Halloween is fun. Granted, the holiday can get out of control and I know that there is a fine line between having fun and allowing all sorts of evil thoughts into one’s mind. Moreover, the roots of Halloween are not something I like. But, to see my kids dress up like Minions or Power Rangers gives a sense of freedom. They pretend that they are something else for one moment.
It is something that children, teenagers, and adults do throughout our lives. We have a few opportunities to reinvent ourselves for better or worse. But it is something that Paul stresses we must do throughout the book of Romans. We cannot be content to continue to do what we’ve always done, but we must become more like Christ and less like “Adam”. The beginning of Romans 12 in verse 2 Paul writes beautifully: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
Paul isn’t asking us to dress up like something from the latest movie or act like something we aren’t; he wants us to be TRANSFORMED entirely into something else. The only way to be renewed is to offer ourselves as sacrifices to Jesus...to let Jesus’ words, life, and the Holy Spirit invade us and transform us into what may seem like a foreign costume.
Rarely does this happen overnight. I stress this to new believers that if you could see yourself 3 or 30 years from now you will see what this verse actually means. But through time and being committed to God’s transforming power in the Holy Spirit we can see that God literally will turn us in to something entirely different. This is where the parallel to Halloween comes in: The costume that seems to be a fake is now permanent.
Neither of my children would actually want to become what they dressed up as on most days.
They would like to keep their identities as children who go to school and have their lives. Yet there are times that they do want to be superheroes. They do yearn to be a celebrity. A singer. A quarterback. Any number of “costumes” that the world says are successful.
Do you live a life where someone would look at your faith and they would think, “I want—that. Whatever they have…the way they view the world, I want to become that”.
While there are times in Scripture where there is a miraculous conversion and voices from heaven, the most often way that someone comes into contact and decides to give their life over to Christ is because of the desire to be transformed into something else. Consider how your costume looks: is it off some moments? Is it worn, tattered, or vibrant and well cared?
The day after Halloween is All Saints Day. A day in which we remember the “Saints” that have gone before us, but also give proper acknowledgment of those Christians who “wore” the identity with conviction, character, and calling. As I preached last Sunday, I hope your legacy is to reflect the calling in which we have all been asked. Moreover, I hope your identity is wrapped up in the one who saved you and is broadcast to all who come near.
I’ve loved this sermon series on “God’s calling” where we look at numerous Old Testament characters and how God called them. So far we’ve done Ruth with circumstances, Samuel by name, and David as a king that is after God’s own heart.
As I’ve written these sermons, these stories cause me to pause: where is God calling Hope Community Church? This year has hardly been an “easy” transition. We’ve seen numerous changes in our culture and church family. Some of these changes can be due to a change in pastoral leadership: most studies would state that you “lose” 15% of everything during a pastoral change.
However, many of these changes are far beyond a pastoral change. Through this change I have seen God affirming and steadying numerous leaders. I have witnessed creativity arise in numerous situations. Grace poured out over and over. Most of all, I sense God is calling Hope Community Church into a new season of being a church.
In several of the Old Testament stories we see prayers or God comforting by saying, “do not let me go to the left or the right” of the path that we should be going. This is particularly important in Israel as mountainous roads are only shoulder-width and doom literally was a step to the left or right. I find myself saying that with all the change above. God, keep our feet along the path you would have us. Do not let us go to the right or the left.
I do believe that the next steps ahead of us are clear. They come right from the mission that we have:
Hope exists to bring others closer to Jesus.
If we took that mission seriously, we would see transformation in our church. Revival in our families. A church that takes itself less seriously on the outward appearance and more seriously on changing our hearts towards Jesus. I want to be a church where we have prisoners, orphans, and widows opening their hearts every week in praise. I want to be a church where membership statistics and finances are secondary to seeing children and youth know and live out the Gospel. I want to be a church that takes the next step(s) in faith and not by sight. Trusting our savior to call us towards Him and keep us from stumbling and falling.
I’ll continue to work towards that as your pastor, and invite you to come alongside me for the journey.
I want to preface my words before getting too far. I haven’t asked this person’s permission to write this article. I haven’t pointed out to anyone what I’m about to type. Most of all, I am not bragging about him.
I love, that every day when I walk by Hayden’s office at 9:15 I see him reading his Bible. Hayden is our youth and worship pastor. I saw this trait begin in January and it brings a smile to my face every day when I walk by his office.
