Sunday I preached on one of my most cherished and helpful passages of scripture – Matthew 11:28-30. I felt so inadequate to teach the power and depth of this passage. I’ve come to see it as Jesus’ great invitation. Here’s the passage:
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 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. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.
There are actually multiple invitations in what Jesus said. Jesus invites us to come to him and become a student of him. After we are tired and weary of carrying and managing the burdens of our lives, he invites us to lay them all down and come to him. This may be the simplest and most clear invitation Jesus ever gave – just come to him! We go to him and lay down the shame and guilt of our failures and sin. We are invited to stop striving to make life work and make ourselves right with God. We are invited to rest with Jesus.
Jesus invites us to learn from him. That’s what taking his yoke means. It means we link up with him, walk with him, live life with him, learn how he does life, and imitate him. And he’s the one we want to imitate, for he says he’s gentle and humble in heart. This passage in Matthew is the only place in scripture where Jesus describes his own heart.
Following Jesus is just that – walking with Jesus. It’s not about following the rules. It’s not about sacrifice. It’s not about any number of religious things we are told to do. The invitation is to focus on Jesus, watch him, know him, and learn from him.
How do you do that? That’s a critical question. Each of us will find our own unique ways, but we have to make this a priority and find ways to link up or be yoked with Jesus daily.
And Jesus’ yoke (what it means to follow Jesus) is easy and light. That doesn’t seem to fit my experience. I’ve never found it “easy” to follow Jesus. His way is hard… so it seems. But the fact that Jesus says it is easy and light means we might need to rethink how we follow and engage Jesus. Have we made it too hard?!
Maybe we make it hard because of our own selfish desires, and we tend to complicate things – even faith. Jesus’ way is easy and light when we surrender and are yoked with Jesus. As we walk side by side, he takes so much of our load, including our worry, anxiety, and fear. Jesus invites us to rest. In fact, twice he mentions rest. Jesus wants us to find rest for our souls. And this is an indicator of when we are following Jesus well – we find rest for our souls.
If you haven’t done so yet, may I encourage you to take some time to reflect on this passage? I created a Religion Recovery Guide that helps walk you through the words of Jesus. You can access the guide here.
Elephants are amazing creatures in so many ways. But the thing they are “famous” for is how big they are! They can weigh up to 13,000 pounds and be up to 13 feet tall. They eat so much that they can deposit up to 330 pounds of dung a day (gross!).
The point is that you can’t miss an elephant. And that’s where the phrase: “There’s an elephant in the room” is derived. The phrase originated from a fable called The Inquisitive Man – a story of a man who goes to a museum and notices the smallest details of everything but fails to see the enormous elephant, the largest thing on exhibition. The modern phrase has come to mean something so big that you can’t miss it. It is evident to all, yet it’s something that no one wants to acknowledge or talk about.
Almost every family has had to face an elephant in the room at one time or another. It happens at work. Maybe it’s an addiction, a bad attitude, out-of-control spending, someone who is domineering or controlling, narcissism, or perhaps something far worse. Everyone knows this “elephant” exists, but it’s easier, for the time being, to just avoid bringing it up. It’s there, but no one talks about it.
The same thing can happen in a church. Sometimes we have questions about faith that we are afraid to address. On Sunday, we are beginning a series called Elephant in the Room. In this series, we will talk about five big things that we can’t ignore. These won’t be easy conversations. But we have some important things to talk about regarding our faith.
Here are the five questions we’ll be exploring:
April 24 – Is Jesus for religion?
May 1 – Is it okay to doubt your faith?
May 8 – Is the church relevant and necessary?
(May 15 – Pantano’s 60th anniversary celebration)
May 22 – Why does God allow suffering?
May 29 – Is the Bible out of date when it comes to sexuality?
We’ll also have an in-person Q & A on Monday, May 2nd at 7 pm in the Student Union. Glen will host Dana Yentzer, the founder and director of Ministry Resources Institute (Tucson). Dana will answer any of the difficult questions we have about faith.
What are you struggling with regarding your beliefs? What question keeps nagging you? What hurdle are you facing in going forward in faith? In this Live Q & A, Dana Yentzer will be answering questions that you have about faith, spirituality, and the Bible. You’ll have an opportunity to ask any questions you might have about your faith. This discussion will be a safe place to ask honest questions – a no-judgment zone!
I do enjoy the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. But my favorite holy day is Easter. Jesus is alive, and his resurrection power is still at work today. That’s why our Easter celebration will overflow with worship, joy, and celebration. You don’t want to miss our Easter celebration, either in person or online, at 9 am, 11 am, or 1 pm. I can’t wait to hear our new Lead Pastor, Trevor DeVage, share about the power of the resurrection.
If you’ll be out of town, join us online. Our services will be available to stream live at each service time on Facebook, YouTube, and our website.
We’ll also be celebrating baptisms in our service. What a great day to declare that you will die to yourself to be raised in baptism and begin a new way of living as you follow Jesus! If you would like to be baptized – let us know by filling out this form, and we’ll follow up with you to give you instructions.
Free Pancake Breakfast
Our Café is amazing, and they will be providing a free pancake breakfast after the 9 am and 11 am services!
Kids and Students
Our Kids Ministry is hosting an Easter egg hunt for our preschoolers at each service. And, all our children from birth to 5th grade will also celebrate that Jesus is alive! We won’t have separate services for our middle and high school students as they are encouraged to join their families in the main service.
Don’t forget that we are offering a self-guided journey through the twelve stations of the cross, ending with communion. You can participate anytime on Good Friday from 7 am to 7 pm in the Student Union.
Family Picnic – April 24
You and your family are invited to join us the Sunday after Easter for a family picnic after the 9 am and 11 am services! We’ll provide hotdogs and chips, and there will be games for the family in the outdoor areas.
Teaching Series After Easter
You’ve heard the phrase: ‘There’s an elephant in the room.’ This phrase has come to mean something so big that you can’t miss it, and it’s obvious to all, yet it’s something that no one wants to acknowledge or talk about. The Sunday after Easter, we will begin a series called Elephant in the Room. This series will explore five aspects of faith; things that are tough questions that people tend to have. These are questions about our faith that we can’t ignore. These won’t be easy conversations. But we have some important things to talk about regarding our faith. You don’t want to miss any of the messages in this series.
May you and your family experience a blessed resurrection celebration!
We are in a super important teaching series on Sundays called Playbook. We are looking at the eight plays of Jesus, called the Beatitudes. We have to execute these plays if we want to become more like Jesus.
They are hard. Poor in spirit is the utter need and dependence on God. Mourning is deep sorrow over our sin that leads to repentance and change. Meekness is surrendering our control over to God. And we have five challenging ones to go. I can’t wait until we consider “pure in heart.”
The spiritual life is and always will be a struggle. Even as we start to put the Beatitudes into play, we discover that we have to find new and deeper ways to live them out as we mature toward being Christlike. We never “graduate” from the struggle until we graduate into heaven. Daily, we are reminded of how deep our pride and sin go. It’s normal. We all struggle. No one is exempt.
Last fall, we looked at the fruit of the Spirit. We are to rely on the Spirit to develop our character to be like Jesus. But it’s a struggle because our flesh is weak, and it’s those weaknesses where we are tempted. There is a never-ending battle between our flesh (our tendency toward sin) and the Spirit. That’s why Paul writes:
So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. Galatians 5:16-17
Take some time to read all of Romans chapter 7. The great Apostle Paul, who God used to write the majority of our New Testament, struggled. Look at what this great saint said about his spiritual battle:
So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:21-25)
Any of us could have and have voiced this. There’s not a day that passes that I don’t face how wretched, prideful, and sinful I am.
In the last six weeks, God has gently helped me realize how deep my pride still goes. There’s still so much selfishness that controls my life. I feel helpless to overcome it. I hate how it manifests itself and damages me and those I interact with. I want to change. Is there any hope for me and for you? Yes. Here’s how Paul answers that question:
Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. (Galatians 5:24-25)
The struggle will never end, but growth toward being more like Jesus is possible by the power of God’s Spirit transforming us. Don’t give up. Stay in the battle. It’s worth it.
We’ve developed what we call our Discipleship Pathway. The Pathway has three groups that will help any person grow their faith no matter where they are in their spiritual journey. Each group starts new sessions soon. I have personally attended and led all three of these groups, and I’ve seen folks grow their faith deeper and watched them experience a real movement toward being more like Jesus.
The Discipleship Pathway starts here. Alpha is a group for anyone who’s exploring the Christian faith. It’s an eleven-week experience introducing different questions about faith. The group is designed to allow for honest, real conversations. Alpha is a safe environment where you can ask questions, share your doubts and struggles and seek real answers without the fear of being judged. Millions around the globe have taken this course. Alpha starts Wednesday, February 2nd, both in-person and online. Click here for more information and sign up!
This is an 11-week interactive Bible study that will help you build your foundation of faith as you grow in your knowledge of who God is. You not only learn about faith from the Bible, but you also learn how to read and study the Bible for yourself. The group starts Wednesday, February 2nd, and is available Wednesday nights from 6:30 pm – 8:00 pm in the main auditorium’s indoor volleyball court. Bring your bible or electronic device. Click here to find out more or sign up!
Rooted is a 10-week, group-discipleship experience that introduces participants to foundational Christian beliefs, stories from the global Church, and the seven spiritual rhythms for daily life. If you want to connect and deepen your experience with God, His Church, and your purpose in His story – Rooted provides the catalyst for transformation. We are currently training leaders, and a church-wide launch will happen later in the year. Click here to find out more and sign up on our waiting list.
In addition to our three core groups of our Discipleship Pathway, we have some other great classes starting soon. Go to pantano.church/classes/ to check them out and sign up. Here are some of the classes offered that can help you go deeper in your faith:
Rooted is our One Word for our church this year. A tree that has deep roots is unshakable in high wind (unlike this tree). As we sink our roots deeper and deeper into Jesus, we’ll discover a depth of faith that will help us weather the storms that continually come. I think we need to be prepared for more storms.
