Beat the Bushes

mark-series-titleNo, I don’t mean go find W. or his dad and turn them over your knee! Easter is just over a week away. This is the church’s “super bowl” – the single largest and most exciting worship event of the year. It’s the Sunday we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, unarguably the greatest event in the history of mankind!

Every year at PBC we rent the high school auditorium for Easter. Our worship center only seats about 250, while the high school seats roughly 900. The last couple of years we’ve almost filled the place, and this year our goal is to overflow! It reminds me of an old hymn, O For A Thousand Tongues To Sing. Our goal is for a thousand tongues to sing our great Redeemer’s praise! We want to proclaim the gospel to 1,000 people this Easter and we need to work together to do that! Go “beat the bushes” and invite everyone you can – friends, family, neighbors, co-workers, even your boss!

We’ll be examining the evidence of the resurrection, investigating the scene and asking the question, Who Is This Man? Since we want to overflow the auditorium, we’re trying to get a rough estimate of a headcount. If you haven’t RSVP’d for Easter Sunday, you can RSVP here

Lead

The more I read and learn and experience, the more I’m convinced that we have a leadership crisis. No, I’m not trashing the President, or Congress for that matter. I’m talking about people in general. Very few people want to lead, and even fewer are learning how to lead. This lack of leadership is killing families, churches and schools. It seems the best leaders go into business. The worst into politics (haha – jk, I won’t make this a political blog!).

Men in general are casting off their leadership responsibilities. They don’t want to grow up. They’d rather play video games all day, leading imaginary teams of soldiers into imaginary battles than step into reality and lead their wives and families. Not surprisingly, many women are picking up the slack and showing themselves to be gifted leaders, not just in the home but in the workplace as well. Unfortunately for the family, these women often end up being “mom” to an extra child who happens to wear their wedding ring. But wives don’t need an extra child who drinks beer and plays video games, they could really use a man, a husband, to step up and pull his weight around the home.

Pastors often avoid leading because they’ve been ill-equipped to lead, and quite frankly many don’t care to lead. They’d rather study for a sermon or pray for a sick person than take a bold step of faith and chart a course for the future of their church. While these things are important, what pastors need to remember is that our job is as much about leading the saints to do the work of the ministry as it is about us doing the work of the ministry. If all we do is visit sick people, and we never train, equip or lead the Christians in our churches to visit the sick, then we’ve missed a big part of our job.

Pastors are often referred to as shepherds, and the church is a flock. Sure, a shepherd cares for the hurting in his flock, but he also leads the flock from one place to the next. Churches need pastors to lead and guide and focus our energy, time, resources and manpower so that not only do we grow spiritually, but we also make an impact on society around us. Wouldn’t it be nice to actually change something for the better in your community?

It’s no different in schools, businesses, even social circles where leadership is informal. Every sphere of society is hurting for leadership, and that means every sphere of society is struggling, not achieving what it should be, maybe even crumbling around us. In the absence of leadership, someone will take the reigns. That person may be a lousy leader or even a sinister one.

What I’m challenging you to do, as a Christian, is pray about where God wants you to lead. We’ve all been tasked with leading others to Christ. That’s a start. Some of us have families. There’s our first leadership zone. Go home and lead your family closer to Jesus.

10 Bible Study Tips

God’s Word is light and life, and digging into it will change you permanently.  I’d encourage you this January to perhaps forego your Bible-in-a-year reading plan and instead go deep into Scripture.  What usually happens to me when I follow a reading plan is that I end up reading quickly through the assigned sections and checking them off, rather than spending time with God in His Word and going deep.  I think all Christians would do well to slow our reading down, focus on one book at a time, and dwell in God’s Word.  Here are ten tips for getting at the meaning of Scripture.

