As we look back over this year, we have many responses. Some of you would like to pretend this year never happened or perhaps want a Do-over. Others of you had a great year and hate to see it go. Despite some major transition this year, I understand that God is at work. I would not have chosen the circumstances behind some of the changes, but God has use unfortunate things to propel us into greater things. He is all about developing our character.
Some of you may do like I did at one point in my life and try to erase certain parts by getting rid of any reminders. Before you do, try to discern the lessons from this year.
- What did you do wrong this year?
- What could you have done better this year?
- What should you have done that you didn’t do?
- What risk did you not take that you should have taken?
- What did you do well this year?
Be truthful with yourself. If you cannot be truthful with yourself, find that friend who will tell you like it is. If you don’t have that, I would recommend a counselor. A counselor had me pegged within the first 5 minutes, and it helped spare me from repeating some destructive patterns in my life.
Look at 2017 with an honest eye and a teachable spirit. Otherwise, you will move forward into the future with the idea that you do nothing wrong and everyone else is at fault. Sometimes, the first person we must deliver the truth to is self. Be honest enough to do that and find out how liberating it really is.
This subject has been heavy on my heart for a few years now. I cannot help but come back to it. How many of us hurl stones when we find out someone has fallen into a sin trap? You don’t have to think back too far to remember public figures within the last few months who committed sexual sin. The media sensationalized it (surprisingly on both the conservative and liberal sides). The same happens in Christian circles. It is a great tool of the devil to convince people that church and faith are not worth our time and energy.
We do not hear much about restoration within churches. I have talked with pastors from conservative denominations other than the one with which I was formerly affiliated. I know of two that have a restoration process for pastors or their families when they go through divorce or have fallen into sin. I was rather surprised as many churches “restoration process” is to kick them out, ostracize them, and hope they repent. The success rate on that “process” is great if you want to embitter people and turn them against God.
So from where does this idea of restoration come? The Bible. Great place, right? Matthew 18 outlines a discipline process. This is not for the purpose of expulsion but restoration. If you follow the 3 steps and the person continues his or her wicked ways, he or she does not want to be restored. According to Galatians 6:1, restoration is a commandment. Note what this verse says: “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted.” In other words, any of us could fall into this sin trap so we should handle them gently and help get them back to a greater place spiritually than they were.
Have you ever wondered why many leave the church? The lack of restoration is one of those reasons. It’s dirty work, but so was salvation. Jesus picked up dirty sinners out of the miry clay (Psalm 40) and washed their sins away when they cried out to Him for salvation. Therefore, we have no reason at all to think we are above sin or above giving a hand up to someone who took a wrong turn in life. What would Jesus do? He would restore, and He still does!
I had another one of those KFC moments today where I encountered one of my pastor friends. He invited me to sit down with him and eat, so I did. He was telling me about a trip he took to India with a group from his church. While there, he was asked the question, “Are you obeying the Great Commission or fulfilling it?” He told me about how this thought has resonated with him ever since.
I began to think about that on a wider level concerning all of God’s commandments. Before I continue, I want us to consider the difference between obeying and fulfilling. Do we obey God’s commandments to comply with God’s standard or do we fulfill them in order to see them through to completion? Are we checking off that we shared the Gospel, or are we leading people to faith in Christ, baptizing them, and seeing them grow into fully devoted followers of Christ who are doing the aforementioned things?
I’m afraid that many of us (if we are doing any part of the Great Commission) are either doing a portion of this or have a narrow view of what this can really be? Many believe that the Great Commission has to mirror the exact process their church does. But what if it is accomplished through house churches? What if it takes on an outside the box look while still doing what Jesus commanded?
The way to Heaven is narrow, the Great Commission is clear, but the way that takes shape should not be limited by man. What if God wants to do something bigger, but we choose to put it in our traditional box? May we be guilty of flowing in the liberty of the Holy Spirit rather than stifling a move of God because of methods with which we are uncomfortable.
