worship Posts

When Bike Meets Car

There’s an old adage among cyclists: “There are two types of riders; those who’ve crashed and those who are going to.” The longer you ride, the more likely this is realized. I’ve been in a few crashes. While in a large peloton, I went down hard at mile 48 (in the “Hotter than Hell 100”, in Wichita Falls). Miraculously, I didn’t break any bones, though I ended up with the worst road rash I’ve ever had. I finished the race, but later discovered my bike was totaled with a cracked frame. My helmet was cracked as well.

I had never been hit by a car, until a few weeks ago. And when bike meets car, there is no contest. Thankfully, I was not going fast nor was the car, but it was enough to take me down quick and the result was a fractured fibula and three broken bones in my ankle. I’m in week three of a long recovery. Six to eight weeks of no weight-bearing activity and ten weeks before I can drive. I will then be in therapy to strengthen the atrophied muscles, then six months to a year before I’m 100 percent.

But enough with “lesser things”. There’s a much bigger story here, and it’s the story we all find ourselves in. When bike meets car happens on a daily basis for all of us. When expectations meet reality is a daily challenge. When our hopes and dreams are shattered like my right ankle, what do you do? When joy and sorrow collide, how do you worship God? I’ve been holding on to and revisiting Romans 8:28-29. Read it again carefully:

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, in order that He might be the firstborn among many brothers.” Romans 8:28-29

Here’s what I’m learning:

  1. God has a bigger plan than ours and it is great and glorious. We often read verse 28 without verse 29 and the two are inseparable. All things work together and it seems most of “all things” are bad But God works bad things into good things. Only He can do that, showing Himself sovereign, all-powerful, and loving. The key is to notice His purpose toward which He’s working all things. His purpose is for us to be “conformed into the image of His Son”. If we have joined Him in that purpose, then we have given our lives over to whatever He deems necessary to see that purpose fulfilled. We are not our own. We have truly become the clay in the Potter’s hands. We are liquid; He is the Cast. We are soft and pliable; He is the Mold. In short, we are the created and He is the Creator. He is God and we are not.
  2. God is big enough for our questions and bigger than our disbelief. When we initially face the trauma of a life disrupted, we are shocked and surprised that things will no longer go along the track we had laid out for ourselves. We need time to adjust to the new plan, regardless of how dark or hopeless it seems initially. In the early phase of a life interrupted, all we have are questions. God is big enough for all of our questions, even if they come to Him out of anger and disbelief. Sometimes we want to crawl into His lap other times we want to beat His chest. He’s big enough for both and our angst does not phase Him for a moment.
  3. Sometimes you can only hold on to what you already know. Even in our shock and change of plans we can trust the God of our experience – the God of the Bible. He is faithful and true and does not change. Clearly, if you have walked with Him closely prior to this sudden change of direction, you are quicker to trust that He is in control and has your best intentions in mind. You’ve seen it before. You know that He is true. If you have not, this phase can be brutal and will set the course of which way you will go from here. This is when you must turn to Scripture and to those who will speak the truth about God to you. Knowing who He is, we know that when you can’t see His hand we can trust His heart. He is at work. Almost always we see, looking back, how He was at work during hard times. The goal of the disciple is to see this gap between moments of suffering and complete trust condensed into real time. We really can trust Him in the moment of suffering and pain. This is worship.
  4. We cannot dictate to God what we want as conditions for our obedience. Our role is to trust and obey. His job is to place us in situations and circumstances by which we are conformed into the image of Jesus. This is His great and glorious plan for us. And the more we trust that it is best to be like Jesus, the more we are ready to embrace whatever comes our way in life. In the end (if you live long enough), you realize you do not control what comes at you in life anyway. You only control your response to it all. And it is comforting to know that “all things” come to us first, through the loving hands of our Father.
  5. Our role is worship, through obedience; His role is to conform us into the image of His Son. I’ve learned it really is possible to worship Him, even through writhing pain and severe suffering. Job, who serves as the constant example of worship through suffering, taught us that there is something better than getting all of your answers. He got something better than answers. He got God. Through worship we get God Himself and discover that He really is enough. As we worship Him through obedience (trusting that He is good, loving and kind), we become more and more like His Son.
  6. The Spirit speaks to us when we quiet all of our intellectual questions and get alone with Him and listen. When we are debilitated (physically, mentally, or emotionally) we find ourselves quiet and sometimes alone. Pain is humbling and sets us on our backs before God. It forces us to “be still” (literally, to “let our hands hang down”) and know that He is God (Psalm 48:10). At some point we must stop asking questions and choose to listen to His Spirit speak. He does so through His Word, so we must stop listening to our souls and start speaking to our souls. And what we speak must be the truth. His Word is truth. When we slow down to listen to Him, He speaks. When we don’t, He doesn’t. Pain forces us to stop working and to stop talking and He speaks to us in quiet solitude.
  7. God uses loving people as instruments of hope and healing. We cannot make it through pain and suffering alone. I do not know where I would be right now without the loving care and patient presence of my wife. Stacy has been by me to serve me in every way. In the midst of so much in her own life, she has shown me what unconditional love looks like. Apart from the Spirit’s presence in my life, she has been the single greatest gift in this time of suffering. Indeed, the Spirit has done His work in larger part through her. I’m not used to being on the receiving end of care and it is difficult and humbling. It is also a glory to God to see my loving wife as the tangible hands and feet of Jesus. Miraculous really. I have also been blessed by the outpouring of love from my amazing church family. From our preschoolers to the eldest among us, the love of Jesus expressed, has given me hope and kept me going. There is nothing like the local church. Do not neglect the power and purpose of being devoted to the Body of Christ. Love one another. Serve each other in love. This is the church at its best.

