This weekend marks our Annual Big Big Day… it’s our Christmas offering. It’s a big deal, but for reasons other than what you might think. It’s really cool that we’ll raise a considerable amount of money to help the poor and needy of our area and Haiti. It’s awesome that we’ll be able to fund a Bible translation project for an underground church in a country where it is illegal follow Jesus. But the thing that makes me most excited is that our ebc family intentionally and generously moves against the ravenous materialism of this time of year to value things that are so much more important than a new flat screen or gaming system. I love the fact that we have an opportunity to store up treasure in a place where it will never disintegrate. I love that we can make a decision with our resources that will have a direct impact on the passion of our hearts.
A big part of my passion as a pastor is to help people see our moment on earth in light of their forever home and then to live this moment in such a way that their joy on earth is enhanced and their lifestyle in eternity is indescribable. Big Big Day is a way to do that. Needless to say, I’m pretty excited. I can’t wait to see you this weekend, and I can’t wait to see what God does.
It’s 5:00 AM the day before Thanksgiving. I’m sitting at my kitchen table tapping away on my laptop responding to various emails and getting my head around the sermon I have to write today. My mind and heart are distracted. It’s hard to work well when you’re distracted. I’m thinking about my son, Jake, driving home late tonight from Ocean City so he can join us for Thanksgiving. I’m thinking about our hope as a church to reach more people and be more generous this Christmas season than we’ve ever been before. It’s not just an empty hope. We have a plan that’s comprised of six events. It all starts with our Christmas Offering, our Big Big Day, then a “Day of Hope” for the adults, a couple KidzZone Christmas events, a big community Christmas Eve service in Haas Auditorium on the campus of BU, and a neat student ministry event on New Years Eve. Our team is handling the countless details necessary to pull it all off. It’s my job to make sure it all fits together as one cohesive strategy and to make sure the team has all they need to do it. Then there’s the sermon that has to be written today and the Christmas Eve theme and talk that has to be picked today so the rest of the team can do what they need to do. And, the people issues that never stop….
And so here I am a bit unsettled, distracted. Not so much by one particular thing, but by everything. Distracted by everything, limiting my ability to focus on anything.
Does that ever happen to you? Of course it does. We all deal with the same stuff.
It’s okay to have a lot going on. Life happens in seasons and some seasons are particularly busy. The answer to handling unsettled distraction can’t always be to do less. Sometimes we just have to man up. This isn’t heaven, the mission is worth it, and all the easy work is already done. Paul describes himself as being poured out like a drink offering for the mission (2 Timothy 4:6). So, man up. When the answer to my unsettled distraction is to man up I have a go to passage of Scripture that, for me, provides tons of focus. It’s a reality clarifying passage that enables me to own what’s mine and let the rest go. It’s a passage that reignites the hope in my heart for the future that is promised to me as an adopted child of God. It’s a passage that puts earth in its place (and me too). It’s also our verse of the year at ebc.
Colossians 3:1-3: Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. 2 Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth.3 For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God.4 And when Christ, who is your life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all his glory.
I don’t know what’s going to happen over the next six weeks. I don’t know if we’ll communicate enough or too much or if we’ll say the right things at the right time. I don’t know if the events will be successful and be used by God to rescue people from his wrath. Like you, the only thing that I can do is show up and go all in for God’s glory. The really good news is; that’s enough, because at the end of the day, I’m not an owner of the mission. I’m a steward. My real life hasn’t even started yet. So I can proceed with calm joy, seasoned with a dash of excited expectation.
You can too. So let’s get to it.
“Jesus doesn’t like it when you lie!”
I’m not sure if it happens so much when I’m around because folks feel like they need to throw around some ‘God-talk’ when a pastor is around, but I hear a lot folks manipulating their kids with God. You know how it works. A child gets caught fighting, or lying, or doing some other thing and the parent steps in and exhorts them to act in a way that won’t make God mad. This is not only bad parenting, it’s worse theology.
When parents use God as the heavy they’re essentially abdicating their parental responsibility to shape the hearts of their children. Of course children need to obey God, but they obey God by obeying their parents (Ephesians 6:1). If you’re a parent, you are the authority in your kid’s life. To use fear and guilt to manipulate your child to do what you want them to do or risk the wrath of God will make it really hard to lead that child toward a joyful, grace saturated, relationship with Jesus as they get older.
Using God to motivate the behavior of our kids misrepresents God to our children. It is true that God is limitless in His holiness. He hates sin, and his wrath will eventually be poured out in undiluted measures on anyone that does not repent. But God is also merciful holding back what we deserve in our sin. He is gracious piling pleasure on top of pleasure for all humans. God loves us with an outrageous love and he is pursuing us to woo us from our sin. Children need to know that they are safe in running to God for new life no matter what they’ve done.
Using God to manipulate our kids behavior also reduces sin to simple behavioral acts when it is so much more. You and I sin because we’re sinful. Our hearts are saturated in sin. We can behave appropriately and still grievously sin.
One of the reasons our kid’s bolt from the faith when they get older is because their perception of God comes almost entirely from how we, as parents, relate to him.
So instead of manipulating our kids with God, let’s joyfully mentor them as we walk personally with Jesus through the details of every day. Let’s live in a consistent way that will allow our kids to trust us in a way that obedience seems reasonable to them. Let’s lead our kids in a gentle and loving way that doesn’t frustrate them (Ephesians 6:4). If you’re struggling as a parent, and you live in the Berwick area we can connect you with some excellent parent coaches that will help.
Let’s parent in a way that shows our children that they can trust God with their lives.
Hey ebc, There are less than seven weeks remaining in 2013. It’s been a huge year for the mission that drives us. I’m so grateful to you for your flexibility, generosity and overall willingness to do whatever it takes to pursue our mission with the passion it deserves. Sometimes I can’t believe you pay me to be your pastor (but please don’t stop!).
Over the next six weeks we want to be more generous and reach more people than we ever have before. What I’m asking you to do right now is pray. Will you join me in praying?
Please pray that we’d win the fight with materialism and be more generous than ever through our Big Big Day Christmas offering this year. We’re doing four huge things with this year’s offering. We will provide much needed help to the needy of our local neighborhoods throughout the year (every year we give away an average of $800.00 per week to those needing some help), we will provide quality nutrition and a kitchen for a Haitian orphanage, we’ll support the underground church in China, and finally we will bless our awesome staff. Please pray that every need would be met.
Sunday December 15th is our Day of Hope. Pray that those who need to hear a clear presentation of our hope in Jesus would be here and that they’d respond to God’s invitation of new life.
Our KidZone Christmas party is on December 18. This is an awesome time of sharing the Christmas story through children to families. Pray that the Gospel is clear and hearts are moved in new ways in response to God’s pursuit of us with outrageous love of another kind.
Kim and her team are hosting a Kidz Christmas JAM at the Berwick YMCA on December 23. This is a huge opportunity to build bridges to folks in our community. Please pray for energy for Kim and her team and for a clear, fun, Gospel-centered and Gospel-driven interaction with the community.
Then, we are hosting a community Christmas Eve Service in Haas Auditorium on the campus of Bloomsburg University. We will be able to host more than 1500 people for a very special family Christmas worship experience. Pray that all the logistics would come together and pray that those invited by our church family would feel free to attend and feel welcome when they get there.
Last but not least, Brad and his team are hosting a New Year’s Eve party for our students and their friends. Pray for the relationships which will begin on that night and that we would be able to plant the Gospel into the hearts of some of our area’s students.
I’m so excited to be a part of our family! I can’t wait to see all that God will do as we follow him in obedience. Let’s pray that we’d be more generous and reach more people this Christmas than ever before!
Thanks for the honor of being your pastor,
As I had a few moments this week I tuned in to the Resurgence Conference that was going on in Seattle. It’s a conference for pastors and those who want to be pastors. A number of guys I respect were speaking and I was able to hear some snippets of their talks on-line. Then, while watching a brief summary of the conference I heard a line from the talk given by James MacDonald that nailed me. Here is what he said; “Humility is losing yourself, no thought of yourself at all, losing yourself in the doing of serving. I’ll guarantee you Jesus wasn’t thinking ‘Check this humility, I feel so humble right now.’”
