Lift Up Your Eyes

A few years ago I was teaching and had trouble focusing…I felt so distracted, and I began to wonder what was wrong. It wasn’t until I was reading to one of our girls one night (I was reading The Lord of the Rings) that I realized “I can’t read the print in this book!” 

So I went to an ophthalmologist and after the exam, she said “Congratulations, you have 20/20 vision!” I asked her, then why am I having trouble reading a book to my daughters? She told me, “Well, you have what we call Presbyopia“—and then she began to explain what it does. 

As she was explaining, my mind went active: “Ah…Greek…Presbyopia…” presby = old, elder; opia = eyes.  After she finished, I mused outloud “Wait…I have old eyes?!”  She nodded.  

So, she prescribed some glasses for me and after I got them it was like seeing life in Ultra HD: crisp vision everywhere! 

What a gift! I could actually see, drive and read better.  

And, what’s true with our physical vision applies to our spiritual and relational lives as well. 

If we can’t see God’s purposes for our lives clearly, we set ourselves up to stumble in our relationships throughout life. 

So, Jesus taught his followers to give them clarity—really, God’s perspective in relationships, and in every area—to walk through life. 

In Luke 6, Jesus describes how to deal with some of the most challenging kinds of relationships: 

27 “But to you who are willing to listen, I say, love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. 28 Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, offer the other cheek also. If someone demands your coat, offer your shirt also. 30 Give to anyone who asks; and when things are taken away from you, don’t try to get them back. 31 Do to others as you would like them to do to you. 

32 “If you love only those who love you, why should you get credit for that? Even sinners love those who love them! 33 And if you do good only to those who do good to you, why should you get credit? Even sinners do that much! 34 And if you lend money only to those who can repay you, why should you get credit? Even sinners will lend to other sinners for a full return. 

35 “Love your enemies! Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked. 36 You must be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate.  (Luke 6:27–36) 

Why should we be generous? Why should we love each other? Why do we not look for ways to get back at others? Because that is how God treats us

Jesus is saying “Get God the Father’s perspective on life: Lift up your eyes and see what God is doing.” 

His sun rises and his rain falls on the just and the unjust. And if God is kind, compassionate and generous to even the ungrateful and the wicked, you—be like your heavenly father.  

One of the features about our time is to see the problem as “out there…” 

  • “the problem is the police; the problem is the system; the problem is racism; the problem is our government; the problem is the republicans; the problem is the democrats; the problem is Corporate greed“…it’s always something else. 
  • If we’re not willing to see that we are at the root of the problem, we will miss what God wants to accomplish through you in our world. 

About 100 years ago, the Times of London sent out a question to some of the brightest thinkers of their time. The question was: “What is wrong with the world today?” 

One of my favorite authors, Chesterton, responded to the question: What is wrong with the world today? by writing, “Dear Sir, I am. Yours, GK Chesterton. 

  • Change doesn’t start somewhere else, it starts with you. 
  • The easiest thing in the world is to point out all the problems around us. We live in a broken world, and it’s easy to spot brokenness. 
  • Instead of pointing out the problem in something or someone else, you be the change. 

Here is what Jesus taught his disciples. He said: “If you’re willing to listen—here’s what you do…

  • Love your enemies
  • Do good those who hate you
  • When someone slaps you on one side of your face, offer the other side.  (Who does that!?) 
  • Give to others—especially those who hate you—expecting nothing in return 
  • When you give something to someone, let it go. Don’t demand it back.

—That’s not natural; it’s supernatural—

You may feel like saying “Jesus, are you asking me to be a doormat and just let people walk over me?” 

Jesus clarifies for us: “No—I’m asking you to be like your heavenly father who is generous, kind and compassionate to those who are totally ungrateful and wicked.” 

Let’s get personal: Jesus is saying “These are the things your heavenly Father has done for you. Now, as you follow me, pay that forward to others, so you will truly be children of your heavenly Father.” 

But let me ask you this question as I finish: 

What would happen in your workplace if a couple of people began treating everyone at work this way? Would that change your work place? Yeah: It would transform your workplace relationships. 

What if a committed core of people in Tacoma began living this way; treating each other this way? Loving people who are hard to love. Serving people who don’t deserve it. 

What Jesus is teaching is nothing short of radical. 

“Who lives like this!?” 

Imagine what could be if we got ahold of this and began living it out in our city.  It would turn Tacoma upside down. 

Love your enemies. 

Don’t just talk about change—be the change. Lift up your eyes and watch what God begins doing in the lives of the people around you. And it all starts with Christ. 

