Understanding Tension

Given a choice between peace and tension I think most of us would choose peace. We dream of what it would be like to live in peace. We dream of not having conflicts at work and home. We dream of white sandy beaches and peaceful cabins out in the woods.

In those situations the thing that it missing is tension.

Tension isn't a bad thing. A story with no tension would just be boring. The strings on a guitar wouldn't produce sound without tension on the strings. So why are we afraid of dealing with tension in our lives?

If you look at the Psalms you see David dealing with tension. You see him wondering why he was still in the dessert? You see him struggling with the promise of God compared to the reality of his situation.

In Philippians 1, Paul talks about the tension he was facing. He was in prison and was wondering if it was better to live or die. Both options seemed like a good idea, so he had to deal with the tension of what to do. In the end he decided to live because it was better for others.

Instead of avoiding tension maybe we need to embrace it. It is in the moments of tension that we grow. It is the tension that makes us change.

So when tension arrives again, embrace it. See what God is teaching you from the tension.

 

The Bride

Ten years ago Nelly Furtado had the number 1 song in America. The Miami Vice movie was released. You couldn't be on Facebook if you weren't in college ten years ago.

Ten years ago I was a 23 year old who was getting ready to commit my life to Michelle. 

On our wedding day my bride was main attraction. No one stood when I came in. No one cared about my suit. I didn't have a special song to walk into the church with.  I was given the wisdom early on that the wedding day isn't about the groom, it is about the bride.

It doesn't seem possible that it was ten years ago that we got married. The day is so fresh in my mind that it seems like it was just yesterday. I remember my dad walking in late and making an entrance, my groomsmen pulled out poppers for our first kiss, and my wife breaking the chandelier at the reception hall when she threw her bouquet. 

Over the ten years we have lived in 5 different cities, bought a house, had two more kids, and entered ministry. All of those just blend together. Those events highlight the last ten years.

Over the last ten years my love for my wife has changed and grown as we have changed and grown. I now have more reasons to love her now then I did when we first were married.

When I think of the love I have for Michelle I can't help but to think about how God loves his bride, the Church.

If someone says something disrespectful about Michelle it get mad. I don't want anyone to talk to her like that. I love her and I will protect her. If you don't respect my wife I won't be your friend.

If that is how I get, imagine how God feels when we put down his bride. God loves the Church. He sent his son to die for the Church, yet we have people that openly criticize and try to destroy the Church. That should not be how we act.

Now I am not blind to the fact that the Church has flaws, but it is the Church that God trusts to tell the story of Jesus. It is the Church that knows the hope of the world.

So before you start to rip into your church remember that you are talking about God's bride. Think about how you would react if someone criticized your spouse.

Give Me A Break

I just got back from a week long vacation. I spent a lot of time in pools and hot tubs. I loved that I could take a chance to rest and relax on my vacation.

We all need a chance to rest and relax and not just on vacation. And rest and relaxation is Biblical.

In the beginning of the Bible we get the story of creation. We are introduced to God and God is outside of creation. For the rest of Genesis 1 we see God create everything by just speaking words. Everything from the stars in the sky, the water in the rivers, and the flies that are buzzing around your head with just a word.

Following all of creation we see God, who just created everything with just his word, do something astounding. He took a break.

Genesis 2 says this, 

1 Heaven and Earth were finished, 

down to the last detail.


2 By the seventh day 

God had finished his work.

On the seventh day

he rested from all his work.


3 God blessed the seventh day.

He made it a Holy Day

Because on that day he rested from his work,

all the creating God had done.

Our God, after creating everything, rested. Everything he created was finished and perfect. Was God so tired that he needed a break? No. God was setting an example for us to follow. Having us take a break is so important to God that he put it into the 10 Commandments.

The rest that God set for us is to have a Sabbath. It's the day of the week were you rest. 

It is easy to ignore this commandment. We are all busy. The house needs taken care of, groceries need to be bought, and the kids have a schedule that keeps everyone busy. The busyness is something that we cling on to. But that is not what God wants for you.

God wants you to have a day to rest. He commanded you to take one day out of your week to rest. There is no way you are busier in your week than God was during the first week.

So make sure that you find a day to have a Sabbath. Have a day when you can rest. Find time to take the vacation that you have been putting off.

You are not busier than God.

Pain

Have you ever been in pain? 

Of course you have. Pain is a part of the human experience. All of us have had to deal with pain at one point. And no one likes being in pain.

This week my wife has been dealing with pain. Ever since she gave birth to our middle child she has been dealing with ongoing back pain. She has been to different doctors to try to see what is causing the pain. Most of the visits end with them trying to manage the pain.

