Archives For FOLLOWING

The thoughts I have about following the greatest leader ever – Jesus.

Limping

September 30, 2013 — Leave a comment

Original GritI recently taught our church from the story of Jacob in the Bible. There’s this moment in Jacob’s life where he wrestles with God. Not metaphorically or emotionally or philosophically, but actual “get in the ring” and drop the people’s elbow type wrestling. It’s one of the strangest scenes in Scripture in my opinion.

There’s a moment in the wrestling where this divine being touches Jacob’s hip and injures him. And yet Jacob won’t let go. No matter what, he’s committed to holding on until he gets what he’s after – the blessing of God.

One of the most powerful things I take from it is this idea that an encounter with Jesus – I mean, a real wrestling type encounter with Jesus – it leaves us limping.

And that’s sometimes hard to accept isn’t it? Most of us want the blessing of God in our lives but we don’t want the limp. We don’t want to have to go through the struggle to get it. We don’t want something that lingers with us, changes us, and affects us moving forward. We want God to come to us on our terms, to bless us without the struggle and to leave us better off than when we first encountered him.

Jesus changes us. To follow Him is to be changed by Him. And sometimes that means we walk away with a limp.

photo by: jDevaun
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Open hands and open hearts

August 28, 2013 — 2 Comments


I came across this video from Pastor Steven Furtick today on twitter and it reminded me of a teaching we did earlier this year in which we said that “Generosity opens the door for God’s presence in our lives.” We also said that an open hand is indicative of an open heart. (You can check that teaching from our “Less is More” series here.)

99% of us don’t have an abundance of extra money laying around. Most of us are doing well if we can pay our bills and stay out of debt. So when things get tight, we tend to close our hands tightly around what we’ve got. But the potentially unsettling truth is that those who open their hands are the same ones that God tends to pour into.

Generosity is hard. In fact it’s one of the hardest things about following Jesus for me personally. But I’ve grown to understand that my heart and my wallet are so incredibly connected. I wish it wasn’t true, but it is. When I’m sensitive to God’s heart, I tend to be more generous. When I’m generous, I tend to be more sensitive to God’s heart. The reverse of that is true as well. When I’m not sensitive to God’s heart, I tend to be holding on tight to my wallet. And when I’m holding on tightly to my wallet, I’m not really sensing or experiencing God’s heart.

Here’s a crazy thought: What if the distance you feel from God is directly related to your level of generosity?

 

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New wineskins

June 3, 2013 — Leave a comment

The more I follow Jesus, the more my assumptions about Him get blown up.

There’s this little passage in the gospel of Luke where Jesus is questioned by some of the leading religious leaders of his day about why His disciples don’t seem to follow the same rules that theirs do. Apparently it was customary for really religious people to fast up to two days a week and yet Jesus’s disciples seem to be in feast mode all the time. It’s interesting to me that wherever Jesus goes there seems to be celebrating, partying, eating and drinking. And so they asked him why His disciples were doing this.

Jesus answers with a parable in two parts. First, there’s this example of a patch cut from a new garment and sewn on an old one. He says that by doing this we ruin the new thing as well as the old. The new garment now has a hole in it, and the old garment looks weird with a patch that doesn’t fit or match. The second example is of wineskins. He says that no one pours new wine into old wineskins, because if they do then the old wineskins (which have already expanded with the fermenting of wine) will burst as the new wine ages. Again, the new thing (new wine) will be ruined and so will the old thing (the wineskins).

Here’s the interesting thing. Neither the new thing nor the old thing are bad things. They are just different things.

So why this response to their question?

I think Jesus is basically saying, “Look, I’m doing something new here. The old ways that you thought about faith and your relationship to God don’t really work with the new thing that I’m doing.” The old thing isn’t necessarily bad, but neither is the new thing. And this is where I find this to be so relevant. It’s popular amongst some to dismiss the way that people used to worship, the way they did church, or the way they thought about God as if those ways were some how faulty. Many others will look at new expressions of faith, new ways of doing church, or new ways of thinking about God and dismiss those as well. The reality is that the old wineskins aren’t bad. Neither are the new ones.

But let’s be clear – Jesus is doing something new. He’s not satisfied with the old wineskins.

