Category Archives: Christian Living/Discipleship

SERMON: Navigating Life’s Storms

A MEMORIAL WEEKEND SERMON (2013)

On this Memorial Day weekend, I want you to imagine two scenes. First, picture a peaceful tropical beach resort, yourself lying in a hammock with a cold drink and good book. Seagulls are squawking and the sounds of the surf provide a relaxing soundtrack. Feel the sun warming your neck, and the gentle breeze keeping you cool. Peace and serenity abound.

Second, now picture a boat being tossed violently in the stormy waters of the open sea. Waves 30 feet high are crashing over the bow, and flooding the deck. You’re stumbling around on deck, bailing water, and doing everything possible to keep the ship from going down. Which scene best describes your life these days?

Or, consider two different kinds of umbrellas. The first person is relaxing at the cabin under a giant umbrella on the beach, the kind that provides a little shade from the hot summer sun. The second person is hiding under a rain umbrella, as the skies pour down cold rain on the fun you hoped to have this holiday weekend. Which umbrella are you holding in your hand in this particular season of your life?

The story we’re looking at today in Acts 27 is about Paul being shipwrecked on his voyage to Rome where he’ll stand trial before Caesar. The narrative is filled with action, drama, power, emotional angst and stress, as well as heroic faith, bold leadership and God’s rescuing presence. Let’s dig in!

—Read Acts 27—

The phrases in the text give a colorful description of the struggles we all experience at times: “The winds were against us” (v. 4) and “We were having great difficulty” (v. 7). We all have those moments when it feels like we’ll never get a break, we’re swimming up stream, going against the currents of life.

“We were making slow headway” (v. 6) and “Much time had been lost” (v. 9)Ever feel like its too late for you? Like time is slipping away and you’ll never find “the one” and get to start a family? Or, you’re pushing 40 years old and you still haven’t found your calling in life?

“We were caught in the storm…we gave way to it…we were being driven along” (v. 15). Ever feel like you’ve lost all control, and you’re just being driven along? Do you know what it feels like to finally just give up fighting and just give yourself completely over to your monster, your addiction, your weakness or temptation?

In verse 17 it describes how the crew were desperately trying to put ropes and cables around the ship, to prevent the whole thing from breaking apart. Do you ever feel like your family or career or emotional health is coming undone and the entire thing could break apart into a million pieces never to be restored?

“We took a violent battering” as the “the storm continued raging.” Will this awful nightmare ever end? How long must I stay in this miserable place? Will the sun ever shine again in my life, will the waves ever be calmed?

When hope vanishes completely behind the dark clouds of the storm, we are in danger of giving up. “We finally gave up all hope of being rescued.” Have you ever been there?

So, I want to ask the question today: How do you get through the storms of your life? We’ll all face them.  In this story, in verse 29 it says,

“Fearing that we were about to be dashed against the rocks, we dropped four anchors and prayed for daylight.”

Today I want to offer up four or five anchors to throw out to keep you from dashing against the rocks in your storms.  Continue reading SERMON: Navigating Life’s Storms

Mt. Rushmore of Gospel Virtues

This Advent at MainStreet Covenant Church we’re unpacking the “7 wisdom gifts” from above found in James 3:17. Following Daniel Henderson’s argument in his book The Prayer God Loves to Answer, we’re exploring a higher wisdom that enables us to find success and health in our relationships. This is contrasted with a worldly wisdom that may get us ahead in this world, but often at the expense of our relationships.

Its very interesting to contrast the seven wisdom traits in James 3 with other NT character traits such as the Fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5), the Beatitudes (Matt. 5), and the Marks of Genuine Love (1 Cor. 13).

I have adapted Henderson’s comparison chart into what I’ll call the “Mt. Rushmore of Relational Gospel Virtues.” Just as the four presidents helped shape the foundational values of our nation, so these four clusters of Jesus-shaped, gospel-centered traits are foundational for shaping our growth in Christlike character.

I wanted to share with you my homemade graphic for Sunday. Check out the similarities.

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Too Cold & Snowy for Worship?

Screen Shot 2016-12-16 at 1.16.48 PM.pngI received an email from our local pastors association wondering if anyone is canceling Sunday worship due to forecasted snow and below zero temperatures. Here are some of my thoughts on the matter, which I assure you were not shared by all. :)

I believe these are teachable moments.

When people are considering staying home because of cold or inclement weather, I sometimes send out an email reminding our congregation to consider the risks the persecuted church around the globe takes each Sunday when they gather in secret to worship under the threat of death or imprisonment.

I also tell the story I heard of the underground church that waits until the coldest day of the year, and at 2 am when the rest of the village sleeps, they go out onto a distant frozen lake for their baptism service. In sub-zero temperatures, under the cover of night, they drill a hole in the ice, strip the new believer naked and baptize them into the freezing water because that’s when they’re least likely to be caught by the authorities. You know such a baptismal faith is real and genuine!

For me, it seems inconsistent to preach a faith that demands we step out of the comfort of our boats to walk on water, if the next moment we warn people not to step out their front door into the cold/snow in order to come worship!  (Of course, a qualifier is included for the elderly who physically cannot make it. But that’s not whom I’m challenging.)

Churches shouldn’t take our cues from the school district closings, but instead the bold faith of the apostles and the urgency of our message and the awesomeness of our God we come out to worship. Can we suffer a few chills or risk snowy roads in order to worship a Savior who suffered unspeakable agony for our redemption? How can we call people to take up their cross to follow Jesus one Sunday, and not call them to take up their ice scrapers and snow brushes the next?

Again, these are teachable moments…if we dare call our people to march to a different beat than the fear-mongering, comfort-seeking culture around us. I pay little attention to the weather forecasters anymore. I consider them nicely dressed, smiling “weather terrorists” who spread fear and disrupt our everyday lives unnecessarily.

As an example, this morning before 9am, our daycare already announced early closure for 3:30pm due to forecasted snow and cold. Its now 3:00pm as I write and still no snow yet. Unfortunately, dozens of parents now have to rearrange their work schedules, cancel meetings, etc. in order to pick up kids only an hour or so early!  Really???  They couldn’t remain open until 5 so parents could finish up their regular work days? But that’s the powerful influence of the weather-terrorists.

While I make an obvious exception for elderly and disabled people who physically cannot come out in such weather, for the rest of us able bodied folks, I think inclement weather is a great opportunity to demonstrate the depth of our commitment to God, our desire to worship Him, our grasp of our call to live lives of sacrifice and risk-filled obedience.

There are reasons for the decrease in the size and strength of the American Church, and it has nothing to do with the cold weather outside, but rather the lukewarm temperature of our faith and commitment.

So, surprise your pastor this Sunday, and honor your God, by showing up for worship even if it means putting on more layers, leaving earlier and driving more slowly.

Just my 2 cents. Take it with a grain of salt…or frankincense or myrrh.

7 Good & Perfect Gifts

Are you seeking that good and perfect gift this Christmas?

While the crowds chase after bargain deals at the malls on fitness watches, iPads, and other treasures, we’re inviting our congregation to ask for the gifts that don’t come in boxes under a tree this Christmas.

James says, “Every good and perfect gift is from above” (1:17) and one of the most valuable treasures from God is Wisdom. “If you need wisdom,” James writes, “ask our generous God, and he will give it to you” (1:5).

Now, most of us associate wisdom in the Bible with the Book of Proverbs and King Solomon. Solomon was once visited by God in a dream, and given the opportunity to ask God for anything!  Solomon famously asked God for wisdom to reign wisely over his kingdom.

God granted him wisdom, and he certainly was one of the wisest people to ever live. His wisdom helped him prosper in politics, building projects, international relations, and more. He accumulated unspeakable amounts of wealth. He was widely esteemed and sought after for his wisdom.

But…despite all his wisdom and success in many areas of life, he still failed in his personal relationships. When it came to his family and especially marriage(s) he proved to be a fool.

James offers us a new, improved, Jesus-shaped “wisdom from above” that takes us beyond the wisdom of Solomon, and helps us be wise and successful in our relationships!  This Advent we’re focusing our Sunday sermons on the 7 attributes or results of this higher wisdom from above that Jesus teaches us.

Imagine how your life and relationships would be improved if you were to receive these seven gifts this Christmas? Let’s unwrap each one this week — one each day — and reflect on them over the coming weeks.

17 But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and the fruit of good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere.

Far from being the pithy sayings of Proverbs or practical tips for “getting ahead”, this “wisdom from above” looks conspicuously like the fruit of the spirit, or the beatitudes, described elsewhere in the New Testament. Moreover, they are all characteristics that reveal themselves in our interactions with others. They are relational abilities and skills that help all our relationships flourish when present.

This week, ponder how each of these might aid you in your daily interactions with a spouse, child, coworker, or hard-to-love person in your life. Imagine how these 7 would aid us in our political conversations with people we disagree with.

Wisdom from above is:

Monday – pure

Tuesday – peace loving

Wednesday – gentle at all times

Thursday – willing to yield to others 

Friday – full of mercy and good deeds

Saturday – shows no favoritism 

Sunday – sincere/honest

Here’s a great introduction to the Letter of James from The Bible Project.

What Story are you part of? (Mike Fox)

I can only answer the question, “What am I to do?” if I can answer the prior question “Of what story or stories do I find myself a part?”

– Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue

My granddaughter loves to act out the stories she hears.  She is the heroine of a seemingly endless stream of mysteries, adventures, and tragedies.  She boldly invites any ‘innocent’ bystander into the story – sometimes as the victim, sometimes as the bad guy, and sometimes as the loyal sidekick.

Recently we watched “The Wizard of Oz” together.  For the next 2 weeks she was Dorothy.  My wife, my daughter, and I were the Tinman, the Cowardly Lion, the Scarecrow, the Wizard, and the Wicked Witch of the West depending on what the story required at any given moment. Continue reading What Story are you part of? (Mike Fox)

Wisdom That Revolutionizes Relationships (Daniel Henderson)

 

I found this invitation to pursue WISDOM in our relationships as very timely in light of our current national situation. I hope to do a sermon series on Biblical Wisdom very soon! Henderson’s new book on this is called The Prayer the God Loves to Answer: Accessing Christ’s Wisdom to Address Your Greatest Needs. Enjoy! -JB

We’ve all known highly successful and quite impressive people who have excelled in their professional pursuits but failed miserably in relationships. Without using names to expose the guilty, I think of:

•A wealthy businessman who knew how to run a company and found great financial success but destroyed his marriage and was despised by his children.

•A life-long pastor, skilled preacher, and astute theologian who dishonored his wife and alienated his children.

•A community activist mom who helped organize school programs, drove her children to excel, and was a go-to person for projects in the church but c heated on her husband.

I am guessing you have known these people too, plus a dozen more just like them. Although the names and locations vary, the behaviors are all too common.

Truly Wise?

Were these people wise? Well, yes – and no. They utilized knowledge and skill in order to accomplish something. This would demonstrate some of the qualities we often recognize as practical acumen and even found, to some degree, in the Book of Proverbs. However, from a New Testament standpoint, these high-achievers were fools. Foolish people annihilate relationships on the altar of accomplishment.

An annual survey revealed recently that nearly 41 percent of Americans said they didn’t take a single vacation day during the previous calendar year, almost exactly the same number as the previous year. According to the survey, almost 17 percent said they took less than 5 vacation days. Whatever this reveals about us, it is clear that many of us are so obsessed with the idea of “human doings” we may have forgotten how to be “human beings.” As one mentor of mine used to say, “Busyness destroys relationships.” Continue reading Wisdom That Revolutionizes Relationships (Daniel Henderson)

A Tale of Two Buildings (1 Peter 2:4-11)

There are two major building projects undertaken in the story of Scripture — they both continue today. In our study of 1 Peter we discover that each believer is called to be a part of God’s “spiritual temple” He is building.

In the OT era, God’s healing, forgiving presence dwelled in the physical temple in Jerusalem. People came from far and wide to worship God, offer sacrifices and receive forgiveness and healing.

Jesus the Messiah came and announced the Jerusalem Temple was now going out of business and being replaced the Messiah’s people — scattered far and wide across the earth — who are being built into a spiritual temple where God promises to dwell by His Spirit. God’s global, multiethnic, transnational family called “the church” is now where believers are to encounter God, offer spiritual sacrifices, and shine forth the light of God’s rescuing reign on earth.

Thus, Peter says:

As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:4-5). 

Continue reading A Tale of Two Buildings (1 Peter 2:4-11)