Monday, April 22, 2013

If It Was Your Last Time to Speak with Your Best Friends, What Would You Say?

Last night was our last HUB of the school year. I thought it fitting to look at the last words Jesus spoke to his disciples before ascending to Heaven. Since the resurrection, Jesus had appeared to his disciples a handful of times. But this encounter would be the last one. What would he say? With what would he leave them?

Matthew 28:16-20
Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."

In the end, what mattered most to Jesus? In his last conversation with the disciples, how did he encourage and challenge them?

Jesus had spent 3 years with his disciples and here in this final conversation he tells them to go out and love on people. Spread truth to everyone around them. Tell others about how their life can be transformed from the inside out when lived in relationship with Jesus. Help people to see that life will only begin to make sense when they come to know they were created for a purpose that is only found in Christ.

Out of their love, devotion, and passion for Christ, the disciples took Jesus's words to heart and went out to change the world. They left everything behind to bring the gospel to the nations.

I don't think these words (often called The Great Commission) were meant only for the 11 disciples. No, I am positive they are meant for you and for me, also. In life we are called to two things: to love God and love others. Our life is a reflection of our response to God's love for us. May we never stop telling people about Jesus. May we never stop offering hope to the hopeless. May we never stop encouraging friends, family, and strangers with the only truth that will hold up: the love of Christ.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Feeling Entitled?

Last week and this week at HUB we talked about the idea of "deserving." We have our own standards, shaped by our society, of what we believe we deserve and what we believe others deserve. If we work hard, we believe we deserve to be recognized and honored. If we feel we work harder than the next, we certainly better get recognized over them. When we don't, and the other man wins out, our bitterness, and pretenses of anger and life being completely unfair tend to cloud our judgement. We feel so justified. But does Jesus work under the same principles as we do?
If we look to Matthew 20:1-16, I believe we'll find he certainly does not.

“For the Kingdom of Heaven is like the landowner who went out early one morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay the normal daily wage and sent them out to work. “At nine o’clock in the morning he was passing through the marketplace and saw some people standing around doing nothing. So he hired them, telling them he would pay them whatever was right at the end of the day. So they went to work in the vineyard. At noon and again at three o’clock he did the same thing. “At five o’clock that afternoon he was in town again and saw some more people standing around. He asked them, ‘Why haven’t you been working today?’ “They replied, ‘Because no one hired us.’“The landowner told them, ‘Then go out and join the others in my vineyard.’ “That evening he told the foreman to call the workers in and pay them, beginning with the last workers first. When those hired at five o’clock were paid, each received a full day’s wage. When those hired first came to get their pay, they assumed they would receive more. But they, too, were paid a day’s wage. When they received their pay, they protested to the owner, ‘Those people worked only one hour, and yet you’ve paid them just as much as you paid us who worked all day in the scorching heat.’ “He answered one of them, ‘Friend, I haven’t been unfair! Didn’t you agree to work all day for the usual wage? Take your money and go. I wanted to pay this last worker the same as you. Is it against the law for me to do what I want with my money? Should you be jealous because I am kind to others?’ “So those who are last now will be first then, and those who are first will be last.”
Matthew 20:1-16 is not what we expect. We are just like the 6 am vineyard workers: astounded when God blesses those we have deemed aren't fit to receive his blessings. God is so excited about all of his children turning back to him, all of his children coming home to him. Perhaps those who come to Christ early in life feel it unfair that those who come later in life will have the same blessings and benefits. Shouldn't we too be rejoicing with the Father?
To what do you feel entitled: Someone's affections, someone's forgiveness, a title or honor, a grade, a starting sports position? 
But isn't it the case with God that we really don't deserve anything, and yet even in our poor state, he lavishly pours his blessings upon us?
So who are you? The grateful 5pm worker, or the assuming 6am worker? Whichever you are - it will affect your entire attitude towards life, others, and God.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Grace by the Death of One

Having just celebrated Easter a week ago, I have a continued awareness of how undeserving I am of God's grace. I watched The Passion of the Christ the Wednesday before Easter, and I watched in awe as my Jesus died on the cross for me. It wasn't because I deserved God's mercy, but because of his love for me. But isn't that just it? We live in a culture that says - You get what you deserve. Or better yet - I treat people the way they deserve to be treated based on the way they've treated me. But God doesn't treat us the way we deserve to be treated. Grace.

