Authentic Community: Proximity and Purpose

Last night at our Leadership Team Meeting, we started talking about “Authentic Community.”  It was a good conversation.  I thought I would share a little bit about this topic in a post, because it is part of our vision statement and it is an imporant piece of who we are in ministry. 

So what is “Authentic Community?”  We get a picture of what it looks like in Acts 2:42-47.  There we see believers who are truly devoted to one another.  So often a church is simply a bunch of loosely connected individuals.  Authentic community happens when we decide to be committed to one another.

In order to build “Authentic Community” there are 2 things that need to happen.  Proximity and purpose.  First of all, we need “proximity.”  That simply means that we need to spend time together.  Hebrews 10:24,25 reminds us of how important this is, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.  Let us not give up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”  Too often we forget how important it is for us to be together.  We don’t make it a priority and we consider ourselves too busy to make time for being together outside of Sunday morning.  Then we wonder why we don’t have stronger relationships.  We need to be in proximity with each other if we are going to develop authentic community.  

Then in addition to proximity, we also need purpose.  Consider Colossians 3:16, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spritiual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.”  God has a purpose for us to be together.  We need to recognize that purpose and develop the level of depth that is going to allow that kind of purpose to happen.  So often we are content to simply talk about things like the weather, sports, work, current events and other similar topics.  We need to go beyond that and start talking about where we see God at work, what He is teaching us in our walk with Him, what we are struggling with in our lives, and even where we have fallen. 

When we commit ourselves to proximity and purpose, then we will begin to have authentic community.  Let’s not be satisfied with anything less!

Underlines Revisited

Back in January, I wrote about how I am reading through the Bible this year in my devotions and for each chapter I read, I am choosing one verse to underline.  I thought it might be good for me to revisit that thought by sharing a few of the verses that I am choosing to underline.  So here it goes…

Understand, today is Wednesday so I have underlined a total of 12 verses this week from Numbers 19-30.  I will share with you just 4 of those 12 verses. 

On Sunday I underlined Numbers 19:22, “Anything that an unclean person touches becomes unclean, and anyone who touches it becomes unclean till evening.”  That is not a verse that I would normally have underlined, but since I was choosing to underline one verse from each chapter, this is the one that I chose from chapter 19.  The reason I chose it is because it reminds me of the holiness of God.  In order for us to understand God’s grace and love we also need to understand His holiness and justice.  We need to grasp the concept that our sin, and anything that is unclean, separate us from a holy God.  It is only when we grasp that separation that we can understand our need for the perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ. 

On Monday I underlined Numbers 22:18, “But, Balaam answered them, ‘Even if Balak gave me his palace filled with silver and gold, I could not do anything great or small to go beyond the command of the Lord my God.'”  If you were at The River on Super Bowl Sunday, you would have heard me preach on the story of Balaam.  But I focused on Nubmers 23:19 and not on this verse.  But this verse is a great reminder to us as well.  In a world that is all about compromise, this is the attitude we need to take.  All the time we get opportunities to compromise in our faith.  But we need to take a stand.  We need to recognize that nothing is worth turning away from what God has called us to do.  That means being true to God first in our workplace, being men of integrity in our marriages, and being bold with our testimony.  We need to be willing to do and say only what God commands of us.  We need to be right in the center of His will at all times.

On Tuesday, one of the verses I underlined was Numbers 25:13, “He and his descendants will have a covenant of a lasting priesthood, because he was zealous for the honor of his God and made atonement for the Israelites.”  This is an interesting verse with an interesting context.  In Numbers 25 we see Israel is being seduced by Moab.  The men are falling into sexual immorality with the Moabite women and that is leading them to idolatry as well.  And we see that God is angry with this and sends a plague against Israel.  At one point we see an Israelite man blatantly falling into sexual immorality with a Midianite woman right in front of the whole assembly and Phinehas the grandson of Aaron the priest, grabs a spear and drives the spear through both the man and the woman and the plague that was against the Israelites stopped.  Then the Lord commends Phinehas and we see in verse 13 that God commends him for being zealous for the honor of his God.  How often are we zealous for God?  How often do we stand up for God?  People all around us blaspheme God.  I am obviously not saying that we should pick up a spear and drive it through them, but how often do we ever even simply stand up for God?  Where’s the zeal?

Then finally, today one of the verses that I underlined was Numbers 30:2, “When a man makes a vow to the Lord or takes an oath to obligate himself by a pledge, he must not break his word but must do everything he said.”  That is a great challenge for us.  We treat our word so casually.  How often do we keep our promises.  When we say something, we should be willing to stand by it, or we shouldn’t say it.  I know the term is overused, but we really should be “promise keepers.”

So that is a little taste of some of the verses that I have underlined this past week.  I will plan to do more of this in the weeks ahead.  I would commit to blogging everday about one of the verses that I chose to underline that day, for those who would like to follow along, but then I would probably find myself not keeping my word and that would not be good.

Digging Deeper

So you know how you go to church on Sunday and you hear the message from the pastor and you go home thinking about how awesome the sermon was?  Okay so maybe awesome is too strong of a word.  Anyway, a sermon is not so much a public speech as it is a challenge, or a call to respond.  The sermon that we hear on Sunday is meant to inspire us or challenge us or encourage us in our walk with the Lord.  It is part of our discipleship process.  But what happens after you leave the church on Sunday morning?  Do you ever spend anymore time considering the topic of discussion? 

I was thinking that it might be nice for us to have a tool to use on Monday to help us focus a little more on what was said on Sunday.  Wouldn’t that be great?  What if on Monday we could go online and find a Scripture reference to turn to that deals with what we learned on Sunday, or maybe some questions that we could consider or points for us to ponder as we go through our week.  We could use those as part of our regular devotions to help us dig a little deeper into the material that the pastor was talking about in the sermon. 

For instance this past Sunday I spoke from Numbers 23:19 and talked about how God keeps His promises.  What if you could go online this week and find some Scripture references that would help you explore God’s promises a little bit deeper and give you some questions to reflect on?  Would that be helpful?  Would you use it?  You could tune in to the website on Monday or any other day for that matter, and see a blog in which there would be some materials for digging deeper.  Some tools for your own personal study time on the topic that was discussed.  I am willing to do that each week if there are those out there that would find it helpful. 

I will bring this up this coming Sunday at The River as well, but please feel free to let me know your comments.  Thanks!

Is Anyone Out There?

You know one of the problems with writing a blog is that you wonder if anyone actually is reading it. I mean, what if I spend all this time sharing my thoughts and really nobody is interested? I guess it is kind of that, “if a tree falls in the forest…” kind of question. Blogging allows you to put your thoughts out there for anyone to see, but you don’t really know if anyone is actually listening. Ultimately it is not a big deal if 3 people or 300 people read the blog, but still it is nice to know that someone is actually listening.

Now, I have heard from some of you from time to time, so I know that at least a few people are listening, and I appreciate when you make comments to let me know that you are there. But believe it or not, I am not writing this blog just to elicit more response, I actually have a point. And the point has to do with prayer.

I think sometimes we approach prayer with the same mindset that I sometimes approach blogging. Like I am going to throw this out there, and maybe someone will be listening and maybe they won’t. Do you know what I mean? Have you ever approached prayer that way? Like you have something to say, and you hope that you are being heard, but you are not entirely sure?

Well, I want to remind us today, that we can be sure that God hears us. The Psalmist writes about this in Psalm 55:18, “Evening, morning and noon I cry out in distress, and he hears my voice.” What a great reminder. Whether morning, noon or night, God hears us. We don’t have to worry that He might be asleep, or busy, or that He won’t have His cell phone with Him, or that He will be on the other line, or that He is screening His calls. We don’t have to worry that He doesn’t care or isn’t interested in what we have to say. He is right there, waiting for us to call on Him.

That is a great promise. We don’t need to wonder, “is anyone out there? Is anyone listening?” We know God hears, He listens, and He cares. Being a dad I am interested in what my kids have to say, not so much because it is important to me, but because it is important to them. I listen because they are my children and I love them.

God loves me even more than I love my kids. And He has the amazing ability to pay attention to me, even when I am saying something that is really not all that interesting, or when I am not really making any sense, or when I don’t even know what I want. God loves to hear from me. Not because He needs what I have to say, or because it is interesting to Him, but simply because I am His child and He loves me. Is anyone out there? Yes He is!

It’s Not Easy Being Famous

In case you didn’t see it, there was an article about me in the Chaska Herald this week. Seriously! One of the guys who writes for the Herald visited our church a couple of weeks ago and afterward he asked me a few questions over email and the newspaper wrote it up as an introducation to a new pastor in town. Pretty cool!

Okay, so maybe I am not exactly famous. But I did walk by a guy in the library who was sitting at a table reading the Chaska Herald and it was open to the article on me. I don’t know if he actually was reading that article or a different one on the page, but it is kind of fun to see somebody reading the paper with your photograph on the page. Well, of course it depends on what the article is about. I can think of a few times that would not be such a nice thing.

Anyway, I may not be famous, but it was really great of the Chaska Herald to write the article. They shared some great information about the church and our website and our vision for the community. It brings some great exposure for the church. And who knows, maybe someone will even come and check out the church as a result of that article. If you haven’t seen the article you should pick up a paper and check it out, or you might be able to find the article on the Chaska Herald website.

