Friday, October 20, 2017

GOSPEL


No book, no Bible study, no church service or sermon has taught me the reality of God's love and grace like marriage and family have.

Trying to love my wife and kids the way Christ loves the church has been extremely difficult to do, despite their near perfection.

I love our three daughters.  When they were small and I would say, 'No candy right now,' I wasn't trying to steal joy from her; I was trying to ultimately add to her joy.  When I would say, 'Don't run in the street, honey.  You could be hit by a car,' I wasn't trying to steal excitement from her; I was trying to increase her life so she could experience more excitement.

And in that moment, as I'm attempting to increase their joy and their potential for future excitement and life and she says to me: 'I don't want that from you, Dad.  I'll do it the way I want to do it,' and she wars against what I so desperately want for her -- in that moment -- God is going:  'This is just like another story I know.  The one where I'm trying to lead you, Kevin, and you're like, "Nope, I got this.  I know better."'

It's at that point I start to understand the great love of Christ for me that despite the fact that I war against His hand of love my direction, He continues to pursue me and grace me and extend mercy to me.

In those very few moments when I might lavish affection on Joelene and find her not responding the way I want her to - which is so rare - all of a sudden I begin to grasp the richness of the Gospel of Christ for me - the depth of His grace and forgiveness toward me.

All of that is so hard because when it's hard, we understand the Gospel of Jesus better.  When it's hard, we're more dependent on God.

And be blessed.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

CULTIVATE

Men and women are different.

Did you need to open to this page for me to tell you that?

Probably not.

You don't have to be a neurosurgeon to realize that boys and girls, men and women, are different.  God did that.

He creates this planet and sets man - pre-woman - in the garden and says, 'Take care of it.  Cultivate it.  Grow it, create, sustain it, make everything as grand and big and awesome as possible.'

And from that day to this, men have been trying to do that - with everything.  It's just what we are.  We can't help ourselves.

For instance, did you know that 47-year old dudes still keep track of what they bench press?  I'm not kidding.  Why?  Because they want to get bigger and stronger.  That have to.  They can't help themselves.  It isn't a disease of self-absorption; it's how they're made.  It's deep inside them.

You can watch a guy discover a new sport - play it twice - and all of a sudden he's invested two thousand dollars in equipment for it.

He goes out on the lake on a boat with a friend on Saturday and on Monday he's bought all kinds of brand new fishing tackle.  It's what he is.

He goes running with a friend for the first time - next thing you know he has a $400 heart monitor watch.  God did that to us.

The mantra of every man when it comes to sports, cars, technology:  'Bigger, better, faster ... bigger, better, faster ... bigger, better, faster ... bigger, better, faster.'  

We'll toss out the old phone before it's really old just to get the newer, faster, cooler version with all the updated gadgets, bells and whistles.  Help us, Jesus.

Because we're cultivators.  Designed that way.  By God.  Almighty.

But that means we were also designed to cultivate other people - our wives - our children - our families - even those around us -- to encourage others, bless others, pour into others, nurture others, build into others.  And here's the problem:  When men have not submitted themselves to Christ, they're still cultivators.  They just cultivate wrong things - sometimes even bad things.

That's why we need the transforming power of the Holy Spirit - to keep us cultivating what is good and honest and pure and awesome and holy and right.

I'm praying for you, guys.

And be blessed.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

OPPORTUNITY

There's a temptation to define open doors as places where people all share our beliefs.  We define an opportunity as a school that doesn't teach evolution or a neighbor that isn't a pagan.

"God gave us such a wonderful 'opportunity' to live on this block."

A great work opportunity is to be employed at a place where your boss is a Christian and all your co-workers go to church.  Those are opportunities.

There's a great tendency to equate opportunity with comfort.

But it's precisely because the days are evil that we must seize the moments, redeem the time, buy up the opportunities.

Because love compels us, friends.  It drives us.  We can't sit idly by and let the opportunities pass.

And be blessed.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

#60

This past week Joelene and I were so honored to be invited to Colorado Springs for Outreach Magazine's unveiling of the 100 Fastest-Growing Churches in America.

While I knew God had been moving at Journey Church and while I realized we were growing, I was not prepared to receive the incredible phone call from Outreach a few months back, revealing that we were on the 100 list.

