Have you ever taken a walk through a cemetery?  Most of us who have would say that while it's peaceful, it's also sad.  People who once lived and breathed, had families and careers, now buried.  Unfortunately, many went to their grave with unrealized dreams, relationships that never healed, and potentials that were never maximized.  What's sad about a cemetery is not the people buried there, but what's buried inside the people buried there.   

In Matthew 25:14-30 Jesus tells a story about a man who was going on a journey.  Before he left, he entrusted money to three of his servants.  To one he gave 5 talents, to one he gave 2 talents, and to one he gave 1 talent.  While the master was away, the servant with 5 talents invested the money and gained 5 more talents.  The servant with 2 talents did the same.  But the servant with 1 talent buried his money and did nothing with it.  When the master returned home, each servant gave an account for what he had done with what he had been entrusted with.  Overall, the master was pleased.  But he was furious with the servant who buried his money.  In fact, he threw the servant out of his house!

Notice, the servant didn't steal from the master.  He probably wasn't a bad guy.  So what was his crime?  Laziness.  And what was the reason for his laziness?  Fear.  

Fear holds many in bondage.  Fear keeps us from pursuing our dreams and sticking to our goals.  Fear aids us in giving up when things get tough or we meet adversity.  And most of all, fear keeps us from change!

There is no growth without change.  There is no change without loss.  There is no loss without pain.  

God has a plan for your life.  He's entrusted you with certain resources: your health, your family, your job, your possessions, even your church.  What are doing with them?  Are you maximizing your full potential for God's glory or are you stuck in a rut, resisting change, because of fear?

Our willingness to change positions us to embrace God's plan for us.  Our willingness to change affects our children and others who come after us.  We must live with an awareness that there are 3 enemies of change: fear, ruts, and idols.  We need to resist all three!

For more on this, watch the full message!

Years ago I burned my hand really bad while working on a construction job site.  Thankfully, we were working across the street from the local fire department.  Before going to the emergency room, I was able to go across the street to the firehouse and get help.  After washing my hand, one of the paramedics put ointment on my hand and wrapped it.  

Later at the hospital, I was told that putting the ointment on my hand so soon after getting injured saved my hand from long term scarring.  

Forgiveness is the healing ointment that needs to be applied to our "burns" soon after we're hurt.  Many people struggle with forgiveness because they have a false understanding of what forgiveness is.  Before I tell you what forgiveness is, allow me to state what it is NOT: 

Forgiveness is not condoning what happened to you.  When you were lied to, gossiped about, cheated, stolen from or abused, it was wrong then, it's wrong now, and it will be wrong tomorrow.  

Forgiveness is not reconciling with the offender.  It takes two willing parties to reconcile.  The fact is some of the people we need to forgive are not even living now!  

Forgiveness is not ignoring your pain.  Your pain is real.  You need to deal with it, but you need to deal with it in a constructive way.  Forgiveness is the first big step towards that healing.

Forgiveness is not forgetting!  If that were the case, I wouldn't be able to forgive a lot of people because I still remember the offenses!  God doesn't forget our sin.  He just doesn't remember it against us.  He placed our sin on Jesus, who died for our sins on the cross.  The Bible says that he (Jesus) who knew no sin became sin for us.  

So what is forgiveness?  Letting go of your perceived right to hold on to anger, hurt, hatred or bitterness towards another person, persons or situation.  Forgiving is acknowledging God's forgiveness towards you.  Therefore, every act of forgiveness is an act of thanksgiving to God for his mercy on your life!

Jesus connected prayer and forgiveness in Matthew 6:9-15.  Immediately after giving us the model prayer, he instructs us to forgive.  If we can't forgive, we can't have an effective prayer life.  

Don't live in the prison of not forgiving your offenders.  Don't drink the poison of unforgiveness and expect the offender to die.  Extend forgiveness to others that God extends to you.  

For more on this, watch the full message!  

Of all the commodities in the world, time is probably the most precious.  And yet, so many waste it.  My experience has shown me that in making a list of priorities I'm not deciding between that which is good and bad.  It's really about putting good things in their proper place.

For example, jobs are good.  Working is honorable.  But when our jobs take precedence over spending quality time with our children, we have put that which is good, and even honorable, in the wrong place.  Jesus touched on this when he asked what does it profit a person to gain the whole world and yet lose his soul?

In Matthew 6:33 Jesus gives a simple solution to overcoming our struggle with priorities:  seek first the righteousness of God.  Notice, when we put our relationship with God first in our life, everything else falls into its proper place.  Abiding in Christ teaches us what really matters: faith, family, relationships, and our legacy.  Those are the treasures we should focus on.  