So when bike meets car life is turned upside down, at least for a while. I’m told I will be back to normal some day. I know others who do not have that hope. The true heroes are those (mostly older friends) who have gone through much worse than me and have no hope to improve, but continue to worship God fervently. These are the ones who have learned what I’m seeking to embrace with all my heart. Nothing can separate us from the love of God that is ours in Christ and we know that “in all these things” He is at work to conform us into the image of His Son – all for our good and all to the praise of His glorious grace.

What a good God He is to us.

Pastors: How to Celebrate Jesus on Mother’s Day

If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” 1 Corinthians 12:26

Is the church able to suffer with those who suffer while rejoicing with those who should be honored? I think so, and Mother’s Day gives us a chance to prove it. Mother’s Day is always a challenge for pastors and congregants as we seek to honor and celebrate our moms in appropriate ways. Most pastors will receive an email or a letter telling them how they should have done it differently or been more sensitive or more celebrative. Some say, do nothing because it’s too painful for some, others say, honor moms but acknowledge the pain that is in the room, and still others say it’s all about moms, so go all out, rejoicing over the wonderful gift and influence of motherhood. After all, everyone has a mother and it’s all about honoring their sacrificial example and influence in our lives.

But isn’t worship all about Jesus? Have we placed undue pressure on the pastor and our congregations by focusing too much on Mother’s Day? The true focus and celebration of motherhood should take place in the family, and from one person to another. More than anything my mom will want to hear from me on Mother’s Day, not be recognized as a mom at church. Stacy will want to hear from our children, about how much they love and honor her life and influence.

I know women who will not come to worship on Sunday because it is too painful – having just lost a mom, or longing to be a mom and unable to be so. Perhaps the pain is the result of an unnecessary or exaggerated emphasis on moms. Our focus in worship is always Jesus. In many ways, Mother’s Day feels like the Sunday that lands close to July 4th or Memorial Day or Veteran’s Day. Those are wonderful days to focus on our freedom, those who’ve given the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom, and for those who have served our country. But is this a church thing? And should it be a priority for the short time we have in worship together? Hallmark has challenged us to bring our attention to certain holidays when some have very little to do with the church and the advancement of the kingdom. Over time, it seems we have adopted (again) the stuff of this world and “baptized” it into the church to become a part of our liturgy. I’m all for celebrating moms, but let’s the keep the focus where it needs to be. For every motherless child, Jesus is the answer. For every childless woman, Jesus is the answer. For every miscarriage, adoption that didn’t come through, for every death, or struggle with infertility, Jesus is the answer. We will do well to make sure He dominates our attention and affection this Sunday and every Sunday.