I don’t want to be an alarmist, and I’m for sure not a prophet. But I do read, study and listen to what futurists are observing. Did you know that many people pre-Covid warned of a coming pandemic (they didn’t know specifics, they just observed our world as it is)? With our world being so globally interconnected now, almost anything far away affects us here. For decades, things seemed to be pretty predictable. I think those days are gone. I’ve heard many folks wonder what the “new normal” will look like. I think the new normal will just be more unpredictable than ever before. Disruption will be a part of the new normal. We’ll see more global internet disruptions, travel chaos, commercial inconsistencies, weather-related disturbances, and so on.
In a world that is being shaken up, more than ever, we need a deep faith that keeps us rooted. As I was reflecting on that, the Holy Spirit took me to Hebrews 12:28-29. Here it is in the Message Version –
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!
Could it be that God could use this past season and maybe a future season of disruption to shake us up? Could it be that what we’ve trusted (our control, regularity, predictability, comfort, continuity, etc.) is being shaken up, so we’ll be reminded of what is unshakable? Could God be using this disruptive season to “clean house” and show us that what we’ve relied upon and trusted is really a house of cards? Could this be a wake-up call from God to come back to him and put our full trust in him alone?
When my family lived in the Soviet Union in the early ’90s (that later became Ukraine), nothing was reliable, predictable, or trustworthy. We never knew when we’d have water or electricity or phone service. We never knew when public transportation would show up. We could never depend on stores having basics. Every day was an adventure, and we quickly learned that there’s only one you can trust – The King of the kingdom. In America, for a long time, we’ve trusted more in our dependable good life than our need to depend on God. Maybe there’s a shaking going on to remind us of what is truly unshakable!
As a follower of Jesus, we are part of the unshakable kingdom of God. Being a citizen of God’s kingdom means we’ve surrendered to him and given him primary influence in our lives. And because God is the King of this kingdom, it cannot be shaken! It’s trustworthy. It will endure forever. That’s where I want to sink my roots!
I’m in my 23rd year here at Pantano, and there has never been a new year with so much change and a profound sense of a new beginning. I believe God has timed everything to help us start 2022 fresh and new.
Our remodeled auditorium is almost done. The carpet will be finished this week, and the theater seats will hopefully be installed at the end of January (due to supply chain issues; we have temporary chairs set up)! We are installing the sound, lights, cameras, and video wall this week. We’ve moved the Café back inside. Since holiday break has ended, let’s all reconnect this Sunday as we start a new year and launch a new teaching series!
New Lead Pastor
Pantano has its 9th Lead Pastor – Trevor DeVage. Trevor will be with us the next two Sundays! Trevor and I are in a season of transition from now until the end of May. I’ll continue to lead and teach as the Campus Pastor until Trevor and his family move here in June. Trevor and I will be developing my new job description this spring that will take effect this summer. We’ll officially install Trevor as our new Pastor on Sunday, January 16th, and he’ll be teaching that day.
New Teaching Series
This Sunday (January 9th), we’ll start a new teaching series called Rooted. “Rooted” is our church One Word for 2022. It’s based on Colossians 2:6-7, and I’ll be sharing what it means for us. I’ll also be asking you to prayerfully identify your One Word for the year based on the idea of “rooted.” I really like how Jeremiah uses the rooted metaphor; take a moment to reflect on these verses:
But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit. Jeremiah 17:7-8
A New Beginning
Michael Goodwin has been hired as the new Lead Pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church (Alvernon/Pima). He starts on January 10th! I’m so excited to launch Michael to help Emmanuel be a life-giving church in a part of town that so needs Jesus. Our Elders will be ordaining Michael this Sunday, affirming our confidence in his call, character, and gifting. Pantano will continue to partner with Michael to help him thrive in his new role.
And Some Things Never Change
There’s lots of change and new things at Pantano these days. But, some things never change. Over the holiday break, I reflected on how amazing you are, Pantano. When I say that, I’m talking about YOU. I’m so proud of our church! You are generous! You serve our church, each other, and you serve our community in amazing ways. You faithfully give so we can to accomplish the mission God has given us. For our Christmas Eve offering, you gave $95,888 to support the Tucson Homeless Work Program. Wow! That’s incredible! Thank You! I’m so grateful to be able to serve with you all.
The Christmas season is here! And for many, the tagline of Christmas was first declared by an army of angels before some bewildered shepherds. This heavenly chorus said:
“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2:14).
This theme is picked up in the famous Christmas carol – I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day. The song’s refrain is: Of peace on earth, goodwill to men!
Peace. It’s a dream of this special time of the year. It’s something we all long for. It’s something the world desperately needs!
Last week I read this verse; it’s a blessing. I love this blessing. I encourage you to read this repeatedly. It’s found in Romans 15:13 –
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him,
so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
That’s the blessing I wish for you now and every day of the year. May God’s Spirit fill you with joy and peace. And that joy and peace are available to us to the extent that we trust him. It’s by the power of the Holy Spirit that hope can overflow that arises from joy and peace.
Peace is also part of the fruit of the Spirit. It’s the Spirit who produces peace in us. Don’t you want to experience God’s Spirit creating his peace in you? Join us this Sunday as we look carefully at another fruit of the Spirit – peace.
We are continuing our teaching series called Manifest. We are looking at nine qualities called the fruit of the Spirit. One of those character traits that the Spirit wants to manifest in us I’ll cover in this blog; it’s self-control. I’ve never met a person who didn’t want or need more self-control. We want to better control our words, our thoughts, or our screen time. We want to control our urge to laziness or lack of discipline. We want to control our addictions that are not limited to alcohol or drugs but include shopping, spending, gaming, or food.
The Greek word used in Galatians 5:22-23 to express this literally means “inner strength.” It’s an inner strength of character that helps us rule or control our desires. Trust, or waiting on God, renews an inner strength that allows us to control our thoughts and actions.
We live in a culture that highly values freedom. We want to be free from any constraints or limitations. We want to do what we want to do. We don’t want anyone to tell us what to do. We want to be free from controls. That’s especially true here with our western independent spirit.
But taken to an extreme, an uncontrolled life without limits results in sexual freedom that leads to sexual immorality. It results in unrestrained words expressed in anger on our screens. It results in a culture that struggles with all kinds of gluttony. Gluttony is the biblical world for consumption. We are tempted to be consumers without limits. We want, buy, eat, drink and consume without limits. And, I don’t have to highlight the price we pay for our lack of self-control. The lack of self-control results in our unhealthy emotional, physical, relational, and spiritual conditions. But the bottom line is this: a life without limits or controls will never be able to reflect Jesus or even allow Jesus to have control over our lives.
Here’s a promise. No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. 1 Corinthians 10:13. This is a verse to memorize! It states the plain fact that you and I will be tempted. We’ll be tempted to look at porn or hold a lingering gaze at someone who looks hot. We’ll be tempted to eat the wrong kinds and amounts of food. We’ll be tempted to take shortcuts. We’ll be tempted to just unload on someone.
But when we are tempted, God is always present. He’ll help us. He’ll provide the inner sense and strength to say no. But that’s only if we want it and are looking for a way out. Inner strength or self-control is a fruit of the Spirit! He can help us say “no” when we need to say no or “yes” when we need to say yes. Self-control looks for the way out of the temptation and then chooses to take the way out.
So how does self-control play out practically? It starts by seeking how God’s Spirit wants you to live. If we know we are going into a situation or season where we’ll likely be tempted, we seek the wisdom and help of the Spirit. We acknowledge our weaknesses and admit those things that can trigger us. We set rules in advance to guide our behavior. Often the Spirit will guide us to involve others so that we don’t face our challenge alone or in isolation. Self-control believes and looks for a way to manifest the fruit of the Spirit. Ask the Spirit to give you the gift of self-control.
My wife and I hiked and climbed Mt. Langley in California when we were in our prime. The peak is just over 14,000 feet high, almost 3 miles. At the top, we watched fighter jets flying below us! Altitude sickness is common at these heights. The air is thinner, and the oxygen is sparse. We call this rare air. Few get to experience the world at these levels.
We are in a series called Manifest, and we are talking about characteristics that are rare air in our world today. We are looking at the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23. These qualities are truly rare in our world. They are even rare among those who call themselves Christians. We don’t find many folks who are consistently at peace or experience joy. The social media, cable news, and talk radio worlds are devoid of kindness and gentleness. Who do you know anyone that claims to be patient? Where do you find goodness and faithfulness in abundance? And love… lots of folks talk about it and sing about it, but who practices it in the everyday moments of life? The fruit of the Spirit is rare air. Why?
I’ve been so personally challenged by the study and reflection I’ve done over the last several months as I’ve been preparing for this series. My first observation has been this: I’ve been more aware of the fruit of the Spirit and simultaneously aware of how I fail to practice these. Whether it’s with my granddaughter or other leaders in our church, I’ve seen how I’ve not been patient, kind, or gentle. How do I become love so I can give more love? How do I become joyful and peaceful regardless of the circumstances? How do I practice self-control when it comes to my worldly desires? I have to invite the Spirit to have a greater influence in my life.
My second observation has been how hard it is to see the fruit of the Spirit mature in me. I want to invite the Spirit to do his transforming work. That’s why Paul commands that we walk with the Spirit, be led by the Spirit, live by the Spirit, and keep step with the Spirit (Galatians 5:16, 18, 25).
We all face a spiritual struggle. It’s a daily struggle for me. The Bible calls it the struggle of the flesh versus the Spirit (Galatians 5:16-17). The flesh is all those desires, appetites, and passions that come from self – that part of us that wants to protect, comfort, and promote ourselves. It’s the selfish part of you and me – what I think I want, need, desire, and deserve. It’s powerful. It rules much of our lives. It’s usually contrary to and in conflict with the will of God.
