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Evergreen Pastors' Blog

A Collaborative Blog About Life

Doing Too Much Will Never Be Enough

Brent Colby

I have good news for you: doing too much will never be enough.  We try to improve the qualities of our lives by working harder. If you are not good at reading your Bible, then you schedule morning devotions. If you are bad at serving, then you volunteer at the food bank. If your marriage is struggling, then you register for a seminar. But doing more does not make us better people.

Our culture places great value on hard work. We draw straight lines between business and productivity. But does this work when we are trying to improve the quality of our soul? Can we become better followers of Jesus by booking more Jesus-activities?

God is less worried about the work that you do than the person that you are. People often ponder the relationship between our actions and our character. Does being Christian cause us to do Christin things? Or does doing Christian things cause us to be Christian. The answer to this question: yes. Our being and doing have a profound impact on each other. But don’t get twisted, the character of your heart is the primary concern of God.

I give you permission to stop stressing out about doing enough “Christian” things. The ancient poets remind you to, “take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4). You can’t work your way into God’s good graces. And you can’t build trust by taking more things into your hands. Make your shining accomplishment the ability to constantly love the things that God loves. And remember: doing too much will never be enough.

"How Are You Doing?"

Tom Milner

“FINE.”

In Pastoral Care, I hear this word used often when I ask someone, “How are you doing?” At times I find this perplexing, especially when I am with them in the ER, or visiting them in the hospital awaiting surgery, or struggling with a deep personal issue. On the flip side, I also hear this word used a lot in everyday passing. We say, “How are you doing?” to start off conversation. I just finished reading a book on Pastoral Care. One of the chapters is called, “Creating a Safe Place.” This chapter talks about how we spend time creating a safe place when we are hurting, and the high cost it takes. For the one who is hurting or struggling, it takes a lot of energy to hide those feelings and to put on a “happy face.”


It got me to thinking and reflecting: How often do I ask people in passing, “How are you doing?” And how often is the response I get, “Fine?”


I decided to do a survey myself and see how true this was. Over the last month, I have stood in our church hallways, observed in our classes, and listened to people talk to each other. I heard them ask each other, “How are you doing?” and the overall response I heard back was, “Fine.” What is surprising and amazing is that I know these people, and I know what they are going through.


When people respond politely to questions like, “How are you doing?” or “How’s it going?” I can only imagine how many are actually wondering, “Do they really care? Are they really interested in what is going on in my life?” They might say, “Fine” out loud, but they are thinking, “You really don’t care,” “You don’t have the time to really listen,” or “You are not interested.” These are just a few of the real thoughts that go through their heads.


My intent is not to sadden you, or get you to stop asking people in your traffic pattern, “How are you doing?”. You have it within your power to create a safe place for those who are hurting and suffering, whether it is physically, emotionally or spiritually.


As I said earlier, hiding feelings takes a lot of energy, more energy than it takes to be straightforward. Hurting people don’t have a lot of energy, because they are spending their energy coping with the circumstances and pain. In the end, hurting people just tell you what you want to hear.


My encouragement to you is this: Don’t stop asking people, “How are you doing?” especially those you know who are doing great, that is just being friendly. However, to those you know who are struggling and hurting, ask them, “Have you had anything good happen to you this week?”. Ask in a way that shows them by your voice inflection and body language, that you really want to know, and are prepared to spend some time with them talking and praying over them and their circumstances.


Our ability to take the bad news as well as the good is such a gift to a suffering individual. This openness gives the suffering permission to be honest, to share freely and save valuable energy. Sharing openly and honestly about being “not so fine” can actually be energizing.


1 Thessalonians 5:11 tells us: “Therefore let us encourage one another and build each of up.” I would also add to pray for each other.


In His service,

Tom


The Most Important Thing In Your Life

Jim Ladd

What if there was one thing that had the power to calibrate every other thing in your life? One thing that, if you got this right, would drive, empower and produce everything about you in the right direction? Maybe not a silver bullet, but rather the secret sauce that made everything about you to be powerful and attractive?


Turns out there is. And not only does its presence in you align everything else, but its absence is more defining than any other positive, beautiful, or powerful thing in your life.


