It's Friday- my "day off". I'm sitting in a local coffee shop enjoying the coffee and the ambiance and, well, working. But that's not the point.
I look over and see a kid sporting a Western Washington University hoodie- now I say 'kid' but 'young man' is probably more accurate- with several stickers on his laptop. There's the requisite sticker for KUGS 89.3
-- WWU's student-run radio station. A political sticker reading 'Help Starve a Feeding Bureaucrat' and a few others.
The one that really grabs my attention, however, reads 'God's Love Sucks!'. A lot of things run through my mind. Questions mostly. I begin to wonder. I wonder what could have happened to this kid that he would make such a bold, anti-God statement. What kind of hurt must he have experienced? Is this truly what he believes or is he just parroting a mythos that might be popular in his social circles?
I send a text message to my friend Johnny (who is also in ministry and, coincidentally, seated near me) asking if he'd also seen the sticker.
Johnny leans toward the kid. "Excuse me..."
The kid removes his ear buds.
"...can I ask you a question? What's that sticker about?"
The kid just shakes his head and goes back to listening to his music.
Maybe he was expecting an ambush. Some canned speech about how offensive the sticker is. Maybe he's been there before. But, honestly, we were just interested in hearing the story behind it.
It makes me wonder. Are we, as Christians, to blame for this situation- at least in part? Have we perpetuated some sort of heinousness against him or one of his loved ones? Have we somehow neglected to accurately reflect the love of a perfect and loving Heavenly Father to him?
Then I get to thinking about the messages that we, as Christians, put out there. Maybe not with stickers on our laptops but often by our actions or our words. Much like this kid's sticker, we make some pretty bold, and fairly unpopular, statements too. Ever talked to an unbeliever about Jesus' statement found in John 14:6
(NIV), “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
"? Like I said-- Bold
The Bible tells us this in 1 Peter 3:15-16
"But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. "I hope that you will take the time to think about your faith and be prepared to tell your story when the time arises. As believers, it would be a shame for us to simply shake our heads and go back to our comfortable lives. That's not what we are called to.
Life is made of choices. Each of our choices takes us in one direction in life, or the other. With every decision, we are either drawn closer to God’s perfect and pleasing will for us or it pulls us farther away from the redemptive and restorative grace and blessing that He has, in advance, stored up for us.
As the (one and only) perfect Father, He desires what is best for us yet in His infinite wisdom already knows when we are faced with a choice, which direction we will go. The important thing here is that He gives us the right to choose which path we will take. 1 Corinthians 10:13
reads, “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.”
(NIV 1984) Common to man…
Let us not forget that Christ was once a man and, as such, faced every temptation that we’ve wrestled with. In each situation Jesus was given a clear choice and in each instance, He chose to honor and glorify God instead of gratifying himself. What you can bear…
God is indeed faithful! He’ll never allow us to enter a ‘no-win’ situation in as far as temptation is concerned. He promises in this scripture that we have the power to overcome each temptation we face. When you are tempted…
The key word here is “when”. When
we are tempted… not if.
Temptations will come. None of us are exempt from this fact. We will be tempted. A way out…
If you look for the way out, it’s always there. Sometimes it is easier to see than other times—but it’s there all the same. When we are under the grip of death caused by our sins, we may feel God has forsaken us—forgotten to provide a way out. This is never the case. Perhaps we’ve become so comfortable in our habitual sinning, that we’ve learned to ignore it. Or feelings of guilt and shame may seem to prevent us from choosing God’s way out. In either case, our sins are always committed only after we’ve made a decision to sin.
Jesus wasn’t a perfect man because He was incapable of sinning. No. Jesus was perfect because He made the right choice every time. We too, have the power to live in Christ’s perfection. When faced with temptations we must make the often difficult—but never impossible—decision to follow Christ’s example.
Simply put, when given the choice of either doing what is right or doing what is wrong, always choose to do what is right.
It has been a loooooooooong week. It seems as though there was four times as much work to do to get ready for this weekend's service. On top of that, throw in a wedding, family time, kids' activities and filling in for Dad's housekeeper due to a death in the family. Life often moves at a break-neck speed and sometimes we get so caught up in doing so much STUFF that we forget to check in with God to see what HE wants for us.
Here it was, Saturday, and I was looking at another long night preparing for Sunday's service. But wait, one more thing on my TO DO list. The Fellowship of Christian Athletes has secured our building Sunday night for an event they call The Platform. Sundays event will be the fourth installment. In any case, the NW WA FCA Director asked to use our stage to rehearse a drama they planned to present at The Platform IV.
