4 Reasons Why Good-Byes Are Important

15 Apr

This weekend, we had to say “good-bye” to our congregation of over 12 years.  And they did a fantastic job and left us with memories that will last us a lifetime.   But good-byes are hard and sometimes we would rather skip over them and just move on.  But good-byes are important, especially in the community of the church.

VGBC paster Jim farewell Sunday Morning 015 (1)

1.  Good-byes help us face the reality of change.  Change is hard, but it is good and necessary.

2.  Good-byes help cement the good memories deep within us.  Memories of good times and God’s grace give us strength for the future.

3.  Good-byes remind us of the active love and grace of God.  At times we work and work and never notice all that God has done.  But these good-byes remind us that God is active in the nitty-gritty of everyday service.

4.  Good-byes remind us of what’s valuable.  People, time, sacrifice are what makes an impact.  Good-byes bring all those things to the surface and encourage us to do it all again in our new setting with new people.

VGBC paster Jim farewell Sunday Morning 003

So while it may be hard, take time to say “good-bye” when you’re making a change.  Even if not all the memories are good, a good-bye helps settle the past as we move on to the future.

Thanks to Village Green for a very good “Good-bye.”  We cherish you and the time we’ve spent together.  We affirm that God has worked and we look forward to him working again in our lives and in yours.

VGBC paster Jim farewell Sunday Morning 027

Here is a link to that wonderful service:  Farewell Worship Service @ Village Green

Three Warnings and Encouragements for Lent

17 Feb


I was raised a Baptist.  For almost 29 years, I’ve pastored Baptist churches.  And until recent years, I’ve never made mention of Ash Wednesday or the season of Lent.  I won’t try to explain it all except that I’m learning from my pastoral colleagues, from other tradtions that it’s a rich time of spiritual reflection.  It is a season wherein Christians around the world enter into a great awareness of our need for repentance, faith and seriousness in following Jesus.

But as I’ve observed what really happens at Lent for many Christians is anything but serious. People celebrate “Fat Tuesday,” they get their “ashes” on Wednesday and give something up for Lent.  And those sacrifices include TV, Facebook, cussing, or removing some unhealthy treat from their diet.

As I’ve said, I don’t come from a background that holds to Lenten traditions.  But I have to believe it was meant to be more than this.  As I reflect on Lent and on how our “Christianized” culture treats it, I think we’re in danger of doing real spiritual damage.  So, here are 3 things we need to watch for and 3 things that will help us have a more meaningful Lenten season.

3 Warnings For this Lenten season.

1.  Our sacrifices won’t absolve us.
Giving something up is no substitute for being honest about our sin.  You see, our positive actions can never undo our negative actions.  We need forgiveness.  Forgiveness comes through repentance and confession.

Trying to perform our way out of sin is like a friend who, after being harsh or criticial, just trying to change without ever saying their sorry for their actions.  The offense doesn’t go away without us addressing it.

In God’s economy, only Christ’s sacrifice can remove sin.  He alone could do what was good enough.  So, giving up Facebook, or Pornography, or even reading your Bible more doesn’t absolve us of our sin.  Don’t trust in your good actions to outweigh your sin.

2.  Our sacrifices won’t get us any closer to God.
We think that we can earn God’s favor.  We tend to think that if we do something for God, he will do something for us.  God doesn’t want what we have to offer.  He wants us.  I’m reminded of this in the story of King Saul.  King Saul was commanded to follow God’s direction and he disobeyed.  But in order to restore God’s favor, he offered this huge sacrifice.  And then he said, “Look, what I did for God!”

Then God, through the prophet Samuel said, “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord?  Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams (1 Samuel 15:22).”

God wants us to respond to him as God.  He wants a relationship with us.  He wants us to hear and listen.  No sacrifice can earn God’s favor or blessing.

3.  Our temporary self-discipline is a set up for failure.
This season can be a lot like a physical diet.  We fear permanent change, so we go on a 40 day spiritual diet.  We don’t want a new lifestyle, we just want to get into shape, so we don’t feel so bad about splurging.  The problem is we get done with our temporary commitments and then we go back with a vengeance.

In the gospels, there is a warning about spirits.  Matthew 12:43-45 reads, “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, but finds none.  Then it says, ‘I will return to the house from which I came.’  And when it comes, it finds the house empty, swept, and put in order.  Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and swell there, and the last state of that person is worse than the first.  So also, it will be with this evil generation.”

