Friday, May 20, 2011

i'm moving my blog!

here's where i'll be setting up camp from now on:

Monday, May 9, 2011

Get a different ruler.

How do you measure success?

In order to measure anything you've got to have a ruler, a yardstick, a measuring cup, or some form of tool designed to represent a standard and then evaluate and compare.  So, for the sake of this analogy, let's just stick with a ruler.  Where do we get that ruler?  Well, you just go down to the store and buy one, right?  It's the supply & demand principle, and our culture has obsessively demanded success to gratify our prideful hearts.  So, naturally, there has been an endless and evolving supply of rulers to measure and evaluate what success looks like in our world today.  It may be which celebrity you look like, or the speed of your car, or the brand on your clothes, or the image conveyed by your Facebook profile picture, or the friends you associate with, or the title you hold at work.  We assign meaning to these descriptions of us, and we're constantly glancing back and forth between ourselves and the image our world esteems as successful.  And our culture becomes the ruler, and it rules over us.  The more often we measure the more quickly we become possessed by the pursuit of success, significance and gratification.  Or, to put it more bluntly, we become obsessed with ourselves.  Unfortunately, we have a tendancy to buy what we're being sold, and we as Christians are not always discerning.  We too often wish to flirt and learn from society, and we become deceived and conformed to their image.  Our culture is constantly putting out a new line of rulers that often look and sound downright biblical.  There's where it becomes dangerous, even deadly.

We often measure success as Christians or as a church with the same ruler(s) our culture is using.

It may be an ignorant mistake, and most often we mean well and even think it's honoring to God.  We hear spiritual leaders urging us on to "tackle great obstacles", "go get our world for God", "dream big dreams", "cast a bigger vision", and so on and so forth.  It sounds inspiring, it sounds positive, and it sounds exactly like the faith we're told we're supposed to have.  Shouldn't we go all in and do great things for God?  Shouldn't we pray that God raises up a generation of devoted followers that will rock the world with the gospel?  The leaders championing that cause wield a strong influence on Christianity in America (especially among young people).  But what if some of these leaders unknowingly ripped a page out of the latest corporate leadership magazines because someone they trusted had substituted it for the Word of God?

I'm a part of this generation that grew up dreaming about accomplishing awesome things for the Lord.  And I've also snubbed my nose at the "dead" spirituality of my parents' generation.  What made their spirituality "dead"?  Well, it just wasn't successful!  I mean, look at the numbers, they don't lie!  Look at all the pastors who were simply content to stay at that little podunk church going nowhere.  They're not attracting new people, they're outreach events are lame, and their current attempts at becoming more contemporary are embarrassing.  No, I want to be a part of a great work of God!  I want to be a part of church where the masses are swarming in and being touched with our message.  I want to be able to, I mean share...well, no...I guess I do want to be able to brag about what God is doing in and through me and my church.  I want to know that God is using me mightily and that we are successful!

But what if God doesn't use me like that?

What if I'm a part of a church that's not bringing them in by the hundreds and rocking the house and seeing dozens come to Christ each week?  What if my week is spent mowing an old lady's yard, and that lady is certainly not going to be someone influential in the community?  What if our church's worship service is attended by the same few each week?  What if our old-school door-to-door methods of outreach don't turn out any converts or baptisms?  What if we keep spinning our wheels and end up stuck in the same place as a church for the next 20 years without seeing any noticeable growth other than a few of the kids growing up to replace the elderly?

Will I be OK with that?

Well, I guess I'd better stop asking my culture, because I know what answer they'd give me.  But what would God say?  That's probably the better question we should have started with from the beginning:

How does God measure success?

It seems to come down to a simple characteristic He's looking for:  FAITHFULNESS.  Sure, I know He counted the servants' talents when He returned to see if they'd brought in an increase, but was it a certain number He was after?  Or was He looking to see if they had been faithful?  We are assured that true believers will produce fruit, but I'm afraid we may often project our own misconceptions about the nature of the fruit and judge an individual from the outside.  Self-evaluation must boil down to that question: am I being faithful to God?  And only the mirror of His Word will reflect an accurate answer.

Hey, if God allows you to be a part of a church that has the privilege and joy of being harvesters, then rejoice!  Give the glory to the One who causes all things to grow.  Stay faithful.  And if God in His sovereign wisdom uses you for years to be a planter or one who waters but never sees much of the harvest, then rejoice!  Give the glory to the One who causes all things to grow.  Stay faithful.

