Chasing your Lions

Here is an article I wrote for the local newspaper here in Asheboro, NC. You can find it over the next couple of days in the pastor’s column at http://courier-tribune.com/faith-worship.

 

I know I’m a little different, that is ok. One of the unusual things I personally do is at Christmas my attention moves to the cross and at Easter, you guessed it, my attention goes back to that first Christmas with the Christ child wrapped in swaddling clothes. Luke 2:8-11 states of the birth of Christ, “In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.’”

In this passage we are introduced to some shepherds and we have an angel who delivers a message that will forever change the course of humanity. When these shepherds saw this angel we are told that they were “terribly frightened”. Yet what I want us to notice is this simple message from the angel, “Do not be afraid.” I wonder how many of us are buffeted by fear? How many opportunities do we let slip by because of fear? Your fear may be that conversation you know you really need to have, yet your fear keeps you from engaging in that conversation. Your fear could be a situation or some type of circumstance that you see as your Goliath that is too big or impossible to overcome. In the end your fear keeps you from being a lion chaser, a conqueror, a giant slayer.

Some time ago I came across a manifesto of sorts from Mark Batterson in his book In the Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day. In this manifesto he states, “Quit living as if the purpose of life is to arrive safely at death. Set God-sized goals. Pursue God-ordained passions. Go after a dream that is destined to fail without divine intervention. Keep asking questions. Keep making mistakes. Keep seeking God. Stop pointing out problems and become part of the solution. Stop repeating the past and start creating the future. Stop playing it safe and start taking risks. Expand your horizons. Accumulate experiences. Enjoy the journey. Find every excuse you can to celebrate everything you can. Live like today is the first day and last day of your life. Don’t let what’s wrong with you keep you from worshiping what’s right with God. Burn sinful bridges. Blaze new trails. Worry less about what people think and more about what God thinks. Don’t try to be who you’re not. Be yourself. Laugh at yourself. Don’t let fear dictate your decisions. Take a flying leap of faith. Chase the lion!”

Paul tells us this same truth in 2 Timothy 1:7, “For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.” We can enjoy the journey of life, we can set God-sized goals, we can blaze new trails. We can take that leap of faith because we have been given power and love and boldness, not fear. My friends, we are not called to fear and worry, but we are called to be lion chasers, conquerors, and giant slayers.

You ask, how do we overcome our fear? First, you overcome your fear through prayer. I truly believe that everything should begin and end on our knees in prayer. You need to seek the source of your strength, to give you boldness to overcome. Second, you need to trust in our Heavenly Father, because He wants the best for you. There is an insurance company that has the slogan, “You’re in good hands.” When it comes to your Heavenly Father, you are truly in good hands. Third, there comes a point where you have to take that step of faith. It may be uncomfortable, yet you have to make a move.

The question remains, what lion or giant is God calling you to chase?

Faith that Needs CPR: Part 1

I have been wondering what does a faith that is alive look like? To put it another way, what does a life that is radically connected to and worshiping King Jesus look like? As I have thought, the solution is simple, a life that is radically worshiping and connected to King Jesus is a faith that is action producing. In fact I would say that a life that is radically transformed by Christ must be action producing. Here is what I have discovered:

Faith + the outpouring of works because of faith = a living and vibrant faith

Faith – no outpouring of works = a dead faith, a faith that needs CPR

Now please hear me, I am not saying that one can be saved through simply being a good person or doing enough good things (works-based salvation). Ephesians 2:8-10 (NASB) clearly says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” What I’m saying is that the natural result of our faith in Jesus is godly works or actions.

Over the next 3 post I will give three reasons that our faith in Jesus must be exemplified with actions.

What do you think? Is this discovery true or untrue? What stories have you seen whether good or bad when it comes to this issue?

Listening with Care

I am a task oriented and goal setting person in life and in work. I hate down time. I hate being overly early to meetings, as I could have gotten that ‘one more thing done’. My life operates by moving from one task to the next. To be honest, in my conversations I am more of a person of “give me the facts” or “give me the information I need and let’s move on”. This is both good and bad.

