The Christmas Story – 2015

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It only happens once a year, but gratefully it happens every year. Consistently and faithfully this day becomes an anchor of our childhood, our family memories, and on a much larger scale, even our faith. This one day that is different than the other 364. It seems that nearly everything about our culture and society has shifted, but this one day has some how withstood the crushing avalanche of change. The times and seasons change. For instance, I haven’t noticed a fight over Cabbage Patch dolls this year or people being trampled by a mob in search of Tickle Me Elmo. The times and seasons change, but Christmas day is a tide of consistency. In fact, this one day in December now casts a long shadow all the way into the month of October. October seems a tad early for Christmas music, but I sometimes watch Christmas movies in July so who am I to judge. Here’s a spoiler alert for that Christmas movie you are going to watch, it’s going to snow and everything works out in the end. Our economy still very much revolves around this one day. Our retail stores depend on one Friday in November to put them in the black. We call it Black Friday. It should be noted that it’s only Black Friday for Gap and Banana Republic. It’s probably Red Friday for the consumers. It’s still a wonder to me that a sizable portion of the economy of one of the most powerful and wealthy nations the world has ever known revolves around the birth of a baby in a small city called Bethlehem 2000 years ago. It’s not just commerce, but even our calendar hinges on this one day. Vacations and trips are planned, parties and family gatherings are set in motion. The season struggles to contain all of the activity that we try to cram into it. It would sometimes seem easier to negotiate peace in the Middle East than to negotiate which side of the family gets the Grandkids on Christmas morning. I honestly don’t know how long this will last for our society in general. It seems like our culture tries to reject anything to do with God, even his birthday. Yet, this day still influences the world around us. We all still spend a little more than we should, rush a little more than we should, so that we can stop, at least for this one day. Stop to share gifts, stop to share family time, and stop just to reflect. This one day becomes a birthday party celebrated the world over. How powerful is that? An event that happened 2000 years ago is still shaping and influencing the world around us. So what happened on this one day that made it more marvelous than all others.

I would say it was Favor Found. It was Grace discovered in cloth and a manger. People tend to search for things, especially answers. And especially to answers to questions like is God good or bad or perhaps indifferent? It’s a question that has rolled through the ages like tumbleweed. The world seems harsh. People seem harsh at times. If you have ever read through the Old Testament you find a mix of a God that seems to be imploring people in love to obey him. Yet, unable or unwilling to follow the commands the people like clockwork go astray. On time and on schedule the judgment of God would arrive. It was severe and yes, it would be harsh. We watch it play out in a never ending circle in 39 books that make up the Old Testament. God loves, but God has rules, and God has judgment. People break the rules and disregard God and then the judgment comes. That judgment was harsh. But one day a new page starts. It’s different. It’s not the same and will never be the same. The circle is broken. There, lying in a manger under starry sky is the same God of fiery judgment and watery retribution. It’s the same, He’s the same, but yet not the same at all. In Bethlehem the harshness of a judgmental God has turned as soft as a baby’s bottom. The rigid justice of a God of rules and regulations became as tender as a new born’s lips that Mary probably kissed more than a few times. All of that judgment, all of that justice, all of that authority and power. It was wrapped up in 10 tiny toes and one little nose. Weak and vulnerable, completely dependent, and even fragile. A baby lies in a manger. Maybe the world is harsh, maybe people are harsh, but maybe God isn’t so harsh after all. One day a God thundering on a mountain that causes the earth to burn and tremble. This day, this one single, solitary day, a God who’s cries are only heard by a caring mother and some random livestock. Born to rule in grace, born to save in love, born to conquer death and our sin, but first a diaper change and a nap. Is God good or bad? Is he harsh or angry? We can easily see there is harshness in the world he created. The bad is evident all around us. But in the tenderness of his advent we see the heart of the God who loves us. Omnipotence became vulnerable just to help me find my strength. Sovereignty got scolded by a mother just so I could have peace even if I don’t have all of the answers. Omnipresence got held in a Father’s arms just so that I would know that I am never, never alone in this world. So we stop. Or at least we should. Because this day, this one day, is special. It’s Christmas. Our savior is born.
We aren’t alone. We aren’t neglected. We aren’t left in our sin waiting for judgment. Immanuel, God is with us, for us, over us, good to us, and faithful to us. We often want God to fit with in the perimeters of our own comfort. A God of judgment that punishes for sin doesn’t sit well with us. It may be uncomfortable and even challenging, but its the perfect truth of God. But it’s against this bleak backdrop of sin and judgment that God painted the portrait of his grace. We no longer have to fear him, run from him, or hide from him. The God that thundered from mountains, and was off limits to mortals, is now as approachable as a baby.

