The Struggle is Real – 3 Tips for Preparing for Sunday

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It’s amazing. Those Sundays seem to come every week whether I am prepared or not. Every week I take a day and half of another one to put together a sermon for the weekend. In addition, I spend time tinkering all the way up until late Saturday night. I know that is probably an astonishing amount of time for a 35 minute talk, but I need every bit of it. Even with that amount of time dedicated to a sermon it is still lacking some weekends. Not all of us can be Andy Stanley. In my case, I’m just shooting for at least Andy from Parks and Rec.

I’ve struggled to both change and improve my preaching. This certainly isn’t written as an expert, but just to share my struggle. Here are 3 things that I have come up with that I feel like have helped me improve.

1. Content before entertainment

No one wants to be the person that sees a bunch of glows on the faces of the people you are speaking to. No, I’m not talking about the glow that Moses experienced after being in the presence of God. I’m talking about the glow of an Iphone that is visible on the face of people when you are speaking from the pulpit. I’m sure they are searching scriptures on YouVersion and not scrolling through Facebook, but either way no one wants to be boring. If you aren’t careful you can end up losing your message in jokes, illustrations, and other things that are an attempt to make the sermon palatable. My practice is to take one study session to just put the content together for the message. Later, I will come back and look at the message to see how I can make it funny, or more enjoyable to listen to. At the end of the day, heck at the end of my life, I won’t be judged by how good my jokes were, but whether or not I taught people the Word of God.

2. Fresh not new

The bible says there is nothing new under the sun. When it comes to teaching scriptures, coming up with something new can be downright dangerous. Some new thought and suddenly everyone is in robes, head shaved, and drinking a big glass of kool aid. My job isn’t to teach anything new. It’s to take old truths and established principles, and make them fresh. With the Holy Spirit’s help, the job of a communicator is to bring the ancient scriptures into today’s issues of life and help make them relevant. This is probably the thing that I struggle with the most. Making scriptures applicable and helpful on Monday and not just inspiring on Sunday is much more difficult than it sounds. This is where we need the help of the Holy Spirit giving us wisdom to teach the Word of God. Paul told Timothy, “a workman who has no cause to be ashamed, correctly analyzing and accurately dividing [rightly handling and skillfully teaching] the Word of Truth (2 Timothy 2:15 Amp). The struggle isn’t for something new, its for something fresh. Fresh comes from the Presence of God.

3. Helpful not original

It’s actually a form of spiritual pride to withhold helpful information from people because you didn’t come up with it. I once handed a small group lesson to a guy who promptly gave it back to me because he couldn’t teach anything that God didn’t give him. The problem is that the stuff God was giving him wasn’t very good or helpful. I guess God was just having writer’s block or an off day. His group fizzled because he couldn’t be humble enough to use other people’s material. I enjoy writing and speaking. I love developing content and sharing ideas. However, my main responsibility is to equip people with the word and help them live a victorious spiritual life. I’m a preacher not an artist. There is an art to preaching, but I can’t elevate art above the preaching. Give credit where credit is due if you use material from other people. (This blog was inspired by a blog from Hillsong) Let people know where you got it so they can get plugged into great resources that will hopefully help develop them spiritually as well. It’s great when I come up with something that I think and perhaps others think is really good. I hope that I am constantly learning and developing original material. However, it’s not about me. I’m here to serve people and I want to do that with the best material possible whether it’s mine or someone else’s.

