Mission:Own (part 4) Sermon Preview

In the summer of 1995 I lived in Russia as a part of a summer mission with Campus Crusade for Christ.  The “wall” had recently fallen, and I was one of many outsiders who took advantage of the newfound opportunity to visit the former Soviet Union to share the hope of Jesus Christ with people in need.

When I arrived, I realized that some parts of “my world” had gone before me behind the iron curtain.  I still remember sitting in a Russian dorm room, having a student play for me Ace of Base and Metallica songs on CDs.  I also remember going to the grocery store and seeing hot dogs that were made in Kansas City, Missouri!  Parts of American society had made it to Volgograd ahead of the Gospel.

But in addition to these legitimate items in the city, there were also several counterfeits.  T-shirts were for sale on the street for “Reeebok” (that is not my typo … there really was an extra “e” in the shirt).  There were also “Nike” shoes with wrong shaped swooshes, and CD’s with photocopied covers.  There were lots of counterfeits of actual western products.

My experience in Russia reminded me that in this fallen world, sometimes people take the good name/image/likeness of a well-respected person or product and then exploit it for their own gain.  This tendency is only amplified further in our current world of  virtual realities, artificial intelligence, and deep fakes.

In our knock-off world, how do we recognize the real thing?

Let me take that a step deeper.  As followers of Jesus Christ, are there purported pastors, missionaries, and “Christian” workers who are masquerading as ministers, but are really wolves in sheep’s clothing?  Sadly, the answer is yes.

So how do you tell the fakes from the real thing?  Well, in order to spot counterfeit bills, the treasury department knows exactly what the REAL THING looks like, smells like, and feels like.  By knowing what the real thing is, they are able to see the slight differences in the knock-offs.

As Christians, we need to know what the true heart of a Pastor looks like, so we can avoid the imposters.  Of course, our ultimate “Pastor” is Jesus Himself.  He is the prototype, and all true ministers are only undershepherds tending His flock.  But we have other examples as well … including the Apostle Paul, who famously said to the Corinthians, “Follow me as I follow Christ.”  Paul truly was the real deal, so by looking at his example as a minister and missionary, we can see what the true pastoral heart looks like – how the real deal behaves, and what the faithful fear.

This Sunday, we will look at Paul’s example of faithful ministry in 2 Corinthians 12:11-21 in part 4 of our “Mission:Own” sermon series.  Hope to see you there at Wildwood in our 8:30, 9:45, and 11:00 services … and bring friends.

Mission:Own (part 3) Sermon Preview

Have you ever had a lingering struggle?  Could be a person who is making your life a living hell, a temptation that continues to rear its ugly head, or a physical infirmity that aches on day after day?  If you have this experience, you are not alone.  Many (if not most or EVENTUALLY ALL) people have such a prickly issue in their lives.

  • If you have such a persistent difficulty, what do you call “it”?
  • If you have such an unending pain, how do you deal with it?
  • If you have such an aching heart, is there any hope?

Well, in 2 Corinthians 12:1-10, the Apostle Paul is talking about a persistent ache in his life … he calls it his “thorn in the flesh.”  But, do you know what else he calls it?  A gift.  WHAT?!!?!?  That’s right, He calls it a grace gift from God.

In what universe is chronic pain a gift?  Well, for those “in Christ” persistent pain is a fresh opportunity to to experience the power of God in our lives.

As Tony Evans would say of this passage, “When I have a really bad headache, I take extra strength pain reliever because it has the power to address my problem. In other words, my weakness drives me to a pill so that its power may be demonstrated in my life. If not for the weaknesses that God allows us to endure, we would lack opportunities to seek His sufficient grace and experience His perfect power.”

What satan intends for evil, God can use for good in the lives of those who know Him and are called according to His purposes (Romans 8:28).  How does that happen?  We will look at that this Sunday in part 3 of our “Mission:Own” sermon series at Wildwood Community Church.  Before taking the Lord’s supper in our 8:30, 9:45, and 11:00 services, we will see how our steady struggles can drive us to dependence upon the Lord, and allow us to experience the power of God in our lives.  He is sufficient for us in the midst of all our struggles.

Join us Sunday in our study … and bring friends!

Mission:Own (part 2) Sermon Preview

You may have heard it said that Christianity is not a religion, but a relationship.  I am not sure who first put that phrase together, but I have heard it most of my adult life.