“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)


According to God’s Word, if I don’t have love, I am nothing, I gain nothing, and I have nothing to say.


Love truly is powerful and defining. It defines the kind of person we are, the kind of relationships we will have, and the value we will add to the world. It reveals God.


What is love? Well, love is primarily a decision that creates an action for the good of another person. Just try to practice making these decisions and see where they lead your actions today.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” (vv4-8a)


We are most like God when we love like God.


Seeing Through the Routine

Kyle Wisdom

But Peter said, “I do not possess silver and gold, but what I do have I Give to you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene—walk!”

 

Scripture: Acts 3:1-10

 

Routines. They aren’t bad as they provide practical ways for us to plan our day and navigate our often-cumbersome schedules with a little less stress and a little more ease.

 

Most of us probably take the same paths to work, stop at the same places for coffee or breakfast, get up at the same time, you name it. I am sure as soon as you read the word routine that you started thinking about things that are part of your daily path.

 

My mornings are fairly routine, to the point that the employees at the place I stop to grab ice water and a quick bite to eat all know me by name!

 

Again, nothing wrong with routines like that, however, what could we be missing in our routines? Perhaps we get so used to the same thing every day that we may not see opportunities that are staring us in the face!

 

Here, in Acts 3, we see our friends Peter and John doing something they did all the time, it was the king of routines. Jews and devout Gentiles went to the temple daily to pray. This was a common practice and took place 3 times a day: 9 AM, 3 PM and sunset. This specific occurrence was 3 PM. #routine

 

There was a man that was never able to use his legs, ever. This man was carried EVERY DAY to the temple gate. #routine

 

As people went to the temple, the majority of people preferred to go through the gate called Beautiful. People like this man caught on and realized they could sit there and ask for money because the Jews are constantly walking past it to go pray. Lucky for these beggars, Jews thought it was an act of praise to give money to them, so they cashed in!

 

Now, that really only works when the people passing by have money to give. Peter and John, they didn’t have that to offer.

 

What we have here are two people whose daily routines are intersecting. They probably passed by each other multiple times! They probably both focused so much on their daily routine that they didn’t think much of what else was going on around them. It wasn’t new for Peter and John to be going to pray at the temple and it wasn’t new for this man to be begging for money. It probably wasn’t new that they would pass by each other either.

 

The beautiful thing that takes place here is that Peter and John yielded to the Holy Spirit here and used the routine as an opportunity to bring the miraculous to the mundane/ordinary. They had no money to offer but offered something far greater: the use of his legs (and ultimately, gave them a powerful, personal experience with God)! Peter said “In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene—walk!”.

 

What a powerful moment! What’s greater is the way the man responded. He didn’t grab a railing or ask people to help him up to see if he could walk, no, HE LEAPT! Not only did he jump to his feet but he jumped up and leapt around praising God!

 

And ALL the people saw him walking and praising God. Since he was there every day being carried in, most everyone knew who he was! To see him walking, jumping and giving all the glory and credit to God, what a testimony!

 

So, I will end this with a simple question: How does God want to use what you may write off as just an ordinary part of your day or perhaps just a necessary path to get where you really want to go to bring something greater to the world around you? This man being healed was only a fraction of the miracle here! The most amazing part of it all is that he praised God and revealed God’s glory, power and goodness to those around him!

 

Therefore, let us live ready to yield to God’s guidance throughout every part of our lives, even the parts that we may just think of as mundane and ordinary, because God can do amazing things at any time!

Transitions

John Osborne

Throughout our lives all of us face transitions.  Some are easier to handle than others, but each one comes with unique challenges.  I can remember when I went from 6th grade to junior high. My friends changed, hormones changed, interests changed and it was a trying time.  I can remember when my grandma placed herself into the nursing home. We could not stop at grandma’s house anymore and every time we drove by a touch of sadness came into my heart.

 

Often times, we can try and prepare ourselves mentally, emotionally, or even financially for such transitions.  We may know a certain stage in life is coming or a move is in the making, but there are those changes, such as the loss of a job, a divorce, or the loss of our health that can catch us off guard.   These and others can be unsettling, even scary.

