A note from home . . .

On occasion, when I travel, Kimberly (my wife) will often tuck a note somewhere in my suitcase.  When I arrive at my destination and begin to unpack my things, I find this greeting from someone back home who loves me. 

After spending a week hiking 5 National Parks in America’s west with my family (and driving over 3,000 miles in the process), I sat down last night for my daily Bible reading in my One Year Chronological Bible (an organized Bible reading plan that walks through the biblical texts in the order in which the events happened.)  I have been reading this Bible all year, and the reading plan is not personalized in any way . . . in other words, the reading for July 8 is the reading for July 8 for everyone who uses this plan all over the world ever since this reading plan was put together decades ago.  Additionally, the text of the Scripture I read has not changed for the 2,700 years it has been in existence.  That said, as I read the Scripture last night, in the midst of a trip far from home, I could not help but see the Scripture as a precious note, tucked inside my bag, from my Heavenly Father back Home who loves me.

The Scripture reading included Psalm 104.  I have read this Psalm many times before, but last night, its text really spoke to me powerfully.  The Psalm begins with a general call for my soul to “bless the Lord.”  God is the one who receives praise and adoration in this Psalm, and the particular reason we are to bless the Lord in this Psalm is because of God’s work in creation.  The Psalm unfolds following the rough path of the creation order in Genesis 1, stopping along the way to praise God for His greatness declared through what He has made.

The Psalm begins in the sky (verses 1-4).  The vastness and beauty of the heavens, with the lights of the sun, moon, and stars, and the beautiful arrangement of the clouds causes the Psalmist to imagine these things like the clothing of the King, revealing His splendor.  I was reminded of the stars I saw in the night sky in the desert last week, and the colors of the sunset  over the mountains . . . these things were not just “beautiful” – they pointed to the God of beauty.

Next the Psalmist focuses attention on the land (verses 5-9).  Across the American west, we saw numerous mountains and valleys.  This topography was formed by the movement of glaciers and the receding of ancient waters.  This story was told by the many placards and visitors centers at each National Park.  However, the Psalm reminds me that regardless of HOW the valleys and mountains were formed, it was GOD who ultimately formed them — the glaciers and ancient seas were but the pencil in the Hand of our loving Creator.

Once the sky and the earth are examined, the Psalm now turns to what happens upon the earth (verses 10-18).  The entire circle of life is described here, how the Lord has created unique environments for each living creature and provides the water and food necessary for their survival.  The intricate balance of this world is seen by the Psalmist 2,700 years ago, but felt by me still today as I saw how certain trees grow in specific environments, and how different animals thrive in different environments as a part of the scripted dance of life.  These things did not just accidentally happen — they were planned and prepared by God. 

Even our clock and calendar have meaning (verses 19-23).  God created the night and the daytime, and appointed a meaning for both.  We sleep, but creation does not.  As we go to sleep at night, the wilderness comes alive.  God never sleeps and His creation always brings forth praise!

The conclusion that the Psalmist comes to is that the entire world is dependent upon God for all things (verses 24-30).  If He had not designed it the way He did . . . if He did not continue to hold it together the way He does . . . it would not exist.  Therefore, it is RIGHT for us to PRAISE HIM as we look upon creation (verses 31-35).  Let us not miss the opportunity to exegete the heights of Half Dome, and parse the meaning of the high desert, and illuminate the glory of the sunset.  Through them all may we “sing to the Lord as long as we live; may we sing praises to our God while we have our being (104:33).”

One more thing from this Psalm (and from creation), however, that cannot be missed.  God created this amazing place FOR US. To sustain our life.  On this trip, my wife and I have been reading Lee Strobel’s excellent new book “The Case for Miracles.”  In it, my friend Mike Strauss  (a renowned Physicist) is interviewed by Strobel concerning the miracle of creation.  Mike’s conclusion from the scientific evidence is that the universe is precisely designed to sustain human life on planet earth.  The universe appears vast and large and old to us, but is actually the minimum size and age to allow for you and I to exist.  The elements of the world that we call natural (hydrogen, oxygen, carbon, etc.) only exist if the universe is tuned precisely the way it is.  Any variation and life ceases to be a possibility.  Given this info, I look again at the Psalm to see how the earth is set up for human life:

