Preparation & The Power Of God

It happens now and then. We have a worship service where everything goes wrong, I preach a sermon that falls flat, or we have an event that is tried and found wanting. Whenever this happens, well-intentioned people say things like, “It’s okay. People still worshipped, God still spoke, God’s bigger than all this.” The truth is, there is so much encouraging wisdom in this sentiment. I don’t put any faith in sermons and songs to save and sanctify. Only the Spirit working through the foolishness of these things changes anyone. Amen?! We can’t ever forget that. Down with all confidence in man-made, man-manipulated, man-centered attempts at swaying the hearts and minds of people. It won’t work. 

The problem is, when we have one of those “off days” it’s not the results I’m worried about, but what we could have done to be better prepared. I think God is just as honored in my preparation as He is in proclamation. When I preach a ho-hum sermon, I believe God can and will still speak because His Word never returns void (Is.55:10-11). What bothers me is when I begin to presume on the power of God and use it to justify my own laziness.  

The power of God is never an excuse for a lack of preparation. 

1 Corinthians 10:31 says, “Do all to the glory of God.” Call me a literalist, but when Paul said “all”, I think he meant “all.” I know the context is about Christian liberty, but the command to labor for the glory of God in all we do applies beyond the immediate context. Ecclesiastes 9:10 says, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might…” Colossians 3:23-24 says, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” 

The power of God is never an excuse for a lack of preparation. We should find so much security and peace in the fact that God is bigger than our best efforts and failed attempts. At the same time we should honor God by putting our blood, sweat, and tears into everything our hands find to do. Not because our hope and faith are in these things, but because we do all we do for the glory of a God, who is worthy of our hard work. 

7 Things I'm Excited About At Church

Last week we moved the Redemption worship services out of the local high school we’ve been meeting in for the past two and half years and into a local performing arts center called The Metropolis. The transition has been close to seamless and has me thinking about a handful of things I’m excited about in this new chapter of our church…

1. The Metropolis staff was amazing.

I can’t imagine most people would be to thrilled about getting up early on a Sunday morning and going to work, but the staff at the Metropolis was on time, wide-eyed, and happy to help. Two of their technicians, Chelsea and Mike, patiently helped us get set up, sound checked, and then ran a strong service for us. The house manager, Kelly, was ever-available for anything we needed and couldn’t have been more helpful. We’re excited about working with this crew and prayerfully hoping we’ll be a blessing to them.

2. Our Missional teams worked hard.

It’s not the easiest thing to move a church’s services from one space to another. There are always surprises and you can’t always know what to expect. Despite what could have been a frustrating first morning, our teams were flexible, friendly, and fun to serve with. Everyone was willing to do whatever needed to be done and I didn’t hear one complaint. We’re blessed with a group of people who love to serve.

3. Our pastors had us well-prepared.

When I thanked the Metropolis staff for all their help, they each commented on how well prepared we were. I can’t take credit for this. Pastor Tyler, Pastor Scott, and Pastor Ashley insured that everything was well organized and ready to go. I know they each invested a great number of hours behind the scenes and I couldn’t ask for better friends to partner with.

4. We are growing in diversity.

When we first started Redemption almost everyone looked the same, sounded the same, and was in a similar season of life. A lot has changed these past five years. Sunday I preached to people of various ethnicities, ages, tax-brackets, and seasons of life. Jesus is drawing a diverse group of people to Himself through the ministry of our church. 

5. We had a packed house.

Redemption has worshipped in six locations over five years. With every move I wonder if people will show up. Sunday they showed up. The room was full for service and the lobby was packed afterwards. This matters because we want to tell as many people as possible about who Jesus is and all He’s done for them. 

6. We are surrounded by people. 

Downtown Arlington Heights is filled with homes, shops and restaurants which means it's filled with people. A number of volunteers on our teams had great conversations with people just walking by. The Starbucks baristas down the street were invited to come to service, some of our guys had a conversation about our church with two men they described as “still drunk from the night before,” and a homeless lady came to church because a man on our Utility team invited her while putting up signs. We’re praying God opens doors for us to make Him known in the neighborhood.

7. God is faithful.

This Sunday we celebrate our five year anniversary and our theme is “Five Years Of Faithfulness.” We chose this theme because from day one God has been faithful. He’s met every need, sustained us through difficult transitions, and shown us more grace than we’ll ever know.

There is so much to be thankful for and I think I’m most thankful that God lets me be a part of this. He has been and will be faithful, so I can’t wait to see what he does next!

