Celebrate!

Joshua 1:5b-9—…I will not fail you or abandon you. Be strong and courageous, for you are the one who will lead these people to possess all the land I swore to their ancestors I would give them. Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the instructions Moses gave you. Do not deviate from them, turning either to the right or to the left. Then you will be successful in everything you do. Study this Book of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it. Only then will you prosper and succeed in all you do. This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.

There is a connection between being a strong and courageous person and seeing your life produce an abundance of good fruit. People who develop godly strength and courage are people who move forward and keep their focus on the things of God.

There are many ways we can stay strong and courageous in life, but I want to talk to you about one specific way: celebrating the victories.

God is a God of victories. All throughout the Bible, we see God’s people celebrating the victories God helped them achieve—the times that through Him, they were overcomers. They would sing songs, give each other gifts—even dance in the streets!

No matter who we are, we all experience negative things in our lives. But if our focus is always on the negative instead of the positive—instead of the victories—you’ll get discouraged. I can tell you that as a pastor, it’s easy for me to become discouraged when I see some of our numbers drop. Maybe one year we had 100 people baptized by a certain time, when the next year it was only 20. When you’re looking at things only from a negative perspective, that could seem bad. But each of those numbers—all 100 and all 20—represents a person whose life was forever changed. And that is worth celebrating! Every person who comes to Christ, every next step that is taken, is a victory in God’s eyes, and it should be in ours, too.

Celebrate the victories. Celebrate that God has brought you out of the darkness, and celebrate the light that you’re in now. Celebration helps you build your confidence in God so that you can go to the next level, so do whatever it takes to remind yourself every day of the victories God has given you.

God Wins

Psalm 73:3-5— For I envied the proud when I saw them prosper despite their wickedness. They seem to live such painless lives; their bodies are so healthy and strong. They don’t have troubles like other people; they’re not plagued with problems like everyone else.

Asaph, the one who wrote this psalm, was struggling here. He watched people who were doing evil end up prospering. Sometimes it can feel like living a godly life isn’t worth it. Why run your business with integrity when those who don’t are the only ones getting ahead? Why work so hard to earn good grades when everyone around you is cheating?

A few verses down in Psalm 73:16-17, Asaph wrote this: “So I tried to understand why the wicked prosper. But what a difficult task it is! Then I went into your sanctuary, O God, and I finally understood the destiny of the wicked.”

In Jesus’ time, there was a veil in the temple that separated humans from a room called the Holy of Holies, where God’s presence dwelled on Earth. One of the last things Jesus said before He died on the cross was the Greek word tetelestai. And tetelestai means “it is finished.” Through His death, Jesus became the ultimate sacrifice. At that moment, the veil was torn in two. Man was no longer separated from God, because through Jesus we can have complete access to Him.

Jesus covered all of my sin and yours—past, present, and future. It is finished! You don’t have to work to earn favor with God. The temple veil is gone. We can have complete, divine access to our Creator through faith in Jesus.

When Asaph went to God’s sanctuary, he realized the mistake he’d been making. God showed Asaph that he needed to look at more than just what he could see with his eyes. In the future, God wins; all evil will be purged. And if you’re a Christ follower, you have a real eternity with the Creator of the universe to look forward to. Hang on to that with all of your heart so that whenever it seems like evil is winning, you can remember that in the end, God will win the game.

Pizzazz for the Prize

In His Word, God likes to call our journey through life a race. And throughout Scripture, He tells us to run this race with pizzazz—pizzazz to win the prize at the end of the race. In Philippians 3:14, the apostle Paul says, “I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.” And in 2 Timothy 4:7-8 Paul says this: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful. And now the prize awaits me—the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on the day of his return. And the prize is not just for me but for all who eagerly look forward to his appearing. “

According to the Bible, there is a prize to be won at the end of the race. It’s an inheritance that’s accessible to all believers. To get that prize, you’ve got to have pizzazz.

First, let me be clear. If you believe in the finished work of Jesus Christ, your salvation is 100% secure. There are two different judgments that will take place in the future—one is called the Great White Throne judgment, where believers and nonbelievers will be separated. But the second judgment, which is the Bema Seat or the Judgment Seat of Christ, is where we as believers will all be judged for how we ran the race of life. While all believers will live in heaven with God for all of eternity, not everyone will receive the heavenly prizes that are available. (That doesn’t go well with the picture a lot of us have in our heads of heaven, that we all are going to get angel wings and spend our time flying around playing harps, does it?)