 

So how do we properly approach and handle them?  Will we walk in a fear that becomes debilitating?  Will we harbor anger or bitterness towards an individual, or perhaps even resentment towards God?  Do we find ourselves stuck and unable to move forward in life?

 

Here are just a few scriptures that can encourage and challenge us as we try to move forward.
 

“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its water roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.”

Psalm 46:1-3

 

“I lift my eyes to the hills – where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord the Maker of heaven and earth.”

Psalm 121:1-2

 

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”

Hebrews 13:8

 

Remember, all of us face change.  Nothing ever stays the same - only God!  He is The One constant in the midst of everything that you and I will ever face.  May we lean heavy and whole heartedly on Him during each and every transition.

Audacious Humility

Cyndi Pollard

Audacious Humility? When I first heard the expression I thought, “well that’s an oxymoron!”  However, after looking up definitions on these words I came to the deep conviction that I want to live my life with audacious humility. Because if I do, my dependence will be fully on Jesus and I will be unstoppable in Him.

 

When you look at the word audacious you see Mr. Webster describes it as showing a willingness to take a surprising bold risk; and kids I’m here to tell you that walking in humility is a risk; it means that you no longer believe that you are a self-made, hardworking, top of the food chain success and that you are free from pride and arrogance; instead you depend on your creator. This type of humility is grounded in the character of God. He stopped at nothing in humbling Himself, from the manger to the cross; giving grace to the humble and resisting the proud.  This is God, who became man for us.

Philippians 2:5-11 “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore, God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

 

To truly experience audacious humility, you must exhibit Jesus’ character which means that you don’t just act like Him, but you are like Him; He who demonstrates the most extravagant humility; He was God; He served the lowliest and willingly gave His life up on a criminal’s cross. We must emulate Christ’s example to truly understand this; we must lay our crowns at His feet as this is the realization that it is nothing that we did, but our creator who gave us the capability of using those gifts to do something great and successful. That is where credit is due and will keep us dependent and in a place of audacious humility.

 

Allow this type of humility to be the remedy to, “pride and arrogance, which comes before the fall.” And, then and only then will you be unstoppable. Philippians 2:3-8 “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus.”

 

“…an often-overlooked element that turns strength into genuine success is humility. Holding your power, whether physical, financial, intellectual, or political for the good of others, not personal gain. Embracing humility will radically transform your personal relationships, leadership abilities and professional dealings.”  John Dickens

 

I invite you to live this kind of life with me.

 

~Cyndi

I Could Never Do That...

Ashley Wambach

I’m late for church again. I am standing at the kids check-in desk scrolling through all four of my kids’ names and trying to match each one with the right classroom so that I can get them into kids church before the end of worship. Then I hear the statement “Your kids are so wonderful and what you’re doing is amazing, but I just couldn’t love a child and watch them leave...I would get too attached...I could never do that.”

As a foster parent I hear these comments often and usually when I’m not expecting it. I understand this fear because I live it. It is natural to avoid heartache and even more to avoid breaking the hearts of your own biological children if your foster child leaves. Self-preservation is comfortable, but the Lord rarely calls us to comfort. He calls us to an adventurous obedience and to say yes to the unknown.

After two years of fostering and advocating for my children - and at times facing the possibility that they could leave my home I have often asked myself why I do this. Sometimes it isn’t even the big issues that make me question this choice. Sometimes it’s missing the confidence you have when no one can take your kids away because they are just yours. Sometimes it’s the everyday grind of having lots of small kids who need me and not feeling how I used to. So, in exhaustion I ask myself “Why do I do this. Why do I obey?”

I do this because I am a Christian, so I can do hard things. I choose to bare the name of Christ so I will imperfectly try to be like Him. It is so imperfect at times I feel like I’m crawling. The exhaustion is worth it because I don’t want to just raise a good family I want to use this season of my life to give my family to a child who has been removed from theirs. I can do hard things because God is with me.