The Day After…

Brett Favre (AP Photo/Rick Havner)
I know that for many of you, yesterday was a very bad day. I just wanted to take a moment and give you my condolences. I am, of course, talking about the overtime loss the Vikings had against the New Orleans Saints. You probably had high hopes with the Vikings back in the NFC Championship game for the first time in 9 years. Maybe your sights were set on the Super Bowl? But after a silly “12 man in the huddle” penalty, followed by an unfortunate interception by Brett Favre, and losing the coin flip in overtime, one thing led to another and before you knew it Garrett Harley (who dat?) was kicking a field goal in overtime to send the Saints, instead of the Vikings, to the big game.

I have to admit that I don’t share your misery this morning. Actually my son Jacob could hardly sleep last night, not because the Vikings lost, but because the Colts won. That’s right, my family and I are Colts fans. Actually, if you know me, you probably know that I am a die-hard Washington Redskin fan, and I will probably always be, but after living in Indiana for 12 years, I, along with my family grew to love the Colts. We were watching the game yesterday decked out in our best Colts clothing. Even Julie got into the spirit wearing her Colts earrings and my Manning jersey. We were jumping up and down and high fiving each other as time ran out and the Colts beat the New York Jets to win the AFC Championship Game.

We may eventually become Vikings fans, but not yet! And that was very evident yesterday. We were hoping that it would end up being a Colts/Vikings Super Bowl, but we definitely were not devastated when the Vikings lost. So we didn’t feel the same football hangover that probably many of you felt this morning.

But I do know how you feel. I know what that “day after” feeling is like. Like I mentioned before, I am a die-hard Washington Redskins fan, so I know what it is like to have your favorite team lose. Of course, for the Redskins lately their season has ended sometime around week 9 or 10, so that “day after” feeling happens kind of early. But whenever it happens, it is not fun. So you do have my condolences.

But of course there needs to be a point to this blog, and so here it is… Sometimes in life, we have that “day after” feeling with things that are more important than football. You know what I mean? Those times in our lives where we blew it the day before. Or maybe something tragic happened. Or when things are just feeling a lit bit hopeless. But I want to remind us today that, in Christ, those “day after” feelings can be sent packing. Let me remind us of a wonderful verse from the book of Lamentations, chapter 3. “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:22-23)

Isn’t that a wonderful promise? I think so! It is a reminder that no matter what happened the day before, no matter how bad we messed up, or what bad news we received, or how bad things are in our lives, God’s compassions are new every morning. He is faithful! What a great reminder to us.

So whether the biggest issue in your life right now is the Vikings loss, or something much greater, be encouraged as you remember the faithfulness of God!

Standing on The Rock!

So I don’t know if you caught the College Football Championship game a couple of weeks ago or not, but there was something really great about it. Not really the game itself, as championship games go, that one was a little bit of a dissapointment. The Texas Longhorns lost to the Alabama Crimson Tide. But what was really great was the interview after the game of Colt McCoy, the Texas Senior Quarterback who got hurt at the beginning of the game. He was asked by a reporter what it was like to watch this game from the sideline after getting hurt. You could see he was visibly choked up as he took several seconds before he could answer. When he finally answered he talked about how much he loves the game, and how much he would have liked to be able to play. He talked about how proud he was of his team and he congratulated Alabama for their win. But then he went on and gave glory to God. He talked about how he knows that God is in control and that he is not questioning why things happen the way that they do. And he stated that he is standing on the rock. It was a very powerful interview. Think about it, here is this kid whose college football career is now over. He had a great career, but it ended in a tough way as he had to sit on the sidelines and watch his team lose the national Championsnip to Alabama. And yet even in the midst of what was probably a big dissapointment, Colt firmly stated that He is standing on the Rock.

That is what Jesus is talking about in Matthew 7 as he compares the man who builds his house on the rock with the man who builds his house on the sand. When the storms come, the house on the rock stands firm, while the house on the sand falls flat. If Colt had been building his life on the accolades of man, and all the things that this world has to offer, his world would have come crashing down around him on that sideline and he would have been crushed. Instead, because he is standing firmly on the Rock, although I am sure it was a major dissapointment, his life stood firm through the storm.

I don’t know what is next for Colt in the days ahead. Speaking as a Washington Redskins fan, I would not mind seeing him in the burgundy and gold. We could use a little of his character and attitude on that team. But no matter what happens, I trust that he will be just fine, because come what may, Colt is standing on the Rock! Are you?

By the way, you can check out the interview at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rVsSvx3UQOY. Check it out, and then take it a step further by going to www.iamsecond.com and check out his video, and others there.

