Heads-Up Living

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I’m sorry, but that’s a good little cartoon.  Stupid, with an undertone of simple truth.

Not many things in life feel as bad as a missed opportunity.  When you seize up with fear and watch it go by.  When you recognize it only as it passes.  If you’re anything like me, you’ll beat yourself up a bit.  You’ll call yourself a dummy. You’ll say you’ll never miss one again, until the next day when it starts all over.

On the other hand, nothing in the world feels as good as knowing you’re right smack in the middle of God’s will.  Have you ever felt that?  The peace and power that comes over you when you know you’re exactly where God wants you, when He wants you to be there, doing just what He wants you to do.  It’s an indescribable feeling!

But so often, those moments are missed.

I remember one time I was working at Barnes & Noble.  I was going to go out for my lunch break, but for some reason I ended up getting something in the cafe and going to the break room. And there in the break room was a coworker I really enjoyed.  She and I didn’t get to hang out much, as we were in different areas of the store, so this was an unexpected surprise.  It’s worth mentioning that she was also atheist.  Not angry atheist, just a doubting atheist.  She was reading the newspaper and some recent tragedy was on the front page.  We got to talking about it, but I don’t even remember what exactly it was we talked about.  But I felt God pressing me toward having a little deeper conversation.  And in the process of the conversation, we shared our views on people and on God.  And it seemed almost out of nowhere, she just started weeping.  She went on to explain that she always viewed religion as a crutch for the weak.  But in that conversation, she saw what genuine love looks like.  And she just sat and cried a moment and told me that the faith I described was the most beautiful thing she’s ever heard before.

In that moment, I knew I was where I was supposed to be, when I was supposed to be there, doing what I was supposed to be doing.

It was awesome!  And God put words in my mouth that had never come to mind before.  I could feel myself being used by God, like a guitar in the hands of a musician.

The thing is, that conversation could have never happened.  It was so by chance and random that I could easily have overlooked it.  But I was aided by something I learned while being a manager at Barnes & Noble…

One of the coolest things about God is that He can redeem anything.  He first called me into ministry when I was in High School.  But, me being me, I ran from that calling for years and years.  While running, I found myself managing a book store.  And I learned an awesome life lesson there that fuels my ministry now.  One of the things they taught managers at B&N is this idea of heads-up tasking.  It’s a simple concept.  You have a task that you’re expected to do.  But while you’re doing it, always keep your head up for people who may need help in the store.  So for example, every week the bestseller display needed to be updated.  You would be assigned the job and expected to finish it.  But while you’re rotating books in and out of the order, every couple moments look up and around.  Do you see anyone who looks lost, confused, in need of help?  If so, approach them.  If not, carry on.

It’s that same approach to life that will put us in those places where we know we’re right smack in the middle of God’s plan for us.  Just like with me in the break room.  Those situations are what I like to call divine appointments.  God has me where he wants me, doing a job.  But He’s also going to run random someones across me in need of something.  Maybe a meal, a hug, a word.  But if I’m not working with my head up, I’ll miss the moment.

One of my favorite things to hear are those super crazy, random stories people have of God working through them in unexpected ways.  Know how that happened?  Heads-up tasking.  They were out doing their thing, but when God put an opportunity in front of them, they identified it and took action.

I think perhaps the best example of that I know is Pastor Randal.  The dude always has stories of random things happening.  He’s got stories of running into people at gas stations, while on the road, in the supermarket.  All over.  The guy has mastered the concept of always having his head up, looking for divine appointments.

When’s the last time you had a divine appointment?

We talk all the time about time management and prioritizing.  But how many times do we talk about having our heads up for those unexpected moments where God really wants to use us?

If it’s been a while since you’ve had a divine appointment, I encourage you to examine how you approach your tasks.  Are you too absorbed in what you’re doing?  Are you blind to the world around you while you’re set to a job?  Or are you open to those small moments that can so easily pass us by?

God wants to use each one of us, in all sorts of ways.  My challenge to you is the same as the challenge I make to myself: live life heads-up.  Be committed to the work you do, but be committed to recognizing God’s divine appointments in your life.  And watch as God uses you to bless the world.  Be blown away by the peace and joy you experience as the power and presence of God flows over you.

Work hard and keep your head on a swivel.  God’s sending people your way.

Praying for Your Family

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What’s up team?  We’re in week three of our February theme of relationships and I hope by now you’ve gotten to have some good conversations about the greatest relationships in your life.  No earthly relationship is more important than the ones we build at home.  So I hope you’re being intentional about the time you invest in your spouse and kids.  This week, we’re talking again about or families, but in a slightly different way.

We’re gonna talk about how we pray for them.

I’m not going to waste any breath on the importance of prayer.  You guys know that already.  You’ve seen the power and difference it can make.  But how many of us really devote time to praying for our family?  Now I’m not talking about the generic, “God bless my family” or “God, take care of my family.”  That prayer is weak.  And if I hear it, I call it out.  Seriously.  I really do.  Every night, we pray together as a family and we take turns leading it.  Just the other night, Owen was tired and gave one of those half-hearted prayers.  And without even waiting for him to finish, I interrupted and blurted out, “Weak!”  It led to a short, but good conversation about what we give to God.  Do we give Him our best or do we give Him our leftovers?  And when we pray, are we having a conversation or are we just saying words.  A good litmus test is asking yourself this question: would anyone enjoy this conversation?  If it’s not good enough for a friend, why would we offer it up to God?

