8AM Service …

Dear Friends,

None of us could have foreseen the events of 2020 11 months ago.  In December 2019, I sat in staff and elder meetings and prayed and dreamed about the year we were beginning.  We had big dreams and were developing exciting plans (at least from our vantage point) … but as the year unfolded, the Lord guided us into different waters.

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted all of us in different ways: personally, professionally, recreationally, and even ecclesiastically (related to the church).  For some of you who have lost loved ones to the virus, this year has brought great sorrow.  For others, you have seen your businesses torn asunder by lockdowns and closures.  Compared to your hardships, the things we have endured corporately as a church family seem more trivial, but have been (nonetheless) consequential.

The virus, and everyone’s differing responses to it, led to creativity in how we gathered for worship:

  • Though we were already streaming our worship services entering this year, we had few congregants using that forum weekly.  For obvious reasons, attendance online has dramatically increased this year, with new services going live each Sunday at wildwoodchurch.org/live at 10:15AM.
  • As we began the year, we never dreamed we would have a weekly outdoor worship service.  Yet, as I write this post, we have been doing so every Sunday for seven months (most recently at 8AM)!  It has been a tremendous privilege to gather with many of you to worship in this environment over this span.  I know that many do not yet feel comfortable worshipping indoors, and this outdoor environment has been a “home” for a portion of our congregation these past several months.
  • Given the need for social distancing, we have also added additional worship services once we moved back indoors. We have three different services at 9:00, 10:15, and 11:30 (with children’s ministry, student ministry, and college and adult classes meeting concurrently).  These continue to be great opportunities to worship together!
  • Additionally, we erected a tent in front of the church where we have hosted overflow seating for the 10:15 service since early August.  We also have turned our coffee bar area into an additional overflow seating environment as needed.

Through these variety of venues, we have continued to “not forsake meeting together as is the habit of some.”  What a blessing to worship with each of you in this time and season.

As the winter months are now upon us, however, we are adjusting our Sunday morning worship options slightly, recognizing the cold weather making outdoor events less tolerable.  Beginning NEXT SUNDAY, November 22, we will be stopping the 8AM outdoor chapel service.  The remainder of our worship options will carry on as normal, but this outdoor option is ceasing for this season.

We know that this will make it harder for some of you who are still not able to enter our facility to gather together for worship.  We are so sorry for this!  However, we would love to invite you to join us online in the livestream at wildwoodchurch.org/live.  Additionally, know that some of our adult classes still offer Zoom options, and we have a number of resources for our families if you are not able to gather with us in person at this time.  You can find all these options on our website at wildwoodchurch.org.

Thanks for continuing to follow Jesus together with us to the glory of God at Wildwood in 2020 … and beyond.  See you Sunday, November 15 for one last outdoor chapel at 8AM … or (as always) indoors at 9:00, 10:15, or 11:30, or on the stream.


In Christ,

Pastor Mark

Wildwood Sunday Worship Plan: Beginning June 14

Dear Wildwood,

It has been so good to be able to gather and worship with you all IN PERSON (and online) over the past month!  The COVID-19 events that led to our services moving entirely online for 2 months led me to appreciate anew the tremendous value of gathering together as a church family.  I have so enjoyed praying with some of you, seeing you face-to-face, and lingering in the parking lot after services talking and sharing life together.  What a joy!

As of this morning, we have just had our fourth Sunday of outdoor worship services.  Hundreds of you have been able to join us in this format, and thousands more have continued to worship with us online.  We are so encouraged by the opportunities the Lord has given us over the past two months as a church.  As we prepare to move into “Phase 3” of re-opening our city, the question now becomes, what is next for Wildwood?

Beginning June 14, we will have four options for worship gatherings each Sunday morning.  At 8AM, we will have an outdoor chapel service in the shaded NE corner of our back parking lot.  This area is cool and breezy at this hour of the day even in the hot summer months, and will allow those who are not comfortable to worship inside, to join us for worship outside.  The same songs and sermon will be a part of these services as our other worship opportunities.  

At 9:30 and 11:00 AM, we will have indoor in-person worship services in our main worship center!  As we have modeled outside, here are a few of our safety precautions we will employ indoors:

  • Social distancing will be observed in our seating configuration.
  • Our staff and volunteers will still be wearing facial coverings while not on stage.
  • We are installing UV filters in our duct work to do our best to purify any air that might be recirculated.
  • We will not be passing an offering basket, but have installed secure offering boxes on the walls in the worship center (also online giving options are still encouraged).

