2015 Fellowship Day

Matt Baquiran came out to Giants Fellowship Day this year, and shared an awesome recording of the event on YouTube.  Thanks to Matt, you can see and hear testimony from me and my wife Larisa, and Jeremy Camp! Check it out here:

The Spirit Sees Everything – And Helps Us!

It’s a comical part of the child’s life when they get caught doing something, and they lie about it. The other night I put my son to bed and I asked him, “Did you brush your teeth?” He told me, “Yes.” So I asked him, “When? When did you brush your teeth? I’ve been downstairs with you all evening. I walked you up to your bedroom, I put you in your pajamas, and you jumped in bed. In all that time, you never brushed your teeth. So let me ask you again: Did you brush your teeth?”

“Yes!” he said. “I brushed my teeth!”

“Now,” I said, “I highly advise you not to lie! I’m going to give you a few minutes. I want you to think about whether you should lie to me, because I know you didn’t brush your teeth. If you lie to me, there’s going to be a consequence. You know I don’t want you to lie! So think about it.”

My sons know there are consequences to lying. They also know that the consequences don’t come from anger. I just don’t want them to lie. Lying is breaking trust, so I have to teach them to be truthful. I will take away an iPad, or whatever else I’ve got to do, to let them know that they can’t break trust. We have to trust each other here.

After a few minutes, my son said, “Dad, I didn’t brush my teeth.” So I said, “Okay! And remember, you don’t have to lie. You’re not in trouble. I just want you to brush your teeth.”

When it comes to our children, it’s best if we’re able to encourage them. We don’t have to condemn them. We don’t have to judge them. We don’t have to use fear tactics to manage or control them. We can just encourage them. I try to constantly remind my sons of the leaders I think they are. I tell them I’m proud of them. And I try to teach them that they don’t have to lie. They can be truthful, and they need to be. A truthful leader will attract more followers than a liar.

I think encouragement is what the Holy Spirit gives us. You might be looking at something you shouldn’t look at, or wanting something you shouldn’t want, or thinking about doing something you shouldn’t do, and there’s a feeling or an intuition inside of you saying, “Hey, I wouldn’t do that. And here’s why.” That’s the Holy Spirit.

Obviously the Holy Spirit sees everything, because He’s with you the whole time. You’re not going to be able to get away with something, because He will see it. My son couldn’t get away with not brushing his teeth, because I was there the whole time.

The Spirit sees everything, and He also forgives. And I think that is what people inside the church can do for each other. Help and encouragement is what it’s all about.

See you Thursday.

The New Country of Grace

So what do we do? Keep on sinning so God can keep on forgiving? I should hope not! If we’ve left the country where sin is sovereign, how can we still live in our old house there? Or didn’t you realize we packed up and left there for good? That is what happened in baptism. When we went under the water, we left the old country of sin behind; when we came up out of the water, we entered into the new country of grace—a new life in a new land! Romans 6:1-3

I blog a lot about grace, but it’s because I hope that the message will reach your heart. I hope your heart says, “This is it. This is what I need to hear. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ is going to help me get out of my issues.”

His grace is going to help you today and every day. You might have messed up, but it’s all going to be okay. Jesus loves you and He smiles on you.

You, me, the Apostle Paul — we all have the same experience. We do not want to sin. It is not our intention to sin. And yet, we still do. We sin. How are we going to get out of it? It’s only by grace!

The church is an agent of grace. It helps to hang out with other people that can honestly say, “I sin just like you.” People who have been where you are can understand what you’re experiencing. They can say, “I know that Jesus walks with me. He’s encouraging me! So I know He’ll walk with you through your issue. You can lean on Him. You’ve got to know that we are righteous and holy, and you’ve also got to know that sometimes, righteous and holy people act out of the flesh.”

Just remember what Paul says: grace abounds over sin. Because of Christ, there is now no condemnation. His grace will always cover our sin. People challenged Paul when they heard that. They said, “Does that mean we can sin whenever we want?” And Paul said, “Of course not! Once you’re of the Spirit, you will do things of the Spirit. You are living a new life now, in the new country of grace!”

You see? Once you’re of the Spirit, you won’t want to sin. You’ll want to do the things of the Spirit, like love unconditionally. You’ll want to! You won’t want to gossip or tell lies. Now at times, you will. You still have flesh on your bone. And that’s not going to change until Christ returns.

So you might mess up. You will mess up. I know. I understand. And you will want to hide in your sin, because that’s what the flesh wants to do.

