Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow

ImageProxy.mvcThere’s a lot of different strategies that the enemy uses to get us off track in our walk with God. But I think one of the enemy’s greatest tactics is a sequence I call, yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

Here’s how it works. The enemy gets you to think about your past, present, and future in these three ways:
YesterdayRemember when.
TodayLive for now.
TomorrowDo it later.

The enemy wants to keep us stuck in yesterday. And so the way the he talks to us is by saying, “remember when.” In other words, the enemy comes to you and tries to get you stuck in yesterday’s memories. Dependent on yesterday’s successes. Reminded of yesterday’s failures.

Or the enemy will get you stuck in today. He’ll tell you: “live for now.” It’s all about present pleasure and satisfaction. Like Esau, the enemy will get you to sell your birthright for a bowl of beans. Trade something far better later for something inferior now. Maybe it’s by having sex before marriage. Or selling out on your God-given dream because there’s an easier path you can take right now.

And then there’s tomorrow. The enemy will tell you to live for now, but when it comes to the great things God wants you to do, he urges you to “do it later.” Delay your obedience.

If you’re not careful, you can easily fall prey to this yesterday, today, and tomorrow sequence. And your growth in God and what He has for you will be paralyzed.

Here’s how I think God wants to flip the script and have you look at it from an eternal perspective:
Yesterday – Remember who.
Today – Live for later.
Tomorrow – Do it now.

Whereas the enemy says “remember when” about your past, God says, “remember who.” Don’t stay stuck in yesterday’s success. Instead look at yesterday’s success and remember the God who gave you yesterday’s success. Or who can help you overcome yesterday’s failure. Take David’s cue and recall God’s past faithfulness so you can forge on into your future endeavors. For the last two elements of the sequence, rearrange the enemy’s thinking. Where the enemy says “live for now, do it later,” God’s says “live for later, do it now.” Instead of living for the moment that you can see and the pleasures that you can touch, live in the present with a visionary mindset about your choices, realizing that your present bad decisions affect your future possibilities.

And instead of deferring obedience, obey now. Don’t live in the land of lofty aspirations. Whatever God tells you to do, do it. Immediately.

Refuse to look at yesterday, today, and tomorrow from the enemy’s perspective. As often as you have to, tell yourself:
Remember who (not when). Live for later (not now). Do it now (not later).

Right memory. Visionary mindset. Immediate obedience.
Yesterday. Today. And tomorrow.

Photo(s)/Resource(s): S. Furtick

Remember The Uninitiated.

6Qvmqx1In Sunday services, it can be easy to assume everyone is on board with the Bible, with God, with the music, with their faith — but even the most smiley, firm-handshaking, eloquently-praying, every-Sunday churchgoer could be drowning in a sea of doubt and questions. All the assumptions are only making it worse.

We often design our sermons and services with the faithful believer in mind. “Have you shared Jesus with anyone this week? Have you kept accountability? Have you confessed your sin and asked for forgiveness? Are you serving genuinely with your whole heart?”

These are important things: but the uninitiated won’t really care about them. I’m talking about that guy in the back row with arms crossed and foot tapping. That single mother with four kids who doesn’t think God sees her. The high schooler who’s ready to cut until it’s over. They’re unconcerned with Christian technique and instead: waiting to hear about a Savior.

While some of us are “convicted” by these terms, others will have no context for them and will only feel more distance. Some are just barely hanging on to believe God is real at all, and others still are resistant to anything remotely religious. And we forget about them.

I think knowing the vocabulary is even a disadvantage: because we get jaded to the same verbiage every Sunday. We can get self-righteous with all the insider buzz words because we check that list like a pro — but we can hardly admit we feel further from God every week.

I hope our churches are designed for both the strong and the weak, for the faithful and the curious, for the prodigal and the wanderer, for the robust and the rebel. I hope we use a language that invites everyone without compromising doctrine. I hope we define our terms like sin and wrath and Spirit every single Sunday, because even the veterans need a light on their basement of faith.

We could meet each other at ground level with the grace that Jesus offers. This is a harder way, with no lazy shortcuts and shorthand, but with gritty raw honesty: the same that Jesus had. To desperately strive for the ideal every week will only remind us how much we’ve failed, but to remind each other of Christ tells us there’s a hope beyond our striving.