I’ve gone through stages in my life where old wineskins have given way to new ones. Some of those things are superficial (I gave up my PC for the world of Apple, for example), and some of them have been quite profound. The Jesus I know today is not the same Jesus that I was sure I knew ten years ago, or even five years ago. And my guess is that the Jesus I know today is not the same Jesus I will know in five years. Or at least I hope so. (There might be some who would quickly say – “wait, Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever.” Yes that is true, but I would hope that as I get to know him more that my understanding of him continues to expand.)

I’m so thankful for the old wineskins. I’m thankful for the black and white version of faith of my childhood. I’m thankful for the foundation that provided for me. I’m thankful for the youth group faith of my teenage years. I’m thankful for the ways my faith grew as I was exposed to more of the world and the poverty and suffering I’ve seen. And I’m thankful for the faith of my college years that shaped my love for Scripture and discovery of truth.

But today my faith is more nuanced. It’s less black and white. It’s less stringent and less fixed. It’s more flexible. I think it is expanding as Jesus continues to pour new wine into these new wineskins. I love Jesus more than ever. I trust Him more than ever. I’m more certain of Him than ever. And yet, I’m less certain of all the details. And I’m ok with that.

The unfortunate thing is that many of us choose to resist new wine and new wineskins. The passage from Luke ends with this phrase: “No one after drinking old wine wants the new, for he says, ‘The old is better.'” At first I really didn’t understand this. Here Jesus has just talked about what He is doing as “new wine” and yet this verse says that the “old wine” is better. But I don’t think Jesus is saying that the old is better. He’s simply stating what is common to most of us. That is, that most of us will choose what is familiar over what is new. It’s why every generation believes that their cartoons were the best cartoons, that the athletes they watched were better than the ones today, that the old days were better than these ones.

My hope and prayer is that I won’t ever become resistant to the new wine. I don’t ever want to be someone who wants to go back to Egypt rather than pressing forward to the promised land (as did the Israelites in the Old Testament). I don’t want to be on the opposite end of the new thing Jesus is doing. Not that the old thing was bad. It wasn’t. But because if Jesus is choosing to expand the kingdom even further than I thought was possible, I want to be part of that.

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Sospesa - SuspendedThis week I finished up a teaching series I was doing at STORYCHURCH called “88MPH: Overcome the past, embrace the present, change the future.” (You can listen to the series by subscribing on itunes here.) Every so often I finish a particular teaching or maybe a particular series and I feel like there was more to be said. As I’ve been reflecting on the way we ended the series I feel like this is one of those times. So here are some bonus thoughts.

There’s this guy named Paul in the New Testament who faced all kinds of pain and trials and difficulty. But through it all, his mentality was this:

Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 3:13-14

For Paul, there were plenty of reasons for him to quit. There was lots of opposition. If he was looking for an excuse he had plenty to pick from. But what’s clear to me is that despite everything else – Paul was focused on a particular future. He had a goal in mind (to “know Christ” as he tells us a few verses earlier). Nothing was going to keep him from that goal.

I think too many of us treat life as though we are simply along for the ride. It’s as if we are a ship at sea that’s lost it’s rudder – falling victim to the waves, the winds, and the tide. We act as though our circumstances dictate our future and that we can’t do anything about it.

Even worse, some followers of Jesus do this and then over-spiritualize it and say that whatever happens “must have been God’s will.” I’ll be honest, I don’t buy it. I believe God gives you and me WAY MORE room to shape our future than we sometimes want to believe. Don’t get me wrong, there are definitely setbacks and obstacles and opposition. I’m sure there are even times when God redirects us. But I think that more often than not the future that we end up with has way more to do with the choices we make than something outside of our control.

People often talk about having vision. Vision is a picture in your mind of a preferred future. I have a vision for a particular future for my marriage. For my family. I have a vision for my church. I can guarantee that as life happens there will be MAJOR obstacles to those specific visions. As opposition and obstacles get in the way I have a choice to make every single time. Do I forfeit the vision I have for my marriage, my family, my church – or do I fight through that obstacle? When it gets hard do I say “Well it must not be God’s will” or do I do whatever it takes to overcome the obstacle? No story worth telling develops without opposition and setbacks.

