Goodness. It’s not a word we are attracted to. It has connotations of being weak and wimpy. Goodness doesn’t win the races of life. The words of Billy Joel’s song ring in my ears: “Only the good die young.” We are more drawn to words like “strong.” Also, there’s a sense in which goodness is unattainable since the Bible says that no one is good. We are all sinners (Romans. 3:12). If we say we are good, others might accuse us of being arrogant. Yet, the root word for “good” is used over 700 times in the Bible.
God is good (Psalm 119:68). God, through his Word, implores us to be good. Goodness is a fruit of the Spirit having influence in our lives (Galatians 5:22). It characterized Jesus – “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him” (Act 10:38). Jesus says others are to see our good deeds – that is how we shine as a light for others (Matthew 5:16).
But here’s three of my favorite encouragements to take seriously having a character of goodness:
Goodness is doing what is right and just. Goodness is how love is expressed. Goodness results in generosity. When goodness is present in us, we will respond with empathy to the wounded, neglected, or marginalized. Goodness is itself a power that resists fear and offers grace. Goodness always puts people first over cultural or institutional pressures that are demeaning to folks. Goodness embraces truth as it seeks it and refuses to put a spin on things. Goodness seeks to empower others.
Goodness is at the heart of who Jesus is. After all, he is our good shepherd (John 10:11 and 14). Jesus embodied all that’s in the paragraph above.
A church that has a powerful culture of good will reach lost people! (Matthew 5:14-16). Goodness draws people. If you are good to your “one,” that person you are praying for and want to engage, your “one” will notice your goodness. “Never tire of doing what is good.”
Sunday, we started a new series, “Should Happens.” If you missed it, you can watch it On Demand. I chose this title not just to be “edgy” but to picture how distasteful and even dangerous all the shoulds in our life can be.
Some “shoulds” are good. We should be the people God wants us to be, and we should do what God wants us to do. Life would be great if we stopped there. But then we are tempted to add a myriad of other “shoulds” that overwhelm us.
Many “shoulds” are not necessary. You don’t have to clean your bedroom every day. They just add extra burdens and can rob us of joy. And some “shoulds” are actually dangerous. Here’s how that works.
The Devil is called “The Accuser” (Revelation 12:10), who seeks to destroy us (1 Peter 5:8), and he’s an expert. We know from God that we “should” do this or that or be a certain kind of person in the image of Christ. But when we fail, miss the mark, fall short (all terms to describe sin), the Devil jumps on us and highlights our sin, and drives home the idea that we are not good enough. That’s the basis of shame, and shame, I believe, is the great enemy of grace. He exaggerates our failure to do and be all our “shoulds” in our minds. When we take the bate, we obliterate the grace we are to rest in.
Grace is what assures us of a living relationship with God. The last thing the Devil wants is for us is to be drawn to and even more dependent on God. So he tempts us to focus on what we should do and makes sure we know what a mess we are. The focus moves from God to me. Our focus on all the “shoulds” is just a focus on ourselves. That’s always a losing option. That’s a victory for the evil one.
The Apostle Paul uses the word “law” to describe the principle of the “shoulds” that we labor under. Notice his warning in Galatians 2:21 – I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing! Paul refuses to push aside grace. He knows that trying to be right and do right cannot be accomplished by living the “should” life. It is only as we draw near to Jesus and invite him to live large in us that we’ll be transformed from the inside out.
Grace is God’s answer to the law and all the “shoulds.” Grace is the path to joy and freedom. Grace frees us from all the shoulds we won’t or can’t do and leads us back to the One we need, adore, and love – Jesus.
If you haven’t done so yet, you can view the Reflection Guide I prepared to help you move from living under the weight of the “should” life to rest in grace.
We are in a series called “This is the Way.” The “way” that we are focusing on are some of the ways, practices, and rhythms of Jesus that kept him connected to God, which allowed him to obey God, even when it was hard.
But what about those times when we carve out time to focus on God, seek Him, and pray passionately but can’t seem to sense his presence? How do we navigate those times when God seems silent, distant, or even absent? What happens when we practice the ways of Jesus to connect with God, but it seems like God isn’t responding?
At the beginning of the month, I listened to the horrific story of a pastor whom I deeply respect and admire. He went through a devastating betrayal at his previous church that deeply wounded him. It sent him into a season of deep depression that caused his health to deteriorate. The season was painful and awful and lasted over two years. As he told his story, he couldn’t keep back the tears, and neither could I.
Even though he begged God constantly for relief and healing, God didn’t seem to answer. Then my friend said these words: God’s silence is not a sign of God’s absence. I need to be reminded of that. Maybe you do too.
That truth doesn’t change how frustrating it is when day after day, night after night, we plead with God for an answer, an insight, or relief, and all we get is silence.
There’s no doubt that the silence of God makes the suffering more acute. But suffering isn’t time wasted. Reflect on that! God does his best work in us in our suffering. The Bible is so clear about that over and over. For example:
Romans 5:3-5 – We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.
1 Peter 5:10-11 – In his kindness God called you to share in his eternal glory by means of Christ Jesus. So after you have suffered a little while, he will restore, support, and strengthen you, and he will place you on a firm foundation. All power to him forever! Amen.
James 1:2-4 – Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.
The silence of God is not an indication that God doesn’t care, or can’t or won’t change things. Rather, his silence is part of his greater work of grace to transform us in ways that a peaceful, happy, chaos-free life will never be able to do. Faith is trust that even in God’s silence, he is working out something better for us than the pain and suffering we experience in the moment. And yes, faith is a mystery.
Glen ElliottSubscribe: https://pantano.church/blogsubscription
Have you wondered what Lent is all about or how to practice it? You’re not alone! You’re invited to attend our Lent service, where we’ll guide you on how to practice Lent. Lent is a time of repentance and refocusing to experience intimacy with God at a deeper level. It is a time of 40 days that prepares us for the celebration of Easter.
Our Lent service is also a part of our This Is the Way teaching series as we look at the ways of Jesus to help us engage and connect with God. One of the “ways” we do that is through the practice of fasting; setting something aside to focus more on God. Fasting is an ancient and tested way to lessen distractions, set aside time, and be intentional to seek the presence of God. If you’re ready to deepen your faith, consider attending our Lent Service on Wednesday, February 17, at 6:30 PM at our East Campus. It will also be online.
Childcare provided for kids through 5th grade.
As we begin Lent, we’ll challenge you to fast from something you’ve been dependent on. As we fast from things we’ve relied on, we often become more aware of our need to depend on Jesus more. The things we fast from can tempt us with a false basis of support, protection, comfort, or what we wrongly consider will give us “real” life. We’ll encourage you to “fast” from something that promises to offer what only God can ultimately provide. Then, use the extra time and energy to talk to and focus on Jesus, the One who truly supplies what we need most.
Start now by asking the Holy Spirit to guide you in what you should fast. You can choose to fast from a meal or a certain kind of food or drink like sugars, caffeine, soda, etc. Some choose to fast from social media, TV, video streaming, gaming, music, or anything that you rely on daily or that’s an important part of your routine.
Our Lent service will begin with worship, and then Sean Haynes, our NextGen Pastor, will bring a message to help us prepare for our celebration of Christ’s death and resurrection on Easter. We’ll partake in Communion together, and then as we dismiss from the service, you’ll have the optional opportunity to receive ashes on your forehead or wrist (a symbol of death and repentance). The service will also be streamed online using our usual channels (Pantano.online, Facebook and YouTube).
We just finished our series Difference Maker. We spent four weeks looking at the story in Nehemiah to gain insight into how we can join God to make a difference. It’s been my hope, prayer, and challenge that you would be ‘all in’ to experience all God wants to do through you. God wants us to join him in making a difference in our unique context and calling. So it’s time to commit to that by becoming an All In Partner. It takes all of us who are part of Pantano, being fully devoted to the mission God has given us, to see God show up and change people and things.
What’s an All In Partner? Every year, we ask you to recommit to partnering with others who are part of Pantano to fulfill our mission – loving people to Jesus, launching passionate people to make a difference. This commitment isn’t just an annual “check the box” or fill out the form kind of deal. I want you to truly take some time to reflect on your calling and commitment. God is calling our church to make a difference. That means the more of us who are truly ‘all in’ will be used by God for collective difference-making.
If you’ve decided to follow Jesus and made him Lord of your life, we ask you, as an All In Partner, to actually do four things; this is what you are committing to over the next year as an All In Partner:
The commitment is for one year. If you were an All In Partner in 2020 or any previous year, we start over. Take the time to reflect and make the commitment anew. Together, we can make a difference. We can accomplish more. Imagine if all of us were ‘all in’ what a difference we would make. Let us know you are ‘all in’ by completing the short digital form – click here. I’ll be following up with you in a few weeks.
You can also purchase an All In t-shirt at our Pantano shop.
Next week, we start a new teaching series – This is the Way. Followers of Jesus are to be connected to Jesus, abide in him, to experience a real relationship with him. But often, our lives are too busy and full for that connection. Jesus practiced some things that kept him close to God and grounded in his faith. It’s through these same practices that our souls are filled, and we thrive. We’ll be exploring several spiritual practices that help us to be present to ourselves, with God, and with others.
Glen ElliottSubscribe: https://pantano.church/blogsubscription
Make a Point or Make a Difference
We can opt to make a point, or we can attempt to make a difference. I’ve seen this idea quoted in several places, so I don’t know who to attribute it to, but it’s right on. In this polarized, divided, angry, broken, messed up world we live in, we are tempted to use social media to make a point and it’s so easy to do. Making a point almost always leads to arguments, or it sends people into retreat or silence. But making a point rarely makes a difference. And isn’t the idea of making a point to make a difference?!
Several people have asked several times directly and indirectly why I don’t take immediate stands on controversies in our culture. Let me assure it that my caution to make a point is not out of fear, cowardice, or lack of conviction. The fact is whatever I say or don’t say offends someone these days. Long ago I chose to make a difference and when I’m doing that I don’t have to make a point through a reactionary post or tweet. Making a difference requires a long term personal investment.
In our current hyper-divided, polarized, angry, and judgmental world, we have to be wise. I’ve taken seriously the teaching in the Bible (especially Proverbs) to act and live as a wise person and not as a foolish or evil person. I want this to guide me on how and when I respond and react. Unfortunately, I sometimes act like a fool. I’m still tempted by evil sometimes. But wisdom wins the day.
Proverbs is very clear on how a wise person lives and acts. I’m putting the links to the actual Proverbs below. It’s worth the time to actually read them. A wise person…
I want to be wise in what I say, write, and post! These are some of the things that guide and temper what and how I communicate. A wise person doesn’t seek to make a point, they want to make a difference in a way that honors God.
Then, the Proverbs warns us about being a fool and about how to relate to fools. This term is not meant to be just a derogatory label but instead describes people who act foolishly. Here’s what we know about fools from the Proverbs: Fools don’t seek the truth; rather, they twist the truth to fit their own agenda. Fools care first for themselves and are driven by pride. They don’t listen, period. They will react harshly when confronted with the truth. Here are just a few of the Proverbs that describe a fool – 9:6-8; 12:16; 14:3, 7-9; 18:2, 6-7.
Finally, there are those who are evil. They reject the truth outright and want to hurt you. Dr. Henry Cloud says it this way: You should: 1) Talk to wise people about problems;
2) Talk to fools about consequences; and 3) Not talk to evil people at all, period. We did a whole series on this in 2018 called Peopling. On our watch page under “Messages,” you can find the four-session “Peopling” series. Select “All Series,” then look for Peopling at the end. I’ve learned from the Proverbs and life that it is useless to “make a point” to foolish or evil people. They will only make a point back, usually in a selfish and/or hurtful way. The internet is full of foolish and evil people who will not listen but react in anger. Only the wise will listen.