At PCBC, we will share a version of the words below. In another venue we will share a responsive reading together, sharing the same essence, acknowledging the pain and grief of motherhood. I want our entire congregation to feel what others feel and for everyone to know we are in this together. We are a family. “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” 1 Corinthians 12:26

Acknowledging the Wide Continuum of Mothering – by Amy Young

  • To those who gave birth this year to their first child – we celebrate with you
  • To those who lost a child this year – we mourn with you
  • To those who are in the trenches with little ones every day and wear the badge of food stains – we appreciate you
  • To those who experienced loss through miscarriage, failed adoptions, or running away – we mourn with you
  • To those who walk the hard path of infertility, fraught with pokes, prods, tears, and disappointment – we walk with you. Forgive us when we say foolish things. We don’t mean to make this harder than it is.
  • To those who are foster moms, mentor moms, and spiritual moms – we need you
  • To those who have warm and close relationships with your children – we celebrate with you
  • To those who have disappointment, heartache, and distance with your children – we sit with you
  • To those who lost their mothers this year – we grieve with you
  • To those who experienced abuse at the hands of your own mother – we acknowledge your experience
  • To those who lived through driving tests, medical tests, and the overall testing of motherhood – we are better for having you in our midst
  • To those who have aborted children – we remember them and you on this day
  • To those who are single and long to be married and mothering your own children – we mourn that life has not turned out the way you longed for it to be
  • To those who step-parent – we walk with you on these complex paths
  • To those who envisioned lavishing love on grandchildren – yet that dream is not to be, we grieve with you
  • To those who will have emptier nests in the upcoming year – we grieve and rejoice with you
  • To those who placed children up for adoption – we commend you for your selflessness and remember how you hold that child in your heart
  • And to those who are pregnant with new life, both expected and surprising –we anticipate with you

This Mother’s Day, we walk with you. Mothering is not for the faint of heart and we have real warriors in our midst. We remember you.

I’ve often said that, “Grief is the price we pay for love.” The greater the love, the greater the grief. There is no grief greater than the grief of a mother, because there is no love greater than the love of a mother. This Sunday, let’s honor our moms appropriately, teach the church to be the church, but let’s keep our minds attention and our hearts affection on Jesus, the Giver of all good gifts, including (and especially) our moms.

Happy Mother’s Day, mom.

 

 

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Grace changes everything.

Many give up on the fight for purity because of past failures or habitual sin. This is precisely where Satan wants us to land. My counsel to young men has always been, “The good guys fight”, meaning that you’re either in the fight or you’ve given up the fight. Even “good” men (and women) battle sexual lust and temptation. Sexual sin is Satan’s easiest door to shame. In John 4, a Samaritan woman encounters Jesus and it transforms her, from a life of shame to forgiveness. This story exposes a kind of shame that defines many of us because of past sins, driven by on-going misplaced affections. Shame is a step beyond blame.

  • Blame says, “I’ve done wrong and I deserve to be punished.”
  • Shame says, “I am wrong and I cannot change. I can’t overcome my past, my mistakes, my failures.” I am who I am. Shame leads hopelessness and despair.

How do we move from shame to forgiveness? Like the woman at the well, when we realize that we are fully known and completely loved, our lives are changed. In his book, The Meaning of Marriage, Tim Keller writes: “To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.” To be known fully and loved completely is the greatest truth you’ll ever know.

1. God knows you fully. (vv. 1-15) Like this woman, God knows where you are and He’s gone completely out of His way to come to you, to find you. Like her, we seek diversions, a rerouting of the truth about ourselves. We guide our conversations, in an attempt to avoid the truth, so no one will truly come to know us. Many of us go through our lives like this. Are you fully known? Your greatest need is to be fully known. God knows everything about you. Psalm 139 says He knows when you get up and when you lie down. He knows what you’ll say before you say it. You can’t go anywhere and be away from His presence. He formed you in your mother’s womb. Wherever you are, He knows where you are right now. He’s pursuing you.

2. God loves you completely. (vv. 16-26) She was thirsty for love and clearly, she sought to satisfy this thirst through relationships with men. She thought that what she needed most would be found in the next man, a better relationship, the next love, in someone who would finally love her. We are all thirsty. We’re all craving love. He alone satisfies. And before we do write this off as a third-person story, don’t miss this: We all have lovers. Call them idols, other gods, false identities- we all have them. Who are you sleeping with? Jesus seeks to provide for you the one thing that He knows you actually need. The only thing that can quench this soulful thirst of the human heart is the love of God. What we need is what Thomas Chalmers, the Scottish minister, called, “the explosive power of a new affection.” Her problem is ours; it’s love out of order, disordered love, misplaced affections. Disordered love is when good things become God things. Misplaced affections need to be replaced by the far greater power of the affection of God, of the Gospel- what He has done for us in Christ. She needed what you need today, what I need: to be fully known and fully loved. What you need is a greater satisfaction in Him, the explosive power of a new affection. This is a life-changing reality: God knows you fully and He still loves you completely.

