Being More Distracted

I am trying to be more and better distracted. I’ve been thinking a lot about this and the truth is that I get distracted extremely easily. My mind can wander off into a news story, researching some useless information on google, or just general goofing off. I get to end of my day and wonder where all the time went! I’m not proud of this, but it’s time to own up to it and do something about it.

I’ve tried many things to avoid distractions. I make plans, lists, set reminders and tasks to keep me on track, but then I get overwhelmed and frustrated and then I get distracted so I don’t have to deal with my feelings of being overwhelmed and frustrated. It’s a vicious cycle.

So here’s my new answer… I’m going to be more distracted! Not just more – BETTER. Maybe I just need to embrace distractions as part of the cycle of my work and use them to creatively (and deceptively!) make me more productive. So I’m making distraction options – things to do when I don’t feel like doing the things I should be doing. One of my options is writing a blog post… so I guess that’s working.  Others include things like calling someone to see how they’re doing, walking around the building, reading for 20 minutes (I always have a ton of reading to catch up on!).

I figure if I’m going to get distracted anyway, why not be distracted by things that I enjoy, that help me do things I should be doing anyway, and that actually pull me back into doing the things that I’m trying to be distracted from in the first place.

Yes, it’s sort of a mental kung-fu that will probably only work if I can trick my brain into thinking it’s getting what it wants when it’s really getting what it needs. I suppose this will only work on someone who is a bit clueless and easily duped… so I’m the perfect candidate!

So this is day one of my more and better distractions and so far it’s been an awesome day and I’ve gotten a ton of stuff done… including (but not limited to) writing one blog post.  Thanks for the distraction.

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The Bride of Christ

Imagine a wedding day.  The guests are all seated.  The wedding party is in place at the front of the church.  The groom stands waiting.  All eyes are glancing at the back doors of the sanctuary – waiting.  After an uncomfortable amount of time, there is a great commotion in the hall outside the sanctuary and then the doors burst open.  The bride stumbles into the sanctuary with mud all over her shoes and the bottom of her gown because she stopped in her garden before she left to pull up some weeds.  She’s very late because her favorite show was on TV.  She has headphones on her head listening to the play-by-play for her favorite sports team’s big game.  She rushes up to the front of the sanctuary and looks quickly at her groom and then the pastor and asks if they can get this over quickly because she offered to babysit for a friend and on her way home she needs to stop at the bank.

I have never seen a wedding start this way and I hope I never do.  It would be deeply insulting to the groom.

Ephesians 5:25-33 states:

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.  In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies.  He who loves his wife loves himself.  After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church – for we are members of his body.  “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”  This is a profound mystery – but I am talking about Christ and the church.  However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.”

What is the church?  Is it a building?  A collection of programs?  A club?  A self-help group?  According to God’s Word, the Church is PEOPLE – people who have been saved by Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection; people who are following Christ and, through the power of the gospel at work in them, living out His will in this world; people who are sinners and deeply flawed but are being renewed and remade into the image of Christ that we were all created to display (Gen. 1:26).  Ephesians 5:25-33 gives us the metaphor of the Church as the Bride of Christ.  Paul is writing about how the gospel impacts our relationships and is specifically challenging wives and husbands to love each other according to the love that Christ showed to us on the cross.  As he writes, it is almost as if in his excitement he wanders off topic a bit and into his favorite subject, Christ’s love for His people – the church.

Christ’s Love for His Bride

We learn some things about Christ’s love for the church in this passage.  Christ loves the church with a sacrificial love.  Verse 25 says that Christ gave himself up for the church.  He laid down his life so that we might live.  Christ loves the church with an intentional love.  Verse 26 says that Christ gave his life for the church to make us holy.  Christ loves the church with an effective love.  Verse 26 also says that the way Christ makes us holy is “the washing with water through the word.”  Christ is the one who makes us ready for the wedding by washing us through the Word of God.

Christ loves the church with a love of the highest motivation.  Christ’s motivation for loving the church, His Bride, is the highest and best possible motivation there could ever be.  If I said my greatest motivation for loving my wife is for my own sake – to make me feel or look good – then people would call me selfish.  Why?  Because I’m saying that I’m more important than my wife or than anything else.  I am putting something lesser (me) in the place of greatest importance.  Paul says in verse 27 that Christ’s love is motivated by the desire to “present her to himself.”  This means that Christ loves the church for Christ’s sake – for his own glory.  Selfishness is wrong in us because we are putting ourselves in the place of highest importance.  Yet when we speak of Christ, the place of highest importance is rightfully his.  Christ loves the church with the highest possible motivation – his own glory.  For Christ to love the church for any other reason would be to settle for a lesser motivation and a lesser love.