This past year we witnessed racial injustice and demonstrations across our nation. I decided to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger, as the Bible teaches (James 1:19). I did eventually write and speak about it, but it wasn’t about making a point! Rather, I want to make a difference.
I started over eight years ago to intentionally engage with the black pastors and churches in our town. As wise men of God, we learned from each other and really listened. As trust grew, we developed a number of programs and events to address racial injustice in our churches and city – Pantano hosted most of those events. In fact, we were able to have conversations with our police department. Long before the events of 2020, we were working to make a real difference through wisdom, starting right here at Pantano.
We are in the midst of divisive political tension and hostility. I will address things like I did last week in my blog, “The Path to Change,” about rejecting violence to follow the humble way of Jesus. But a post or a tweet doesn’t change the world. In the end, rather than alienating people, I choose to engage people while never forgetting that a post or a protest doesn’t change people’s hearts. Only Jesus changes hearts which results in changed lives. Only a life submitted to Jesus will change our culture for the good. A wise man and woman of God who seeks to make a difference does so by putting Jesus first, ahead of political, COVID-19, or racial biases and issues. Be wise! Make a difference, not just a point.
This past year we saw the violence in reaction to the need for changes to bring racial justice. This past week we were mortified by the violence inflicted to and in our nation’s Capitol. I’m not writing this blog about the right or wrongs of these causes and of the changes sought. I’m writing only about HOW change is sought. Of course, as followers of Jesus, we want to pursue changes that reflect the heart of God. But the “how” must be considered, as well, and the path to change must also follow the way of Jesus.
I believe that violence does not bring about real, significant, and lasting social change. Humans are tempted to think violence will bring quick change, but if it does, it is usually only short-lived. Long term change happens not by force, but by winning over hearts.
In a few days, we’ll celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day. He was a man of faith. He was a man with a vision for racial justice, but his “how” was unusual and rare. He sought justice through nonviolence. And he was not the first. There was Gandhi. And before him was Jesus, who transformed all of humanity through nonviolence.
Nonviolence is a clear and understandable strategy. But there’s something deep and profound that underlies a nonviolent approach to change. It is not talked about enough. It is even more rare to find. It is key to real, lasting change. The lack of this is why real change often fails to materialize. I’m talking about the foundation of nonviolence and lasting change – humility.
Jesus is the supreme example of this “how.” One of my favorite passages of scripture is found in Philippians 2:6-8. It appears in the form of a Hebrew poem or song. Jesus…
6 Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
Jesus, who is God, gave up the peace, glory, and safety of heaven to come to earth. He gave up all the privileges of heaven to come to suffer with us. He did so willingly. He came to serve us, not to be served. This was the ultimate act of humility and flowed from humility. He gave his life for us to bring us peace with God through his sacrifice. He gave us abundant life now and for eternity. Our salvation and hope are all a reality because of his humility.
He changed you and me and changed the world we live in through humble nonviolence. In our actions and in our hearts, we may choose out of humility to serve others to bring about the change that our world needs. May humility become the dominating character trait that moves us to live for others above ourselves. May we follow in the footsteps of Jesus.
This is the seventh year we, as a church, have participated in the One Word year focus. What is “One Word?” One Word is the Pantano alternative to New Year’s resolutions. While New Year’s resolutions are good, we know they are not as effective as focusing on one thing for a whole year.
As we begin 2021, ask yourself these questions. What does God want me to focus on in 2021? How will I let God use me to make a difference in 2021? What one word would capture the change God wants to make in me or through me?
We prayerfully pick one word that represents the change or the focus God wants for us. It should be more than a good thing or idea. It should be a God thing or idea. Don’t get a good word, get a God word.
When we focus on one word, our mind and heart are more open to how God is at work in ways we might have otherwise missed. Once we choose one word and intentionally focus on it, then we see more of the ways God wants us to embrace that word or the idea that word carries. One word is a powerful way to focus our thinking. Focused thinking and praying rewire our brain as we cooperate with God to experience real transformation. A better 2021 is possible…with God and with a focus.
We focus on our word for the whole year. God’s transforming work often happens over time. We might not see a huge change in January. But if we’ll keep focusing and praying about our one word, we’ll see God, over time, do powerful things in us and through us.
We’ve created a One Word resource page to help you discover your one word. That page also gives you access to a four-day one word Bible reading plan as well as some social media graphics. Once you find your one word, go to that page and let us know your one word for the year. As I write this, 50 folks have recorded their one word. Here’s the link to our #ONEWORD site: https://pantano.church/oneword/. Or you can text “one” to 31996 to access the page.
My one word for 2021 is “neighbors.” I want to love my neighbors to Jesus. I want to connect with my neighbors, love them through genuine service, and pray for opportunities to have natural spiritual conversations. That’s my focus this year. That’s how I want to make a difference. What’s your One Word? Let us know at https://pantano.church/oneword/#share.
I do a Discovering Faith Bible study with a neighbor every week. He is reading the Bible for the first time, and every time we meet, he’s discovering new things about God, Jesus, the Bible, and about himself. It’s so fun to watch the proverbial lights go on and all the “ah-ha” moments. But just as rewarding are the discoveries I make. Even though I’ve read, studied, and taught what we study each week, I, too, find I’m getting new insights. The Word of God is living and active, and it speaks to us no matter where we are in our spiritual journey.
Recently we were studying just one verse. It was Matthew 7:12 – So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.
It is known as the Golden Rule. It shows up in the negative form in ancient Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism in some form of “Don’t do to others what you don’t want done to you.” Jesus’ teaching is in the positive. It requires action; thus, the word “do.” We are to do or act toward others in ways we would want to be treated.
But this time, I noticed a few more details. Jesus started by saying, “In everything…” Every single conversation. Every encounter with someone. Every reaction. Every action. This response is to be our guiding principle for all of life.
Then I noticed how Jesus concluded this simple one verse teaching. He said that it “sums up the Law and Prophets.” That is the same conclusion he made with Great Commandment in Matthew 23:37-40. We are to love God and love others, and he concluded by saying: “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” All the Old Testament laws and teaching point to love. And the Golden Rule is all about love and gives us a great definition of what love is! The way of Jesus is the way of love. We have to get this right! We have to practice the way of love and treat others as we want to be treated.
It’s so simple. It’s so profound. What if we practiced this today with every person we meet? What if every encounter, every day, we lived this principle out? What a change would happen in our homes. What a transformation in our marriages. What a difference we would make where we work or hang out. Others would see Jesus in us and be drawn to the one we follow. Today… in everything, do to others as you would have them to do you.
We just finished our Peacemakers series. I wanted to share a story of someone who’s part of our Southeast Campus. Wendy took peacemaking seriously, which resulted in reconciliation with an old college friend. Here’s the story in her words:
Ernie and I first met in our freshman orientation at Wheaton College back in the fall of ’79. We gravitated towards one another since we were both city kids and political science majors. He was from inner-city Chicago, and I was from the Washington D.C. area.
One day, early on in the school year, when we were walking across campus together from the freshman dorm to the cafeteria, Ernie turned to me and said, “There is something weird about this place.” I said I felt it too, but neither of us could put our finger on it. We walked on a bit and then looked at one another and, at the same time, said, “There are too many white people here!” We laughed until we nearly fell over, and were good friends for the next four years. I am white and had grown up in a predominately African-American school system in the D.C. suburbs, and Ernie is an African-American guy from downtown Chicago.
We kept in touch over the years via social media as well as phone calls and the occasional visit when my husband and I visited the Chicago area.
Over the last few months, I noticed Ernie becoming more and more radical, voicing support for rioters and other destructive groups. I tried reasoning with him via private chat, but he rebuffed me.
The peacemaker series touched my heart and made me think of Ernie. I prayed about how to reach out to him. A few days later, when in Ace Hardware, I found the perfect card to send Ernie. It had a frazzled looking little girl on the front holding a coffee mug in one hand, and a laptop under her other arm. On the cover, it read, “First, Coffee…” Inside it continued, “Second, try to change the world.” I included a few personal lines about how Ernie and I both loved our families and wanted to make the world a better place for them. We just disagree on how to get there. I told him that I loved him, that I valued our friendship, and that I hoped we could stay in touch.
I prayerfully mailed the card. A few days later, I received this response: “Wendy, I received your lovely card. It took me back and reminded me of my affinity towards you. I was beginning to think the political divide between us was too much for our friendship to survive. That should never occur.
Thank you for your wisdom and thoughtfulness to point this out. I appreciate and love you more for that. I believe we want a better world for our families. I know I am probably set in my world life-views at 59, but I promise to move forward with an open mind.
On election night, let’s both have a drink to the future and the respect and longevity of our friendship. Be happy. Be well. Love, E.”
God, through the Apostle Paul, says: If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone (Romans 12:18). Well done, Wendy!
Peace, for many, is now a pipe dream (sorry for the drug culture connotation). The hostility, incivility, hate, violence, and polarization is so prolific that the idea of folks choosing peace seems ludacris. We are in a series we call Peacemakers. The Bible is clear that as followers of Jesus, we are to be peacemakers.
There’s a group that is being led by the wife of my good friend from high school and college days – Lisa Jernigan. She leads a group called Amplified Peace. They specialize in bringing peace to places all around the world that are in conflict and chaos. They provide an incredibly practical list of the Principles of a Peacemaker:
May we stand on truth, justice, and righteousness AND be peacemakers! May we more and more practice the principles of a peacemaker. More than ever, our world needs peacemakers. Following the way of Jesus, we can make a difference!
Pantano fall classes are open for enrollment now!
Beginning on August 29th, we are offering a variety of classes available to take digitally via Zoom. Our classes cover topics such as finances, marriage, parenting, and more! Take a look…
Marriage and Parenting
Personal Growth and Development
You can find the full list of classes with detailed descriptions and enroll by visiting www.pantano.church/classes. If you have any questions about our classes or how to enroll, please contact Liz Kim at email@example.com.
For the last few teaching series, we’ve been adding a digital Deeper Dive live event. Deeper Dives allow us to address specific things at a deeper level and in a Q & A format. For the current series – What Would Jesus Undo, we thought that a Deeper Dive on racism was needed and would be helpful. I’m confident that Jesus came to undo racism in addition to many other things.
Join us this Tuesday night, August 25th, at 7:30 pm for our live Deeper Dive through our normal channels: Online campus, YouTube, or Facebook. I’ve invited my friend Pastor Grady Scott to join me in what will be a great discussion. Send in your questions on race – click here.
Jesus gave the church the purpose of going and making disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19). What’s interesting is that the word translated “nations” is the word from which we get our English word “ethnic.” It means races, ethnicities, cultures, and nations. Jesus wants his church to take the good news to every racial group. The New Testament is also clear that the members of the church are to be equal, one, and united regardless of categories like male or female, or socio-economic standing, or race (Galatians 3:28).
Racial unity and reconciliation have been a passion of mine for the last eight or nine years. For me, it started by actually meeting with Black and Latino leaders and asking questions (sometimes hard questions) and trying to listen and understand. I had to find a way to move from a “you” and “me” stance to a “we” position. That’s why we’ve done four film nights at Pantano with other predominantly Black churches. We watched movies about race and then had discussions where we could talk, listen, and understand each other. The Deeper Dive this Tuesday is meant to be another opportunity to talk openly and honestly about race, culture, and ethnicity. Very few of us consider ourselves to be racist. But we do have blind spots. We are by nature, more favorable to our own race. We all have room to grow.