“Because the Sovereign Lord helps me I will not be dismayed. Therefore, I have set my face like a stone, determined to do his will. And I know that I will triumph...See, the Sovereign Lord is on my side!” - Isaiah 50:7-9

The bible shows that the God of the universe goes before us, when Christ died the veil was torn and we were given direct access to Him, then when Jesus ascended he gave us the Holy Spirit to live in us. God is fully with me so I can do hard things.

Jesus moved toward hard and broken situations so I will do it too. Some people go overseas to do missions, but I will take the mud of the mission field and drop it in my house as I watch the glory of God shine in my home. I will see the broken healed in my home. I will see a generation changed in my home. Where there was history of abuse and neglect I will see the beginnings of restoration in my house. This is not about loving a child who may leave or my ability to let go after being attached. This isn’t even about responding to a great community need. I do this because I want to be like Jesus. This is my personal obedience and God is with me as I obey.

My relationship with God is reflected in how I obey Him. I believe He is who He says He is. He is Father to the fatherless, He is the provider, the healer, the protector, He knows the beginning to the end. I praise Him with obedience because I trust that He has not spent eternity lying about who He is.

I do foster care because this is how God has asked my family to obey in this season of our life. When I see my little one light up like sunshine I thank God for the opportunity to be his mommy. When I watch my older kids embrace their siblings as if they’ve always been there I see the love of Jesus. When I watch my husband get up in the middle of the night with our kids I see Christ in him. When I write update letters and send pictures to my children’s biological parents I thank God that I can share Jesus with them. When the days are hard and I face a courtroom or receive challenging news I thank God because He is with me.

This obedience of doing foster care has allowed me to trust and know God in a way that I wouldn’t have. If I remained afraid and believed I could never do “that” I would have missed the adventure. It’s in the moments when I’m asking myself “why do I do this?” that I hear God the loudest. One day I may love a child who will leave, but I can not risk missing this walk with God because of fear of where it might lead.

When I Don’t Feel Like Singing

Kyle Stutzman

I want to paint a picture for you. It’s Sunday morning and you’re getting ready to go to church. You and your wife have spent the last hour getting the kids out of bed. They’re screaming and crying and you’re exhausted. You pull into church, get them checked in, and finally get into the auditorium halfway through the first song. The worship leader is encouraging everyone to sing, but after the morning you’ve had, you really don’t feel like it.

            This is a common situation for many people. Maybe it’s something else. Maybe it’s been a hard week. Maybe you’ve lost your job, or had an argument with a spouse or a loved one. It can be hard to come in and sing praises to God when you’re in the midst of trials. We come in tired or hurt by life. Sometimes we wonder why we would praise God and sing to him when all of this is going on in our lives.

            Hebrews 13:15 says “Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name”. What does it mean to offer a sacrifice of praise? A sacrifice means it costs us something. We praise God not because we feel like it. We praise God because He is simply worthy of it. We profess of his greatness and worth. This can sometimes feel like a sacrifice! It can be hard. But to praise God despite our feelings helps us to unite our hearts to His. It reminds us of the great work of Jesus in our lives. It reminds us of the hope we have in Jesus name.

            So, I encourage you, the next time you come to church and you don’t feel like singing, or you’re dealing with the weight of the world, sing even louder. Offer a sacrifice of praise to the One who has saved us, to our God who is worthy of it all!

 

Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise;
    his greatness no one can fathom.

Psalm 145:3

 

Looking for the Burning Bush and Missing His Whisper.

Ken Rice

1 Kings 19:12-13

 

The year was 2008, my wife and I had been sensing that God was asking us to leave blissful Colorado and obediently follow him into a new chapter of planting a church. The looming question that we couldn’t seem to get a clear answer on was… Where?

 

There were two areas that we sensed God might be leading us toward. So my wife and I set out on a quest. A quest to hear the confirming voice of God, a quest for a burning bush if you will. Our plan was to spend one week in each area walking, praying, and seeking Gods direction and confirmation. We fully anticipated a burning bush experience. An experience where God would meet us with some obvious supernatural neon sign that read “Plant Here!”.

 

We headed out with hearts full of excitement and expectation. We arrived at our first destination, spent the week praying, walking the streets, discussing ministry in this area, and looking for the burning bush. It never came. As we boarded the plane to destination number two, we assumed God’s answer. Well, guess what? No burning bush there either. God didn’t show up in a burning bush, however, he did show up in the wise counsel of a pastor.

 

While in the second area I seized the opportunity to meet with a pastor friend of mine who planted a church a number of years prior. I explained to him this journey we were on and I will never forget the words he spoke over me. He said, “Ken, I think you might be over-spiritualizing this endeavor. God will use you no matter where you go. My friend, pray, read His Word, seek counsel, then act out of obedience in faith and God will surely honor that.”

I can’t tell you how much pressure this removed from my wife and I. We were so fearful of “missing” God’s plan.

 

As we returning to our home in CO we began to identify the whispers of God. They first came clear through His Word, then they came through consistent words of knowledge through trusted friends, and finally, we sensed the confirmation in our hearts.

 

We had peace and we moved forward. A new church was planted, people came to know Jesus who were once far from him. We saw many miraculous moves of God, my wife and I grew closer to Him, our faith exploded, and we were refined and pruned more into the image of Jesus.

 

You see, it really was never about finding the right place to plant a church, it was never about getting in the right location so God could do something profound through us. It was and is always about posturing ourselves in faithful obedience so God can lead and grow us into the image of Jesus.

By the way, while He is doing this he will probably do some awesome things through you.

How Generation Z's Thrive in Their Faith

Chad Dickenson

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Romans 12:2

 

For what seems like forever now we have been talking about Millennials, what they are like, why they are that way, and what this means for the world. What’s interesting to note, however, is that the last Millennials are graduated from High School now and every student who is in Elementary, Middle, and High School is considered to be a part of Generation Z. Over 25% of the world’s population is made up of those in the Generation Z category. If you’re a parent of a child born between the years 1998 and 2018 you are parenting a member of Generation Z. So what does this mean for you and for how your child processes their faith?

 

1. Allow Your Student to Publish

Fun fact: The number one gift being asked for today by 9-year-olds is a YouTube channel! I remember being nine-years-old and asking for a monster truck remote control car! Gen X (Millennials) are considered to be consumers, but Generation Z is all about publishing. Think about how much is posted on Social Media each day. Students today internalize their faith, morality, and direction in life when they are able to process and publish the ideas themselves! Before directing and demanding your student to do something, provide them with conversations and opportunities to publish ideas themselves!

 

2. Be a Safe Place

Another way to foster moments and environments for students to process and publish their faith is to be a safe place. I’m not talking about the Safe Places that are all over the news and media right now, but I’m talking about us as parents and adults being a safe place for students to think out loud. Being a safe place requires authenticity, confidence (they know you won’t make fun of them around other people), and grace. Live out James 1:19 and be slow to speak and quick to listen!

 

3. Converse About Doubts

Most adults would consider doubts about faith to be a negative thing. But I would argue that doubts are not the most dangerous thing to faith, silence is. When students encounter doubts about what they believe, why they believe, or why the world is the way it is, they are bumping into an incredible opportunity to deepen their faith or leave the faith. Adults and parents must allow students to process their doubts in a safe environment and come out on the other side with deeper convictions on what they believe!

 

Resources: “Meet Generation Z” by James Emery White // “Growing Young” by Kara Powell

Who Will You Encourage Today?

Brent Colby

I spend most mornings reading the Bible. Whenever I have an honest encounter with that book I walk away encouraged and challenged to live a God-centered life. This is always good for me and it is never easy. 

Today I recognize that few people invest the opening moments of their day in the Bible. I also recognize that many people whom I will interact with have never spent a morning in the Bible. This places me in a unique position to pass on what was passed to me. My daily routine is a novel experience for most, particularly those who need to hear from God the most.

“As God’s words give me life, let my words give life to others. ”

As God's words give me life, let my words give life to others. Today I must choose to speak life to those who have not heard an encouraging word in a long time. Their ears are filled with dissent, disaster, and demoralization. This morning, I am uniquely equipped to share truth from God. They may not be God-fearing people, but the power of God's word never fails to transform our lives. 

Who do I speak to today? What do I say? Will I embarrass myself with incomplete or incoherent ideas about life and love? Or will I be prompted to speak a simple word of encouragement to someone who is in desperate need? All I know is, if I don't say something then I have failed to invest into others what God has invested into me.

The Priority of Prayer

Jim Ladd

In the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) we see Jesus spending time in prayer 25 times! The Son of God felt the need to saturate His life and work in prayer. How much more do we need to follow His example?

 

The problem is, we don’t feel any more capable of prayer than His disciples did! They asked Him, “teach us to pray”. So, in Matthew 6, we are given Jesus’ teaching on how to pray. His lesson, when you pray, pray like this:

  • Our Father, who is in Heaven - He is your dad and He is above, we are below. He is not like us!

  • Holy is your Name - spend time praising the name of Jesus and setting Him apart as Holy!

  • Come your Kingdom - Be done your will! - Ask God to bring His kingdom and will into your life issues - family, work, church, kids, city, nation, world, etc.

  • Give us this day our daily bread - Ask for the needs you have today. Don’t worry about tomorrow. Ask for what you need to follow Jesus well today.

  • Forgive us, as we forgive - Ask God to help you experience complete forgiveness and to help you offer that to those who have hurt you.

  • Lead us, not into temptation - Ask for the Spirit to lead you and to help you spot, avoid, or run from temptations that dog you.

  • Deliver us from the evil one - Ask for the authority to rule over the enemy in your life and day. You have authority in Jesus’ name.

  • Yours is the Kingdom, the power, and the glory! - Finish by praising God and celebrating His awesome power and authority in your life and celebrate that He will bring glory to His own name through your journey.

 

In Luke 18, Jesus told the story of a poor widow woman who keeps taking her case to a judge that doesn’t fear God or men. He refuses, but because she keeps pestering him, he finally says, “I’m gonna give this woman her request, or she’s gonna wear me out!” Then Jesus says, “And will not God bring about justice for His chosen ones, who cry out to Him day and night?” And then, He asks a powerful question: “But when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?”

 

What does faith really look like? People who are crying out to God day and night.

 

Let me urge you to pursue a consistent, hungry prayer life, and watch Jesus do mighty work in your life!

Why is Our Culture Changing So Fast?

Jim Ladd

As I’m sure you’ve noticed, the world just keeps on changing, and the speed of change keeps increasing! Maybe I’m starting to sound like an old man, but this is obvious to me and, as I reflect on how we got here, culturally speaking, I have landed on three sweeping distortions in our cultural compass that have resulted in a completely different country than the one I was born into. See if you agree:

 

  1. From a world of Authority to a world of Preference

In the past, people looked to authority figures and structures to give them guidance on things like morals, values, and culture. Authority figures, therefore, received respect and admiration, and they served as sought-after role models. No longer. Now the world is all about personal preference as the primary guide to morals, values and culture. “You do you and I will do me” or “Live and let live” are the mantras of the day.

Not even God gets to have authority anymore. Among the culture, He is not even recognized and among “believers”, His authority takes a back-seat to personal preference on matters of morality, character, and ethics. With the loss of God’s authority, things like the dignity of life, or moral codes now have no authoritative guide to look to, and this shakes the culture at every level.

 

    2. From Religious Integration to Religious Fragmentation

In former days, religious identity colored every aspect of the “believer’s” life and provided a clear guide for decision-making. Now it is normative to embrace parts of your religious beliefs and completely ignore others. Even sacred texts no longer hold a place of authority for believers, as they abandon even looking for a life-encompassing faith.

 

   3. From the Supernatural to the Secular

Christians are called to live by the power of God and the work of His Spirit in us, rather than just try harder at sin management. We lean into God’s power, seek His peace, live in the strength of His might and anticipate His participation in every arena of life. Now, most Christians I know don’t actually believe prayer works and live their lives “doing the best they can”. The life of the Spirit, described in Romans chapter 8 is a rare thing, indeed.

 

So, we have No Givens, No Rules and No Spiritual Power. It has made a huge difference in our culture and it’s not slowing down!