This statement sure is catchy … but is it true?  I mean, it seems like Christianity is a religion … after all it has doctrines, and places of worship, and organized leadership structures, and philosophies of living, and thoughts about God and creation and morality.  Religions all have these things.    

So in what possible way is Christianity (at least MORE of) a RELATIONSHIP than a RELIGION?

Well, it is found not in ecclesiastical structures and style … but in who Christians insist that God is.  As a Christian I 10000% believe that God is knowable, relatable, accessible, and THAT HE LOVES US.  I really believe that is true.  So do hundreds of millions of Christians who are on the planet today.

When we say that Christianity is a relationship, we are saying that we can ACTUALLY KNOW GOD, because God has graciously made Himself available to us.  Tim Keller once said that in order for the Gospel to be good news, then the God behind the Gospel must be both both all knowing and all loving.  If God were all knowing and not all loving, then God would see our sin and not intervene in any way for His people.  If God were all loving, but not all knowing, then we would live in fear that one day He would find out what we have done and He would reject us.  But the fact that God is all knowing AND all loving, means that we (who have trusted in Christ for the forgiveness of our sins) can be both known AND loved.

So when we say that Christianity is a relationship and not a religion, we are actually saying something even better than that.  We are saying that the relationship that we ALL LONG FOR (to be both fully known and fully loved) is accessible for us ETERNALLY through our God who has graciously made this possible in Christ.

Now, the situation gets even better … we know that God is like this and that He wants a relationship with us BECAUSE Jesus came to this earth!  Jesus is God in the flesh, and so when He walked the earth, eyewitnesses saw Him, interacted with Him, and recorded in the New Testament what they learned.  This allows us to look at Jesus today and say with confidence “THIS IS WHAT GOD IS LIKE.”  When a woman at a Samaritan well interacts with Jesus in John 4, Jesus reveals to her His omniscience by commenting on her troubled history, even though He was from out of town.  Then, Jesus reveals to her His love by offering her “living water” that would quench her thirst forever and ever.  The One who fully knew her, fully loved her.  The same relationship with God is also available for us!

Like any relationship, our relationship with God in Christ grows as we spend time with Him and communicate with Him.  As Christians, we believe that the Holy Bible is God’s Word.  So when we read it, we are listening to the Lord.  As Christians, we also believe that God welcomes our prayers (after all it was Jesus Himself who taught us to pray … Lord’s prayer anyone?).  So when we pray, we are talking to God and He listens!  As Christians we believe that Jesus is still at work in this world through His Spirit empowered church, so when we gather with other Christians and serve others in His name and obey His teachings, we are walking a path WITH HIM.

Christianity is a RELATIONSHIP with the LIVING GOD.

As a Pastor, my greatest joy and chief job is to introduce people to Jesus Christ and encourage them toward growth in their relationship with Him.  This job is not just unique to me … it is also the job of every true pastor going all the way back to the first century.  The Apostle Paul had this same Pastoral heart for his churches, including the church in Corinth.  Apparently, though, there were some who (under the banner of the religion “Christianity”) came in and tried to promote a different version of Jesus, and lead the people astray.  Paul wasn’t having any of it.  He speaks out strongly against these opponents in 2 Corinthians 11:1-33.  Paul had introduced the Corinthians to the real Jesus … like a matchmaker of sorts … and he was not going to sit idly by while they flirted with another philosophy or mythology or religion.

Jesus, the real Jesus, is jealous for the hearts of His people.  He does not want to share us with worldly philosophies and made up religions.  Why?  To steal our fun?  Absolutely not!  He is jealous for us because the One who fully knows us and fully loves us knows the life that is best for us.  The life we were created for.  We are most satisfied in Him.

This Sunday at Wildwood Community Church, we will explore this beautiful chapter in Scripture together in part 2 of our “Mission:Own” sermon series.  We will be reminded of the relationship we have with Christ, and then will have a clarification of what leaders in Christ’s relational network (i.e. the church) look like.  See you Sunday at 8:30, 9:45, and 11:00 … and bring friends!

Mission:Own (part 1) Sermon Preview

When I was in high school, I played for a basketball team that had not one, but TWO sets of twins!  Out of the 10 or 11 guys who played the most when I was a senior, four of them came from two families.  I am not sure what the criteria is for identical twins, but I can say that both sets of twins looked very similar.  How similar?  Well, if you didn’t know them well, you might mistake one for the other.