Read Jesus's parable found in Matthew 18...

21 Then Peter came to him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?” 22 “No, not seven times,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven! 23 “Therefore, the Kingdom of Heaven can be compared to a king who decided to bring his accounts up to date with servants who had borrowed money from him. 24 In the process, one of his debtors was brought in who owed him millions of dollars. 25 He couldn’t pay, so his master ordered that he be sold—along with his wife, his children, and everything he owned—to pay the debt. 26 “But the man fell down before his master and begged him, ‘Please, be patient with me, and I will pay it all.’ 27 Then his master was filled with pity for him, and he released him and forgave his debt. 28 “But when the man left the king, he went to a fellow servant who owed him a few thousand dollars. He grabbed him by the throat and demanded instant payment. 29 “His fellow servant fell down before him and begged for a little more time. ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it,’ he pleaded. 30 But his creditor wouldn’t wait. He had the man arrested and put in prison until the debt could be paid in full. 31 “When some of the other servants saw this, they were very upset. They went to the king and told him everything that had happened. 32 Then the king called in the man he had forgiven and said, ‘You evil servant! I forgave you that tremendous debt because you pleaded with me. 33 Shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?’ 34 Then the angry king sent the man to prison to be tortured until he had paid his entire debt. 35 “That’s what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters from your heart.”
Matthew 18 reminds us that we don’t deserve forgiveness - rather, we owe a debt to God, a costly debt: our sin. And yet, God in his grace and mercy extends forgiveness to us through the death of his son, Jesus. And He doesn't just give us extra time to pay our debt, he knows we can never pay it, so we are forgiven entirely because Jesus paid the penalty. But then, we turn around and fail to extend grace, mercy, and forgiveness to those who have wronged us. We think that only those who deserve to be forgiven should be truly forgiven. Only those who have worked hard enough to be sorry enough are worthy of our favor. And yet, we can never, ever, be sorry enough or repentant enough to earn God’s grace. It is a free gift.
Ernest Gordon was a Scottish POW in WWII. His troop fell captive to the Japanese where they had to help build a railroad and were treated as slaves. Gordon describes his time in the camp and how the miserable conditions turned the men into shadows of men filled with hatred and selfishness. Here is an excerpt from his book Miracle on the River Kwai detailing just that….

As conditions steadily worsened, as starvation, exhaustion and disease took an ever-growing toll, the atmosphere in which we lived was increasingly poisoned by selfishness, hatred, and fear. We were slipping rapidly down the scale of degradation. 
We lived by the rule of the jungle, “red in tooth and claw” – the evolutionary law of the survival of the fittest. It was a case of “I look out for myself and to hell with everyone else.” The weak were trampled underfoot, the sick ignored or resented, the dead forgotten. When a man lay dying we had no word of mercy. When he cried for our help, we averted our heads. 
We had long since resigned ourselves to being derelicts. We were the forsaken men – forsaken by our families, by our friends, by our government. Now even God had left us.
Hate, for some, was the only motivation for living. We hated the Japanese. We would willingly have torn them limb from limb, flesh from flesh, had they fallen into our hands. In time even hate died, giving way to numb, black despair.