When you are in pain you don't want to manage the pain. You want the cause of the pain to go away. 

But pain can be a good thing. Pain can warn us before something goes wrong. The pain is the warning to stop pushing.

Pain can also be a part of growth. A friend of mine grew up with Osgood-Schalter disease. Basically his joint weren't growing in as fast as the rest of his body.

The Bible doesn't shy away from dealing with pain. It covers the pain that all of the heroes of the Bible dealt with. Some dealt with the pain of losing a loved one, some with abandonment, some with physical pains, and many more than I can list.

But all of the heroes of the Bible grew from the pain that they went through. The pain showed them the test that they were going through.

You can look at pain as a reason to stop or a chance to grow. The pain doesn't mean that God has left you or that you have done something wrong. It just means that there is another chance for growth.

Don't let the pain that you are going through today stop you from getting to where God wants you to be in the long run.

Now What?

It's that time of year again, and no, not summer. It is graduation time.

Last week my daughter graduated from preschool. They had a small ceremony and all the kids wore a little graduation cap and marched in. This weekend the local high schools have their ceremonies. I was shocked when I came to Rockford and saw that they used the BMO Center for graduation.

In other towns I have seen Kindergarten graduations and 8th grade graduations. I had friends that had 8th grade graduation parties. I never understood why. Kids are required to be in school until they are 16. We had to pass 8th grade. 

After you graduate people ask you the question "Now what?" They want to know what the next step you are going to take is. They just see graduation as another step on the journey of life.

As a Christian we have times where we feel like we have a graduation. We have moments where God has taken us through hard times and we have come out the other side. The thing is that as a Christians all of graduations are like my 8th grade graduation.

After 8th grade there was no "Now what?" questions. Everyone knows that you just move on to the next grade. Our Christian graduation doesn't ask us "Now what?". We just go on to a greater understanding of God.

Getting Fit

I have always been a big man.

I wrestled in junior high and high school. In wrestling you against people in your weight class. My weight class every year I wrestled was heavyweight and at the start of my senior year I was having a hard time making it in the weight class.

I have tried different things to lose weight during my life. I did Atkins. I have tried walking and working out different ways. The thing that has worked the best for my is an app.

Like most people, I use my phone for most things. I play games, use social media, and even use my phone for my Bible reading. So I guess it makes sense that using my phone to get healthy could work for me. The app I use My Fitness Pal.

The app lets me know how many calories I can eat a day. Then, whenever I eat something I track it in the app. It keeps a tally for me. It figures that if you eat that many calories a day you will lose weight.

The app only works if you are honest. And sometimes it gets annoying to have to put everything in there. It is a pain when you don't cook off a recipe because you need to measure all of it. 

Getting fit has been tough. I am still bigger than what I want to be.

Getting spiritually fit is just as hard.

Even as I pastor I get blown away by what some people have done to stay close to God. I hear some older people talk about all night prayer meetings, big tent revivals, and the time they have spent with God.

If we want to be spiritually fit it takes work. It takes growing in faith, obeying God, reading your Bible, and spending time talking to God and letting Him speak back.

When is the last time you tried to get spiritually fit?

Just like it takes time and effort to get physically fit, it takes time to get spiritually fit. Just like I am still working on getting spiritually fit, I am working to get spiritually fit.

Let me leave you with a challenge for this week. I want you to find a way to exercise your faith. Do something that is out of your comfort. 

It is time for the church to get fit.

Standing on Truth

What determines what is right and wrong in your life? Does right and long just come down to what the rules of the land are? Are morals based on legislation? Does our culture get the final say?

If you are a Christian your view of the world shouldn't be based on society, culture, or legislative guidelines. Your view should come from what God says about that issue.

So how do we know what God says about what we are going through? We find out what he has said. Hebrews 1 tells us that God has spoke in many different time and in many different ways. God is talking, are you listening?

The best way to listen to God is to hear what he has already said. I believe that the Bible is what God has already said to mankind. The Bible itself states this.

In 2 Timothy 3:16 Paul says that all scripture is God-breathed. That means that God spoke through the power of the Holy Spirit to accurately tell how God is. There are over 40 authors that wrote different parts of the Bible and their personalities are shown in there writing. What is truly amazing is that the Bible was written on 3 continents over the course of thousands of years and it tells one overarching story, the story of God's love for us.  