I knew that already. I understood that biblical humility is not somehow being less than you are. It’s not trying to mute your personality or turn down the volume of your gifts. But God used MacDonald to hit me between the eyes. Because I do think about what people are thinking about me too much. Sometimes my desire to be liked or to avoid conflict causes me to slow down when I know I shouldn’t. Sometimes I spend too much time trying to explain myself rather than just leading. Good leaders explain things, but not so they’ll be liked, they explain things because it’s good leadership. There are times that the dialog in my head is more about how I’m being received than weather I’m being obedient.
Most of the time I end up doing what I think God wants me to do regardless of the reactions of people, but, here’s the thing; the insecurity that drives me to think about how I’m being received causes me extra stress. Lots of it. My guess is, the same thing might happen to you. It’s impossible to manage my image, while pointing people to the image of God. The divided loyalty that results from trying to look good to others while still being faithful to my call is stressful. It works the same way for you to. If my chief concern is how my actions magnify the beauty of Jesus, without concern about how I will be perceived my life becomes so much more simple. If you’re feeling stressed, maybe its because you’re too concerned with what others think of you.
If so, why not join me and camp out with 1 Peter 5:6:So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor. You know what I never noticed before? I never noticed that I’m the one that humbles me. We often hear people say that God humbles us, but this passage seems to indicate something different. Humility is an act of my will in obedience to God. So I’m working, hour by hour, as I make decisions and have conversations about countless initiatives that are a part of a church like ebc, to take no thought of me, cause only one thing matters. And, that thing is how I reflect the character of God on His mission. Regardless of the world you’re in, it works the same way for you too.
Some of you are already offended after reading the title. You probably should stop here because your only going to get more upset as you read. Everybody knows I’m a dog guy. Dogs are cool. Every family should have a dog, heck, every family should have a succession of dogs. If you don’t have a dog you probably have other problems too, and they’re probably your own fault.
I don’t like cats. Cats are dumb. Cats don’t fetch. Cats don’t smile. Cats are self-focused. Cats are on earth to help us get stronger by dealing with the resulting adversity. Cats = Yuk. Dogs = Yay!
Dogs are awesome. In fact, my German Shepherd, Raider, is a gift to me from God. He doesn’t know it but he’s a therapy dog. But even beyond that, Raider is an example of discipleship.
Raider’s life is about one thing, pleasing me. I am his singular audience. When he’s been away from me he’s simply ecstatic when we’re together again. No matter what else he might be doing, he’s got one eye and one ear on me, all the time. If I so much as move, he’s on it, and ready to follow me anywhere, if that’s what I want. Without a moment’s hesitation, Raider will die for me. If I’m busy he’ll just chill out beside me until I summon him (which usually just means looking in his direction), then he gets ecstatic again. When we go for walks he loves to run off and explore. He likes to chase other animals too. But even then, when he’s on a full sprint chasing a deer he’s tuned in to me. If I snap my fingers or clap my hands he’ll turn and run toward me, ecstatic yet again. Sometimes I vent to Raider. I tell him about problems I’m not sure how to solve, I complain about frustrations that I can’t seem to get past. He sits at attention, ears up, listening intently, leaning his head to one side. Then he usually comes over to me and puts his head on my knee, as if to remind that if everything else falls apart he’ll be there. Raider needs just one thing out of life, a relationship with me where I’m happy with him.
The absolute best moments of Raider’s life are when I stop whatever I’m doing and scratch his ears. He moans, which is sort of weird, but I get it.
Raider isn’t human. I don’t love him in the real sense of the word. He’s not eternal, he’s a dog. But he is a gift. I think he’s a gift of grace to me.
And, it seems to me that a lot of us have much to learn from the Raiders of the world about what it means to be a disciple.
Thank you, I’m grateful to God for you.
Thank you for being flexible with your weekend routine and generous with your Sunday seat and making Saturday evening a viable service. Your generosity will allow us to reach more people with Jesus.
Thank you for serving with Kim and her team at our latest KidJAM at the park. This may have been the best one yet! Thank you to the local fire companies for providing lighting and to the Borough of Berwick for helping to get the word out.
