worship Posts

Why Lent?

lent word-1Growing up I didn’t know much about Lent. To me, it was simply a strange “Catholic” practice. Through the years, I’ve gained a broader understanding of the Body of Christ through the study of Church history and I’ve experienced a deeper expression of prayer and worship through a broader Christian heritage. Most Protestants think of Ash Wednesday and the Lenten season as a “Catholic thing” or even a “pagan” holiday of some sort. The season of Lent appeared after the Council of Nicea (325 A.D.) though some have noted that our earliest known reference of the practice was Ireneus (an early church father who died in 202 A.D.). With so many biblical precedents, it seems that the church would have seized upon the idea of fasting for forty days prior to that. But the early history of Lent is interesting and complex. Even the etymology of the word takes different paths. Known as Tessarakosti in Greek and Quadragesima in Latin, for “the Forty,” it was later referred to as “Lenten” which comes from an Old English word “lencten” meaning “Springtime” or “Spring.” This was derived from a West Germanic word that means “long-days,” because of the approaching Spring, or vernal equinox – literally, “equal night” and equal day. All of this to say, what it’s called has a long, winding history and it has been a long-standing practice of the Church. Understandably, many equate the practice of Lent, or Ash Wednesday, with the debauchery of Mardi Gras and, therefore, want to run as far away from it as possible. But is there something redemptive about this ancient practice that could actually bring us into a deeper walk with Jesus all the way to Resurrection Sunday? Why Lent? And even more, why Lent among believers who have not had the practice as part of their spiritual history? As noted, it is a part of our history and I believe there’s something here to be restored.

What we’ve sought to do is strip the Lenten season of anything that is not biblical or does not bring our mind’s attention and heart’s affection to Jesus. Instead, maintain a simple and clear focus of prayer, repentance, and personal sacrifice. I’ve heard many sermons on Christ’s instructions to pray as He says, “When you pray…” pray like this.  But He also says, “When you fast…” fast like this (Matthew 6:16). He doesn’t say “if” you fast, but “when.” Jesus expected His followers to pray, and at times, fast as a regular part of our spiritual pattern of worship. Could it be that we (in the U.S. in particular) could learn a few things about restraint, about giving up so much of what we want and dying to our selfish need for more? I am certain that prayer and fasting is greatly needed among believers, particularly in the affluent West.

What many have written off as a strange practice (ashes on the forehead, giving up certain foods, etc.) we’ve sought to recapture in its purest biblical sense. It is true that “Ash Wednesday” or “Lent” are not in the Bible. (Of course, neither are Christmas Eve services, Good Friday services, Advent, and so much of what others of us would call “normal.”) You don’t see “Easter Sunday” in the Bible either, because every Sunday is Easter Sunday – or better, Resurrection Sunday for the believer.

“Lent” may not be in the Bible but focused seasons of sacrifice, confession, and repentance clearly are. In the church I grew up in we rushed to Easter Sunday without any preparation of the heart before God. I’ve learned much from the larger Body of Christ as it relates to the spiritual disciplines of solitude, prayer, and fasting. The Lenten or Easter Season should be a focused time of confession and repentance from “Ash Wednesday” to Easter Sunday. Forty Days from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday – minus the Sundays leading up to Easter – because the early believers would not fast on Sundays. Later many would go from Ash Wednesday to Maundy Thursday (forty days later). Maundy comes from “mandatum” meaning “mandate” or “command.” Jesus said, “A new commandment (mandatum nuevum) I give to you” (John 13:34). So the Lenten season is a period of intentional prayer and fasting (with a focus on confession, restraint, sacrifice, and repentance). Why forty days? Forty days shows up throughout the Bible – the flood, the spies in Canaan, the Israelites in the wilderness, days before Samson’s deliverance, Goliath taunting Saul’s army, Elijah fleeing Jezebel, days between Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, and on and on. Moses, Elijah, and Jesus (Luke 4:1-2) all fasted for forty days. Forty is not an arbitrary number.