So how do we run with pizzazz in order to win the race? In order to do that we have to develop our endurance. Endurance means having “the ability to withstand hardship or adversity; especially the ability to sustain a prolonged stressful effort or activity.” In our culture, everything is about being comfortable. But our faith will rise up when our endurance is being developed, and our endurance will never develop when we stay holed up in our comfort zones.

The Christian life requires faith. When you let your faith in Jesus determine everything you do in your life, you will develop endurance, because that means that even in the worst moments, you aren’t going to throw in the towel. You aren’t going to give up. Endurance doesn’t develop at the finish line, but during the race itself. Run with pizzazz and run with eternal endurance.

Watch my full teaching on having Pizzazz for the Prize.

I Believe I Can Fly

Did you ever try to fly when you were young? Maybe you were pretending to be a superhero like Superman or Wonder Woman. I liked to imagine I could fly like Superman, and so I’d climb up trees and jump. I believed I could fly! But then what would always happen? Gravity would pull me right back down to the ground.

In life, most people want to fly; they want to make progress, have forward motion, have joy, and make a difference. But many never experience that. Where there is progress, there is gravitational pull in the process. What I mean by that is that when you try to fly, to make progress in your life, there is going to be something that tries to pull you down the same way gravity pulled you down when you tried to fly as a kid.

There are many things that pull against us. And the gravitational pull on you might look different than it does for me. Sometimes, it’s the opinions of those around us that keeps us from making progress in our lives. For others of us, it’s memories of our past that we just can’t seem to move on from. Maybe you’re experiencing physical, mental, or spiritual pain in your life right now that has stagnated you.

Philippians 3:12-14 says, “…I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.” No matter what the circumstances are for you right now, press on, look forward to the future prize that we have in Jesus, and keep your focus on what is ahead of you. Safeguard the faith you have in Jesus by keeping Him as the foundation of your life and always at the forefront of everything that you do. When you do that, you will defy the gravitational pull, and you will fly.

Can Women Preach?

At our last Sunday night service, we had a couch Q & A session where you asked me and my wife Kim questions. Y’all asked some great questions, and some of those could have several whole messages to answer them, so here I’m going to expand on one which asked, “Can women preach and lead in the church?”

There are a lot of different points of view when it comes to women teaching in the church. The belief that women shouldn’t preach comes from a couple of verses, one in 1 Timothy and one in 1 Corinthians:

1 Timothy 2:12—I do not let women teach men or have authority over them. Let them listen quietly.

1 Corinthians 14:34—Women should be silent during the church meetings. It is not proper for them to speak. They should be submissive, just as the law says.

When you’re building up your theology, your beliefs about God and what He says, it’s important to remember several things. One is that the Bible was not written in verses, so we shouldn’t base our entire theology off of one or two verses. And another thing we need to remember is to take verses in their contexts. For example, the context of the Church in the city of Corinth, who Paul was writing to when he wrote the letter 1 Corinthians, was that Corinth was really a wild and crazy place. The female believers in Corinth weren’t living in the redeemed nature that they had been given by Christ, but rather in their fallen nature—in other words, they weren’t living the way God intended for them to live.

Paul was addressing the women in Corinth because they weren’t operating in their God-given purpose. In other parts of Scripture, he commends the leadership of women in the Church—Philippians 4 and Romans 16 both have examples of this.

I encourage you to read John 4. In this passage of Scripture, Jesus talked with a woman—and not just any woman. She was a Samaritan, and the Jews considered Samaritans to be half-breeds because they were half Gentile and half Jewish. Jews would go out of their way to travel around Samaria instead of through it. But the woman in the story becomes someone who I would consider the first evangelist—clearly, Jesus believed that women are important to permeating the world with the Good News!

The Church can’t be a reflection of God without women. When God created Adam in Genesis 1, He said that it was not good for man to be alone. Men and women are complementary—women aren’t meant to rule over men, and men aren’t meant to domineer and lord over women. God uses both male and female in His plan. Men and women both were created to be image bearers of God in the earth.

The Owner

If you’ve ever been to Chick-fil-a, you might have noticed that whenever customers say, “Thank you,” the employees will always say, “My pleasure!” in return. They all have the same DNA because the owners knew early on that they want to serve their customers in a certain way. All Chick-fil-a employees are trained to respond with “My pleasure!” so that they represent the establishment in the way the owners want them to.