Humble Worship Of A Holy God

A few years ago I took Ava and Ryder to a halloween festival at the local community center. Kids dressed up and played games, while parents took pictures and tried to manage the madness of a few hundred kids hopped up on more candy than any little human should consume. In truth, the costumes, candy, and games were all prelude to the real event - Jim Nesci and his cold blooded creatures. Nesci is apparently an expert on all things creepy and covered in scales. 

The show was what you’d expect. There were lizards, turtles, and least favorite, snakes. The kids and I were sitting at a safe distance, so I was feeling fine about this show, despite my disdain for reptiles - that is until Nesci’s grand finale. To end the show, Nesci pulled a canvas cover off a 9-foot-long North American alligator named, wait for it…Bubba. Bubba wasn’t chained to anything and nothing was tied around his mouth. The climax of all this crazy was Jim’s invitation to all the little kids to come sit on Bubba’s back. I was convinced this must be some kind of parenting test - like if you’re the type of parent that thinks it’s a good idea for your kid to sit on an alligators back, DCFS was waiting in the corner to take your kid. 

As I sat back watching parents plop their kids on the back of this deadly reptile, I just kept thinking, “What about Siegfried and Roy? What about the Crocodile Hunter? What about all the Sea World performers that have been hurt - or killed - by the orcas they train? What about that chimp that mauled its owner's best friend to the point of being unrecognizable?” By God’s grace, Bubba was a champ and didn’t chow down on an unsuspecting toddler. Regardless, I couldn’t stop thinking about how dangerous it is to reduce your respect for something that should be revered. 

Never is this more dangerous than in our view of God. 

None of us has a perfect perspective of just how great God is. He’s smaller in all of our minds than He is in reality. Sadly, this is fueled in our Christian culture because we’ve majored on the immanence of God to the exclusion of His infinite nature. We rightfully talk a lot about God’s love, mercy, and grace, but wrongly neglect the reality and severity of God’s holiness. The problem is, because we have so reduced the holiness of God, we simply don’t revere Him the way we should. You may not think that’s a problem, but reverence is the rationale behind worship. So here’s the big idea:

Until we see God as He is, we won’t worship Him as we ought. 

We need a fresh, Biblical vision of the holiness of God. We need to not forget that Jesus isn’t a "snuggie" we slip safely inside, but a humble Lion we live to love and serve. God can’t be boxed in and He can’t be controlled. God is greater, grander, and so much bigger than we can ever comprehend. Rather than hide from these truths because they make our heads hurt, we need to push into an ever-growing view of the holy God we’re called to worship. 

Don't Stop Asking

I have three children under the age of six. This means that every few seconds my kids are asking for something - help with this, more of that, to go there, etc. If, God forbid, I fail to hear them, answer them, or deliver what they demand, they will ask again…and again…and again…and again…until they wear me down to the point of wishing for the sweet relief of a coma rather than hearing them ask me one more time for the same thing. 

As is always the case, God is a far better father than I am. God welcomes, wants, and even commands that we offer persistent prayers. In Luke 18:1-8 Jesus tells the story of a widow who is relentless in her pursuit of justice from an unjust judge. Though he blew her off at first, the finally broke saying, “because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.” This is no random story. Luke says Jesus told this parable “that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.”  God wants His kids to keep coming to Him in prayer.  

Maybe there’s something you’ve asked God for, haven’t seen an answer to, and as a result you’re growing weary in the asking. Maybe it’s a sin you desire freedom from, a family member you want to come to faith, a provision you’re desperate for, an area of healing you haven’t seen. This parable is for you. Don’t stop praying in general and don’t stop praying about that issue in particular. God is teaching you something in the waiting, and cultivating something in you as you continually come to Him. Persistent prayer cultivates perseverance, trust, and faith. 

It could be that God’s answer to your request is “No.” Maybe God’s saying, “Not now.” You have to know that God is more concerned with what He’s doing in you, than with what you want Him to do for you. So, maybe God’s just waiting for you to ask one more time. 

Drinking From Tub Toys

Behind every human longing is our deepest desire for the joy that only comes from experiencing the satisfying goodness of God. Inside every one of us is a restlessness, or longing we spend our lives trying to satisfy. Some of us try intimacy, others try success. Some look to sex, while others try food. Regardless of the medium we choose, everyone seeks to satisfy a deep longing that exists in every human heart. The truth is, while these things may pacify us momentarily, the restless longing returns. 

