My Wife

I missed posting yesterday.  I was on the road for about 7 hours with my family for a quick three day trip.  We took the trip because my awesome wife was invited to speak at a gathering of mothers.  She is there now as I write this.

I am really proud of my wife.  She is is such a great woman of faith and a great example to others.  She is also a huge help to me both in my personal life and my ministry (which almost seems silly to write it that way because these are not really separate areas in our lives).  She has taught me so much about loving people and really listening to them.  She has taught me to smile more and criticize less.  She has seemingly limitless patience with our children.  She puts up with my quirks and flaws.  She works hard in the church and in helping so many people in so many ways.

So that’s why I’m writing this today – because I’m really proud of my wife!

Now I need to run to the car to go pick her up and hear about how God used her in another situation where she stepped out in faith and made herself available to be used by Him.

By the way, my wife has a blog at which is awesome!

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“Systems Check” (Acts 15:1-35) – Monday’s Reflection on Sunday’s Sermon

So it’s 11:30pm on Monday night and I’m finally getting around to writing my reflection on the sermon yesterday!  We leave tomorrow for a brief three day family trip so today was pretty busy as I tried to get stuff done that I normally do on Tuesday through Thursday.

I have come to love Acts chapter 15 and the account of the Jerusalem Council.  I love it because I think it shows us a picture of church leadership in action in a powerful way on a very important issue.  The gospel was being threatened by people who said that believing in Jesus was not enough and were saying that people had to do certain good works in order to be saved.  By the end of the council’s meeting, the church has affirmed that salvation is by God’s grace through faith in Christ alone and has protected the unity of the church around the central truth of the gospel.

I called this sermon “Systems Check” because the early church had to check it’s way of thinking and doing things against the Word of God.  We all have “systems” or ways that we normally think or act.  Our systems are usually based around the highest priority in our lives.  It could be money, power, what people think of us.  It could be tradition or change, fear or self-doubt.  When we face a difficult situation we grab the handle attached to that central gear of our system and we turn the crank.  The system goes into production and out comes a response.  Oh sure, we have the ability to make different choices, but we have to at least admit that those choices are largely determined by our greatest priorities around which we have built our systems.

The early church could have given a quick answer.  They could have grabbed the handle attached to their greatest priority and turned it and then responded accordingly.  For some churches the greatest priority is tradition – doing things the way it’s always been done.  For some it is change – purposely doing things differently than it’s always been done.  Both represent systems based around a central priority and both can be drastically out of line with the mission of the gospel.

But the early church didn’t just respond out of their “system.”  They took the harder route to judge how they thought against God’s Word.  In fact, it isn’t just what the council decides that is so important – it’s how they decide it.  They start by listening to everyone that they can.  Paul and Barnabas tell their stories of what God has done on their first missionary journey.  The believers from the Pharisee group tell how they think the Gentiles must keep the Law of Moses.  Others must have been given the chance to speak as well because verse 7 says, “after much discussion…”  At several points in the narrative we are shown that there was a rather large crowd.  At the beginning of the meeting, the entire church of Jerusalem seems to be involved (verse 4 says they were welcomed by “the church” – not just the leaders).  Verse 6 tells us that the “apostles and elders met to consider this question” but they either did this with the rest of the church present or greatly involved the rest of the church throughout the process because verse 12 calls the group “the whole assembly” (which would be an odd way of referring to just the leadership) and verse 22 says that after James makes his recommendation for what they should do that “the apostles and elders with the whole church” come up with a plan to carry it out.

As they are listening and involving the people (which turns a crisis into a discipleship opportunity!) they are also weighing everything against God’s Word.  Peter tells about what Christ has taught him in regards to the Gentiles being accepted through Christ and not through the Old Testament Law.  James cites passages from the Old Testament that show that it was always God’s will to accept the Gentiles.   They take this information and use it, instead of their own “systems” to weigh the current situation and the conflict that is being caused by a challenge to the core of the gospel.

This is true leadership in action.  Not only are the leaders not just pushing their own agenda, they are purposely taking the time to check their agenda against the word of God.  No top down authoritarianism.  They are involving the people by first listening to them, letting them see how the decision is reached, and then involving them again in carrying out the solution.

