River City Days

leonJoin us Friday and Saturday, July 29-30 at City Square Park in downtown Chaska for River City Days.  Every year we have a booth where we hand out FREE balloon animals and connect with the community.  Last year we went through 1,300 balloons and connected with some great people.  It is a lot of fun to see the faces of the kids who love our balloons.  Each year we hear from parents who tell us that their kids remember us from the year before.  If you are in the area, come on by and say, “Hi!”

Ultra-Marathon Life

malcolm mcA few weeks ago at Crown College I had the opportunity to meet Malcolm Mcloughlin. He is an Irish author who was at Crown to speak for their Missions Fest. He shared about running ultra-marathons of 40, 50 and even 100 mile races and compared that to the endurance of a lifelong journey with Christ.

Hebrews 10:19-39 is a powerful passage about recognizing who we are in Christ, drawing near to God and having endurance in the faith.  This call to endurance reminded me of what Malcolm Mcloughlin was talking about at Crown College. He referred to how someone could fake a 5k or a 10k race. You don’t have to be a runner to run those races. Malcolm also said that you could even train for a bit and fake a half marathon, or maybe even a marathon. But ultra-marathons are different. They take a different amount and level of training and endurance that you can’t fake. And then, he likened that to the Christian life.

This theme of endurance seems to be central to what the author is talking about. But what jumped out at me is that right in the middle of the passage there are a couple of verses that are focused on our relationships with each other. In verses 24 and 25 the author writes, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24-25, ESV)

That word spur is actually a word whose meaning is more along the lines of irritation or exasperation, contention or argument. The overall wording would direct us toward the idea of provocation and it is used with one another to denote the idea of like mutually provoking one another.

It brings to mind that training buddy who pushes you to go on even when you think you can’t do anymore. The one who challenges you to do one more push up, or to do one more weightlifting rep, or to run one more mile.  And in the midst of those times when we are being pushed to continue on, we may even become annoyed with that training buddy, but we know that we need them. If we are going to run this race, we need them in our lives.

In these verses the author says do not neglect meeting together as is the habit of some. We need to realize how important we are in one another’s lives. When we come together it is not just about singing a few worship songs and listening to a sermon.  The times that we get together are opportunities for us to connect with one another and become a body, so that we can be in position to speak truth into one another’s lives and encourage each other, and correct one another’s theology and help each other stay strong in the midst of weaknesses and hold each other accountable, because enduring through a life long walk with Christ is hard.

If all we look at church as is a place to sing some worship songs and to hear a sermon, then church hopping, or occasional attendance, or staying on the periphery, or even just catching sermons online and listening to worship songs in our car can take the place of that kind of church.

But this passage is telling us that there is more to church than that. We need each other. We need the relationships within the church to help us endure. We need to recognize that we are running a marathon, not a sprint. And while it may seem easy today, there will be days ahead that will not be as easy.  So let’s not give up meeting together, but rather let’s intentionally develop the kind of relationships with one another where we can encourage each other and spur one another on in this ultra-marathon of life.

Stop Lying

pexel tape mouthIn Colossians 3:1-17 Paul is talking about putting off our old lives and putting on our new life in Christ.  He challenges us as followers of Christ to focus our lives on Christ rather than on the things of this world.  That doesn’t mean that we don’t live in this world or we don’t partake of the things this world has to offer, but we are not to look at the things of this world in the same way anymore.  Christ is to be paramount in our lives.  If we are followers of Christ, our focus should be on following him.

And so in verses 5-11 he then begins to unpack that idea by talking about things that should no longer define our lives.  Since we have been made alive in Christ, there are some things that were part of our old life that should no longer be part of this new life that we have in him.  So he is challenging us to recognize those things and get rid of them.

Christianity is not just about receiving a list of things that we are not supposed to do anymore.  Rather, I believe, God has a better life, a deeper life in store for us than whatever defined our old lives.  However, that old life is still there for us to choose, so Paul is calling us to choose to turn away from that old life and to embrace what God wants for us.

With that in mind Paul moves on to talk about the new life and what it should look like in us in verses 12-17.  This list has some similarities to the Fruit of the Spirit from his letter to the Galatians and overall it is pointing us in a direction of what new life in Christ should look like.  Hopefully we are growing in these areas.

Overall Paul’s emphasis is on putting off our old self and putting on the new self in Christ, but he makes several significant points that specifically revolve around our relationships with one another.   Right now that is where we are focusing as a church.  We want to learn and grow in this area of our relationships with each other as a church.

For instance, look at what Paul writes in verse 9: 9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices.  (Colossians 3:9, ESV)

Now notice that Paul doesn’t just simply say stop lying, but specifically addresses the issue of lying to one another.   Lying amongst ourselves is divisive and leads to distrust and disunity.  We are called to be one body, and lying to one another directly attacks that unity and harmony within the body.

Considering the context, this could be referring to false teachers and lies they may be spreading.  That is definitely a problem that needs to be dealt with.  We need to treat God’s Word well and there is no room for false teaching.

