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For the 22 years I have been in ministry I have seen the ebb and flow of church attendance and membership. Often times the Church as a whole doesn’t grow with new people who have found freedom in Jesus. It is just churches swapping people. We never really talk about it or worry about it, but I think at it’s root we have a problem in our culture.

In the 70’s Burger King created the slogan “Have it your way” in order to compete with other brands that would only serve what was on the menu. It was a great concept and one my waist size knows I exploit often. Ironically I never get it my way. It never fails. I will pull up to the plaque showing me a ton of options… A voice comes out of the speaker “how can I help you… are you ready to order?”. I speak back to the speaker; “Yes! thanks… I will take a Whopper with cheese, but with no onions and I will add extra extra pickles…”. Then I will proceed with all the customized requests from the 5 other people in my family. By the time I get home with the order and start handing it out it’s too late. My order for extra pickles and a kids meal without cheese must have been confusing and emotionally taxing because I did not get it my way.

It NEVER works the way I would like in fast food, but for some reason it’s expected to be the norm in the church that we should approach the counter of God, and give our order, with demands to have everything our way.

If you have been in a church longer than a day you have seen this to be true:

The music is too loud.
Why can’t they play more Chris Tomlin Songs?!
The Lights are too bright!
I just cant worship unless they have a laser show and fog machines.
There is no way Jesus likes the way these chairs are set up or this awful carpet color.
It’s time to leave honey… We just are not being fed.

I could go on and on because I have heard it all. It absolutely drives me nuts hearing these kinds of things, but maybe it is more disturbing to me because I’m guilty of wanting it my way as well.

Amos 5:21-24
“I hate all your show and pretense—
the hypocrisy of your religious festivals and solemn assemblies.
I will not accept your burnt offerings and grain offerings.
I won’t even notice all your choice peace offerings.
Away with your noisy hymns of praise!
I will not listen to the music of your harps.
Instead, I want to see a mighty flood of justice,
an endless river of righteous living.

If this was placed into our time period it would likely read something like this:
If you are not willing to be people who overflow with Justice, Love, Joy, Peace, patience, kindness, goodness and mercy then you might as well stop everything else you are doing in all your christian duties. They are worthless. JUST STOP IT! Just stop with all the “stuff” that you are convinced you need to do in order to worship me because you have made it all about you and you do it for you.

That verse just wrecks me and convicts me every time I read it.

I remind myself and my congregation as often as I can that our “Service” is for God and the Bible wasn’t written about us, because we need to be transformed into people who chase after the heart of God and not people that shout with our actions that Jesus isn’t enough.

I was joking the other day with a friend that I thought it would be funny if there was a drive-thru for Ash Wednesday. You could pull your car up, get your ashes and drive off to go about your day. We had a great laugh at the absurdity of it… Well that was until I got a text to a few articles telling me this existed at not only many locations, but even at a church close by.

I read the articles that said the churches wanted to give people the opportunity to get the ashes, but they knew their schedules were just too busy so they set up street stations. Like a 1 min car wash. I understand time constraints. I work two jobs and have 4 kids. I truly do sympathize, but something about this just seems to feed the beast of consumerism and everything that verse in AMOS was talking about. I won’t presume to judge one heart in this, but the fact that the church offers CONVENIENCE in the Lenten period dedicated to FASTING and self-denial, which is not convenient, is teaching the church the wrong things.

We do have to ask ourselves though… Are we looking at our faith walk in the same way? Are we hoping that we can have the fullness of what God offers our life and we can consider ourselves fully devoted to his kingdom by looking for every opportunity to “drive-up” to a window and just grab the overspray of his goodness without having to die to self and trade my will for God’s?

“There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.” ……No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. Those who knock it is opened.”
― C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce

That is the crux behind the heart of Lent. Being no longer satisfied with the unfulfilling overspray of his presence, settling for the sugar high we get from cool events, and finding ourselves needing to add things to Jesus to make Him more “rich”.

Oh the joy I’ve found
Surrendering my crowns
At the feet of the King
Who surrendered everything

Oh the peace that comes
When I’m broken and undone
By Your unfailing grace
I can lift my voice and say

You can have it all, Lord
Every part of my world
Take this life and breathe on
This heart that is now Yours

Bethel Church “Have it all”

This should be our prayer as we dive heart first into Lent.
No longer saying I will “HAVE IT MY WAY”.
Instead my daily prayer to God who I know is Lord, but who I now will allow TO BE my Lord, will be
“HAVE IT ALL LORD… HAVE IT YOUR WAY”

recovery

It would be wrong for me to say I’m a healthy person. I am overweight, a person who deals with issues like anxiety and lack of self worth, and I really love Cheese and Bread. With that confession out there I have in the last 6 months set out on a journey to work on getting healthier. It has been hard, sometimes easy, rewarding and down right annoying. I discovered, while eating better that I am clearly addicted to sugar and found myself in the “in between times” eating to deal with stress. I’m a stress eater? Where in the world did that come from and how did I never even notice this?

