Who do we have to beat to move on?

Today I was listening to a sports podcast (The BS Report by Bill Simmons) when the guest (Mike Lombardi) said a truism about sports that’s applicable to ministry as well: A wise sports team thinks about who they have to beat to move on in the playoffs.

In basketball, for example, that means that if you’re an up and coming team (such as the OKC Thunder) that knows you’ll have to beat a team with a strong interior post game (like the Lakers or Spurs), you better get a post defender who can excel (hello, Kendick Perkins).

Here’s how it applies to a church setting: What competition are our ministries positioned to “beat”?
– Clubs or social co-operative organizations?
– The Devil?
– Alienation from God?
– The flesh?
– Biblical ignorance?
– Loneliness?
– Self-centeredness?

Complimentary questions are:
– How many opponents can you plan for?
– Which opponents are you most concerned with beating?
– What’s the scorecard that tells you who you are beating?
– Which “wins” do we have to earn and which are already won by Christ?

What is Marriage? (Wedding Sermon 2/25/12)

Your relationship at it has come to this point is a testimony to the goodness of God.  He has blessed each of you in the giving of a partner, mate, lover, and friend.  And no one who is looking at both your faces right now could deny that He has done that.  God has been very good to both of you, and we join with you in thanking Him for that, and we thank you for showing us His goodness in a new way.

But you now move into a new relationship, unlike what you have known before.  As husband and wife, you bind yourselves to one another until death separates you.  Much is said about the sacredness of marriage, and rightly so, because today is a sacred day.  But I want to speak of the opportunity of marriage.

 

As was read a moment ago, love is patient, kind, trusting, and others-benefitting.  In your best moments, Alex and Eunice, you will display that sort of love for one another.  You will be people that reflect 1 Corinthians 13 to each other, and the rest of us will delight in your love.  In those moments we may be tempted to ascribe to you individually or as a couple a special quality that is behind that love – as if you have created it from nothing – but Scripture reminds us that God is love, and it is from his first loving us that enables us to love another.

 

This brings us to the amazing reality of marriage, what you are entering into today. Ephesians 5 tells us that marriage is a symbol representing Christ and the church.  You will have the opportunity over the rest of your lives to tell us, through your marriage, what the love of Christ is like for the church.  As your friends, your family, and, if God wills, your children watch you submit to one another, to carry one another’s burdens, to love unconditionally, and to forgive each other, we will have a living, breathing example of the sort of love that Jesus has for each of us.

You have a great opportunity before you, a high calling.  Having a great marriage (one of intimacy, vulnerability, strength, and passion) has personal fulfillment, certainly, but it can be even more than that.  It can point us to the love of our Savior, Jesus Christ our Lord.  And I pray that will be the case for you two.  May your marriage be abounding in love, that you may know God, who is love.

Leadership Mentoring Group for Young Men – Saturdays at 8 am in Seal Beach (Updated)

Mentoring Group Purpose: To prepare young men to be leaders for Christ in the church and in their homes.

Commitment: To meet twice a month on Saturday mornings (the second and fourth Saturday of the month) from 8-9 am at Crema Cafe in Seal Beach for six months.

Participants: A group of 4-6 men in their 20’s (ish)  who want to grow as leaders in the church and their families.  While previous leadership at Grace Seal Beach is not necessary, participants will need to be members of GCCSB during the duration of the group.  Both single and married men are encouraged to participate.

Homework:

1. Reading – During the course of the year, we will read both books and articles together, and being prepared to discuss the reading is a necessary part of the group. The participants will be expected to read one chapter per week (about 15 minutes).

2. Scripture – Each week when we meet we’ll work through the Scripture passage of the coming week’s sermon together.  In preparation for this, each member will have read, meditated upon, and prayed through the passage.  More on how to do this will be covered in the first couple meetings together. (about 45 minutes)

3. Sermon evaluation – Each member will evaluate the previous Sunday’s sermon using a form I’ll give you.  If you cannot be at church on Sunday, you’ll be expected to listen to the recording from the church website (no significant time commitment beyond church attendance).

Group rules: 

1. Availability – This group isn’t for everyone, as it does have a specific purpose and time commitment expectation.  If you aren’t able to make the commitment this year, hold off until a future time.

2. Faithfulness – We’ll meet about 12 times so if you expect to miss more than a couple of these, this probably isn’t the year for you to take on this commitment.

3. Honesty/Confidentifality – This is more than just a teaching group – it’s about sharing life together with a team of brothers. If you don’t want to share anything or if you don’t think you can keep other’s confidence, this isn’t the group for you.  Note: If you violate the confidence of other guys in the group, you’ll be asked to not come back.

