If you are new to this blog....

Welcome! The primary purpose of this blog is to explore and encourage around what it means to be winsome and sent into the world for God's glory. If you are new here, the definition of "lighthouse-searchlight" or our missional journey is a good place to start. Come peruse the blog and add me to your RSS feed!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

How to Trust Jesus

How do you trust Jesus? It is a matter of choosing to believe and trust that God has done in Jesus what He has promised to do. And then it is a matter of acting on that trust in the way we live.

It’s like the chairs you sit on (but much better). You and I believe that they will support us. Trust, or faith, is acting on that belief… actually sitting on them. And you don't have to understand how chairs are built to do this. They are for sitting and that's what we do with them. You've done it before; others are sitting all around you; the chairs actually appear to be for sitting. So you sit without compromising your thinking mind.

The details of how to believe and trust God are spelled out in the teachings of Jesus – and in the rest of the Bible. The encouragement and support are around you, in the Church – the family of God. And the power to make it so is in the Almighty God and Father, who loves you and offers you His peace.

God invites us to come and see, to know peace personally through belief and trust in Jesus Christ. And God challenges us to go out and share that peace with others.

If the Bible is true, then we are surrounded by people who live in darkness and who are at war with God. And we have the news about Jesus. This is why we have used the analogy of a lighthouse and searchlight to describe our church and our mission. It is imperative that we show Jesus to those around us.

Come and see; go and tell. That is our call and response.

This is a snipit from the longer sermon HERE.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

A Christmas Gift

Why does it matter that God has given you the gift of His Son?

It matters in the dark when the world is closing in. It matters at the graveside when death seems to have won the day. It matters when a guilty conscience has us bound up tighter than chains. It matters because even in those dark places, God has come all the way down to where we are to shine His face on us and gift us with the one True gift – the one gift that really matters – Jesus, His Son.

I'm including (below) a song I wrote a long time ago. The track is instrumental, but there is a sung version (just don't have it to upload now). I was 24 and struggling with a two year period of darkness and longing for God’s face to once again break upon my life like the sun rising after a long night. The song tells the simple story of God’s true gift, and I hope it reminds you that God loves you and has given you the one gift that really matters.

Whether you feel like you are struggling in the night or walking in the brightness of day, I pray that God will continue to remind you of who Jesus is – God’s “Sunrise” from on high (Luke 1:78).

“Sunrise” - Instrumental Version
(You may have to click twice for it to play)

Robert Austell, 1992

Sunrise, the precious light of life
God’s love shines in the giving of the light
Day finds darkness giving in to the sunrise again

Darkness claims the human soul; none escape its night
Without the Son of God no light would ever touch a life

Sunrise, the precious light of life
God’s love shines in the giving of the light
Day finds darkness giving in to the sunrise again

Christ is the Life; the Life is the Light of Men
The Light shines in the darkness - a victory night cannot win

Sunrise, the precious light of life
God’s love shines in the giving of the light
Day finds darkness giving in to the sunrise again

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Jazzy Good News

Play Sermon Audio (may need to click twice)
mp3 Download

I'm double posting this from the GSPC Sermon Site. You can read the manuscript there (a little different from the audio). Our choir was doing their Christmas Cantata with a jazz trio, and I ended up playing off an illustration in the front of the Donald Miller book, "Blue Like Jazz" - about how sometimes to understand something you have to see someone who loves it. All that to say - listen to the audio!

Here's a snipit of the jazz trio!
Play (may need to click twice)

Good News

In this morning’s reading, we heard about angels bringing a message of “Good News” to some shepherds living 2000 years ago. Using the message they presented, I’d like to talk to you this morning about THE story of salvation in Jesus Christ, as described in the Bible. Following that I’d like to invite you to consider your own faith story and what you will do with the Good News God has spoken this morning. ... more HERE...

Saturday, November 17, 2007

facedown, pt. 2

Encouraged by some responses to the "Facedown" post, I'd like to press a little further in two ways.

The first has to do with musicians and worship. I feel free to write this because 1) I am a lifelong musician; and 2) the music director I work with agrees and understands this 100% and has helped diagnose the challenge. I believe one of the biggest challenges facing church musicians (and church music) is the reality that nearly all serious musicians train from an early age to be performers. I was one of them. I started playing piano when I was five, started classical training at 7, and continued that formal training until I was 22. Yes, I studied the art and the theory and the interpretation, but it always ended with recitals and public performance with me taking a bow. And it's not limited to formal training. I started writing and recording music (and playing in band) in 9th grade, and that has continued in various forms until today. We were either looking for places to play for an audience or submitting our recordings to record companies to "hit it big." In some variation, that is the background of many musicians, including church musicians.

So, what does that mean when we bring someone who has been performing organ recitals for 16 years in to be our organist? What does it mean when we bring a 20 yr. old guitarist in to lead our praise band? Do you see the problem? And the solution isn't as easy as saying, "Play for the Lord." Musicians - and I - are nearly hard-wired for performance.

Secondly, for all we smug, spiritual pastors nodding knowingly about the musicians we work with, we face the same reality, but it's ever so more subtle. Again, I point the finger first at myself. Is not the pulpit our instrument? Do we not go to seminary and train in public speaking? (At least I did.) How do you use gestures and intonation and pitch to best communicate the text? How easy it is for the focus to move off the text and onto me! And then there's all the stuff from the first Facedown post. What is a "successful pastor?" Do I run the church well? Do I have good business sense? Do I visit often enough? Do I entertain from the pulpit? Is the church growing in numbers and budget? Will I one day become a "tall steeple pastor?"

In addition to the training I've described above, I was also raised to be a go-getter, 110%, smart, successful person. I've competed all my life - in school, sports, and anywhere else I can.

Yet I am convicted that good pastors (and good musicians) must deflect attention away from self and onto Christ. We point away from ourselves perhaps only after we have experienced godly brokenness, humility, and dependence. That's Jesus' model for ministry, but boy doesn't that sound weak?

Friday, November 16, 2007

sermon blog

I apologize for not blogging in a while (especially after Hans was so kind to link to me twice at presbyweb!). I have been trying to set up a sermon blog in my free work-on-the-blog time... and particularly trying to add streaming and downloadable audio to the sermon site.

I'm still pondering the best layout, but I did find a free host for as much audio as I want to publish at last.fm. It treats my sermons as original tracks for a band album and allows high quality uploading. It even partners with amazon.com to "sell" this content, though I am pricing the sermons as 'free' and they have yet to appear on amazon. (maybe because they are free?)

I realized that few people may listen when the text is right there on the screen (though I do think the 'live' version is better than the draft manuscript, which is what gets printed). I may re-arrange and have an audio index table separate from the manuscripts. Anyway... I'm just excited to have an easy (and free!) way to stream the audio.

I'll try to get more posts up here soon.

