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.

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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.

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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.

Where A Nation’s Pain Begins

Ezekiel 22:4 “You have become guilty by the blood that you have shed, and defiled by the idols that you have made, and you have brought your days near, the appointed time of your years has come. Therefore I have made you a reproach to the nations, and a mockery to all the countries.”

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What is God saying? With the pain that is evident in the USA, Ezekiel has been especially challenging for me to read this year. God is clear with Israel that He is going to discipline His children. “As one gathers silver and bronze and iron and lead and tin into a furnace, to blow the fire on it in order to melt it, so I will gather you in my anger and in my wrath, and I will put you in and melt you” (Ezekiel 22:20) What stood out to me this morning in 22:4 was the word “therefore.” The pain that Israel will experience is “there for” a reason. They are being disciplined because of their sin (violence and idolatry in 22:4 and promiscuity other places).

*It is important to note that the NT makes it clear that the church is the new Israel. We cannot say that God deals with all nations like He dealt with Israel. It would be more accurate to say that God deals with His people like he has always dealt with his people.

*It is also important to note that the wrath of God was fully laid on Jesus.

How will I obey? Praise God for Jesus and the unconditional forgiveness we have by grace through faith in Jesus. “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17). Spend time as I drive this morning, asking God where I personally need to repent and also asking God how I can engage my community to bring about corporate repentance.

Who will I tell? Justin

How can you engage your community to bring repentance 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. You can find the plan in print and on You Version. Join me.

Shootings: The Church, Not the Government, Has the Solution

dallas-skylineYesterday morning, we watched the grievous shooting of black men in Minnesota and Louisiana. Last night, we watched the dreadful attack on law enforcement unfold on the streets of Dallas.

As I watched courageous men and women moving forward through gunfire to apprehend the shooter, I felt the same emotions you did. Fear. Anger. Adrenaline. Respect. Courage. Helplessness and a strong desire to help.

I had a strong desire to drive downtown and try to help. I wondered why onlookers were still in the streets. Maybe they felt the same thing. Maybe you felt the same thing.

I’m not trained with a gun. I don’t own SWAT gear. You probably don’t either. But, if you are a believer, you are armed with the solution to this civil war.

“For (Jesus) himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.” – Ephesians 2:14–16

The church in Ephesus was experiencing incredible racial tension between Jews and Gentiles. The environment was hostile. Where was the solution? It wasn’t in new laws, different leaders, better training or bigger prisons. The solution wasn’t found in the government. The solution was found in the church. The solution was Jesus.

If you are a believer, I want to remind you that you have what will break down the dividing wall of hostility in the world. If you have Jesus, step up and allow Him to use you to break down the dividing wall of hostility in our culture.

Over the next few days, I am praying for the church in the US to come together across the racial divides and to unite around Jesus. If you are in Dallas, I want to invite you to join me and other believers from around our city at Concord Church, 6808 Pastor Bailey Dr, Dallas, TX 75237, at 7pm to pray.

The church, not the government, has the solution.

Come Lord Jesus.