"Of course, I can let you into the church at 9:30 PM and run sound and video while you rehearse...", I said with a smile. My plan was to do the minimal amount I could do to get them up and running, sneak back to the office to finish my workload and then lock up behind them once they'd finished. But God had other plans.
Before I was a Youth Pastor, before I was a bouncer, Screen Printer, Graphic Designer, Mail Carrier, Sewing Machine Repairman or Computer Programmer-- I was an actor. In fact, Theatre Arts with a concentration in Acting and Directing was one of my majors (my other major at WWU was Computer Science- Application Development).
God has truly blessed me over the years to be able to use His given talents in a number of areas- some professional and some amateur. I've enjoyed acting and/or directing on stage, in short films, feature length films and commercials but the most rewarding has been acting in a Drama Ministry. I spent nearly a decade involved in a great, local Drama Ministry with some other extremely talented individuals. All of whom have, over the years, become close friends. However, since God has called me to serve at Christ Evangelical Church, I've missed serving Him in this manner.
Back to my crummy day. As the FCA actors began to take the stage it was apparent that things weren't progressing as quickly as their fearless leader had hoped so I offered my services. Before I knew it they had me blocking, choreographing movement and helping actors with motivation and timing. It all came together beautifully in the end. The FCA Director calls me a Godsend but in retrospect, they were the Godsend. At a time when I felt overwhelmed as if I couldn't handle one more thing, He reminded me that if I keep my eyes open for the opportunity, and my heart's desire is to see Him glorified- He'll always provide a way. Not in MY timing but His.
As I was driving into work this morning, listening to music on my phone through my car's stereo system (you've gotta love technology!), I decided to set it to random shuffle. I heard a lot of songs that I hadn't heard for quite some time-- one of which was Krystal Meyers' 2005 song Fire which appeared on the 'WOW hits 2007' CD set.
As I was listening to Fire I thought it was incredible timing that at CEC we have just wrapped up a sermon series titled Setting the Church on Fire!. Take a listen to the song below (or simply read the lyrics), if you will, and I'll continue my thoughts below...
You make light from dark
Illuminate my heart
It started with a spark
And now I'm consumed
I know that it's your will
So I'm gonna shine until
I'm a city on a hill
And they can see you
And know you
And know you inside
You set me, You lit me, I'm on fire
What a beautiful sight to see- I'm on fire
Until my light is burning bright
I'm gonna lift your name and let this flame get higher- Fire
Let your fire feed on all my disbelief
Cause you are all I need
Like a blaze I can't contain
It never fades away
It's sunshine through the rain
That's what your love is
And I know
And I know inside
I wanna show 'em you're the only one
Show 'em you're the only one
You're the only reason why I'm on fire
Krystal makes some obvious Biblical references here to Christ's teaching on Salt and Light...
"14 You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven."
Matthew 5:14-17 (NIV)
What stood out to me, however, was the theme of her pre-chorus- "knowing" and "knowing inside". This speaks, to me, of 'head knowledge' versus 'heart knowledge'. As Christians, most of us know that we are called to be the salt of the earth and light of the world but how many of us are actually putting it into practice. How often are we passing up opportunities to glorify God because we're too afraid of what people will say or think about us? If we are honest, it's probably more often than we care to admit. Why is that?
Perhaps it's because at work or school, amongst our secular crowds, we are but a single flame in a large, dark world. We cover our flame to keep the breezes and gusts of life from snuffing it out. But in doing so, we defeat the purpose of why the flame was lit in the first place. So, how do we combat this? Well, since we are talking about fire there are only two ways, that I know of, to make a flame bigger.
Add fire to fire: If you take your flame and add it to another flame, they will both burn brighter because of it. This is called fellowship. Jesus designed the Church so we wouldn't be alone. He knew that we would need encouragement, help, accountability, admonishment and building-up.
Add more fuel: This is a lot easier with fire but also more dangerous. If you add more wood to a campfire or pour a flammable liquid of some sort onto it*, you will immediately see the results. Spiritual fire, on the other hand, takes a different kind of fuel. You can add fuel to your fire by praying more and staying in God's Word. The more confident you are in your faith, the harder it is for your flame to get blown out. At Christ Evangelical Church, we desire to see the fire of revival fall down on God's Church, especially here in Whatcom County. In order for this to happen we need to start adding fuel to our flame, add fire to fire and become the largest city on the highest hill so that, with the help of our brothers and sisters in Christ, we can stoke even the tiniest flame into a raging wild fire for Jesus!
*Disclaimer: Do not do this. Ever. It's not smart and you could get hurt. I'm just sayin'.
