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Three Phases of Accepting a God-sized Opportunity

When I knew that God was calling me to serve in pastoral ministry for the rest of my life, I wrote a note in the margin of my Bible, “Called to Preach, March 1, 1995.” Seven months later, on October 1, I finally surrendered and said “yes” to His call. I had all kinds of reasons why God couldn’t possibly use a shy kid like me in a preaching role, but my excuses said more about my lack of faith in God’s ability than about my own lack of ability. But God was patient, as He always is, and decided to use me in spite of my reluctance.

When I read the story of Mary, the mother of Jesus, I discover three phases of acceptance as she journeyed from fear to faith to embrace her God-sized opportunity. The Bible says in Luke 1:26-38 that after an angel appeared to her she was “confused and disturbed,” but the angel comforted her with a “Fear not.” After she understands God’s plan a little better she takes a step forward, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.” God’s messenger, Gabriel, patiently explains things a little more clearly and Mary’s final response is one of faith, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.”

When God-sized opportunities come along, I think it’s natural to be cautious and afraid, and God is patient with us. He knows we are made of dust and understands our position of fear. So He offers comfort instead of rebuke. That’s phase one, and God wants us to grow beyond our fear and trepidation.

Phase two is acceptance, but with a lot of questions and reservations. “Okay, but how?” And phase three is surrender. It’s when we say, “Okay, whatever you want, I’m in. Do your thing, God!”

I spent seven months on that three-phase journey. Mary spent mere moments. You may be stuck in phase one or two right now. You know God wants to use you to share your faith with your neighbor, encourage your friend, or sign up to serve others in some way, but you’re either afraid, or you’re accepting but with questions and reservations. The sooner you say “Yes, Lord! I’m Your servant – do whatever you want to do with my life,” the sooner you begin to experience the outrageous, contagious joy of experiencing His work and power in your life.

What is God calling you to do, or to keep doing, that you have reservations about because of feelings of inadequacy? Maybe today is the day to say, “Yes!”

A Totally Unexpected Christmas Sermon Series

I’m quite excited that after much studying, praying, agonizing, and wrestling, I finally caught a vision for a fresh series of messages for the three weeks leading up to Christmas this year. I’d share the graphics but I don’t own the original. You can find it at Graceway Media.

UnExcpected Christmas Sermon Series

The promo copy…

I didn’t ask for THIS! I didn’t see THAT coming! What in the world am I going to do NOW?

God had been telling the world to expect a Savior for hundreds of years, but when an angel told a virgin it was time, it was shocking news that changed the world. Been there? When you’re coasting along and suddenly your whole world gets flipped upside down? The Christmas story teaches us how to expect God’s best when the unexpected happens in life.

Mary: When the Big Opportunity Comes Along (Dec. 7)

You feel like the last person God should choose for this, but in His overwhelming grace, He picks you! What do you do? You praise Him and prepare for His blessing.

Joseph: When the Bomb Drops In Your Life (Dec. 14)

Everything was rocking along just fine until you discover the scandalous secret that could wreck all your plans. What do you do? You obey God’s voice, trusting that He knows what He’s doing.

The Shepherds: When You’re Invited to the Party (Dec 21)

You’ve felt insignificant and unnoticed pretty much your whole life. But God has had His eye on you the whole time. Now He’s invited you to the party, and into His forever family. What do you do? You accept!

Was the Grinch a Christian? Exposing the Real Grumps of Christmas

How the Grinch Stole Christmas - Cindy Lou WhoOne of my favorite holiday movies is How the Grinch Stole Christmas, especially the new Jim Carrey version. Dr. Seuss invented a character that became so wildly popular, he’s now a cliche (i.e. “Don’t be such a grinch!”). Anyone who puts a damper on the holidays falls into the grinch category.

As a Pastor, I’m immersed (often beyond my own comfort level) in what I’ve come to think of as the Christian subculture. This is the realm in which Christian believers live. We have our own music, our own bookstores, and our own schools. None of this is bad. I read “Christian” books, listen to “Christian” music, and send my kiddo’s to a “Christian” school. The problem comes when we begin to assume that, based on America’s Judeo-Christian heritage, our Christian subculture is actually THE one and only acceptable culture for all.

Somewhere around the Thanksgiving holiday, I start getting emails from alarmed Christian citizens who are outraged at the all out assault on our faith that consists of such brutal persecution tactics as forcing us to be greeted with a friendly “Happy Holidays” or “Season’s Greetings” rather than our traditional, more Christocentric “Merry Christmas.” These friendly folks who dare to leave the name of the Savior out of their otherwise friendly greetings are… grinches, as are the retailers who refuse to advance their commercial and materialistic “sales” using the name of Christ, or the lawyers who file for injunctions against public displays of internally-lit plastic statues of the biblical nativity characters.

This bunch of grinches has the gaul to assert that even those who don’t believe that Jesus is the Messiah, sent as the Savior of the world, should not be expected to use His name in spite of their unbelief. After all, 99% of Americans are true, born again believers… right? (Hint: Nobody agrees on the actual percentage because of disagreements over the theological grounds for the label “Christian”, but 99% is waaaayyy off.)

But are we, in our rather demanding viewpoints in our Christian subculture, the actual grinches in this story?

This past weekend, my family picked a movie off of Netflix none of us had ever heard of before: Christmas With a Capital “C”. The acting wasn’t necessarily the greatest, but the storyline was at least slightly unpredictable. And there was a memorable line uttered that resonated with my own feelings about our Christian activism. The city council in the setting of a small Alaskan town was struggling with their response to an injunction against the display of a nativity on city property. Many of the believers in town were outraged that their long-held tradition had been challenged by a liberal, interloping lawyer. But one participant at the table gave voice to a different value… “Maybe we Christians should spend less time demanding our own rights and traditions and more time serving people in the name of Christ.”

I know I’m going against the grain here, as a Christian, but I wholeheartedly agree with that statement. I don’t want stores to feel they have to plaster the name of Christ over every holiday bargain. I don’t want us so focused on defending the display of our nativity scenes (which never, by the way, depict the nativity biblically anyway) that we ultimately shout at our Muslim, Jewish, atheistic, and other non-Christian neighbors to get their noses out of our business and be on their way.

I am a Christian. I believe Jesus Christ is the virgin born, sinless Son of God, sent to die on the cross for our sins, who rose again and is returning someday to establish a reign of peace and justice for all of eternity. He is the One and only Savior of the world, the One and only “way” to the Father (see John 14:6), and the One and only Redeemer who can possibly atone for the sins of mankind against our Creator.

And as His follower, sent to love people outside the faith, I’m going to make room in my Christmas celebration for my Muslim neighbors, my atheist neighbors, my Jewish neighbors, my Hindu neighbors, and anybody else who doesn’t share my traditions.

I’m not arguing that we should in any way compromise our beliefs about Jesus. I simply think that our belief in the biblical Jesus demands that we refuse to become the grinches in the story of our culture. Which is the better way to influence the very people whom Jesus died to save? To take our angry demands to court and the editorial sections, shouting in the faces of our enemies? Or to walk as the Savior Himself might have, loving our neighbors as ourselves, praying for them and being a blessing to them, even when it means making room for unfamiliar traditions alongside our own?

It boils down to two possible goals. If our goal is to preserve our own traditions and protect our Christian subculture while the world goes to hell, then by all means, the fight is on. But if our goal is to balance truth and grace to lovingly influence our surrounding world for Jesus’ sake, perhaps we should strive for a better approach.

Christian… don’t be a grinch.

Think “Warm” As You Plan Your Church’s Christmas Calendar

I’ve never really considered this before, but Gary Molander makes a pretty deep point about where our audience is when we go into the holiday season. As we design communication pieces, craft messages, and plan services, it’s a good idea to think about the perspective from which our audience is listening – not for the purpose of making the message any more palatable, but to improve our ability to communicate it clearly. Listen in…

Hat Tip to ChurchLeaders.com for this find.

10 Unique Gifts We Hope to Have Under our Tree