Cultivating a Movement: Surrender!

As I wrote previously, I just started a sermon series at Centre Grove on Cultivating a Movement. The series began with a focus on surrender.

The word “surrender” has mostly negative connotations—on the battlefield, in the political arena, on the sports field, and in life, in general. But in the spiritual life, surrender is essential. It’s also essential for cultivating a movement. Movements begin with people who are fully surrendered to God!

God gives us the greatest example of surrender. “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son …” (John 3.16, CEB).

Jesus modeled surrender …

he did not consider being equal with God something to exploit. But he emptied himself by taking the form of a slave and by becoming like human beings. When he found himself in the form of a human, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2.6-8, CEB)

In Jesus’ final hours, he prayed, “Father, if it’s your will, take this cup of suffering away from me. However, not my will but your will must be done” (Luke 22.42, CEB).

In Philippians 2, Paul challenges readers to “Adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus” (2.5, CEB). But before that, he writes …

Don’t do anything for selfish purposes, but with humility think of others as better than yourselves. Instead of each person watching out for their own good, watch out for what is better for others. (Philippians 2.3-4, CEB)

When we surrender ourselves to God, we live for God. We also live for God on behalf of the world. That’s why I love the statement I learned nearly ten years ago from Dr. Stephen Seamands …

I have entered into the ministry of Jesus, to the Father, through the Holy Spirit, on behalf of the world.

This statement is always a great reminder for me; it helps me stay focused and, hopefully, surrendered!

I also think our willingness to pray dangerous or risky prayers is a sign of surrender (most prayers from a fully-surrendered life are dangerous!). One such prayer is Wesley’s Covenant Prayer …

I am no longer my own, but thine. Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt. Put me to doing, put me to suffering. Let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee, exalted for thee or brought low for thee. Let me be full, let me be empty. Let me have all things, let me have nothing. I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal. And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, thou art mine, and I am thine. So be it. And the covenant which I have made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.

Surrender involves giving ourselves completely to God. When we do, God is free to move in and through his people, thus creating a movement (i.e., a move of God).

My one verse for the year is 2 Chronicles 7.14, which is also about cultivating a movement …

if my people who belong to me will humbly pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, forgive their sin, and heal their land. (CEB)

Movements begin with people who are fully surrendered to God!

How do you stay fully surrendered to God?

Cultivating a Movement

I just started a new sermon series called, “Cultivating a Movement.”

A few weeks ago, I wrote in an email to church leaders and prayer partners, “I don’t just want to pastor a church; I want to lead a movement!”

Now, that may not be the most theologically-accurate statement. By nature, a church is a movement. But churches drift if they’re not intentional about staying on course. Churches that drift from God’s mission are not movements; they’re clubs. Clubs hinder God’s mission. Movements change the world!

My phrase, “pastor a church,” alludes to simply going through the motions, maintaining the status quo, and trying not to ruffle feathers or rock the boat. I’m not interested in that. I want to lead a movement!

I began the series saying we need to settle the question: Is faith just a noun or is it also a verb? Faith as a noun is the content of our faith; it’s what we believe. The noun matters (a lot). But, faith as a verb is our faith lived out. The verb matters, too; in fact, it’s essential!

Faith is BOTH a noun and a verb. But too many followers of Jesus live as if it’s just a noun. Faith is also a verb, something to be lived out. In fact, when James wrote, “faith is dead when it doesn’t result in faithful activity” (James 2.17, CEB), he was essentially saying that the noun without the verb is dead!

How we answer the question about the nature of faith determines what kind of church we will be, whether we will be a movement or a club. A church that focuses only on faith as a noun will be a church of consumers, a club. But a church that focuses on faith as both a noun AND a verb will be a church of contributors. And, contributors create movements!

Over the next several weeks, I’ll be sharing some specific ways we’re trying to cultivate a movement at Centre Grove. It won’t be an exhaustive list, but I hope it will helpful!

I’d love to hear from you. What kinds of things do you think help to cultivate a movement? Please add a comment!

God is Always With Us, Fighting for Us!

Why is there a Christmas?

I believe there’s a Christmas because “God’s faithful love endures forever!”

That’s a phrase that appears over and over in the Old Testament (mainly in the Psalms). It includes the Hebrew word, hesed (appears 248 times in the Old Testament), which describes God’s faithful love, loyalty, and devotion.

God’s faithful love eventually led God to sending his Son into the world.

God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him won’t perish but will have eternal life. (John 3.16, CEB)

One of the greatest promises of Christmas is that God is with us. In fact, God is always with us, fighting for us!