What’s the vision you have for your marriage? Even if you are single today – what’s the dream marriage? How many losers are you willing to pass up in order to wait for the vision that’s in your heart? Do pictures of old couples holding hands move you on some level? Then what will you push through to make that a reality?

What’s the vision for your family? Do you want kids who love you and respect you as adults? Then what are you willing to do to see that become a reality? What job or promotion will you pass up because of the time it will require you to be away from your kids? What will you sacrifice in order to create the memories for them?

Your future isn’t decided for you. Sure, circumstances and sickness and pain will come along. But it’s up to you. You create your future. In spite of opposition and obstacles – your vision is worth the fight. It’s worth the struggle. It’s worth pushing through the pain.

A brief word for STORYCHURCH:

The future of our church is up to us. We get to decide how it goes. Kimi and I have committed our lives to see a church for people who don’t go to church. A church that helps people embrace the story they were meant to live. It’s why we get out of bed in the morning. Every so often we see glimpses of the future we are pushing toward. Every time someone who gave up on God shows up giving God one more chance – the future peeks through. Every time someone goes from death to life and chooses to follow Jesus – the future breaks in. Every time someone is baptized and we see a life transformed – the future comes crashing in around us. Every time a couple does the hard work of rebuilding their marriage rather than letting it implode – the future shows up. Every time a village gets clean water because our community decided it mattered – the future looks bright.

None of this will come easy. There will be challenges of every kind. Spiritual, financial, relational. It will be messy. There will be conflict. There will be tough decisions and difficult seasons. But it’s worth it. Because we have a vision of thousands of people finding life and embracing stories they were meant to live. I hope you share that vision. I hope you have similar dreams for our city – for your coworkers, your neighbors and your friends. And I hope you’ll do whatever it takes to see this vision become a reality.

photo by: Porfirio
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It seems like we continue to get reminders every so often about the brokenness of the world. This time, from Boston. But it’s not just the news is it? I was sick all day Monday this week and didn’t want to move. Today my daughter is undergoing surgery even as I write this.

Pain. Sickness. Relational friction. Bombs.

It’s easy to grow cynical and jaded. It’s easy to believe that there must not be a God, or at least He must not care.

But then we see pictures of people running toward explosions seconds after they happen. We see doctors who are doing everything they can to comfort people and to fix what’s broken.

The world is full of bad news. But it’s even more full of good news. For every bomber there are thousands who are celebrating life by running a marathon.

In Romans 8 we are told that all of creation groans with the pains of childbirth. But as Bono told us a long time ago – “There’s always pain before the child is born.”

I choose to believe that this isn’t the end. That the pain and struggle simply tells us that it isn’t over.

Don’t let the cynicism win today. Choose to focus on what is good. And while you’re at it, be part of what is good with the world today.

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One of the more frequent questions I get from parents is about how to talk to their kids about baptism. Many don’t feel prepared to do so, others aren’t sure if their kids are ready, and others want to know if there’s some age at which baptism becomes a natural next step. Ask 10 pastors this question and you might get 10 different answers. Ask a mom who happens to also be the STORYCHURCH Kids ministry leader – and you get some serious wisdom. As you can probably guess, that’s what I did. So here is a brilliant guest post from Liz Vance:

DUNKING THE KIDS

A few months ago I was challenged to approach the subject of baptism with my kids.  My children have accepted Jesus Christ into their hearts, they know He is their Lord and Saviour.

Whenever it comes to the crunch, whenever they need a miracle, whenever they need someone bigger than Alastair and I to step in and move mountains, they know exactly where to go.  They call on God!  In fact, they often turn to us asking us to pray to God.  As parents, there’s no greater pleasure than interceding on behalf of our kids.

So, when is the right time for our kids to be baptized?  Neither Alastair and I agreed with child baptism or that special sprinkling that sometimes happens not long after your bundle of joy is born.  I was “sprinkled” when I was 7 during a trip to my family’s home in India. My grandparents felt it was necessary to baptize my sisters and me into the family church.