It’s the same with our God. Just like owners train their employees to be representatives of their establishment, God will train us to be His representatives on Earth. In order for you, as a follower of Christ, to be an amazing server, you have to spend some time with the owner.

Matthew 20:28 says, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.” In order to serve, we first have to be served by making a connection with the Lord. He is the one who first served us. God is our provider, and we are the recipients.

Some of us are already serving like crazy—maybe you already volunteer, invite, tithe, or show up every time the church building is open. But what is your heart like when you are serving? Examine yourself to see if the things you are doing are building up the Kingdom of God. You might be a server, but make sure you are serving under the right owner.

If you are a follower of Jesus, you are one of God’s representatives. While you’re going about your daily life, remember that God is your provider and that you are representing Him in everything that you do. That’s not just for Sundays when you’re sitting in a church service! When you’re at work, you’re God’s representative. When you’re with your family, you’re God’s representative. When you’re stuck behind a slow driver, you’re God’s representative. And God is a God of provision, mercy, grace, and love.

God created you to bear His image throughout the world. He will provide everything you need to do what He’s made you responsible to do. If your life is going to be what God designed it to be, you have to make a connection with Him, the one who first serves you.

Watch part one and part two of “At Your Service” for the fullest impact of this teaching.

Prodigal God

Jesus drew diverse crowds. He often ate with people the religious leaders of the day thought weren’t worth their time. They thought Jesus was being wasteful of His time, energy, and resources, so to explain what He was doing, Jesus told them a story about a father and his two sons.

The younger son ran off with his part of the brothers’ inheritance. But, he wasted everything he had, so that when a famine came he had no choice but to work on a farm—the son became so hungry that he wanted to eat the pigs’ food. Eventually, he realized that he had run away from his father’s love and provision.

So, the younger son returned home. Luke 15:20 says, “And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him.” He didn’t feel worthy of his father’s unconditional love. But the father told his servants to prepare a great feast and a party. The father didn’t need his son to do anything, because he had already done everything in advance.

But remember, there is also a second son. He was out working in the fields when his brother returned home. When he heard the partying going on and learned why they were all celebrating, he became angry. His father begged his older son to come inside and celebrate with them, but the older son didn’t want to hear any of it. He told his father, “All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends. Yet when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the fattened calf!” The father responded, “We had to celebrate this happy day. For your brother was dead and has come back to life! He was lost, but now he is found!” (Read Luke 15:11-32 for the whole story.)

This story is usually called the Prodigal Son story, because of the son who ran away from his father, but I like to call it the Prodigal God story. Jesus told this story to show that He would waste everything to help us get our hearts back home. He will be recklessly extravagant if it means we can find the real meaning of life.

And that applies to you too, no matter whether you’re more like the younger son, running away from the Father, or more like the older son, working and striving to earn the Father’s love. Both of these modes—self-discovery mode and self-righteous mode—will cause you to be tired, bitter, and worn-out, but neither will make you better.

What will help is understanding that no matter who you are, God is looking for you. Whether you’ve never been to church before or whether you go every week, He is looking for you. Take a step toward Him and He will run toward you. Jesus came to repair our broken relationship with God so that we can come back home to Him. All you have to do is put your faith and trust in Him.

Watch the full Easter teaching called “Come Back Home”.

Unity in Diversity

Our culture is one of individuality. We divide ourselves with labels and are encouraged to be independent. And God loves the diversity of creation! His Church is the most diverse group of people on the planet. But the moment we let our diversity begin to trump the purpose that God has set for our lives, we have missed the point of the Good News.

In the book of 1 Corinthians, Paul was writing to a group of believers in the city of Corinth. Corinth was a wild and crazy city, and when people became followers of Jesus they would often still live the same type of lifestyle that they’d been living before.

In 1 Corinthians 1:10, Paul told the Corinthian believers, “I urge you, my brothers and sisters, for the sake of the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to agree to live in unity with one another and put to rest any division that attempts to tear you apart. Be restored as one united body living in perfect harmony. Form a consistent choreography among yourselves, having a common perspective with shared values.” Remember: God loves our diversity! The Church is made up of both male and female, people of all different races and nationalities, people with all kinds of occupations, people with all types of talents and skills, and people of all backgrounds.