It is good in that I’m able to accomplish the things I need to accomplish. It is good because it keeps me motivated and moving. It is good…

Yet it is bad, you see because I am so task oriented, I can inadvertently come across as cold and uncaring. Cold and uncaring is not me, but because I’m constantly moving from one task to the next it is difficult for me to slow down, much less stop, and truly listen to others. This is a lesson I’m constantly having to learn and relearn and relearn again. This is a lesson I am and have struggled to perfect. This is a lesson that affects so much of life. It affects my marriage relationship with my wife. It affects my relationship with my children. It affects my relationship with my friends. It affects my ability to lead.

When it comes to leadership, the lesson I’m learning is leading is as much about relationship with those you lead as it is about accomplishing the goal. It is and must be a both/and. It is foolish to try to accomplish a goal through leadership without investing in the relationships with those you lead. For me and maybe for you, this all comes down to truly listening. To stopping and truly hearing someone out.

Here are the questions I working through now and maybe questions for you to work through as well.

  1. Am I making the people I have relationships with and those I lead feel valued and important?
  2. Am I creating enough margin in my day to slow down and truly listen? For me without this margin, I simply race from one task to the next with little time in between.
  3. Am I truly listening before I think of responses?

Depression, Suicide, and Hope

With the recent death of Robin Williams, depression and suicide have come to the forefront of many peoples minds. According to the CDC there were 39,518 suicides in 2011. Put in another way there was a suicide every 13 minutes. When it comes to depression the NIH reports an estimated 16 million adults aged 18 or older in the U.S. had at least one major depressive episode in 2012. This represents nearly 7 percent of all U.S. adults. 

The point of this post isn’t to give all the in’s and out’s of depression and suicide: causes, symptoms, and the like. It is not my purpose at this point to enter the debate on the brain chemistry of serotonin, hereditary issues, or environmental issues. The point of this post is multifold.

First, depression and suicide is real. To pretend it isn’t real and it doesn’t affect loved ones is foolish and dangerous. To stick our heads in the sand doesn’t make depression disappear. I want to encourage you to be able to identify it and understand it. Here is a link that you may find helpful.

Second, take a few moments an tell someone you care, especially someone you may know who is struggling. Maybe this touch of encouragement comes in the form of a phone call, a text message, an email, an old school note in the mail, or even better yet a pat on the back. Whatever form it may be tell them you care, be that smiling face, be that caring touch, and be that word of encouragement.

Third, overcoming depression takes more than just taking a “happy pill”. Overcoming depression can be helped through anti-depressive medications, yet depression must ultimately be overcome through talking and counseling. To try to overcome depressing simply with “happy pills” is like trying to bandage a gun shot. The bandage may help temporarily, but the bandage isn’t going to solve a gun shot. Someone must go in and remove the bullet particles and repair the damage.  Find someone that can help, like a competent pastor or a christian counselor.

Fourth, lean on Christ. He is the source of hope, He is the source of love, and He is the source of encouragement. Apart from Him there is no ultimate source of hope or love or encouragement. Psalms 31:24 states, “Be strong and let your heart take courage, all you who hope in the Lord.”

Bountiful Blessing: Part 1

This past week I found myself feeling awful. I had no energy to do nothing but rest. The unfortunate thing about feeling bad this week is I didn’t want to give it to my wife or son and hence I had to keep my distance and they keep their distance from me. I started to get the feeling like I had cooties or the plague. Yet when I felt better and more like myself I was able to go back to normal activities and be around my family. What a blessing it was to be able to sleep in the bed with my wife instead of a couch. What a blessing it was to be able to eat dinner with my wife instead of not being able to eat at all. What a blessing it was to be able to pick up my son and play with him.

