You Had Me at Hello

Day One

Jerry Maguire is a classic! I think besides, “Show me the money,” my favorite line is “You had me at hello.” And in the same monologue, he says “You complete me.” And yes, the lines are a little cheesy, but that’s what we remember from movies! And that’s what gets preserved in pop culture. My favorite movies to watch these days are Hallmark movies. My absolute favorite is the Hallmark Christmas movies. We look forward to them every year.

There’s just something about a good love story that keeps people coming back. Even when it’s an action flick, there’s usually always some kind of love interest in the movie. And Hollywood knows that. They know that we all long to see the couple get together and live happily ever after. It’s wired into our DNA as humans. We all long for love. And it’s not just romantic love. We long for relationships. We long to be connected.

And the Mission statement for our church reflects that. We are committed to connecting with God and with people around the table and in the community. That’s what God wants. He wants us to be in a healthy relationship (connected) with Him. And He wants us to be in a healthy relationship (connected) with each other in the church. But He doesn’t stop there. Our entire mission as the church is to go out and help OTHER people get connected with God and with people in the church…There’s only one problem…We’re all broken…We’re selfish…

And our entire American culture is built around thinking about ourselves and our own personal happiness. That is a result of the Fall, which we’ll talk about in the next chapter. But it’s not all doom and gloom. There’s still a LOT of good out there. But in order to restore what’s broken, we need to learn what a healthy relationship looks like. With all the brokenness, it’s hard to know where to start.

But that’s where Genesis Chapter 2 comes in. Last time, we learned about the Creation week in Chapter 1. God created everything in 6 days and rested on the 7th day. And we learned that we (people) are the Crown Jewel of His creation. We learned that we were created in the image of God. We were created to be in charge of God’s creation. But we were also created to have a healthy relationship with God. As His children, created in His image, we have the ability to fellowship with God, to talk to Him. We also reflect His character in a lot of ways.

And in Chapter 2, what we get is a blown-up picture of the creation of man. It’s a supplementary account of the creation of man. It’s like we already took the broad shot of the movie scene and now were shooting the close-up so we can get a good look at what’s going on. So there’s no contradiction. These two chapters are side by side for a reason. He’s finished with the big picture of creation and now He’s narrowing His focus on us. So today’s message is called “You had me at hello.” But before we look at that account in chapter two, I felt the need to share one of God’s deleted scenes from chapter 2. Any good DVD has deleted scenes. Right?

God walked up to Adam one day and said, “Adam, it’s not good that you’re alone. I’m going to create something for you that’s going to blow your socks off! This creature will do everything for you. It will wait on you hand and foot. It will cook and clean for you. It will do all your chores, take care of your kids, and it’ll say whatever you want it to. It will build your spirits up all the time with positive energy and uplifting comments.

 It will never disagree with you. It will literally worship the ground you walk on, kiss your feet, and then apologize for walking on the same ground you walk on. Adam, this is the super deluxe model. I’m calling it Wonder Woman. But…it’s going to cost you.” And with a concerned look Adam replied, “What’s it gonna cost God?” And God said, “It’s gonna cost you an arm and a leg.” After much thought, Adam came back to God and asked, “What can I get for a rib?” (Author Unknown; Hartlaub-ian extras thrown in).

Sorry. That’s one of the few creation jokes I have. I couldn’t resist. We’ll get to the REAL account in just a minute but first we have to summarize the beginning of chapter 2.

These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens. When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up–for the LORD God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground, and a mist was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground (Gen.2:4-6 ESV).

So up to this point there was no rain. And there was no one to work the land. This is actually a foreshadowing of the worldwide flood that’s coming, but that’s still in the future…

then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. And the LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground the LORD God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen.2:7-9 ESV).

So now we don’t just have God creating man. Now we have God personally creating man out of the dust of the earth and breathing into him the breath of life. Plus, He didn’t just throw him on the earth. God custom made this garden as a home, ready to go with food and beauty…

A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and there it divided and became four rivers. The name of the first is the Pishon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold. And the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx stone are there. The name of the second river is the Gihon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Cush. And the name of the third river is the Tigris, which flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates (Gen.2:10-14 ESV).

So the location given here probably meant something to the original readers. We know where the Tigris and Euphrates are. But we have no idea about the other rivers or places named here. Most people assume it’s somewhere in modern day Iraq and/or somewhere close to the Persian Gulf. But we really don’t know. It might’ve been completely destroyed by the flood. It might be covered up by a body of water. But the point here is that God set us up for success. He gave us food, a home, He put us in charge of His creation, and He loves us.

Day Two

1. God gave us boundaries for our benefit not to bully us. 

The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Gen.2:15-17 ESV).

So the first relationship that we need to focus on is our relationship with God. If our mission as the church is to connect with God and with people (and if we want to fulfill the Great Commission of Jesus, which is to make disciples), our first priority HAS to be to have a healthy relationship with God. And what is the recipe for a healthy relationship with God? He gives it to us right here in these three verses. We can’t possibly think that we can make healthy disciples or run a healthy church if we’re not first connected to God in a healthy way. It all starts with Him.

And this first sentence is rich with meaning. The word put, in English, is a word that we would probably ignore. But in the original language, it carries with it the sense of rest, safety, and fellowship with God. God put Adam there for good reason. He put him there for rest, safety, and fellowship. Eve wasn’t created yet. There was no fellowship with people yet. But fellowship with God was the first and foremost priority.

It’s like when you bring an infant home from the hospital. You don’t just put them on the floor or outside on the lawn and say Go get a job. No. You put the baby in the crib where it can sleep, rest, poop and pee in its diaper, cry, and be safe. And the parents keep the baby safe. They sing to him and read to him and hold him, but then they put him back in the crib to rest. And then over time (as they baby grows), he can have more and more freedom as he’s able to do more. And that’s kind of what God was doing here with Adam. Wouldn’t it be amazing to have a one on one with God (live in person)? What if you could ask Him anything you wanted, freely talk with Him, and get an answer (live in person)? Adam could do that. He had a sweet deal!

But God didn’t just PUT Adam in the garden, He gave him stuff to do. His responsibility was to take care of that garden. Adam had to go to work! God has always expected us to work. It’s just that before sin entered the world, work was totally enjoyable. In my case, if I was driving kids to school (in the bus), in the Garden of Eden, all of the kids would obey me. It would be a total joy. And no other cars would hit my bus on the way! I wouldn’t have to write any referrals. For you, no matter where you worked, it would be a joy. There would be no workplace gossip, no struggles, no worrying about paying the bills. It would be a JOY to work. Adam had the best job ever. He had great benefits. No healthcare costs. Money wasn’t an issue.

And working the land was also a joy. There were no weeds. There was no frustration. He didn’t even have to water the garden. God took care of watering the garden. For Adam, working the garden was fun. This past week, I was longing for life in the Garden because there was a stubborn stump I couldn’t get out. The tractor wasn’t helping. The chainsaw wouldn’t cut it because the stem was too far underground. Needless to say, it was NOT a joy to work the land that day! That stupid stump is STILL there. I had to cut it off and bury it under the dirt! But Adam was lucky in the beginning because he didn’t have to deal with that! Work was a joy.

But God did give Adam one rule. He gave Adam a TON of freedom. Adam could do almost anything he wanted. He could eat anything he wanted. But God said that that there’s this one tree, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, that he couldn’t eat from. God said, Just stay away from that one tree and you’ll be fine. But if you eat from it, you’re not going to live forever. You’re eventually going to die. So there was a reason for the rule. God was protecting Adam. Again, it’s like a parent protecting a child. Rules are there for a reason. And they’re actually meant to create a positive result. It’s not to punish us. It’s to protect us.

But what do kids do as soon as we tell them NOT to do something? It’s like the only thing they want to do! As soon as we say they can’t do something, their natural, human response is to want to do what they can’t! That’s all they focus on. And Christians do that too. They focus on the negative. They focus on what they CAN’T do instead of focusing on the incredible FREEDOM that God gives us. It drives me crazy. And it ends up as legalism. Legalism is when we focus so much on what we can’t do that we make up all these rules on what we can’t do. And we make it so clear what we‘re against, that no one knows what we’re FOR. Unfortunately, that leaves a bad taste in people’s mouths when we leave out God’s blessings and His good gifts.

But that wasn’t God’s intention. God gave us boundaries for our benefit not to bully us. He’s not out to get us. He’s not punishing us. He’s protecting us. But there are consequences when we disobey. There are consequences to our actions. When children disobey, the parents have to step in and punish. But it’s for their own good. So the point here is not to focus on the negative. It’s to focus on the positive. Facebook drives me crazy. So many people focus on all the negative stuff (politics, family, and work drama). But my goal is to focus on the positive. I try to post stuff that’s encouraging (except when the Eagles are losing; I do slip up sometimes).

But why did God do that? Why didn’t He just make it all exactly the way He wanted and not allow Adam a choice? People have been asking that question for thousands of years! But part of the answer is because God wanted us to choose love Him. God already loves us. But He wants our love back to be genuine. You can’t have genuine love if the one side has no choice in the matter. That would make us robots. And that was NOT God’s desire. So He gave Adam a choice. He tested him. But we can’t have it both ways. There are consequences to whatever choice we make and whatever choices other people make. God loves us enough to let some people choose to not love Him. Unfortunately, those choices touch all of us in some way (good and bad).

So here’s a recipe for a healthy relationship (connection) with God.

a. Resting in what God provides. Focusing on what we don’t have leads to temptation and running away from God. But if we focus on what He has provided we can relax, enjoy life, and fellowship with God instead of worrying all the time.

b. Serving Him. God didn’t design us all the same. We all have different gifts and personalities. And if we focus on using what He gave us to serve Him and to bring Him glory, our relationship with Him will be healthy. But if we choose selfishness, it leads to a disconnected relationship with God because we’re not living by His design.

c. Being obedient to His will. If He created us, and if He’s our Father (and He is), then He gets to make the rules. But we have to remember it’s for our own good. He’s our Father and He’s looking out for us. So we need to follow and play by His rules. However, the deeper issue is trust. Do we trust God? Do we really believe that He is good (like we talked about last week)? We have to trust that He is good, that He knows best, and that He has a plan. God gave us boundaries for our benefit not to bully us.

Day Three

2. God gave us relationships to complement each other not to compete with each other.

Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” Now out of the ground the LORD God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him (Gen.2:18-20 ESV).

So this could’ve been a bit awkward. I’m picturing the giraffe smiling and winking at Adam. And Adam says, You know, I don’t think it’s gonna work out. You’re up there and I’m down here. How would we kiss and hug? That would just be weird. Or maybe when the skunk came to Adam, he was like, If you spray me every time we have an argument, I’m walking out that door! But seriously, back in chapter one where God was creating, He said that everything He made was good. But in this passage something is NOT good. He says, It is not good that the man should be alone. And there’s a reason for that. We were created as relational creatures. And God is not alone either. It is true that we only have one God. But our God exists as a Tri-Unity (Trinity). He is in perfect relationship with Himself as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But God created us to relate to as well. He wants us to know Him. But He also wants the Crown Jewel of His creation (people) to have a partner to relate to.

And the idea is that man, alone, is incomplete. He’s lacking something. So when God says that He will make a helper for him, that’s what He meant. He meant that the helper (the woman) makes up for what’s lacking in the man. And that’s why that line in Jerry Maguire is not just funny. It’s also profound (You complete me). It’s theologically correct. We need someone to complete us (in marriage). But it also applies to ALL relationships. People need people.

As humans, we weren’t meant to be alone. We are relational creatures. We need friends and family. We can go without the bells and whistles of life. We can go without all the fancy things and newest tech gadgets. But we can’t go without relationships. It’s just as important as food and water. Loneliness is not good. People need people. We need each other. We need to share things with each other and hang out with each other. We need to encourage each other. We need to challenge each other. Otherwise, we might become the Unabomber

Where it goes wrong though is when we try to outdo each other, control each other, and fight for power over each other. God gave us relationships to complement each other not to compete with each other. Relationships aren’t supposed to be competitive. When it comes to sports, I’m very competitive. That’s why family game nights get a little scary. It can get crazy and become not very fun pretty quick when someone’s not winning. And then the rage comes out. So we’ve learned over the years when to stop. We usually have a short window of time where it’s fun, and then it goes downhill quickly.

