Your Very Life

Living where Life is

Month: May 2016 (page 1 of 2)

What church is Jesus building?

imgresThis Past Sunday, we learned with the 12 disciples about Jesus’ true identity, mission, calling on us, and the destiny of everyone in the world.  …Not bad for a Memorial Day Sunday!

It’s because we were in Matthew 16:13-28.  You can watch the sermon here (scroll to just after 36 minutes in).  I enlist some children and 3 superheroes to help me with the introduction.

This week, you can download the study guide to work through the passage on your own. Study Guide 2016.05.29

CS Lewis said this: “Aim at heaven and you’ll get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you’ll get neither.” What he meant is bound up in this part of Scripture.  May God enrich you as you learn!


Television with an English Accent

imgresLast week at my son’s school spring concert, a high school student recited the following poem by Roald Dahl.  He’s famous as the author of “Charlie and Chocolate Factory,” “The BFG” and “James and the Giant Peach”.

I’m not sure when this was written, but for sure before all our hand-held screens! It’s meant to be funny, and it packs a punch.

Spare some time to read this aloud, and (if you can) in an English accent. Poetry is better when your ear hears it. Everything’s better when imitating ‘the old country’.  And, then… go pick up a book and read with your kids, or on your own.  You’ll be glad you did.

Television, by Roald Dahl

The most important thing we’ve learned,
So far as children are concerned,
Is never, NEVER, NEVER let
Them near your television set —
Or better still, just don’t install
The idiotic thing at all.
In almost every house we’ve been,
We’ve watched them gaping at the screen.
They loll and slop and lounge about,
And stare until their eyes pop out.
(Last week in someone’s place we saw
A dozen eyeballs on the floor.)
They sit and stare and stare and sit
Until they’re hypnotised by it,
Until they’re absolutely drunk
With all that shocking ghastly junk.
Oh yes, we know it keeps them still,
They don’t climb out the window sill,
They never fight or kick or punch,
They leave you free to cook the lunch
And wash the dishes in the sink —
But did you ever stop to think,
To wonder just exactly what
This does to your beloved tot?
‘All right!’ you’ll cry. ‘All right!’ you’ll say,
‘But if we take the set away,
What shall we do to entertain
Our darling children? Please explain!’
We’ll answer this by asking you,
‘What used the darling ones to do?
‘How used they keep themselves contented
Before this monster was invented?’
Have you forgotten? Don’t you know?
We’ll say it very loud and slow:
THEY … USED … TO … READ! They’d READ and READ,
AND READ and READ, and then proceed
To READ some more. Great Scott! Gadzooks!
One half their lives was reading books!
The nursery shelves held books galore!
Books cluttered up the nursery floor!
And in the bedroom, by the bed,
More books were waiting to be read!
Such wondrous, fine, fantastic tales
Of dragons, gypsies, queens, and whales
And treasure isles, and distant shores
Where smugglers rowed with muffled oars,
And pirates wearing purple pants,
And sailing ships and elephants,
And cannibals crouching ’round the pot,
Stirring away at something hot.
(It smells so good, what can it be?
Good gracious, it’s Penelope.)
The younger ones had Beatrix Potter
With Mr. Tod, the dirty rotter,
And Squirrel Nutkin, Pigling Bland,
And Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle and-
Just How The Camel Got His Hump,
And How the Monkey Lost His Rump,
And Mr. Toad, and bless my soul,
There’s Mr. Rat and Mr. Mole-
Oh, books, what books they used to know,
Those children living long ago!
So please, oh please, we beg, we pray,
Go throw your TV set away,
And in its place you can install
A lovely bookshelf on the wall.
Then fill the shelves with lots of books,
Ignoring all the dirty looks,
The screams and yells, the bites and kicks,
And children hitting you with sticks-
Fear not, because we promise you
That, in about a week or two
Of having nothing else to do,
They’ll now begin to feel the need
Of having something to read.
And once they start — oh boy, oh boy!
You watch the slowly growing joy
That fills their hearts. They’ll grow so keen
They’ll wonder what they’d ever seen
In that ridiculous machine,
That nauseating, foul, unclean,
Repulsive television screen!
And later, each and every kid
Will love you more for what you did.