The main “gear” of our “systems” needs to be the gospel of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ and God’s Word must be the standard against which our systems must measure up.  This is true in the church and in our individual lives.  If we truly believe that we are sinners saved only by God’s grace, then why would we want to try to figure things out and do them our way?  We will instead want to do them God’s way as we check everything against His Word.  This is the role of leadership in the church and it should also be evident in the lives of Christians as we seek to be led by Christ on this gospel mission.

Disclaimer:  any typos or blatant heresy in this post is due to the fact that the author should probably be sleeping…

photo by Flickr user bluebus

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“Systems Check” – This Sunday At Orchard Community Church

I remember watching the movie “Apollo 13” and that dramatic moment when the explosion occurs.  One astronaut speaks into his radio those brief words that are so full of meaning and emotion – “Houston, we have a problem.”

In Acts chapter 15 the early church has a problem that threatens to tear it apart.  The way in which the early church dealt with this problem is very instructive for us today.  They did it together.  They did it according to Scripture.  And they did it as godly leaders applied God’s Word to their specific situation.

Sometimes today we still need a “Systems Check” to see if we are in line with God’s Word or if we too have a problem.  Thankfully, in Christ every problem is just another opportunity to see God at work!


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“It’s Me” – Hearing the Voice of God

When I call my wife, I usually say “It’s Me” when she answers.  I’m sure a lot of people do this, but when you really think about it, it’s kind of silly.  Usually when someone answers your call you want to identify yourself so they know who’s calling.  Saying “It’s me” doesn’t really help.  Yet my wife knows exactly who I am when I call because she knows me and knows my voice.  The truth is that I don’t even need to say “It’s Me” because she knows who I am the moment I speak.

So often we want to hear from God but we haven’t really taken the time to get to know Him.  We want to flop open Scripture and get some “word” from God for our immediate situation.  That would be like my wife listening in on part of my conversation with someone else and automatically thinking I’m talking to her.  We also want to take obscure feelings or ideas that come into our minds and declare that it is God speaking when we haven’t taken the time to weigh those things against how God has worked and revealed Himself in Scripture.

What if God is saying to us “It’s Me” but we don’t recognize His voice?  Or what if we are hearing something and assuming it is God when it really isn’t?  How can we know for sure that we are hearing from God?  We must know Him and the surest foundation for this is His Word.  I believe that God can and does speak to us today, but we must first know Him from His Word and then judge everything else against who we know Him to be from His Word.  There are no shortcuts, but I do believe that it is possible as we walk with God and grow to know Him through His Word that when we hear His voice we can truly know that it really is Him.

photo by Flickr user aepoc

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“Rooted in the Word of God” – Core Value # 3 of Orchard Community Church

Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers.  But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.  He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither.  Whatever he does prospers.  (Psalm 1:1-3)

Core Value #3 of Orchard Community Church is that we will be “Rooted in the Word of God” which is further explained as:

We are committed to God’s Word as our exclusive foundation. The Bible is our reference point for truth. All teaching, practice, and life transformation is shaped by God’s truth as revealed in the Scriptures. We will devote ourselves to preaching, teaching and applying God’s Word. (2 Timothy 3:16-17; Hebrews 4:12)

I am convinced that we will either allow God’s Word to sit in judgment on us or we will sit in judgment on God’s Word.  There really is no middle ground.  To sit in judgment on God’s Word is to claim that we rather than God are more qualified to decide right from wrong, real from unreal, effective from ineffective.  This was a bad idea in the Garden of Eden and it is a bad idea today.  When we uproot ourselves from God’s Word as the sole authority in our lives and in our churches, we lose our anchor to God’s purposes in this world, God’s salvation for our souls, and God’s will for the church.  We become set adrift in a sea of ideas, preferences and opinions that push and pull at us, each competing for our attention yet we leave ourselves with no measure for judging which are right and wrong, helpful or harmful.  Ultimately, when we start questioning the authority of God’s Word, we are putting ourselves in God’s place.

As a church we have declared that the Word of God is the ultimate and final authority for everything that we do.  We will judge the effectiveness of our ministries, the quality of our worship,and the purposes and means of all we do against this timeless standard.  Since the purpose of everything that we do is the glory of God then the means by which we accomplish this must come from God.  Our hope as a church is not to get people on board with what we are doing, but with what God is doing and we can only do this as we preach, teach, and lead others to God’s Word.