The Bible continue to prove that it is true. Two authors set out to prove that the Bible is false and that Jesus was a myth. Both of the authors came to the same conclusion, Jesus is real and the Bible is the truth. The books that they wrote share what they learned. The books are Evidence that Demand a Verdict and The Case for Christ. Both men found that when you look for the truth you find God.

My views aren't always the popular ones, but my views  are based on what God has said. You will never know the truth about God until you hear what he has to say. 

God has spoke, now pick up your Bible and listen.

Dream Big

Have you ever spent time with a dreamer? I have and at times is is exhausting.

It feels like the dreamers around us live in a different world. The dreamers world is filled with endless possibilities. They aren't scared by what has happened in the past. They don't see things as impossible. They see what could be instead of what is. Dreamers ask what if.

You will know that you have been around a dreamer when you leave the conversation and you are both excited about what could be and terrified because they never said how they were going to make the dream happen.

Dreamers live in a world that is filled with faith.

Faith makes it possible to please God. It is the only thing that we do to please God. 

Hebrews 11 tells us about the heroes of our faith. In verse 6 we read this, "It’s impossible to please God apart from faith."

The crazier the dream and the larger the faith needed, the more it pleases God. Last year our state had a crazy big dream to raise half a million for Speed the Light and BGMC. I didn't see how it could be done. At the end of the year I was wrong. We brought in $3,000 above that goal.

This year we set a goal as a state for $1,000,000. I don't doubt that we can do it. Last year stretched my faith, this year we push forward.

Our students are going to give more than ever before. We set a goal greater than what our church has ever done. We want our students and children to dream big.

Whatever  big drams that God has given you have the faith to believe that they are possible.

If you want to help be at church on March 6th as we have our BGMC service or you can donate online here. Make sure to put in Riverside A/G for church name to help us reach our goal. If you give $100 dollars you will receive a special shirt that we will present to you at a later date.

Teams Win

Super Bowl 50 has come and gone.

There were so many story lines coming into the game. There were stories about Cam Newton being a black quarterback, would Peyton Manning retire after the game, and would any white guys try to dab?

Another story that was talked about during the game was that if the Broncos won the game it would give Peyton Manning his 200th career win, which would be a record.

In football a quarterback has a win/loss record, which is odd. No one looks a a starting left guard and asks what is your record. Only quarterbacks have the win/loss record. But should they?

 Peyton Manning, quarterback of the Denver Broncos.

Peyton Manning, quarterback of the Denver Broncos.

Peyton Manning got the Super Bowl win added to his record, but if you watched that game you know that he didn't do anything to win that game. His throws looked bad and some of them were nearly picked off and one of them was. The Broncos won the game in spite of how the quarterback played.

The Broncos won the game because they were the better team. They were the best defense all season and the offense did just enough to not lose. Even the Broncos special teams made big plays.

Teams win not individuals.

Too many times we try to win by our selves. But you never do it by yourself. There is a network of people supporting you.

Every church should be a great team. Great teams work together to accomplish their goals. Your church doesn't need you to do everything, they need you to be a good teammate. Great teams win.

Bridges

I have always lived in towns that have rivers as a predominate feature. In Ottawa Illinois the Illinois River divided the town into north and south. Hartford Illinois is located where the Mississippi River and the Missouri River converged. The Rock River cuts Rockford into the east and west sides of town. The river is the line that people use when trying to figure out if you are on the bad side or good side of town.

All of the towns I have lived in are vastly different, but they all have something in common; bridges. 

In Ottawa the coolest looking bridge wasn't the one we drove on, but the one for the train. The middle section would raise and lower for barge traffic. On top of that section was a house. As a kid I thought it would be cool to live up there.

The Clark bridge over the Mississippi River may be one of the best looking bridges in Illinois. It was one of the things that I would always point out as I gave tours at the Confluence Towers.

The bridges in Rockford are some of the coolest features in the city. The bridges downtown are simple looking, but the arches that support them are beautiful (especially when they are illuminated  for Christmas). The suspension bridges are the ones that you have to take notice of. You know that hours were spent planning the look of the bridges not to mention the hours spent to figure out the structural integrity of them.

Bridges exist to connect two place where there is a barrier in the way. Bridges are opportunities to create something new. 

What would happen if we stopped looking at the barrier and start seeing that we can make a new path?

Our church and your church have barriers that they have to figure out how to get past. The barrier is an opportunity in waiting. Bridges make a mark on their community.  Churches need to be the ones who show how we get past the barriers to where we want to go.

Jesus was the ultimate bridge. The barrier between us and God is sin. Jesus' death and resurrection is the bridge that we needed to get to God.