  • The sky is like a “tent”, set over the world by God (vs. 2).  The Lord setup this earth as a campsite for you and me.  Not our forever home, but a vantage point from which to learn about Him and “bless Him.”
  • The oceans in their boundaries and the dry land raising up to form continents creates a habitat suitable for us (vs. 9).  
  • Plants and livestock provide a variety of food, and rain provides water so that human life is sustained (vs. 13-15).   Not only that, but God created a variety of foods and gathered the waters in a variety of beautiful ways (streams, rivers, lakes, oceans, and waterfalls) because He loves us, and pursues us, and invites us into a relationship with Him.  He could have made all things grey and made all food bland, and made water only flowing from magic springs.  OR He could have made life not needing any of those things in some way . . . but in His grace, He makes the world so diverse so that we might enjoy it . . . and Him in the process who created it.
  • Also, many predators that could pose threats to humanity typically hunt at night, while humans often work during the day (vs. 21-23).  The circle of life is tuned in such a way that mankind has multiplied into the billions and spread out over the face of the earth.
  • God created this world, and it was good.  But good for what?  It was good to sustain life as we know it.  It was good to create an environment where people created in the image of God could get to know God . . . and worship Him. 

So, last night, as I opened my suitcase and pulled out my Bible, I saw a note from Home, reminding me of the One there who loves me . . . and you.  And I just wanted to respond and Bless His name.  I invite you to do the same.

Like (part 4) Sermon Audio

On Sunday, July 1, 2018 at Wildwood Community Church, I preached a sermon based on Matthew 13:31-33, 44-46.  This message was part 4 in the “Like” sermon series.  Below you will find the audio related to this message to listen to or share.

 

To listen offline, click the link below to download:

Like #4 07.01.18

 

To listen online, use the media player below:

 

Like (part 4) Sermon Questions

On Sunday, July 1, 2018 a Wildwood Community Church, I preached a sermon based on Matthew 13:31-33, 44-46.  This message was part 4 of the “Like” sermon series.  Below are a series of questions related to the message for personal reflection or group discussion.

 

Sermon Questions:

  1. Pray
  2. Read Matthew 13:31-33, 44-46
  3. What kinds of things in the world today cause you to doubt that Jesus is REALLY the King of Kings and Lord of Lords?
  4. The Kingdom grows from small to big and from invisible to visible.  How does this encourage you in the midst of a challenging world?
  5. Think of your own spiritual story.  Has your journey to Christ been more like a “treasure you stumbled upon” or a “pearl you searched out?”
  6. In what ways is it WORTH IT to follow Jesus, regardless the cost?  Write out a list of as many ways as you can think.
  7. What is one particular application you took away from this message?

To access these questions in pdf format, click here.

Like (part 4) Preview

In every stage of life, we learn to save for something we cannot see.  When we are kids, it might be saving for a new toy or a summer camp.  When we are students, the piggy bank points to that first car.  As adults, there is that moment when we start contributing to an IRA. 

At each stage, a similar process happened:

  1. Someone promised you something you wanted or needed that you did not already possess:  that BIG Lego set, the used pickup, or the ability to one day move to “Del Boca Vista.”  A compelling vision was painted of a future reality that was worth your sacrifice today for your satisfaction tomorrow.
  2. Someone showed you it was real.  Saving money for a fantasy is not very compelling.  If I put $5 a month away to be able to buy my mom and dad tickets to my first NBA game, I would be wasting an opportunity.  The sentiment is nice, but I have no chance of REALLY needing that money to buy a ticket to a game I would play in.  Someone had to show you that the promise would become a reality one day in order to keep your commitment high.  Someone had to do the math, show the projections, or let you see the price tag of the item you desired and show you it was within reach.
  3. You had to stay convinced that it was worth it.  Since the item you want was not visible and was not immediate, and because you had other competing agendas vying for your attention, you had to stay focused on how the goal was totally worth it.  Sometimes it was a fear of what failing to save would mean (walking to the prom, homeless in our old age).  Other times, it was the excitement of the promise that kept you going (a vision of leaving a financial legacy to a future generation, seeing your friend’s smile as they drove their friends to Sonic for the first time). 

If you saw a vision of something that you wanted/needed, knew it was REALLY POSSIBLE, and was ABSOLUTELY WORTH IT, you would persevere to see that dream into your future.

Now, I say this today, because as I look at 4 parables in Matthew 13, I see Jesus talking about a future reality that we want and need — to be a part of eternal life in Christ’s Kingdom.  However, in this present age, we cannot see the full effect of this Kingdom, so we are tempted to wonder if it is REALLY going to happen, and (even if it is) is it REALLY WORTH IT?  Jesus tells the parables of the mustard seed, leaven, treasure, and pearl to tell us that what we cannot see is worth giving everything for.  Instead of asking us to save for the future, He wants to SAVE US into the future . . . will you trust Him?