I’m a Christian, Not a Confederate

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I’m late to the party. And by party I mean an issue that further divided our nation and was the object of much social media debate. So not a great party. The host of the party, for lack of a better phrase, was a flag that was used by the Confederate army during the Civil War era. This is where I will pause and tell y’all that I was born and raised in the south. I’m both southern and pretty fly for a white guy. My credentials include being raised in Arkansas, moving to Mississippi, and now residing in the most southern (geographically) of states, the great State of Florida. I’m not at all ashamed of who I am, and I’m grateful for my upbringing in the land of sweet tea and Little Debbie’s. Like most people I take pride in my family and my heritage. I was raised by some pretty great folks and was surrounded all of my life by people who could be described as “salt of the earth” kind of people. So if anyone would rise to the defense of a southern emblem it would most likely be yours truly. I do not. In fact, it broke my heart that people did. It even angered me that Christian’s did. I was surprised at the amount of people who embraced a symbol of racism, and I was shocked to see believers take the bait as well. This blog is directed at people who claim Christianity as their faith and profess Christ as their savior. It doesn’t surprise me that the world would be divided on this issue. It does surprise me that some believers were divided on this issue. Here is my list. Yes, a list because that’s how I roll. A list of reasons why I’m a Christian and not a Confederate:

1.The identity of my heritage is in a cross and not a flag.

1 Peter 2:9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

My “people” are the people of God. My family isn’t based on skin color, or place of birth. It’s based on a common experience of being called out of darkness and into His marvelous light. The question is this, are we more proud to be southern than forgiven? We need to remember that we are a part of “chosen race” and a “holy nation” and that has absolutely nothing to do with skin color or place of birth. It has everything to do with God’s grace given to everyone who puts their faith in Him. At the cross we all stand on equal ground. At the flag pole there are haves and have nots. There are whites and blacks, hispanics and asians. There is rich and poor, social elite and socially outcast. At the cross there are simply sinners finding grace. All color, status, and position is washed away in a crimson stream that flows from Calvary.

2. It is a sin to knowingly participate in a custom that is offensive to other believers

1 Corinthians 8:12 Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.

One of the reasons people chose to defend the Confederate Flag was because to them, the flag represented heritage and not hate. Here’s the deal. It doesn’t matter what the flag means to you or me. What does the flag mean to brothers and sisters in the family of God who are of a different race than me? If it is offensive to them, then I lay down my thoughts and preferences to protect their conscience. Paul went as far to say that he would give up meat all together to prefer people who were of a different culture than him. I know the issue was a little different topic in Paul’s day, but I believe this verse fits very well in this situation. As a believer, I am to live with a consciousness that includes other aspects of the Body of Christ than my own.

3. I’m not here to build a nation. I’m here to build a church

If we mistake our mission we take up the wrong battles. Many christians have taken up politics because they think God’s eternal kingdom is the USA. I love this country and I’m very grateful for the freedom we have and the blessings we have been given. The USA is the greatest nation on earth in my lowly and most humble opinion. However, the USA will have an end at some point. Jesus Christ is not returning for the USA, He is coming back for a church that is without spot or wrinkle. The hope of our nation is not a political party, it’s not a political leader, and it’s definitely not a stronger government. The hope of America is the church, a strong and glorious church. A church that is influential and growing. A church that includes people from every race and all walks of life who have surrendered to the call of God on their life. The church will not be what its supposed to be without unity between our different races and nationalities. A church that lays down personal preference, and personal agenda for the cause of Christ will influence our nation. In the world it seems that everyone is trying to use the government to advance their agenda. My prayer is that our only agenda would be reaching people, building the local church, and preparing ourselves to be a part of a kingdom that will have no end.

Here’s a little picture of what that church looks like…
Revelation 7:9 After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands,

If someone could come to the organ as I bring this to a close I would appreciate it. I’ve seen things written by people who almost seem self loathing. This isn’t about me being ashamed of who I am or having any hatred of where I come from. I was born and raised in the south and for that I’m thankful. Amazingly, I had both white and black people who taught me about Christ and helped raise me in the family of God. I know that’s not most people’s picture of the south, but it was my reality. A church of both white people and black people who laid down racial difference to lift up the name of Jesus Christ. So this isn’t about self loathing. It’s an honest attempt to make sure that my life, our lives, are in line with holy scriptures and are pleasing to the Lord Jesus Christ. I’m looking forward to the day “when saints from every race, shall behold his face.” Just to throw a line from a southern Gospel song at you.

