Spiritual Transitions

Life is full of transitions. I am constantly reminded of this truth. I am reminded of transitions with my two young boys, 4 and 2 years of age. I look at my 4 year old and remember as if it was yesterday that I was feeding him a bottle or rocking him to sleep at night or hunting for that ever elusive pacifier. I have most recently been reminded of this truth with my 2 year old beginning the process of potty training. This process and transition called potty training is…well we will call it “interesting”. It has gone far better than I anticipated, yet we have still had several “clean up on aisle 3” situations. It is hard to believe that for the last 4 1/2 years we have had diapers of various sizes in the Hudson household, yet in the not to distant future we will be diaper free. As I imagine being diaper free and the reduction of an expenditure I have been wondering what I can do with that money. Unfortunately, my wife has been quick to tell me she already has her ideas of what to do with that money. I am left with the old adage, “Happy wife, happy life.” Life is truly full of transitions. One page in the book of life leads to another page and one chapter leads to another.

As I have thought about transitions I have also been thinking of transitions in life when it comes to our spiritual life. The reality is we are suppose to grow and mature in our faith journey. With this growth and maturity comes transitions. Transitions in our attitudes, transitions in our actions, transitions in our decisions, and transitions in our lifestyle.

The Bible tells us in Romans 12:1-2, “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect (NASB, emphasis mine).” We are to be transformed from one thing to another thing. More specifically we are to be transformed from who we were before we believed in Jesus, to our new identity in Christ.

The Bible also tells us in 2 Corinthians 3:17-18, “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit (NASB, emphasis mine).”

Here is the reality, sometimes these transitions can be easy and sometimes these transitions can be difficult. Sometimes these transitions are comfortable and sometimes these transitions push us out of our comfort zones. While, we may or may not like these transitions they are essential to us progressing in our faith journey with Jesus.

My friends, in this journey of faith, we are to make these transitions toward becoming more and more Christlike. Further, these transitions will be progressive throughout our life. You may hear some call this ‘progressive sanctification’, this is a big word for becoming more like Christ. Sometimes we will make these transitions toward Christlikeness easily and sometimes we will make these transitions toward Christlikeness with consistent and constant stumbles and falls. There is no secret sauce in making these transitions, but if there is a secret sauce, here it is: keep walking; put Jesus in the rightful place in your life, the throne of your heart; when you stumble and fall get back up, even when you feel like giving up; and get plugged into a church and a small group where you can be encouraged, loved on, held accountable, and where you can serve others.

Here are my questions for you:

1- What spiritual transitions are you going through now? How is the Lord trying to mold and shape you in this spiritual transition?

2- What areas in your life are you resisting transitions? Why are you resisting transitions in these areas?

Christmas is for Everyone

The Christmas season is over; the ornaments, garland, and lights have been packed up for another year. While this is the case there is one thing that keeps coming to mind over the past month about the Christmas story.

In the Christmas story of course we have Mary and Jospeh, we have the angels, yet we also have the shepherds and if you include the extended version of the Christmas story the wise men (magi) show up sometime before the Christ child celebrated His 2nd birthday (Matthew 2:16). Let’s talk about these wisemen and the shepherds for a moment.

When we think of the shepherds, at least I think of the cute little kid in the church nativity play where he comes in dressed in a bathrobe, some sort of head dress, with a little shepherds crook. These plays depict the shepherds as innocent and honest. These plays also depict the shepherds as part of cultural society. This is far from reality. Shepherds were considered social outcast. They were dirty and dingy from spending so much time in the fields with the flock, they were rude and crude, and they were considered dishonest thieves if given a partial opportunity. This is not exactly the picture we get from the church Christmas play.

The wisemen and shepherd come from completely different backgrounds. One could easily say they come from the two ends of the spectrum of society. They are polar opposites of one another and couldn’t have been anymore different. Yet they are both part of the wonderful Christmas story. We see both have their special place in Scripture.

