Gospel Spirituality, Jesus

Hope for the Choked

Last week I lost a friend. All funerals are sad, but this one was especially tragic. He was young (only 37-years-old), the father of young children, and had been entangled in the suffocating web of alcoholism. The despair that led to his death was especially powerful for me because this Fall our church is launching a Celebrate Recovery ministry. I have sensed the Spirit moving in the start of this ministry, but felt the weight of its importance as I sat through the funeral.


As we all tried to navigate meaning from this tragedy, I continued to go back to Philippians 3. The Apostle Paul models some very important things in this passage. Even though Paul was imprisoned and abused in his life, he still had the perspective to “rejoice in the Lord” (3:1). There were moments he suffered greatly, but he embraced it as an opportunity to “gain Christ” (3:8).

Philippians 3:12-14 gives us some needed insight on how to overcome our pain and sufferings. It reads, “(12) Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. (13) Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, (14) I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

First, like Paul, our goal should be the “upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Our hope for happiness is not in the circumstances of this world. Our hope for happiness is being with Jesus and looking increasingly more like Jesus.

Second, like Paul, none of us “have already obtained this” nor are “already perfect.” No one at our new church is perfect like Jesus. The more they get to know me as their pastor the more they see moments when I am not like Jesus.

But, third, is what we need to hold onto. Paul also explains how Christians live in this tension of not being like Jesus, yet having a hope to be like him. We have a tension of not being with him in perfect joy yet, but having a hope that we will some day. Paul explains how he did it and thus gives us what we need to hear. The Word of the Lord tells us to go about our days “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead.”

The past can be dangerous. The past can entangle. The past can reach up and choke out our lives. The past can be like Darth Vader hands reaching up to choke us. The past can destroy the present. Friends, hear me, I am someone who has made real mistakes in the past. If you have blown it in the past, you are in good company. We don’t need to make light of the past, but we MUST fight against letting the past strangle our present lives.

Our present task is to struggle toward Christ. It is never too late to start. It is never too late to say I have made a mess of things and I want to now struggle toward a new hope, I want to press toward Christ. Some of us have heard wrong voices or had faulty expectations. We think that this present life is going to be without struggles. We think that if we are faithful then we won’t have failings or difficult circumstances. Don’t mean to be too harsh, but you and I are not as faithful as Paul and he had extreme struggles that the average American Christian will never face. As Christians, we should expect struggles. Then, we should remember that our prize is not health, wealth, or prosperity. We should remember our prize is Christ. We should resolve to struggle toward him, because he is where our joy will be found.

This passage is especially important when we feel like we are between a rock and a hard place. Pressing toward Christ is the really the only happy joyful way out. I promise you he is where happiness and freedom are found. Even in your struggle, do you believe Christ is your prize?

Gospel Spirituality, Jesus

Head Home to Your Father

(17) “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! (18) I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. (19) I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”’

(Luke 15:17-19)


Luke 15:11-32 is the story about a wild son whose selfish loveless heart produces reckless living. He shockingly asks his father to cash out his property in order to get his inheritance early. He would rather his father be dead so he can get his stuff. He took that money and lived like a brute with no regard for virtue. He lives opposite of John 8:42 which says, “If God were your Father, you would love me.” He rejects the truth of John 14:15 which says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” This animal-like kid does not love his earthly father, and does not keep his earthly father’s commandments. This is a heart issue that points back to his lack of love for his heavenly Father. This selfish, loveless, animal-like behavior is the result of not loving his heavenly Father.

But, by God’s grace, “he came to himself.” The brokenness in his heart doesn’t lead to depression, but to repentance. Broken repentance should mark your life. We don’t use the word “repentance” in our everyday lives, it is sort of a hardcore Bible term. It is the idea of saying, “I’m wrong here.” God’s way is one path, but I am going down another path. Repentance is honestly and even emotionally hating the condition of your heart about something, then believing that Jesus’ way is better, and resolving to walk down his path. He resolves to confess his sin to his father, and heads for home.

Is there an area of your life that you need to repent and return home to your Heavenly Father? Maybe this area has manifested itself in reckless brutish behaviors. Maybe this area is still hiding itself in a dark corner of your heart. Whatever it is, don’t slip into depression, rather repent and head home to your heavenly Father.


Book Review, Gospel Spirituality, Jesus

APP REVIEW: Solid Joys Devotions

Solid Joys have been central in my walk with Jesus for the past year. Daily, the team at Desiring God posts a devotional reading. Desiring God describes Solid Joys as a “daily devotional app from the ministry of John Piper.” It can be accessed through DesiringGod.org as well as the App Store and Google Play. Every day the app provides a scripture passage along with a short reading from one of John Piper’s books or sermons or articles.