Disconnect to Reconnect

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Part of me believes the 24 hour news channels will be the undoing of our society. How can there be that much to talk about? The truth is there isn’t, so issues are created and then debated. Every day you can hear people arguing and debating about a different issue facing our country. I personally believe bare knuckle boxing would be a better way to settle these issues. After pummeling one another you could both hug and leave with a better appreciation for the other. I think I could make Tom Brokaw see things my way now that he’s gotten older and his right hook isn’t what it used to be. I’m all for discussion and I’m also for being an informed citizen. There are very real issues facing our society and our global community. However, do we really need 24 hours to discuss the real issues? Ultimately it seems to always end up with a “news anchor” in the center screen with a democrat and republican in their respective places arguing talking points that were agreed to by a think tank long before the segment was recorded. It’s just not genuine. We consume the talking points and then march to social media to express our opinions, which very surprisingly is shared by some and not shared by others. Who knew that people would have varying opinions? Think about this for a moment if you will. Twenty four hours a day. 24 hours. That would be a big 2 and 4. The news cycles, the social media scrolls. Opinion, debate, issue after issue rolls like waves constant and consistent. Then we wonder why we feel overwhelmed, anxious, and maybe even depressed. There is a tremendous amount of wisdom in the ancient, biblical principle of the Sabbath. I realize that it was a day of no work to honor God, but I believe the principle can be expanded. The Sabbath was a strategic, scheduled, and much needed rest. I really believe having a strategic plan and scheduling a break from all news and social media could help save your soul. Not turning a blind eye to the issues that we are dealing with. Not being uninformed and living in blissful ignorance. Just a scheduled time to disconnect from the exhausting debate to reconnect with something that will restore your soul.

1. Disconnect to Reconnect with God

When was the last time you spent time in the presence of God? A time to not just submit a list of needs or power through a few verses, but time to sit and listen. Sitting still long enough for the typical mind waves to become smaller ripples. Being quiet enough that the voices of tv, radio, and social media grow more and more distant until they are silent. Somewhere beyond all of those voices is the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit. Speaking life, speaking dreams, speaking hope. Your soul will be restored when you hear that voice. But you will never hear it while the voices of the republican/democrat debate roar in your mind. Disconnect to reconnect.

2. Disconnect to Reconnect with your spouse

There is a sweet little thing in very close proximity to you. Yes, your husband may not be Chuck Norris, but go spend time with him anyway. My wife and I don’t always have it in the budget to do an expensive dinner or night out. Coffee is cheap, so is ice cream and they are both pretty good. We enjoy getting to drink coffee together and then strolling through stores or along the beach. No, it’s not fair that we have a local beach and others don’t, but life is rough sometimes. The point is that you don’t have to spend a lot of money to spend time together. Not only will it be good for your marriage it will be good for your soul.

3. Disconnect to Reconnect with your kids

When was the last time you let your kids set the agenda for the night? Here are the rules, we can do anything (within reason) that you want to do as long as it doesn’t involve TV, IPad, or Kindle. This is usually where they say let’s go to Disney, and I remind them of the “within reason” rule. Usually it ends up as a game night, a bike ride night, or a trip to the park. On a recent evening we were walking back from our local park. The sun was low so the rays were streaming sideways through the trees. The beams illuminating the dancing particles in the air creating a heavenly backdrop for our lives. I fell a little bit behind so I could watch my son and daughter walk ahead of me. I loved them more. Appreciated them more deeply. It’s amazing how Fox News, CNN, and Facebook doesn’t help with that.