4 Key Areas of Health

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When I started CoastLife Church I was all about growth. For good reason, we only had 15 people and without growth we wouldn’t survive. One day while reading the Parable of the Talents I received what I felt was a divine motivation to grow and increase. After reading that parable, maintenance and staying the course no longer remained an option for me. I think the pursuit of growth is a good thing and a God thing. However, I have come to learn that the approach to growth determines whether or not its right or wrong. At one point I realized that I was striving for growth, but what I really needed to do was to strive for health. Essentially our responsibility is to cultivate areas of health, and its God’s responsibility to give increase. In fact, I believe God has already established increase for your life and the result isn’t in question. The only question is whether or not we will do the work of cultivating an environment that is conducive to experiencing God’s increase. To put it another way, you don’t have to make a seed grow, God has already put growth inside of the seed. However, the seed will never do what it was designed to do unless someone creates a healthy, life giving place for it to grow. If you want to grow in your life here are 4 key areas that I think every person should focus on:

4 Key Areas of Health

This will be in order of priority from the least important to the most important, however, all 4 areas have importance in your life.

1. Physical Health

1 Timothy 4:6-9 (THE MSG)
You’ve been raised on the Message of the faith and have followed sound teaching. Now pass on this counsel to the followers of Jesus there, and you’ll be a good servant of Jesus. Stay clear of silly stories that get dressed up as religion. Exercise daily in God—no spiritual flabbiness, please! Workouts in the gymnasium are useful, but a disciplined life in God is far more so, making you fit both today and forever.

All discipline is good. Paul said going to the gym was useful, but there are higher things on the priority list. Physical health is important because I don’t want to abuse my body and cut short my assignment here on earth. I believe many people have had greater years of God’s purpose in their life, but had them cut short because of battles with health that were caused by a lack of physical discipline. I never want to have to ask Jesus to heal something I caused by poor dietary habits. Keep the temple healthy, so the treasure on the inside of the temple can reach its fullest potential. However, this area is lowest in priority because our physical bodies don’t determine our worth. In a world that seems to be increasing in its vanity, it’s important to note that what’s on the inside is greater than what’s on the outside. Don’t abuse food, alcohol, or drugs. Keep your temple clean, but don’t base your worth on your physical appearances. The reason Paul said exercise was only useful for a little while is because whether you exercise or not you are still going to die. Let’s take care of our physical bodies, but let’s keep eternal things in mind as well.

2. Mental Health

Proverbs 24:3-6
3 A house is built by wisdom and becomes strong through good sense. 4 Through knowledge its rooms are filled with all sorts of precious riches and valuables. 5  The wise are mightier than the strong, and those with knowledge grow stronger and stronger. 6 So don’t go to war without wise guidance; victory depends on having many advisers.

Mental health can mean a variety of things, but for this purpose I am going to simplify it to mean wisdom and knowledge. Scriptures teach us that we “build” or grow through knowledge and wisdom. I believe there is a partnership between the natural and supernatural. I also believe what we don’t know in the natural can hinder our usefulness in the supernatural. The bible tells us to pray for wisdom, but not for knowledge. The reason, knowledge is found in books, classes, instructors, and advisors. God expects us to put in the work to gain knowledge. Wisdom comes from God and experience. Ask God for wisdom and listen to those who have gone before you.

3. Emotional Health

Proverbs 4:24
Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.

Fear, anxiety, doubt, depression, insecurity, anger, and bitterness are emotions that occur in the life of every person. If we don’t deal with them, eventually they will deal with us. The bible teaches us to guard the area of emotions in our lives very carefully because everything we do is drawn from that well. Every thought, word, or action is drawn from the well of the heart You will never pull out healthy words, healthy thoughts, or healthy actions out of an unhealthy well. Be very diligent to take care of your emotions. Talk to Jesus consistently and be honest how you are feeling. Talk to close friends consistently and be honest about how you are feeling. Talk to counselors if needed and be honest about how you are feeling. Keep your heart healthy and you will be able to draw out good thoughts, words, and actions.

4. Spiritual Health

Mark 8:36-37
36 And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? 37 Is anything worth more than your soul?