4. Teachable – I’m sure I’ll learn a ton from you during the course of the year, but if you don’t expect to learn from me, too, then why bother being a part of this group?

Application:

1. Why do you want to be a part of this group?  What are you hoping to get out of participating?
2. What concerns you about participating?  Do you have any hesitations about the expectations and commitment?
3. How do you see a group like this helping to prepare you to a be a leader in Christ’s church?

Mentoring Group for Young Men – Fridays at 7 am in Seal Beach

Mentoring Group Purpose: To prepare young men to be leaders for Christ in the church and in their homes. 

 

Commitment: To meet once a week on Friday mornings from 7-8 am at Crema Cafe in Seal Beach for one year. 

 

Participants: A group of 4-6 men in their 20’s and 30’s who want to grow as leaders in the church and their families.  While previous leadership at Grace Seal Beach is not necessary, participants will need to be members of GCCSB during the duration of the group.  Both single and married men are encouraged to participate. 

 

 

Homework

1. Reading – During the course of the year, we will read both books and articles together, and being prepared to discuss the reading is a necessary part of the group. The participants will be expected to read one chapter per week (about 15 minutes).  

 

2. Scripture – Each week when we meet we’ll work through the Scripture passage of the coming week’s sermon together.  In preparation for this, each member will have read, meditated upon, and prayed through the passage.  More on how to do this will be covered in the first couple meetings together. (about 45 minutes)

 

3. Sermon evaluation – Each member will evaluate the previous Sunday’s sermon using a form I’ll give you.  If you cannot be at church on Sunday, you’ll be expected to listen to the recording from the church website (no significant time commitment beyond church attendance). 

 

Group rules: 

1. Availability – This group isn’t for everyone, as it does have a specific purpose and time commitment expectation.  If you aren’t able to make the commitment this year, hold off until a future time.  

 

2. Faithfulness – We’ll meet about 48 times during 2011 (no meetings on 1/20, 8/3, 8/10, 11/23).  If you expect to miss more than 6-7 of these 48, this probably isn’t the year for you to take on this commitment. 

 

3. Honesty/Confidentifality – This is more than just a teaching group – it’s about sharing life together with a team of brothers. If you don’t want to share anything or if you don’t think you can keep other’s confidence, this isn’t the group for you.  Note: If you violate the confidence of other guys in the group, you’ll be asked to not come back. 

 

4. Teachable – I’m sure I’ll learn a ton from you during the course of the year, but if you don’t expect to learn from me, too, then why bother being a part of this group? 

 

Application: 

 

1. Why do you want to be a part of this group?  What are you hoping to get out of participating? 
 
 
 
2. What concerns you about participating?  Do you have any hesitations about the expectations and commitment? 
 
 
 
3. How do you see a group like this helping to prepare you to a be a leader in Christ’s church? 

  

What happens when one become two?

I was on facebook yesterday and came across the profile of a friend of mine who got divorced.  She chose to excise every picture of her ex from her page.  I can’t blame her, but it made her page feel hollow. Whole sections of her life were just…. missing.  Their lives were intertwined, and could not be neatly separated without her losing a huge part of her own story.

I looked up the husbands page next. He had left in the pictures of them together (even from their wedding). It was a different approach, but just as painful to look through. It was a haunting of a life that once was, now gone.

While I care about these people, they are “facebook friends,” a category of people that means: I wish we were still friends, but we live in different places now and do not see each other any more. I don’t know what catalyzed the divorce, and I’m certainly not going to cast judgment or blame.  But I was sad as I looked at their pages.

Divorce takes two stories that have become one and tried to pull them apart, and it cannot be done, any more than you can remove any trace of your ex from your facebook page.

When God pop quizzes your heart

Yesterday God threw a pop quiz at my heart. Our senior pastor was out of town, so I was speaking at our 8 am service, which I only do a half-dozen times a year. I was anxious, and wanted to make a good impression.

Two problems: First, the text was about Jesus’ return (Matthew 24:29-51), a topic I’m still growing in my understanding of. Second, my anxiety bubbled over into the sermon to the point that I was making jokes that weren’t funny and following them with the always powerful: “I thought that was funny.” Ouch.

The service ends, and even though people are kind at the door (not even one, “Don’t worry, you’ll get better!”, which is my all-time favorite deflating compliment), I’m looking for a way to redeem my effort.

The 8 am service is the most (*ahem*) mature of our three morning services, so the couple in their 20’s stood out as unusual. I see them over by the coffee cart and make a beeline over there, hoping to do some good pastoral schmoozing and help them feel welcome. After talking with them for a moment or two about their new move to our community, their newlywed-ness, and our church, I’m interrupted by someone else.

