Sabbatical post 13–Much of Him and less of me.

One of the things we have done on sabbatical is visit several different churches. To date we have visited 5 churches, each from different denominational backgrounds.  While there have been many important and helpful observations one of the larger themes that is beginning to emerge from our experience is that some churches seem to preach themselves and others seem to preach Jesus.  What I mean by that is during our time with two of the churches the focus was on the church itself. They constantly spoke the name of the church encouraging people that they would receive what they needed through them.  The focus was clearly on their church and what people could receive from them and what they wanted to see the people do.  They seemed to preach themselves.

In the three other churches it was refreshingly different.  Rather than preaching themselves the preached Jesus.  In fact, in two of them, though they were  high-profile churches, they barely spoke the name of the church.  On the other hand, over and over and over again they talked about Jesus.  They spoke about his desire and ability to forgive sin and about how his death and resurrection make that possible.  They presented him over and over as the only path to a relationship with God and as the means to a transformed and fulfilling and meaningful life.  They intentionally drew attention to Jesus and deflected attention away from themselves.

In 2 Corinthians 4:5 the apostle Paul said this to the church in the ancient city of Corinth,

“For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord. . . .”

Folks, the truth is that we are not the answer, Jesus is.  Only Jesus can free us from sin. Only Jesus can heal physically and emotionally and mentally.  Only Jesus can give eternal life.  Only Jesus can bring good and meaning out of the bad things that happen to us.  Only Jesus can give our lives eternal significance.  Only Jesus can give us a life of abundance in a fallen and broken world.

So, Jesus is using my experience in these churches to evaluate my own life.  Where am I presenting myself as the answer or as the savior of the situation.  Where am I preaching myself rather than Jesus?  It’s anywhere the focus and conversation is too much about me and what I think or what I can do or what I have accomplished.  I can be just like those churches. It’s either mostly about me or it’s mostly about Jesus. And the truth is it’s often too much about me.

Lord, help my life be focused on “preaching” Jesus.  Let me make much of him and less of me.

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Sabbatical Post 12–Does God have a sense of humor?

Not long ago a good friend of mine who knew I was planning to attend a major league baseball game said to me, “I’m not going to believe you went to the game unless I see a picture of a foul ball.”  To be honest, when I heard here say that I thought to myself, “Well, she’s not going to be convinced then because I have been going to baseball games of all kinds since I was about 4 years old and not once have I ever been the one to catch a foul ball.”  Fast forward to the Brewers Expos game we attended  not long ago.  My conversation with my friend had been long forgotten and the entire family was caught up in enjoying American’s favorite past time when all of a sudden a screaming foul ball came our way. It was not recovered by us but the gentlemen who did recover it, turned tour youngest son Levi and said, “Are you a Brewers fan?”  Well, technically we were in Milwaukee so we were rooting for the Brewers which allowed him to honestly say “yes I am.” Satisfied, the man handed him the foul ball with a smile.

After enjoying what had happened for a few moments and expressing our thanks to the man who had recovered the ball I suddenly remembered my friends need for proof. So, I promptly texted her a picture of the ball with just one word next to it. The word, “Proof!”  It was a fun time exchanging a few texts back and forth after that. I think both of us were very surprised!

Carol (my soul mate and my wife) commented following this experience, “Doesn’t God have a great sense of humor!”  She was referring to how it seems that God sometimes makes things happen that seem unlikely or impossible to us just to say to us, “And you thought I didn’t care about these kinds of things.”  It seems that not only does he care, but in amazingly small and seemingly insignificant matters he sometimes moves just to say to us, “Hey, I am a real person.  I love it when you have fun.  I like to provide for you in ways that show you that it’s not just about need, it’s about the fun and the desire of your heart as well.  It’s about joy and relationship and good times. It’s about abundant life and I’m in every little fun detail as well as the hard and difficult times as well.

After Carol made that comment I have to admit that I spent some time silently thanking God just for being who He is.  It was a time of worship at a professional baseball game.

My prayer is that God will give you that time of worship sometime today.  A time where you see him remind you that he’s there in every area of your life.  At time when he surprises you and you laugh with him and enjoy his sense of humor and then spend some time in worship no matter where you are.

