The world – and especially our country – are in a time of upheaval and social change that create numerous challenges for Christians. The primary question is: how do we live as faithful disciples in regard to engaging this chaotic, often painful culture? Some will say the culture is beyond redemption and thus we should reject it altogether. Others say that we should accommodate and assimilate, to essentially give in. Neither of those is the Biblical, faithful answer. Paul shows us the way in 2 Cor 5:17-20 when he reveals our call as "ambassadors", those literally sent to a foreign land bringing a message "from the sovereign" or King. Like it or not, this world is not our true home. We should feel oddly dislocated while living here as "aliens and strangers." (1 Peter 2). However, living as exiles in a foreign land is nothing unusual in Scripture or Christian history. Living in God's story between Easter and the fulfillment of Easter's ultimate promise is our current situation, so we live in this "foreign land" as ambassadors who bring the message of reconciliation, hope, and forgiveness from the Father. How cool is that? Instead of living like aliens, frustrated by the things we miss about home, we live as ambassadors. We live in the foreign land ON PURPOSE. And while there, we enjoy the "embassy" – Christ's Church – where we experience the blessings of home - we share in the common language of Scripture, we enjoy our favorite meal with bread and cup, and we remember the history and traditions of our people as we gather in worship. Plus, unlike earthly embassies, the King is always in residence. So let's stop living like aliens and strangers and embrace our call from the King to live as ambassadors in this chaotic, mixed up world.Read More
Somewhere along the way in our Christian journey, we can easily learn the false notion that one's relationship with God should protect us from hardship or harm. This spills over into the non-Christian world such that when bad things do happen, the non-Christian will ask, "How can you say your God is good? If He was good, He would never allow X to happen." God's goodness is not based on the circumstances of our lives. As Psalm 136 declares, HIs goodness is grounded in the enduring nature of HIs love. He never lets us go, even to the point of personal suffering and death. His goodness is also born of HIs sovereignty. God is the creator and sustainer of the universe. As such, He alone knows what is and is not truly good, and we are in no way privy to what He knows. Thus, we trust in His sovereign goodness. That goodness is also revealed in the how He has redeemed us. Romans 5:8 "While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." We did not merit his love, yet He gave it anyway. This is the heart of goodness. Too often I hear, "Well if God was good, He would have done something to stop X." People, He ALREADY HAS done something. It's called the cross. He died and rose so that nothing in this world will ever triumph over us. Indeed, the old adage is true: God is good all the time; all the time God is good.Read More
In the wake of Easter, it's empty tomb and it's King revealed, we are left to answer significant questions. If Jesus Christ is King and His Kingdom has come, then what is my response? How does my life change in light of that? The answer, in part, is found in Mark 1 when Jesus calls His first disciples. It is initially a call to repentance. Jesus says the "Kingdom is near", so repent – literally "turn away from" – what we are currently doing and turn towards the living God. Often, we think that means we must turn away from what we enjoy. We have to turn away from the fun. False. We are turning towards LIFE - towards the very thing we are seeking – towards a God of grace and hope and love. What could be better than that? However, in order to do that, what did the disciples have to do? They had to drop their nets. They had to let go of what was in their hands - be willing to give up job and family and comfort and all that it entailed – to follow a man who hadn't even revealed where he was leading them! Even so, they left "without delay" and went "all in." Therein lies the key. You can't learn to swim and get a little bit wet. It's only when we go all in to become fully devoted followers of Jesus that we lay hold of the life He has called us to know. So, what's in your hand? What's impeding you from fully committing yourself to follow Christ? Whatever it is, drop it. Trust the One who calls you, for He has been revealed at Easter as Lord and King of all.Read More
Wedged between the agony of Friday's cross and the glorious hope of Sunday's resurrection is the seldom mentioned in between day: Saturday. It's not something we want to talk about much because it's not a pleasant day. Matthew 27 tells us that soldiers went to guard the tomb and seal it, but that's it. It's a day filled with darkness and fear and unknowns. It's a day of mystery and doubt and deep sadness. No one knows what will happen, so it's long and it's hard, and in the end, I find it's where we tend to live most our lives. We live in between the atoning sacrifice of Christ which reconciles us to the Father and the glorious fulfillment of what the resurrection means. In between lies Saturday where we encounter real life: mysteries and questions and hatred and violence and evil and events we simply do not understand – everything seems dim, shrouded, veiled. Yet it is in the darkness of Saturday that we learn to form words we have never spoken because, on Saturday, nothing else can help us – not our jobs or our money or our address or our appearance or our wine or our friends or even our spouse. The darkness of Saturday teaches us how desperately we need God, and in that darkness, we form the words to express it. God actually created the darkness because we need it. We need it to know we need Him. Thankfully, Psalm 139 reminds us that "the darkness is as light to you." We can't see in the darkness, but He can, and it is His voice that will guide us out. Thus, no matter what we may be enduring today, we need to be drawing close to the Good Shepherd, so that when we find ourselves in the darkness, we will know the Voice that will lead us home (John 10). Don't rush to Sunday. Linger in the reality of Saturday. Those who know the darkness rejoice all the more at the dawning of the light.Read More
