Tag Archives: Jesus

Supremacy

Colossians 1:15–20
15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

“[Jesus] is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.” 

As a Christian, loving Jesus heart, soul, mind and strength is your highest priority.  In every dimension of your life, he is to have supremacy.  That means he is to be the Lord and Master over your life.  You are not your own, you were bought with a price (1 Cor. 6:19-20).  You now live for Jesus.

This command to give Jesus supreme authority in one’s life sounds incredibly threatening at first.  However, one soon discovers subjugation to Jesus’ kingship is neither confining nor oppressive. Our lives cohere and gain clarity of purpose only when obedience to Jesus’ graceful, loving authority become one’s highest value, desire, and pursuit.

“All things were created by him and for him…and in him all things hold together. ”

When supremacy is given to ourselves and our empires, confinement and oppression inevitably set in, because we are living against the grain of reality as contructed by Jesus himself.  However, when Christ and his kingdom are given supremacy in our lives, we experience a counter-intuitive liberation; a propulsion into a rich and empowered life with God that is experienced as exciting, enlivening, and spacious.

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Third Week of Advent: Thursday, December 19th

Isaiah 40:1–11

1 Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. 2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins. 3 A voice of one calling: “In the desert prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God. 4 Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. 5 And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” 6 A voice says, “Cry out.” And I said, “What shall I cry?” “All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field. 7 The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the Lord blows on them. Surely the people are grass. 8 The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever.” 9 You who bring good tidings to Zion, go up on a high mountain. You who bring good tidings to Jerusalem, lift up your voice with a shout, lift it up, do not be afraid; say to the towns of Judah, “Here is your God!” 10 See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power, and his arm rules for him. See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him. 11 He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.

Again and again the Old Testament prophets declare that “good news” (or “good tidings”) are coming to a lost Israel.  The New Testament points us to Jesus as the anointed one who brings us this good news (or “gospel”).

And yet many Christians today have a very stunted and meager understanding of the good news Jesus brings.  Here’s an incredible video by Lisa Sharon Harper explaining the breadth and depth of the good news available to us through Jesus.

 

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How I Write A Sermon

A friend recently asked me about the process I use to write my sermons. In putting my process down on paper for her, I thought it might be interesting/helpful/enlightening to post the process I work through here on my blog.

I entered into a regular preaching pattern about five years ago, and during that time I have learned a ton about how to craft a sermon that is biblical, engaging, and God glorifying. Although I’ve tried many different processes over my five years of preaching, here’s the most current iteration.

This is pretty much how it works.

Ok, so it’s not that easy. 😉

From start to finish, a typical sermon is built over four phases:

Phase 1: Exploration and Information Gathering (4-6 hours)
This phase happens the week before I’m scheduled to preach. I’ve usually landed on a main passage for my message by this point, and will research it as thoroughly as possible via my Logos software and any other pertinent books I own. I have two goals for this phase: i) get comfortable with what the text is saying so I don’t mishandle it, and ii) begin to note the themes/ideas that seem to be jumping out at me.

Phase 2: Team Brainstorming (1 hour)
This phase happens early in the week I’m scheduled to preach, usually 4-5 days after I’ve completed Phase I and let the ideas incubate a bit. I usually sit down with Matt Pamplin, Kristi Gringhuis, and Richard Saunders and go over the skeleton of my message. They then offer any feedback on my proposal: Scriptures I should include, stories I should emphasize, examples within our community, hesitations or cautions if the message’s theme is sensitive, etc. This is one of the most helpful steps in the sermon preparation process, because it allows me to get out of my head and bounce ideas off of others whose input I respect and value. Sometimes these discussions lead to major alterations in the proposed sermon, and at other times they only lead to a minor tweak here and there. Regardless, they are always extremely helpful and make my sermon much stronger in the end.

Phase 3: Constructing the message (8-10 hours)
In this phase I take about a day to pull all the pieces together. I usually have 50% of my message “done” in my head by the time I start this process, and spend the day putting everything down on paper, making sure everything fits, flows, and “works” as it relates to the goal of the message. I’m a big believer in writing out my message word-for-word. I used to rely on bullet points in the past, relying on my skill as an on-the-fly presenter, but I believe that taking the extra time to write the sermon out in full has made me a better preacher. For some (many?) pastors, writing their sermon out word-for-word feels too constraining. However, I think my preaching has gotten stronger as I’ve worked down into the details of exactly what I’m communicating and how I’m communicating it.