And no one’s immune from it. Couples compete with each other, even if they don’t realize it. They get caught up in who makes the most money, who does the most work outside or inside the house, and who has the most friends. They compete over power. They give each other the silent treatment when they don’t get their way. They argue. And they get back at each other by trying to manipulate and control each other. It’s crazy. And then it goes really downhill when the competition turns to punishment. If a spouse is withholding something from the other (like money, sex, or anything they like to do together), the one who’s left out starts to look somewhere else to find it. And that leads to a break in the relationship, which is not God’s desire.

Obviously, I know stuff happens (and God knows). My desire is not to make anyone feel guilty. God is gracious and He can make good things come out of bad. However, He wants us to have healthy relationships that last, whether we’re talking about husbands and wives, families, and/or friends. We are relational creatures. We need each other. But God’s desire was for us to complement each other, not compete with each other. And I believe that God’s desire was that we be equal partners in relationships. It’s not about who’s in charge.

It’s about the fact that we need each other. We are all equal. It’s not about who makes the most money or who has the best toys. If we have a lot of cool toys, maybe the best thing to do is to share them for everyone’s good instead of hoarding them for ourselves. And I think that’s why God includes the animals here. God wasn’t expecting an animal to get married to Adam. The point was that Adam was in charge of God’s creation and he had the responsibility of naming the animals. But Adam needed a helper to share his life with. Something was missing. God had to create something else (a helper), just like Adam, but different enough to make up for what was missing. And that’s where the woman comes in.

But before we get to the woman, here’s a good recipe for a healthy relationship (connection) with people. And this is primarily for spouses, but it works for all relationships.

a. Be who YOU are. Every one of us is different. If we were all the same, there would be no need for other people. But we’re NOT self-sufficient. We need people. Other people have things that we don’t and vice versa. So bring what you have to the table and allow your friends, family, and spouse to be who they are. There’s no need to fight for power or prestige. My kids drive me crazy when they ask us who’s better at something. It’s ok if someone is better at something. We all have different things we’re good at. Some of us are good at a LOT of things but not great at anything. Some people are great at one thing only. That’s ok. Celebrate and support each other. It’s not a competition. And we don’t need to force people to be like us or to be something they’re not.

b.Look outside yourself. Whether it’s your spouse, girlfriend, brother, sister, co-worker, use something you’ve been blessed with for the good of someone else. It’s not all about YOU. Make a sacrifice for someone else. Our culture teaches us to look out for number 1. But Jesus said to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matt.22:39). And that’s what He did. Jesus left the comforts of heaven and moved into our neighborhood. He made great sacrifices to come here. Plus, He made the ultimate sacrifice on the cross. Paul said to consider other people better than ourselves (Phil.2:3-4). Imagine if we all thought that way. That’s what relationships are all about. It’s about benefitting someone else, not selfishly taking everything for me, myself, and I.

c.Cheer someone on. The world has enough critics and negativity. I’m not saying don’t be honest with people. We do need honesty. But a healthy relationship will consist of friends cheering each other on and supporting each other. It’s ok if someone accomplishes something that YOU don’t. Be happy for them and cheer them on. This is important for spouses too. You guys are on the same team. You were meant to complement each other. So there’s no need to be a critic, compete, or to be jealous.

Day Four

3. God gave us spouses for the long haul not to leave when the going gets tough.

So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed (Gen.2:21-25 ESV).

Martin Luther made a profound observation about this Scripture. He said that in making the woman out of Adam’s rib (out of his side), God was signifying equality. Remember, she was his complement. She made up what was lacking in him and vice versa. So by taking a rib and making Eve, God was stressing that they were a team, they were equal, and they were one flesh. If God would’ve used a foot, He might’ve signified that he was to rule over Eve, but God didn’t do that. You would think that if God took out Adam’s brain it would’ve meant Eve was to rule over him, but He didn’t do that either. Although sometimes men do think with lower parts of their body so it does seem, at times, that we don’t HAVE a brain, but that’s a discussion for another day…

Now Adam did get to name her, just like he got to name the animals. But even the very name signified the equality of their relationship. He called her woman. In Hebrew, ish is the word for man and ishah is the word for woman. They sound related (because they are). It’s a beautiful illustration of the fact that they really do complete each other. And that’s what marriage is all about. It’s an equal partnership between two people, who might have different roles and gifts (just like in any relationship), but equal weight. Marriage was never intended to be a dictatorship where the husband rules and the wife manipulates to get what she wants. That was not God’s design for marriage. It was never a competition or a war. Adam specifically said, This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. He was emphasizing that he recognized that they belonged together as one.

So what comes next in a marriage? They form a new home. When it says they become one flesh it means that they are bonded together as one, in a close relationship (which includes the spiritual, emotional, mental, and the physical). There’s no longer just a me and you. It’s now US. It’s WE. Leaving father and mother means they are establishing a new home. It doesn’t mean they forget mom and dad. But they make their own decisions now as a couple. And in leaving mom and dad they’re saying this is a permanent change.

God gave us spouses for the long haul not to leave when the going gets tough. Whenever I do a wedding, I always meet with the couple anywhere from 4-6 times. And there’s certain points I always like to bring out. And one of those points is that things will change over time. “No matter how secure (or how in love) you both are right now, things will change. People change. Jobs will change. Your financial situation might change many times. Houses come and go. Friends come and go. You may or may not have children. You’ll have times of plenty and times of need. And when that happens, you’ll need to support each other. You’re a team. You’re an equal partnership. But it also takes time to blend your lives together. It doesn’t happen overnight. So we can’t run at the first sign of trouble…” (An Excerpt from one of my Wedding Sermons).

And that applies to church planting as well. Abe and I were practicing this past week and as we were singing through Good Good Father, I had this major revelation. I was really enjoying our rehearsal. I was enjoying the process of having a song come together. And it reminded me that I can’t expect this church to pick up where my last one left off. It takes time. It takes time to develop relationships with people. And God will bring in who is supposed to be here when they’re supposed to be here. And it will happen over time. We’re still in the pre-launch phase. And the point is to connect with God and with people. Relationships don’t happen in a hurry. It takes time and commitment.

And marriages are the same. They don’t just happen. It takes work and commitment. We can’t run at the first sign of trouble. When we become one flesh, we make a commitment for the long haul. And no two relationships are the same. So my marriage is different, because no one else is quite like me or Olivia. And our family is unique because no one has the same four awesome children. Our family is unique and separate from all others. But we are committed to each other. And we have our problems just like anyone else. But we work through them and we do the best we can, because we’re in it for the long haul…

Before we get to our final recipe, we have to look at the last verse. This is one of the best lines in the Bible. It says that the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed. When I’m talking to people (people who don’t believe), a lot of times they’ll say that heaven is going to be boring and they’d rather go to hell and party with their friends. So when I hear that, I realize they have no idea what heaven will be like…Adam and Eve had heaven on earth…

There was no sin yet. They were in the perfect environment as husband and wife. And they were naked. And I can assure you that they were not just holding hands and picking flowers all day long or sitting on clouds. Heaven is where it’s at. I don’t know what people want in hell, but I don’t want anything to do with excessive heat, burning, and/or a lake of fire. What I am interested in is running around naked all day long with no shame, guilt free, worry free, and experiencing God’s eternal blessings (and possibly having six pack abs…But I digress…).

Here’s a recipe for a healthy relationship (connection) with your spouse.

a. Marriage is an equal partnership. Believe it or not, the roles of men and woman vary greatly from culture to culture. And that’s fine. But God’s intention from the beginning is that a husband and wife are a team. Each one of us brings something different to the table. So it’s not about what a MAN or a WOMAN has to be or do. It’s about two individuals becoming one flesh and each one brings something different to the table that complements the other.

So it doesn’t always have to be the MAN does this and the WOMAN does that. Each couple is unique. Marriage is an equal partnership and each couple has to figure out what works for them. And that’s how I approach marriage coaching. YOU don’t have to run your household like WE do. You run it how it works for you. And I would also expect you to allow me the freedom to run my household in a way that works for my family. None of us are the same. We’re all unique. But the husband and wife are equals even though they bring different things to the table. So they might have different roles in the marriage but they are equal partners.

b. Marriage is until death do us part. Jesus gave His stamp of approval on this one. He said, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matt.19:4-6 ESV). Running when the going gets tough is not God’s desire or design. Divorce should not be the first option we think of when we have a problem. I realize divorce does happen and sometimes it IS for the best.

And God can make good things come out of some of our greatest disappointments in life. Praise God that He is a God of second chances! So if anyone reading this is divorced, this is NOT a guilt trip of any kind. But we are looking at God’s design for healthy relationships and marriages. And God’s design is for it to be for the long haul. So instead of ending a marriage when things get hard, get help. The church can and should be a part of that help. If even half the couples would get on board with these two simple truths (that we are equal partners and that it’s for the long haul), we could cut the divorce rate in two. If we actually opened the lines of communication and just talked through our issues (and would be willing to compromise), we could save countless marriages and families.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, 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.13:4-8 NIV). And God is love. He loves us. And He wants us to love each other with a love that considers other people, not just ourselves. He designed us for relationship. And love considers the other person while the other person considers us. That’s basic relationship 101. And basic relationship 101 says, You had me at hello. It says, We need to work this out because I can’t function without you. You complete me. And that goes for our relationship with God, with people, with our family, and with our spouse.

Day Five

Questions to consider…

  1. Why do you think God’s rules offend people?
  2. Are you introverted or extroverted? Do you like being around people? Do you see the need for healthy relationships? Or would you rather be by yourself?
  3. What do you enjoy about being around certain people that you call friends? Do you enjoy their company? Do you feel that it’s a competition? Or is it just nice to be around somebody and have someone to talk to?
  4. Does equality in the marriage relationship interest you? Do you have any preconceived notions about what a marriage should be or about what the roles of the husband or wife should be? Read Ephesians 5:22-33 and discuss how it relates to Genesis 2 and relationships between a husband and wife.

You’re A Good Good Father

DAY 1

Have you ever been mad at God? Have you ever thought He should do something but He didn’t? I’ve been there. Somehow (at some point), I think we’ve all thought we could do a better job. It’s not true. And we really don’t think we can. But by our words and actions, we are saying that. The truth, if we’re being honest with ourselves, is that there are times when we doubt God. And we doubt that He is good. It’s a dark place to be, but I’ve been there. Maybe you have too. If not, I’m sorry to inform you but it’s probably coming!

And it’s frustrating when He doesn’t seem to answer. It’s frustrating when He doesn’t seem to come through when we need Him the most. It’s frustrating when He doesn’t do what we want Him to when we want Him to do it. Isn’t it? We could have the best of intentions with whatever we’re doing, but when God doesn’t come through it really takes the wind out of our sails. And then the anger sets in. And if we’re not careful, it could lead to the feeling (or the belief) that if God doesn’t come through, He either doesn’t care or He just doesn’t exist. Or we think that maybe He’s not good. Maybe He LIKES to see us suffer. Those are horrible thoughts. But those are just a few ways some people could stop talking to God, leave the church, and end up not believing in God at all.

That’s why I love the Bruce Almighty movie. Have you seen it? If not, you should watch it! Bruce says a lot of things that we’ve all thought at one time or another. As for me, I love to learn what people think about God because it gives me insight into how they got to where they are in their belief system. It helps me to know how to reach them better. It also helps to shake stupid thoughts that come into my head. Because when I start to think like that I can be quickly reminded of how ridiculous and unfair I’m being.

Once upon a time there was a scientist. And as he was speaking to God one day, he said some pretty bold things. He said, “God, we don’t need you anymore. Science has put YOU out of a job. We can do everything by ourselves. We can even create life and clone life. We can cure diseases. We don’t need YOU anymore God. You’re obsolete. We don’t need Your outdated rules and ways.” And God looked at him and said, “Great. Why don’t we have a creation competition? Let’s see what we both can come up with, something new and awesome, something that’s never been done before. You go first.” And the scientist, with a fire in his eyes said, “Absolutely.” Then he picked up some dirt and got ready to work. But God jumped in and said, “Get your own dirt…” (Source Unknown; I’ve heard it many times and in many ways over the years; this is simply my version of the story).

