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How the Deeply Broken Find Deep Joy

February 13, 2017

Jesus was accused of being a lot of things—a charlatan, a false prophet, a fake, a blasphemer, a friend of sinners. Only one description of that list is true. Jesus was most definitely a friend of sinners, and this is something that disturbed many people. But it seemed that those “sinners” found great pleasure in being around Jesus. Why is that?

I think the gospel of Mark lays out for us how the deeply broken found deep joy in Jesus if we are willing to tie several consecutive stories together.

Mark 2 begins a series of stories that share a common theme—the religious leaders of the day did not like what Jesus was doing or with whom Jesus associated. At every turn they questioned Him.

Mark 2:7 “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming. Who can forgive   sins but God alone?”

Mark 2:16 “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

Mark 2:17 “Why do John’s disciples fast and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?”

Mark 2:24 “Why are they (the disciples underneath Jesus’ leadership) doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?”

Mark, it appears, uses each of these stories to show us the building tension between the Pharisees and Jesus, a tension that crescendos at the beginning of chapter three with the Pharisees seeking a way to kill Jesus.

 

So how is it that one group of people want to kill Jesus, and another group of people rejoice, throw parties, and are full of joy when they are in His presence?

 

The reason is fairly simple. The ones who loved to be around Jesus have had their eyes opened to the reality that Mark gives in 2:7—Jesus is God. Jesus is not just a fun guy to be around; He is God. Jesus is not just a religious teacher; He is God, and all the characteristics of God are Jesus’s characteristics as well. He is the second person of the trinity.

But why does that reality bring joy to a people who are betrayers? How can knowing that God is in their presence make them feel anything other than horribly uncomfortable? The reason is that they know two more realities as well. They know who they are and what Jesus, God in the flesh, has come to do. Mark gives us this tidbit in 2:17—“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.” The “sinners” know they are sick, and they have embraced the physician.

What does this result in? 2:19 answers that question by means of a wedding illustration. When wedding guests are in the presence of the bridegroom, you couldn’t be anything but joyful. For one, it was unlawful to be sorrowful while in the presence of the wedding party. Secondly, who is sad at a celebration? Sadness and celebration are incompatible.

So how do the deeply broken find deep joy? They find it in discovering three realities: Jesus is God and has the right to forgive sin (by the way, all sin committed is sin against God); they admit their own sinfulness and brokenness; they embrace the grace and forgiveness offered to them by the God-man, Jesus. This is why Psalm 16:11 says that there is fullness of joy in God’s presence.

In Mark 2:20, Mark drops his first allusion to the crucifixion of Jesus, which is the way a righteous and just God can fellowship with “sinners” like tax collectors, and me. Their sin, my sin, is never overlooked, swept under the rug, or minimized in any way. It is fully punished in the crucifixion of Jesus. And Jesus is willing to do it, even joyful to do it so that God can be glorified.

If Jesus wasn’t willing and joyful to glorify His Father through the cross and resurrection, I doubt he would be accused of being the friend of sinners, or being the life of the party at a tax collector’s home.

So the cross and resurrection is my joy. It is there where an infinitely great transaction takes place. All the believer’s sin is laid upon Jesus and justly punished by God, and Jesus’s righteousness is placed upon the believer. Forever.

Has joy been a missing element in your life as a follower of Christ? Then spend some time in the presence of Jesus, being reminded by God’s word of who Jesus is, who you are, and what He has done on your behalf.

Are you not a follower of Christ but desperately long for a joy and peace that surpasses understanding? Shoot me an email. I would love to help you discover who Jesus is.

 

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The Beginning, Middle, and End of the Christian Life

February 6, 2017

The instruction to follow Jesus, to be near Jesus, to be close to Jesus, not just in geographical proximity, but in nearness of heart, is not only the call that goes out at the beginning of the Christian life, but it is also the middle and the end. And the call is not just to follow Jesus, but in following Jesus to experience ever-increasing fullness of joy.

The Beginning

 Let me reiterate a point that is made by Matthew, Mark, and Luke in the accounts of Jesus calling them. They are short; they are concise to emphasize the immediacy and radical nature of their obedience to the call of Christ. My favorite of the accounts is Luke. Concerning Peter, Andrew, James and John it says that when they had brought their boats (full of fish mind you) to shore, they left everything and followed Jesus. Concerning Levi it says,

 

“And leaving everything, he rose and followed Jesus.”