My almost two-year-old, Lincoln, reminded me of this recently. One of Lincoln’s grosser loves is drinking his bath water. I wish I could tell you it was only the faucet water he drinks, but Lincoln is just as happy to drink his tub water - dirt, grime, sunscreen, old food-filled water - it’s disgusting. Lincoln has a particular set of cups that he plays with in the tub. The problem is, these cups have holes in the bottom, so when he attempts to bring them to his mouth the water has often already drained out. I know he doesn’t understand yet, but I keep telling him that these cups are incapable of accomplishing what he wants them to. 

Our pursuit of joy and satisfaction is often just as fruitless as Lincoln’s attempt to drink from a leaking cup. We all have these “cups” of sex, food, status, success, possessions, money, love, and intimacy that we seek to drink from and satisfy the longing within us. Sadly, these cups are incapable of accomplishing what we want them to. God, through the prophet Jeremiah, told us as much. In Jeremiah 2:13 God said, “My people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns form themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.” Many of us have forsaken Jesus as our fountain of joy and satisfaction and are foolishly trying to drink from tub toys that can’t hold the very thing we long for. 

God’s goal is to satisfy the restless longing in you with His own goodness. This is what makes the gospel such good news for us. Jesus offers us the eternally soul-satisfying living water of His Holy Spirit within us (John 4:10-14; 7:37-39). We don’t have to drink from leaky cups that leave us thirsty. We can drink deeply from the satisfying goodness of God offered to us through faith in the finished work of Christ.

 Augustine wrote, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” Imagine your strongest longing satisfied, your deepest desire met, your most constant craving pacified. That’s the living water Jesus offers His people. Sex, money, and status are eclipsed by the soul-satisfying Spirit of God dwelling within His people!

Rest in Christ today. No more drinking from leaky tub toys. Repent and turn from whatever you’ve been substituting for Jesus and receive the living water that will finally leave you thirsty no more. 

Are You A True Worshipper?

In my experience, few Christians give careful thought to worship. We tend to think that if we’ve gone to church and sung a few songs then we’ve worshipped and God is pleased. The Bible, however, has something different to say. Jesus Himself held up two factors that distinguish true worshippers - spirit and truth. In John 4:23, He said, “The hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.” 

What does it mean to worship the Father in spirit and truth?

1. True worshippers worship in truth.

This means we worship what is true about God. Worship is inherently theological. If we worship God for something other than who He is, we’re not worshipping Him in truth. For instance, if you worship a god who merely exists to meet your every desire, bow at your every command, or serve as your self-help coach - you’re not worshipping in truth. Similarly, if you worship a god that is petulant, inattentive, or disinterested - you’re not worshipping in truth. Unless we’re worshipping God for what’s true about Him as revealed in His Word, what we’re doing is not the worship God desires. 

But notice, worship is more than just singing the right things about God. We have to sing the right things the right way.

2. True worshippers worship in spirit.

This means we’re to worship with the core of our being. We’re to worship with our hearts. We’re to sing with sincerity and emotion. Spurgeon said, “God does not regard our voices, he hears our hearts and if our hearts do not sing we have not sung at all.” Worship is about the head and the heart. Worship that is all head and no heart is lip-service, but worship that is all heart and no head lacks substance. 

According to Jesus, the key to true worship is both spirit and truth. Here’s the big idea:

Our worship should be powered by truth and permeated with emotion. 

So is the worship you bring God each week in spirit and truth? Do you worship what is true about Him? Is your worship emotive and sincere? If one of these factors is missing, how you’re going about what you consider to be worship has hijacked what Jesus has defined as true worship. Until we worship in spirit and truth we may be a lot of different things, but we’re not true worshippers. 

5 Dangers Of Tribalism

Since the beginning of human history people have lived in tribes. Tribes have provided us with the protection, provision, and personal relationships we need as people created for community. While the make-up of tribes has changed over time, the essence has remained the same.

Seth Godin insightfully defines a tribe as “a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea.” Each of us participates in a number of “tribes.” This may be especially true for those of us who claim the name of Christ and are connected to a church. We have preachers we listen to, blogs we read, and conferences we attend.

There’s an ever-growing number of tribes in the Church. Denominations, coalitions, and networks all serve as tribes within the Tribe of Christian faith. These tribes we participate in each play a vital role in connecting us to one another and catalyzing us for mission. Despite their many benefits, our tribalism is not without inherent dangers.