Sabbatical Post 11–Restoring My Soul

In my last post I mentioned that I’ve noticed that I can be assured of the final destination of my soul but still be struggling with the present condition of my soul.  To refer to a soul being lost, according to John Ortberg, is not just a reference regarding a soul’s destination but rather refers to it’s condition.  The soul can be broken.  It can be unhealthy. I can be disintegrating.  This is exactly what happens when the soul is not connected to God and cared for because the soul was created for connection with God and the soul is needy.  The soul needs constant restoration and care and keeping to be healthy.

So, how do we do that?  How do we restore our own soul?  How do we care for our soul?

I want to share with you a bad approach that Jesus has shown me I often have in regards to caring for my soul and then two ways He’s showing me to become better at caring for my soul.  My bad approach is this. Because the greatest enemy of my soul is sin I tend work very hard and focus very intensely on not sinning.  My focus becomes sinning less. But what Jesus is showing me and reminding me of over and over again is that all that approach does is cause me to focus on sin.  It gets me focused on the very thing I need to eliminate which only gives that sinful inclination more and more power.  It becomes like a song that gets stuck in your head that you just can’t quit singing.  If you just tell yourself to stop singing the song you are thinking more and more about the song and it gets rooted deeper and deeper in your mind.  How do you escape?  You focus your mind on something else, on something different, on something better!

That is exactly what Jesus is teaching me is one of the keys to caring for my soul.  I need to begin focusing on something better than the sin I’m trying to eliminate from my life.  I can’t stop by telling myself to stop sinning.  That just keeps me focused on the sin and gives it more power. Instead,  I have to refocus on my mind on something better. Specifically, I have to refocus  my mind on God!  I have to intentionally practice His presence.   I can’t just eliminate the bad. In fact, I eliminate the bad by focusing on something better!

How do we do that?  How do we refocus our minds on God? How do we care for our souls in this way?  Well, here are a couple of ways from the Bible that John Ortberg mentions in his book.  The first is from Psalm 16:8  which says,

“I have set the Lord always before me.”  Psalm 16:8

The second is from 2 Corinthians 10:5,

“…we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”  2 Corinthians 10:5

Both of these verse talk about the soul’s need to be very closely connected with God.  However, what they both reveal is that this isn’t an involuntary connection.  It’s not like breathing. The words, “set” and “take captive” are active verbs.  They reveal that we are soul keepers. That is a role and responsibility that God has given us.

So, today set the Lord before you.  How do you do that?  You can begin just by acknowledging the Lord’s presence with you.  We tend to think about that only in the big moments. Start in the small moments.  There are 86,400 seconds in a day. Those seconds are filled with normal activity. Don’t just talk to God in the big moments of your day because if you do you will have spent very little time aware of his presence.  Most of our moments are filled with the normal things of life. So, intentionally set Him before you.  Still have your dedicated time with Him but talk to Him moment by moment during your day.  Imagine him walking with you and sitting with you. Set him before you constantly.  You can just talk to him and say things like, “Jesus, thank you for being with me right now.”  You could say, “Jesus, I know I’m in you and I know you are in me.”  You could say, “Jesus, I’m doing these dishes for you and for my family.  Thank you for giving me the opportunity to serve you.  I love you thank for loving me.”

Second, do something the animals can’t do. Think about your thinking. Evaluate your thoughts.  When  thoughts comes into your mind take them captive. Talk to yourself about your self talk!  When a thought is not of God, talk to Jesus about it. Say, “Jesus, that’s not of you.”  Then, think his thoughts.  Think about his word.  Replace the bad thought with a good thought or acknowledge the good thought of being of Him.  If you have a lustful thought or a angry thought or an insecure thought, take that thought captive to Christ.  But don’t focus on the bad thing, focus on something better.  If you are thinking a judgmental thought about another person, instead, say to Jesus, “Jesus I think your for _____________. I pray for them. I ask you to bless them.  Thanks for this opportunity to be kind to them and to show them your love.  Then treat them as Jesus would.

These are two ways that we can care for our souls. They may not seem to make a big difference right away but if we do them over and over again, day after day, over time the condition of our souls will be restored by God.  It will be like moving from a big city to a small rural town. The lungs don’t recover on the first day but through constant exposure to clean air they eventually clear out and become healthy again.  They are restored to a healthier condition.