…I’m getting off track.  Anyway…

So often, when we pray for our family, we’ll pray generalities.  Keep them safe.  Keep them happy.  (Like safety and happiness are God’s ultimate concern for us).  But our prayers often look like a list of things we want.  And so often, it’s hard to pray this way.  Because we wonder, does this honor God?  Could this move His heart?  Am I even moved by what I’m praying?

A couple weeks ago, we had a conversation as a staff about bold prayers.  What they look like and why we don’t pray them enough.  And one of the things that was brought up was that we often don’t pray boldly because we’re afraid they won’t be answered and we don’t know if it’s what God desires.  And that led to another cool conversation about prayer that I want to share with you.

Of course we want our kids to be safe and happy.  Of course we want them to grow.  We want them to have good relationships, we want them to be challenged, …fill in whatever blank you want here.  But what does God want?  How can I pray God’s will for my child when I’m not even sure what God’s will is for me?

One of the greatest things that we can do is pray scripture over our family.  Because here’s the cool thing with that: it always honors God.  We don’t have to question, “does God want this?”  They’re His words!  It’s what He’s telling us He desires for us!  So when we pray scripture over our kids, we’re not asking God for things that He may or may not want.  We’re asking for things that God delights to give!  We’re not strong-arming God into getting our way, we’re asking for His will to be done.

So thanks to the help of Pastor Jeff, here’s a list of prayers that God delights to answer.  There’s one for your spouse and one for your kids.  And I encourage you to make this a part of your daily prayers.  That every morning, you cover your family with prayer, not just prayer that benefits them, but also honors God.  And watch how God will move as you do this.  Bonus points to the parents who also pray these over their kids’ future spouses!  It’s never too early!  And feel free to copy and paste this.  Print it out and put it on your nightstand.  Or bookmark this page so you can access it easily every morning.  But if we say we believe in the power of prayer, let’s put our money where our mouth is.  Nothing has the power to benefit our family  more than this.  So join me and lets get after it!


17 Prayers for your spouse:

Pray For His/Her Strength  “The LORD is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts, and I am helped; my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him.” (Psalm 28:7)

Pray For Increased Faith  “And Jesus answered them, “Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain,‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen.” (Matthew 21:21)

Pray For His/Her Peace  “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7)

Pray For His/Her Work  “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men…” (Colossians 3:23-24)

Pray For Encouragement  “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” (Romans 15:13)

Pray For Freedom From Fear  “fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10)

Pray For His/Her Health  “Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul.” (3 John 1:2)

Pray For Self-Control  “A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls” (Proverbs 25:28)

Pray For Grace  “See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled;” (Hebrews 12:15)

Pray For Confidence  “Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised.” (Hebrews 10:35-36)

Pray For His/Her To Recognize Her Purpose  “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

Pray For His/Her Needs  “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:19)

Pray For His/Her Influence  “for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light” (Ephesians 5:8)

Pray For Transformation  “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2)

Pray For Sexual Intimacy  “Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.” (1 Corinthians 7:5)

Pray For Rejuvenation  “but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:31)

Pray For A Humble Spirit  “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom” (Proverbs 11:2)


8 Prayers for your kids

Bless and keep them throughout the day  “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace” (Numbers 6:24-26).

Let your light will shine through them  “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

Give them a spirit of power, love, and sound mind  “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7).

They will not be anxious about anything  “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6).

They will know that You are with them  “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6).

They will grow in the grace and knowledge of God  “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen” (2 Peter 3:18).

They will stand for what is right  “Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place” (Ephesians 6:14).

They will know Jesus Christ more intimately  “I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:10-11).

 

James wk2

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Welcome back to week two of our study in James!  I hope you took an opportunity to talk to someone about the image God put on your heart.  I know for me, it was pretty convicting.  I started a short reading plan on youversion the other day that encourages you to focus on one goal for the year.  It was pretty interesting.  It said this:

Clutter and complexity lead to procrastination and paralysis, while simplicity and focus lead to success and clarity.

So true!  But the purpose of the plan was to seek God for one word.  One word as far as how he wants you to grow this year.  And for me, the answer was simple because it’s the same thing God put on my heart after reading James 1: Time.

This year, God is calling me to be a better steward of my time.  To not spend an hour frivolously or take for granted a task I’m working on.  To be a dad when it’s time to be a dad.  To work on a project when it’s time to work on a project.  To be able to put a project aside when God puts d divine appointment in front of me.  And being diligent and open to discern where God wants my time spent.  He’s convicted me of being both too loose with my time and at other moments, too rigid.  God wants to determine my days.  I have a habit of predetermining everything and leaving little room for His movement.

Anyway, on and on I could go, but I hope that by now, God’s begun giving you a clear image that you’re fueled with the conviction that it needs to happen.  Today we’re going to turn to the next chapter and look at James 2:14, where it talks about faith and deeds.  Notice the chapter before, we talked about listening versus doing.  Today, we’re not pitting one against the other, as is often the argument with these verses, but we’re going to see how they relate to a degree of inseparability.

What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds?  Can such a faith save him?  Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food.  If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?  In the same way, faith by itself, if not accompanied by action, is dead.  James 2:14-17

People really don’t like this passage.  Why?  Because it’s scary!  Paul is saying here that there is a certain type of faith that does not save us from anything!  There’s a belief system out there that its subscribers gain absolutely nothing!  So they think this verse must be wrong thinking.  But declaring any of God’s word as inaccurate is dangerous territory because then, who’s to say what’s right and what’s wrong in the Bible?  Is God’s word, then, erroneous and conflicting?  And many times when people feel this way, they’ll put up Paul’s words in the book of Romans as their evidence that James is just exaggerating to get his point across.  But lets look at it:

For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.  -Romans 3:28

You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.  -James 2:24

What’s interesting to note is that at first glance, the two seem to contradict each other.  But we know that scripture is God breathed and inspired.  It is perfect, not lacking anything.  And these two verses were inspired to be both written and placed in the texts that make up our Bible.  What’s more is that the early church had no issue with them both being in there.  And even more, both James and Paul were church leaders who would meet in Jerusalem to participate in the council to determine this and they walked away in agreement.  So what do we make of all this?  What dynamic does faith play and what of works?