Phase 4: Review and Rehearsal (2-4 hours)
This final phase has a few parts to it, and is often a very, very difficult one.

By the time I’m done crafting the message, I usually have a 10-12 page Word document that I need to trim down to 9 pages. While whittling things down is usually excruciatingly hard for me (I don’t want to leave anything important out!), the following questions help me keep my message “lean and mean”:

1. What is the MAIN point of my message, or am I trying to squeeze two (or more) sermons into one?
2. Do ALL of my teaching points reinforce the sermon’s main message?
3. Does the sermon have any unnecessary tangents?
4. Have I spent too much time explaining any one particular teaching point? Could I say the same thing more efficiently?

Then, I usually ask myself the following questions to make sure the sermon will have resonance with my church community:

1. Have I answered the question, “Why should I care about this?”
2. Have I answered the question, “What do you want me to do about this?”
3. Have I include at least one element that speaks to the four different “types” of Christians in my church: Heart types, Soul types, Mind types, and Strength types?
4. Does the message explicitly glorify Jesus and direct people to him?

After I’m comfortable with the sermon after working through these questions, I try to rehearse it out loud at least once. This helps me to discover any elements of the message that “look good on paper,” but don’t work as intended once you’re delivering them out loud.

Conclusion

Writing a sermon is tough, grueling work. But it’s also extremely satisfying. It’s a privilege to be able to teach others from the Word of God, and I don’t take that calling lightly. I aim to do my best with each sermon I preach, and pray throughout the process that Jesus would use the message as he sees fit. My goal as a preacher is to “make straight the way for the Lord” (John 1:23). For me, that means crafting a message that makes it as easy as possible to see Jesus and come to him.

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Confessions From A Passive Priest

“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (1 Peter 2:9)

In the Bible, the Old Testament priests were  meant to be mediators between God and his people.  A mediator is someone who bridges the gap between two people.

In the New Testament, Peter writes that as God’s people we are all being formed into a “royal priesthood.”  Many Protestants find that title a little odd, or even suspicious.  After all, Jesus is our high priest (Heb. 3:1; 4:14; 6:20), so through him we no longer need someone to be a bridge between us and God, right?

Right.  But as Christians, we are called to be a royal priesthood in the sense that we are to bring God’s love, grace and beauty to the world, and bring the world’s pain, evil, and suffering to God.  As Jesus’ royal priests, Christians should be people who are known for bringing the healing, forgiving, gracious love of God to the world, while bringing the chaos of the world to God.

I spoke about this recently at church (the sermon “Saving Grace” at www.grindstonechurch.com), and I’ve been reflecting on how passive I’ve been for much of my Christian life as a “priest.”  I see how I’ve been willing to be that bridge between the shalom of God and the world’s chaos, but I don’t tend to actively look for opportunities to mediate God’s grace and love to the world.  In other words, I’ve been a very passive priest.

It’s a lot more comfortable and convenient to be a passive priest.  You get to serve on your own terms and in your preferred environment–your preferred “temple.”  After a while you’ve come to identify the places in your life where it “works” for you to give and love, and subtly make others rearrange their needs accordingly.  You become a priest, but only in the most formal sense of the word.

Being a part of Jesus’ royal priesthood, however, involves a radically different vision for your life.  That’s because Jesus’ preferred environment–his preferred “temple”–isn’t the church or specific religious place where the “real” ministry happens; it’s the whole world. So Jesus tells his priests to go into all of the world (Matthew 28:19) and invite others into this priesthood.

When I think about that vision, I feel ashamed at how far I live from that calling and mission.  I’m embarrassed to admit how quickly I sidestep opportunities that would propel me into places that would demand I dig deep with God and others.  I’m embarrassed to admit how quickly I retreat into “church work,” and label my cowardice “ministry.”

How do I move beyond this heart and mind-set?  How do I change?  I don’t know.  I really don’t.