Some practice the placing of ashes on foreheads or wrists signifying the start of a season of confession and repentance. The ashes remind the worshipper of his/her mortality, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19) as well as the need to repent of sin in one’s life. It was common for Jews and early believers to mourn the loss of a loved one with “sackcloth and ashes.” Ashes were also a sign of brokenness and repentance of sin. Confession of sin, however, is a private thing between you and God and is not something to be paraded around and seen by everyone.

The practice of fasting is the act of the will through which the follower of Jesus puts forth spiritual control over the flesh (through sacrifice – i.e. not eating, or some other form of self-denial) with a view to a more personal and powerful experience with God in prayer. Fasting involves giving up but is much more about receiving.  You give up in order to receive. You die in order to live. The essence of fasting and renewed commitment to Jesus is summed up in Philippians 1:21, “For me, to live is Christ and die is gain.” During this season of restraint, Christ is experienced as more than enough for us in every way. Jesus said, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me and to finish His work” (John 4:34). During a fast He becomes our “food.” The will of God becomes your sustenance.

Come walk to the cross with the Lord Jesus this Easter season as never before. Let the prayer of David be yours.

“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” Psalm 51:10 

Gospel Identity and Racial Harmony



Following the grand jury’s decision in the Eric Garner case, I added the popular hashtag to a post. Knowing how some of my white friends would respond, I waited. Sure enough: “All lives matter!” was the response, missing the point altogether. Of course, all lives matter. What white people don’t understand (and cannot know experientially), is what it’s like to feel that your race does not matter to people of other races. Indeed this is what the response (to the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, and Mike Brown) is all about.

The varied responses in the aftermath of recent incidents have clearly exposed the racial divide we still have in our country. We are not as far along as we thought we were. As a pastor, I see something that may be even more disturbing: the lack of Gospel identity among God’s people has been deeply exposed as well. It may be more disturbing because the appropriation of the Gospel is the only way to racial reconciliation. It’s time for followers of Christ to let their identity in Christ to displace their racial identity. Or as Bryan Loritts stated, “My Jesusness must always trump my blackness.”

The most recent racial challenges have given believers across our country the opportunity to show what we really believe about the Gospel. As those transformed by the Gospel, our response should be markedly different from those who have never tasted the grace of God. It should be evident that Jesus has actually changed our lives. The appropriation of the Gospel means that we really do believe that grace triumphs over all things; that listening precedes talking, and that being “right” (winning an argument) is not as important as loving others without condition. We actually live like Jesus, “full of grace and full of truth” (John 1:14).

How would Jesus respond in the midst of recent happenings? Living in response to the Gospel means that we live in light of what He’s already done for us. Romans 5:10 says,  “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by His life.” Reconciliation is the restoration of friendly relationships and of peace, where previously there had been hostility and alienation. If possible, it also includes the removal of the offense that caused the disruption of peace and harmony. This is what Christ has done. We must do the same, whenever possible. 2 Corinthians 5:19 says, “that, in Christ, God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.” “Us” is us, those who claim to have been transformed by the Gospel.

The 2nd chapter of Ephesians serves as a field guide for racial reconciliation. Ephesians 2:14 says, “For He Himself is our Peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in His flesh the dividing wall of hostility”. This “dividing wall” was as much a racial divide as it was a religious one. Paul says that Christ Himself is the Answer, “and might reconcile us both (Gentiles and Jews) to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility” Ephesians 2:16. The power of the cross is still in effect today. He is mighty to save, to destroy hostility, and to reconcile all people to one another through His finished work on the cross.

For nearly 30 years, Jonathan Scott has been my best friend in ministry. Jonathan is African American and knows everything about me. Through the miles, we still connect monthly, talk about life, ministry, and how God is changing us. Race is not central to any of our conversations; the Gospel is. Jesus is. We love each other without condition and though we do not deny the color of our skin, the Gospel defines us and the friendship we share. Christ in us trumps all other identities.

