Just Hangin’

Hangin’ with my best friend

I love to spend time with Betsy. Even if I just have a quick jaunt to Meijer for some milk and eggs, I want her to come along with me. Or an appointment I had that was an hour away, I was grateful that her schedule was freed up so we could be together. Today we had a looong, important but unexciting meeting; just being there together made it bearable.

I love the inside jokes, the “look” that speak volumes, the “squeeze” that tells me when I’m supposed to speak up (or keep quiet), the “smile” that’s so meaningful.

I truly believe that love is best spelled T-I-M-E.

Are you spending enough of this precious commodity with those closest to you? Are you hangin’ with those you love? If not, try it, and just wait to see what happens!

Prayer Works

Prayer works. This phrase is powerful on so many levels—

  • Prayer is effective.
  • Prayer makes changes in me.
  • Prayer makes me work better.
  • Work is made better with prayer.
  • It takes a lot of work to pray.

Most Christians give the first day of each week to God. I’m challenging myself and our congregation to give the first week of the new year to God. January 3-9 will be a week of working in prayer. We’ve called this week Total Access: When we pray, we have total access to all of God’s blessings. He wants to bless us so that…

1. We can be more fruitful.

2. We can bless others out of our overflow.

3. We can glorify God.

Why don’t you join us in giving your first week of the year to God. It’s work to pray, but prayer works.

A Dollar Or A Cent

Last night my two young nephews were staying at our house. After dinner (and ice cream!) my youngest nephew decided he would rather go back home to sleep in his own bed. As I was driving him back toward his house, we had a fascinating conversation.

Fascinating for me because of the sincere simplicity of his young mind. He sees the world so innocently, and yet so sincerely as well. It reminded me of… me.

When I was a kid, my Grandfather offered me my choice of a dollar bill or a single penny. Without any hesitation, I chose the penny. “Why do you want just one penny,” my Grandfather asked, “Don’t you know that a dollar is worth 100 pennies?”

“Yes,” I replied in all my 3-year-old wisdom, “But you can’t put a dollar in a gumball machine.”

I robbed myself of a greater blessing because of my innocent simplicity. I saw only the immediate gain and not the greater blessing. I might have to go through an extra step to exchange the dollar for 100 pennies, but wouldn’t the effort be worth it?

Here’s what C.S. Lewis said:

“If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

Are you too easily pleased? Can you believe God for greater blessings? You might have to give up the immediate gain, but won’t it be worth it to trade mud pies in a slum for a holiday at the sea? Don’t settle for a single penny, when there are immeasurable treasures waiting for you!

Love Notes

If you have heard about Dr. Gary Chapman’s book The Five Love Languages, then the love language of “words of affirmation” will be familiar to you. This is the primary way that some people both express their love and want to receive their love. My youngest son definitely has this as one of his primary love languages.

He is at the age now where he has started writing more notes. They are intended as love notes, but they are actually powerful epistles. Short messages with weighty impact…

  • On my homemade Father’s Day card he wrote, “Best Dad in the world. Don’t stop loving.”
  • On my oldest son’s birthday card he challenged him, “Thanks for being my brother, and always remember Christ.”
  • On top of my Christmas present was this encouragement, “I love you Dad. Don’t stop preaching the Word.”

Simple. Profound. Encouraging. I’m challenged to be a better Dad and a better pastor today because of these heartfelt, Holy Spirit-inspired notes.

No More Fear

Have you ever noticed the overarching message throughout the Christmas story? In both Matthew’s and Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus there is a repeated angelic message to humankind: “Do not be afraid.”

  • Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard” (Luke 1:13).
  • Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God” (Luke 1:30).
  • “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife” (Matthew 1:20).
  • Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people” (Luke 2:10).

Why all this fear? Quite simply sin brings fear: Fear of God’s impending judgment. But the canceling power is Jesus. In the Christmas carol Joy To The World there are powerful, fear-lifting words in the third verse:

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

His blessing comes to bring joy wherever the curse of sin has brought fear! Jesus defeats sin, and so therefore His joy displaces all fear!

  • “His mercy extends to those who fear Him” (Luke 1:50).
  • “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because He has come and has redeemed His people…. To show mercy to our fathers…. To enable us to serve Him without fear…. To give His people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins” (Luke 1:68, 72, 75, 77).
  • “He will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).
  • “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11).

Sin forgiven. Curse canceled. Fear removed. Joy has come because Jesus has come.

My prayer for you is that you are living without fear because you are living without sin. It’s only possible because Jesus came for you. Merry CHRISTmas!

Spurred On

There are times when it’s not so nice to have someone behind me who is pushing me forward. Like when I’m standing in the check-out line at the grocery store. After all, I can only go as fast as the person in front of me, right? So I start to have this imaginary conversation with the shopper behind me, “Look, you can nudge and prod and bump me all you want, but I can’t go any faster.”

But it’s a whole different story when the way in front of me is wide open. Now my imaginary conversation changes, “Okay, here we go! You’re nudging and prodding is really going to make me fly now!”

I think this is might have been what the Apostle Paul was thinking when he wrote, “Follow me as I follow Christ.” In essence, it was a thank you note to those behind him, “Thank you for spurring me on to preach better, teach better, live better, be better.”