It was a big occasion for the family but my sister was stood there threatening to punch the bishop for splashing her.  It just didn’t have any significance for us except the fact that this dude just splashed water in our faces.  I couldn’t even understand what they were saying since they were speaking in our parents’ mother tongue.  Oh well, the grandparents were happy!  When I was seventeen I decided for myself that I wanted to get baptized.  It was actually a few years after asking Jesus into my heart.

Nathan and Noah are now 12 and 11 respectively.  After being challenged, I realized it was time to find out exactly what they knew about baptism.  I did a little google research to find out how other Kids Ministries dealt with baptism.  One thing stood out to me.  Leaders were challenged by kids who confused baptism with salvation!

I like to use my kids as guinea pigs on a regular basis so this was a great opportunity.   I’d ask my boys to explain what baptism meant.  They’ve seen plenty of baptisms and I thought I had explained it all well enough but sure enough, when I asked “why do we get baptized?” they talked about salvation.  They thought that when you get baptised you receive your salvation!  Okay, now I had to do some unravelling.

So this was the main misconception.  Basically, children (and adults) need to understand that salvation comes when you ask God into your heart.  You ask God for forgiveness and accept Jesus into your heart. If we have done this, we don’t need to doubt our salvation.

Baptism, on the other hand, is an act of obedience.  Peter’s instructions were to repent and be baptized (Acts 2 vs 38).

Baptism is the symbol of the old life being washed away and the start of a new life with God.  It’s a symbol of the decision we’ve already made.  Baptism doesn’t save you or get you into Heaven.  Only the sacrifice and  grace of God can do that (Ephesians 2 vs:8-9).

We also have to remember that baptism does not make us christians.  People may choose to be baptized or have their children baptized but this does not give them that relationship with Jesus.  Again, only the sacrifice and grace of God has that power.  We have to invite Jesus into our hearts.

Baptism is an opportunity for us to show others what Jesus has done for us. It’s showing people on the outside what has happened to us on the inside.

Hopefully my kids and I have talked through any misconceptions.  I often wonder what their next step will be in their relationship with God.  I continue to watch them serving in church (I’m definitely a proud mummy).  I hope to see them off on many a mission trip, maybe go on a few with them, and when they are ready I hope to watch them get baptized.

lizI don’t intend to push them to do it, although I’ll take the opportunities to talk to them about it.  When they are ready and when they choose to, I’m sure they will be baptized.

I’m thankful that we have so many great leaders and mentors in my church.  People that I can trust to take my children under their wing and help lead my kids.  It definitely takes a village to raise a child and Story Church is my village.

 

You can connect with Liz through twitter @lizvance.

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pencil and eraser on paperHow long does it take you? You know, to stop writing 2012 on your checks, your homework, your documents – and to start writing 2013? Will it be March? April? At what point does it become normal for you?

I think there’s a lesson in there actually. The truth is that many of us relive the same things every single day. Our past is always with us in the present. We have a hard time moving on, turning the page, or writing a new number. We either get hung up on our mistakes and regrets, or we get stuck dreaming and reliving some version of the “glory days” where everything was just right. Can I share something with you?

YOUR BEST DAYS ARE AHEAD OF YOU.

Seriously. It’s true. There’s nothing that happened in 2012 or 2011 or 1994 for that matter that has any say in what this year can be for you. This year is in front of you. It’s wide open. It’s full of opportunity. It’s a book of blank pages and you get to fill it up starting today.

I want to encourage you today to be intentional in 2013. Intentionally move on. Stop rewriting 2012 over again. If there’s a habit you want to develop, today is the first day of that. If there’s an addiction you want to break – today is the day to start. Get the help you need. Call someone. Tell someone.

I really believe that the best is yet to come for you and for me. I love how God says it through the Old Testament prophet Isaiah:

15 I am the Lord, your Holy One, Israel’s Creator and King. 16 I am the Lord, who opened a way through the waters, making a dry path through the sea. 17 I called forth the mighty army of Egypt with all its chariots and horses. I drew them beneath the waves, and they drowned, their lives snuffed out like a smoldering candlewick. 18 “But forget all that— it is nothing compared to what I am going to do. 19 For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland. – Isaiah 43

It’s as if God is saying – “Remember all that cool stuff I did before? Yeah, it was cool. Now forget about that and get ready for what’s next.”