Forgiveness: Study Guide (for sermon on 05/22/16)

images-1Forgiveness.  Why is it so hard? Why is it so crucial? What help can we get on it? Keep reading and studying:

Attached is the study guide to go with this week’s sermon.  You can use this in your personal quiet times, your family / couple devotions, or in a small group bible study.

Study Guide 2016.05.22

Click here to watch the archive of this week’s service.

Study Guide on Church Discipline (Mt 18:15-20)

arrow_circleHere is the study guide that accompanies today’s message.  Church discipline is a much misunderstood concept: for the vast majority of it, it’s organic as you hold me accountable and I hold you accountable. Only if someone is unwilling to give consideration to that personal, relational help does “church discipline” go from being organic to official/organized.

Study Guide 2016.05.15

If you haven’t heard the message, you can click here to watch the archive of the service.

School Bathrooms, Real Issues, and Grace & Truth

imagesSome days are slow news days. This one is significant. Today the Obama administration sent letters to every school district in the country instructing them to make bathrooms available based on “gender choice” rather than biology. Here is the blurb from the Wall Street Journal’s website :

White House: Transgender Students Free to use Bathroom of Choice: The Obama administration Friday told educators around the country they should allow transgender students to use the bathroom and locker facilities of their chosen gender, saying federal law bars discrimination against such students.(accessed 5/13/16)

You can read the New York Times’ full article here.  It’s good.

Let me lay out some links to help you think more clearly about these issues.

First, as far as elementary school students, The American College of Pediatricians issued a position statement on March 21, 2016 (updated 4/6/16) entitled “Gender Ideology Harms Children.” Click here to read it. (The ACP was founded in 2002.) It is worth reading and considering the research, logic and conclusions in this short statement. The harm we may be inviting on young lives by encouraging them to explore/live into transgender feelings will not be known for years. I know that’s not a popular public concern, but it’s a real concern that crosses my mind.

Second, Trevin Wax blogged on The Gospel Coalition, “7 Troubling questions about Transgender Theories”. Click here to read it. Wax does a good job of succinctly probing several lines of thought that are accepted as fact in many quarters. (published May 3)

Third, read Perry Noble’s quick post for a more punchy and pastoral consideration of the backlash to NC’s HB2 law.  It’s short, to the point, and filled with common sense. Read it here. His main point is this: if you agree with HB2 are you REALLY guilty of hate crimes?

Fourth, Joe Carter, also at the Gospel Coalition, has several good posts about the Justice Department and NC.  He’s a good clear thinker. Here is his latest, which is “From Agender to Ze: a Glossary for the Gender Identity Revolution.”

I’ve written before on this here and here.

When you get a chance, read the links above.  But also please keep reading:

As Christians, we are people of grace and truth. That’s what Jesus lived (John 1:14). God’s truth is that he graciously created humanity in his image–male and female both reflect and represent God.  As CS Lewis noted, “there are no mere mortals”.  In other words, everyone has the imprint of God’s loving creatorship on them, his highest gift to the created world: being in his image (Gen 1:27-28, Eccl 3:11, etc., etc.).

By the way, we are seeing a return from Order to Chaos in terms of sexuality and gender. A worldview that says “everything morphed from nothing over eons of time, in incremental-random-survivor-fashion, without a gracious Hand guiding things” will not have any way to shepherd people who have chaos in their internal perceptions: “I’m a woman in a man’s body” or “I’m not sure where I fit” or “something’s not right with my biology, it doesn’t match my psychology.” Chaos reigns. However, Consider worldview which lays out that there is a design in this world, and a Designer; there is a perfection that has been corrupted (which has affected all aspects of life and creation); there is a future ‘being made new’ that is coming. This worldview says the chaos is not the king, it’s the court jester spoiling things! The chaos I or anyone feels in our inner hearts is not the Truth to be followed.