Are you chasing that which is only temporary or are you pursuing the righteousness of Christ and enjoying the life he's given you?  Are you investing in what is temporary or what is eternal?  What is at the top of your list of priorities?  All you have to do is look and see where you've spent your #1 commodity: your time!

For more on this, watch the full message!  

How do you see yourself?  It's fair to say that for most of us we see ourselves differently than how everyone else sees us.  Unfortunately, we tend to notice our bumps and blemishes way way more than others.  Fact: many of us struggle with self-image.  

I love it when people say to me I look like my Mom or Dad.  I love my parents.  I'm proud of them.  They are beautiful people inside and out.  So it's a complement for others to recognize I belong to them.  Likewise, when others meet my daughter, my heart swells when they say, "She looks just like you!"  The Bible says we are created in God's image.  We are his.  Creation around us was spoken into existence by the powerful word of God.  God said, "Let there be..." and it was!  But you and me were formed by his hands from the dust of the earth, and given his breath of life.  According to the Bible, we are fearfully and wonderfully made by the God of the universe (Psalm 139:13-14).

The fact that God formed us, breathed life into us, and told us we were wonderfully made should help us in our struggle with self-image.  But there's more...

In I Peter 2:9-10, we're told just how significant we are because of God's great mercy towards us through the redemptive work of Jesus.  Let's dissect this verse for a moment:

But you…This is written to those in Christ, contrasted with the vast empire of unbelievers.  These believers suffered persecution for Jesus' Name sake.  They didn't count in society.  Many were overlooked and mistreated.  Like their Savior, they were rejected by men.

...are a chosen race...Notice the parallel to Deuteronomy 7:6-8, "For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. He has chosen you to be his people, prized above all others on the face of the earth."  Those in Christ have the same status as the Israelites, God's chosen people.  These persecuted Christ-followers were chosen, therefore, precious to God, and enjoyed his favor.  Still today, as Christ followers, we enjoy extraordinary privilege, not based on our own merit, worth, or attractiveness, but because of who we are in Christ.  Earlier in I Peter 1:3 we read, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he gave us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead."  Our key identity is not our ethnicity, but our identity in Jesus, made possible only because of his love and mercy expressed towards us.  

…a royal priesthood… We are royalty because God has adopted us into his family through King Jesus.  We serve a king, and according to Scripture, we will serve with Jesus, ruling with him over his creation for all eternity.  

…a holy nation…In response to God's great mercy, we live holy lives and walk in humility as our Lord Jesus did.  According to Philippians 2:6-8, Jesus did not consider his being God in the flesh something people could grasp, so he emptied himself and took the form of a servant.  In his humility, he laid down his life and died to redeem mankind.  Because of this great act of love towards us, we should respond, not with arrogance, but with holiness and humility.

…a people of his own…We are God's property.  The Bible says if we are in Christ, we are not our own but are his, bought with the Blood of Jesus (Romans 8:9).

…so that you may proclaim the virtues of the one who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. You were once not a people, but now you are God's people. You were shown no mercy, but now you have received mercy.  Mercy is the origin of the new race, the new people of God.  He chose us.  He redeemed us because of his great love and mercy, not because we deserved it or earned it.  

In Jesus, we become a new race with a new identity.  We respond to his love by being holy and humble.  We live with the awareness that we are God's treasure, and we have no right to mistreat that which God treasures.  

For more on this, watch the full message!

Remember how awesome Kindergarten was?  The day started off with coloring followed by playing with play-doe and on to recess.   Then, the best part of the day...lunch!  Everything was going so good until the dreaded nap time!  I was too busy to stop and take a nap.  Now, as an adult, I still struggle with finding rest.  Maybe I'm afraid I'll miss out on something...

Actually, the problem goes deeper than that.  For many of us, we struggle with finding rest because we have a hard time saying "no".  For many reasons, we take on more and more, obligating ourselves to more and more, and eventually end up becoming so overwhelmed we have a hard time finding peace and rest in our souls.  Yet Jesus promised us peace and rest if we would simply come to him.  

I was amazed to discover how much the Bible talks about the blessing of finding rest:

Genesis 2:2-3, “By the seventh day God had finished all the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.”

Exodus 20:8-10, “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath (Sabbat – to rest, to cease, to keep) to the LORD your God…”

Psalm 4:8, “I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.”

Psalm 127:2, “In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat – for he grants sleep to those he loves.”

Psalm 23:1-3, “The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul.”

Psalm 46:10, “Be still, and know that I am God.”

Psalm 37:7, “Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him; do not fret when men succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes.”

Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Luke 5:16, “But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.”

John 16:33, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Philippians 4:6-7, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Hebrews 4:9-11, “There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their (v.6 – those who did not enter God’s rest) disobedience.”

So how do we overcome our struggle with finding rest?  The answer is simple and given to us in Scripture:

  1. Be still (Psalm 46:10).  Get in a position to grow in your faith and learn more about God's love and goodness towards you.  It's impossible to teach a child that is distracted or throwing a tantrum.  In order for a child to learn, he must be in a position to learn.  The same is true for us.  Get rid of distractions that keep you from growing in your faith.
  2. Know that he is God (Psalm 46:10).  This is more than just knowing with your mind.  To know that he is God is to know it at the deepest level of your being.  To know God is to have an abiding faith in Jesus.  Reject the lies from the enemy about God.  Know that God loves you and has a plan for you.  Know that God cares for you and is your provider.  
  3. Pray.  Just as Jesus often withdrew to solitude places to pray, so should we.  If we're too busy to pray, we're too busy.  

These simple steps protect us from getting overwhelmed in life and keep us focused on what really matters.  There is peace and rest to be found in Christ.  His offer is there, we just have to accept it.  For more on this, watch the full message.  

Have you ever been a passenger in a vehicle on a route that you've driven many times and noticed something you had never seen before?  When we're driving we are "busy".  We don't have the opportunity to relax and notice much of our surroundings.  In the same way, many struggle with showing compassion because they're too busy to notice the needs of others around them.  

Compassion has been defined as having sympathy and concern for the sufferings and misfortunes of others.  I like that definition but it lacks one very important detail.  In the midst of meeting physical and emotional needs of others, true compassion seeks to meet the spiritual needs as well.  In other words, the greatest act of showing compassion is to share the love of Jesus with others.  So why do so many struggle with showing compassion?  They're too busy.

If ever there was a person who had an excuse of being "too busy" to meet the needs of others it would have been Jesus.  Seriously.  Just to get an idea of a "day in the life" of Jesus, read Matthew 9:18-38.  On the heels of teaching his disciples (and if you've ever taught a class you know how draining that can be!) he was summoned to a house to raise a dead girl to life.  On the way there, he was interrupted by a woman who had been sick for 12 years.  Jesus healed her, then continued on his way to the dead girl's house.  After raising her to life, he healed two blind men and cast a demon out of man!  Never once did Jesus see the massive needs around him and say, "Sorry...I'm too busy."  Jesus showed compassion.  If he had time to notice others, what excuse do we have for not showing compassion?

So how can we overcome our struggle with showing compassion?

  1. Showing compassion is not convenient, so we have to be intentional.  We have to purpose to notice the needs around us.  We must take "I'm too busy" and "I don't have time" out of our vocabulary.  When we find ourselves constantly giving the excuse of busyness or tiredness, that is a huge indication that we are overwhelmed and our priorities are out of proper order.  Your time is not really your time.  It's time God has given you, so manage it well.  
  2. Compassion overflows from contentment, so we have to learn to be content in all situations.  When we are not content, we constantly want more and more.  In the pursuit of chasing more, we get busy and don't notice others.  However, when we learn to be content, we can be the "passenger in the car" and begin noticing needs around us we never noticed before. 
  3. The greatest need in all the world is Jesus, so we must be willing to tell others about him! Be willing to share your story.  Be willing to share your struggles and how your faith in Christ strengthened you and helped you overcome adversity.  Give if God leads you to give and serve as God leads you to serve. 
  4. Refuse to live in a bubble.  Don't be so self-focused that you ignore opportunities to help others.  When you see as God sees, you'll do as God does.  Don't look at people as objects who get in your way.  Embrace people as living souls that Jesus loves.  What's important to him should be important to us.    

For more on this, watch the full message! 

I recently came across some interesting stats about lying.  According to one source, 60% of people can't go more than 10 minutes without lying.  By the age of 4, 90% of children understand the concept of lying.  Men tell twice as many lies a day as women.  I think it's safe to say that one of life's biggest struggles is being honest.  Honest!  

Lying is intentionally misleading someone from the truth.  Key word: intentionally.  We've all innocently given misinformation or communicated wrong facts.  That's just part of being human.  We call those honest mistakes.  However, when we intentionally mislead someone from the truth, we become liars.  Lying comes in many forms: outright deception, half-truths, exaggerations, insinuations, and intentionally leaving someone "in the dark" when you know the truth.  Because lying can literally destroy one's influence and reputation, not to mention damage others, we should desire to have integrity and live being honest.  