 

No doubt Levi had heard the message of Jesus, had been convicted of his sin. But what is it that would drive grown men to leave everything and follow Jesus? Was it just curiosity? Was it mere adventure?   I don’t think so. There was something riveting in the authority of Jesus, and these followers knew that there was more joy to be had in following Jesus and being near Him than anything else.

Can’t you just the see the scene when the four fishermen left their boats and nets and fish to follow Jesus. All the other fishermen, once they see these four guys walking away not to return, they all scurry over to their boats and fish and begin putting them into their boats. Can’t you see the people walking along the street that day who stop in their tracks once they see what is going on with Levi? These were men who had found joy and there was nothing that would stop them from following after it!

Look at what Levi does to express His joy—he throws a banquet, a great banquet is what Luke calls it. It was a party. So who comes to this party? Don’t forget that the only friends that Levi has are tax collectors and other society rejects, yet he wants them to know about the joy he has discovered in Jesus.

The Middle

Now this is not just the call that Jesus issues forth at the beginning of discipleship and then moves on to other things. The call to follow him and be near Him continually is the way to continue in ever-increasing joy.

Psalm 16:11 “You have made known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand there are pleasures forevermore.”

Psalm 62:1 “For God alone my soul waits in silence”

Psalm 63:1-8 “O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you; as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.”

Another Psalm says, “As the deer panteth for the water, so my soul longeth after you.” And we soften the implication of that up and we may have a pretty picture of a deer standing by the brook. But listen to it—picture this. The idea is one of a deer scurrying to find water, his tongue hanging out because he is about to die. And the Psalm writer is saying, “I must have you God, I must be in your presence or my soul will die!”

Psalm 73:25-28 “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever…But for me it is good to be near God.

“The call of Christ to Himself is the beginning of ever-increasing joy and eternal soul-satisfying happiness. If you think you are going to find your heart with a clean conscious before God doing anything other than following Jesus Christ, you have not even begun to know what joy is.” Jordan Thomas

The End

The call to follow Jesus and be close to Him is the beginning, the middle, and the end goal of the Christian life.

John 14:1-3 “Let not your heart be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you unto myself, that where I am you may be also.”

Revelation 21:3 “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God himself will be with them as their God”

God will not send us a delegate or a representative. He Himself will actually live among us. Steven Lawson says, “God’s glory will fill and permeate the entire New Heaven…Thus, wherever we go in Heaven, we will be in the immediate presence of the full glory of God. Wherever we go, we will enjoy the complete manifestation of God’s presence. Throughout all eternity, we will never be separated from direct, unhindered fellowship with God.” Randy Alcorn says, “In the new heaven, we will never be able to travel far enough to leave God’s presence. If we could, we would never want to. However great the wonders of heaven, God himself is Heaven’s greatest prize.” (Heaven, Alcorn, p.184-185)

Understand this today Christian, you have been called to live the Christian life, so that you can have joy that continually springs forth and overflows, ever-increasing gladness, which is obtained and maintained by following Jesus. God wants us to have as much joy as imaginable, and that is precisely the reason Jesus says, “follow me.” His nearness is my good.

I sometimes forget that. When I do I lose my joy because I have moved away from Christ.

 

Your day is busy, your stress is great, and your life is full but it may not be in the sense that Jesus meant it in John 10. Clarity, perhaps, is missing from your life and you seem to be drifting. Maybe there is no real purpose to what you do or how you live. Can I encourage you to find your joy and satisfaction in Christ? The Bible tells us that we have been created for one overarching purpose and that is to glorify God.

Isaiah 43:6 “bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth, everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory.”

Romans 11:36 “For from his and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever.”

Colossians 1:16 “…all things were created through him and for him.”

Your ultimate purpose in life is to glorify God, and the nearer you are to Christ, the more glory God gets, and the joy in your life increases.

Can I invite you to return to the cross and empty grave? Gaze upon the wonder of redemption which God planned, Christ accomplished, and the Spirit applied to your heart and celebrate afresh the glory of the gospel. We can’t look to ourselves and to our own strength. That will simply discourage us. But we look to Jesus, “who for the joy set before Him endured the cross,” and accomplished redemption and forgiveness for us.

Bored With God?