What's an "ebenezer"?

Kyle Stutzman

What's an Ebenezer?

We received this question about the song we sang Sunday, Come Thou Fount!

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The term “Ebenezer” means “stone of help” and comes from the book of Samuel. In 1 Samuel 7, Israel has a great victory over the Philistines. After the battle in 1 Samuel 7:12 it says “Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, saying, “Thus far the Lord has helped us.”’

From there anytime the Israelites looked upon this monument they were reminded of God’s power and protection. The line in the song is “here I raise my Ebenezer, hither by thy help I’ve come”. The song itself was written in 1758, so it uses a lot of old English. The point of the line is proclaiming that we will remember how God’s power has moved in our own lives, and how He has helped us through our troubles! We raise our “Ebenezer”, our reminder of God’s great work in our lives.

What Do You Want From Your Church?

Jim Ladd

I find myself really curious to hear the answer to that question from active church goers. Here are what I suspect would be the top answers to the question:

- I want great teaching because I want to be fed.

- I want an outstanding kids ministry, so my children will both enjoy and learn in their faith journey, experiencing a safe place to also make new friends.

- I want excellent worship, that helps me connect to God in our worship gatherings

- I want a highly engaging student ministry, that isn't too radical, so my teens will grow in their faith and be equipped to be God-honoring, solid citizens, with a tribe of safe friends.

- I want a friendly church - and I want friends.

- I want a church that is making a difference in the world - helping the poor and changing the world.

So, here is the deal... I think the question itself, which we all ask ourselves when we move or need a church home, would be a foreign concept to the early church. Why?

- Because I am the church and the more appropriate question is, "What can I bring to the Body of Christ, using my gifts for the edification of the saints?"

- Because the mission of the church is Discipleship - so if the question is appropriate, the answer would be, "I am looking for the church that helps me become more like Christ and use my gifts to equip others to become more like Christ and make a difference in the world."

- Because the idea of approaching the church as a "consumer" is a foreign idea to the Scriptures.

I am not picking a fight, and I think it's critical for us to get our focus right, as the church of Jesus Christ, so we can be, pursue and become the Bride of Christ that He will be proud to embrace upon His return.

It Really Is That Simple

Jim Ladd

In Matthew 22:37-39, Jesus boils down the essence of faith and obedience to God to two crystal clear commands: Love the Lord your God with everything you've got and love people the way you love yourself.

WOW! How complicated do we make Christianity when in reality it is this simple. No, it's not easy by any stretch of the imagination, but it is simple.

Love God with everything you've got: Love him with your heart, emotions, affections, etc. Love him with your brain, intellect, imaginations, and memories. Love him with your body and how you use it. Love him with your relationships. Love him with your vocation, your money, your family, etc. Love God with everything you've got!

And, love people the way you love yourself. I confess that the one person I am super skilled at loving is me. For example, I judge others by their actions but I judge myself by my intentions. We are to love our family, friends, co-workers, neighbors, enemies, strangers, foreigners - everyone!

I am beginning to believe that this simple focus of loving God and loving people can bring traction to our faith, energy to our lives, and joy to our hearts - and it might just change the entire world!

Go get 'em, my friend!! 

On Mission to the Fringes

Jim Ladd

When Jesus healed a man with Leprosy, he did so with some physical touch, even though he could have accomplished the same healing "with no hands". Or could he? The man not only needed healing from his disease, he also needed to experience love in his disease. How long had it been since he had been touched? How lonely it must have been to be exiled from your community becasue you are a physical threat to all?

Like Jesus' decision to touch this man from the fringes, we, too, can bring immeasurable healing to people who never get touched, loved, or dignified due to their location on the fringes of society. God has called us on mission with Him to bring love, dignity, and renewal to "the least of these".

But how? Here are some ideas:

- Join with us in the One Day Wage offering on Easter. This will feed over 160,000 kids in desperate places a daily meal for the next year.

- Keep small "homeless kits" in your vehicle to give the needy who populate our busy intersections every day. This could include bottled water, granola bars, tooth brush/paste, pop tarts, and any number of items that can help sustain their lives without giving cash. Of course, giving cash is also a great option when you feel prompted to do so.