"So, why do you guys do Lent? I thought that was a Catholic thing." I am asked that question a lot this time of year. Actually, the season of Lent is not just a Catholic thing, but is part of a larger liturgical calendar in which churches can remember the significant, foundational events that ground our theology and doctrine. Lent, for example, mirrors what happens in the gospels. Each gospel slows and elongates during the last week of Jesus' life with those six days making up one third of the gospel's content. Thus, our church spends the six weeks before Easter (Lent) talking about what took place in that one week. Why? Unless you grasp what happened during Lent, Easter will never be more than a nice day to dress up with your family and have brunch. It will never change you. It will never stir joy, because you have not seen the darkness before it. You have not witnessed the suffering and sacrifice nor your cupability in it. However, when you walk through the darkness of Lent and fathom its reality, the innocent man who is tried and falsely accused, the One who takes what we deserved, then the dawning of Easter morning will fill your heart and nourish your soul forever. As I will share this Sunday, we have to know the darkness of Holy Saturday before the glory of Easter morning transforms our hearts, our minds, and our world.Read More
From our earliest days, we learn who is good and who is bad. Batman is good. The Joker is bad. The Cowboys are good. The Giants are bad. The Israelites were good. The Philistines were bad. And right there at the top of the "bad" rankings is the undisputed #1 bad guy: Judas. He provides us nice cover as no matter how messed up we may be, we can always say, "Well, at least I'm not THAT bad." However, as I have studied Matthew 26 and the kiss of betrayal, I find that Judas is actually just like the rest of us. He was not the only disciple to betray Jesus. They all did, and so do we. It's hard to hear, but it's true. The words of Jars of Clay echo in my head: "Can I be the one to grip the spear and watch the blood and water flow?" I can. I do. Like Judas' kiss, I betray my relationship with Jesus and seize authority for myself, neglecting the very nature of the sacrifices He has made to ensure our relationship endures. The only question that remains is this: how will I respond? Judas could not imagine that God's grace could extend even to His betrayal, so he took his own life in the face of his personal darkness. Peter, however, betrayed Jesus just as fiercely, but trusted that God's grace could cover him. Thus, he is asked by Jesus three times, "Do you love me?" And Peter answered, "Yes, Lord" to all three. So Jesus restored him saying, "Feed my sheep." We must honestly confront the nature of our darkened hearts, but the hope of the gospel is that God's grace IS sufficient, and that He can use even broken vessels like us.Read More
The old story about the frog and the kettle (while oddly creepy) is a good analogy for how the enemy tends to move in both our world and our lives. No big announcements. No quick movements. Just a slow, crafty, gradual descent. As Lewis wrote, "the surest road to hell is the gradual one - the gentle slope, soft underfoot…" It was that strategy by which the religious leaders plotted to kill Jesus. Mark 14:1 says, "They were looking for a sly way…" And why? Power. Authority. The religious leaders could not keep their power without getting rid of Jesus, and neither can we. We live in an age of individualism and personal freedom, a culture that cannot abide by any authority larger than its own. We have been told we must be free to form our own truth which means there is no higher authority than my own. It is the road descending with a gentle slope, and we are witnessing the grim fruit being born as a result. It's hard to admit, but like the religious leaders, I am also trying to take the life of Jesus in my own heart. I still want to do what I want to do. I plot. I plan. I rationalize. Though God has prescribed a certain order to life, we sometimes disagree with it, and because we think our own way perfectly acceptable, we do what we want. We essentially believe God cannot be any wiser than we are. How foolish and arrogant. We are children who cannot fathom why it is not acceptable to eat candy for dinner. We simply don't know what our Father knows. The path of life is found in yielding our power to the only One worthy to hold it. So, where have the cunning, sly ways of the enemy encroached into your life? As you still struggle to have YOUR way, where might you be plotting to overthrow the life of Jesus in you?Read More