As someone on the team who saw all four of them daily, it was easy for me to tell them apart.  Their mannerisms, vocal tone, slight differences in their appearance, and how they moved athletically had enough minor differences that those who knew them well could identify them.

That said, this fall I will most likely see all four men as our high school team is being inducted into the Bartlesville Sports Hall of Fame.  It will have been nearly 30 years since I have seen a couple of these guys, and at least a decade since I have seen any of them.  I can tell you … I am a bit nervous to do so.  Why?  Though I could easily tell them apart in 1992, I might not recognize the differences 31 years later!

I tell you this because when I look at 2 Corinthians 10:1-18 I see the Apostle Paul talking about differences between himself and others who were opposing his ministry in Corinth.  At quick glance, they both looked similar (i.e. both claimed the name of Christ … both wore the jersey of “church leader,” etc.).  These (not so identical) twins might have been confused by those who did not know them well, or those who had not spent much time with their Savior Jesus Christ recently.  Given the confusion, Paul writes to correctly identify the true apostle from the fake imposter.

This is important for us to consider as well.  We live in a day and age when many people wear the jersey of Christianity … yet their voices don’t always sing harmony.  How do we separate the wheat from the chaff when it comes to Christian leaders?  Well, Paul provides some great insight for us, and we will look at it this Sunday at Wildwood Community Church in our 8:30, 9:45, and 11:00 worship services. 

The next 6 weeks we will be in one final series from the book of 2 Corinthians … a series titled “Mission:Own.”  In 2 Corinthians 10-13, Paul gets very personally about how he is owning his role on mission with Christ.  By looking at his example, we might also see how we might step into “owning” our role in Christ’s mission as well.  Hope to see you Sunday as we are in part 1 of this series.  See you there … and bring friends!

Following Jesus: For the Community and Nations (Sermon Preview)

Healthy things grow. If conditions are right, and nothing is impeding development, life progresses.

Babies begin as a tiny fertilized egg that grows to 8 pounds at birth, then continues to progress as he or she ages. Humans do not just grow physically, though, we grow intellectually … throughout life we grow in understanding. We also grow relationally and emotionally as the web of friendships, family, and colleagues throughout life continue to build on one another. A healthy person will develop in each of these areas throughout their lives until they begin to die. Our bodies begin to deteriorate in our 40’s (reading glasses anyone)? Our intellect may slow as we age (now why did I come into the kitchen?) And our relationships may fade even before physical death (one of the sad realities of diseases like Alzheimer’s is the relational separation they create from people they knew well in the earlier days of their lives). But until death begins to creep in, life continues to develop.

This is also true of our spiritual lives. A healthy spiritual person grows. They grow in their understanding of who God is … so they trust Him more and more. They grow in their expressions of love to others … loving others as Jesus has loved them. This is also true in a church. A healthy church should be growing in our devotion to Christ … but also in our numbers. Jesus intends for the church to grow numerically. After all, “He desires none to perish but all to come to repentance (1 Timothy 2:3-7).”

What is amazing is that spiritual growth is connected not to THIS LIFE which is finite and will one day die … but it is actually connected to ETERNAL LIFE, which (by definition) never stops. The Christian will grow forever in our relationship with the Lord and celebration of His expanding Kingdom reign.

Last week at Wildwood we talked about one aspect of this growth … the growth of the church family as we submit to the Lord vertically and serve one another horizontally. This week, we will look at how a healthy church grows numerically, by serving as witnesses of Jesus in our town and around the world. We will talk about how at Wildwood we are For the Community and the Nations following Jesus together with us to the glory of God as we look at Acts 1:8. Hope you can make it … and bring friends!

NOTE: As you know, Wildwood has 3 Sunday services – 8:30, 9:45, and 11:00. If you were at Wildwood last Sunday and found it difficult to find a seat or a parking space, I would encourage you to come earlier in the day. While the 11:00 service was packed, good seats were available at the 9:45 and lots of seats and parking were available at 8:30. Come when you can, but just wanted you to know what last Sunday looked like across the morning as you consider which service to attend going forward.

Following Jesus Together: For the Church (sermon preview)

Ekklesia.  This is the Greek word translated “church” in Matthew 16:18 … and the word appears 114 other times in the New Testament.  Jesus said He would build “His church.”  Jesus wrote letters to 7 churches in Revelation 2-3.  Paul planted churches in most signifiant cities within the Roman Empire.  Today, buildings all over town are called “churches.”  The word is common … but what did Jesus mean when He talked about “church”?  What was Paul planting?  If we are members of a church, what are we a part of?  If we are considering finding a church, what are we looking for?

