garage and sit and talk for hours with him on the front porch...and eventually Richard brings up his faith.

You see our gifts are meant to be used to help others take their steps closer to God. That is why God gives them to us and expects us to use them and why he places us where he does.

We reach them with love
I want you to take a look at some pictures...this is how many are being “evangelized” in our world. And unfortunately for the you and I these are the people that become the representation of what it means to be a Christian and what it means to share our faith.

Their message is so different from what the Bible says Daniel did. They are sharing the truth about the judgment and wrath of God...which will take place...but they seem to enjoy it. They seem happy that those sinners will get what is coming to them, and this reveals their deepest problem...they don’t really love those they are trying to reach.

Have you ever had to give bad news or share some blunt truth with someone you love?

It hurts. It’s hard. You have to confront someone you love very much with the truth about how their actions are affecting them and other around them...that’s not easy.

Daniel listens to the King’s dream and knows this is a prediction of judgment on Nebuchadnezzar. Listen to what is says, Daniel 4:19, “Then Daniel (also called Belteshazzar) was greatly perplexed for a time, and his thoughts terrified him. So the king said, “Belteshazzar, do not let the dream or its meaning alarm you.” Belteshazzar answered, “My lord, if only the dream applied to your enemies and its meaning to your adversaries!”

Daniel had to confront the supreme ruler of the greatest empire of his time with a judgment from God. It was the truth. Nebuchadnezzar was being judged for his sins. But Daniel loved and cared for the Nebuchadnezzar. He didn’t look forward to the fulfillment of this prophecy...

And he had every right to look forward to it. Daniel saw his hometown destroyed. The temple of his God ransacked, pillaged, and desecrated. Family and friends slaughtered. He had been dragged off to a foreign land and made to serve the very king who did all of those evil things...and here he stands longing for this prophecy to apply to someone else...

I have to wrestle with that a bit. Don’t you? It has been in my thoughts for several days now, thinking about Daniel’s response to this King, his concern for this man despite all that he had done...and then comparing it to my response to others.

Daniel demonstrated compassion, kindness, and love to the man who had done so much wrong to him, his family, and his people...it should be so much easier for us to have this same approach to people in our culture whom we don’t even know...who have haven’t done anything wrong to us.

But then when you think of the family, friends, and neighbors whom we do have a relational connection with...those we do love...and yet we remain silent about our faith. We never invite them to step closer to God. We seem fine to let them find their own way. We sit by hoping that someone else will step us and say something...

And I don’t think it is because we don’t care...it is because we don’t want to be associated with the people in those pictures. But sometimes it is because it is difficult and uncomfortable to bridge that gap and bring up spiritual things.

I believe God places us where He does so we can influence others and lead them step-by-step closer to Him. That is our primary purpose in life, and we live in a city that desperately needs us to recognize our missionary calling in our families, neighborhoods and jobs. The need us to use the gifting God has given us, and do it with so much love that people can’t resist...and if they do...they at least recognize that they are loved beyond anything else.

Nebuchadnezzar ends the chapter by saying, “Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble.”

Just think of those around us who need this in their lives! Let’s pray and work like never before to see those in our community move step-by-step closer to God.

The lost sheep...my call to ministry...why I entered church planting.