Church, Gospel Spirituality, Jesus, Missional Living, Redeemer Church

Equipped to Shepherd from the Word

I don’t want this to be one of those “best kept secrets,” but one of the most exciting things happening in our church these days is an intense training that all our Neighborhood Group leaders and co-leaders are going through. If you are one of our small group leaders you are going to very early morning meetings or after-the-kids-go-down meetings on how to shepherd people from the Word. For the next 12 months they are going through the Association of Biblical Counselors’ “Equip to Counsel” training.

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When we say they are shepherding from the Word, please don’t hear that we take a flippant small-minded “a Bible verse a day keeps the Devil away” approach. However, we understand the Bible as our ultimate authority, and where we turn during life’s most difficult seasons. It is amazing how practical it is for difficult marriages, the minefields of high school and college, as well as navigating problems at work. We not only want to quote Scriptures, but understand the broad redemptive theme of the Bible…the gospel. It is hard for a wife to withhold forgiveness when you go back to the forgiveness given her on the cross. It is hard for a someone to feel condemned when they know that Jesus died for their past sins.

Our church has a heart for our leaders to genuinely walk with the folks in their groups. We care less that our small group leaders are driven executives or impressive orators, we want them to be loving pastors. We want them to walk with people through those dark nights of the soul.

We understand that our leaders have been “given His revealed Word” and thus are to “convey His Word to others so that others may live well in the presence of God” (pg23 of the Leader’s Guide). I don’t know how you are struggling, but know that God’s Word is sufficient and relevant and it is where you can find abundant life. I don’t want to oversell it, I know our leaders are imperfect. However, they are a group that desires to truly love people with the gospel of grace. Learn more about our Neighborhood Groups by clicking HERE.

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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.

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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?

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Gospel Spirituality

Boaz the Great

We tend to toy with sin. Many days we think sin is fun and not deadly.  Our heart’s desire is not for right living, but rather thinking about and touching and watching what we should not. Also, many days, following the Bible’s path seems rigid and life-draining. We know what is right, but our emotions and feelings are not for righteousness.

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Recently I saw sin for what it was.  Two things happened. First, I was walking with a buddy whose life got blown up by sin. It is a movie we have seen before, but it is still a bad movie. Second, I saw some Christian leaders be very indifferent towards a vulnerable person. Those two real life scenarios hit me at a gut level.  I was both broken-hearted for my buddy, and angry for the vulnerable and how apathetic the church can become. In that moment I knew the truth, but those glorious biblical truths overflowed into my emotions.

I think that is why Boaz looked so great to me. Recently, in my devotional reading, I read the short story of Ruth. You might know the story, if not, grab your Bible turn to the index, and take 15 minutes to read the whole story. As I read, I was overcome with how Boaz entered the story.

He walked onto the scene, and my soul rejoiced at how he greeted his employees and how he cared for a vulnerable woman. He walked up to his field and greeted his field hands with “The LORD be with you you!”  They joyously responded to their righteous boss with “The LORD bless you.” Boaz was not a harsh and manipulative and wicked boss. No, he was a man who loved the Lord and loved those who were put under his charge. His employees didn’t hate him, they didn’t need a union, they didn’t need lawyers to protect them. They prayed blessings upon him! Then Boaz encourages the vulnerable Ruth to stay under his care, and he instructed his men to also care for her. He blessed his workers as well as those in need.

The Spirit moved in my life to see the glories of Boaz’s life. In the face of destructive sin and disappointing indifference, I was reading about the glories of righteousness! Friends, God’s ways are not soul-killing…but life-giving.

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Book Review, Gospel Spirituality, Preaching

BOOK REVIEW: Spirit-Led Preaching

Ok, ok, I know you might not be a “preacher” but if you are a Christian you need to know how to understand the Bible and then apply it to your life. Also, if you are growing in the Lord, you need to know how to apply the Bible to other people’s lives. Greg Heisler’s little book (only 153 pages) Spirit-Led Preaching: The Holy Spirit’s Role in Sermon Preparation and Delivery is one of the best books I have read on how to prepare a Bible lesson. It is a worthy read for pastors, but also Elders, Deacons, Sunday School Teachers, Youth Leaders, and Neighborhood Group leaders.

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Redeemer Church holds a high view of the Bible. All our pastors and leaders hold to the infallibility as well as inerrancy of Scripture. We understand that the Bible is authoritative and thus strive to live a Bible grounded spirituality. These convictions and commitments lead us to embrace the philosophy of expository preaching. With our sermons and lessons we simply try to explain and apply a passage of the Bible. This is how God speaks to us…through His Word.

Heisler is a pastor and preaching professor. He holds our same convictions and commitments. He recognizes and applauds the renewal of expository preaching in the American church. His book does not pit the Bible against the Holy Spirit, rather is a call to “recover the Holy Spirit for expository preaching.” (xvi.) He explains that “the sermon is driven along by the Holy Spirit in accordance with the biblical text” (18). As we prepare a sermon or lesson, we need to do the hard work of biblical exegesis, but we also need to yield to the “illuminating guidance of the Holy Spirit” (21). What is so encouraging about this little book is its well-roundedness. It provides a case for the authority of the Bible, for the role of the Holy Spirit, but also the glorious redemptive message for the Bible. Heisler argues, “Christ is the grand theme, the singular message, and the supreme subject of all the Bible” (26). He summarizes his position by stating, “The Spirit reveals and glorifies Christ by magnifying Christ’s teaching, Christ’s gospel, and Christ’s work as the grand fulfillment of God’s redemptive plan.” (55)

I normally wouldn’t recommend a preaching book on this blog, but I found it so balanced, helpful, and concise. If you are a church leader, I encourage you to grab a copy.