Ouch! Burn! That’s what my kids would say. But most people, at some level, at least believe that a god exists. They might not ever do anything about getting to know this generic god but they at least believe in a higher power. In college, I was surprised to learn that there’s only about 15% of people in the world that consider themselves atheists. That’s a pretty low number. But even then, I would guess that most of that 15% isn’t even really atheist. I believe that most are simply mad at God and they lost their faith somewhere along the line (at least American atheists). But no matter how much they lie to themselves, the truth is that you can’t be mad at a God you don’t believe in…

Only fools say in their hearts, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, and their actions are evil; not one of them does good! God looks down from heaven on the entire human race; he looks to see if anyone is truly wise, if anyone seeks God. But no, all have turned away; all have become corrupt. No one does good, not a single one!” (Psalm 53:1-3 NLT). Again, I believe that most people believe that there is some kind of higher power. If they say they don’t believe, they’re either mad at God or perhaps they don’t want to change their lifestyle. They don’t want to pursue Him because they know it would mean that their lives would have to change. They’re not seeking God because they’re too busy pursuing selfish actions.

But the proof of the existence of God is right in front of our faces every single day. “The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship. Day after day they continue to speak; night after night they make him known. They speak without a sound or word; their voice is never heard. Yet their message has gone throughout the earth, and their words to all the world” (Psalm 19:1-4 NLT). We took a family vacation to South Dakota last summer. It was some of the most beautiful scenery I’ve ever seen in my sheltered life. Mostly, I’ve just traveled up and down the east coast. I have been to Israel once. And that was beautiful, but it was beautiful for different reasons. But I’ve never seen anything as beautiful as South Dakota.

And as I was taking it in, while driving and almost crashing the car several times (Olivia hates when I sight-see and drive. I don’t know why.), I couldn’t help but praise God. Because I know that nothing that beautiful could have just happened by chance or evolution. It was created and designed by the Grand Designer, God Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth. There’s just no good excuse for denying it.

“They know the truth about God because he has made it obvious to them. For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities-his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God” (Rom.1:19-20 NLT). So in this series, I’m going to give us all more reasons to have no excuse for not knowing God. And hopefully by the end of the summer, we will have covered the entire introduction to the Bible, which is the first 12 chapters of Genesis. And we’ll learn how we got into this beautiful mess called life. But this first message in the series is titled, You’re a Good Good Father. Since it IS Father’s Day, I thought there was no better example than the Original Father! We might not always understand what He’s doing, but He is a Good Good Father. That’s Who He is.

DAY 2

1. God is Good Because He Created Something From Nothing and Gave it Form.

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day. And God said, ‘Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.’ And God made the expanse and separated the waters that were under the expanse from the waters that were above the expanse. And it was so. And God called the expanse Heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day. And God said, ‘Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.’ And it was so. God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good. And God said, ‘Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth.’ And it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the third day” (Gen.1:1-13 ESV).

So here we have the first three days. And those first four words are pretty significant. It says, “In the beginning, God….” That is a bold statement. It’s true. But it’s bold. It’s important to know right off the bat that the Bible never tries to prove the existence of God. It just assumes it. And there is no attempt here to give a scientific explanation of creation. That was not God’s intent here. The Bible assumes God’s existence. A scientific explanation would’ve meant nothing to the original readers. We’re just being given the basics here.

But it’s highly significant because at the time this was written, people were already running away from God and worshiping idols. They were worshiping the sun and all kinds of other false gods. So all God is giving us here is a basic rundown of what He created. There was no fight between ancient gods. Nothing in creation was to be worshiped. God is the One who created it all. And it was for a specific purpose. But all He was doing here was giving us practical information that we need to know about what He was creating and providing. There was no science involved in the explanation and there are definitely things He left out because His original readers (and us) wouldn’t have been able to comprehend it anyway! We weren’t ready for it yet.

It’s like when a little child asks that famous question. Mommy (Daddy), where do babies come from? Ever tried to explain that one to a little child? The best answer, of course, is You’ll have to ask mommy about that…That’s what I did the first time Amelia asked me that question! But seriously, you can’t explain that to a little child. They’re not ready to hear the answer. Even if you tell them everything, they won’t understand. It’s too much. They can’t comprehend it. So all we end up saying is that when two people fall in love they get married and have kids. And that’s true. You don’t fill in all the messy details. But what the child does understand is that mommy and daddy love each other, they love their kids, and they provide everything they need.

And that’s what God’s doing here. He’s saying, All these false gods people are following and worshiping are not really gods. They didn’t do anything. Creation wasn’t the result of a battle between gods. And humans are NOT slaves to the gods. Here’s what happened at creation…And then He goes on to tell us. And it’s very simple. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” And at the beginning, what He created was without form and empty. So what does He do? He starts to give form to what doesn’t have form. He’s like a potter forming a lump of clay into a beautiful piece of artwork.

And as He’s giving it form, He starts to separate things. There was already darkness, so He says, “‘Let there be light.’ And there was light.” Then He separates light from darkness. And He gives them names. He calls the light Day and the Darkness He calls night. And then something else really awesome happens. He sets something in motion that’s highly significant for us. It says that “there was evening and there was morning, the first day.” On the first day, God creates TIME. Again, those first four words, “In the beginning, God,” are highly significant. He’s simply referring to the time period of creation. “In the beginning” is not God’s beginning. He’s eternal. He’s not bound by time. It’s simply a reference to the first seven days He’s talking about here in the first two chapters of Genesis. But time means something to the readers. It means something to us. And on that first day of creation, God creates time. The clock is now ticking. And we have the first day.

And then on the second day He separates the water from the sky. So now we have a climate. We have weather. On the first day He created time. And on the second day He gives us weather. So what happens on day three? He separates more. He gives more form to what was formless. He separates the water from the dry land. And then He does something really cool. He creates plants and trees on the land. So He provides a food source (not to mention great beauty). I can’t even imagine what it might have looked like in the beginning. I’ve already mentioned South Dakota. And I’m sure you have favorite places to visit too. But can you imagine what it looked like in the beginning when everything was perfect, just how God designed it, and man didn’t have a chance to screw it up yet?

And then He says that it was good. In fact, He’s said it like three times already during the first three days of creation. He said it was good. He was satisfied with it. It was just right. It was good. So in the first three days, God creates something out of nothing. And then he forms what was without form. And of course, this flies in the face of evolution. Evolution says that things happened by chance over millions of years. But that’s not the explanation we get here. We have the Creator, God. And He creates this beautiful paradise with form and beauty. There’s nothing random about it. It sounds like He knew what He was doing. And He says that it’s good. It’s just right. It’s designed exactly the way He wanted it to be.

So why is God good? God is Good Because He Created Something From Nothing and Gave it Form. Have you ever made anything from scratch? Have you ever made a gift for someone rather than buying it? That’s why I love it when my kids make stuff for us. It’s so much more special when thought goes into a gift rather than just giving cash or a gift card. It’s special when someone takes the time to think of something you would like and then makes it for you. So hand-made cards and gifts from my kids or my wife is special. But it takes thought. It takes time. It takes effort. It’s custom made. It’s just for me. And that’s what God did here. He custom made creation. And we haven’t even heard it all yet! We’ve only covered three days! There’s much more to come! And we don’t even know WHY He created it yet. But His creation is awesome and perfect and good. And He’s a good good Father. That’s WHO He is!

DAY 3

2. God is Good Because He Created Lights and Living Things to Fill What He Formed.

“And God said, ‘Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.’ And it was so. And God made the two great lights–the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night–and the stars. And God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day. And God said, ‘Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens.’ So God created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. And God blessed them, saying, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.’ And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day” (Gen.1:14-23 ESV).

So here we have the next two days. This is day 4 and 5. And what’s happening here is that God starts to fill up what He just created and formed. God begins to bring life to His creation. He fills (with life) what was formed, but empty. And again, Father’s Day was just a few days ago. So if you got a gift for dad (perhaps a tool box), you probably didn’t give him an empty toolbox unless he already had all the tools he needed. I’m not sure that’s even possible. There’s always new gadgets to buy! But seriously, you wouldn’t give dad an empty toolbox for Father’s Day. You’d give him tools to go in the box.

Outside, in our yard, we have a pool. How cruel would it be if we got our kids an empty pool? That would be weird. Olivia and I didn’t do that. We filled it up with water. We didn’t realize it would take the better part of a week to fill it up, but we did fill it up with water. And we did a good job too! We included a kiddie pool. Most people can’t do that with an above ground pool, but since we’re awesome, we were able to make it deep on one side and shallow on another. And that wasn’t a mistake. It wasn’t because we didn’t know what we were doing and didn’t realize the pool wasn’t level. That’s not it at all! It’s a kiddie pool at one end and a regular pool at the other!

But seriously. We filled it up. We didn’t give them an empty pool. And we also filled it with some fun toys too. We bought some beach balls, noodles, and water-squirty things. So we filled up the pool with some fun to go with the water. The point was so they could have fun. The point was so they could also invite their friends over to play and have fun. We set them up for success, not failure. And God did the same thing with His creation. He filled up what was empty. He set us up for success. And that’s another reason why God is SO good. God is Good Because He Created Lights and Living Things to Fill What He Formed.

So on day four we get the sun and moon. Now, He doesn’t mention them by name, but it’s clear that’s what He’s talking about. But there was a reason He didn’t say SUN or MOON. Again, there was rampant idol worship at the time. People were worshipping the sun, moon, and stars. So God is making the point that you shouldn’t worship the creation. You need to worship the Creator! And there’s only one Creator. It’s God Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth. But here He does give us the sun and moon on day four. And then He says, Oh by the way, I also created the stars, like it’s an afterthought. Of course, it’s not an afterthought, but that wasn’t the focus. The focus was what He was creating here on planet earth.

And maybe that’s another reason WHY we didn’t get a scientific explanation. He doesn’t want us worshiping science either. He wants us in awe of Him. He’s the One who created all this. He’s the focus. But it IS crazy when you add in the science. When I was studying for this section, I was amazed to learn that our galaxy (not the whole universe) spins at 490,000 mph! But it’s so big that to even spin one time, it would take 200 million years to rotate just one time. That’s a large galaxy to say the least! I can’t even comprehend that! But then you have to add to that the fact that there are billions of more galaxies out there other than just ours. Our God is a GREAT God!

But He created all that on day four. And then on day five, He created life in the sea and birds. So He created all the fish and life in the ocean, but then He also created the birds that fly. That was day five. He filled up the ocean and the sky with life, with living creatures. And He said that it was good. But here’s a good question. Did you notice a problem? Does it bother you that there was light before God created the sun? It shouldn’t because God doesn’t need those lights. We do. But He doesn’t. And since we weren’t around yet it really doesn’t matter does it? No.

Those lights were for us to mark times and seasons. He already created time. But now we have a way to mark time. And lights were created so we could see to get around. And since we weren’t around yet. It doesn’t matter that there was light before those things were created. God doesn’t need the sun for light. He has His own light. We need the sun and moon and stars for light. He was thinking of us because He’s good. He’s a good good Father. That’s who He is!

DAY 4

3. God is Good Because He Created Us and Put Us in Charge of His Creation.

“And God said, ‘Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds–livestock and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds.’ And it was so. And God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds and the livestock according to their kinds, and everything that creeps on the ground according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’ And God said, ‘Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.’ And it was so. And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day” (Gen.1:24-31 ESV).

So now we’re in the sixth day of creation. And the first thing God does on Day Six is create all the land animals and all the little bugs that drive us crazy (all the creepy crawly things). So if there was any doubt when an animal was created, it was on this day. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking dinosaurs or dragonflies. It was on Day Six. And the next thing He creates on Day Six is us (people). So yes, dinosaurs and people co-existed together, at least for a period of time. We don’t know how long. We don’t know all the details, but if all the animals and people were created on the same day, we were not separated by millions of years.

