Walking Through the Storm

This blog post was originally posted in The Coast Guard Compass

It was 2200 hours as they descended from the bowels of a HC-130 Hercules airplane exhausted and bleary-eyed with children, luggage, and even dogs in tow. They had just been evacuated from Sector San Juan and Air Station Borinquen before Hurricane Maria slammed into the island of Puerto Rico. Their lives and homes were upended, and Coast Guard Chaplains were there to walk with them through the storm—physically, emotionally, and spiritually. This scene of evacuated and displaced Coast Guard families was played out numerous times during the 2017 hurricane season with the ravaging effects of Harvey, Irma, and Maria.

From the first warnings of Harvey to the ongoing clean-up operations from all three hurricanes, Chaplains from Districts 7, District 8, and across the Coast Guard have been ministering to personnel and their families as they pick up the pieces. Coast Guard Chaplains live by the saying, “Where it matters, when it matters, with what matters.” Sometimes it’s holding a sleeping child because a mom or dad is utterly exhausted. Sometimes it’s sitting with a family that lost everything in the storm. Sometimes it’s performing divine services for Coast Guard and DoD personnel who are working around the clock to get their areas operational again.

During this year’s hurricane operations, numerous lessons were learned and reinforced. Chaplain Mark Miller, Chaplain of the Western Rivers Division, said, “Do the hard work beforehand. Train like you fight. Work hard at being in good physical shape to ensure effective and focused ministry during long days of deployment. Likewise, intentionally devote yourself to your faith. You can’t minister in a vacuum, so fill up before you go.” Chaplain Derek Henson of Sector Key West was deployed for Harvey and then returned right before Irma struck Florida. Henson appreciated the collegiality and mutual support of other chaplains in the area of operations. He remarked, “I was proud to be working alongside the team of chaplains. Having a team that works as a team during this time is what kept us calm and helped build lasting relationships.”

Another key learning for chaplains during hurricane operations occurred in partnership Ombudsmen as well as the Gold and Silver Badge networks. Chaplain Ken Espinosa of Sector Houston/Galveston and Sector Corpus Christi said, “Our partnership with our Ombudsman is critical during this time. We are currently working together and planning how to best support our families who suffered catastrophic losses during the holidays.” When I deployed to District 7 for Irma and Maria, the partnership and constant communication with Gold and Silver Badges was indispensable for taking care of families in a timely and compassionate manner.

Coast Guard Chaplains are Semper Paratus. As Chaplain Barrett Craig of Sector San Juan reflected, “I’ve come to a point in my chaplain career where I don’t live in the ‘if’ but I anticipate the ‘when.’” Day in and day out, rain or shine, Coast Guard Chaplains are ready and there to walk through the physical, emotional, and spiritual storms people face with a ministry of presence. Ministry because we live to serve others, and presence because we are called to be where it matters, when it matters, with what matters.

Take God Off the Top of the List

Take God off the top of the list and put Him where He belongs—in the center!

On Sunday as we began our new series The Problem with Priorities, we talked about some of the problems with our typical view of priorities. We tend to think of priorities like a “to-do” list. If you’re a Christian, our thinking goes—God first, family second, and after that, whatever we choose. The problem is that we’re never really done with God. We never move to the next thing on our list. Another problem with this type of thinking is that it divides life into “spiritual” and “secular.” The spiritual box is filled with all of the God stuff—church, small group, Bible Study, service projects, etc. The secular box is filled with work, hobbies, time, money, etc. We think God has a lot to do with the spiritual box and not so much with the secular box.

What if we chose to “Destroy the List”? What if we chose to take God off the top of the list and put Him in the center? I used an image in my message of a bicycle wheel with a hub in the center. Every spoke in the wheel goes through the hub. What if every spoke of your life (relationships, job, money, time, etc.) went through the hub with God at the center? When all of your relationships have God at the center, you treat people differently because you want to love and honor God. If you have a boyfriend or girlfriend, when God’s at the center, you make different choices with your sexuality. When God is at the center of your marriage, how you love and serve your spouse is how you love and serve God. When God is at the center of your parenting, you realize that your job is to help them understand the presence and importance of Jesus more than simply raising good kids who are good citizens. When God is at the center of your job, it shapes how you treat people in the workplace and how you will ethically go about doing your job. When God is at the center, everything is spiritual!

To help you put God at the center of your life, I would encourage you to memorize Colossians 3:17 – “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.”

As you put God where He belongs, in the center, may you experience the abundant and joyful life He created you to live.

November 9: The Day After

November 9…the day after one of the most contentious, vitriolic presidential election seasons in our recent past (this was my 8th presidential election to vote in). Some of us are rejoicing, some of us are despairing, and many of us are confused as to what direction our nation will pursue. But as we declared time and time again in our God & Politics series: our ultimate hope is not in a president, political party, or platform but in the Risen Lord Jesus and His kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. That truth and reality still stands firm on November 9, the day after (and on November 10, two days after…and on November 11, three days after…and on and on). “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).

As followers of Jesus, I want to encourage and exhort all of us to be agents of hope right now. Over the coming days, weeks, and months, many of us will engage people who are frustrated, angry, and despondent over the results of the presidential election. We have an opportunity to compassionately listen. More importantly, we have an opportunity “to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have…with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15). We have an opportunity to plant seeds of the good news of Jesus that transcends all human politics. Let us not get drawn into the partisan divide. Let us not get drawn into the rhetoric of anger and desperation. Instead, let us be agents of hope. Let us pray that God would have mercy on us as a nation. Let us pray that God would change the lives and hearts of our elected leaders to pursue laws and policies of goodness and justice (1 Timothy 2:1-2). Let us pray that God would empower and embolden followers of Jesus to be agents of hope.

I close with a powerful quote from Jared Wilson’s The Story of Everything:

The importance and fundamental purpose of the church is to keep pointing away from the world for the hope of the world. While everyone else points to government, family, good deeds, and whatever else as The Secret [to life], the church keeps pointing to the alien, heavenly power of grace as the hope for our problems and for our false hopes. Only the good news of Jesus is the answer to everything. And only this good news makes us new and satisfies our longings for connection with God and with our fellow man and for significance in the world.

Go be the Church for our world for such a time as this!

Pastor Jonathan

 

 

Empowered for Ministry & Mission

This Sunday as we continued our Ghost Stories series, we discussed the “Power of the Holy Spirit.” We talked about this big idea:

The Holy Spirit empowers us for shared ministry & shared mission.

There are numerous ways in which the Holy Spirit empowers us, but one of the key ways is through spiritual gifts. Spiritual gifts are given by the Holy Spirit as a part of God’s grace to every follower of Jesus for ministry and mission. We also discussed ways to discover your spiritual gifts: (1) personal experience; (2) others’ affirmation; and (3) take an inventory. Here is a good Spiritual Gifts Inventory to help you discover your spiritual gifts.

Once you take this inventory, go through the results with your small group or another trusted follower of Jesus. Spiritual gift inventories are best used in concert with personal experience and others’ affirmation. Lastly, are you currently using your spiritual gifts?

If you’re not, here are some different ways to serve and volunteer at Northshore, in the local community, or around the world.

My hope and prayer is that you would discover and use your spiritual gifts in ministry and mission.

May Jesus give you great joy through the Holy Spirit has you serve in His name!

Hearing & Following the Voice of Jesus

“My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me” (John 10:27)

This past Sunday as we explored the “Presence of the Spirit” in our new series Ghost Stories, I presented a way to pray that helps us experience the Holy Spirit’s leadership and guidance in our lives. I discovered this pattern in Gordon Smith’s book The Voice of Jesus. This book has had a significant impact on my spiritual life and how I follow the voice of Jesus through the Holy Spirit. By way of reminder and further explanation, here’s the pattern for our prayer:

Gratitude is our response to the Holy Spirit’s assurance that we are loved by the Father. We must always start here—the love of God for us. Nothing is so fundamental to the Christian journey as knowing and feeling that we loved by the Father. It is from the experience of God’s love that we know the grace of God and live out every other dimension of our Christian faith. In gratitude, be specific about what you’re thankful for. In doing so, you will see and experience the presence of God and His goodness and love for you.