Let’s breath that clean air together!  Let’s make the move.  Let’s clear our and clean out and restore our souls!

 

 

Sabbatical Post 10–Directing Your Soul

Have you ever had the experience of getting a new car and as a result suddenly noticing how many of them are on the road? They were there all the time but you didn’t see them until you were driving one.

Strangely enough that is kind of what I feel like when it comes to how often the Bible talks about the human soul.  I started reading a new book by John Ortberg called Soul Keeping and now it seems like every time I read my Bible the author mentions the soul.  For example, this morning, during my dedicated time with God, in 1 Peter 2:25, the Apostle Peter says,

“For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.”

As God spoke to me through that verse I came to a very quick conclusion.  My soul needs a Shepherd and an Overseer and the only one that is qualified to shepherd it and lead it is God.  Without his shepherding and leading my soul drifts. It wonders around like a lost sheep just like Peter says.

To have a lost soul is not just referring to a destination. It’s referring to a condition that if it doesn’t get cured will lead to a destination. But, it start’s as a condition.  A lost soul is the one whose condition is having become disconnected from God and from the life God created it to live. If that condition is not cured in this life, it will become a permanent destination in the next.  That soul will be separated from God forever.

So, how do we return to the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls?  How does our soul reconnect with God.  That is where Jesus comes in!  The reason a soul loses its connection with God is sin.  Sin separates a person from God.  It’s like a child who is walking in a by shopping center with their parents yet gets separated from them when they wonder away to look at a shiny toy.  They were separated because they wandered away from their parents because they were enticed by something else. That is what each of us has done. We have wondered away from God because we were enticed by sin. And just like is often true of a child that has wondered away, we are not able to get back to God on our own.  In our case, sin has created a wall between us and God that we are not able to break through or see through on our own.

So, Jesus came  looking for lost souls!  Isn’t that great news!  God himself, when he saw that we couldn’t find our own way home, entered this world as a man to help us through the barrier and help us return to the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls.  He came to secure our final destination so that if a person has received his forgiveness for sin they are assured that there soul will not be eternally lost.

However, here’s what I’ve noticed about myself. I can be assured of the eternal destination of my soul and still be struggling with the present condition of my soul.  To secure your souls eternal destination you only have to return to Jesus once.  However, to experience the healing of your souls unhealthy condition you have to return to him over and over again.

How do you do that?  How does the lost condition of the soul get healed over time.  How so we experience a whole life?  That will be the topic of my next post but to begin to prepare for the answer I invite you to meditate on these two verses:

“I have set the Lord always before me.”  Psalm 16:8

“…we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”  2 Corinthians 10:5

 

Sabbatical Post 9–The Importance of a Healthy Soul.

In his book Soul Keeping John Ortberg states, “We will always take the most care of that which we value most deeply.”  He says, “We live in a world that teaches us to be more concerned with the condition of our cars, or our careers, or our portolios than with the condition of our souls.”  That reality raises a question: What are we taking the most care of right now?  Is it our car or our home or our tools or our collections or our reputation?  What are we spending the most time caring for and what important things do we neglect in order to make it happen?

The answer to that question reveals what we value the most.  We can determine what we value the most by identifying what we take the best care of.  In Mark 8:36-37 Jesus said, “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?  Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?”  In other words, according to the Jesus, our soul is what we should keep and care for as first priority because it is our most valuable asset.  A healthy life in every respect (including a healthy relationship with God) flows from a healthy soul so keeping it and caring for it should be our number 1 priority.

How do we do care for our soul?  John Ortberg outlines the process in his book Soul Keeping.  If you aren’t reading anything right now I would strongly encourage you pick up this book. If you are, place it on your reading list.  As I continue to engage in sabbatical Jesus is helping me see the condition of my soul and leading me to prioritize caring for it above all else in life.  Remember, a healthy life proceeds from God’s definition of a healthy soul.