The word “church” literally means a congregation of people gathered around a purpose.  Or (to say it another way) a group of people called out from the flow for a particular cause.  When Jesus created His church and committed to build it, He was saying that there would be a group of people who would be called out from the world, UNITED AROUND HIM, and engaging in His mission. As John Stott says, “[the purpose of God] is not just to save isolated individuals and so perpetuate our loneliness, but rather to build His church, that is, to call out of the world a people for His own glory.”

Sadly, we tend to place the church in one of two categories:  either we see the church as purely vertical (i.e. we are only relating to God), or purely horizontal (i.e. we are only concerned with making friends.)  When we are only horizontal, the church is merely a cure for our loneliness.  When we are only vertical, we can be duped into thinking that I don’t need any other people in my life to live as God intended.  Both of these extremes are incomplete understandings of the Christian life, and the importance of “church”

The church IS a place designed for personal worship and inspiration for personal piety … but it is also a place of interconnected relationships and service to others.  We are set apart for Christ … but we are set apart TOGETHER for Christ.

At Wildwood, we talk about following Jesus together to the glory of God.  As we do so, we see four opportunities for influence … we call them the “4 Fours.”  We are for the nations, for the community, for the next generation, and for the church.  This Sunday at Wildwood in our 8:30, 9:45, and 11:00 service we will talk about what it means to be “for the church” and how to live as though the Body of Christ MATTERS in our spiritual lives.  We will do so by looking at Romans 12:1-5.  Around these verses, we will sing, pray, celebrate the Lord’s supper, and encourage one another as we gather together.  Hope you can make it this weekend as we talk more about what it means that we are “FOR THE CHURCH.”  See you Sunday … and bring friends!

Following Jesus Together: For the Next Generation (Preview)

America has a remarkable history (even though we are quite “young” by historical standards), and a bright future (though we may debate the shades of that brilliance – the potential is certainly there!)  So how does the story of our great country get communicated from one generation to the next?

When our founding fathers conceived this nation, they had no capital city and no universal holidays to celebrate.  Think about it.  There was a group of people who had to decide which days we would revere and which events (and people) we would celebrate.

At the founding of Washington DC as our nation’s capital, a French architect, Pierre L’Enfant, designed a “national mall” in the center of our capital.  Later editions of the U.S. Congress came to recognize this public land as a “national trophy case” of sorts, where the most significant people and events could be commemorated.  Over the years monuments have been erected for Presidents (like Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson, and FDR), defining wars (WWII, Vietnam, Korea), and other prominent leaders.

Additionally, in 1870 the first four national holidays were established by the Federal government: Thanksgiving, Christmas, Independence Day, and New Year’s Day.

A stroll down the National Mall or National calendar tells a story of our history and what we value most.

In the summer of 2022 my family went to Washington DC and saw these monuments for ourselves.  They were very helpful to remind me and create conversations with my son about the history of our country.

I was thinking about this today as I read Joshua 4:19-24.  In this chapter, the Hebrew people had just moved into the promised land.  A new nation had begun.  How would they remember their history … and what/who needed to be celebrated?  Rather than allowing the nation to “wander in the wilderness” on this issue, God revealed to them one important thing for them to remember … and a set of stones are erected in these verses as a conversation piece for future generations.

What are you passing along to the next generation, and how are you sharing and remembering these truths?  What are the “monuments” you have erected in your life as conversation pieces with your children and friends about what matters most?  What we celebrate and commemorate will leave an important imprint on the next generation.  Will we pass along only hot dogs and fairy tales about the North Pole … or will we share reminders about Almighty God who reigns on high?

At Wildwood we talk a lot about being “For the Next Generation” following Jesus together with us to the glory of God.  This is one of our key strategic emphases.  This Sunday, on Promotion Sunday at Wildwood, we will look at the importance of sharing the story of God’s faithfulness with the next generation through what we remember and celebrate … and Joshua 4 will be our guide!  Hope to see you Sunday at Wildwood in our 8:30, 9:45, and 11:00 worship services.  See you there, and bring friends!