Be watchful; lift up your eyes—see what God is doing—and join your Heavenly Father in it. He is kind and generous to everyone.

Disappointment

Have you ever experienced disappointment? 

Disappointment…discouragement. On the edge of despair?

You may have been disappointed by a trusted friend—maybe it was a family member—it could be work-related…or maybe you’ve been disappointed in yourself. 

The air in our world now is thick with disappointment.

  • People are disappointed because some police have violated their oath to protect and to serve. 
  • Police are disappointed in their politically appointed leaders, because instead of supporting them during this difficult time, some leaders have thrown their own agencies under the bus. 
  • Protesters, who wanted to bring attention to an injustice are disappointed their message isn’t being heard because their protests were highjacked by people whose goal is to destroy property and lives.   
  • People whose homes and businesses are being destroyed are disappointed that their property is destroyed from the violence.

Martin Luther King said “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” When we see injustice, we have an obligation to call it out…and rioting and looting are a part of injustice. 

So, disappointment is thick in the air.

Jesus’ own disciples experienced disappointment, but Jesus used it as a teachable moment to help them refocus on what is most important. 

Luke describes how Jesus called his first disciples to follow him. 

A crowd was gathering that day, to hear Jesus, on the shore of the sea of Galilee and Jesus, trying to avoid the crowd, stepped into one of the boats along the shoreline. 

Sitting down, Jesus asked Peter who owned the boat, to push off from the shore, just a bit so he could speak to the people. 

Then, after he finished teaching, he said to Simon: 

“Now go out where it is deeper, and let down your nets to catch some fish.” 

Peter tries to explain to Jesus that they had been out all night—the best time to fish—and they caught nothing. 

Disappointment.

Neither he nor his brother Andrew, nor his co-workers, had caught a thing all night!  There are few things more frustrating then pointless work; fruitless labor; spinning your wheels. Lots of work, no payoff. 

Disappointment. Especially when you have expenses. 

But, because of Jesus’ request, Simon reluctantly puts his nets back in the water. Here is how Luke describes what happens next: 

And this time their nets were so full of fish they began to tear! A shout for help brought their partners in the other boat, and soon both boats were filled with fish and on the verge of sinking. 

When Simon Peter realized what had happened, he fell to his knees before Jesus and said, “Oh, Lord, please leave me—I’m such a sinful man.” For he was awestruck by the number of fish they had caught, as were the others with him. 10 His partners, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, were also amazed. 

Jesus replied to Simon, “Don’t be afraid! From now on you’ll be fishing for people!” And as soon as they landed, they left everything and followed Jesus. 

Luke 5:6-11

Peter was disappointed and disheartened. Disappointment can bring discouragement, and we wave-off the help or suggestions of others. We even come up with multiple reasons why the suggestions won’t help. 

Peter could have done this. He was tired, he was disappointed, he was discouraged. 

But, here is the key: Peter did what Jesus asked him to do.  And when he did, he experienced what only God can do: the miraculous. The blessing is in the doing.

But this is interesting—when the miraculous happens—when he experienced God’s power in his life, he also experienced fear. He said, in essence: “Oh, Lord, please leave me—you don’t know how bad I am.”

But Jesus reassures him: “Don’t be afraid. From now on you’ll be fishing for people.” 

You know what Peter discovered in all this? Jesus never disappoints. When Jesus calls you to follow him, It’s not about our past; it’s not about our abilities. Jesus simply wants our availability. And when we follow his lead, he shows us that he never disappoints. He is dependable. He is trust-worthy. 

But I think these final words are the most challenging for us: “They left everything and followed Jesus. They left the catch for someone else to process. They left boats, nets and everything that had been a source of security for them. And here is what they discovered: Jesus never disappoints. 

Let me ask you this final question: What is there in your life that is keeping you from following Jesus, unreservedly?

Usually this is the first place to start. Think about this: • When God speaks to you, what is that area that comes to your mind and makes you think “Lord, you don’t know my life—you can’t use me, I am a bad person.”? 

Whatever the area is, that is a good place to start. Set it aside. Set it aside and follow Christ. And when you do, here’s what you’ll discover: Jesus never disappoints

Peace in the Pandemic

If there is a word that captures what we’re experiencing with this Coronavirus pandemic, it has to be the word “unprecedented.” I have heard this word used so many times in the past few weeks, and it does capture our global cultural moment. This virus has circled the globe disrupting everything: transportation, business, entertainment, sports, restaurants, church—even get-togethers with friends and extended family! It is unprecedented.

And while there is so much speculation about what could be coming in these unprecedented times, it is always helpful to step out of our moment and remember Jesus’ timeless words. 

In our everyday life, Jesus reminds us to avoid worry and instead focus on what is most important:

“That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?” 

  • Takeaway: God has you covered, and worry only depletes you. 

Then he adds: 

“And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith?” 

A green plant in a forest

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  • Takeaway: If God creates the seemingly random beauty of wildflowers all around us, He is able and will take care of your needs. 

Jesus uses birds and flowers as visual reminders that your Heavenly Father will feed and clothe his own—and he also helps us remember that worry is a warning sign that we’re losing perspective.

Worry can serve a useful purpose: think of it as a light that flashes on the dashboard of our car, telling us that our car needs maintenance. When worry flashes its anxious signal, let it be a reminder to lean in, trusting fully in the goodness of your Heavenly Father. 

Then Jesus sums up his teaching, giving us his prescription:

“So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today. Matthew 6:25–34

Seek the Kingdom of God above all else...” This is so good: instead of spending our time worrying, focused on all the things that could go wrong, refocus on what we know to be true about God: that he is a good, good Father who loves you and loves to give good things to His children. In this unprecedented time, this is the place of peace. 

What are some practical ways that we can “Live righteously, seeking the Kingdom of God above all else”? Let me know what you think!

Churches Defying Covid-19 Restrictions: Courageous or Foolish?

This past week two churches—one in Louisiana and the other in Florida—were in the news because they defied federal and local health guidelines to practice social distancing and help curb the spread of the Coronavirus. 

The pastor of the church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana summed up their position by telling a news outlet in March that the coronavirus was “not a concern…The virus, we believe, is politically motivated…We hold our religious rights dear and we are going to assemble no matter what someone says…We will exercise our constitutional right to assemble.” 

These are not the only churches doing this. And part of the equation, for some, comes down to this: “Who are we going to trust, God or men?” Some have even led with scripture verses as their justification to gather in worship. 

While I admire courageous leaders, I cringe at bad leadership. Is it simply a matter of church vs. state, or faith vs. cowardice? And how do followers of Christ deal with this “new normal” while we work through this pandemic? 

We know that there have been times throughout history that countries have outlawed Christianity. But that’s not true of our time, here in the United States. In Washington state, where we are located, Governor Inslee updated his “no physical meetings” rule with an exception for media crews and staff (as “essential services”) to meet at churches to provide an online service experience for church members, while we collectively work to flatten the curve of infection. 

So, instead of positioning this as a church vs. state, or a question of faith, the better question is “How would Jesus respond to this to-meet-or-not-to-meet dilemma?” The good news is that we don’t have to guess; he gives us a very clear example. 

Just before Jesus started his ministry, he fasted 40 days in the desert. At the end of this time, Matthew, Mark and Luke tell us that he was tempted by Satan. While there were several ways he was tempted, Luke describes the final temptation: 

Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, to the highest point of the Temple, and said, “If you are the Son of God, jump off! For the Scriptures say, ‘He will order his angels to protect and guard you. And they will hold you up with their hands so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.’”

Luke 4:9–11

So, Satan calls Jesus’ faith into question: “Do you have enough faith to do this, Jesus? Are you going to trust God or not?” And the fact that Satan did this in Jerusalem—the City of the great King—carried with it certain “constitutional” privileges as Messiah. This was, by rights, Jesus’ city. 

But Jesus doesn’t take the bait. This is genius:  

Jesus responded, “The Scriptures also say, ‘You must not test the Lord your God.”Luke 4:12

Jesus had every right to take that step. But it wasn’t a lack of faith, or a lack of courage. If Jesus had jumped off, he’d be saying “God, I’m intentionally putting myself in harm’s way…now you need to keep me safe.” 

Jesus called it testing God. So rather than putting himself in harm’s way, Jesus wisely declined Satan’s offer to “prove” his faith. He didn’t presume on God but chose wisdom. 

According to Jesus, putting ourselves in harm’s way and expecting God to keep us safe isn’t faith, it’s folly—it’s not courageous, it’s presumptuous (the result of pride). 

Meeting together is essential to spiritual growth (Hebrews 10:24-25) , and today we have so many more creative ways to meet, that there is no need to “put God to the test” by putting ourselves—or others—in harm’s way during this pandemic. Recently we’ve had a great time live-streaming our services on Facebook as well as utilizing Youtube. 

In fact, there are a whole list of platforms to meet with others to pray, discuss and worship. A few of them include: GoToMeetingHangouts(by Google), SkypeZoom (Note: The free version of Zoom may only allow 40-minute sessions) and Webex. Simply create a free online account through one of these video conferencing platforms, and you’re on your way.  

What other creative ways/platforms are you using to meet with during this time of social-distancing?  Share it below and let’s share the wealth! 

Re: Corona Virus

“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” —Philippians 4:6-7

While we wrote this for the CenterPoint Family, I hope this is helpful for you, wherever you are. —Bill

Fear is one of the enemy’s most popular weapons he uses against us. If he can inject worry, anxiety, and fear into our lives, we can forget that our Heavenly Father loves us and always has his best in mind for us. Paul the Apostle told us that God’s peace would carry us through the difficult times. In other words, you can either 1) pray or 2) worry, but you can’t do both at the same time!

Let’s be honest…it’s not always easy to replace fear with faith, especially in uncertain times. It comes down to a choice: Will I allow fear and anxiety to control my life, or will I choose to guard my heart and focus my mind on what is true?

We may not be in control, but we can trust the One who is.

We may not know the future, but we know the God who has already written it.

With the current fear surrounding the recent COVID-19 outbreak, I thought you would like to know that your leaders at CenterPoint are praying for you and working to ensure your safety. Conferring with friends who are medical professionals, they assure me that the panic sweeping the world is not based on fact, but upon fear. Is there a danger? Of course. But not at the level of attention being given to it. Don’t allow the drama-driven news cycle to stoke panic in your heart! Stay informed and aware, but reject the fearmongering.

For up-to-date information relating specifically to the spread of COVID-19, you can visit the Pierce County Health Department website: https://www.tpchd.org/healthy-people/human-coronavirus.

That being said, we’re working to make CenterPoint an even safer place to hear the life-changing message of Jesus Christ. We have recently made hand sanitation gel available in the lobby, and have installed hand sanitizing stations throughout the church building. We encourage you to use them. In addition, as a precaution, we will cancel any food-related events for the time being. We also encourage and expect all our members to practice good personal health habits and take any necessary precautions out of love for each other. Wash your hands for 20 seconds. Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue. Get the proper amount of rest, nutrition, and fluids when at home. Keep your mobile devices and other surfaces clean, and regularly disinfect them. If you begin to feel sick, please notify your healthcare provider and avoid going out in public, so as not to potentially infect others. And definitely let us know, so that we can pray for you.

If an outbreak occurs in Pierce County, we will find a creative alternative to offer worship services, small groups, prayer, and fellowship through the internet. We have had audio available for years and, if necessary, we could stream the entire service online in real time.

Finally, a charge: when you read the early history of the Church you discover that it followed in the footsteps of the Lord Jesus, who cared for the sick and hurting. His example of compassion has carried the Church through centuries of sickness, suffering, and poverty. History describes how followers of Jesus—at risk to their own lives—have cared for sick and dying people during extreme epidemic and pandemic conditions. We have an opportunity to take his words seriously when he said, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35).

May that be our heart’s cry as we find ways to serve Tacoma, our community and the world during this time of fear and uncertainty. 

Praying for God’s grace and peace to you.

Blessings,
Pastor Bill

Life in the Pits

A friend recently told me—tongue in cheek—that most of us are in one of two places: we’re either going through a challenging time right now, or we will be in the future. 

But it is true: life brings us the unexpected, and if we’re not careful these unexpected events can take us down and take us out. 

  • A friend of mine lost his job recently. He showed up early to work and stayed late. He got raises easily and quickly. He enjoyed it and thought everything was going well—until he got the pink slip. They let him go. He couldn’t believe it! He was angry and wondered if it was racially motivated. How would he support his family? “Why did God allow this?” 
  • I got a text from a lady who is a good friend. Her boyfriend unexpectedly died overnight. She is in shock. We talked and prayed. She wondered “How could God do this to me?” 
  • Another friend shared with me that their spouse unexpectedly left them for a younger partner. They said “Why would God allow this to happen?” 

Loss. Anger. Hurt. Betrayal. Life in the pits. 

Many times in life we find ourselves in a pit. We may have stumbled into it ourselves, or we may have been pushed in. 

This is what happened with Joseph. This month we’re walking through Joseph’s life-story in our Certainty in Uncertain Times series. Joseph’s life goes from childhood innocence to betrayal, human trafficking and imprisonment. Unfair and undeserved. 

But in his story, we see a glimmering thread of God’s presence woven throughout—even in the darkest times. 

As a youth, Joseph was a favored son of his dad. He also had a couple of dreams. In both of these dreams his older brothers bowed down to honor him. And he seemed to enjoy sharing these dreams. A lot. 

One day his brothers, tired of his arrogance and privileged upbringing, threw him into a pit while they decided whether to kill him or sell him into slavery. They discussed his fate over lunch and ultimately decided to sell their own brother into slavery. 

Next he is taken into Egypt where he is sold as a slave to a high-ranking government official. Through these hard experiences, Genesis tells us over and over again, “The Lord was with Joseph.” He goes from slavery to an unjust prison sentence and through it all we’re reminded, “The Lord was with Joseph.” (Genesis 39:3, 21, 23). Through every hardship, we’re reminded that God is present—He was with Joseph in his suffering. 

Usually when we’re in a pit experience, we have a hard time getting perspective. We miss what God is doing through our situation. But this is so important to remember: in these “pit” experiences—especially in adversity—God is with you. He is present in the pit. 

When these “pit” experiences happen, what should we do? 

Most of us are in one of 3 places today: 

  1. The first is this: Maybe you have never had a “pit” experience. If this is you, you may be very, very young—or very blessed! Most of us have had trying, difficult “pit” experiences but it is possible that you haven’t. 
    • What now? If this is you, it is time to prepare for the future. The best way to prepare in this time is to grow in your faith, in two areas: Worship and Service. By focusing on God’s goodness in regular, weekly worship and using your gifts to serve others, it changes us from the inside out, making us more like Christ. Put yourself in a position to grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ now. Prepare.
  2. The second place is this: You are in the “Pit” now. This is the place we never thought we would be, and certainly never want to be again. Sadly, for some, a “pit” experience can isolate us from others. We avoid people, insulating us in our loneliness. But God never intended for you to do life on your own. He made you to live in community with others. In fact, if we’re going to ever get out of the pit, it will take the strength, skill and help of others. 
    • What now? The one good thing about being in a pit is that it forces you to look up. If you are in a pit, the best thing you can do is to reach out to trusted people who can help give you a godly perspective. Put yourself into an environment where others can encourage you and walk alongside you. The best place for this stage is in a small group relationship. At CenterPoint we call these Growth Groups…they are a place where we can grow and get perspective together. 
  3. The third place is You’re out of the “Pit.” You were in it, but now that is behind you. The upside of coming out of the pit is the practical experience you’ve gained. The downside is that because of the pain of your pit experience, you may do everything possible to never end up in the pit again—in other words, you eliminate all risk. You find it hard to trust, to take steps of faith.  
    • What now? If you’re out of the pit, it’s time to take a risk: it’s time to pay it forward. It’s time to help others hear what God did through your pit experience. It is one thing to read about what God did 3,000 years ago (in Joseph’s life), but it’s another to hear what he’s done in your life recently. Don’t miss the importance of this. Sit down and think through what God has done—how He was with you in that pit. Write it down; think it through and be ready to share it the next time that God opens a door. He has a powerful way of bringing the right message to someone else at the right time. And when you’re prepared, he will use your life story

The good news is that Joseph does get out of the pit—and redemption is written all over his story. 

My friend who lost his job, found another job 3 months later. Not only were the hours better, but it was his best paying job ever. He said “I never would have found this job had I not been let go from the last place.” 

Here is how James (Jesus’ little brother) encourages us in the pit: 

Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing. James 1:2-4

God is still writing your story. Let your faith and trust in him grow. Don’t let the pit take you down; instead consider it an opportunity for great joy. 

What have you found helpful to encourage others who are in the “pit”?

So you want to read the New Testament…

Tell me if this sounds like you: you like the idea of reading through the New Testament, but you haven’t had a way to do it! The good news is that the CenterPoint family has just started our Think Like Jesus New Testament Challenge and we are reading through the entire New Testament—discussing what we’ve read in our groups (you can register for one of our groups here), as well as covering 9 major themes in the New Testament each week in our services. 

But if this is the first you’ve heard of it, or are out of the area, why not join us by downloading the syllabus (here) and catching our messages online? You’re not too late to join. It is going to be a great ride together.

As of today, we are three days in to this Challenge. If you were with us since the beginning, how is it going? If you have never read through the NT before, you may feel like me when I first started: “I don’t know if I can do this!”

The reality is that you CAN read through the New Testament—but it will take some focus.

Well, the reality is that you CAN do this—but it will take some focus. There are three habits that are important to establish to help you successfully accomplish this challenge:

The first is a set time. Set a time that works for you. My best time is first thing in the morning: a cup of coffee and I’m off to read! Whatever your best time is, set it and guard it!

Whatever your best time is, set it and guard it!

Reading Tip: If you find the reading sessions too long in one sitting, split it up. So, for example on Day one, you could read Matthew 1-2 in the morning and Acts 1-3 in the evening before Bed.

The second is a set place. Where will you meet with God as you read his word? Determine this place and meet there each morning/day. The important criteria here is silence. If there are too many distractions, you may find it hard to complete your goal each day.

Whatever your preferred method, be consistent!

The third is a set method. You might prefer having a leather-bound, gold-leafed-paper book in your lap, with margins that you can write in. Or maybe you like having an app on your phone. Whatever your preferred method of reading, part of forming a habit is to be consistent! A few ideas to help you succeed/stay on track:

  • Use a non-Study-Bible Bible. If there are notes, references, maps, etc, you will be distracted from the reading. Plain text is best here.
  • Use the same translation. I like to use the New Living Translation for reading and preaching. There are some really good translations out there, but again the key is consistency.
  • Some of us are visual learners, some are auditory learners. If you’re a visual learner, you’ll jump into the text with both feet. But, if you’re an auditory learner, you may struggle to complete this. For all you auditory learners (my primary learning style) I have good news: there are some amazing tools out there to help you conquer this challenge of reading through the New Testament. Bible.com is a powerful, free resource that enables you to hear the Bible read, as you follow along with the text. Check out Bible.com on either your PC or the YouVersion Bible app for your mobile device (via the App Store or Google Play). Create an account (its all free), and most of the translations have an audio version to listen to as you read. 

Finally, remember, remember, remember: Your goal isn’t to have a perfect reading record; your goal it so see how to love, serve and follow Jesus better. When you learn to apply Jesus’ teachings to your life, it is transformational. If you continue in this, you will not be the same. Our goal is to think, respond and care for others like Jesus. 

Remember: Your goal isn’t to have a perfect reading record; your goal it so see how to love, serve and follow Jesus better.

I would love to hear what works for you. And let me know if there is any way we can help you succeed in reading through the New Testament with us.  

The Answer to Anxiety Pt. 2

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you. —Philippians 4:8–9

Are you a list person? I live by lists. They help me remember what needs to be done—whether it’s a grocery list, project list, gift list—writing it down helps clarify what needs to be done and it is satisfying checking those things off. But have you ever tried doing a relationship by a list?

Last week, in part 1 of this series, we read Paul’s words in Philippians 4:6-9, encouraging us that instead of fixating on our worries, we ought to bring them to our heavenly Father:

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. —Philippians 4:6–7

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Philippians 4:6

Paul says to replace worry with prayer. Your mind will be actively working on something; better to go to the One who holds the solution than to fret about the “what-ifs” in a given situation. What does that kind of prayer look like? He describes it this way:

  • Simply tell God what you need
  • Then thank him in advance for what he’ll be doing through this situation.
  • And when you do that, Paul says, you will experience God’s peace—and this peace will continue to guard your heart and mind from further worry as you follow Christ.

Now, in the next two verses he takes this idea of dealing with anxiety to the next level. Instead of sliding back into old patterns of worry, he says to fix your thoughts on what is true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and worthy of praise.

So again, I don’t know if you’re a list person, but I see a list here, and my mind thinks “OK, let’s start running all of my thoughts through this list/grid to see how I’m doing.”

“OK, let’s start running all of my thoughts through this list/grid to see how I’m doing.”

If you do this, I can tell you what you’ll discover (what I discovered!): you will not experience peace, but create anxiety for yourself!

Reflection/self-evaluation is helpful. But when we begin seeing our relationship with Christ as performance-based, it creates anxiety. Instead of seeing God as a Father who loves his children, I begin seeing him as a cosmic bean-counter; “Our accountant, who art in heaven…” Totally wrong perspective.

When our relationship with God turns performance-based, it is only a matter of time before we hang it up. If there is one thing we know about the Gospel—the Good News about Jesus—it is this: our relationship with him is based not on what we do, but on what he’s already done.

Just before Jesus died on the cross he said “It is finished.” When he laid down his life to pay for every offense we’ve committed against God, he declared “It’s done. Finished.” Everything that was required to give us new life was completed. Now our part, as followers of Christ, is to simply live out this new identity, to love and follow him.

So, how can a list that’s supposed to help me, cause anxiety and give me a wrong-headed view of God? Keep this in mind: lists are a good basis for completing projects, but a bad basis for relationships.

Lists are a good basis for completing projects, but a bad basis for relationships.

If you’re keeping a list to see if your spouse measures up (or your children for that matter), it won’t be long before they disappoint you. No one wants to feel that their relationship is contingent on a list. That is fine for a legal arrangement or a contract, but it’s not a relationship.

No one is perfect; no one bats 1.000. That is why grace and forgiveness are the basis of enduring relationships. My wife’s father (I call him my father-in-love) reminds me that every healthy marriage is made of two good forgivers.

No one is perfect; no one bats 1.000. That is why grace and forgiveness are the basis of enduring relationships.

Instead of seeing Phil. 4:8-9 as a list to evaluate, think of them as a group of words that help us get our minds around the idea of God’s goodness.

What is true? What is honorable? What is right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and worthy of praise? In a word, it is Jesus. Simply Jesus.

When we keep our mind on what he did for us on the cross, that changes everything—and when we see others through him, it changes the way we see them. Paul describes it this way in his letter to the believers in Rome:

What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? Romans 8:31–32

The answer is Yes!! The cross is God’s declaration of love for you—and nothing can separate you from that love! Neither life, death, nor any other thing in all creation can separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ (Romans 8:39).

The cross is God’s declaration of love for you—and nothing can separate you from that love!

So, what has you anxious today? What has you fretting? Is it career-related? Is it financially-related? Is it family-related? Is it performance-related? Is it relationally-related?

So, what has you anxious today?

Instead of focusing on the “what-ifs” of life, focus on the what-we-know-to-be true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and worthy of praise. Focus on Jesus. Focus on his ability to move mountains in your life. Focus on his limitless power to come to your aid.

Instead of focusing on the “what-ifs” of life, focus on Jesus.

If he overcame death, what can’t he do in your life? Focus on his resources to do what our resources could never do.

Today, instead of focusing on your problems, fix your mind on Christ. Continue to grow in the grace and understanding of him, then the God of peace will be with you.

What areas are most difficult to trust God for?

The Answer to Anxiety Pt. 1

Everyone experiences anxiety. Anxiety is a low-level sense of dread. Its like fear, but different. Fear is a reaction to an actual event happening, real-time, in front of you. Anxiety is that unease that something—not sure what it could be—but something is going to happen and ruin everything.

Anxiety takes our mind on a virtual tour of all the possible outcomes of a given situation. Fear sees a rattlesnake in the grass and says “run!” Anxiety says “never, ever go barefoot in the grass—ever—because there might be a snake somewhere, sometime.” It is a minefield of “What-ifs”…and you can imagine what this does to relationships. 

Anxiety is a minefield of “What-ifs.”

Anxiety says “I really need a job, but, what-if I don’t get a job?” Then we’re offered a job and we add anxiety to the mix by thinking “What-if I’m not a good fit in this new job?” Then, after a while on the job, we wonder “What-if I have to stay in this job?” Anxiety will make every choice a regret.

Anxiety not only leads to emotional and physical fatigue, but often ends up in sickness and panic attacks. 

And here is what is fascinating to me: social science tells us that 80-90% of all the things we worry about never actually happen

80-90% of all the things we worry about never actually happen

So, how do we deal with Anxiety? What do we do to keep it from ruining our lives?

God has given us some profound instructions in his word. There is a passage that stands out as one of my favorites in all of scripture: Philippians 4:4-9. Paul, the apostle, is writing to a young community of believers in the first century, who apparently struggled with anxiety.

He starts out his encouragement to them this way: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” 

Depending on your situation, you may feel like “What? OK Paul, you don’t understand my workplace! You don’t know what its like working with my boss!”

What is ironic about this instruction is that Paul is writing from a roman prison…think of the conditions in a third-world/developing nation prison. Not a pretty picture. But in the letters he writes from prison, he sees God’s hand, even in his situation.

So, let’s dive into Part 1 of this passage. What do you do when you are in a difficult, anxiety-ridden situation?

First, Celebrate what God is doing. “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (4:4 NIV).

This is more than just putting a band-aid over my anxiety, this is putting life in perspective.

God is in control. We may have no idea what he is working through our situation, but if you are following Christ, know that he is overseeing your life and direction. Anxiety tells you that you won’t be able to control the outcome of this situation—which is true! But rejoicing in what God is doing is a non-verbal affirmation that God is in control and I don’t have to be! Its an act of faith.

Rejoicing in what God is doing is a non-verbal affirmation that God is in control and I don’t have to be! It is an act of faith.

Second, Refuse to Let Worry take the wheel.Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything” (4:6a). Most of us are good worriers. I know I am. Worry is a kind of mental focus or meditation about everything that can go wrong. When we meditate on the “what-ifs” it takes us to places we don’t want to go, and keeps us longer than we want to stay. So, instead of letting worry take control, pray! If you’re wondering what to pray about, Paul gives us a word: Everything! Prayer is simply talking to God. And as you pray you are shifting focus from your problem to God’s power.

When you pray you are shifting focus from your problem to God’s power.

Third, Ask him for help. “Tell God what you need…” (4:6b) Tell him what’s worrying you. Tell him what you’d like to see in this situation. The more specific the better. Don’t settle for something like a “and bless the whole world” kind of prayer. Tell him what’s on your mind…he already knows! And like a good father, God loves hearing his children bare their heart! The big benefit of naming the issue is that when he answers a specific need you have, it gives you confidence that he actually hears and follows through in your life. Specificity is a beautiful thing.

And like a good father, God loves hearing his children bare their heart!

Finally, Leave it in his care.and thank him for all he has done.” (4:6c) Give it to him. Hand it over. Relinquish control. Let. It. Go.  This is where it gets real.  If you’ve been anxious over a situation for some time, and then let go of it, you’ll most likely continue to roll the “what-ifs” through your mind again. That is the time you reaffirm this in prayer: “Father, that same worry has just come back to my mind. I’m handing it over to you now, and I’m not going to try and control the outcome or worry about it again. It’s yours now. Thank you for what you’ve done in the past in my life and I’m thanking you for what you will do with this now. Amen.” Thank him and let it go.

Thank him and let it go.

When we do this, Paul tells us, something amazing happens: God replaces our worry with his peace. “Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” (4:7 NLT)  Peace—God’s peace—will fill your heart. In fact, he promises to guard your heart and your mind from further worry, as you live out your life in Christ. “Living in Christ” means asking for his wisdom and guidance in actively following Christ today.

Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand.

Now is the time, today is the day. Trade in your anxiety for God’s peace. Celebrate what he’s doing in your life. Refuse to allow anxiety to take control. Ask him for his help in your situation today and then leave it in his care by thanking him for all he’s done. This is the path to peace.

How is God working in your life? Feel free to comment below or PM me.

Brokers of Hope: The Gilroy Tragedy

This week another senseless shooting happened in Gilroy, California. While shootings at large events grab our attention, the truth is that there are lesser known shootings happening somewhere in our country on an almost daily basis. 

What makes this shooting, and others like it, so disturbing is the apparent randomness of the shooter.

Reports came out of the festival that, while he was shooting, someone yelled, “Why are you doing this?” The reply they heard was, “Because I’m really angry.” 

But thanks to quick thinking of police officers on scene, they quickly engaged the shooter and lives were saved. While the gunman was hit by police fire, the medical examiner found that the shooter turned his own gun on himself as well, ending it all. 

What makes these large event shootings particularly sad is that what is supposed to be a community event becomes a community tragedy.  Now, five days later, the investigators are still sifting through the information looking for a motive.

One of the reasons we want to know the why is so we can bring some kind of closure or solution to this kind of tragedy. But, in many cases, we may never know why and are only left with questions. 

Jesus wasn’t a stranger to senseless violence. At a time in history when his country was occupied by a foreign power—and the night before he went to the cross—he said this to his followers:

“I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

Jesus is saying that in the unexplainable tragedies of life (the many trials and sorrows we experience), “…take heart” because, as he said, “I have overcome the world.” In other words, death is not the end. Ultimately God’s purposes will prevail and evil will not have the final word. There is more to this life than this life.

If the last book of the New Testament, Revelation, teaches us anything it is that while situations around us may be heart breaking , there is a light at the end of the tunnel. And that light is a beautiful, renewed world. A place where evil and despair will never have a place.  

It appears that this shooter was angry enough to despair and end his young life. While some may despair and give in to hopelessness, Jesus’ followers have the answer to despair: it is Jesus himself. I often wonder what would have happened if a youth pastor had connected with some of these young shooters? What a difference it would make if they were able to see beyond themselves and understand that they were created for something more—much more. 

We are brokers of hope.

While tragedy may cross your path, take heart—Jesus has overcome this world. Death isn’t the end, and this life is only a dress rehearsal for the next.

So, while despair may have a grip on some, each of us can be a broker of hope.

No one can turn back the clock on these shootings. But as followers of Christ, we have the opportunity to bring comfort and hope into a bleak situation: by comforting those who are grieving; to truly sharing in their loss; by weeping with those who weep. And, in so doing, point people to Jesus. This life is not the end. There is more to come.

Don’t miss your opportunity to bring hope to those you know—even in the face of senseless tragedy. We are brokers of hope.