Tag Archives: holy spirit

Thank God for the Rain

  So much of the outcome of our daily lives is determined by our perspective. 

When Jody and I were getting married we had a beautiful service planned. We had picked out a great spot in a park with a huge gazebo.  We got chairs and decorations for everyone to sit on the grass out front while Jody and I, the minister, and the bridal party stood in the gazebo. This set up would allow for us to have a sound system so that I could sing while Jody was being escorted down the aisle. It was a picture-perfect plan. 

Then it rained. 

It didn’t just rain a little. We had been in a drought that year, and it was like God was saving all the rain for our wedding day. I kept thinking about that line in an Alanis Morissette song, “it’s like raaaain on your wedding day”.

We were going to take pictures before the wedding after a private moment between Jody and me, but instead of taking our pictures on a sunny day in a beautiful park with a gorgeous gazebo, we took pictures in the hotel lobby. Jody and I were already planning on being barefoot, but now the whole female side of the wedding party was going to have to go shoeless. I drove to every store I could think of to find umbrellas for the wedding party that would match the girls’ dresses (which I miraculously found). 

When the time came for the wedding the guests had to stand in the gazebo. With us. Crowded together in an intimate ceremony. Instead of singing while Jody was escorted down the aisle, I had to wait until we were face to face and sing.  The bridal party even had to jump a small, newly formed creek just to get to the gazebo. 

When the minister began to speak he said something I’ll never forget. “In Africa, rain is always a blessing.” 

Jody and I still think it was the most beautiful wedding we could have had. We love the rain. 

Lately it’s been raining. A lot. Since we live in the desert we are overjoyed at the rain, but it doesn’t bring joy for all people. Some people can’t stand the rain. Some people get depressed when it rains. Some people get frustrated that their plans have to change when it rains. 

It’s all a matter of perspective. 

In Jesus we are called to have a perspective shift. When the storms of life rage around us we have the Holy Spirit living inside us as a guide through the storm. When we’ve created the storm we have a God who loves us and has promised to turn everything for our good because we love Him. 

He has not promised to take away the storms, but He wants to help us have a more positive perspective within them. Remember, God invented rainbows, but you don’t get those without first enduring the rain. 


Growing in the Desert

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Living in the desert has it’s pros and cons. I love the scenery and the open spaces. I love the sunsets and the monsoon storms. I love the variety of colors in the terrain all around us. I used to think that the desert meant sand dunes and lifeless barrenness, but I now know how wrong that assumption truly is.

One of the things that is hard about living in the desert is the immense amount of sand. People talk about dirt of varying types and textures, but my yard is just primarily sand. When the wind blows hard there is dust everywhere – sand. Even the rock isn’t truly rock here but solidified sand.

Have you ever tried to grow things in sand. My yard is sand with a little clay and not much of any kind of nutrients. There is very little that grows here without being super-hearty.

It is possible to grow things here, but in order to do so we have to add nutrient-rich soil to the mix and provide plenty of water. Even our air is super-dry, so water is an absolute must in the desert in order to make things grow.

But things can grow here. We are successfully growing strawberries and tomatoes and mint and chives and pole beans. If you drive around you’ll find people growing all sorts of wonderful things in the middle of the desert.

This morning as I was watering our plants I couldn’t help but think of the desert of the world in which we live. Jesus provides sustenance and living water but so many people are trying to grow and live without that living water. You can see it in their lives that they are thirsty for something different, something more.

Our children are especially thirsty for this. When you have a young plant it needs even more water to survive than when it is mature. The same is true for our children. If we aren’t feeding them this life-giving water then the world will fill them with the poison of selfishness.

How will we grow without Jesus? How will the kingdom grow without our children growing up in the knowledge of the One who gives life to all mankind? The world is focused on our children. It wants to win them over to its purposes and pleasures. If we want our children to have true life we are going to need to be stronger and more intentional than the world around us.

This doesn’t mean taking them out of the world, but it does mean modeling to them a lifestyle that is healthy from a constant diet of the word of God and the water of life.