First it’s important to note not just the verse, but gain a perspective on the teaching and the framework it’s placed in.  Let’s start with Paul…

Paul obviously believes that a person’s righteousness, their right-standing, their salvation is done through faith in God’s grace through His son, Jesus.  That nothing apart from this is required.  “…to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness” -Romans 4:5.  Here, he’s saying that we don’t work our way to righteousness, it’s a free gift.  We’re justified by faith.  Again, he says in his book to the Ephesians: “For it is by grace you have been saved through faith — and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast” -Ephesians 2:8&9.  There is no work required to attain righteousness.  If one can attain it apart from faith in God, they would be able to boast in what their hands make.  But our hands can’t make both sin and righteousness.  We rely purely on faith in God’s grace.

But Paul also acknowledges that this faith has action.  In the very next verse in Ephesians, he says “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works…”  -Ephesians 2:10.  That’s interesting.  We’re justified by faith, but it’s not so that we can just have faith and be saved.  We were created to do works.  Our faith justifies us, but also prepares us to do work.  This faith can’t just live alone.  It is followed by action.

How does this compare to James?

We’ve already read what James thinks: “Every good gift (there’s that word again) is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.  Of His own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first fruits of his creatures” James 1:17&18.  So this good gift is from God.  And we are brought forth through the word of truth.  Does the word make us righteous?  Surely not!  We’re to be doers and not hearers!  So faith in this truth, given by God, brings salvation.

Again ”…has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom?”  -James 2:5.  What is an heir?  Is an heir a laborer?  Someone who works for pay?  Or is an heir someone who is given a gift?  A beneficiary of the one who already did the work and earned the gift?  So we are heirs, not laborers, who receive God’s gift.

Just like Paul, James says that faith works!  James isn’t advocating that our works earn our salvation.  He says that our works are the natural follow through of our justification through faith.

And this is why it’s scary: we can believe and not be saved.  So often, churches try to make it easy to be a Christian.  But the truth is that it isn’t easy at all!  The first step is simple: “ …if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” -Romans 10:9&10.  But we’re not reciting a secret verse to enter a club, we’re beginning a relationship with God.  That’s why faith is so much more than just believing.  Need proof?  “You believe that there is one God.  Good!  Even the demons believe that — and shudder” James 2:19.  If a mere belief or stating that Jesus is God brought salvation, then wouldn’t the demons, who know God alot better than we do, also be saved?

But genuine faith cannot exist without it changing you.  So accepting Christ as Savior costs us nothing, but living for Christ costs us everything.  Paul even believed this so much he repeatedly tells us that we’re to die to ourselves.  Jesus instructs us to pick up our own cross.

That’s why James says “…faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action is dead” -James 2:17.  Our faith is transformative. A non-transformative faith is one that simply believes something to be true.  But God calls us to so much more.  And he uses James’ words to speak it so forcefully.  “As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead” -James 2:26.

I can tell Owen that I love him.  I can tell my son every day that I cherish him and will care for and protect him.  But what if day after day, I allow him to be hurt?  What if I never provided him another meal?  What if my only acknowledgement of him were the drive-by I love you’s?  Would Owen believe me?  No!  Owen can only judge my actions.  His determination of my love for him isn’t done when I tell him I love him.  It’s done when I show him I love him.  It’s my deeds that reflect my heart.

In the same way, we’re called to be different.  We’re called to faith.  And that faith, if it has any power at all, transforms us to a person who acts out God’s word.  See how this is tied so closely to last week’s study?

One of my favorite authors is Donald Miller.  He wrote a book called “Blue Like Jazz”.  And the premise of the book is that he hated jazz music until he witnessed someone genuinely love it.  And their passion for it was the catalyst for him beginning to love it.  In the same way, he argues, many people are turned off by the Christian faith.  But witnessing someone who truly loves Jesus can be a catalyst for others.  Anyway, the book was a wide success and they were looking at turning it into a movie.  And another book of his was written that detailed the process of turning the previous book into a movie.  This book is called “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years”.  I highly recommend both!  But this book, while detailing the process of making a book a movie, talks about how in a book you can go on and on into the thought process a person goes through.  You can go for page after page to tell the mind and heart of someone.  But a movie is so much different.  In a movie you only have the story and the story only has actions.  So in a movie, you have to communicate a person’s thoughts and beliefs through their actions and nothing else.  That’s why in the movie Rocky, the main character Rocky Balboa saves a dog, befriends a boy, and cares for a needy waitress before he even acknowledges boxing.  The movie can’t just go on and on about how Rocky is caring.  They have to show it.

And I love how Miller’s book lines up so perfectly with these verses.  It’s our actions that reveal our heart.  They don’t earn our reward, but they allow the world to witness what’s going on inside of a man.  And so if a person does nothing for the needy around them, what faith do they actually have?  Surely not a faith that is active and life-changing!

So my question to you is going to be really pointed.  What does your life say about you?  If your life were a movie, would it inspire people?  Would the audience even cheer for the main character?

