Responding to Sutherland Springs

To those who haven’t experienced what happens in a Christian church.

From a follower of Jesus.

Yesterday, a man walked into a church in Sutherland Springs and opened fire. At least twenty-six people were killed and twenty more were injured. The New York Times describes the horrific scene: “Families gathered in pews, clutching Bibles and praying to the Lord, were murdered in cold blood on the spot.”

With you, I have been reading and watching the news and my heart breaks for the victims and their families. My heart also breaks for the shooter and his family. With many of you, I have been praying for God to “make His presence felt in their lives.”

As I’ve thought about how to honor the lives of the victims, I’ve considered what they would say to the world if they could. I’m a Christian. I was in a First Baptist Church yesterday. If I had lost my life in church yesterday, this is what I would want someone to write to the world…

As my heart grieves for those affected by the shooting, my heart also hurts for the many in the world who have their eyes focused on a Christian church and do not understand why Christians gather. Many who have reported on the story have implied that they don’t know what happens when Christians gather. I’ve been gathering with Christians all of my life. Here is a window in…

What is a Christian church?

Christian churches are gatherings of people around a Person. Christians (the church) gather, not to focus on working harder or getting better, but to be reminded of the selfless love of Jesus. Jesus is the one who demonstrated sacrificial love for all people (everyone) by laying down his own life and rising again so that others may live… eternally. His death and resurrection are historic events that happened 2000 years ago in Jerusalem. Those events changed history and the faith of billions of people. Christian churches are gatherings of people that focus on the person and work of Jesus.

Because of Jesus, Christian churches are gatherings of refuge. Christian churches are gatherings where people find help in times of trouble.

Why do Christians go to church?

Christians are a mess just like everyone else. All of us have hurt others in some way at some point in our lives. All of us have tendencies to be self-centered. But what makes the church different is Jesus. We go to church because we need to be reminded of what Jesus has done for us. Jesus showed us selfless and sacrificial love. Jesus’ love changes people. Christians love because Jesus first loved us.

And that leads me to the other reason that Christians go to church. Christians go to church to gather with other Christians. Christians give one way love to others because Jesus first gave one way love to us. The real ones do. There is nothing like being in a gathering with people who are really for you. There is nothing like authentic friendships that go deep with people who are open about their imperfections (we don’t have to hide them because we believe Jesus came to forgive them) and love other people selflessly.

In a relationship with Jesus, we find refuge and strength in times of trouble. In a relationship with those who follow Jesus, we tangibly see this refuge and strength play out.

Experience “church” for yourself.

 If you haven’t experienced what happens in a Christian church, you might think that gatherings of Christians will be skeptical of you coming to check it out… especially this week. It’s actually the opposite. Jesus’ selfless love for us is overwhelming for those who really get it. We long for you to experience that love for yourself… I’m emotional as I type.

So, as someone who believes what the victims believe, don’t just look in from the outside and wonder what goes on when Christians gather. Check it out. I hope you will be welcomed warmly. I pray you will hear about and experience the most incredible, selfless, and sacrificial love the world has ever known. It’s the only place in the world where you will find supernatural refuge and strength in times of trouble.

You might think that this is an insensitive statement after yesterday’s shootings. I know this is what would most honor of those who lost their lives. I honestly believe that this is what they would want you to hear. As a Christian, if I had been shot in a church yesterday, this is what I would want someone to write to the world. Because I believe what they believe, I know their greatest desire right now is for you to experience on earth what they are experiencing in heaven. The gathering of people around a person – Jesus.

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Should Christian’s Celebrate Halloween?

As a Christian dad, I’m often asked, “Are you going to take your kids trick-or-treating?”

Yes, our Christian family does the Halloween thing. Here are three reasons why:

  1. It gives our family opportunity to talk about Spiritual heroes.

Many Christians have run from the holiday because they see it as sebeatanic and focusing on demons and witches. Interestingly, the history of the holiday is the opposite. Halloween is a conjunction of the words “Hallowed Eve.” In 835, Pope Gregory decided to take a Romanized Celtic holiday to honor the dead and connect it to a three day festival to honor martyrs on November 1st and all who have died on November 2nd.

