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.

Rooted & Growing

This past Sunday, we launched our new Rooted series with “Rooted in God’s Story.” We talked about different stages of growth and what we can do to continue to grow and get more deeply rooted together in Jesus. Here are the different stages and what you can do to grow:

SEED: As a seed, you are exploring who Jesus Christ is. You have not made a commitment to follow Him, but you are curious. I would encourage you to read this article: “Got Eternal Life?” It will help you understand more fully who Jesus is, how your sin can be forgiven, and how you can have abundant life now and eternal life forever. If you have made a decision to follow Jesus, I would highly encourage you to get baptized

SPROUT: You have become a follower of Jesus. Your roots of faith, trust, and obedience are growing. I would encourage you to explore a tool called “The Commands of Christ.” It will help you understand the basics of what Jesus is calling you to, how you can live out your faith, and how you can begin to Jesus them with others.

SEEDLING: You are continuing to grow. You have withstood a few storms. You are getting more experienced in studying and applying God’s word. You are growing in a more regular prayer life. You are connecting more deeply with other followers of Jesus. During this Rooted series, I would encourage you to read through and study the book of Colossians. You can see the series schedule HERE. I would also encourage you to download and read these study notes on the book of Colossians.

MULTIPLYING. You are a mature follower of Jesus and you are multiplying to gospel into other peoples’ lives. You have weathered many storms, and you can’t help but share God’s goodness and faithfulness with those around you who don’t yet know Jesus. Here is a resource I would highly recommend: Steve Addison’s What Jesus Started. It will help you continue to live out God’s mission through your life for the world around you. It will help you take personal responsibility for the spiritual lostness of the people God has placed around you. When Jesus opens the door for you to share His story, here’s an effective way to present the gospel: 3 Circles.

Lastly, here are some recommended study resources for the book of Colossians:

Dr. Tom Constable’s Study Notes on Colossians

Warren Wiersbe’s Be Complete

“Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, and overflowing with gratitude” (Colossians 2:6-7).

Keep growing and going!

Northshore U: Who Needs Theology?

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Northshore U is a ministry of Northshore Community Church and is designed to help you deepen your understanding of God’s word and learn to follow Him more passionately. These classes dig deeper into the text and themes of the Bible as well as offer practical training in following Jesus.

This session, I am teaching an 8-week class called Who Needs Theology? Your theology—your thoughts on God—are your most important thoughts because they determine everything else in your life. If this is true, then we ought to dig deeper into what we believe and why we believe it. In this Northshore U class, we will explore how the Bible reveals who God is, who we are, and how He saves us to be the church for the world. If you want a fancy term for what we’ll explore, it will be a crash course in “systematic theology.”

We’ll cover the following topics:

1 – Who Needs Theology?

2 – The Bible (the nature of revelation, inspiration, inerrancy)

3 – The Trinity (God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit)

4 – People & Sin (The image of God, the nature of sin)

5 – Salvation & the Work of Jesus Christ (the doctrine of atonement)

6 – The Church (the people of God & our mission)

7 – Things to Come (end times, heaven, & hell)

8 – Putting It All Together (how to live a theologically shaped life)

As part of the class experience, we will read Know What You Believe by Paul E. Little.

The class begins Thursday, September 24 from 6:30-8 pm at Northshore. Children’s Ministry is provided for infants through 4th grade.

For more info on Northshore U or to register, go HERE.

God’s Good Design Resources

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As we continue in our series God’s Good Design, here are some resources that have deeply influenced my personal theology and pastoral ministry regarding relationships, marriage, family, and human sexuality.

Made for More: An Invitation to Live in God’s Image by Hannah Anderson – one of the reviews of Anderson’s book wrote, “Here is a book for women that has something to teach men. Made for More is wise and well-written, and I heartily commend it to everyone made in the image of God, male and female alike.”

The Meaning of Marriage by Tim & Kathy Keller – this is an incredible book on God’s design for marriage. The Keller’s intellect and practical application makes is one of the best books out there on why God created marriage and how we can become more like Jesus.

Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas – this has been a staple of my marriage library for years. You’ve likely heard me ask the question, “What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy?” That question is from this book. It’s one of the best books out there for viewing marriage as a laboratory for spiritual formation.

God, Marriage, & Family by Andreas J. Kosternberger – this is a scholarly yet accessible treatment of a theology of family and marriage. With topics ranging from marriage in the Old and New Testaments, divorce and remarriage, singleness, and the Bible’s treatment of homosexuality, Kosternberger’s book is a good reference resource if you want to dig deeper into what the Bible says directly about these topics.

What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality by Kevin DeYoung – If you were to buy one resource to go deeper into understanding the Bible’s position regarding human sexuality and homosexuality, this should be the book.DeYoung examines key biblical passages in both the Old and New Testaments and the Bible’s overarching teaching regarding sexuality. He also responds to popular objections raised by Christians and non-Christians alike.

Is God Anti-Gay? by Sam Allberry – thoughtfully written by a British pastor who has struggled with same-sex attraction. Allberry’s book is short and readable, and like DeYoung’s book mentioned above, he clearly and simply explains what the Bible has to say about marriage, sexuality, and same-sex attraction. You can also watch a talk that Sam gave at the Village Church on this topic and his book.

“The Bible & Same-Sex Relationships” by Tim Keller – a concise, thoughtful review of two current books by authors who believe the Bible allows or supports same-sex relationships and the six arguments these books and those like them make.

The Bible and Homosexual Practice by Robert Gagnon – viewed as the definitive biblical and theological work on the subject, Gagnon’s book provides the most thorough and in-depth analysis to date of the biblical texts regarding homosexuality.

Making Gay Okay: How Rationalizing Homosexual Behavior is Changing Everything by Robert Reilly – writing from a philosophical and socio-political viewpoint, Reilly explores the fundamental views of reality. His book focuses on the current battle between the primacy of reason (order and intrinsic design/purpose) vs. the primacy of the will (making everything what we wish it to be). Reilly’s conclusion about the homosexual debates is that it’s really about “the Nature of reality itself.”

Out of a Far Country by Christopher Yuan & Angela Yuan – a heartfelt story about a gay son’s journey to God and a broken mother’s search for hope. “God calls all who are lost to come home to him. Casting a compelling vision for holy sexuality, Out of a Far Country speaks to prodigals, parents of prodigals, and those wanting to minister to the gay community” (from the book’s back cover).

The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: An English Professor’s Journey into Christian Faith by Rosaria Champagne Butterfield – the author was a respected tenured english professor at Syracuse University who was living with her lesbian partner. “Then, in her late 30s, Rosaria encountered something that turned her world upside down-the idea that Christianity, a religion that she had regarded as problematic and sometimes downright damaging, might be right about who God was, an idea that flew in the face of the people and causes that she most loved. What follows is a story of what she describes as a ‘train wreck’ at the hand of the supernatural. These are her secret thoughts about those events, written as only a reflective English professor could” (description from Amazon). You can read also Christianity Today’s article about Butterfield entitled “My Train Wreck Conversion.”

My recommendation would be to purchase one or two of these resources and spend the next few weeks and months reading and exploring this topics presented further.

Mind the Gap

Jesus entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling, saying to them, “It is written, ‘And My house shall be a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a robbersden.” (Luke 19:45-46)

In this famous scene, after Jesus’ triumphal entry as the Coming King into Jerusalem, He cleanses the temple. In his commentary on the Gospel of Luke, Dr. Darrell Bock writes, “His cleansing of the temple indicates how great the gap is between the worship Jesus calls for and what goes on in the temple.”

There’s a gap between what God calls for and how His people are worshiping Him and living. As I read Bock’s words, I asked myself, “What are my gaps in worship?” If true worship is a lifestyle (Romans 12:1-2), what are the things in my life that reveal a gap between what I say I believe about God and how I actually live my life? So often we live like practical atheists, and God in His love and grace wants to help us close the gaps.

Luke includes this story in his Gospel to show how Jesus came to upset and then right everything, and that upsetting and righting includes my life and yours. So mind the gap and pray for His grace and wisdom to live the life that is truly life.

Generosity: FROM vs. FOR

For many of us, when we hear Christian leaders talk about financial giving, our minds go to an image like this—Jonas Nightengale, played by Steve Martin in the 1992 movie Leap of Faith. Martin’s character was a fraudulent faith healer who used his revival meetings to bilk people out of their money. Unfortunately, the caricature is sometimes all too true, based on real life Christian leaders who seem more interested in amassing personal wealth at the expense of their people rather than partnering with God to build His kingdom. Remember Jim Baker, the TV Evangelist and host of the “Praise the Lord Club”? In 1989, Bakker was convicted and imprisoned for a $150M accounting fraud. Scandals like that cause many of us to think that talk of financial giving is something that church leaders want FROM you. But it’s not. Generosity is something God wants FOR you. As we learn to excel in the grace of giving, what does God want for us?

To grasp the grace of Jesus. Our generosity is a response of gratitude to the generosity and grace of Jesus. As the Apostle Paul challenged the Corinthians to a life of generosity, he said this in 2 Corinthians 8:9 – “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.” Our generosity is a response to the grace of Jesus. When we give financially, we’re reminded of the grace given us through what Jesus did for us.

To protect us from greed. One of Jesus’ warnings about greed is found in Luke 16:33 – “No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” For some of us, when we hear the word greed, we think of some old man crouched behind a mahogany desk in a dimly lit room with gold coins running through his fingers (think Mr. Burns from The Simpsons). But that’s not the only way greed manifests itself. Tim Keller said this about greed in his book Counterfeit Gods, “For Jesus, greed is not only love of money, but excessive anxiety about it.” When we look to money for our security, it becomes our functional savior. Generosity God’s way of protecting our heart from greed. 

To connect our heart with others. Where your money goes, your heart follows (see Luke 12:34). As we give of the resources God has entrusted us, our heart connects more deeply with the recipients of that generosity. Here’s a beautiful story about a family at Northshore whose heart was connected more deeply with another family through a gift of generosity.

Giving and financial generosity is not about what church leaders want FROM you. It’s all about what God wants FOR you. So let’s step into the spiritual life Jesus offers us as we learn to excel in the grace and joy of giving.

Sabbath: Braking in the Corners

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This has been the summer of mountain biking for me. I’ve been riding as much as possible given all the incredible Pacific Northwest weather. One of the skills I’ve been working on this summer is how to efficiently ride through the corners on a mountain bike trail. If you watch the pro mountain bikers ride or you ride with someone who is really skilled, it’s amazing to watch how they corner. If you want to be able to maintain speed on a mountain bike trail, you have to know how to corner well. This is a lot like life. We fly through the week like it’s a fast-paced straight-away…work, school, sports, music or dance lessons, laundry, shuttling kids around. This happens week after week after week. And then there’s this little thing in between those fast-paced weeks called a “weekend.” A little corner between the two straight-aways of those busy weeks. God actually has something to say about how we “corner” between those weeks. It’s called Sabbath. Here are some ways for you to be intentional about the rhythms of Sabbath in your own life.

Deceleration. Just like a mountain biker has to anticipate the corner in order to decelerate properly, you also have anticipate finding Sabbath rest. In the Old Testament, the Jews would complete all of their work, even their Sabbath meal preparations, before sundown on Friday night. They had to plan. They had to prepare. If you’re going to experience the rhythm and rest of Sabbath, you’re going to have to do some planning and preparation. You’re going to have to be intentional about not being so busy. As parents, you might have to make some choices when it comes to your schedule and your kids’ schedule. You can’t go relentlessly through the week and then burn into the weekend with sports game after sports game year round. You’re going to have to be intentional about deceleration from the pace of life. If not, you’ll fly into the corner with too much speed, you overshoot it, go over the edge, and hurl headlong into a tree (and trust me… that doesn’t feel very good).

Exhilaration. You’ve chosen to decelerate. You’re into the corner. Now comes some of the exhilaration of cruising through the corner. On a mountain bike, cornering is not a passive experience. You focus on your body position. When you get it right, it’s exhilarating to let gravity swing you through. When we Sabbath, it’s exhilarating to let the gravity of God overwhelm you as you take time during Sabbath rest to remember the fullness and wholeness of God and His grace, love, and mercy as He’s given you this new life. In your Sabbath rest, maybe you spend time in God’s word, meditating on the sweetness of Scripture. Maybe you spend time marveling in God’s creation on a hike or in your garden. Maybe you spend time inviting some friends over to share a meal. Whatever you do, experience the exhilarating joy of who God is and what He’s done and continues to do for you.

Acceleration. On a mountain bike, when you’ve cornered well, you actually come out of the corner faster than when you went into the corner. The momentum and exhilaration of the corner accelerates you into the next straight-away. When we’re intentional about Sabbath, we can actually accelerate into the new week with Jesus. Here’s why this is important: your work matters to God. As you work, you’re partnering with God in caring for human beings and renewing this creation. Whether you’re a teacher, a stay-at-home parent, a banker, a nurse, or a garbage truck driver, your work matters to God. As you head into your work week (whatever days of the week those are), accelerate into it with Jesus, walking with Him and being reminded of what He’s done and how much He loves you.

How do you find Sabbath rest in the midst of a fast-paced life and busy week?