This is not an easy standard.  Times change quickly.  People have new questions and needs that are not mentioned in Scripture.  But it is through Scripture that we know the unchanging love, grace and holiness of God that apply to every situation.  We may have disagreements over how to apply God’s Word to specific situations, but at least we have a common starting point.  We will be like a tree that is planted in the rich and deep water of the Word of God.  We will be rooted in God’s Word.

photo by Flickr user Big Grey Mare

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“Grounded and Growing” (Acts 11:19 – 14:28) – Monday’s (well, actually Tuesday’s) Reflection on Sunday’s Sermon

I blame the time change this past weekend for why I’m a day off on posting my reflection on Sunday’s sermon.  That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

This past Sunday at Orchard Community Church we looked at Acts 11:19 – 14:28.  It was a LOT of information to cover.  In these chapters we get to know the church at Antioch and then read about how they send Paul and Barnabas on Paul’s first missionary journey.  Chapter 14 ends with Paul and Barnabas returning to Antioch and telling the church about the amazing things God has done.

On the surface these chapters seem to be about a lot of action.  There is a lot of travel, a lot of people coming to know Christ, and a lot of churches being started.  What struck me was what was behind this action.  In the church at Antioch and in the churches that Paul and Barnabas start there is an emphasis on being rooted or grounded rather than just doing.

We see this first in Antioch before the missionary journey even begins.  In Acts 11:19-21 we see that God has done a great work among the Gentiles in Antioch and a church is growing.  The Christians in Jerusalem hear about this and send Barnabas to check it out and to help.  (Just as a quick side note, I absolutely love this idea of one church helping another and working together for the Gospel Mission!)  Barnabas arrives and sees “evidence of the grace of God” (Acts 11:23).  Another possible translation is that he saw “evidence of what the grace of God had done.”  Barnabas knows immediately that what is happening at Antioch is God’s doing, not just their own efforts.  This view shapes his ministry there.  He doesn’t challenge them to do more or to work harder, he encourages them “to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts.”  If what was happening was God’s doing, then the way to keep it going was to keep the people focused on God.  The evangelistic and missionary activity of the church at Antioch came from their being grounded or rooted in God so that it was God working in and through them and not just their own clever ideas.

The ministry at Antioch is growing so Barnabas travels all the way to Tarsus (over 100 miles each way!) to get Paul.  From earlier in Acts we know that when Paul first meets the risen Christ he is told that he will be sent to take the gospel to the Gentile world.  For several years Paul  has waited for God’s timing for this huge mission to begin.  I think Barnabas saw something going on in Antioch that resonated with the mission Christ had given to Paul and so he brings Paul there to see what God does.  For a whole year they work together in the church at Antioch.

Acts 12 is a snapshot of some things that were happening in Jerusalem around this time.  The apostle James is put to death.  Peter is arrested and by a miracle of God he escapes from prison.  King Herod is getting a bit full of himself and some people start saying that he is a god to be worshiped.  Herod doesn’t stop them and give glory to God so he is struck down and dies (see Acts 12:23).

Chapter 13 starts back in Antioch.  There are “prophets and teachers” (which are probably leaders in the church since Barnabas and Paul are included in this list and these gifts/functions are listed in Ephesians 4:11-12 as people given to the church to “prepare God’s people for works of service”) who are “worshiping the Lord and fasting” (Acts 13:2)  As I read this, this means that these leaders were not sitting around discussing strategies and programs.  They were focusing on who God is (worshiping the Lord) and what He wants them to do (often associated with fasting).  They knew what Christ had called Paul to do.  They could have been making charts and maps and filling three ring binders with ministry plans, but instead they were seeking God and waiting on Him!  It is this groundedness in the gospel and in God that leads to the incredible missionary work found in the rest of Acts.

As Paul and Barnabas travel, share the gospel, and see churches start in various cities, they also encounter lots of opposition.  They are chased out of cities.  They are under threat of death.  In one city, Paul is stoned and left for dead.  This is no easy or comfortable mission.  The gospel life to which we are called is difficult.  This is why, when Paul and Barnabas start their return trip to Antioch, they go back to these baby churches and do two things.  First, they challenge and encourage them to “remain true to the faith” (Acts 14:22) – stay grounded, rooted, in Christ.  Paul and Barnabas knew that any effectiveness for the Gospel Mission in these cities would be the fruit of a strong and growing faith.  The second thing Paul and Barnabas do is to appoint elders (Acts 14:23).  In order for these churches to stay grounded in their faith, they need leadership that saw this ministry as their highest priority.  It is no accident that one of the words often used in Scripture for godly leadership is “shepherds.”  These churches were going to face difficulty from both inside and outside of the church and they needed godly leaders who led the church in such a way as to care for the people by helping them to continue being grounded and growing in their relationship with Christ.