When I returned from being sick, I was able to return to the joys and blessings of life. The same it true with the Lord. We hear the statement that the grass is greener on the other side of the fence, sadly when we get to the other side we find that we were sadly mistaken. There are times when we are living in and walking with the Lord when for one reason or another we become distracted and we begin to think that the grass is greener on the other side. So we wonder away from the Lord, chasing the greener grass. If we are fortunate we quickly find out that it really isn’t greener, yet oftentimes we keep chasing moving further and further away from the Lord.

Here is the promise I want to give to you this morning. When we return to the Lord we will enjoy His blessings. As you sit here this morning you may say, “Pastor Keith, I am walking with the Lord and I haven’t wondered away. How does this apply?”

The reality is there are people whose lives we intersect all the time who have wondered away from the Lord. It may be you spouse or a child. It may be a neighbor or a co-worker. Whoever it is I want to encourage you to share with them that there are blessing when we return to the Lord.

In Hosea 14 we see several blessings when we return to the Lord.

In verse 4 we see that you will receive healing.

The first part of verse 4 where it says, “I will heal their apostasy.”

What this means is that as we have wondered and strayed from the Lord, He will heal us of those wounds, He will heal us of that spiritual blindness.  Let’s talk about both of these for a moment.

Maybe in your life you fell in to some sort of habitual sin that you would do over and over and over. Maybe it was a propensity to tell lies. You found yourself telling a lie and then you had to tell another lie to cover that lie and another lie to cover that lie. Before you knew it, you were caught in web of lies. Maybe you found yourself abusing and overusing alcohol or other medicines or drugs. Maybe it started when something horribly wrong happened in your life and you were trying to find an escape. Now you find yourself living for that escape.  Maybe you found yourself in the trap of pornography. It started off with one picture, but now it is all consuming and you think about it all the time. With easy access of movies, magazines, and the internet this is an easy trap to fall into, and a trap that will easily bury you. Maybe you found yourself in an intimate relationship with someone other than your spouse. It started off with a harmless conversation, yet either quickly or slowly turned into something far different.

We are not told that the ramifications of habitual sins to our relationships and our physical life are erased, yet it is only through the Lord can you find healing, forgiveness, and ability to move on with life.

Also with the Lord’s healing, we have the healing of spiritual blindness. Spiritual blindness happens when we wonder away from the Lord  and blinders are put on. We walk in darkness and die in darkness. We start rationalizing the things that we do and the things we say. We start putting ourselves in positions we otherwise know we shouldn’t be in. We start being influenced by people we know shouldn’t influence us. The truth is oftentimes we don’t even realize it, because we have become spiritually blinded. Yet it is the Lord as we return to Him, He removes these spiritual blinders, He heals you, and He helps you to see the light.

When we return to the Lord we receive the blessing of healing.

The Grammy’s and Living in a Fallen World: Part 3

All day today I have been dragging, something has been off. I suspect it is all because of a ball game. You see I’m a big Duke fan and well the men’s basketball team just didn’t play up to Duke standards and to be frank just didn’t play like they really wanted the win last night for the UNC game. All day today I have been just off key. Yet, one thing I know with the UNC win over Duke last night, we live in a broken and fallen world (well maybe that is a stretch, but it makes me feel better about life). Either way all we have to do is watch the news or simply look around and know that we live in a fallen world that is far from the Lord.

A weeks ago we began the series on how we can respond to this fallen world. The first post we discussed the great need for us as believers to stay engaged with the world around us. It would be easy for us to look around and say we don’t want any part it, yet the Bible tells us that we are ambassadors (2 Cor 5:20) for Christ and that as we are living and going that we should make disciples from new believers to maturing believers (Matt 28:19-20).

The second post we discussed that we as believers must live and stand by conviction. Our faith isn’t some sort of suggestion but our lives are to become more Christ-like in our words, actions, attitudes, and in our thoughts. When the Bible says that one thing and the world around us says something else what will we do? How will we live? Will we do what is easy and compromise or will we do what is oftentimes difficult and live by our convictions?