Here’s what Jesus did for us: He was spurred on both by those of us who would be following Him and by the calling of His Heavenly Father. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting Him, He endured the Cross, disregarding its shame. Now He is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.

So Paul said he could follow that example in his own life. Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

I’m in awe of what God has called me to do.

I’m grateful for the way Jesus has opened up the way for me.

I’m thankful for those who spur me on every day. Especially my family and my congregation. You make me want to preach better, teach better, live better, be better. Thank you!

Who’s spurring you on?

Multifaceted Story

Today I’m preparing for our Candlelight Christmas Eve service. As I study the account of the birth of Jesus I’m always amazed at what I didn’t see in this Christmas story the last time I looked. If ever there was a multifaceted story, the coming of the Son of God to earth is it.

This story is so rich with…

  • unusual characters
  • angels
  • dreams
  • kings
  • strangers
  • scandal
  • drama
  • joy
  • sorrow
  • gifts
  • opportunities

I pray that this Christmas you will see something new. May Christmas never be the-same-old-story-all-over-again. Look with new eyes, hear with new ears, experience with a new heart. It’s the greatest story ever told!

Merry Christmas!

Jesus Tweets

I began using Twitter in 2009. There is something challenging about conveying what I’m doing or thinking or encouraging others to do or think in 280 characters or less. I also love the bite-sized flow of comments from others that keep me informed and entertained.

As with anything I commit myself to, it always has to pass the “Would Jesus Do This” test. So, would Jesus use Twitter? Would we be reading @JesusChrist tweets if He were on earth today?

I think so! Just a quick survey of the gospels will show you how many of His profound statements were in the Twitter-ready 280-characters-or-less format…

In refuting the temptations of satan, all three Old Testament passages Jesus quoted are Twitter-length.

  • Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.
  • Do not put the Lord your God to the test.
  • Worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.

In His famous Sermon on the Mount, all of the “blessed are” beatitudes are Twitterable.

  • Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
  • Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
  • Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
  • Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
  • Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
  • Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
  • Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.
  • Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
  • Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me.

Each sentence of Jesus’ model prayer fits in the Twitter dialogue box.

  • Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name, Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
  • Give us today our daily bread.
  • Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
  • And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.

All of Christ’s powerful “I AM” declarations in the Gospel of John are less than 140 characters.

  • I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me will never go hungry, and he who believes in Me will never be thirsty.
  • I am the light of the world. Whoever follows Me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.
  • I am the gate; whoever enters through Me will be saved.
  • I am the good shepherd; I know My sheep and My sheep know Me.
  • I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies.
  • I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.
  • I am the true vine, and My Father is the gardener.
  • I am the vine; you are the branches.

Even the most well-known verse of all fits:

For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.

What’s your favorite Twitter-ready statement from @JesusChrist?

There’s A Puppy Curled Up On My Lap

Some of you may know that my puppy Grace came to me on National Be Kind To Craig Owens Day. (What, you didn’t know about that holiday?!?) What a joy she’s brought to our family!

I’m trying to get some work done at home right now, and she insists on curling up on my lap. If I get up to get something from another room, she will follow me into that room. She loves going in the car with me or hanging out with me at my office. There’s no doubt that I’m her human.

So I was thinking today about how Grace just simply wants to be where I am. I sort of think this is what the Bible means when it says, “So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when He adopted you as His own children. Now we call Him, ‘Abba, Father.’

Do you just want to spend time with God?

Do you simply want to be where He is?

Just to feel close to Him?

To go where He’s going?

And do what He’s doing?

To call Him “Daddy, God”?

Your Heavenly Father is calling you today to come closer to Him. Will you answer that call?

Sharper

Yesterday was one of those days that I was in “receive” mode. As a pastor, I usually spend more days in the “dispense” mode: teaching, counseling, advising. But yesterday I was blessed to sit back and soak in some great counsel. And I’m sharper for it.

It’s too bad that many people never take the time to allow others to advise them. Or, if they do go through the motions of “listening” to advice, they never put that counsel into action.

I met with a seasoned pastor yesterday morning. He asked me several questions to assess where I was personally and professionally, and then he gave me some invaluable insight. He’s one of those “been-there-done-that” guys who has learned the lessons of history well, and he was gracious to share with me.

Last night I invited my Impact teaching team over to my house. After sharing dinner together I listened as they weighed in on our upcoming series in our youth services. Since they are closer in age to our students, their insight into the teenage mind was so keen. They were able to help me better understand the challenges and culture of middle and high school students. And I’m sharper for it.

A few thoughts from some other wise counselors:

“A wise man will hear, and will increase learning; and a man of understanding shall attain unto wise counsels.” —Proverbs 1:5 (KJV)

“Those who will not be counseled, cannot be helped. More souls are ruined by pride than by any other sin whatever.” —Matthew Henry

“Without good direction, people lose their way; the more wise counsel you follow, the better your chances.” —Proverbs 11:14 (The Message)

“Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.” —Proverbs 15:22 (NIV)

“To accept good advice is to increase one’s own ability.” —Goethe

Are you getting sharper? Are you listening to good advice?

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