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What to Preach This Sunday In Light of the End of the World

Sunshine

It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine…

That’s a line from the chorus of a hit song by the band R.E.M. And I think, surprisingly, there’s a great deal of truth in it.

I was pulled aside after a Sunday morning service not long ago by an attender who wanted to know when I was going to be warning the congregation about the impending crash of the world economy that Illuminati would be orchestrating in order to decrease the human population by up to 90%. After several minutes of hearing of the danger of vaccines, conspiracies with communist nations, and the malicious intent of the heads of states, I finally held up a hand and said, “Even if this were all true, I’d be completely comfortable preaching exactly what I just preached.”

[Read more…]

5 Ways to Recover Your Passion for Pastoral Leadership

Passion

I’ve been there. I’ve been burned out and depressed, discouraged and defeated. I’ve led in atmospheres where every creative idea was smothered by questions rooted in fear. I’ve been distracted by secondary interests. I’ve given into my own emotions and have isolated myself from healthy, life-giving relationships.

And I’ve recovered. That doesn’t mean I’m where I need to be – I’m still on the journey and have a long way to go. But I’ve learned the hard way how to bounce back to passionate preaching and leadership in the local church. From my own past and my own painful experiences, let me shoot from the hip with five big ways you can bounce back from burnout and be a passionate leader once again.

  1. Repent of sin. Dig it out of the depths of your heart – the secret recesses where no one else sees but God and own your sin, especially the seven most life-stealing sins: pride, lust, laziness, envy, unholy anger, gluttony, and greed. If you’re hanging onto these, it’s no wonder you’re feeling defeated. You’re living as though victory isn’t already yours in Christ.
  2. Read the Word. Let’s be honest. Most of the time, when we’ve given into feelings of distance from God and others, we play the victim and pout in the corner, acting entirely uninterested in the things that matter most to our deepest relationships. But God has spoken and this blog post doesn’t even compare to the re-igniting power of the eternal word of God.
  3. Practice the discipline of prayer. Set aside thirty minutes to just pray. If you run out of things to say, sit silently and listen, but don’t cut the time short. It doesn’t always have to be thirty minutes, but start there. I know you don’t feel like it. You’re not even sure God is listening anymore, but deep down you know the truth. So re-join the conversation.
  4. Love people. Get in touch with friends, serve others, and pray for people in pain. Talk about your issues. Isolation is deadly. You have to fight to beat your desire to retreat. The best way to climb out of the misery of self-focus is to intentionally become others-focused. Spend some time praying for others, then see how you can serve them.
  5. Feast yourself on the lavish love and unfathomable depth of God’s grace. Stop living by performance, the to-do list, and the tyranny of the inbox. You can’t work hard enough to make God happy with you. You simply must rest in the assurance that He’s pleased with you in Christ. His grace is always, always, always sufficient!!

Here’s the thing. I like books, blogs, and seminars about leadership and church growth. They give us ideas, inspire us to lead better, and equip us with skills we couldn’t otherwise possess. But none of those things will bring healing like a deepening relationship with Jesus. And that comes through the humbling work of prayer, Bible-reading, repentance, reliance on God’s grace, and ministry to others through acts of love.

You know what to do. Let Jesus become bigger and more glorious in your eyes than ever before.

SINCE Jesus Christ Rose from the Dead…

28516_Magnus_3D_-_Resurrection_

When I was a kid, I heard the gospel and believed it. I didn’t fully understand it, but I believed it.

I can remember attending our annual Easter Sunday sunrise service at the foot of the hill that hosted the headstones of our little country church’s cemetery. The Pastor talked about how Jesus could return at any moment and when he did, the graves around us would pop open and God’s resurrected people would rise from the dead to meet him! This made me huddle in a little closer to Mom and Dad, just in case.

When adulthood came, I had to grapple with the real questions. Sometimes, the question marks swirl in my mind. Especially when life is hard, when the world is messed up, and when so many people are so hopeless. What if I’m wrong? Or what if I missed the point?