We see another sexual sinner in John 8, the woman caught in adultery. The woman turns to Jesus condemned by the law and the religious leaders. And after He silences those who wanted to stone her to death (by telling them, “If any of you are without sin, then let him case the first stone.” He then says one of the most amazing statements of grace (of the Gospel) in the Bible:

“Neither do I condemn you. From now on go and sin no more.” John 8:11

Notice the order of His words: You are not condemned by me, but forgiven – fully known and completely loved- let my love transform you and NOW, go and sin no more. Let my love compel you to holiness. Let my grace propel you into a life of obedience!” Most of us would say the opposite – “Get your act together, then I will no longer condemn you.” God’s acceptance of you is the power that liberates you toward obedience, not the reward of liberating yourself. We obey God, not to gain His approval but because we already have it (in Christ). Listen: God is not mad at you.

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Romans 8:1

Sex is not the answer, it is however, an expression of the question. Another person is not the answer. More money is not the answer. A better job is not the answer. A new and improved you is not the answer. These things, these pursuits, these thirsts point you to the question. And they are designed to point you to the Answer. It’s why you can’t stop working. It’s why you’re never satisfied. It’s why you’re anxious. It’s why you can’t rest. Your restless soul is not the answer but it IS an expression of the question. And the ultimate question is: Can I be fully known and fully loved? YES, and His…

3. Grace changes everything. (vv. 27-42) She leaves her water jar (I love this detail). The greatest need in her life had been met- she realized that she is fully known and completely loved. This is the foundation upon which you can build your entire life, because circumstances cannot touch that. She had a new identity, a new resolve, a new motivation, and a new purpose, and a new message. She had no need for a jar that would slow her down. She has a new, relentless urgency, a new purpose altogether.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9

You are totally loved, fully forgiven, and completely accepted by God. His grace changes everything. Now, as a portrait of His grace, live to the praise of His glorious grace.

On the Monday after Easter

it_is_finished-1Easter reminds us that we are part of a much larger story. And the Monday after Easter reminds us that it is still finished. For a pastor, the day after Easter is always a kind of let down. We work hard through the Easter season and we put a lot into the weekend. The Monday after Easter is real life. It’s where the reality of the resurrection is meant to be lived out, in the every day stuff of life. This is where we prove that we have joined the redemptive story of God.

Surely history is His story. The cross and the resurrection of Jesus is the epicenter of all history. He is the singular figure who split history into B.C. and A.D. and through the lens of Easter Sunday, everything makes sense. And without it, nothing makes sense.

But the day after Easter is a good day to ask: Is His story my story? Has the story of the cross and resurrection become your story? The way this happens is the same way it has always has: The cross precedes resurrection. Brokenness precedes blessedness. Death precedes life.

“When Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, ‘It is finished,’ and He bowed His head and gave up His spirit.” John 19:30 This final cry of Jesus is three words in English but it is one word in Greek: τετέλεσται. It means to bring to perfect completion, finished, accomplished, even paid in full. This is arguably the greatest word ever spoken. Notice, He doesn’t say, “I am finished”, which would be a cry of defeat; but, “It is finished”, which is a cry of victory.

What did He finish? Has it become your story?

  • He finished the perfect life. In the garden the night before His crucifixion:

“I glorified you on earth, having finished the work that you gave me to do.” John 17:4 He’s referring to His perfect life- lived as a substitute for us. Just as central to your salvation as the cross, is the fact that Jesus lived the perfect life for you.

  • He finished the payment for our sin. He paid the price. The word tetelestai was written over a debt, meaning “paid in full”.

“He is the propitiation (atoning sacrifice, payment) for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” 1 John 2:2. God forgives you only because Jesus has paid the price for your sin.

“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 6:23 And because He finished the wage (payment) for your sin…

  • He finished the punishment for sin. God will never be angry with you again.

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

Romans 8:1 He finished the just punishment that was due us. People say, “Well, God loves us so He forgives us.” No, He does not forgive us simply because He loves us. God forgives sin only because Christ took on the wrath of God toward sin. God is loving yes, and His love is just. His justice is loving.