But when you understand the grace of God, then you will know that you can go boldly before His throne in Heaven, and He will smile at you. He will say, “My child, I don’t see that sin. I see you for who you are. And this is who you are.” And then He’ll point out all the good in your life. He’ll show you all the good of who you are. He’ll say, “This is your heart! Your heart is good! This is how I want you to see yourself – as I see you. And I’ll free you, by exposing your sin. Bring it into the light, and it will die.”

More on this next time. See you Monday.

Asking for Wisdom

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. James 1:5-6

Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. Romans 8:26

How are we supposed to do justice without judging? I think it becomes clear once we think about what it means to do justice. To do justice doesn’t mean to make judgment calls – and then alienate people with them. To do justice means to make things right. When we see that something is wrong, we have to make it right.

But we have to use wisdom. Think about how many people you’ve met who are angry at the church. I’m talking about the ones who are angry at the church because they’ve been wounded by the church. They aren’t angry because they never went to church. They aren’t angry because they hate God. They are angry because they’ve been wounded by people who claimed to love God, and then judged them. They’re angry because of Christians who pushed them away from God. Judgments came, and they came without wisdom.

I wish I could step in, and reassure them that that’s not who I am. That’s not who Jesus is. We need to ask God for wisdom before we open our mouths.

I think there are a lot of times when Christians intend to do justice and think that making a judgment call is the way to do it. They think they know the difference between right and wrong. Well, maybe they do! But it doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t ask for wisdom. If I know a person who is in the wrong, I still need wisdom. If I don’t ask, then how will I know how God wants me to handle that person? If it’s up to me to tell someone that he is wrong, then I need wisdom so that I’ll know how to handle him and make sure he feels loved. If you need to create justice in a situation in someone’s life, then you need to ask for wisdom on how to do that. When you don’t, you might say something to make that person mad – so mad that they push you away, and maybe God too.

We used to live in our flesh, but now we are Christians. Now we live by the Spirit. Our identity is in the Spirit of God. And it is God’s Spirit who brings us wisdom. Always. All we have to do is ask in faith.

It says in Romans that there are times when we don’t even know how to pray. We don’t even know what to pray for. But that’s okay, because the Spirit will help us. He will intercede, with groanings which cannot be uttered. So ask for wisdom, and believe.

See you Thursday.

The Virtues of Dialogue

If we want to unify the church, we don’t have to look further than Jesus. Jesus is our perfect model. He hung out with everybody: sinners and outcasts, disciples, even people with status.

Jesus hung out with the Pharisees! He had powerful disagreements with them, right? But He was okay with that. It didn’t keep Him from hanging out with them. “I’ll go to your house to have dinner,” He said. “I’ll challenge your reasoning and your beliefs.” He didn’t necessarily say nice things to them, but He had the dialogue. It’s not like He refused to talk to them.

Jesus debated everybody, fortunately. We wouldn’t even know His thoughts, if He had refused debate! He hung with people of all different persuasions, people who held all kinds of views different to His, and He found a way to dialogue with them. So He was our perfect model for engaging people and talking with them, whether we agree with them or not.

Just because Jesus talked with all different kinds of people, He did not give up moral ground. He wouldn’t do that. He would say, “No you’re wrong. And this is why.” And He would answer a question with another question, because He wanted people to think more deeply.

We’re not behaving much like Jesus right now! Right now we are in a situation where our leaders, and our leading thinkers, don’t even want to hang out with each other, much less debate! They’ll write each other off before the conversation can even begin. “Oh,” they’ll say, “So you’re from the Catholic Church.” Or they’ll say, “You’re from the Episcopal Church, you’re from the Presbyterian Church, you’re Southern Baptist.” So what? So talk! Talk to each other. Have a conversation. Dialogue.

I’ve found real wisdom in books written by leaders from denominations other than my own. And I love it. I don’t go to a Presbyterian Church, but for me, Timothy Keller is one of the brightest thinkers of our day right now. You should read The Reason for God and think about his views of God and the contemporary challenges to Christianity. Brennan Manning’s Ragamuffin Gospel is another very good book, and Manning is a Catholic priest.

We have to put aside the insistence that our denomination is the only one with the correct belief. We all begin with that belief, sure, but we can’t fear the changes that come from dialogue with other Christians. We shouldn’t be afraid to say, “My perspective is part of the right perspective, but it’s not the perspective.”

That’s really our issue. We can’t sit in dialogue, because we aren’t prepared to admit that our perspectives might only be partial. We always think that we have to have the perspective, and the other guy must be wrong. What if we all need to think together to have the perspective?

Don’t be afraid to dialogue and debate. Don’t be afraid to say, “Time out. That might not be the full perspective.” Don’t be afraid to add to your perspective. Be willing to change! I think it’s something that we’re going to have to be okay with. We have to. It’s the only way, if we’re going to unify the church!

See you Monday.