It’s only Jesus who meets us exactly where we are. He assumes you don’t have it all together: and he offers grace for that very reason. The church is called to do likewise, as a safe haven for saints and a hospital for sinners. I pray we make room for both,

 

Photo(s)/Resource(s): JP

Don’t Allow Enablers

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If someone eggs you on in your anger or validates your self-pity: please extract yourself out of there. Find someone else. I’ve made this mistake too many times, when I should’ve heard from a friend who rebuked me towards grace and forgiveness and the hard truth about myself. No one should ever purposefully move you into more bitterness nor affirm your prideful isolation. I’ve seen guys who were puffed up this way over time and they’re hardly tolerable now.

Most people will tell you what you want to hear not because they’re bad people, but because they want to recruit you in their circle of approval and self-wallowing. This means they will tickle your ego: and you’ll be tempted to go back there.

They need grace too, so be courteous and nod along and love them just as much as the next guy. But please don’t fall for yes-men. Find the people who are willing to see through you, the ones who are willing to love you until it hurts.

Photo(s)/Resource(s): JP

You Are Not The Main Character

Imagine the freedom of knowing you’re NOT the main character of your own story.

Long after you yelled at that guy in traffic or sent murder-waves at the lady who cut in line, those people continue to live their lives. As we reflect on their horrible behavior and our own upright decency, those people are also reflecting on their bills, their anxiety, their children, their hopes and dreams and insecurities, just like you. While I’m looking out a window commending my own sensibility, they’re also trying to make good and do their best with the little they have.

When you can only think about your own struggle, we end up imprisoned in a tower of hostility where we defend our treasure-trove of self-referencing ego. It’s living inside your own head, cut off from the world, which is exactly why people kill each other thinking they need to protect their own selfish narratives.

You might have seen some movies where the main character acts like a jerk and crushes people who are in the way, but then later “makes up for it” by deep contemplation next to a lake — but you know, that guy is still a jerk. He is not suddenly cool just because he is self-aware. Sometimes self-awareness is really just self-absorbed, and that can only breed a franchise of destruction.

There is a slow unfolding horror when you realize that the universe is not about you. No one is thinking of your embarrassing moment after you slipped on the stage. No one continues applauding our trophies and childhood achievements and our ten seconds of fame. No one is thinking of ways to bow down to our pampered entitlement. They are trying to make it, and so are you.

If only we knew that life was about how to be for one another. It is the task of the soldier to think of the next soldier. It is the mark of a noble person to sacrifice, to serve, to regard the other as even better than yourself. Even praying for someone is, in a sense, becoming the other person, to walk inside their shoes and feel the anxiety of their needs.

Without this, we grow hard and resentful. But with this — we become healers in a world where our brokenness far outweighs mercy. Any time a corner of our world has changed for better, it has never been because someone hijacked the role of the protagonist. Instead they considered themselves as a bit cameo in the story of humanity, and without even trying, became the characters that we want to be and remember. It is our mercy that is celebrated beyond the brevity of our tiny little lives on earth.

This is really all God’s story. He calls us to participate in the overflow of His love, just as He gave Himself for us. So long as God and others are the real main characters of our lives: we have embraced our real selves, the roles that we were made and created for. You can be free of the tyranny of yourself, and you will be free for a reckless joy that expects nothing back.

So — hand over the pen. Let Him write. Give up the credit and glory. Be free.

Now there are very few rules about improvisation, but one of the things I was taught early on is that you are not the most important person in the scene. Everybody else is. And if they are the most important people in the scene, you will naturally pay attention to them and serve them. But the good news is you’re in the scene too. So hopefully to them you’re the most important person, and they will serve you. No one is leading, you’re all following the follower, serving the servant. You cannot win improv … And like improv, you cannot win your life.

— Stephen Colbert

Photo(s)/Resource(s): J.S.

When You Hear the Dreaded Phrase: Your Sermons Don’t Feed Me

What about those church members who tell you, “I’m just not being fed”?

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Systematic Theology. Exegesis. Church History. Contextualization. Liturgy. Pneumatology. Hebrew and Greek. Pastoral counseling. These are all subjects that most pastors are either familiar with or have taken seminary courses on.

Transitioning from seminary to pastoral ministry is pretty crazy. You go from writing huge papers on how postmodernism challenges the epistemological assumptions of one’s praxis to writing sermons for diverse groups of people that range from being forced to attend to those who have been followers of Jesus for longer than you have been living.

Try crafting a sermon for that type of audience versus your seminary classmates! After some time, you’ll hit your stride and some experience will help you exegete your audience in a helpful way. You’ll start writing sermons that are Christ exalting and applicable, and people will be really encouraged and challenged by your ministry.