We will also continue to livestream our 9:30 AM service at wildwoodchurch.org/live.  The video of the service is available to watch on our YouTube channel at any point after the 9:30 service begins.

Know that our strong desire is to fully return to the rest of our ministry programming as soon and as safe as possible.  Wildwood has many strengths, but so many of them lie in the community we have as a church family.  Our adult classes, student meetings, and children’s ministry are a tremendous strength of our church, and we can’t wait to bring all of these meetings back in-person on Sunday mornings.  However, at this time, our plan is to continue our classes mostly online (or off of Sunday morning) for the duration of the summer.  Find out how to access these summer community opportunities at wildwoodchurch.org/athome.  

Our Sunday worship gatherings will remain “all in” environments where everyone (regardless of age) will join for worship.  We are mindful of the diversity of our congregation in this season, and are thinking through song choices, sermon subjects, and service plans that will minister to the entire family.  I look forward to kicking off a new series next Sunday called “Greater Than:  Is what we gain greater than what we lose?” (a short series of messages from Philippians.)  

These four Sunday worship opportunities (8:00, 9:30, 11:00, and the livestream) represent our plan for the balance of June and July.  We will update our plans for August (and beyond) as the summer progresses.  Know that it is a great joy to be able to follow Jesus together to the glory of God!  We look forward to worshipping with you this summer.

In Christ,

Pastor Mark

P.S.  We have a number of serving needs for these services this summer.  To find out what those are and to let us know where you might be able to serve, click here.

Wisdom in Leadership

Leadership is hard.  In my youth I aspired to positions of leadership out of ambition.  I wanted to become the president of the organization or captain of the team as a way of achieving status or demonstrating success.  

Fairly early on, however, I learned that being a leader was not so much a way to status as to service.  Leadership meant making hard decisions, showing up early and staying late, listening to various viewpoints, caring deeply for those under your charge, and being criticized for whatever happened.  In high school, college, and my early years of ministry, I was learning that leadership was merely a specialized service to others.  Leadership is not about the leader … it is about the group being led.

I write this today, because leaders today are faced with many difficult choices.  In this COVID-19 spring, there are very few things in any organization or church that are simply “rinse and repeat.”  Every day there are new obstacles … there are things you cannot do, or that you cannot do the way you “used to do them.”  Rather than just being depressed at the loss of the past or a critic of the direction some are walking, leaders (at least good leaders) have to press ahead and chart a new course.  Leaders have to remember their “WHY” so they can chart a new “HOW.”

Leading a church in the midst of this season has given me a great appreciation for leaders making decisions at all levels in all organizations.  Leaders in government, business, schools, and non-profits all have my respect, and my prayers.  They are serving their citizens, employees/customers, students/teachers, clients/parishoners in ways that often go unnoticed. Sure some are doing this better than others … but let’s be honest – this is ALL OF OUR FIRST COVID-19.  So, it is to be expected that mistakes may be made along the way.

Given all this, I was reading in 1 Kings 3 about the time when David’s son Solomon became King over Israel.  It was a time of great transition in the nation.  Some took to this change better than others, but all were impacted by it.  Solomon had to deal with big issues like the continued growth of the nation and the construction of the Temple, but he also had to deal with smaller issues … like how to manage the leadership of his own army and household – that is a lot of mouths to feed!  As a young man, no doubt, Solomon was feeling the weight of leadership for (maybe) the first time.  Whatever he thought being King was going to be like, the reality was harder than he thought.

In this moment, God appears to Solomon in a dream and asks him what he wants.  Solomon did not hesitate, but said this, “And now, O LORD my God, You have made Your servant king in place of David my father, although I am but a little child.  I do not know how to go out or come in.  And Your servant is in the midst of Your people whom You have chosen, a great people, too many to be numbered or counted for multitude.  Give Your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern Your people , that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this Your great people?” (1 Kings 3:7-9)

Solomon admitted that he was a “rookie.”  He admitted that he did not know what to do.  He knew that his role was to serve the people by leading them in the right way, and so he asked God for wisdom on how to lead.  God was honored by Solomon’s request, and He granted it.