Or maybe a more intimate way to ask it is: does your faith inspire your children?  Do the students in our ministry see your work and glorify our father in Heaven?  Is your faith real or is it more like the demon’s, a simple belief in truth?

Again, talk to your trusted person about this.  Because these questions should be wrestled over.  James’s words and his challenges aren’t to just be heard.  They’re a slap in the face, a shaking by the collar.  Are you in or are you not?

In Revelation, God says to the Laodicean church: “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” Revelation 3:15&16.

Many times we hear this verse and think of lukewarm as the middle ground between hot (good) and cold (bad).  But hear how the church in Laodicea heard it:

At nearby Hierapolis, there was a hot spring that people would come to from far and wide to drink from and bathe in.  Imagine living in a day before hot water heaters and modern hospitals.  Imagine traveling a long time and having sore and tired muscles.  Imagine you’re sick and your body is stiff and rigid.  Now imagine entering the hot spring.  It would be almost miraculous!  Your body would immediately relax.  Your joints and muscles would find instant comfort.  How amazing would this hot water be?!

Also close by was the city of Colosse.  Colosse stood at the foot of Mount Cadmus that brought pure ice cold water down to them.  In the same way, the pure cold water was great for drinking and bringing immediate relief.

Laodicea had no water supply.  And if they brought it from Colosse, the pure, cold water be lukewarm by the time it traveled those twelve miles.  Likewise, the hot water from Hierapolis would be lukewarm by the time it traveled the shorter route, five miles.  So Laodicae built an aqueduct from Hierapolis to them to bring water.  And the people of that city only ever had lukewarm water that was so hard, they had to design the pipes in a way that they could regularly take out the mineral deposits that would build up.

So when you’re a Laodicean, you know how awful lukewarm water is.  It isn’t medicinal, it isn’t comforting, it isn’t refreshing.  It’s barely enough to keep you alive.  So when God says, you’re not hot and not cold, but lukewarm, he isn’t saying you guys are somewhere between good and bad.  He’s saying, “you’re worthless!  You disgust me!  You’re good for nothing!”  And as a result, “I spit you out of my mouth.”

The measure of our faith isn’t our temperature or our fervor to what we read.  The measure of our faith is to the works it inspires in us.  Faith without works is lukewarm.  It’s dead.  But a faith in action, a faith with works, is a faith that saves us.

Team, let’s keep it simple.  What’s the spirit telling you right now?  Listen closely to what it says and do it.  Then your faith will be made complete.

“…show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.”  James 2:18

James wk1

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James is such a fantastic book!  I hope by now you’ve gotten the chance to read through the first chapter.  If you haven’t, don’t worry you can do that now.

…seriously, I’ve got time.  I’ll wait.

Welcome back!  How refreshing was that?  I love reading James because of the perspective he gives us.  Here’s an apostle of Christ and an early church leader and he was also Jesus’ brother.  And you can almost hear him pleading with you to live the life that you claim.  And that’s really the gist of the whole book.  James urges readers to live out their faith.  That their actions would match their convictions.

The book of James is written to Jews who believed that Jesus was the Messiah and were living in community with other believers.  But James was seeing all over the same thing that we see today:  people who wear the Christian badge and wave the flag, but don’t actually represent Christ.  It’s like every time I see Westboro Baptist and I can’t help but hang my head because nonbelievers see them claim the same faith that I do.  Yet the two of us are so different!  But it’s not just extreme cases like that.  It’s when I see someone that goes to our church treat a waitress poorly.  Or when one church speaks ill of another.  Or when we walk around seeing all sorts of needs, but do nothing about them.  This behavior is all over, I don’t have to convince you of that.  And that’s why the book of James is so compelling.  Because it speaks to us and convicts us so thoroughly.  And he doesn’t do it like the apostle Paul, with eloquence and theology (Romans is hard), but he just puts it out there.  He’s like that friend of yours that doesn’t care if people overhear what they say or how they take it.  And it’s this brutal honesty that I love and I hope you’re coming to love too.

But this week, I want to look closely at chapter 1, verses 22-25.  And it’s wrapped up in this whole section of hearing versus doing:  Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves.  Do what it says.  Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.  But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it — he will be blessed in what he does.

He starts off saying to not just be hearers and so deceive yourselves.  Back in James’ day, reading and writing wasn’t a given like it is today.  Many people didn’t have the ability to read.  And even if they did, they probably didn’t have the money to own the written scriptures.  Paper was expensive and copying text even more so.  So generally, the only scripture many received was at meetings when the scroll was read.  And I’d like to think that in the last two thousand years, we’re a little better.  But truthfully, most of the people at our church only hear God’s word on Sundays when Pastor Brian is teaching; or our students on Wednesday nights.  So the message to the original audience is generally the same as to us today.  Don’t just hear it.  Don’t consider yourself a Christian just because you hear God’s word.  James says that if you do, you’re deceiving yourself!  You’re joking yourself!  You’re fooling yourself!  James says, you hear God’s Word?  Congratulations!  For not a single thing!

Think he’s being too dramatic, this James the jerk?  Consider these more politely written verses:

1st John 2:3-4 “By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments.  The one who says, ‘I have come to know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.”

or

Matthew 7:21-22 (Jesus’ words from the Sermon on the Mount) “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.  Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out many demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’  And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.”

James’ next sentence is almost a summary of the rest of the book…

DO WHAT IT SAYS.

He’s telling us that hearing the word or, if you’re in the minority of people who regularly read the Bible, reading the Word amounts to nothing if we don’t live it out.  That’s harsh!  I hope you’re feeling your toes getting stepped all over!

