We continue with our Giving Up series this weekend, focusing on expectations. Some expectations are good, but when we expect God to conform to our expectations of Him, we are walking a dangerous path. Read on for this week’s cover article for the announcements page.
What do you expect of God? Who do you expect Him to be? I’d really like God to conform to my expectations of who He should be. It’s much easier for me to understand God when I decide who and what He is. It’s much more comfortable for me when I define God, rather than allowing God to define me.
I’d like God to conform to my expectations because then there are no hard truths to face. Things like John 14:6:
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
It’s a hard teaching that only Jesus brings eternal life. I’d love to be able to tell people that if they just believe in something, they’d get to experience eternal life.
But fortunately for me, I don’t get to define God. Because every day I serve the false gods that I create. Every day, I worship the “expected” god instead of the true God. And my “expected” god is not a good god. Because only the God revealed in the scriptures is a good God.
God wants to shatter our false expectations and replace them with truth. He wants to replace them with The Truth, his Son Jesus. And when we give up our expectations, we might just find that the God we serve is indeed good, even if it’s not always comfortable walking with Him.
We wrap up our Pain Killer series this weekend talking about the Pain of Rejection. As I reflect on this pain, I’m reminded of the pain God experiences when we reject Him, and how he continually takes us back. Read on for the front page of this week’s announcements as you prepare for the sermon this weekend.
Nobody likes to be rejected. Whether it’s applying for a job and not getting it or asking a girl or guy out on a date, only to get the cold shoulder. Rejection hurts. After several rejections, it’s easy to just give up and not try anymore. How many times can I hear the word “no” and still keep going? Eventually, it’s just easier to give up and not risk rejection.
Have you ever considered how God feels about rejection? He calls us to Himself, to trust Him more than anything else, yet we continually reject Him. Jesus lamented this on His way into Jerusalem:
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! Matthew 23:37
God is continually inviting us into His loving arms and we are continually turning our backs on Him. But He is a loving God. Unlike us, He doesn’t get tired of inviting. He doesn’t give up on us because we continually reject Him. He keeps inviting us, drawing us back to Him. And when we do return, He’s waiting with open arms. In the parable of the Lost Son in Luke 15, we see a picture of the Father’s love for us. When the son finally decides to return to the father, we hear of the father’s great love:
But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. Luke 15:20
As you struggle with the pain of rejection, maybe it’s time to return to your loving Father. He’s waiting for you, with open arms, ready to forgive all the times you’ve rejected Him.
One of the things we learned from our Spiritual Life Survey (results here) is the importance of embedding God’s Word everywhere we can. Sue approached me with a project a while back for posters that would have the books of the Bible on them to hang in the classrooms at First Trinity. We also wanted a matching bookmark to accompany them. Here’s what we came up with:
We went with white text on black to improve readability from a distance, but I also liked the contrast of mostly black/white with a splash of color on each. Both the plan and the water convey life, which connects nicely with God’s Word being our primary source of life. The green and blue colors are also reminiscent of our logo, which has a leaf-like shape with green on top and blue on the bottom.
We’re currently in the bidding process to get the posters and bookmarks made and hope to have them available by Spring, assuming the cost is right.
We continue our series titled Pain Killer this week, focusing on the pain of suffering. Read on for this week’s announcement front page.
Lent is fast approaching. In about 10 days, we will “celebrate” Ash Wednesday, a solemn time to remember that we are sinful people. Lent is traditionally a time to focus on the passion—or suffering—of Jesus. If only we could talk about suffering without actually living it.
I once thought that becoming a Christian meant that I wouldn’t suffer any more. No more emotional pain. No more physical suffering. No more hurt. I’ve learned, however, that this is simply not the case.
I have said these things to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world. John 16:33
Suffering is a natural consequence of sin. It’s wrapped up in who we are as sinful people. Jesus warns us that we’ll be facing some tough times, even some suffering. It’s going to hurt. It’s going to be hard. You won’t want to walk this path. But thankfully, you don’t walk it alone.
Jesus has overcome the world, and eventually, those who trust in Him will truly have all their pain and suffering wiped away, never to be experienced again. But in the journey, we experience the pain of suffering with one who walked it before us 2,000 years ago. He’s walking through it with us today. We are not alone. Take heart! He has overcome the world!
We start a new sermon series this week title Pain Killer. It’s a series about bringing our pain to Jesus. This week we look at the pain of loss. The front cover of the announcements this week follows.
Death is ever-present. From the moment we’re born, we are moving closer and closer towards death. Babies who warm hearts with their giggles and smiles are moving towards death. Preschoolers, despite their wild play, laughter and energy, are moving towards death. Teens, adults, seniors—we’re all inching closer to death every day of our lives.