Sunday at Wildwood in our 9:45 and 11:00 services we will be “ALL IN” to see these parables as we conclude our “Like” series together.  Hope to see you there!

Have you been baptized since trusting Jesus?

Kimberly and I on the night of our baptisms in 1998

3 events, separated by 25 years, tell the story of my spiritual journey when I came to be a Christ follower. 

The first event was when I was baptized as an infant.  I was born to two amazing parents who wanted to raise me in a Christian home.  They brought me to church each Sunday growing up.  I do not remember a time when church was not a part of my life.  This is such a huge blessing.  When I was just a few months old, my parents had me baptized at the church we attended. 

The second event was when I placed my faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of my sins.  This was a major turning point in my life.  I had attended many church events, memorized many verses, knew the words to many hymns, and even had been confirmed as a church member . . . but I did not know what it all meant.  Jesus was a historical figure . . . Christianity was a subject.  It was not until Easter Sunday 1990 that the Spirit of God convicted me of my sin and I turned to Jesus as my rescuer from sin and judgment.  I have been following Him ever since.

The third event came when I was baptized upon profession of faith in 1998.  At the time I was an Associate Pastor at a church in Coppell, Texas.  I decided to be baptized at that time because as I studied Scripture, I saw a pattern emerge: people believed in Jesus, then they were immersed in water baptism.  This was the pattern of the early church, and it was consistent with the teaching of Jesus.  The Scriptures were clear (in my mind) about the pattern of baptism, but in order to be baptized I had to clear a few hurdles:

  1. I needed to talk to my parents.  I was so thankful for the legacy of following Jesus that they had passed on to me.  I did not desire to reject that heritage by being “re”baptized.  However, my desire to follow the clear teaching of Jesus trumped my risk of offending my family, so I decided to be baptized.  I called my parents to tell them about my decision.  I also wanted to tell them THANK YOU for the spiritual investment they made in my life.  They were so gracious and celebrated this decision with me.
  2. I needed to talk to my Pastor.  As I mentioned, I was already serving as an Associate Pastor at a church.  I was afraid that my Pastor might react negatively to the notion that one of his staff wanted to be baptized!  I met with him and told him what God had been teaching me.  He graciously celebrated this decision with me and together we planned to baptize me at a friend’s swimming pool during a youth group meeting that next Wednesday night — a youth group meeting I was LEADING!  I also had the privilege of baptizing my wife (who had come to a similar conviction) right after I was baptized by Pastor Wayne.    What a night!
  3. I needed to talk to Jesus.  No one’s salvation depends on the act of being immersed in water.  Salvation is by grace through faith, and not as a result of works (including water baptism!)  However, the New Testament is really unfamiliar with the idea that an adult could be a Christ follower and yet intentionally choose to NOT be baptized with water.  If I were to reject His command of baptism, I would be saying “no” to the One who bled and died for my sins.  In prayer, I expressed my decision to be baptized as an outward expression of my inward faith.  I declared to Jesus that I was not baptized in order to BE SAVED, but as an expression of the salvation that was already given.

Friends, I write this note today to encourage everyone who reads this to consider water baptism.  In our culture, sometimes we think baptisms are for children or students (since many of those baptized are younger in age.)  However, the New Testament does not put an age parameter around baptism.  People of ANY age are baptized . . . after they have professed faith in Christ. 

Like me, you may be a college student or adult who has not been baptized since trusting Christ.  Like me, you may have avoided baptism because of the 3 conversations I mentioned above.  You may fear talking to your parents about a christening that happened in your early years.  You may fear talking to me, because you don’t want to appear as someone who does not “have it all together.”  You may have never considered that NOT being baptized was actually saying “no” to Jesus’ command.  Whatever your story, I want to encourage you today with a few thoughts:

  1. Take this opportunity to thank your parents or grandparents for the investment they made in your life.  Being baptized since trusting in Christ is not an affront to your family, it is a public declaration of who you are following today.
  2. Talk to me (or one of our other Pastors/staff) about this.  We will absolutely THROW A PARTY!  We love celebrating any step of faith God is leading you towards — including water baptism!
  3. Take this opportunity to talk to Jesus about it.  Baptism does not save you, but it is a step of faith in following Him!

To help facilitate all of these things, we have a web form found at wildwoodchurch.org/baptism .  Fill that out and we will get back in touch with you ASAP.  We even have some classes about the biblical teaching of baptism that we offer on Sunday July 8 (for children and students) and in personal conversations with adults who are interested.  We look forward to hearing form you in preparation for our next baptism service at Wildwood Community Church on August 5.  Hope to hear from you before then!