How do we deal with our selfish self? Paul says we have to kill it – Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit (Galatians 5:24-25).
The antidote to the power of our selfish flesh is the power of the Spirit of God. God can transform us. In the same passage, Paul describes what the Spirit can and wants to produce in our lives – Love, joy, peace, forbearance (patience), kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). Paul calls these the fruit of the Spirit. They are the product of living and keeping in step with the Spirit. The fruit of the Spirit are, in essence, the character of Jesus that God wants to produce in us.
That’s why we started a new teaching series last week called Manifest. If you missed the introduction to the series, you can watch it here. We call this series Manifest because the word “manifest” means to display, show and make clear. God wants to manifest the character of Jesus in us – the fruit of the Spirit.
Spiritual fruit will be manifested in us if God is living in us! The fruit is a godly character and the actions that flow from being like Jesus. I love how Jesus describes how this works in John 15:1-8. Jesus uses a metaphor and says he’s the vine and we are the branches. If we remain in him and stay connected, then we will produce fruit. But if, as branches, we are disconnected from him (the vine), then not only will we not produce fruit, but we’ll be pruned because of our lack of fruit.
Jesus makes it clear that we can’t produce anything like the fruit of the Spirit on our own. We can’t create that kind of character. Willpower isn’t enough. We need to stay connected to the Spirit of God. So, how do we do that? We do that by practicing the same things Jesus did while he was in the flesh. He regularly prayed. He relied on the truth of God’s Word. He fasted. Why? He needed to live and be led by the Spirit.
What triggers you? What sets you off? Long ago, I learned that when someone disrespects me (which is different from disagreeing with me), I am tempted to respond in anger. Why? What’s below the surface that causes disrespect to trigger an irrational emotional response? For me, the disrespect was tapping into my own sense of self-worth. So the problem turns out not to be the lack of respect, but that I have placed my need for validation and worth in a person more than in God himself. God loves me, cherishes me, values me, and has made me a part of his very family as his child. And when I’m in a healthy place, I know that’s all the respect I need.
We are starting a new series this Sunday called Triggered. We will look at some of the hard teachings of Jesus that are challenging to hear and put into practice. If you or I had been present when Jesus gave these teachings, we could have easily been triggered in some way. These words of Jesus touch things in us below the surface. Jesus loves us so much that he asks us to stop sinning, love our enemies, give whatever it takes to follow him, and choose to live as people rejected for our faith. In each teaching, Jesus takes us below the surface to examine the reasons why these hard things can trigger a strong emotional reaction. But Jesus’ radical call to action has one purpose. He wants what’s best for us so we can thrive in a challenging and hostile world.
Jesus has a way of getting to the things that are hidden and below the surface. I love the story of a wealthy man in Mark 10:17-23. The man runs up to Jesus, falls on his knees, and asks what he must do to ensure he has eternal life. Great question! Jesus tells him to keep the commandments of God, and he assures Jesus he has done this well since he was a boy. Then it notes that Jesus loved him. He had a deep compassion for him. Jesus could see into his heart.
Then Jesus gets to the hidden thing and says, “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” The man’s face fell. He was triggered. His emotional response was a deep sadness that he could not hide. You see, he was a man of great wealth. While he kept the commandments, in his heart, there was powerful greed. His greed was a hidden thing that hindered him from loving well.
That day could have been a great day for that wealthy man. He could have been freed from the bondage of his wealth and greed. But he walked away. In this series, our goal is not to just trigger your emotional reactions; that would be mean and cruel. Our hope is that we’ll all let Jesus speak to the hidden things in our lives and expose what needs to be healed or changed. Jesus came to give us life that overflows with the good he has for us, allowing us to thrive.
Last week, we began an eight-week teaching series called Bigger Than. It’s a title that lacks a subject and object! What’s bigger? The kingdom of God. What’s the kingdom of God bigger than? Everything except God himself! The kingdom of God was the central theme of all of Jesus’ teaching and it’s a huge concept found throughout our New Testament.
We are to seek the kingdom first. When we decide to follow Jesus, we make him the king or lord of our lives. We enter his kingdom where we have to live as citizens of his kingdom, under his authority. The kingdom overshadows all other concerns.
As we begin this series, may I encourage you to do a little study on your own about the kingdom of God. I prepared a Kingdom Study Guide that will take you to all the significant scriptures and teaching about the kingdom of God in the New Testament. The verses are printed out for you, so all you have to do is read them. You’ll be amazed at how vast this concept is. Get the Kingdom Study Guide here.
As you start the study, pray this simple prayer; ask the Holy Spirit to reveal how he wants you to respond as you read. Don’t just read the verses for information about the kingdom; read them asking God to guide you in how you need to be a greater part of and seek first the kingdom of God.
One of the texts you’ll read is from Luke 17:20-21. It says: Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, he answered them, “The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.” Other translations say “among you.” What was Jesus saying about the kingdom of God here?
The Pharisees asked about the kingdom because every kingdom is led by a king. They wanted to know if Jesus thought he was the Messiah who would rule over an earthly kingdom. It was a trap because they had already decided Jesus wasn’t the Messiah.
Jesus’ response is that the kingdom won’t be found by looking for signs of the end time. Wars, disasters, pandemics, or some show of power are not signs of the kingdom coming. Instead, the king of the kingdom was, in fact, standing among them. That’s the point. The kingdom of God is centered on Jesus. He’s the king. We are the subjects of the king and his kingdom. As his subjects, we follow him, honor him and live the life he sets before us. Our values, agenda, commitments, actions, and very lives are to be shaped by his values and agenda, and our actions and character reflect the king.
Over the next seven weeks, we will look at how we allow the eternal kingdom of God to overshadow our petty human kingdom. We’ll look at what it means to be a part of the kingdom in our everyday life. Jesus is here among us. The kingdom is here!
I’ve been wrestling a lot lately with what it means to really love others. I’ve been following Jesus for 50 years, and I feel like I’ve barely moved the dial in being one who consistently loves like Jesus. In addition to loving God with our whole being, Jesus said nothing more important than to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. This is the heart of what it means to follow Jesus. I still have so far to go.
As I engage people, especially difficult folks, I’ve been trying to ask a question Pastor Andy Stanely famously posed: What does love require of me? It’s a tough question. My challenge isn’t so much an unwillingness to answer it in the right way; it’s just difficult to remember to even ask the question. My natural response to so many people is to be thinking about how they should act or be rather than how I should respond – that’s called an agenda.
I came across a quote from Jimmy Spencer from Love Without Agenda: Moving Our Spiritual Goalposts from Heaven and Hell to Wholeness: We can stop focusing on an agenda for others and find the freedom to focus on a purpose for ourselves. While agenda is rooted in how we see others, purpose is rooted in how we see ourselves. While agenda requires us to conquer others, purpose requires us to conform ourselves. While agenda relegates us to coercing others, purpose releases us to appreciate others. While agenda reduces us to a sliver of life, purpose moves us toward a whole humanity. And we – as Christians – may actually start to look and live like Jesus.
My agenda for others is a huge obstacle in loving others the way Jesus loves. Whether it’s a bad driver or someone painfully slow in a check-out line, or someone I care deeply about, I have great ideas and plans for how others should speak, act, and live… if they would just care enough to listen!
Spencer’s quote reminds me to ask – What’s my purpose? It’s the same as the mission of our church – Loving people to Jesus! My agenda comes far too often before my decision to love others.
I have a simple definition of love. Love is to seek the best for others. What’s best for others may or may not fit my agenda. The point is that my agenda for others often snuffs out love and can, in fact, drive people away from Jesus.
This Sunday, we start a short two-week series called Story. We are going to look at how to share our story and God’s story with anyone, but especially with our “One.” Not long ago, I encouraged all of us to prayerfully identify that “One” person we would engage as we pray for and love them. In this series, we’ll look at how we can use our story and God’s story to help our “One” find hope in Jesus. But we have to be so careful that we are not just operating out of our agenda. What comes first and motivates our storytelling is love. Love first.
Glen ElliottSubscribe: https://pantano.church/blogsubscription
I’ve started re-reading the New Testament, and I’m in the Gospels. I love to read the teachings and life of Jesus. Jesus grieved and lamented often. Twice he laments over the fate of Jerusalem. He wept when he was in the presence of those mourning the loss of his friend Lazarus. His heart was heavy and grieving at the last supper with his disciples. He was in deep agony in the garden right before they arrested him. On the cross, he quotes part of one of the Psalms of lament (Ps. 22)
Lament is a key part of our spiritual journey. 42 of the 150 Psalms are considered songs of lament – that’s almost a third of the Psalms! There’s a whole book of the Bible called Lamentations (over the destruction of Jerusalem). A good portion of the writings of the prophets in the Old Testament were statements of lament over the sin of Israel and the destruction and hardship that came or was coming due to their disobedience.
We have long lost the ability and even the understanding and language of lament. Our culture implies that we are to avoid anything that might bring lament. But our Bible says differently. James 1:2 says: Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds. Then James goes on to say that we grow and mature through our difficulties.
What does it mean to lament? We lament as we face our emotions and verbalize our grief, sorrow, or heartache. We don’t avoid it. We face it squarely with God.
Right at the beginning of Matthew are what we call the Beatitudes. One stood out to me like never before recently. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted (Matthew 5:4). Blessed is a place of deep joy, contentment, and satisfaction, and that place is found through mourning. It seems so contradictory, doesn’t it? When we suffer or struggle, all we want is for it to pass and go away. But Jesus is letting us know that rather than avoiding loss, pain, hurt, or grief, we need to see it as an opportunity to invite God into our sadness. Rather than trying to avoid grief, we learn to find God in the deepest ways in the lowest parts of life.