In Matthew’s gospel, after the report of Joseph’s dream about Mary’s pregnancy, we’re told …

Now all of this took place so that what the Lord had spoken through the prophet would be fulfilled: Look! A virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son, And they will call him, Emmanuel. (Emmanuel means ‘God with us.’) (Matthew 1.22-23, CEB)

God is with us!

We don’t know much about the early years of Jesus’ life, but I imagine they were not the easiest years. Little did Mary and Joseph know what they were signing up for when they agreed to follow God’s plan for their lives.

On the night that Jesus was born, the angels proclaimed a revolutionary message …

Don’t be afraid! Look! I bring good news to you—wonderful, joyous news for all people. Your savior is born today in David’s city. He is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2.10-11, CEB)

“Good news” was used in connection with Herod as well as the titles, “Savior” and “Lord,” particularly in celebration of his birthday. Then, the birth of a new, true king was announced!

Life wouldn’t get any easier. After giving birth to Jesus, Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus find themselves running for their lives. They lived in Egypt while waiting for the threat on Jesus’ life to die down.

God had to literally fight for us by fighting to keep Jesus’ safe. God will do all he can to rescue us. Peter writes, God doesn’t want, “anyone to perish but all to change their hearts and lives” (2 Peter 3.9, CEB).

God is always with us, fighting for us!

I love Psalm 23, especially the last verse …

Yes, goodness and faithful love [hesed] will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the Lord’s house as long as I live. (CEB)

God’s faithful love doesn’t just “follow us” (as older translations put it), but “pursues us”! God is always with us, fighting for us!

I’ve always loved the way Max Lucado describes God’s love …

If God had a refrigerator, your picture would be on it. If he had a wallet, your photo would be in it. He sends you flowers every spring and a sunrise every morning. Whenever you want to talk, he’ll listen. He can live anywhere in the universe, and he chose your heart. And the Christmas gift he sent you in Bethlehem? Face it, friend. He’s crazy about you.

God’s faithful love endures forever. It’s what is behind God’s desire to be with us and to fight for us. This Christmas, I’m reminded God is always with us, fighting for us!

Nothing Kept Jesus From the Cross

Today, I spoke at our local ministerium’s weekly Lenten Lunch service (services last from 12:05 to 12:30, followed by lunch in a different church each week during Lent). Today, we were at West Side UMC, where my wife is the pastor. It was a rare opportunity for the two of us to serve together.

This year, we used Adam Hamilton’s 24 Hours That Changed the World as a guide. My topic, “Jesus, Barabbas, and Pilate,” came from Mark 15.1-15.

Here is a thumbnail sketch of my sermon …

The Bible describes life as a race—not a sprint, but a lifelong marathon. The race is long. There are days when our lungs burn, our legs are ready to give out, and every fiber of our being is ready to quit. Life is a race, and it takes determination!

Jesus modeled determination in his race, especially as he neared the finish line!

From the time Jesus began preparing his disciples for what would happen in Jerusalem to the Last Supper, where Jesus told his disciples about the bread being his body and the cup containing his blood given for them. Jesus was determined to go to the cross!

Nothing kept Jesus from the cross so nothing could keep us from God!

After the supper, Jesus went into the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. He began to feel crushed, but I don’t believe he was looking for Plan B. He was preparing himself for the last leg of the race. Jesus, fully God and fully human, had to fully surrender himself for the end of the race. Jesus was determined to go to the cross. Nothing kept Jesus from the cross so nothing could keep us from God!

When Jesus was captured and interrogated by the religious leaders, he clearly showed his determination to go to the cross. When he was interrogated by Pilate, he remained virtually silent. He didn’t defend himself because he was determined to finish his race. Nothing kept Jesus from the cross so nothing could keep us from God!

After the crowd chose Barabbas to be released instead of Jesus, Jesus’ fate was sealed. Jesus was finally headed to the cross, his finish line!

Nothing kept Jesus from the cross so nothing could keep us from God! That’s how much God loves us!

I’ve always loved what Max Lucado wrote …

If God had a refrigerator, your picture would be on it. If he had a wallet, your photo would be in it. He sends you flowers every spring and a sunrise every morning. Whenever you want to talk, he’ll listen. He can live anywhere in the universe, and he chose your heart. What about the Christmas gift he sent you in Bethlehem; not to mention that Friday at Calvary. Face it, friend, he’s crazy about you.

What I’m asking us to do–what I think God asks us to do–in response, is to return the favor.

In Hebrews 11, the writer talks about a number of people who ran their race with determination. In Hebrews 12, the writer talks about the most important race ever. Jesus endured the cross because of the joy set before him. In other words, nothing kept Jesus from the cross so nothing could keep us from God!