Ernest Gordon goes on to tell about a day when the men arrived back at the camp after working on the railroad. At the tool check the officers informed the POWs that a shovel was missing. In rage, the officers demanded that the man who stole the shovel come forward, and if no one confessed, the entire group would be killed. Slowly, a man came forward. As he stood before the officers in his moment of confession, the officers beat him to death as punishment.
At the next tool check, all the shovels were accounted for. You see, there had simply been a miscount. A miscount that cost the life of an innocent man. Gordon recounts the disbelief of the men: that a completely innocent man would die to save the rest of them. He said that it was in this moment that the POWs came to recognize an even greater act of mercy: Christ dying on the cross. A completely innocent man who died so that the rest of us don't have to be separated from God. We are the guilty. We deserve the punishment. And yet, Christ paid the penalty.
So, with the grace that has so graciously been extended to us, do we extend it to others?

Friday, March 15, 2013

In Tragedy, We Have One Source for Peace

This past week has been a devastating one for the Tampa and Plant High School community. A senior, Amanda Pierce tragically died in a car accident on her way to pick up her sister in Tallahassee. While I did not have the honor of knowing Amanda, many of my students did. Sadly, this is not the first time tragedy has struck our young community. Ask any student and they can tell you the tragedies that have transpired over the years.

In my conversations with teenagers this week, a theme has been echoing in my mind: There is only one guarantee in this life. We ourselves aren't promised tomorrow. Our loved ones aren't promised tomorrow. We aren't promised any easy life, or success, or popularity, or an easy road in life. The only guarantee we have is Jesus Christ. John 16:33 reminds us of what Jesus said to his disciples as they struggled to imagine what life would be like after Jesus died - how would they carry on without standing next to their best friend? "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."

This isn't the first time something tragic and inexplicable has happened, and unfortunately it isn't the last. We live in a broken world where car accidents, cancer, broken relationships, divorce, tragedy, and death exist. And Jesus warns us that life in this broken world won't be easy, and the only guarantee and the only hope we have is in Him. He has conquered death. He has conquered this broken world. The only guarantee is our relationship with Jesus Christ. Everything can change in an instant, but that never will. 

And so to me, the logical question is: What are you living for? Why live for something that we aren't promised tomorrow? Want to know how to figure out what you're living for? Look at how you spend your time. 
How are you pursuing Jesus? In what ways are you putting yourself in front of God's truth and God's grace? Where do you need to go to hear this truth? What needs to look different so that you can allow God to make you into a new person?

The time is now, my friends. 

My thoughts and prayers are with all of those who are broken during this tragic time. May we confidently and boldly claim the love and life that Jesus is offering. In him, we have peace.

Monday, March 4, 2013

When God Takes You There, Will You Go? Will You Go Wherever for Him?

We all have struggles. One of my greatest struggles is when life is chaotic, things aren’t going smoothly, someone has hurt me, etc. I begin to doubt myself. But at the center of that doubt is a lack of trust in God. I was created to live in a trusting relationship with Jesus. I cannot depend on circumstances because they are never predictable. Instead I must trust in the one who never waivers, never leaves my side, and is always consistent. On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.

At the beginning of the year, I decided to make Micah 7:7 my “verse” for 2013. It’s the one I keep going back to and it speaks volumes to the way I let circumstances rock me. It is the encouragement I need to keep my eyes fixed on Jesus.

Micah 7:7 (MSG) – But me, I’m not giving up. I’m sticking around to see what God will do. I’m waiting for God to make things right. I’m counting on God to listen to me.

The writer has such a sense of confidence in what God will do. 
I need to claim that confidence everyday!

Lately, God has been working on me. I told y’all about the book I read, Not a Fan, and now I’m getting ready to read it with my senior bible study. God is working on my heart to get me fired up and to get me excited about living for him. He is trying to show me that every moment of every day is an opportunity to live for him, to serve him, to glorify him, and to show who he is to other people.

Last week I almost turned down an opportunity to serve God. God called me to speak at Plant High's Beta Chi lunch. With nearly 200 kids coming to each lunch and speaking at all three lunches, I feared the possibility of sharing my heart, my life, and my Jesus with 600 high schoolers. As I wrestled with whether or not I would accept the invitation I read chapter 12 in Not a Fan. The chapter talks about a man who tells Jesus he will follow him anywhere. When Jesus replies and tells the man he is basically homeless, will he follow him there, you can imagine the man backpeddling. Look at what Kyle Idleman says...