Last November 16th was a devotional using I Peter 5:7 about anxiety. It was powerful in my life including the call to “make war, not with other people, but with our own unbelief”…which is the “root of anxiety.” Also on anxiety, using Matthew 6:30 on November 4th Piper writes, “the root of anxiety is inadequate faith in our Father’s future grace.” Using Hebrews 10:14 on January 4th I read about salvation as, “not the boast of the strong. It is the cry of the weak in need of a Saviour.” I struggle with irritability and last week I read: “And your agonizing, unplanned detour is not a waste – not if you look to the Lord for his unexpected work, and do what you must do in his name (Colossians 3:17). The Lord works for those who wait for him (Isaiah 64:4).”


The app is relatively simple and its simplicity is part of what I love about it. The reader is not bombarded by endless articles and videos and audio files. You just pop it open once a day during your prayer time. However, initially the app had an x-ray mode that enabled the reader to view the article with a black background and white letters. In a recent upgrade the did away with the x-ray option, which I preferred.


I use the app during my daily devotional time. I don’t use it every day, but most mornings I take a couple of minutes to read the passage being referenced then read the article. John Piper certainly isn’t Jesus, but I have been blessed by his insights and theology since college.


If you are blessed by books like “Desiring God” and “Future Grace” and “Brothers, We are Not Professionals” and “Don’t Waste Your Life,” then you will be encouraged by Solid Joys. Make it part of your daily walk with the Lord!

Church, Church Planting, Gospel Spirituality, Jesus, Redeemer Church

lessons I am learning from starting a new church

We moved our family back to Denton late last Summer to start Redeemer Church.  Like any step of faith it has been scary at times, filled with ups and downs, yet we can conclude that it has been an amazing joy to be part of this new church.  I praise God every day for the opportunity to be the pastor of Redeemer.


We are close to securing a location for our official launch on August 31st which has caused me to really get excited about the future, but also reflect on the past 10 months.  I have learned countless lessons since we began gathering people last September.  I certainly don’t have it all figured out, but here are a few of the lessons I am learning from starting a new church.


Redeemer Church is largely born through my walk with Jesus so my character and spiritual life are everything.  This experience has only further solidified a deep conviction that character is what counts.  We have all seen corrupt pastors, and I long never to be one.  I firmly believe that churches who have leaders with suspect character are being built on sandy ground.  Josh Yen and I constantly talk of the importance of our spiritual health.  The new church can’t happen if I am not communing with Christ and loving my family well.  I make daily mistakes in those areas and need a ton of gospel grace.  This has forced me to be more humble and really live out our mantra of being “broken people who love broken people.”  Planting Redeemer Church has caused me to love Jesus more than ever!


Planting Redeemer Church has highlighted the fact that I need to be a priest.  That might be strange verbiage for some.  One of the networks we are joining is the Acts29 Network.  Within that network there is a culture of talking about the giftedness of pastors as being either a “prophet” (or insightful teacher/preacher), a “priest” (or a patient empathetic shepherd), or a “king” (a bold visionary leader).  I have always felt that God created me in such a way that I was low in the “priest” department.  But, if you are going to start a church you have to be a priest.  One of my coaches keeps wisely telling me that most people will follow me if they know I love them.  I have loved stripping things down and getting to genuinely just love our people.  With joy, I can report that planting Redeemer Church has caused me to love people more than ever!


I have a twin passion for starting new churches.  First, it is biblical.  New Testament missionary work is exclusively people starting new churches.  I don’t think that all missionary work should be just church planting, but it should be our primary way to reach and disciple the world.  Second, is how effective it is at reaching the unreached.  Many guys look at an area and think they should plant because there is not their brand of church in that area.  At the end of the day I fear some guys are planting churches because they want their brand of evangelicalism as opposed to primarily wanting to reach the unreached.  It is about reaching the lost not establishing your brand of evangelicalism.  Please hear me, this is not a sellout to all things gimmicky.  If you know me, you know that I have deep convictions.  But, at the end of the day our people care that I am devoted to the Bible and the gospel, trying to walk faithfully with the Lord, and am striving to love them and their family.  Convictions are vital, but our missionary conviction should be the ultimate driver of our efforts.  Redeemer Church has caused me to love my city more than ever!


Gospel Spirituality, Jesus

Was Jesus Self-Controlled?

This year I have been teaching a high school Logic class at my son’s school.  It has been a blessing to journey with my merry little band of philosophers.  This week we have been studying Seneca and his complex syllogism on virtue.  Seneca was a Stoic and argued that “the virtuous life is the happy life.”  He gets there by saying, “He who is prudent is temperate; he who is temperate is constant; he who is constant is imperturbable (calm); he who is imperturbable (calm) is without sorrow; he who is without sorrow is happy; therefore he who is prudent is happy, and prudence is sufficient for the happy life.”  I certainly believe the Bible advocates for a virtuous life and that it will lead to happiness.  Christians, however, need to link virtue to glorifying Jesus.