The invitation to be part of this story wasn’t delivered by mistake. The story is very intentional in who filled the verses so there is no accident in this story. With this being the case what does it mean for these two really different groups to be part of the same story?

You see the reality is Christmas is for everyone! More to the point the Christ child is for everyone! Some would have the misgivings that Christ was for a particular group or groups and NOT for a particular group or groups. This is simply not the case. Christ came for those that could barely make ends meet financially and for those that could give extravagant gifts like gold, frankincense, and myrrh (Matthew 2:11). Christ came for those that were part of the fabric of society and culture, and He came for those that are on the edges of society and culture. Jesus came for all and is for all.

It reminds me of the children’s song that says, “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world. Red, brown, yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.”

My friend, what an amazing truth that Jesus came for all and is for all. More to the point, Jesus came for you and is for you. It doesn’t matter your socioeconomic status or your position in society or how people may look at you, Jesus came for you and is for you.

No matter who you are or where you are, Jesus came that first Christmas day as the greatest Christmas gift ever. The ever popular John 3:16 tells us, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (NIV, emphasis mine).”

 

 

Too Great to Forgive???

“The things I have done are too big and too bad to be forgiven.” Sadly, I hear this statement or a rendition of this statement often enough that it doesn’t catch me off guard as I talk to people about Jesus. Sometimes when people say this they are referring to the totality of the actions in their life, yet what I find more often than not is that they are referring to a particular decision and actions. I have accepted and seen that in the human heart is the potential for good, yet I have also accepted and seen in the human heart a depravity at the deepest levels. It is because of this depravity, that statements like the one above while they break my heart, they do not surprise me. In all honesty and with a broken heart, it doesn’t take much time to see the brokenness and the depravity of humanity.

The question is what do you do if you personally have a question like “my sin is too big and too bad to be forgiven” and how do we respond to statements like this? In no particular order, let me give you some suggestions that I have learned.

Listen with Grace
When you truly open yourself up and listen to people and if you listen to enough people you will hear things that will surprise, shock, and things you had never imagined. When you hear things such as this, you must respond with grace and compassion. I realize this may go against an initial response, yet as we read the Bible Jesus repeatedly responded with grace and compassion.

There are a few realities that we must recognize. First, the person you are listening to is already crushed, broken, and they are at that moment freely admitting that the decision and actions that were taken are bad and awful. Second, it is not our job to pile on with finger waging. As believers, our job is to be a representative of Christ to those around us; to share the wonderful news of Jesus, His love and forgiveness; and to recognize with grace and truth the seriousness of sin. Third, as soon as you give a hint of finger waging, the person will shut down and the wonderful news of Jesus will be shut out.

Recognize and Affirm a Sin is a Sin is a Sin
We as people consistently want to put things on a scale from great and excellent things to terrible and awful things. We do the same thing with the sins that are committed as we arrange them on a sliding scale. Some sins we say are awful and terrible, some sins are bad, and some sins we put in the category of ‘no harm, no foul.’ We can also see this with the distinction we have with lies: white lies and black lies.

We can make a distinction and categorize on a scale the different chili recipes or sports teams, yet the reality is there is no distinctions when it comes to sin. The saying is, ‘A sin is a sin is a sin’, it doesn’t matter where on the scale of awful to not too terrible we place a particular sin. The Bible tells us in the first part of Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death (NASB).” I want you to notice with me it doesn’t say that what we deserve for a particular sin or category of sins is separation from the Lord. It says that the thing we deserve because we commit sin is separation.

When we say that we have committed a sin too bad to be forgiven, we have erred in attempting to put sins in categories. The simple truth is all sin is serious, and the solution for sin is the same- Jesus.

Know the Cross is Sufficient
When we believe that our sin is too big and bad to be forgiven, whether we realize it or not, we are saying that our sin is greater than the crucifixion of Christ or that our sin is greater than His ability to forgive. Colossians 2:13-14 tells us, “When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross (emphasis mine; NASB).”

