Month: December 2016

Living At Midnight With No Stars in the Sky – A Christmas Message

On the night Jesus was born, the world was living at midnight with no stars in the sky. It certainly did not seem holy to most of the people in Bethlehem, but hope has a way of springing up in the most unusual places and amongst the most unlikely people.  Some of the prophets of old had spoken of a baby coming that would change the world and of a people who were walking in darkness needing a great light.

Most bible scholars believe Jesus was born at night, possibly in a dark cave or grotto. Darkness certainly was the prevailing theme of the birth story.  There were shepherds guarding their flocks at night when suddenly the glory of the Lord appeared, and they were terrified. It seems they were more comfortable living at night, alone in the shadows, than being surprised by angels and bright lights.

Most of our world is living right now at midnight with no stars in the sky; certainly there is very little reason for many people to have hope. Syrian refugees are fleeing the rubble of their neighborhoods hoping to find safety. Many of the people right here in our community are struggling to get through the holidays despite deafening depression or addictions. Maybe you are walking in darkness, hoping to find your way through life. You are living at midnight, with no stars in the sky. It always seems to be winter, but never Christmas.

Jesus came into the world as a light to all humanity, proclaiming freedom from oppression to anyone who would believe and follow him. His message of peace was and is the most radical proclamation in human history.

Jesus came as a baby, vulnerable, small, placing his life into the hands of two people who were not ready to be parents.  Very few of us seem ready for Jesus when he arrives. He comes to us anyway, asking if we will receive him. Joseph and Mary both had a choice. They could have rejected the angels and lived their lives safely in Nazareth. Instead, they believed!

Joy to the world, the Lord is come! Let Earth receive her king. Let every heart, prepare him room.

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A Good Day’s Work

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.

Colossians 3:23

Growing up, I heard my parents speak of working hard and putting in a good day’s work. I watched my parents end most days tired, but content at what had been accomplished. It was not necessarily ambition that drove them, but a desire to be productive and useful. Working hard was honorable, more akin to worship than duty. It certainly was not optional.

What does it mean to work hard with all your heart, to put in a good day’s work? How can we tell if we have honored God and really been productive with our time and talents?

We cannot assume those on our teams share the same values for hard work and productivity. Frustrations are often a result of unmet expectations or expectations that were never clearly communicated in the first place. Many times, a team is annoyed when others are not working as hard or some are not seen as carrying the weight assigned to them.

When was the last time your team sat down and agreed on the definition of a good day’s work? Here are some thoughts to consider at the end of each workday:

1. Did we pray for our work?

2. Did we arrive on time, ready to work?

3. Did we know our assignments?

4. Did we ask for help when we needed it?

5. Did we stop and help others when they needed it?

6. Did we solve problems proactively?

7. Did we communicate well with our team?

8. Did we handle our frustrations with a good attitude?

9. Did we prioritize our time for the most valuable things?

10. Did we finish what really needed to be done today?

I will leave you with one of my favorite quotes from someone who was fairly productive.

“We often miss opportunity because it’s dressed in overalls and looks like work.”

Thomas Edison

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Thankful for 2016

As one calendar year comes to a close and a new year is approaching, we pause to reflect on how faithful God has been and to anticipate that same faithfulness moving into the new year. In a recent meeting with our NLC Elders, we spent time thanking God for all that he did in 2016 and praying for clear direction for New Life Church in 2017. Because of God’s goodness and your faithful tithes and generous offerings, we are able to celebrate these extraordinary accomplishments in 2016:

  • We baptized nearly 400 people.
  • We doubled the number of single moms and their children at Mary’s Home.
  • We have served over 4,000 women and nearly doubled our appointment hours at the Women’s Clinic.
  • We launched a New Life congregation in Manitou Springs, led by Pastor Joe Kirkendall.
  • We began the process of merging with Nueva Vida, the largest Spanish speaking church in Colorado Springs, led by Pastor Jeremias Tamarez. We now have five congregations meeting across our city.
  • We partnered in planting Radiant Church in Kansas City, MO, with Pastor David Perkins. We have now partnered in planting five churches across the United States.
  • We were able to give a substantial gift to the Springs Rescue Mission to help them open a state-of-the-art homeless facility in Colorado Springs.
  • We gave financial assistance to numerous New Life families in crisis.
  • We supported and partnered with 28 Missionaries and 56 Missions/Ministry Organizations.
  • We sent nearly 200 volunteers on 17 missions trips to 13 countries.
  • We renovated our 25-year-old bathrooms.
  • Our New Life Friday Night Congregation raised the funds necessary to update our 1500-seat Theater.

While we celebrate these extraordinary accomplishments–and they are extraordinary–we also recognize that God is very aware of the ordinary things that happen day in and day out in our church and in our city because people like you love so well. God sees every time you welcome someone in the parking lot, pray for someone at the altar, disciple one of the children in KIDs Ministry, prepare meals for a grieving family, visit someone in the hospital, share a meal with a neighbor…he sees it all. Jesus said, Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me. (Matthew 25:40)

So much has been accomplished, and so much remains to be done. As this year comes to a close, if you would like to consider a special year-end gift, you may drop it in the offering prior to December 31st or give online here.

There are so many in our city that need to hear the message of hope that we share from Isaiah 9:6, For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Please invite someone, maybe the overlooked or ignored, to come and sit with you during one of our Christmas services. We will have four identical Christmas Services at our North Campus only at 2:00PM, 4:00PM, and 6:00PM on Christmas Eve and at 11:00AM on Christmas Day.

Pam and I and the staff of New Life Church are praying for you and those you love to you to be filled with great joy during this beautiful Christmas season.

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What Is Good Preaching?

Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.  2 Timothy 4:2

What exactly qualifies as good preaching? When we walk away from our churches, do sermons really change the way we live or treat others? Can we even remember the message the next day, especially with all the competitive noises of our culture? What responsibilities do pastors have besides dismissing us in time for kickoff?

For centuries, sermons and homilies have stood apart in the minds of Christ followers from other oratory traditions such as lectures, lessons or speeches. Certainly, lectures and speeches can challenge us, inspire us to change, cause us to feel and send us out to change the world. So what’s different about sermons?

The difference is the source and origin. Speeches are prepared and practiced, like good sermons, but sermons are birthed from a spiritual source. Sermons materialize to pastors through prayer, study, reflection and sometimes travail. Sermons speak to us deeply because they arrived from the deep. It’s the Holy Spirit’s work through the preached Scriptures that changes the hearts of men and strengthens the souls of saints.

Notice, though, the three charges in the passage of Scripture above – correct, rebuke, encourage. It seems Paul was telling a timid Timothy not to shrink back from telling people how they should live. In a culture where popularity is prized, that is risky stuff. It seems the best sermons are birthed in prayer, but fleshed out with a courage to confront behaviors in those listening.

Doesn’t Paul know that cute and funny performances build crowds? It seems gathering a crowd was not the point. Paul knew even Jesus had trouble holding onto the crowds, especially when he talked of sacrifice and suffering. Those sermons even made Paul nervous when he first heard of them.

Prophetic sermons call us to a life that is different, but better. Because pastors love their flock, they tell them of greener pastures, still waters and a Shepherd who cares for their frantic souls. Pastors protect them from wolves who wish to devour and idols which steal their worship. Sermons jolt us into a better reality. In the end, we are encouraged, strengthened and comforted.

Yes, sermons can change us. Pastors will do well to remember the tremendous responsibility that comes with the stage and pulpit. With great patience and careful instruction, disciples can be shaped by the foolishness of good preaching.

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Can We Disagree With Our Pastor On Social Media?

I post a lot of stuff on social media – scriptures, photos of my kids, updates on the church and funny things I see. None of that bothers most people. When I post about theology or complex social issues like immigration, things can change quickly. That’s probably why most people avoid these two topics, right?

Some pastors, including myself, post random theological and ecclesiological viewpoints on social media. Some of these posts are considered complex ideas which can confuse or concern people. Before social media, these ideas were presented in long-form books, magazine articles or in classrooms. Today, we have 140 characters as an option to explain soteriology or the differing viewpoints on eschatology.

First, pastors have the right to post about theology as much as plumbers can post about pipes. We work with theology every day and it’s our trade language. Naturally, these meanderings and musings will spill out to social media, primarily for conversations with other pastors and theologians. Social media reaches everyone, though. That’s where the problems arise because pastors who bring up thorny issues can confuse or aggravate people in their congregations.

So, should pastors stay off social media except to post cat videos? Of course not! We should, though, be careful that our posts are wisely crafted and carefully explained so that our theological contemplations are not tripping hazards for the people who look to us for spiritual formation. At the same time, most pastors are hungry for conversations with other pastors who are learners and thinkers. Social media sometimes feels like overhearing a conversation that was not meant for you.

What about disagreeing online with your pastor? What are the boundaries? Obviously, honest questions and respectful disagreements are the strengths of social media. I have had thousands of conversations on social media that would have never happened in the limited spaces of my daily life. That is a good thing.

My friend asked a good question about the boundaries of such disagreements. We should not accuse our pastors online of wrong motives or even hint about heresy. If that is a concern, call them and make an appointment. Talk to them and express your feelings. Do not attack on social media. Social media is a poor platform for serious dissents. Looking someone in the eye, being present, is always best when discussing hot button issues. There are a lot of brave souls on a keyboard who are as tame as ducklings when present with you. Keyboard cowards, I call them.

Most pastors I know love Jesus and are trying valiantly to make disciples in a world that cares less and less about discipleship. Certainly, we can post unwise thoughts like the rest of the populace, but rarely is it because of a motive to harm or confuse. Let’s assume the best from one another and have the courage for a personal conversation. That will clear up most of our misunderstandings and build unity in the church.

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My Advent Invitation To Silence and Peace

I enjoy reading about church history, and if I were to peg the central characteristics of church gatherings in the first century, it would be non-hyped, non-frantic, unrushed. Worship was their lifestyle, not an overly promoted activity occurring one hour, one morning a week. Things were simple. Prayers were meaningful. People were fully dependent on the Spirit of God.

It’s the polar opposite of how we operate today, in our infamously glitz-and-gratification culture. We favor microwaves over Crock Pots and sex-appeal over substance. We like it fast and easy and now…and preferably at little cost to us. As it relates to the church-going experience, we rush in on a Sunday morning—fifteen minutes late at best—we scurry to find a seat, get antsy after sixty minutes, and rush right back into our day. We sing songs with lines like “wait upon the Lord” and bob our heads in apparent agreement, even as we silently wonder how much longer the song-set will last.

We’re moving far too fast to hear it, of course, but still God whispers, “Be still.”

Relax.

Linger.

Drop the hype, please.

Let me show up and do my work.

It would be easy to blame church congregations for the madness that has consumed our gatherings these days, except that from what I see from their pastors, we’re conditioning them to behave this way. We hype and promote and position and tweet and inadvertently create pews full of consumers instead of devoted worshipers of God. I once heard it said that leaders who don’t teach their congregations to worship must entertain them week in and week out. So true. We hype-ers are setting up our people to expect an experience, instead of teaching them to encounter their Lord.

My prayer for us in this season of Advent:

Father in heaven, may we be still and know you are Lord. May we put aside our desire for spiritual hype and find your Holy Spirit in all the quiet spaces of our lives. May we be fervent in our prayers and mature enough to know loud and exciting are not always synonymous with revival. May we repent of our sins and admit we need your grace. In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

 

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