Lying is a big deal to God.  One of the 10 Commandments is don't lie!  There's an interesting story in the Bible about a husband and wife who sold some land and gave part of the proceeds from that sale to the church.  However, they lied about how much they made and gave only a portion to ministry after committing to give all.  As a result it costs them their life!  You can read about it in Acts 5:1-11.  Let me be clear: their sin had nothing to do with the amount of money they gave, rather their deception, lack of integrity, cheating, and misleading God's people from the truth.  Lying costs them their life.  

In order for us to enjoy the quality of life God desires for us, we must have integrity and be honest.  Understanding that 1) lying is first an offense against God, 2) when we lie we identify more with Satan (the father of lies - John 8:44) rather than Jesus (the Truth - John 14:6), 3) if you're not walking in truth,  you're walking in darkness, 4) lying is the "gate sin" that leads to other sin, and 5) lying destroys but honesty protects, we must overcome our struggle of lying.  

If we want to overcome our struggle with being honest, we must:

  1. Determine why we're lying.  Do you lie to others because you're afraid hurting feelings?  Are you insecure so you feel you must exaggerate to impress others?  
  2. Abandon behavior you're having to lie about.  Instead of lying about your whereabouts, avoid going to places where you shouldn't be.  Instead of lying about taking something that didn't belong to you, don't steal!  Instead of cheating on a test, study!  Instead of cheating the time clock at work, show up on time.  Praise your co-worker behind his back to the boss instead of taking credit for his work.
  3. Let your honesty impress.  Avoid exaggerations.  If you have to exaggerate your story to make others accept you, maybe they aren't worth your friendship.
  4. Accept the consequences of telling the truth.  Fact: the truth hurts sometimes.  However, lying will alway hurt worse.  
  5. Refuse to lie for others.
  6. Avoid deep conversations when you're emotionally charged or tired.  
  7. Be tactful.  Speak the truth in love.  Practice gentleness.

For more on this, watch the full message!  

 

Recently I was preaching at my church and I before I started the message I asked everyone to kick their shoes off.  Most did, but felt weird doing it!  We're not supposed to do that in church!  Why not?  Can we go to Scripture and see where that is forbidden?  NO!

Many are uncomfortable with kicking their shoes off in church because as a (church) culture, we've exchanged intimacy for formality.  When I go to a friend's house, I'm invited to kick my shoes off and make myself at home.  In other words, I'm invited into intimacy.  Jesus invites us into intimacy with him.  Abide in me.  

For many, one of life's biggest struggles is relationships.  So many relationships are toxic because they've not been guarded with Biblical boundaries.  The relationship is marked by selfishness instead of selflessness.  The relationship is marked by what can I get from it? instead of what can I invest in it?  But God designed us for healthy relationships.  We all need relationships but we need to be in healthy ones.  God gave relationships to us to be a blessing, not a curse; life-giving not toxic.  Jesus said the entire Law of God can be summed up in one word: relationships (Matthew 22:37-40).

A true friend:

1) Sharpens you.  Proverbs 27:17 says, "As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another."  True friends makes you better.  When you are with them your soul is fed.  When you depart from them you're better than you were before your encounter.  You help each other out and challenge each other to love God and love others deeper. 

2) Stabs you.  Proverbs 27:6 says, "Wounds from a friend can be trusted but an enemy multiplies kisses."  Fact: the truth hurts sometimes.  Only a true friend is willing to be vulnerable and tell you something you need to hear even when it's something you don't want to hear.  

3) Values consistency over convenience.  Proverbs 17:17 says, "A friend loves at all times..."  Fact: relationships take work and are not always convenient.  But a true friend will always be there for you, even when it's not easy, comfortable, or convenient.  

Relationships don't have to be a struggle for you.  But you need to be honest in answering a few simple questions: Does your friend help you further your walk with Jesus?  Does your friend make you a better person?  Is your friend honest and consistent?  If the answer is YES, rejoice and thank God for your friend!  If the answer is NO, maybe it's time you walk away and embrace some new friends.  Church would be a great place to start looking!

For more on this, watch the full message!

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How would you define contentment?   Many would say contentment is "being happy" or "having no struggles."  However, I think the best definition of contentment is having an abiding peace.  Notice I used the word abiding.  Jesus gave us an invitation to abide, or remain connected, to him.  As long as we abide in Christ, we can have peace regardless of our circumstances.

In Philippians 4:11-13, the Apostle Paul says that whether he was in need or had plenty, hungry or well-fed, he had learned the secret to joy: learning to be content, staying connected to Jesus and having an abiding peace.  We all struggle with learning to be content.  It seems we always want what we don't have and neglect to be thankful for what we do have.  