Christ loves the church with a caring love.  Saying Christ loves the church for his own sake does not mean there is no benefit to the church – far from it!  Verse 29 says that Christ cares for the church with a loving and tender care because we are his “body” (the church as the Body of Christ is another great metaphor in Scripture).  Christ also loves the church with a committed love.  Verses 30-32 talk about a husband and wife leaving their past security and identity and becoming “one flesh.”  This is a picture of absolute and lasting commitment and this is how Christ loves the church.

Christ looks at the church and says, “I love you with a sacrificial love – I’ve given my life for you.  I love you with an intentional love – I have a plan and a purpose that is your greatest good.  I love you with an effective love – I will make this happen even though you struggle because my strength is enough.  I love you because I want you to be with me and to share in, enjoy, and display my glory. I am watching over you and caring for every need and I am committed to you forever and ever.”

The Radiant Beauty of the Bride

There is something special about a groom not seeing the bride on the wedding day until the doors of the sanctuary open.  The bride has put a great amount of effort into looking her best as she presents herself to her groom.  When we speak of the church as the Bride of Christ, there is also a display of great beauty, but there is an important difference.

Ephesians 3:20-21 says, “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever!  Amen.”  When the church stands as the Bride of Christ, we can claim no credit for our own beauty.  It was not our effort that prepared us for this moment.  The beauty that we have as the Bride of Christ is because we are made beautiful by God through Christ’s death and resurrection.

Ephesians 3:10-11 says, “[God’s] intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms…”  The church’s beauty is not her own.  It nothing less than the radiant beauty of God and his work on display for the world to see.  The church does not exist for people to be amazed or impressed by us.  We exist to point to the One who makes us beautiful.  This is God’s purposeful plan and design.

One aspect of the church’s beauty that most greatly displays the glory of God at work is our unity.  In John 17:23 Jesus prays, “May they [the church] be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you love me.”  Jesus is saying that the unity within the church helps prove to the world that Jesus is sent by God.  Our unity is one of the greatest proof’s that Jesus is the Son of God because this beautiful unity cannot be accomplished by our work.  It only comes as together we submit to the work that God is doing in and through us.

As the Bride of Christ, we stand in the doorway ready to walk down the aisle completely unworthy in and of ourselves to be there.  We are beautiful only because of what Christ has done and is doing in us.  We radiate the beauty he has accomplished in us for his glory.


So the doors open and the bride appears.  People look at the groom as he looks at his bride.  A smile grows on his face as he thinks, “This is my beautiful bride and she is perfect in every way because I gave my life for her to make her perfect.  I love her with an unending love.  I will care for her every need and we will be together forever.”

This is how Christ loves his church – his people.  We must treat what Christ loves so much with great honor, respect, commitment and love.  The church is not ours and does not exist for our happiness, comfort, traditions, or fulfillment.  We do not make the church effective, impressive, or attractive.  That is God’s job – our job is to keep our eyes on the groom who loves us so deeply and to live as a display of his power at work in us, his love that changes us, and his glory that draws others to be part of the Bride of Christ.

This post is from a sermon I preached a few weeks ago at Orchard Community Church as we started a series on the church.



photo by flickr user kriffster

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“Committed to One Another” – Core Value #6 of Orchard Community Church

Commitment is a scary word today.  We are so suspicious of anything that requires us to commit.  What if we feel differently later?  How do you know you aren’t being taken advantage of?  What if something better comes along?

Core Value #6 of Orchard Community Church is to be “Committed to One Another.”  Here is the explanation from our list of Core Values:

We are committed to the local church because it is the principal place where God is working out his purpose in the world and in people’s lives. We believe that active participation in the church advances God’s purpose and is essential for the spiritual growth of individual followers of Christ. We are committed to demonstrating Christ’s love and grace to the world by the way we treat each other. We will encourage, love, build up, disciple, forgive and admonish one another. We will pray for and with one another, honor each other, be patient with one another and rejoice together. (Romans 10: 12,13; Ephesians 4:16; Hebrews 10: 24-25; 1 John 3: 16-18)

Jesus prayed for the commitment-phobic church by saying, “May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:23).  Our unity displays God’s glory and true unity is impossible without commitment to one another.  Fake unity is easy enough without commitment.  Fake unity is simply gathering with people who are just like you.  This looks like unity, but is really just a clique – a human method of dividing the people of God in ways that maintain our comfort.  True unity is being committed together to something beyond ourselves – to the Gospel Mission for which Jesus died and rose again and then told us to spread throughout the world.  It is a choice to work together even when we disagree because we know that what joins us together is greater than anything that can tear us apart.