The writer to the Hebrews offers a couple of challenges: 1) we must be determined to run the race that is ahead of us, and 2) we must keep our eyes fixed on Jesus!

If we’re going to run our race with determination, persistence, and endurance; if we’re going to reach our finish line in a way that honors God, we must keep our eyes fixed on Jesus!

Christmas is God’s Rescue Mission!

John 3.16-17 sums up the purpose of Christmas …

God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him won’t perish but will have eternal life. God didn’t send his Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through him. (CEB)

Christmas is God’s rescue mission to save the world!

The language of rescue and salvation is prominent throughout the Christmas story. The angel said to Mary, “You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus” (Luke 1.31, CEB). To Joseph, the angel added, “you will call him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1.21, CEB). Jesus came to save and rescue!

Mary’s Song is filled with rescue imagery …

With all my heart I glorify the Lord! In the depths of who I am I rejoice in God my savior. … He shows mercy to everyone, from one generation to the next, who honors him as God. He has shown strength with his arm. He has scattered those with arrogant thoughts and proud inclinations. He has pulled the powerful down from their thrones and lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty-handed. He has come to the aid of his servant Israel, remembering his mercy, just as he promised to our ancestors … (Luke 1.46-55, CEB)

After the birth of John the Baptist, his father, Zechariah, regained his voice and spoke a prophetic word, filled with the language of rescue …

Bless the Lord God of Israel because he has come to help and has delivered his people. He has raised up a mighty savior for us in his servant David’s house, just as he said through the mouths of his holy prophets long ago. He has brought salvation from our enemies and from the power of all those who hate us. He has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors, and remembered his holy covenant, the solemn pledge he made to our ancestor Abraham. He has granted that we would be rescued from the power of our enemies so that we could serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness in God’s eyes, for as long as we live. You, child, will be called a prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way. You will tell his people how to be saved through the forgiveness of their sins. Because of our God’s deep compassion, the dawn from heaven will break upon us, to give light to those who are sitting in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide us on the path of peace. (Luke 1.68-79, CEB)

On the night Jesus was born, angels appeared to shepherds, and said …

I bring good news to you—wonderful, joyous news for all people. Your savior is born today in David’s city. He is Christ the Lord. (Luke2.10-11, CEB)

Our Savior came to rescue us from our sins. Christmas is God’s rescue mission to save the world!

When Jesus was 8 days old, his parents presented him at the Temple. Simeon was there, and after speaking with Jesus’ family, prayed …

Now, master, let your servant go in peace according to your word, because my eyes have seen your salvation. You prepared this salvation in the presence of all peoples. (Luke 2.29-32, CEB)

The prophet Anna, an 84 year-old widow, was also there. Scripture tells us she “approached at that very moment and began to praise God and to speak about Jesus to everyone who was looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2.38, CEB)

Christmas is about God’s redemption. It’s a story of rescue. Christmas is God’s rescue mission to save the world!

After talking about this in my Christmas Eve sermon, I shared two items on my Christmas wish list: 1) everyone in attendance will be rescued, and 2) everyone will become part of God’s rescue team!

God doesn’t want “anyone to perish but all to change their hearts and lives” (2 Peter 3.9, CEB). Once rescued, we become part of God’s rescue mission to save the world!

Have you been rescued? Are you serving on God’s rescue team, part of God’s rescue mission to save the world?

Take Up Your Washbasin and Towel!

Last night, at the combined Holy Thursday service of the Centre Grove and Curwensville UMCs, my sermon was on the example of Jesus in washing the feet of his disciples, hours before his betrayal.

The story in John 13 is loaded with topics and lessons but I chose to focus on Jesus’ example. Jesus’ example teaches us to be “doers of the word and not only hearers” (James 1.22, CEB).

After Jesus washes his disciples’ feet, he says …

Do you know what I’ve done for you? 13 You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you speak correctly, because I am. 14 If I, your Lord and teacher, have washed your feet, you too must wash each other’s feet. 15 I have given you an example: just as I have done, you also must do. 16 I assure you, servants aren’t greater than their master, nor are those who are sent greater than the one who sent them. 17 Since you know these things, you will be happy if you do them. (John 13.12-17)

Our faith (what we know) and action (what we do) must go hand in hand. Jesus says, “Since you know these things, you will be happy if you do them.”

But what drove Jesus to wash his disciples’ feet (an action performed by the lowliest of servants, in his day)? It’s the same thing that drove Jesus to the cross—love! At the beginning of the story in John 13, we’re told that Jesus, “having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them fully.” (Psalm 36.7 says, “Your faithful love is priceless, God!”)