So let's stop looking at the barriers and start building bridges.

House of Prayer

What do you focus on in the beginning of the year?

Most people start off the year with some kind of goal. Most of the goals people set are things like save more money, lose weight, or get healthy.  All of those thing require focus. You can't do any of those without putting in effort.

As a church we are putting focus on what Jesus said the church should be. Jesus quotes Isaiah and say that His house will be a House of Prayer. Our church is emphasizing prayer with all of our age groups.

Our children's church is taking a look at the Lord's Prayer. By the time we finish the series we hope that the kids will understand the Lord's Prayer and be able to use what they learn to grow in their prayer life.

Our student ministry, Journey, will be going through the book In the Gap by Pastor Wilfredo De Jesus. In the book we will look at how we as Christians need to stand in the gap for those who need to know who God is. Prayer is a big part of what we are to do.

Our pastor, Pastor Jim Moore, started something in our church called 5 Twelves

The goal of this initiative is to get people to pray for our church for twelve minutes a day, five days a week. He wants them to pray for our leaders, for him,and for the work that the church is called to do. He wants people to do this on top of what they are already praying. If every adult in our church would do this we would have about 100 hours of prayer a week for our church.

What kind of difference would 100 hours of prayer make in your church? How would your leader feel if he knew that people were praying for him.

Would you join us in this. Can you spend an hour praying for your leader?

Prince of Peace

My teenage son asks why I watch the news. He says that all it ever does is tell what people died in a horrible way, and most days he is right. The top stories are almost always about, murder, war, and terrorism. Those are not the most happy type of stories that most want to hear.

In a world that is falling apart, what do you cling to? During the Christmas season we are often reminded of what Isaiah said the savoir will be. Listen to what Isaiah 9:6 says; For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called:
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

My favorite name given in that verse is Prince of Peace.

In a world that looks like it is falling apart and is filled with chaos it helps to know peace. The only place we find peace in our lives is only in Jesus Christ. In the midst of personal conflict Jesus offers peace. I can have peace no matter what craziness is around me because of who Jesus is. He is peace.

The only chance you, I, or the world will ever have at peace will only happen when we know the Prince of Peace.

This Christmas make sure that you take some time to know the Prince of Peace before the craziness kicks in.

Verses

If you love comic book movies like I do then this has been a really good week. 

In the last few days we have had a trailer for Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice and Captain America: Civil War release. Both videos have been viewed millions of times. Both movies feature one  superhero facing another superhero. All of the heroes think that they are doing to right thing and are willing to fight each other to prove that they are right.

All great stories have an antagonist. The bad guys in most movies are normally easy to spot. Bad guys in movies wear black. They want to rule/destroy the world. These two movies mark one of the first time where the villain isn't easily identified. I have read the Civil War comic and I still don't know which hero was right.

As a Christian you know who we verse. John 10: 10 says "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly." Our enemy, the thief, is the devil. He is the easy to identify villain. We know about him, but there is another enemy that we face that isn't as easy to identify, our self.

We are often our own greatest antagonist. We read in James 1:14 "The temptation to give in to evil comes from us and only us. We have no one to blame but the leering, seducing flare-up of our own lust." 

So often what we face is from us and our own desires. The enemy we are versing is our self. We have to learn that when we face our self that we need to turn to God to help us through the temptation.

 

The Ultimate Goal

Why does the Church exist? What is its purpose?

I found this quote from John Piper's book Let the Nations Be Glad!. This is how he starts the book. "Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Missions exist because worship doesn't. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man."

I first heard that quote when I was on the way to our youth convention. At that convention we took an offering for missions and the students of Illinois gave over $63,000. By the time this year is done our state's youth and children will have raised nearly $350,000 for missions.

Missions is something that my family and church supports. My oldest son mowed for missions, my youngest son helped shovel snow, and my little girl did things around the house to help give money to missions.

In all that we do for missions we need to remember why we are doing it. We are not just raising money for missions to feel good or to mark a box that we gave. We are doing it so people around the world will join us in worshiping the one true God.

The heart of missions is to see everyone worship God. To worship God not just with a song, but with all their life. 

I will always support missions. I will still get shoot with paint ball, take pies in the face, or do any other silly thing to get students and people to give to missions, but in all that continue to remind people when they give that they are doing so they can worship God with the rest of the God's creation.

Success

What does success look like to you?

In different areas success looks different. In sports success  usually comes down to who wins and who loses. In business success can be all about profitability. 

How should churches determine success? Is church success all about numbers? 