4. Disconnect to Reconnect with a friend

Don’t forget to be relational. We say things on social media we would never say to a person if they were sitting across a table from us. For one reason it would be weird to respond to a joke with ROFL. Your friend says something funny, you look back across the table with a straight face and say, “LOL.” Never underestimate the power of spending time with a friend. Talk about God, talk about church, talk about family, talk about life, heck, even talk politics if you want to. The point is to disconnect from the disingenuous and connect with real, authentic relationships.

These things are all good for your soul. They disconnect you from the wired world, but that doesn’t just typically occur. Develop a strategy for life that disconnects you from what drains you, and reconnect to what restores you.

As Clear as a Picture

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It’s only two pieces of wood. One vertical, and one horizontal. Many other signs, symbols, and images have portrayed a message. None of those however carry the significance of two pieces of wood that form a simple cross. The power of the message conveyed in one simple icon connects with the hearts of people from every generation, culture, nationality, and race. Regardless of where you are in the world, when you see the cross, you see the icon of God’s unconditional love. It’s simple yet significant. The significance isn’t in the two pieces of wood or the icon, its the body of our Lord Jesus Christ which was hung on them. The power is in the blood that stained them. Paul told the church at Galatia that the message of Jesus death on the cross was proclaimed to them just as clear as if they had seen a picture. When we see the cross we see very clearly the picture of what God has richly provided for us. We see a picture of our salvation, a picture of our healing, a picture of our redemption, and a picture of our freedom to be blessed. It’s Good Friday. Today we look to the cross and see the picture of perfect love. We see the picture of selfless sacrifice. We see the picture of Jesus death on a cross, so that we can have abundant and eternal life. Today, all over the world, business and organizations are trying to use an image to convey their message. No image will ever be more powerful, more universal, and more significant than the cross. When I see the cross, the story is clear, the picture is perfect, God loves me.

Happy Good Friday and a very Happy Easter to you and yours.

Do I Put God First?

I have a sneaking suspicion that most of us give less than we think and spend more than we realize. When you scrutinize a budget it’s amazing how the numbers sometimes tell a completely different story than you would think.

Compare the money spent at the following places any given month versus how much you give to support the work of Jesus Christ:

Restaurants, Coffee, and Soda – Tithes and Offerings = Whether or not I prioritize eating out over the House of God

Movie Theaters, Netflix, Red Box, Gamefly, DVDs/CDs – Tithes and Offerings = Whether or not I prioritize entertainment over the mission of Jesus Christ

Shoes, Shirts, Jeans, and Accessories – Tithes/Offerings = Whether or not I prioritize how I look over the kingdom of God.

Most of us would proudly quote the scripture about seeking God’s kingdom first, and all of these other things would be added to us, but I wonder if our budget would confirm this. The point of this blog isn’t that all of these “other things” are to be avoided. It’s to ask the question are these things “added” after we have sought the kingdom of God first, or are the “other things” taking priority in our lives?

Now add up the money spent at:

Restaurants, Coffee Shops, Soda’s purchased at Convenience Stores, Movie Theaters, Netflix, Redbox, Gamefly, DVDs/CDs, Shoes, Shirts, Jeans, and Accessories

Compare to:

Tithes and Offerings

Still think you can’t afford to give?

I’m Insecure about My Insecurities (This title probably isn’t any good)

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I’m so insecure, I am insecure about writing a blog about insecurity. Over the years I’ve learned to mask my insecurity with humor. At my church, CoastLife Church, I even have developed a humorous persona of being overly confident in my speaking abilities. It usually generates a lot of laughs when I refer to what an incredible preacher I am. I often mention my rugged sex appeal for good measure.

I’m not for sure what generated the insecurities in my life. I had a great childhood and a wonderful family. My family never talked down to me or attempted to make me feel inferior. However, I was extremely shy as a kid and I am by nature an introvert. The shyness and the introverted nature grew to almost paralyzing insecurity. It’s cost me in my life. People that I could have built relationships with, but the insecurity said don’t call them they don’t want to hear from you. Other opportunities get passed by because of the negativity and doubt that cause you not to take action.

It has always been a personal and private battle for me. It was only personal until the point that my church began to grow. The growth of my dreams and vision were quickly met by the saboteur of my own insecurities. Those same paralyzing insecurities began to arise to cause me not to trust people, not to trust myself, and began plaguing me with negativity and doubt. Causing me to feel like I was in over my head, that I was in way above my ability, and that everything I had worked hard for would suddenly be swept out from under me. At that point I decided that it would no longer be personal and private. There is to much at stake for me to allow my own insecurities to be the limiting factor of the growth of a church of Jesus Christ. I am a good enough preacher and sexy enough to know that unchecked insecurity will limit what God can do in me and through me.

Insecurity in its simplest form is the enemy of faith and trust. God cannot work in our lives while we are filled with “insecurity,” which is really translated as doubt, worry, and distrust of the goodness of God. Here are 3 things that I have been doing to help overcome insecurity and be what God has called me to be:

1. Do Battle: Challenge every thought no matter how small. Spiritual warfare isn’t as much about weird people in prayer rooms as it is about mind renewal. Paul said spiritual warfare was taking every thought captive and submitting obedient to Christ. Do battle, take every negative thought captive and renew it with the Word of God.

2. Isolate Your Insecurity: I have found the more I hang around insecure people the more I become insecure. Insecurity breeds insecurity. When I hang around secure and confident people I feed off of their confidence. We tend to gravitate toward people who are like us. This doesn’t work if you are battling insecurity. Being drawn to insecure people will only feed the beast of your insecurities. Be intentional about surrounding yourself, no matter how uncomfortable it may feel at first, with people who can encourage you to grow in confidence.

3. Grow in Faith: Insecurity happens when I put more trust in myself than I do in God. If my faith is in myself then I have a good reason to be insecure. I know me and I don’t inspire a lot of trust in myself. However, when I place my faith in God, He is faithful and trustworthy. If I can grow in my understanding of the goodness of God, His love for me, and His plans for me it begins to build my faith. I personally have been listening to more preaching than I ever have in my 36 years. I constantly need to be challenged by the Word of God in order to grow in my faith and be all that God has called me to be.

I’m Glad You Left the Religious Organization, but…

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For several years now there has been a trend in christianity of breaking free from religious bondage. Christian’s are leaving stuffy, traditional, and highly religious churches for more dynamic and grace filled churches. Pastors and church leaders are leaving traditional denominations and organizations to break free and build modern, life giving churches. One of the best decisions I have made in recent years was to leave an organization. It was obvious the organization that I was licensed with and the direction God was leading me were at opposite ends of the spectrum. I broke free from the organization that was bound with rules, restrictions, and lifeless traditions in order to build a life giving, life changing church. Perhaps that’s your story as well. You are a christian who has left a lifeless and religiously bound church, or you are a Pastor who has broken free from a denomination or organization. I’m glad your free.