Saturday, November 03, 2007


While traveling this past week, I listened to a recorded sermon called "Ten Shekels and a Shirt" by Paris Reidhead (mp3 and text). One part that especially stood out to me was an exchange with a Chinese Christian who had visited America. Someone at home asked the man, "What impressed you most about America?" The man replied, "The great things Americans can accomplish without God."

It was this same week that I read of Bill Hybel's repentance over Willow Creek's ministry approach and his desire to confess, repent, and redirect as God would lead them. And this, arguably the most "successful" of American churches! What will Willow look like more fully in God's strength?!

I've got just enough drive, determination, and talent to be dangerous. If I keep my nose to the grindstone and pour myself into ministry, it looks pretty good by any worldy (or even "Christian") standard. I am enthusiastic about Good Shepherd and what is going on here. But I have also been aware of a kind of "ceiling" in terms of energy, blessing, multiplication, etc... This recognition has been rolling around in my heart for some time now, but I couldn't quite put my finger on it until I heard "10 Shekels".

I don't think Good Shepherd is "without God," but I do think we are doing a lot on our own steam, talents, energy, etc... And I think God would have me and throw myself wholly into His arms... and lead the congregation in doing so. What is missing? It is not creativity, drive, organization, volunteers, programs, or even solid teaching. But what is missing is me prostrating myself before the Lord of the Church and recognizing that unless the Lord builds it - every single brick of it - I labor in vain. What is missing is my utter dependence on the strength of the Lord shining through my weakness. And if I wonder about the congregation discovering this reality, it needs to start first with me.

Why put this in a blog? I have shared this with the church in the newsletter, in sermons, in conversation, and want to share it on the blog that others might be convicted and encouraged... and to hold me accountable. Any of you who know me (and even those who don't) - ask me how I'm doing. Will I move forward, as Matt Redman sings, facedown before the Lord?

Let it be so.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

confluence - for such a time

...at New Wineskins, which attracted me several years ago because of the missional structure and mindset...

Dean Weaver spoke on the opening night about the opportunity before us as outward-focused congregations. He described way God's timing coincided with human history for the geometric spread of the Gospel. In the early church, the Roman road network enabled the church to expand to the known world. At the time of the Reformation, the printing press allowed for Reformation theology and teaching to be spread quickly and thoroughly to the people. And now, there seems to be a great opportunity through the Internet to partner and reach the world with the Good News of Jesus.

I think Dean's analysis was spot on... not that the Gospel will spread because of new technology, but that in God's Sovereignty earthly tools can be sanctified and used mightily for God's work in the world.

I was also struck by the particular way several of these themes (mission, technology, networking) come to confluence in our local setting at Good Shepherd and in Charlotte.

I (with others) have been pursuing a number of ministry networks in and around Good Shepherd. We have defined our own "Jerusalem, Judea/Samaria, ends of the earth" and are trying to partner with other churches in our area for the "Judea ministry."

I also recognize that we support a number of missionaries through Wycliffe, and specifically through the JAARS center (of Wycliffe) in Waxhaw, NC. Further, besides aviation support, JAARS is a technological support base for Wycliffe's work worldwide.

Finally, I admit to my own interest in the Internet for networking, mission, and ministry.

Here's the confluence: could it be that Good Shepherd could help implement and enable a Charlotte-area ministry network for which one major focus would be partnership with JAARS/Wycliffe for a worldwide ministry of carrying the Word of God to unreached people groups, using technology to enhance participation and partnership?

Yes - I think we can! Consider me on it. :)

Monday, October 29, 2007

wine tasting in sacramento

Tonight was the opening worship at the New Wineskins convocation in Sacramento. It was a beautiful time of worship. It's almost 1:00 a.m. EST, so this will be short. Just a few highlights...

1. I appreciated Dean Weaver reaffirming that New Wineskins is about missional networking for the glory of God and not about "staying" or "going"... that's why I'm here... to meet people who want to focus on Kingdom work.

2. I was blessed to meet some web friends in real life... just heard one introduce himself on the row behind me. Very cool.

3. I was "pre-blessed" by a sermon I heard on my iPod on the plane trip out... entitled "10 Shekels and a Shirt". It was rich, but among other things was challenged by the description of liberals and evangelicals both being guilty of humanism. The former for focusing on what we get from God in this life... the latter for focusing on what we get from God in heaven. The preacher argued that both are off-course... it's not about what God can do for us. We are here for God's sake, for His glory. Something to ponder, especially this week in the context of getting about Kingdom-work.

Rest well on the East Coast... know that I will here very shortly!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

stewardship as worship

What is Christian stewardship?

At Good Shepherd, we are interested in doing “good ministry” – particularly that to which we believe God has called us. We are likewise interested in being “good stewards” of money that is given to the church. It is tempting to equate and define stewardship from the “receiving end” and get wrapped up in justifying programs, creating and balancing a budget, and encouraging tithing or sacrificial giving for the sake of the ministries to which we are called as a church.

However, this is getting the cart before the horse, as well-intentioned as it may be. Stewardship is first and foremost an act of personal and corporate WORSHIP, a faith-full response to the being and character of the Triune God we experience in Spirit, Truth, and Christian community.

In scripture, “stewardship” and being a “steward” has to do with serving a higher authority through wise use of that which belongs to the authority (whether God, king, or master). If “the earth and all it contains is the Lord’s” (Psalm 24:1), then all that we are and all that we have belong to God. Our stewardship is not a tax, tithe, token, or charitable gift, but our complete and obedient service to God. That is the definition of worship in the broad sense.

What about tithing? Tithing was part of the Law, intended to “train spiritual children” (Galatians 3:24-26). Tithing is not our expected maximum, it is like training wheels until we learn what it means to submit everything we have to God as an act of worship.

What I am saying? I’m not trying to create a cult where all the members sign over their worldly possessions to me! Rather, I recognize that as long as our stewardship is understood as giving that is tied to a budget and a set of ministries, or even to the concept of a tithe, we have put limits on our worship, just as surely as saying one can only worship with traditional music or King James English.

At Good Shepherd, we have glimpsed the freedom and blessing of worshiping God musically and artistically in Spirit and in Truth, using “every means at our disposal to invite each worshiper into the presence of God” (from the worship philosophy on the back of the bulletin).

Could we discover a similar freedom and expansiveness in terms of our stewardship-worship?

Friday, October 05, 2007

advertising emergence?

I was reading through some older posts on Michael Kruse's site about churches who are beginning "emergent worship" services. He wrote, "I'm not really sure there's such a thing as Emergent Worship." I agree with him (at least this is what that means to me - ha!).

Post-modernism, emergent culture and emergent church, and the generations that supposedly embody these terms do not particularly want to be defined, assigned, and labeled. To do so is one of the particular traits of the modern culture that is being left behind.