Sabbatical Post 8–Saving Your Soul

In his book, Soul Keeping, John Ortberg personifies the soul when he writes,

“I have been waiting.  I am shy–terribly shy–even in the most boisterous person.  I can only whisper, never shout.  You may never even notice me.  But I am here, waiting.  I do not lie on the surface.  If you look and listen, patiently, you will know. 

I speak through your confusion, through your wanting, through your hurt.  When you stammer, when you say what you did not mean to say, it was I.  When you watch a sunset, or hear a child laugh, or listen to a piece of music that causes you to suddenly become choked up, it is I that causes your eye to fill.  When you are addicted, it is is that is chained. 

When the sun burns up and the universe melts away, I will be here.  I will not be ignored.  I can be wounded, lost, repulsed, or redeemed.  Your circumstances actually matter far less to your happiness than you think.  It is my health that makes your life heaven or hell. 

I am your soul.  I am here.”

The soul is the deepest part of who we are.  Multiple times in the Bible God is referred to as having a soul.  The reference almost always refers to the who God is in the deepest part of His being.  It is who God is in his soul that provides order to the rest of his qualities.  To say that God is perfect means that God never experiences disunity or that he is never incongrugent with himself.  His will, his thoughts, his actions, his words are always in congruence with God’s soul, with the deepest part of himself.

Interestingly, when speaking of God creating Adam in the book of Genesis, it says that God breathed the breath of life into Adam and he became a living soul.  In other words, we are created and fashioned like God in that we have a soul just like he does. Our soul is that deepest part of us that seeks to order our lives to a place of integrity. It’s that part of us that seeks to bring unity and harmony to our will and our mind and our bodies.  It seeks to help us live lives of integrity where we are living from a healthy center and where each part of who we are lives in line with that health.

However, here is the reality that John Ortberg speaks about in his book.  Our souls are sick.  Our souls are not healthy. They are broken. They have been infected and wounded in many different ways and as a result we do not experience the connection with God and with the peaceful, joy-filled, satisfying, happy, abundant lives that God created us for.

And so, because we are aware of the sickness that expresses itself in so many different forms, we search for a cure.  However, we almost invariably focus on things outside of ourselves. We focus on careers and money and fame and human relationships.  We take vacations and turn to substances and images, all in an attempt to find some relief, to find some meaning, to find a cure.  But, the mistake we make is that we are working on the outside rather than the inside.

Specifically, what we need to learn to care for and invest in the most in our lives is the care of our soul.  We need to turn to God to redeem, to heal, to cure our soul. In fact, that is what Ortberg reminds us that salvation is ultimately all about. It’s not just about where I will spend eternity. It is about that. But it’s also about inner healing.  It’s about the restoration of the deepest part of who we are.  It’s about allowing God to heal us from the inside so that we can become who we were meant to be rather than just focus on what we are meant to do.

Are you happy in life?  Are things well with you?  Do you have joy and peace and integrity of life?  It will never come from focusing on the outside. We have to allow God to save our souls, heal our souls, restore our souls.

Is that possible?  Well, whether your soul is hardened, shallow or cluttered (Those are the names the Bible gives the diseases of the soul) God has the medicine that can start bringing health and life to your soul. To begin accessing the cure I encourage you to spend some time with Jesus allowing him to speak to you through two resources.  First, I encourage you to read the Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13:1-23, Mark 4:1-20, and Luke 8:1-15.  I also encourage you to join me in reading Soul Keeping by John Ortberg.

As we do those two things we will be focusing in what really matters.  We will be allowing God to save us on the inside so we can live abundantly for Him on the outside.

Sabbatical Post 7–The Bible’s Only Story

The entire Bible is ultimately the story about what God has done in Christ to restore human beings to the life He originally creates us for.  In his book Preaching, Timothy Keller states that every single sermon should ultimately be about Jesus.  The following quote from Keller’s book will be much longer than typical but I wanted to bless you with it.  He writes,