I truly believe that churches and followers of Christ today are way too focused on DOING.  We have lost a sense of being grounded, rooted, and completely dependent on God.  All too often we see our relationship with Christ like being a rechargeable battery.  We plug in for a short time each week or maybe even each day and then we go out and do our work (taking time along the way to ask for God’s blessing) and over time our “charge” starts running down.  We come back to church, do our daily devotions, or go to a conference to recharge our batteries so that we can go out and do more for God again.

Leadership in churches reflects this understanding.  Leaders set direction, make the decisions, and lay out strategies.  In so many churches, the model of church leadership has slipped into the idea that the leaders “drive the bus” –  do what they think is right – and the people can either get on board or get out (I have actually heard this!).  Leaders push, pull, and even even hurt people all in the name of trying to get them to do the things that the leaders think they should be doing for God.

But God doesn’t need us to do anything for Him.  This idea that we do things for God betrays the fact that we have too small of an idea of who God is!  It is God who is at work.  It is God who is moving and doing ministry.  It is God who has all the power and all the grace.  We need to quit trying to do things for God and focus instead on living lives rooted in what God is doing.  Jesus says this so poignantly in John 15:5 – “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”  We are not batteries that have some capacity to store up God’s power for ourselves and let it out at our choosing.  We are branches that are constantly and totally dependent on the vine for nourishment and it is the health of the vine that works through us to create  the fruit.  Since this is true, leadership in the church is not a matter of getting people to do the right things, but shepherding people to be more grounded and rooted in Jesus Christ so that God can do great things in and through them.

This is true for how we each “lead” ourselves as well.  We often seek tips and techniques to make our lives better.  We want the latest book or fad to tell us the secret of life.  We want to do things that will make us feel better when it is the frantic doing that is keeping us from the One who created us to find our joy in Him.

OK, this is getting really long so if anyone is still reading at this point let me finish with two other observations from this missionary journey.

1. Difficulties are natural and should be expected on the Gospel Mission.  This is all the more reason to focus on being grounded in the gospel and in relationship with God through Christ.  If we are only focused on doing things then when difficulty comes we can easily think we must be doing something wrong.  But if we are instead focused on staying grounded in God’s grace then the difficulties become an opportunity to see God at work.

2. Watch out for Pride.  As Paul and Barnabas traveled and shared the gospel, it was the people who thought they had it all right that were the most resistant to the gospel.  I believe this is just as true for those “inside” the church as those who are outside the church.  When we focus on “doing” for Christ we will feed the pride in who we are and what we can accomplish.  If instead we focus on being grounded and rooted in Christ then any effectiveness, any growth, is what God is doing in and through us and He gets the glory.  The way to fight pride is to keep our focus on Christ and the gospel that says we are dead in our sins and risen to new life only in and through Jesus Christ.  All our plans and strategies are filthy rags that amount to nothing, but God’s work is His glorious grace on display through us that can change people’s lives.

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“Grounded and Growing” – This Sunday at OCC

I kill plants.  It’s something I’m fairly gifted at.  I’ve killed tomato plants, cilantro, flowers, bushes, even trees.  My skill at killing plants knows no bounds.  I may not grasp the intricacies of helping a plant to grow, but I know that God’s Word has a lot to teach us about growing strong in the gospel.

This week at Orchard Community Church we are looking at the end of Acts chapter 11 through Acts chapter 14.  This is the first of Paul’s three missionary trips.  We are going to pay specific attention to the church that sent Paul and Barnabas on this trip – the church at Antioch – which is a great example of a church that is Grounded and Growing.  Then we will look at the things they encounter on the trip and what they do on their way home that shows how important it is for churches and believers to be “Grounded and Growing”!

Take some time before Sunday to read Acts 11:19-30 and 13:1 – 14:28 as we prepare to gather with other believers and be “Grounded and Growing” in the gospel together!