I set out on this journey not because heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and cancer are in my genes, but because every time I ate something acidic I would get major heartburn and a pain in my side. A lame reason I know but sometimes it takes dumb circumstances to get us on the track to working on bigger ones.

What I discovered after a few months of eating a restricted diet is I was no longer having stomach pain from acidic things. It was absurd. I could now eat salsa with no problems.

Another thing began to happen. I started drinking only water, green tea and coffee. My body was constantly being flushed of toxins and being sustained on being “clean”.

And then it happened…

Pain…

I’ve endured pains before. I am used to them being overwieght and not in the greatest shape, but now I was feeling pain in places I never did before. My neck pain is out of control. My back and hip pain seem to come in waves for no reason at all.

A funny thing about Dairy and Cheese. They are foods that cause inflammation. I cut them out and you would think that if I was now ingesting anti-inflammatory foods that it would reduce inflammation and I would feel like 1 million dollars.

Well the truth is the inflammation I had previously was masking the pain in other areas. Basically this “thing”, this lifestyle that for all intensive purposes was killing me, was also numbing all kinds of other issues.

This realization has forced me to work on all kinds of areas that were never part of the “deal” of this diet. Posture, stretching, fitness, strengthening areas that are not in a normal workout to support the years of abuse on my body that the inflammation was hiding.

So now you must be thinking to yourself: “why is the word recovery in the title of this post?” – glad you asked.

Sunday I announced to our church that God had been speaking loud and clear that we are a “recovery church”. That is an odd statement, I know, but let me explain. Recovery is often associated with alcohol or drugs, but I have come to the conclusion that it needs to be associated with recovering things that have been stolen from us. It might be Joy has been stolen because of fear, Peace has been stolen because of abuse, Sobriety has been stolen because of addiction, kindness has been stolen because I am a “me-aholic”… The truth is every one of us as christians are in recovery because the enemy is stealing from us daily and we need to take it back by force!

There is one thing I have learned though about recovery that has now been solidified by my inflammation issue. When you remove the thing that is killing you there is also a discovery that it was making all the other pain numb. Hidden pain that was getting worse and worse and you never even knew. Now that it has been removed you are forced to deal with all the other things that it was hiding in your life.

Just like my health journey, when it comes to recovery this may end up being more painful than it was before… But it’s worth it.

When you remove the things that anesthetize your spirit then the spirit of the Lord can heal you from the inside out. 

It’s in that moment that you can say:
I might be in pain but YOU are my healer
I might be afraid but YOUR love casts out that fear
I might be sad but YOU bring joy everlasting
I might be confused but YOU give me a peace that I can’t understand
I am no longer a slave to the things I did before, but that also means have have so much more work to do… This time with YOUR strength.

what a

The God who breathed stars into existence, who spoke and made the heavens created us out of dust, to be little mud men in relationship with him. What a mystery. What a privilege to be called sons and daughters because of the mind shattering love and grace and mercy of God.

Jesus, God’s plan A, took all of our sin, all of our garbage, all of our hurt on himself. All the things we have done and have yet to do. He bore it all. He did not come to condemn. As he was being beaten and nailed to a cross, He responded to the offense with “FORGIVE THEM!”.
What a privilege it is to worship Him.

The prince of peace came in humility. The bread of life was broken so that WE might have life… so that The love of God might finally be revealed with such clarity and impact that nothing would mistake it.
What a privilege it is to worship Him

And the curtain of the temple that separated the presence of God from man was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened. Bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. All that was created from beginning to end, Angels and demons, principalities and rulers, Satan and the religious, All of heaven and earth, all that is seen and all that is unseen suddenly woke with a realization… Through the splinters of wood and the poured out blood, revelation came. “Truly this was the Son of God!”
What a privilege it is to worship Him

To seal the deal Jesus rose from the grave, fully man and fully God. He returned as a teacher, friend, healer, gardener… as God…He ministered to followers that would change the world as an act of worship.
What a privilege it is to worship Him

He ascended into heaven and left us with the Holy Spirit. The living God and the same power that raised christ from the grave to be with us always. So that as we draw near to the Good father we can be reminded that his love endures forever. What a privilege it is to worship Him

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. – Eph 3:16-19

What a privilege it is to worship Him

PIA

Sunday night was absolutely amazing: My wife and I, along with friends, went to the Poets in autumn tour with spoken word artists Jackie Hill Perry, Preston Perry, Genetics = Janette…ikz, and Ezekiel Azonwu. I had seen them before online over the years and had been hoping I could see them speak live one day. For me it was a surreal experience. It was my anniversary of 18 years of marriage. I was sitting in a room with a few hundred other people and some friends. Then they started speaking… The first piece I had heard before, but live it landed on my ears differently.

I grew up in NY, currently live in RI, but also lived in west coast, midwest and south. I am white. The reason why this matters is twofold.
1. I have never experienced racism in the way some of the poetry spoke towards myself.
2. While I have never experienced it, I have personally experienced prejudice and have seen first hand friends being profiled.