My hope and prayer is that you’ll have an open mind and heart to understand the challenges and complexities of racism. Neither Pastor Scott or I speak for our races, nor are we the experts. But, both of us have learned to listen to each other, trust each other, and come to some new understandings about race. We won’t avoid the difficult racial issues that most are talking about like Black Lives Matter, white privilege and more. We’ll answer as many questions as we can. You don’t want to miss this Deeper Dive – Tuesday, August 25th at 7:30 pm. If you can’t watch it live, you can watch it On-demand at a more convenient time.
I’ve been feeling, dwelling on, and thinking a lot about loss and grief these last few months. Every one of us has experienced a ton of loss through this COVID-19 season. We’ve lost freedoms. We’ve lost interpersonal connections. We’ve lost jobs or income. We lost our routines and “normal.” We’ve lost peace. Many of us have lost people we know and love to the virus. So much loss. Sadness has been almost a daily experience for me.
One of the things I’m trying to learn is to embrace sadness. It has been a feeling I’ve tried to avoid and move past as quickly as I can. That is not healthy.
All this sadness has been compounded for me. A guy I mentored and loved passed from this life to live forever with Jesus. Bryan Lee, the pastor of Elements City Church, died from an injury from a fall. He did not suffer I am told. But oh, how his family, church, and friends will suffer. Grief can feel overpowering.
I invited Bryan to join our staff a long time ago. We had Bryan start Elements as a service at Pantano on Sunday nights. Finally, we were able to launch them in 2014 to start as a church in midtown. I’ve had the privilege of being the chairman of the Elements City Church board and work with Bryan all these years.
Grief is a part of life. And we need to lament. Lament means to express our grief and sorrow. It’s vital that we express it. When we hold it inside, it finds its ways to disrupt our lives – almost never in a good way.
The Bible records many laments. We have a whole book of lament called “Lamentations.” About one-third of all the Psalms are categorized as laments. Here are the first few verses from Psalm 13 in the Message version:
Long enough, God—
you’ve ignored me long enough.
I’ve looked at the back of your head
long enough. Long enough
I’ve carried this ton of trouble,
lived with a stomach full of pain.
God can handle our lament. In fact, he wants us to share our grief. What do you need to lament? What grief do you need to verbalize to both God and others? What loss do you need to recognize inside you? In the end, we journey through the grief better as we learn to own the sadness and express it in lament.
As I write, I’m hurting. I feel the sting of the loss of a good friend. I have questions about so many things that I’ve lost. And it’s okay to lament and it’s necessary to grieve openly.
By the way, if you missed our Deeper Dive this week where we talked about loss and grief, you can watch it here. You are not alone in the grief you are experiencing during this season.
Do you want to go deeper in your faith and walk with Jesus? There are three opportunities coming up that will give you tools to grow closer to God:
Deeper Dive – Tuesday, July 28 – 7:30pm
Our Deeper Dives follow a teaching series; our next one concludes our series, The Eye of the Storm. We already have some great questions about worry, anxiety, prayer, breaking habits, grief, and more. Join us Tuesday evening, July 28 at 7:30 pm for a live discussion with Josh Reich, Rebecca Hamlin, and myself. Send us your questions by going to https://pantano.church/deeperdive/. That’s the same location where you’ll be able to find the link to watch the Deeper Dive.
July 31 and August 1
Men all across the globe will gather via live stream in their homes to experience the Promise Keepers 2020 Global Digital Experience. Some men’s groups will be watching the event together.
Keynote speakers include Mark Batterson, Bob Goff, Miles McPherson, and many more. There will be great worship as well.
It’s a FREE event! Register here. Invite others to join you.
The Global Leadership Summit – August 6-7
The Summit looks to be as good as it’s been every year. Take a look at the amazing 2020 faculty.
Pantano will not be hosting a live event this year – the first time in 11 years! However, you can join us virtually for the GLS Online Experience. Register Today >>
Take the step to go deeper with Jesus!
Some of my greatest regrets are those times when I failed as a friend. Just this week, one of those regrets came pouring into my mind.
One of my best friends is Ukrainian. When I started to investigate working in Ukraine, the communist economy created shortages and deficits of almost everything like toilet paper, food, clothes, or almost every kind of consumer goods. Before we actually moved there, I would stay at my friend’s small apartment as I was preparing for our relocation.
When I used the bathroom at his apartment, I discovered that the toilet seat had cracked. When I used the seat, it pinched me on a tender part of my body. So one day, while out with some other American visitors touring a factory and in the company store, I found a treasure: there was a toilet seat for sale. These were hard to find. So, I bought it, put it over my neck, and paraded around in public making all kinds of jokes about it. In my mind, I was a hero for finding a toilet seat for my friend.
But, he was completely mortified and totally embarrassed by this gesture. In his mind, I was showing all his esteemed American guests how “bad off” he was. I never, for a second, considered how my fun was ripping him up inside. I was such an insensitive and unkind friend that day.
Recently, I was challenged with this question: Am I the friend to myself in the same way that I want to be a friend toward others? I really try to be a good friend. I’m loyal. I want to encourage my friends. I’ll challenge them when I need to speak the truth, but I’ll do my best to make sure it is motivated by love. I’ll give a friend the benefit of the doubt. I’ll offer lots of grace to my friends. I’ll sacrifice for my friends willingly.
Do I do that to myself? Am I a good friend to myself? Not very often, unfortunately. I’m a terrible friend to me. I’m probably harder on me than Jesus is. I don’t give myself the benefit of the doubt. I rarely offer myself grace. I’m not kind to myself very often. Is that you as well?
I’ve been meditating on John 15:15 lately. It’s a profound statement that Jesus made. I would love to see the reaction of the disciples to what he said. Jesus said; I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. Jesus calls us his friends, with all that means. He is wide open to us and holds nothing back. Like a super friend, he speaks the truth in love. He encourages us to love and have good actions. He’s loyal. And he offers never-ending grace. What a friend we have in Jesus (someone should write a song about that… oh, they did).
If Jesus treats me as his friend, maybe it’s time I start treating myself as my friend. How about you?
Everything in our physical world can be shaken. Nothing is stable. Our health can deteriorate – virus or no virus. Our bank accounts and the stock market are never stable. Our jobs are never secure. Even relationships change… sometimes for the better, sometimes for worse. We live in a world that not only can be shaken; it will be shaken. Who would have guessed in January that our world would be so shaken by a new virus pandemic?
This week, I was reading Hebrews chapter 10 for a message I’m teaching this Sunday. I kept reading and came to chapter 12. The writer of Hebrews 12:18-29 reminds us of the time that God descended on Mt. Sinai in the desert. It was there that God gave the law to Moses. There were flashes of lightning and peals of thunder. A dark cloud hovered above. The whole mountain shook and it caused everyone to be terrified.
Mt. Sinai is a real place, but it is also a symbol. It’s a metaphor for the law. The law reminds us of our guilt, sin, and punishment. It is a mountain of doom. It helps us realize how much we long for a different mountain.
The writer then contrasts Mt. Sinai with another mountain that he calls Mt. Zion (vs. 22). This is a mountain of joy. This mountain is a symbol of the grace God has given us in Jesus. In Jesus, we have the forgiveness of our sins and the promise of an eternity with God. It too is a metaphor about something much bigger. It represents the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is anywhere God has influence! You and I are a part of this kingdom as long as we allow God to be the primary influence in our life.
God will shake the earth once more. At the end of time, he will remove all that is temporary, impermanent, and passing and create a new heaven and new earth. God will forever establish eternity that will never be shaken. It is an unshakeable life where our well being and very life will be permanent, lasting, and secure.
I love how chapter 12 ends in Hebrews 12:28-29 (The Message) – Do you see what we’ve got? An unshakable kingdom! And do you see how thankful we must be? Not only thankful but brimming with worship, deeply reverent before God. For God is not an indifferent bystander. He’s actively cleaning house, torching all that needs to burn, and he won’t quit until it’s all cleansed. God himself is Fire!
In this life that’s shakeable, God is “cleaning house.” In this season of unprecedented disruption, God wants to refine us and remove the “junk” that hurts us, others, and our relationship with God. Our God is a consuming fire who wants to eliminate all the useless things that need to be burned away. Yet, we are not afraid, because we belong to a kingdom that cannot be shaken. That causes us to overflow with thanksgiving in the midst of an unstable world. We are in awe of a God who is not an “indifferent bystander,” but who is working all things for good for those who love and trust him.
Lent begins next Wednesday (Ash Wednesday – February 26). It marks the 40 days before Easter (not counting Sundays). Lent is practiced by both Catholics and Protestants. Nine years ago we started our first Lent service at Pantano. Many were surprised we would offer this, as that had not been our tradition. While it is not specified or required in the Bible, we practice this because it is a powerful spiritual season to focus on the disciplines of fasting, prayer and Bible reading, all of which were important to Jesus and the apostles. This season helps prepare our hearts for Easter.
It was especially the fasting part that prompted me to initiate the practice of Lent at Pantano. As we begin Lent, we’ll challenge you to fast from something you’ve been dependent on. As we fast from things we’ve relied on, we often become more aware of our need to depend on Jesus more. The things we fast from can tempt us with a false basis of support, protection, comfort or what we wrongly consider will give us “real” life. We’ll encourage you to “fast” from something that promises to provide what really only God can ultimately provide. Then use the extra time and energy to talk to and focus on Jesus, the One who truly supplies what we need most.
Start now by asking the Holy Spirit to guide you in what you’ll fast from. You can choose to fast from a meal or a certain kind of food or drink like sugars, caffeine, soda, etc. (as long as it is medically safe to do so). Some choose to fast from social media, TV, video streaming, gaming, music or anything that you rely on daily or that’s an important part of your regular routine.
Join us Wednesday night – February 26th at 6:30 pm for our Lent Service. We’ll begin with worship and then Michael Goodwin, our Outreach Pastor, will bring a message to help us prepare for our celebration of Christ’s death and resurrection on Easter. We’ll partake in Communion together and then as the service ends, you’ll have the optional opportunity to receive ashes on your forehead or wrist. I look forward to Lent every year and I’ll see you there.
Daily we are summoned to court. A trial occurs in our head. We hear the voices of a prosecutor (the Hebrew word “Satan” means accuser) and witnesses that testify against us. We’ve got the right attorney or advocate – Jesus, who pleads our case before God. But still, we listen to the voices accusing us. The accusing voice says things like, “You’re not good or smart enough”, “You’re a failure”, “You’re not worthy”, “You’re hopeless”, “You’ll never get better”, “You’re trapped”, etc. These phrases replay over and over in our minds.
This internal critic, a voice of inner chatter and non-stop conversations, drives our reactions. It tries to govern our lives. It’s mostly negative and focused on ourselves, and appeals to our pride. It creates a constant low-grade crisis and at times creates an all-out crisis. It’s focused on the past (usually regrets and mistakes) and the future, but rarely on the present moment which is the only thing we can affect or control. It’s driven by unexamined urges and desires that are deep in our subconscious (see Jeremiah 17:9). It judges us and others. It taunts us. It is never satisfied. It compares you and me to others. It thrives on drama.
Here’s how it works: Something happens or happened to us. We have a thought or belief about it. That belief or voice may or may not be true or accurate. If the thought goes unexamined, then we’ll feel and act on it. To change how we respond, we have to change what we believe about what we are experiencing. You see, the Bible promises that we can renew our thinking, change the way we react and be transformed (Romans 12:2).
Our thoughts are just thoughts. They are not necessarily true or based on reality and they tend to be extraordinarily negative (one research said 70% of our thoughts are negative). Our thoughts exist only in our heads. They must be examined. The Bible says we are to guard our hearts (Proverbs 4:23) and take every thought captive and let it be subject to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5).