If you’re not feeding on the word of God (the bible) and soaking in the water of life (the Holy Spirit) then you’re malnourished yourself. Your life is a desert. Jesus wants you to be a healthy garden filled with the fruit of His Spirit. As you grow into that beautiful garden, your children and other children you’re around will want to grow into little gardens themselves.

We can grow in the desert, but it has to be intentional. His Word is real food, and His Spirit is life-giving water. Let’s feast together and become a garden that transforms this desert back into the garden God originally intended it to be.


Bringing Neighbor Back to the Hood

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I live in a great neighborhood. It’s relatively peaceful. Sure, from time to time there is excitement and I may need to call the police on someone causing mischief, but I rarely ever feel like this neighborhood is dangerous. It’s a great neighborhood for raising my kids.

The church building where I preach on Sundays and Wednesdays is in this neighborhood. I find this to be super convenient, but as I look at the demographics of our church membership I see very few people who come from within our neighborhood.

I know my next door neighbors. I know the family across the street and a few doors down from them too. I know a few of the neighbors behind the church building by name. Yet, I don’t have a real, meaningful relationship with any of them.

I feel pretty convicted about this.

You see, this church has functioned from this location for many many years. I’m not sure how many preachers were here before me, but our congregation is mostly made up of people who live outside our neighborhood and even our town.

It’s time for this to change.

As Christians, we are called to live in the world around us in such a way that people know that Jesus is the messiah. We aren’t called to be people who shrink back in fear or even in routine and make excuses for why we don’t know our neighbors.

I believe that if a church has a building then the primary mission field of that church should be the neighborhood the building is located within. Each member should be missionaries within their own neighborhoods as well, but if the church doesn’t have a good relationship with its neighbors, then what kind of message does that portray?

Some of you may know people who live in the neighborhood around the church building. Some of you may even live in this same neighborhood. What can you do to enhance our ability to reach out locally? What should we do as a church to help you reach your friends and neighbors?

Cities aren’t taken for The Lord without strategy. When Jesus sent out the apostles after the resurrection, He told them they would be His witnesses in Jerusalem (where they currently were), in Judaea and Samaria (the outlying towns and regions), and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8).

As a church, we should follow the same pattern. We should be intentionally engaging the neighborhood where our facilities are located first. Then we should move into other neighborhoods in the town where our congregation gathers. After that, when that town is reached, we should move into other towns. When all of that is done, then we should be sending out people to far off regions.

Engaging our neighborhood doesn’t mean door-knocking either. It means living and working and functioning within that neighborhood in such a way that relationships are built and love is shown. It is not engaging in handouts; it is inviting people into community. Engaging a neighborhood means you’re loving your neighbor with no strings attached. When they see your intentional, counter-cultural way of love, they’re going to want to know why you’re like that. Then you have been invited by them to tell them of the One who loved you first, Jesus Christ.

So, here’s our situation. We are a church that isn’t truly engaging our neighborhood. That wasn’t Jesus’ plan for us. How can we make a change here? The Aztec church of Christ puts on a block party once a year, and that is gaining popularity. What else can we do to truly engage on personal levels to love our neighbors?

We are a church trying to love God, love others, and be like Jesus. So let’s start taking steps to truly do these things.

Do you have an idea on how to reach out to the neighborhood around our congregation? Maybe you’re reading this online and you have ideas for how to begin this where you live. Talk to your pastor(s). But don’t just give suggestions; volunteer to help make those suggestions a reality.

To win a city you begin with a neighbor.


Same Words Different Meanings

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Christianity is a culture with many terms that are used almost exclusively within that culture.  When was the last time you heard the word propitiation used outside a church context (or inside one for that matter)? We often talk about righteousness and grace and justification.  Those words are good English words, but their meaning inside church culture holds great significance.  Outside that culture, however, these words are seldom used.  

We have other words that we use commonly but we’ve given them a different definition than their original intent.  