I'm throwing out the ruler my culture sold me.  It's not about me looking successful, that is simply the ugly outworking of my pride.  I've got a different Ruler, and I'm asking Him for strength today to walk in His Spirit, that someday I might hear Him say to me, "Well done, good and faithful servant."

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Are you prepared for Easter?

We're about to be bombarded again with another commercialized holiday season.  Easter is approaching, and the shopping centers promise not to disappoint.  Already the other day I saw a big banner announcing a store's emphasis, "Bunnylicious" (sounded like a really cheesy Fergie knock-off on an already cheesy song).  There's sure to be mounds of chocolate bunnies, gooey peeps, egg-coloring kits (everything from camouflage to tie dye to stickers), baskets and every kind of trinket they know we'll stuff in them.  The disappointment is that it's all consumer driven.  That means me.  I buy this stuff.  I add to the spring buzz that's no doubt meant to drown out the religious overtones of Easter.  What's crazy is that it doesn't just stop with Target or Wal-Mart.  I'm sure Christian bookstores make a killing during this season.

But just hold on...

I'm not saying that any of this is inherently wrong (other than the Fergie reference).  It's difficult to make a legitimate argument that the Easter bunny is the spawn of Satan, and it's perfectly fine for you to build your child an Easter basket and hunt for eggs.  And who's not looking forward to ripping into a pack of peeps?!

All this commercialized hype can be a lot of fun and add positive memories to an already celebratory season with friends and family.  So color your eggs, down some chocolate, take family pictures in your dresses and ties...but sanctify the real reason for celebration.  Set it apart.  Don't cheapen the cross and the empty tomb by mixing it in with superfluous holiday consumption.

I know you've heard this kind of message a thousand times before (at least every time Christmas & Easter come rolling around again), but let's talk some strategy here.  Go ahead, huddle up!  Lean in and listen up!  I realize that as Christians we should be celebrating the Resurrection every Sunday, but do you recognize the opportunities this holiday season can provide for us?  At some point this Easter season, the people in our communities are going to hear or see some reference to Jesus.  Religious people, religious sub-cultures and churches thrive on the exposure they receive around this holiday, and our culture may be more sensitive, more inquisitive or at least more aware of what happens in churches and what's being taught.

But the question is, Will they hear the gospel?

So here's where I have to ask you, Are you prepared for Easter?  Are you prepared to take advantage of opportunities that may come up in casual conversation that would allow you to speak the truth about our Creator and Redeemer? (1 Peter 3:15)

Here's a hint: if you know and delight in Christ then you can confidently answer, Yes!  Easter Sunday is not the reason we celebrate.  We celebrate because we know Jesus.  Our joy is in Him alone.  We can marvel in the truth that Jesus + nothing = everything.  Jesus knew how bad our condition was, and He fixed it with a bloody cross and a resurrected body.  We are free from sin and alive to God.  We have a personal relationship with the Almighty Creator...all because of Jesus!  Praise God!  Hallelujah, all I have is Christ!

And we think on these glorious truths everyday...not just once a year...but all the more when given an opportunity to share it with any who might pause to listen.

So instead of worrying about when you're going to color your eggs, what you're going to wear for Easter Sunday, or how many peeps you can cram into your mouth at the same time, let's prepare our hearts to worship Christ and share His name with others.  Write the name of an unsaved friend, family member or coworker down on a sheet of paper and ask God to give you boldness for sharing the gospel with them in the next week (I didn't say invite them to our Easter service...although that's fine...).  Tell them about Jesus!  His name should flow out of the hearts and mouths of those who know and delight in Him.

Monday, February 28, 2011

shadows and dust

Psalm 42:1, 2
"As a deer pants for flowing streams,
so pants my soul for you, O God.
 My soul thirsts for God,
for the living God.
When shall I come and appear before God?"

God is my foundational need for all of life (both for my time here on earth and in all eternity), but do I live with this realization?  Do I live like I need God?  Or have I so confused my needs and desires that God just becomes another item to pack in my suitcase for the journey of life?

How easily I've become preoccupied with the delicacies this world tantalizingly offers me every waking hour!  I have tasted of this world's food.  For a moment it was sweet and filling, and then in a horrifying realization it turned to dust and made me sick.  And like a deranged dog I've found myself returning to my vomit, hoping that this time I'll at last find satisfaction.  And again I prove to myself that sin is insanity.

I don't think I'm alone in this struggle.

This world I'm passing through is the Shadowland, mere shadows of what is to come, and I am too easily seduced by its charms to recognize reality.  I snatch at its offers in order to please myself and become pathetically inebriated by vanity.