I say this today as a reminder to myself, and an appeal to all in leadership of any organization … especially to leaders in the Church around the world … may we follow Solomon’s example.  May we all admit that we are “rookies” in this moment and do not know exactly what to do — how to re-open and restart ministries in this current climate.  May we remember the importance of the task that is set before us, and what is at stake.  The Gospel is the very definition of “essential” and the people in our churches and in our communities need the hope and the light of Jesus now more than ever.  Knowing these realities, let us all hit our knees in prayer and ask God to give us His wisdom on the matter.  Just as God answered Solomon, I believe God will give us the wisdom that we need as well (as James 1:5 so eloquently reminds us.)

Leaders of our city, state, country, businesses, churches, organizations, teams, and families … I am praying for YOU today.  May God give us “rookies” His wisdom to point the way forward.  I appreciate the specialized service our leaders are putting in right now.

Wildwood Community Church Update: May 10, 2020

Wildwood Update 5/10/20

Hello Wildwood!  We deeply miss seeing you!  This COVID-19 situation has physically separated us as a church family for nearly two months now … and we can’t wait to be able to gather together again!  As you know, local guidelines are set to loosen this coming weekend making it possible for Wildwood to resume some form of our “in person” gatherings beginning May 17.  After much prayer and reflection, the Elders and staff leadership are excited to outline what returning to “in person” services will look like over the next few weeks.

The Livestream will Continue!

Though Wildwood has hosted a livestream since September 2018, the past 2 months have seen this service reach greater and greater numbers of people.  We estimate that 2,000+ people have worshipped with us each of the past few Sundays, with about twice that number joining us on Easter Sunday.  Literally people from all over the world have gathered with us each Sunday for our stream.  Knowing that many will still not be able to join us on Sunday mornings in person going forward (for a variety of reasons), we will continue to offer the Livestream each Sunday, but moving the time to 9:30AM Central Time beginning May 17.  This earlier time will be more convenient for many, PLUS the service will be available to join anytime after 9:30AM throughout the rest of the week.  This will enable those who worship with us online to continue to do so going forward.  As always, our Livestream is available at wildwoodchurch.org/live .  If you are a member of a vulnerable population (over 65 years old, have an underlying health condition, or take care of someone in one of those categories), or if there are other factors that make you leery about going to a live event – PLEASE join us on the livestream!

An “In Person” Outdoor Service will be Held at 11:00AM

Beginning May 17, we will host an “in person” outdoor worship service at 11AM  in Wildwood’s back parking lot (nearest our Children’s Entrance) at 1501 24th Ave. NE.  This service will have the exact same sermon, worship singing, and content as the livestream, but will allow us to gather physically as a congregation.  Why are we gathering outside?  Well, the physical distancing requirements at this phase of “re-opening,” are still prohibitive enough that we cannot accommodate as many people indoors as outdoors.  Additionally, the open air environment prevents some of the sanitation concerns that might be felt indoors at this early stage.  We are working on long term plans to enhance the safety and sanitation of our building allowing us to accommodate more folks in a better way indoors should these restrictions continue.  In the mean time, we will gather outdoors for an hour of worship beginning May 17!  We anticipate being in this outdoor format for the 3 remaining Sundays in May (May 17, 24, 31), and will reevaluate the plan for future phases over the next couple of weeks.  Stay tuned, and thank you for your flexibility!

What about “In Person” Children’s Ministry, Student Ministry, or Adult Group Programming?

As we gather outdoors starting on May 17, we are sad to say that our Children’s, Student, and Adult classes will not be held “in person” but will remain online.  We can’t wait to physically bring these options back as we know that the ministry God does through those groups is greatly significant.  Know that we are encouraged by how God is using these ministries online right now, and we are committed to bringing these back “in person” as soon as we can.  In the meantime, find resources for how to connect and grow for all age levels at wildwoodchurch.org/athome .  Stay tuned for more details!