We will also be participating in Communion.  I like to think of Communion as a sermon that you do instead of a sermon that you listen to.  In the act of taking the bread and the cup, we are declaring that Jesus’ death on the cross is our hope of salvation.  It is always such a meaningful experience and a great reminder!



photo by Flickr user churl

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“Dependent on God” – Core Value #2 of Orchard Community Church

So it finally happened.  After about 6 weeks of writing 5 times a week, I missed a day.  Yesterday I took some time off to go to a movie with my wife because I have been working a lot of evenings.  After the movie I looked at my phone and saw several missed calls from both my mom and my brother.  Immediately I knew something had happened with my dad.  The rest of the day was taken up with phone calls back and forth and trying to look at the ever changing options for air fares.  Fortunately, today I can say that my dad is doing great.  We’re still not sure exactly what happened, but a lot of the really bad possibilities have been ruled out so that is a very good thing.

So that’s my excuse – it was a pretty crazy day yesterday!

I have been using Wednesdays to write about “The Church and the Word” and have mostly been writing about the Mission Statement and Core Values of Orchard Community Church were I serve as the Senior Pastor.  This incident actually helps me do something that I’ve been thinking about anyway.  I am going to start writing these posts on Thursdays.  Every week the church sends out an email about what’s going on at the church and I include a link to my post from Wednesdays.  If the email goes out on Thursdays, it makes more sense to have it link to the post from that day.  You probably don’t care about my daily blog post schedule, but just in case, there’s the explanation.

Core Value #2 of Orchard Community Church is that we are “Dependent on God.”  Here is the longer explanation:

We are committed to daily intimate fellowship with God. Through steadfast prayer, we glorify God by honoring His name, seeking His kingdom, and submitting to His will. It is our individual and corporate responsibility to ensure that all aspects of life, ministry and fellowship are preceded, undergirded, and empowered by prayer. We believe that nothing of lasting eternal value will happen apart from dependent and faith-driven prayer. (Luke 11: 1-12; Ephesians 3:20-21; Colossians 4:2)

Earlier in the week I wrote about the fact that God is always present with us.  Because of God’s gracious presence, we can depend upon Him for everything.  So what does this look like?  How do we do this?

I love the phrase, “It is our individual and corporate responsibility to ensure that all aspects of life, ministry and fellowship are preceded, undergirded, and empowered by prayer.”  Prayer is the outward act of a heart that is depending on God.  It is the expression of life that is lived in the recognition that God is present and powerfully at work.

Carving time out daily for prayer is really important.  When we do this, we are declaring that God is most important in our lives.  We are thinking about things in terms of His will and plan rather than just ours.  We are seeking His guidance and direction in everything we do.  Making time to pray is an act of worship that shows that God is not just somewhere on the list of priorities in our life, He is the #1 priority and everything else that has importance in our lives finds its meaning in Him.

But specific time in prayer is just the beginning.  Scripture says to “pray continually” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).  What is that about?  God isn’t just present with us when we stop to pray.  He is present always – when your boss calls you and says he needs to meet immediately; when you look at your bank account and can’t figure out how you’re going to make it through the next few months (weeks…days?); when you look at your phone and see a bunch of missed calls from family members and you know someone you love is in trouble.  Since this is true, we can and should pray continually.  As we reach for the phone to make or take that difficult call we can pray.  As we go to work in the morning we can pray.  As we walk into a room we know our kids just trashed, we can pray.  Whatever we are doing, whatever we are going through, we can pray to God and ask that we can follow Him and display His glory in that situation.

Did you know that a group of people spends time in prayer before every worship service at Orchard?  Why do you think this happens?  Why do you think we post a list of daily Scripture readings on the back of the weekly sermon notes?  Why do you think I write these posts each week?  Why do we even have a Mission Statement and list of Core Values at all?  It’s because we are completely and totally dependent on God and we will do anything and everything to remind ourselves of this and to live this out as a church and as individuals.  Since we do what we do for God, not us, we must depend on Him for everything so that He gets the glory and we get to grow and learn more about Him.

photo by Flickr user Giampaolo Squarcina

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“The Universal Presence” – thoughts on chapter 5 of A.W. Tozer’s “The Pursuit of God”.


“Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast” (Psalm 139:7).

The truth  that God is present with us is called immanence.  As Tozer states, “It means simply that God is here” (62).  The fact of God’s existence and involved presence has sustained the people of God throughout Scripture and history.  Any sense of our being distant from God is not a matter of space but of awareness.  Tozer puts it this way: “If we cooperate with Him in loving obedience, God will manifest Himself to us, and that manifestation will be the difference between a nominal Christian life and a life radiant with the light of His faith” (64).  Jesus said it even more succinctly: “Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God.”