And then you’ll talk to someone who tells you that your preaching doesn’t do anything for them. Your first instinct will be to either punch them in the face, laugh nervously, cry or quit.

If you are wise, you’ll remember James 1:19 and will do your best to listen, be slow to respond and slow to anger. Of course, the vision of choking that person out may be tempting, so it needs to be constrained by the teachings of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount.

Over the years, I’ve heard this statement a couple of times and I’ve talked to a lot of other pastors who have also heard this or similar statements.

Here are three observations I have about people who say these things:

1. You need to understand how to properly evaluate whether or not your sermons are “feeding the sheep.”

I fear that some pastors are more concerned with keeping their congregations happy than with keeping their congregations fed. But most of the pastors that I know are very concerned with being faithful in what they teach/preach. Yet there’s something very peculiar about how devastating one person’s criticism can be! We will actually take that one person’s opinion and elevate it above and beyond the dozens or even hundreds of other people who think differently.

After encountering the “you-don’t-feed-me” person, you may even find yourself canceling sermon plans you’ve had and jumping to the conclusion that you need to preach totally differently than what you’ve been doing. After all, someone told you that you aren’t feeding them! It isn’t necessarily wrong to consider making changes, but your concerns should primarily be in regards to how God feels about the matter. Are you talking about the “whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27)? Are you faithfully preaching the word (2 Tim. 4:2)? Is your preaching focused on exalting Christ, clarifying the gospel and helping form the spiritual lives of those you serve? Questions like these are far more important.

So, should you do a series that addresses marriage and serves the majority of your congregation, or do a series on the “deeper” things of God like the “revelation of God’s seven spirits and how this all proves both the pretribulational rapture and young earth creationism.” While the former may not meet everyone’s alleged needs (though it’ll meet most), the latter is a complete waste of your time. Yes, I did just say that a sermon on the seven spirits of God proving the pretribulational rapture and young earth creationism is vastly inferior in comparison to doing a sermon on what God has to say about marriage.

More on this …

2. What people often want you to “feed” them is simply a way for them to reinforce their stereotypes and bad theology.

I’m not kidding about this one. As I already alluded, those who talk about not being fed will generally give you ideas of what would feed them.

In my experience, these suggestions are generally not related to primary doctrinal subjects (e.g., Christology, the gospel, missions) or the “main and the plain.” Most of the time, these requests for “depth” are on things so speculative that you won’t find any theologians throughout the history of the church who have addressed them! Of course, the kind of person that says “your sermons don’t feed me” has zero time for church history, and believes that the reason why no one has talked about their favorite subject is simply because no one in the history of the church has been either smart enough or spiritual enough to know those things. Oh, and by the way, you are obviously not smart enough or spiritual enough to know about it either, which is why they are informing you that you haven’t “fed” them.

Pay close attention here.

What these people often want is for you to reinforce what they already believe, no matter how disconnected from life or how unbiblical their beliefs are.

I had a person once tell me that they wanted me to do sermons on why Christians using Christmas trees was sinful idol worship!!! The fact that they were mishandling Scripture to “prove” this novel position didn’t matter to them at all. But when I couldn’t agree with their horrific eisogesis of Jeremiah 10:2-4, they left our church with no discussion and response to the questions I had.

After all, I wasn’t into “depth.”

3. The person who says they get nothing from a sermon is likely a prideful person.

Pride is almost always the sine qua non of this statement. In other words, without pride, people rarely say that they aren’t getting anything out of a sermon.
I say almost and rarely because I will acknowledge that there are some preachers out there that could stand to be better teachers and spend more time in preparation or be aware of the needs of their congregation. But by and large, the statement that someone isn’t getting anything from your sermons is a sign of pride.

If you are publically reading portions of Scripture à la 1 Tim. 4:13 and preaching Christ à la Rom. 16:25, there’s something for people to be encouraged by and learn from.
In my experience, 99.9 percent of the time, this statement is being made by someone who is unteachable. So you need to be aware of the fact that all of the discussion and attempts to evaluate your teaching and ministry are almost always a waste of time simply because the person assumes they know more than you and are more spiritual than you. So it’s fruitless.

Except for when it isn’t, ha ha!

Photo(s)/Resource(s): Luke Geraty

Don’t Sucker punch the Sovereign Grace of God

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Everyone loves the idea of compassion until it costs them. Sometimes, I’ll look at a dude and instantly judge him—“There’s no hope for that guy in a million years”—and I have to slap myself, because I was that same guy a million years ago.