Sometimes we use metaphors for the church.  We say it is a hospital for sinners or a battleship for the Gospel Mission.  These can be helpful, but they are more about what the church does than what the church is.  Author Mark Dever has a great little book about the church with a title that really sums up who we are.  It is called, A Display of God’s Glory.”  This is what Jesus meant in his prayer when he said, “may they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me….”  Our unity (commitment to each other and to the cause of the gospel) displays the glory of God.  Our unity shows the world that God’s love is real and that it is life changing.

Commitment requires a lot of communication, patience, and hard work.  If our goal is simply effectiveness then it doesn’t matter what people think and we can just walk over them in the name of accomplishment, but if our goal is unity then we must work hard to communicate to help people understand what God is doing and how we are seeking to follow him together.  We must have patience with each other as God leads each of us at different speeds.  We must work hard to maintain unity through faithful studying, teaching and preaching of God’s Word.

Right now as a church we are looking at reinvigorating our membership process.  We want to be sure that people understand the commitment level that is necessary for a healthy church “as each part does its work” (Ephesians 4:16).  We want people to know about what God has done and is doing at Orchard and to be excited about and committed to being unified in following wherever God leads.  In January and February we are going to go through a sermon series on church membership.  We are also going to have a few membership seminars for people who would like to join.  This will all culminate in a membership Sunday where we will all welcome in new members as well as reaffirm our commitment to one another.

Being a display of God’s glory is not easy, but it’s also not that complicated.  We maintain and strengthen commitment to each other by laying down what we want and together seeking what God wants.  This is the unity and commitment that displays God’s glory to a commitment-phobic world and it is why we at Orchard Community Church are “Committed to One Another.”




photo by Flickr user Eric M Martin

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“Peace” – Reflection on Sunday’s Sermon

PEACE.  The angels appeared to the shepherds and said “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth PEACE to men on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:14).  The picture above is a pretty good representation of my idea of peace.  Sun…sand…warm water…and a chair.  No worries.  No struggles.  No calendars or agendas.  Just peace.  We have this idea that peace is what we would have if all of our problems were taken away or set aside.  We have this idea that we should have peace.  The problem is that we don’t live in the picture above…our lives look more like this:

So what were the angels thinking!?  They said that peace had come, yet our world and our lives certainly don’t look like the serene picture of the beach!  Later, in John 14:27, Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”  It is tempting to look at life and say that the angels and Jesus must have been wrong, but I have found that when I’m in a situation like this it is best to take God at His Word and see where I may be wrong.

Jesus’ statement contains an important point – “I do not give to you as the world gives.”  Is it possible that our idea of peace is according to the way the “world gives” peace?  As I thought about this for the sermon, two things came to mind about the way the world says to get peace.

First, the world says that peace comes from being CARE FREE.  By this I mean that the world says that if we can just overcome our cares to the point where we are free from them then we will get peace.  If we could check everything off of our to do list, get enough money in the bank, get that certain title or promotion, or ___________________ (insert your own standard here!) then you would have peace.  So we work…and work….and work in the hopes that we will gain or get to peace, but it always seems just out of our reach.  Why is this?  The writer of Ecclesiastes says these things are meaningless.  That’s not to say they don’t have their place and aren’t important at all, but they are worthless when it comes to finding purpose and peace in life.  Peace is not found by conquering all of our cares until we are free from them.

So since that doesn’t work, the world offers another alternative for getting peace – being CARE-LESS.  This is the attitude of apathy – the person who looks at the struggles in their life and the lives of those around them and simply doesn’t care.  Maybe the less we care about the problems the more peace we can have, right?  I referred to this as the Hot Air Balloon method of dealing with life’s difficulties.  Sure, you can hop in and fly over your troubles for awhile, but sooner or later that balloon has to come back down.  The world offers all sorts of methods to help with the CARE-LESS mentality.  There’s alchohol and drugs to numb the pain.  There’s entertainment to distract you from your problems.  There’s being judgmental and critical of others so you don’t think your problems are that bad.  And, if all else fails, there is just straight up apathy.  The bliss that comes from walking through life not caring about anything (I call this the adolescent method of dealing with problems).  As long as you don’t have to think about your problems you’ll be OK, right?  Wrong.

Our problems are very real and there are real issues at stake and real consequences to face.  Romans 1:18-23 says this:

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.  For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.  For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.  Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.

We have a very real problem and it is called sin.  We have “claimed to be wise” and have set ourselves in the place of God when it comes to deciding what is right and wrong and how the world should operate.  We have chosen to worship the stuff of this world – technology, entertainment, jobs, money, success, power, image, reputation, etc. – instead of worshiping the God who created us and loves us.