My friends, many of you are in this position of believing that your sin is too great to be forgiven. I want to tell you that the cross of Christ is sufficient to forgive all your sins. The hurdle isn’t if Jesus ‘can’ forgive you and make you whole because He freely offers that wholeness and forgiveness. The hurdle is if you are willing to ask and believe.

Celebrate that His Grace is Enough
The last thing I want to encourage you toward as you realize the love and the forgiveness of Christ, is to celebrate. We are celebrating for a reason and that reason is the wonderful grace of Jesus. My friends that wonderful grace is amazing and more than enough. Through Jesus our sins are forgiven, we are made whole, the joy that comes through abundant life, and we have the hope of heaven. Let us celebrate!

Change????

Change is hard…. So hard that oftentimes we would rather suffer through physical or emotional pain than change. Yet change is essential to life. As adults we no longer live with our parents, we no longer think as a child, we no longer dress as a child, and we no longer act as a child. To refuse change and to continue thinking or dressing or acting as a child would be seen as a problem and that there is something wrong. It is this paradox of dreading change and knowing change is essential to life that keeps us in limbo.

Here is the question, while change is essential to life, is there somethings that shouldn’t change?

There are several things that comes to mind that doesn’t change. First, Biblical truth doesn’t change. Some may say that it is an outdated archaic book that isn’t relevant to modern life, yet I say it is just as relevant today and tomorrow as it was 20 years ago or even 2000 years ago. Another thing that doesn’t change is Christ love for you. So often we think that if we do the right thing and don’t mess us then Jesus will love me, yet if I mess up then that love is reduced or even removed. The simple truth is that Jesus loves you warts and all.

Are there things that should change? Let me give you several things that should change:
1) Your love for your spouse will change over the course of time. So many newly weds go into marriage thinking that the ‘butterflies’ and the ‘honeymoon’ period will last forever, yet when it changes they think something is wrong and that they have ‘fallen out of love’. The reality is that the love between husband and wife evolves over time and as the phases of life shift. To love your spouse is a daily and active decision.
2) The methods you use to accomplish the task of life. Technology changes, your knowledge and experience increases, and your skill level changes. As these things change the way that you accomplish task changes.
3) Eating and exercise habits change. As we age we have to be more conscientious of our diet and our physical activity. Those sweets that didn’t bother us as children, teens and young adults, now become a significant concern with weight and our general health. Our exercise routine has become more intentional and the level of intensity changes as we age.
4) The methodology of how we do church must change. The gospel message mustn’t change. We must maintain biblical fidelity, yet the manner in which we accomplish the mission of making disciples must change to remain effective in the culture around us. I’m not saying that we must be like the culture around us, yet what I’m saying is that we must position ourselves to effectively reach the culture around us.

I’ve heard it said that as a church we are perfectly designed to get the results that we are getting. My friends, as I look at the world around me and as I look at the effectiveness of the church, what I see is worse than incredibly discouraging.

Change is hard. Change is uncomfortable. Yet in so many things in life, change is essential. It is incredibly unwise to change for change sake, yet wise change positions oneself, the church, or the organization to make the leap toward greater effectiveness.

Strengthen the Family, Church, and Association

I had the opportunity a couple of weeks ago (April 10-13) of attending a conference and while much of the information didn’t come as much of a surprise to me, it did stick with me and solidified a few ideological convictions that I have. One ideological conviction that was renewed is this, spiritually healthy individuals and families make a spiritually healthy church, spiritually healthy churches make a spiritually healthy association or network of churches. It is the idea of what is the basic building block and for the church the basic building block is the individual and/or the individual family. So here is the question I want you to pray about and think on, how can the church encourage, support, and resource individuals and/or families to be spiritually healthy? Here is the working assumed answer that must be fleshed out:

1) Healthy and Vibrant Sunday School or Small Group Teachers and Sunday School Classes or Small Groups, that not only teaches the foundations and principles of the faith but also shares life together. Within this is also a system of care for both the individual and the family.

2) With healthy and vibrant Sunday School or Small Group Teachers and Sunday School Classes or Small Groups, is a process to recruit, train, and mentor new Sunday School leaders/teachers.

