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.

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.

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.

The Offense of the Cross

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The truth hurts or so I’ve been told. It’s such a common saying that some may even mistakenly think that it has a scriptural basis. I guess the truth did hurt. It hurt Jesus when He laid down all of His righteousness in order to take on all of our sin. The truth is that I am a sinner and needed a Savior. The truth is that Jesus took all of my sin and gave me His righteousness. The truth did hurt, it hurt more than we will ever know.

However, in communicating biblical truth and teaching the revelation of Jesus Christ it seems that some feel the need to be offensive with the Gospel. Not realizing that it is not us that should be offensive, but the Gospel itself. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 9 talked about presenting the Gospel in a way that made it easy for people to relate to. The early church fathers in the first council of leaders determined, “we should not make it difficult for the gentiles who are turning to Christ” in Acts 15. The cross is offensive in itself. It says that I am so bad that a perfect person had to be slaughtered on my behalf and could/can do nothing to save myself. Jesus is in scripture is called the stumbling block. He is the only way of salvation. There is no other name given that has the power to save us. In preaching and creating worship services my main goal is not to be an offense or stumbling block before people have had a chance to get to the cross and the decision concerning Jesus Christ.

Here are few things to think about in communicating the truth of Jesus Christ:

1. The Cross is an offense so I don’t have to be (I don’t want arrogance, pride, or a negative attitude to offend people before they have ever had a chance to make it to the cross of Calvary)

2. Jesus is a stumbling block so I don’t have to be (I don’t want my method to trip people before they have ever had a chance to really make a decision about Jesus Christ)

3. I want to find the most effective and current way to relate the message of the cross and Jesus Christ

4. I don’t want to make it difficult for people who are turning to Christ (Jesus accused the Pharisee’s of entering the kingdom of God and locking the door behind them by adding difficult rules and regulations)

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.