The term “pastor” is used nowadays to refer to anyone who is in a preaching role in a church.  Usually the pastor is the “head” of that branch of the church.  The bible doesn’t use this term this way.  In fact, I’m surprised that the bible includes this term at all.  It is only used once in English translations and the Greek word that it is translated from is always translated as “shepherd” in the other instances it is used in the New Testament.  A pastor is supposed to be one of a group of shepherds or elders of a church.  

Pastor is a term the church of Christ has tried to avoid for many years, but culture keeps using that term in its new definition, so many churches are giving up on fighting this original definition.  The original definition of “pastor” is being lost on this generation.

There are a couple other terms we use commonly in church culture that we gave up on a long time ago.  We don’t even readily argue for the perpetuation of the original meaning anymore.  

The first is “church”. 

I recently had the blessing of serving with a friend of mine who is living in a missional community with the intention of driving the darkness out of the city in which they live.  They live together – Christians in common – being the church in community.  

At this service opportunity a teenager asked my friend if they all attended church together.  My friend looked bewildered and said, “yes, this is it.” 

He was bewildered because he was living in the biblical definition of the word “ekklesia” that many translations interpret as “church”. Church didn’t become a building until after the Catholic church began to build buildings around holy places as shrines for worship. The english word, “church”, comes from a German word that was used to signify such buildings.  Ekklesia, on the other hand, denotes community.  It is the assembly of saints in every place.  It is the people – not the place, and definitely not a denomination.

The other term is “ministry”.

This same teen asked my friend where they did ministry.  This was still in the context of the previous question about where they attended “worship” (another term that has been redefined throughout the years). My friend looked around again and said “we do ministry by living.”

Christians often think of ministry as a program of the church where they attend where people who have something to offer provide goods or services to those “less fortunate”. This cannot be further from the biblical idea.  Ministry wasn’t intended to be relegated to a specific activity.  Ministry is an outpouring of love to those living all around us.  Ministry is seeing others as equals and treating them as such even if they are drug addicts and prostitutes.  Ministry isn’t enabling dependence on a welfare-like activity.  Ministry is living with those the world sees as less fortunate and encouraging them and respecting them and expecting the same from them.  It’s not a top-down kind of mentality; it is an equality mentality.  Ministry doesn’t feed the poor; it frees the poor.

If you’re reading this chances are you are part of a church that does ministry.  Read the book of Acts.   See how the church functioned.  Imagine what the world would be like if we were actively battling the forces of evil in the spiritual realms while living together in community without need for all the pomp and circumstance.  Could this really be what we are called to? 

This group that my friend is involved with has been actively battling the darkness for at least five years now, and they now have watched Jesus drive the darkness out of two whole neighborhoods that were the most dangerous places in their city.  They are now actively pursuing the darkness into a third neighborhood.  Even the police recommend they don’t follow, but they do anyway – family and all.  God continues to scatter the darkness as the light and salt of Jesus is spread in strongholds of the enemy.  

This isn’t just church talk.  This is really happening.  The book of Acts doesn’t have to be a historical document.  It can also be a playbook for how to live for Christ today, but that would require us to give up on fear and be filled with an unquenchable love and desire to follow the Holy Spirit’s guiding.  It would also require us to remember the original meanings of so many biblical ideas.  It would require a restoration of first-century discipleship. I’m praying for a generation to rise up and change the world, and the generation I’m praying for is mine.  Won’t you join me?


Cake and Roses and Fluffy Puppies

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I’ve written before about my love for mountain climbing or just climbing in general. The feeling of standing on the top of a high place and seeing the world from above is breathtaking. However, the top isn’t the only part of the journey worth talking about.

When you set out to climb a mountain there are a lot of undesirable issues you must deal with to get there. There is the hassle of camping and gear if you choose to make it an overnight trip. There is the issue of sustenance, for you will surely need the energy to make it to the top. Because you must have sustenance you will have to carry that weight on your back. This creates more weight for you to have to haul up the mountain.

Then there’s the sheer feat of climbing the mountain. No mountain is “easy”. Some are less difficult than others, but your body does strange things above 10,000 feet of elevation. As you climb there are rocks that you trip on. There is often snow to be traversed. There are aching muscles from the constant upward motion. Then there’s the dreaded issue of having to go to the bathroom above tree line (embarassing).