To hear Preston’s lens on racism today, something that makes me sick to my stomach, was mind blowing. I have no tolerance for the kind of hate the world spews out these days. I don’t see color. I see God’s precious creation. I Loved the way preston tackled the issues. He was bold, clear, unashamed and then so full of love and grace. He pointed to Jesus, forgiveness and that all life is sacred.

Sitting in a room with mostly black brothers and sisters in the lord and hearing his testimony broke my heart. I will never know what they have gone through and the hurt some of them have been through. However, I am so glad that Jesus can clean hearts, restore lives and that there is nothing this world can dish out that heaven can’t heal. I found myself in prayer for the great men and women of God in the room that night.

Lord… Take their lives.. make them yours.. use them to heal their city. Use them to break down walls. Make a way where there seems to be no way. Give them a platform and a voice that is greater than they can imagine.
Each artist shared from their heart with a mission to use their life story as a platform to arrest hearts and then step out of the way for the Holy Spirit to move. The stories were heartbreaking. The hope was mesmerizing. The talent was unparalleled.
I had just that morning preached at Ember Church about John the Baptist being a voice in the wilderness. I spoke on our picture of him being warped. He wasn’t a crazy man screaming repentance. He was a gentle yet bold man begging for children to return to their father. I spoke on ensuring that when we speak, much like john, that we need to be mindful if what we say points to Jesus. Clearly John the Baptizer did not water down the gospel. He wasn’t afraid to tackle hard hitting targets. Unlike the crazy doom, sign holding preachers on the street corners, John had a crowd that came out to meet him. He preached repentance and grace instead of judgement a prepared the way for the Lord. 

Sunday night in the middle of Brockton Ma, at Dominion Christian Church; 4 Modern day John the Baptist’s came to speak. They tackled the hard topics: Lust, Molestation, Broken Marriage, Deception of satan, Porn, Passion, Corruption, The word of God, Prayer, Abortion, Spiritual warfare… They were not afraid to speak truth and nothing was off limits. That had us in tears, in wonder, in shock, in self evaluation, in awe…

And then… With the voice of the Lord they prepared the way for the Lord and pointed everything they were and had to Jesus. 

They made sure every person in that room heard one thing. JESUS IS ENOUGH and I was honored to be present for that moment.

lent2

The Lenten season began last week. Lent leads up to Easter in a similar way that Advent leads to Christmas only with a different perspective. The idea around advent is an Expectation of the coming of Jesus on Christmas day. Lent however is a time of self-assessment and surrender to prepare our hearts for the death and resurrection of the King of Kings

There is a reason why Lent begins with ash Wednesday. The ashes that are put on a persons head are a symbolic representation of mourning our sin, a reminder of our mortality, and is usually in the shape of a cross showing we are marked by jesus and share in his resurrection.

We know that Christ died for us while we were yet sinners, but starting lent with an understanding of lament and mourning of our sin is critical. We need to begin this lenten season recognizing that we are dust that God breathed life into. We are little mud men and women who have been given the opportunity of having eternal life because of God’s mercy, kindness and sacrifice.. And in the same way we were formed out of dust we will eventually return to dust. Life is short and Ash Wednesday reminds us of that.

I love the way the NLT says it in:
James 4:14
 New Living Translation
How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog–it’s here a little while, then it’s gone

What we do with our short time on this earth matters. What or who we devote our days to shapes who we are.

Last week 21 Coptic Orthodox Christians were martyred or in other words killed because they were followers of Jesus. It is noted that some of their last words before they died was “Lord Jesus Christ, Jesus, Help me”.

My heart was heavy when I heard this news. It is important to note I want you to know that this kind of thing happens ALL the time. Since Jesus walked this earth Followers of Jesus have been persecuted. If you go to Voice of the Martyrs you can read about men and women who are Marked by Jesus and are persecuted or even killed for their faith. 

I am not saying this to get anybody down or cause any fear. I am saying it because with every great move of the church there is Great prayer and Great persecution. I am so thankful we have not been persecuted or threatened like these followers of Jesus.

Our blessings have also made us comfortable about our faith. Because we aren’t concerned for our lives, we feel that God doesn’t need the full control.

Lets now look at Genesis 2:15-17 (ESV)
15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat[a] of it you shall surely die.”

God gave Adam simple instructions… you guys get everything here, but you should not eat from this tree..

Genesis 3:1-7 (ESV)
3 Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You[a] shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” 2 And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, 3 but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” 4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. 5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise,[b] she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. 7 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.

So in this scripture a few things happen that lead all of humanity towards a need of reconciliation with God. Adam and Eve not only disobey God but they are tempted and succumb to the temptations of Pride and control. They were told that if they ate of this tree they would be able to see what God could see and they didn’t trust the Creator.

Adam and Eve were given a choice to surrender their control. God says “You shall not” which means it is their choice. He doesn’t say “you can’t”. In those beginning statements We see God’s desire for us to not be robots but to have free will. And we see His grace because not only did they not die after they ate it, but God had a plan to fix this mess by sending Jesus.

We are given this same choice that adam and eve were given every day.

The question is: Will you surrender control to God?

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