Thank you for your generosity with your finances as you support the mission to which God has called us.
Thank you for participating in a style of ministry that might not match your personal preferences. Our methods and style help us reach more people with Jesus.
Thank you for being a welcoming family so those that come to investigate what we’re all about feel a part of us from the first time they come through the door.
Thank you for being committed to sharing your life in your small group. That’s where all those “one anothers” in the New Testament come alive.
Thank you for your flexibility as we try all kinds of different things to communicate the Gospel. Not all that we try works, but you’re game to swing again at the next pitch and I love that about our family. By the way, we’re going to be taking some big swings this Christmas!
Thank you for your servants heart in helping people find parking spots, welcoming our family, loving and teaching our kids, playing instruments, running sound and video, taking care of our facility, leading small groups, and participating in all kinds of missional endeavors.
Thank you for being patient when we mess up.
Thank you for inviting those you love to investigate the claims of Jesus at ebc.
Thank you staff. Only God knows all you do and the great attitude you bring to our mission.
Thank you for having a sense of humor and laughing at bad jokes. I think God loves it when we laugh.
Thank you for the honor of being an under-shepherd of this awesome family. There is nothing else I’d rather do (except maybe, be a truck driver, but that’s another issue).
I love you guys,
This is a big week for our ebc family. We’re launching a Saturday worship experience this weekend! Our staff has been working on this for a few months and we’re hoping the extra seats will help us help more people meet God for life.
We’ve gotten some questions via email this week from folks wondering if it’s OK to worship on Saturday rather than Sunday. After all, isn’t church supposed to be a Sunday thing?
According to the book of Acts the early church met every day initially (Acts 2:46), but then, at lest for some, the meeting time moved to the Sabbath day, which is Saturday (Acts 13:13-14; Acts 16:13; Acts 17:2). As time moved on it seems that at least some churches then started meeting on Sunday (the first day of the week) as is referenced in Acts 20:7 and 1 Cor. 16:1-2. Some say that Sunday became the day of choice because that’s the day that Jesus rose from the dead.
So, from the practice of the early church it seems there is no requirement that the church meet on some particular day of the week.
The larger issue, however, is how to think about these things. Some of us are going to feel convicted that we should worship on Sunday, others have no such convictions. How do we handle these kinds of situations biblically? Fortunately for us, the Bible is not silent. The epistles indicate that one day is not special or more important than any other day. In fact we’re instructed not to worry enough about that to argue about it. Take a look at Romans 14:5-6; Col. 2:16-17; Gal. 4:8-10. In fact, the passage in Colossians 2 tells us to not let anyone judge us regarding the choice we make.
The bottom line? If you’re convicted in your heart that Sunday is the time you want to worship, by all means worship on Sunday. But don’t trouble those who don’t share your conviction, bless them. Together we can serve the mission and provide much fruit for the glory of God.
Now, let’s pack the house for the Saturday worship experience and the Sunday worship experience and in doing so lets magnify the glory of God.
Regardless of what you’re hoping today will bring for you, love is a huge part of it. Apart from love you can’t exist in relationships, you can’t find any reason, outside of yourself, to live on purpose, God tells us that love covers a multitude of sins, he says that what he wants most from us is not our commitment or our money or even our passion, but he wants us to love him. Love is outrageously strong. Love changes things. It moves people and organizations, it melts the hearts of the coldest most calculating people. Jesus told us that the thing that he really wanted people to notice about those of who follow him, what he was really hoping would set us apart, is love.
Big deal. Problem is, love doesn’t start with love. You can’t just decide to be more loving and actually be more loving. It doesn’t work that way. Love is tough. Love is not squishy, it’s not warm or cozy. Love is caring more for you than I do for me and I can’t just make a decision to have that happen.
The Bible teaches that love is how faith expresses itself. That’s what Paul is teaching in Galatians 5:6 when he writes: ”For when we place our faith in Christ Jesus, there is no benefit in being circumcised or being uncircumcised. What is important is faith expressing itself in love.” So love comes, not from effort or intention on my part but as a by-product of faith. That’s a good thing because effort and intention are about me and therefore result in pride, which is counterproductive if I want to become more loving. And, faith is the gift of the Gospel (Romans 10:17).