Climbing a mountain is fun and rewarding, but it is also difficult and painful.

When you listen to many preachers talk about life in Christ you hear about love, joy, peace, kindness and other such beautiful ideas. You hear about grace and forgiveness. Who wouldn’t want those things? Christianity sounds awesome, right?!

What they don’t tell you is that Christianity is like climbing up the mountain. The summit experience is awesome, but you have to go through the climb of life to get there. It isn’t all cake and roses and fluffy puppies. Sometimes Christianity is tears and pain and division and struggle.

Jesus was very clear that the Kingdom of Heaven – the kingdom that is here and now in those allowing Christ to rule in their hearts – is much more desirable than the kingdoms of this world with their selfishness and tyranny. However he also made a couple of statements that aren’t so popular.

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”

“Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.”

He also promises this:

“In this world you will have trouble.”

Well, that’s not very happy. It doesn’t seem like Jesus is doing the best job marketing this new kingdom life.

Think about it though. Have you ever made a decision you knew was right, yet everyone around you was angry with you for the decision you made? Have you ever loved someone even though they hurt you? Have you ever risked your life for someone else? Then you know what Jesus is talking about.

We choose to live for Christ because He is teaching us the way of love, but not everyone likes this way. Some people even hate this way of life because our living this way exposes the darkness within them. They revile against it, and division is created, and relationships are damaged.

In Luke 14 Jesus encourages us to count the cost of being his disciple. It will be a struggle, and you will have to be wiling to sacrifice everything for him, but what you gain is so worth it. Forgiveness, grace, eternal life, relationship with the Creator, purpose in this life. Those things cannot be given a value.

After Jesus promised that we will have trouble in this world, he said “but take heart because I have overcome the world.”

Jesus doesn’t leave us alone to deal with these struggles ourselves. He has promised to never leave or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). He has promised to take every circumstance and bring good out of it (Romans 8:28). He has promised to love you, and he showed it by dying for you. He gave his life for you. Are you willing to go through a little bit of struggle for him?

One more thing.
In Jesus there is a new perspective that I learn day by day as I follow him. The more I live like Jesus the less concerned I am with myself because I am learning to love others more. This brings pain at times when I am rejected, but this also brings hope in all things because of the resurrection. I now have a choice on how I look at the hard times. I choose to look at them as learning experiences and refining fire that makes me stronger. I choose this because I know that this life is not all there is for me. My eternal life began when I gave my life to Jesus, and it reaches its fullness once this physical life reaches its limits. Death is not the end, so I live this life with joy and hope whatever the situation.

Count the cost before you come to Christ, but know that the cost is well worth it for the joy of knowing the Creator and living in His presence. And if you’re already in Christ, live with the perspective of hope in all circumstances. Jesus is with you. His Spirit lives inside you. You are eternal – your pain doesn’t have to be.


a-Moral Dilemma

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I have been a part of churches all my life. I have worshipped all over this country with various denominations and even experienced worship times with various faiths. In the Christian realms, however, there is a trend that isn’t catching on…it’s running full steam ahead through our church cultures.

This trend is to claim belief in God but live any way we want to live. It is a claim of faith but coupled with a self-indulgent lifestyle devoid of church attendance.

As a minister I cannot sit idly by and not say anything about this disease. If this is what we expect Christianity to be then Satan has won! We cannot claim belief in God and ignore what His word says. If you believe that God doesn’t care about how you live, then you believe in a God that you created. It is NOT the God of the bible. It is a human-invented creation. It will NOT save you.

I continually have conversations with people who profess deep belief in God yet are not a part of His church in any way. I meet people who are “Christians” yet live with their significant others in a very NOT-marriage relationship. I know Christians all over who publicly, through Facebook and Twitter and other social network sites, profess to have no issue with and even support those living lifestyles that are blatantly against the moral standard that God has set in His word. God’s word, the bible, clearly speaks against each of these things.