In this third post we are going to discuss that as a believer you must know that when you live by conviction, you will feel increasingly less comfortable. What creates this discomfort?  I believe the key to this discomfort that we see the two world: the world we live in and the world of eternal life seeing the Lord face to face. If you have been in the church very long you have probably heard the slogan “In the world, but not of the world.” This is a true statement, with just one revision. The Bible puts it like this in John 17:14-18, “I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.” Clearly from this verse we as believers are not of the world, yet we are sent into the world. Therefore, we are sent into the world, but not of the world. It is this sense and with this growing awareness of the Kingdom that we will grow more and more uncomfortable.

This is especially true in certain circumstances we find ourselves. Maybe you are watching a TV show like this past Grammy Awards show or having a movie go in a direction you didn’t expect. Maybe you find yourself uncomfortable at the office around the water cooler as one co-worker is talking negatively about another, it may be that colorful and course joke, or it may be just the general topic of discussion. As we go through life and as we live more and more by conviction we will find ourselves in situations of discomfort.

What do we do with this discomfort? In many situations we as believers must continue to actively be salt and light. Several weeks ago I was sitting around a table when one person said something that completely went against my convictions. To this is was very quick speak and stand my ground, to be that salt and light.

Yet, there are some situations we must follow Joseph’s example and simply get out. You remember Joseph that young fellow with the special coat, some of us may have learned about him as the coat of many colors. You remember in Genesis 39, Joseph was serving in Potiphar’s house, “One day he went into the house to attend to his duties, and none of the household servants was inside. She (Potiphar’s wife) caught him by his cloak and said, “Come to bed with me!” But he left his cloak in her hand and ran out of the house.” During the Grammy’s Christian singer Natalie Grant, nominated twice, walked out of the show.  You ask what is the situation that you should simply get out? I think there is a few questions that will help us answer this question.

1) Are you in a position to influence the situation? If you are not in a position to influence then get out.

2) Where you at in your walk with Christ? Are you fairly young in the faith or strong and mature in the faith? The less mature you are in your walk the more likely you may find yourself in a situation that you simply need to get out.

3) What is the level of celebration of non-biblical viewpoints? To put this another way, there is no need to knowingly be in a lion’s den. If the celebration of a non-biblical viewpoint is high, then the ability to affectively influence is low.

The reality is that as we live more and more by our convictions the more and more we will be uncomfortable.

 

What is Love?

With today being February 14th and Valentines Day we see heart shaped everything all around us.  Heart shaped biscuits (thanks Bojangles), heart shaped Reeses Peanut Butter candies, and who can forget the heart shaped donuts (thanks for that sugary delight Krispy Kreme). With all that heart shaped goodness it is a wonder that we all don’t have heart problems. Yet, I digress. With today being Valentines day it is natural to think about love. The question is ‘What is Love’?

Is love about being shot with an arrow by some sort of fat winged baby? We say that we are love struck where we have an infatuation with another person. Maybe you find yourself thinking about them all the time or you find your heart races and your palms get sweaty when you get near that particular person. Is this love? This MAY be the infantile beginnings of ‘love’, but can not and must not be classified as love.

Is love about raging emotions and passions? This is the ‘love’ we see in movies and TV shows. This is the ‘love’ of soap operas. This is a ‘love’ that is primarily physical. Yet is this truly love? Is love truly as fleeting as emotions and passions of here one day and gone the next? Is this love? While a romantic love will and must include emotions and passions, emotions and passion in and of themselves is not love. It is not love because love is greater than something fleeting. True love has resiliency. I always makes me sad when I hear a marriage is broken because a member of the couple says, “I feel out of love with ______.” If love is more, if love is greater, and if love has resiliency then raging emotions and passions can not be love. Further, raging emotions and passions can not be love because these raging emotions and passions are self motivated. Yes these emotions and passions are directed at another individual, yet it starts and finishes with what “I want” and what “I need”. It is self-centered not other-centered. True love must be other-centered. In and of it’s self this ‘love’ in reality is simply lust.