  • He finished the need for religion. Many people are surprised by this.

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” Matthew 5:17 Jesus fulfilled all of the crushing demands of God’s holiness, through His sinless life. Many of us are trying to finish something that has already been completed. In Matthew 27:51 it says that right after Jesus cried out “Tetelestai”, the giant veil in the Temple- that separated the Holy of Holies (the presence of God) from the rest of the Temple- was torn in two. The barrier between us and God (the religion of man and a Holy God) was torn apart. And it says, from the from top to bottom. It was from heaven down. Not man to God, but God to man, opening up the Way, destroying all of our religious self-salvation projects.

“For God has done what the law, (religion) weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh.” Romans 8:3 People say Christianity is not about religion, but a relationship. This is not the full truth. Everyone has a relationship with God already. You are either a condemned sinner before a Holy God or you are an adopted son or daughter before your Loving Father. It’s one or the other. Religion says you must do certain things for God to seek His approval. But in Christ it is done.

  • He finished the pathway to eternal life.

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. John 14:6

So that’s it. Has IT become your story? Is His story your story? He finished all that is necessary for us to experience LIFE. But like every great story, there’s a twist:

It is – This cry is in the present perfect tense which describes an action that was fully completed in the past and its effects are being felt in the present. Jesus could have used the aorist tense and simply said, “the work is done”. The resurrection means that it is present tense. His story continues as we receive what He’s done for us. His resurrection becomes ours- it is the turning point of history and it is the turning point of your life, when His story becomes your story. Is His story your story?

It – all that’s necessary for salvation… is – present tense, nowfinished.

The big story of God’s redemption has now shifted. In the Old Testament priests were not allowed to sit when they were on duty, symbolic of the fact that their work was never finished. This is the religious life. You’re never finished.

But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, He sat down at the right hand of God.” Hebrews 10:12 The Priest became the Lamb. The High Priest sacrificed Himself, and then He sat down. And through the lens of Easter Sunday, everything makes sense. This is present tense.

Is His story your story?

His story becomes your story WHEN you surrender your life to Him and receive His finished work on your behalf. The Cross precedes Resurrection. Death precedes life. You must surrender your life to Him. You must give up trying to finish it.

  • You cannot add to it.

When you discover that Jesus has finished what matters most you realize that all that matters is finished. Your unending need for love is finished. Your need for purpose is finished. Your need for assurance is finished. Your need for forgiveness is finished. Your constant need for more is finished in Him- more money, more worth, more power, more affirmation, more applause, more happiness- all is finished. More will never be enough until you find that Jesus has finished everything for you.

  • You can rest in it.

If you could summarize Christianity in one word, it would be tetelestai. Only in Christ do you find rest, because only in HIM is it finished. 

When Buddha died, his last words were, “Strive without ceasing… never stop striving.” But the last words of Jesus are, “STOP striving; I have done all the striving necessary.”

Religion says, “finish the work”, but the Gospel says, “Receive the finished work.” Rest in Him. But His story is not finished until it is finished in you. Luke 9:23, Jesus says, “If anyone will come after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me.” This is the story we find ourselves in. Is His story your story?

Is His story your story? His story becomes your story when you surrender your life to Him and receive His finished work on your behalf.

IT. IS. FINISHED.

The Silence of God – Andrew Peterson

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It’s enough to drive a man crazy; it’ll break a man’s faith

It’s enough to make him wonder if he’s ever been sane

When he’s bleating for comfort from thy staff and thy rod

And the heaven’s only answer is the silence of God.

It’ll shake a man’s timbers when he loses his heart

When he has to remember what broke him apart

This yoke may be easy, but the burden is not

When the crying fields are frozen by the silence of God.

 

And if a man’s got to listen to the voices of the mob

Who are reeling in the throes of all the happiness they’ve got

When they tell you all their troubles have been nailed up to that cross

Then what about the times when even followers get lost?

‘Cause we all get lost sometimes…

 

There’s a statue of Jesus on a monastery knoll

In the hills of Kentucky, all quiet and cold

And He’s kneeling in the garden, as silent as a stone

All His friends are sleeping and He’s weeping all alone

And the man of all sorrows, He never forgot

What sorrow is carried by the hearts that He bought

So when the questions dissolve into the silence of God

The aching may remain, but the breaking does not

The aching may remain, but the breaking does not

In the Holy, Lonesome echo of the silence of God.