Every once in a while I come across someone who has a general disliking for "church". They've been turned off to church and/or organized religion for some reason. More often than not as I speak with them, I learn that it generally boils down to one thing-- hypocrisy.
Believe me, I get it. When I was in ninth grade, I had a falling out with my church. After challenging a hypocritical teaching by our Sunday School teacher, I was told to either sit down and be quiet or to leave. I chose to leave. I immediately sought the Senior Pastor who told me I was "too young to understand". I explained that I was old enough to understand what hypocrisy is and to know that Jesus publicly condemned it. And if He condemned it then, He'd surely condemn it today. So I left that church and had no home church for almost a decade.Matthew 7:1-5
(NIV) says this concerning Judging others:
1“Do not judge, or you too will be judged.
2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged,
and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye
and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?
4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck
out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?
5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye,
and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
There are several things I love about this analogy Christ uses. Anyone who has ever had a spec of sawdust in their eye can easily relate to it. As a carpenter by trade, Jesus, no doubt, had first hand knowledge of the discomfort caused by even the smallest speck in the eye. It is unwanted. You want to get rid of it but often times you can't do so without help.
What isn't so obvious about this analogy is the fact that, the person with the speck in their eye, was obviously working on their own personal plank. They've sawed it, whittled it, planed it and sanded it down until all that remained was the speck. The person with the plank however, seems content to simply leave the plank well alone in order to point out the speck in his brother's eye!
Brothers and sisters in Christ, let's start today. Collectively, as THE Church, let's stop judging others. Let's not consider ourselves better than anyone else. Let's put away our pride and in humility, love others as we were commanded.
Sure we've had over two-thousand years to put this teaching into practice and have yet to do it, but I believe THIS can be THE year. Who's with me?
Over the last month as we've told people we were changing the name of our church to Christ Evangelical Church, we met our fair share of opposition. Among the reasons for not changing the name were: "It sounds more like my Grandma's church"; "It will repel the younger generation", "It sounds so 'churchy'" just to name a few. Despite all those airtight arguments we went ahead with the name change last Sunday.
You'll be happy to know that on October 16, 2011: the sun still rose, I still got dressed (right foot first), people gathered in the church building, we drank coffee, worshipped the Lord, heard from His Word, fellowshipped with one another and life went on. In short, the sky did NOT fall.
One thing out of the ordinary (for me anyway) that DID happen on Sunday was I got to climb into the baptismal and baptize my good friend, Jared.
Earlier in the week, Jared visited New Horizon Community Church and sat before Pastor Rick and myself a broken, lost, wrecked and ruined human being going through some pretty tough stuff. There in the NHCC office, we prayed with Jared as he accepted Christ as his Lord and Savior. Sunday, however, Jared worshipped with us at Christ Evangelical Church, heard an awesome message and got 'dunked'.
It occurred to me, today, that Jared was the last person saved at New Horizon Community Church and the first person Baptized at Christ Evangelical Church. The name of the church, I'm know, doesn't matter to him one bit.
The fact of the matter is this: When people are hurting and lost, as Jared was, they aren't looking for the name of a church or a pastor. They are yearning for the only name that has the power to save-- the name of Jesus Christ! That is the only name we, the body, should concern ourselves with sharing, teaching, worshipping and praising.
"Grow in the grace and knowledge
of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
To Him be glory both now and forever!"
2 Peter 3:18 (NIV)
God's Word makes it clear that "There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under the heavens" (Ecclesiastes 3:1 NIV). As you are reading this, many changes have happened at our church-- once known as New Horizon Community Church we are now Christ Evangelical Church. I've gone from a part-time staffer to the new full-time Youth Pastor. It's obvious that we are shaking things up here at CEC. We've got new building signage indoors and out. Even the color scheme of the logo have changed. Soon we will be getting new carpeting installed.
Ecclesiastes 3:6 (NIV) states that there is "a time to keep and a time to throw away". Well, as we bring in the new signs, carpet, literature, etc. we are definitely throwing away the old. While it's exciting to see all the changes, I'm encouraged by the things that we've chosen to keep.
See, despite these changes, at our core, we are still the same Bible-preaching, Lost-soul-saving, Christ-centered, People-loving church we've always been. I hear some people grumbling about the changes. Some mourn the loss of the old. Some won't like the color of the new carpet.
There is "a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance" (Ecclesiastes 3:4 NIV). So, you can choose to cry about these changes and mourn what was... but I encourage you, instead, to join me (and many others) as we choose laughter and dancing.