What is love? True love grows with the couple. While there will be certain things in love that will remain, true love will grown and shift through the seasons of time. As a pastor who counsels with couples one of the things I run into from time to time is the false expectancy that the feeling of love will remain the same throughout the life of the relationship. Yet in reality that puppy love will shift to a young love, and that love will shift to another level of love. We all wish that we could have 50+ years of marriage where we remained in the honeymoon phase, yet this is simply not the case and to have this expectancy leads to frustration and ultimately failure.

Love focuses on giving not taking. When love becomes self-centered it ceases to be love. Therefore love must be other-centered. If I’m focused on loving my wife and wanting the best for my wife and she is focused on loving me and wanting the best for me, this results in a happy, successful and fulfilling marriage. When my wife is focused on me, while I am focused on my wants, this will lead to things going awry and unfulfilling. That is one of the funny things about love and marriage: when each is focused on giving more, then each will receive more than they otherwise would have.

Love is that couple who has been married for 50 years holding hands in the park. Love is that spouse pushing the other in a wheel chair as they stay true even in the face of age or illness. Love is holding your loved ones hand as they breath their last. Love is working together as a couple even in the face of adversity: loss of job, a move, a poor financial decision, or a poor personal decision. Love is seeing your bride for the first time as they open the doors for them to walk down the aisle. Love is turning off the TV, putting down the phone, and grabbing those few minutes after the kids are in bed to talk about the day.  Love is that engagement story, that you have told what seems to be a million times. “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails (1 Cor. 13:4-8a NIV).”

The Grammy’s and Living in a Fallen World: Part 2

This past week in Greenville, NC there were two very unusual and scary armed robberies. One on Monday at a Zaxby’s and the other on Tuesday at a Food Lion. An armed robbery is scary but what made this more scary and unusual was the time: late afternoon or early night. These weren’t robberies that took place late at night but an armed robbery right as patrons were enjoying their meal or as people were stoping by the grocery store after work to grab a few items for dinner. One only has to look around to know that we live in a fallen world, and a world I would say is moving further away from the Lord or to be more intellectual, moving further away from our Judeo-Christian roots.

While we live in a fallen world that is filled with all kinds of evil, we must confront a question: How do we as Christians respond? How do we as Christians respond in a manner that will allow us to be salt and light in the world and culture in which live?

Last week we said that we must first respond by not giving up on those far from the Lord. It is easy to give up on the world and say the world is lost and without hope, yet we as believers must stay engaged. We must be salt and light!

The second way we are to respond is we must live and stand by conviction. Our faith some sort of suggestion but our lives are to become more Christ-like in our words, actions, attitudes, and in our thoughts. When the Bible says that one thing and the world around us says something else what will we do? How will we live? Will we do what is easy and compromise or will we do what is oftentimes difficult and live by our convictions? When there is conflict between the Bible and the world will we become ‘undercover’ Christians, who are so ‘undercover’ that no one can tell the difference between how you live as a Christian and how a non-believer lives? As a side note and sadly, when one looks at recent studies that compare a Christians thoughts and lifestyle and a non-believers thoughts and lifestyle, there is little difference. Sadly, too many of us as believers have already decided to live as ‘undercover’ Christians.

1 Corintians 16:13 tells us, “Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong (NASB)(emphasis mine).” In like manner Galatians 5:1 tells us, “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery (emphasis mine).” This standing firm is to be firmly rooted, to be firmly established, and to stand your ground no matter what.

So here are my questions for you:

1) What are your convictions? How do they line up with the Bible?

2) Are you living and standing by those convictions or do you easily compromise? If find that you easily compromise, why?

3) Do those around you see you as a person who stands and lives by your convictions?