There was no catastrophe that wiped out the dinosaurs, followed by millions of years, followed by people evolving into what we are now. There is no evolution according to the Bible. God created everything. He knew what He was doing. He doesn’t need evolution. There was great order and beauty to everything He created. And this is the account that He gave us. If you ever want to dive into that more and need resources, check out answersingenesis.org. That is an amazing resource with very smart people that know a lot more about the book of Genesis than I’ll ever know. And they have a LOT of science to back up what they say. That’s the same group that built the Creation Museum in Kentucky. They also built a life-sized version of Noah’s Ark and turned it into a museum.

But that’s not the most important issue in this last section of chapter one. I know people like to get bogged down in all of that. But the most important part of the introduction to the Bible is when God says, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” And then He goes on to put us in charge of everything He just created. He says, Be fruitful and multiply. Have a lot of kids! And you’re in charge of this entire planet I just created. All of this is for you guys! Surprise! Happy Birthday guys!

So I really only want to point out two main things about Day Six. It’s not that I want to ignore the other parts of what He said. I love animals. I love our cats we just got. People love their pets. Animals are great. That’s fantastic. Dinosaurs are fascinating. It’s a great thing to study out and look into. So I’m not trying to ignore all that, but I also don’t want us to miss the obvious. Sometimes we get bogged down in the details and we miss the obvious. We miss what’s right in front of our faces.

So here’s the first thing. We were created in the image of God. He doesn’t say that about anything else He created, other than man (and woman). We were created in His image. Now that’s not a physical thing. It’s more of a spiritual, relational, and emotional kind of thing. We know God is spirit and we worship Him in spirit and in truth (John 4:24). But just because we were created in His image, it doesn’t mean that we’re God or that we’ll ever become gods like some cults teach. But we do reflect the character of God in some ways. We’re able to relate to Him, to have a relationship with Him. We can talk to Him, we’re creative like Him, we can have emotions, purpose, and we can LOVE.

He doesn’t say that about the animals or birds or fish in the sea. He said that about us. We were created in His image. He is our Father. And He is a good good Father. That’s WHO He is.  So Day Six of creation is like the first and best Father’s Day ever because that’s when we were created! And we were created in His image. He didn’t leave us alone to fend for ourselves. We are able to have a relationship with Him. We’re able to talk to Him. He’s not some big white guy in the sky with a long beard waiting to strike us down. He is a loving Father that takes great care of His kids and wants to raise them right! But that’s not all!

Here’s the second thing. He put us in charge! He said we were created in His image and this was all created for us! Now, we don’t really OWN it. It’s all His. But we are caretakers (stewards) of what He created. We are responsible to take care of what God put us in charge of. We are the crown jewel of God’s creation. We are valuable to God. All through this account, God said that what He had made was good. But on this day, He didn’t say it was good. He said it was VERY GOOD. God is a Father who certainly knows how to give good gifts to His kids. He’s a good good Father. That’s WHO he is.

So why is God good? God is Good Because He Created Us and Put Us in Charge of His Creation. Creating is anything but easy. Forming something that has no form takes creativity. Making something from nothing is easier said than done. And God is the only One that’s ever done that. But there was a purpose behind it all. When we moved to Harford County, the main thing I wanted to do was to make a front yard so my kids could play outside. And when we first moved in there were so many trees. Our front yard was not there. It was all trees. The pool (and fire-pit) was not there. It was all trees. It was an incredible amount of hard work to clear the land. And I have the injuries to prove it! I fell off a ladder. I almost chopped my leg off with the chainsaw (that was not a fun day). And every muscle in my body hurt. And that’s just for the front yard. There’s still hundreds of jobs left to do. But there’s a reason behind why I’m so motivated to do it and why I’m keeping it up…It’s for my kids…It’s for my family…

And it’s also for YOU (the person who might not read this until it’s been out for quite a while). Part of moving down here to Harford County was so that this could be a place where people could come to know Jesus, grow in the faith, and gather to worship God. There was a purpose behind it. And it was also for my family. We want this to be a place we can enjoy together now. We want it to be a place that we can invite our friends and our kids’ friends to come over and play and hang out. But we also want it to be a place we can gather in the future when we have grand-kids and great grand-kids.

So what’s the grand motivation? Love. Love is why we do what we do. And love is why God does what He does. He is love (1 John 4:8). And He is good (Psalm 136:1). Of course, God is perfectly happy and content. He is fulfilled and relates perfectly to Himself (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). He didn’t need us. But He loved us, and wanted to share His love with us (before we were even created). He’s a good good Father. That’s WHO He is. We don’t always understand Him. And we might get mad at Him, like Bruce Almighty, when things are spiraling out of control. But He is good. And we are created in His image. And we were meant to share His love.

DAY 5

So what happened on day seven?

“Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation” (Gen.2:1-3 ESV).

God rested on the 7th day to enjoy His perfect creation and to set an example for us. We need rest. God doesn’t need rest. But we do. His creation was no longer formless or empty. It was perfectly ordered, formed, and filled! So He set a day aside to enjoy it! It’s OK to enjoy God’s creation and blessings! We all need to stop and look around and enjoy what God has provided! We can’t work all the time. We can’t work ourselves to death. We need rest. We need to recharge. We need to chill out and enjoy what God provides! The world won’t explode if you take a day off! I promise. The world will go on.

I’m one of the biggest offenders of that. It’s VERY hard for me to take a day off because there’s always so much to do. But we need rest. We all need time to enjoy what God has provided. God never intended to work us to death with no fun. He designed a day of rest every week for us to enjoy Him and His creation. We ALL need to slow down and enjoy life. Most people think the Sabbath Day is for worship. But it’s not. It’s for rest. We CAN worship on that day. But the point is to rest. That’s what the word Sabbath means. It means rest. God is Good Because He Created a Day of Rest and Set the Example for Us. And when we don’t rest, it’s just one more way we’re disobeying God. And then somehow in the process we get mad at Him because we’re exhausted. Go figure. He told us to rest. He told us to take a day off.

And that’s what we all hope for and desire even if we don’t consciously realize it. We work ourselves to death. Why? Because we want to save money for retirement. We want to someday rest from all of our hard work. As Christians, we desire heaven. Why? Because we get to rest and be with God forever. But the problem is that we always put rest in the future. However, God designed lots of rest for us in the here and now. We can rest one day a week. That’s what Saturday is for. It’s for rest. Traditionally, in America we don’t get one day of rest, we get two! Unfortunately, we usually just fill it with more and more work.

So going forward that’s one thing we all need to learn and I would love for us to learn it together. And again, I’m a hypocrite when it comes to this, but everything we’ve been doing over the past few months since we moved here was designed so we could wind down, recharge, and rest. And I want YOU to come along for the journey and learn to rest WITH us. You’re gonna hear the words Missional and Missional Community a lot over the next few weeks, months, and years!

And the first time you hear about it and what our purpose is in the church (making disciples and doing life together), it’s going to sound overwhelming. You’re gonna think, I can’t do all of that. I don’t have time. But in the end, my desire is not to add anything to our schedules. My desire is to actually ease the burden. My desire, and God’s desire, is to take things OUT of our schedules. Doing life together is about including each other in what we’re already doing, not adding more busyness to a plate that’s already full. The point is to apply the brakes, stop and look around, and enjoy life. We want to discover God’s good gift of REST. He gave us rest because He knows we need it. He’s a good good Father. That’s WHO He is!

Questions/Actions to consider…

  1. Have you ever doubted God? Have you ever doubted that He was good? If so, how did it change the way you lived your life? Did you rebel? Did it draw you closer to Him? 
  2. Do you have friends and/or family that ask you questions about God? What kinds of questions do they ask? Are they questions about creation? Science? The troubles of life (like relational issues or finances)?
  3. When people ask questions about God or claim that it’s outdated or that science replaces God, do they ask specific questions and/or give specific examples or are their comments general and broad? When you refer them to a website or a book do they go and check it out or simply dismiss it?
  4. Instead of arguing with someone about the Bible (or preaching at them), have you ever considered NOT talking about it and just hanging out and spending TIME with the person? Have you ever considered just listening to them and finding out what they think?
  5. How do you feel about the definition given here about us being created in the image of God? Does it change the way you will talk to and relate with God in the future? Does it change the way you will share God with people who don’t yet believe? Does God’s LOVE motivate you to share His love with someone who doesn’t yet accept Him?
  6. Score yourself (scale of 1-10) on how good you are at getting rest and enjoying what God provides? Are you good at resting or are you always too busy to fit anything else into your schedule (spending time with friends, family, church)? Would you consider including other people (church and unchurched) in what you’re already doing so you can fellowship and try to make new disciples of Jesus?
  7. After going through all the points for Genesis 1, do you think that God is good? Do we have a right to question Him or be mad at Him? If He created all of this for us and put us in charge, do you think there might be reasons behind why we suffer? Do you think that He’s out to get us, strike us down with lightning, and/or ignoring us?

The 3 R’s: What does a balanced church look like?

Day 1

A few years back, I saw an incredible performer while I was on vacation with my family. He was a magician and a juggler. But he also did this amazing plate spinning trick. I have no idea how he did it. He had several plates spinning all at once, he was juggling, and he was talking. I have trouble doing even one thing at a time, so this particular trick amazed me! He was awesome. Nevertheless, thinking back about him leads me to ponder about how I spend my time. In general, people spend the bulk of their time on what they deem important. Indeed, what they SAY is not important. What they actually DO in practice tells the tale. Moreover, if you look at a person’s checkbook, you can REALLY tell what they prioritize.

Churches are no different. Some churches focus on Bible study. Some focus on mission. Some focus on fellowship activities. Usually Christians and churches are focused and good at one thing (whatever that may be). Yet when we focus on one thing too much, we ignore other important matters. Jesus gave us a pretty straightforward mission (to make disciples). Unfortunately, it’s very easy to get distracted from that mission and get sidetracked. So what’s the answer? How do we keep all of those plates spinning at once? How do we not lose focus on making disciples, still have time to go to work, and find the time to raise a family? That’s a great question! I’m so glad you asked!

May I suggest the 3 R’s for the well balanced local church (Reaching Out; Relating In; Reuniting Up)? If we, as the church, are to be committed to connecting with God and with people around the table and in the community, we must be able to achieve a balance. Getting overwhelmed and burned out is NOT a fun place to be. I’ve been there and done that! Moreover, each of the three R’s includes an intentional “ing” at the end because each one suggests ongoing action. The truth is that this is a lifestyle we live rather than a product we consume.

Reaching Out (to non-believers).

“The Kingdom of Heaven is like the yeast a woman used in making bread. Even though she put only a little yeast in three measures of flour, it permeated every part of the dough” (Matt.13:33 NLT).

Reaching out is at the top of the list simply because it’s the last thing Jesus told us to do before He ascended into heaven. Therefore, it should be the first thing we do! It should be the freshest mission on our minds as believers. We are to make disciples. And the only way we can do that is to reach out. This is both an individual effort and the collective responsibility of the church. Yet it can’t just be something we study about and know. We must put this into action and spend as much time doing it as we spend preparing for a Sunday morning worship service. Yes. Read that line again. I said it. It’s out there!

Reaching out means that we get out into the community and into the lives of people that don’t know Jesus. It is true that not everyone has the gift of evangelism. Not everyone can meet new people, become their best friend on the spot, start sharing the good news, and make a new disciple of Jesus with one hand tied behind their back (I can’t do that either). However, everyone has someone in their life (friend, coworker, family member, etc.) that doesn’t know Jesus. Everyone can pray for opportunities and seek out ways to build relationships with people. In addition, we don’t have to do it alone. That’s what our Missional Communities (MC’s) are for as we each use our unique, God-given gifts.

Furthermore, as we build relationships with people that don’t know Jesus, we invite them into community with us and our MC as we do life together. That way, for those who are not particularly knowledgeable enough (or confident enough) to answer the tough questions, we have someone in our MC to connect them with who can. This is how the group can work together on mission instead of inviting everyone to a Sunday service where the “pastor” has to lead, shepherd, and convert everyone. That’s how we created the mess we are in today. That’s why our churches are shrinking. And that’s why our pastors are burning out and quitting the ministry. It’s simply not healthy, biblical, or practical.