What to Expect as you gather on May 17 Outside:

  • Please bring your own lawn chair or folding chair to sit on. 
  • We will be set up in a parking lot, so you can lay a blanket down, but know it will be on top of asphalt, and not soft underneath.
  • We will post song lyrics for the weekend to our website and our YouVersion Bible app “event.”  You can either access them there electronically, or print them before you come.
  • Consider showing up 15 minutes early, as it may take a bit longer to get situated.
  • Our service will be mostly  “touchless:”  no bulletins, offering baskets, refreshments, or handshakes from our greeting teams.  Our children’s team will have some ziplock bags with activities and things for your kids available for any interested.
  • Our restrooms in the Children’s Lobby will be available for use as needed.  Doors into the building will be propped open at the children’s entrance to keep people from opening  and closing doors unnecessarily if they need to enter to use the restrooms.  
  • Our water fountains will not be operational at this time, so bring a drink if you need one.
  • With outside programming, rain could prove a problem.  Check Wildwood’s website on the morning of the event to see if weather is impacting our schedule … or sign up for Wildwood Text Notifications by texting “Wildwood1” to 95577 to get notified of changes.
  • In concert with the CDC guidelines, we will:
  • Keep 6 feet of physical separation between family groups.  Please be respectful of other’s personal space during this season.
  • All our staff and volunteers will be wearing a mask when not on stage.
  • We strongly encourage you (though not require you) to wear a mask as an expression of your love for others.  The primary reason to wear a mask is to protect vulnerable people around you if you would happen to be an asymptomatic carrier of the virus.  
  • If you are sick or have knowingly come into contact with a COVID-19 positive person in the past 14 days, please stay home and join us for the livestream.
  • If you are over 65 years old, are a member of an at risk population, or live with someone in one of those categories, you are encouraged to continue to join us from home via the livestream.
  • We will have hand sanitizer available.

How can we help you?

  • We would love to pray for you during this time.  If you have a prayer request, please go to wildwoodchurch.org/pray and let us know how we can be praying for you!  
  • You can also use that prayer request online form above to let us know about any needs inside our church family that we might be able to help meet. 

Anything else?

Friends, these are extraordinary times, and the emotional, physical, relational, and financial toll is significant.  Additionally, there is a lot of uncertainty around the COVID-19 situation that has led people to differing convictions about how to respond.  The above plan is not perfect, but it is an attempt to call all of us to worship together (as we are able) in this time and season.  The online service will remain a GREAT FIT for those who are either unable or feel it is unwise to gather in groups for worship.  The outside service allows us to gather the most people in the safest way.  Again, both services will have the same content and we want you to choose the option that best fits your family at this time.  We are praying for you, for our city, for our state, for our nation, and for the world at this time of crisis.  

As different members of our church come to differing convictions about how best to live in this “new normal,” we would encourage ALL of us to be generous, gracious, and unified with one another.  While we may disagree concerning our views on COVID-19, all believers in Jesus are UNIFIED IN HIM!  As Jesus prays for us in John 17:20-21, “I do not ask for these [the original 12 disciples] only, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word [us], that they may all be one, just as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You have sent Me.”  May this prayer of Jesus ring in our ears and reign over us in our interactions with one another throughout this season!

May we follow Jesus together to the glory of God now and always!  

In Christ,

The Elders of Wildwood Community Church

NOTE:  This plan is subject to change as new information becomes available.

Growing Up? (Part 2) Sermon Questions, Audio, Video

On Sunday, May 3, 2020 at Wildwood Community Church, I preached a sermon based on John 13:34-35.  This message was part 2 in the “Growing Up?” series.  Below you will find questions related to the sermon for group discussion or personal reflection, and the audio/video from the sermon to listen to/watch, download or share.

Sermon Questions:

  1. Pray
  2. Read John 13:34-35
  3. What are some of the ways you have seen communication and connection with people get MORE DIFFICULT during this season?  Why have you persevered  to “pay the cost” to communicate in these ways?  What does that tell you about the way we were created?
  4. Jesus lets His disciples know that they are to love one another in the same way that Jesus loves them.  Based on that call, look at the following questions below, and evaluate your “love for one another”?
  • Do you serve, or expect to be served? 
  • Do you point others to the Truth? 
  • Do you pray for & pursue unity? 
  • Do you die to self for sake of others? 
  • Do you “show up”? 
  • Do you forgive? 
  • Do you involve others in your world?  
  1. Jesus says that His followers should be known by all for their love for one another.  How do you think Christians are most known today?
  2. The New Testament writers provide many “one another” commands.  See the lists of those “one another’s” below (in the images).  Do any of these particularly challenge you at this time?
  3. What stands out to you most from this passage?  Any particular takeaway?