Friends, if you are a Christian but don’t even attempt to conform to God’s expectations for your life, then you are not a Christian.

A Christian is a Christ-Follower. A Christian values the words of God and seeks to live them the way Jesus lived them. Christians aren’t proud drunkards. Christians aren’t openly living with their boyfriend or girlfriend. Christians don’t actively encourage others to continue in their ungodly lifestyles. Christians aren’t disconnected from the church.

Christians are sinners who are trying to sin less. Sin is something they want to be rid of, not brag about. Sin is a very real thing in the life of a sinner. Sin is the reason they need Jesus. Sin is the reason I need Jesus. I cannot be a Christian apart from the church any more than a finger can live severed from the rest of a body.

I am not perfect, and I am sure you aren’t either. I receive the forgiveness of God through the death and resurrection of Jesus as the Holy Spirit guides my life, but if I’m continuing to openly, unashamedly live a sinful lifestyle then I’m not following after the Holy Spirit. I’m following after my flesh, and that is easily influenced by the evil one. It’s even easier for the evil one to be in control when I’m not strengthened by the encouragement of my brothers and sisters in Christ.

If you’ve been living this kind of lifestyle then the good news is that Jesus offers new life today! Repent! Turn away from your sin and turn to God. Get involved in church. You won’t be perfect, but your heart turned toward Him is reflected by your actions. You’ll see change in your life, and others will too. And God honors that.

Jesus didn’t die so that we could continue to sin. He died so that He could show us the way out of this sin-led life, and He gave us his church to help us live the life He called us to through encouragement and fellowship. If you’d like to come back to Jesus in a real way, then I’d love to visit with you. You are invited and welcome to be a part of His family – it is not full of shame regarding the way you used to live – it is full of celebration that you left that life to live the life He intended for you to live all along.


Ignoring the Guest of Honor

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Imagine yourself at a party. You were invited, and you like the people who are there. However, it is late in the party and no one has spoken one word to you. You have tried to initiate conversations to no avail. When you speak it is as if your words dissolve before they leave your mouth. You are a ghost at the party though you are as real as everyone else there.

Have you ever been ignored? The feeling is very frustrating. There is a significant amount of disrespect that is shown when a person is ignored.

I say “Hi!” to people all the time. It’s just in my nature to do so. Most of the time the other person will smile and say it back. Sometimes they will merely smile, but it is those times when the person, who clearly saw me, simply walks by without acknowledging my existence that stick in my mind. I want to stop them and find out why they felt justified to ignore me, but I just let them keep walking. Ultimately it is no big deal for a stranger to ignore me. The times it hurts are when it is someone I love that does the ignoring.

I wonder if the Spirit feels that way. We invited Him into our lives when we were baptized (Acts 2:38) yet we ignore His existence for the most part. How much time do you spend thinking and focusing on Jesus and God compared to the Spirit. There’s a party inside your soul, but the one who lives inside you is often ignored.

It’s pretty obvious to see who is ignoring this guest of honor. Paul noticed it when he wrote to the Galatians church. He asked them, “What happened to all your joy?” (Galatians 4:15)

I know so many people who want to be happy in this life. They try all they can to pursue it. They put forth much effort and a good amount of their concentration to find it. They try and try to get rid of the sin in their life in hopes that it will bring the happiness they desire. People are literally dying to find happiness, yet it is a temporary feeling.

Have you ever seen someone with happiness in the moment but no joy in their life? I see it all the time. Maybe it is you. One of the fruits of the Spirit, whom we often ignore, is joy. I don’t know about you, but that’s what I really want. It is joy that will see you through any circumstance that befalls you. Joy is eternal – happiness is temporary.

So, where’s your joy? Are you living in the Spirit in such a way that there is true joy in your life? Have you been ignoring the guest of honor in your life? If you’ve been baptized, then the Spirit is in you and wants to guide you to the life you’ve always deeply wanted.

Want to know more? Let’s talk. I’d love to study more about this with you. God bless you as you allow more and more of your life to be centered in the Spirit.


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