The better picture is the one Jesus gave us about the yeast working through the dough (Matt.13:33). Ancient yeast and modern yeast might not be exactly the same, but the point is the same. The yeast works all the way through the dough and causes it to grow. Over time, the results are undeniable. Even though it happens slowly, the yeast grows. So as individuals and MC’s get out into the community and become a part of the community, they will inevitably blend in, build relationships with people, and make a difference in the long run. As the church, we can no longer expect people to come to us. We must go to them and work through the dough. They have no reason to come to us. They have no idea that they need Jesus. We must continually be reaching out to them.

This can take many forms. MC’s can be a part of a vast amount of ventures like sports, community events, and school activities. Since most families are most likely already a part of those things, all we need to do is add a bit of intentionality to what we do.  That way there’s nothing we need to ADD to our schedules. Our schedules are packed tight enough as it is. Yet since we’re already there at an event of some sort, we insert Good News. We look for opportunities to build relationships with people who don’t know Jesus.

Furthermore, it costs the church nothing! There’s no need to spend thousands of dollars on outreach events that don’t work. Just become a part of your own community! For example, throw a block party cookout for your neighbors where everybody brings food and it costs practically nothing. Or simply attend other events that you’re invited to. Just be intentional about meeting people. When people have a common reason to be at the same place at the same time, relationships will inevitably develop. And as we develop those relationships over time, lives will change (much like the yeast working through the dough) as we incorporate people into the life of our MC.

Day 2

Relating In (to each other)

“All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer” (Acts 2:42 NLT).

The book of Acts gives us such a great picture of life in the first century church. Believers were reaching out like crazy, they were having meals together, praying together, meeting in houses, and studying together. They were in each other’s lives to say the least! So how did we get to where we are now in the modern church? Why do we invite people to sit and consume a show on Sunday morning as passive observers? What happened to the whole going from house to house thing? What happened to sharing belongings? What happened to being in each other’s lives on a daily basis? What happened to everyone participating? If you don’t know those answers, buy a good book on church history and you’ll be disgusted by the time you reach the fourth century! The church was just fine for the first three hundred years. It all went downhill once Christianity became legal (socially acceptable) and we started building buildings! That’s when it turned into a dog and pony show.

However, as we in the Missional Church reach out and incorporate someone into our MC, we discover what living out the book of Acts is all about! Relating in, for our church, is the life (the heartbeat) of the church. This is where all the “one-another’s” of the New Testament can happen. This is where people really feel like they belong and we become the church together. But an MC is not just a Bible study or a small group. An MC is a one-stop-shop where we can work together to reach out to the community, fellowship with each other, serve each other, have spiritual discussions, ask questions, study the Bible, build lasting friendships, pray together, make disciples, be accountable, and eat together (just to name a few). And when we’re a part of that, we’ll want to worship together as we gather as the local church. And that’s how we land at the final R (Reuniting Up).

Nevertheless, before we get to that final R, we must know that each MC is a little church. It might not be the entire local church, but each one functions as a church and as a family. There’s only so many people you can be close to at one time. Not everyone in the entire local church can be best friends. Yet we can connect with a couple families. An MC (even though there’s no set number) is usually less than twenty people. Once it gets too big, it becomes too hard for everyone to participate and know each other well.

Again, Jesus is the perfect example. He taught the large crowds for sure. But He also had the Twelve. He also had an inner circle of Three. And that’s where our blueprint for the three R’s comes from. We reach out like Jesus did. We go out into the community. We go after the one lost sheep. Once they are ready, we incorporate them into our MC as we learn to do life together. Jesus and His disciples did almost everything together. They didn’t just show up to the temple or synagogue together one day a week. They ate together, had meals in other people’s houses together, and they learned as they followed Jesus. And yes, they also worshiped together. It all works together. It’s an ongoing process. Getting people to a Sunday worship service cannot be our goal. It’s part of what we do, but it should not be the goal of the local church. It’s just one part of who we are.

If we really want to get a sense of what the church is all about (and was meant to be), being a part of an MC is the starting point. We really discover that WE ARE the church as we do life together, worship together, and go from house to house together. It’s where we can really grow in the faith. And it’s so much more than a meeting, a building, or a Sunday service. It’s a lifestyle. Furthermore, we can’t ALWAYS be reaching out. We need other believers. We need to restore each other, to challenge each other, to recharge our own batteries, to learn God’s Word, and to bear one another’s burdens as we learn to love each other just like Jesus told us to do (Gal.6:1-2; John 13:34-35). We need to be relating in (to each other).

Day 3

Reuniting Up (in worship)

“All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work” (2 Tim.3:16-17 NLT).

We really do need to learn the Word of God. We also need to gather as the local church to worship. And two of the R’s already mentioned really help to balance out what we need to DO as well as what we need to BE as the church. Yet none of that will come to fruition if we don’t know God’s Word or gather in worship. And worship gatherings are a great way to teach the local gathered church. When all the MC’s come together, people can get a sense of what’s going on throughout the whole church and not just their MC. We get a sense of the bigger picture when the whole church gathers and as we hear stories of people coming to the faith, what other MC’s are doing in their neighborhoods, as we eat together, and as we learn God’s Word together.

A Sunday Gathering (or whatever day you worship) can generate a lot of energy and enthusiasm. It can recharge us for the week. It can inspire us and our MC’s to think outside the box and to try new things that other groups are doing. A Sunday Gathering allows us to receive our marching orders and catch the vision from our leaders. We really do need to sit under the teaching of God’s Word from somebody who really knows it and has studied it. It doesn’t mean that they need to have letters behind their name, but it does need to be a chosen servant of God who is called for that specific purpose. We really need to be taught by those who know, those who are doing it, and those who can guide us along the way.

Nothing irritates me more than someone who doesn’t back up what they teach. It is impossible for someone to pastor a Missional Church if they do not live it out on a daily basis. Being a pastor is more than just being a good speaker. It helps to be a skilled speaker (so you don’t put people to sleep) but it also helps to speak from experience. Otherwise, we have no business teaching God’s Word. If we don’t do it, we can’t teach it. Jesus lived out what He taught and we must do the same. So, in my humble opinion, a “teaching” pastor who only teaches on Sunday morning is unbiblical, irresponsible, and mocks the very words of Jesus.

Seriously, how can someone train church planters if they’ve never planted a church? How can someone teach the Great Commission if they never spend time with lost people? That is the ultimate hypocrisy. It just can’t be. So as we gather, we must learn God’s Word. We need to know what it says, what it means, and we need to learn how to apply it by watching what our leaders do. Our leaders aren’t perfect. We can’t do everything. But we can only teach what we know and what we do. Therefore, we need to learn from leaders that DO, not just leaders who teach words alone.

We also need to sing together. I know some people like singing about as much as getting a root canal, but did you know that we’re told to do it? It’s in the Bible! “Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts” (Col.3:16 NLT). It doesn’t say we need to sing well, but singing is a great way to worship and praise God. And if it’s what He wants, that’s what we should want, even if it’s not necessarily our favorite thing to do. Nevertheless, music inspires, encourages, lifts up, and motivates us to action at the same time we are giving praise to God.

Finally, we are also required to meet together as the church. We can’t forget that the early church gathered for worship and was told to not give it up. “Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24-25 NLT). When we gather as the local church, we do learn God’s Word and praise Him in song as mentioned. In addition, it’s also a way of getting our message out to everyone at once.

Each local church has a specific DNA that makes it unique. Each local church has a certain vision and a way they carry it out. But it’s hard to do that and generate energy if we don’t meet together on a regular basis. Moreover, it’s totally legal (for now)! We can, so why wouldn’t we? The day is coming when we will have to go back into hiding like the early church. So why not make the most of every opportunity we have now (Eph.5:15-17)? Why not gather together? Why not eat together? Why not get to know each other better? Why not worship together? Why not learn together? Why not train together? We were meant to connect with God and with people. That’s God’s design. And as we do that more and more, hopefully it will inspire us to want to share it with other people as we reach out more.

The point of the three R’s is achieving a balance in what we do. Instead of just being an institution that teaches knowledge, let’s back it up with applied action! Let’s keep a never-ending circle going of Reaching Out, Relating In, and Reuniting Up. That’s a basic and a biblical structure for the local, Missional Church. How each individual church does that is up to them. Yet we must be more than a Pharisee Training Camp. We can’t constantly learn knowledge and perform rituals without application. We can’t expect other believers to do what we’re not willing to do ourselves. We might not all play the same role, but we all can be a part of the Great Commission by using the gifts we have been given. “God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another (1 Peter 4:10 NLT; c.f. Rom.12:4-9; Eph.4:11-16).

Day 4

Questions to consider…

1. How can you and/or your MC reach out on a consistent basis to the people in your neighborhood that don’t know Jesus? Brainstorm together and make a list of things you’d like to try. Put daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly things on the calendar that you’d like to try. And as you meet people pray for them by name!

2. What does it mean to do life together? Does it seem overwhelming to think about? How can you balance eating together, hanging out, reaching out, being accountable, praying together, and learning together while not neglecting your responsibilities at work and at home?

3. Before being a part of a Missional church and/or MC, what was your perception of what the church is? Describe what you thought going to “church” was then and what you believe “church” to be now. 

Living the BLESSED Life: 7 Healthy Habits for the Missional Minded

Back in the old days (when dinosaurs roamed the earth) I used to teach marching band. Believe it or not, it takes an army of staff, parents, and kids to pull off a competitive High School performance. Anyone who has ever done it is fully aware of the countless hours spent in the band room and on the football field perfecting the show. I personally poured my heart and personality into every show. I do the same with directing musical theatre as well. It’s a part of who I am. I work hard and always enjoy going above and beyond the call of duty.

However, it infuriates me when people make suggestions and critique what we do when they have absolutely no idea how it all works and all the effort that goes into it. We call it the peanut gallery. In addition, it agitates me when people judge out of their caption. For example, if the color guard judge makes a comment about wrong notes being played by the trumpet section, that would be considered out of his realm of expertise. He has no business making the comment. Moreover, what really grinds my crank is when someone (like a parent) tries to start directing the show by giving contradictory instructions to his/her child (and several others) without even asking the staff!

So what in the world does this have to do with the church and/or living the missional life? That’s a great question! I’m so glad you asked! This happens in the typical church. We treat the church as a building with a service we attend once or thrice a week to consume goods and services. Yet if there’s something the consumers don’t like, they criticize the pastor and/or call a special business meeting to VOTE on proposed changes. It drives me up the wall. I have a hard time believing that Jesus suffered, bled, and died so we could sit in a building for an hour or two a week being entertained, going to endless Bible studies (where we constantly learn and never apply), critique those that are called by God to lead, and try to coach from the stands.

Furthermore, Christianity (in many churches) has been boiled down to learning a church language and improving our behavior. Do YOU think that’s what Jesus died for? Did He die so we could build mega churches and have great worship bands? I don’t think so. Jesus gave us one mission: to make disciples. So it amazes me that so many Christians (and churches) spend their time, resources, and their lives doing anything BUT making disciples. For some reason, they think it’s someone else’s job. However, if we want to make disciples in America today, we must embrace the missional lifestyle (ALL of us). What is the missional lifestyle? Read any one of the Gospels and observe the way Jesus and His disciples lived. Read the book of Acts and discover how churches were planted, disciples were made, and the Word of God spread.

Too many churches assume they’ve achieved success if they have a great church service, children’s programs, and big numbers. But I beg to differ. Numbers and finances often do NOT tell the tale. After all, didn’t Jesus say it was a narrow road and few find it? So why do we think God wants or expects huge numbers? I don’t believe God cares about the numbers at all. He cares about us making disciples. Behaving better is nice (and good), but at what point are we good enough? Didn’t Jesus die for our sins? Aren’t we forgiven? I hope so! We have a much better righteousness because of the sacrifice of Jesus!

Yet if we ignore the one thing He told us to do (make disciples), I can’t imagine that He’s a happy camper. So what does the missional lifestyle look like? How does discipleship happen? There are tons of blogs and books available that tell us how to be missional. And many of them are great reads. I recommend reading a few and applying what works for you. Just keep in mind that there is no one right way to do it. Personally, I feel like since so much effort has been placed on being missional in cities and suburbs that much of the focus goes to pubs and parties. And those are good things. I love a good beer!

Nevertheless, those are just a few tools in the toolbelt. They are not the whole tool box. And what about missional life out in the country? People in the woods and on farms need Jesus as much as people in the metro areas! So below are 7 simple steps to take to begin living a more missional lifestyle no matter your location and population: Bless; Listen; Encounter; Serve; Shabbat; Equip; Devote. Try them out. Just remember, however, that these are simply suggestions to get started. You might come up with some of your own or variations of what I (or others) have written. There is no one right way to do it! Just let God lead as you endeavor to make disciples and start living the BLESSED life!

Day 1 Bless

“‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matt.22:37-39 NLT).

“Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins. Cheerfully share your home with those who need a meal or a place to stay. God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another” (1 Peter 4:8-10 NLT).

“Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord…Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them…‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom.12:10-11 , 13-14, 20-21 ESV).

Bless. This one is first on the list for a reason. In our culture, Christians are too well known for what we’re against without people knowing what we are for and what we’re all about. But Jesus said it well. He said we’re supposed to love the socks off of each other! We’re to show love to God, each other (in the church), and to our neighbors (that’s everyone else). Blessing people can range from the everyday things to the extreme. My wife likes to call this Acts of Random Kindness (ARK). If every one of us would look up from our phones for just a minute and look away from how to please ourselves, we might actually notice what might make someone else’s day.

So if you want to begin living the missional life, like Jesus, check out your neighborhood and discover ways to bless people. Perhaps you might mow your neighbor’s lawn (just because), buy the new neighbor down the street a pizza and a six-pack to welcome them to the neighborhood, or offer to babysit for a young couple that’s slightly overwhelmed and in desperate need of a date night. Bless the teachers in your kids’ school by making them goodie bags with a Thank You note attached. Look for daily ways to bless people. It doesn’t take all that much effort.

You can look for more elaborate ways to bless people as well. Perhaps there’s a big project that needs to be done and you spend your weekend helping a co-worker to get it done (no charge) just to make their life easier. Or perhaps you decide to send someone on an unforgettable vacation (because they can’t afford it and you can). The possibilities are endless. If we want to be Good News to people, we need to stop studying information from the Bible and start living it like Jesus and the early church did. Bless your family. Bless people in your Missional Community. Bless the rest of the people in your little corner of the world (non-believers). Bless people.

Day 2 – Apply

Think about and pray about who you can bless today and in the coming weeks. And then get started and do it! Think about and pray about how often you want to bless people. It could be daily things, weekly, monthly, etc. Once you start blessing people on a regular basis you won’t want to stop. But take the time to think, pray, and do. Don’t just ignore and skip over this part! Bless someone today!

Day 3 – Listen

“Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry” (James 1:19 NLT).

“Even fools are thought wise when they keep silent; with their mouths shut, they seem intelligent” (Proverbs 17:28 NLT).

Listen. Listening is a lost art. People don’t naturally listen anymore. They simply talk and form responses before the other person is even finished speaking. But if we can learn the fine art of listening to people, we might just discover something new. We might find out what the people in our lives need. We might learn why they’re hurting. We might realize why they’re so angry, depressed, and/or lonely. If life is all about relationships (and it really is), then we need to realize that there are at least two sides to every story. It’s not about the Unholy Trinity of Me, Myself, and I. If we really want to get to know people and BE Good News, we need to listen.

Can I share a secret with you? People often tell me they feel so much better after talking to me. And it makes me smile. But it’s not because of anything I’ve done. It’s actually quite the opposite. It’s because I’ve learned to shut my pie hole and let someone emote (spill their guts) for however long they need. My wife would call that not being stupid, since everyone sounds smart until they open their mouths. You don’t need to be a pastor, theologian, or a Bible scholar to listen. You simply need to close your mouth, open your ears, and not actively prepare a response until the other person is finished and you’ve had time to process what was said.

A common phrase among actors is that acting is reacting. However, in order to react, we have to first hear what was said. We can’t have a prepared response ready to go. We must react to what’s being said. That, my friends, is the lost art of listening. If this is particularly hard for you, I recommend duct tape. It is indispensable in correcting so many issues. Furthermore, it’s available in many modern colors and designs! I don’t know how the world operated before duct tape! Listening is vital to relationship. Without it, we only have a monologue being spoken by a very lonely and selfish person. Listen.

Day 4 – Apply

Think about and pray about who you need to listen to. Is it a friend, neighbor, and/or a family member that needs someone to listen? Are you not sure about who to listen to because you don’t normally listen? Talk to God and ask Him to give you some names and to help you to be on the lookout for opportunities to offer a listening ear. He might give you the chance today or another day. Just be ready when the opportunity comes up! A great way to practice is when you’re with your family, friends, and co-workers. Just try listening to what they say without saying anything at all in return. Simply listen and don’t respond unless they specifically ask you to respond. This will take more than one day to master. However, try it out today. Don’t move on until you’ve actually listened. Then make it a habit over time.

Day 5 Encounter

“But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves” (James 1:22 NLT).

“Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you” (Matt.28:19-20 NLT).

“Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it” (1 Peter 3:15 NLT).

Encounter. This is another major lost art among Christians. Somehow along the line, Christians decided that they needed to cut themselves off from the rest of the world. They decided that they needed to be in church several times a week and only surround themselves with other believers. They go from Bible Study to Bible Study and learn so much information. Sadly, it never gets applied out in the real world because they’re hiding out in ChurchLandia. However, the simple truth is that we can’t be obedient to the Great Commandment and the Great Commission if we’re not out in the world encountering people that don’t know Jesus. And yes, it is uncomfortable at first. It’s hard. But what do you think Jesus did? He left the comforts of His home (Heaven), moved into our neighborhood with a bunch of dirty rotten sinners (like us), and encountered the very people He was trying to reach! He didn’t expect us to come to Him. He knew we wouldn’t and couldn’t. He came to us!

So what can this look like? The sky’s the limit! God designed you in a certain way. He didn’t design us all the same. So I’m not one of those that says you HAVE to do it a certain way. You don’t have to hang out in bars. You could. But you don’t have to. You don’t have to invite people into your home and cook a meal for them and sit awkwardly around a dinner table if you don’t cook and don’t have a family. You need to pray about how YOU can encounter people in a way that works with the way God designed you. And then do it!

Since I am married and have 4 children, Olivia and I like to do family things. We do like to invite people into our home. We like to set up play dates for the kids and get to know their parents too. We don’t have a dump and run philosophy. We like to have pool parties, cookouts, and outings to the local ice cream shop. On a personal level, I enjoy going to coffee shops and sharing a cup with a friend (hence the whole Coffee Shop Pastor thing)! But that’s me and my family. You might be different. Pray about ways that you can meet people and build solid relationships. Obviously, not everyone will become your best friend. Not everyone will become a part of your Missional Community. No worries. At least you’ve made another friend!

Just get out there and start encountering people. You might want to join a local gym, get in shape, and meet people on the StairMaster next to you! You might be a mechanic and own your own shop. So perhaps you can talk to your customers as you work! Be creative. But most importantly, be YOU. Don’t copy me. Just apply the principles and be YOU. You might even be sick and in the hospital. Why not be a blessing to the doctors, nurses, and staff? They need Jesus too! We can’t make disciples if we’re alone and/or with other Christians all the time. We need to encounter people that don’t know Jesus. We must get out of our comfort zone and actually DO what the Bible says, not just memorize it. Knowledge alone, without application, is worthless.

So encountering people is anything we do that builds relationships (gym, coffee shop, workplace, home, meals, sports, etc.). In addition, encountering people means doing life together. As we move beyond initial ways to meet people, the relationship deepens as we hang out and build on what was started. So as we really get to know each other and move on from the superficial aspects of relationship, we earn the right to have Gospel Conversations. Once people get to know us (and our Missional Community), they will share what they believe and ask us questions.

And that’s when we need to be prepared to give an answer. The Bible never says to be prepared to shove Jesus down someone’s throat. It says to be prepared to give an answer. And if we’re giving an answer, it means that someone has asked us a question! And that usually happens over time. If we show up at someone’s door, like salesmen, we’re not going to be greeted with happy thoughts. I’ve been there, tried that, and the door has been slammed in my face. It doesn’t work! Get to know people first over time. Make a friend. Encounter.

Day 6 – Apply

Pray about and think about who God wants you to spend time with and encounter. If you’re new at this, it’s not hard because you can think about the people you encounter every day at work, at home, neighbors, friends, etc. If you’re a little further along in your walk and you’ve already exhausted those options, you’re going to have to start thinking like an apostle. Pray about and think about what God wants you to do to meet NEW people. It might mean coaching your son’s soccer team, joining a gym, joining the PTA, and/or volunteering at a local establishment (library, fire department). It might take several tries before you find something that works for you. And yes you will stumble and screw it up. I’ve stumbled a thousand times. If you’re a church planter, it’s discouraging to have to start over from scratch. Trust me! I’m doing this the second time around and it’s overwhelming to start over and not know anybody in town. It’s not easy, but hang in there! Give it time. Rely on God. Get out there and encounter people. He will bring the right people to you.

Day 7 Serve

“For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45 NLT).

Serve. Olivia makes fun of me when she sees me reading a book. I’m an underliner. Along with things I want to remember and/or quote, I underline everything that jumps out at me. So when she watches me underline three-quarters of every page, she tends to laugh at me. That being said (and if I were you), I would underline this whole section on serving. In my humble opinion, if we as disciples of Jesus could only pick one out of all the missional principles in BLESSED, this one would be it! Nothing can make us more like Jesus than to serve people!

Jesus left the comforts of heaven, relocated to Israel, and was an even better neighbor than Mr. Rogers! He set the ultimate example of what it means to serve and not to be served. On the surface, it might be confusing to differentiate between blessing people and serving people, but they are distinct. Sometimes you can kill two birds with one stone as you bless and serve together; however, I see serving people as helping them do things they can’t do by themselves. They might need a little help. Blessing people is the little things we do just because we can. Those we bless may or may not NEED what we bless them with. Yet we bless them because we love them and because God blesses us. Truthfully, sometimes God blesses us with things we don’t need or deserve, but He blesses us anyway (just because He can). Nevertheless, serving is more like recognizing a need and satisfying that need.

If you belong to a Missional Community (MC), serving your neighborhood is a great way to build relationships. Your MC could adopt a park, a school, a fire department, or whatever you come up with. Once you choose something (or someone) in your community to serve, find out what the needs are. Figure out what you as a group can do and then DO it. It might cost money. It might cost time. But the rewards are everlasting! The actual project you do might not seem that exciting, but the relationships built along the way (within your MC and the people you serve) are the important thing. Serving is a bridge to relationship. Serving is a way to BE Good News.  Jesus came to serve and not to be served. We should do the same. Serve.

Day 8 – Apply

Brainstorm with your MC and make a list of ideas. Come up with things that you guys can do as a group. Think about and pray about the who, what, when, where, and why of what you want to do. And then take steps to do it. Serve your community. Keep a running list. Don’t let this become a one-time thing. Keep a running list of ways to serve your community. And then check each one off your list as you accomplish each one over time. You can do this with your family as well. Perhaps you can adopt a sports team that one of your children is on. You can find out what the needs of the families are that are on the team. And then go from there. You can also make half-time snacks. You can give kids a ride if they need it. Serve people.

Day 9 Shabbat

“Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Matt.11:28 NLT).

“Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy” (Ex.20:8 NLT). 

Shabbat. Shabbat is REST. This one should be self-explanatory; however, people in our culture do not know how to rest. We are on the go all the time. Unfortunately, I’m one of the biggest offenders! Yet what goes UP must come DOWN. We can’t be on the GO all the time. We need rest. In fact, God set one whole day aside every week for that very reason! In America, most of us are blessed with TWO days of rest, yet we rarely take them because we fill them with more work.

But what if we actually took a day off once a week for rest? You might be thinking, I’ll sleep when I’m dead. That is true. Nevertheless, your lack of rest might be sending you to that grave earlier than you want! My daughter cracks me up. I can always tell when she’s exhausted at the end of the day. She’s in a really BAD mood and she’s rather unpleasant to be around. There’s usually a lot of temper tantrums and screaming involved as well. At that point, I always know she’s tired when she screams out those famous words: I’M NOT TIRED!!!

So take a day once a week to rest. It can be by yourself, with your family, and/or with your MC. But take time to relax and chill. Don’t do any work. It’s not about legalism. It’s about resetting our clocks so we can get through the next week without collapsing or stressing out. Jesus wasn’t kidding when He said that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath (Mark 2:27). The point is that we need REST. We don’t need more religion. We just need to rest physically, spiritually, emotionally, and psychologically.

We all need down time, slow-down time, and stop and look around time. In addition, at least once a year we need extended time off for a vacation to recharge for the coming year. Again, our example is Jesus. He took time to rest. So why shouldn’t we? Go ahead. I dare you! REST! But if you don’t, stop complaining and throwing temper tantrums that you’re too stressed out and busy. You are in control. You can step on the brakes. You can take a day off. The world will survive without you for one day! Shabbat.

Day 10 – Apply

Take a day off. Take a sick day or a personal day if you have one. REST. Chill. As you approach your next scheduled day off, plan ahead of time to relax. Don’t overschedule yourself. In fact, don’t schedule anything. Hide in your house. Sleep in. Go to the beach for the weekend. Find a consistent day each week that you can recharge your batteries. You’re not the Energizer Bunny. You may think you are, but your battery will run out if you don’t take time to recharge.

Day 11 Equip

“And you should imitate me, just as I imitate Christ” (1 Cor.11:1 NLT).

“You have heard me teach things that have been confirmed by many reliable witnesses. Now teach these truths to other trustworthy people who will be able to pass them on to others” (2 Tim.2:2 NLT).

Equip. Can I be honest? The modern evangelical church gets on my nerves! We are so good at one-half of one-third of the Great Commission. We are so good at teaching what the Bible says (to people who are ALREADY believers). We’re great at Bible study. Yet we never actually DO what the Bible says, which is a direct violation of (you guessed it) the Bible (James 1:22)! We’re not just supposed to teach the Word. We are supposed to teach people to OBEY the Word (Matt.28:20 NET)! Furthermore, our definition of discipleship is (you guessed it) gaining more knowledge of the Bible.

But what is the bulk of what Jesus said in the Great Commandment and the Great Commission? Isn’t it ACTION oriented? He wants us to love God with everything we’ve got, love our neighbor as ourselves, make disciples, baptize them, and teach them to (show them how to) put it all into practice (Matt.22:37-39; 28:18-20)! Jesus’ whole life was directed at leading His disciples. What did He tell them to do? He told them to follow Him! Jesus set the example for ALL of us to follow. And we need to pass it on by being a good example for someone else. In the end, we equip people by first setting a good example. We can’t merely talk people into being and making disciples. We need to SHOW them HOW to make disciples. In addition, if WE aren’t out making new disciples, WE have no business teaching other people how to do what WE don’t do.

So the question isn’t about how much Bible you know. The real question is how many people are you discipling (leading by example)? Your family is the first group you should be discipling (along with your spouse). The next should be someone in your MC. The next is someone who doesn’t yet know Jesus. Discipleship is a constant circle of making disciples who make disciples. And we lead by example. Memorizing the Great Commission is nice. You should memorize it! Nevertheless, DOING the Great Commission is what Jesus told us to do. Not everyone’s a leader. Not everyone’s a pastor. But all of us can set an example for someone. So who are YOU discipling? Equip.

Day 12 – Apply

Are you investing in anyone other than yourself? Too many Bible studies are ME oriented. They focus on helping us to behave better and find satisfaction in life by going to church services. But Jesus told us to make disciples. That means we have to include other people in our lives. We have to lead by example. It starts with our own family and extends out to people that don’t yet know Jesus. Obviously, that is something that takes time. Furthermore, we can’t disciple too many people at once. But how about one or two? Certainly we can include one or two people that need to be discipled. Pray about and think about who God wants you to disciple. If we’re doing life with people that don’t know Jesus, eventually some of them will come to the faith. And YOU are the one that is their example. So take them by the hand and lead them. Use BLESSED, not just for yourself, but also to develop another disciple over time.

Day 13 Devote

“And the people of Berea were more open-minded than those in Thessalonica, and they listened eagerly to Paul’s message. They searched the Scriptures day after day to see if Paul and Silas were teaching the truth” (Acts 17:11 NLT). 

“All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work” (2 Tim.3:16-17 NLT).

 Devote. This one is dangerous! I’ve seen people take this one to the extreme in BOTH directions. The one extreme is that of the folks from a traditional conservative church. This is all they do. They go to church several times a week. They go to Bible study after Bible study. They do Quiet Times every morning! They pray. They work hard. They strive to always be on their best behavior. I could go on. But for the most part, these are good people with good intentions. There is always the danger of becoming a Christian Pharisee with the constant ritual and religion, but I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt here that the intentions are good.

The problem, however, is that if this is all we do we miss what God had in mind. Jesus didn’t die on the cross so we could all become highly intellectual Bible scholars. He died so we could make disciples. Sadly, if we reduce Christianity to Bible studies alone we miss six of the seven principles of living the BLESSED life. Being a well-behaved Christian is a GOOD thing. But it’s not the only thing. Moreover, we can never be good enough. Jesus already paid that price! The Bible actually tells us to not be overly righteous (Ecc.7:16 ESV)! Look it up. It’s there! Again, the New Testament example of that would be the Pharisees.

On the other side of the extreme coin, we have the Missional Party People. These are the people that love to hang out and party all the time. Unfortunately, they have no depth because they barely have any kind of relationship with God at all. They mean well. They want to read their Bible, study, and pray. But they rarely do it. They don’t really understand the Gospel or mission. Yet they are outstanding extroverts who love people (and alcohol). This is where Missional can get a bad rap. Sometimes people falsely think a Missional Church is cool because they know how to party. Yet they forget WHY we party. They also miss out on many parts of the BLESSED Life because they simply like to encounter (on the surface) and not much else.

However, the best option (as always) is finding a proper balance of all seven of the BLESSED principles. And Devote is absolutely one of them! We need to read and study our Bibles every day. We need to hear from God as we pray. In addition, it needs to be a substantial amount of time. Just clicking on a devotional from Facebook that takes less than one minute to read is not sufficient. It certainly is shallow, but not sufficient. Sorry. I don’t apologize for that. I do not condone or write fluff. There’s a reason I don’t write that kind of material. If that’s all you want, this BLOG’s NOT for you. We need solid Bible study.

Nevertheless, that Bible study must be applied. Otherwise, you’re sinning by being super knowledgeable, knowing what you need do, and not doing it (James 4:17). Knowledge AND Application of God’s Word is the only path to true worship and truly glorifying God with our lives. So true devotion to God is BOTH study AND application. Furthermore, it needs to be your own personal study AND corporate. Once you study the Bible, you’ll immediately learn that God intends a healthy relationship with Him, with His people (the church), and with people that don’t yet know Him. We were meant to be in community, not isolation.

The final part of devotion is regular coaching. We all need coaching. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been a Christian. We all need guidance and accountability. We all need a little help on a regular basis discerning what God is saying to us, confessing our sins, repentance, sharing victories and struggles, and making disciples. We all need coaching. And part of devoting our lives to living for Jesus is accountability. This is not about control. It’s about being teachable. God intended for us to be in this together. There’s no need or reason for lone-gunmen. Devote.

Day 14 – Apply

Have you ever had a mentor? A coach? Have you ever been discipled? If you’re answer is no, you’re not alone. I was not properly discipled until I was much older. I stumbled and fumbled in so many ways that could have been avoided if I had a proper coach. So think about and pray about who this person could be for you. It needs to be someone who has been there and done that. They need to be much further along the road than you. They also need to embrace the missional mindset. It would be best if it was someone from your own church and your own MC. And in the meantime, don’t forget to dust off your Bible and start reading, studying, and praying!

Conclusion

So where do we go from here? There are plenty of authors who have written similar things to what you just read. And they’re great. I’ve read some of them. But no one has all the answers. And no one is YOU. You have to decide how to apply this using your own gifts, personality, and limitations. So go ahead and start trying this out on a regular basis. And by all means, have someone coach you through it! But make sure it’s someone who knows missional concepts and lives out these principles. There’s nothing worse than a teacher who always teaches and never applies what he claims to know. That’s another name for hypocrite.

So go ahead and start living the BLESSED life. Use it in your own life. Use it in your MC. Use it to coach other people who aren’t as far along as you. Use it to BE coached by someone who IS further along than you. Use it for your own family (spouse and kids). If we really want to GO and Make Disciples like Jesus told us to do, BLESSED is a great way to make that happen! This is not just a study to be read. It’s a study to be applied. And it will lead to transformation. It’s simply application of Biblical principles. It’s not really anything new. It’s application of something very ancient, yet still applicable today!

And yes, involve your whole family! There’s no separate Children’s Program needed. If you’re a parent, it’s YOUR responsibility to raise your kids. So use this with your kids too. And make it fun and easy for them to understand in their own context. Your whole family can be living the BLESSED life together. There’s no need to separate. Be a family. Do this together. Include your kids in mission now. If they see that it’s important to you as you lead by example, they will continue living the same way when they raise their own family. More Children’s Programs are NOT needed. More godly and missional PARENTS are needed! You can bless and encounter your children’s friends and families just as easily as your own friends, coworkers, and family. Incorporate that into how you do BLESSED. It’s a lot of fun. And it leads to a better, deeper, and a more Jesus centered family.

Questions and Actions for YOU and your Missional Community…

  1. Try out BLESSED for a few weeks or months and make a list of the challenges you face along the way that keep you from living this way. In addition, make a list of the blessings and successes God brings to the people you’re reaching out to, your family, and your missional community.
  2. What often gets in the way of living this missional lifestyle the way Jesus did?
  3. Does BLESSED seem overwhelming? Legalistic? Should we ADD it to our lives or can we make it a part of what we already do?
  4. In your MC, are kids a problem to be solved (shoved in a corner) or are they an integral part of your missional family? Brainstorm ways that your MC can incorporate children with what you do, who you’re trying to reach, and what your meetings look like. Try out the ideas and keep what works!

That’s Just the Way it is!

“Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock. But anyone who hears my teaching and ignores it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand. When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will collapse with a mighty crash. When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, for he taught with real authority-quite unlike their teachers of religious law. Large crowds followed Jesus as he came down the mountainside” (Matt.7:24-8:1 NLT).

Day 1 – The Wise Man

Last night I was untimely ripped from a good night’s sleep due to a violent windstorm. I’m pretty much a scaredy-cat no matter where I am when a storm hits, but now that we’re in a new home in a new place (in a forest full of tall trees), I’m even a little more freaked out. As I sit typing at my computer right now, the wind’s STILL blowing pretty hard. Looking out my office window, I can see all the trees dancing in the wind, swaying back and forth. It looks to me like they could fall at any moment. That’s the only thing I could think about last night as I was trying to go back to sleep. What if a tree falls and hits our house? Will we die right away? Will it cut right through the house? By the way, they’re not small, insignificant trees. They’re tall oak trees that soar way above our house.

Yet the more I think about it and stare out the window, I can’t help but think how those trees got there in the first place. I can’t help but think what they had to endure to get as tall as they are now. I don’t think it’s possible to get that big and tall without being strong. And as tall as they are above the surface, I can’t even imagine what their root systems looks like underground. So I have now come to the realization that those trees aren’t going anywhere. One windstorm isn’t going to bring those tall oaks down. Those trees have been through hundreds of windstorms over the years and they’re not going anywhere. They’re anchored in the ground and they’re built to last. That’s just the way it is!

With that in mind, there is no more fitting conclusion to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount than the story He’s about to deliver in the verses we’re looking at today. He’s finishing up the greatest sermon ever preached. He’s given us so many tools to live by. And if we actually put His words into practice, we will (over time) grow in our faith and be able to weather any storm life throws our way. Over time, as we apply His words and live by faith, we will grow. Our roots of faith and action will run deep below ground to anchor us through the storms of life.

The truth is that the entire Sermon on the Mount comes down to the story Jesus uses to close it out. He’s given His hearers so much great information. Yet if they walk away and do nothing with it, they’ve all wasted their time. It always comes down to action. The information Jesus gives us in this entire sermon is intended to be applied. Once applied over time, God produces the transformation we need to make it down that narrow road of life. James summed it up well when He wrote, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says” (James 1:22 NIV). So in order to weather life’s storms, we need to DO God’s Word. That’s just the way it is!

