August 26, 2010

Jesus & Barry Manilow

Barry Manilow is an anomaly. I don't get Barry Manilow. Even more so, I don't get people who LIKE Barry Manilow. I would honestly rather be stabbed in the eye with an icepick than endure "Copacabana" one more time! Barry is in this category - one that's actually hard to define. And he's not alone. He's joined by others like the New York Yankees, Rush Limbaugh, and Jerry Jones. To use the words of Bob Wiley ("What About Bob"), "There are 2 kinds of people in this world. Those who like Neil Diamond and those who don't." Love or hate. No middle of the road. I may live "Forever in Blue Jeans", but the song makes me want to puke. While I know it may not sound very nice (or even decent) to many, I think this is what it's supposed to be like with Jesus as well.

The greatest disciple-maker in history was the worst church planter known to mankind. At least by our standards. Most church planters start with 5-10 people and begin trying to grow. Prayerfully, desperately trying to grow! Jesus - He started with mobs and multitudes of people and kept running them off. It was almost like He kept saying, "OK, the group's still too big. Everyone who had fish for dinner go on home." Obviously this was not the case - especially since He multiplied the fish. But Jesus kept saying things that I believe He was being DEAD serious about - things that stunned and repulsed the initially enamored - that seemed to say, "You're either going to love me - follow me - or you're going to hate me and walk away." You see in Matthew 19 that Jesus doesn't run after the Rich Young Man who walks away. His heart is broken for him, but He doesn't chase after him.

Jesus kept saying things like "If you want to come after me...." And He'd follow it up with things like "Your love for me will have to almost make your love for your mom & dad, brother & sister look like hate!" And "You better count the costs of what it will mean to follow me." And the evidence that many then - and many still now - don't get it is revealed in places like Revelation 3 where He says, "I wish you were either hot or cold. But since you are like lukewarm water, I will spit you out of my mouth!" Jesus isn't playing games. He's not looking for ANYONE who's 1/2 committed! And He's not begging and pleading you to follow Him. He's offering you LIFE!

Bono once made this statement:
"Look, the secular response to the Christ story always goes like this: he was a great prophet, obviously a very interesting guy, had a lot to say along the lines of other great prophets, be they Elijah, Muhammad, Buddha, or Confucius. But actually Christ doesn't allow you that. He doesn't let you off that hook. Christ says: No. I'm not saying I'm a teacher, don't call me teacher. I'm not saying I'm a prophet. I'm saying: "I'm the Messiah." I'm saying: "I am God incarnate." And people say: No, no, please, just be a prophet. A prophet, we can take. You're a bit eccentric. We've had John the Baptist eating locusts and wild honey, we can handle that. But don't mention the "M" word! Because, you know, we're gonna have to crucify you. And he goes: No, no. I know you're expecting me to come back with an army, and set you free from these creeps, but actually I am the Messiah. At this point, everyone starts staring at their shoes, and says: Oh, my God, he's gonna keep saying this. So what you're left with is: Either Christ was who He said He was—the Messiah—or a complete nutcase."

While the idea of putting Jesus & Barry in the same category makes me queazy, the truth remains. Take it or leave it. Love it or hate it. "Follow me"...or walk away. Jesus asked the disciples, "Who do you say that I am?" Peter said, "You are the CHRIST, the Son of the Living God." 

What do you say?

August 19, 2010

Speak Up!

I wanted to say something, but I was paralyzed. It was like I could open my mouth, but nothing would come out. He had not only gone to the back of the store to get my newly tailored suit, he had steamed it to make sure it was ready to go. As this helpful young man approached me, with a smile on his face that revealed he was very aware that he had gone above and beyond the call of duty, I froze. I was speechless! (I know, right?) There it was. Like the full moon over the Atlantic on a crisp, clear night - screaming, "LOOK AT ME!" Right there, standing at the entrance to the cave that leads to nowhere. Adorning his face like Rudolph's bright red nose. It was a booger! Not any booger. It was the size of a marble. A marble countertop! And it was hanging on for dear life. And like a deer in headlights...I just stared in amazement. Or maybe horror is the right word. And at this juncture - where I could have turned this young man's day around with one kind word of exhortation - I failed him. I kept my mouth shut. After all, I didn't want to embarrass him. Right?

At some point during almost every day of our lives we leave people exposed, standing on life's stage with their fly down, booger hanging out their nose, pepper stuck in their teeth, grinning from ear-to-ear. We freeze. We're mortified, yet we can't turn our eyes away. For some inexcusable reason beyond decency's comprehension...we just sit there. And while we won't admit it, we're just thankful that we're not the moron with the lettuce stuck in his upper-left bicuspid. What's with this deficiency in our character? Is it some all-encompassing human problem? Is it just the symptom of a bigger issue? Or the byproduct of our upbringing or worldview? I'm not sure, but I think the answer is "Yes"!