The best way we can approach loss, grief, and pain is to let it teach us. Mourning is a path to a deeper experience with God, which creates a deeper soul and character in us.
This Sunday, I’ll finish our series Summer Playlist, and we’ll look at one of the Psalms of lament. We’ll also be remembering and honoring some of the folks we’ve lost this past year. And, I’ll be sharing how communion is a time of lament where we weekly reflect over our sin and what it cost Jesus. You don’t want to miss this special service.
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.
If you or someone you know is on the journey toward faith, I’m urging you to consider the eleven-week Alpha Course. This is a course that over 30 million people in 169 countries have taken. Our whole church staff just completed the course.
Alpha is for anyone at any level of faith or no faith at all. It provides a safe opportunity to explore life and faith in a friendly, open, and safe environment. The presentations are of high quality and engaging. Each week there’s time for questions. In fact, questions are welcomed and encouraged! That’s why the question mark is the key symbol for Alpha.
Everyone is welcome to Alpha, but it is specifically designed for people who would not yet describe themselves as following Jesus or being a church-goer.
We’ll be offering it both in-person and online starting Wednesday, April 14th. This is a special opportunity to invite your “one” and others like your “one” to join us. Sign up here – pantano.church/event/alpha-course/
We live in a world of “shoulds.” We know that we should have a daily quiet time, keep a budget, spend more time with the family, eat well and exercise and a bunch more “shoulds.” The expectations that we put on ourselves, others, and God and that others put on us can be overwhelming.
But do these expectations help us live the story that God wants us to live? In this new series that starts Sunday (April 11), we’ll become more aware of the expectations that burden us and take up residence in our minds. The “shoulds” in our heads have the power to form stories that narrate and shape our lives. But we have to ask continually, who will we allow to be the source of the stories we live? Should we listen to the “shoulds,” and if so, which ones? We are about to learn how to move from the “should” life to the good life God wills for us.
Invite your “one” to explore how practical, helpful, and freeing the Bible is about everyday life.
Free Estate Planning – Trusts, Wills, and More
We don’t know when we will die, and we’d rather avoid thinking about it. But it is so wise and loving to have an estate plan for the benefit of your family. Are you in need of having a will and a medical directive? Would you like to understand the value of family trust? Pantano Christian Church is providing this service at no cost to you. We have partnered with Financial Planning Ministry, an organization that we worked with a few years ago. I and many others here at Pantano created a trust, will, and medical directives a few years ago, and we are bringing back this service. Check out Financial Planning Ministry at https://www.fpm.org/.
We’ll have a free estate planning seminar on May 3rd, 6:30-8 PM. Register in advance for this webinar here. After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.
We look forward to seeing you, your friends or loved ones at these upcoming events.
Happy Easter! I love Easter! It helps that it comes every Spring that parallels the rebirth of our natural world. It reminds me every year that God is still in the business of bringing newness to our lives. He’s the author of new life! Easter brings hope. It declares that while death dominates this world, which Covid has made so obvious this year, that God ensures that we don’t have to fear death for there’s life after death.
Here’s the scripture that I’m going to be speaking about this Sunday. It’s from Ephesians 2:1-5 in the Message version:
It wasn’t so long ago that you were mired in that old stagnant life of sin. You let the world, which doesn’t know the first thing about living, tell you how to live. You filled your lungs with polluted unbelief, and then exhaled disobedience. We all did it, all of us doing what we felt like doing, when we felt like doing it, all of us in the same boat. It’s a wonder God didn’t lose his temper and do away with the whole lot of us. Instead, immense in mercy and with an incredible love, he embraced us. He took our sin-dead lives and made us alive in Christ.
God took our “sin-dead” lives and made us alive in Christ! That’s Easter! That’s what we’ll be celebrating this Easter Sunday.
Join us online or in-person at 7 am, 9 am, 11 am, or 1 pm. The music will be outstanding. We’ll be celebrating baptisms. If you want to be baptized, let us know or simply come to the service of your choice and respond when I provide the invitation during my message. Our kid’s ministry has planned an amazing experience for our children. And at our East Campus, we offer a free breakfast outside – pancakes and sausage for all, and there will be a couple of Easter photo spots.
Don’t forget to reserve your spots for the Easter service. You can sign up at www.pantano.church/easter. Easter services provide a great opportunity to invite your family, friends, and even your “one.”
One Person Matters
Jesus told a parable or story in Luke 15:1-7 about a shepherd who left ninety-nine sheep in the dangerous open field to find one that was lost. That one sheep mattered to the shepherd. That one represents anyone who is not connected to God and has lost a life-giving relationship with him. The lost ones of the world matter to God. I believe Jesus wants us also to focus on our “one,” loving people to Jesus one person at a time.
Who’s Your “One”?
We just finished a series we called Engage One. If you missed any of the three messages, I encourage you to watch them through our Pantano On Demand channel. This year, our focus as a church is to identify and pray for one person that we can love to Jesus. Who’s your “one?” Who has God put on your heart to pray for? Who can you love through kindness and service? Who is that “one” whom you can engage with both the love and hope of Jesus?
Need help identifying, praying for, engaging, or sharing the hope of Jesus with your “one?” We’ve created a resource page to help you. Go to pantano.church/engageone/ and you’ll find ideas and five short videos to help you love your “one” to Jesus. We’ve also listed some additional books and articles to equip you to engage and help your “one” find Jesus.
Invite Your “One”
We’ll be providing regular opportunities to invite your “one” to discover faith. For example, I’ll be sharing the message of Jesus and salvation on Easter Sunday, April 4th. Invite your “one” to join you. Don’t forget to reserve your in-person space at either 7 am, 9am, 11 am, or 1 pm services. We’ll have additional special times when you can invite your “one,” like our Father’s Day car show and our Deeper Dives as well.
Our teaching series after Easter will speak to the challenge of living under the burden of “shoulds.” We’ll explore the dangers of when we put “shoulds” on ourselves, others, and on God, as well as the “shoulds” others put on us. Invite your “one” to explore how practical, helpful, and freeing the Bible is about everyday life.
On Easter, we’ll encourage folks who are not yet following Jesus to consider the eleven-week Alpha Course. Over 30 million people in 112 countries have taken this course! We’ll be offering it both in-person and online starting Wednesday, April 14th. I’ll specifically be inviting your “one” and others like your “one” to join us. Sign up here – pantano.church/event/alpha-course/
If you haven’t yet selected your “one”, pray about who that might be, invest in the relationship, and prepare to watch God move in their life!
Glen ElliottSubscribe: https://pantano.church/blogsubscription
Last Spring, as a staff, we prayerfully sought God regarding what our church’s priority focus should be over the next year or so. Little could we have imagined the impact of Covid. But, that didn’t change the direction God had for us. It was clear that God wanted our church to fulfill our mission – Loving people to Jesus, launching passionate people to make a difference. We needed to provide practical help for all of us to do this well.
We concluded that the best way to do that was to have each person in our church focus on one person following the parable Jesus gave in Luke 15:3-7: A shepherd had a hundred sheep. One was lost. He left the ninety-nine in the open field to search for the one. All of heaven celebrated when the lost was found.
I’m asking each of us to identify one person who’s lost, meaning they have lost a connection or relationship with God available only through Jesus. I’m asking you to start by praying to identify your “one.” Ask God to help you love that person through an authentic relationship. Ask God to help you engage them and for the Holy Spirit to open up natural opportunities to have spiritual conversations.
We are calling this focus – Engage One. This past Sunday, we began a series that addresses this, and we’ve created some practical help, resources, and tools to help you love your “one.”
Please go to our Engage One webpage – https://pantano.church/engageone/. You’ll find a brief description of how to go about praying for and identifying your “one.” We’ve also prepared some short videos to help encourage and guide you to love your “one.” There are two videos there based on the teaching I presented on Sunday. An additional video will be added each week of our teaching series, for the next two weeks.
We have listed some books, articles, and video suggestions if you want to go further and deeper regarding how to love and serve your one and how to engage in spiritual conversations and share the Good News of Jesus.
You’ll also notice on our Engage One webpage that we will be offering the Alpha Course right after Easter. We’ll announce more information coming up about options for an in-person and online version of this course. The Alpha Course is a world-wide phenomenon designed to help those who don’t know Jesus, the Bible, or much about faith to begin the journey toward God. While experienced disciples of Jesus will gain from the course, it is primarily intended for our “ones” who are open to, new to, or on a journey toward faith.
Who’s your “one”? Who’s the one you are praying for?
Glen ElliottSubscribe: https://pantano.church/blogsubscription
March is here, and in my mind, that translates to Spring has arrived. Even though we are in a drought, somehow, the weeds are starting to pop up at my house! This is a good time to give some updates, and look forward as Spring approaches here at Pantano.
Lead Pastor Search
Please remember that we are not in a hurry to find my successor. We will be prayerfully careful in our process and selection. Please pray for the Interview Team and Elders as they do the initial work, which requires lots of time and is not an easy process. Once we find my successor, there will be a period of overlap, which could take a year or so. So, you won’t see any real changes until possibly sometime in 2022.
Let me clarify again that I’m not retiring. At 65, I’m not done in ministry. I’m just looking for a change of role. I will give my successor the freedom to determine what that role might look like after I pass the baton.
The Interview Team and Elders are well along in the interview process of the first round of candidates. They started with six candidates. We have recently received five new candidates that the Slingshot Group vetted, and the Interview Team is just getting started with those candidate profiles. We are not releasing the names of any candidates at their request and for their well-being.