Slightly irritated (“These are new, young, cool people to our church!”), I turn around to see an older woman in our church who has some mental delays asking me to pray for her.

Pop quiz: Who’s more important to you, Bob, the young and beautiful or the older and more difficult?

Let’s just say that my prayer was short. I didn’t brush her completely off, but I didn’t throw my whole heart into it, either. By the time I finished, the young couple was gone.

James 2:1-4 says,

My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

Every day I’m told to show favoritism by the culture around me.  Certain people are more attractive, younger, older, thinner, stronger, funnier, or smarter, and therefore more deserving of my time and respect. Jesus is different though.

As James continues in verse 5:

Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?

I hope the cool, attractive people come back. I need to be surrounded by fellow beautiful people (hey, don’t laugh!). But God calls people from every IQ, every income bracket, and every store in the mall, from the Big and Tall to Forever 21 to Wal-Mart to Nordstroms. May we never appoint ourselves as judges.

Quote from “The Furious Longing of God”

The revolutionary thinking that God loves me as I am and not as I should be requires radical rethinking and profound emotional readjustment. Small wonder that the late spiritual giant Basil Hume of London, England, claimed that Christians find it easier to believe that God exists than that God loves them.

Brennan Manning. The Furious Longing of God (pp. 75-76). Kindle Edition.

What does the joy of marriage point to?

This Sunday I’m talking about the passage in Matthew 22 where Jesus addresses whether we’ll be married “after the resurrection.” Here it is:

(Matthew 22:29-32)  Jesus replied, “Your problem is that you don’t know the Scriptures, and you don’t know the power of God.  30 For when the dead rise, they won’t be married. They will be like the angels in heaven.  31 But now, as to whether there will be a resurrection of the dead — haven’t you ever read about this in the Scriptures? Long after Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had died, God said,  32 ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ So he is the God of the living, not the dead.”

I’ve been thinking a lot this week about what it means that we’ll be like angels, and therefore unmarried. I don’t think it has anything to do with being “spiritual” or non-material.  Nor do I think it’s about Jesus trying to make us anti-sexual.  I think it’s about being intimate with God forever, not just in a physical way, but the sort of spiritual, emotional, and psychological intimacy that we only have glimpses of in our earthly marriages.

This ties in with Ephesians 5, when Paul says that our earthly marriages represent the relationship of Christ and the church. Marriage is an powerful way to show the gospel. When we love our spouses in their unloveableness, we show the gospel. When we respect them simply because of who they are, rather than what they’ve done, we are displaying grace, and pointing to the Giver of grace Himself.

In the same way, the intimacy we have with our spouse points us to the intimacy with God that we will one day have. I don’t mean that sexually, but I don’t mean that asexually either. Sexuality, with its closeness, joy, and connection, are a glimpse of the closeness, joy, and connection we are meant to have with God.

Psalm 16:10-11    For you will not leave my soul among the dead or allow your godly one to rot in the grave. You will show me the way of life, granting me the joy of your presence and the pleasures of living with you forever.

The hope of the gospel is that the best of our marriages – the best intimacy, the best acceptance, the best joy, even the best sex, is only a glimpse of what it means to be with God forever.

Younger and Older Adults

1 Corinthians 15:54-57: “When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”

 55 “Where, O death, is your victory?
   Where, O death, is your sting?”

 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

One of the joys of serving a multi-generational church is the relationships that I get to develop with older adults that I would never naturally spend time with during the rest of my week. They’ve been incredibly supportive and encouraging towards a young pastor, including one older brother offering my favorite at the door comment: “Don’t worry, you’ll get better.”

Some of our older members have been here so long, it seems like they’ll be here forever.  But, that is not any of our story.  We all will die soon. We have two such women in our church currently approaching death.  One is at home in hospice, the other in the hospital, but both will (short of God’s saving hand) be face-to-face with their savior this Sunday, instead of their seats at church.

I will miss them both.

I didn’t come to Grace to work with “old folks.” I came to work with young adults.  It’s in my title: “Pastor of Young Adults.” But the love, mission, passion, and humor of the older generation has won me over, too.

Too often in college ministry older adults are sorted into two categories:

1. Obstacles: They won’t let me do what I want.

2. Resources: Potential mentors, givers, prayers, etc.

Some older adults are great resources for college ministry.  Others are genuine (and obnoxious) obstacles.  But most are neither.  They are sinners saved by grace, trying to reconcile the fact that they are not as they would want to be (just like the rest of us).  And they are dying (just like the rest of us).

But, in Christ, death is conquered. My friends, rest in peace, but only for a time.  Christ is coming again soon.