However, what this verse really brings to mind for me is when we put on our church faces and go to church and tell everyone that everything is fine and that we have no problems.  We lie to one another all the time to hide what is really going on inside, the sin and temptations we deal with, the struggles we face, the failures we’ve had, and the pain we feel.

We also sometimes lie to one another because we don’t want to hurt each other’s feelings.  So when we see something in their life that we know is contrary to God’s will, we are afraid to hold them accountable on it.

We need to be real and authentic with one another.  And that means being both brutally honest and completely vulnerable with one another.  That is scary, but if we work hard to build those kind of relationships with one another where that would work, then imagine how good it would be for us.  Imagine if this was the kind of place where we could stop lying and just be real with one another.  That would be refreshing wouldn’t it?

Kiss One Another

pexel kissDid you know that there are about 59 one another statements in the New Testament that specifically deal with how we are to be in relationship with each other?

Some of the verses overlap so that there are more than one verse about the same instruction.  15 of the 59 verses specifically talk about how we are to love one another.  That is the most talked about one another topic.  The next two most referenced one another instructions are tied with 4 each.  One of them is to encourage one another and the other is the instruction is to kiss one another.

In 2 Corinthians 13 we read: 11 Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. 12 Greet one another with a holy kiss. 13 All the saints greet you. 14 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.  (2 Cor. 13:11-14 ESV)

In these verses Paul instructs the church to greet one another with a holy kiss.  That instruction is mentioned four separate times in the New Testament making it one of the top three most talked about instructions among the one another passages.  We find it mentioned in Romans 16, I Corinthians 16, and I Peter 5 as well as here.

Paul actually gives us several instructions in this passage about how we are to relate to one another.   He is probably summing up what he has said in this letter with a few perfunctory statements about how they were to live.

He tells them to rejoice, to be restored, to comfort one another, to agree with one another and to live in peace.  Overall there seems to be a common theme of unity that is to exemplify the way they treat one another.

And then he tells them to greet one another with a holy kiss.  Apparently the early church used that method to greet one another.  In the ancient world this was not uncommon and actually today in many societies it continues to be a tradition.  However, in the early church it appears that the kiss was meant to signify the special union that they had with one another in Christ as part of one family.  Notice it is a holy kiss.  It was not meant in a sexual way at all.  It is devoid of that kind of emotional desire or intent.  It is a different kind of kiss that symbolizes the unity and intimacy that they have with one another in the Lord.

So is this something we should do?  I am not suggesting that we should start this practice, but when I read this and picture the early church greeting one another the image I have is of a church that was excited and happy to see one another.  I picture a church that was so invested in one another’s lives that they were like family.  I picture a church that had gone deeper into an intimate relationship with one another than we would typically consider with the church in our society today.  I picture a church that truly loved and cared for each other.  I picture a church that had authentic, real relationships with one another.

So while I might not be that interested in beginning a tradition of kissing one another, I do like that intimate family like picture of the church.  I like the depth of intimacy I see in this passage.  And I would love to see that at The River.  That is my challenge for us as a church family.

Discerning the Body

pexel churchWhen we partake in communion at The River, I typically quote these words from I Corinthians 11: 23 For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.  (I Corinthians 11:23-26)

Just about every time we partake in communion at The River I use those verses before we partake of the bread and the cup.  But rarely do we ever look at those verses in context.  When we examine the context of the passage as a whole we find that Paul is confronting the church in Corinth about a problem with the way that they come together for communion.  In the early church coming together for communion involved a whole meal called the Agape or Love Meal.  This was probably somewhat similar to what we do with potlucks today.  The problem with the Corinthian church was that when they came together it seems like the food was being divided unequally with the rich getting plenty to eat and drink while the poor were going away hungry.  This implies that the rich were so focused on themselves that they were missing the needs of others in the church.

Considering this overall context there is a phrase that we find a couple of verses later that I believe is often overlooked and yet very important.  A friend of mine, Dr. David Fitch, first pointed this phrase out to me in a lecture at a pastor’s conference.  We find the phrase in verse 29: For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.  (I Cor. 11:29, ESV)

The phrase is “discerning the body.”  Now that is a bit of a strange statement.  I think typically we tend to just lump this verse in with the two verses before it which talk about examining ourselves and not eating and drinking in an unworthy manner.  Those verses are important, but think about the context of this passage as a whole.  Paul is spending a lot of his time dealing specifically with the issue of the way that when they got together some were getting fed and some were going hungry.    And in the midst of that, we find this verse.

It is also important to note that in the both the chapter before this and the chapter following this one Paul talks about how the church is a body.  We are the body of Christ.   God has brought us together and made us a church family.  We have a role to play in one another’s lives, to encourage one another, challenge one another, carry one another’s burdens, hold one another accountable, disciple one another, and also to just make sure that we are all doing okay.