James goes on to compare it to a man that looks in the mirror and immediately forgets what he looks like.  And I like looking at this a couple different ways.  And I think each way pulls out a different truth tucked away in this analogy…

  1. Mirrors back in James’ day were nothing like the glass mirrors we have now.  They were made from metal and flattened and polished as well as they could be.  But the image they reflected was far from perfect.  You can imagine looking at a piece of metal, with it’s blurriness and irregularities and not quite seeing a solid reflection.  But there were pockets that showed a solid reflection.  So in order to truly see yourself and get an idea of how you looked, you’d have to stare intently at it in all sorts of directions and piece together the image, based on lots and lots of observation.  And with all the effort of seeing yourself, to forget what you look like when you walk away is preposterous!  So it is with hearing or reading.  You peer intently into God’s Word, studying, meditating, but then you walk away from it without the teachings you so carefully poured over.  And all that effort is wasted.
  2. Me looking at a mirror and Megan looking at a mirror are two completely different occasions.  When I look at a mirror, I’m really just checking to make sure I’m still unattractive.  I’m still convinced that one day I’ll walk by and a tall dark Gosling-esque man will look back at me.  He’ll wink, flash a brilliant smile, turn his chiseled chin and wave his perfect hair before I realize that it’s me, at which point I’ll weep uncontrollably.  But that’s okay because I’ll even cry pretty.  Where was I?  Anyway, my looking in the mirror is really just a glance.  Megan, on the other hand, is there with a purpose.  She’s checking her hair, making sure there’s nothing in her teeth, playing with her eyelashes, and generally looking herself over to see how she can take her perfection to another level.  She’s looking intently.  She takes the time to determine what can be changed, what needs modified, how she can look better.  She’s looking with a purpose.  She’s looking with the desire to improve.  So when she walks away from the mirror, she’s walking away more put together.  When I glance by the mirror, I just walk away.  If someone asked how my hair looks, I don’t know.  Zits?  Blemishes?  No idea.  Because when I looked in the mirror, I really didn’t care what I found.  I was just glancing.
  3. Too often, I’ll hear a podcast or a sermon or just a solid word across the table and it will baffle me just how much it resonates with me.  I’ll be super convicted by it and feel so sharply in that moment the change that needs to happen.  And I don’t just feel that need to change, I start getting a picture of the me that could be.  Maybe it’s a wiser me or more patient me.  But I always realize that God is leading me to be a more complete version of myself or closer to the man that He has in mind.  And I can see myself so vividly with these new changes.  I see how it will strengthen my family and inspire my students and help change the community.  And I fall in love with this vision of me and I want so badly to see it realized!  But then I go to lunch or I have a meeting or Jax poops his diaper.  And my mind goes somewhere else.  And suddenly, I’m not just no longer seeing that image of me, I’ve forgotten about it altogether.  And I’ll forget all about it until the next time I see myself and I forget it yet again.  God so often moves in me to become more than I am.  But after seeing myself, I walk away and completely forget.  The vision is gone, as is the determination to become it.

He then goes on to contrast this forgetful fellow saying that a man who does not forget what he looks likes, but lives according to the Word is blessed in everything he does.

So basically there are two ways of hearing God’s Word.  As a passive listener or an active participant.

Wow, that’s a thought!  Are you a passive listener or an active participant?

Are you hearing just to learn some neat facts you can tell others?  Don’t waste your time, you’ll probably forget them anyway.  Are you reading it just because you hear that you should?  The effort is good, but the motive is wrong.  Try again.

Or are you hearing it and studying it with a genuine desire to encounter divine truth?  Humbly seeking ways to grow closer to Jesus?  When we do this, we not only see ourselves and the picture of what God wants for us, but it’s fueled with the conviction that it needs to be completed.

Think about that for a moment.  How does that dictate our behavior?  Allow me to make an analogy of my own.  Owen and I can walk by the same mess in the same house.  I have the desire for at least a fairly organized and clean home.  Owen could not possibly care less.  So when Owen approaches said mess, he identifies it and he acknowledges that it could be clean instead of dirty.  He even knows that it would be better clean.  But he is not fueled with the conviction that it should be.  He just doesn’t care.  Megan or I, on the other hand, could walk by the mess.  And we could walk by either leisurely or with some other purpose, but our response is different than Owen’s.  We are fueled with the conviction that it should be cleaned.  So regardless of what we’re doing or what we’re on our way to enjoying, we must stop and clean the mess before we move on.  That is essentially the difference between hearing and doing.  Between walking away & forgetting our image and acting on it.

And what’s more is that when the mess is cleaned, there is peace.  Especially for Megan.  She can’t relax unless the house is clean.  She will refuse to sit down and relax if there’s a mess nearby.  She’s completely incapable.  She’s a freak like that.  But when it’s done, there is peace.

In the same way, when we act on God’s Word, we also have peace.  We are living in the freedom of His Will.  There is no peace like knowing you’re right smack in the middle of God’s plan for you.  None in the world.  It’s a feeling beyond peace and beyond joy.  It’s a feeling of wholeness.  Of completeness.  (I could go on and on, but I’ll just stop there.  I hope you’ve felt that at least a couple times in your life!)  But beyond that, we will be blessed.  The blessings of this obedient life will be realized.  Joshua 1:8 says “Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, (why, you ask…) so that you may be careful to DO everything written in it.  Then you will be prosperous and successful.”

God promises blessing and success.  But He does not just hand it out frivolously.  God is much too good of a steward and much too good of a father to do that.  He hands it out to those who are obedient.