“God created the world and created us to serve and enjoy him and the world he had made.  But human beings turned away from serving him; they sinned and marred themselves and the creation.  Nevertheless, God promised to not abandon them (though it was his perfect right) but to rescue them, despite the guilt and condemnation they were under and despite their inveterately flawed hearts and character. To do this, first God called out one family in the wold to know him and serve him. Then he grew that family into a nation; entered into a binding, personal covenant relationship with them; and gave them his law to guide their lives, the promise of blessing if they obeyed it, and a system of offerings and sacrifices to deal with their sins and failures.  However, human nature is so disordered and sinful that, despite all these privileges and centuries of God’s patience, even his covenant people–who had received the law, promises, and sacrifices–turned away from him. It looked hopeless for the human race. But God became flesh and entered the world of time, space, and history. He lived a perfect life, but then we went to the cross to die. When he was raised from the dead, it was revealed that he had come to fulfill the law with his perfect life, to offer the final sacrifice, taking the curse that we deserved and thereby securing the promised blessings for us by free grace.  Now, those who believe in him are united with God despite our sin, and this changes the people of God from a single nation-state into a new international multi-ethnic fellowship of believers in every nation and culture.  We now serve him and our neighbor as we wait in hope for Jesus to return and renew all creation, sweeping away death and all suffering.

What is all that?  That is a story–a unified narrative plot line, resolving and climaxing in Jesus. The disciples knew the stories of each prophet, each priest, each king, each deliverer from Gideon to David.  The knew about the temple and the sacrifices.  But while they knew all the sub-stories, they couldn’t–until he showed them-see the story, about the ultimate prophet, priest, king, deliverer, the final temple and sacrifice.  They couldn’t see what the Bible was all about.”

Folks, that is what the entire story of the Bible is about.  It is about what God has done in Jesus to restore us and creation to himself and to his original intention. As we read or teach or preach the Bible, we must anchor all of it in that larger story or we have missed the entire point. We have made sub-points the main point which always leads us off point.  The entire Bible is ultimately about Jesus.  Every word of both the Old Testament and the New Testament is about him and about what God has done through him to restore us to him so we can become fully human and bring glory to him.  I pray each of us will keep the big picture story of the Bible always in view so we don’t get off track as we read the smaller stories. Remember, it’s all points to Jesus because he is the fulfillment of God’s promise of restoration and salvation!

Sabbatical Post 7–Sabbatical so Far

I thought would give a quick update on what I’ve done so far during sabbatical.  It has included 4 primary pursuits.

  1.  Seeing God in His Word and prayer.  Most of my time so far has been in the book of Hebrews. These have been rich times of reading, praying and journaling.  Hebrews is a powerful book from God’s word that highlights the greatness of Jesus, the identity of Jesus, the salvation provided by Jesus and how to live a life empowered by Jesus for His glory.  If you haven’t read it in a while I would invite you to join me.
  2. Seeking God through reading:  So far I have read 4 books.  They are:
  • Union with Christ by Rankin Wilbourne.
  • Lasting Impact by Carey Nieuwhof
  • Sifted by Wayne Cordiero
  • I Am A Church Member by Thom Rainer
  1. Attending the Exponential Ministry Conference:  Exponential was a conference of nearly 7000 church leaders in Orlando Florida. It was full of inspiration and training regarding how to reach people for Jesus and expand God’s kingdom here on earth by multiplying churches.  I attended with Brad Gorsuch, Pastor Jeremy and Krista, Dustin and Ashley Jost and Daniel and Candace Moss. We learned a lot about discipleship, leadership and church multiplication.  The part regarding church multiplication through multiplying your church in different sites is what I felt God was speaking to me about.  There are other experiences during my sabbatical that are targeted for learning more about the multi-site church as well.
  2. Personal Spiritual Retreat: After the Exponential Conference I took a personal spiritual retreat just outside of Orlando. It was a great time of connecting with God through His word and reading.

So, that is Sabbatical so far.  I definitely hear God speaking to me personally in a number of areas and am extremely thankful for His guidance and grace!

Sabbatical Post 6–You are my friend

Yesterday I learned that my friend Ray Franz went to be with Jesus. One of the reasons I refer to Ray as my friend is because that is the way he referred to me.  In fact, the last time I visited Ray in the hospital, at a time when he was extremely weak, in a great deal of pain, and drawing closer and closer to the end of his time on earth, I let him know it was me and he responded by saying, “Ah, my friend.  You are my friend.”