I’ll just keep looking at Jesus.  I’m keep studying him, reading about him, and meditating on his life and message.  I’ll keep the author and perfector of my faith ever before me.  Because as scary as it is, the more I fix my eyes on Jesus, the more I sense God forming me into a royal priest who strikes out everyday to bring the shalom of God into the world, and bring the brokenness of the world back to God.

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Turning Points

We all experience turning points in our lives.  They happen when we experience something so powerful, so real, that we can’t continue living the same way we have been.  Our view of things is burst open.  But instead of that burst leading to a break, it leads to a break-through where we find ourselves seeing and encountering reality in an entirely new, exciting way.  It’s as if scales fall from our eyes (Acts 9:18) and God allows us to see things in a deeper, clearer way.  We see ourselves differently, we see God differently, we see others differently, and we see our world differently.  A genuine turning point will forever alter all four of these dimensions simultaneously.

Turning points are often created through paradigm shifts, which are are radical changes in how we understand the world around us.  Paradigm shifts create turning points because they enlarge and expand what we believe is possible.  As our narrow and confined view of ourselves, God, others, the world is blown apart, new ways to live open up to us.  That’s why turning points are so exciting; they break down what we thought was possible and offer us an entirely new set of expectations and assumptions.

All the insecurities, self-doubt and fear that I thought were an inevitable part of my existence, aren’t.

All the narrow, constrictive views of God that I thought were an inevitable part of my faith, aren’t.

All the broken, damaged, and dysfunctional relationships that I thought were an inevitable part of my life, aren’t.

All the hopelessness, darkness, and cyclical violence that I thoght were an inevitable part of the world, aren’t.

Turning Points are gifts from God to us.  I don’t believe we can make them happen, but we can be receptive and open to them.  We can be willing to undergo paradigm shifts in different areas in our lives, and invite God to give them to us as He sees fit.

I believe He will if we ask, because I believe paradigm shifts are the foundation of spiritual transformation.  No great or revolutionary growth will ever occur at the level of behavior.  Great, revolutionary growth starts when God explodes our childish conceptions of what is, and replaces it with an entirely new paradigm of what is possible.

When that kind of paradigm shift occurs in your life, get ready for an amazing turning point.

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For a Tree There is Always Hope

The following is an excerpt from Mere Disciple, chapter 9.

As we invest in our relationship with God, hope becomes one of the pivotal virtues we need to be building into our lives. Few people think of hope as a virtue, but that’s what it is. Hope is more than just wishful thinking; it’s the deliberate decision to live out of the inevitable conclusion of God’s story—the complete redemption of creation. History is going somewhere, and our hope is born again when we fasten it to God’s promises and His faithfulness.

In the book of Job, a tree is used to underscore human hopelessness in the face of life’s hardships. Job was a man who understood the hardships of life. It’s not an overstatement to say that at one point he had lost everything. In the midst of his darkest times of mourning, confusion, and sorrow, Job lamented the following from the core of his heartache:

We’re all adrift in the same boat:
too few days, too many troubles.
We spring up like wildflowers in the desert and then wilt,
transient as the shadow of a cloud.
Do you occupy your time with such fragile wisps?
Why even bother hauling me into court?
There’s nothing much to us to start with;
how do you expect us to amount to anything?
Mortals have a limited life span.
You’ve already decided how long we’ll live—
you set the boundary and no one can cross it.
So why not give us a break? Ease up!
Even ditchdiggers get occasional days off.
For a tree there is always hope.
Chop it down and it still has a chance—
its roots can put out fresh sprouts.
Even if its roots are old and gnarled,
its stump long dormant,
At the first whiff of water it comes to life,
buds and grows like a sapling.
But men and women? They die and stay dead.
They breathe their last, and that’s it.
Like lakes and rivers that have dried up,
parched reminders of what once was,
So mortals lie down and never get up,
never wake up again—never.
(Job 14:1–14, The Message)

Job thought that it would be better to be a tree than a human, because at least a fallen tree had a chance, however small, of coming back from the trials of this life. Our fate, Job believed, was to eventually get crushed under the weight of life and “never wake up again—never.” That’s a pretty bleak perspective.