We can’t overcome our sin by working harder and we can’t get away from it by just ignoring it.  The world can’t give peace and all of our efforts to seek peace according to the world’s ways just end up making us more restless and hungry for peace.  It is a vicious cycle.

Peace comes from knowing that you are CARED FOR.  Jesus’ words in John 14:27 are interesting – especially because of the bigger subject he is talking about.  He is nearing the end of his time on earth with his disciples and knows that he will be crucified, rise from the dead, and then return to heaven.  He is giving them final instructions about the difficult times they will go through and he says this:

   “All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”  (John 14:25-27).

What exactly is He promising them?  How exactly is He giving them peace?  He is giving them the Holy Spirit – the presence of God – to be with them always!  This is how Jesus gives peace – He gives us HIMSELF because, as Micah 5:5 foretold, “he will be their peace.”  Jesus doesn’t give us a path to peace or steps to peace.  He gives us himself who IS OUR PEACE.  He gives us himself by being born in a manger and living in this messy, sinful, and pain filled world.  He gives us himself by dying on the cross to overcome the greatest problem that we have – our sin.  He gives us himself by rising from the dead and promising eternal life to all who will believe in him.  And he gives us himself by giving us God’s presence in our lives – the Holy Spirit – who leads us and guides us according to God’s will and God’s Word.

To know Jesus is to know peace.  He is our peace.  It is accomplished.  Done.  Bought and paid for.  Peace is our present reality even in the craziness of our lives.  We have peace if, and only if, we have Jesus.  We don’t need to seek peace, we need to trust Jesus to be our peace.  We don’t need to work for peace, we need to get to know Jesus better who is our peace.

One last thing.  When flight attendants give instructions they always talk about what to do if you are traveling with a child and the air masks drop from the ceiling.  You should first put your mask on first and then help the child.  Why?  Because someone who is struggling for air is of little help to anyone else.  We have a lot of Christians that are struggling for peace.  We are so busy grasping at one thing after another in the hopes of gaining peace that we are too busy to help those around us.  But what if we could understand that we already have peace.  The mask is already on our face and we could breathe deeply if we only knew.  If we could trust that we already have peace in Jesus, then we are free to quit flailing around and start helping others to find Jesus and to know the peace he gives.  Because he has promised what we still need to hear:  ” Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27).

May we know and trust the Peace of Jesus this Christmas season and always.

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Who was in the Manger?

Who was in the manger on Christmas morning?  Who is this baby of whom we sing about and celebrate?  Jesus is not just a cute baby in a manger.  He is Immanuel, God with us (Matthew 1:24).  This means that the hand that gripped Mary’s finger from the manger was the same hand of which we are told, “In his hand are the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks belong to him. The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land” (Psalm 95:4-5).  The eyes that sparkled from the manger are the eyes of God that “are everywhere, keeping watch on the wicked and the good” (Proverbs 15:3).  The voice that cried from the manger is the same voice that sustains “all things by his powerful word” (Hebrews 1:3).  This is the baby in the manger, but there is more…

The hands of this baby are the same hands that had nails driven through them to hold him on the cross where he paid the price for our sins.  The eyes of this baby are the same eyes that looked down from the cross at the crowd that gathered to watch him die.  The voice of this baby in the manger is the same voice that cried out from the cross, “Father forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing!” and then cried out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” as our sins – your sins and mine – were put on him.  He died on the cross for our sins.  This is the baby in the manger, but there is more…
Those eyes, that voice, and those hands rose from the dead!  The baby in the manger conquered sin and death and promises eternal life to all who believe!  This is the baby who is in the manger.  This is GOD WITH US!  One day that baby stood before his followers, after he had risen from the dead, and he sent you and me on a mission to go and tell the whole world about this baby in the manger.  Jesus, Immanuel, God with us, left us with these words: “And surely I am with you always!”  The baby in the manger, Jesus Christ, is still “God with us”, and this makes all the difference in the world.

photo by Flickr user blahmni

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“You Better Not Doubt” – Reflection on Sunday’s Sermon

This is the first time I am writing a reflection on a sermon that I didn’t preach!  I invited Dan Keenan to preach for the first Sunday of Advent.  No, I wasn’t on vacation.  No, I wasn’t sick.  No, I’m not just lazy and didn’t want to prepare a sermon – preaching is one of my favorite things I get to do as a pastor!  And no, I did not take the week off.  Not preaching this past Sunday allowed me to look forward to January and February to work on a sermon series that I am planning for then.  It also allowed me more time to meet with people which is always wonderful.