A temporary spiritual fix is not a fix.  In fact, it is a set up for greater failure down the road.  We need, not just to rid our lives of the things that clutter our lives, we need to fill our lives with the Spirit of God who frees us and keeps us free.

Is Lent a waste then?  I don’t think so.  Playing at Lent, like playing around at a relationship with Christ can be a waste.  But the real thing can have lasting benefit.

3 encouragements for experiencing the benefits of Lent.

1. Our attitude is important.
Lent isn’t observed to make us feel better about ourselves.  The “Hey, look what I gave up!” misses the point.  This season is a time to exalt Christ, not ourselves.  We are identifying with his sacrifice.  Humility is key!  This act of self-denial is the admission that we’re not “all that.”  We need God’s grace in every way.  There is no room for pride in that.

Remember the warning of Jesus, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven (Matthew 6:1).” This is not a time to seek attention. But it is a time to humbly live before the God who has loved us and called us.

2. Self-discipline is ongoing.
Self-discipline is the attempt to bring our physical lives under the direction of the Spirit of God.  This is a life-long attempt to bring the flesh under the control of the Spirit.  It is an admission that all that is in this world is temporary.  And we are living for eternity.

Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 9:25-26 “Every athlete exercises self-control in all things.  They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.  So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air.  But I discipline by body and keep it under control, let after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”

3. We need a greater goal.
There may be times when we are led by God to give something up temporarily, but the temporary sacrifice shouldn’t be our goal.  We should do it for an ongoing, ever-deepening intimacy with Christ.  We should do it for the glory of God.  This sounds a lot like the Westminster Catechism which says, the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.  Now that’s a greater goal.

Three and a half years ago, I went into the hospital for heart surgery.  Since then I have changed my whole approach to health.  It was a short term action that led to new life-long patterns.  Lent can be the same thing.  It is a short stay in spiritual rehab.  But it’s real impact comes with what happens afterward.

I pray you have a powerful Lenten season.  But more than that, I pray it is just a step in a life of a deepening daily walk with Christ.
What have you experienced through Lent?
What do you hope to experience this year?
I’d especially love to hear from Christians from other traditions!!!!

If this post encouraged or challenged you, please do me the honor of hitting the share button.

Little Leaguers, A Newsman and Joe Christian

11 Feb

This morning, we learned that the Jackie Robinson West Little League Chapmpions from Chicago, just had their title stripped from them.  A team that was lauded by the Second City and the rest of the nation were now deemed unworthy to hold the title because they broke the rules.  While being honored as a team that was taught hard work, teamwork and strong values, the leaders were breaking the rules by playing kids that lived outside the district boundaries.

We also heard that NBC has just suspended Brian Williams for six months without pay.  He was presented to us as the man who told us the truth night after night.  It was this professional and uncompromising image that made him so funny when he acted out of character with Jimmy Fallon.  Why was he suspended?  Because he refused to let the truth get in the way of a good story.  Simply put, he lied.  He fabricated and exaggerated stories.  And while the jury’s still out, it seems he did it on more than one occasion.

How do people get into these kinds of trouble?  The Bible says, it’s the flesh.  The flesh throws caution to the wind in order to win, or to validate oneself in the eyes of others.  In the moment, we think that winning is all that matters.  Then we find out that winning outside the rules isn’t winning, it’s ruinous.

Paul was concerned with this in his own life.  He expresssed his heart in 1 Corinthians 9:27 “But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”  This disqualification may not keep us out of heaven.  But it does undercut our influence and weakens the gospel.  How do we Christians disqualify ourselves?

1. We live hypocritically.  We refuse to display the holiness of God.
2. We live without love for other believers.  We don’t offer grace to one another. We weaken the witness of Christ’s body.
3. We live with a judgmental spirit toward our neighbor.  We think of others as “lesser than,” rather than seeing the image of God in them. We limit the impact of grace on others.
4. We live without concern for God-given priorities of spouse and family. We make excuses to live outside of God’s order. In this we chip away at the greatest metaphor God has given to display his love for his people.
5. We live with the drive for self-fulfilment rather than the glory of God. We listen to the flesh and we quench the life-giving Holy Spirit.

Ultimately, disqualification happens when we don’t practice what we preach!  We need to take gospel transformation seriously.  We need to discipline our passions, desires and actions in order to walk the path.  And when we fail, we cannot claim it was a “mistake, an oversight, or a misstatement.”  But we must honestly say, “God calls this sin, and so do I.  I depend on his grace and I hope for your forgiveness.”