However, we see the symbolism of the tree being used very differently within the first psalm. Instead of being a symbol of man’s lack of hope, the tree is used as a symbol of the profound hope those rooted in a relationship with God can enjoy:

Blessed is the man
who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked
or stand in the way of sinners
or sit in the seat of mockers.
But his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither.
Whatever he does prospers.
(Psalm 1:1–3)

This hope-filled symbolism also characterizes Jesus’ own use of trees within his teachings. Jesus regularly used the tree as a central image within his teaching ministry (e.g., Matthew 7:17; Luke 6:44; John 15:1), and through it highlighted the importance of staying connected to his love, grace, and power. In John’s gospel, Jesus repeatedly told his disciples to stay rooted in him and his teachings:

I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:1–4)

“If a man remains in me . . . he will bear much fruit.” I’m positive the disciples immediately thought of Psalm 1 as Jesus spoke those words, recognizing their rabbi was echoing the promises found there. What would have shocked them in particular was the fact that Jesus seemed to be localizing the source of Psalm 1’s blessings in himself! He is the one who causes us to thrive and flourish in our calling to be God’s image-bearers in the world—humans fully at home in their relationship to God, each other, themselves, and creation.

In light of this, Job’s lament can become a source of transformative encouragement and insight if we read it through a lens that was impossible for him: the lens that we are trees sustained by and rooted in Jesus’ life and power:

For a tree there is always hope.
Chop it down and it still has a chance—
its roots can put out fresh sprouts.
Even if its roots are old and gnarled,
its stump long dormant,
At the first whiff of water it comes to life,
buds and grows like a sapling.
(Job 14:7–9, The Message)

Throughout our lives we will face many trials and hardships, but no matter what we face, no matter the forces that plot against us, in Jesus we will always have an enduring hope. To live with guaranteed hope is an incredible thing, and that is precisely what is available to us through Jesus.

It doesn’t matter what parts of us have been “chopped down” by circumstance, misfortune, or the selfish acts of others.

It doesn’t matter what places within us feel “old and gnarled” due to bitterness, regret, or shame.

It doesn’t matter what aspirations and hopes lie “long dormant” after repeated failure or disillusionment.

In Jesus we can still grow “fresh sprouts” (i.e., new beginnings). We can come back to life, budding and growing like a sapling that’s been born again. All Jesus needs is for us to stay rooted in him.

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Plant Your Hope with Good Seeds


“Plant your hope with good seeds, don’t cover yourself with thistle and weeds.”

Thistle and Weeds, Mumford and Sons

“Listen! A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up.  Some…seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain.” (Mark 4:3–4, 7)

Part of the message embedded in Jesus’ parable of the sower is that God is continually and gracefully scattering the seeds of His kingdom into our lives.  They are seeds that hold the promise of hope, restoration, forgiveness, reconciliation, freedom, healing, and salvation.  He wants these seeds to be the foundation of our hope.

But some of us find clever ways of resisting the seeds God is sowing in our lives.  Sometimes, this resistance is born from the belief that we deserve “thistles and weeds,” not the kind of hope, love and wholeness God offers.  This is often true of those who’ve been grievously hurt by someone during their childhood.  The result: while God tries to plant hope with good seeds, we spend time covering ourselves with thistles and weeds.

God plants hope; we cover ourselves with depression.  God plants salvation; we cover ourselves with bondage.  God plants healing; we cover ourselves with self-harm and self-hatred.  God plants peace; we cover ourselves with fear.

But today is a day to let God clear the ground of your heart from the thistles and weeds.  Today is a day to acknowledge the ways you’ve been resisting His grace and love, and throw off that which has been holding you back.  Today is a day to welcome the seeds of God’s hope, grace, and power into your heart.

You can choose to continue resisting, but know that God will continue to scatter kingdom seeds in your life.  His love for you is unrelenting, and He will pursue you in Christ until you He overwhelms you with His love.

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Staying Rooted in Jesus

The following is an excerpt from Mere Disciple, chapter 9: A Tree of Life

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:1–4

How do you and I stay rooted in Jesus? How do we remain connected to Him so that we can experience this great life and extraordinary hope regardless of the circumstances we find ourselves in? How do we keep Jesus’ call to discipleship front and centre, especially when we are assaulted by countless distractions and difficulties? How do we avoid being overwhelmed and choked out by the cares and worries of this life? Staying rooted in Jesus begins with and is sustained by a commitment to four priorities.