We are not our every thought or feeling. We have to examine the lies that fuel our lives. How do we do that? We start by slowing down our minds and reflecting on what that “voice” is telling us. We identify the thought and then let the Word of God and the Holy Spirit judge it. If it is a lie, we have to consciously choose to reject it. When we get stuck (we all do, I have), we reach out to trusted friends or even professionals to help us objectively deal with the lies. There’s also an excellent book by Jennie Allen that might help called Get Out of Your Head.
In the end, you can’t stop all the negative thoughts from popping up in your head. They come from Satan himself and arise out of our mysterious subconscious. You can, however, control how you handle those thoughts. Join us this Sunday at all of our campuses as we address this issue and explore God’s invitation to us to renew our minds.
Sunday I watched the Super Bowl. The Chief players and fans celebrated. The 49er fans suffered in their loss. I watched the camera show some of the 49ers players after the game. You could see in their faces and body language how painful the loss was.
Loss is a part of life we can’t avoid. The list of losses is unending. We experience the loss of those we love through death. Divorce is an ugly loss. Friendships and close relationships are lost through conflict, betrayal, and hurt. We can lose the love and respect of those who are important to us. We lose things like a career or a dream. We lose our health or physical and mental abilities. We lose money and possessions that were valuable to us. Losses are non-stop. With each loss there is pain and it is added to the previous pain.
With a loss that brings pain, we face a critical option. Will we engage the pain and grieve the loss, or choose to neglect the grieving process in order to avoid the pain? Some try the John Wayne approach and just push through the loss and pain and focus on other things to avoid grieving. Others find ways to mask the pain. We might do that through drugs, alcohol, porn, cutting, eating, spending, video games, workaholism, and more. These hide the pain for a while, but they can never remove the underlying cause of the pain, so it keeps coming back.
Eventually, if we don’t face the pain and grieve our losses, the fruit of dysfunction will cause even more damage to us and those we love. Our unresolved grief can manifest itself in so many ways: addictions, worry, fear, anger, depression, chronic complaining, relational isolation, or excessive control, as well as a host of emotional, health, and physical symptoms of ungrieved losses.
I’m learning from my own experience that our ungrieved losses are silent killers. Ungrieved losses continue to have a powerfully negative effect on us. We have to find a way to grieve our losses.
Jesus openly grieved in a garden called Gethsemane (see Mark 14:32-42; Luke 22:39-44). When you read the story you see that he is clearly in pain and sweat like drops of blood. Because he had foreknowledge, he could feel all the physical, emotional, and spiritual pain before it happened. So, what did he do? Ignore it? Hide it? Medicate it? Fight it? No, he cried out with deep emotion, begging God to take the current and impending pain away. Jesus was grieving! He faced and brought out what he was feeling inside. He faced his pain and brought it directly to God.
Jesus modeled how we grieve. We face the pain that’s inside and bring it to our outside world. We express the pain of loss in words. We express the emotion of the loss. We share the pain with God and with safe people who can listen and not judge or try to fix us. We join a group like GriefShare. We talk to a counselor (call our church office for a referral). The point? Don’t let ungrieved losses rob you of life. Don’t face the pain alone.
As 2020 began, we started reading Luke in our Pantano Bible reading plan. I strongly urge you to use one (you can also find various in YouVersion). On January 6th I read the sixth chapter of Luke that said…
27 “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.
Jesus started this command by saying, “But to you who are listening.” I thought, even though I’ve read this so many times, I never really listened! I just read it and agreed this was one of those great teachings by Jesus. This time, however, Jesus was telling me to actually do what he said with a sincere heart. I needed to listen. It started me on a process of meditating on his instruction.
Jesus describes four types of people in this verse. He employed the Jewish form of poetry which is not rhyme or rhythm, but rather parallelism. The four types of people describe essentially the same person. The common denominator is that these are people who have hurt us.
I started by asking myself; “Who has hurt me?” I soon realized I had a lot of people who fit that category. This part of the meditation wasn’t fun. I made myself name their names and picture their faces and identify how they had hurt me. My modus operandi when people oppose me has been to just move on and not let it burden me. It’s worked pretty well, it seemed, until the words of Jesus made it clear that wasn’t an option. It was painful to bring back up the abuse I received. The list keeps growing.
Jesus said to love your enemies. So since January 6th, I’ve been choosing to love my enemies, for love is a choice. I’ve been trying to identify the very best that God wants for each person. As I have, my heart is being changed and the surprise is that I don’t see these folks as enemies anymore.
Next is the hardest one for me – do good to those who hate you. In almost every case, I have no connection to these folks anymore. So my prayer right now is to find ways to actually do good to them. I know God will open these doors.
Then Jesus said to bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. Having identified the good I desire for each person, I’m now praying that God will bless each of those that hurt me. This too has been life-changing.
Some of your “enemies” may be too dangerous for you to engage. Be wise! But at the same time, listen to Jesus’ command. When you love, bless, pray for, and do good to those who have hurt you, you’ll allow God to change you. You’ll find freedom from the offense and freedom to love in a greater way.
I absolutely believe that the church is the hope for our city. There’s spiritual darkness all around us. That’s verified in the fact that Tucson is a post-Christian city. Nationally, we rank 16th out of 100 (1 being the least influenced by the Christian faith) for post-Christian cities. We are more post-Christian than San Francisco – who would ever guess that?! 51% of our residents report that they have no connection or identity with the Christian faith. That spiritual void only feeds the multitude of other problems we face in our beloved town. It is only the church that can bring the influence of God into our city.
By church, I don’t mean the “institutional” church. I’m talking about you and me – we are the church. When the majority of our church (you and I!) are all in, fully devoted, and sold out to Jesus and his mission, we’ll push back the darkness. When the church is alive and on mission, loving people to Jesus, God will show up in us and through us to make a difference.
I’m asking you to be an All In Partner in 2020. Being All In at Pantano means…
You have publicly confessed Jesus Christ as your Lord through baptism as a testimony of your commitment to follow Jesus. It means you are passionately committed to partner with others in following and becoming like Jesus as you…
It means you’re excited and invested in Pantano’s vision and mission:
Vision: To be a catalytic force to bless Southern Arizona and the world
Mission: Loving people to Jesus and launching passionate people to make our world different
Being an All In Partner at Pantano is a declaration that you want to live an uncommon faith to live for something bigger than your day to day routine. You are affirming that your whole life, your time, skills, energy & resources belong to Jesus. He is Lord. You’ll use your life, to the best of your ability, to follow Jesus to make a difference. Being All In means that you’ll seek to love people to Jesus and help us transform our world & populate eternity. Together, we can make a difference.
We commit to being All In every year. Thank you to those who were All In in 2019. However, this is a new year, so I’m asking you to sign up again. If you haven’t been an All In Partner, now is a great time to start. Declare it as your desire to grow. We do this every year so our commitment is fresh, active and alive.
Together with God, we can bring light to the darkness and advance the influence of God in our city. The gates of hell can’t stop us. All it takes is people who are All In. You can sign the physical card available on Sundays at both campuses or even better, you can sign it online at https://mypantano.church/allin.
Happy New Year! 2020 is here. Many have noticed an interesting twist to the year 2020 and it’s the idea that our new year parallels the idea of 20/20 vision. If you have 20/20 vision then you have a normal visual acuity, clarity, and sharpness of sight. I have 20/20 vision… when I’m wearing my glasses!
We want to help you start 2020 with a clear vision for what God wants for you. We want to help you focus on what God wants for you in this new year. So, we started a new series last Sunday called One. If you missed it, you can watch here.
There is power in the idea of one – focusing on one thing. Somehow, what’s important tends to get lost in the “many”. A person can get lost in a crowd. A great idea can be drowned out among many distracting thoughts. A good intention can be weakened in the midst of too many good resolutions. The idea and power of one is focus, and in a world of ever-increasing noise and distractions, we need to recapture the power of one and focus on what is truly important.
Last Sunday, in case you missed it, we looked at how we can focus on one change God wants to bring into our lives in 2020. And while New Year’s resolutions are good, we know they are not as effective as focusing on one thing for a whole year. As we begin 2020, ask this question: What does God want you to focus on in 2020? Then prayerfully pick ONE WORD that represents the change God wants you to experience. It should be more than a good change. It should be a God change. It should be more than a good word. It should be a word from God.
When we focus on one word, our mind and heart are more open to how God is at work in ways we might have otherwise missed. Once we choose one word and intentionally focus on it, then we see more of the ways God wants us to embrace that word or the idea that word carries. One word is a powerful way to focus our thinking. Focused thinking and praying rewires our brain as we cooperate with God to experience real transformation. A better 2020 is possible…with God and with a focus.
Here’s the digital link (https://mypantano.church/oneword) so that you can access the One Word card download and a social media graphic. Share your one word on social media using #oneword. The site also has the basic steps to discover your one word for 2020.
God’s Word has the power to change us. I encourage you to find and even memorize a verse that goes along with your one word. As we begin a new year, I also strongly encourage you to engage in regular Bible reading. When we are consistently in God’s Word, it gives God a much greater influence in our daily lives. There are lots of plans available. Download the YouVersion Bible app which has numerous plans. We have a Pantano Bible reading plan that is one chapter a day for five days a week. Go to https://pantano.church/biblereadingplan/ and you can subscribe to get the daily reading delivered to you. We also have printed bookmarks at Guest Services at both campuses.
It’s common for folks to use #Blessed on social media to express something good that has happened or something good that they got. It is a way for folks to celebrate something good while trying to be modest about it. But, that is not how Jesus used the word. Before I get to that, what does “blessed” mean? From the original language, it can be translated as “happy” or “fortunate.” It means having favor with God, being fully satisfied and doing well. What’s clear from the entire Bible, from the beginning (Genesis 1:22) to the end (Revelation 22:7), God wants us to experience his blessings and live in a state of blessing. God wants us to be content, satisfied, and happy.
Depending on the church you grew up in, you might have missed that God actually wants you to be happy. The churches I grew up in emphasized that Jesus had no place to lay his head (Matthew 8:20), owned nothing and that we were to die to ourselves and take up our crosses (Matthew 16:24). That is all true. But there was no place for happiness in our faith. For too many years I believed that God was the cosmic killjoy. All I ever heard taught was that we were to sacrifice, suffer, and be somber in all things. I was taught that wanting to be happy was just another way to describe being uber selfish. It’s no wonder that so many people don’t want to have anything to do with church people who refuse to be happy.
Our faith is built on good news (also called the Gospel). The Bible is overwhelmingly clear – God wants to bless us. That means he will give us what we need to live in that condition of happiness. Of course, that requires that we have to trust him and follow his ways to find and live in that blessed state. Now that doesn’t mean that God will remove every challenge or difficulty. We can be blessed and happy even in trials – Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him (James 1:12).
This past Sunday I reminded our church what Jesus said as recorded in Acts 20:35 – it is more blessed to give than receive. Jesus turns the #Blessed posts upside down. Being happy is not found in getting good things, but in giving good things. Generosity is the real path to satisfaction. God wants us to be really happy and we find it in being generous.
God wants you to be happy. He’s given us the path. Learn to give generously. Give an abundance of good words to others. You can’t be unhappy when you are blessing others with your words. Give generously out of your money and possessions. You can’t be unhappy when you meet the needs of others directly or through your church or a non-profit. You can’t be unhappy when you give of your time, effort and service to make a difference for others. You can test that out by joining us in Serving Our City on November 17th. Never stop giving thanks and gratitude to God and others for how he has blessed us, sometimes even in the midst of hard times. You can’t be unhappy while being grateful.