How can we overcome our struggle with not being content?  There are four necessary steps to take:

1) Kill comparisons.  When we look at what others have we neglect what we've been blessed with.  Even more dangerous, we become envious of others and we begin to harbor anger towards them.  The Bible says that kind of envy is "of the devil" (James 3:14-16) and can lead to all kinds of evil acts.  Show me a home, church, or community where there is envy and strife and I'll show you a home, church, and community full of other evils.  Instead of constantly comparing yourself to others, rejoice in who God made you and be thankful for what he's given you.  Coveting (desiring that which God doesn't desire for you) is the number one enemy of contentment.  

2) Celebrate the success of others.  Romans 12:15 says to rejoice when others rejoice.  Like a parent celebrating the accomplishments of his child, we should look at what others have and have accomplished and rejoice with them.  Otherwise we become envious and damage the relationship.  When we are content with who we are and what we have, we are free to rejoice with others in who they are and what they have!

3) Cultivate gratitude.  Be thankful!  Look at all God has blessed you with and thank him.  It's hard to be thankful and not be content.  The Hebrew word for being thankful also means "to confess."  When we thank God for what we have, we are making a confession of his goodness and provisions.  

4) Resist complacency.  Being content in your circumstances does NOT mean being okay with being stuck in a rut!  Our relationship with God is marked by moving forward and never digressing or being stuck.  Proverbs 1:32 says fools are destroyed by their complacency.  As God continues to move in your life, revealing his plan for you everyday, be willing to move forward with him and walk in obedience.  When we follow Christ, he will take us places that force us to rely on his strength.  

To do the above, we must have great faith that God will meet all our needs according to his will and plan for our life (Philippians 4:19).  When we trust him fully, we can be content in all situations.  

For more on this, watch the full message!  

 

Fact:  if you want to get to a particular destination, you have to be on the right road.  If at any point you find yourself going the wrong way, you have to 1) admit it, 2) turn around, 3) make up for lost time and distance, and 4) get back to the right way.  The same is true in our spiritual life.  

Many people live in bondage.  Maybe it's bondage to a drug, a bad habit, a job, a negative mindset, or a toxic relationship.  Jesus died for our freedom (Galatians 5:1).  So why do we choose to live in bondage?  I think it's because we choose NOT to follow Christ.  Because of our inaction, indecisiveness, and not being intentional to live by God's Word, we choose bondage.  

Do you want to be free?  Sure!  We all do.  Let's get on the right road: the road to freedom!

There are 4 necessary stops to make along the road to freedom: confession, repentance, restitution, and restoration.  Let's look at each briefly:

  1.  Confession.  To confess means to agree with God about the reality of your sin condition.  Confession is giving intentional thought your sin that holds you in bondage and calling it out.  It requires you to take responsibility for your wrong actions and to avoid making excuses.  In the simplest terms, it's getting real with yourself and God about your mess-ups.  Confession is the first and necessary stop if you want to be free.
  2. Repentance.  The word repent means to turn and go the other direction.  Repentance always follows confession.  Without repentance, confession is meaningless.  In order to be free from the bondage of sin, you must turn from your sin and turn to God.  Jesus said if anyone were to pursue him, he must first die to selfishness.  We can't submit to the Lordship of Jesus if we constantly pursue our own sinful desires. 
  3. Restitution.  Fact: our sin affects others.  When we sin, we first offend God.  But it doesn't stop there.  We offend others.  We hurt others with our gossip, lying, and lack of integrity.  If we want to be free, we have to seek to make right the wrongs we've done to others.  
  4. Restoration.  To restore something means to return something back to its original condition.  Sin damages and even destroys lives everyday.  Confessing, repenting, and restitution allows for what was damaged to be restored!  

Do you want to be free?  Here's how:

  1. Confess that which has been holding you in bondage.  Call it out to God and seek his forgiveness and healing.
  2. Examine your who.  Who are your friends?  Do they help or hinder you in your walk with Jesus?  If they hinder, maybe it's time you turn from them and turn to some friends that love God and will love you unconditionally.  
  3. Examine your what.  What are the things you're involved in?  Are those activities helping you grow in Christ or hindering you?  Maybe you need to pursue some other things that would actually help you in your spiritual life and bring you true peace.  
  4. Examine you where.  Where do you spend your time?  Are your priorities right?  Are the things that really matter:  your faith, family, relationships and legacy, at the top of your priority list?  Is where you choose to spend your time the best for you, your family, and your relationship with Jesus?

What changes to do you need to make today in order to be free!  For more on this, watch the full message!