Even the earliest Christians struggled between doubt and faith about certain issues, including the resurrection of Jesus. The apostles, who were eyewitnesses, never seemed to waiver after seeing the risen King. But the next generation of Christians had to struggle with faith on their own. It’s the reason Paul wrote this to the believers in Corinth…

Let me remind you, dear brothers and sisters, of the Good News I preached to you before. You welcomed it then, and you still stand firm in it. It is this Good News that saves you IF you continue to believe the message I told you – unless, of course, you believed something that was never true in the first place. I passed on to you what was most important and what has also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said.

– 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 NLT

Many scholars believe Paul was quoting a short song or doxology that may have been sung in churches in the ancient world. He was quoting it to remind the believers in Corinth of the unbroken line of faith in Jesus’ resurrection throughout the short history of a rather young Christianity.

And a couple thousand years later, our hope still remains in this one great truth: Jesus died to pay for our sins, and then God raised Jesus to life again, just as the Scriptures declare!

Since Paul was dealing in the realm of doubt about the resurrection, he introduced some pretty big “if’s” into the discussion. I love how the Bible handles our questions head-on rather than avoiding them.

But tell me this – since we preach that Christ rose from the dead, why are some of you saying there will be no resurrection of the dead? For IF there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised either. And IF Christ has not been raised, then all our preaching is useless, and your faith is useless. And we apostles would all be lying about God – for we have said that God raised Christ from the grave. But that can’t be true if there is no resurrection of the dead. And IF there is no resurrection, then Christ has not been raised. And IF Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost! And IF our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world.

– 1 Corinthians 15:12-19 NLT

So IF Easter isn’t about a true story then…

  • There is no point to faith.
  • There is no point to church or to preaching.
  • There is no forgiveness for sin.

And I really believe that. If the resurrection of Jesus didn’t happen, the gospel is a farce and I should stop pouring my life into planting a church. We can find community elsewhere and do good for the world through local charities. The church is about more. It’s about the risen King and spreading the good news of his death and resurrection.

In the last couple hundred years, rationalism has taken deeper root within our culture. Since the resurrection of Jesus doesn’t seem to make any scientific sense, it’s easier to find ways to reject it as a lie rather than embrace it by faith, with all of its implications. So there have been four particularly widespread theories about the resurrection of Jesus.

  • The apostles went to the wrong tomb. But this is not likely. The tomb they were looking for belonged to a wealthy man named Joseph and was brand new. Few people in Jesus’ time were buried in their own tomb. Most were tossed in with the bones of other relatives in small boxes. Besides, while the eleven male apostles might not have been willing to ask for directions, there were several women with them who would have done so. So, no.
  • The apostles were all hallucinating. All of them. At the same time. Seeing the same exact hallucination. For no apparent reason… So, no.
  • Jesus just “swooned” on the cross. So, he was beaten to a bloody pulp, half his back ripped off, a hole gouged under his rib cage, a crown of thorns thrust into his scalp, nails driven through his hands and feet, and he hung on the cross for six hours drowning in his own blood. Then three days later he was up, walking, and looking so healthy that the apostles thought he had a resurrected, healthy, heavenly body? So, no.
  • His body was stolen by the apostles. For me, this might be the most plausible theory except for a huge problem. These apostles went on to defend their “lie” against arrest, persecution, rejection by society, poverty, and eventually their deaths as martyrs. All eleven of them, and hundreds of others too, turned the world upside down in spite of severe persecution. Nobody does that for what they know to be a lie. So, again, no.

While I may still struggle with the momentary question marks, I feel settled on the fact that Jesus is indeed alive and well, supernaturally brought back to life after his death by the power of the Holy Spirit. So for me, the “if” is really a “since.”

SINCE Jesus definitely died for our sins…

SINCE Jesus definitely rose from the grave…

SINCE prophecy and Jesus’ teachings predicted it…

SINCE there were hundreds of eyewitnesses to his resurrection…

SINCE the apostles’ lives were radically changed by the event…

SINCE two thousand years of the history of the church testifies to it…

And SINCE He rose from the dead…

Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled: Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ. So my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.

– 1 Corinthians 15:54-58 NLT

Since Jesus is alive,

  1. Our sin can be forgiven (IF we own it).
  2. Death and suffering can be defeated (IF we believe it).
  3. Life can have purpose and meaning (IF we choose to live it).

And over time, our faith moves from question marks to exclamation points!!! Since Jesus is alive, there is hope, life is different, and eternity matters.