To access these questions in pdf format, click here.


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

Growing Up? #2 5.3.20


To listen to sermon audio online, use the media player below:


To watch the sermon video, use YouTube video linked below:


Growing Up? (part 2) Sermon Preview

Why is social distancing so hard?  Well, it is hard for a number of reasons.

  1. It is challenging because it makes it impossible for some of us to see our family, if they are in a vulnerable population or live in a care facility or are hospitalized.
  2. It is challenging because it makes it harder for some to do their vocations.  How do you educate from a distance?  Scores of teachers around the world are trying to figure that out right now!  How do you best lead worship services through livestreams?  Our team has evaluated and iterated on that process for two months now.  Many of you are wrestling through this in your businesses as well.  It is doable, but it is harder.
  3. It is challenging because it keeps you from gathering together with your friends.  Safer at home orders have forced people to communicate primarily through a screen.  We are thankful for that opportunity, but is is also somewhat 2-D.  You can add depth … but it is harder.
  4. It is challenging because when the meeting is over, the meeting is over.  Everyone clicks out of their screen.  No lingering in the lobby, no conversations in the parking lot, etc.  You an have a follow up phone call, but you may not have their number … it is just harder.
  5. It is challenging because humor is hard in this environment.  You can deliver a GREAT JOKE in a  conversation … your “A” material … and it goes unnoticed because you had the mute button on!  Dang it!

Social distancing is hard for lots of reasons.  But even though it is hard to communicate in this environment, we still do it, don’t we?  We put up with Zoom calls.  We tolerate extra time on the phone.  We may have even written hand written notes and mailed them to friends for the first time in years.  We put masks on and have our temperature scanned so we can go to work.  WHY?  Why are we allowing the cost to communicate to be raised, and yet we are still willing to pay it?

Well, I think there is a biblical answer to this question.  We were made for each other.  It was not good for Adam to be alone in the Garden, and it is not good for you to be alone in this life.  

I recently read about Vietnam prisoners of war who developed elaborate ways to communicate with each other while they were kept in solitary confinement for weeks on end.  Why?  Because they just needed that interaction.

Thankfully, while public health concerns can lead us to PHYSICAL DISTANCE, we will still find ways to be SOCIAL, because that is what we were created to do.

This Sunday at Wildwood Community Church, we will be talking more about how we can grow through this pandemic in our spiritual lives by growing in our love for others … even though the physical distance is high … even when it is hard.  We do it, because we were made for it.

Jesus Himself said, “They will know you are My disciples by the way you love one another.”  This Sunday, we will talk about how we are made to “one another” one another in part two of our “Growing Up?” sermon series.  Hope to see you there on the livestream at wildwoodchurch.org/live at 11AM.

Living in the Shadow …

James grew up in Jesus’ shadow.  Literally.  I mean what must it have been like to be the younger brother of Jesus of Nazareth?  Jesus is the only child EVER to always honor His father and mother.  Like a white font on a black background, James’ normal struggles with obedience and development would have stood out SO MUCH as a second child.  Jan Brady had it easy compared to this guy!

As James grew up, he struggled to understand who his brother really was.  John 7:5 lets us know that James did not believe in Jesus as the Son of God during Jesus’ earthly life.  It would take a lot to convince your brother that you were divine.

However, eventually James became convinced.  Eventually James became SO CONVINCED that Jesus was who He said He was, that James became a leader in the “JESUS IS GOD” movement.  The book of Acts (and the history it writes down) records how for many years James led the First Church of Jerusalem – the very epicenter of Christianity.  

What happened to change James’ mind?  Did He hear Jesus preach a great sermon?  Well, yes, but that isn’t when the change happened.  Did He see Jesus heal sick people?  Well, yes, but that isn’t what the catalyst was either.  What was it?  It was the empty tomb.  The resurrection of Jesus Christ changed James’ entire life AND his eternity.  His perspective was no longer bound to this world, but had him looking beyond and looking up.  

Now, as the Pastor of the church in Jerusalem, James’ flock was experiencing some rough times.  Church members had been beaten (Acts 5), martyred for their faith (Acts 7), and imprisoned (Acts 12).  To make matters worse, a famine had settled in over the land of Judea, bringing hunger and poverty to the people.  On a couple of occasions the Apostle Paul raised funds from churches in Antioch or Europe to bring resources back to the starving church James’ pastored.  Times were tough.  The Jerusalem church was experiencing (as James said in James 1:2) – “trials of various kinds.”  Given the partial list I just mentioned … that is an understatement!  