At Halloween, talk as a family about the many martyrs who have given their lives for the Gospel. How can someone say? “To live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil 1:21). Then talk about death and the hope we have in Jesus. “So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him” (2 Cor 5:6–9)

  1. It gives our family an opportunity to love our neighbors.

On Halloween, many will turn their lights off and pretend not to be home. Going door-to-door to collect treats is a tradition that began in Ireland hundreds of years ago. Farmers would knock on doors to collect food for a village feast and bonfire. It was a community event. During the 1800s, many people migrated from Ireland to the United States and they brought the activity with them.

Christians go out of the way to show love to our neighbors. Halloween is the holiday on the calendar that most encourages our culture to knock on our neighbor’s doors. It also gives us an easy way to show love to our neighbors’ kids by putting candy in their hands. At Halloween, talk about how Jesus taught that all Old Testament could be summarized in the Great Commandment to love God and love your neighbor. If you want to go further, In Luke 10:25-37, Jesus tells the story of the good Samaritan to elaborate on how we should go out of our way to love our neighbors.

  1. It gives our family an opportunity to have fun.

OK, so maybe that isn’t a “spiritual” reason, but I’m serious. We look for opportunities to laugh together. Getting dressed up is fun. Serving our neighbors is really fun… It is better to give than receive. Our kids love handing out candy and watching mom and dad get into it.

What will your family do tonight? If you have a thoughtful response, please share it below.

Note: Today, is also the 500 year anniversary of Luther’s Ninety-five Theses that helped to launch the Great Reformation. Take some time to read my friend, Jeff Warren’s outstanding blog on it here: http://www.pcbc.org/jeffsblog/

Responding to Las Vegas

This morning we awoke to the tragic news of the shooting in Las Vegas. At the point of my writing, the death total has now risen to 58. It is the worst mass shooting in US history. Our hearts break. In love we pray for the victims’ families and the suspect’s families… and many of us are afraid.

Someone told me today that their greatest fear is that something like that will happen in the DFW Metroplex. I was reminded that just last summer, something did. Should those who follow Jesus hide themselves in order to insure safety in a culture that is dangerous? Jesus prayed for His followers the night before He died: “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.” (John 17:15–18)

Jesus’ prayer is for His followers to be in the world, not of the world, and sent to the world. If we are going to accomplish our mission, the Great Commission, we must not retreat in fear. We must react in faith. The world needs Christians today. Your coworkers, classmates, friends and neighbors need the hope of Jesus today more than ever.

Jim Denison encouraged a response to the shooting by quoting John Wesley: “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.”

I was immediately reminded of what we read in our services yesterday from Colossians 3:23. Speaking about how Christians are to act in their relationships with other people, Paul says: “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.” We must be a church that can say: “I will give everything I can, in every relationship I’m in, for The One who gave everything for me.”

Yes, pray for Las Vegas (Please, stop and do that now.)… AND, don’t retreat in fear. React in faith. Run towards people not away from them. Go and be the hands and feet of Jesus. The world needs the hope that we have.

Did not our hearts burn?

Luke 24:32 They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while He talked to us on the road, while He opened to us the Scriptures?”

What is God saying to me? Two disciples spend the afternoon on the road to Emmaus with the unrecognized Jesus. At dinner Jesus reveals himself to them by blessing and breaking the bread and then vanishes. As they reflect on their lesson from Scripture with Jesus, they share how their hearts were kindled. Literally, their emotions were on fire.

How will I obey? I am wary of emotionalism. However, like the 80’s worship song “Light the Fire” expresses, there is nothing that compares to the passion that God can give (specifically here through seeing Jesus in Scripture). I often go to my marriage, my job, my hobbies, my kids, sports, exercise, etc. to excite and satisfy my heart. Today, I am going to pray “Lord, light the fire in my heart again” and then go to Scripture for the kindling.

Who will I tell? Clint

Finding Freedom Through Forgiveness.

Psalms 32:1–2 “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.”

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What is God saying to me? I have two people in my life who have recently shared the burden of guilt they are shouldering. I am reminded of the many times I have sinned and battled shame. Psalms 32:3-4 describes that feeling: “For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.”

How will I obey? Confession… Psalms 32:5 David tells us how he found freedom: “I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,’ and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.”

Who will I tell? The two people in my life who have recently shared with me the guilt they are shouldering.

Why A Bible Reading Plan Will Change Your Year.