The problem with many reading this post is that you agree with me in principle, but not in practice. Too many white people (and black people) would say they are not racists (who would admit that?), but they do not have close relationships with anyone of another race. Therefore, they never really get inside the mind and heart of someone of another race. If we do not know each other, how can we trust each other and how can we love each other? We could only do so theoretically and Jesus had much to say about those who claim to love, but can show no evidence of any love in action.

I believe one of the greatest opportunities for the Body of Christ in our day is to come together across racial boundaries for the common good of our cities and the world. Indeed, for the sake of the Gospel. If we go it alone, no one will believe us. If we come together – Blacks, Whites, Hispanics, Asians, etc. – then they will see that there is something greater that unites us, beyond the color of our skin. They will discover that it is Jesus.

I know of no other gathering in the metroplex that draws together the Body of Christ, across racial boundaries, like  Movement Day Greater Dallas. I hope you’ll join me, Thursday, January 22nd, 2015 at the Kay Bailey Convention Center in downtown Dallas, for a historic gathering. My friend, Bryan Carter, pastor of Concord Church, and I will be leading a session on the role of the Church and racial reconciliation. We’ll also discuss next steps toward racial harmony for all believers, that will result in a Gospel movement across greater Dallas. Register here.

This will be a great way to kick off the new year! See you there.

Happy New Year!


The Ten Traits of a Healthy Family

Family on floor in living-room


1.  They have an irrational commitment to each member of the family. They display an illogical love for one another, spread lavishly and without discretion.

“How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know Him.” 1 John 3:1 Driven by 1 John 3:1, stunning amounts of love, kindness, and forgiveness are shared to family member.           

2.  They communicate with truth and grace. Mom and Dad model Ephesians 4:15 How we treat our spouse (and how we extend grace to our family members) will confirm or contradict what we believe about God.

Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Him who is the Head, that is, Christ.”  Ephesians 4:15 Create an atmosphere where truth can be discussed, regardless of how difficult it may be to talk about.

3.  They affirm the value and uniqueness of each member of the family. Each person is loved for free and without judgment. His or her opinions and feelings are always honored.

Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.” Romans 15:7 Celebrate the uniqueness of each child in our family. “I wouldn’t change a thing about you.”   

4.  They vow never to abuse, shame, control, or intimidate one another. “Oh, children are resilient- they bounce back.” No children are fragile and understanding that children are fragile- no emotional, verbal, or physical abuse is tolerated in any way and is immediately confronted. Consider the power of words.

Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.”  Philippians 4:5 Unkind words are not tolerated- “We do not talk to each other like that in our family.” Parents: You must model kind words and challenge this early on.

5.  They share a strong spiritual foundation. Parents recognize that a “mild dose” of God will never cultivate a life that has Christ at the very center, guiding every aspect of life (Deuteronomy 6:4-9). There is no abdication of spiritual formation- no outsourcing to the church. We create spiritual orphans, spiritual schizophrenics. Complete disconnect! What’s your goal parents? There’s a big difference between a young person who goes to church & one who is truly sold out to God.


6.  They teach respect for others. Racism, arrogant superiority, or disrespect for people who are different is never tolerated. Jesus added to the Shema that we should love each other as we love ourselves:

And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’.” Matthew 22:39 When you see a child who is different than other kids ask, “What would it feel like to be that kid?” Teach your children to love and honor all people- adopt Martin Luther King Jr.s’ dream for our nation. Help your children dream of the day when every person- Hispanic, black, Asian, European and all people will know that they are loved with the unprejudiced, unbiased, and unrestrained love of Jesus.

7.  They instill a sense of responsibility in one another. Each member knows that they must take responsibility for their own actions and face the consequences of their poor choices. Self-esteem does not result from simply heaping large amounts of affirmation and praise. It happens when a child learns to be responsible.