…who hear His Word

…who write it on their heart

…and who do what it says.

Chances are that God’s Spirit has been speaking to you the whole time you’ve been reading this.  Maybe He’s reminding you of a reflection you saw in the past, but forgot and never acted on.  Maybe He’s reminding you of a place you’ve been wanting blessing and success in, but it seems to be avoiding you.  Maybe He’s showing you an image for the first time.  But regardless, He’s doing it for a purpose.  But He won’t act it out for you.  He wants you to choose.  How will you choose?  Will you look away and forget what you saw?  Or will you immediately, in the moment that proceeds this, begin making steps toward doing?

If you’re married, have a conversation with your spouse tonight.  Talk about the reflection you saw.  Talk about what God’s putting on your heart to do.  If you don’t have a spouse, meet up with a good friend or accountability partner.  If you have neither, you’ve always got me!  You have my cell number and you know where my office is at.  But do something.

And maybe you’re feeling discouraged right now because you recognize that your conviction-to-do-something tank is low.  Please let me know and I’d love to pray with you.  Nothing combats uninspired faith like prayer to God and proximity to His people!

So guys, get after it!  Lets all continue to grow together!  I’m walking this out with you!  When you see me, call me out!  Ask me what I’m actively doing and keep me in check too!  I love you and can’t wait to see you!

And just in case you need a little more motivation…

The one about the worst part of being a youth pastor…

kanye

I realized quite some time ago that adults are generally afraid of being around teens.  Whether I’m trying to recruit someone to volunteer in youth ministry or just having a conversation with someone about what I do, so often some form of the question comes up: What’s the worst thing about being a Youth Pastor?

It’s such a loaded question.

Sometimes they’re wanting their fears confirmed.  Sometimes they’re wanting to see what I’d gripe about.  Other times they’re just wanting a good story.

I think my honest response catches alot of people off guard.

They think maybe I’ll say something about kids being crazy.  About how hard they can be to manage.  How much energy they have versus my general lack of it.  How they can be out of control, especially when they’re excited about something, far from home, or a combination of the two.

They think maybe I’ll say something about the hours.  Getting called at 2am.  Stuck in group texts before school hours.  Keeping office hours, plus hosting events, plus church services, plus building relationships.  Going to sporting events or plays or concerts or dances or homecoming or competitions.  That my ministry is as nonstop as they are.

They think maybe I’ll say something about teenage drama.  How worlds fall apart after a breakup.  Two seemingly best friends fighting over someone’s attention.  Body image, social anxiety, gossiping, or selfishness.

They think maybe I’ll say something about the ugliness of their world.  Living life with kids brought up on drugs and alcohol.  Parents who are only parents in that they supplied the biological necessities.  The culture of casual sex and the consequences that come with it.

They think maybe I’ll say something about “kids these days”.  How they can be so selfish.  How they live with their faces in a screen.  How they seemingly have an honest respect for nothing.  They’re entitled, undeserving, or spoiled.

There’s some truth and some lies in all of these.  But none of them even come close to what I hate most.  Not one of these could even hope to capture the thing about being a youth pastor that I hate most.

This time of year, I scroll through Facebook and Instagram and Twitter.  All I see are girls dolled up and guys in tuxes.  Two weeks from now, they’ll trade in their prom attire for caps and gowns.  Then my feeds are once again nothing but selfies and carefully crafted shots, to show themselves to the world exactly how they want to be seen.  And I look at them and think, “This is what I hate most about youth ministry…”

What I hate most about youth ministry is graduation.  By far.  Nothing even comes close to it.  You see these kids, optimistic and hopeful.  Looking forward to what lies ahead.  And each time I see it, it breaks my heart.  I spend years falling in love with these kids.  And I love them so much!  But I don’t love them because of what they do for me.  And I don’t love them because they’re perfect or even easy to handle…

I love them because of the 2am phone calls, when they need a ride home from a party they never should have been at.  Because of their crazy energy and the memories that are made on trips.  Because I got to see how euphoric they were after the big win or downcast because of the loss.  Because they let me walk with them through the image issues and relationship drama.  Because I get to be a surrogate father to the ones without.  Because they ask me to meet them in the park at midnight after a breakup.  Because they show me the respect they have for people who enter their world.  Because they hand me the razor and promise not to cut anymore.  Because they come to my office, crying over their big regret.  Because they looked to me for guidance to heal that relationship.  Because they ask for help when they realize their new girlfriend’s dad is super racist.  Because they were hungry for more of God’s Spirit and didn’t know what to do.  Because they think they can keep it a secret after their last big prank on me.  Because I got to see them minister to the mentally disabled.  Because we went together to feed the hungry.  Because they’ve called me all sorts of inappropriate names.  Because they treat my boys like little brothers.  Because I get caught in silly, meaningless group texts.  Because they introduced me to that friend who thought he could shock me.  Because they showed up at my house when their father walked out.  Because they called me up when they thought their girlfriend was pregnant.  Because they wanted me to tell them how great they were in the play.  Because they couldn’t bear to talk about it with their parents alone.  Because they finally stepped up and lead.  Because they let me in, closer than even many of their closest friends.  Because we laughed together and battled together and argued together and goofed together and cried together and overcame together.

What I hate most about being a youth pastor is when I no longer get to be that for them.  When they move on and away.  This time each year, I get that feeling all over again.  Why can’t things just stay the same?  Why can’t we all just stay as one?  But in the back of my mind, I know that with these students leaving, others will come up.  Younger kids who will one day call me in the middle of the night over their own drama.  New teens who will need someone to walk with them through the darkness.