4 Ways You Can Use Social Media for Good

Small GroupsI just wrote an article for one of the best websites on the net for small group ministry, SmallGroups.com. Here’s the intro:

No one can deny the popularity of social networking. It’s everywhere. It’s the cloud we breathe all the time without even thinking about it. If you’re like most people, you get anxious when you’re more than eight steps from your phone, and you think you feel it buzzing in your pocket even when it’s quietly lying on the table. But is social media useful for small groups?

I believe you can’t have a healthy small group without being about social media. Apps, gadgets, and social networking websites are optional, but social media is a phrase that captures the very reason why small-group ministry exists. Let me explain.

Media simply means information or data. Media is content—the message. Social is merely a word we use to describe the way media travels: from person to person, relationally. Small groups are all about people getting together in relationships around a message. So social media is the very DNA of small-group ministry, with or without the Internet.

If you believe that both content and relationships are at the core of any great small-group ministry, you’re already well on your way to using social media more effectively for ministry. We just need to establish a good philosophy of how technology relates to ministry.

I believe that modern social networking tools have the power to unite us around causes, connect us with new people, and extend the reach of important messages people need to hear—including the gospel. And I’m convinced that social media has tremendous potential to improve group life and small-group ministry. Here’s how:

Read the Full Article (at SmallGroups.com)

What Did Jesus Suffer? And Why?

Head on cross

About seven hundred years before Jesus died on the cross, Isaiah wrote about it in extraordinary detail…

Who has believed our message? To whom has the LORD revealed his powerful arm? My servant grew up in the LORD’s presence like a tender green shoot, like a root in dry ground. There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance, nothing to attract us to him. He was despised and rejected—a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.

We turned our backs on him and looked the other way. He was despised, and we did not care. Yet it was our weaknesses he carried; it was our sorrows that weighed him down. And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God, a punishment for his own sins! But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed.

All of us, like sheep, have strayed away. We have left God’s paths to follow our own. Yet the LORD laid on him the sins of us all. He was oppressed and treated harshly, yet he never said a word. He was led like a lamb to the slaughter. And as a sheep is silent before the shearers, he did not open his mouth.

Unjustly condemned, he was led away. No one cared that he died without descendants, that his life was cut short in midstream. But he was struck down for the rebellion of my people. He had done no wrong and had never deceived anyone. But he was buried like a criminal; he was put in a rich man’s grave. But it was the LORD’s good plan to crush him and cause him grief. Yet when his life is made an offering for sin, he will have many descendants. He will enjoy a long life, and the LORD’s good plan will prosper in his hands.

When he sees all that is accomplished by his anguish, he will be satisfied. And because of his experience, my righteous servant will make it possible for many to be counted righteous, for he will bear all their sins. I will give him the honors of a victorious soldier, because he exposed himself to death. He was counted among the rebels. He bore the sins of many and interceded for rebels.

– Isaiah 53:1-12 NLT

Just to re-cap…

  • He was despised
  • Rejected
  • Pierced
  • Crushed
  • Beaten
  • Whipped
  • Oppressed
  • Treated harshly
  • Condemned
  • Struck down
  • Buried like a criminal

And why?

  • Yet it was our weaknesses he carried
  • It was our sorrows that weighed him down
  • Pierced for our rebellion
  • Crushed for our sins?
  • Beaten so we could be whole?
  • Whipped so we could be healed
  • All of us, like sheep, have strayed away
  • The Lord laid on him the sins of us all??

You can debate the meaning of the cross and the nature of the One who gave His life on it. What you can’t do is get around this one, undeniable, life-changing fact. Jesus really, really loves you! He proved it.

Now, it’s up to you. Do you own your weaknesses and sorrows, confess your rebellion and sins, and trust him to forgive you, make you whole, and forgive all of your sins? Or do you continue on your way as though you’re okay, as though his death means nothing, and as though eternity doesn’t hang in the balance.

Need help? Have questions? Reach out. I’d love to help you make the biggest and best decision you could ever possibly make – to put your trust in Jesus as Savior and King! But you don’t have to have my help. Tell God you believe him. You own your sin. You believe Jesus died for you. You trust him to save you. You commit to live the rest of your life for him. And then prepare for everything to change. Forever.

Photo by CreationSwap.