Tag Archives: Christ

Are You All In?

Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. Luke 14:27 CSB

The gauntlet is laid down here: for those who are to follow Jesus, there is a great cost. Jesus even gives two examples: first, a building (or tower), and second, a king going off to war. In both examples, they would consider the cost first. The same is true for following Christ.

This is not “easy believism” by any means. To bear one’s cross means to sacrifice all, to die to self, to completely change one’s life for Jesus. This means to be willing to do extreme things in extreme days, all for the sake of the call. This means that once Jesus has been received, there’s no turning back.

You are called to a life that is not your own because of the life given to you by Christ alone. This means not having a posture to love both God and the world. In order to serve God completely, you have to be all in. Simply put, it means that you must reject the ways of the world and receive the way of Christ. There is no middle ground here, according to Jesus.

For those in Christ already, are you all in, or are you still keeping a foot in the ways of the world? It’s not too late to change your ways and begin again to live for Him.

For those of you who need to trust in Him, this is a relationship in a new, abundant life! This is because it is Jesus who lived a sinless life, died on the cross for your sins, and rose from the dead. People who receive Jesus receive forgiveness for their sins. This begins a new life in Him, a life that is never the same again.

Where are you at here? Are you all in? I pray that you are.

Fran

All Tied Up?

Though the ropes of the wicked were wrapped around me, I did not forget your instruction. Psalms 119:61 CSB

What happens when people are hateful and attack you? This part of Psalm 119 brings an important point home: when these sort of things happen, we have a choice in how we respond.

Sometimes it’s people who attack, those who the psalmist calls the wicked. These are the arrogant, the proud, those who set themselves up above God, those who are judging Him in their corrupt wisdom. When these kind of people do such things, the natural, human, fleshly reaction is to strike back. Of course, Jesus taught us not to do repay their evil for evil, and instead to place our non-struck part of our face (the other cheek) before the attacker. So rather than attacking back, we are to respond in peace.

Another fleshly reaction, a very opposite one, is to withdraw, to get depressed, to believe their lies. Yet your value is not in what people say, or what the message of the culture might say, or even what you might say to yourself with your negative self talk. Instead, your value is in what God says, what God did, and what God does in you. If you are in Christ, your value is in Christ.

This is why instead of believing them and their fleshly message, it’s important that you listen to the Word of God. Rather than being discouraged, instead receive encouragement from the Scriptures. This is because while the world is chaotic and evil, you can have confidence that God is still in control. He brings order. He brings life. In fact, He is life, as well as hope, peace, and salvation. So rather than listening to the toxic message of the world, listen to God, for in Him is everything that the world will never be able to fulfill. Everything.

May you be encouraged in God and His Word,that you are strengthened by Him as you pour through His Scriptures. May His precepts pour into your heart and soul. Most of all, may you allow God to change you to react in a way that He wills while you live as a foreigner in a foreign world until He comes again.

Pastor Fran

Loving the Unlovable…

If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. Luke 6:32 CSB

Love is never meant to be kept in comfortable, familiar places. Love changes hearts, changes lives, pierces the dark, pierces dark hearts. Love conquers all.

When we love each other, there’s no greater blessing. But when we love those who are difficult to love, there’s no greater glory for God. In a disposable, throw away world, it’s our willingness to take chances with loving others that changes the world. It’s when we risk our hearts that we see that love never fails.

How are you doing in this area? Are you just staying “safe” with who you associate with? Instead, love people well, even those hard to love. Love them so they can see God’s love in You.

Pastor Fran

“I Am So Angry!”

It seems like everyone is angry about something these days. Just yesterday, I was angry about rising gas prices. Over the past two years, people have been angry about masks (pro and con). In fact, just spend a few minutes on Twitter and you are bound to find someone angry about something, somewhere.

But what happens when anger gets the best of you? God’s Word gives us many examples, but here’s one:

“Aaron will be gathered to his people; he will not enter the land I have given the Israelites, because you both rebelled against my command at the Waters of Meribah. Numbers 20:24 CSB

In this case, Moses and Aaron both participated in the sins at Meribah. First, was the sin of anger, where the two were tired of the complaining and rebellion of the people—the two brothers had enough, and it showed. Second was the sin of disobedience. The two were given specific instructions (speak to the rock) but they also struck—twice. Eventually, both received their due consequences of their sins, missing out on dwelling in the promised land of the covenant.

Today, God speaks to us through His Word, prayer, circumstances, and the church, but primarily through His Word. This is why we should pay attention to what He have us and listen to Him carefully. Even more, we should listen to Him obediently. He warns us against the folly of anger and how destructive it can be for the soul.

Why? Because God calls us to love and obey in love. He has a mission for every believer. In fact, He calls us to both the Great Commandment (loving Him and people) and bearing fruit through the Great Commission (making disciples). His desire is that we both share fruit and bear fruit, seen both through our conduct the fruit of the Spirit (like love, joy, patience, etc.) and our commitment to the ministry of the gospel. Through both, God advances His Kingdom. Through both, God is glorified.

Are you angry? Maybe it’s time to really focus back on His Word and prayer. We all struggle in our walk from time to time, but as you turn to Him, He will give you strength and power to overcome even the things that anger you the most.

Fran

A word on worship…

Just a random thought this morning as I read some scripture passages about worship (Leviticus 5 and Romans 9:30-33):

First, let’s remember that the actions of worship are not about what is perfect but about the One who is perfect. In other words, the sacrifices mean nothing if the faith isn’t there. We can do everything right technically, but still miss out completely on a worship that is rich in spirit and truth.

This impacts us today. The worship in the New Testament church should be more about purpose than the pursuit of the perfect. The music might be dated, or loud, or off beat, or the preaching might go long, or the reader might stumble on a word or two, but none of that matters. What does matter is the audience, the true audience, the audience of One. The focus of all worship is to be on God Himself and the declaration that He is sovereign and His people trust in Him by faith.

My prayer this morning: God, do not let me stray in my focus on You, whether in my personal, private time of worship or in a corporate setting. Focus me on You. Keep me set on the beauty and the sacrifice of Christ, His resurrection, His return one day, all for His glory. Amen.

The Day Between the Days

“Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Sanhedrin who was himself looking forward to the kingdom of God, came and boldly went to Pilate and asked for Jesus’s body.”
Mark 15:43

It was a toiling day and a grueling night. The Savior had died, confirmed by the Roman centurion. Jesus’ followers, distraught and scattered, had no plan, no focus, no unity, and little hope.

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Yet one unlikely man would be bold enough to lead out. Joseph of Arimathea, a man who Mark called “a prominent member of the Sanhedrin,” courageously asked for the body of Jesus for His burial. Pilate granted his request.

The place where Jesus was buried, a tomb cut in a rock, had never been used before. The clothing, linen freshly bought and carefully wrapped around Jesus, was His attire. Roman soldiers sealed the entrance and then guarded it against intruders. There was no doubt that Jesus was dead and there in the tomb He was buried.

This was the day between the days. It was a day of silence, a day of waiting between the first and the third days. For the disciples, it was likely the longest day of their lives as they waited and wondered about what was to come next in their lives. But God was still in control, His power ready to be miraculously displayed the next day. As we now know, the best was yet to come!

Dad, here’s your legacy…

Years ago, my dad had a deeply life changing experience. He was at a small church in a new community that he had just moved to. There to see my sister get baptized, he heard the gospel, responded to the invitation, and received Christ. He was baptized that same day, along with my mom and sister.

I thought he was crazy. I knew it wouldn’t last. I figured he’d be back at his usual routine, shopping the flea markets on Sundays. I was wrong. Dad loved Jesus, and Jesus was clearly his center point of his life for the rest of his life. He was being changed daily before my eyes.

As time went on, the prayers and the faithful witness from my mom and him had an effect on my wife and me. Though I had learned religious things as a child, still, I knew of Jesus but didn’t know Jesus. Teresa received Christ before me, but I was so hardened and stubborn, I just could not see how Jesus wanted a relationship with me, not for me to merely change my religious traditions. Again, I was wrong.

God got a hold of me at that same small church in that new community in Central Florida. The gospel spoke to me and I was forever changed. My wife and I were babes in Christ, and over time, God grew us. Long story short, our entire family was changed, forever changed because of the gospel. And yes, though we’re not perfect by any means and flawed in every way, we see that we are loved by the Creator and forgiven through His Son. My kids know this and I pray that my grandkids see this as well.

Dad, this is your legacy. Your first faith steps to respond to the gospel change this. You showed me and other men that when a man follows Jesus, his family sees his example and can be changed as well. We’re not perfect, we’re flawed, yet we show them that we’re loved by the Creator and forgiven by His Son.

Happy Father’s Day in heaven, dad. You are missed but your legacy of faith in Christ lives on.

Fran

What God Loves…

I’ve been in ministry for over 23 years now, and I can say that I have never been more encouraged to see God’s work than ever before. I have seen first hand several churches explode in worship attendance, in their disciple-making, and in ministry to the world around them. And there is a clear pattern: regardless of style, flavor, or culture, the churches which have a high view of the Word, challenge one another to holiness, and focus on discipling others in the Word are the ones that are healthy, stable, and growing. It’s amazing that I see very few exceptions to this rule. Yet these thriving churches exist all around as the light of Christ to the Midwest. This is so encouraging because it is clearly what God loves!

Of course, I also see the opposite, and yes, when I see this, I do grieve. Obviously, God doesn’t want unhealthy and declining churches. And unfortunately, just like I see a pattern in healthy, growing churches, I also see a pattern for unhealthy ones. In these churches, there are misguided people who focus not on the Word but on procedures, legalism, and even politicking. They place unceasing attention to the crisis of the day. They draw attention to the negatives and create divisions. They stir up trouble in the shadows of the hallways. And disciple making is reduced to an afterthought. The Gospel is secondary. The Word becomes a manipulative tool to attack others versus a revelation from God to live by.

And as we see in this text from Proverbs, God despises this practice:

“The Lord hates six things; in fact, seven are detestable to him: arrogant eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that plots wicked schemes, feet eager to run to evil, a lying witness who gives false testimony, and one who stirs up trouble among brothers.” Proverbs 6:16‭-‬19 CSB

These are tough words,yet this is a truth we need to be sober about: God doesn’t want discord or strife from within. He doesn’t want His Bride disgraced, destroyed, and disgusted. He doesn’t want the Family of God to be distracted, from the Great Commission and the work of making disciples. He doesn’t want hateful strife and stressful hate. He wants none of that. For those in the church that practice this, it’s kind of hard to differentiate them from those outside the church. And this certainly grieves God the Holy Spirit as it should grieve His godly saints. And if it isn’t grieving you right now, then, well then that’s just messed up. Sorry, but that’s true.

The good news is that there’s always a better way, a much better way. That way is a way of grace, truth, and love. Since the Bride of Christ is not to be a place that is focused on power, a focus should be on Christ, because, after all, power should be completely in the hands of the Lord who we worship.

And we as members of one another should do what is opposite of our fleshly inclination: a practice of full and complete submission in love. This means to follow the biblical pattern to lift up one another, to love one another, to believe the best in one another, and to build up one another. That is a way of grace. That is the way of Christ.

Want to see others come to Christ, grow in Christ, serve Christ, and share Christ in a way like never before? Then repent, get out of His way, submit to His leading, live for Him and help others to do the same as an act of worship. Love, and love some more. And then love again. Yes, even those who are hard to love. No ands, ifs, or buts.

Because that, my friend, is what God loves.

Fran

Pastor, Are You Chasing the Wind?

“Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind…” Ecclesiastes 2:11 NIV

I get to travel quite a bit to talk with church leaders across the Upper Midwest. I’ve spent time in all sizes of churches, from the smallest of urban or rural churches to the upscale megachurch with multiple sites and services. Although there’s been some great research done on growing churches, I can tell you for my own observation that there’s a difference between leaders who are growing on a foundation of Christ and those who are just “chasing the wind” through their own efforts. In fact, I have seen a few commonalities in healthy, growing churches regardless of the context or size. Let me give you a quick list with no order of importance:
  1. A commitment to expository preaching. I’ve seen some really good expository preaching in which the pastor will take a passage and allow the structure of the passage to be the basis of the message. He takes time to explain the passage and the context, both at the time that it was written and the application for today. This is sorely needed in our culture today.
  2. A clear path for discipleship. I am amazed at how many church leaders have no real idea on how to disciple believers on an ongoing, systematic basis. The healthy churches that I have seen know exactly how to take a new believer in Christ through a process of growth to become more like Jesus. Find a process and work it.
  3. An authentic love. One of my favorite pastors does not buy into the CEO mentality as he ministers to his congregation. He spends time with his people, he fervently prays for them, and he also takes time to study so that he can pour into them in his pulpit ministry. He has boundaries, but his people know that he loves them. By the way, he ministers to about 1,500 people in his congregation each week.
  4. A priority on missions and evangelism. Church members focused on going and telling usually don’t major on the minors in the inner workings of the church. They know that their leaders are Godly, praying, loving men of the word and they trust them. They are much less likely to micromanage day-to-day affairs in the church. They also see their leaders right next to them as they do some of the grunt work, as they go out on mission trips and as they share the gospel.

That’s what I’ve noticed. Note that I never talked about hype, worship style, or any “cool factors” related to ministry. That’s because these are secondary issues that usually don’t matter over the long run. In other words, I’ve seen healthy, growing traditional churches in the middle of a cornfield as well as healthy, growing, super contemporary, polished churches in a suburb. The point is that the church will change the method but not at a price.

And this brings me to the possibly convicting news. I’ve noticed plenty of unhealthy disasters where the leadership has tried to “chase the hype,” even going as far as compromising the message (intentionally or not) in order to somehow try to stay relevant with the culture. This includes turning to shallow material that a member can pop into their living room like a Netflix movie and call it discipleship. Or making major cultural changes in the church arbitrarily and without communication. Or discarding the basic foundations of teaching for children and replacing it with moralistic, hypercool content with a verse of scripture slapped on it) that focuses on fun instead of the Gospel. Fun is, well, fun, but let’s not abandon the treasure of the Gospel just to entertain people.

My message to you: stop chasing the hype. You’re not going to grow disciples by trying to be cool. Look at what you’re doing and allowing to be taught by word and by deed. Spiritual growth is a slow, steady, ongoing and patient process, so take your time with others just as God worked in you to make you more like Jesus. Yes, you can have content to help you in the process of growing disciples while still being relevant to the culture of your community. Yes, you can do some awesome and creative things outside of the box to reach people where they are. But don’t forget the fundamentals, okay? Remember, when the leadership is focused on the word, discipleship, love, and missions, God will use His Spirit to produce a great deal of fruit.

Otherwise, you’re chasing after the wind.

Fran

Your Struggle Is Worth It

Are you having a tough time as of late? Join the club! Scripture is pretty clear that we have to struggle in life. And it doesn’t help when someone says something like, “Oh, God is trying to teach you something!” It’s almost like, “God, please teach me less then!” I get it, life can hurt and hurt a whole lot on this side of glory.

But let’s look at the benefits of the struggle. Like a butterfly flapping rapidly to pump blood into its new but shriveled wings once it exits the cocoon, growth can be tough, tiring, and even terrifying. Yet good things can come of it! Even more, when we are in God’s Word and applying God’s Word to our lives, allaof a sudden, our struggles make a bit more sense. It’s a process that God the Holy Spirit uses: We struggle, we pray, we read, we apply, we repent, we worship, we grow.

Here’s another example, the growth of Moses through the time line of the Scripture: Moses was a bumbling, stumbling fool, given to impulsiveness and stupidity which affected him for years. He killed a man and was forced to leave Egypt. He saw a burning bush and went up to see it (and was this a good idea?). When God first gave him the command to save His people, Moses balked and made excuses. But as he matured in the Lord, he went from being a man of “slow lips” (and needing Aaron to speak) to becoming a man who would speak out to Israel with his own God-empowered lips. It was a slow, steady growth in his discipleship, so much that when Aaron performed his own acts of stupidity, Moses was able to rebuke him, too.

And he was humble, so much that he was called the most humble man that ever was. This Moses, this proud, impulsive, even possibly arrogant Moses, became a man that God could use, a man who loved God’s people and rescued them from their enslavement. He struggled, yet God took him through it and did incredible things that glorified God and prepared the way for the Promised Land.

How about you? Are you struggling? I know it’s hard to hear, but God really might be teaching you something. He wants you to be wise in Him, to glorify His Son, and to serve Him to make His name known to all the earth. Get in His Word, worship Him in a community of believers, and let God work His will in you. ☺️

We struggle, we pray, we read, we apply, we repent, we worship, we grow.

Fran