There’s a statement and truth Jesus made that actually answers so many of my questions about life and what it means to follow Jesus. It provides an answer to my many worries. It’s an antidote to my pride. It’s a check on my temptation to be religious. It arrests my tendency to compare myself with others. It sets my limits on my need to be in charge. It gives freedom and so much more. It’s a statement Jesus made in Matthew 11:28-30 – 28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
What a picture! Like two animals yoked together, Jesus invites us to take his yoke and join him side by side. Together, any challenge or hardship goes so much easier. Being yoked to Jesus is a check on my pride because I can’t run ahead of him. Being yoked to Jesus means I also can’t lag behind as he helps pull the weight of whatever I’m carrying. He leads me to the right place at the right pace.
I don’t have to worry if I’m good enough. That is a worry that we all face. Regularly we all ask: Am I a good enough spouse, parent, friend, employee, student, boss, athlete, man or woman or whatever. When we are yoked to Jesus we don’t have to focus on whether we are good enough or not because Jesus is enough. We just have to trust him and walk in step with him. Wow, that takes the complication out of what it means to follow Jesus! Being yoked to Jesus is more than enough.
But the key is that I have to take off whatever yoke I’ve been attached to and let it go. It could be the yoke of performance. It could be the yoke of appearance. It could be the yoke of fear. Whatever name you give your yoke, at the core it’s a trust and dependence on ourselves. Our yoke that burdens us is in some way a yoke about self. That’s also called pride that results in self-reliance. It will wear us out and tear us down by its weight that we feel we have to carry by ourselves. But we don’t just stop at taking off the yoke of pride, we take on the yoke of Jesus. It’s easy. It’s light. It gives us rest.
I spoke with a woman this week who left a powerful group that put a religious yoke on her. It was a yoke that said she had to be perfect. It told her she had to work harder, do more, give more and be better to be okay and acceptable to God and to that religious community. It presented God as anyone but gentle and understanding. And it wore her out.
One day, she discovered that Jesus is enough. That awareness is so simple. It is so profound. Jesus is enough. Get linked to him. Walk with him. He’s gentle. He won’t push us faster or harder than we can bear. He’s humble. He’ll use all his resources to help us on our spiritual journey. The result is that we’ll find rest for our souls.
So ask this question – Am I finding rest for my soul? Religion is a heavy, tiring burden. Jesus is gentle and he helps ease the burden and weight of trying to be enough on our own. Take the invitation of Jesus – take his yoke upon yourself and see how the journey leads to a rested soul.
I didn’t want to get out of bed this morning. That’s rare for me. I’m tired. I have some people asking for help that I can’t help the way I wish I could. There are some challenges I’m facing that easily discourage me. They weigh on me. But, I’m not alone. Everyone one of us has battles. Most of those battles are actually inside us. Our battles are not primarily with others or against situations. The real battles form out of what we think and what we believe. We look at Facebook or Instagram posts and compare ourselves to others and think we fall short. Our overeating, addiction to porn, or whatever ultimately comes out of what we think and believe. What’s your battle right now?
The great Apostle Paul knew all about spiritual battles first hand. He writes about it in 2 Corinthians 10:1-6. He starts by saying: For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds (NIV).
We are in a spiritual kind of war. So, we have to use the weapons that will help us win our spiritual battles. We have divine power to break down the strong temptations or lies in our head that want to destroy us. That’s one reason why we are in our Engage teaching series on Sundays. In prayer, we engage the divine power of God to do what only God can do. We must never think we can, on our own, defeat the trickery, lies, and power of the evil one. We need divine power. In prayer, we engage the God of the universe who is all-knowing, wise, trustworthy, and who will always act for us and not against us. So ask for help. Pray bold prayers seeking God’s intervention.
The only real power our enemy has over us is the power of the lie. So Paul says, “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” We have to challenge the things we think and believe, as they are the root cause of our battles. Does God form our thoughts, or do they come from another source? The evil one wants us to buy his lies about ourselves, about this world, about God, and just about everything. The lies abound! Here’s just a few: “You can’t trust people!” “This is just a private sin that won’t hurt anyone!” “This sin isn’t as bad as…” “I don’t need to be in a small group; I can grow spiritually on my own.” “I have to do what feels right and authentic for me.” “I can never forgive ____.” “God can never use someone like me.” The lies are endless.
The lies we believe are often the root or foundation of the struggles we face and the trouble we get ourselves into. We fight the lies with God’s wisdom and truth that can and will demolish the damage the evil one wants to inflict. That was the very process I engaged this morning. I had to “take captive every thought and make it obedient to Christ.”
What battle are you fighting right now? What weapons are you using to win your battle? Engage God. Let God’s true words about you or the situation carry the day. Take captive every thought that is not of God and not aligned with the Bible and let God demolish the lie so you can find victory in the battle for your mind and your thoughts.
I wanted to share a great blog by my friend and fellow pastor, John Beeson, who is the Co-Senior Pastor at New Life Bible Fellowship here in Tucson. The blog is called The Bee Hive – subscribe here. John, in a very creative way, describes the culture we have worked to create here at Pantano for years! The following is an excellent reminder for all of us:
“We’ve got just enough time. Let’s go!” My wife and I had run an errand on our day off and had a dentist appointment in 45 minutes. If we didn’t get caught in traffic, we would just be able to get home, brush, floss, swish some Listerine, and then head to our afternoon dentist appointment. Why? Because in our world, you don’t show up to a dentist appointment without your teeth in their best condition.
Two days later, I drop my car off at the shop. It has a strange squeak that has me nervous. I haven’t so much as popped the hood. The car isn’t washed, and a fine powder of crumbs dusts the backseat.
When I go to the dentist, I go hoping that I will get a good report. I don’t want any cavities, and I hope not to be scolded that I don’t floss enough. I have a strange desire to receive the dentist’s approval.
When I go to the car shop, I go messy. I go honest. I hope that they hear the squeak I keep hearing. I don’t know anything about cars, and I hope that the mechanic can fix the problem. I know I sure can’t.
How do I go to church? Like I go to the dentist’s office or like I go to the car shop? Do we clean ourselves up, or do we come messy?
Too many of us go to church like we go to the dentist’s office. We put on a smile we don’t actually feel. We try to avoid conversation, but if we have to have a conversation, we make sure it is as surface-level as possible. We are afraid the mess that is just below the surface is going to start leaking out.
Friends, let’s go to church like we go to the car shop. Don’t put on your best face when you walk into your connection group this week. Don’t let your “Sunday best” cover up the truth of where your heart is.
God has given us his family so that they might rejoice with us in our happiest moments and also so that they might grieve with us in our lowest moments. He has given us his family so that they might speak wisdom and hope and grace into our lives. God has given us a family so that we might receive comfort and exhortation.
Over fifty times in the Bible, we are commanded to live in a particular way with “one another.” About fifteen times, we are told to love one another, another five times we are told to encourage or build one another up. We are told to accept one another (Romans 15:7), to “carry each other’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2). We are told to confess our sins to each other and pray for one another (James 5:16). Friends, we can’t do any of these things truly if we treat church like the dentist’s office.
Do you want to experience love, encouragement, forgiveness, and acceptance at church? Stop flossing your teeth. Step into Christ’s family auto-shop with humble transparency and look forward to the gift of true, messy community.
This Sunday we are finishing our Intervention teaching series. Thank you for the great feedback. The content seems to have been helpful for many. The focus of this series has been on how we allow God to intervene in our lives in order to find freedom from our issues, hurts, hang-ups, repetitive sins, and addictions.
There’s an aspect to this that we were not able to speak about, but is so important to understand; to find freedom, we need God to intervene. And, he does intervene. Getting “unstuck” and changing sometimes happens quickly, even instantaneously. But most often, change is slow. And it’s that slow change that’s can feel like torture. We want to be free and we want it now!
This takes me to a profound passage in Hebrews 12:1-4: Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
4 In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.
Verse 4 is the kicker to me. Yes, we struggle against sin, but we have not had the intense struggle that Jesus faced on the cross. Jesus endured the slow, agonizing death on a cross! I think we forget that death on a cross was not just a form on capital punishment; the cross was also an instrument of torture. A person on a cross died slowly. Crucifixion was a combination of asphyxiation, loss of blood, intense pain, organ failure and more. A person could stay alive on a cross for as long as three days if allowed. The Roman soldiers broke the legs of the criminals next to Jesus so they could speed up their death and have it finished before the Sabbath.
The cross was a slow torture. So maybe that’s why Jesus used that image when he said; “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me (Luke 9:23)”. Following Jesus is a journey that means we do struggle, and it’s a struggle that doesn’t go away quickly or easily. Finding freedom and inviting God’s intervention in our lives is not without pain and struggle. To be free we also have to deny what we want, surrender to Jesus and the way of Jesus and endure hard aspects of real change.
The underlying message in both of these verses I’ve shared is the challenge to endure! Hang in there with Jesus as we struggle against sin. Don’t give up. Keep on keeping on. Run with perseverance.
Now, back to Hebrews 12; did you notice a small but significant statement in verse 2? How did Jesus endure the cross? It was the “joy set before him.” The struggle on the cross was excruciating. But the result? Pure joy! It lead to something so good for all humans. And our struggle against sin will also eventually lead us to freedom and joy… if we don’t give up.
The primary way that the devil tries to tempt us, trick us and trap us is though lies (see John 8:44). He wants us to believe lies about ourselves, others, our life, about God, about what’s good or fair and more. Our best defense against this is truth. Lies have the power to hurt us, and we need to know the truth and use it to destroy that power. That’s why Paul wrote this in 2 Corinthians 10:5 (NIV) – We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. We use the truth to evaluate every thought and take captive every lie.
I went through a two-year season where I listened to the devil’s lies about me. The core consistent message I heard was that I wasn’t a good enough leader or pastor for our church. I was stuck listening to the lies repeated in my head, so I sought help from a Christian counselor. He helped me realize I was listening to lies and then directed me to reconnect with God’s truth. After looking carefully at the scriptures and embracing God’s truth again, I was able to resist the devil and his lies and find freedom. He then encouraged me to take the scriptures and put them into a letter as if God were writing them to me. I shared part of that letter in last Sunday’s message. Here’s the full letter:
I have called you to be faithful not successful. You are not responsible for kingdom success. In the end, it is I who will be the one to evaluate and judge your work and My judgments are just (1 Corinthians 4:1-5).
Your competence comes from me. I delight in using you to accomplish My purposes. Allow Me to make you competent to be the pastor and leader I need to boldly advance the revolution of the kingdom (2 Corinthians 3:4, 5). As a carefully crafted piece of art, I will continue to make you into someone who will fulfill My purposes. I am preparing you for good works (Ephesians 2:10). Trust Me in this and fully show up.
Your focus is to first be deeply rooted (abide, remain) in Jesus. That is the only path to producing lasting spiritual kingdom fruit. I want you to produce much fruit, but only as you stay rooted in My love, truth, and power (John 15:4, 5).
So, refuse to listen to the harsh critical voices of condemnation, whether internal or external (2 Corinthians 10:5). Those voices are not My voice. I do not condemn My own children (Romans 8:1; Isaiah 50:7-9). Trust Me to help you faithfully show up with holy boldness, doing what I have called you to do without self-doubt. Cast off anything that weighs you down as you run the race I have set for you (Hebrews 12:1).
I have not asked you to do the work of ministry alone (Philippians 2:12, 13 – the “you” is plural). Trust Me to make you competent and invite others to help you carry the load. Depend on Me and collaborate with others. True collaboration is a part of your faithful service. And finally, don’t rely on yourself to make it all happen. Rather, make it a priority to invest in and equip others to do the work of the kingdom (Ephesians 4:11-13).