Engage One Series
This Sunday, we launch a new series that I personally believe is one of the most important that we’ve done in the 22 years I’ve been at Pantano. Why would I make that huge statement? Here’s why: About 85% of Pima County doesn’t go to any church. Most of our neighbors are post-Christians, meaning that they lack an understanding of who Jesus really is or what the Bible and the church are all about. Except for a few Atheists, most are not against God; they just don’t know him or have a relationship with him. They are unlikely to visit a church, and COVID has made it even more unlikely that folks will want to go to a church building.
So we have to go to them. Our mission and purpose is to love people to Jesus, launching passionate people to make a difference. In this series, we are unveiling a year-long effort to equip and prepare our church to intentionally engage those not connected to Jesus. Starting Sunday, I will introduce this idea and share with you some of the tools, resources, videos, and courses we’ve been developing over the last year.
We need to fix some things in our East Campus Auditorium. The carpet is beyond repair. Many of the pews are broken, and we can’t fasten them to the floor. The floor has a terrible and dangerous slope, and the list goes on. For years we’ve tried to push the proverbial can down the road, but we’ve come to the place where we need to make some changes. We are in the process of planning so we can’t give details yet, but once we decide and commit to a plan and have permits, I’ll let you know more about the details, timing, schedule, and cost.
Easter – April 4
I love to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus! This year, we’ll have four Easter Sunday services, both in-person and online, at 7 am, 9 am, 11 am, and 1 pm. We are using a reservation system (choose a service here) for in-person attendance to ensure that none of our services are too full and provide safe physical distancing. Sign up now!
Glen ElliottSubscribe: https://pantano.church/blogsubscription
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
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!
I titled this blog, “Politics and Peacemaking”. Those two ideas never go hand in hand. In our current cultural environment, there is no peacemaking attached to politics. Due to various reasons (which are being documented and verified), our culture and even our church are more polarized than ever. The right is further right, and the left is further left, and the two see each other as enemies rather than citizens of the same country with differing opinions.
So why would I be so foolish to even think that politics and peacemaking can both be pursued? Because God, through his Holy Word, has directed us to be peacemakers. The Apostle Paul wrote: live at peace with everyone (Romans 12:18) and make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification (Romans 14:19). “Everyone” includes those of a different political persuasion. “Make every effort” means that division and conflict over politics is a realm to be included in our peacemaking efforts. And Jesus says that if we want to be children of God, we need to be peacemakers (Matthew 5:9).
Making peace doesn’t mean we don’t have political opinions. Making peace doesn’t mean we give up our convictions. Making peace is all about how we think and respond to those we are not currently at peace with. I can disagree with you and still be at peace with you. Making peace is one of our best paths to bring our Jesus-centered faith and concerns into conversations. However, it means my disagreement will take a different tone. I’ll be willing to honestly listen and try to understand your viewpoint. I’ll refuse to judge you for having a different view. I’ll try to understand your concerns, fears, perspectives, and your story that led to your position. And no matter where we land, I’ll respect and honor you.
I know this whole area of politics, for some of us, is so incredibly challenging. I’m seeing families and friends torn apart by political conflict. So as we finish our series on Peacemakers this Sunday (September 27), we want to add a Deeper Dive on politics to the discussion. In the Deeper Dive, we will not be directing you to vote for a particular candidate or party. We won’t debate the current political issues. We’ll save that for the candidates to debate. Instead, we’ll look at how we can be peacemakers in a world where politics equals war.
Join us for another live Deeper Dive on Monday, September 28, at 7:30 pm. Note that we moved this from Tuesday to Monday because there is a presidential debate scheduled on Tuesday (which I encourage you to watch). Remember, our focus is on how to be peacemakers in a polarized political culture. Send us your questions and watch us live by clicking here to link to all our digital channels (Facebook, YouTube, Online Campus, and our app).
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!
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.
Ghosts have been a part of our book, movie and TV culture for a long time. There is the Ghost of Christmas Past in the book A Christmas Carol. Then, there was the movie Ghostbusters. There are cable shows like Ghost Hunters. I grew up watching the cartoon Casper the Friendly Ghost. Most importantly, the word “ghost” saw a dramatically increased use starting in 1611 due to the King James Version of the Bible. Using old English, the translators of that Bible version referred to the Spirit as the Holy Ghost.
When we think of the idea of a ghost we think of something with personality; after all, Casper was very outgoing and friendly. We think of something that influences us, yet is unseen. That’s why the King James translators used the term “ghost.”
There is an unseen power available to every believer. That power transforms us on the inside and empowers us to do the very things God wills of us. But this power is not an “it”, but a person who is the third person of our one God. We are talking about the Holy Spirit.
When Jesus returned to his Father, he sent us the Spirit because he knew the Spirit would be so much better for us. The Holy Spirit is our forever helper. The Holy Spirit comes alongside us to make us stronger so we can do greater things than we could on our own. The Spirit is God who came to live inside to guide, protect, convict, coach, instruct, counsel and empower us. This is a “ghost” we do not fear but depend on to love God and serve others well.
Yet, the Holy Spirit is probably the most neglected part of the Trinity – God as Father, Son, and Spirit while remaining as one. Francis Chan wrote an excellent book titled – Forgotten God- Reversing our Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit. We agree with Chan on this. So Sunday, March 1st, we are starting a new four-week message series titled Ghost. We’ll be looking into who the Holy Spirit is and how he helps the believer.
But, we can’t cover all there is about the Spirit in four Sunday messages, so we are going to offer the first of many events we are calling Deeper Dive. On Sunday, March 22nd at 4 PM, we’ll offer our first Deeper Dive into the Holy Spirit. From scripture, I’ll be answering your questions about the Holy Spirit. If you have a question about the Holy Spirit you would like to have answered at the event, submit it by visiting mypantano.church/deeperdive. Join us March 22nd at 4 PM at the Pantano East Auditorium to take a deeper dive into the person and work of the Holy Spirit.
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.
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.
New Series – Engage
Sunday we started a new series called Engage. Sunday was the first day our two campuses (East and Southeast) taught the same series and message! In this series, we want to go deeper and further in our desire and ability to engage with God. The focus is on prayer, but prayer is the means to actually engage with God.
Why We Pray
There was a part of my teaching where I had asked why we pray. I suggested that the best “Why?” is simply to engage God. What if you and I prayed not to influence God but have God influence us and our circumstances? That is one of the most significant reasons to pray and experience God. That’s what “praying continually” (1 Thessalonians 5:17) is about – asking God to influence our thinking, our attitude, our actions and responses, our conversations and words, and our decisions all throughout our day. If you missed the message this weekend, you can watch it On Demand or on our website.
30 Day Prayer Challenge
Also, I want to encourage you to sign up for our 30-day prayer challenge. Each day we’ll send you a prayer reminder that fits the theme of the message each week. The reminder is to help us all be more aware and intentional to pray during this series to deepen, expand and increase our prayer lives. On your phone, text “Praying” to 31996 to get your daily reminder.
We ended our service Sunday with a song titled Nothing Else by Cody Carnes. I’m copying some of the words here to help us continue to reflect…
I’m caught up in Your presence
I just want to sit here at Your feet
I’m caught up in this holy moment
I never want to leave
Oh, I’m not here for blessings
Jesus, You don’t owe me anything
More than anything that You can do
I just want You
I’m sorry when I’ve just gone through the motions
I’m sorry when I just sang another song
Take me back to where we started
I open up my heart to You
I’m sorry when I’ve come with my agenda
I’m sorry when I forgot that You’re enough
Take me back to where we started
I open up my heart to You
Nothing else, nothing else
Nothing else will do
I just want You
This last weekend I (Michael Goodwin) had the privilege of preaching on the question – Is Jesus God? I discussed how different religions view Jesus and then shared what Jesus actually said about himself. Jesus claimed to be God, and that was clearly acknowledged and understood within the culture of his day (you can watch the message here). They wanted to kill him for what they considered blasphemy. They eventually arrested him, put him on trial, and crucified him. Jesus died. He willingly offered his life as a sacrifice, and we shouldn’t forget that the cross is a cruel way to die. The cross is now viewed as a religious symbol, but it first existed as an instrument of pain, torture, and death. That’s sobering.
I think it’s only fair that we acknowledge that while Jesus claimed to be God, he was also crucified. That can seem odd because God is not obligated to submit to physical death. Author Mark Clark, in his book The Problem of God, states that historian Robert Wright says “throughout history, gods have been beings to whom you made sacrifices. Now here was God that not only demanded no ritual sacrifice from you but himself made sacrifices – indeed the ultimate sacrifice – for you.” Robert Wright is an atheist, but even he sees the radical contrast of Jesus’s sacrifice, as God, when compared to other religions. The crucifixion is only half of the story, and it is vital that we focus on the resurrection.
In my opinion, the resurrection is the most compelling piece of evidence we have that proves that Jesus was God. There were so many witnesses of him appearing after the resurrection that it’s hard to dismiss. One interesting observation is that within the culture of Jesus’s day, women didn’t have a legitimate voice. Their testimony wasn’t even valid in court. Society had assigned them a depressed and diminished status. Yet, guess who were the first people to declare that Jesus was alive? Yup, it was women, and the authors of the gospels tell us this even though testimony from women wasn’t respected. They told us because that’s the way it actually happened. God doesn’t play by our rules, and he wanted women to be the first to declare that he was alive. I love that about God.
There will always be skeptics about the resurrection. But, here’s the deal. The Bible is an actual reliable historical record, and too many people saw Jesus appear, heard him speak, and actually touched him. Besides, if you dismiss the resurrection, how in the world do you explain the explosive growth of the early church? Dead men don’t lead movements… but a resurrected one can. Why were so many of his followers willing to die for him? Think about that for a second. They were willing to die for him instead of just denouncing him when they were persecuted. People aren’t usually willing to do that for someone who is dead.