So we 'journeyed' to Colorado Springs along with a couple dozen of the other 100 Fastest pastors, where we were able to meet some new friends, network with these church leaders, hear their stories of growth, and discuss issues the church-at-large will likely face in the coming years.

I'm the first to say it isn't all about numbers, but the truth is - every number has a name - and every name has a story.  Every number is a soul loved by God.

As I reflect on how Journey made this list, I'm thankful for:

- the great harmony and unity we enjoy at Journey.

- a bought-into vision by all the folks who are part of Journey.

- a great team, both pastoral and volunteer leaders.

- a generosity and passion to serve the communities we do life in.

- the various and growing Journey campuses.

- the persistent and consistent value at Journey to be an outward-focused church, putting a focus on those walking toward eternity separated from Christ.

So I am thankful for a great church - for their love and grace - for their willingness to serve and be sacrificially generous - for an amazingly gifted team of leaders who serve alongside me - but mostly, to a great God who is blessing and helping and pouring out favor undeserved on a group of folks in Beach Park, Illinois and Burlington and Kenosha, Wisconsin and Vilnius, Lithuania, where Journey has campuses today.

We are grateful.

And be blessed.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

BATTLE

In the late 1940s, the United States government commissioned an 80 million dollar troop carrier for the Navy.  The purpose was to design a ship that could carry 15,000 troops quickly during war time.  By 1952, construction on what would be christened the S.S. United States was completed.  The ship could travel at 44 knots, steam 10,000 miles without stopping for fuel.  She could outrun any other ship and travel nonstop anywhere in the world in less than 10 days.  She was the fastest, most reliable troop carrier in the world.

The only problem is that she never ended up carrying any troops.

Instead she ended up housing 2,000 passengers who would enjoy the luxuries of 695 staterooms, 4 dining rooms, 3 bars, 2 theaters, a heated pool, 19 elevators, and the comfort of the world's first fully air-conditioned interior.  Instead of a vessel used for battle during wartime, the S.S. United States became a cruise ship whose purpose was to fully indulge wealthy patrons who wanted to coast across the Atlantic.  

Let's state the obvious.  A troop carrier has an urgent task to accomplish -- it's in a war.  The luxury liner is all about the passengers and maintaining their peace and comfort.

Which was the church meant to be?
And what has it, in so many places, turned in to?

The church was deigned for battle.  We're an aircraft carrier, receiving troops worn out from battle, refreshing them again, only to send them back out into the war.  The purpose of the church is to mobilize a people to accomplish a mission to defeat a mutual enemy -- the devil.

Here's the challenge:  Do we face a world with potentially billions of folks going to hell and move our ship into battle?  Or do we sit on the pool deck and wait for the staff to serve us more hors d'oeuvres?

Journey Burlington -- Journey Beach Park -- Journey Lithuania -- Journey Kenosha -- is a warship.  I don't know what other churches are, but I know what we've been called, equipped, prepared, built and readied for.

One thing -- to be sent into battle.

And be blessed.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

33

Well ... we're still here.

This, after a prediction by some guy that today - September 23rd - would be the end of the world.  This kind of thing has been predicted many times over the years by one person or another with this or that supposed proof.  This time we were presumed to be the victims of mysterious Planet X colliding with Earth and wham-bam!  It's over.

This particular prognostication was made based on various Bible verses and numerical codes found in the Bible.  This forecaster said that recent events such as the solar eclipse and Hurricanes Irma and Harvey were omens of the approaching apocalypse.  

There was also a significant number related to this prophecy - 33.

The false prophet predicting about today said:  "Jesus lived for 33 years.  The name Elohim was mentioned 33 times in the Bible.  September 23rd is also 33 days since the August 21st solar eclipse."  Hmmmm.

NASA has repeatedly said Planet X does not exist.  

Whatever you believe about such things, the almost certain fact (because there's still 2.5 hours left in this day after I post this) ... we're all still breathing and the Earth is still revolving around the sun.  

The end will come when God says it comes.  Don't spend your time or waste your life trying to figure it out or change your life-giving routine to ascribe any honor to such forecasts.