 

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Church Planting, Gospel Spirituality, Missional Living

GO and TELL…Digitally

GO and TELL frames the mission for each and every believer in Christ.

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If you are a follower of Jesus then you have the mandate to GO to the nations. Matthew 28:19-20 provides the mandate to GO. Each and everyone one of us are to figure out ways to GO to “all nations.” We are certainly to send missionaries through the tithes and offerings that funnel through our local churches. But, how does the average busy suburbanite Mommy and Daddy fulfill the GO mandate?

Further, when we go, then what?! Showing up might be the first step but what did Jesus tell his disciples to do once they went? Believers in Jesus are to TELL people about Jesus’ gospel of grace. In Matthew 28:19-20 Jesus told his followers to teach others. Specifically they were to teach others to follow everything he called them to follow. Missionaries TELL others about Jesus and his ways. Again, I recognize that we enable people to do this through the tithes and offerings of our local churches.  But again, how does the average busy suburbanite Mommy and Daddy fulfill the TELL mandate?

First, in our zeal for “all nations” we need to remember that our own nation is included. I live in a state and a city facing declines in the percentage of the population that claim faith in Christ. Much of this is due to our healthy economy (yay Texas) and thus the large numbers of people who move here for work. I don’t believe these numbers are necessarily an indictment on the local church, but rather a warning bell that our work is not done. Here is my point, your neighborhood is a mission field and your neighbors need you to GO and TELL.

Utilizing social media is a great way to participate in our missionary mandate. Let me put my cards on the table, I feel a constant tug to slip into my hobbit-hole and not engage others. I also roll my eyes at social media, even as I post images of my own kids. However, suburbanite Mommy and Daddy, take advantage of social media as a simple way to GO and TELL.

I am not encouraging you to be the obnoxious power-poster who throws up ten tweets a day…don’t wear people out! I am also not encouraging you to be the weird hyper-spiritual guy who only talks Christian-ease…be a real person! Also, hear me, I DO want to see pics of your kids (they really are cute), and I agree that they are probably the next Dirk Nowitzki.

All I am saying to the busy suburbanite Mommy and Daddy is also make room to be a social media missionary. When a verse impacts you..post it. When an article is helpful…share it. When your church is gathering people for something…help get the word out. In this digital age love your friends by being a social media missionary.

 

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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)

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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.

 

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Church, Gospel Spirituality

How to Find Rest

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. (Hebrews 3:12-13)

Hebrews 3:12-13 is within a chapter focusing on rest. It identifies our barrier to rest as an unbelieving heart. But these two verses go further and give us two practical ways to find rest. It teaches us how to find rest.

The problem is an unbelieving heart, the first solution is a believing heart. Hebrews 3:12 warns us to Take care not to have an unbelieving heart.  Believe that your rest and your happiness and your peace and your joy is found through closeness to Jesus over anything else.

So when you are in one of those stressful seasons at work, intentionally remind yourself that closeness to Jesus is where your rest is found. Instead of cutting out prayer with him because you are busy, find those moments, maybe in the car while you commute, to commune with him. So when you are grieving the loss of a relationship, believe that your friendship with Jesus is enough. As you hurt over what you have lost, believe that you can find rest through walking with Jesus. Believe in Jesus.

When Jesus died on the cross to atone for our sins, he was paying for us to have an eternal relationship with him when we die. The way we get to eternal rest is to believe in Jesus’ work on the cross for our salvation. But, Jesus was also atoning for our sin to provide for our present rest. The way we get to eternal rest is the same pathway to rest this afternoon.  Believe in Jesus.

God warns us in verse 12 about moving away from God because of unbelieving hearts. But, in verse 13 the way we keep from having hard sinful hearts that don’t find rest in Jesus is by exhorting one another.

The way to find rest through the ups and downs of life is through being close to Jesus. What keeps us from closeness toJesus are hearts that don’t believe Jesus is where we will find our rest. But, the way we keep our hearts believing in Jesus is by exhorting one another.

Exhorting is one of those weird biblical words that we don’t use that often. It simply means to strongly encourage. Someone exhorts us when they lovingly speak into our lives. It is having people love us enough to have the “hard conversations” with us. It is moving from polite conversations about the weather, and our yards, and the Cowboys…to more substantive things. It isn’t permission to be rude and harsh, but to love each other enough to gently be honest. It is caring enough to point each other to Jesus.

If you aren’t connected to a church (Jesus’ body), you aren’t going to have the teaching and friendships that will constantly draw you back to finding you happiness in Jesus. You will drift toward unhappiness because you will drift toward believing all the other things in your life will make you happy. You will try to find rest in work or in a relationship or in piddling with your trinkets. However your business will fall apart and you will become miserable. Your relationship will fail you and you will become depressed. Your health will fail and you won’t get to do you hobby anymore.

We have started Redeemer Church because you were made to belong. I’m both a guy and an introvert. Men and introverts, your flesh and your “inner voice” are lying to you when they tells you that you will be more happy alone with your hobby! You need people in your life.You need friends in your life to point you back to Jesus. You need to belong to Jesus’ Body, the church, in order to find rest through the trials. We need each other!

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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!

 

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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.

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