Tears came down my cheeks when Ray referred to me as his friend because to be a friend of Ray was a true blessing in life.  I do not have time to share all of the reasons why that is true but I want to share one of example. That day, as Ray was laying there close to death, and as I sought to encourage him, even then, Ray’s focus was not on himself.  Instead, through his pain and his suffering he began to ask me about how I was doing and about how my wife Carol was doing and then one by one about our boys.  And it wasn’t just a show. It was genuine concern. It was heartfelt.  It was real.

Folks, those are the kinds of friends, when you have them, who are an unspeakable blessing in life and here’s why. It’s because those are the kinds of friends that help you see Jesus.  They  help you see Jesus because through a close relationship with Him, they have become like Jesus.

In Luke 23:34 it tells us that as Jesus was suffering  and drawing near to the end of his life here on earth, He called out to the Father on behalf of the very people who had crucified Him and said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

What an amazing act of love.  Jesus was showing concern for the very people who nailed Him to a cross. He was thinking of others during his own suffering.  And you see, that is how my friend Ray helped me see Jesus.  It was because in the same way Jesus was thinking of others at the time of his death, Ray was thinking of me and my family as his time drew near as well.

The greatest possible friend we can have in life is Jesus.  He was perfect and without sin and yet he loves each person so much that he willingly died on a cross to pay the penalty of our sin.  When He was on that cross we were on his mind.  We are what kept put him there and we are what kept him there. His love for us. And while his death purchased salvation for us it is also an example for us to follow.

I am so thankful to God for blessing me with a friend like Ray who not only turned to Jesus for salvation but who followed His example to the very end of his life.  He was enduring his greatest cross and was still thinking of others, still thinking of his friends.  I am praying for each member of the family asking God to fill the hole that his departing leaves and to be able to be full of thankfulness for the blessing that Ray was in their lives.  The “Hall of Faith” in Hebrews 11 just received another inductee and he is one of my friends.

 

 

Sabbatical Post 5–The Mission is Making Disciples

In his book, Lasting Impact, Carey Nieuwhof states, “Churches that love their model more than their mission will die.”  To support his claim he refers to the invention of the car.   He writes, “When the automobile was invented, it quickly took over from the horse and buggy.  Buggy manufacturers were relegated to boutique status and many went under, but human transportation actually exploded. Suddenly, average people could travel at a level they never could before.  The mission is travel.  The model is a buggy, or car or motorcycle or jet.

There is a great lesson in that illustration for us as God’s family.  Our mission is to make disciples.  At our church, we say it is to help people find faith in Christ and to develop Christ-like people.  The model is worship services and life groups and Sunday school and Valentine’s Extravaganza’s and women’s bible studies and on and on.  While the mission will not change because it was given to us by Jesus, the models must change, as culture and people change with it, in order for us to continue to be effective at our mission.

Consider the changes in such industries as publishing, music, and even photography, notes Nieuwhof, and you see the same trend.  The mission is reading.  It’s music. It’s photography.  The model and methods shift, moving from things like eight-tracks, cassettes, and CD’s to MP3’s and now streaming audio and video.  Can you imagine a church trying to use eight-tracks in its music ministry?  While that is an extreme example, any time we are so married to the method that we aren’t willing to change in order to accomplish our mission, we make the same mistake.

Nieuwhof concludes, “Companies that show innovation around the mission (Apple, Samsung) will always beat companies that remain devoted to the method (Kodak).

The same is true for churches.  Sometimes when I talk about this I hear people say things like, “We just need to rely on the Spirit.”  I agree totally that we need to rely on the Spirit and I even agree that we need to grow in that area. I delivered an entire message series on that topic not long ago that came from deep conviction that we need to grow in that area.  However, we need to recognize that a willingness to change methods in order to accomplish the mission Jesus gave us is an act of relying on the Spirit.  It is very “Jesus like” to be willing to sacrifice in order to make disciples!  He left heaven and became one of us not only to save us, but provide us with a missional example to follow.  To change methods in order to accomplish the mission is to follow the example of Jesus.

This is just one of seven key converstions Nieuwhof initiates in his book.  Each of them is designed to help the church think through ministry in a way that will lead to greater and lasting impact. It is one of the best books on leadership in the church that I have read in a long time. If you care about your church and desire it to have a greater impact, I believe you will enjoy it as well.