Stuck in Judgment? Freedom in Jesus!

Too often we criticize and judge each other, instead of just loving on one another. One reason is that a lot of us are stuck. I don’t mean everybody! But a lot of us are.

Some of us are stuck in the idea that faith is a fire insurance policy. “Oh I’m saved,” we might think, “so I’m not going to go to hell now.” That’s such a huge relief that we forget to live a new life in our true identity in Christ.

Some of us are stuck trying to justify our sinful nature. We do it by looking at other people and seeing all their sin. We look at them and say, “At least I’m not as bad as them. Look at all their sin!”

Some of us are stuck in the fear that we have to live perfectly. The Bible says that when you find Jesus, you’ll find freedom. It says the truth shall set you free. Freedom in Jesus! But I see people get stuck in legalism. “Now I have to be right and not wrong. I can’t have a bad thought. I can’t say anything bad. I can’t, I can’t, I can’t.” They focus so much on sin itself — and not doing it — that they end up sinning more. And as a result, they end up judging more. They end up criticizing more. They start trying to get everybody else to believe what they believe, by guilting and shaming them into it.

Do you remember when you met Jesus? You were in a really bad place. And I doubt that anybody shamed you into believing in Him. I think somebody loved you, and as you felt His love, creative and unconditional, you said, “I love God and God loves me!” But we forget. In our controlling nature, we start judging people. We start telling them how bad they are. Then we say, “You need Jesus because you’re really bad.”

You know what? They already know they’re bad. There’s something inside every one of us that says we’re not inherently good. Reminding people of that does not help them. You want to help them? You want to save them? You want them to know Jesus? Love on them. Don’t focus on their sins.

Sinners loved Jesus because He knew how to hang with them and love on them, and not condemn or judge them. He looked at people and said, “If you could only know who I intended for you to be, and not who you are right now! Then you would understand your true identity. If you could only see Me for who I am! Put your identity in Me, not in your sin, or in how bad or good you think you are, or in the judgments other people put on you. Know that you are holy and righteous! You will find joy and fulfillment in Me.”

In our flesh and bones, we sin. But that’s not who we are. If we can live in the understanding of who we are, we won’t sin as much. Plus, we won’t react as much. We won’t look all the time at how sinful other people are. We won’t get stuck in judgment.

Instead we will realize that by the blood of Jesus, we are saved. We are holy and righteous! When we look at others, in our love we will yearn for them to be saved. We won’t look at them in judgment and condemnation. We will yearn for them to see and understand that when you accept Christ, you thrive! You are happy in your new life!

I yearn for that for everyone! See you Thursday.

Unity Through Dialogue

As iron sharpens iron,
So a man sharpens the countenance of his friend.
Proverbs 27:17

We need to take action. We need to unify the church. It’s key to the return of Jesus!

Let’s begin with an “iron sharpening iron” dialogue. Let’s come to an understanding. It’s going to be hard, but it’s not impossible. We’re all in this together, after all. We sing differently, we worship differently, and we handle our services differently, but we are all the church. Our differences should not stand in the way of seeking unity. We need a common understanding of who God is and how He works, so Christian thinkers need to come together and start sharpening each other.

By “sharpening,” I don’t mean “competing.” Dialogue is not a competition. It’s not about proving that your words are better than the other guy’s. Dialogue is not, “I know I’m right, and I know you’re wrong.” Don’t be afraid to be wrong. Be prepared to adjust your thought process when you find the other guy makes sense. Right now, I think we’re unwilling to do that. I think we’re afraid of conflict.

Generation Alive works with Spokane-area schools, but we’re also trying to unify the church. We’re working with the youth pastors to build unity. They are doing a terrific job, but it wasn’t like that at first. When we started out, they weren’t getting together very often. In fact, it felt like the churches were involved in a turf war! It felt like they were saying to each other, “Don’t get in our way.” It felt like everything turned into a competition! “When you put on an event,” they seemed to say, “we’re going to hold one at the same time.” Seriously! Unity felt like it was a long way out.

Things have changed now. The youth pastors are doing a great job, and I’m glad to see it. After all, they are the ones who are discipling our young leaders.

If you’re not willing to sit with thinkers and engage in a necessary and sharpening dialogue, you may never learn. Maybe some people are different from you. Maybe they have different lenses. But everyone’s focus is on the same God. Through dialogue, we try on each others’ lenses. And through dialogue, those different lenses could start to make sense. They could start to improve the way we see things. Look at God through the lens of another, and the way you see Him could improve. Let someone look at God through your lens, and the way they see Him could improve.

If we don’t engage in dialogue, we may never know. And if we’re not willing to sit with other Christians in community, we may never be unified.

See you Monday.