We are like the servant of Elisha.  We see and fear the things of this world, but we do not see the Presence and the Power of God that is at work all around us.  As Elisha prayed then, we too need to pray that God would open our eyes so that we may see (see 2 Kings 6:15-17).

It is not that God wants to remain hidden.  I believe it is exactly the opposite. The barrier between us and God is our creation – it is because of our sin.  All of Scripture is the record of God’s pounding on this barrier declaring His presence and His gift of salvation.  Scripture is full of people who saw God, walked with God, and heard God.  They were people to whom God declared, “I will be with you” and then He worked to show them His presence.  Fire by day, smoke by night, the Tabernacle, and the blessings of the Promised Land were all constant reminders of God’s presence with His people.  And when they chose to ignore this, He sent Himself – God the Son, Jesus – as Immanuel which means “God with us” (Matthew 1:23).

So often we wait for the shining light to break into the darkness to prove to us that God is here, but Tozer says that this was not usually the way of those who lived with an awareness of God’s presence.  Instead, he says that “they had spiritual awareness and that they went on to cultivate it until it became the biggest thing in their lives.  They differed from the average person in that when they felt the inward longing they did something about it.  They acquired the lifelong habit of spiritual response” (67).

Listen to what he wrote in 1948 that I believe is still just as true today:

A generation of Christians reared among push buttons and automatic machines is impatient of slower and less direct methods of reaching their goals.  We have been trying to apply machine-age methods to our relations with God.  We read our chapter, have our short devotions and rush away, hoping to make up for our deep inward bankruptcy by attending another gospel meeting or listening to another thrilling story told by a religious adventurer lately returned from afar.

The tragic results of this spirit are all about us:  Shallow lives, hollow religious philosophies, the preponderance of the element of fun in the gospel meetings, the glorification of men, trust in religious externalities, quasi-religious fellowships, salesmanship methods, the mistaking of dynamic personality for the power of the Spirit.  These and such as these are the symptoms of an evil disease, a deep and serious malady of the soul.  (69)

He goes on to say that we have all done this.  We have all grown satisfied with this “average diet” or have “accepted one another’s notions, copied one another’s lives and made one another’s experiences the model for our own.  …we have made the Word of Truth conform to our experience and accepted this low plane as the very pasture of the blessed” (70).

But God IS present.  He IS here.  He is not far off and though we may wander aimlessly, He is present and longing for us to be aware of His presence.  Tozer states:

Any man who by repentance and a sincere return to God will break himself out of the mold in which he has been held, and will go to the Bible itself for his spiritual standards, will be delighted with what he finds there.  Let us say it again:  The universal Presence is a fact.  God is here.  The whole universe is alive with His life.  And He is no strange or foreign God, but the familiar Father of our Lord Jesus Christ whose love has for these thousands of years enfolded the sinful race of men.  And always He is trying to get our attention, to reveal Himself to us, to communicate with us.  We have within us the ability to know Him if we will but respond to His overtures. (And this we call pursuing God!)  We will know Him in increasing degree as our receptivity becomes more perfect by faith and love and practice. (71)

As always, Tozer ends this chapter with a powerful prayer:

O God and Father, I repent of my sinful preoccupation with visible things.  The world has been too much with me.  Thou hast been here and I knew it not.  I have been blind to Thy presence.  Open my eyes that I may behold Thee in and around me.  For Christ’s name sake, Amen. (71)

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“Out of our Comfort Zone and into the Gospel Mission” (Acts 10 and 11) – Monday’s Reflection on Sunday’s Sermon


I was a lifeguard for one summer and not everyday is a “Baywatch” sort of day.  The truth is that many days are cold and rainy and I would absolutely dread going into the water.  Could you imagine if a child started to drown and I sat there watching thinking, “I know exactly what to do but there’s no way I’m going into that water on this cold of a day!”  The thought of a lifeguard being unwilling to get uncomfortable in order to save a child is absolutely appalling to us.  So why is it we are not equally appalled when we are unwilling to get uncomfortable in order to share the gospel with a lost sinner?