Like Paul, I have to do character “double-checks.”  I have to be honest before God and others, so I don’t get to the end of my life thinking that I won and realize I’ve disqualified myself from the reward God had planned for me.

Should you discipline yourself in a new way today? What has the greatest potential to disqualify you?
How do you react when someone else disqualifies themselves?
Can someone come back?
How do you understand the importance of alignment between our life and our message?

How the Pope Just Got it Wrong on Free Speech

15 Jan Global Reaction To The Terrorist Attack On French Newspaper Charlie Hebdo

I just read this article about the Pope’s response to the situation surrounding the terror attack in France.  Take a read and let me share with you why he got it wrong.


To summarize, Pope Francis says there should be free speech, but there are limits.  And those limits, it seems from the article, are determined by the sensitivity of others, or we might expect the reaction we get.  In other words, if you speak out against another’s religion, you are crossing a line and may really deserve what you get.

Let’s start with Pope Francis’ example.  “If my good friend… says a curse word against my mother, he can expect a punch.”  While this  may be an understandable response, it is not a justifiable response.  If the Pope clobbered his best buddy for saying the wrong thing about his mother, or his faith, the Pope has just committed assault.  And certainly it conflicts with the example of the Head of his church.

Second, he says “You cannot insult the faith of others.  You cannot make fun of the faith of others.”  If faith is off limits, we have no way to critically assess the value of a particular faith.  It is “shut up and believe, or disbelieve.”  Who will set the limits?  Who will judge whether a comment is a critical, honest question, or mockery?  And who will determine whether something is blasphemy or simply a disagreement in beliefs?  For some, you can’t say anything critical about their prophet, or their god, or you have set yourself up as an enemy and a blasphemer who is worthy of death.

Third, he said, “There are so many people who speak badly about religions or other religions, who make fun of them, who make a game out of the religions of others,” he said. “They are provocateurs. And what happens to them is what would happen to Dr. Gasparri if he says a curse word against my mother. There is a limit.”

It is horrific that the Pope would equate popping a buddy in the mouth for saying something evil about his Mom with shooting him and eleven of his closest friends.  After all, I hear him saying, “you get what you get.”

Lastly, the Pope seems to be worried about the ability of true religion to stand with silence, power, confidence and peace in the face of ridicule, criticism and even blasphemy.  And yet, Jesus did just that.  No faith of any substance will stand or fall on the verbal accusations and criticisms of the unbeliever.  But it will crumble with the weak, reactive, violent and unholy actions of its believers.

Should people be respectful of other people’s beliefs?  Of course.  Disrespectful and dishonoring attitudes don’t persuade others to change and neither does law.  If the desire of a religion is to change the hearts of people, we must remember that no law has ever changed the heart.  Also no word, no matter how offensive, justifies a physical, life-threatening response.



How does your eschatology shape your mission?

12 Jan IMG_0258

The word missional has become one of the great catch words in the church in the last decade.  And I have appreciated what has been written to guide the church back to a more impactful, less isolationist emphasis.  In the missional movement, we see people learning to engage their neighbors with the gospel.  We see churches and ministries actively pursuing the opportunity to make change in the world.  These are positives.  And I’ve been glad to be part of the emphasis.

There is one way that some parts of the missional movement could be hindering the biblical mission.  Many missional teachers talk about the story of Scripture.  In order to give context to the mission, they outline the Scripture story of God as having 4 main chapters.  They are: Creation, Fall, Redemption and Restoration.  I think we all understand that the Creation chapter of the story would be found in Genesis 1 and 2.  The Fall happens clearly in Genesis 3 with the temptation and sin of Adam and Eve.  And the effects of the fall continue throughout the pages of Scripture.  The work of Redemption begins with God’s promise in Genesis 3:15, that a deliverer would come and the enemy would be defeated.  And we see that work of redemption continue through the death of Christ.

The pivotal question is, “When in Scripture, is the work of redemption complete and when does the work of restoration begin?”  Your answer to that question will help determine the way you define mission.  This can inform you where to put your resources and energies.  It will define your missional success.  And success is what we all want.  You may not have thought about it this way, but this is not just an ecclesiastical question, it is an eschatological question.  Our understanding of our part of God’s missoin is tied closely to our eschatologies.