In Ephesians 4 (and elsewhere) Paul talks repeatedly about "speaking the truth in love" to one another. Making sure I don't take this out of context (or you take me out of context) it's important to note that most of what Paul is exhorting us to speak about - this "truth" that he's reminding us to declare - is the Gospel. He's making sure we don't forget our calling to actually verbalize the truth that the keys to abundant and eternal life are found only in Jesus Christ and nowhere else. And in knowing and understanding that as a Christ-follower this is my charge and my calling, I'm not sure which is the chicken and which is the egg. It's the old "cart before the horse" argument. Is it the fact that many times we're unwilling to share our faith - to speak the Name of Jesus - and declare that we've been set free - that bleeds down into the other less important areas of our life and renders our mouth a useless, dull weapon? Or is it the fear and apathy that prohibits me from simply telling a decent young college kid trying to work his way through school, "Hey buddy. You may want to go to the restroom and check your nose." that sets the standard for everything else in my life? I'm not sure. But either way, I feel like the Lord's whisper is beginning to turn into a stern, audible warning. And He's saying from a heart filled with love...."SPEAK UP!"

Is there a conversation you need to have with someone you love?
Is there a simple word of encouragement or advice you need to hand someone?
Is your neighbor's heart being primed by God to hear you share your faith?
Is there a booger in that guy's nose?
Either way....SPEAK UP!

Are you hearing this? What do you think? 

August 17, 2010


This past Sunday I preached a very difficult sermon on the subject of divorce. Matthew 19 tells the story of Jesus being pressed by the Pharisees who come demanding answers as to whether it's right or wrong. Of course Jesus sniffs out their motives before they ever even ask the question - they want to trap Him & alienate Him, and they want to continue to feed their self-righteousness. While my prayer was definitely that many who were present who've been wounded and scarred by divorce might find healing, restoration, forgiveness, (maybe even repentance), I felt very overwhelmed for weeks now that the person(s) the Lord was burdening my heart for most were those who were standing at the precipice of making this decision - of deciding "I'm done. I quit. I give up!" - and quite possibly needed the Holy Spirit to whisper to them one last time, "Don't give up!" I'm still praying that this happens, as I know there are couples and families who are still fighting this battle. But this morning as I read in Ezra, I felt very compelled to encourage a very specific group of people: pastors.

Many of the Jews had gone directly against God's command prohibiting them from intermarrying with other people groups. (See Ezra 9) This wasn't a racist or prejudiced prohibition - it was a spiritual one! Ezra was grieved by this. So much so that he confesses "I tore my clothing, pulled my hair from my head and beard, and sat down utterly shocked." And if I'm being honest, while I haven't found myself ripping my hair out or my clothes into pieces, I have been fairly devastated and shocked in the last days at how many pastors and ministers have walked away from the covenant they made with their spouse and with the Lord. I just don't get it! 

[Please hear me loud & clear: I don't write this to pass judgment, condemn, or dig up dirt that has already settled. There are several pastors and ministers in this town where I live who have walked through this. I am NOT their judge, their probation officer, their conscience, or (most importantly) the Holy Spirit. What I am is a human, often jacked-up, stained but cleansed, forgiven man seeking after the heart of God. He has called me not only to preach His Word, but to live it and to "patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage" God's people through right teaching. Even other pastors!]

Back to Ezra. As some of the Jewish leaders come to Ezra with this horrible report, the last thing they share with him is the straw that breaks the camel's back - it's the knockout punch that sends him to the mat. They tell him, "To make matters worse, the officials and leaders are some of the worst offenders." Soak that in for a moment. 

I know there's this really feel-good vibration these days that comes from someone preaching and leading from a history or experience of "I've messed up myself". But let me say this as compassionately, yet as bluntly as I know how: the Lord hasn't called us to be the guinea pigs of caving in to sin or to temptation - He has called us to holiness! (See 1 Peter - ALL of it!) And again, these are not words from a heart of judgment, but of pleading with those of you that the Lord has called to pastor, equip, and lead others - those of us He desires to fashion and refine so that we can shepherd others - GUARD YOUR LIFE! Guard your heart, protect your marriage and your family, and KNOW for a fact that the Enemy desires nothing more than to simply plant a seed of destruction that will wreak havoc on your life and your ministry. He doesn't discriminate with his lies. In fact, he probably makes up even better ones for you & me. Why? Because if I bite the bait he's put on the hook...anyone will. 