Now, this doesn’t mean that our other staff don’t read their Bibles. It also doesn’t mean that somehow I’m pointing out this consistent attribute for some ulterior reason.
Reading scripture consistently each day is a practice. Just like going to the gym, reading God’s word is a difficult thing to do consistently. Why? Because life is busy, because there are 10,000 “because” that occur in our life.
I am not an athlete or physical specimen. But, the weeks where I am able to go work out at the gym more than 3 times I feel better, I am healthier, and I know I am gaining long term health for my life. I also say the excuses…the “because” statements…when I don’t go to the gym. It is easy to make an excuse and hard to spend the time doing the right thing.
It is exactly the same with reading the Bible. You may think you’ve read that before, you can’t understand all of it, you won’t see some magical change in your life. Friends: I can certainly state that consistently reading Scripture will bring about a transformation just like the gym can. Jesus echoes this in his teachings over numerous parts of the Bible:
Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also
Invest where moth and rust do not destroy
There are also numerous parables that Jesus gives on this matter. As we head into August with all the craziness that the transition to school offers, the beginning of new routines, and UNL students descending upon our city, consider how changing your routine with Scripture could alter your life. If I may, share with me via e-mail or our Hope Church facebook page when you are committing to exercise with Jesus. You’re not bragging, but perhaps you are inspiring our family of believers to transform their lives as well!
If you keep a schedule of your day and week events, I would encourage you to mark the time in. The best intentions go by the wayside rather quickly, and I always notice at my time to read Scripture something just happens to come up. Be consistent, be intentional, and make a difference this month.
A good friend this morning challenged me as he asked how I was doing after 6 months of pastoring at Hope. As I carefully thought of my response I realized that painting too bleak a picture may cause him to panic. However, too positive a picture would cause him to doubt my authenticity…or sanity.
Over the past 6 months there have already been numerous surprises as Pastor at Hope. Funerals, day cares, new people coming, people leaving. We’ve had worship nights, Vacation Bible School, an amazing outpouring of people at Easter and numerous other events.
Of course, we have also seen personally the ups and downs as well! Bringing Lillie into our house has had its share of challenges and blessings as well. Carissa and I have been surrounded by so much love, support, and prayer from the Hope Family that we can’t even fathom how we would’ve handled this transition! I have a pile of Thank-You notes on my desk right now to hand out to numerous people. But, thank you to all the support and prayers from the congregation!
There are even some events that I can see on the horizon that I’m personally very excited about. This June I have been able to take a large step back and assess what God is brewing in and through the lives of Hope Church. I can see new services, new ministries, and new opportunities on the horizon.
Without a doubt many have received a marvelously written letter by our Deacon Board. Ministry transitions cause some to seek out new opportunities. Hope has always been a generous congregation. Far beyond what other churches might consider, Hope has been a leader in giving. I have no doubt based on the character of our congregation that we will all rise to the giving challenge that is before us.
In considering our challenge, let us lead in an abundance mentality versus a scarcity mentality: we have an abundance of opportunity as a church on the Southwest part of Lincoln. We have an abundance of amazing leaders. We have an abundance of experience in highs and lows. And, we have an abundance of resources to share as an entire congregation. Many other churches would be thinking out of scarcity mindset which paralyzes ministry growth: there is only so much out there so we must hoard and stop growing.
Out of Scripture and in real life remember: healthy things grow.
Hope is regaining its health as a church. Know that in the possible opportunities and the looming challenges, I see God working in and through our church body. As a leader, I seek these things which I see throughout Scripture:
Blessings and God’s love,
Whew. I wrote the title of this as a sarcastic open to allow the creative writing side of my brain open up. However, it is an appropriate title as one can read the joy and anticipation of the exclamation mark or one could read it as anxiety and worry. “It’s summer! I can’t wait to hit the beach”. “It’s summer! I have nothing ready for this weekend!” Both can be interpreted from the same remark based on context.
Language is interesting in this way. You can say the exact same sentence with two completely different contexts. There is even a State Farm commercial which makes light of this truth in numerous hilarious commercials. Yet this paradox comes more powerfully this summer than before for me personally…and perhaps you as well.