Engage the Bible everyday. Whether it means reading, studying, discussing, or memorizing, staying rooted to Jesus means staying rooted to the Scriptures. We need to continually stretch our understanding of what the Bible says and how that should play out in our lives. The gospels should be read consistently and carefully, because declaring ourselves to be disciples of Jesus means we’re trying to embed the values, attitudes, and priorities of Jesus into our lives. The importance of reading, studying, memorizing, and discussing the Bible is a value most Christians agree on but few actually practice. However, everyone I see flourishing in their discipleship walk is engaging the Bible everyday.

Develop a strong prayer life. Developing a strong prayer life is very challenging for most people. Personally, prayer is an area I read about, talk about, and think about more than I actually do anything about. Prayer is very hard for me, because quite honestly it feels like a waste of time. It feels inefficient and sometimes ineffective compared to physically doing something, but I’m pushing myself beyond those faulty assumptions. I’m in the process of exploring different forms of prayer because I want to develop a strong and intimate relationship with Jesus. This intimacy will never happen if I neglect communicating with Him honestly and openly. Although it may not be easy for us, taking time everyday to share our hearts with Him—and taking time to listen for His still, small voice—is critical to our growth as disciples.

Invest in a local church. I will be the first to say that church can suck. You know it and I know it. But here’s the reality: I’ve never, ever met someone who powerfully inspires me to love and serve Jesus who isn’t invested and connected to a local church. I don’t think church is some kind of magic bullet when it comes to discipleship. However, I believe that discipleship outside of a church commitment just doesn’t work. I also know how tempting it is to bounce around and check out the latest ministry, church, or preacher. But discipleship requires roots, and you can’t grow deep roots if you’re continually uprooting yourself in order to be a part of the next new thing. Therefore, if we are serious about discipleship to Jesus, we have to make it a priority to plug into and invest in a local church community.

Serve others. Following Jesus as a disciple means continually reminding ourselves that in Jesus’ kingdom leaders are the ones who serve (Luke 22:26) and greatness is measured by one’s ability lay down one’s life for others (John 15:13). Our days are filled with opportunities to bless and serve others in both simple and profound ways, and Jesus calls us to adopt a servant heart that places our preferences secondary to the interests and needs of those around us. Jesus said that His kingdom is one that will be characterized by servant leadership (Matthew 20:25–28), so if we aren’t consistently serving others we’re operating out of ego and self-centredness.

These disciplines, however, may strike us as overly simplistic or obvious. Because of this, it’s common for us to overlook them in order to look for something that sounds deeper and more profound. But these four practices form the foundation—the root structure—of the Christian faith. If we ignore, dismiss, or abandon them, we’ll soon find ourselves feeling old, gnarled, and lifeless.

After years of discipling, mentoring, and observing many young adults, I’ve noticed a huge difference between those who just talk about these things, and those who actually do them. Jesus said a disciple is someone who “hears these words of mine and puts them into practice” (Matthew 7:24, emphasis mine). It’s easy to extol the virtues of Bible study and prayer, hold lengthy conversations on the nature of community, and discuss new justice initiatives. However, none of these things lead to transformation in Christ. Those who have been truly transformed are those who have consistently done these things and not just talked about doing them.

 

To order a copy of Mere Disciple: a spiritual guide for emerging leaders, click here.

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More Teens Becoming “Fake” Christians

More Teens Becoming Fake Christians
More Teens Becoming "Fake" Christians

CNN posted an interesting interview with Kenda Creasy Dean about her new book Almost Christian. In her book, Dean argues that how the church currently engages the youth culture amounts to little more than a do-gooder, self-help “Christianity” that is utterly failing to captivate the hearts and lives of youth.

The article (found here) is excellent and reinforces what I’ve been saying for years: youth ministry isn’t working. It’s time for ministry that focuses on identifying, challenging and empowering emerging leaders within Christ’s church to come into prominence.

How does “emerging church ministry” differ from “youth ministry”? Head over to https://www.meredisciple.com/downloads.htm and grab the free PDF article “The Future of an Illusion” for my thoughts.

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