However, I’ve noticed another trend. It’s a trend to not connect, not belong, and keep my options open. Some christians have multiple churches without being committed to one. Some Pastors play the field of ministerial fellowships, church networks, and other groups. Young Pastors and Church Planters are the en vogue group right now. In the church world they are the prettiest girls at the dance and have multiple groups who are courting them for a chance to give them a spin around the floor. I’m glad your free, but I also believe the keys to healthy Christians and healthy Churches are things like commitment, loyalty, and faithfulness. When I disconnected from the organization it took a little while to figure out where God was leading me and who I should connect with. I get it. You need some time to figure out who you are now and what’s next for you, but at some point you are going to need to connect and commit. For me, I connected with Destiny Ministerial Network and the Association of Related Churches known as ARC. When people ask I describe it this way, Destiny is my family and ARC is my business. Destiny is where I go to know and be known. ARC is where I go to learn how to implement structure and strategy to improve our greeters, ushers, and parking team. I learn things from the resources that ARC provides and then I bring it home to discuss it with my Destiny family. Generally I give around 4% of our churches total revenue to Destiny. They helped us start and I want to support them and be faithful in giving to them. We give to ARC as well. I have friends in many other networks and fellowships and I love them all, but I can only be committed, loyal, and faithful to a few things. I chose to connect to those two things. What about you? I’m glad you broke free from a lifeless church, but what church do you call home now? Pastor or Church Leader, I’m glad your out of the organization and you feel like the prettiest girl at the dance, but who have you connected to. I’m glad your free, but healthy Christians and healthy Churches understand that God blesses loyalty, faithfulness, and commitment. You will need to choose a church. You will need to choose a spiritual covering. You will need to be submitted to spiritual leadership. As Pastors are we preaching loyalty, faithfulness, and commitment to others and not practicing it ourselves? I’m glad your free, but loyalty, faithfulness, and commitment are still keys to the kingdom.

Here are 3 questions to ask yourself about faithfulness?

1. Who am I tithing to? Every church and every christian should be faithful in tithing to their spiritual leadership. If every christian and every church tithed, there would be no lack in the church today.

2. Who am I open to? Who has the ability to speak into my life? Every believer and every church should have godly and trustworthy leadership and be submitted to it. God has spiritual government and submission is the key to power in the kingdom.

3. Who am I doing life with? Who am I committed to stay connected with through the highs and lows of life? It’s about relationships. Be in committed relationships and you will see them grow and bless you. Find a church, find a network, find a fellowship and stay connected in the good times and bad.

If I were the Devil

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If I were the devil and knew the greatest threat to my kingdom was a thriving church, what strategy would I utilize? Among my daily chores such as shining my horns and polishing my pitchfork I would also work to undermine the church. Being the OG of lying and the Father of Deception here are some ways I would subtly undermine the church:

1. I would convince modern believers that greed was grace and giving was legalism.

I would use my deceptive deceptiveness to convince, especially the American believers, that being a New Testament believer alleviated them from giving. I would ensure the church was under resourced in the modern world by convincing the most prosperous believers in one of the most prosperous nations of all time that they were “freed” from giving. I would convince them that making Jesus first in their life by tithing of their income was legalism. I would deceive them by having them not realize the only thing they were freed from by not giving was the Lordship of Jesus Christ, the blessing of being a giver, and the eternal reward of sowing into an everlasting kingdom.

2. I would convince modern believers to turn The City on a Hill into a candle in a closet

Perhaps one of my crowning deceptions, I would convince many to deem large, growing churches to be from me and not God. I would convince a church that has complete freedom to grow and thrive to think smaller and have less faith than their persecuted predecessors. Instead of building large, influential churches that would be a beacon of light to the world. I would convince believers that small churches were somehow better, that growth and “numbers” were carnal, and that success meant churches had missed the mark. I would convince believers that having small meetings where everyone got to share a “word” was more important than having church services that evangelized the lost. Billy Graham was way off the mark with those crusades, so was Oral Roberts, Greg Laurie, and Joel Osteen is my direct offspring.

3. I would convince modern believers to allow the abuse of a few to undermine the authority of a cohesive congregation

Never mind the fact that Paul submitted his ministry to the church. Forget about the fact that Peter was submitted to the church. Turn a blind eye to the fact that Jesus said that relational issues were to be submitted to the church. Ignore the fact that Paul elevated the church above even the judicial system for believers in matters of civil disagreement. I would create a culture of consumerism by allowing honor, faithfulness, devotion, and respect for Church government to diminish in the light of self-seeking and self-interest. Hey, your all kings and priests, certainly those terms have no founding in government and order and were intended to lead to a fragmented body of individuals instead of a strong unified corporate entity.

I would also convince readers of this blog to take it more seriously than they should. In addition, I would cause them to think the writer intended for it to be a comprehensive list. I’m deceptive that way.