February 3, 2017

We started this bible study at our church recently. During the first session, John Snyder asked the question, “Are we bored with God because we know him so well, or because we barely know him at all?”

That type of question will lead people to quit your bible study real fast…because they do not usually want to be confronted with bible-jagged edges like that.

You cannot read the saints in the Bible and ever imagine that they were bored with God.

“As the deer pants for the water, so my soul longs after you.”

 “Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand and marked off the heavens with a span, enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure and weighed the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance? …All the nations are as nothing before him, they are accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness. To whom then will you liken God, or what likeness compare with him?”

 “I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.”

 “And Jesus said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And leaving everything, Levi rose and followed him.”

Yet, we are bored with God. Or is it that we are bored with the God of our own making, and have never truly delved deep into knowing the God of the Bible? My guess is that we have come to love and worship a safe, self-made god. With that god, boredom sets in very quickly.

How do I know this? I know this because I can bore myself relatively quickly. So anything I make up, especially a god, will fall woefully short of being able to fulfill the deepest longing of my soul.

The God of scripture, however, that God is anything but boring. He is frightening, and stunning, and demanding, and gracious, and radical, and surprising, and forgiving, and just, and compassionate, and adventuresome, and daring.

So let me encourage you to read your Bible. It is there that you have been invited to experience a real relationship with the God of the universe, to walk with God.

Carry the Code.

January 30, 2017

I love the military. I love its discipline; its ability to train men to overcome complex tasks with simplicity and efficiency. I especially love their codes of conduct (see here and here to learn about some of their codes), which essentially become their battle cries. What I love most, however, is to see military people outside of their ranks and uniforms, still living by a military-type code that brings structure and purpose to their lives. You can see it in their dress. You can hear it in their talk. You know them. And you respect them. Or at least you should.

maxresdefault         The American military is not the first to understand the value of a code or war cry. They date way back. The Maori people of New Zealand perform war cries called “hakas,” that are especially stirring. The All Blacks rugby team performs a haka before each match. Hakas are performed at funerals and also at weddings. Check out this haka of young men honoring their guidance counselor. I love watching these!

Christian men, we need to rediscover and carry the code given to us by our creator. We need to carry this code with full-throated allegiance. We need to refer to it every day, so that we are reminded of our purpose as men. We need to carry it for the world to see and observe, especially for our young boys who tag along behind us. After all, it is the most important code you will ever be given.

What is that code? The bible sets it out for us in its first book and it looks something like this:

 

A KING TO FOLLOW

From the very beginning, it is clear that there is one creator, one king, and that one creator is not me (or you). Yet, he did give us, his vice-regents, a command to follow. We represent our king in the earth by exercising godly and loving authority in our world, and broadening the renown of our great King. We follow our king by knowing and joyfully obeying his commands. He is our King. He speaks. We listen with a will to obey.

 

A WORK TO ACCOMPLISH

God also instructed the first man to work and maintain the garden in which he was placed. Dig, grow, build, reap, repeat. Make it grow.

Work is a good thing, a godly thing. Men, you were created to work, to sweat, to accomplish something for the greater good. You were created to make a significant contribution to the world around you. A man without a work to accomplish does not benefit his society, but rather is a drain. Paul reminds some men in the church at Ephesus that a man who doesn’t work and provide for his family is an ungodly rebel (1 Timothy 5:8).

 

A FAMILY TO GUIDE

God, and Adam, saw that it was not good for him to be alone, so God gave Adam a family to guide, starting with his wife Eve. He was to be the leader of the family, passing down to Eve the previous commands and words that God had given to him, helping her to see the goodness in the King’s word. She was to help him measure up to all that God had called him to be.

Men, if you are not married, then live your life and prepare yourself to be worthy to guide and lead another person. Be the type of man that a woman would gladly follow, instead of reluctantly follow knowing she will have to clean up behind you in every way.

 

AN ENEMY TO FIGHT

The enemy is fighting against us, fighting to keep us enslaved in our selfishness and fear. We must fight back. But how do we do that?

This is where we run into a HUGE problem as men.

We can’t successfully fight our enemy. In fact, that whole manhood code I have just listed is impossible for us. We do not naturally follow our king, accomplish our work successfully, or guide our family correctly. We are ruined. When Adam messed up in the garden by going against his true king, his failure became our failure.