Before Jesus washed his disciples’ feet, he “took off his robes,” and after he washed their feet, “he put on his robes and returned to his place at the table.” This is the same language Jesus used when he talked about laying down his life and taking it back up. We, too, are called to lay down our lives for others.

Jesus gave us an example. The point is …

God’s love compels us to lay down our lives for others!

Jesus gave us an example. Now, he sends us. After washing his disciples’ feet, Jesus talked about “those who are sent.” Interestingly, Jesus’ first words to his disciples after his resurrection were, “Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so I am sending you” (John 20.21).

As people who have taken up their crosses, Jesus teaches us to also take up our washbasins and towels, to lay down our lives for others by serving them with humility.

After this experience, leading up to his betrayal later that night, Jesus continued talking about our call to love others …

34 “I give you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, so you also must love each other. 35 This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples, when you love each other.” (John 13.34-35)

12 This is my commandment: love each other just as I have loved you. 13 No one has greater love than to give up one’s life for one’s friends. … 16 You didn’t choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you could go and produce fruit and so that your fruit could last. (John 15.12-13,16)

Take up for washbasin and towel!

4 Ways We Limit God

At the beginning of my sermon this past Sunday, I said that we limit God (that is, we, the hands and feet of Jesus, limit God’s work in the world).

That’s a sobering reality.

I’m sure there are many ways we limit God’s work in the world. I talked about four ways in my introduction on Sunday …

  • Lack of surrender
  • Lack of faith
  • Lack of obedience
  • Lack of growth

You can probably add other ways we limit God to the list.

When we’re not living fully surrendered to God or exercising our faith, when we’re not doing what we know to do or following the Spirit’s promptings, and when we’re not growing as disciples of Jesus Christ, we are limiting God’s work in us and the people and world around us.

What would it look like if we fully surrendered our lives to God, became full of faith, obeyed God’s Word and Spirit, and continually grew deeper in Christ?

Surrender: The Answer is Yes!

I am currently doing a sermon series on “Life in the Wilderness.” The wilderness represents those times when life doesn’t go according to plan, when something happens that we aren’t expecting.

Everyone goes through the wilderness; no one is exempt. And the wilderness changes us — no one comes out on the other side unchanged by what we’ve experienced. Either we are closer to God or we have moved away from God.

Last Sunday, I talked about trusting God in the wilderness. I think trust is connected to surrender. Sometimes we even use the language of “trusting Christ as Savior,” which essentially means we’ve surrendered our lives to Christ. When we trust God, we surrender our lives to God. If we don’t trust God with our lives, we won’t surrender.

I’ve been reading Secrets from the Treadmill by Pete Briscoe and Patricia Hickman, a book about finding God’s rest in the midst of a busy life. The book mentions a sign seen behind the counter at a restaurant which reads …

The answer is “Yes.” Now, what’s the question!

I believe that’s the motto of a surrendered follower of Jesus.

It’s also a statement of faith that is a little scary to say. But what’s the alternative? Perhaps, “The answer is, well, I’ll wait till I hear God’s question, then decide if the answer is yes or no.” If we’re going to be fully-devoted and surrendered followers of Jesus, we must say yes. And if that’s true, then why not say yes from the beginning?

Surrendering to God is usually a process. But the process goes much better when we’re committed to a life of surrender from the beginning!

Not saying it’s easy. Just saying it’s what surrendered Christ-followers aim for!

Stuck at the Surface

One of the biggest problems that I’ve tried to confront throughout my ministry is complacency. From the beginning of my journey as a Christ-follower, I have said that complacency is one of the biggest problems we face!

Complacency is a temptation for all of us and perhaps the temptation only gets stronger as we grow older and the longer we’re on this journey of following Jesus.

My sermon today focused on the conversation Jesus had with two disciples on the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus a few hours after Jesus rose from the dead (see Luke 24.13-34).

Upon nearing their destination, the two disciples could have simply gone home and let Jesus continue on his journey, but the Scriptures report, “They begged him, ‘Stay with us!'”

As followers of Jesus, we all reach a point where we decide if this is far enough!

And frankly, we reach many points in life, not just one point. For these two disciples, it was only after they were persistent that they discovered that it was Jesus whom they had been walking and talking with. They could easily have said, “This is far enough. We’ve had an enlightening conversation, we’ve learned a lot, our hearts burned within us, but this is far enough. We’re ready to move on now.”