- Seek God for a social issue to focus on. For me, this is at-risk kids. I spend my marginal time, energy, and resources on efforts that directly contribute to meeting the needs of these children who enter adolescence with a huge deck stacked against them.

What would you add to this idea list?

On Mission In Your Vocation

Jim Ladd

The church has a way of celebrating professional pastors, missionaries, and leaders and ignoring the people who work "secular" jobs or are stay-home workers. Here is a little surprise for you: Jesus wants you to do your vocation on mission with him - every bit as much as He expects a Pastor to.

Colossians 3:23 calls us to do whatever we are doing as unto the Lord Himself, and not for man. When it comes to your vocation, here are a few ideas to help you grow your missional focus on the job:

- Do you work with Jesus. Seek His guidance, be sensitive to His prompting during your day, and do your work God's way. This will deepen His partnership with you and blow you away with how often He has guidance for you that helps you win at work and multiply your impact.

- Lean into His empowerment for your job. I have found that you can go as far as your talents will take you, OR you can go as far as your talents + Jesus can take you. When you do your work as unto the Lord, and follow His guidance, He takes your results about three clicks further than your talent can go alone.

- Leave the profits and rewards where they belong - surrendered to Jesus. Don't become conceited due to the outcomes and don't get materialistic when He prospers you. Keep letting Jesus grow bigger in your heart and possessions and results grow smaller in their allure.

- Seek to give God glory in your work. Watch for opportunities to give Him glory, honor and credit among those open to seeing it.

What ideas would you add?

The Awesome Power of Knowing Your Mission

Jim Ladd

When you know the purpose for your life - the mission of it - you gain extreme clarity and life becomes far less confusing. This is a powerful reality and the light that illuminates your paths, your decision-making, and your values.

Without knowing that you were made by God to enjoy and glorify Him, and to love what He loves (people), you will search impulsively for a purpose or mission worthy of your life. You need purpose and you need a mission. You need to know that there is something greater than you worth living for and that your life matters. The only empowering way to discover this is through full surrender to Jesus and His Lordship in your life.

Short of this kind of surrendered clarity, you will grasp for far less worthy missions - like personal wealth, popularity, possessions, success, pleasure, existential experiences, and relationships made dysfunctional by your utter dependence upon them.

You were made for so much more.

You were made to glorify God and love people. It really is that simple.

Your soul will not find peace, joy or fulfillment until it rests in the unconditional love and Lordship of Jesus and joins Him in His mission to redeem all mankind to Himself.

What are you living for?

Is it worthy of your submission?

Is it worthy of dying for? 

We Must Move From Seeing to Realizing

Jim Ladd

The things we fear, we demonize. The things we don't understand, we trivialize. The things we don't really like, we minimize. But true life-change and progress require us to realize; to see what God says and allow the Holy Spirit to make it real to us.

The sermon on the mount, globally accepted as the greatest body of moral teaching in history, opens with Jesus describing the Beatitudes - the beautiful attitudes that open the door for us to grow, learn, love, and live. It begins with, possibly, the most important one: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of God."

Blessed (happy) are those who realize their spiritual poverty - that they are poverty-stricken in spirit - utterly incapable on their own and completely dependent upon God. This is the entry point of a transformed life. It's the first of all 12-step programs because of it's potent truth.

Why are they blessed or happy? Because theirs is the Kingdom of God! God graciously and bountifully gives His Kingdom to those who realize their dependency upon God and stop trying to save themselves. He saves us and delivers us into a Kingdom without boundary, limit, or resource - to give us life that is reallly life.

You know you sin, but have you realized you are a sinner? Do you realize that you are incapable of living without sin? Do you realize that the reason you lie is that you are a liar? Do you recognize your spiritual bankruptcy?

When you do, you can cry out to God who lavishes you with His righteousness and grace. See Jesus on the cross and realize that He put Himself there - to experience the wrath of disobedience and sin on our behalf. Realize that your debt is paid in full and that you are free.

Now that's living!