If you're not a pastor (or even if you are) there is probably someone in your life that you consider YOUR Pastor. With all the love and courage that the Holy Spirit can fill your heart with, go to them, encourage them, and demand of them that they PROTECT THEIR MARRIAGE! If you're worried about how they might receive this exhortation, remember that worry is not a fruit of the Spirit. And if your pastor rejects this word or act of admonition, then we may already have a problem. And don't forget Peter's words of warning: (1 Pt. 5:8) "Be careful! Watch out for attacks from the Devil, your great enemy. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for some victim to devour. Take a firm stand against him...." Please, don't wind up as a victim. We are called to be "more than conquerors"! If we're not actively fighting this fight, then we've already decided to be defeated.

Dig Deeper:
Galatians 6:1-9
1 Corinthians 7

August 11, 2010

What's the Point?

This morning I followed another guy into the gym. By "followed" I don't mean stalked, I was just behind him. When I'm in the weight room I usually try to look for opportunities to meet new people and strike up conversation, while at the same time trying to work out hard and not distract anyone else from doing the same. I also try not to be nosey. I bring this up because there are people at the gym that I would describe as nosey - in everybody's business. But I couldn't help notice that this guy - the one I followed into the gym - wasn't really doing anything. He strutted around quite a bit - looked pretty good in his AC/DC t-shirt - but didn't really do anything in an hour to even break a sweat. Again, I don't mean to be "nosey", but what's the point? Then as I was leaving the gym I saw another guy coming in (who I see fairly regularly) who has an interesting ritual before entering - he finishes his cigarette. Make sure you hear me: I am not judging or condemning the 2 gentlemen (vague but gracious character inference), but their actions this morning leave me a little dumbfounded. I simply have to ask the question, "What's the point?"

The reason I bring this up is because I'm often left wondering this same thing on Sunday mornings. And to clarify, yes there are people who come into The Brook 1) and don't really DO anything, and even some who enter 2) after finishing their cigarette. It happens! But what I'm talking about is the perplexing habit, decision, or painful reality that many people show up on Sunday mornings without their Bible. Again - forgive me for asking - but "What's the point?"

I know, I know, I sound like your Momma - nagging and pestering you. But if that's the case, my thought is that maybe you should've listened to your Momma a little more! I remember my first semester of Seminary, my Theology professor Dr. Garrett (James Leo Garrett, if you're interested) explained to us that our textbook - his first published work - was a compilation of his years of notes. Dr. Garrett was easily into his 70's and a very well-known theologian. This book (Volume 1 of 2, I might add) was just shy of thesaurus thickness. And he shared with us that all we would really need each day for class was our textbook, a pen, and highlighter. The book WAS the notes. Verbatim! If you came to class without your book you might as well have stamped "IRRESPONSIBLE DOOFUS" on your forehead. And as compassionate and loving as this grandfatherly man was, I'm afraid it would have been all that he could do to restrain himself from asking you, "My dear friend...what's the point?" 

I understand that some walk onto a campus for the first time to investigate: "Who are these people? What's this whole church thing about?" Those people showing up without a Bible makes sense. You don't expect a lost puppy to show up at your door with a steak in his mouth. He's hungry...thirsty...looking for someone to throw him a bone. Or a steak for that matter! But how is that a "Christ-follower" can wake up, prepare themselves to go and commune and fellowship with their church family and dig into the Word of God, and then leave their Bible collecting dust on their nightstand? What's the point?

The point is this: It's a direct reflection of the priority that the Word has had in a person's life throughout the week. It exposes the sad, frustrating reality that many who call themselves Christ-followers are not really following Him much at all. Please note - I'm aware that some days a person walks out in a hurry and leaves their Bible sitting on the kitchen counter. You can tell who those people are. They sit through the service and the sermon feeling like they left their pants at home. I'm not talking about that person. I'm referring to the crowd who, week after week, walk in like a football player showing up for spring training without his helmet, shoulder pads, or playbook. [I witnessed this happen once. After the coach chewed the guys backside off and spit it out, I don't remember him ever returning to the team.]

My words are not judgment or condemnation. They are me simply wanting to ask you - because I love you - "What's the point?" If this angers or frustrates you, talk to the Holy Spirit about it. Get mad at me if you want to. I don't care! But when you come to put your finger in my face and tell me what a jerk I am, make sure you have your Bible with you. I'll have mine.

Hebrews 4:12
Ephesians 6:17
Psalm 119

August 9, 2010

The Character & Calling of the Church

Over the past year at The Brook we have established our Core Values - some very biblical principles that we believe we are called to live by as individual Christ-followers and as the church. We are here to: worship. grow. serve. together! This is not only rooted in scripture but evidenced in the first New Testament church in Acts 2:37-47. Yesterday, as we wrapped up our summer series in the Book of Acts, we were reminded of these values and WHY we hold to them. (If you missed the message, click HERE.) But not only do you see the evidence of these values, you see the outcome & results - what happens when we live them out.