Sunday night we had our 5th annual Trunk n Treat and this year was by far the biggest yet. But for me what makes it successful is found in the picture below.

These are the people who made Trunk n Treat happen. They are the ones who made contact with there friends and coworkers and invited them to come. These are the ones who made all of our guests feel welcomed.

Our church posted this photo on our Facebook page and the responses showed the success of the event. People were thankful for the event, the food, and the great time.

Now the hard part of success comes in. Now we need to build on the success of this. Ultimately we are not event planners, we are a church. To be successful as a church means to reach the lost with the message of Jesus and see them grow in a relationship with him.

The event was great, but success by God's terms isn't bringing over 500 people for an event. But let's build on the momentum from this event to reach our world with the message of the gospel. Then we will have real success.

#FlyTheW

If you ever get a chance to see my office you will learn one thing right away, I am a huge Chicago Cubs fan. In my office I have a commemorative bat from the 100 year anniversary of Wrigley Field, a replica flag from the last time the Cubs won the World Series in 1908, and World Series tickets from the 1984 season when the when the Cubs looked like a playoff team but failed to make it.

I love the tradition that comes with being a Cubs fan. I love the ivy on the outfield wall, the manual scoreboard in center field, and seeing people on the rooftops during the game.

After home wins there are two traditions.  One is the singing of Go Cubs Go. The other tradition dates back to the 1930's and that is the flying of the W.

 This photo was taken by Meghan McNamara following the Cubs playoff victory on October 12th

This photo was taken by Meghan McNamara following the Cubs playoff victory on October 12th

The Cubs can teach us all a lesson and that is to celebrate the win.

How many people do you meet that are always complaining? Those people suck the life out of you. Even when things are great the always see the failures.

When the Cubs win they fly the W no matter what happened in the game. If a player commits an error they still fly the W. The win is what was important. The coaches know they need to improve, but after the game they celebrate the victory.

What victories are you celebrating? Who are you sharing those victories with? The W flag is a sign to celebrate with other Cubs fans.

If you are a Christian, share your victories with others. Tell people how God has helped you be victorious.  Don't be afraid to fly the W in your own life.

Growing Up

I'm not saying that I was the cutest kid ever, but look at that picture. I had the chubby cheeks, I was missing my front teeth, and I had a great looking head of hair. I was a good looking 7 year old kid.

growing up.jpg

The bottom picture is from last week. It was taken a day before I turned 33. So much has changed in the years between the pictures. As you can see, I got my front teeth and thanks to braces they are kind of straight. You can't tell but my hair isn't as long as it was. In fact I just noticed the other day how my hair line is creeping backwards. What is crazy to think is that I have a son who is almost the same age I was in the top picture. My son actually looks like the top picture.

Growing up is something that we all have to do. Time passes and growth takes place. I couldn't stay 7 forever. I don't act and think like I did when I was 7. Growing up has made me stronger.

We all have to grow physically, but we have to choose to grow spiritually.

1 Corinthians 3 say "But for right now, friends, I’m completely frustrated by your unspiritual dealings with each other and with God. You’re acting like infants in relation to Christ, capable of nothing much more than nursing at the breast. Well, then, I’ll nurse you since you don’t seem capable of anything more. As long as you grab for what makes you feel good or makes you look important, are you really much different than a babe at the breast, content only when everything’s going your way? "

As a Christian, I have to choose to grow. I have to choose to follow after God and to trust in him more. To grow as a Christian I have to put in the effort. You can be saved for years and still be a baby Christian.

What are you doing now to insure that you won't stay a baby Christian?

Walmart and the church

Why do you shop at the Walmart that you do?

In Rockford we have three Walmart store. Each of them are slightly different, but they all pretty much carry the same items. You can get a TV, macaroni and cheese, and socks at any of the stores. So why do you shop at your Walmart?

My office is half a block away from one of the Walmart stores. I end up there more than I care to admit. This Walmart has multiple ethnic groups working and shopping there. At any time you see young and old, black and white, and the rich and poor shopping there. This store has a section of clothes for the schools in our area. I realize that the people at that Walmart are there because they live in the community. They go there because it is close to where they live or it is on there way to where they are going. 

What would our churches look like if they looked like the Walmart you shop at? Does your church have the same diversity that Walmart has? Are our churches as welcoming as your Walmart? No one feels like they have to dress a certain way or be a certain way to shop at your Walmart, so why do they feel like they need to for our churches?

Reaching our community is what we are called to do. Walking around your Walmart gives you an idea of what your community looks like. 

Now let's find a way to get our church to look like our Walmart.