What are the lies to which you are listening that are damaging or ruining you? May I encourage you to re-engage with God and his truth to take those lies captive? Join us this Sunday, July 21st, as we look at how to resist the devil. I’ll also be inviting people to make the commitment to follow Jesus in baptism. You won’t want to miss this Sunday.
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Every January, for the last five years, I’ve encouraged our congregation to prayerfully adopt a One Word to focus for the entire year. This replaces the well-intended New Year’s resolutions that are usually forgotten by the end of January! If you are new to Pantano since the beginning of this year, you can watch the message from January 6th that explains the One Word idea. The basic idea is to ask God to guide you to one word that you would focus on for the year. Your one word could represent a goal, or a character quality you want to develop or grow, an attitude you want to be more prominent, or even something you want to stop doing.
It was just six months ago that many of us sought God and discovered the one word in which we would focus. So, how’s it going with your 2019 one word? Maybe you forgot about it. That happens and that’s why I’m writing about it – to remind us! You still have six months to give that One Word real attention.
Maybe you haven’t forgotten, but find yourself a little stuck. This has happened to me in the past also. Well, this is a reminder to reconnect with God about your one word. Ask him to help you get unstuck and take your journey deeper or further than you have over the last few months.
The value of this one word idea is that we keep asking God to reveal new or deeper ways to embrace or live out our one word. Don’t be discouraged, but use the reminder as a way to get back into the conversation about your one word with God. Remember, this is a year-long journey. We want to use our one word to connect with God in order to seek growth and transformation.
My one word for 2019 is the word “present.” I’ve been trying to focus more on the folks around me at the moment. I’ve tried to listen more and be more attentive to what’s being said and not being said. To better connect with people, I’ve tried to notice how people are feeling using their non-verbal cues. I’ve had some success, but I still miss too many opportunities. So, I took my focus in a different direction last month; I took some time to be alone (I did a short road trip and went camping and hiking) to be more present with God. I’m looking forward to seeing where God will take me as I continue to focus on this word in the second half of the year.
I’m a part of a wonderful life group. I hope you are part of a group of folks that you share life with. Our group shares our one word with each other at the beginning of the year. Then we review it with each other a couple times during the year. If you are a part of a group, I highly recommend this. It’s not too late to start! Or, find a good friend that you can share your one word. Or, you might think about giving an update through your favorite form of social media. The point is this – keep it alive!
I just did a memorial or celebration of life service on Friday for an 11-month old that died from a rare kidney disease. He died one day before his scheduled transplant. What can I say to that grieving mom and dad and family? There are no words of comfort.
There is rarely a week when I don’t hear about a heartache, a tragedy, about suffering and pain. It might be a scary medical diagnosis. It might be a financial setback. It might be an accident. It might be the breakup of a marriage. It might be a student who took their life. I’m telling you, they come to me with such frequency that find myself having to fight the temptation to just go numb. I pray and my heart breaks, but I’m left with the age-old question that we all ask: “Why?” It was the question Job and Moses asked of God. It’s the question I asked God about my mom getting Multiple Sclerosis.
I think I came to begin to understand this better while we lived in Ukraine. You see, Ukraine has no natural boundaries (mountains, rivers, oceans, etc.). For thousands of years in their history, they have been conquered, beaten down and suffered at the hands of enemy after enemy. In more recent history Stalin manufactured a famine that killed over 10 million Ukrainians. Nazi Germany walked right over them. Recently the Russians walked in and took the Crimea away. They’ve known suffering for centuries as a people.
It was living with them that taught me that there is meaning and purpose in suffering. I had known it in my head as an intellectual idea. But they showed me how suffering deepened their faith and their relationship with God. With a deepened faith and connection to God, their character was powerfully formed to be more like Jesus. That’s what I want. But I don’t want it at the price of the pain. You see, the thing we hate is often the thing we most need. It’s one of those many spiritual paradoxes.
I came across a statement Randy Alcorn made. It offers huge wisdom in helping us understand the meaning and purpose of pain. He said; “There’s no nearness to God without dependence on God. And nothing makes us more dependent on Him than when the bottom drops out.” Being near to God is of far greater value than any struggle we face. It is in the struggle that we are most likely to do draw near to him. That’s what he wants. That’s what we need.
Of course, Paul said it the best in Romans 5:3-5 – Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
The thing we hate the most…is often the thing we need the most.
This past Sunday, I introduced our new series: This Is Pantano. We looked at the first value that we hold as people of Pantano – What matters most is loving people to Jesus. I made a strong case that it is God’s will that because all people have value and matter to him, we have to love all people, even the messed up, misinformed and misguided folks, no matter how difficult they are. However, there’s a fuller picture to love. How are we to love those who abuse us? How are we to love those who pose a real danger to us and those we love?
Back in 2017, I did a whole series called Peopling that addresses this. If you missed it or need a refresher, you can watch the four-part series on our message page and go to previous messages or click here. The idea is that the Bible teaches there are three basic kinds of people. The Bible labels them as Wise, Fool, and Evil. Each kind of person requires that we respond in a way that matches who they are. There is no “one size fits all” way to engage and love people.
There are some people who outright reject God and the truth, and are intent on hurting us. They are called evil. Their only intent is to hurt you. There are some people who refuse to deal with truth and reality. They are called fools. In their denial of truth and reality, they blame you, others and circumstances for the trouble they are in. They are selfish, self-centered, and won’t take responsibility for their actions. They refuse to listen. Then there are the wise who want to know the truth and listen to the truth and allow God’s wisdom to transform how they live. In the Peopling series, we saw how the book of Proverbs (for example, see Proverbs 9:6-9; 4:14-16; 18:2; 19:19; 27:12) describes and gives us wisdom on how to respond to each type.
The point of the Peopling series is that you can love a wise and healthy person by seeking to serve them, engage with them, be kind, etc. This was what I was focusing on this last Sunday. When you genuinely try to love and give grace to a “fool,” you’ll discover that they continue in their negative or hurtful ways. Your “normal” kind of love doesn’t help. In fact, it might actually enable them to hurt you and others more. That’s when love has to change.
My simple definition of love is to seek the best for someone. The way you do that with a fool is to set “boundaries.” You want to love them, but they make it almost impossible to love them in the “normal” ways. Boundaries are the best way we can LOVE them. Boundaries define what will be accepted or not and gives consequences for their behavior. They will only change for their own good and for the good of others when it costs them enough to change. What’s best for a fool (that’s love) is often not what they want – that’s why the Bible calls them a fool. Some call this tough love.
Finally, there are evil people and the Bible tells us to avoid them. An evil person has one focus and purpose – to hurt and destroy you. Evil people abuse and injure people. You can’t help or serve an evil person. All you can do is confront them (which only makes them more hurtful) and then pray for them. We praying for what’s best for them. Then, forgive them. We forgive them more for ourselves (they don’t care). We let go of our hurt in forgiveness. You can’t be friends with them because they will only use that to hurt, abuse and damage you more. With an “evil” person you lock the door, defriend them on social media, get a gun or get a lawyer (just kidding….sort of). You have to separate from someone whose evil and pray for God to rescue and transform them.
We are called to love all people. But that love will look differently depending on who we are trying to love.
No, we did not, nor are we having twins. But I’ve sure enjoyed getting to know some twins. I’ve gotten to observe several sets through our church as well as watch some twins who are athletes, writers, and speakers. Whether identical or fraternal types, there seems to be a very special bond and connection between the two. That bond is strong regardless of the fact that they can have very different personalities, likes, and hobbies. That bond is visible whether they like to dress the same or not.
For several years now I’ve been on a spiritual journey of learning about and growing what seems like spiritual twins. These “twins” are character qualities that also manifest themselves and are grown through practice and action. These “twins” have been two of the powerful forces shaping me lately. The “twins” are gratitude and generosity. There is a strong bond between them. They feed off each other and enhance each other. They are not identical twins, but they clearly are close to and related to each other. Yes, in a spiritual sense, they come from the same heavenly Father.
Here are some random reflections of some things I’ve learned, am learning and continue to explore about the twins of gratitude and generosity:
My wish for you is that you intentionally grow the twins of gratitude and generosity. What I’ve discovered is that it doesn’t matter which you do first. With intentionality, one leads to the other. So, get started! Find a way daily to practice both generosity and gratitude…and watch God grow you in wild and crazy ways.
We began a series on fear last Sunday called What Keeps You Up at Night? You can watch a replay of the entire service weeknights at 6 pm on our opening page at pantano.church (scroll down to the “Watch Live” section). Or you can watch just the message anytime – click here.
The cost of fear is very high. Sustained fear causes stress that over time can erode our health resulting in diabetes, cardiovascular issues, infertility, and so much more. Fear disrupts a healthy emotional balance as it robs us of peace and often results in things like depression or outbursts of anger. Fear can hinder us from taking important and needed risks that are a normal part of life and that help us grow and move forward. And, one of the seldom mentioned consequences of fear is that it can keep us from living out our true self that can make a difference in the place God has put us.
God created each of us unique. Our true self is made up of the characteristics, desires, motivations and our unique gifts that reflect God as we were created in the image of God. The person God created us to be has been damaged by our sin but has also been redeemed and restored in Christ. Fear often causes us to back away from our true self that best reflects God, and that he created to make a difference in his name.
Here are some of the costs of fear that we too seldom reflect on or talk about: When we fear not being loved, cared for, or included, we selfishly seek ways to get love instead of looking for even imperfect ways to love. When we are afraid that we can’t make things right, the way they should be, we can react in anger rather than looking for our best or better response that might make a small difference. We are afraid of failure so we’ll choose dishonesty to get a good outcome or fall into self-doubt that paralyzes us from being a positive contributor. We fear not having enough (of anything) and rather than sharing whatever we do have, we hoard it and ironically prove in action that we have nothing to share.
Fear keeps us from giving away the gifts God gave us to help others. When fear causes us to doubt, what we have to offer won’t be seen as valuable and worthwhile, so we withdraw and others lose out on the less than perfect gifts we could have given. We fear anything that might cause us pain or suffering, so we overindulge in the things that make us happy or numb the pain and become disengaged from contributing to others. We can be afraid of being controlled and manipulated so we refuse to be vulnerable and approachable which are amazing gifts in themselves. We are afraid of change or conflict so we become neglectful of or withhold the actions that might make a difference.
There is a very high cost of living in fear. Fear is one of Satan’s best tools he uses to try and stop love, hinder service, and neutralize God’s people. In the end, we choose fear or we choose faith. It is actually easy and quite natural to choose fear. But it takes prayer, effort, courage and lots of help to choose faith in the face of fear. Faith is a deep trust and confidence that God is with us to help us be the person he made us to be…no matter what. Faith is choosing to be like Jesus…no matter what. Choose faith!
My wife and I took a couple of days off to celebrate our wedding anniversary. We did our first “staycation.” We stayed in town, saw four movies and went out to eat for lunch and dinner. We got to sleep in a bit. And, one afternoon, I even went out by the hotel pool to read a book!
I’ve had a book of short stories on my shelf for years; written by Leo Tolstoy. Tolstoy (1828-1910) is an interesting character himself. He was a Russian born into the wealthy class, became an orphan at nine, was socially awkward but became a world-famous writer (War and Peace, Anna Karenina, Resurrection, etc.). It was in the second half of his life that he found faith by reading the New Testament and decided to follow Jesus. I like Tolstoy because I share his dislike for religion and his passion to simply follow the teachings of Jesus.