In Acts 2:47, there are 2 key things that happen as a result of holding to these biblical values: 1) we enjoy the goodwill of all the people and 2) people come to know the Lord & follow Him. What happens is, because of what the Lord does in our lives INSIDE the church, peoples lives begin to be radically transformed OUTSIDE the church! Doors begin to fly open presenting opportunities to share the love of Christ and the Gospel. The Kingdom continues to grow and spread and advance. Jesus CHANGES things! He changes people!

Biblical Values + Christ-like Character = Kingdom Impact

Because of this, as a Christ-follower, you CANNOT compromise your character. And, as His church, we CANNOT compromise these values. On ANY level! We can't pick & choose - "I like to worship, and growing is great. But serving? Yeah, I'm not so much into that." It sounds ridiculous, I know. And you'd never actually verbalize it! But how many "Christians" are actually living this way? Approaching church - the Body of Christ - as if it's more of a buffet line than a family and a calling? It doesn't make sense. It doesn't work. Period! 

As a church, we have to guard and protect and teach and equip and LIVE OUT these Values. And as Christ-followers, we have to be living as His representatives, displaying His character. (See Colossians 3:1-17) We have to look different. Our lives have to stand out! WE as in you & me, and WE as in us! So my question for you is, are you IN or OUT? Do you actually VALUE these values - believe them? If so, it's time to take some action. God's ready to change you and use you for Kingdom purposes. He's ready to take your church and shake the world through it! You can be used BY God FOR God! What are you going to do?

August 3, 2010

Are You Ready to Run?

I started running about 11 years ago. It seriously changed my life. But this year (after running the Memphis Marathon in December) I went through the worst slump I've ever experienced. I did NOT want to run! In fact, it's just been recently that I've even felt the desire return. At the same time I've been noticing that many of my friends are trying the "Couch to 5K" program. I don't know whether or not you're facing a slump like me or maybe even considering running for the first time. Either way, I thought I'd give some tips to help you find the greatest potential for success. The following are my opinions:

1. Shoes - Make sure you have GOOD running shoes. And when you buy them, don't go to Finish Line or Dick's - go to a store where the people fitting you are runners (Fleet Feet, First Gear, The Runner, etc...). They check your stride, gate, & many other factors that determine the type of shoe you need. Do NOT compromise when it comes to shoes.

2. Eliminate Excuses - If you're like me and you exercise in the morning, lay your clothes out the night before. This way (when you wake up) your running shorts & shoes are laying on the floor next to your bed saying, "You promised!" This helps eliminate excuses. If you run at night, lay your clothes on your bed before you go to work. You can't pull down the covers without remembering your commitment.

3. Beat the Heat! One thing I've concluded is that a big part of this slump I've gone through has had to do with the heat. 12-15 years ago I was playing sand volleyball in the Texas summer heat all day. If I tried that now, I'd be dead. Running early in the morning or late in the evening is your best defense. But there are a few other things you can do as well. Take a damp bandana & put it in the freezer 15 minutes before you go. The roll ice cubes into the bandana right before you leave. Also, you should be wearing a hat or sweat band to keep sweat from running into your face. Put it in the freezer as well. Dri-Fit clothing can also play a big part in helping you stay cool. Whatever you do, don't go running when it's 104 degrees out. That's just stupid!

4. Set a goal - When I began running 11 years ago I was running 1-2 miles, 4-5 days a week. I used to think running 5 miles was a ridiculous idea. When my wife ran her first marathon I thought she was crazy. I've now run 3! If your goal is a 5K, great. But don't think you need to run that far immediately. Set small goals that you can accomplish over several weeks. 

5. Accountability - Tell someone else about your commitment. Better yet, get them to commit to it with you. Once someone you love & trust knows about the decision you've made, it will be a lot harder to give up. Which leads to my last word of encouragement.

6. Don't Give Up! - You can do this! You've got what it takes. You need this not only for your physical health but because of what it will do for you mentally and emotionally. That serotonin in your brain wants out of there! Even if you have to take a day off - a week off - alternate walking & jogging - go to the gym and hit the treadmill - do NOT give up!

Hopefully you're ready to lace up your shoes and hit the pavement. If you're not a runner, no big deal. But do something! For your heart, your health and your sanity. Even if you're not doing the "Couch to 5K" plan, get off the couch! You won't regret it.

Maybe you've got some other tips or words of encouragement. Let's hear it!