So why did I ask Dan to preach?  Because I have heard that he is a gifted preacher and he has become part of our church.  Ephesians 4:11-13 says that it is the job of church leaders to prepare others for service because this makes the church stronger, more unified, more mature, and more like Christ.  It is one of my greatest goals as a pastor to help people identify ways that God has gifted them and then train them, encourage them, and allow them to use those gifts in the church because this makes the church more about Christ and less about me.  Ok, enough about why I asked Dan to preach and on to the sermon!

We looked primarily at Micah 5:2 – “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.”  Dan took us on a whirlwind tour of the many Old Testament prophecies about the birth of the Messiah.  We looked at the fact of the Messiah being born of a virgin.  We also looked at the idea of the Messiah being born in Bethlehem.  It was so interesting to hear all the places in the Old Testament where Bethlehem is mentioned and the amazing things that God did in this town.  We also looked at the fact that the messiah was to be a descendant of King David and therefore would have the right to rule on his throne.  We looked at the fact that both Joseph and Mary come from the lineage of David so that this prophecy was fulfilled in either case.  Dan painted a rich picture for us of all of the ways that God told his people about the coming Messiah and all the ways that prove that Jesus is truly the Messiah.  The weight of the evidence from Scripture really is overwhelming.  Jesus is the Messiah, Emmanuel (God with us), sent to save us from our sins and to reign forever.

One of the things Dan said really challenged me.  If we accept that the prophecies about Jesus being the Messiah are true (and, again, the weight of evidence is extremely strong) then we must also except the prophecies concerning the fact that Jesus is coming again.  In the Old Testament, the people were to be defined by their hope in the coming Messiah.  Today we should still be defined by this hope.  In fact, our trust should be even stronger because we know what Jesus has already done by dying on the cross for our sins!

Thanks, Dan, for a job well done and for this powerful reminder!

photo by Flickr user cmbellman

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“The Mission Continues, Acts 21 – 28” – Thoughts on Sunday’s Sermon

Sorry that I’m a bit late on posting my “Monday’s Reflection on Sunday’s Sermon” (I’m writing this on Thursday!).  

Have you ever thought about the power of “normal”?  We often think of normal as being simple, taken for granted, plain, and powerless, but I think the concept of normal is one of the most powerful things in our lives.  What we think is or should be normal exerts pressure on us.  What we think of as a normal income, height, weight, intelligence, and so many other “normals” in our life, make us evaluate ourselves and we feel the weight of being out of line with normal.  One profound way that the concept of normal impacts us is the idea that life should be relatively easy and smooth.  That in general we should be happy, healthy, and comfortable.

We import this idea of normal life into our relationship with Christ on the Gospel Mission.  We think that following Christ should be roses and green fields, calm waters and fresh air.  This means that when our life goes through ups and downs we feel profoundly not normal which often translates into thinking something is wrong – that somehow we are wrong or doing something wrong or even that maybe God is wrong.  Churches get caught up in this.  We can think that any disagreement or differences of opinion are an indication of a deeper problem.  We can think that if the church isn’t growing or enjoying “success” (whatever that is) then something is tragically wrong.

The problem with all of this is how we define “normal.”  The picture we get from Acts chapters 21 through 28 (and really the entire book of Acts, and, come to think of it, the entire Bible!) is that life in relationship with God is filled with ups and downs.  There is no normal level where we are supposed to be comfortable all the time.  It is often in the ups and downs that God is profoundly at work.

On Sunday I gave an overview of Acts 21 – 28 which I won’t do here.  Instead, I challenge you to read it for yourself.  It is an incredible account of Paul’s arrest, multiple trials, and eventual travel and imprisonment in Rome.  Acts ends there.  There is no grand finale, no plot line wrapped in a bow.  In fact, I would say that Acts ends with a great unwritten “to be continued…”   It think it is part of the genius of God to have this incredible account of the beginning of the Gospel Mission end without an ending because the truth is that the account of the church – the followers of Jesus Christ – living the Gospel Mission in this world continues today with US.

One question I had after studying these final chapters of Acts was how it was possible for Paul to keep going when things were so difficult.  Paul’s speech before King Agrippa in chapter 26 holds some key insights into Paul’s thinking and there I saw three things that really challenged me.

Good intentions do not equal right direction:  In Acts 26:9-14, Paul tells about how he lived before meeting Christ.  He was so sincere.  So passionate. So single-minded in his devotion.  So dedicated to living out his belief.  Yet for all of his good intentions and sincere faith, he had to come to terms with the fact that he was sincerely wrong.  Paul’s direction in his life of following Jesus wasn’t set by good intentions.  When we try to just do the right thing then we might be quick to abandon that when it seems like it’s not working.  Paul’s new direction in his life was shaped by the fact that Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins and rose from the dead to prove He is the Messiah and offers eternal life to all who believe in him.  Following Christ isn’t about having good intentions or just trying to be a better you.  It is about knowing and living the reality that Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection is a truth which forever sets a direction for the Gospel Mission and that we must weigh all of our supposedly good intentions against this unchanging direction.