Truth matters, and the lenses through which we grasp the reality around are crucial. Truth of God’s goodness, power, sovereignty and redemption of the world from sin will make all the difference in how you live life.

Believers in Christ are not only people of Truth. We are also people of grace: kindness, mercy, love, generosity.  I have very strong convictions about the national & future implications of the Federal government’s twin oversteps (in my mind): Justice’s actions on May 5 with respect to North Carolina’s governing of itself, and now every school district’s ability to best care for children in their charge. I have well-thought out reservations on both of these issues, as issues & as policy.

But, on an individual level, with my gay or transgender friends, acquaintances and neighbors, I strive to bring Christ’s level of love and kindness. He clearly loved and moved toward those whose life choices he disagreed with. How do I know? First, the Gospels record this everywhere. And second, he loved and moved toward me, when I was his enemy and not even looking for him.

May the Grace and Truth of Christ be in super-abundant evidence in the body of Christ on this “significant news day”.

And, if you have been helped by this post, comment or share it with others. The world needs grace and truth.

Sarah’s dad came back to life and changed hers forever

imagesRead the reflections of our college-aged friend, Sarah Albritton, about her experience 1 year ago this week. So worth it. She wrote it on Facebook, and I asked her if I could extend its reach to folks who might not have seen it.

Sarah’s FB post: “Today I am thankful.” (May 10, 2016)

366 days ago, I hugged my parents goodbye in the parking lot after seeing [my sister] Amy graduate. I was frustrated because I had just gotten an email that my summer classes had been dropped because I hadn’t paid my tuition in time, something that I had reminded my dad to do a couple weeks prior. I gave them a quick half-hearted hug and a curt “bye” before closing my car door and driving back to Raleigh for [my friend] Holden’s graduation the next day. 365 days ago, I was putting on my mascara when I got a call from my mom. I screened the call because I was running late, thinking I would text her back in a few minutes. She immediately called me again, and I answered the phone to receive news that has changed me forever. My dad woke up on that Saturday morning, went to let the dogs outside, and dropped dead in the hallway next to my old bedroom door. I hesitate to use that terminology, knowing that it is so much easier to say “suffered sudden cardiac arrest and became asystolic,” but I don’t want to soften the impact of what happened with clinically detached jargon. My dad was dead, but my mom, terrified but brave beyond her knowledge, kept his heart pumping by performing compressions until the paramedics and EMTs arrived to start his heart again.

If you asked me to pick one day of my life that changed me forever, I would pick May 9, 2015. That was the day I saw just how strong my mother and my siblings are, the day I realized that God is the only one who is truly in control, the day I realized that I had to stop fooling myself and admit that I’m called to be there for others the way the doctors, nurses, PAs, etc were there for us, and the day I was taught the lesson to never leave the ones you love without making sure they know you love them. I will forever be thankful for the miracle God blessed us with in my dad. According to the American Heart Association, only 8.3% of people who suffered sudden cardiac arrest in 2015 survived the event and were discharged with good neurological function. That means I had a 91.7% chance that the last word I said to my dad would have been a curt “bye.”

If you’ve made it through reading this far, thank you. I have a few things to tell you. 1. Remember that the darkest moments are often the ones that help you grow the most. 2. Remember to always be kind to people because you never know what they are going through. I remember the lady at the ticket booth in the hospital parking lot specifically because she saw me crying and instead of trying to ignore it and do her job, she looked me right in the eye and talked with me. She made me feel okay to be upset. She smiled at me and told me that it was in God’s hands. I didn’t need to hide my well-deserved emotions, and that was such a relief. 3. Last, but not least, never EVER ever ever ever (ever) leave somebody or hang up the phone without having resolved your emotions. Tell people you love them as often as you can and every time you think about it. There is not a single problem in the world that is worth being the subject of your last conversation. I am overwhelmed with gratitude that I was given a second-chance. Please don’t make the same mistake that I did.

Today, and every single day for the past 365 days, I am thankful for my dad. I am thankful for my family. Above all, I am thankful for the blessing God has given us.