1. If we want to weather the storms of life, grow in our faith, and find true happiness, we must not just hear the Word of God, but DO the Word of God (Matt.7:24-25). Jesus delivered this message on a mountain overlooking the Sea of Galilee. It’s quite a beautiful sight. But everyone who was listening to this message would have immediately known what Jesus was referring to here. The sand that encircled the Sea was hard as a rock on the surface over the hot summer. And believe me, it’s hot! Even in June, it’s hot. I was slightly upset the day I visited this place because it was a Triple H day (hazy, hot, and humid), and I couldn’t get a great shot of the Sea because it was so hazy. However, I eventually got some good shots. But the point is that over the hot summer, the sand is rock hard.

But over the winter months it was a different story, and they would get torrential downpours that could cause flooding. Guess what happens to the sand at that point? It’s not so rock hard anymore. So those that built their houses there knew that they needed to dig down under the surface to build the foundations for their homes. Sometimes they had to dig even 10 feet below the surface of the sand to get to the bedrock below and build their foundation from there. At that point, they knew it could withstand the heavy rains over the winter months.

Furthermore, Jesus tells us right away where He’s going with this story. He says that anyone who hears His words (the sermon He’s preaching) and DOES them, will be like this wise man. So Jesus is saying that it’s more than just hearing the Word, it’s also acting on what we hear. And this is a continual thing, not just a one-time deal. We need to continually hear God’s Word and DO God’s word. He doesn’t sugar coat it. That’s just the way it is.

The rock foundation that Jesus is talking about here is really obedience to God’s Word. The rock is the very words of Jesus and our obedience to His words (our actions). And this is something we must do on a continual basis. It takes time to build a house. It takes time to build a foundation. It takes time to base your whole life on God’s Word. So over time, that house withstands those storms because it was built the right way. It was built on the proper rock foundation below the surface (not unlike the root systems of tall oak trees).

Have you ever had a superficial friend? Have you ever known anyone who was a friend for a time but then when your life started to get hard, or something changed, he/she was gone? We’ve all been there. True friends are the ones who stick around even when you are at your most vulnerable point. Even when you are about to lose it, true friends will stick around and help to pick you up. In a similar way, a faith in Jesus Christ that is built on a solid relationship with Him (one that hears His Word and is obedient to His Word over time), is one that will stand the test of time. It will withstand the storms of life.

Have you ever heard the expression use it or lose it? Hearing God’s Word on a continual basis and doing it on a continual basis makes for a solid faith that can’t be lost or shaken when trouble comes. And trouble WILL come for all of us. That’s a given. But as we USE the Word of God, we will be strong. When we don’t, we lose ground, our faith becomes shaky, and those storms seem unbearable. Then we start to wonder where God is and question Him. But God’s right there the whole time! We’re the ones who are not doing His Word. We are the problem, not Him. We need to USE it or LOSE it. A sporadic use of God’s Word will be a sporadic faith. Knowledge of God’s Word (without action) is not enough. It just leads to an enlarged ego.

If our lives are based on anything other than the Bible (the Word of God), we’re not going to find the true satisfaction and happiness we’re looking for. It will always seem like something is missing. If we want to weather the storms of life, grow in our faith, and find true happiness, we must not just hear the Word of God, but DO the Word of God. And we can’t do the Word of God if we don’t believe it or use it as our manual for life. Have you ever wanted a manual for life? Have you ever wondered why one had not been written yet? It has! It’s called the B-I-B-L-E. That’s our solid rock foundation. And it will stand the test of time. “The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever” (Isaiah 40:8 NIV). And the person who FOLLOWS the Word is truly wise.

Day 2 – The Foolish Man

2. If we want to continue in our struggles, not grow in our faith, and not find a lasting happiness, just hearing the Word of God is sufficient (Matt.7:26-27). Now we have the exact opposite of our first point. We looked first at the wise man. But now Jesus tells us what happens to the other guy (the foolish man). Jesus says, This is what happens when you have sat and listened to My teaching and don’t do it. You’re an idiot! Of course, He does not use those exact words; however, He might as well since the foolish man only listens and doesn’t ACT on God’s Word. The foolish man has sat and listened to the whole Sermon on the Mount. Yet he walks away and doesn’t DO anything about what he heard.

This foolish man is the one who does not dig down under the sand and get to the rock. He just went ahead and built his house on the surface of the sand because it was quick and easy. The foolish man looked at that hard sand in the summer and said, That’s hard enough. I can build my house there. He didn’t think long-term. He didn’t plan for those winter rains. He didn’t plan for that sand (and his house) to get washed away.

Moreover, both houses look the same above the surface. No one can tell the difference until the storms come. The difference is what’s under the surface. The difference is spiritual. The difference is between someone who professes faith in Christ and someone who professes faith in addition to acting in obedience to God’s Word. Only the storms of life can flush out those who only hear and profess. Yet those that have heard and done the Word (over time) will withstand both the storms of life and the judgment of God. Instead of saying, I never knew you, Jesus will say, I’ve always known you. And the reward is no small matter: eternal life.

Sadly, not everyone really believes God’s Word. They might believe it CONTAINS God’s words. Or they might think it’s just another book. But it’s so much more than that. If you actually know what’s written in the Bible (and you’re living it out), you know it’s not just another book. This is our manual for life. And it’s either ALL true or it’s ALL a lie because God claims that it’s His Word and that it will stand forever. That’s either true or false. There is no gray area when it comes to God’s Word, the Bible. And if it IS true, then we need to follow it. We need to ACT on what it says. We must never forget, however, that it’s a continual action. When it comes to weathering the storms of life, we must be in the Word training every day AND using it. It’s so easy to get off course and slip and fall.

A little over 4 years ago, Olivia gave me a wonderful Christmas present. It was a trip to Israel. I was to go that following June. The gift, however, came with a condition. She said that I had to lose weight. I was around 206lbs at that time. Nevertheless, my motivation to make the pilgrimage to Israel was pretty great. So I started working out. And over a 4 month period, I lost almost 40 lbs! Even after the trip, I liked my new body and I wanted to keep it that way. So I maintained my new weight for about 3 years.

Unfortunately, once we moved to Enola to plant our first church, I stopped working out. And it was for good reasons. I never got lazy. I just got busy. Our whole lives were turned upside down and our focus shifted. But the problem was that, over time, my eating habits changed. Since I no longer worked out, I couldn’t eat as much and still maintain the same weight. Needless to say, those pounds started coming back on without detection. By the time I noticed, it was too late. It seemed like my clothes shrunk overnight. Currently, I now weigh 10 lbs more than I did before the initial weight loss. And I can’t blame the dryer for shrinking my clothes.

The Christian life is the same way. It’s so easy to slip. In fact, it’s easy to lose weight as a Christian initially because you’re so excited. The hard part is keeping the weight off over the years! We have to continue to study the Word and DO the Word in order to keep growing; otherwise, when those storms come up, we won’t make it. We become that foolish man without even realizing until it’s too late. The truth is that if we don’t get serious about God’s Word today, we never will. We must strike while the iron’s hot! But we need not do it alone. That’s what the church is here for. We can strengthen each other along the way. That’s just the way it is!

Day 3 – Which man (woman) will YOU choose to be?

The Sermon on the Mount comes to a conclusion with that story of the Wise Man and the Foolish Man. However, it is interesting that Matthew records what happens once Jesus is finished preaching. “When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, for he taught with real authority-quite unlike their teachers of religious law (Matt.7:28-29 NLT). In today’s church, it seems that if people were actually challenged to live out the Word, they would all walk away. We seem to want to STUDY and HEAR the Word in abundance while not doing much of anything about it (except go to more Bible studies). But Jesus never gave us that option. He said, You gotta actually do this or it’s worthless!

And His audience didn’t walk away. They wanted to hear more! “Large crowds followed Jesus as he came down the mountainside (Matt.8:1 NLT). Instead of walking away, they followed Him off that mountain. Today, I think many church leaders have it all wrong. They think they need to water down God’s Word to draw large crowds. But I beg to differ. I believe that people WANT to hear God’s Word. I think they WANT to know it and understand it better. I think they would actually WANT to follow Him if they knew what He taught and had authentic leaders who also DO the Word rather than just preach it. Jesus did both. He led by example. Our leaders should too! That’s just the way it is!

People are looking for meaning and purpose to their lives. Honestly, I believe that people are generally unhappy, whether they want to admit it or not. But as the church, we need to show them Jesus Christ. We need to BE Good News. We need to teach them what the Bible actually says instead of forming an opinion about what they think they already know. As the church, we don’t need to change the Word. We need to DO the Word. We need to live by example. And God will change lives. OUR job isn’t to change people’s lives. That His job. But He does tell us to put His Word into practice.

Unfortunately, if we wait until the storm comes, we will fall like the house on the sand. The choice is ours to make, however. We either build it on the Word of God AND doing the Word, or we build it on the philosophies, religions, and opinions of the world. Let me know how that works out for you in the end! Experience tells me the latter choice doesn’t end well in this life or in the life to come!

Here’s 3 ways to put this Scripture (and the whole Sermon on the Mount) into practice:

1) Hear the Word (make time and effort to hear it). Attending church services is part of hearing God’s Word. Make it a habit. Make it regular. That’s where we can learn and be challenged by God’s Word (especially if we’re beginners). You can also read it on your own at home on a daily basis. Get a Bible that’s easy to read and understand. I recommend a modern translation. There are plenty available! The New Living Translation (NLT) is probably the one I would recommend if you’re just starting out. The English Standard Version (ESV) is great as well. But no matter what translation you use, just start reading and listening! Hear the Word.

2) Learn the Word (make time and effort to learn it). “Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:11NIV). That’s what is known as The Berean Challenge. So be a Berean! Study the Bible every day. We can do that personally at home or in a Missional Community setting. Sunday morning sermons aren’t enough. That’s only 1/7th of what we need! If we want to start to grow in our faith we need to learn the Word. And it takes time. Yet it’s a daily habit that’s worth starting! The above Bibles that I mentioned also have study Bible versions. I highly recommend getting a Study Bible that includes not only the text, but also study notes that help you to understand what you’re reading. Learn the Word.

3) Do the Word (make time and effort to do it). Once you hear it and study it, the only thing that’s left to do is to put it into practice. If you miss that part, you’ve missed the whole point. God doesn’t want us to just get smarter. For example, I can learn about weight loss. I can read about weight lifting and cardio, but unless I get my butt into gear and eat right and exercise, I won’t lose weight! Action is required if we want results that will last. We must DO the Word.

Missional Communities are a great way to learn how to DO the Word. MC’s do study the Bible, but we also take seriously Jesus’ Commission to go and make disciples. God intended us to work together, as the church, to accomplish His purposes. It was never meant to be every man for himself. The Christian life is one that needs to be shared and experienced in community with other believers. We’ll never really know what it’s like to truly live by faith and trust God until we DO His Word (together). That’s the only way to withstand the storms that come our way. That’s the only way to build our houses on the Rock. DO the Word. That’s just the way it is!!!

Day 4

Questions to consider…

  1. How do you learn best? Reading? Watching? Hands on? A combination?
  2. How much time do you normally spend hearing God’s Word? Learning God’s Word? Doing God’s Word? Would you consider yourself a beginner, intermediate, or advanced student of God’s Word? What qualifies you for that distinction?
  3. What gets you through a crisis? Do you ever doubt your faith or the goodness of God when bad things happen? Has your opinion changed over time? Why?

Where does our strength come from?

Have you ever read this verse and thought “I can do that!” You really can’t. Our individualized, American, Western mindset says, “It’s all about me! Personal power!” But it’s not. It’s all about Him. He has all the power. We’re pretty weak all by ourselves. It’s only through Jesus that we have any strength at all. So next time you read this verse, focus less on the “I” and more on the One who strengthens us (Jesus)! Our strength comes from Him and Him alone. Furthermore, it’s not something that can be earned through religious activity. This is passive! He gives us strength.  That’s just the way it is!