Tag Archives: the gospel

Thirsty Thursday: Why the Gospel was never about you

What I read: Chronological Reading for the week (selections from Jeremiah and Ezekiel) has been completed early, so I am reading various devotionals from Spurgeon, Calvin, and praying through the Psalms. This is my reaction to some of my reading. 

I’ve been a Christian for over thirty years and have been in ministry in churches for almost twenty two years. In my short time, I’ve seen my share of victories, praises, and mountain top experiences. I’ve also seen my share of discouragement, sadness, and apparent defeats. I’ve seen churches do amazing, wonderful things in the unity of the Spirit of Christ and yet I’ve seen churches act like the wandering people of Israel while they blindly followed a false god of their own desires.

However, one obvious but often forgotten truth that I have seen and read over the years is abundantly clear: the gospel, lived and expressed in His people, is always to be about God and His glory. Just think: we as believers in Christ look forward to the day when we will see Christ face to face, when we as every tribe and tongue will bring praise and glory to His name. We know that the One whom we do not see now will be seen, and we will experience the joy of joyous praises as we enjoy God forever. At that time, the gospel will be fully fulfilled and fully Christ focused, as the heavens and the earth will willingly and eternally declaring the glory of God. It will be a wonderful, amazing time!

Of course, while here in our flesh, we all have a whole lot to go in truly capturing a clear, Christ-focused man-888591_1280expression of the gospel. For example, the gospel was never meant to be about people in a self-serving, self-centered proposition. Christ didn’t die on the cross so people can lackadaisically just “get in” the gates of Heaven. He didn’t offer eternal life so some can just say the right words or pray the right prayer or even speak the language of Zion, or so churchgoers can be what is culturally defined as a “good Christian.”And the gospel is definitely not about extending institutional hypocrisy, or getting wrapped up in the complex, disgusting world of internal church politics, with ungodly preferences as justified by traditions and legalism. No, Jesus did not die on the cross for the things of earth to continue, because Jesus’ gospel is a call to a new life, a life free of wicked deed of the flesh, a life lived for Christ and only Christ.

And maybe this is harsh, but sooner or later each of us must come to realize that we are not the center of the universe: the planets are not circling over each of our heads and the sun does not constantly and dramatically shine on your face in a radiant, angelic like beam. The gospel has never been and never will be about you or me. Instead, we are vile, sinful, and depraved beings who throw mud on and trample on the cross daily, often willingly. And while we draw ourselves into some grand story where we are somehow the main characters in it, the reality is that the true gospel story has always been about Christ, and we should be forever thankful to be able to be a small part of it. With this same idea, Psalm 84:10 says, “I would rather be a gatekeeper in the house of my God than live the good life in the homes of the wicked.”

This is why God’s grace is so awe inspiring. Because of His grace, you and I are created in the imago dei, loved by the Creator and are able to hear, see, and respond to the gospel. Our response, then, needs to be nothing less than a life of complete adoration for Christ and His Kingdom. Money, power, comfort, and even our own lives comes second to the gospel of Jesus Christ. In fact, compared to Jesus, these things shouldn’t even come close.

Let me encourage you to check your own walk while I check mine. No longer should we claim to receive a gracious gift for eternity yet live like it is all about us. No longer should we follow Christ with our mouths and yet willingly place our possessions, comfort, self-centeredness, and our egos above Him. Fellow Christian, it’s time to repent, time to recommit and time to change this thinking. Let’s make this change: as a coheir in Christ, ours is the Kingdom forever, so let me challenge you to live as a citizen of Heaven while traveling this journey on earth!

In Christ Alone,

Pastor Fran

Spiritual but not Religious…5 Reasons Not to Write off the Church

We’ve all heard it: “Yeah, uh, I’m spiritual, but you know, um, I’m just not religious, know what I mean?”
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Uh, no. Not really.

When we hear this sort of talk, it might seem somewhat profound. But first of all, let me be clear that being spiritual means to be at one with the Spirit of God, not some far off, nebulous mystical concept of self-defined happiness. Yet even assuming that the Holy Spirit is the context, with all this talk now and in the past about bad church experiences, the idea of giving up on the church might even seem an attractive thought. I mean, can’t you be Spiritual without being religious?