People typically default to self-preservation, but his disciples were rocked by the fact they had seen Him alive, and He had promised them eternal life for believing in Him. Now they were living for eternal purposes and not temporal ones. They were no longer afraid of death, torture, false accusations, and persecution. They lived the rest of their days on mission. If you doubt that happened, then you will have a difficult time explaining the worldwide existence of Christianity today. The message about Jesus spread like wildfire. Oh… and it’s still spreading… like wildfire.
I have news for you. Jesus is still alive, and that news should rock you. In Revelation 1:18, Jesus says, “I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades”. If the early church was so willing to suffer because they knew that death had been conquered and eternity was waiting shouldn’t that be an example for us? I know too many things compete for our attention and our affections. But too many things are just temporary. There is a way to live for eternal things where moth can’t destroy, and thieves can break in and steal it. Jesus told us so, and then He goes on to explain that if you want to find your life, you have to lose it for His sake. There is an invitation to live for eternal things, and I believe that path is paved with surrender. What is it you need to surrender today?
Jesus claimed to be God, He proved it, and that is WORTHY of our response!
Global Outreach Pastor
Suffering is one of those things that everyone will deal with at some point. None of us are exempt from the touch of sin in this world. Suffering is difficult for anyone regardless of their relationship with God, but knowing Jesus and all of his promises can add a layer of complexity to our difficult seasons. If God is good, then why does he allow suffering to occur? This question was the topic of my message last Sunday. If you missed it, you can watch it by clicking here.
Suffering was never part of God’s plan for humanity. Genesis tells us that sin entered the world through man and woman choosing their desires above God’s perfect gifts for us. We’ve paid the price ever since. Even though we live in a world ravaged by sin, God promises to never leave us in the midst of our pain.
For some of us reading now, you are in a season of pain. Maybe it comes in the form of depression, unhealed emotional wounds, or tragedies that time has never healed. For some, you know others going through great difficulty.
As I mentioned before, followers of Jesus have to reconcile the joyful promises of Jesus with our current realities. Sometimes knowing that Jesus never leaves our side is not enough to break the cycle our minds feel. While Jesus IS enough for all of us, knowing Jesus is enough can be hard for our hurting brains to comprehend. This might lead to thoughts that it would be better to end the suffering or that everyone else would be better off if they didn’t have to deal with your problems. If you’ve found yourself thinking this during seasons of suffering, I want you to know that you’re not alone. You have value. The world would miss you. God still has a purpose for you.
When I read John 11, I see a God that is not far off and separate from our pain. On the contrary, in this story, Jesus is with Martha and Mary during the grieving for their brother. Scripture says, Jesus was deeply moved and began weeping. Their story is also our story. What I find interesting is that Jesus is not only weeping with Mary and Martha, but he never scolds them for struggling with deep emotions.
September is National Suicide Prevention Month, and I don’t want to underestimate how the world and ultimately Satan is attacking those reading right now. If you are having these thoughts or have made plans, it’s not too late. Reaching out for help is not a sign of weakness but an act of courage. It takes incredible strength to stand up and say you need others to walk with you.
If you need help, please reach out to someone. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or call 911 immediately. Our church also provides many free resources to help navigate seasons of suffering. If you’re not in immediate danger, you can call our office at 520-298-5395 and get a pastor at any time. We have many care groups, offer free in-person peer counseling, and have an online group available for those that don’t live in Tucson. Call our office or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ll be happy to connect you with the right resources.
Pain and suffering is only a problem if we go through it alone. The good news of Jesus is that we’re not alone. Be courageous today.
In my message Sunday I addressed the question – “Is Jesus really the only way to God and eternal life?” This is a question in a culture that has embraced complete tolerance and rejects exclusive claims by any religion or faith. More and more folks embrace religious pluralism which claims all religious paths are equal, valid and there is no one true faith.
This is often supported by a Hindu parable that describes a group of blind men who encounter an elephant. One touches the trunk and compares it to a snake. Another touches the leg and describes it as a tree trunk. One grabs hold of the tail and says it is a rope…and so on. The point of the parable is that each religion touches, feels or sees only a part of a very big god (small g intentional). The point is that all religions have a partial understanding of God and all are valid in their limited understanding. That’s the spiritual elephant in the room.
What I like about the parable is that it does point to the fact that all humans and all religions will be limited in what we can understand about God. In fact, the Jewish and Christian faith teach that a human cannot fully grasp all there is to God (Romans 11:33-36; 1 Corinthians 13:12). While God can be known, there is also a mystery to him.
But the parable of the elephant falls short. It suggests there is no ultimate right or wrong, and that every person has a part of the truth. The fact is we are not totally blind. We can see that we are touching an elephant! Following the teaching of Muhammad is not the same as following the way of Jesus. They are very different and exclusive of each other. Pure Buddhism is in fact atheist in that there is no god; and that is mutually exclusive of our faith in one true God. In Judaism, you and I, as Christians, are excluded from the covenant made only with the chosen tribes of Israel. I could unpack how Hinduism and most world religions have no parallel with our Christian faith.
The other point of the Hindu elephant parable is that we should be kind, respectful, and in fact, love those who hold different beliefs. That’s what Jesus taught – “love your enemies and those who persecute you.” That’s what Peter said in 1 Peter 3:15. When someone asks questions or even attacks our faith, we are to be ready to give an answer with “gentleness and respect.” We shouldn’t accept or even respect a belief we believe to be false, but we respect the person who holds that belief! And, we go further and even love the person with whom we disagree.
There is truth. If there is truth, then there must be untruth. There is right, which means there is wrong. What is true and not true is to be discovered in this world. We live in a spiritual world that is exclusive.
The way of Jesus is an exclusive way as Jesus declared in John 14:6 – “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Jesus is God. He came from God. He best knows who God is and how to get to him. Because he’s God he knows the truth. Jesus is the only way to God or back to God. Stating that truth is not mean, bigotted or based in hate (like many claim of us who believe this). It’s the truth and in sincere love we want all to know the truth because it has eternal consequences.
Every week the opportunity is given to Pastors to prepare sermons. For Pantano, this process begins many months in advance. As Pastor Glen has shared before, sermon topics and basic outlines are typically planned a full year out. As the week approaches for a specific message, the writing process gets more focused. Months of praying about a message, researching, and planning always create more information than anyone could communicate effectively in thirty minutes. As a result, each week, we do not have the time to say every single thing we wanted to express in our time frame. As I prepared my message on “Can we trust the Bible?” a similar process happened. I’m excited to be able to continue the conversation from my message to this blog post!
Trusting the Bible goes beyond just knowing the history behind our scriptures is accurate and reliable. While I believe it is essential to understand the accuracy of God’s word, we live in the heart implications of relating to the Bible. When the Bible speaks on _______, how does that affect me? What does it do to my actions, past/future decisions, and so forth? These questions are tough, and they don’t always have an easy answer. As a result, serious questions can affect our trust in the Bible and our desire to apply it to our lives.
How do we handle questions like:
These are great questions, and I would encourage you to lean into them and their implications. Some might be tempted to say, “I’ll just trust God and leave that to someone else.” While that approach removes the temporary discomfort of hard questions and situations, it leaves the underlying issue and ultimately creates trust issues. For us to have the best relationship with God, our trust of him and his words need to be the healthiest possible. Below are some suggestions for you to dig into these questions and strengthen your confidence. One final note: I believe that growth is mostly painful, but it is incredible. Even though your questions might cause discomfort and create even more questions, know that you are not alone. God’s promise to never leave or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5) is still true.
I want to encourage you to dig into the tough parts of our faith in Jesus. It’s ok to ask questions, but we’ll never know if the Bible is accurate, relevant, or trustworthy until we engage it for ourselves. I believe that God is excited to journey with you as you ask questions, seek the truth, and knock on the door to greater faith.
On the journey with you,
Pastor Nick Farr
We began our new series I Got Questions by looking at the conflict between science and faith in God. My challenge Sunday was to choose both faith in God and science. Scientists who have only trusted or have faith in science, need to be honest and admit that science is limited. It can’t answer all the questions as our human intellect and wisdom has limits. Those who have faith in the Bible also have to admit that the Bible was not written to answer all our questions about the natural world. Both have something significant to offer.
Pastor Andy Stanley has it right when he reminds us that the Bible is not a science book, and science isn’t the Bible. They both have a place in helping us understand ourselves, this world and the supernatural world.
Here are some of the limitations of science. The theory of evolution (note it is a theory) has very little evidence that shows consistent slow transitional forms in fossil records. If evolution was the complete explanation of how animals and man came to be, then we should have a ton more evidence of animals that evolved over time. The fact is the evidence shows that we have more fossil records of animals that appeared all at once and were fully formed. The honesty is that there are holes in the evolutionary theory. Scientific evolution doesn’t give a compelling explanation of how life began!
Evolution can’t answer how cognitive development happens. How did we learn to think, speak, and create as we do? A question that some honest scientists ask is this: Can they trust their ability to know the truth (including there is no God) if human minds developed from lower animals?
Science tends to believe that our world is a closed system and that nothing can ever occur out of the normal laws of that system (Newtonian physics). But that doesn’t mean that God, who is bigger than and outside of our system, can’t intervene on occasion and do things differently. Scientists have been discovering that our world is not as regular and predictable as we once believed. Hence the rise of quantum mechanics and more.
I believe that God created the laws of nature or physics. They make life work. They also help us see when there is a miracle or an exception to the standard way of life. When the natural order is disturbed, it points us to a God who is intervening into our world. God wants life to be regular and consistent because that is what is good for us. I’m grateful that every day, the law of gravity consistently works. But at times, God chooses to break in and uniquely alter things to remind us that he is God. I love how John said it in John 20:30-31 – Jesus performed many other signs [miracles] in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. The miracles were signs pointing us to the fact that Jesus was not just a man but God himself who entered our life and world. Science gives us enormous understanding that makes for a richer and better life. But Jesus is the one who actually gives us life.