3) A growing foundation of one-on-one or small group discipleship groups (D-Groups). It is foundational for a more mature believer to pour their life into one that is newer in the faith. Let’s be honest the Christian faith is a generational faith, in that it is passed from one generation to the next. This can be seen in an older generation passing the faith to a younger generation, and this can also be seen in a more mature believer pouring their life into the life of one that is not as mature. My emphasis for now is on new believers (believer for 5 years or less). This process of D-Groups is to be one where those who go through the process are also challenged to pour their life into another.

4) A process to train, encourage, support, and resource parents to be the primary spiritual leaders and teachers in their family. The range of parents will be for children from preschool to high school.

What do you think of the general premise? Are there things that you would add or subtract?

Knocked Down Not Knocked Out

They say that there are two things guaranteed in life, taxes and death. While taxes may seem like death, there is a third that isn’t in this saying, struggles and pains. Struggles and pains are sadly a part of this life and there is no getting around this fact.

Sometimes our struggles and pains are financial. We live on a budget, yet there are times that our money is funny as we get further away from our last pay check. Sometimes the struggles and pains are with relationships. Maybe there is a disagreement with a friend that has divided or broken ‘your relationship. There are also times that trust is broken with a family member and you just don’t know if you will be able to trust them again.

Our struggles and pains can be in the form where we just can’t seem to catch a break. Murphy of Murphy’s law becomes your new and unwanted friend, where what can go wrong, does. Sometimes the struggles and pains are physical, with an injury or a painful diagnosis. Sometimes these struggles and pains are with the loss of a loved one. Struggles and pains are sadly a part of this life.

These struggles and pains can cut us deep, knock us down, and at times they can even deliver a knock out blow. My friends, there is no preventing the fact that these struggles and pains do cut us deep, they hurt and the pain stays with us for days or years, and at times a life time. In like manner there is no preventing the fact that these pains and struggles can knock us down with the blows that are either significantly hard or the blow catches us off guard and sends us to the mat, dazed and confused. Yet, these pains and struggles do not have to knock you out. A.A. Milne the creator of Winnie the Pooh once stated, “You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.”

How can you keep these struggles and pains from knocking you out? First, if you are a believer, you have an anchor in Jesus Christ. Psalm 31:2-4 states, “Incline Your ear to me, rescue me quickly; be to me a rock of strength, a stronghold to save me. For You are my rock and my fortress; for Your name’s sake You will lead me and guide me. You will pull me out of the net which they have secretly laid for me, for You are my strength (NASB).” What an amazing passage that gives us the promise that we can hold tightly and confidently to the Lord, as a ship holds tightly and confidently to an anchor in the midst of a storm, as the passage tells us that the Lord is a ‘rock of strength’, ‘a stronghold’, and ‘my fortress’. Not only are we given this truth, but we are given a second truth in this passage, the Lord will lead and guide you through life’s ups and downs.

Second, you need support from loved ones. We were not meant to go through this life alone, so we need others in our life. This is especially true in those times of life’s pains and struggles, where we need those words of encouragement, that shoulder to cry on, and that pat on the back. We simply need those loved ones around us, to help us remember that we are not alone. If you are that loved one, can you be there to be that presence, that word of encouragement, or that pat on the back to remind them that they are not alone?

Third, you need to refocus on your purpose. Each of us has a purpose in our life, yet when we are in the crucible of life it is easy to loose track of that purpose. I am reminded of Elijah after he is threatened by Jezebel in 1 Kings 19. As a result Elijah runs, yet the Lord restores him by refocusing him on his purpose as a prophet.

Simply we get distracted and detoured by pains and struggles. The problem is when we loose our purpose because of a pain, we get lost in the pain. When we get lost in the pain we go down the rabbit hole and the way out is to refocus on our purpose.

My friends, you may find yourself in the midst of pain or struggle, remember to hold on to the Lord as the anchor of your life, that you are not alone, and that you still have a purpose. You may be knocked down, but you are not knocked out.

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.”