There was one conversation in the short story Where Love Is, There God Is Also that grabbed me. The story is about a shoemaker who meets a little old man. The shoemaker tells the old man of his despair in losing his wife and their three children. He was alone and says to his guest; “I have no desire to live any longer.” The old man replies; “You are in despair because you wish to live for your own happiness.” The shoemaker replies; “But what shall one live for?” The little old man said; “We must live for God. He gives you life, and for his sake, you must live. When you begin to live for him, you will not grieve over anything, and all will seem easy for you.” I had to stop reading. So much was said in that dialog. There is so much wisdom and hope there. Please re-read the conversation in this paragraph again.
What do we live for? For our happiness? Few of us will admit to that. But really, what do we live for day in and day out? Sometimes we fool ourselves and say that we are not living for our own happiness, but the happiness of our family and friends. But in the end, if our family and friends are happy, then that brings us happiness. When we lose the things that are important to us and make us happy, like the shoemaker’s family, where then is our happiness?
We all need to reflect on the shoemaker’s question – “But what shall one live for?” What do I really live for? Am I living for my happiness? I will admit that far too often, I am living for my own happiness. It shows when I internally complain about my long days. It shows when I have a sort of envy for others whose lives seem easy and free of conflict. It shows when I want to complain about not being able to do more of the fun stuff. And, it mostly shows when things, big or little, interfere with my happiness agenda. I hate to confess this, but far too much of my life is still focused on my own happiness. I want to learn to live for God, more and more. Yes, I am living for God…some of the time, maybe even most of the time. But when I fully live for him, as the little old man said, then I will “not grieve over anything, and all will seem easy…” That’s the blessing that Jesus wants to give us: Full surrender to him is the only path to full freedom. May we remember this as we enter a Christmas season that tends to draw us to focus on our own happiness. May we choose to live fully for God.
Happy Thanksgiving! It’s my favorite holiday. Why? The turkey is great. I love family time. There’s usually great football. But the best part is the focus on gratitude. I’m convinced that gratitude is a lost spiritual discipline in American Christianity. There are too few of us that make gratitude a daily practice and choice. If we were to rediscover the art of gratitude, we’d experience a transformation of our attitude that would result in continual satisfaction and contentment.
But our natural response to life is to complain. It has always been that way. The people of Israel wandered in the wilderness for forty years because they just kept complaining against God. Why? They focused on their hardship rather than in all the ways God had and was providing for them. We’ll always have hardships and we’ll always have much to be grateful about. We get to choose which we’ll focus on.
The fact is that we have become experts at complaining – out loud and in our heads. As long as we are ungrateful, we can’t help but complain. And the more we complain, the more we focus on what we lack and find even more to complain about. It’s a cycle and a trap. The very act of complaining and being discontent keeps us focused on what we wish was different. And that ingratitude which leads to complaining interrupts our experience of God’s goodness and grace.
I recently read about a pastor who has A.L.S. – an incurable, debilitating disease. Most of what he used to be able to do, he can no longer do. But he recounted how grateful he was that he could still walk to the bathroom. While he can’t use his right hand, he’s grateful he can still use his left hand to feed himself. Daily he chooses to focus on what he can do rather than complain about what he’s lost. He said his gratitude helps him see God’s goodness and grace in his ordeal.
I’ve tried to make gratitude a planned part of my day. I even have a chair in my backyard that I’ve dedicated to use for my Bible reading and for gratitude. I’ve found that the practice of gratitude changes my attitude. Studies have shown that folks who regularly practice gratitude are healthier both physically and emotionally and a lot happier. I’ve found that the more I intentionally focus on what I’m grateful for the more I discover what I have to be grateful about. The well for gratitude is endless!
And most of all, God commands that we be thankful (Here are just a few scriptures – Ephesians 5:20; Philippians 4:6; Colossians 3:15; 4:2; 1 Thessalonians 5:19). So choose to be thankful. May your Thanksgiving holiday be the beginning of a season of gratitude that lasts long beyond the holiday.
Last spring I listened to a nationally-known Christian leader tell his story of how he almost ruined his family and his life. Unfortunately, that is not uncommon for Christian leaders these days. But what was so unusual was how God led him through his mess to find hope and freedom.
I can’t wait for you to meet the man – Carlos Whittaker. Carlos will be with us this Sunday (November 18) at all three of our Sunday services (9 AM, 11 AM and 1 PM). You don’t want to miss this and you still have time to invite others to join you.
Carlos was in trouble and he knew he needed help. Just as he was entering a week-long intensive counseling, he had a conversation with his dad. His dad’s words provided Carlos direction to help him find healing and freedom. His dad’s words were: “Carlos, don’t just keep getting rid of the cobwebs. It’s time to kill the spider.”
That idea not only helped Carlos kill his spider, but it provided him a story that resulted in a book by the same title – Kill the Spider. It was this spiritual metaphor that we used for the series that we’ll finish on Sunday. Not only is Carlos an author, but he’s also a nationally-known speaker and worship leader. He knows how to tell a great story that God will use to help all of us find the resolve to kill our spiders.
As an author, speaker, pastor, and blogger at Ragamuffin Soul, Carlos has lived much of his spiritual life in the spotlight. But, like any Christian, his faith story has its ups and downs. He spent decades trying to figure out how to be a “better person.” Time and time again, he strived for holiness only to get caught in the web of destructive habits, behaviors, and thought patterns.
You’ll find Carlos to be honest and hilarious as he shares his story. What you’ll experience is a self-deprecating man with passion-filled wisdom. He’ll remind us what we know – that it’s not enough to try and “stop sinning.” Rather, he’ll teach us that knocking out deep-rooted habits and issues comes by treating the issue, not just the symptoms. He’ll help us to kill our spider and finally be free from the cobwebs.
Diana, a long-time member at Pantano and a teacher by profession has taken this series to heart. She shared with me a worksheet she made to help her do what I challenged us to do last week – Identify, Reject and Replace the lie with the truth. Here’s the link to the worksheet. Print it out and use it to help you discover and replace your lie with God’s truth, which leads to freedom. And, don’t miss Sunday and invite someone to join you.
We all hear voices. And I’m not suggesting we all have a physiological condition of auditory hallucination caused by a psychotic disorder. We all hear “voices” in the sense that there are statements or beliefs that go through our head, sometimes over and over. We have beliefs that govern who we are and how we behave. We listen to, trust and give power to various “voices.” Those voices that are true, and especially those from God, help us live well. Those voices that are lies, hurt us and those in our lives.
Kill the Spider
That’s the basis for this important teaching series we are in right now called Kill the Spider. Be sure to watch each of the three messages in this series. The “spider” in our series is any lie we believe and make an agreement with. The “cobwebs” that spiders weave are the sins, bad habits or attitudes, reactions or behaviors that result from the lies we buy.
I had a lie that began to surface about 8 years ago. The cobwebs (the results of the lie) were regular days of depression, huge self-doubt and self-questioning which also caused me to be defensive at times. The biggest cobweb was the continual “voice” that I kept hearing – I was a failure as a pastor and leader. I tried all I knew and was stuck in the cobwebs. They wouldn’t go away. I had to go to a professional Christian counselor and pastor to get help to discover the lie.
Replacing My Lie
The basis of the lie was that our church had not grown much in the few years prior. I had bought the lie that growth and recognized success was the fruit of being a great pastor and leader. So if there was not much growth or success, then I was a failure. What a lie! I was committed to the journey to discover the lie, reject it and finally replace it with the truth. I discovered it through the example of the life of the prophet Jeremiah and the wise counsel of others. It became my life motto – God has called me to be faithful, not successful.
Keeping the Spider Away
It’s a huge task to discover, reject and replace a lie with the truth. It’s another thing to keep the lie away. We might kill the spider-lie, but the Evil One wants to bring back it’s cousin.
That’s when I understood the powerful truth Paul makes in 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 (NIV) – 3 For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. 4 The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. 5 We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. A stronghold describes how powerful lies can be. But we can demolish the lies by taking captive every thought or lie and kill it with the truth of Jesus. When the lie starts to raise it’s voice, we kill it again and again with the truth of God.
After I discovered my lie, rejected it and replaced it; I wrote a letter. I called it my “Capture Letter”, after this verse. I wrote it as a letter from God with 10 specific scriptures to remind me of the truth that would kill the spider-lie each time it tried to get access to my thinking. And it worked! I’ve been free from the lie for years and reject it each time it tries to speak. If you want you can read my letter here. We can be free and stay free from the destructive power of our lies. Be free! That’s the focus on the message this weekend.
Today is Halloween. Our life group, along with many other groups in our church, are doing what we’ve called the “Halloween Challenge”. Years ago, I challenged our church to make a difference on Halloween. We are serving our neighborhood on this night that has been a bit awkward for Christians. We are not celebrating evil or the devil for sure. Rather than run from or try to hide from the “holiday”, we are choosing to engage with people. Our group will be giving away hot dogs, drinks, candy, and this year, we are adding a hayride. We’ve found serving in this way is a great way to engage and connect with people and have the possibility of opening up spiritual conversations.
Several houses around us have decorated for the day with spider webs. What’s interesting to me is that you see these massive cobwebs, but you rarely see the fake spider! But that’s the way life is; we see cobwebs all the time, but rarely see the one who made the sticky, messy web.
Sunday we are beginning a three-week series called Kill the Spider. I got the idea from a book I read earlier this year with the same title by Carlos Whittaker. Spiders and their cobwebs are a great metaphor for the spiritual struggle we all face.
Do you struggle with bad habits, sin and personal junk that never seems to go away, messes up your life, and those in it? Maybe it’s constant worry, anxiety or fear. Maybe it’s the need to medicate away the pain of the struggle which manifests as an addiction like porn, overeating, drugs or alcohol. Maybe it shows up in things like anger, isolation, or the various ways we seem to continually sabotage relationships. Maybe it’s the constant effort to change by reading self-help books, attending classes or conferences. Maybe it’s an obsession with how we look, wanting others to like and affirm us, or the tendency to be codependent.
These things are like cobwebs. We keep trying to clean them out, but they come right back sooner or later. Why? Because in order to get rid of the cobwebs, we need to kill the spider that is making them.
We have to kill the spider! The spiders in our lives are the lies from the Evil One that we believe and agree with. The lies of the Devil will cause us to act in ways that we know are not good for us nor will they honor God. These lies create spiritual cobwebs that we and others see. But behind them is the real problem: the spider-lies.
When we are willing to identify the spider-lie in us, it is then, and only then, that we can finally replace the lies with God’s truth. We don’t kill spiritual spiders with insecticide. We kill the spider and find freedom by replacing the lie with God’s truth. We live by that truth. Jesus said that the truth is what sets us free (John 8:32). God’s truth allows us to really live and thrive, free of the cobwebs that are so despised.
Join us the next three weeks for this incredible series and teaching. Join us each week if you are wanting to experience freedom or know someone who needs to be free from their cobwebs. This is a great series to invite others to join you. Carlos Whittaker will be with us on Sunday, November 18th. You won’t want to miss his message or the series.
We started a new teaching series Sunday called Interrupting Grace. We looked at how our sin and brokenness and the resulting guilt and shame can interrupt God’s grace. If you missed the teaching, you can watch it online.
In the message, I referred to a condition I call “brokenness”. We are all broken, which means we are not whole and will never be perfect in this life. We all have weaknesses. None of us are the complete package. All of us are sinners (Romans 3:23) and fall short of God’s ideal. And, our brokenness won’t be healed until we enter heaven for eternity.
Guilt and Condemnation
Our brokenness makes us guilty, but in my message, I quoted Romans 8:1 – Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. Note the sentence begins with “therefore.” That means this profound spiritual truth and promise is a summary for what preceded. What preceded was chapter 7 where Paul unpacks how we are all guilty and feel the condemnation for our failures.