On the last week of April we found out that Ezekiel (our third son who is 20 months) had a 3- month-old half sister out in the world. We said “wow” out of joy, worry, anxiety, and shock over and over that night. Lillie was out there. In fact, over the course of the month we have said “wow” numerous times. Some of these we will share as we know more about Lillie. Some of them we will keep with our family and let her decide when and who she will share her details with.
After three days of waiting which seemed like an eternity, I received a call during Consistory that she was coming to our house as emergency placement. She was a beautiful little girl who I couldn’t wait to hold and love and cherish. She needed lots of protection, consistency, and safety.
Never at one moment did Carissa or I debate accepting her into our family.
I marvel at stories of birth, but I feel a special joy when I hear stories of adoption.
In this story we see one truth of the Bible: consistency in paradox.
I am created. I create. God holds all things and will restore all someday.
I am a sinner, I am saved. Jesus loves me throughout both.
I am lost, I am found. The Holy spirit guides me through my life.
This consistency in paradox is a great comfort in all parts of life. The unfinished work of salvation often times puts us in awkward emotional rollercoasters where we feel out of place in this world. Resident aliens. Yet God’s consistency holds fast when we flutter. Jesus’ love reminds us of our adoptive heavenly family when I feel unworthy. The Holy Spirit’s prompting gives comfort when I receive an unknown infant and then worry that she may go away the next day.
Know in this busy season filled with barbecues, vacations, weddings, and all the unexpected sorrowful events Hope Community Church should be the consistency of church family in the ups and downs of life. This is a reminder to those who need this consistency, and a challenge to all to be Jesus to our brothers and sisters.
Keep your presence at church as much as possible in this summer season. Your growth closer to Jesus will keep you buoyed amidst the seasons where you have a hectic weekend…and when an unexpected infant is dropped in your lap.
Blessings and God’s love,
YEAR 1 20 in classroom 3 in discipleship
YEAR 2 40 9
YEAR 3 60 27
YEAR 4 80 81
YEAR 5 100 243
#2) I've done small groups before. Discipleship isn't small groups: it is intentional, small--3 to 4 people--and focused on both learning scripture, holding one another accountable, and serving our church and community. Small groups are a step better than casual church attendance. But true transformation occurs through discipleship. Consider those moments where you grew beyond expectation; were they moments where you were in a giant group or with one or two people who walked alongside you in a season?
#3) But I go to church. Why more? Because Jesus shows this is the way to become more like him. You grow by transforming your thoughts and entire life into following HIM and then teaching others to follow HIM! Going to church doesn't make you "good" or give you a ticket into heaven. It is passionately transforming your life in all areas towards the one who gives true life!
Check out this youtube video that I didn't create, but thoroughly enjoy to gain the vision fo how a community focused on disicpleship looks:
I'm always amazed at the desire and want of well-meaning Christians to help, but when the opportunity to help presents itself, there is little ability to actually give care. I attribute this to the "Golden Rule affect". Matthew 7:12 rings in from our Sunday School days and we begin helping the way we think we would want help. When, instead, the lesser known silver rule should apply: "treat others the way THEY want to be treated".
I learned this "Silver Rule" while in pre-marital counselling with my wife, Carissa. I might think she wants me to do ______ to serve her, when if I actually ask, it's something completely different.
This applies to missions as well. In the mid-1900's missions didn't always mean bringing the Gospel or assisting with a need that they had. Instead, missions often meant turning the people you were serving into something that looked and acted like me. In my time in Uganda we heard of well-meaning Christians who would give electronics to the people there...only to not know that there was no electricity to run them. This obvious miss is not good for the ones serving, or the served.
Consider the biblical story of Mary and Martha. One "served" while the other one served. Martha, busy doing things that very well needed to be done kept herself and all those who watched knowing that she was giving care. Mary, in contrast, sat with Jesus. Unknown to all except Him, His final week on earth was coming near. Mary gave service by being present, by listening, by being near Jesus at this time.
As I have challenged our church body over the past two weeks, who is it that God is calling us to be serving? The sick? The poor? The well? The rich? All are in need of service, but we must understand and know the person before attempting to be serving them.
How ridiculous would it be to eat at a fancy restaurant and have the waiter assume what we would want to eat? Consider how you are giving service to your family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, and those God places in your heart. Are you "serving" them, or are you serving them?
Be blessed this week, and be the hands and feet of Jesus Christ.