“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.  If we claim we have not sinned, we make Him out to be a liar and His word has no place in our lives.”  1 John 1:8-10

Let the consequences do the teaching.  It’s God’s way- and parents too often get in the way of what God wants to do, simply through the consequences of choices made or not made.  Parents: Do NOT rescue your child. This takes courageous parenting- it takes faith- to believe that God will work in your children’s life as He sees fit.  When you let the consequences do the teaching you place that child in the hands of God.

8.  They play together.  This is so important. Laughter and fun mark a family that builds strong relationships with one another.

“A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.”  Proverbs 17:22

9.  They celebrate rituals and traditions together. This gives the family a sense of constancy and permanence.  They know that the love and commitment of the family will never change- this year, next year, and the next…

“Ask the former generations and find out what their fathers learned, for we were born only yesterday and know nothing, and our days on earth are but a shadow. Will they not instruct you and tell you?  Will they not bring forth words from their understanding?”  Job 8:8-10

10.  They seek help when they come to an impasse.  They understand that all families have issues that may need outside or professional help and they are not afraid to ask for help when needed.

“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.”  James 5:16

God is very clear about the kind of families He wants us to have.  Let us follow His principles and seek to honor Him in our families.



The Destructive Power of Disordered Love

The Destructive Power of Disordered Love

In his classic work, “Confessions”, Augustine explains that sin is “disordered love”. It is love out of order. We most often think of sin in terms of behavior, bad deeds, actions- but Augustine helps us from another angle. There is an order to love. He said we should love God, love others, and then love ourselves. The problem comes when you love something you should love but that you should not love supremely. That’s when a good thing becomes a God thing. It’s about finding your superior satisfaction in God alone, and nothing else.

The Problem: We make good things god things.

Love out of order is what the Bible calls idolatry. Friedrich Nietzsche said there are “more idols than there are realities”. John Calvin said, “The human heart is an idol factory.” How do you discern what you’re idols are? Tim Keller asks, “What thing, if you lost it, would almost mean that you would lose the will to live? What thing, lost, gone from your life, would mean that almost all value and significance- identity and worth- would be drained out of your life?” Whatever that thing is, the Bible calls it an idol. It’s an alternate god, a counterfeit god – anything that is more fundamental to your happiness, sense of value, or identity- other than God. Anything you love more than God or rest your heart in other than God. These are not necessarily bad things but they are created things that you’re looking to for worth and value- family, spouse, comfort, health, friends, your body, your intelligence, your position, your reputation as a certain person/character that you’ve created over time. Consider the many idols in our lives today.

American Idols

  • People -sports heroes, rock stars, “American Idols”, even your kids, your spouse
  • Prosperity - money, all that money can bring- nice house, car, retirement
  • Posterity – youthfulness, being young/vibrant, even health
  • Pleasure – substance abuse, sex, next great diversion, even family
  • Power – image, success, popularity, fame, this includes ministry

The Gospel challenges our idols. The Gospel challenges the gods that we have already established. And before you think this doesn’t apply to you, I would argue that the process of sanctification in a disciple’s life is our willingness to allow the Spirit of God to dismantle of our idols. The Gospel attacks our idols, destroys them. Jesus put it this way: “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added unto you.” Matthew 6:33

There’s only one first. This disordered love, this idolatry, is not easily discerned. Psychologist, Alfred Adler, noted that it’s very hard to figure out what you’re really living for by simply asking yourself. He says you’re not that self-aware. You may think, “I’m living for God.” But the way to find out is not to ask that question. Instead, Adler said: Look at your nightmare. What thing, if absent, would almost (or would) take away your reasons to live. He says your deepest emotions- anxiety, fear, despair will point you to your god. It can lead to uncontrollable anger- toward any obstacle or person that stands in the way of you possessing it, despair if you cannot have it, bitterness. You must discern the idols in your life, expose it, and then destroy it or it will destroy you. Paul said, “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” Colossians 3:5

The Solution: The Gospel makes God our One Good Thing.