And I’ll fall in love all over again.

This is the worst part.  This is what I hate.  That every year my heart will break all over.

But then every year my heart will grow.

It’s a double edged sword.  But I look at it all and I can only thank God.  I have the privilege of getting to know so many amazing teens.  And when it comes down to it, I am allowed to fall in love with more people than any one person could hope to.

So what I hate most is also what I love most.

Aint that something…

The one about trusting God’s plan over your own…

deer

So yesterday was my day off.  And like an idiot, I decided I’d start it off by waking up at 4am to go hunting with one of my students.  I enjoy the outdoors very much and I enjoy Cameron just the same, but what I don’t enjoy is mornings.  Not even a little.

It took a little convincing, but I found myself at 4:30am in the woods.  We were going squirrel hunting, a first for me.  And we were gonna take those squirrels and make some stew, again a first for me.  I was outfitted in borrowed camo and was looking like a seasoned vet, if I do say so myself.  But two hours into it, we hadn’t gotten a single squirrel.  It was muggy as could be and my neck was hurting from looking into trees for two straight hours.  The both of us were getting a little antsy and then something glorious happened.  Rain.  Man it felt so good!  But we were under tree cover and not getting too much on us, so we decided to walk toward a clearing, just a little ways off.  So we walk over and what would happen?  The rain stops, the sun comes beaming in, and the millions of mosquitos around were alive with refreshed vigor.  It wasn’t exactly going how we had planned.

So we just stood there for a moment and chatted.  I really like Cameron, so up to this point, it was my favorite part of the day.  And just then, amid our loud talking and laughing, out comes a trio of little deer.  Not babies, but not more than a couple years old.  They had no idea we were there.  They hopped out and just kinda hung around.  And we just stood there, talking about them.  It was like nothing we could do would alert them to our presence.  Finally, when they were about 25 yards away, I took out my phone and started taking pictures and videoing.  Only then did they finally take notice and head out, after the whistling of the mother who was hiding in the woods.

It was such a cool experience!  It was so sudden and unexpected.  For a moment, it was almost like Eden.  We just stood in this beautiful clearing, surrounded by green, and hung out with these little deer who had no reason to run.  It was like all the world was at peace.

We hunted for a few more hours after that, even had a little success.  I had a blast that day!  Turns out I enjoy squirrel hunting.  But what stood out most to me that whole day was that 45 seconds with the deer.  This little gift God gave us, completely out of nowhere.

And it occurred to me later, that’s just kinda how God is.  We make all these plans and in our busyness never stop to consider anything but our own will.  And sometimes things don’t go our way and we get a little frustrated.  But out of the blue, God gives.  Have you ever had that experience?  Like we had these small plans to make something happen.  And only after these small plans don’t work out does God reveal He had something better planned all along.

It’s almost like He knows what we need better than we do…

I read the other day that something like 90% of the information we process and take in is based off what we see with our eyes.  And I think about all the things in the world I can’t see with my eyes.  The billions of people I’ll never know, the places I’ll never visit, the lessons I haven’t learned, the ideas that I’ve never been introduced to… and suddenly my view seems really small.  Like I’ve only taken in the tiniest percent of what this world has to offer.  Suddenly, I feel like I know so little and my capacity is so limited.  And yet, I make plans that must be strictly adhered to.  And if anything goes wrong, not only is everything ruined, but God didn’t come through for me.

For the last 32 years, God has used opportunity after opportunity to teach me to trust Him.  To learn that His way really is better.  Because His plan for us doesn’t include limited information.  His plan has nothing to do with what I can observe and what I can plan.  God’s understanding is beyond measure.  His capacity is completely unlimited.  He knows our thoughts, our desires, and our wishes.  And He also knows our weaknesses, our pitfalls.  He knows what’s going to happen all over the world tomorrow.  He knows how each and every movement in this world will shape and effect each and every person.  He’s never taken off guard, never surprised, never at a loss for what to do next.  Suddenly His plan doesn’t seem so bad.  Suddenly the decision to trust Him more than myself seems not only logical, but a no-brainer.

So when things don’t go my way, how do I respond?  Do I get irritated, like I’ve been put off or harmed?  Or do I rest in the knowledge that God’s got this; that His infinite wisdom has created an infinitely greater plan?  I have learned over & over and will continue to learn that God is worthy of my trust.  That if I wait on Him, I may not get my way, but I’ll get something much better: His way.  In every moment, in every situation: God is God and God is good.

The one about falling short of perfect parenting…

Image

Last night my Blackhawks lost game 7 of the Western Conference Championship.  With just one ugly shot, our chances of another Stanley Cup are gone.  We (and I use possessive nouns to describe the team because, as any avid sports fan will tell you, we’re part of the franchise) had the lead all throughout the game.  The finals were in sight and it was ours to lose.  And we lost.  In one second of a sudden death overtime.

In every sport, the goal is always the same: to win a championship.  If a team isn’t playing to win, there’s no point in playing.  And it doesn’t matter how far you get in the playoffs.  Falling a little short of the goal is still falling short of the goal.  It’s failing.  It’s one more year of not doing exactly what we set out to do.

So there I sat, at a table in Applebees.  Dejected.  With a good friend sitting next to me.  Also dejected.  What do we do when it doesn’t work out?  When we set out for a purpose and fall short?