Death seems so final. On the one hand, we know that there is life in Jesus for those who trust completely in Him. We’ve heard Jesus’ words to Martha before:
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?” John 11:25-26
And yet, believing and dealing with the pain of loss are two completely different things. Death seems so final because it’s the end of our time with our loved one. There’s life to come, yes, but we’re still stuck with the stark reality that we will never see our beloved child, wife, husband, mother or father again here on earth. Jesus, the very Son of God, wept at the loss of His friend Lazarus—and Jesus even knew He would raise his friend from the dead!
So how do we cope with the pain of loss? The pain so deep and sharp that it threatens to overwhelm us and pull us under the waterline, drowning in it. We bring it to Jesus, the one who understands our pain. The one who understands and walks through the pain with us. The one who understands and brings life through death. The one who is life.
A while back, I wrote an article for thESource, an online publication for youth workers about technology in ministry. There was a recent call out for writers again, so I decided to write a series of devotions about Jesus. The original topic I had been given was about prophecies fulfilled. They gave me a list of 7-10 prophecies to choose from and were looking for four devotions.
The devotions are now published on thESource. For quick reference, they are:
- Called out of Egypt (Based on Matthew 2:15)
- Called a Nazarene (Based on Matthew 2:23)
- Filled with the Spirit (Based on Luke 4:18-19)
- Signs and Miracles (Based on Matthew 8:16-17)
It was an interesting writing experience. Some of the options seemed almost impossible to write about—Called a Nazarene? What spiritual significance could that possibly have in my life?!—while others were fairly straight forward. The most difficult ones ended up being the most fun to write though, as I had to do some serious thinking about them before putting ink to paper… Or fingers to keyboard anyway.
We’re wrapping up a series in Sunday School this week titled TXT. It’s a look at God’s Word—historical notes, background, characteristics and how to study it. This week focuses on studying it. One of the key verses is Psalm 119:11:
11 I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.
As I think about ways to communicate what this means to students beyond the standard “You need to memorize God’s Word”, it struck me that this is similar to studying for a test and learning something.
It seems that more often than not, students (and us adults too) like to cram for a test. Get all the knowledge in our head, get through the test, then wipe the slate clean for more information. Our teachers always told us that studying a little bit each day and learning the material would take us much further.
Many of us are eager to turn to God’s Word in a crisis. It’s much like cramming for that test. We need a shot to get us through the tough time, then we push it out of our minds. Now, there’s certainly nothing wrong with turning to God’s Word in a crisis, but what if we spent time regularly studying it? Internalizing it? Hiding it in our hearts? How much better off would we be?
What do you think? A fair analogy to make?
I know not every job is like this, but one of the interesting things about my job is that it is very integrated with my life. Here’s what that means. There aren’t a lot of clear boundaries as to when I’m working and when I’m playing (play here is defined as not work).
Now, generally speaking, I certainly major in work while at work and major in play when at home. But, largely because of technology, my work and play bleed into one another fairly regularly. Some examples:
- Email: Despite the fact that you can email me at my work account (an @FirstTrinity.com email) or my play account (@gmail.com), it all goes to the same place. This means I process both work and play email every time I check my email. This is why you may get a work-related email from me at 11 p.m. or a play email at 1 p.m.
- Blogging: Generally speaking, I read blogs when I have an opportunity to do so. It’s easier to divide work and play blogs, but I read both types in both places. I also do some play blogging at work and work blogging at play.
- Twitter: One of the things about Twitter that I love is that I can get small bits of teaching wherever I am. I can also get Fantasy Football news and information. And updates on my friends’ lives. Work and play co-exist.
Sometimes it’s best to have a clear divide between the two things. For me, that’s often on Mondays, which is my “day off”. Very rarely do I respond to work requests on Mondays. Occasionally, but not often. There are also times where I need to erect a barrier so play things don’t interrupt me at work. Usually this involves shutting down my email/twitter/blogging software and focusing exclusively on work.
So here are two theological questions associated with this:
- Is your relationship with God integrated with your life?
- When do you build a barrier to keep out the world and focus exclusively on God?
Of course, God wants both: Life integration and moments of exclusivity.
A while back, I wrote about my Top 5 Promises of God. It regularly shows up in my stats as a page people find while searching the internet for stuff. I’m going to be preaching this weekend and again on October 24/25, so I’ve decided to revisit the promises in more depth.
I didn’t tell our High School students about our “Super Series” concept we’re currently working through at church. The idea is simple: everyone at church “rowing in the same direction” as we study the same topic across all age groups, from worship to Sunday school to Life groups.