Guarding your Life’s Path

build-pathway-300x282“How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word.”

With two young men in our home, this verse from Psalm 119:9 takes on huge significance.  I so want them to live lives of purity and integrity on every level, so that they would delight their heavenly Father.

Ps 119:9 was Week 17’s verse in Grace Fellowship’s 2016 memory challenge: “50 verses to change your life”.

The next five weeks of our challenge the verses tackle 5 specific helps every Christian needs. (The Navigators have used these verses and the “Five Assurances” for years.)  I have “guarded [my way] according to your word” with these 5 verses for over 20 years.  That’s when I first learned them, and I can tell you that the Lord has used these 5 verses more than any other in the last 20 years in my life at different times.  Read them and you’ll see why.

Why not join (or re-join… if you’ve fallen off the wagon) this memory challenge!  You can email to get each week’s verse in your email on Monday morning.

1.  Assurance of Forgiveness – because we all still sin, even though we belong to Christ. What do we do? 1 John 1:9 – “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” [This is the memory verse for this week.]

2.  Assurance of Answered Prayer – because we all wonder at times if God is listening to us.  He is, and he is answering… as we are asking for things that Jesus would ask for (a good summary of what “in my name” means). It’s John 16:24 and it’s Jesus talking to his disciples: “Until now, you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy shall be complete.”

3.  Assurance of Salvation – because we all wrestle at times with the question if we are really saved. The enemy loves to fire darts of doubt into our heads. 1 John 5:11-12 settle it… if you have asked Christ to forgive you and live in you… this verse settles it:   “And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and that life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life. He who does not have the Son of God, does not have life.”   Amen and Amen.

4.  Assurance of Victory – because we all face temptation, and sometimes it’s overwhelming.  Watch for God’s way of escape: “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful, he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted he will also provide a way of escape so that you may stand up under it.” 1 Cor 10:13.

5.  Assurance of Direction – because all of us need to know HOW it is that God leads us in daily life.  Three simple phrases are our part… and then, “he will direct your path.” So, here is that rightly famous passage, Proverbs 3:5-6. “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.”

Study Guide for 5/8/16

arrow_circleIf you didn’t see today’s sermon, click here to watch it.

If want to take the next step and study a little more, download the accompanying study guide.

Study Guide 2016.05.08

If you want to jump into the “50 Verses to Change your Life” challenge, this week’s is 1 John 1:9.  You can choose to memorize in the NIV or ESV:

NIV: If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

ESV: If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Click here to have each week’s verse in your inbox on Monday morning!  And, watch God change your life in 50 verses.

Kindness to change the world

imgresWhen was the last time you pondered what kindness really is? It’s way more than ‘being nice’. It’s definitely not being a pushover or weak. In his new book, Love Kindness, Biola University President Barry Corey spends 234 pages exploring what it would look like for us to live and love kindness like we ought.

Our culture rewards brashness, pushiness, scheming, manipulation, self-promotion and winning at all costs. Think of any scandal in the news, whether political, commercial, academic or athletic. They happen because people tread all over the good, true or decent in the name of self, gain or victory.

Kindness is left behind in our culture. It is set aside as a relic: a courtesy from a bygone era. Or, it is dismissed as an eccentricity: “that’s just old Mr. McGillicutty.”

But, what really is kindness? And, does the world need it? Kindness, according to Corey, is “strong yet humble… [honest] and looks like truth with love” (p. xvi). Strong and true—kindness stands for something. Humble, honest and with love—kindness move outwards gently and genuinely. He explains that it is being “firm in your center and soft in your edges.” Firm in what you believe, but gentle in how you communicate it.

Too many people get this wrong: they have soft centers and/or firm edges. A soft center means you don’t have any convictions about what’s right or wrong. You go with the flow. Never make waves. Be nice no matter what. Niceness is a faulty substitute for kindness. We see a “soft center” in too much of the world.

We also see “hard edges” in far too many places: people who do know what they believe being shrill about it. Yelling at folks with whom they disagree. Staging demonstrations or protests filled with invective and caricatures. Lecturing without listening. The problem is that hard edges will never allow those who disagree with you to see your perspective: they’ll only see anger, raised voices and pushing.

Kindness means keeping the edges soft while the center is firm. Convictions must be clothed in compassion. Strength is experienced through gentleness. Truth is known through grace. Firm center and soft edges.

Corey challenges Christians with Jesus’ words: “Whoever receives you receives me…” (Matthew 10:40). As Christians, our greatest goal is that we would represent Jesus himself well to the world he loves, helping hungry people find his feast, leading wandering and hurting people home to him.

Kindness is what makes me “receivable”. When I demonstrate I value someone by an act of kindness, that builds a bridge instead of a wall. When I listen and respect an opinion (even if disagreeing) that kindness draws someone in instead of turns them off. Kindness demonstrates that my character is being renovated: The Holy Spirit is bearing his fruit in me (Galatians 5:22).

Kindness is not weakness, nor rolling over. It’s being receivable—getting outside ourselves and into the person in front of you: “what are they thinking, how might I help them in this small interaction? How can I serve them so they see Christ in me?”

Kindness is overlooked by the world, but longed for. It’s downgraded by many, but received when extended. As Christians grow in kindness, we will see the world as God sees it, and might even start a revolution.

[This first appeared in the Kinston Free Press, May 7, 2016]

A Better Gospel

imgres-1A whole lot of people think the gospel is just “getting my sins forgiven” or “fire insurance” to keep you out of hell. Both of these get to the truth, but is that really all there is?

What is the gospel as God lays it out in Scripture?  At Secret Church on Friday night, David Platt used an acrostic based on the word GOSPEL to explain the many facets involved in this good news.  It’s summarized here.

Maybe you could use this in your Quiet Time one day to worship the Lord for how awesome is his Good News of Great Joy!

God’s Character: the gospel is good news about God himself! “And this is eternal life, that they know YOU the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (Jn 17:3, see also Rom 1:16-17, Titus 2:11, etc.) The best part about the good news is that it’s God giving himself to us. His love for us, he delight in us, his plan to accomplish his purposes for us, his wrath at our sins being absorbed by his Son… he is just and merciful in himself. Wow.

Offense of Sin: We are all Adam and Eve–ignoring God’s Word, and rebelling against his character. Pride is our number one problem, and it leads to rebellion, self-centeredness, and a fallenness out of which we can never rise on our own. We need someone from the outside to lift us up.  (Rom 3:12, 3:23, 5:8-12, etc.).

Sufficiency of Christ: As one of my favorite old hymns says, “His grace has planned it all, ’tis mine but to believe, and recognize his work of love and Christ receive.” The gospel centers around Jesus Christ–God in the flesh, Living the perfect life we couldn’t, dying the perfect death as our substitute, becoming sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor 5:21) resurrected in triumph, ascended in glory and returning in hope!

Personal Response: The gospel call is to repent and believe (Mark 1:15, Acts 2:38, etc.) There is no other way to gain the sufficiency of Christ. We must turn away from ourselves and entrust our lives to him! And, we each must do this for ourselves; we are not saved by our family, our church, our country, our ethnicity or social standing, education, or anything. We are saved when we surrender to Jesus and lift our filthy, sin-stained hands and say, “Lord, rescue me!”

Eternal Urgency: The stakes are high in life. Every person has an eternal destiny. An existence after death: either in separation from God or in his glorious presence. 2 Thes 1:5-10 includes this line: “They [ie., those who have not surrendered to Christ] will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord…”

Life Transformation: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life i now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:20). We now live life from the inside out: The Spirit of Jesus himself lives in us, and transforms us so that we increasingly look like Christ (Roman 8:29-30). The Spirit bears his fruit in our lives: love, joy peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. We join him in “putting off our old self” and putting on the new” (Eph 4-5, Col 3:12-17, etc.). We have a new outlook, a new identity, a new security, and a new agenda. Your life is not your own, you have been bought with a price. Therefore glorify God with your bodies (1 Cor 6:19-20).

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