  1. Have a Bible buddy.  This will not only help you be accountable and stay on your reading, but you can also read the same book/passage and discuss it together.
  2. Get a good study Bible to give you some insight and background.  I recommend the ESV Study Bible, or the NIV Study Bible, or the Life Application Study Bible (available in several translations), or the Faithlife Study Bible (a digital format, also available in a number of translations).
  3. Actually use your study Bible!  Don’t just read the verses, but read the other sections, too.  Especially read the introductions and background material on each book before you start it.
  4. Read a variety of translations.  Most any translation can be read online for free (just use google).  Try to mix it up.  What are the similarities and differences between the translations?
  5. Try listening, not just reading.  Two ways to listen: (1) read out loud and listen to yourself; (2) listen to an audio Bible.  Most of the Bible was originally written to be heard.
  6. Try to ignore chapters and verses.  These weren’t part of the original Bible, but were added later to help people find specific references.  But they can obscure meaning!  We tend to stop reading at the end of a chapter, but often the flow of thought continues on past the end of the chapter and into the next.
  7. Look at a passage in its context.  What came just before this passage?  What follows immediately after?  How does that affect the meaning?
  8. Try to identify main themes running throughout several passages or sections.  Your study Bible intros can really be helpful here.
  9. Remember – the Bible wasn’t written to you!  Reading it is like reading someone else’s mail.  Try to figure out what it would mean to them, not just what it means to you.
  10. Try to figure out how the author wanted the original readers to respond.  Now, how can you respond in a similar way?

Livestock for Families – A Story

One of the hats I wear at our church is the pastor of connection groups (aka small groups).  And, I want to share a really cool story about a couple of our groups (well, it’s really a story about God).

Once upon a time in 2012, there were four families in southeast Asia who were in poverty.  They worked hard all day, but lived on next to nothing and often went to bed hungry.  They didn’t know God, but God knew them, and He saw their needs.  He sent missionaries to the regions where these families lived and arranged circumstances such that these missionaries would meet and build relationships with the four Asian families.  The missionaries shared the gospel with these families and looked for ways to help them.  See, God was orchestrating it so that these impoverished families in Asia would have their physical and spiritual needs met.

So, God moved in the hearts of a number of young families living in Pontiac, IL, and worshiping together with Pontiac Bible Church.  These families belonged to a couple of PBC’s Connection Groups, and they decided to work together under the banner of Advent Conspiracy.  They each bought a few less Christmas gifts, and instead pooled their money to help those families in southeast Asia by donating valuable livestock through Gospel for Asia.

See, the idea behind Advent Conspiracy is to spend less and give more.  Instead of buying a sweater that he won’t wear, or a toy that she doesn’t need, why not spend less on presents?  The most valuable gift a person can give is time.  So, these families bought less presents and instead spent more time than money.  Then they gave the money they saved on presents to one of the pastors at PBC (that’s me!) and asked him to help those families in Asia.

And that’s just what he did.  With over $1,300 to spend, that pastor sent a water buffalo, two cows, and a goat to the missionaries working for Gospel for Asia.  Overjoyed, the missionaries got to give these livestock as late Christmas gifts to the four families God was looking out for.  Through the missionaries, Gospel for Asia, and the Connection Groups at PBC, God gave the Asian families gifts that will provide food, labor, and income for years to come.

Isn’t God cool?

10 Tips for Effective PowerPoints

I do a lot of the graphic design work for our church, including designing the media for the sermons.  Here are some tips on effective use of PowerPoint – for a sermon or any presentation.

  1. Don’t load up too much text on a single slide.  Slides clutter quickly.
  2. Try not to cover up design elements with text or pictures.  Obviously, if you’re using a boring monochrome (one-color) background, then this doesn’t apply!
  3. Remember the KISS principle: Keep It Simple (Stupid).
  4.  If you use direct quotes, put them in your presentation – helps the listeners follow as you read the quote.
  5. If your media has been designed, remember that the media has been designed.  Try to design your slides to complement, not compete with, the design of the media.
  6. Keep it simple…
  7. Use font size and style to show us what needs to stand out.
  8. That being said, if you do resize text, try to be as consistent as possible throughout the presentation.  All scriptures should have the same size font, all bullet points should be the same size, etc.
  9. A picture is worth 1,000 words.
  10. Did I mention keep it simple?  Less is more!

What’s Heaven Like?