The Grammy’s and Living in a Fallen World

Just this past Sunday the Grammy Awards were on. It was a show shown on Prime Time on CBS that was appalling, shocking, irreverent, and flabbergasting. When you think that we have reached the bottom of how far our culture can go, it sinks even further. The show started with a couple singing a song that leaves little to the imagination of what goes on in their bedroom. Then the show turned to Katy Perry who’s performance has the secular media describing as a Satanic Ritual and witchcraft. After this the performance of a song entitled, “Up All Night to ‘Get Lucky’”. If this wasn’t enough, the church-like mockery that was overseen by Queen Latifah was a wedding of 34 same-sex and mixed-sex couples who tied the knot on what’s supposed to be a music awards show intermixed with the song “Same Love”. 34 same-sex and mixed-sex to show there is no difference between the two. 

We don’t have to look at the Grammy’s we can just look around us. Broken marriages, broken families, and broken lives. We watch the news or talk to friends and hear of shootings, robberies, drug and alcohol abuse, and the the list can go on and on.

There is no doubt that we live in a fallen world that is filled with all kinds of evil. Yet the question is how do we as Christians respond. We are called to be salt and light in the world (Matt. 5:13-14) so the option to stick our heads in the sand is not an option, nor is choosing to wag our finger an option. We as Christians must respond in a manner that will allow us to be salt and light.

First, we must respond by not giving up on those far from the Lord. It is easy to look at their life and lifestyle and say we don’t want any part of it. Yet we as believers must resist this notion. We must stay engaged with the world around us. The Bible tells us that we are ambassadors (2 Cor 5:20) for Christ and that as we are living and going that we should make disciples from new believers to maturing believers (Matt 28:19-20). I am overjoyed that the Lord did not give up on you or me, therefore how much more should we be zealous to stay engaged in the world around us? How do we stay engaged?

1) We must keep praying for our family, relatives, friends, and neighbors that are not believers.

2) We must keep ministering to those who are not believers. By ministering I mean showing the love of Christ in real and tangible ways.

3) We must keep tell our family, relatives, friends, and neighbors who are not believers the boundless love and forgiveness of Christ.

4) We must stay in the public square. We may be ridiculed and there may be an attempt to keep us as believers out of the public square, yet even through this we must stay in the public square.

In the next few weeks we will be continuing this discussion. In the mean time what do you think? Should we as believers stay engaged in the world around us?

Community

 

I love to “People Watch”. It is an experiment of observation for me. A way to see people and watch their behaviors, their demeanors, and their reactions. I’ve noticed several things, one is people love relationships with other people or to put it another way people love to be in community. People love to talk and spend time with others. They love to meet and spend time around a lunch table or for a coffee. They love to spend time in community.

I catch people sitting alone at a table and their whole demeanor is unremarkable, if not a little downcast, yet when they see someone they recognize or their friend arrives for lunch their whole demeanor changes. You can see they lift their head higher, their shoulders become more open, their feet become more active, there appears a smile on their face, and their attitude become more bubbly.

Think about it this way with all the different social medias such as Facebook or how people are constantly checking, talking, and typing away at their iPhones. Relationships. Community.

I don’t think the need or the desire for these relationships/community with others can be over stated. We as human beings are relational. It doesn’t matter the time or the place or the circumstances, people are relational and love to be in relationship.

What about community in the church? We talk about community in the church often, we see articles and books written about community in the church, yet for some reason so often we miss the boat. Making this sad and shocking is that the church should be a natural place for community not Starbucks or the local diner. I’m not saying that community or those relationships have to always be in the church, but that the church should be the significant place where people connect. It is from these relationships or these connections that people encourage, challenge, and support one another. Where is the down fall for churches? Obviously, intentionality has to be mentioned. The church and church leaders must be intentional about setting up environments where people connect and those relationship are established. I believe also that the church has focused too much on perfection in programs or polish in the services or pious professionalism in it’s leaders. People are looking for the real. Real problems and real people. A place where leaders and the people are willing to admit they don’t have it all together. A place where people can be flawed.

People are looking for community and as the church we must position ourselves to be the place where community happens and where community starts.