Typically in Florida, the weatherman announces a hurricane is coming and the response is a collective, "Yawn." We just don't do much to get ready, but with few exceptions, that seems to be our approach in life. We live in such a hurry that thoughtful preparation is not high on our list, and that's certainly true spiritually. In Mark 13, before Jesus even leaves the first time, He tells the disciples that there are things they need to prepare for before he comes the SECOND time. He tells us that certain things are on the way well before He comes, so "Get ready. Be on guard. Watch out!" Yet, we live as if we have all the time in the world. The truth is, we don't! Lives are at stake and Kingdom business is at hand. If we don't know when He's coming, then our task is to live with greater spiritual urgency. Such living is not a burden, but a blessing as we live with Kingdom purpose in every dimension of our lives. Further, when things get a little hairy, and they WILL, He says, "Don't be afraid or anxious. The Master is coming." We know the Master is both righteous and good, so when He comes, He will bring all things under HIs rule. Yes, we will have to wait, but we can live now with security and confidence, serving others as we seek to be a foretaste of His coming Kingdom.Read More
Some light reading on personal holiness, racism, education, social justice, gender issues and college athletics…
- ROSA PARKS: Small woman. Courageous heart. Changed our country by doing the unexpected. She sat instead of standing to give up her seat. When people act in unexpected ways, it makes us pause and think. It's exactly what Jesus did in Mark 11 as he entered the temple courts on the Monday before His death. We expect a gentle and kind Jesus, a Jesus who is meek and loving, but not one who would get upset and shout at people, yet that's exactly what He does. God will not be mocked. In the vast temple courts, Jesus stands against what had become culturally acceptable and He calls people back to righteousness. He turns over tables and declares before thousands "My house will be a house of prayer for all nations." Sweet, gentle Jesus turns into a whirling dervish of righteous anger and it challenges how we think about the nature of God. Here's the deal: if we have not yet obtained perfect holiness, should we not expect God to occasionally turn over some tables and "drive out" of our lives what ought not be there? We should - unless we have crafted a God in our image - one who always agrees with us and never acts in unexpected ways. Think about it: if our relationship with God is truly personal, and He wants to shape us into the image of Christ, then He is always going to tell us things we don't want to hear - things that convict us and challenge us. So, what is He trying to "drive out" of your life? How is He challenging what YOU think?
A young couple sat in my office a few months ago. They asked, "If you were at our stage in life, would you bring a child into this world?" They were looking at what the future held, and it didn't seem to be very hopeful. That's one of life's big questions: "What does the future hold?" Unfortunately, the cultural narrative can't answer it, but the Biblical story can, and it's a story that begins at the most significant moment in human history: the resurrection of Jesus Christ. If Jesus rose from the dead, then we are IMMORTAL. We never die. Not only that, but His resurrection points us to our future when we will live in our glorified bodies on a restored earth that also becomes the dwelling place of God. (Rev 21) THAT is the future, and like a child anticipating Christmas day, our knowledge of what is to come impacts how we live today. We become the instruments and agents of the life God has promised. We live each day as a foretaste of the life that is to come. When people bump into us, they don't get the entire meal, but a taste, of that marvelous gift, called hope. There IS a future, and it's glorious! And on those days when life is hard, our understanding of the future becomes the strength we need to endure. As Victor Frankl said after his time in a WWII prison camp, "He who has a why to live can bear almost any how." The Bible, the story of Jesus, gives us the why, so we can bear up under the challenges of this life. As the great hymn states, "Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow."Read More
Imagine you are living in the 16th century. For hundreds of years, people had believed that the earth was the center of the universe, but a guy named Copernicus shows up and mathematically proves that the earth was NOT the center, but the sun. Talk about a game changer. What's more, with the core premise now correct, other discoveries began to happen. For the first time, the math worked and new understandings of the world began to explode. Here's the deal: the same thing is true in our spiritual lives. If we don't get the center right – the core premise – then we'll never be able to answer the big questions in life. The math will never work. However, when we get that right, then true life opens to us. The Biblical story reveals that the center is Jesus Christ. From the Old Testament to the gospels to the rest of the New Testament, the story points to Jesus as its foundational main character. Everything revolves around him. Naturally, people today don't care much to hear that. We want to be the center. (Copernicus spent a lot of time in jail because people didn't like it then, either.) However, our call and that of the church is to continue to proclaim the apex of human history – its cornerstone – is Jesus. When we get that right, the rest falls into place.Read More