Without intending any slight to the church doing emergent worship in Michael's post, or to those in my own area who are being intentionally emergent, it seems to me that being emergent in worship is simply that ... being. Advertising, labeling, and hyping emergent "tricks" doesn't make one emergent.

I don't think anyone in my presbytery would think of my church as an emergent worship church. That's probably because I never use that word (or post-modern) in normal conversation. But I think someone who is being targeted by explicitly 'emergent' services would feel as welcome, included, and HOME, at Good Shepherd as anywhere in our city.

This is not to say I don't read the literature and understand the values and priorities of a post-modern mind (mainly I do 'cause I grew up with it), but like the Gospel, it isn't a program to execute, it is who we are. And if I understand anything about emergent culture, I think the church is going to miss the mark if we lead with a "program especially designed for 20-something emergents." That sounds more like something that would appeal to the father of a 20-something who really wants to get his kid to start going to church again.

I'm not saying that we should keep doing "traditional church" the way we always have; that, too, will miss the mark (has missed it!). In every age and culture, there are aspects of following Jesus that will resonate with the surrounding culture and there are aspects that will be very counter-cultural. We are called to be authentic, obedient, loving, followers of Jesus Christ. And in our obedient following, God shapes the church into a family full of love, grace, accountability, and living out the Gospel. I can't think of how we could be any more effectively emergent than that!

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

the "nobody beats on my little brother but me" rule

There is a rule of brotherhood that is seldom spoken aloud, but seems to be nearly universal in it’s acceptance. It is the "Nobody Beats on My Little Brother But Me" rule. In other words, it’s okay for an older brother to tease, pick on, fight with, or otherwise torment his little brother, but if anyone else ever tries it, the older brother turns into the Great Defender of the weak and helpless.

Now I was not one (in my humble opinion) to beat on my little brother, but I will admit that there were times I pushed his buttons and otherwise drove him crazy. But, in keeping with that other seemingly universal rule (the "Little Guys Like to Hang with the Big Guys" rule), it never kept him from spending time with me.

Well, one day Glenn and I were playing Ping-Pong in our basement garage, and one of my friends came over to join us. Chris was a friend of mine from way back, and lived just up the street from us. In later years, it came out that he used to pick on Glenn, but it must have always been when I wasn’t looking. Well, Chris came over and began to play Ping-Pong with us, and after a little while began to tease and taunt Glenn. That soon turned to intentionally beaming Glenn with the Ping-Pong ball at every possible opportunity.

I think I remember leaving it well enough alone… that is, until Chris beamed Glenn real hard right between the eyes. It left a small welt and Glenn crying, which only added to his humiliation. That was enough for me – the rule mentioned earlier kicked in and my "Nobody Picks on My Little Brother but Me" alarms went off.

I’m not real sure why I responded as I did. Perhaps it was because I was basically a non-violent person and had never really been in a fight. Perhaps it was because I wanted to discipline Chris as much as punch his lights out. At any rate, I grabbed Chris and I grabbed a Ping-Pong paddle, and after dragging Chris outside into the grass, I spanked him real good on the bottom with the Ping-Pong paddle. And I told him, "Never, never mess with my little brother!"

Looking back on it all later, I could only laugh at my response. After all, who spanks his friends for picking on their little brother. But, I did what I did – and that’s the story.

There is, at the heart of this crazy "Rule", a deeper principal. That principal is that the bond between brothers is rooted in love and family. There is a connection that says in so many words, "Whatever may be between us, we are family and I love you." At least that describes my relationship with Glenn. I may have made him crazy from time to time, but behind the "Nobody Messes with My Brother" rule and the "Little Guys Hang with the Big Guys" rule was the bond of family – the bond of love. When I saw Glenn being picked on and realized that love was not restraining Chris – that brother bond was not tempering his actions – I rose to Glenn’s defense.

Jesus practiced this brotherhood in a pure way, not even tainted by the tendency to tease or "pick". His relationships were motivated purely by love and the bond of fellowship, so when he related to people, it was for their best and for their benefit.

When Jesus came to the "Sheep Gate Pool" in Jerusalem, he encountered a man who had been an invalid there for 38 years. Jesus responded immediately with love and concern and asked the significant question, "Do you want to get well?" Jesus healed the man… ending the lifestyle he had become accustomed to, introducing something new and probably frightening into the man’s life. Jesus healed the man and sent him away from that place.

There were those who saw the man and did not react so charitably. Those in the temple "picked on" the man – they said it was unlawful to walk around with a mat on the Sabbath. They wanted to know just who had "healed" him on the Sabbath. When Jesus later confronted these people, he came to the man’s defense and claimed the authority of God for the healing. He used the situation as an opportunity to teach and rebuke those in the Temple.

Jesus consistently took on the Pharisees for their misdirection and legalistic warping of the Law of God. Jesus was quick to rebuke and correct this kind of "beating on" God’s people.

I don’t know if the whole Ping-Pong spanking scenario was a picture of the Gospel or not. I do know that deep down I loved my brother and did not want to see him mistreated. And I think of the verse in Proverbs that says "there is a friend closer than a brother." Jesus love for others was of the purest and unconditional kind – he always defended and helped those in need and he expressed his love for humanity in both his life and his teaching.

There were other times that I lost control of my emotions in anger or fear, but this one time at least, I was about my brother’s business. In some way, I hope it was a dim reflection of one who was constantly about his Father’s business.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

website outreach philosophy

2019 Update: we have moved to a Wordpress platform to update the look, but the undergirding philosophy remains the same: this is not just a site for church members, but intended for our neighbors who may or may not be familiar with Christianity, church, or church culture.Check it out (gspc.net)! We continue to have the same philosophical approach described below, particularly with the initial "Why Church?" section.

2011 Update: clearly, the website pictured below is already out of date (here's the current website - a blogspot hosted site).  But, the philosophical site map remains the same as what is pictured below.  We've found the blog platform a more flexible and easy to adapt platform than what was, at the time, the usual website platform.  You should be able to see, in the header and surrounding links the same philosophical site map that we worked out back in 2007.  It continues to undergird what we are doing with the current site. 

When it came time to update our website a number of years ago, I worked to formulate a website outreach philosophy in keeping with our searchlight/lighthouse priority. 

Good Shepherd is a church rich in community, connection, and faith. We have a strong Christian family identity and set of core beliefs that drive our many ministries and missions. We want all of the church family to feel at home and have an active part in the life of that family. 

Out of our core beliefs, we also are deeply committed to being salt and light and good neighbors to our immediate community. While we carry on ministry and mission to the world, the country, and the larger community, the officers, staff, and pastor have defined a specific ministry area that (roughly) falls within a one-mile radius of the church. This geographic area includes an identifiable set of neighborhoods that might be described as the Old Providence Community and includes 3000-4000 households and approximately 10,000-12,000 people of surprisingly diverse economic, educational, and racial makeup. 