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The Doctrine Of God's Sovereignty Is Not Just For Nerds

The Doctrine Of God's Sovereignty Is Not Just For Nerds

Theology is intensely practical. While many view theology as a topic of interest to only a select group of nerds with a strange love for boring books by dead guys, theology has everything to do with everyday life. The sovereignty of God is a great example of just how practical theology is. When we say God is sovereign, we’re saying that God is always in control of all things at all times in all places. This is very good news for us because life has a way of killing any notion that we’re in control. 

In July we drove to Florida as a family for a summer vacation with my parents. Eighteen hours in the car + three kids under the age of seven = one intimidating task. By God’s grace our kids were amazing, but our trip got off to a rocky start. We left Chicago at 3am and didn’t make it to Atlanta for the night until after 6pm. I helped Tami and the kids get checked into the room and then went down to unpack the car. When I got back to the room not ten minutes later, Tami was holding a screaming Lincoln (2yrs) and both were covered in blood.

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A Sure-Fire Reason We Don't Read The Bible

A Sure-Fire Reason We Don't Read The Bible

If you’ve been a Christian for more than six seconds, you are probably aware of how important it is to be in God’s Word daily. Christians need to read the Bible. Not a big shocker. Despite the common knowledge of this necessity, few things foil Christians more than faithful Bible reading. Yes, we need a time, a place, and a plan. Yes, we need to grow in discipline. But what we should NOT do is neglect the heart of the problem. 

The primary reason we don’t read God’s Word is that we don’t delight in God’s will. 

Psalm 1:1-2 says, “Blessed is the man…[whose] delight is in the law of the LORD and on his law he meditates day and night." The word translated “delight” indicates “extreme pleasure or satisfaction in something.” That something here is God’s law - not just the first five books of the Old Testament, but also His heart, mind and will for all things.  So here’s the big idea:

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Two Components Of God's Holiness

Two Components Of God's Holiness

God is holy. 

If you’re a Christian that simple truth should come as no surprise to you. Psalm 99:9 plainly and emphatically states, “The LORD our God is holy!” While that sentiment is familiar to most of us, many of us don’t really know what it means. Sometimes as Christians we have a bad habit of talking flippantly about things we don’t understand. We use words like worship, glory, and gospel, often with little clarity as to what they actually mean and the implications they produce. 

So what does it mean that God is holy? The challenge in answering that question is that it can’t be fully answered. Foundational to a Biblically-faithful understanding of the holiness of God is the humble acknowledgement that we can’t fully conceive of it. Yet, just because we can’t grasp all of it doesn’t mean we can’t grasp some of it. So, at the risk of being a heretic, here are two Biblical components of God’s holiness:

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No More Harboring Hurt

No More Harboring Hurt

Horrible things happen when you hold on to something longer than you should. Think about when you had roommates. Maybe roommates are a reality for you right now. If so, this will be especially timely for you. 

When you have roommates, few things pose a greater risk to your well-being than “mystery milk” in the fridge. Mystery milk is that carton that sits in the way-back of the refrigerator, typically behind the OJ, purple stuff, soda, and Sunny D.  No one ever seems certain where the mystery milk came from or how long it’s been sitting there. 

Now, when you’re young and poor, you don’t so much go by the expiration date as you do by the smell and consistency of your milk. This system, while effective, is admittedly risky, right? As a result, any consumption of milk when you live with roommates requires the universally agreed-upon test. This test has two steps:

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Why The Psalms Are Like The App Store

Why The Psalms Are Like The App Store

I have an app addiction. Anytime I come across an interesting app, I have to download it. Sure, I tend to only use said app for roughly 13 seconds before burying it in a folder somewhere deep within the recesses of my phone, but that’s beside the point. The genius of the “app explosion” is that there is an app for virtually everything you can imagine - money management, tracking calories, reading blogs, tracking tasks - you name it, and "there’s an app for that". 

I think the book of Psalms has a lot in common with the App Store.

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Sin Is Like Fast Food

Sin Is Like Fast Food

As a culture we have a strong affection for fast food and for good reason - fast food tastes great. I’ve heard health-conscious people smugly say, “Fast food tastes disgusting.” That is incorrect. Fast food is disgusting because of what it’s made out of, but it tastes amazing! That’s one of the main reasons our waist lines are growing faster than Justin Bieber’s rap sheet.  