In chapter 7 Paul talks about the principle of the “law”, which in this context is all of God’s revealed truths and commands. But, he admits that even though he knows what is right and wants to do what is right, he fails over and over. God’s ideals, intended for good, makes him “guilty” and brings condemnation because he continually falls short. Here’s how he describes himself in verses 14-19: 14 We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. 15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature [flesh]. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. That last phrase is a great description of brokenness – I keep doing the wrong things!
Such a Mess
The frustration of Paul’s own brokenness comes out near the end of the chapter in verse 24 – “What a wretched man I am!” My paraphrase is this: “I’m such a mess!” We’ve all thought and felt the way Paul did. We know what’s right. We know how we want to live. But we fail over and over again. We are all broken. We all have a weakness that the Devil tries to exploit. We all have a particular kind or set of temptations that are more constant and harder to resist. We all have a particular sin or set of sins that we struggle with and give into. And there are moments we just cry out the words reflected in the Message version of verse 24 – I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question? The answer is in verse 25 (NIV) – Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!
Grace – No Condemnation
This brings us full circle. In our brokenness, Jesus gives us grace. His grace is the full forgiveness of all our wrongs and failures. His grace offers us the full rights of being an adopted child of God. In spite of what we’ve done or not done, in grace he loves us, he is for us and will not abandon us. In grace, he has removed all condemnation for our continual ongoing failures – Romans 8:1! Grace is greater than our brokenness. Thank you, Jesus!
This past week in our series called Contrast, Roger Blumenthal spoke about the idea of being shaped by the cravings we feed 1 Peter 2:1-3. If you missed his message, you can watch it here. Just the day before Roger spoke, I was listening to a podcast as I was driving to the west side of Tucson. The podcast was a conversation with Erwin McManus. Erwin said something like this – What you long for you become. I spent the rest of my drive and afterward reflecting on this. This is what Peter was writing about when he said “crave pure spiritual milk” so we can grow up in our salvation.
First, what this reminded me of is that we CAN CHANGE! I was watching a TV show the other day and one of the characters said this about himself – “People don’t change.” Most of us believe that deep down. This is the prevailing view of our culture. This is the experience of too many of us – we just don’t seem to change in those deep areas of dysfunction and brokenness. We’ve lost the hope of real change.
But God through Peter, Erwin, and many others remind us that what we crave or long for will, in fact, shape us. That is a spiritual truth found throughout the Bible. That gives us hope that we can change. With that hope, we can actually begin to align ourselves with God to allow real change to happen.
The next question is this: “What do you want or need to change in you?” How do you want to be different from your older self or different from your family or the culture around you? Do you want to get rid of fear and worry and live in peace and contentment? Do you want to get rid of anger and consistently express patience and kindness? Do you want to be free of your addiction? Do you want to stop sabotaging your relationships and in vulnerability connect authentically with people? What do you want to change? Then follows an equally hard question – how? But maybe that’s not exactly the right question.
Maybe the better question is this – “Who do you long to become?” Change doesn’t happen because we become hyper-disciplined and follow a bunch of good rules, like, “I’ll never be angry or worry or whatever…” One of the keys to change is to look at who we long to be like. Have you ever noticed what the Apostle Paul said about this? In 1 Corinthians 4:16 he said: Therefore I urge you to imitate me. Then in 1 Corinthians 11:1 he said: Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ. This is so powerful! Who do you long to be like? Who is your example? What is it you crave for your own life that you see in someone else?
Now the fast, easy, and right answer is “Jesus.” But did you notice what Paul did? He said to imitate him or his example AS he followed the example or imitated Jesus. It’s okay to long to be like someone who’s real and who we know and can see and hear and talk to. Throughout my faith life, I’ve longed or craved to be like my mentors, coaches, godly friends, and well known public figures. I long to be like Billy Graham and Henri Nouwen as I observe their character which shaped their lives. I long for the courage and faithfulness of my mentor, Dick. I long for the awe of life and God found in quiet suffering and reflection by my friend Vladimir. And my longing to be like them has caused me to watch and observe them and ask them why or how they do what they do. I listen to them (or read them) more carefully than others. I’ve become more like Jesus as I’ve “hung” around people who are far from perfect but are also further along in being more like Jesus.
Who do you long to become? Ultimately, we want to be like Jesus for sure; but also look for those who are living what you long to become. Label and identify who you long to be. Then crave it. What you crave and long for will shape you. Feed your longing and craving with what and who you really want to become.
Our last teaching series called Mixtape – The Soundtrack for Marriage was based on Ephesians 5:21-33. What struck me in the passage was the strong theme of oneness. As individuals, we are to be one with Jesus. Husbands and wives are to be one. And couples together are to be one in Jesus. Oneness is an amazing thing to experience. It is God’s will for us. Oneness is being united; on the same page; sharing all of life together; being with and for each other; having a common purpose and so much more. This is what we want in marriage more than anything. Yet, so few actually talk about this.
But how do you get to oneness in marriage, and maintain that? As I was studying the passage, I noticed a second key idea that answers that – love and respect! Look at what Ephesians 5:33 says: However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband. Husbands, love your wives as you love yourselves. Wives, respect your husbands. It was no mistake that this instruction comes at the very end of the long passage on marriage and oneness in Ephesians 5.
I devoted a whole message in the Mixtape series to love and respect. If you missed it, you can watch it here. There are so many questions about this verse like:
I tried to answer some of these in my message, but time would not allow a deep dive into these important questions and understandings. But, help is on the way!
We’ve invited a Christian man, Dr. Emerson Eggerichs, who has devoted his life to helping couples learn to love and respect each other. I’ve read two of his books and watched a couple videos of his teaching on this subject. His research, insight and practical teaching are outstanding. So I want to BEG you to attend our Love and Respect Marriage Event. Why would I “beg” you? Because oneness in marriage is so important, so needed, so rewarding, so rich and such hard work! This three-hour event will provide you with actionable ways to grow your marriage. It is a great opportunity to move deeper into oneness. Here are the details:
WHEN: Friday, September 21, 6:30-9:30 pm
WHERE: The Pantano auditorium
COST: $60 per couple, $30 per single.
Maybe you know a couple who are struggling in their marriage; invite them to join you. Maybe you know a couple that want to improve the oneness of their marriage; invite them to join you… You might even buy them a ticket! I’ll be there. I hope to see you also.
We are in the middle of a teaching series on Sundays called Trust. We are taking a deep dive to better understand this core part of our faith. And as we think about trust there is a pesky word that reflects our struggle to trust; it’s the word “if.” When it comes to trusting God, our “ifs” reflect that while we love God and believe he wants good for us, we are uncertain IF he can do what seems impossible in us (changing us) and through us (in how we respond to the storm or crisis we face).
We all, at times, experience genuine doubt. If we are honest, there are times we all doubt and wonder IF God will show up or IF he’ll be faithful to his promises or IF he really loves me like they say he does. I’ve been following Jesus for 48 years now and there are moments when I still deal with doubt. They don’t last as long and not are as frequent as they used to be. So, let’s be spiritually honest and admit that doubt still shows up.
We are in the middle of a teaching series on Sundays called Trust. We are taking a deep dive to better understand this core part of our faith. And as we think about trust there is a pesky word that reflects our struggle to trust; it’s the word “if.” When it comes to trusting God, our “ifs” reflect that while we love God and believe he wants good for us, we are uncertain IF he can do what seems impossible in us (changing us) and through us (in how we respond to the storm or crisis we face).
We all, at times, experience genuine doubt. If we are honest, there are times we all doubt and wonder IF God will show up or IF he’ll be faithful to his promises or IF he really loves me like they say he does. I’ve been following Jesus for 48 years now and there are moments when I still deal with doubt. They don’t last as long and not are as frequent as they used to be. So, let’s be spiritually honest and admit that doubt still shows up.
As I’ve been preparing for the series on trust, I spent a long time looking at and studying a situation Jesus encountered in Mark 9:14-29. In the end, I couldn’t fit it into our four-week teaching, as much as I love this story. Jesus just came down from what we call the “transfiguration” where he appears with Moses and Elijah. God affirms Jesus to Peter, James and John and said for the second time, “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”
They come down the mountain to encounter the other nine disciples who can’t drive out a demon that has caused a boy to be mute and face constant lethal seizures. Read the descriptions of what the boy endured and your heart breaks. But the story is clear – there is a lack of faith and trust in the disciples, the crowd and the boy’s father. Jesus declares this in verse 19 – “You unbelieving generation.” We too are the generation that struggles to fully trust God.
The boy’s father begs Jesus and says in verse 22, “But IF you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.” There’s the “if” word. Jesus replies; “If you can?” I can hear Jesus emphasize the word “if” when he repeated what the father said. Then Jesus says; “Everything is possible for the one who believes.” Jesus is inviting the father of the boy and you and me to believe that Jesus is God’s Son who can do anything. Please catch this. Our faith and trust believes that Jesus can do anything. There are no limits to his power. That of course doesn’t mean that Jesus is our genie who will grant our every wish. We don’t control Jesus. He is both loving and wise and knows how best to respond. We trust there are no limits to what Jesus can do in us, in others and in situations. But we also trust that how Jesus responds is what’s best and it will always be consistent with the character of God.
Then the father says what we all should probably say to Jesus; “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief.” That’s honest! That’s real. What we have here is the result of an IF kind of faith – guarded hope. In my storm, in my crisis, when I’m challenged to really obey and submit – will I trust him? Do I believe that he can help me do the hard things that require I trust him? The hard thing is to forgive someone who did terrible things to me. The hard thing is to obey him when it seems it might cost me a lot to obey. The hard thing is to really give generously first to God even when I don’t seem to have any extra. The hard thing is to take a risk and follow Jesus in serving or going on a short-term mission to Rocky Point. The hard thing is to invest in someone and look for a way to invite them to get to know Jesus. The hard things do require trust.
I do believe the ways of Jesus are good and are the best ways. I do trust you Jesus! But help me in all the ways I still struggle to trust you!
Back in January of this year, we did a series called Making Room. In that series, I did a message in which I talked about how vital it is do develop a system of Sabbaths; the message was called Put the Brakes On. I believe that God made us to need Sabbaths. We were made for pauses, breaks and rest. In fact, God made a series of Sabbaths. There was the weekly Sabbath – work 6 days and rest on the 7th. He made financial and land Sabbaths where debts were to be forgiven and the land was to rest every 7 years. And finally there was a Sabbath called the Jubilee where after 49 years slaves were to be freed and land returned to original owners.
We need Sabbaths. Just like muscles and joints, our brain gets overwhelmed and tired when it has too much stuff to give attention to for too long. The warning sign that we need a Sabbath is anytime we experience “too much, too long.” Add “too hard” and a breakdown is coming.
Here’s what a Sabbath is using words that start with “R” – Rest, Remembrance, Relationships, Replenish and Restore
Here’s my Sabbath system. I share it not that you should copy it exactly, but to get you thinking about how to develop your own Sabbath system:
One of our greatest challenges these days is that we have 24/7 connectivity. We can always check our phone, computer, or tablet. That means we no longer have good boundaries of white space and quiet for a true Sabbath and spiritual pause. It is really healthy to have a regular technology Sabbath as well. Maybe start with an hour a day of no texting, email, social media, etc. Try using the “airplane mode” or turn your phone completely off!
As you are reading this, I’m starting my June vacation/Sabbath. I work non-stop and hard for eleven months and I’m very ready for this month off. I’ll unplug for 3 weeks. I’ll do some projects around the house and go the lake as often as I can. I’ll end the month with a conference. I’ll be back July 1st full of energy, fresh and ready to go!