I think it’s easy for us to throw around labels like “lost cause” and “damaged goods” and “bad for business” because we’re just lazy. It allows us to sit back and judge from a distance. It’s easy to like people who are likable, but really dang hard to get involved with emotionally draining drama queens.

Everyone loves the idea of compassion until it costs them.

I tend to time-stamp someone on how they used to be, because it’s more comfortable for me to presume “at least I’m better than that guy.” It physically bothers me to think this person could change. How could everyone like him now? I want to say things like, “But I know how he really is,” and “People don’t change”—but then I’m revoking the very chance I’ve been given.

I’ve seen Christians casually dismiss other Christians down the street, pastors dissing pastors, churches entering into fierce tribalistic nationalism claiming some kind of moral standard above the curve. I’ve been wounded by the venom because I have a past here, and no one has honor in their hometown. Sometimes, I desperately plead my side to be heard; but some people have their mind made up about you, and you’re the bad guy no matter what you do.

Really though: We just don’t want to get into the broken mess of other busted people. It’s dirty work. It requires standing out of our chairs, rolling up our sleeves, entangling with slobbery, flailing lives, even forgiving them. It is not our nature. It hurts. It costs.

But this is what God did, against all odds—because God sees people as they could be, not as they should be.

Whenever we dismiss someone as incapable of change, we instantly suckerpunch the sovereign grace of God.

We are downsizing His sovereignty to those people and not these. Then we’re no longer talking about God. We’re just exposing our laziness.

You know what I mean. I see a person on their first lap of faith and I make assumptions; I see 0.5 percent of a person’s life and somehow predict their future; I see half a story and presume the whole story. But this is a sort of evil that holds back potential, that undermines growth, that destroys a child’s dreams. It’s an ugliness that I’ve experienced from others, who wouldn’t give me a shot, who wouldn’t see past their negative filters and accusations and condemnations, who saw me as a deadbeat nobody with no hope of a turnaround.

But occasionally, love would cut in and open a door. It grew my heart. It embraced me in.

Love sees a greatness in someone who cannot see it in themselves.

Love keeps no record of wrongs. It hopes in all things, it does not rejoice in evil. It perseveres.

God saw you from a cross over a distance of 2,000 years, and He loved you enough to stay there.

I hope we have eyes to see that God is doing something we cannot see. This takes discipline, but we have help. God has a vision far greater than my sight. He has an imagination that infinitely outweighs mine. He can take a murderer like David and crown him the king. He can take a terrorist like Paul and breathe holy words into Scripture. He can take a beat-up dude like you and me and baptize us into saints.

We think a person is an impossible case—but God is in the business of the impossible. After all, He saved you and me.

Photo(s)/Resource(s): JS Park

What Can We Expect From God?

Matthew 21:21-22

21 And Jesus answered them, “Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen. 22 And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.” (ESV 

I believe if we have enough faith we can literally expect God to move mountains. Yet we don’t see this power in our own prayer-lives … why? The problem of God not moving very much in our lives is not to be solved by an expectation that this is an age where God does not powerfully act but is to be solved by our lack of faith.

Sadly, we take the exact wrong approach and say that we cannot expect God to do enormously great things in the life of His Church. This yields a man-centric view of the Church. The specific outcome of this I’d like to focus on right now is a man-centric view of the Church’s fruit.

When we judge the fruit of our church, we do it in view of what man is able to accomplish. It is hard for men, on their own, to go to church every Sunday, to stay married, to get involved with non-profit groups and donate their tyme, to witness for God, &c. If we judge our local churches by this standard, then some of them will look bad and some of them will look good. Some will have very little fruit, and some will have much fruit.

 If we were acting by His power, we would expect our lives to be transformed into holy, righteous living sacrafices.

However, if we judge things by God’s standard, things look quite a bit different. If we were acting by His power, we would expect our lives to be transformed into holy, righteous living sacrafices. We would expect much power in our witnessing, so that souls were saved. We would expect much power in overcoming sin, so that our sins would be peeling back like layers off an onion. We would expect church fellowship to be a miraculous event so that church would last all week in love and that Sunday morning would be the colossal crescendo of that week lived in love and fellowship with the brethren. We would expect men to give freely of all of their tyme, talents, and treasure, limiting their giving only with what love required them to hold back. If we judge our local churches and ourselves by this standard, things look much different. We become a people that have almost no fruit.

So which should it be? Should we judge ourselves and our churches by the fruit that man is able to produce, or by the fruit that only God almighty is able to produce? John 15:5 should make the answer to that question obvious.

 John 15:5-10

5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. 9 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. (ESV)