Many in the missional movement have described the world as being in the Restoration chapter of God’s story.  They assert that the work of redemption was completed with the death and resurrection of Christ.  At the coming of the Holy Spirit, we have entered God’s final stage, the restoration of all things.  This understanding fits within a post-millennial, or a-millennial perspective.  In an a-millennial perspective, the kingdom is the rule and reign of Christ now.  In post-millennial theology, most commonly, the church is the Kingdom of God on earth.  And the church does the work of restoring the world in preparation for Christ’s second coming.  At His return, he will receive a world that has been restored through the work of God’s people and the Spirit.

For those who hold to these views, gospel work is a work of restoration.  Yes, they proclaim the gospel of hope in Christ, but they also spend considerable energies trying to transform and restore the systems of the world.  So, whether you are building fresh water wells in sub-Saharan Africa, fighting for the oppressed in Detroit, or sharing John 3:16, you are doing gospel work.  Actually, some today would say that sharing John 3:16 is probably the lesser work because our duty is to help the world experience the restoration that Christ promised.  I believe this teaching can actually distract the church from her mission.  It confuses the church about her primary calling.  It can also discourage the church from mission, when the change we promise doesn’t bring about the restoration we hope to see for others.

Rather than striving to achieve restoration, let me posit, we are still in the part of the story called Redemption.  Restoration is yet to come.  This is a pre-millennial perspective.  But I think it is most helpful when defining the church’s mission.  I don’t see promises, nor expectations that things will grow better and better before Christ arrives for his grand entry.  It is only the presence of Christ and His final victory over Satan that delivers the righteousness that finally overcomes unrighteousness.  Only when Sin is finally judged and destroyed that true restoration and re-creation to takes place.

In history, we do see Christians making considerable positive impact.  Countries, communities and individuals have been transformed by Christians who have been changed by the gospel.  But we see that within a generation or two, the enemy undoes what’s been done, or he attacks from another direction, creating as much, or more havoc than was there in the first place.  Satan is like a bacterial super-bug.  When the church seems to find an antibiotic of grace that holds him at bay, he morphs and becomes resistant, more creative and even more aggressive than before.  We have seen no country, home, nor generation where the work of restoration taken hold in more than 2,000 years. Even the church is absent of such a complete restoration.

If Christ is the Savior who has redeemed us, how are we still in the redemption part of the story?  Am I saying that the redeeming work of Christ was not complete?  No.  Not at all.  The work of the cross is complete.  But the work of the cross is not the only part of the work of redemption.  The redeeming work of God began with preparation.  From Genesis 3:15 to Matthew 27:32, God prepared for the arrival and sacrificial death of his Son.  His death would be the payment for redemption that God himself would pay (Galatians 4:4-5).  Following the ascension of Jesus, with the sending of the Holy Spirit, God began the work of offering Christ’s work of redemption and its benefits to all humanity.  We might call this the “application phase” of redemption.  The redemption of Christ is applied to people through faith.

Eternal redemption has been secured by Christ (Hebrews 9:11-12).  But the creation is still waiting for it to be experienced and it won’t be experienced until the redemption of our bodies takes place (Romans 8:18-25).  This redemption of our bodies, at the resurrecton, is the final act of redemption.  For now, we live in a season of hope.  At the time of restoration, we will have complete fulfillment and hope will not be needed.

If we are still in the chapter called Redemption, then we have to ask, “what is the mission of the church?”

The mission of the church is to share in the work of redemption.  I think this is what Paul understood when he spoke of the redemptive qualities of his own suffering.  In Colossians 1:24 Paul wrote, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church….”  He joined in Christ’s work of redemption.  Through him and his suffering the work of redemption continued.  Our mission is to prepare the world for restoration by completing the work of inviting, offering and applying the work of redemption.

The question then is, “how do we participate with the Spirit of Christ effectively?” Here’s a few considerations for application.

1.  This chapter of Redemption is moved forward as we make disciples (Matthew 28:18-20).  Disciples who make disciples is the God-ordained process of applying the work of redemption.  And disciples are made by going, by converting (as expressed in baptism) and by teaching people how to follow the commands of Christ.  Transformed lives make the greatest impact in transforming new lives.

2.  This chapter of Redemption is moved forward through proclamation (Romans 10:14-17).  The message of the gospel must be received and responded to by faith.  When Jesus sent out the 72 in Luke 10:3-9, their mission wasn’t completed until they said, “the kingdom of God has come near to you.”  We must proclaim that Christ is the King of God’s Kingdom and in him is the gift of redemption and the hope of restoration.