Acts chapter 10 tells the story of Peter going to visit Cornelius.  Peter had been brought up understanding the difference between clean and unclean things.  It was God’s way of teaching His people that there should be a difference between them and the rest of the world.  At some point this daily reminder of God’s holiness became an end in itself.  Instead of these practices pointing to God, they were simply followed for their own sake and became a sort of comfort zone for God’s people.  As long as they stuck to this list of rules they were fine.  It didn’t matter if they were completely ignoring the one to whom the rules pointed.

Cornelius was a Gentile and did not follow these rules.  In fact, these rules meant that Peter could not even go to Cornelius’ house and certainly not eat any of his food.  The early followers of Jesus assumed that people had to first accept the Jewish rules and then could come to God through Christ.  They understood these rules and were comfortable with them.  They knew God had worked through these rules in the past so didn’t He have to work this way in the future?  But the Gospel Mission in Acts often leads God’s people into uncharted waters.  God teaches Peter that He (God – not Peter!) is in control of what is clean and unclean.  God is not bound by what keeps us comfortable.

Comfort Zones are a form of protection.  We put up walls in our lives saying we are willing to be stretched so far but not any farther.  Life within those walls seems safe and predictable because we know it and understand how it works.

In the sermon I described three steps that God uses in getting us out of our comfort zones and into the gospel mission.  The first step is to LEARN – God teaches us something about Him and His work in the world.  God was teaching Peter something new – that God was making things clean that were unclean before.  Peter had to learn this important lesson if he was to follow where God was leading.

The second step God uses in getting us out of our comfort zones and into the gospel mission is to give us an opportunity to RESPOND.  Peter was faced with a choice.  He could have stayed home and not gone to Cornelius’ house.  He could have stayed in his comfort zone, but he would have missed out on the incredible opportunity to see God at work in a powerful way.  But Peter did respond – he went to Cornelius’ house and he told Cornelius and his entire household about the death and resurrection of Jesus.

The third step God uses in getting us out of our comfort zones and into the gospel mission is to give us a new EXPERIENCE of His work.  Peter witnessed the coming of the Holy Spirit on these “unclean” Gentiles.  Peter assumed that these people would first need to become Jewish, but God was at work and clearly accepted these people only on the basis of what Christ did on the cross.  This opened a whole new opportunity for the Gospel Mission.  The gospel could be taken straight to people that had no connection at all with the Jewish rules.

So when we LEARN something about God we must RESPOND to what we are learning by faith and obedience and this leads to a new EXPERIENCE of who God is and what He is doing in this world.  Then, and this is the really cool part, this EXPERIENCE means that we LEARN something new – which means we should RESPOND and then EXPERIENCE and….well, you get the point.  It’s a cycle.  LEARN, RESPOND, EXPERIENCE, REPEAT…

Peter makes an interesting statement in Acts 11:17 when he is being questioned by fellow believers as to why he would go and stay with a Gentile.  He says, “So if God gave them the same gift as he gave us, who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could oppose God.”  That last phrase really challenges me.  If we stick to our comfort zones and assume that God has to work in ways that are comfortable to us, then we might actually be in opposition to God.

As I was preaching this sermon, I could almost imagine the younger generations shouting “Amen.”  Churches are still struggling with the whole traditional vs. contemporary issue and I think a sermon like this could be taken as a challenge to the traditional mindset that thinks that the way things were done in the past is necessarily the best way.  I think this is a good application, but it is only part of the picture.  The truth is that the contemporary style of church is just as comfortable for those who like it.  Sometimes the efforts to change a traditional church are simply to bring the church in line with a new comfort zone!  It’s like a lifeguard trading the fuzzy hoodie and sweatpants for an electric heater – much more contemporary, but still unwilling to get in the water!

We don’t get out of our comfort zones and into the gospel mission on our terms.  Too often we seek an experience with God without ever truly learning from His Word and responding to Him in faith and obedience.  This leads to shallow and ineffectual experiences that are only our own poor imitations of God’s real work and it leads to people who are “converted” to our comfort zones rather than being truly converted by the saving power of the gospel.

Throughout this sermon series, people have asked me why God doesn’t work with the same power today that He did in Acts.  Trust me, He does.  But He does so on His terms, not ours.  Maybe the  reason we don’t see (or experience) it is that we are too busy rearranging our comfort zones.  May we be like Peter and be willing to get out of our comfort zone and into the Gospel Mission as we learn, respond to, and experience more of what God is doing.


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