Well, yes and no. If you mean be in tune with the Spirit of Christ and reject hypocrisy in the church while staying in the church, well sure. I’m right there with you. As a pastor who has been in ministry for over two decades now, I’ve seen my share of ugly. And ugly is, well, sinful and shameful. Hey, there’s plenty of comfort loving, sin dwelling, pride filling, molehill making people who call themselves Christians to make grown men cry in a business meeting…and sometimes they do!

But if being Spiritual without being religious means to stay away from the church, then you are missing the mark on this one. Here’s a few reasons why we need not write off the church:

  1. We are all sinners. Hypocrisy in the church has and always will be, simply because sin will be until the Day of Christ. In fact, anyone who claims to be free of the struggle with sin is being dishonest. 1 John 1:8 says, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.” There. We’re all hypocrites in some way.
  2. We are the Bride of Christ. Yep, sometimes an ugly bride, but the bride nonetheless. Jesus died for this bride! And as the bride, we are called to grow to be more like Christ, both individually and corporately. One day, all this will come to pass and we as believers will be invited to the Bridegroom’s wedding feast (Rev 19:7).
  3. We are One in Christ. I pastor a multiethnic, multigenerational church, a people who put away the labels of Black, White, Democrat, Republican, Rich, Poor, Young, Old, etc. We might have come from different cultures, but in Christ we are one new humanity (Eph 2:15).
  4. We are all partakers of grace. Christ in His death on the cross was an act of grace. Salvation is a gift of grace (Eph 2:8-9). Our sanctification is through God’s grace (Rom 8:29). And our love for one another must abound in grace and love (1 Pt 4:10). In fact, the church is at its finest when it is a beacon of grace to the world.
  5. We are better together. Ministry is given to, partaken in, and poured out through the church. God’s plans are realized through the church. He commended and corrected the church (see Rev 1-3). Though the church (the people) are far from perfect, the bible is clear: we are all pilgrims in this journey, and as we serve one another (Phil 2:2), we are better together!

Obviously, these are some reasons to still love the church and I’d love to hear more from you. The point is, I’m not writing off the church, and I pray that you won’t either.

My point: love the Bride of Christ as Jesus does!

A Devotion: What to Do…

15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do…. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. – Romans 7:15, 19

adam-and-eve-798376_960_720No one is immune from the peril of sin. Satan, that father of lies, the thief who came to kill and destroy, continues to attack every human being. Ever since the temptation and Fall in the Garden, the addiction to sin has continued, and all humanity has been held captive by the evil one. All have sinned and fallen short of God’s glorious standard (Rom 3:23), all have been led astray (Isaiah 53:6), all have walked in this transgression and sin in rebellion against God (Eph 2:1-3). The wickedness of sin wages war in the soul to rebel against the Creator God. Just like in Paul’s example here, we desire to do the right things yet we do the opposite. How horrific and cruel sin has been!

But praise God for His grace! Praise God for His mercy! Praise God for His salvation! The forces of Hell have already been defeated by the King of kings and Lord of lords. This freedom from sin, born through the cross, has transformed the victim into the victor, the rebel into the redeemed, and the lost into the liberated!

Fellow sinner, take heart: if you are in Christ, you are no longer condemned. This is why Paul just a few verses later wrote the ultimate truth of our condition in Romans 8:1, “there is therefore no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus.” Be comforted: the Bible is full of promises that the Holy Spirit will protect, guide, and even open a way out of the temptations that come. You don’t need to surrender to the temptation. Instead, His grace is sufficient, so rely on His strength, look to His Spirit, and live for His glory!

Pastor Fran

Why Fast?

This weekend, our church on the hill here in Cincinnati is going to pray and fast for 48 hours. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is for our church to do this, as we are at a major crossroads in the 60 year history of our church.