It really is all about Jesus:  In Acts 26:15-17 and 22-29, Paul tells Agrippa what it was that changed his life.  What could possibly make this persecutor of Christians and rejector (I think that’s a real word) of  Christ become willing to endure beatings, imprisonments, and even death for the sake of the truth he once fought so hard against?  It was the reply from the voice that stopped him on the road to Damascus and said, “I am Jesus” (26:15).  The fact of Jesus’ resurrection proves everything Jesus ever said about himself.  It proves that he was able to pay the penalty for our sins and offer eternal life with God.  It also set an entirely new direction for Paul’s life (as it does for ours) because Jesus said, “I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen of me and what I will show you” (Acts 26:16).  This is the same language Jesus used when speaking to the disciples when he said, “and you will be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8).  The reason Paul could endure so much difficulty is that he knew his life was not about him.  It had nothing to do with his comfort and it had everything to do with whether or not he lived and spoke as a witness to the truth of the existence, the death, and the resurrection of Jesus.  We are equipped to endure the ups and downs of the Gospel Mission only as we accept the fact that our lives are now all about Jesus.

This Changes Everything:  In Acts 26:15-18, Paul tells Agrippa about the mission that Jesus gave to him to take the gospel to the Gentiles.  For his entire life Paul had focused on keeping the Jewish Law and trying to preserve and purify the Jewish nation as God’s people (this is what being a Pharisee was all about).  Now, Jesus tells him to leave all that behind and go to the people Paul once rejected to tell them that God is offering them salvation through Jesus.  Paul’s life was (and our life still is today) radically changed by the fact of the resurrection of Jesus.  Look at these statements of Paul from Philippians:

Philippians 1:12 – Speaking of his beatings and imprisonment – “Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel.”
Philippians 1:20-21 – “I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”
Philippians 1:27-30 – “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God. For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him, since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.”

These are the statements of a man whose entire life has been changed by Christ.  He has a new definition of “normal” – a definition that is wrapped around the idea of proclaiming the truth about Jesus no matter what happens to him.

So as we end our brief study of Acts, we have to understand that the mission continues with us today.  We are now the witnesses of Jesus in this world.  We must allow this incredible truth redefine our concept of normal life and accept the wonderful, but often difficult, truth that we are living out the Gospel Mission today.

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“Becoming Fully Devoted Followers of Christ” – Core Value # 5 of Orchard Community Church

Babies sure are cute, but they need people to feed them, change them, comfort them, and clothe them.  These things are all part of being a baby…but what if they are still true when the baby becomes a teenager or an adult?  A baby drinking from a bottle is cute and normal… an adult drinking from a baby bottle is not so much.

We know this to be true for physical growth, yet for some reason we don’t have the same expectation for spiritual growth.  We understand that new believers will need someone to help them grow by helping them to read the bible and pray.  We know that they will need “feeding” through topical studies that relate directly to their immediate needs.  Yet for some reason we have no problem when someone has been a Christian for 10 or 20 years (or even more) and they still are not growing on their own.

At Orchard Community Church, we believe that it is the goal of every Christian to become “Fully Devoted Followers of Christ.”  This is not reserved for the super spiritual or the people who just have way too much time on their hands.  It is God’s will that every believer in Jesus grows and matures.  Here is the explanation of core value #5, “Becoming Fully Devoted Followers of Christ”:

We see discipleship as a lifelong commitment to follow Jesus as we increasingly strive to learn from and obey Him, abide in Him, and sacrifice for His sake and for the sake of the Gospel. We will live out our lives and give our resources to Christ for the expansion of His Kingdom. (Luke 9:23-27; John 15:5-8; Colossians 2:6-7)

Sometimes churches are partially to blame for immature Christ followers.  When a church continues to spoon feed the people and does not lovingly encourage and equip them to feed themselves then growth is stunted.  In an effort to attract people and keep them happy, too often churches can inadvertently allow or even encourage people to remain immature in their relationship with Christ.  We don’t want this to be true of Orchard Community Church!

Colossians 2:6-7 is sort of my “life verse.”  It reads, “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.”  The more we grow and mature as believers in Christ, the more we are able to bring glory to God in everything we do.

Becoming fully devoted followers of Christ means that as we grow, we increasingly yield more and more of our life to God’s will and seek to be obedient to Him.  Sometimes well meaning Christians debate about how much you have to obey Christ in order to be a Christian.  To me, this question is looking in the wrong direction.  God has set before us the goal of being like Christ in our attitude and actions.  He has offered us abundant, eternal life through Christ’s death and resurrection.  He has called us to live in relationship with Him for His glory and our good.  Why would we sit around debating what we can do instead of focusing on what we get to do.  We have the incredible privilege of living for the glory of God.  We get to see the incredible faithfulness of God as we live in obedience to Him.  We get to see God work in and through us as we increasingly yield to His will.  We get to know more about the God who made us and loves us enough to send His Son to die for us on the cross.  Why would we ever want to stop and discuss whether we have come far enough when there is so much more that God has for us?

Sometimes it is tempting to look at a baby and think, “can’t they just stay like that forever,” but we don’t really mean that.  We don’t really want to make bottles and change diapers for the rest of this person’s life!  We aren’t born to remain children.  We are born to grow and mature.  We aren’t born again to remain spiritual infants.  We are born again to become fully devoted followers of Christ.


picture is of my daughter a few days after her birth and I believe I took it – though it could have been my wife.

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“Perseverance” (Acts 15:36 – 20:38) – Monday’s Reflection on Sunday’s Sermon

Yesterday was a great day at Orchard Community Church.  We baptized two people who wanted to publicly proclaim their faith in Jesus as their savior.  It was powerful!

The sermon yesterday was on Paul’s missionary journeys in Acts 15:36 through 20:38.  Paul and Silas travel to many different cities as they continue to spread the gospel.  We looked at the idea of perseverance.  Paul and his companions go through so many difficult situations yet they continue to share the gospel no matter the consequences.  In these chapters of Acts, here are just some of the difficult things that Paul and his companions go through:

  • Disagreement w/ Barnabas (15:36-41)
  • Beaten, flogged and imprisoned in Phillipi (16:16-40)
  • A friend named Jason is taken before city officials because of Paul and Silas’ preaching of the gospel in Thessalonica (17:6)
  • Endure a riot against them in Ephesus (19:23-41)
  • While Paul is preaching, a guy (Eutychus) falls out a window and dies – Paul raises him from the dead (20:7-12)
  • Ends by going to Jerusalem where he is certain he will be arrested or killed.
Most of us tend to give up after much less than this.  So what kept them going.  We looked at 4 Principles of Perseverance that are seen in these chapters of Acts.
Know the Destination

You can endure a lot when you know that you are headed in the right direction.  In Acts 20:24, Paul says, “However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me–the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.”  Jesus set the goal of the Gospel Mission in Acts 1:8 when he told his disciples, “you will be my witnesses”.  It is not our job to convince people.  It is not our job to grow the largest church.  The destination or the goal is simply to be a witness.  Paul realized this and this is why he could go from one city to another where he was beaten and imprisoned because he knew that the whole point was simply to be a witness.  It was about his “success,” it was about the spread of the gospel.

Trust in the Gospel’s Power

Paul was able to face many difficult situations because he knew that the gospel was God’s power for the salvation of everyone who believes (Romans 1:16).  When Paul and Silas are sitting in prison after being beaten, flogged, and put into stocks so that they could not move, what do you think they did?  They sang praises to God.  Why?  I think it was because they knew that the gospel was powerful in any situation and the best method they had at their disposal in that moment to share the gospel with anyone listening was to sing praises to God.  Where we might have seen difficulty and despaired, they saw an opportunity for the gospel and trusted that the gospel would have an effect.

Because they trusted in the power of the gospel, Paul and Silas were able to share the gospel in many different situations with many different people.  They shared the gospel with people from a Jewish background who knew the Old Testament and understood the promises of the Messiah.  They were also able to share the gospel with people who worshiped everything but the God of Scripture and were completely different culturally.  They shared the gospel with people who rejected them and their message and they shared the gospel with people who welcomed them and readily accepted the gospel.  Why could they face so many different environments with the same perseverance?  Because they trusted in the power of the gospel to impact any situation and any person.

Serve Together

Many people see Paul as a sort of Lone Ranger Christian, but this is certainly not the picture we see in Acts.  He is constantly working with people, discipling people, taking them with him on his missionary journeys, leaving people to complete work that he started, and sending people ahead of him to start the work in a new city.  Paul certainly recognized the need to serve with other believers.  In fact, for Paul this was part of the gospel mission.  Working with people and training them to serve wasn’t a distraction for him as he served, it was an essential part of his ministry.  People like Epaphras, Timothy, Titus, Aquilla and Priscilla and many others all served with Paul and are the unsung heroes of Acts.  Harry Truman once said, “It’s amazing what you can accomplish if you don’t care who gets the credit.”  I like this, but I would change it a bit to say “It’s amazing what God can accomplish through us if we only care that He gets the credit.”  A big part of persevering on the gospel mission is that we do it together.