Underlines

Do you like to underline verses in your Bible or do you prefer your Bible to be clean and unmarked? Either way is fine, but let me give you a little nudge toward underlining by sharing with you a couple of reasons why I do it. Obviously Scripture is powerful all the time, since it is God’s Word. But there are times when I am reading or hearing a speaker share from a particular passage, and certain verses just jump out. When that happens, I want to highlight them in some way. It allows me to focus in on the verses as I take extra time to consider them once again and it gives me a visual reference for the future when I go back to look those verses up again. A highlighted or underlined Bible is a constant reminder of those verses that God has specifically used in your life to challenge you, teach you, encourage you, inspire you, or remind you of something. It is powerful to go back years later and read those verses that you underlined so long ago. At times I have spent so much time with some particular verses that I have underlined them, circled or double underlined parts of them, and written notes in the margin. And going back and visiting those verses again is a sweet time.

This year for my devotions I am doing something new. I am reading through the Bible in a year. That is not new. I have done that before. But this year I am doing something a little bit different with it. For each chapter that I read, I am underlining one and only one verse from that chapter. And I am underlining in a different color than I normally use. That is not an easy concept. I suspect there will be times when there is not a verse that I would normally underline and there will be other times when I would like to underline many more than just one verse. But this will help me to focus on these chapters in a new way.

You don’t have to underline your Bible. You can keep it clean. I’m not telling you what to do. But beginning this Sunday, at The River, we are going to be taking a journey together, examining some of those verses and passages from Scripture that we may already have underlined in our Bibles, or that we might want to consider underlining if we don’t have them already. I want to invite you to join us. If you are wondering what verses I will be preaching on each week, you can find out by going to our calendar page. There, if you scroll over the Sunday Morning Worship Time in the calendar you will see a short synopsis of what I will be preaching about that week. I encourage you to go and check out those passages. And consider if they are worth doing some of your own underlining.

Focus and Follow Through

Let’s stop and consider the Magi one more time. The story of the Magi, contained for us in Matthew 2:1-12, is a wonderful and interesting story. We don’t know exactly who they were, what they were, how many there were, or even where exactly they came from. But for some reason, they travel a long distance, at what must have been great expense, to come and worship the newborn King.

Why do I bring this up? Specifically to bring up a challenge for us as we head into the new year. Consider the Magi. They saw this star and knew that they were supposed to follow it, so they set their sights on it and set off on their journey with purpose and determination and followed it until they arrived at Jesus where they bowed down to worship Him and present Him with gifts.

It was probably not an easy decision to set out and follow that star. It meant leaving their homes and family and friends and traveling a great distance, during a time when it was not so easy to travel so far. I would imagine they had difficulties along the way. At times they may have questioned whether or not to continue. There were even times when they apparently lost sight of the star and didn’t know exactly where they were supposed to go. For instance, we see them stop in Jerusalem to ask for directions. It is an interesting journey and one that probably took much time and great expense to make. But they knew this was what they were supposed to do, they so they focused on the star and followed through on their journey.

My challenge for us is to do the same in this new year. Not that we should set our sights on a star, but rather on the Lord. Let’s begin this new year right, recognizing that we are on a journey with the Lord. Let’s commit ourselves to staying focused on Him, letting Him guide our steps throughout this year. And let’s recognize that just because we determine to follow the Lord, does not mean that everything will be easy. We may lose our way at times like the Magi did. It may even cost us greatly to follow the Lord. But let us determine today that following the Lord is our goal this year. My challenge is for us in 2010 is to focus on the Lord and follow through on our journey.

The Magi

So in my devotions this morning I was reading about the Magi in Matthew chapter 2.  Have you ever thought about these guys that traveled from so far away and for who knows how long, in search of the one who was born king of the Jews?  We don’t know much about them.  We know they came from the east because they saw a star.  We know they stopped in Jerusalem and asked for directions to where the baby was to be born.  We know that they eventually wind up in Bethlehem after hearing of the prophecy from Michah 5.  And we know that the star reappeared and guided them to the place where the child was.  But one of the most interesting things that we know about them, is their response when they finally find the child.  Matthew 2:11 says they bowed down and worshiped him and they they presented him with gifts of gold and incense and myrrh. 

We don’t know how long their journey took them or how long they spent in Bethlehem.  We don’t know how many friends and family they had to leave behind.  We don’t know how much hardship they had to endure, or what the cost was for them to make this trip.  But it does appear that they spent much more time on the journey than they did at the destination.  All that travel simply to worship the newborn King. 

What a statement to us.  What a challenge for us during this holiday season.  How much effort are we willing to put forth to worship the King?  How far are we willing to go?  How much sacrifice are we willing to make during this Christmas season simply to worship the King?

Next time you pass a nativity scene and see the three wise men standing there with their gifts in their hands, take a moment and consider what they went through simply to worship the King, and then may that reflection cause you to worship Him as well.