While fast food tastes great in the moment, it takes a serious toll later on. You feel physically awful after you eat it. No one can claim ignorance - we all know fast food is essentially poison for our bodies. But there’s also an emotional toll. Maybe you’re familiar with what I would call “fast food guilt?” It’s the guilt that sets in immediately after eating something you know is bad for you - Big Mac, double quarter pounder with cheese, or in my case, a dozen donuts from Spunky Dunkers. Fast food tastes great in the moment, but takes a toll later on.  

This is why sin is like fast food.

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Where We Go Wrong In Our Pursuit Of Happiness

Where We Go Wrong In Our Pursuit Of Happiness

Happiness is the preeminent pursuit in our culture. Everyone wants to be happy. We all want to be content and satisfied. We all want to add value and experience meaning. We all want to be happy. Happiness is even hardwired into the very fabric of our country.

When Thomas Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence, he penned the following,

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

More than maybe any point in history, we believe that we deserve to be happy and thus spend our lives pursuing it. In truth, happiness is not a right or something we deserve, but a gift given by God. Contrary to what we hear, God’s chief end is not our happiness, but His own glory (Isaiah 48:9-11). However, in God’s grace, he desires his people to experience the happiness he created us for. 

But here’s the problem…

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Killing What's Killing You

Killing What's Killing You

I am terrified of snakes. Not just dangerous snakes, poisonous snakes, or large snakes. I hate all snakes. Before you write this off as a mere phobia, at least part of this fear is founded in the fact that some snakes are legitimately dangerous. The Humane Society reports that hundreds of people have been attacked and at least 12 people have been killed by pet pythons since 1990.  

Here's one sad example. In June of 2010 a Nebraska man took his 9 foot long, 25 pound red-tailed boa constrictor out to show his friend. Tragically, this man’s python attacked and killed him just as he took it from its cage. Can you imagine this? He had undoubtedly done this countless times before. He had raised this snake, handled it, and fed it, but on this day it turned on him and killed him.

There’s an important lesson in this:

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3 Reasons Pastors Need To Be Vulnerable...

Many pastors, this one included, have a hard time opening up and being vulnerable with those around them. The lethal cocktail of pride and insecurity, combined with the belief that people need us to be an ever-stable, always-faithful, never-failing rock, causes some pastors to suffer in silence, struggle in secret, and suffocate in isolation. This sad tendency is destructive for the church, but deadly for the pastor.

I hear a lot about growing our churches, preaching, and leadership, but little about the need for pastors to grow in their vulnerability. This is a problem. If you’re a pastor, I want to share three reasons I think you and I need to strive for healthy vulnerability with those in our lives.

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Taking A Break To Recalibrate My Heart

We live at an amazing point in history. Technology has put a wealth of information at our finger tips and connected us in ways that were unimaginable a generation ago. This gift, however, is not without it’s liabilities. The constant onslaught of content consumed and produced can swallow you if you’re not careful. 

I’ve been feeling this lately and have decided to take an indefinite break, specifically from social media for three reasons… 

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The Drivers Destroying Church Planters

The Drivers Destroying Church Planters

The battlefield of church planting is littered with burned out bodies. Long hours, immense stress, and constant pressure have caused more than one well-intentioned church planter to wave the white flag. 

Even if they don’t quit, church planters struggle to manage the war within. 

Church planting is difficult work. It takes an tremendous amount of spiritual, physical, emotional, and relational energy to build something from nothing. These first five years of getting Redemption up and off the ground have been some of the most personally taxing of my life. The difficultly is often a direct result of the spiritual war being waged, in which we stand on the front lines. 

Yet, much of the pain planters experience is self-inflicted and unnecessary. Church planting demands a unique wiring - you have to be one part called and one part crazy. I wish I could say that it was only the clear call of God that drove me and others like me, but I’d be lying. Often times there are drivers just below the surface impacting church planters. 

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Plant Midwest Next Week

Next week I'm preaching at the Plant Midwest events in both Chicago and Detroit. Both events are FREE and I'll be teaching on the topic of the Gospel & Money. Here's a brief overview of my two sessions...

 

Plant Midwest Chicago

Date: Monday May 5th

Time: 10am-2pm

Location: Armitage Baptist Church

2351 North Kedzie Boulevard, Chicago, IL 60647

 

Plant Midwest Detroit

Date: Tuesday May 6th

Time: 9am-1pm

Location: Restore Church

2701 Joy Road, Detroit, MI 48206

 

Register now at plantmidwest.com.