Today has been an unusual Christmas Day for sure (I bet you’re agreeing if you can see the blue “pearl” necklaces hanging from my neck and ears). In December 2013, unusual became normal for every Christmas Day. I typically spend 4+ hours round trip to pick up my kids, they spend time with both sides of this part of the blended family, and we all crash sometime in the evening. Such was the case again today.
They were greeted with a house decorated in blue. We agreed that we would reveal what the new addition will be today although we have known since Thursday. This is #5 for me, #4 for my wife, and 7 between the two of us. We already had 3 boys and 3 girls, so this was going to be the tie breaker. Most wanted a “dude”, so they got their wish. People asked me if I had a preference. No preference here. I will be satisfied with what God gives us.
Each of you celebrated differently. Some of you had the traditional Christmas Day while others like me had a day on the road and going between places. As crazy as it is, I’m thankful for it. I was blessed to have my dad here this year. He comes a few times per year from Virginia, but he mapped out a few days to be here. He will head back tomorrow, and others will arrive tomorrow. The kids have discovered that blended family means a lot more gifts, so they don’t complain.
I’m most thankful that I know the true meaning of Christmas. I’m grateful that I was not taught that Christmas is about presents or an overweight guy in a red suit. My parents made sure that I was in an environment where I learned who Jesus Christ really is. Because of that, I know that I am born again and am fulfilling God’s call on my life. This day is foundational to who I am in Jesus. As I wrote about last year, the original Christmas Day changed my life. I am not the same, and I have no desire to be who I used to be.
From my family to yours, I hope each of you had a wonderful day of celebrating the Savior’s birth.
We are in a society where many are trying to “keep up with the Joneses”, especially at Christmas. I can’t tell you many times I have heard people bemoan the fact that their income is minimal, and they can’t do a lot for Christmas. I totally understand that. While many have been frantically trying to buy the love of others (and pay interest on top of that), I have chosen to stay within my means. I have no other choice, but I would choose no other way. Christ didn’t come to this earth so people would max out their credit cards and try to outbuy each other. When will we get that?
As I was praying about what I would preach this morning, I saw an interesting biblical parallel. When Joseph found out Mary was pregnant, he knew he wasn’t the father. They were betrothed (a step up from engagement and a step down from marriage within that culture), and Joseph’s initial thought was to “divorce” her privately. Approaching the first Christmas, Joseph was wondering what people would think. Things haven’t changed much.
While many are scurrying through Walmart and ramming carts into people to give their family “a good Christmas”, ask yourself what you are emphasizing – Commercialism or Christ? This question is worth answering honestly. And it will reveal the recipient of your worship. Think about it.
I grew up in Portsmouth, Virginia, but I am more of a southerner at heart. I’m not saying that Virginia isn’t the South, but I was meant to be a small town southerner. That is where I found myself in 1998 – in rural North Carolina. What a culture shock at first! I had not found myself there.
I honestly didn’t begin finding myself until 2002 in a church in Hartsville, South Carolina. It was a primarily older congregation that gave me the liberty to mess up, learn as I went, and they loved me where I was. For the first time, I didn’t feel like how well I was loved was based on my performance. It was nice!
I went into another season of suppression after I left there. I had no freedom to carry out what God had put within me. I decided to use that as a time to prepare myself for a day when I would again have that joy of liberty in ministry. God gave that to me in 2009 when I returned to South Carolina. I once again found myself in a church that loved me where I was, followed my leadership, and was given the freedom to be me. I found that I could truly be who God called me to be and not apologize for it. I did not have to conform, and I have grown in that freedom since then.
I could not help but identify with the movie “Cars”. Lightning McQueen was a hotshot race car who landed in a “redneck” town called Radiator Springs. He despised the town and its cars, but the experience changed his life. He ended up longing for a slower pace in a place where others felt like family. He ended restoring hope to a town that was almost non-existent.
I feel like Lightning McQueen to some degree. I thought I knew who I was and wanted to be until I was exposed to something else. Part of that journey almost tore my life apart. I did not feel that I would survive, but God taught me my greatest lessons.
You can make your plans and set your goals, but life may take you some places and through some experiences that you would not choose but will make you better. You will discover that this is when you find yourself.
I preached this message in my first pastorate as we began a new church year. For those of you who may be unfamiliar with this concept, it takes place after a church goes through a ton of bureaucracy to fill positions and has umpteen committee and business meetings before it gets passed. This “church year” begins normally around the first Sunday of September.
The church at Corinth was the most worldly, sinful church in Scripture. Paul had a lot to say to them. Based on their sinfulness, here are 9 ways for you to help screw up your church:
- Have preacher religion (1:10-17). The Corinthian church was arguing about their favorite preachers: Paul, Apollos, Jesus. This is no different from many today. I asked a church when its best days were, a lady replied that _________ was their favorite preacher. That wasn’t what I asked. Obviously, their best days were when they were pacified.
- Operate in human wisdom (1:18-2:16). Quit preaching the cross, start following your own ideas, and don’t ask God what He wants. This will screw your church up in a heartbeat. Many assist in this process by voting on God’s will. God’s will needs no vote. Just do it!
- Don’t grow up spiritually (3:1-4)! Don’t study the Bible! Just let the preacher do all the praying and thinking for you. That’s what you pay him the big bucks for, right? WRONG!!!!
- Refuse to do your part in God’s work and be unfaithful stewards of His resources (3:5-4:2). If you do, you will lose rewards and dishonor the Lord in the process.
- Live outside God’s boundaries for sex and marriage (ch. 5 & 7). The Corinthian church had a guy who was being sexually immoral with his stepmother. Scripture says that sin affects the whole church because it’s the body of Christ. Paul had to go into great detail about sexual matters in chapter 7. This matter was later addressed through church discipline. A biblical church will help restore people to a right path with God.
- Act like babies (ch. 6). Don’t forgive each other. The Corinthians were taking each other to court over petty matters. When this is happening, you might as well take pews or chairs out of the worship center and put in cribs.
- Do whatever you want to do (6:12-20; ch. 9). The Bible says that our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit, so we belong to God. We can’t call our own shots. He is our Commander in Chief.
- Don’t care about your Christian brothers and sisters (ch. 8; 10:23-33). The Corinthians did not care if what they did was a stumbling block to others.
- Abuse the public worship service (chs. 11-14). The Corinthian church treated worship services as a free-for-all. They abused spiritual gifts in order to show off their “spirituality”. Paul rebuked them and told them to serve in love (ch. 13) because love is more important than any public parade of spiritual gifts.
I guided the church toward the right thing by telling them what not to do. I had such a positive response after this message. I was sure that I had some people angry after I said, “If you are known for your meanness rather than your love, don’t tell anyone you’re a member here.”
I pray this will help you be a blessing in your church by doing the opposite of what the Corinthians did. The next time you get together with your Christian brothers and sisters, strive now more than ever to be a blessing. You never know the impact you can make.
The first time I read about prayer journaling was when I read Prayer: the Great Adventure by Dr. David Jeremiah. Much of his book was excerpts from his personal prayer journal as he was going through cancer and treatments. I thought the idea was great but never followed through. A year ago, I had a notebook where I kept sermon notes for when I preached and from services I attended. One of those pages was a list of requests. They were more like miracles I wanted to see God do. I was amazed how many of these prayers were answered within the last year. We often miss the fact that God answers our prayers because we keep no record of it. We even take for granted that prayer-answering is what God is supposed to do. The things I had on my list were things I honestly did not foresee being answered within a year. I looked at them as impossible, yet God worked despite my lack of faith.
I want to challenge you to write down the things you are praying about currently. There will come a time when those “impossible” things will be made possible by our miracle-working God. I still have a portion of the list that has yet to be answered. This list gave me a faith boost to believe that God will bring these things to pass. Write your requests down. I can assure you that if God doesn’t change the circumstances, He will change the way you pray. The time invested in prayer journaling is worth it.