God loves diversity. But within that diversity, we are all to come together for a single purpose and mission. It is the same mission that Paul was given by God—to permeate the earth with God’s Good News. Much of his letter to the Corinthians is made up of Paul helping the Corinthians solve the divisions that were keeping them from continuing this mission. They were divided over which leader they should be following, what the limits of their freedom in Christ should be, over their different socioeconomic statuses, and over spiritual gifts.

I encourage you to read the book of 1 Corinthians this week. Look at how Paul helped them settle the divisions the Corinthians had in their context. And consider the divisions that are holding you back from fulfilling the mission that God has set before you for your life. Join up with your local church and do your part in making the name of Jesus known throughout the world.

Watch the full teaching of “Stay Focused / Don’t Go There”.

Barriers

Have you ever gone to a movie theater, bought all your popcorn and candy, and sat down to watch the movie, only to find out that someone in front of you is blocking your view of the action? Or maybe you’ve gotten tickets to a concert or sporting event only to find out that a giant pole was right in front of your seats.

Barriers keep us from an experience. Sometimes, barriers only block our view of a movie, but there are barriers that keep people from experiencing the blessings and freedom that Jesus offers. The enemy is always trying to block us from the way to freedom and greatness in Jesus—he puts up barriers so we don’t receive what God has in store for us.

Matthew 21:10-13—The entire city of Jerusalem was in an uproar as he entered. “Who is this?” they asked. And the crowds replied, “It’s Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”

Then Jesus went into the temple of God and drove out all those who bought and sold in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. And He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a ‘den of thieves.’”

Jesus wasn’t upset at these people because they were selling animals in the temple—it was a natural thing for them to sell animals there because people needed them for sacrifices. The reason he drove out the money changers was because they were missing God’s greatness in their own lives and the purpose of God in the lives of others. They weren’t doing anything to reach out to the people who needed God, but were actually repelling those people.

As the modern-day Church—those who have put their faith and trust in Jesus—it is our responsibility to do the work of God on Earth so that more people can receive Him. Ephesians 2:20-21 says, “Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself. We are carefully joined together in him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord.” Our purpose is to bring people into an atmosphere where they can receive the Good News of who Jesus is, what He has done for them, and how He can change them. Then, we can build them up and train them so that they can be sent out to bring even more people in, and continue the cycle. Be someone who tears the barriers down and helps people find the purpose that God has for them in this world.

Watch my teaching “Whips And Hugs” for more.

Rest Up

John 5:1-17 tells the story of a paralyzed man who had sat among a crowd of other sick or disabled people for 38 years. One day, Jesus came by and healed the man, but the Jewish leaders were upset because Jesus had healed him on the Sabbath, a day of rest. One the Sabbath, people wouldn’t do work of any kind. Verse 16 says, “…the Jewish leaders began harassing Jesus for breaking the Sabbath rules. But Jesus replied, “My Father is always working, and so am I.”

I want to ask you this—how is your soul today? Are you weary or tired? Broken? Are you worn out from laboring to make yourself right with God or to get Him to like you more? You need to know that until God does something in you, you’ll never do anything worthy for Him. You can never work yourself into God’s grace—and you don’t have to! He gives it freely. There is amazing freedom to be found in putting all of your faith and trust in who Jesus is and what He has done.

Imagine that you fall and hurt your arm. If you go to the emergency room, you might have your arm scanned by an X-ray machine. The X-ray machine is able to show you that your arm is broken, but it can’t do anything beyond that. The doctor is the one who puts on the cast that heals your arm.

The Jewish leaders knew they had a problem; God gave the law, which is the first five books of our Old Testament, to show them and us that problem. We all have sinned—we’ve all missed the mark of God’s glorious standard. But, the Jewish leaders were treating the law as though it was the medicine that would make them better if they would just follow it, when really it’s more like the X-ray machine, which just shows the problem.

Matthew 11:28-30 (The Message)–“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me-watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

The people who find rest for their souls are not the ones who work themselves to the bone trying to keep the law. It’s not the people who give up and decide to do whatever they want to do. The ones who find true rest and freedom are those who put their faith in Jesus and let Him begin changing the way they think and live. God’s grace is a free gift—what you have to do is accept it.

Watch the full teaching of “Rest Up”.