So James, directed and empowered by the Holy Spirit, shepherded his flock through that season of crisis.  And not only them, but he wrote a letter that he mailed to Jewish Christians living everywhere around the world at that time, because the principles they were learning in their church applied to all followers of Jesus who were in the midst of crisis.  Thankfully, by God’s grace, this letter that James wrote has been preserved and included in our Bibles as the Epistle of James.  

As people who live today in the midst of crisis, we NEED this message.

So what does James tell us in his letter?  Well, he tells us:

  • Pray to God and ask Him to give us His perspective on our trials so we can be joyful (James 1:2-8).
  • Be obedient to God’s Word in the midst of our trials.  Instead of just reading blogs or listening to podcasts (nothing wrong with either of those… but they are not enough) we are to OBEY God’s word.  We are to be activated, not just educated!  (James 1:19-27)
  • Be impartial toward people – treat the rich and the poor the same.   In a church where resources were tight, there would have been temptations to cater to the rich … James warns against it (James 2:1-13)
  • Allow trials to demonstrate what we REALLY BELIEVE by what we REALLY DO in the midst of this crisis (James 2:14-26)
  • Tame our tongues in the midst of the crisis.  We are all tempted to sin with our words, but in crisis and stress, the temptation is magnified.  Gossip, boasting, mean-spirited criticism, and the like are all too common at this time.  Be careful with what you say (or type … or tweet … or post) during this season.  May our words glorify God in this crisis as they demonstrate our faith in God and our love for one another. (James 3:1-4:12)
  • Allow this current crisis to clarify our perspective about the future.  We are tempted to think that we can control things when times are good, but when calamity comes, we are reminded that we are not in charge. (James 4:13-5:12)
  • That we would respond to this crisis by praying for the sick and for our situations in a way that demonstrates our faith in God (James 5:13-20)

In James later life, he learned that living in Jesus’ shadow was such a blessing … especially when he was in the midst of a multi-colored crisis.  May all of us step into Jesus’ shadow as well, and be encouraged by this letter in this COVID-19 season of our lives.  Scan back over that outline above and use it as a part of your Bible reading this week to set your perspective on Him.  

I am praying for God’s wisdom for each of us today.

Growing Up? (part 1) Sermon Questions, Audio/Video

On Sunday, April 26, 2020 at Wildwood Community Church, I preached a sermon based on James 1:2-8.  This message was part 1 in the “Growing Up” series.  Below you will find questions related to this message for group discussion or personal reflection.  You will also find the sermon audio and video to listen to, download, or share.

Sermon Questions:

  1. Pray
  2. Read James 1:2-8
  3. How are you viewing the COVID-19 era:  as a snow day?  blizzard?  winter?  ice age?
  4. When this current era is over, what are some of the ways you hope to have grown during this time?
  5. What are some of the “various trials” you are going through right now?  In what ways might God be developing maturity in every area of your life through your experiences in this struggle?
  6. Do you tend to view trials more as a “loss” or as “tuition”?  A loss provides no value, while tuition is paid to learn something or become something new.  How does viewing trials as  tuition help you have joy in the midst of difficulty?
  7. What are the kinds of things you typically pray for in the midst of trouble?  Is wisdom one of the things you are asking for?  Why or why not?
  8. How do you imagine God responding to your request for wisdom?  Is He attentive?  Does He hold it against you, thinking you should already know?  What does James 1:5-8 tell you about God’s attitude toward you as you pray?
  9. What stands out to you most from this passage?  Any particular takeaway?

To access these questions in pdf format, click here.


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

Growing Up? #1 4.26.20


To listen to the sermon audio online, use media player:


To watch the sermon video, use YouTube online:


Growing Up? Part 1 Preview

Right now, the sporting world is watching the National Football League Draft.  Without Major League Baseball, the NBA Playoffs, or any college sports, this weekend’s draft is literally the only game in town!

One thing that stands out watching the draft is that so much of the NFL is about “measurables”:  how tall, how heavy, how fast, etc.  As much as any sport out there, in football, a tenth of a second difference in the 40 yard dash, or 2 inch difference in the length of your arms, can make a difference between a hall of famer … and Uncle Rico.

While watching the stories of those drafted, however, we are consistently reminded of how these measurables can change.  The offensive lineman who went from an “out-of-shape” Freshman to a dominant “senior” because of the time spent in the weight room (and abstaining from ordering Pizza Shuttle at 11PM every night.)  The wide receiver who grew 8 inches between his junior and senior year in high school.  Those 12 months made a huge difference!  These stories reminded me that we do not always grow at the same pace in every season of life.  Some eras might be fairly static … and then we hit a growth spurt!

Not only is this the case with our physical bodies, but it also is the case with our spiritual lives.  The spiritual life of every Christian is designed to grow over time.  This is the process of sanctification (the process by which God’s character is increasingly revealed in our lives), and God is absolutely committed to it.  In Paul’s letter to his friends in Philippi, he writes, “And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6).  That’s right, Jesus is committed to completing the process of our growth in Him!  Now, HOW that process plays out, though, varies from Christian to Christian.  By God’s grace and in His providence, He allows us to participate with Him in our spiritual development.  He wants us to, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12).  In other words, we are to put in the time in the “weight room” of our spiritual lives – NOT so that we might be drafted onto His team, but so that we might grow into the potential He is building within us.  After all, Philippians 2:13 continues, “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”

Why do I say all this?  I say this to remind us that we are designed to grow over time.  We are not destined to be spiritual infants forever, but to GROW UP as followers of Jesus Christ.  When we see a grown man or woman acting like a child, we know something has gone terribly wrong … and when we see an experienced Christian “still drinking only milk” (as Hebrews 5:12-13 so graphically puts it), something has slowed the maturing process in that person.

So, what does it look like for us to grow in our relationship with God?  Well, the Apostle Paul once reflected on his friends in Thessalonica and the spiritual growth he had seen in their lives.  I think his comments are instructive.  He says in 2 Thessalonians 1:3, “We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing.”  The spiritual growth that God will work in us over time is revealed through an increasing faith in God and love for others.  Two things to note there:  (1) Paul was able to NOTICE this growth.  In other words, while the growth happened internally, it was observable to the outside world.  It was a “MEASUREABLE.”  (2)  Faith in God and love for others sounds a lot like the greatest commandment that Jesus gave (Matthew 22:37-40) – “Love the Lord your God and love your neighbor as yourself.”

Now, just as in our physical lives, our spiritual lives do not always grow at one consistent and steady pace.  Sometimes there are seasons of dynamic and rapid growth.  AND, these growth spurts happen at different times in our lives.  Interestingly, when I look at the Bible I see evidence that our spiritual growth spurts often happen in moments when times are tough:  when we are in the “wait room” of illness or job search or (dare I say) … a global pandemic.  James says in James 1:2-8 that we are to “consider it all joy when we face various trials” BECAUSE of what they produce in us:  spiritual growth.

That’s right, there is hope that in the midst of this pandemic you will grow.  Not just grow in:

  • anxiety
  • fear
  • debt
  • years until you can retire 
  • your waistline 

… but GROW UP in Christ.  Grow in your faith in God and love for others as you are spending time “working out” your salvation in the “wait room” of this trial.

Over the next two Sundays at Wildwood as a part of our Sunday livestream, I will be preaching on how we can grow spiritually in this season.  This Sunday, we will focus on growing our faith in God in this trial.  Then, next week (May 3), we will talk about growing our love for others.  Can’t wait to dive into God’s Word with you all in this short (but important series.)  Make plans to join us at 11AM Sunday at wildwoodchurch.org/live … and invite others to join us as well!

Keep the End in Mind

Like a lot of America, last Sunday night I watched parts 1&2 of “The Last Dance” documentary on the 1998 Chicago Bulls.  In this film, they bounce back and forth between two timelines … the 1997-1998 Bulls’ season and the “back story” on the stars on that team.

In one scene you see Michael Jordan being mobbed by adoring fans in Paris before the 97-98 season began, and then in the next scene, you see pictures of a 16 year old Jordan being cut from his high school team. 

In another scene you see Scottie Pippen making a critical defensive stop on an NBA court, and in the next you see Pippen surrounded by his family as a scrawny middle school kid from rural Arkansas.  

In short, the story was very compelling to watch … but why?  Why do I care about a 16 year old (who I never met) who got cut from his High School team?  After all … MILLIONS of people get cut from teams all the time!  Why do I care about this child from a big family growing up in poverty?  BILLIONS of people grow up in poverty!  Now, theologically, we know why we care – these are people who are created in the image of God, so they matter … but my curiosity in the story goes even further.  I want ALL the details of their lives because of how their stories ended.  

Michael Jordan is the GOAT.  Therefore, in light of how His career ended, the earlier details of his life add insight and color to a bigger story.  Some say Scottie Pippen was the greatest #2 in NBA history … therefore how He got THERE matters.  I’ll take it one step further.  My story intersects with their story because I grew up playing basketball and watching this team play — they were my heroes.  So their story matters to me because of how their story ends and how my story intersects with their story.

I have been reflecting on that today …

In the Bible, a LOT of attention is placed around the “end of the story.”  Biblical prophecy runs throughout the Bible.  A very large percentage of the Bible IS prophetic in nature.  Jesus’ last sermon to the crowds was on “the end times.”  The last book of our Bible looks toward the end of the story.  The end matters.  

Why is there such an emphasis on the end?  I can think of several reasons, but today I want to highlight two of them:

  1. Seeing how the story ends, demonstrates that Jesus is truly the King of Kings, and Lord of Lords.  In the end, every knee will bow before Him and He will be exalted for all time.  Knowing that is how this world ENDS, reminds me why the details of Jesus’ life matter.  Because He is truly the GOAT, I should care about His birth, His life, what He did, what He taught, etc.  Who He is MATTERS!  Thinking about the end of the story reminds us of this.
  2. Seeing that at the end of the story we will all stand before HIM, reminds me that His story intersects with my story.  I am accountable to Him, therefore how I respond to Him today MATTERS!

Now, in light of this principle, I want to make a two applications to our lives today:

  1. Remembering what will transpire in eternity … thinking about “the end” … is a helpful clarifier for us.  In this COVID-19 era, it is possible for us to reduce our lives down to survival – as if it were possible for us to live forever in our current condition (if only we make the right health decisions).  The bottom line is, WE KNOW WE WON’T LIVE HERE FOREVER.  Thinking of the end reminds us of that.  My goal in life is not to cling to my life but to give it away to others in the name of Jesus Christ.  As Paul says in Philippians 1:21-24, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.  If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me.  Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell.  I am hard pressed between the two.  My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.  But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.”  Thinking about the end (He would be with Jesus forever) clarified Paul’s view of life and death.  Both revolved around Christ.  If he lived, he would have more opportunity to bless others in Jesus name.  If he died, he would be in the presence of Jesus.  Thinking of the end, clarified Paul’s view of life to a simple principle:  to live is to follow Jesus and help others follow Him as well … to die is to be with Jesus!  Knowing this, ought to raise our vision for our lives today beyond survival to revival … beyond physical preservation to spiritual transformation.  I am not suggesting that we should not live our lives utilizing best practices in physical health … but I am saying that our lives are about more than just our physical health.  Looking to the end clarifies that for us.  How will you pour out your life today in serving others and pointing them to Christ?  He is what matters most for all time, therefore He is what matters most today.
  2. Seeing how easily Jesus will defeat His enemies upon His return (see Matthew 25:31-46 or Revelation 19:11-21) reminds us that He is greater than all things.  No army that rises against Him will stand.  Everything and everyone – even Satan himself – who try to thwart His agenda will be defeated.  This means that COVID-19, eternally speaking, doesn’t stand a chance.  I don’t see a virus reigning on the throne in the future, so why should I allow it to dominate my emotional well-being today?  We can have an appropriate respect for harmful things  while we live this life.  Washing our hands, practicing social distancing, heeding public health guidelines are all reasonable things to do with our bodies … but don’t allow the appropriate respect we show illness or the economy to rule over our souls.  In the end, it is Jesus who is King, and so we can rest in Him today.  Looking to the future reminds us that He “has this.”  

So, as we live our lives out as players in a bigger story, we can look to the end to remember what matters most today.  If we are trusting in Christ, then we are on His team and get to share in His victory in the end.  If you have not yet trusted in Christ, then you can do so today!  If you are unsure how to begin that relationship, message me and let’s talk.  We all have a back story on how we became  a part of His story … and because of who He is, all those stories matter!