When I first heard that today - September 23rd - was going to be our last day on the planet, I'll admit to an inner pride that rose up.  Today's my birthday.  September 23rd.  What better day to close the doors and turn out the lights than September 23rd.  

And I'm not even 33.

And be blessed.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

LOST

Lost.

Remember that TV series back about ten years ago -- where a bunch of people survived an airliner crash - except for the ones who didn't - and ended up on a deserted island in the South Pacific?  I was able to follow it for the first 22 minutes - after that I was the one who was lost.

Lost things matter.  Lost people matter.

Jesus tells three stories about lost things.

He tells about someone charged with a hundred sheep who loses one.  He was so concerned about that one that he left the 99 in open country and went on an all out search mission to find the one that was lost.

He tells about a woman who lost one of ten coins - and since she only had ten, it was a tenth of her estate - so she lit every candle in the house to begin a painstaking sweep until she found it.

He tells about a father who lost a son.  The son asked for his inheritance long before it was due and went off and spent it all.  In great shame and disgrace he returned home, not knowing if his father would welcome him.  But his father had been watching - all that time - and he embraced his son, kissed him, put a ring and a robe on him and prepared a feast in his honor.

In those stories Jesus makes it clear what His mission on this planet was about - and what ours is to be about as well.  In all three stories what was lost mattered deeply to the one who lost it.

The one sheep mattered to the shepherd.
The one coin mattered to the woman.
The son mattered to the father.  Nothing mattered more.

The greater value of the lost item, the more desperate the search.

Have you ever had a time when you were out somewhere - a store - the mall - a park - and all of a sudden you couldn't find your child?  That's total panic time, isn't it?  You seldom experience that kind of sheer terror.

Remember what happened when you found him or her?  Maybe you were upset, sure, but you also grabbed him and held on like you'd never let go.  We couldn't have pried that child from your arms if we'd tried.

That's the heart of God for you.  He's completely taken with you.  He's completely occupied by you.  He's completely obsessed by you.  The heart of the Father is in ongoing, non-stop, permanent search mode for His children.

You're His missing son and daughter - and He wants nothing more than for you to come home.

And be blessed.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

CURSE

This past weekend I pulled out a drum and a couple of drumsticks and beat the rhythm to a few popular songs:



Sweet Home, Alabama
Hey, Jude
For He's a Jolly Good Fellow
Happy Birthday to You

... just to see if our Journey folks could identify the songs by their rhythm only.

Nobody could.  Crickets.

This was an actual experiment done years ago at Stanford University.  They found the listeners were only able to identify the song 3% of the time.  The interesting thing was that the 'tapper' thought they would be able to guess at least 50% of the songs correctly.

In fact, as I was tapping out Happy Birthday, I was thinking:  'They have to hear this.  How can they not tell this is 'Happy Birthday' I'm tapping right now?'

This whole concept is called The Curse of Knowledge.  Once you know something you find it hard to imagine what it's like not to know it.

Jesus says, 'I want you sent to the world.  Go tell them.  Play the song.'

Because there's no other way they're going to hear.  There's no other way they'll ever know the song.  It's in your head but it isn't in theirs.  We have to tell them.

And be blessed.

Monday, September 18, 2017

GROW

Somehow Paul (the one in the Bible) saw his opposition not as obstacles but as opportunities.  Instead of being discouraged by the condition of his boulevard - instead of complaining and whining about how his boulevard was 'going to hell in a hand basket' - instead of gathering up his buddies and picketing and boycotting and signing petitions against his boulevard - he had a spirit that said, 'We can do this!  We can make a difference!'

The reason Paul was able to do that was because of what he believed about God.

The reason our church will grow won't be because of how we do things.  Don't ever think that.  The way it will grow is because we have this firm belief that God is big and in charge.

It will grow because we believe God is strong.
It will grow because we know God is worthy and gracious.
It will grow because we believe the Bible is true and living.
It will grow because we know the Holy Spirit is real.
It will grow because we believe death was defeated by Jesus.
It will grow because we realize Jesus could return at any time.

Because in the middle of great opposition we have unbelievable opportunities -- if we really believe what we say we believe.