The man says, “I will follow you wherever.” And Jesus points to a place that will be a threat to this man’s comfort and security and asks, “What about there?” We’re left with the impression that this wannabe follower quickly rescinded his offer. “Did I say ‘Wherever?’ This was meant to be more of a poetic expression. Figuratively speaking, I will follow you, ‘Wherever.’
Like this man we may be quick to say to Jesus, "I will follow you wherever…" but let’s move it from the general to the more specific. Where is the one place you will find it most difficult to follow Jesus? If you said to Jesus "Wherever," where do you think is the one place he would point to and say, "What about there?"
Wherever? What about in your own home? There is the tendency to carry a cross and follow Jesus, but before we walk in the door of our own home, we leave the cross on the front porch.
Instead of submitting, you stand up for your rights. Instead of serving, you sit around.
Instead of being patient, you are demanding. Instead of being encouraging, you are constantly critical.
Instead of being a spiritual leader, you are passive and apathetic in your own home. So what about there?
Wherever? What about at school? At around 8am during the week, you’ll find many fans getting out of their cars or off the bus, saying to Jesus, "You wait here. I’ll be back to get you around three.” When they clock in to school they clock out of following.
You justify greed by calling it a necessity.
You rationalize dishonesty by calling it a way to raise your GPA.
You stay quiet about your faith at school and call it being tolerant.

I put down the book slowly. Got it God. I’m supposed to do this.

God went on to use it in a way more powerful than I could have imagined. I know of at least one high schooler who God touched that day. 

This is not about me, though. This is completely about God and what God can do. What will he do with your faithfulness to him? What will he do when you go outside of your comfort zone for him? What will he do when you decide to live for him, go all in for him, instead of holding part of yourself back? Claim Micah 7:7 boldly and with confidence. "But me, I'm not giving up. I'm sticking around to see what God will do. I'm waiting for God to make things right. I'm counting on God to listen to me."

Monday, February 25, 2013

Which Road Will You Take: Easy Street or Following Jesus?

So often, life presents two roads to take. We bump up against decisions that we make on impulse, not thinking about the long term. Not thinking about where that one turn will lead us. We take the easy way out of a situation, only to later realize it led us down a bad path, and eventually we find ourself at a dead end. Consider Paul's words to us in Philippians 3:12-21.

I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.
So let’s keep focused on that goal, those of us who want everything God has for us. If any of you have something else in mind, something less than total commitment, God will clear your blurred vision—you’ll see it yet! Now that we’re on the right track, let’s stay on it.
Stick with me, friends. Keep track of those you see running this same course, headed for this same goal. There are many out there taking other paths, choosing other goals, and trying to get you to go along with them. I’ve warned you of them many times; sadly, I’m having to do it again. All they want is easy street. They hate Christ’s Cross. But easy street is a dead-end street. Those who live there make their bellies their gods; belches are their praise; all they can think of is their appetites.
But there’s far more to life for us. We’re citizens of high heaven! We’re waiting the arrival of the Savior, the Master, Jesus Christ, who will transform our earthy bodies into glorious bodies like his own. He’ll make us beautiful and whole with the same powerful skill by which he is putting everything as it should be, under and around him.

Easy street is a dead end street. Two Sundays ago we watched the film: Beware of Christians. The documentary followed four college Christians around Europe as they worked through seven topics relative to life and faith. In a lot of the situations, easy street was portrayed. We saw how readily available it is to go down an easy road. They talked about sex and relationships. How the easy street would be to go further physically with the person you're dating. To date around more. To just have fun with casual dating and hook-ups. But then they talked about the men they look up to the most. Those in a healthy marriage and they considered the advice from those older men. Not one of them has ever said he wished he went further with a previous girlfriend, or that he wished he had dated more. Instead, the look back on those moments regretfully or they tell of how thankful they are that they waited to have sex until they were married. Because you see, easy street is just that. It's the easier path to take in the moment. But easy street always leads to a dead end. But the road the follows Jesus leads to life. It might mean making sacrifices in the moment, denying our selfish desires and motives, but in the long run it means eternal fulfillment if it's what Christ has called us to in our life.