I believe that in this passage Paul is talking about how important it is for us to discern the church.  Do we know how each other is doing right now?  Are we so focused on ourselves that we are missing the needs of those around us?  Do we know the specific needs that others might have?  Do we care about those needs?  And if people are hurting or needing help, are we doing our best to come alongside one another and help out in whatever ways we can?  We may not have the resources to meet every need, but maybe we can do something.  That is what it means to be a body.  That is what it looks like to be the family God has called us to be.  That is what it means to “be the church.”  #bethechurch

 

“Hey, It’s Me!”

Have you ever had someone call you on the phone and the person on the other end of the line just starts talking or says something like, “hey it’s me,” and yet you have no idea who it is?  It’s like the person thought they were familiar enough that you would recognize them and know their voice, but you don’t.  That typically leads to a bit of an awkward encounter.  Do you say, “excuse me, but I don’t know who you are,” or do you just let them keep talking and hope that at some point you will get a clue as to who this person is?

The reason a scenario like that is so awkward is because recognizing someone’s voice implies an intimate relationship.  We wouldn’t recognize the voice of someone we had just met or someone we only occasionally talk with.   But in this scenario apparently the person on the other end of the line thinks that we have that kind of intimate relationship with them and yet we have no idea who they are.

The key is that in order to be familiar enough to know who the person is on the other end of the phone we need to have spent enough time listening to that voice already.  We need to know their voice.  And that takes time.

The same is true with Jesus.  We need to spend time getting to know His voice.  This Sunday we are going to take a look at a passage from Scripture that paints for us a picture of Jesus that many will recognize.  But we will also be challenged to consider whether or not we would recognize His voice? We will be looking at John 10 and considering Jesus as the Good Shepherd.  Consider joining us this Sunday, at 2510 Chaska Blvd. at 9:30 a.m.

Are You Too Busy To Read This Blog?

Life is busy isn’t it?  We all have so many different responsibilities and different things that are vying for our attention.  We find ourselves often running from one thing to the next.  But while life is busy, ultimately we really all have time for things that we consider to be important.

For instance, if we place a high value on physical fitness, then we are going to find the time to exercise.  It may mean that something else has to go, but we will find the time to run, or bike, or swim or whatever else we do. Each of us make choices every day about what to spend our time doing.

This blog is even an example.  For some reason you chose to take the time to read this blog.  You didn’t need to do it.  Maybe right now you are wishing you didn’t.  Anyway, it was a choice, and at least to some extent you put reading this blog as a priority over other things you could have done with this time.

In the same way, I make the choice to put a priority on writing this blog.  Unfortunately the blog has not made it to the top of the priority list the last couple of weeks.  Things have been a little extra busy around here.  But regardless of how busy I feel, basically it means that I put a higher priority on the other things I had to do over the last couple of weeks, and this blog was a casualty of those choices.

Anyway, that leads me to my point.  We all have the time for the things we choose to put a priority on.  And the question is, are we making the right choices?  Are we putting the right priorities on the right things?  This Sunday, I will be talking about putting a priority on our relationship with God.  Of course, in order to hear the sermon, you are going to have to put a priority on coming to The River, 9:30 Sunday morning at 2510 Chaska Blvd.  Hope to see you there!

Hospitality

My wife Julie was diagnosed with pneumonia last Friday.  The doctor told her that she had to go home and go to bed.  She was told to treat it as if she was in the hospital even though she was at home.  I know that many people have been praying for her and thankfully she has begun to feel a little better.  The fever finally broke and while the cough is still prevalent, at least some of the pain has subsided. 

Now of course, when mommy is laid up the rest of the home is put in a tough position as well.  The kids still need to be taken care of, the house still needs to be cleaned, the laundry needs to be done, and of course everyone still needs to eat.  We have four children, ages 2-10 and so you can imagine that while Julie has been recuperating, my life has been kind of out of whack.  I have been trying to be both mommy and daddy for the last few days as well as taking care of a sick wife. 

Thankfully my work is flexible and I have been able to do a lot of work from home so that the kids are still okay.  I also can multi-task, at least to some extent, which means that I can get laundry and other household tasks done while also working on my sermon and even writing this blog. 

But one of the reasons these last few days have gone so well is because of the ministry of hospitality provided to us by our River Church family.  Julie’s parents live nearby, but they were on their way out of town when Julie was diagnosed.  Julie’s mom offered to postpone our trip, but I told her to go ahead and go, because while it would be convenient to have her here, we also have a church family here with us and they have really stepped up. 

We have had a few people volunteer to take the kids for a time so that I could get work done or run errands.  And we have had several families that have brought us meals so that I did not have to think about cooking dinner.  What a blessing everyone has been.

This is part of what it means to “be the church.”  We are called to show hospitality to one another.  We are supposed to care for one another.  It isn’t always easy.  It isn’t always convenient.  But we do it because we are called to “be the church.”  I am so thankful to our church family for the blessing they have been during this time of need.  Thanks church!

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!

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!

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