Do you believe in Heaven?  I had the opportunity on Dec 30 to preach – something I rarely do (thankfully)!  I got to end our Advent series: Ancient-Future Christmas: Celebrating the Whole Story of God,  by preaching about Heaven, from Revelation 21 & 22.  I thought I would post a synopsis of the sermon here, as well as the audio and the sermon manuscript for anyone interested.

audio file

Where is Heaven?

Heaven is the dwelling place of God, and in the end, that place is on Earth (Rev. 21:1-4).  Heaven isn’t Heaven because of where it is, but because of who is there: God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  And we will be there, too – not wearing bathrobes, with wings and harps, floating on clouds, but on Earth, as physical beings, living with God.  It will literally be Heaven-on-Earth.

Who will be in Heaven?

Obviously God will be there (that’s what makes it Heaven).  But so will everyone whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life (Rev. 21:27).

Who won’t be in Heaven?

The cowardly, the unbelievers, the detestable, murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers (this could mean drug abusers), idolaters, liars, the unclean, evildoers, the filthy, the dogs (meaning people who aren’t part of the family of God), and everyone who loves and practices falsehood (Rev. 21:8, 27; 22:11, 15).  Obviously, this list isn’t exhaustive.  And, it can be summed up in a single sentence: If you don’t belong to Jesus, you won’t be in Heaven.

What will we do in Heaven?

Here’s what we won’t do: become angels, wear bathrobes, be permanently retired, float around on clouds, or be in a church service that lasts for eternity.  A biblical understanding of Heaven interprets the New Creation in light of the Old Creation; the Bible ends where it begins.  In Genesis, God created the heavens and the earth, and told us to go cultivate the world.  Build cities, plant gardens, work according to your giftedness, make babies, write books, make music, paint, draw, act, eat, and do it all for the glory of God.

In Revelation, God creates a new heaven and a new earth (Rev. 21:1), and I believe we will be doing the same kinds of things in the New Creation as God intended for us to do in the old.  God’s plan for Creation is restored.  We’ll still have jobs, build houses, plant gardens, make music and art, enjoy good food and friends – and we’ll do it with no sin to muck it up.  I believe there will be cities and even nations in Heaven, with Jesus ruling as King of Kings from the New Jerusalem (Rev. 21:10) and with us reigning over cities and nations as His under-kings (Rev. 22:5).

How can I get to Heaven?

Come to Jesus (Rev. 22:17).  He has the water of life and you can drink from it freely.  Be washed in the blood of the Lamb who was slain to redeem men and women from sin and darkness and to purchase their place in glory.  If you’re not sure whether or not you’ll be in the New Creation, or if you’re a citizen of the Holy City, then simply come to Jesus and ask Him for help.  He’ll do the rest.  If He’s your God, then you’re His child (Rev. 21:7).

Summer Mission Trip!

So… I’m leading a team from my church on a mission trip to Guatemala this summer!  Woohoo!  We’ll be staying and serving at Village of Hope, an orphanage ran by Todd & Amy Block and Dan & Christi Ucherek in partnership with Lifesong for Orphans.  Sunday we had an informational meeting about the trip and almost 50 people showed up!  I know several more wanted to be there but couldn’t make it, so I thought I’d post the short version and essentials here.

Dates

July 31 – Aug 5, 2013 (that’s a Wednesday – Sunday)

Purposes of the Trip

  1. Provide pastoral care to the Blocks and Uchereks (“pastoral” care isn’t just something that “pastors” do).
  2. Help with construction on a security wall around the perimeter of Village of Hope.
  3. See the work the missionaries are doing and report back to PBC.
  4. Expose American Christians to the poverty and needs in other countries, and ignite a passion for missions in them.

Cost

Total cost is approximately $1650/person.  Here’s how that breaks down:

  • $700 – plane ticket (this may end up cheaper if we get a group rate from the airline)
  • $750 – lodging and food at Village of Hope (it costs them to house us)
  • $200 – food on the way there and on the way home, and any purchases you want to make in the local markets and villages.

Feel free to bring more if you’d like.  You are also responsible for getting your own passport.

Requirements

  • Must be a Christian.
  • Must be at least 14 years old (due to safety issues – the Blocks were recently mugged at gunpoint and another local missionary was shot to death a few weeks ago).
  • Please fill out this Team Member Application and return it to me by January 6.  We can take ten people, not counting the leaders.  You will be notified by January 13 if you were chosen to be on the team.
  • A 10% deposit ($165) is due to the church by February 13 – if you’re on the team.

Other Info

Rest = Trust

I think the sabbath rest is one of the most misunderstood and under-taught concepts in Scripture.  It’s rich with symbolism, from God’s finished work in creation to Christ’s finished work on the cross.  God rested from His work, and we should rest in Christ and stop trying to work our way to Heaven.  But the sabbath isn’t just symbolic.  It’s also very practical.  God intended life to include a rhythm of rest, and when we don’t, we suffer – physically, emotionally, psychologically, spiritually, socially, etc.

There’s a lot that’s been written and spoken on regarding the sabbath and why we need the rest.  But here are a couple insights that jumped my brain recently.

First – Sunday is not the Christian sabbath.  The Bible refers to Christians worshiping on the “Lord’s Day” (see Rev. 1), which is a reference to the day that Jesus rose from the grave – Sunday.  However, it never calls Sunday the new sabbath.  In fact, most Christians probably worshiped together on Sunday night because they were working Sunday morning – Sunday was a work day!  So, don’t think that Sunday replaced Saturday as the sabbath.  The basic idea behind the sabbath is a day of rest and worship.  While many of you can use Sunday for rest and worship, others can’t.  Some people work on Sundays (like me), so we have to rest on a different day, like maybe Saturday.

Second – ultimately the sabbath is a trust issue.  Do you trust God enough to rest from your work for a whole day every week?  Or do you think that if you stop your work everything will fall apart?  See, God’s the one who’s really in control, not you.  If you’re such a workaholic that you can’t stop and rest and enjoy God, family, friends, and Creation for one day a week, then essentially what you’re saying to God is that you don’t trust Him.  You don’t think He will take care of things while you rest, so you don’t rest.  Rest = trust, that’s why when we say we are trusting in Christ for our salvation, it means we are resting from our work of trying to earn our way to Heaven.

Do you trust God?  Go take a nap.

Heaven is REALLY BIG

Revelation 21:16 gives us a glimpse of just how big Heaven is.  In this passage, John is getting a vision of the Holy Garden-City that is literally Heaven coming down to Earth.  The city is a big square and an angel tells John to measure the length.  It turns out to be 12,000 stadia, which converts to about 1,400 miles per side…

Wait a minute.  1,400 miles per side?  That’s almost 2,000,000 square miles!  That’s over half the size of the US!  Imagine a single city that is over half as big as our entire country.  Holy City!

So how many people will fit in this city?  Well, Chicago has a population density of just under 12,000 people per square mile.  If we go with that, we’re looking at room for 23.5 billion people.  There are currently 6.9 billion people in the world.

Considering that not everyone who’s live will be in Heaven (sadly), there’s going to be a lot of room for those of us who are to roam.  Will you be there?  I hope so!

There’s Only One Savior

So often we look to someone or something else other than Jesus to save us.  For liberals, big government social programs + progressive views on morality and freedom = salvation.  President Obama is certainly no stranger to a big government political philosophy.  However, the government is not our savior.

Governments are run by sinners (Republican sinners and Democratic sinners, in our case).  A government might start out with freedom and liberty and justice for all, but at some point the sin that plagues us all will twist it.  Given enough time every government, even ours, will oppress some group of people.  Or, at the very least, it will fail to accomplish the good it intended and instead cause harm.

This is simply because of sin.  We cannot look to the government to save us, because governments were not meant to save us.  If we think of the government as our savior, we are guilty of idolatry.  There is only one Savior, and His name is not Barak Obama.  His platform is not the DNC or socialism.  His name is Jesus, and His agenda is mercy, justice, and reconciliation.

On the other side of the equation are conservatives who look to capitalism, the free market, and ultimately self for salvation.  Government should be limited because when we have individual freedom we will eventually end up saving ourselves.  But we all know this is simply not true.  We’re sinners!  Businesses are founded by sinners!  While a company may begin with fair practices, pay its employees justly, and engage in many philanthropic endeavors, inevitably it will end up hurting others, oppressing the poor, and taking advantage of those in need.