You see, our community has been changing for quite some time. Families have moved north and east of our area. Poverty has been on the rise. Single parents have become the largest demographic in our area. Add in the state of our postmodern nation and it’s easy to see the challenges that our church has faced.

logochurchBut, wow, how God has blessed us! He’s led our church to adapt and become a multiethnic, multi-generational church. He’s connected our church family with the community through many of our outreach efforts and events. He’s opened doors for the gospel through a revitalized Passion Play, through our new Food Pantry, and through the faithful sharing of the Good News at every opportunity. And the worship services have been nothing short of inspiring and life changing as new believers have come to Christ and several have recommitted their lives to serve Christ more fully in our response time to the Word!

So why fast and pray? We do this to seek the Lord to do something beyond what we can do naturally. You see, if we only operate within the confines of what we can do naturally, there’s no faith in that! After all, how does God get the glory when we make plans that we can do and do work that we can do, when we have all the power and strength of what God can do?!? For this reason, I am eager and excited to have us enter in this time of fasting and prayer.

That said, here are some things to pray for:

  • Our vision and our vision team- we are awaiting a report from a consultant and going through a process of evaluating and innovating our church ministries. Nothing is off the table, and most importantly, everything needs to be before the Lord!
  • Our staff and our search team- in our need to fully staff our church, we have a search team looking to fill a position related to the children and family ministry. We need to have Spirit led wisdom and direction for the team.
  • Our love for the gospel and community- our community is desperate for the love and truth of Jesus Christ! Please pray and seek how God might shape our hearts to share the life changing gospel with all we see.

I hope and pray that you will be a participant in this emphasis. We will be starting the fast at 9:15 am Friday and finishing at our Sunday 9:15 am Bible Study, where EVERYONE (men, women, and children) will be eating, fellowshipping, and participating in a Bible study together. I am expecting that God will continue to do spectacular things at our church, so let’s see what else He has in store that will magnify His name!

Pastor Fran

But I just want to be happy, right?!?

On a recent episode of a cooking competition show, one of the contestants spoke about how he has recently made a major life choice for his own happiness. He explained that in this quest to be happy, he left his wife, then brought his three children together with his partner’s three children, thus creating what he called the “gay Brady Bunch.” On the same show, another contestant had just lost his wife to cancer, but was urged on by his children to enter the cooking competition in her honor. There were plenty of moments during this episode where tears streamed down his face as he grieved and remembered his wife. Both men were excellent cooks, and both men seemed like genuinely nice guys. Yet I was amazed at the contrast: while one man willingly left his wife, maintaining that he just wanted to “be happy,” the other man, still obviously in grief, probably would have given anything to touch, hold, even speak to his wife one more time.

Our culture is full of people who are happy addicts. People say all the time that they simply they just want to be happy, that they deserve to be happy, and that they should be able to live any way that they want so that they can be happy.  It’s in our Declaration of Independence, it’s been in popular songs by Pharell, Bobby McFerrin, and others, and it’s used in popular commercial slogans- heck, even McDonald’s has a Happy Meal for kids, right? Well, sure. It’s pretty loud and clear that we should and can be happy. After all, just do the right thing or buy the right thing or act a certain way and you too, can be happy.

And so, we have a culture of people who are obsessed with “being happy.” With the attention span of the length of a Tweet, happy addicts are constantly trying to hook onto something new to find a way to get and stay happy. After all, happiness comes and goes, and these things don’t last, so when the feelings of happiness leave (and they always do), these addicts desperately seek another way to be happy. They do things like purchase something new, or find a new boyfriend or girlfriend, or coyly seek attention on Facebook, Twitter, or Tumbler. In other words, they are miserably happy, but never satisfied.

Beyond this, these happy addicts fail to see how harmful their happiness addiction can be. For example, in the case of the contestant who left his wife, I wonder if his wife was happy about his turning her world upside down in the name of “being happy.” Or what about the endless job seeker, working in one place for a short period of time until the honeymoon period disappears, then looks for another job so he or she can be happy- doesn’t this harm the family that they support? Of course, these examples aren’t something that matters to the happy addict, and for this reason, I would argue that the happy addict is often nothing more than a selfish, rebellious, and idolatrous narcissist.