This week we start a new teaching series called I Got Questions. We’ll be looking at five of the more common questions that skeptics ask and that sometimes causes those who follow Jesus to question the validity of their faith. It’s my hope that this series will help both those who are skeptical and those who embrace faith in God to gain understanding and insight.
If you know someone who’s asking these kind of questions, invite them to join you. Here’s the questions we’ll be responding to: 1) Hasn’t science disproved faith? 2) Isn’t the Bible a man-made book of myths that’s full of errors, untrustworthy and irrelevant to the modern world? 3) Aren’t Christians arrogant, narrow-minded bigots suggesting there’s only one true God and only one way to God? 4) How can God be all powerful and good if he allows such evil and suffering? and 5) Jesus might have been a good man, but how can he be God?
The challenge is that there is so much to cover each week that just won’t fit into our allotted 35 minutes of teaching. So, each week, in our teaching notes, we’ll be adding resources you can use to go further in your understanding. We’ll suggest books, videos, classes and blogs that might be helpful. Here are a few to start with…
Each Wednesday after the Sunday message, the teacher will use this blog to address the topic they presented. These blogs will take the subject deeper or contain additional material we couldn’t cover in the message.
If you haven’t done so already, join RightNow Media. This is a free digital resource (available via computer, smart phone, smart TV, Roku, etc.) that gives you access to thousands of videos about almost any subject. There are great Bible studies, teachings on marriage, parenting, leadership, discipleship and personal growth. There are videos for kids, for your small group, and even for the holidays. Check it out. It’s free at https://mypantano.church/rightnowmedia.
Once you sign up, go to the “Apologetics” library for a wealth of resources where you can go deeper with the subjects we are addressing in this series. One resource that is helpful for our first teaching on the conflict of science and faith is the video The Search for Meaning – Science and God with Oz Guinness.
Arm Your Faith
Travis Swart will lead a class on apologetics. It’s an online class that lasts 10 weeks and starts September 3rd. Sign up here – pantano.church/ArmYourFaith
Our faith is reasonable and rational, and in humility, we welcome and want to engage in questions. We also want to be able to share with others how compelling and reasonable our faith is. Don’t miss this series, and consider inviting someone new to join you.
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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One of the crazy things we struggle with in our modern world is to what extent should we intervene in the lives of others? There are too many folks who seem to stick their noses into other people’s business who have no right to do so. Then there’s the polar opposite where folks should intervene, but fail to do anything.
I was watching a news clip this past week that showed two men attacking a guy in a New York City subway. They started hitting him, and when he fell down, both guys started stomping on his head. It was brutal. Someone was taking a video of the event. Two people stood a couple of feet away watching the whole attack. It hit me that at least three people were recording or watching, and no one helped the man being attacked. There are times when we are in trouble, and we need someone to intervene.
Many of us have had friends, family members, neighbors, or co-workers who were in trouble. Maybe they made some bad decisions about a relationship, about money, or about how to manage their pain and hurt. Their bad choices led them to a place of real danger causing more suffering and harm. Someone needed to intervene to help them change course and direction. Interventions are hard because so often the person hurting is blind about their addiction or bad choices, or are in denial that they have a problem. When we try to intervene and help, we are often pushed away.
The fact is, we all need an intervention. We all need God to intervene and save us from the power of sin that wants to destroy us. We are all sinners. We all live in a world where we are surrounded by the temptations of sin and can’t escape sin’s power. We all have issues, bad habits, hang up, addictions, and hurts that cause us to do things we hate doing. The sin in and around us also keeps us from doing what we know we should do. There are times we wonder if we’ll ever change. Can we change? The answer is yes, but only with God’s intervention.
This Sunday, we’ll start a new series called Intervention. Are you ready for a change? Have you been stuck in something that you want to stop? Is there something you know you need to start doing that should be a consistent part of your life? Is your past continuing to sabotage your present? Do you have an addiction? Often we are blind or in denial about the stuff in us which traps us. Sometimes we need an intervention to help us recognize what’s enslaving us so we can find freedom. God is always ready to intervene to help free us from our captivity. God has shown us the way to freedom. In one way or another, we all need God’s intervention in our lives. Join us in July for this incredible series of hope. Invite others who also need an intervention by God.
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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.
My wife and I watched a TV series called “This Is Us” about the struggles of the Pearson family. I’ve appreciated the acting, the reality of family dysfunction, and being reminded about the joys of being family. The drama is attempting to expose or unmask the reality of family drama and be honest about that fact that “this is us.”
Sunday we are beginning a new series we are calling “This Is Pantano.” The focus isn’t on our church family drama or dysfunction (though I’m sure we could find plenty!). What we will do in this series is to expose and look at what we value as a church. Every person, every organization and every church has values. Sometimes we are not aware of them and often they are not clearly articulated, but everything we do or don’t do is driven by a value. Values drive behavior and create our life. They influence and characterize everything that happens in and through us.
This Is Pantano will help us see the six key values that give our church community its unique “flavor” and feel. For many of us, the values of our church are what we love about being a part of Pantano. So, values matter! In this series, we’ll look at the values that reflect who we are and the biblical basis for each value. This series is about who we are (not the organization), but you and I who make up Pantano. You won’t want to miss This is Pantano!
Faith in Action
The first value we’ll look at this Sunday is What matters most is loving people to Jesus. We’ll see how Jesus speaks directly to this concept. We’ll also have an opportunity to put our love and faith into action; we partner with ministries who love others to Jesus in practical ways. Sunday you can look into how you might join and support one of these groups to make a difference. They will be in the outdoor covered court. Each of these groups are serving in ways that are truly making a real difference for people who matter to God and should matter to us.
Be sure an join us this Sunday for our new series, and see how you can put your faith into action!
It’s common for people to love Jesus, believe the Bible, be basically good and serve others, but stop short of the radical kind of life that Jesus invites. Well, what more is there to faith? I’ll get to that shortly. Now, I’m pretty sure most of these folks are saved (only Jesus knows for sure). They obey Jesus, but often do so reluctantly and mostly out of a sense of obligation. They will be dutiful and go through the motions, but their obedience has limits. They have faith, but it is not a fully surrendered faith.
Jesus invites us to an uncommon level of faith. What does that mean? He calls us to a radical abandonment of that which is safe and predictable and where we are, in the end, still in control. Jesus wants us to embrace an uncommon faith that is so mature that we are sold out, fully devoted and “all in” as we follow him. This kind of faith sets no limits on what we’ll do in obedience to Jesus. This Sunday we begin a new series called Uncommon. I’ll be challenging all of us to join a group of uncommon folks who embrace an uncommon faith. This is going to be good!
One of the places I see this is in a story recorded in Luke 5:1-11. What we see in this story is that Simon Peter responds to Jesus in two different ways. The first occurs as he’s living out of a common kind of faith. Jesus asked Simon Peter to go fishing but he really didn’t want to do it. That’s a characteristic of ordinary faith. We know what Jesus wants, but we drag our heels, question why and often complain (even if only inside). When Simon Peter reluctantly agreed to do what Jesus asked he addressed Jesus as “Master” (see verse 5). The word “master” means one who has status and authority or someone who is perceived as important. Simon Peter saw Jesus as a great person and obeyed him because of his status.
Simon Peter and his partners put out the nets and had a miraculous catch of fish that filled the boats. In response to the miracle, Simon Peter addressed Jesus as “lord” (see verse 8). “Lord” is a different word than “master.” It means owner. There’s a huge difference between Jesus being an important person with status and Jesus as the owner of our lives. Peter moved from a common, normal faith to an uncommon one.
So, I want to invite you to renew or embrace a commitment to live an uncommon faith. We call that All In Partnership here at Pantano. Every year I ask you, as one who’s part of our church, to declare your commitment to surrender to the lordship of Jesus. 2019 All In Partner cards will be available this Sunday or you can sign it online.
Don’t sign up to be All In unless you are sincere about it. Not everyone is ready to embrace an uncommon faith – that’s why it is uncommon. And, declaring you are All In doesn’t mean you will do this perfectly. Join me, and many others, in being All In. Being All In means you affirm that your whole life – your time, your skills, and your money belongs to Jesus. Because he’s Lord, you’ll do your best to follow him in how he leads you to use your life to make a difference, wherever and however. Being All In means you’ll seek to love people to Jesus and help us transform our world and populate eternity.
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!
We all have fears. Some cause us nightmares that literally keep us up at night. Or, out of anxiety, we have trouble sleeping. Sunday we’ll start a new series called “What Keeps You Up at Night?” We’ll be looking closer at our fears and how God wants to lead us out of our anxiety into a place of peace.
Maybe you have struggled with fear, in general, most of your life, or at least for a long time. Maybe there is one key fear that keeps showing up. Maybe you are facing a fear that is tied to your situation right now. As I said, we all have fears. That’s part of being human. While we all will face fears, God does not want us to live or get stuck in our fears.
As we enter this new teaching series, I want to give you some hope when it comes to our fears; I love the wisdom found in Proverbs 3:21-26 (NIV):
My son, do not let wisdom and understanding out of your sight,
preserve sound judgment and discretion;
they will be life for you,
an ornament to grace your neck.
Then you will go on your way in safety,
and your foot will not stumble.
When you lie down, you will not be afraid;
when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.
Have no fear of sudden disaster
or of the ruin that overtakes the wicked,
for the Lord will be at your side
and will keep your foot from being snared.
Now again in the Message version – Proverbs 3:21-26:
Dear friend, guard Clear Thinking and Common Sense with your life;
don’t for a minute lose sight of them.
They’ll keep your soul alive and well,
they’ll keep you fit and attractive.
You’ll travel safely,
you’ll neither tire nor trip.
You’ll take afternoon naps without a worry,
you’ll enjoy a good night’s sleep.