I wish I could say it was part of some sneaky test to see if the kids caught on, but the truth is, I just forgot to mention it. So we worked through a “Families Matter” a week ago, then “Communities Matter” this past Sunday, just like everyone else.
Yesterday at Sunday School, Laura Ciminelli says “Hey, this is what the daily devotions have been about this week!” Yup. I guess she passed the test I didn’t intentionally give. This tells me there’s some real strength behind this idea. So fun to see her make the connection on her own, too!
Seth Godin has a good take on becoming a smart person that can apply to the church. Here’s a portion:
If smart people in your industry are talking about an issue you don’t know cold, it’s very important that you don’t just sit there and nod your head sagely. I think there are two constructive paths. The first is to ask. "Wait, I was with you until a second ago. What does that mean?" You’ll be amazed at how smart and engaging this makes you seem if you say it at the right time.
The second approach is to write it down and not go to bed that night until you know the topic better than the person who brought it up. How else, precisely, are you going to become one of the smart people?
Have you ever been in church and “nodded your head sagely?” I know I’ve been there. Why aren’t we asking more questions?
I suppose we’re afraid we’ll look dumb, but our fear keeps us from learning about God and growing closer to Him. Which, ironically, is dumb.
Seth isn’t just talking to the ones who aren’t asking questions though. It’s a reminder for us that as we talk about things with people, we should stop to see if they’re understanding. We should create a culture where people feel safe asking questions.
So let’s get smart.
Post some God-questions you’ve always wanted to ask in the comments. Do it anonymously if you want. We’ll spend some time looking at the questions in the coming weeks.
Big thanks go out to Dona, who made me cookies since I was preaching. I think this is a practice we can all learn from.
Here’s a little preview of the sermon for you. We’re looking at some of the things the Holy Spirit does in our lives. I was struck anew by this verse while preparing:
26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. (Romans 8:26-27)
It seems there’s been any number of times in my life where I just wasn’t sure what to pray for. It’s in those times when it’s in my best interest to just be quiet before God and let the Spirit groan.
Because the Spirit knows what I need, and He speaks the Father’s language. What could I possibly add?
Groan, Spirit, Groan!
I’m preaching this weekend for Pastor Chuck as he heads to Ft. Wayne for a Haiti Missions conference. Last week, he talked about the Ascension of Jesus. This week we look at the next major event in the life of the church, the giving of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
I’m curious to know if anyone has any stories they’d like to share that may or may not make it into the sermon about the Holy Spirit in your life.
Continuing our series, we’re doing Blame It by Jamie Foxx. Sort of.
The song actually crosses the line for what I’m comfortable playing at Sunday School, so we’re going to look at the key topics Jamie Foxx brings up through a different song: Maybe it’s Maybelline by Relient K. Here’s the song, courtesy of Grooveshark:
We’ll primarily be looking at this idea of “blaming” others or things for the sins that we commit. We’ll look at those things we “blame” for not drawing closer to God. You know, the “I’d read my Bible more, but …” type statements.
We’ll also touch on the dangers of Alcohol, the primary “blame” in Jamie Foxx’s song, and what the Scriptures say about drinking.
Here’s the study sheet and lyrics for this weekend.
We’re doing a series in High School Sunday School called Billboard Top Hits. Youth are able to vote one week for one of six songs, all at the top of a different Billboard Music Chart. In addition to looking at themes brought out by the music, we’re trying to teach our youth to be discerning when they listen to music or consume other forms of media.
The first week we did it, we looked at You Found Me by The Fray. We used this excellent Bible Study from St. Thomas the Apostle Life Teen. It’s amazing how much the story parallels Job’s experience with life.
This past week we looked at Dead and Gone by T. I. Lots of great stuff to examine in that song also, even though the lyrics have lots of ****’s in them. You can hear the song on Grooveshark if you’d like, then follow along with the study we did.
Up next: Know Your Enemy by Green Day.
I’m preaching this weekend for Pastor Chuck. We’ll be looking at Jesus’ appearance to the two people on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24:13ff. I’m working on the sermon right now and can’t get this verse out of my mind:
But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. (v. 21a)
I guess I’m struck by the fact that these people could spend so much time with Jesus and still not see Him for who He is. It’s a reminder to me how important it is that we spend time regularly with Jesus, not just learning about Jesus. As Pastor said this weekend in the sermon, it’s about following Jesus, not about following a set of teachings.
I’ve been delinquent getting some Confirmation Audio online. Here’s the last several in case you were eagerly awaiting them!
Confession and Absolution:
Apostle’s Creed 1:
Apostle’s Creed 2:
Jesus Video for Apostle’s Creed 2:
Apostle’s Creed 3:
Jesus Video for Apostle’s Creed 3:
The videos come from Vintage 21. We use them as a starting point for talking about Jesus under the guise of “This is what Jesus isn’t like.”