Buste de Sénèque, marbre (H. 70 cm ; l. 33 cm ; pr. 23 cm) réalisé par un auteur anonyme au XVIIe siècle. – Œuvre N° cat. E144 du Musée du Prado de Madrid. Photographie réalisée lors de l'exposition temporaire l'Europe de Rubens - Musée du Louvre (Lens).

We know from Galatians 5 that one yielded to the Holy Spirit is marked by self-control.  But is the Christian life really always marked by calm and lack of sorrow?

Recently I have had to have some difficult conversations with a friend.  This friend has been very humble and respectful, and I pray I have also been gracious yet convictional.  But, in the end I am left with sorrowful emotions.  I have cried, felt sick to my stomach, and laboured over how to remain loving yet faithful.  I hurt over the status of our friendship and the difficult subject matters we are addressing.  I haven’t betrayed my friend’s privacy but have brought a couple of brothers into the discussion to seek their wisdom on how to address the situation.  They have been very affirming and encouraging on how I have addressed my friend.  My sorrow is not conviction over doing something wrong, but the appropriate emotion.  When we love as the gospel calls us to love, there will be sorrowful moments.

As I have reflected on the Stoics I was reminded of the shortest verse in the Bible, John 11:35, “Jesus wept.”  Jesus’ close friend Lazarus has just died.  The next verse explains his emotional response as rooted in his love for Lazarus.  Jesus’ response was in line with being self-controlled, it was natural, and it was good.  There were times that Jesus was sorrowful, and there are times that we should also be sorrowful.

As I discussed Jesus weeping over the death of Lazarus, one of my students was reminded of Jesus clearing out the temple courts with a whip?!  Likely included in that group was armed Roman soldiers.  That certainly isn’t a picture of what we would typically think as calm and self-controlled.  But as my students rightly concluded, this was Jesus and he was perfect so it didn’t conflict with being self-controlled.

In the end, Seneca and the Stoics are helpful, but Jesus is more helpful.  I don’t want to be known for flying off the handle, but if you caught Jesus on that day in the temple you might think he lacked self-control.  I don’t want to be marked my melancholy, but when people betray us or when we are taken advantage of or when we lose friends we are going to become sorrowful.  Frankly, I worry more about the guy who doesn’t get angry when he should and doesn’t get sad when he should.

Jesus’ gospel gives us a glorious taste in this present world of what will be fully consummated in the future.  But, it is only a taste.  The sorrows and trials of this life only serve to make the next life even more happy.  Virtue does lead to happiness, but it is not my virtue.  I am clinging to Jesus’ virtue as my ticket to eternal happiness.

Gospel Spirituality, Jesus

How Do You Beat Your Chest?

Living with an 8-year-old boy is a funny experience. Regularly I am walking through the house and out of no where I am lept upon by the dude as if he is a lion hunting his prey. Daily Mason stands in front of me with a glimmer in his eye, in football ready position, and says, “hey Dad, want to wrestle.” My stories of taking Judo has resulted in Mason constantly asking me if he can flip me?! The other day I heard, “wow, there is a real muscle in there?!” I came around the corner to see him with his shirt off flexing in the mirror marveling at the little apple that was popping up in his bi-cep.


We have all seen gorillas, and 8-year-old boys, beat their chests in powerful pride in order to imtimidate their opponent. Beating your chest can mean “you’re mine.” Beating your chest can be one of the most powerful symbols of pride, but it can also demonstrate humble brokenness.

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus:‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get. ’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner! ’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14)

Pride versus humility are in full display in Jesus’ parable. By all earthly and human measurements the Pharisee was the more righteous. He studied and knew the Scriptures. He was a decent and just man, not cheating people like the tax collectors. He was faithful to fulfill his religious obligations and gave his tithes. If I was his father there is a lot for me to proud of…somebody raised this guy right!

But, pride is the object of Jesus’ wrath in this parable. Morality is good, but moral superiority condemns. Decency is desired, but judgmentalism brings God’s wrath. Faithfulness to the law is right, but self-righteousness will lead to a sermon illustration about you!

Jesus doesn’t desire the moral kid if he takes pride in his own morality. Jesus doesn’t want the nice kid if the kid boasts in his politeness. Jesus wants a humble broken sinner in need of his mercy.

Are you the corrupt tax collector in this parable? If so, beat your chest in humble brokenness, then let Jesus save you. Are you the self-righteous religious guy in this parable? If so, beat your chest in humble brokenness, then let Jesus save you.