No need to panic over alarms or surprises,
or predictions that doomsday’s just around the corner,
Because God will be right there with you;
he’ll keep you safe and sound.
God’s truth and God’s wisdom, which results in clear thinking and common sense will help us have correct thoughts about life and our fears. God’s truth and wisdom help keep us from spiritual danger. God’s truth and wisdom help us to sleep well at night. We put our faith in God and his wisdom to help us to overcome our fears because we know God will not abandon us, his guidance is sure and trustworthy.
Sunday, December 30th
Well, this is my last blog for 2018. The year is coming to a close and we are looking forward to 2019. This Sunday, December 30th, Brian and Mandy Lucas will bring an incredible message about the rhythm of looking back and looking forward. I’ve heard their message and it’s terrific – it’s practical and encouraging. With them speaking in our adult services, I’m freed up to get to speak to our students! I love having that opportunity. It’s important that I get to connect with our students every once in a while.
On January 6th we’ll start a new teaching series called Transform. God is in the business of transforming what currently exists to become something that has his imprint. He wants to transform us to become more like Jesus. But, he doesn’t stop with us. He wants to use our church to transform our city in unity with and through other churches of all kinds. In this series, we’ll look at God’s transformative work in us, through us and with others in our city. We’ve got a great series planned, with something special each week. Come each week open to God’s Spirit. If you do, you might find yourself being transformed!
Transformation happens best when we focus on one thing at a time, so we’ll start the Transform series by looking at the use of “one word.” This is the fifth year we’ve done this project. We seek God and ask him for the one word that captures the most important change or transformation he wants in our life. One word allows God to do his laser-focused transforming thing in us. You’ll get to hear a story of one person God transformed last year through their one word. I’ll guide you through discovering and then living out your one word for 2019.
Serve Our City
In my first blog for 2019 as well as during service on January 6th, I’ll update you on our Serve Our City event that happened on Sunday, December 23rd. As I write this, about 1,000 of us have signed up to Serve Our City on December 23rd. Way to go, Pantano!
I truly hope for all of us a blessed New Year as we follow Jesus.
Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Cyber Monday have passed so at Pantano we are officially entering our Christmas season! Here’s an overview of what we have planned for Christmas this year. This Sunday we’ll start our three-week Christmas series called Bring Christmas Home. And that just kicks things off!
December Nights are back and we’ve expanded it one night and added some new things to make it even better. The event is free (except for the hayrides and food for purchase). We are adding a new live “Road to Bethlehem” experience. And of course, you’ll be able to roast marshmallows, sing Christmas carols on a horse-drawn carriage, get your free family Christmas portrait (those are often such a pain to schedule…right?!), or join us for a snowball fight. There will be crafts, cookie decorating and a whole lot more including live entertainment.
This year we’ll have the event on Friday and Saturday nights from 5:30-8:30PM on December 7, 8 and 14, 15.
Go to mypantano.church to sign up to serve as we still need volunteers and/or some of the supplies so we can keep this a free event. And, you can sign up and pay for hayride tickets. Just click here for all things December Nights! Don’t forget to invite family and friends to join you!
Serve Our City – December 23rd
I’m so excited about how we are going to bring Christmas home to our city in a unique way this year; on Sunday, December 23rd, instead of having our usual church services on our campus, we are going to “be” the church by going out and serving our community and neighborhoods. We’ll be doing some work projects (cleaning, painting, etc.) at both the new Gospel Rescue Mission Center of Opportunity and GAP Ministries. We’ll also have a variety of other ways you, your family (and yes, kids too!) and friends or small group can serve. We’ll also have a few projects on our campus if you are unable to drive to another location. We’ll have special Serve Our City t-shirts for anyone who signs up. You can sign up at mypantano.church. We’ll be talking about this all of December and more information will be coming soon. Plan to use that Sunday morning to bring the spirit of Christmas to your community.
Christmas Eve Services – December 24th
As you’ve come to expect, we put on a terrific one-hour Christmas Eve service for the whole family with a short, clear gospel message, singing, and candle lighting. This year we’ll have 4 services at 1, 3, 5, and 7PM. We’ll have children’s programming available for children up to 6 years of age. Invite others to join you at this great event!
Christmas Eve Offering
Our annual Christmas Eve offering will go in its entirety to support the new Center of Opportunity (4550 S. Palo Verde – south of Ajo Way); it will be a full service, one-stop location for those who are homeless or in crisis. The organization has been given the old Holiday Inn conference center that has over 300 rooms and a lot of space for all the critical services necessary to help the homeless become self-sufficient. We are excited to actually serve there for our Serve Our City Sunday and provide funds to help them convert the rooms and spaces to serve the homeless in our city. You can give online or at the service.
We hope you are able to join us at one or all of our Christmas season events, as we “Bring Christmas Home” this December!
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!
Every safe home has circuit breakers. They are usually found in the breaker box, usually outside the home, apartment or building. The newer style breakers act like switches. If there’s a short or an electrical overload, the breaker will trip or turn off the power to a particular circuit to protect the appliances, devices and even the house or building. The whole purpose of a breaker is to break the flow of electricity to keep something bad from happening.
The old style of breakers were the type you would screw in. They were actually called fuses, and they were one and done. If there was a short or overload, they would just burn out, stop the flow of electricity, and you would need to replace them. My family and I once lived in the Soviet Union in a 5-story Soviet-built apartment building. The breaker box was in the hall across from the elevator. One day the breaker blew. Back then, everything was a deficit; sugar, butter, socks, and shampoo were all in short supply. So, when the fuse burnt out, I spent a whole day going from store to store and every open-air market I could visit to find one. Finally, after a whole day of looking, I found one and the power was restored. I spent the whole day looking because you really can’t function well in our modern way of life without electricity.
Without electric power, appliances won’t work. The food in the refrigerator will go bad quickly. There are no lights to be able to see at night. And, in Arizona in the summer, no power means no air conditioning – yikes! No electricity also means no internet and maybe even no entertainment through a TV. We need electricity, and when it is interrupted, we have chaos.
In the spiritual world, there are also breakers that stop the flow of God’s power (which is grace). The Bible says that we face a dangerous spiritual condition when grace is interrupted from flowing into our lives, causing us to miss it. Hebrews 12:15 says that it’s toxic if we miss grace. Without grace, we can easily be spiritually poisoned (that’s what “bitter” means in Heb. 12:15). And when grace is interrupted, then it is nearly impossible for grace to flow out of us to others. It’s absolutely vital that we make sure the flow of grace is not interrupted.
Starting this Sunday, we are beginning a new teaching series called Interrupting Grace. We’ll explore three of the main things that attempt to interrupt the flow of grace – our mistakes, our hurts, and difficult circumstances. God’s grace is free and powerful. It is life-changing. We need to be alert and not allow anything to block grace from filling our lives or impede the flow of grace through our lives.
And this Sunday, we are going to give everyone an opportunity to say “yes” to grace. Saying yes to grace is saying you are ready to trust Jesus, ready to follow the way of Jesus, ready to accept the grace, love, and forgiveness of Jesus. If you are ready to start the flow of grace that’s greater than your mistakes, hurts or difficult situations, then say yes right now. And, plan to make a promise to follow Jesus to the best of your ability and commit to living in the grace of Jesus through baptism this Sunday.
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.
Did you know the Bible talks about legal aliens, foreigners, and exiles? It speaks very clearly about these kind of people. And probably your mind already jumped to the political debates over immigration and border security. That’s NOT what I’m talking about, and I’m not so foolish as to jump into that debate in a blog. You and I are described as legal aliens!
Yep! Those of us who follow Jesus are called “aliens.” And no, not the ones who visit from time to time from outer space that make for sci-fi documentaries and conspiracy theories. The word “alien” shows up three times in 1 Peter 1:1; 1:17 and 2:11 (depending on the Bible version it might be translated as “exiles,” “foreigners,” “strangers,” or “sojourners”).
What is an “alien.” The word used by Peter, in general, refers to one who comes from a foreign land to live side by side with the natural or indigenous residents. Modern language translates the word as “resident alien.”
A “spiritual” alien then is a follower of Jesus who lives in this world. The language, values, customs and lifestyle of this world feel foreign and unnatural to the believer. You see when we began to follow Jesus we were reborn or born anew (see 1 Peter 1:3), not as citizens of this world, but as citizens of the kingdom of God. And we realize we have the hope that this world is not our final home (see 1 Peter 1:4). We know this life is our temporary home. We live as aliens – longing for our real home where our Father and real spiritual family will spend eternity – heaven.
But for now, we live as aliens in this world. As aliens, we are different. And guess what? All through history, and yes even today, anyone who is really different is often mistrusted, disliked, excluded, treated different from the rest of the “normal” people and even persecuted by the majority. And that is true for those of us who truly follow Jesus. We are “different” from the world. Jesus said we live in the world, but we are not of the world, and that will cause us hardship (see John 15:19). It is difficult and costly to be genuinely different!
So, it is God’s will for us to be aliens! Why? God wants and needs us to be different from the world. We are to be a contrast to our culture in the ways that matter. We are to be light in the dark. We are to be salt in a flavorless world. We are to love when others hate. We are to forgive when others hold grudges. We are self-sacrificing as others are self-serving. We are to offer hope when others are skeptical, pessimistic and jaded. We are to offer good to others when others only seek good for themselves. We are to be Jesus in our world.
Starting this week, we’ll spend six weeks looking at the letter in the Bible called 1 Peter. We are calling this teaching series Contrast. We’ll see why we are to be a contrast, how to be a contrast and how to maintain being a contrast to and in a world that wants us to compromise and blend in. This is going to be a powerful life-changing and encouraging series. Our Bible reading plan has us reading 1 Peter starting Aug. 29th – you can find our Bible reading plan on our website. May I encourage you to read 1 Peter as we begin looking at this letter.
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!