  • The Gospel demands repentance from idol worship. You may think, “I don’t have any idols.” Therein lies your problem- you don’t even know that you are an idol-worshipper. “I don’t feel spiritually dead.” A fish doesn’t feel wet. You’ve become so accustom to your environment, your idol worship, you don’t even know you’re doing it. Until it starts to be taken away from you. Again, look at your deepest emotions of fear, anger and anxiety. They reveal your idols. Jesus said: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:21
  • The Gospel delivers real satisfaction. Studies have been done of professional athletes who have career-ending injuries show that they don’t always need physical care for their injury only- they also need therapy. The injury sends them into an existential crisis. Usually depression sets in. Often the loss of their athleticism suddenly tosses them into a downward spiral. “Who am I anyway?” The loss of their athleticism causes them to question their existence. What’s the difference between making a great thing the best thing- the number one thing? All the difference in the world. Only God’s grace satisfies the human heart.
  • The Gospel divides God worshippers from idol worshippers. An obsession with the Gospel – with Jesus – is the only cure for idol-worship. French Christian philosopher, Simone Weil, noted that we either worship the one true God or we worship idols. There is no other option. And idols will crush us. Only when we worship God through Christ do we find life through worship, not death. Psalm 115:8 says that those who worship idols will “become like them”. We are shaped by whatever it is that we worship. Worship Christ and you will be shaped by Him, glorifying Him through your life- all to the praise of His glorious grace.

The Gospel makes God our One Good Thing.



“Why is this night different from all the other night?”


On the night of Passover, the first of four questions leads the Jewish family into a journey of remembrance: “Ma nishtanah halailah hazeh mikol haleilot?” The seder (“service” or “arrangement”) meal presents a quest to rediscover the ancient mystery and meaning of the Passover, God’s liberation of His people out of Egypt. For thousands of years (according to Levitical Law), Passover has been observed on the evening of the 14th day of Nisan, the first month of the Jewish calendar (Leviticus 23:5).

From the time He was a child Jesus kept the Passover. The Gospel of Luke tells us that His parents went to Jerusalem every year. When He was twelve years old, He went up to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover (Luke 2:41-42). He observed the Passover throughout His life and did so with His disciples. (Luke 22:7-13). On the night before His crucifixion Jesus observed His last Passover (on earth)  and said, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God” (Luke 22:15-16).

Jesus brought new meaning to several key aspects of the meal, revealing how He was the fulfillment of the long-awaited Messiah. He explained that the bread of affliction (matzah bread- always pierced, always striped), broken before them, represented His body. The next day His body would be broken on the Cross, providing forgiveness of sins, accomplishing the ultimate Exodus of the human heart. He explained that cup of redemption would be fulfilled by the shedding of His own blood upon the cross.

Consider the backdrop of the Passover in light of Easter. Central to the Passover meal was the Passover Lamb. Each family in Israel would select a lamb from the rest of the flock- a male, without blemish, chosen five days before Passover. All the lambs were to be killed during a two-hour period just before sunset. Though no more that two men from each family could go into the Temple area of sacrifice, as many as a half-million people would move through that area in the two to three hour period and a quarter of a million lambs were sacrificed each Passover season in Jesus’ lifetime. This was a bloody religion. And on Good Friday (due to a chronological twist in how the Galileans kept time and how the inhabitants of Jerusalem kept time), Jesus was being crucified at the exact same time lambs were being slaughtered for the sins of the people. As He died on the Cross He cried out, “It is finished”, announcing that God’s redemption was now made possible for all who would believe.

And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God…” Hebrews 10:11-12

Do you believe that Jesus, the Lamb of God, is the only Way to the Father? Receive His forgiveness now and give your life to Him as an act of worship. And experience the greatest Easter you’ve ever known. He’s done all that is necessary to rescue you from your sin. It is finished.