Take this whole world, but give me Jesus. If I have perfect physical, mental, and emotional health, but I don’t have spiritual health then I have lost it all. Our spiritual health is the most valuable, but often least focused area of our lives. I grew up thinking that you could never pray enough, read your bible enough, obey enough rules and it left me jaded. So, I swung the pendulum the opposite direction and found that I wasn’t growing spiritually. I don’t want to give you a minimum amount of time you should pray everyday, or minimum amount of verses to read. Each person has their own relationship with God. However, there are no substitutes for spending time with God. Be intentional about your spiritual health, after all, it’s worth more than anything in the world.

Why There Isn’t Power in the Name of Jesus

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Acts 19:13-16
13 A group of Jews was traveling from town to town casting out evil spirits. They tried to use the name of the Lord Jesus in their incantation, saying, “I command you in the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches, to come out!” 14 Seven sons of Sceva, a leading priest, were doing this. 15 But one time when they tried it, the evil spirit replied, “I know Jesus, and I know Paul, but who are you?” 16 Then the man with the evil spirit leaped on them, overpowered them, and attacked them with such violence that they fled from the house, naked and battered.

There isn’t power in the name of Jesus, my hispanic friend. He’s a good guy and all, but there just isn’t any power in his name. If you need a helping hand for a move, he’s a nice guy and I’m sure he would be glad to help you out. If you need someone to complete your foursome for a round of golf, I’m sure he would like to join you. However, if you need a personal Savior, eternal salvation, or divine healing I’m afraid Jesus, my hispanic friend will let you down.

There have been many people whose name contained those same 5 letters in that precise sequence. So when does the name become more than a name? The 7 sons of Sceva found out that even alluding to the same name that Paul spoke of rendered them defeated and wounded. It sets a clear precedent that power isn’t in the name, but in the person of the name. Without a knowledge of what Paul described as “the mighty God in Christ” the name of Jesus becomes an incantation akin to Hocus Pocus, or Abracadabra. Perhaps we have even been guilty of utilizing the name as a good luck charm, or a hopeful incantation.

How do we have power in Christ through His name?

1. Guard Your Heart – In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus taught us to Hallow or Sanctify His name. The name Jesus should be set apart in a special place in our hearts. We should consistently reverence the name that is above every name.

2. Have a real and authentic relationship with Jesus – We may be able to fool others about our relationship with Jesus Christ, but we can’t fool everyone. Even demonic forces recognize when we are trying to evoke the name of Jesus in an inauthentic way. However, they have to respect and recognize the authority of the person that is in a genuine relationship with Jesus Christ. Power is the by product of a genuine relationship with Jesus Christ.

3. Worship the Name – When we elevate the name of Jesus in worship we bring heaven to earth. The name becomes more than just 5 letters in a certain sequence, it becomes the name of the Person who has all power in His hand.

There is only one who stands as our savior and healer. There is only one who is fully God and man. There is only one who was dead, but is risen and lives eternally. There is only one soon returning king, and it isn’t Jesus, my hispanic friend.

Church, Here is Why I’m Standing Firm

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Here is a list of why I’m in the church and I’m not going anywhere:

1. It’s Not About Me

You want a traditional church. Great. Sing weird songs and find beauty in stained glass. It’s not for me, but if its for you, go for it with everything you’ve got. You want a church with an IMAX screen. Great. Throw that rock concert fist in the air and worship Jesus with everything you’ve got. Preference doesn’t matter to me. ISIS and The Taliban are beheading people for believing that Jesus is the only savior of the world, but by all means, let’s get offended and leave the church over song styles and whether we have regular lights or LED lights. Ultimately, the church is for me, but its not about me. I shouldn’t have been let in, I don’t deserve to be a part, but by God’s great grace I got in and I’m not going anywhere. Find a church you like and devote yourself to it.