Leave the Results to God

Paul went to cities where lots of people turned to Christ and he went to cities where lots of people fought against him and ran him out of town.  In fact, in one city, Ephesus, both of these things happened (see Acts 19).  Paul understood that we don’t determine our mission and therefore we shouldn’t set the standard for success.  Our role is simply to keep on sharing the gospel.  Keep going – persevere.  The results aren’t up to us so we should not get discouraged by small results and we shouldn’t think that we are doing something right when there are large results.  Our measure of success is faithfulness – perseverance – everything else is God’s job!

A final thing I learn from Paul and his companions in these chapters of Acts is that the mission is about God and not about us.  We are able to persevere because it’s not about us.  If it were about us then the rejections and persecutions would be cause for alarm and quitting, but if it is about God then as long as God gets the glory then we can keep on going.

If you are sharing Christ with someone who keeps rejecting the message of the gospel – keep going.

If you are thinking that you are a failure as a follower of Christ – keep going.

If you get frustrated with the ups and downs in your church – keep going.

The gospel mission requires perseverance.  Will we keep going?

Here are the devotionals for the week that were on the back of the sermon notes:

Monday: Read Acts chapters 16-17.  What are some of the difficulties that Paul and other believers face in this chapter?  How do you face similar difficulties in your life?  What are some of the different groups that hear the gospel in this chapter and how do they respond?  How does this encourage you to share the gospel with different people in your life?

Tuesday:  Read Acts chapter 18.  Who are some of the people who help Paul as he continues his ministry and how do they help?  Who has God brought into your life to help you as you follow Him and who are you helping?

Wednesday: Read Acts chapter 19.  How was the gospel challenging normal life in Ephesus?  How does the gospel challenge some of the thing we consider normal today?

Thursday: Read Acts chapter 20.  What are some of the main things Paul says to the Ephesian Elders and why do you think he thought these things were important as he was saying goodbye?  Do we need to hear these things today?  Why or why not?

Friday:  Read Acts chapter 26 in preparation for Sunday’s sermon.

photo by Flickr user hcii

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“Grace-Driven Transformation” – Core Value #4 of Orchard Community Church


Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.  (Philippians 2:12-13)

Are we there yet?  It is the question every parent dreads on a long road trip.  It usually starts about 10 minutes into the trip and doesn’t stop until you arrive at your destination.  It’s tough being a kid and waiting to get somewhere.  In fact, it’s tough being an adult and waiting to get somewhere in our lives.  We can wonder when we will “arrive” at the spiritual maturity we see taught in scripture and we think we see in others around us.

Core Value #4 of Orchard Community Church is a strong belief in “Grace-Driven Transformation.”  Here is the full description:

We are passionate about the Gospel’s power to bring about long-lasting transformation into the image of Christ. Our gratefulness for God’s saving grace through Christ positions and motivates us to eagerly and intentionally cooperate with the Holy Spirit and access the empowering grace of God in a life-long process of being made more like Jesus. (Philippians 1:6; Titus 2: 11-14; 2 Peter 3:18)

The call to follow Christ involves being transformed.  Change is not optional in the Christian life.  It is the necessary effect of the gospel in our lives.  But it is God who brings about this change.  Philippians 2:12-13 says that we are to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, but then it goes on to say that “it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.”  This is the essence of Grace-Driven transformation – we are working (or living) out what God is doing in us.  It is His grace at work in our lives changing us to who He created us to be.

We believe in the power of God to change lives.  We are also very careful to not try to substitute our own power or methods to try to change each other.  A call to be changed by God’s grace can easily slip into beating each other up.  Believing in Grace-Driven Transformation as a core value means that we trust that God is at work and that it is our work as a church to look to and point others to Him through the power of the gospel so that He can change us.

If you are reading this and struggling with asking God “are we there yet” – wondering when you will be the person you should – know that God is already at work in your life.  If you have accepted Christ as your savior then God has promised that He has put His Spirit in your life and is changing you from the inside out.  This is why the list of Christian qualities is called the “Fruit of the Spirit” – it isn’t the fruit of our labor, it is the fruit of God’s work in us.  Trust what God is doing in your life.  When we beat ourselves up we tend to stay away from the means that God uses in our lives to transform us – gathering with believers, God’s Word, and prayer.  Yet when we trust in God’s work in our lives we will run to the ways where He is working.  We will be encouraged by the truth of God’s grace at work in our lives.

We, the people of Orchard Community Church, trust in God’s Grace-Driven Transformation at work in each believers life.  It is God’s job to change people.  It is our job to point them to the grace of the gospel that can bring about that change.


photo by Flickr user melissaemmons

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