This should not be so. The selfish quest for “being happy” is no different from the lies told in the Garden of Eden: the temptation to be like God is in itself a grab for power, eternity, and self-seeking happiness. While of course, God wants us to be happy, we are first to be happy in Him, since He alone is the source of all joy, happiness, and peace. Being happy will not harm others with the consequences of selfishness. Being happy can and won’t ever conflict with being moral, or being godly, or being a follower of Jesus. It is also infinitely more satisfying than anything we have here on earth, because when we follow Him, we have a joy that is supernatural.  1 Peter 3:10–12 (NLT) says:

“If you want to enjoy life and see many happy days, keep your tongue from speaking evil and your lips from telling lies. Turn away from evil and do good. Search for peace, and work to maintain it. The eyes of the Lord watch over those who do right, and his ears are open to their prayers. But the Lord turns his face against those who do evil.”

In other words, “being happy” is going to go beyond the temporary. Being happy is not going to be good, moral, and show an unselfish love. It is an eternal happiness that is directed at God.

Are you a happy addict? You can change that! Turn from that and taste the real joy found in Jesus Christ- look to God and live happily for Him, as He is our joy and our strength!

Pastor Fran

Putting on the Full Armor of God

Eph 6:18 (NASB), “With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints…”

This week has honestly been one of the hardest weeks of my life. Without getting into the details, my wife and I have been shedding tears in praying for a solution to a crisis. We ceased to eat at times, cried spontaneously at others, dreamed dreams about it, got angry, got numb, even tried to put it out of our minds, and nothing has seemed to work. It feels like our life has completely changed since last weekend, and in many ways, it has felt like a death has occurred in our family.

Yet, in God’s great love and provision, He has given us a gift: a wonderful church family. Last night, my church gathered to pray for me, my wife and our family. I began the night by saying that this was not about me, but it was all about Christ and His Kingdom, and my wife and I felt like we should pray for other families as well. However, my church recognized the trials that we were undergoing were spiritual trials, and that the enemy is the source of this spiritual warfare. Satan and his demons will attack God’s people with fiery darts wherever he can, and the collateral damage that we have been feeling in this crisis is only a taste of how evil the devil is. Satan, after all, seeks to kill and destroy (John 10:10a).

Yet, God is greater! What we experienced last night was one of the most amazing, incredible outpourings of love that we have ever felt from a church. For an hour and a half, we had person after person laying hands on us, praying for us, crying for us, and interceding for us. In the middle of a month in which many churches celebrate “Pastor Appreciation Month,” there was no greater way that I have felt appreciated than last night. We experienced love in action by our church family, our blessed family, forever bonded to us by the blood of Jesus!

We feel that we have fully put on the full armor of God and are ready for battle against Satan and his minions. If God is for us, who can be against us? The gates of Hell cannot and will not prevail, and the trials of today will only mean more glory for God tomorrow. I pray that this lesson that I learned from my church will apply to you: be honest about your battles with one another, care for one another, and most of all, love one another with a fervent heart. And know this: whatever your trial, God is always going to provide His Word, His way, His people, but most of all (and without fail), His presence.

Be blessed,

Pastor Fran

A Prowling Lion…

Satan knows how to get at us. He watches, studies, plans, and tempts each believer in every way, looking for a way to make each of us ineffective and destroy our testimony. When one thing doesn’t work, he tries something else. He uses the fallen world, the lost soul, even his demons and minions to take an already fallen human and spiritually ground them into powder. 

If you try to fight Satan with your own wisdom, power, and will, you don’t stand a chance. The only way to fight a spiritual battle is with a spiritual armor, a spiritual shield, a spiritual sword. And it begins with your faith in Jesus Christ. If your faith is in Jesus, your status before God has changed: you are His. He indwells in you. He guides you. He prays for you even when you don’t realize it. 

Your battle is not your own, it is the Lord’s battle. Be encouraged: even when you are knocked down, you are never out. The God that is in you will complete the work until the day of Christ’s return. Stand firm against the attacks of the devil, and as you do, it will result in praise and glory due His name!