Money is often one of the biggest challenges in life. (1 Timothy 6:10) The cultural narrative we tend to believe says we form our identity based on consumption, and consumption is costly. We have been led to believe that our identity is defined by what we eat, where we live, what we drive, our hair style, our shoes, our laptop, our phone, our sunglasses and on it goes. With culture rapidly changing, we constantly have to consume to keep our identity trendy, cool, and therefore, worthy. Thus, money drives us or we lose our sense of self. The Biblical story is completely different. Our money, stuff, and things are gifts of God. We function as the stewards of His gifts to provide for ourselves while helping extend and grow His Kingdom, the primary instrument of which is His Church. Our identity is grounded in what God has done for us in Christ, so we are never in an existential crisis regardless of cultural trends or world events. We find this wonderful gift called security. Plus, we find freedom from having to always "keep up" or live up to the expectations of others. There's a reason Scripture talks about money more than any other subject: we NEED to hear it.Read More
- If you jump into a story in the middle, you will always be frustrated in trying to understand what is happening and why. You simply don't have all the information you need to answer the big questions. The same is true in life. The story of your life begins at God's creation in the beginning – and NOT in the middle – when you were born. However, when you go back to Creation and the Fall (Genesis 1-3), you will find the truth necessary to learn where you came from (a good and ordered God), why you are here (to be a co-creator in HIs ongoing Kingdom work), why the world is a mess (we want to be our own gods which break our relationship with God and others), and what God is actually doing to redeem and restore the world we see (empowering His Church by the Spirit to fulfill His purpose). What Adam and Eve failed to achieve in the original plan, the church is now fulfilling, being fruitful and multiplying His Kingdom. We work to restore the lost Shalom of Genesis 3 knowing that the story ends in the ultimate victory of Christ. It is a security-enriching truth that remains unknown… unless we go ALL the way back to the beginning.
As we struggle to live out of our true identity as the sons and daughter's of God, we face enormous cultural pressure to conform to a different pattern. In Romans 12:2, Paul acknowledges the challenge of NOT being pressed into the cultural model. It literally means that we are being crushed into a model that no longer resembles what we once were, no longer reflecting who God wants us to be. I wonder for me and for all of us, in what ways have we been pressed into the culture's form, a form we didn't necessarily want but have taken on nonetheless? It's a sobering thought, but Paul also gives us the key to transformation: in order to live out of our true identity (identity is not something we create, it is something given to us by God through Christ), we offer ourselves wholly to God as "living sacrifices", and then we use our minds to understand the full nature of that story. We are transformed by the "renewal of our minds." The more we know of God, the more we can ask questions of the culture that it cannot answer, the more we are able to internalize the depth of God's love for us. Our identity is located in the story of God's redemptive purpose in Christ, not the cultural house of cards that so often attracts us.Read More
As you think about your life, what is the story or narrative that you are living out of, the "context" that you use to explain what you see happening around you as well as your circumstances? As Alastair MacIntyre said, "You cannot answer the question 'What should I do?' Until I answer the question which precedes it: What story am I part of?" The problem is the our culture is feeding us numerous false stories, and when you live out of a false story, you have an incorrect understanding of life which leads to an avalanche of poor choices and unnecessary fears. The disciples on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24 were in exactly that place. Their lives were crumbling because they had started living out of the wrong story. They thought the story of Jesus was over, yet Jesus handles it beautifully. Verse 27 tells us, "Beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself." He patiently takes them aside and shows them once again how the Bible is God's story, the story of His plan to redeem and save it - and us – through Christ. Transformation happens when we reframe our stories into His story, one that explains who we are, why the world is a mess, the purpose of our lives, and what awaits us in the future.Read More
Today, we remember the life and legacy of a man whose dream for our country's future inspired us and moved us, a mesmerizing dream that became etched on our collective soul. King's vision was not merely about black and white, but his dream was about the coming Kingdom of God, a day when all would be drawn together as one. King's vision compelled us to action because of his willingness to OWN his vision. His speech became more than words because he laid down his life to achieve their content. Any compelling vision with the power to transform people can be achieved only as those who champion it's cause are willing to do the same. Such is the model of Christ. John 10:11–12 describes how Jesus has loved us as our shepherd, one who "owns" the sheep. The hired hand takes off because he's only in it for himself. The good shepherd, however, "lays down his life for the sheep." Jesus then calls us to love one another as He has loved us, which means we love one another sacrificially. We OWN His vision for the church, and for those of us at FPCO, that means we live into that vision not as hired hands, but loving and caring for each other and His Bride sacrificially and generously. That's the story we live in, the story of the Kingdom – not the story of "me."Read More