Here’s how it works: The Gospel brings everything I hope and long for in the performance of Jesus. The Gospel frees me from striving for hope or value or peace or purpose as it establishes me as an adopted heir of God himself (Eph. 2:8 1 Cor. 12:9). Faith that the claims of the Gospel are, in fact, true frees me to love in a radical way that allows me to require nothing of you in return for my love. After all my needs are met in the faith that comes from the Gospel.
Love is the hinge point between what God did and does for me and how he wants to impact the rest of the world through me. But the love that flows from me, the love that God uses to change the World, is not because of anything about me, it’s a result of the gifts of God in me.
So, if you’re feeling bitter. If there is an undercurrent of anger in your life. If your expectations of other people are causing you to be disappointed in them more than you can celebrate them you probably have a love problem. But you don’t fix your love problem by focusing on being loving. You fix your love problem by affirming the affects of the Gospel in your life. Your love problem isn’t a love problem, it’s a faith problem. Start there.
I grew up in a church where being correct mattered, a lot. In fact it mattered more than anything. We ignored the parts of the New Testament that encourage loving engagement with others because we assumed that couldn’t be referring to people that were just wrong. And, if you weren’t like us, you were wrong. Drawing conclusions was easy. You were like us or you were wrong. Some were more wrong than others, but everybody that wasn’t us, or at least like us, was wrong. Generally we were a pretty angry bunch. Often, we didn’t even know why we believed some of the stuff we fought about, somebody taught it to us and we owned it, period.
Then I ended up getting a degree in Bible and being a pastor. I worked hard and I taught the Bible and God did some cool stuff. I never did run into many people that actually looked like the Bible described Christ followers. That whole fruit of the Spirit thing was lost on most of us. We were busy being right. When Peter says that love covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8) we didn’t really understand that he was coaching us to not sweat the small stuff. When Paul tells us to be on the look out for things that are praiseworthy and beautiful (Phil. 4:8) we figured he must have been talking about our awesome perspectives. When 1 Corinthians 13 tells us that love thinks no evil we figured it must have been talking about something else.
Then I moved to Mexico and lived with people who put everything on the line for the Gospel. They lived in danger and didn’t have much. Yet, they were joyful. Really joyful. They had incredible peace in the midst of circumstances that were pretty scary to me. They prayed like praying really mattered. I spent the next few years traveling and meeting people who loved Jesus. They loved him, and it was obvious. It’s not that they were biblical lightweights. Far from it. Most of them could have buried me in a theological discussion. That’s just not what they were most passionate about. They just figured Jesus really meant it when he said that the most important thing to him was that we love him and each other. I began to see the Scriptures in a whole new way. The Bible became more of a love letter than a text book. Jesus became my rescuer and redeemer rather than my project.
After a few years, I made a decision that I would hold my doctrine humbly. God called me to help people through my old style of religion to find freedom in Jesus. I pastor a church that has folks from several different theological perspectives. So now I encourage people all the time to hold their doctrine humbly. Funny thing though, when I tell people to hold their doctrine humbly, they think I’m saying to hold it loosely, casually. But that’s not what I mean. Doctrine matters, a lot. Some of it is worth fighting about and I guess that’s where we fall down huh? We struggle to agree on the line between big stuff and small stuff. When I encourage folks to hold their doctrine humbly I mean just that. I’ve seen God use all kinds of things for his glory. I’ve met people who were a whole lot more like Jesus than me and they had some different perspectives than I do. Holding our doctrine humbly means realizing that we all really do see through a glass darkly. It means we can learn from one another if we’ll listen. It means we can give freedom to be different without demonizing each other. Mostly it means that my perspective is not as pure as I think it is. And, that even if I am right, God is more interested in my loves than my theological categories. In fact, he probably chuckles at my theology. So, yes doctrine matters. It matters a lot. But it doesn’t matter most, hold it strongly and tightly, but hold it humbly. If you do that, maybe you’ll see God start to move in you in a new way, a good way.