They decided that it wasn’t far enough, that they wanted to go deeper. We, too, must decide that we want to go further in our walk with Christ. We must go deeper. Many times, it’s a matter of being persistent!

In fact, we should never reach a point in our lives where we say, “You know, this is far enough. I don’t need to go any further!”

As long as we live, there’s room to grow.

So, don’t get stuck at the surface. Be persistent. Next time, let’s hang around God a little longer and see how he will reveal himself to us in a special way!

Jeremiah 29.13 (NLT) …

“If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me.”

Faith and Action Go Hand in Hand!

I preached at the final service in the Clearfield Community Lenten Lunch series today. Here’s the gist of my message …

Joleen, who hosted today’s service at West Side, read the Scripture. I hope people caught the contrasting points of the two writers.

Romans 4.1-5 (NLT)
Abraham was, humanly speaking, the founder of our Jewish nation. What did he discover about being made right with God? 2 If his good deeds had made him acceptable to God, he would have had something to boast about. But that was not God’s way. 3 For the Scriptures tell us, “Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.” 4 When people work, their wages are not a gift, but something they have earned. 5 But people are counted as righteous, not because of their work, but because of their faith in God who forgives sinners.

James 2.21-24 (NLT)
21 Don’t you remember that our ancestor Abraham was shown to be right with God by his actions when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see, his faith and his actions worked together. His actions made his faith complete. 23 And so it happened just as the Scriptures say: “Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.” He was even called the friend of God. 24 So you see, we are shown to be right with God by what we do, not by faith alone.

And here’s the message that followed …

Too often, there’s a disconnect between faith and action. We may emphasize faith and simply show up on Sundays to be fed and inspired, only to go about life as usual until the next week. Or maybe we’re active, but our work isn’t really connected to our faith. It’s just busyness. It’s technically action, but it doesn’t bear any fruit for the kingdom of God.

There’s always been confusion over the relationship between faith and action, going at least as far back to Paul and James. I love that they both wrote about Abraham’s offering of Isaac and quoted the exact same sentence out of the Old Testament … and made two different (but not necessarily conflicting) points from the story!

I think Paul’s emphasis was on faith in coming to Christ while James’ emphasis was for those who have faith in Christ to bear it out in the way that they live.

Faith and action go hand in hand!

It’s always been that way. Look at the people listed in Hebrews 11. The writer doesn’t say, “Wow. Abraham was a really nice guy. Moses was so spiritual. And Sarah, boy she was a very trusting person.” No, in just about every case, the writer said, “By faith …” they did stuff! Their faith resulted in action. They were people for whom it could be said, faith and action go hand in hand!

At the end of this list in Hebrews, the writer sounds a call to action (to run the race with endurance) then directs the readers’ attention to Jesus, the greatest doer of all!

Listen to some of the things Jesus said …

I have come down from heaven to do the will of God who sent me. (John 6.38)

My nourishment comes from doing the will of God, who sent me, and from finishing his work. (John 4.34)

Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter. (Matthew 7.21)

Anyone who does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother! (Matthew 12.50)

… let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father. (Matthew 5.16)

Is it any wonder that the biblical account of the first generation of Christ-followers is called Acts? The account describes how those first followers’ faith and action went hand in hand!

I want to leave us with the question that God asked Moses at the burning bush when he trying to talk Moses into leading a massive exodus from Egypt. God’s asked Moses, “What’s that in your hand?”

Moses must’ve thought, it’s just a stick! And he was right. In Moses’ hand, it was just a stick. But in God’s hand, it did mighty things. It was used in the performing of miracles, including the parting of the Red Sea. It was a tool in the start of a spiritual revolution!

What’s in your hand? You might think it isn’t much, that it’s just a stick. It might be one talent, two talents, or five talents. The amount doesn’t matter — what matters is what we do with it. Whatever you do, don’t sit on it or bury it. Do something with it that honors God and bears fruit for God’s kingdom!

To you, it might just be a stick, but in God’s hand, it can be mightily used to accomplish great things. It can start a spiritual revolution, in your home, your school, your workplace, or your neighborhood.

You see, this is a hands-on faith!

Jesus’ followers took people by the hand and people were healed. They laid hands on people and they were filled with the Holy Spirit. Jesus himself touched lepers and other “untouchables.” He washed the feet of his friends, even though he knew that within hours, one would betray him, one would deny, and all would desert him!

Jesus was delivered into the hands of sinners. He was tied up, tortured and humiliated. His hands were stretched out and nailed to a cross.

After rising from the dead, Jesus sends us to be his hands, feet, and his voice in the world … to change the world with the good news of Jesus Christ!