This is simply because of sin.  We cannot look to business or the free market or the progress of humanity to save us because these things were not meant to save us.  They cannot bear the burden of being God because they are not God!  If we look them for salvation, we are idolaters.  There is only one Savior, and His name is not Mitt Romney (who’s not even a Christian, by the way).  His platform is not the GOP or capitalism.  His name is Jesus, and His Kingdom isn’t even a democracy (that’s why it’s called a kingdom)!

So whether you’re distraught or gleeful over the results of the election, pause a moment.  Remember that there’s only one Savior.  Thank God that our Savior isn’t either of the men who ran for office!  Jesus is a greater King.

My Brain is Going to Explode

I love going to school.  I do.  It’s just that my brain is going to explode.  My classes are fantastic.  The profs are great.  But my brain is going to explode, or implode, or something-ode.

I’ve heard it said that the more you grow spiritually, the more you realize you haven’t made much progress.  If you think you’re a pretty good Christian, that’s a pretty good sign that you’re pretty immature in the faith.  More mature disciples realize they have a long, long way to go.

Well, I must be growing spiritually.  The more I learn about the Bible, the more I realize that I know so little.  The Bible is full of truth and power, yet so many of us understand so little of the truth that we get almost none of the power.  And, we’re not taught on Sundays how to discover the “wabam” of Scripture – so don’t think (like I did) that just because you grew up in church that you know anything about the Bible.  Rather, you know what your parents, pastor, small group leader, and church friends think about the Bible.

Get a couple good commentaries and start reading it for yourself, and you’ll learn rather quickly (like I have) that what you’ve thought has mostly been Christian clichés and cute little sing-songy sayings saturated with subtle (or not so subtle) alliterations and other pneumonic devices.  While these have their place in helping us remember application points, there is so much more to God’s Word than clever wordplay.

So let me ask you these questions:

  • When was the last time you got goose bumps reading the Bible?
  • When was the last time you were ravished by the beauty of God revealed in the Bible?
  • When was the last time you were terrified by what you read in the Bible?
  • When was the last time you were uncomfortable with what you read in the Bible?
  • When was the last time you didn’t like something you read in the Bible?
  • When was the last time you were convicted as you read the Bible?
  • When was the last time something in your life changed as a result of reading the Bible?
  • When was the last time you read your Bible?

Maybe it’s time your brain exploded, too!  Maybe what we both need is a fresh vision from God that gives us a fresh hunger for God, so that we dig deeply into His Word.

Think Ahead

When I was interviewing for jobs I hated the question, “Where do you see yourself in five years?”  I squirmed because I didn’t see myself anywhere in five years!  I didn’t have a five-year plan, or even a two-year plan!  In my defense, I was fresh out of college and didn’t really know what “real life” was even like.

Now that I’m a little more experienced (stress the word little), I see the value of the question.  Do you have a vision for your life?  If you’re married, do you have a vision for your marriage?  If you have kids, do you have a vision for your kids?  If you’re a leader, do you have a vision for your organization/job/church?  If the answer is no, why not?

How can you move forward if you don’t know what forward is?  How can you make progress toward a goal if you don’t know what that goal is?  I speak from experience when I say that living without a vision is exhausting.  Every problem seems like a major problem.  Life throws you curveballs, but you have no direction.  You don’t know if you can slow your pace or if you need to pick it up, because you can’t tell how close you are to achieving whatever it is you’re striving for.  In a sense, life without vision is like a rat on a wheel.  You can run, but you never really know where you’re going.

In my world, vision is critical.  Working for a church, the temptation is to focus seven days at a time.  It’s so easy to get so focused on this Sunday and this week’s emergencies that you don’t even think about next week, next month, or next year, much less a five-year plan.

Vision is key to success.  If you have vision, you know that in five years you’d like to finish your Master’s degree.  That means you need to pick up your course load now.  In five years, you’d like to be the head of your department.  That means you need to work hard and maybe go back to school now.  You know that in five years your kids will be old enough to understand the gospel.  That means you need to model Christ and talk to them about Jesus now.

So where do you see yourself in five years?