Confession is our response to the Holy Spirit’s conviction of sin. When we know the depths to which we are loved and known by the Father, then our sin becomes all the more “despicable.” I don’t say that to take us into deeper places of self-loathing and shame. I say that to ask, “how can we walk away from that love in our sin and disobedience?” The Holy Spirit convicts us of sin and then disciplines us because He loves us… because He wants to remove all of the barriers and roadblocks that prevent us from seeing and experiencing the Father’s love. Our response is confession. As with gratitude, be specific about your sin and remember that God is faithful to forgive and cleanse you (1 John 1:9)

Meditation is our response the Holy Spirit’s illumining our hearts and minds through Scripture. Knowing that we loved by the Father, having confessed our sin and rebellion against Him and His love, we are now ready to come to God through His Word. Our minds and hearts are clear to hear His voice and to see His character and plan as revealed through His Word. The Holy Spirit illumines (shines light on) the Word, and our hearts are changed in the process. Our response to that light is to meditate upon it. Here’s a helpful article about studying and meditating upon God’s word.

Discernment is our response to the Spirit guidance in times of choice. Now that we are beginning to know and experience the assurance that we loved by the Father, convicted of our sin in His perfect love, and having come to His Scriptures to shape our hearts and minds in light of who Jesus Christ really and fully is, now and only now are we ready to hear the voice of Jesus through the Holy Spirit as He leads and guides in times of choice.  The problem is that we often jump immediately to wanting the Spirit’s guidance in times of choice. When we go here without having practiced gratitude, confession, and meditation, we short-circuit the process and cannot clearly hear the voice of Jesus through the leading of the Holy Spirit. If we know we are loved, if we know we are forgiven and freed from our sin, and if we know the heart and character of God as revealed in the Scriptures, then we are much more likely to make the right choices through the leading of the Holy Spirit.

Try praying this pattern and see how the Holy Spirit develops wisdom and discernment in your life and experience.

I’d enjoy hearing how it goes and if you have any questions or thoughts.

Ghost Stories

Many people think they have a clear picture of who the Father is and who Jesus is, but when it comes to the Holy Spirit, it’s a little more confusing. In this not-so-scary series, we’re exploring who the Holy Spirit is, His role in our everyday lives, and how He guides us to live the life we were created to live.

Here are the topics we’ll cover:

October 9 – Person of the Holy Spirit

October 16 – Presence of the Holy Spirit

October 23 – Power of the Holy Spirit

October 30 – Promise of the Holy Spirit

For more information on Northshore and our Sunday worship gatherings, click HERE.

Join us at Sundays at 8, 9:30, and 11 am (Children’s & Student Ministry is available at the 9:30 & 11 am gatherings).

God & Politics Resources

As we began the God & Politics series this past Sunday with “Kings & Kingdoms,” remember the overarching theme of the series: “Our hope for the world is not America but Jesus!” There is a difference between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of this world, especially as it relates to the use of power. The kingdom of this world exercises a “power over.” This is how governments enforce laws and keep the peace. But the kingdom of God exercises a “power under”—a self-sacrificial love that changes and transforms its citizens from the inside out. Charles Coulson in his book God & Government (listed below) explains the difference between these two kingdoms like this:

Nothing distinguishes the kingdoms of man from the Kingdom of God more than their diametrically opposed views of the exercise of power. One seeks to control people, the other to serve people; one promotes self; the other prostrates self; one seeks prestige and position, the other lifts up the lowly and despised. It is crucial for Christians to understand the difference.

Here are some recommended resources for further exploration on this important topic.

DISCLAIMER: Even though I recommend these resources, I don’t agree with everything contained within. When you read, use discernment and critical judgement to come to your own Spirit-led, biblically-informed conclusions. 

God & Government – Charles Colson. Colson was Special Counsel to President Nixon. He was convicted and imprisoned after the Watergate Scandal. While in prison, he became a follower of Jesus in 1973. He wrote extensively on many subjects concerning a Christian worldview, but he has a unique vantage point and incredible insight into our response and posture as followers of Jesus in a political world.

How Would Jesus Vote? – Darrell Bock. Bock was one of my New Testament professors at Dallas Theological Seminary. He is brilliant thinker and respected biblical scholar. His book gives a good biblical framework for current issues (size of government, economics and poverty, health care, sexuality, individual rights, etc.).

Jesus Outside the Lines – Scott Sauls. Written by a pastor, Sauls helps us see Jesus and His central, unifying kingdom as the way forward in these divisive times. 

Hijacked: Responding to the Partisan Church Divide – Mike Slaughter & Charles Gutenson. Written by a pastor and a seminary professor, this book is a good theological and sociological assessment of how we can hold to: “in essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.”

How to Change the World – James Davison Hunter. While not for the “faint of heart” (i.e., it’s a dense book), this in-depth sociological analysis helps us see why politics cannot be our ultimate hope for change in this world. 

Additional Resources. Years ago, I wrote a blog post about “upside down politics,” and I offered additional books and news sources. Some of the books are listed above, but there are additional resources listed in this post.

My prayer is that you would seek the wisdom and guidance of the Holy Spirit during this political season so that you can proclaim our ultimate hope—King Jesus and His kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven!

What are resources you would recommend and why?

God & Politics

With the upcoming Presidential election, American politics is in full swing. Whether you like any of the candidates, none of the candidates, or are threatening to move to Canada, as a follower of Jesus in a democratic republic, you have been given the opportunity to exercise your vote. If we are going to vote wisely, then we need to understand why and how God has established civil governments. We also need to understand the important difference and distinction between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of this world. In our new series God & Politics, we’ll explore some key passages in the Bible that give us a framework, not whom we should vote for but how we should vote. Remember—our only Savior and hope is Jesus, not our president, party, or political platforms.

Here’s the schedule for the series:

September 11 – Kings & Kingdoms

September 18 – Do’s & Don’ts

September 25 – God & Government

October 2 – Priorities & Policies

Here are some additional resources for exploring more about God & Politics.

For more information on Northshore and our Sunday worship gatherings, click HERE.

Join us at Sundays at 8, 9:30, and 11 am (Children’s & Student Ministry is available at the 9:30 & 11 am gatherings).

Resources for Rest

This past Sunday, we began a new series at Northshore Community Church called The Rest of God. In this series, we’re talking about the biblical idea of rest or “sabbath.” It’s an important theme throughout the whole Bible. Sabbath begins with “Looking Up.” When God gives His people Israel the command to rest or sabbath in Exodus 20:8-11, the reason is grounded in God as the Creator. It focuses on God’s bigness, goodness, and sovereignty. Author Mark Buchanan describes sabbath rest this way: imitating God so that we stop trying to be God. Sabbath rest is about acknowledging our weakness and our limitations. We cannot work 24/7/365, but God can. When we choose sabbath rest, we choose to be small, and we “allow” God to be big—who He truly and fully is!

Here are some resources that have been helpful for me in learning to develop Sabbath Rest & Rhythms in my life (daily, weekly, monthly/quarterly, yearly).

The Rest of God – Mark Buchanan (this is my favorite book on Sabbath!)

Your Life in Rhythm – Bruce Miller (this is a very helpful book in living in rhythms instead of the impossible quest for “balance”)

“A Guide to Spending the Day with Jesus” (this is a blog post I wrote many years ago that contains a template for a day away)

Our Daily Bread – if you want a good daily devotional, this has been one of my favorites for years. There’s also a mobile phone app (iPhone & Android)

This coming Sunday, we’ll talk about Sabbath rest and “Looking Up”— wholeheartedly believing in the liberation God has provided us through Jesus so we can live the life He created us to live.

What things do you do to experience sabbath rest?

The Rest of God

We’re nearing the end of the summer—a supposed time of rest and relaxation. But for many of us, we need a vacation from our vacations. There might be a deeper problem. We don’t know how to rest. As a result there is a part of God that we miss out on because there is a part of God we can only know through stillness. In this 2-week series The Rest of God, we will learn to look up and look back so we can experience the fullness of life God created and liberated us to live.

Here’s the series schedule:

August 28 – Looking Up (Exodus 20:8-11)

September 4 – Looking Back (Deuteronomy 5:12-15)

For more information on Northshore and our Sunday worship gatherings, click HERE.

Join us at Sundays at 8, 9:30, and 11 am (Children’s & Student Ministry is available at the 9:30 & 11 am gatherings).