Like (part 3) Sermon Audio

On Sunday, June 24, 2018 at Wildwood Community Church, I preached a sermon based on Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43, 47-50.  This message was part 3 in the “Like” sermon series.  The audio from the sermon is available below to listen to online or download.

 

To download the audio, click on the link:

Like #3 06.24.18

 

To listen online, use the media player below:

 

Like (part 3) Sermon Questions

On Sunday, June 24, 2018 at Wildwood Community Church, I preached a sermon based on Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43, and 47-50.  This message was part 3 of the “Like” sermon series.  Below you will find questions related to this sermon for personal reflection or group discussion.

Sermon Questions:

  1. Pray
  2. Read Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
  3. Do you believe that God’s judgment is REALLY coming to the earth?  If someone were to take an audit of your time and what you really care about, would it reveal the reality of God’s judgment as a priority?
  4. What are some of the reminders you see in the world today that “wheat and weeds” are growing in the same field?  How does this passage encourage you/effect you about this reality?
  5. Knowing that judgment is coming, have you trusted Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins?  If not, PLEASE DO before it is too late and the harvest comes.
  6. Who is God prompting you to reach out to and share the Gospel in light of the coming judgment?
  7. What is one particular application you took away from this message?

To access these questions in pdf format, click here.

Like (part 3) Sermon Preview

Think back to the last time you flew on an airplane.  After boarding the plane, finding your seat, and buckling your seat belt, a stewardess came over the loud speaker and began talking about the emergency procedures should your plane have a problem while mid-flight.  Have you ever noticed how few people pay attention to these instructions?  While potentially life-saving information is shared, people are reading that terrible “in flight” magazine, listening to a song they have heard 1,000 times through their ear buds, or talking to the person they just met in the seat beside them (and who they will most likely never see again after the flight is over). 

Why do people check-out while the safety speech is happening?  While I can’t speak for everyone, I do have a theory.  People fail to listen because they assume the plane will not crash.  If they half of all flights crashed, you better believe people would be paying closer attention to their stewardess!  Even if they had flown 1,000 times, they still would have high incentive to listen to the speech to make sure nothing had changed. 

Now, I want to draw a parallel between the “safety speech” on an airplane, and our spiritual lives.  Throughout Scripture, the “Gospel speech” is shared (“In the event that judgment comes, Jesus is the only life saving option!”)  We have heard it a number of times, but do we listen to it?  Do we apply its message?  Why not?  Well, one reason we ignore the Gospel’s message is because we assume judgment is not coming.  We assume this because we have not seen anyone struck by lightning when the moment they sinned!  Because of our experience, we are tempted to think that judgment for our sins is not likely, so we tune out when the message that will lead to our Eternal Safety is shared.

Brothers and sisters, this should NOT be the case!  Our “plane” is guaranteed to crash.  100% of us will one day have to stand before the Lord in judgment, so we would do well to heed the message of the Gospel today while there is still time. 

This Sunday at Wildwood, we will look at the certainty of coming judgment as we study Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43, 47-50.  In these verses Jesus tells two parables to remind us of the crash that is in front of us all . . . while there is still time.  Join us for part 3 of the “Like” sermon series in our 9:45 and 11:00 worship services.

Like (part 2) Sermon Audio

On Sunday, June 17, 2018 at Wildwood Community Church, I preached a sermon based on Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23.  This message was part 2 of the “Like” series and focused on the Parable of the Sower.  Below you will find the audio from the sermon to listen to or share.

 

To listen to the audio offline, click the link to download:

Like #2 06.17.18

 

To listen online, use the media player below:

 

 

Like (part 2) Sermon Questions

On Sunday, June 17, 2018 at Wildwood Community Church, I preached a sermon based on Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23.  This message was part 2 in the “Like” sermon series.  Below you will find a set of questions related to this message for personal reflection or group discussion.

 

Sermon Questions:

  1. Pray
  2. Read Matthew 13:1-9. 18-23
  3. Look at Galatians 5:22-24.  What does a “fruitful” life look like according to those verses?  Does your life have as much of this “fruit” as you would like?
  4. In the Parable of the Sower, Jesus talks about 4 different types of “soil” representing different people.  Think for a moment about about your life right now.  Which soil do you think best represents your life concerning your response to God’s truth?
  5. Which of the 3 “enemies” spoken of in today’s message (Evil One, World, and Flesh) do you struggle with the most typically?  Which one is most trying to steal Christ’s fruitfulness in your life right now?
  6. What are some of the characteristics of a heart that is “soft” (i.e. the Good Soil)?
  7. What is one particular application you took away from this message?

To access these questions in pdf format, click here.