3.  This chapter of Redemption is moved forward as we live out love for God, for our neighbor and for one another.  Our love is the authenticator of our message.  It is the power of our message. But it isn’t a replacement for our message.  As we love, people will come to know who we are.  But our love will never define who He is and what He has done for the world.  Only our consistent and loving sharing of Christ and his message will do that.  In fact, I would say that our love is not complete until we tell them of Christ, his redemptive work and his invitation to grace.

Our friends, our families, our communities, and our world will only experience restoration when they have first, by faith, experienced redemption.  This is the time of Redemption. Let’s do the work of redemption and leave restoration up to Christ.  Christ’s coming will bring a restoration so complete, so as to show our efforts for what they are – whispers, hints, or vague glipses of the New Creation!

Let me close with this question.  “Should we construct fresh-water wells in sub-Saharan Africa?”  Of course we should.  That’s what loving people do.  But we should not equate this with the mission of God.  His mission isn’t complete until we clearly bring them the Source of living water,  preparing them for the restoration that will come at His return.

I’d love to hear how you understand the mission of God in the world.

Why We Shouldn’t Try to Write Our Own Life Story

7 Jan


Today, we’re encouraged to write our own story!  We are told to set course for a destiny of our making.  We are urged to take control and make something of our lives that counts.  That’s a lot of pressure!

I think we should understand our lives a little differently.  We aren’t the author of our lives.  We are the main character of our lives.  God is the author.  He is writing our story.  Why?  Because if we wrote our own stories, we would miss out on so much.

Think with me for a moment about Job.  Job is that guy in the Old Testament that got a whole book written about his story.  And most of us might remember that it’s not a happy-go-lucky story.  It is a story about struggle, suffering and hardship.  Job and his story is the source of the phrase “patience of Job.”  And we all know that we don’t need patience unless things are going wrong.

So, if Job wrote his own story, how would his story have been different?
* His children wouldn’t have been crushed to death by a building that fell over in a storm.
* His flocks wouldn’t have been plundered by marauders.
* His body wouldn’t have collapsed into a scab-covered mass of oozing flesh on a pile of ash.
* His wife wouldn’t have told him to give up and die.
* His friends wouldn’t have spent all their time arguing with him about how bad he must be for God to do this to him.

I’m convinced that Job, like me would never choose these things for himself. But, if Job had written the story, there are a few things he would have missed out on.
* He wouldn’t have experienced a face-to-face intimacy with the Creator of the Universe.
* He wouldn’t have understood God’s greatness.
* He wouldn’t have come to understand that God’s blessings are gifts of grace, they’re not earned by human effort.
* He wouldn’t have known the joy of complete transformation and restoration.

And if God hadn’t written Job’s story for us?
* We wouldn’t know that He will comfort us in hardship.
* We wouldn’t know that God never leaves us when things go wrong.
* We wouldn’t know that God is up to something big when things are impossible for us.
* We wouldn’t know that sometimes things go bad for good people.
* We wouldn’t know that we can always have the hope of transformation and restoration.

I think after all was said and done, Job was just fine with God writing his story.  We should be too.  Are you letting God write your story?  Let’s just be a character who is faithful to the rich, life-giving script of a loving and gracious Author.

How is God writing your story? What events would you have omitted? Please comment to encourage others. And as always, please “share” this if it’s been an encouragement to you. Thanks!

The Joy of Bethlehem.

24 Dec

We went to Bethlehem this year. It was a wonderful time. As we entered the birthplace of Jesus, we were moved to worship.





Check out our spontaneous worship in the cave.

You don’t have to go to Jerusalem to encounter JESUS. He is with you now. Take time to marvel and worship Him. It will bless your life forever.


4 out of 5 dentists recommend this WordPress.com site

Refreshing Hearts

Sharing my journey with Christ in order to 'refresh the hearts' of others in their walk.

Reflections of the Journey

Just another WordPress.com site

A Stranger in the House of God

John Koessler's weblog


Practical, Philosophical, Pedantic, Preachy, Perturbing, Poetic, Possibly Phenomenal

Phil EuBank

...longing to begin, belong, become and reach beyond


A guy with a bike, journeying through life and faith.

Jim Haw

Making the Bible Accessible

Undeserved Grace

Life: The Pursuit of a Holy God


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 680 other followers

%d bloggers like this: