Tag Archives: Jesus

The Key to Growing in Personal Freedom

Jesus came to set you free, but do you know why? Is freedom just for your personal happiness, or is there a greater purpose?

Jesus made it clear that he came to set us free:

If you obey my teaching…Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. …I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin…but if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. John 8:31-36

Maybe you’ve heard someone tell their story of how Jesus released them from a habit or lifestyle that had them trapped in a death spiral. Those stories are great to hear, but being set free is only Part One of a two-part story.freedom

Sometimes people forget that.  I’ve heard people say that they attended a church, came to faith, and got the help they needed during a hard time in their life. But when they got what they came for they left the church and drifted from God. They used their freedom to live for themselves. They just wanted to be happy.

These people used church and Jesus like they use a doctor…just when they needed some help. What they failed to see is they were set free to help others. That’s the second part of our spiritual story. The apostle Paul put it this way to a first century church:

It is absolutely clear that God has called you to a free life. Just make sure that you don’t use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom.…use your freedom to serve one another in love; that’s how freedom grows. For everything we know about God’s Word is summed up in a single sentence: Love others as you love yourself. That’s an act of true freedom. Galatians 5:13-15

Did you catch his insight here? He said that when you serve others your personal freedom grows. But when you use your freedom for just yourself, you destroy it. It’s like God gives you a treasure chest of riches. If you use the riches to help others, the chest never empties. But if you use the riches for strictly your own benefit, you’ll drain the riches and end up in poverty again.

God, give us eyes to see not only how we can find freedom in You but use it to serve others!



Preaching for Life Change or Self-Help?

What role does “self-help” have in preaching?
I ask that because a lot of popular preaching today is what I call “self-help”: three ways to a better marriage, how to overcome fear, etc. This is what attracts people and gets them to come back.Life-is-Change
I’m not against offering helpful sermons. I think Jesus was always teaching people how they could live a better life. But I am concerned when sermons are just a retool of a Dr. Phil book with a few Bible verses added. That sells people short of what they came to church for. Jesus brought a fresh message, not a spiritualized version of human wisdom.
My question as a speaker is: what exactly can I add to a my message that moves it from being merely “self-help” to “God transforms”? How can I elevate people’s thinking beyond what they can do, to what only God can do in them and through them?
The goal is to help people see how God wants to enter their life to bring a power/ability/ reasoning that the world can’t offer them.
I don’t want people leaving church saying, “That was good but nothing I can’t get from Dr. Phil or Oprah.”  I want people saying, “Dr. Phil was helpful, but this is life-changing. This is going to be a game-changer.” 

What makes our message a “game-changer” is helping people realize that God is a God of resurrection and transformation.

What makes our message a “game-changer” is helping people realize that God is a God of resurrection and transformation. He has covered our past by Jesus’ death and given us his Spirit to renew our future: a clean slate with unlimited possibilities. That’ll preach.
So if you are a communicator of Jesus’ message, don’t sell people short. Give people what no one else can offer them: new life in Jesus Christ.

How to Overcome Fear with Faith: Part Two

This is part two to How to Overcome Fear with Faith. I’ve been looking at the story of Jesus being arrested to learn three things. I mentioned that fear is like darkness, it lies to us, and it turns us into control freaks. Max Lucado agrees. He says in his book, FEARLESS:

Fear corrodes our confidence in God’s goodness. It unleashes a swarm of doubts, anger-stirring doubts. And it turns us into control freaks.

Fear tells us that God’s not in control. You can’t trust him. You need to do something: fast.

Fight or Flight

Psychologists talk about the fight or flight syndrome. When faced with fear we either attack the threat or run from it.  Jesus’ disciples did both. At first, one of them pulls out a sword and starts to fight. When Jesus protests, they all desert him.overcome fear

Fear makes us do something…anything…that gives us sense of gaining back our control. But what does that say about God? It says we don’t think he cares. It says we don’t think he can intervene in our lives: WE HAVE TO DO SOMETHING because clearly God won’t.

Really? Is that true?  Or could it just be that we’re a little too impatient?

The Great Robber

When we lie to ourselves about God, the fourth thing happens: Fear robs from us.  It almost robbed the disciples of their calling.  It caused ten men to desert Jesus, one to deny him and the twelfth man to betray him before committing suicide. That’s the fruit of fear.

Plus, it almost robbed the world of good news. What Jesus did for us was great. But what good is it if no one knows about it?  It’s like; what good is the free meal at the soup kitchen if no one knows about it?

I wonder what’s been stolen from you over the years?

What battles were never fought? What victories were never won?

What relationships were never formed?

What careers were never started?   

What adventures were never launched?

What ideas were never developed?

What hobbies were never explored or enjoyed?

Or which of the above were started but then abandoned? Max Lucado calls fear:

the big bully in the high school hallway: brash, loud, and unproductive. For all the noise it makes and room it takes, fear does little good. Fear never wrote a symphony or poem, negotiated a peace treaty, or cured a disease. Fear never pulled a family out of poverty or a country out of bigotry. Fear never saved a marriage or a business. Courage did that. Faith did that. People who refused to consult or cower to their timidities did that. But fear itself? Fear herds us into a prison and slams the doors. Wouldn’t it be great to walk out?  

I wonder if you’ve been herded into a prison and had the door slammed shut. What’s scaring you? What lies are robbing from you?

God’s in Control

Jesus walked out of that tomb on Easter, he showed his disciples that he was in control all along. He was in control when he sweat blood. He was in control when he was arrested. He was in control when he was beaten. And he was still in control when he was crucified. There was nothing to fear.

The same is true for whatever trouble you are facing now. God is in control. Fall into his arms and trust that he will carry you through. Life may be different on the other side, but it can still be good.


How to Overcome Your Fear with Faith

I recently started a series called Facing Your Fear. I’m going to share bits and pieces of it in the coming weeks. You can listen or read the entire messages by visiting my church’s website.

Fear is About the Unknown

Fear is an interesting topic because we all face it whether we realize it or not. We all have our means of coping with fear. Fear is driven by the unknown and there are a LOT of things we don’t know. For example: we don’t know what the economy is going to do. Five years ago we saw the economy tank, many people lost their jobs and their savings. As a result some of us fear that will happen again. We wait for the other shoe to drop.overcoming fear

Or, if you have someone with an addiction in your family, you don’t know where that’s headed. I work with people in addiction and both the addict and the family live with a lot of fear. They aren’t sure about the future…if it will lead to recovery or another relapse is lurking around the corner.

When I read again the story of Jesus’ arrest the night before he was killed I noticed a few things about fear from the response of his followers. I’ll share them over the next few posts.

Fear is Like Darkness

The first thing I noticed is that fear is like darkness. I think Jesus was arrested at night because darkness is a symbol of fear. There’s something scary about the dark. Why is that?

It’s probably a few things. What happens in the dark? You lose your markers.  In the light you know where everything is. You can see where you are going and what to avoid.  But without those markers, you lose control.  Doubt rushes in. You aren’t sure you remember where the obstacles are. Suddenly you feel vulnerable. It makes you slow down or even freeze up for fear of making the wrong move.  In the book, FEARLESS, Max Lucado says this about fear:

We fear being sued, finishing last, going broke; we fear the mole on the back, the new kid on the block, the sound of the clock as it ticks us closer to the grave.

His words remind me of what a friend of mine told me recently. His dad was 30 years older than he is. He said when his dad died at 86 it was like someone set a 30-year timer. He feels the years ticking down and he said, Remy, It scares the hell out of me. Fear does that. Fear is like darkness. It wraps around you and suffocates you.

Fear Lies About the Future

The second thing about fear is that it lies to you about your future. When Jesus was arrested, what do you think the disciples told themselves? We’re going to jail. We’re gonna die. It’s over. We’re all fools. What were we thinking? How could we have been so stupid to follow that impostor? You see, fear extrapolates everything into the worst case scenario.  But Jesus spoke directly to their thought life:

Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? Matthew 26

 What was Jesus saying? He was saying…You guys are in fear because you believe a lie. You don’t think I’m the Son of God. You think I have no power…that I’m not in control. But the truth is… I am the Son of God, in fact, if I asked God to help me now he could send 12,000 angels in a heart beat. So relax. Everything’s going to be okay. 

That’s what Jesus would say to you too. Whatever has got you paralyzed, acting out, or on the run today: Relax. He’s in control. There’s not situation that he can’t pull you out of one way or another. He may not “fix” your life the way you want it. Some consequences to your past actions may need to be played out. But he’ll be with you. He can make your life good: both now…in the problem…as well as in the future, when the problem has passed. And it will pass.

What is it that causes the most fear in your life? What lies does fear speak to you? Leave your comment below. Thanks.

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Jesus’ Suffering Offers Us Hope

I recently wrote about how to return from exile, that is, a time in your life where you got off track and life became very hard and lonely. I mentioned that you can end up in that place for a variety of reasons. It can be because you rejected God, made a bad decision, or had bad luck. But sometimes God actually calls you into exile. Jesus’ suffering informs us here.

Jesus' suffering

Called to Exile

Seasons of Suffering. What I mean is, there are seasons in life that you might be called to sacrifice for the good of others. Parents know about this. I have some friends who are serving their son who is battling cancer. There are men and women called on by their country to go to war. Or someone might be called to forsake a lucrative business career to serve others in a non-profit or ministry.

All of these people may find themselves in a place of “exile”: a place where they feel disconnected from the life they thought they would live and going without something or someone dear to them. Exile is a painful time that makes you want to give up on life.

Jesus is a perfect example of this kind of calling. He was called to suffer and die for the good of others. It’s interesting to see his reaction to his calling. It’s not what you might expect. Two of his followers recorded a time when he was overcome by the stress of his exile. One said that he was deeply grieved and overwhelmed to the point of death. The other one said that the stress caused him to sweat drops of blood.

Jesus’ Suffering Offers us Hope

I see three things about Jesus’ suffering that might help you through your time of suffering:

  1. Jesus’ suffering validates your suffering. When we suffer we often think that it’s wrong. Only bad people suffer or weak people suffer. We look around at other people and assume that something must be wrong with us. Suffering is for losers. I’m suffering. I must be a loser. But Jesus suffered. Not only did Jesus suffer, he struggled with it. He wanted to give up but he prayed for strength to continue. If you suffer or feel like giving up, you aren’t a loser. You are human. Jesus’ experience tells us that.
  2. Jesus’ suffering shows us that suffering has a purpose. One of Jesus’ followers wrote that his sacrifice made us perfect in God’s sight (Hebrews 10:14). The word “perfect” here means that we lack nothing in God’s eyes. When Jesus died, we were set right with God. We can quit working so hard to please God, and we can quit worrying that we aren’t good enough because we’ve been made perfect. 
  3. Jesus’ suffering tells us that good can come from exile. God took one of the worst experiences (death on a cross) and used it to restore humanity to God. God brought hope from fear, life from death, and restoration from devastation. He can do the same in your life.

    God brought hope from fear, life from death, and restoration from devastation. He can do the same in your life.

When Jesus prayed for strength, God immediately gave him what he needed to continue. I hope you will also ask God for the strength you need to continue and look for his comfort to see you through.

Question: have you ever seen good come from a time of suffering in your life?

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The Meaning of Lent and Exile

It’s interesting how many religious holidays we celebrate that we don’t understand. Lent is one of them. Most Christians could probably tell you that Lent has something to do with the weeks leading up to Easter. They might add that it’s a time of fasting and reflection. But beyond that, Lent is a bit of a mystery. They don’t know the full meaning of Lent.

The Meaning of Lent

The meaning of Lent is simply “spring”.  It got the name “spring” in the Middle Ages because spring time was when the church remembered the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness fasting and being tempted by the devil. The 40 days led up to Easter. Over time, the 40 days and springtime became synonymous.

The Meaning of Lent and Fasting

Why do people fast (not eat meat or chocolate or whatever they choose to skip)?  They are following Jesus’ lead. But do you know why Jesus fasted?  Jesus went into the wilderness and fasted to acknowledge the 40 YEARS when the Israelites wandered in the desert. It was one of the many ways he showed that he was Israel’s messiah. Israel failed their time of exile in the desert. But Jesus fulfilled it. He didn’t need food or water to survive: only the Word of God.

Lent Dramatizes Exile

Jesus’ time in the wilderness was like a dramatization of our lives. Life is a wilderness wandering. Or another way to put it: life is a form of exile. Exile is a season in life when you feel cut off from your community or sense of purpose. Exile happens for five reasons:

  1. Rebellion – The Israelites were sent to exile in Assyria and Babylon for rejecting God.
  2. Unbelief – The Israelites wandered for 40 years after refusing to believe in God’s goodness.
  3. Bad Choices – Exile isn’t always about unbelief or rebellion. You might just chose poorly and end up in a dead-end.
  4. Bad Luck – Some times bad things happen that are unrelated to anything you did.
  5. Calling – Some times God calls us to a hard place. Abraham was called into exile in Canaan. Jesus was called to endure the cross.

No matter the reason, exile is a lonely place. We all end up there.  You often feel misunderstood. Out of step. Disjointed. the meaning of lentIt’s a “desert place” that you long to leave but feel stuck. Figuratively it’s a place of “hunger and thirst”…a place of dissatisfaction and unfulfillment. You might even fear that God has left you.

The word for “exile” in Hebrew also means “to expose” or “lay bare”. I think that’s a great picture of what happens in exile. When you go through hard times your heart attitudes are often exposed. Hard times bring out the worst in us. And that leads me back to the meaning of Lent.

Why do we fast during Lent?  To earn brownie points with God?  No. We fast to create an “exile experience” for ourselves. We fast to surface our dark side. We want to “expose” our dark side: “lay it bare” so we can invite God into our lives and renew us.

God Provides a Way Out of Our Exile

I love the words of Psalm 107. They are written about people who walked in exile. They were hungry and thirsty and cut off from their community. But then it says:

…they cried out to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. He led them by a straight way to a city where they could settle. Let them give thanks to the LORD for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds, for he satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things. vs. 6-9

You might be going through your own exile today: a relational break down, financial loss, bad health, a dead-end career, etc. God doesn’t abandon you in exile. He wants to satisfy you with good things. You could say that he offers us a “resurrection”. Something to consider this season of Lent and Easter.



the weakness of god: facing our disappointment

This is a continuation of my meditation on the weakness of God.

What’s the top-selling movie of 2012? The Avengers. The Avengers is a story of how six comic book action figures save the world from evil: Iron Man, Captain America, The Black Widow, Thor, Hawkeye, and the Incredible Hulk. the weakness of god

Over Thanksgiving my family watched it together. We got the movie because a friend of a friend of one of my kids said it was a “must see” movie. Not so sure about that!

But if I had to guess what people like about The Avengers, and other super hero movies: it’s the fascination with power. These movies fulfill our fantasy of always having the power to overcome obstacles. I think the Iron Man character is especially attractive because he doesn’t have any super power of his own. He’s as weak as the next guy but his Iron Man suit gives him the power…and who wouldn’t want that? Who wouldn’t want to be able to push a button and have their greatest weakness turn into strength?

the weakness of god

I mention this because this month I’m talking about the opposite of this kind of strength. I’m talking about weakness, specifically: the weakness of God. That’s not something we typically like to talk about. We like to talk about heroes. We like to talk about overcoming weakness. We turn to God because we’re weak and he’s strong.

But oddly, God often reveals himself to us in weakness.

The best example is Jesus coming into the world as a baby. But not just a baby: a baby born into poverty to a girl in a stable. Who comes to visit him but shepherds? The lowest class people.

That might all seem quaint to us today. We like manger scenes and grade school programs with Mary and baby Jesus. We like to sing carols about the silent night and the three wise men. But in the eyes of the world at the time, the scene must have been fairly pathetic, not to mention smelly. I mean, are you kidding? What kind of god would enter the world this way? Come on…go get a better story!

Finding the good in weakness.

I have to think that, if God chose to enter the world in weakness then there must be more to weakness than we realize. There must be something that is even good about weakness if we are open to it. And so I’m taking this month to look at this idea of the weakness of god.

The weakness of God is offensive.

The reason this is so important is that God continues to show up in weakness today. For every great story of God showing up in an amazing way for someone… there are probably a number of people saying…that’s not true for me. When I prayed, nothing happened. When I prayed for my marriage, we got divorced. When I prayed for healing, I got worse. When I prayed for my finances, I had to declare bankruptcy. Do you see what I’m saying? It’s embarrassing. It’s offensive. It even causes some people to turn away from God.

Strength comforts us. But weakness scares us. We don’t know what to do with weakness. We don’t know what category to put it in. It’s easier to just smile when others share their success story and not mention the pain of God NOT showing up for you.

Finding God in weakness.

But what I want us to see is that God is not only in strength, God is in weakness too. Just because you don’t see him in weakness, doesn’t mean he’s not there. He is there when the divorce happens, or in the failed healing, or the bankruptcy. He may not show up in the way you wanted, but he’s there. You just need to develop eyes to see him.

Question: Have you seen God show up in “weakness”, that is, unexpected ways? Ways that weren’t overwhelming powerful but yet profound? Please let me know about it by leaving a comment. Thanks.

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