Today at Sunday School, we started our new series on Encountering God. The series focuses on spiritual disciplines, part of an annual emphasis on the topic of habits for spiritual growth. This year we are spending one week on each of the following:
- Time in God’s Word
Mark Driscoll has a great post that summarizes this discipline. In an effort to make the study more “hands on” this year, we’ve issued a challenge to the kids to spend 30 days with Jesus. There are 30 days between today and Easter, not counting Sundays. So each day, students will be reading a story about Jesus. You can follow along if you’d like. (This chart [and others] comes from Zondervan; our version just adds the dates we’re reading it.)
Each Sunday, we’ll check in with the youth to see how its going and what they’re learning. You may also be interested in a series I wrote a while back about reading the Bible.
At rooted this past weekend, we looked at Philippians 4:4-9. Here’s what it says:
4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
While talking about verses 6-7, we got into a conversation about prayer and worry. One student challenged whether or not prayer really helps with anxiety. The argument was that the project/homework you’re worrying about doesn’t go away when you pray, so you’re just losing that time to work on things. How does that help? I shared something Luther once wrote:
I have so much to do (today) that I should spend the first three hours in prayer.
I challenged this student to get up an hour earlier one day to pray and see what happens.
Then we got into verse eight. It led to a side discussion about the things we fill our minds with. The question was asked, “Is listening to Taylor Swift wrong?” No. But it also isn’t best. Something doesn’t have to be bad for it not to be the best thing for us. The best would be to fill our mind with worship music that glorifies and praises God instead of secular music.
My struggle is less with music and more with television. My “Best” would be not watching TV and spending that time reading the Word instead. The same student from earlier offered to make a deal with me. She’d wake up early three days this week to pray for an hour if I’d skip the television shows I normally watch and read my Bible instead. (Except for American Idol, which was a trade-off for two days where she has an extra early start to the day)
Sounds like a deal.
So this evening I skipped House and 24 and read 1 John all the way through and ready most of the study notes for the book. Tomorrow I get to watch American Idol, but I miss Heroes on Netflix and The Mentalist. Wednesday I skip Lost and Friday I skip Doll House.
So far, I don’t have the shakes. Just in case you were wondering…
I was stressed out the other night while away on my trip to New Orleans for the Gathering planning meeting. Our theme for the Gathering is “We Believe”, and draws on the book of John for it’s primary material. Not knowing what exactly to read, I decided to start at the beginning of John and see what I found. I was struck by John 1:16 in particular:
16 And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.
Not only have we received grace, but grace upon grace. It’s hard enough to understand the concept of grace, but grace upon grace? It’s kind of mind-blowing. As John unfolds, we see so many characters receiving this grace upon grace.
There was the bridegroom at the wedding in Cana in John 2, who’d run out of wine, only to receive grace upon grace in the form of new and better wine.
There was Nicodemus, who didn’t understand how he could be born again in John 3, but received grace upon grace when Jesus talked with him and explained how to be born again.
There was the thirsty woman of Samaria who received living water and the official whose son was healed in John 4. The 38-year invalid in John 5, healed by Jesus. The 5,000 who were fed. Lazarus who died and was raised.
All received grace upon grace. The same grace upon grace that we ourselves receive. Amazing.
I’m preaching this weekend for Pastor Chuck as he’s away in Haiti. We’re continuing with our stewardship talks, this week focusing on putting God first in our lives. It’s a tough order. We’ll be looking at the first Commandment, “You shall have no other gods before me.”
I like watching Battlestar Galactica. (Jaime would tell you that’s all I ever watch, but I also watch Lost, House and 24, just to name a few, so that’s not entirely accurate.) Now, any good space (or submarine/underwater) movie has to have the obligatory “we’re leaking!” moment. You know how this goes. The ship starts leaking air into space/water and someone has to solve the problem by closing a hatch. And of course, there’s always someone on the other side of the hatch that will have to die, causing the hatch-closer to pause. At this point, the Commander or other authority figure usually says something dramatic like “If you don’t close that hatch, we all die! Do it!” They close the hatch, watch the person die just seconds from escaping, then go about the business of saving the ship, all of which happens in about 20 minutes.
The first Commandment is a little bit like that hatch. It’s the gateway to all other sins. If we could do it 100% of the time, we’d be without sin. Putting God first in our lives means we’d never struggle with idolatry, murder, lust, greed, gossip, coveting, envy or any other type of sin. We’d be too busy focusing on Jesus to get into all that other trouble. But how do we do it?
Well, you’ll have to tune in this weekend (or Tuesday for the online version) to find out.