And be blessed.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

RELATIONALLY

Jesus prophesied a people - not a place.
A people - not a building.
A people - not an address.
Relationally rich.

Others will be known by the temple or mosque they attend.  Not so with you.  You'll be known by the people you worship with.

The relationships around your worship are far more important than the rituals of your worship.  That's why Jesus said, when you come to sacrifice to atone for your sin and you bring it to the place -- and there you remember something between you and another - a friction of some kind - an unsettled disagreement - put your sacrifice down and get it right with the other first.

Relationally rich.

That's why so much is said in the Bible about 'one another.'  Over and over and over ...
Accept one another
Care for one another
Bless one another
Submit to one another
Carry one another
Bear with one another
And on and on . . .

So go out and . . . love one another.  Be relationally rich - relationally gracious - relationally caring.

And be blessed.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

DESENSITIZE

Here's just a reality:  The Christian life is full of obstacles and opposition.  It's the narrow road - the road less travelled.  The 2017 world we live in is not always a favorable place to be a follower of Christ.

But these obstacles aren't new.  There has been opposition to Christ-followers from the time of Jesus and before.

The apostle Paul faced consistent obstacles.  In his own words, he was imprisoned, flogged, stoned, exposed to death, 39 lashes, shipwrecked, hungry, thirsty, cold, naked.

Boy.  You didn't want to be a traveling partner with that guy.

Most of us in 21st century America haven't been flogged or shipwrecked, but the cultural opposition is still daunting.  Traditional marriage is under attack.  Abortion has been legal for decades.  Porn and human trafficking are multi-billion dollar a year businesses.  Divorce is completely normal and altogether accepted.

We're in a culture war.  And frankly, we're getting killed.  And let's be clear.  It won't get any easier.

Drive safely.  Have a nice day.

There are a variety of ways Christ-followers have responded to such opposition.  One way is that many have become desensitized to the world.  Over time they've grown weary and began to give in to the culture.  They have lowered their standards and dimmed their lights.  They began well but the world slowly wore them down.  Before long the things God spoke about became negotiable.

It's so much easier to ordain homosexuals into ministry than to preach that the practice of it is sin.

It's so much easier to shrug off that couples live together so causally than to hold high the standard of God for marriage.

It's so much easier to say it doesn't matter what you believe as long as you're sincere than to say there's only one way to God thru Jesus.

Don't become desensitized to the culture and begin to buy in to what the world buys in to.  Stand your ground, sir.

And be blessed.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

MEET

Have you ever wondered or asked yourself:  'Why am I here?'

I don't really mean, 'Why am I here on earth?' although that isn't a bad question to ask and answer.  I mean, 'Why am I here ... at a church ... your particular church ... when I could be home on the couch getting ready to binge watch some Netflix flick.

In fact, have you ever asked yourself, "Why are there people all over the globe worshipping God every single weekend?"

Why?

It can't be just to hear a message.  I mean, that's great and all, but honestly, aren't there better ways to do that these days with way better communicators than the one you have to sit and listen to every Sunday? Come on ... you know that's true.

We come to worship and sing.  Sure.  We do.  Something happens when we sing collectively that doesn't happen when I'm by myself at home listening to a song.  But again, aren't there just as effective ways to do that these days too?

I don't need it, but the kids need it.  OK.  But couldn't you just homeschool all that Jesus stuff into them and let them (and yourself) stay in their PJs to do it?

I go to make someone else happy.  Now we're getting somewhere.  That's why some people go to church to gather.  Admit it.  She's pretty cute and you're going out for brunch afterwards, so that's why I go.  Got it.

But if I'm a skeptic looking in from the outside and those are all the reasons why we gather, I'm going - REALLY?

And yet, God goes out of His way to say exactly the opposite when He tells us through the writer to the Hebrews:  'Don't neglect meeting together, as is the habit of some, but encourage one another and al the more as you see the Day approaching.'  (Hebrews 10:25)

I love that.  The closer we get to the coming of Jesus and the more it would seem less necessary to meet, as some would suggest, we're told instead, "Don't meet less; actually meet more."  Increase your meeting together.  And the reason we're told that is because there's something inherently valuable in the gathering itself that has impact.

Don't meet less; meet more.

And be blessed.