But here is the great thing about the Creator, and what truly makes Him a king worth following. He, in his great desire to display His justice, greatness, and love for His creation, stepped into our world by sending His son to do all the work to satisfy God’s wrath against our sin. Jesus lived by the code perfectly, which we could not do. He bore the punishment that we deserved. That was His work to accomplish. Jesus took the greatest blow that Satan could deliver Him, death, and then Jesus came back to life. He wins.

Now Jesus lives in every man, woman, boy, and girl, that confesses their rebellion against God, and puts their faith in Jesus as conqueror of their sin and king of their life, will be brought back into a right relationship with their creator. And by the Spirit of Jesus living in them, every man can pursue the code.

You have a King to follow, a work to accomplish, a family to guide, and an enemy to fight.

1 Corinthians 16:13 “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.”

Where Brokenness Lives…

January 27, 2017
  • 27% of Hempstead County residents live below the poverty line
  • 47% of children in Hempstead County live below the poverty line
  • 53% of children in Hempstead County live in a single parent home
  • 21% of the population in Hempstead did not have access to a reliable source of food in the past year
  • Per capita, Hempstead County has sent more juveniles to DYS than any other county in 2016.
  • 12% of teen mothers (ages 15-19) in Arkansas receive late or no prenatal care at all
  • 34% of pregnant women in Arkansas ages 20-24 have induced abortions.
  • 46% of teens will engage in sexual intercourse
  • Dads abandon their role as head of home so that the mom has to lead
  • According to statistics, in 2000, over 9,600 residents of Hempstead County identified as Evangelical Protestant. In 2010, that number dropped to 7,340
  • According to a survey done in 2010, 49% of the residents in Hempstead County claim no religious affiliation at all.
  • Marriages exist but don’t thrive
  • Men trade in the reality of marriage for a virtual fiction
  • Women self medicate on shopping, prescription drugs, or escapism
  • We display a constant need for excess and more and better; we are materially discontented, thinking that if I buy this, then my brokenness will go away.
  • Children disrespect every type of authority with outright rebellion or the more passive but just as subversive eye-roll
  • What was once risqué for an adult woman to wear is now worn by our young daughters as high fashion, to the great excitement, encouragement, and joy of every young teenage boy.

People do not have to look very far into their own culture to find brokenness. It lives all around us. And yet, brokenness has become so normal and acceptable, that sometimes we find it difficult to identify brokenness.

But I am a very hopeful person today, even though I live in the midst of brokenness, and contribute my fair share of brokenness. I am hopeful because Jesus did not move away from brokenness. Rather, he ran towards it. He was the friend of sinners. He ate and drank with the outcasts of society. Those who knew they were broken begged Jesus to hang out with them.

Jesus entered into the brokenness of our world, and yet remained unbroken himself. He walked with broken people everyday, pointing them towards…himself. He said he was the door, the bread of life, the great shepherd, the true vine, the way, the truth, the life.

I am hopeful today because Jesus healed my brokenness. He made me see my sin and desperate need for Him.

I am hopeful today because I have the privilege of pastoring a church that runs towards the brokenness of our city with the arms of grace and truth spread wide open.

So come on to the table. There is enough room for you…and your brokenness. But when you dine with Jesus, be ready to abandon your brokenness and embrace his death and resurrection. That is where healing lives and new life begins.

 

http://www.point2homes.com/US/Neighborhood/AR/Hempstead-County-Demographics.html

http://www.healthy.arkansas.gov/Pages/default.aspx

http://www.indexmundi.com/facts/united-states/quick-facts/arkansas/percent-of-people-of-all-ages-in-poverty#table

Do You Need Surgery?

January 13, 2017

I had some outpatient surgery done on my shoulder a couple of weeks ago. While I was waiting in the pre-op bed in my lovely gown, I thought about how I ended up in this position to where I needed surgery and realized that my shoulder was not the only thing that needed surgery. My life and my ministry were candidates for surgery as well. Maybe you need surgery in your life, in your marriage, in your leadership role. Here are some thoughts to help you consider if you need to go under the knife.

fullsizerenderI like to exercise and I like to help others get fit as well (for those in the Hope, AR., area, this is the place). However, shoulder pain had been preventing me fro
m getting some of the workouts accomplished. My performance, speed, and form were suffering because of the pain. So I had three options before me. The first option was to do my best to ignore the pain. The second option was to work in a limited capacity. The third option was to get the problem fixed.