To think of my earthly desires as needs will no doubt get me into trouble here in the Shadowlands because I forget to look up.  The moment I believe that I have a need that can be fulfilled in anything but Christ I have given up my manhood.  I've committed suicide, and I am reduced to self-inflicted emotional flagellation.  The practical out-working of this poison is seen around every bend in my journey.  It's in my need to be loved, to be right, to be first, to be noticed, to be entertained, to be the exception, to be excused, to be...well, to be worshiped.  Any so-called "need" will torment my idolatrous heart.  I have starved my belly and ripped out my chest, grasping at everything and eating nothing.  It's not that I have eaten too little or too much, it is that I have eaten nothingness.  I live as an animal and nothing more.

Unless I dine in the High Countries.

It is then the shadows taste sweet as they point me to the Bread of Life, and in Him I find satisfaction.  I embody true manliness as I reflect the Imago Dei for I have realized who God has created me to be.  I worship the LORD.  I am satisfied in my Creator.  I delight in Christ.  My soul pants for God.  My soul thirsts for the living God.

I am eager to accept His invitation:

"Come, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and he who has no money, 
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food."
Isaiah 55:1, 2

Sunday, July 11, 2010

the biggest year of our lives...and it's only july!

jolie sat content riding along in her brand new wagon as mommy pulled her along the street of our new neighborhood, judah could barely keep his eyes open (very typical!) as i cradled him in my arms, and carissa summed up life at the present with this statement: "2010 has been the biggest year of my life so far."

and that about says it all.

this has truly been an eventful year!  at the beginning of january our church moved into our new facility, and a few weeks later we lost our friend and pastor, kurt, very unexpectedly.  then we thought we were leaving for north carolina in february (with no job in sight), but our worship pastor resigned and we made the decision to stay and help for a few more months during the search process.  God then provided 2 jobs for us down in north carolina (leading worship at a small church and a shift supervisor position at starbucks).  then judah was born on june 4, and june 27 we said goodbye to our church family at rock point.

now we're embracing the adventure and this new chapter in our lives.  we left our little house on lincoln street in crawfordsville, indiana on june 30 driving the minivan as papa drove the rental truck filled with all our stuff.  and we arrived in wake forest, north carolina on july 1 to a welcoming group of friends from our new church ready to help us unpack the truck and provide us with a meal for the night (southern fried chicken...what a blessing!)  we enjoyed time with papa and dad sargent, and no sooner had they left then my parents arrived for a few days.  so we've had lots of help unpacking and setting up the new house (which carissa has already made feel like home)...and jolie's enjoyed all the attention from grandparents!  meanwhile, i started training at starbucks (which is a blast, but has felt a little like drinking from a fire hose), and this morning i led worship for the first time officially at our new church, union view baptist.  and in just a few weeks i'll begin my first classes in seminary.  whew...

what a blast!

following God's lead is so exciting.  ...crazy...but exciting!

and now i sit on a sunday afternoon and count all my amazing blessings...who are all sleeping soundly.  thank you, Jehovah-Jireh!

Monday, June 14, 2010

my little lion

ashamed it's taken me this long to post this exciting news, but i used all of last week to celebrate in relaxation (as much as possible)...but Judah is here!!!  he checked in right according to schedule on june 4 @ 2:00pm and weighed in @ 7lbs 8oz (and 20 and 1/2 inches long).  we went in for a scheduled c-section that friday which was sooo much easier (like it was really all that difficult for me!) than 26 hours of labor only to end up having a c-section (our experience with Jolie).  so the scheduled surgery was a nice, semi-relaxing change of pace...but i was still so pumped with adrenaline i probably brought comic relief to all the doctors and nurses around as i frantically paced back and forth waiting to be admitted to the operating room.  and in a matter of minutes upon arriving at the side of my heavily drugged wife...we heard his little cry. was more a a high-pitched screaming monkey...but it was wonderful!  and what a little miracle he is, and a huge answer to prayer!
he is a stud!  and he completely shocked us with his hair...a full head of dark brown hair...enough for a legit faux hawk (which he sported on his way home from the hospital!).  he's even got sideburns...trying to be like his daddy!  so much fun to hold him...he's so chill...just relaxed and peaceful...he's just awesome!  praise God!
just rereading this post makes me laugh...there's so much to say...but not the words to say it...

daddy's praising the LORD for you, Judah my scepter (Psalm 60:7) little lion!  i'm praying you become a mighty lion for the glory of God!

human doings or human beings?

this is a well-spoken and thoughtful reminder for those on the journey to become like Christ:

the pressure to accomplish snuffs out the pleasure of being God's child.