I had been a Christian for 18 years. I had grown up in a home that showed me how to have a personal Bible study, attended Bible teaching churches, gone to a Christian university and was most of my way through my Masters in Divinity… and I had never read the Bible cover to cover. Yep, I had tried many times and gotten bogged down in Leviticus or in better years in the 2 Chronicles range. I loved Jesus and loved the Bible, but could not figure out how to get through it.

Bible Reading Plan

In 2005, I was engaged to Rebecca and had been watching as she used The One Year Bible as her devotional book. I liked that her devotional was not someone’s interpretation of scripture but was scripture itself. She shared with me how it divided the Bible into 15 minute a day sections of OT, NT, Psalms and Proverbs. In a year you would read through the entire bible once and Psalms and Proverbs twice.

I decided to try it. I loved it. I read through the Bible in a year… and have done it every year since.

My second year through it, I had a mentor, Jim Leggett, encourage me to take a nugget each day and journal on it using the SOAP format. S – Scripture (one verse) O – Observation (what does it say) A – Application (how can I live it out) and P – Prayer. This was HUGE. I was now seeing the Word of God direct my life.

A few years ago, I tweaked the above journaling format to my church‘s three questions. Each day I still watch for a verse that jumps out to me. I write the verse down and then I ask: What is God saying to me? How will I obey? Who will I tell?

I cannot overstate the impact it has had on my life. I can now say that I have read through the Bible, cover to cover, ten times. But just saying I have done it is not the benefit. It is watching God direct my life through His Word. It is incredible to look back at my journals and see how my Bible Reading has guided me. Daily, God is speaking into my life and showing me how I can follow Jesus.

Several years ago a friend of mine was touring Israel. He asked his Jewish tour guide if he believed in a historical Jesus. The man answered: “Yes.” He then asked if he believed if Jesus was the Messiah. The man answered: “No.” My friend then followed by asking how he could believe in Jesus but not that Jesus was the Messiah. The tour guide answered with words that I have never forgotten. He said: “If Jesus was a true Rabbi, his followers would live like him. I have never seen a Christian that is living like Jesus.”

We are called to follow Jesus everyday. That is what it means to be disciples. How do you know the way Jesus wants you to live? You know because He tells you through His Word. I want to invite you to follow Jesus everyday by starting a Bible Reading plan.

Last year I tried a new plan, the Chronological Bible. It was good, but the first nine months were more difficult because they were all Old Testament. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Old Testament, but holding all New Testament reading until the end was hard at times.

I invited many yesterday at our church to join us in reading through The One Year Bible in 2017. I’ve been encouraged to see so many jump in already. Some are reading with me on You Version – The Bible App. The One Year Bible is one of You Version’s free reading plans. You can highlight verses and make notes that friends can see. You can pick it up at any time during the day. You can even have the app read you your plan as you drive to work or workout.

Are you trying to live like Jesus? Have you struggled to read through the Bible. I want to challenge you to start a Bible reading plan and begin to ask yourself these three questions everyday: What is God saying to you? How will you obey? Who will you tell?

If you do, it will change your year… your life… and your eternity.

How Jesus Prioritized Time

Matthew 11:1 “When Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in their cities.”

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What is God saying to me? Even with a busy ministry schedule, Jesus prioritized discipleship. Before He physically ascended, Jesus commanded that His followers do the same: “Go and make disciples of all nations…” Cultural Christianity has changed Jesus’ command to “make disciples” into “make converts.” Mathematicians will tell you that Jesus’ strategy is better. If you convert 1,000 people to Christ a day, it will take you 16,000 years to reach the world’s 6 billion people. If you disciple 1 person a year who will in turn disciple one person a year, it will take you 32 years to reach the world for Christ.

How will I obey? Small group and one-on-one discipleship has proven to be the most fruitful and most fulfilling part of my ministry. In my church we refer to it as Multiplying: http://www.pcbc.org/multiply/. Today, I am going to invite someone I know into a discipleship relationship.

Who will I tell? Pat

What step can you make to pursue a discipleship relationship today?

I am reading the Blue Letter Chronological Bible in 2016 and asking each day what God is saying to me, how should I obey, and who should I tell. Occasionally I will blog my journal. You can find the plan in print and on You Version. Join me.