August 6, 2023 Baptism Sunday Preview

Sunday, August 6, 2023 is a Baptism Sunday at Wildwood Community Church!  These Sundays are great celebrations of God’s work in the lives of people in our congregation.  We will spend the morning worshipping God, hearing testimonies of how He has worked, and celebrating the water baptism of 24 people!  Make plans to join us this Sunday in our 8:30, 9:45, or 11:00 service.  See the graphic below for who is being baptized in which service.

NOTE: Our tradition on Baptism Sundays is to create maximum opportunities to all gather for the baptism services, so we do not offer any adult, college, student, or elementary classes on these days … only our early childhood (birth – pre-K) is operating during the 9:45 and 11:00 services.  All others will gather with us for worship in the Worship Center at 8:30, 9:45, or 11:00. 

Mission:Fund (part 4) Sermon Preview

In finances, there are at least a couple of basic things we can do with money.  We can spend it or we can invest it.  When we spend money, we are exchanging dollars today for some kind of experience or provision (either a want or a need).  For instance, when we spend money on groceries, we are exchanging paper money today (never to see it again) for something we need to survive (food/nutrition).  When we invest money, though, we are placing dollars today in a money generating vehicle (like a stock or CD) in order for it to multiply into more resources down the road.  With an expense, the money is gone (never to be seen again).  With an investment, the money is gone with a hope that it comes back (with many friends) tomorrow!

For the past month at Wildwood, we have been talking about giving in our “Mission:Fund” series (looking at 2 Corinthians 8-9).  As we prepare to wrap this series up on Sunday, I want to ask you a question:  Do you think GIVING is an EXPENSE or an INVESTMENT?  In other words, do you see giving money to a church as something that is gone (never to be seen again), or an investment (that will multiply into something greater)?  And if it IS an investment, how might we expect the dividends to be paid?

How you answer these questions is actually really important … and will shape how you approach handling the finances the Lord has entrusted to you.

This Sunday, July 30, in our 8:30, 9:45, and 11:00 worship services, we will look at two final perspectives on giving that will show (God willing) what an investment generosity is … and how it can be used to bring glory to God.  Looking forward to seeing you as we study 2 Corinthians 9:6-15 in Part 4 of this series … and bring friends!

Mission:Fund (part 3) Sermon Preview

It can be a challenging thing for a pastor to talk about money.  After all, some ministers are well known for their “FLEECING” instead of “FEEDING” their flock.  Extravagant lifestyles of certain TV preachers, and questionable accounting in certain congregations have left a bad taste in many mouths.  So, as a Pastor, I want to approach the topic of finances with care.

If you started coming to Wildwood sometime in 2023, you might think that this is a topic I talk about often … after all, I led a 5 week Wednesday night study on money in January/February, I preached a 3 week series entitled “In God We Trust: 3 Thoughts on God and Money” in March, and now am in a 4 week series of sermons entitled “Mission:Fund” as we look at 2 Corinthians 8-9.  The truth is, though, that this year is somewhat atypical for me.  So much so that I have had fellow Elders and church leaders ask me why I haven’t preached more about this topic! Some of you who have been around longer than 2023 may even share this sentiment.

That said, I do think it is important that we talk about money.  After all, it was Jesus Himself who said, “where your treasure is your heart will be also.”  Also, there is no way to preach through the Word of God without talking about this subject … and one of the chief sections of God’s Word where financial giving is mentioned is 2 Corinthians 8-9.  Since we are studying 2 Corinthians this year, we get to dive into this treasure chest of information about giving.

So far, we have seen that Christian giving is sacrificial (8:1-7), and Christian giving models after Jesus Himself, and turns our desire to give into actions (8:8-15).  This Sunday, we will be in week 3 of this series as we look at the need for accountability in handling finances in the church.  Apparently taking extra care when dealing with finances is not new to the modern church … the Apostle Paul dealt with similar levels of challenge in the first century!  To this end, Paul says in 8:21, “for we aim at what is honorable not only in the Lord’s sight, but also in the sight of man.”  In other words, Paul was saying, “the Lord knows I am honest with the offerings collected, but I want you to know it too!”

This Sunday at Wildwood Community Church in our 8:30, 9:45, and 11:00 services, we will talk about the importance of integrity in handling finances at the congregational level, plus more encouragement for all of us to live (and give) generously.  See you Sunday as we look at 2 Corinthians 8:16-9:5 … and bring friends!


P.S.  Vote for our Mission:Fund projects between now the end of the month at this link!  Vote each week between now and August 1.