2. The Church of Jesus Christ is the Hope of the World

Hey church, I would like to remind us that we are still the City on the Hill. We are not simply a non profit organization and we are not another good community group. Governments will come and go, cultural fads will boom and bust, and even nations will rise and fall, but the church of Jesus Christ will stand. We are built on a solid rock. We are built on a strong foundation. We are anchored by a cornerstone that cannot be broken. I see other religions and ideologies that influence through fear, intimidation, and even violence. We are the light outside of the common culture of fear, despair, and hatred. We are the light that shines on a hill beaming faith, hope, and love.

3. I Want to be Ready

I need the church. The church needs me. Both are true, but one is more vital to my salvation. God uses the church to mature us. God uses the church to equip us. God uses the church to develop us into His plans and purposes. God uses the church to encourage us. The church is where I have built relationships that sharpen me. The church is the place where I found responsibility that has matured me. The church is where I have found a purpose that was greater than my own. Ultimately, its through the church that God has been preparing me to be a part of His bride that will be ready for the return of Jesus Christ. The church is God’s plan for the “perfecting” of the saints.

4. I Love Jesus

I love Jesus, Jesus loves the church, so I love the church. I love Jesus, Jesus gave His life for the church, so I give my life for the church. I don’t know how long I will get to ride on this dust ball called Earth. I’m presented with many options of things to live for and occupy my time while here. None of which will ever compare to Jesus and His church. It’s an honor and a privilege to dedicate my seconds, minutes, and hours for His cause and passion. My only prayer is that I will love His church the way He loves His church.

Why Sundays Matter

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Hebrews 10:23-25
23 Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. 24 Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. 25 And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.

3 Reasons Why Sunday Matters in Your New Year:

1. Jesus

Jesus is worthy of our first and best. Dedicate the first part of your week to him in worship. When we gather to worship Jesus as a church we are proclaiming our public faith in the promises of Jesus Christ. We are declaring that there is salvation, healing, and power in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Sundays are much more than an obligation or religious tradition. Our corporate worship times are a declaration that we are holding tightly without wavering to the unwavering promises of God. We are a public Testament that Jesus Christ is a soon returning king.

2. Others

It’s interesting that the reasons listed in Hebrews for regular church attendance aren’t for our personal blessing. The writer doesn’t say that you might miss your Word from God, or that you might miss an encounter with God, or that you might miss your chance for a blessing. All of those are great and all of those happen in the House of God. However, his main reason for gathering in the House of God on a consistent basis was for the benefit of others. We are there to help motivate, we are there to help encourage, and we are there to serve a greater purpose than ourselves. Never underestimate the power of being in the room. My worship helps create an atmosphere of freedom for someone to find Christ. My support of the Word of God helps build faith for someone to experience their encounter with God. My smile and handshake helps encourage others in their faith. My serving helps set the table for others to enjoy God’s great banquet. Maybe you don’t need this Sunday, but someone else does. We don’t gather for the sake of ourselves alone, we gather for the sake of others. I want to be a part of someone’s salvation story, someone’s day of healing, or someone’s day of breakthrough. Great things happen on Sunday and I want to be a part of it.

3. Me

Last on my list is ourselves. Why? Because serving God through church attendance may be about others, but you can’t serve others without being blessed yourself. There is an immense joy in finding a purpose greater than yourselves. As a Pastor I get a front row seat to watch God move and bless the lives of the people that serve in God’s great house. Are their lives perfect? Absolutely not. Do they still have problems in their lives? Sure, I don’t know anyone who doesn’t. Do they have an enduring joy and peace greater than their circumstances? Without a doubt. You can’t give your life away in the service of others without finding a better and truer life in Christ.

There are legitimate reasons for missing church. Vacation times and sick days top this list. However, to sit at home or to be occupied with hobbies and recreation is a distraction from your purpose as a believer in Jesus Christ. You can’t give your life away in worship to Jesus and service to others without finding a better, truer, and more joy filled life.