As the year turns to 2017, as we contend with more and more things that are false and phony, from photoshopped magazine covers to fake news, we crave what is real and authentic. This actually spills over into Christian faith because, let's face it, it's not that hard to fake. In this culture, you can go through the motions and learn the lingo and people will assume your faith is deep and rich when it's not. In my own life, I have found a good plumb line is my prayer life. When I am walking with God closely, when my heart is in the right place and I am living in tune with His will, my prayer life is solid. When I'm distant and worried about "me", it stinks. In Colossians 4:12, Epaphras was described as one who "wrestled in prayer" for the Colossian church so that they would be able to "stand firm, mature and be fully assured." Wow, do we ever need those three things, but we fail to pray because either we're not totally convinced it works, or we just don't care. You see, I think prayer is an act of love. Think about it . When do you pray intensely? When someone you love is in trouble. Yet Jesus says, "As I have loved you, so love one another." One of the ways we love the Church and love the community and love our city is to pray - and we pray out of love, adding to the authentic and deep expressions of our faith. Let's stop going through the motions. Let's love each other well and do more than just talk about prayer. Let's actually pray, one for another. #tryit #itworksRead More
"In Dante's 14th-century epic poem "Inferno," he embarks on a journey through hell guided by the Roman poet Virgil. At one point in his descent, he writes "Midway along the journey of our life I woke to find myself in a dark wood. ... the wood of wilderness, savage and stubborn." Reflecting on this past year in Central Florida as well as the United States, his words resonate in all of us. Collectively, it feels as if we have awakened in a dark wilderness, a place of hatred and inexplicable violence, a place of penetrating grief and profound sadness, a place of political bombast and racial division, a place that hardly reflects the "peace on Earth, good will towards all" message so commonly heard this time of year."
"While it may seem more out of reach than ever, peace is still what every human heart yearns for, peace that is not merely the "absence of war." We yearn for the Hebrew concept of shalom, a word which means "the overall well-being of a people or community; unity, harmony, wholeness."
"Standing in the dark abyss of grief during the Pulse remembrance gathering just weeks ago, the desire for shalom seemed to be the unspoken longing of those gathered. Every heart seemed to beat with the question, "Will we ever be whole again?"Read More
Perhaps the biggest question that people contend with in life is: What is my purpose? What am I doing here and is there anything I can take part in that will transcend the limited number of days I spend on this planet? The answer is given beautifully in the opening verses of John's gospel when he dispenses with the birth narratives of the other three gospels and gets to the heart of Jesus' identity as The Christ. He calls John the Baptist as his first "witness." John was "sent" on a mission to bear witness to the light of Life. That's it. There it is. Our purpose is not to be a great husband or mother or friend or businessperson or whatever – it is to bear witness to the Light of Christ as we engage in those things. Unfortunately, it seems the American Church of the 21st century has become so apathetic and self-absorbed that we are not living into the purpose for which God made us. It's no wonder we feel restless and discontent. We're not fulfilling our purpose! It's not about us; it's about Jesus – and as we courageously and faithfully serve our culture at the point of her need, we bear witness to that truth.Read More
"Non-complementary" behavior refers to what happens when we do not "mirror" the behavior we are expecting or receiving. Typically, if you are nice to me, I'll be nice to you and so on. When you break that pattern, psychologists say it shakes up the situation, often changing the outcome. This is the essence of Christian faith – and of Advent. God shakes up the world by coming not in cultural power but in absolute vulnerability. He also breaks the pattern in that EVERYONE (Gentiles in Luke 2 is literally "ethnos" in Greek – meaning every "ethnicity" is included in God's redemptive plan) is included, and they are included in something substantive. (Today, the notion of inclusivity is false. You can't be included in nothing. Our culture has removed everything that could be offensive to anyone, leaving nothing. The inclusivity of Christian faith is an invitation to what is concrete and substantive, grounded in the person and work of Jesus.). Further, let's remember Jesus was not a white guy. He was a middle-eastern man who lived as an ethnic minority, a Jew under the oppressive Roman rule. That ought to "shake up" how we see one another not as "separate from" based on worldly barriers, but "united with" based on Christ, our Lord. Love, not hate. Forgiveness, not condemnation. Generosity, not greed. Inclusion, not exclusion. It's the pattern-busting nature of Jesus, revealed at Advent.Read More