The problem with option one is that it was just silly. Pain exists for a reason. You can’t ignore it day after day. Ignoring pain puts you at greater risk for more injury, and the consequences will affect other people. If I choose to ignore my shoulder pain for a period of time, and damage it more, then I may not be able play catch with my kids anymore, or do a host of chores around the house. You get the idea. So I had to confess that enduring the pain or trying to ignore the pain day after day was not healthy.

Same thing goes for my spiritual life, my marriage, my church, my ___________________ (insert whatever you wish). If I refuse to acknowledge that something may need to be fixed, I am not only putting myself at risk, but others as well. If I choose to ignore a problem in my marriage, I put my marriage at risk, which affects my children, my church family, and much more. Once again, you get the picture. Just like God designed physical pain as a warning system, so too did He design spiritual pain (conviction is the church word) as a warning system that something needs to be addressed and confessed to God.

Instead of ignoring the pain, I could have just dialed back the intensity of my workouts and settled for something less than what I know I could achieve at full health. But I don’t want to live like that, and I am guessing you don’t either.

Who wants a mediocre marriage? Who wants to lead a ho-hum ministry? Who wants to be known as a leader who settles for 50% when so much more is possible? Who wants to be a part of a church that has an “okay commission” instead of a “Great Commission”? You can settle if you want to. But I don’t think you want to dial down the intensity by which you live life.

The third option was to get my shoulder assessed by someone other than myself and come up with a fix-it plan. The fix-it plan was progressive. First I had a to get a scan so the doc could see what was actually going on in my shoulder. Next up was a round of shots to see if the problem could be fixed this way. It worked for a little while, but the pain came back. Next up—surgery (credit Michael Hussey, orthopedic surgeon in Little Rock!)

If there is a pain or a problem that surfaces in your life (or marriage or ministry or church), perhaps you need to see someone who can help you fix it. If you are a follower of Christ, then your first visit is to Christ. He knows your pain. He can sympathize with you. Not only does He know your pain, He also experienced it, and He handled that pain perfectly in His own life, which makes Him the best one to follow when it comes to knowing how to deal with it. Start with Jesus. He may lead you to your pastor, or to a small group of trusted friends and counselors who can help with your fix-it plan. I’m pretty sure that fix-it plan is going to include confession, repentance, forgiveness, and then freedom to live in fullness!

5 Thoughts to Help You Conquer Your Bible Reading Plan

January 9, 2017

Recently I challenged our church to be more focused on helping all of Hope find all their joy in Jesus. If we are going to accomplish this task, then we must be people who are finding our joy in Jesus. In order for that to happen, then we have to be people of the book. This is why I challenged our church to be in God’s word more in 2017. Since that challenge was issued, over 80 accepted the challenge to read through the Bible this year.

In order to help accomplish this task, I think it is important to keep the following 5 things in mind.

cropped-bibleontable1.jpg

  1. Between now and December 31, you are probably going to miss some days. Keep reading! You have all year to make it up! The people who finish Bible reading plans are those who keep reading, even when they miss days. The goal is not read every day so that you get a perfect reader award. The goal is to read the book and become familiar with the unfolding story of God!
  1. You need some accountability. You need a team to help you read through the Bible. This is why at our church we are hosting reading groups on Wednesday nights at 6pm. This is not your typical class set-up. We have asked the leaders of these classes to consider themselves as personal reading trainers. They are there to help folks think through and overcome scheduling obstacles, clarify your understanding of what they are reading, and to cheer the readers on through consistent contact (text, emails, etc). If you do not have someone reading with you, it may be a good idea to invite someone to join you on your venture!
  1. Right now, nail down a time and place of when you will read. Consistent time and consistent place are the keys. The chances of you finishing the Bible without these two pieces in place are slim. Do it. Right now.
  1. Bible reading and Bible study are two different things. When you read through the Bible, you are not necessarily diving deep into His word, you are flying at surface level. Deep Bible study is not the focus. The point is to grow more familiar with the story of God. So don’t get frustrated if you think you are not “getting a lot” out of your reading. You are actually gaining more knowledge and insight and familiarity than you might imagine.
  1. Remember the reward. The reward is the opportunity to meet with God and hear Him speak each time you open His word.

Psalm 119:18 “Open up my eyes that I may see wondrous things out of your law.”

Happy Reading Everyone!