Our church’s first commitment to Jesus Christ is then manifested outwardly in a dual commitment to our church family and our “near neighborhood.” This commitment is expressed throughout the ministries, mission, and philosophy of our church, as seen in our approach to music, drama, staffing, architecture, and even in the nature of our ministries and mission.

  • Our website should exist for our church family and for our near neighbors in the Old Providence community. Though the nature of ministry to each group is different, for purposes of website target audience there is equal priority placed on these (note that is different than the amount of content, which would be greater for members). This should affect the home page design in a significant way.
  • There will be different content for our church family and for our near neighbors, though there may be some overlap. Among our neighbors, there are two broad categories of people as relates to our outreach ministry: 1) unchurched/non-Christian and 2) churched/Christian who are looking for a church.
  • Philosophically, and to use a metaphor, our home page should be like a front door, where members and near neighbors both feel completely welcome and invited to enter. Beyond that, which room each would spend time in would vary as to who is visiting.
  • Practically, I have tried to describe our priority visitors (neighbors and church members) and what kind of information/resources/values each might be looking for. Ideally, to me, when they “open the door” on the home page, they will get to this material with ease.

A Philosophical Site Map

A.VISITOR CASE 1 – UNCHURCHED NEIGHBOR: a non-Christian/non-churchgoer who surfs to the site
1.Looking for information about Christianity and/or church
2.Looking for OP community resources
3.Thinking about visiting for some reason (worship, special program, etc…)
4.Not thinking about visiting… but space where we offer “inviting” stuff

B.VISITOR CASE 2 – CHURCHED ‘NEIGHBOR’: a Christian/churchgoer who surfs to the site (prob. could differentiate “door” by making this one “thinking about visiting GS?”… if they are already thinking, then they probably have some church background)
1.Looking for information about the church for a potential visit
2.Looking for OP community resources (overlap/link to A2)

C.VISITOR CASE 3 – CHURCH FAMILY: a GSPC member who comes to the site
1.Looking for current/upcoming information
2.Looking for old information
3.Looking for connection to/with church family
4.Looking for church/Christian resources
5.Looking for ministry opportunities

Here's a closer look at some of the sub-categories under "Why Church?" (the first 'door'). There is a welcome "from our pastor" HERE as well as another HERE through the second 'door', but you'll see the language differs according to the supposed audience.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

survivor: china

Thursday night Heather and I watched Survivor: China. We haven’t watched Survivor since the first show a few years ago, but checked this one out because, Leslie Nease, one of the DJs from New Life 91.9 is on the show. If you don’t know what Survivor is, it’s a reality game show where two teams of people are put in a remote location for 16 weeks. They have to survive on their own and along the way they compete in various games and challenges, with one contestant being sent home each week.

Well, set in China, this show kicked off with a “welcoming ceremony” in a Buddhist temple. Anticipating Leslie’s reaction, the show host made clear that this was not worship, but just a welcome. What did Leslie do? When they were asked to bow down and pray before the statues of Buddha, she left the building. When they asked her about it afterwards, she said, “That felt like worship to me. I’m not religious, but I do have a relationship with Jesus Christ, and I will bow down and worship him alone.”

In Luke 13:22-30, Jesus addressed precisely this distinction between religion and a relationship with God through him.

Here are the main points, summarized.

1. The time to attend to faith and salvation is now, not later. (v. 25)

2. While there may be positive elements to religion and religious practice, there are very real limits to what they contribute to our salvation, and not a few potential dangers of religion practiced for the wrong reasons. (vv. 26-28)

3. While “the door” is narrow, the invitation given is extraordinarily broad. (vv. 29-30)

Going to church, participating in church – that is, being religious – is not a bad thing, unless those things become a substitute for the relationship with God through Jesus. It’s like confusing movie nights, candlelight dinners, flowers, and phone calls with love itself. The two are related, but they can also be tragically disconnected.

Jesus invites us not only to hang around and listen, but to “Come, believe, and follow.” That is the door. There are not multiple doors; there is just “Come and follow me.” There is only Jesus Christ.

At the heart of Jesus’ words is this: we will be surprised at who is saved, because many of us don’t have a clear understanding of what (and who) saves us. And yet, even to those who are confused, Jesus speaks clearly that we might hear. The way to God is through Jesus Christ alone. And the time to come, believe, and follow Jesus is now. It is not tomorrow; it is not when we stand ready to be judged. The time is now.

So, beloved, hear the good news: God has come all the way down to where we are through Jesus Christ that we might turn and see Him face to face, know Him personally, and follow Him obediently. There is no sin, no past, or no weight that is too great for God. He invites you now to the banquet. You are His guest; come in!

Condensed from the sermon HERE
Listen to the audio (through mid-October) HERE

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Underdog is here!

"There's no need to fear; Underdog is here!"

This Fall, there will be a Hollywood movie remake of a cartoon that used to run when I was a kid. It's based on the Superman story (which has overtones of the Gospel), but it's geared down even a few more notches.

Maybe some of you will remember these characters: Sweet Polly Purebred, the damsel in distress; Simon Bar Sinister, the evil villain; and Shoeshine Boy, a clumsy, nerdy kid (dog) who shined shoes. But, when evil threatened and Polly was once again in trouble, he would dart into a phone booth and become a human-like dog superhero, Underdog!

Whether intentionally or not, comic book heroes like Superman and Underdog get another aspect of the biblical story right: not only has a savior come from outside our world to rescue us here in this world, but this hero is humble, often-unnoticed, yet capable of amazing things.

Jesus likes stories. In Luke 13, he tells two to help explain what God's Kingdom is like. And it has more than a little in common with the understated heroes of our own comic book stories.

The Kingdom of God … is like a mustard seed, which a man took and threw into his own garden; and it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air nested in its branches. (v. 19)

The Kingdom of God… is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three pecks of flour until it was all leavened. (v. 21)

Jesus taught so much with simple words and examples. "Pay attention," he said through his stories, "otherwise you might miss what God is doing."

It may be the opportunity to invite a neighbor to church or an open door to share personally about why God is important in your life. It may be an opportunity to serve God in the church or in the neighborhood. It may be a need that you become aware of that you have the resources to address in Christ's name. It may be a new sense of the importance of prayer. It may be responding to a call of God on your life – saying 'yes' to serve or obey God.

God's presence and Kingdom is humble and does not demand attention; sometimes, it is even hidden. Like Underdog's "Shoeshine Boy" or like Clark Kent, many other things will seem more attractive, more powerful, and more worth your attention. But God's presence and power, embodied in His Kingdom, changes everything around it, including the lives of those who seek and serve Him. And when we are changed, we begin to leaven – to introduce God-change – to the neighborhood and world around us.

Read the whole sermon HERE
Listen (for the next few weeks) HERE

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

how do we praise? (ps 150)

How do we do this thing called praise?

Paslm 150 gives us an example, a principle, for praising. Listen one more time:

Praise Him with trumpet sound; praise Him with harp and lyre. Praise Him with timbrel and dancing; praise Him with stringed instruments and pipe. Praise Him with loud cymbals; praise Him with resounding cymbals. (vv. 3-5)
This is not an exhaustive list of praise specifics. In other words, once you've played all these instruments, you aren't done praising God. In another sense, this is a completely exhaustive example of the principle by which we should praise. I've tried to capture what I mean by that in the title of the sermon: Give Him everything you've got!

Why all the musical instruments? Well, for one, music is one important way to praise God. And the point here is that if you are going to praise God musically, if you are in the Temple of Israel surrounded by the musicians and instruments, you want to use everything at your disposal to praise God. You want to, in essence, "pull out all the stops" and hold nothing back from God. This isn't to say, musically, that you don't have times for quiet or single instruments, but that you are to use everything at your disposal in order to turn your praise toward God.

We try to embrace this principle in our approach to worship. Look at the back of your bulletin at the statement of our worship philosophy:

The style of worship at GS is an intentional blend of ancient, traditional, and modern forms of liturgy, prayer, music, and communication. ... We also intentionally gather as a family of believers of many ages and backgrounds, and so use all the means at our disposal to invite each worshiper into the presence of God.
"All the means at our disposal" - so if you played flute in high school, we have hopefully asked you to use that talent (rusty though it may be) to worship the Lord. If we can find music of 100 years ago, or 25 years ago, or this week, that is your "language of worship," we will try to employ it so that this diverse community of worshipers can worship together as one family.

And here's where Psalm 150 really breaks out in an amazing way. It's not just talking about music and instruments! The principle it is teaching is that we are to use and give everything we've got to serve and worship the Lord. So, in terms of music, we use trumpets, guitars, pipes, drums, and cymbals! But this Psalm applies just as well to you if your talents lie elsewhere.

Can you build for the Lord? You bet you can! Not only can you craft things that are solid and dependable, you reflect the integrity and dependency of the Lord you worship when you build that way. And you can use those gifts in ministry as well, helping with home repair or serving on the facilities ministry team of the church. When we have someone in the church who cannot afford and does not know how to repair a hole in their roof, you can praise the Lord with your building skills!

Can you cook for the Lord? You bet you can! Not only can you cook for your family in such a way as to keep them happy and healthy, you can cook for those in crisis or for the church family when they gather. Your creativity is a reflection of the Creator of the universe and can honor Him as you devote that talent and love to His service and glory.

Can you think for the Lord? You bet you can! You may have a job that requires analysis, comprehension, organization, and instruction. Not only can you do that job well and with integrity, in a way that honors and glorifies God, but you can use those gifts to praise the Lord. You can use those skills to help at church, to learn and study scripture, to teach a class, or to help someone with financial troubles figure out their finances and get on track.

Can you praise the Lord as an athlete? As a parent? As a seamstress? As a retired person? As a nurse? As an administrator? Yes... yes... yes - need I go on? The point of the "How" of Psalm 150 is that whoever you are and whatever you can do, it can all be done in a way that honors and praises God. Anytime you point someone to God or reflect the character of God or give God credit or declare God's worth - you praise the Lord.

That leads us to the final verse and question: WHO should praise God? If you had any doubt in what I just said whether it applied to you, whether your interests and gifts could honor and praise God, then listen to this last verse:

Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. (v. 6)

With this callback to the Creation story, when God breathed life into the man He had made, this verse is saying that all human beings should praise God. If you are alive, if you have life and breath, as one created in God's image for the purpose of worship, YOU are to praise the Lord.

So, whether it be a trumpet, cymbal, voice, hammer, stethoscope, needle and thread, football, calculator, artist's brush, 18-wheeler, treasure, dreams, mind, or body...


Sunday, September 16, 2007

anybody there?

One of the highlights of this past Saturday was Rick Brooks, a pastor friend, telling me at a presbytery meeting that he enjoys reading my blog. As far as I knew, about 3 people had ever read my blog and my profound thoughts were just kind of disappearing out into cyberspace. I was greatly encouraged by Rick's comment. If you do read this, I'd love for you to drop a quick comment here!

Saturday, September 08, 2007

don't waste your time!

In Mark 14, when the woman anointed Jesus with what translates into maybe $30,000 worth of perfume in today's dollars, the disciples laid into her about what a waste that was. She could have given the money to the poor! $30,000... talk about a waste! And Jesus told them to shut up and leave her be, for she had done a "beautiful thing" (NIV). It was an act of worship.

A missional church is predicated on being a worshiping church.

Why do I assert that so diligently, seemingly against the current "missional" movement?

Worship? What about the poor? What about those who haven't heard the Good News? What about our mission and God's mission to the world? Aren't all those things really important?

Yes, they are. That's why Jesus put them together. What is the greatest commandment?

The greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength; and to love your neighbor as yourself. (cf. Mark 12:30-31)

There it is - Jesus didn't omit it - we are to love our neighbor. We are to feed the poor. We are to build houses for Habitat and support missionaries to those who haven't heard. We are to love our enemies and join in God's mission the world. But here's the point: those things don't matter if we don't love God with all we are and all we have.

You will be hard-pressed to find anyone who is more gung-ho about God's mission, whether that be ministries of mercy or sharing the Good News. But if I haven't made this clear, then hear it clearly now, as taught in this passage:

All the love in the world is wasted without first loving the God who is the author and creator of that world and of love itself.

Want to talk about waste? There's a statement to chew on.

What Jesus taught is that loving God with all we have and all we are cannot but result in love of neighbor. Jesus taught that a lot! But the opposite is not true. Love of neighbor does not automatically result in loving or even knowing God.

And this woman, probably Mary, sister of Lazarus and Martha (cf. John 12), got it right.

That's why wherever the Gospel (the Good News) is proclaimed, what she did will be remembered. It is because what she did was worship God with all she was and all she had, with heart, soul, mind, and strength. And where the Gospel goes and people respond, they too will come to know what it means to worship and serve the Lord.

The prophet Isaiah said, "Seek the Lord while He may be found." (55:6) This blessed woman demonstrated both the wisdom and the beauty of doing just that.

Full Sermon HERE

Friday, September 07, 2007

too precious to miss

I saw this on a blog today... it's just too precious not to pass on.

HT: Thy Grace is Sufficient

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

the prime directive?

Several friends and family have asked me for a definition of the "missional church". In a compelling summary of the recent Presbyterian Global Fellowship (PGF) conference, Quotidian Grace quotes speaker Michael Frost:

Just as God reveals Himself through Jesus as the sent and serving God, His Son and Spirit sends us into the lives and needs of others. We need to abandon the church attitude of "come to us and see Jesus" for going into the world to represent Jesus and to invite others to be disciples. The issue is about the stance we adopt to the world around us.
This is indeed a good definition of being the "missional church."

HOWEVER, as I responded to Michael Frost previously, Jesus' "sent-ness" is not the only revelation or reality in scripture. God is worthy of our worship, adoration, praise, obedience, and service. Worship and mission are integrally related. Jesus, sent into the world, nonetheless had regular times to retreat, be alone, pray, and worship.

The missional church movement is a needed response to country-club church and narcissistic Christianity. But, as needed as that pendulum swing is, my prayer is that it not swing us away from a biblical and vital worship relationship with God.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

spheres of influence

At our annual church family retreat last weekend, we studied Acts 1:8 and Jesus’ promise that believers will receive the Holy Spirit and be empowered to be witnesses “in Jerusalem… in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”

We explored what this means personally. Each of us has “spheres of influence” – our own mission fields that God calls us into. This graphic shows a few of these and the expanding circles of influence radiating out from ourselves to those nearest (Jerusalem) to further away, but sharing some commonalities (Judea/Samaria), to the furthest reaches of influence (remotest part).

What are your spheres of influence? …the golf course? … the YMCA? … your children or grandchildren? … ‘virtual’ friends on the Internet? Consider who you are closest to and how God would have you shine Christ’s light in those relationships. Seek those who are further out from you, but with whom you share interests. Ask God to use you for His purposes. And tell me what happens!

Thursday, August 02, 2007

concentric circles

This will be brief... I wanted to get something up before being gone for 10 days to church family camp at Bonclarken, then vacation. When I return, I'll flesh this out a bit.

At church family camp, we are going to study Acts 1:8, where, having been filled with the Spirit, the early believers are charged to carry the message to Jerusalem, Judea/Samaria, and the ends of the earth. I am going to lead the campers through a personal and church exercise on our own "Jerusalem, Judea/Samaria, ends of the earth" as we think about personal ministry and mission.

Before that, though, we are going to talk about God's promise to pour out His Spirit and the ways that sin keeps us from fully experiencing the power and presence of the Spirit. These are a reverse of the Jerusalem-Judea-etc... concentric circles.

At our furthermost "boundary" we miss experiencing the Holy Spirit because we get distracted. We grow blind, deaf, and dumb (like the famous "Pinball Wizard"!) to God's Holy Spirit because we stop "setting our eyes on Jesus" (Hebrews 12:1). We become deaf to God's prophetic Word.

Closer in to home, we disobey God and those sins keep our back turned toward God. We lose sight of His face and lose our vision.

Closest to our core, we keep committing what many consider the basest Sin - idolatry, particularly self-idolatry. We fail to yield our will to God's will, and we dream our own dreams rather than those of God's Spirit.

My use of "prophecy, visions, and dreams" from the Pentecost passage is broad in application of those specific concepts, but illustrates how we block ourselves from the promised and poured out Holy Spirit. Without that Spirit, we cannot join God's mission to the world (or even our Jerusalem).

First, before missions, we must repent and throw ourselves again on God's mercy and grace; then,
empowered by the Holy Spirit, we are sent out, blessed by God.

More, with graphics, when I return.

** Does anybody use a blog-reader (is that the same as an aggregator?)... I've just discovered Google Reader and it makes keeping up with the 25 or so blogs I used to randomly access a piece of cake. All new posts from all of them in one place, with the ability to tag, forward, etc... Is this old news to some of you, or do you use something similar?

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

lighthouse sports

This is to community development and tennis what being a lighthouse/searchlight for Jesus is all about... and it's my dad.

Original Article in the Greenville News HERE

Text follows:

Bobby Austell
Kroc Center organizer is a pro at fundraising

Published: Wednesday, August 1, 2007 - 2:00 am

Bobby Austell gets watery-eyed when he contemplates the possibilities that the planned Joan Kroc Center will provide.

"It's inconceivable, how many lives this will touch," says Austell. "This is not a five-year project -- this will help people for generations."

The planned Kroc Center, which can become a $50 million reality if local organizers can raise $15 million, will provide country-club amenities at affordable prices for all Greenville County residents.

"Fifteen million to bring in $50 million? That's the investment of a lifetime," says Austell, who, after a 40-year career in investment banking, knows a great deal when he sees it.

The potential in this deal energizes Austell, who envisions tennis programs that will unite new, young players with experienced instructors -- in a scenario that was beyond Austell's dreams when he learned the game of tennis 50 years ago. In fact, the Kroc Center is beyond anything Austell or other tennis lovers could have dreamed of just five years ago.

Austell is a passionate co-chairman of a campaign that needs $600,000 to reach its goal -- a considerable sum, but one that seems small in comparison to the $50 million of benefits that it can bring. That rate of return is certainly attractive to Austell.

Austell also knows, better than most, that the competitive sport of tennis can have a significant long-term impact on the life of a South Carolina youngster. In his native Spartanburg, Austell began playing tennis at age 15 and continues to play it today in senior amateur competition.

In an era when teaching professionals were rare in Upstate South Carolina, Austell learned his tennis with little coaching.

"I learned by watching good players. It was not until college that I had someone helping me," says Austell, the top player at Davidson College in the early 1960s.

Austell graduated from Spartanburg High in 1959 and majored in economics at Davidson. He served in the U.S. Army, earned an MBA and came to Greenville in 1966 to work in the investment division of the Liberty Corp.

That potential for quality instruction and the opportunities to play on 16 well-maintained courts is the stuff of Austell's latest dreams.

"We'll have a professional staff that will be able to teach the game to a lot of kids who might not otherwise get the opportunity," says Austell. "I'm excited about that. I'm passionate about the opportunity to do outreach programs to those living nearby."

Austell, a tennis coach at Christ Church Episcopal School, has long been inspired by the tennis exploits of the late Arthur Ashe -- whose raw talent was spotted on a tennis court in Richmond when he was a teen. Ashe later emerged as a Wimbledon champion and one of America's greatest players of his era.

"There could be some Arthur Ashe or Venus and Serena Williamses right here on the West End, who have never had a tennis racquet in their hand. This will bring tennis to these kids and it will help them the rest of their lives," says Austell.

With 16 courts, the Kroc Center will have the capability of serving about 3,000 tennis players a year.

"If only 10 percent of them take up the game, that's 300 new players a year. Then those kids will get other kids interested. It will help kids for years and generations."

Austell envisions clinics throughout the year and summer programs that will bring college players to the Kroc Center to serve as volunteer tutors for an audience of young people who do not have economic access to country clubs.

"For me, it's more than exciting -- I'm passionate," says Austell. "On top of that, there's an amazing endowment that will allow this to happen for many, many years -- for centuries."

The Kroc Center got Austell's attention two years ago, when the Salvation Army of Greenville made its bid for what was then a $46 million gift. Austell called Ben Crider, a close friend, to congratulate him on the Salvation Army's efforts.

He also wondered if the Kroc Center plans, which included swimming and golf, could also be amended to include tennis. Crider informed him that while tennis had not been addressed in the initial proposal, it could be added to the plan if the local organization could convince the Kroc Foundation of the need and explain how any additional costs might be covered.

Austell responded with a report that used USTA statistics to point out that Greenville presently has one public tennis court for every 13,000 residents; Columbia and Charleston, by contrast, offer one public court for every 7,000 residents.

"It was easy to prove there was a need," says Austell, who co-chaired a steering committee with Ralph Walker.

After agreeing to co-chair the steering committee, Austell was asked to co-chair the total campaign. "I don't know if that was a weak moment or an inspired moment," Austell says of his decision to accept that role.

"The timing was right with some things going on in my life," says Austell, who had recently retired from the banking business. "A year earlier, I couldn't have done either (role)."

The addition of the tennis program, which was later approved by the Kroc Foundation, raised the value of the planned local facility by another $4 million. Austell, who also serves on the Kroc Center board, headed a group that raised $1 million.

By late July, the Salvation Army had raised $14.4 million.

"We're coming down the third-base line. We're almost there," says Austell. "This is one of those things that seems too good to be true -- but it's really going to happen."

As Austell and others try to find the remaining $600,000, he also ponders the possibilities. He's held discussions with NCCAA Director Dan Wood about the possibility of staging the organization's national championships at the Kroc Center's 16 outdoor courts, and the possibility of a summer program that would enable students from those Christian colleges to serve as volunteer tutors at the Kroc Center.

"It just gets better and better," says Austell.

"It's all about helping people use sports excellence to help people. How many will get college scholarships 10 years from now because of this? There will be some. I can see it happen."

Friday, July 20, 2007

worship or mission?

Michael Frost, on the PGF blog - "What is the missional Church?"

For me the phrase refers to those churches for whom mission has become the organizing principle of all they do and are. ... Rather than seeing mission as one of the functions of the church, missional church people see it as its central and organizing purpose. For example, rather than seeing worship as central (as most conventional churches do), there is a growing movement of us who believe that worship is richer when organized around mission. We believe we do fellowship better when organized around mission. Likewise with discipleship, teaching, the exercise of the gifts etc.

And what is mission? It is the outward impulse of God’s people...the overarching ‘sentness’ of God’s people, as they infiltrate all of society and stake a claim for the unending rule of Jesus in every sphere of life. ... Mission is the spark, the catalysing energy, that makes sense of everything the church was intended to be.

Someone once challenged me that in the world to come there’ll be no mission, only worship. I couldn’t disagree more. In the world to come we will still be charged with the task of declaring Jesus’ rule over all of life. Sure, we won’t be feeding the poor or planting churches. Those missional activities will cease when every knee bows, every tongue confesses, and every tear is wiped away. But I’m looking forward to the unhindered mission of the new age, not to an eternal worship service.

Robert, in reply...

I am all about the missional Church... that's the purpose of my blog, after all. But the last paragraph stopped me in my tracks. I believe we have lost the 'sentness' and mission of the church, and the "missional church movement" is a needed corrective. I also recognize that sometimes a case needs to be overstated for folks to be pulled to a point of health and balance (somewhere short of that overstated case). So, I'll cut Michael Frost a break.

But, I firmly believe that worship is our eternal (and present) joy. Not the 11:00 worship service, but worship in the biblical sense... a life of love, service, obedience, prostration, adoration, and yes, MISSION. And for those not looking forward to an eternal worship service, I think the problem is a conception of a "worship service" based on our puny earthly understanding of worship.

So, I had been thinking of this for a while, but I'm going to draw in worship as a theological (and teleological!) theme into this blog and explore some of the dynamic between worship and mission.

So, look for more to come...

Monday, July 16, 2007

rahab the harlot (josh 2)

...from the sermon HERE

There is only one way and name under Heaven by which men and women are saved – the name of Jesus Christ. We need to understand the radical exclusivity of the Gospel – Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life.

But in the same moment, we also need to understand the radical inclusivity of the Gospel – that God so loved the world that He sent His only son, Jesus, into the world to seek and save the lost. Salvation is only through Jesus, but it’s for everyone!

We’ve got to regain God’s perspective on the Good News – the same blessed-to-be-a-blessing perspective as the ancient covenant with Abraham. If you know God as Savior, if you are here because you belong to Him, then God has saved you that you might go to those who are outside and invite them in.

The Church – including this church – is called together to be sent out. There is no place you are not called to go; there are no people whom God has written off. We are to share the story of what God has done and God will bring to Himself all who hear and believe, as He did with Rahab.

Finally, if there is any situation where we are even more judgmental and exclusionary than towards “outsiders” it is with ourselves. As many people as won’t darken the doors of a church because “they wouldn’t take me” there are more whose real reason is the internal and often unspoken thought, “God wouldn’t take me.”

I’m not good enough. I’ve done too much that’s wrong. I’ve made too many mistakes; too many big mistakes. God could never forgive me. I’m hopeless.

If you hear nothing else, hear this:

Whoever you are and wherever you come from, whatever you’ve done and whatever secret burdens you carry, God knows you inside and out and He still loves you. He loves you, not ignorant or uncaring of what you’ve done (remember, the Bible didn’t conveniently forget that Rahab was a prostitute). Rather, God loves you anyway, in the face of your sin. Rahab heard what God had done. The Gospel is the news of what God has done through Jesus – He has come in love to rescue you from death and bring you home. Listen, come, believe, and follow. Come in from the outside and be part of God’s family. Seeing that played out over and over – that’s God’s story, and He’d love nothing more than for it to be your story. Amen.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

christianity 101

{someone complimented the "christianity 101" page on our website, so I was encouraged to repost that page here... it is aimed at post-modern unchurched folks hoping to invite them into a conversation - the first "door" on our website is a whole section with that purpose}

What does it mean to be a Christian?
You could probably ask that to 100 different people and get 100 different answers. Don’t let that dissuade you from checking it out, though! Below, I’ll give you my answer, for what that’s worth to you, and then point you to what the Bible says about it. Whatever you may think of the Bible, most people should be able to agree that the Bible is the place to find out about Christianity. So, for those for whom the Bible may be mysterious or hard to navigate, I’ll try to provide some points of connection. Want to know more? – then come visit us at Good Shepherd… see if you don’t feel a connection with God that is reflected sincerely and without pretense in the lives of this special “family” of people. We’re hardly perfect, but we are drawn together and experience God with us in a meaningful way.

My answer…

First, who am I? I am the “pastor” at Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church. Why should my definition of Christianity matter any more than any other? Well, it shouldn’t. But I have believed and trusted in Jesus Christ, as described in the Bible, since I was a 4 year-old. I have studied other religions, objectively critiqued the faith my parents taught to me, and come full circle as an adult back to believe in the same (if more mature) Christian faith of my childhood. I have studied the Bible and find it to be an amazing and inspiring “book” – more than that, it points to a God who loves me and whom I have experience personally as “Lord” and “Savior.” What are the mechanics of believing and following Jesus Christ, of being a Christian? Here’s as down-to-earth as I know how to say it…

We (human beings) are messed up creatures. I know that intuitively and deeply. We put on a front, but behind it, we are a wreck. If and when we think about goodness and God and love and getting our act together, we realize that it is beyond our power. Kind of like AA, we’ve got to realize we have a problem and that we need something bigger than us and outside of us to help. The story of the Bible and the story I believe as truth is that there is a real and personal God who is that something. God is real in that we don’t just create our own god – that would still just be us. God is personal because He gets involved – we matter. Again, that’s the story of the Bible and the story I believe as truth. That’s Christianity – that this real and personal God got involved… He made the world and everything in it; He allowed us the freedom to choose the right thing and the wrong thing, and when we chose and choose the wrong thing, He didn’t abandon us. God came after us, like I do when I let my three year old ride her scooter in the cul-de-sac (freedom!) and when she doesn’t look out for and get out of the way of an oncoming car (choosing the wrong). I run after her! God has run after us in Jesus Christ. God became completely human, born into the world as Jesus of Nazareth and yet still completely God, and he taught and lived and died to come after me. When he died on the cross, he took my messed up life as his own, in the same way that I might run, leap in front of an oncoming car, and shove my three-year-old out of the street. Jesus has done that for you and for me! And his message was, “Come and believe that I am who I said I am and that I have done what I said I would do. Come and follow me.” That’s what it means to be a Christian – to come, meet God through the Jesus Christ of the Bible, and trusting him, to follow him. I belong to God because I follow Jesus Christ. Just as God raised Jesus up from death itself (the Easter story!), he raises the mess that is me up to a new life – Jesus said that would be kind of like being born all over again (see John 3). That is the Christian life – a new start and a new life because of trusting and following Jesus. And through Jesus, God promises new life forever – that’s Heaven… new life with God forever. How does one get all that? What are the mechanics? Come; listen and learn; believe; trust; and follow Jesus Christ.

Where’s all this in the Bible?

> God made the world – Genesis 1; John 1:1-4
> We messed up and chose the wrong (sin) – Genesis 3:1-13; Romans 3:23
> God did not abandon us, but began pursuing us to rescue and reclaim us – Genesis 12:1-3 (God establishing a people as a means to “bless” the world and begin rescuing them); Acts 2:17,21 (God’s promise to save)
> God became human (and yet God) – Luke 2:10-14; John 1:14
… to identify with us – Hebrews 4:14-16
… to speak to us and show us God – John 1:18; 5:24
… to call and invite us – John 1:35-42
… to rescue us and make us new – 2 Corinthians 5:17-19
… to raise us up for a new life – Romans 6:4
… to give us life forever with God – John 5:24
> How do I get that? – John 3:16; Romans 10:8-9

Take a moment and talk to God… use the prayer below (or use your own words)…

God, I need you; I have messed up and I am messed up. Rescue me so that I may follow you and know you. Thank you for a new start – a new life. Help me learn what it means to be your child so that I can grow up in Christ. I ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.

We’d be pleased for you to come spend some time with us at Good Shepherd or for you to contact me to talk about some of the first steps as a new Christian. Please don’t hesitate to contact me or come see us!

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

words to listen to

God does speak. God spoke to Gideon after what seemed like a long period of the people being far from God. The pressing question is, "Are we listening?"

Word of Truth: The Lord is with you, O valiant warrior. (Judges 6:12)

God is here with you and He has named YOU as His own children. What is your response? What was Gideon's response?

Gideon: O my lord, if the Lord is with us, then why has all this happened to us? And where are all His miracles which our fathers told us about, saying, "Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt?" But now the Lord has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian." (6:13)

Me: "God, why did you let this happen to me? You've done amazing things before, where are you now?"

Word of Mission: The Lord looked at him and said, "Go in this your strength and deliver Israel from the hand of Midian. Have I not sent you?" (6:14)

The Lord looked at him… silencing him? rebuking him? We talk sometimes about wanting direction from God. This was a "stop talking and get up and get about my work" Word. Maybe if we would get up and going, we'd see what God is doing. God calls us out to be a part of what He is doing. Has He not sent us? This is the Word of Mission.

Gideon: O Lord, how shall I deliver Israel? Behold, my family is the least in Manasseh, and I am the youngest in my father's house. (6:15)

Me: "I can't do it, God. I'm too young, too untrained, too unimportant."

Is that humility or excuses? And have you ever noticed how often God calls on the youngest, weakest, or most unlikely one to serve Him?

Word of Promise: Surely I will be with you, and you shall defeat Midian as one man. (6:16)

God has answered and said even more. It doesn't matter that you are small, young, weak, or seemingly unqualified. God doesn't call the equipped; He equips the called. God chose Gideon and that was sufficient. God is with Him; that is far more important than his birth order, physical strength, or family name. And God indicates what He will accomplish through Gideon – the defeat of Midian. Has God not promised us the same thing – that He is with us always and that he has conquered the ultimate enemy – sin, death, and Satan? That was Christ's same word of promise at the end of the Great Commission… "Surely I am with you to the end of the age" (Matthew 28:20) and at the cross… "It is finished" (John 19:30).

Three "can-you-give-me-a-sign" requests later I get the feeling that God tired of talking with Gideon and decided to start doing - not unlike the course of salvation history. God gave us instructions in the Garden. God gave us the Law and the Commandments. God spoke through prophets. And we just didn't get it. So God acted. Likewise, God begins to act with Gideon. It's time to bring the army against the Midianites. From some 32,000 God instructed Gideon in weeding out the fearful, then the unprepared, until only 300 were left. What was important? What was not?

We don't have to be a 10,000 member mega-church to change the world for God. God can and will use 300 who will listen to Him, follow, and obey! God can use 12 who listen, follow, and obey. God can use one. God can use YOU.

There's no confusing who is God and who is not. There's no confusing our strength for God's strength. And there's no ground for our excuses. I am not strong enough to save the world. I'm not even strong enough to save myself! But God is! God was, in the defeat of the Midianites, answering all the questions and doubts, demonstrating His strength, and providing the signs and passing the tests. God did all of that and more through the death and resurrection of Jesus!

God still speaks. Will we listen, follow, and obey?

Read the full sermon text HERE

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