Church, Jesus

The Gospel and Outsiders

Many of us tend to think of the gospel only in terms of its future eternal implications.  We rightly see it as our avenue into communion with Jesus upon death.  But, the good news of Jesus dying on the cross for our sins impacts our daily lives.  The gospel speaks to our thought life, the way we do marriage, how we conduct business, and even how we welcome in outsiders.

family of three soapstone sculpture

Leviticus 19:34 says, “You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt:I am the Lord your God.”

Starting Redeemer Church and launching our initial Vision Gatherings is all about loving our city with the gospel.  This means loving our city the way God loves them.

There is a danger within all of us to pull away and only love those that are easy to love.  There is a danger that each of us will recoil from people and only love those people that we like to be around.  There is also a related danger that we would view our city as a tool to be used to get what I want.  Maybe that is an expanded business base or good education for our kids or quiet from the hustle and bustle of urban centers.  Instinctively we step away from people not towards them.  We draw lines of “us” and “them.”  Instinctively we also use people for our own selfish gain.

The problem with these dangerous and natural responses to people, and our city, is that it is the exact opposite of how God views people and Denton.

Jesus loves people who are hard to love.  He engages people who are difficult to be around.  He doesn’t use cities but serves cities.  He doesn’t take advantage of cities but frees cites and reconciles cities and saves cities.  He doesn’t step away from people but toward them, engaging even the ugliest parts of their lives.  Jesus doesn’t look at a group of people and say he is against them, but rather seeks to save all people.

Do you remember the story of the Last Supper from John 13?  Jesus knows he is about to be betrayed, then falsely accused and falsely convicted, then abused and tortured, then murdered for our sins.  He was with a group of men that he loved, but that he also know would betray him.  At that final meal, he chose to serve them in a very intimate and messy way…he washed their feet.  The God of the universe who upholds all things by the power of his word, humbled himself and showed these men hospitality.  Men he knew would betray him.  These were not men who were easy to love or even easy to like, but Jesus showed them hospitality.

But this is God’s M.O. isn’t it?  God has always shown love to even strangers.  In our verse, we see that based upon God’s pattern, he also calls his people to love strangers in the same way.  ”You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt:I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 19:34)

God’s people are not to treat strangers like strangers, but are to treat strangers like family.  We are to treat sojourners like natives.  We are to treat people who are on the outside like they are on the inside.  We are to serve “them” like they are one of “us.”  One of the ways we know we are God’s people and he is our God is by how we love strangers.  Based upon what Jesus accomplishes on the cross, we are to love strangers like they are one of us…like family.


King of Kings

Ok, that picture isn’t the King of Kings…only Pastor Chris Respess of Antioch Christian Fellowship?!  It was a blessing to get to worship at Antioch on Sunday morning.  Antioch has been an incredible support in our effort to launch Redeemer Church.  Pastor Chris Respess has been a faithful and fun friend, encouraging us each step of the way.  His leaders have loved us and been willing to help whenever we need them.  Antioch is opening their doors to us and allowing us to meet on Sunday evenings when we put on some Vision Services in February.  Pastor Respess invited us to their service last Sunday and I had the opportunity to thank the congregation for their support.

Chris Respess

Pastor Respess is a great preacher, and the worship at Antioch is amazing.  During our singing we repeated a lyric that included a number of Jesus’ titles.  One title we sang was that He is our “King of Kings.”  Sunday night we also gave everyone a Christmas Tree ornament from Family Life that is designed as a crown and says “King of Kings.”  Jesus as King of Kings has been on my heart the past few days.

King of Kings means that Jesus rules over all other kings.  He is soveriegn over other kings.  When we compare Jesus to any king, Jesus is more powerful and has more authority.  Jesus is greater than any king in your life, in fact, He is the greatest of all the kings.  We don’t have a king ruling our country, but even as Americans we have numerous authorities in our lives.  Jesus is more powerful than all those authorities.  Even if you have an authority in your life that is keeping you in some sort of bondage…Jesus is more powerful.  Jesus’ power over all rulers means that we can trust Him.  We can trust His will for our lives.  When Jesus takes us in new uncertain territories we can trust Him.  Jesus is our King of Kings.

Not only is Jesus more powerful than any authority in our lives, He is better.  Every king or authority will fail you at some point.  Some authorities can fail us in disasterous and painful ways.  Many fathers are abusive, many bosses cheat and steal, many rulers take advantage of their power.  These authorities can leave distruction and wounds, but as Christians we can hope in someone better.  In fact, we can hope in the best.  Jesus is perfectly good.  Jesus is even holy.  When other authorities and kings fail us because they are not good or holy, we can trust in Jesus.  Jesus is our King of Kings.

I pray that this Christmas each of you find great joy in the fact that Jesus is the King of King.

Merry Christmas