Christmas Story – 2014

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Christmas Story – 2014

Bethlehem. Besides sounding like a tasty french sandwich, this small community plays a dramatic role in the Christmas story. It shouldn’t. It should for the sake of all reasonableness be just another small town that no one has ever really heard of and certainly one that no one cares about. Sort of like the city of Tomato, Arkansas. Which could also be the name of a tasty sandwich. Bethlehem, it was divinely appointed and supernaturally orchestrated that Joseph and Mary would be in Bethlehem for the birth of the Savior of the world. You know you’re insignificant, when the bible says, you’re insignificant. And the bible talks about the insignificance and smallness of the city of Bethlehem. It was small, it was rural, less than 700 people resided there, but for a savior, for a short time, it was home. Bethlehem. It had all of the allure and grandeur of the Port Charlotte Shopping Mall. But hopefully it wasn’t as depressing. Bethlehem, the Walmart of cities. When God chose a place to introduce himself to the world, he chose Bethlehem. Not Rome. Not Rome with its world dominance and its royalty and towering theaters. Not Jerusalem. Not Jerusalem with its religious dominance and its Temple and its high priests. Most stars search for Bright Lights and a Big City, but not the Christmas Star. The Christmas star settled over frumpy and in need of a makeover Bethlehem. This speaks to me. It speaks to everyone who is searching for significance. Most of us weren’t born into stardom. Were not like that baby that was born to celebrity parents and now already has more followers on Instagram than me. What a jerk. Most of us weren’t born with significance. We have to search for it. Bethlehem had no significance of its own, and it wasn’t really searching for it. Bethlehem may not have been searching for significance, but significance came searching for Bethlehem. It’s the beauty of the Christmas story, angels singing, wise men searching, a strange rumor buzzing through a small community. Christ is here. Bethlehem now matters for all of eternity.

Mary. A young girl among many young girls in Israel at that time. I’m not for sure what her aspirations for life would have been. I wonder what she thought about when she laid awake at night and dreamed of what her future would be. I bet it didn’t include things like experiencing angelic visitations and getting pregnant by the Holy Ghost. There was, many years ago, a great king in her family. But I’m not for sure what that really did for her now. In a time of have’s and have nots, she was most likely a not. She wasn’t noble, she wasn’t wealthy, and she wasn’t famous. Like Bethlehem, she was small and probably insignificant. The most popularity she had ever experienced was when her number was called at the deli and everyone looked to see who’s turn it was. Mary. From obscurity to the world’s stage for all of time and eternity in 9 months flat. I wonder what her plans were. I wonder what her hobbies and interests would have been. I wonder what she was good at and what she thought her purpose on earth was all about. I’m sure at no point in her young life did she ever think I’m going to become the vessel of God and through me the salvation of the world is going to come to earth. People will sing songs about me and wear bathrobes to pretend to be me for future millenniums. It probably would have come off as a little cocky if she did. Christmas. God chose places and people outside of the world’s focus to tell his story and celebrate his arrival. Christmas. A night time setting, a small town overloaded with weary travelers, an overcrowded Inn, one forgotten couple, and the birth of a child. No phones, No internet, No cameras, No attention paid by the general public, yet here we are 2 millenniums later talking about Bethlehem, Mary, and Christmas.

Enter Jesus. Grace and truth in one long and wonderful embrace. The glory of God in touchable form. The adoration of angels and all created things. Mercy and Justice stirred into one sip. Incorruptible and Eternal Deity perfectly mixed with corruptible and temporal humanity. Enter Jesus. Leaving glory, adoration, and the comfort of home to enter a manger in a small, insignificant place to be held by common hands. To redeem places and people long sense forgotten. To bring purpose far beyond imagination. Enter Jesus. To leave the splendor of heaven’s gates to knock on our front door. To fill common, ordinary lives, with eternal and extraordinary purpose. Enter Jesus. Born in Bethlehem, killed in Jerusalem, and now seated in glory. Enter Jesus. Not just to temples, palaces, and castles, but to Bethlehem. Enter Jesus, not just to the royal, elite, or famous, but to Mary. Enter Jesus. Into every place, into every home, and into every life. Bringing hope, bringing joy, bringing eternal purpose. So we say, welcome Jesus. Welcome to our world, welcome to our home, and welcome to our life. We echo the song of angels, singing, Peace on earth and goodwill toward all men.