I’m one of those guys who tends to go all in.  It’s everything or nothing.  And that attitude permeates into every facet of life.  From ministry to parenting to whatever.  I give everything, so I demand perfection.  And I parent very intentionally.  I take advantage of teaching moments.  I speak to him the way I appreciate being spoken to.  But because I’m far from perfect, I’ll sometimes miss a teaching opportunity.  And I’ll beat myself up over it.  Like that one moment is forever gone and the lesson will never be learned.  Or maybe I speak to him like a child.  And I hate that!  I refuse to speak to him like a lesser person because he’s capable of understanding and responds so much better when spoken to respectfully.  But I’m tired.  Maybe not paying attention.  Maybe living somewhere else, besides the moment I’m in.  And I speak to him flippantly, only to hate myself later for it.  Like this one circumstance will damage our relationship forever.

What I’m trying to say is that I try really really hard, but I’m not perfect.  I wonder how many people face that same problem.  And when my imperfection rears its’ ugly face again, I beat myself up.  I feel like a failure.  I’m ashamed of myself for getting it wrong again! And I put one day’s failures on top of another day’s failures and sometimes I begin to wonder how badly I’m screwing up my kids.  Like they’re going to grow up into half people, who breath through their mouths, run into walls, and drool.

And so I read books, written by people who don’t have my kids.  Whose personalities and quarks they know nothing about.  And I ask other parents.  And as it turns out, every other parent is just as fearful that their mistakes are screwing up their own kids.  And I’ve found a very valuable truth in this process: that the parents who don’t think they’re messing up are the ones who are messing up the most.  Ignorant confidence is a horrible, two headed beast.

A couple months ago, the Denver Broncos, who had the best offense in the NFL got obliterated by the Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl.  I mean obliterated.  Smoked.  Owned.  Beat to submission.  With a final score of 43 – 8.  And after the clock ran out and players had their showers, it was time for the media to pounce on Peyton Manning and remind him how badly they were beat.  One guy asked the question if Manning was embarrassed of the team and the game.  And I loved his response.  He was visibly peeved as he said, “It’s not embarrassing at all.  I would never use that word.  There’s alot of professional football players in that room – the locker room – who put alot of hard work and effort into being here, into playing in that game.  The word embarrassing is an insulting word, to tell you the truth.”

I wish I had that perspective.  I wish I could translate that into my own life.  That even amidst my failures – especially my abysmal failures – I could be proud of who I am and what I’ve done.  I mean, here’s a guy, who is arguably the best quarterback of all time.  And yet, media and popular opinion give him a hard time of not getting the job done when it counts.  And even with all these voices in his ears, he can stand up for himself with confidence and boldness.  So what does he have that I don’t?  I mean besides a beautiful house, fancy cars, and millions & millions of dollars.

It reminds me of this guy I read about in the BIble named David.  David, amongst other things was a murdered, adulterer, and king, yet was still called “a man after God’s own heart”.  But before he was a king, he was pursued by another king, with the purpose of killing him.  And with this story in mind, we read his words in Psalm 23…

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.  He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul.  He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.  Even though I walk through the called of the shadow of death, I will free no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.  You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.  You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.  Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell n the house of the Lord forever.

Here’s a guy who has seen adversity.  Here’s a guy who’s made mistakes.  And yet, his confidence and his peace leads him to be still and secure.  And the reason is simple, his confidence isn’t based on who he is or what he’s done.  His confidence is in the Lord.  His confidence is in the will of God, not the actions of man.  Even amidst hardship, he’s confident in rest, goodness, love – all supplied by the Lord, not himself.

And so we can find rest.  We can find confidence.  But how do we maintain this confidence and rest?  How do we keep our sanity?  Well, indulge me for a moment, cuz I think I may be on to something…

Be confident in the work you’ve done, not fearful of the mistakes you’ve made – Sure you’ve screwed up.  We all have.  But you’ve also done some pretty awesome things!  You’ve loved your kids in moments they were unlovable.  You comforted them when they were hurting.  You’ve provided a love for them that no one else could provide.  You’ve done some awesome things!  Be confident in that!  Celebrate it!  Challenge your spouse to be on the lookout for great parenting and reward that with a pre-bedtime massage.  Disclaimer: I only mention that because there seems to be nothing I can do to get a pre-bedtime massage from my own wife.  But the fact remains, we’ve done some wicked awesome parenting!  Be confident of that!  Celebrate it!

Reflect on God’s goodness – The book of Deuteronomy is sometimes called the “Remember Book” because it’s all about remembrance, of who God is, what He’s done, and what He desires from us.  Chapter 6 tells us to teach our kids about God’s love, laws, and lessons “when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”  It goes on to say that when you are given gifts, when God supplies your needs, to “be careful that you do not forget the Lord”, who has given you and led you through so much.  So in your own life, remember.  Take stock of all God has done; the big and small things.  Remind yourself of them.  Tell your kids about them.  And in remembering, find the confidence and rest that comes from knowing that God has always and always will lead you.

Allow God’s faithfulness in the past to fuel your following Him in the present – How often do we do our own thing and wonder why it went wrong?  God says take a right, we take a left, and then yell at God for left being the wrong direction.  God’s grace and goodness will lead us.  But if we’re not willing to follow, that leadership is useless.  God will care for us.  But we have to allow Him to.  No one knows how to raise your kids better than our Father.  No one else knows their personality as perfectly.  No one else knows the amount of hairs on their heads in every moment.  No one else can see how each thought, each action, and each inaction shapes a person’s life.  So as you parent, be in prayer and be in tune.  God desires to lead your family.  Just let Him.  And find the rest, confidence, joy, and even forgiveness of imperfection that comes from working with the Lord.