Get ready. This is the year. No more reliving the past. Beginning today – embrace the story you were meant to live, and get after it.

 

photo by: shawncampbell
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The last 24 hours have been difficult haven’t they? A senseless act of violence resulted in the loss of the lives of dozens of people – many of whom were children. Parents woke up today in the first day of a new reality – one where their babies are gone.

I have lots of questions today. Questions that only God can answer. How can this happen? Where were You? Why didn’t You thwart this evil act? How can a loving God let this happen?

The Bible is full of this kind of language:

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me? Look on me and answer, O Lord my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death; my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,” and my foes will rejoice when I fall. – Psalm 13

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, and am not silent. – Psalm 22

I cried out to God for help; I cried out to God to hear me. When I was in distress, I sought the Lord; at night I stretched out untiring hands and my soul refused to be comforted. I remembered you, O God, and I groaned; I mused, and my spirit grew faint. – Psalm 77

I don’t know what you are feeling today. I don’t know what questions you might be asking or how your faith may be shaken today. Let me encourage you to give voice to your questions. It’s ok to feel how you feel this morning. Pain, anger, confusion, loss. Pray the psalms above out loud if it helps. Take comfort in the fact that God is big enough for your questions today.

And remember that while evil is real, it will not win. Any story that ends in suffering can’t be the end. Because the story ends in resurrection. In restoration. In new life.

May you and I hold on to the hope that the story isn’t over.

 

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This is how God votes

October 16, 2012 — 6 Comments

One of the greatest joys of being a pastor is to sit down with people on a regular basis who are trying to discern the voice of God in their lives. What does He want me to do with my life? Should I take this job or not? Who am I supposed to marry? What’s the best way to heal my broken relationship? Most often, people are hoping that someone will just tell them in a sort of Old Testament prophetic voice: “Thus saith the Lord…” (because the King James Version is the best way to speak for God). But it’s a genuine struggle that most of us share – trying to figure out God’s will for our lives. In areas of finances, career, education, love, parenting – we are often pretty fuzzy about exactly what we should do with our lives and how to move forward. And so we seek Him. We pray, we fast, we ask other people, we listen closely for His leading.

And then there’s politics. It’s pretty amazing to me that suddenly we are all experts. Suddenly we all know EXACTLY what God would have us do. And clearly God is supportive of my political party. Clearly He’s rocking a blue tie or clearly He’s rocking a red one. What happened to all of that difficulty discerning the voice and will of God?

For some reason we struggle with these decisions:

Does God want me to love my neighbor? I’ll pray about it.

Does He want me to commit to a local community of believers? I’ll fast about that one.

Does God want me to be generous with my finances by helping the poor, giving to my church, or tipping above the minimum? God will have to give me a sign.

Does He want me to take a week off and go serve orphans in another part of the world? Well, I opened my Bible up randomly to Leviticus – so I think He wants me to grow out my sideburns.

Here’s my point in case it wasn’t clear: Let’s approach the political season with the same level of God-seeking that we do other areas of our lives. Let’s be consistent with discerning the voice of God. One thing I’ve learned as I grow in my faith – I am MORE certain of God’s love for me and for the world than I have ever been in my life, and I am LESS certain of the details of what faith lived out looks like all the time. I’m LESS certain of how right I am, and MORE certain of how good God is. I’m MORE certain of the forest and LESS certain of the trees.

May you and I walk humbly into this season with an open heart to the discerning voice of God.

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Umbrella

October 2, 2012 — 11 Comments

umbrellaLast weekend I had the privilege of performing the wedding of my friend Joel and his new bride Danielle. It was an incredible day of celebration and one I won’t soon forget. It was an outdoor wedding at the beautiful Duke Gardens here in Durham. Everything was perfect – well, almost everything. Unfortunately, the weather didn’t get the memo and it rained the whole time.

Joel and Danielle were probably disappointed in that fact, but you never would have known it. They are quite easy going, and seemed to be focused more on each other than anything else going on – go figure! Despite the rain, the wedding was beautiful. And at one point during the ceremony, I stood to the side as music played and the couple shared a private moment. It was during that moment that I think God showed me something – and it moved me in a powerful way. Continue Reading…

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