I've been reading through Kyle Idlman's book: Not a Fan. The book distinguishes fans of Jesus from followers of Jesus. Here's a quick excerpt from the first chapter that really helps identify the difference.

It may seem that there are many followers of Jesus, but if they were honestly to define the relatinoship they have with him I am not sure it would be accurate to describe them as followers. It seems to me that there is a more suitable word to descrie them. They are not followers of Jesus. They are fans of Jesus.
Here is the most basic definition of fan in the dictionary:
"An enthusiastic admirer."
It's the guy who goes to the football game with no shirt and a painted chest. He sits in the stands and cheers for his team. He's got a signed jersey hanging on his wall at home and multiple bumper stickers on the back of his car. But he's never in the game. He never breaks a sweat or takes a hard hit in the open field. He knows all about the players and can rattle off their latest stats, but he doesn't know the players. He yells and cheers, but nothing is really required of him. There is no sacrifice he has to make. And the truth is, as excited as he seems, if the team he's cheering for starts to let him down and has a few off seasons you can expect him to jump off the fan wagon and begin cheering for some other team. He is an enthusiastic admirer.
And I think Jesus has a lot of fans these days. Fans who cheer for him when practice is rewarded with wins but who walk away when life is hard and they never seem to get the "W." Fans who sit safely in the stands cheering, but they know nothing of the sacrifice and pain of the field. Fans of Jesus who know all about him, but they don't know him.
But Jesus was never interested in having fans. When he defines what kind of relationship he wants, "Enthusiastic Admirer" isn't an option...The biggest threat to the church today is fans who call themselves Christians but aren't actually intersted in following Christ. They want to be close enough to Jesus to get all the benefits, but not so close that it requires anything from them.

So my friends, fan or follower? It's clear that being a fan would be to take easy street. Philippians 3 talks about people who have anything less than total commitment to Jesus. But what about Jesus's commitment to us? He went all it. Jesus gave his everything - he gave his life - he looked at us and without hesitation said, "I'm all in." So now it's time for us to respond to him. And in a sense we too are called to die. To die to our selfish ways and worldly desires. To turn away from living for ourselves and start living for Jesus. To be able to say, "I'm not a fan; I'm a follower of Jesus."

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Beware of Christians

"The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and walk out the door and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable." - Brennan Manning

Michael Allen, Will Bakke, Alex Carroll, and Matt Owen flesh this quote out in their documentary film Beware of Christians. Four hilarious, fun, and cute college guys leave their comfortable American lives for a summer traveling throughout Europe in a quest to leave behind their Christian stereotypes and discover what it truly looks like to follow Jesus. They cover seven topics especially relevant to high school and college ages: identity, materialism, sex/relationships, wealth/poverty, church, media/entertainment, and alcohol.

On Sunday night, high school HUB gathered together to watch this film. The next day a freshman girl told me, "I seriously wish all my friends would watch it. Because maybe they would see it and stop living the way the are currently living and instead live for Jesus."

I love watching four normal guys who I would love to befriend wrestling through scripture and trying to figure out what it means to live for Christ instead of living for the world. For example, in their segment on alcohol, they highlight how alcohol will be the greatest idol for college students. They then go on to stress that Christians were called to be different and to live differently.

I am grateful for four guys my age-ish who are seeking to grow in grace and truth. My prayer is that through their testimony and journey, others will surrender to a wonderful Savior.

Go watch it on Netflix. It's 90 minutes, and worth a viewing. It will get you thinking and might just even challenge the way you live. Who knows, maybe you will be transformed into the person you were created to be?

Here's the website too: