All languages have several ways to say “Bye!” “Goodbye” seems rather final. “So long” implies a lengthy separation. “God’s speed” is rarely used anymore, but it suggests danger and the real possibility that one won’t make it back. Then there is “See you later.” But that still implies a period of separation. So what word or phrase fits my transition? I’ll get to that later…
I’m not leaving Pantano, but I am stepping off our staff. On August 1st, I would have celebrated 24 years on staff at Pantano. It has been such an honor to serve this great church for so long. I am blessed. I only hope my years of service have also been a blessing to you and others.
I’m so proud of our church. No church is perfect, but we are very healthy. I love our commitment to being kingdom-centered, not church-centered. I love how we are making a difference. I love our faithfulness to Jesus and his Word. I love our church.
So this is my final blog. I started this blog one year before becoming the Lead Pastor of Pantano 15 years ago – that was 2006 (Sixteen years of blogs!). Back then, very few folks even did a blog. I started it as a way to stay connected weekly. I’ve shared some personal struggles and insights I’ve had on scripture or from life and tried to communicate about what was happening at Pantano. One of my favorite blogs was back in 2013 when I talked about killing cockroaches in my in-law’s shower – you can read it here. As I start my sabbatical break, I’ll also take a break from my weekly blogging.
Pantano is still our home church. We love our church. Jolene and I will still be around when we are in town and we’ll be actively involved. Starting in January 2023, I’ll have a limited role in serving our staff and church while I figure out my next season of ministry and sources of income. I’m excited for what God has for me.
So what phrase do I use in this parting? How about “I’m off!” Maybe that’s the best way to describe this season of my life. I’m not retiring. But “I’m off” to a new focus in ministry. I’ll still be active in fulfilling our mission as a church – “Loving people to Jesus; launching passionate people to make a difference.” So “goodbye” just doesn’t seem appropriate.
I’d like to finish my final blog with some heartfelt thank yous. I’m so grateful for Roger Blumenthal. It’s been so amazing to serve together these last 18 years. Thank you for your wisdom, friendship, long hours of work, and for your support.
I’m grateful for an amazing staff. You are the best! I’m so proud of your maturity, wisdom, skill, and commitment to Jesus and his church.
I’m grateful for our elders. Thank you for being a great “boss” all these years and for your love, friendship, and support. Thank you for leading our church so well.
Finally, thank you, Pantano. I’ve already said it above, but I feel the need to say it again and again – I love you so much! We’ve lived life together. We’ve served together. We’ve been through the good times and hard times. We’ve made a difference… together!
So, I’m off with deep and profound gratitude.
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.
New Teaching Series – Three Days
There’s never been a greater good news story. It’s so good and great because it transforms all of life. The Gospel (which means good news) is centered on the three most critical days of human history. Our salvation rests on what Jesus did and what happened to him on the Friday of his death, the Saturday of his burial, and the Sunday of his resurrection. In 1 Corinthians 15:1-4, Paul declares that the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus is the basis of our deliverance from all the destructive effects of sin, now and forever. In this series leading up to Easter, we will take a deeper look into the meaning of each of those three days and how they affect and shape us now. We’ll explore what Jesus did for us each day and see how we are to respond to the unique spiritual truth of each event.
The Cross of Friday
This Sunday, we will look at Good Friday, the first of the three days. Jesus experienced excruciating pain and suffering as he was flogged and nailed to a cross. We can’t even imagine the extent of his pain. Right before Jesus died, he cried out My God, My God, why have you forsaken me (Mark 15:34 and Psalm 22:1). Crucifixion is primarily death by suffocation. Jesus could hardly breathe. When he spoke these last words right before his death, he had limited ability to speak, so he just quotes the first verse of Psalm 22. However, Jesus knew the entire Psalm by heart. I believe he was praying the whole psalm, not just the first verse.
We call Psalm 22 a “Messianic Psalm” because many of the things King David wrote about concerning his experiences were the exact things Jesus experienced. I encourage you to read and meditate on your own. Both David and Jesus were mocked and surrounded by enemies. Both had their bones exposed and their clothes divided up by casting lots. David describes his horrible condition and suffering in the first 21 verses, and God used David’s experience in a prophetic way to describe what Jesus experienced.
The most common view in Christianity today is that the moment when Jesus declared God had forsaken him was in fact the moment that God turned his back on Jesus. Why? Because God could not look at all the sins of all humanity that Jesus bore at that moment. Yes, Jesus bore all the sins of the world on the cross. But did God turn away from Jesus? Jesus was being fully obedient to his Father. He was sacrificing his life for our sins. Would God abandon him at that very moment? Or did it just feel that way to Jesus?
Let me make my case. Yes, I’m a rare voice that expresses this view, so, in humility, all I ask is that you consider it and make your own decision. Psalm 22 changes at verse 22. Remember that Jesus knew this whole Psalm. I believe Jesus was saying these very words in his mind. Look at verses 22-24 – I will declare your name to my people; in the assembly I will praise you. You who fear the Lord, praise him! All you descendants of Jacob, honor him! Revere him, all you descendants of Israel! For he has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help (Psalm 22:22-24). David goes from lament and suffering (verses 1-21) to praise (verses 22-31). Psalm 22 and many of the other Psalms follow this pattern. When we are first honest with God about our pain, honesty and transparency bring us back to a God worthy of praise.
I believe it is not wise to say that God turned his back on Jesus at the moment of his deepest pain and suffering on the cross. The very Psalm 22 that Jesus quoted says God “has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help.” Jesus’ suffering was so intense that he felt like God had forsaken him. But Jesus prayed this prayer in his mind to remind him that his suffering was not despised and God had not abandoned him. Nor will God abandon us in our most difficult and painful moments.
Join us this Sunday as we dig deeper into the meaning of that first Good Friday.
No one wins a war. One side might dominate another and claim victory, but no one really wins. As I watch the destruction of high-rise apartment buildings (most were built during the Soviet era), the loss is impossible to calculate. I lived in those kinds of apartments and spent so many hours visiting friends in them. Then, we consider what is more important – the loss of life. It just makes no sense. I’ve had a lot of hard conversations with God over the last four weeks. And like I’ve said before, while I still feel helpless, I refuse to be hopeless.
I still put my hope in God, who is greater than the missiles, tanks, or an evil mad man. So we need to pray to our God, who is still on the throne of the universe. We pray to our God, who knows each hair on our head and those of the 44 million Ukrainians and of the invading soldiers whose lives are not what they wanted them to be right now. He knows it all. He is compassionate, abounding in love and mercy. He is good… even when you or I can’t make sense of any of this.
So, we pray. And that is the most important thing we can do. It is not the least we can do; it’s the greatest thing we can do. Thank you for praying. Now it’s time for us to pray together. We have set up two options where we can come together and pray.
Join us Online
I’ll be hosting a prayer time online via zoom on Monday, March 28th at 7 pm. You can join the Zoom prayer meeting by clicking this link.
Meeting ID: 818 2868 4225
Feel free to invite others to join us.
Join us In Person
I’ll also be hosting an in-person prayer time. We’ll gather on Thursday. March 31st at 7 pm in the Student Union.
How to Pray
Here are some things you can pray about now, whether you can or can’t join us:
Last Saturday night Jolene and I put our granddaughters down to bed, and we had a great prayer time together. As often happens during this time, our granddaughters will ask questions. My oldest granddaughter asked if Russia was going to attack us. We assured her the war was a long way away and wasn’t coming here. Then our youngest granddaughter asked why we closed our eyes to pray. It was a precious time.
Then I got ready for bed. On Saturday nights before I preach, I try to go to bed a bit earlier as my Sunday morning starts at 5 am. My usual nightly routine includes a prayer time as I lay in bed. But I found my prayer going in a direction I hadn’t experienced in a long time. I started by begging God to stop the war in Ukraine. I prayed for my Ukrainian friends by name. But the longer I prayed, the more unsettled I got. I absolutely believe God is all-powerful. I also believe that he is good. So why doesn’t he stop this stupid useless war? He can. Why hasn’t he? The more intensely I prayed, the angrier I got.
Then the Holy Spirit reminded me that my anger, frustration, and confusion were not unique to me or this time. How many times during World War 2 did people beg God for the war to stop? How many times have parents of a child with a terminal disease cried out to God to heal their child? How many times have those who have been victims of evil pleaded with God for relief and help? There’s nothing new under the sun.
Then I remembered how David was also angry and prayed to ask God to severely punish those who are evil. Psalm 109 is one of those prayers. I’ve now read that Psalm over and over. As I read it, I substitute Putin and his cronies into David’s cry for punishment. If you’ve not read Psalm 109 lately, click here to read it. He prays that his enemy’s days would be few and that his children would become beggars without a father. He prays that all kinds of evil be done to one who did him evil. He calls on God to multiply curses on his adversary. That’s how I want to pray. I empathize with David’s anger and disgust.
In days past, when I was unaffected by evil, I would read Psalm 109 and think how strange that such a writing would be included in the Bible. About 30 statements of judgment, revenge, or curse are declared in this Psalm. These are in direct opposition to the teaching of Jesus – read Matthew 5. Frankly, this Psalm seems wrong and inappropriate. Why is it even in the Bible? Because that’s how godly people feel sometimes. It’s a reminder that we are broken human beings.
My two words for this year are kindness and gentleness. You don’t see any of that in Psalm 109. But the Psalms do not always proclaim an eternal truth for all to embrace, but rather express the real emotions of one who’s suffering. I’m suffering as my dear friends are suffering. I know that I’m not alone in this anguish. I hear from my friends in Ukraine their version of this angry prayer. I have prayed my version of this Psalm against Putin and his war on innocent people.
But you have to read the Psalm to the end (this is often the case in David’s psalms). Read Psalm 109:21-31. It describes me. It describes you. It’s an admission of our need for help. It is a confession of our weakness and brokenness. It’s an admission of our humanity with all its carnal reactions. It’s also a declaration that in spite of the evil, God has not abandoned us and is with us, and his love never stops.
This Psalm reflects life. We are human and react out of the flesh. We are also children of God who are led by the Spirit. Both are operating at the same time. Because the flesh and the Spirit are at war, Paul writes this in Galatians 5:16-17 – 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.
It is a daily journey in faith to learn to walk by or be led by the Spirit and not let the flesh have its way. What a difficult journey it is. And thanks be to God that his grace is abundant as we struggle to follow the way of Jesus.
I find myself breaking out in tears all through the day. For those who know me well, I’m not one who cries easily. My heart is broken. I’ve been in contact with many I know who live in Ukraine. I feel so helpless living so far away. I’m so grateful for so many of you who are praying and have opened your heart to the people of Ukraine.
Our family served as missionaries in a city called Kherson, Ukraine. CNN put a correspondent in Kherson so I’ve watched the invasion of “my” city on television. Both of my children have an amazing tattoo of Ukraine as they spent some of their childhood there. Kherson (the same size as Tucson) is the first major city on the main road out of Russian-annexed Crimea. It has the main bridge across the Dnieper River from Crimea to Ukraine so it’s a strategic point. It appears that the Russians now control Kherson.
We went to Kherson when it was part of the Soviet Union. We helped start churches. We saw thousands come to faith. We helped start Tavriski Christian Institute in 1997 which is training church leaders in Ukraine and Muslim Central Asia. We watched Ukraine declare independence in August 1991 and were there when the Soviet Union broke up.
Here’s what I want you to know. Ukrainians are the most peaceful people I know. Let me be clear. There are good and bad people in every culture and society. There are really good Russians. But Ukrainian culture as a whole loves peace and cherishes freedom. Before this week, I would tell people that Ukraine was the freest country in the world! Ukrainian and Russian languages are similar but different (like Portuguese and Spanish). But even the language tells us about the culture. Ukrainian is much softer than the guttural sounds of Russian. It reflects the softness of the people who love to be hospitable and cherish relationships. Ukrainians are loyal and very spiritual. To this day, my best and closest friends are Ukrainian.
Ukraine’s independence has lasted 31 years. Now get this. That is the longest Ukraine has ever had independence. Ukraine has no natural borders to protect it (the name Ukraine means “borderland”). It has been conquered and ruled by the Mongols, Poles, the Russian Empire, the Soviet Union, and now an attempt by the Russian Federation. Ukrainians love their freedom and independence and they won’t stand for Russian occupation. Look at their recent history to keep their independence from Russia:
The cost of lives and property is immense. But there is another cost as well. It’s close to my heart. In 1997 we established the Tavriski Christian Institute (TCI). We were to celebrate its 25th anniversary this fall. It is the first Christian college in Ukraine that has received state accreditation. TCI is sponsoring Christian training for pastors and leaders in central Asian countries where believers there are under constant persecution. TCI professors and teachers can go to these restricted places because they hold Ukrainian passports. TCI is helping support church planting movements in Muslim countries where few can go.
Today, TCI has been evacuated. The TCI property is right on the Dnieper River and is just a mile or so from the main Turupinski Bridge. This bridge is the main way to cross the river from Crimea to the rest of Ukraine. 20 helicopters of Russian special forces landed right by TCI. They burned and cleared all the cattails and brush from the river to make sure they can protect the bridge so their tanks and military support can cross the river. Russian snipers are controlling the bridge currently. Will TCI students and staff ever be able to return? Will TCI have to become remote and relocate? The future is unknown for TCI and 40 million Ukrainians.
Russia also invaded the south of Ukraine to get water. Their first main target was the hydroelectric dam in Kahovka (some 40 miles from Kherson). They needed to open up a water canal that is the main source of freshwater for the entire Crimean peninsula. When Putin illegally invaded Crimea and took it from Ukraine, the Ukrainians cut off their water supply in response.
Yes, in some ways there are two Ukraines. Western Ukraine (basically from the Dnieper river west) is predominantly Ukrainian-speaking. Eastern Ukraine is predominantly Russian speaking – however, almost all can speak and understand each other’s language. But even Eastern Ukraine is split also. Many who speak Russian identify culturally as Ukrainian and love their country. There are those who speak Russian who watch only Russian propaganda television and side with the Russian Federation. That’s why there have been the breakaway regions (instigated by Russian operatives). In general, there’s been peace between Ukrainian and Russian-speaking Ukrainians, until the Russian operatives began their work of disunity.
When Putin invaded Crimea in 2014, he sent Russian operatives into Kherson. They were driven out by a united city. Part of the unity in that city developed through the faith community. For decades, the Protestant churches and the Orthodox churches have worked for unity. Every Sunday, leaders, and congregants would meet in the central square where the statue of Lenin used to stand. They would pray together for their city and country.
So what can you and I do? We can pray. Like believers for the last 2000 years who have faced persecution, it seems so little. But do we really believe in a God who is greater than an invading army? I do. I’m praying daily that Putin repents and surrenders to Jesus. I’m praying for the Russian and Belarusian people to stand up and revolt against this tyranny. I’m praying the Russian oligarchs will take a stand against Putin (even if only for selfish reasons). I’m praying for a miracle of resilience on the part of the Ukrainian people. I’m praying that the West fully support and supply the Ukrainian people. I’m praying that the believers still in Ukraine will stand strong in their faith as they love and serve all and be a witness to the life-giving Jesus. I’m praying for peace as other bad actors in the world might be tempted to use this to further aggression in other parts of the world. Pray for peace. Pray that in the midst of chaos and conflict that the kingdom and influence of God will advance.
Many of you have asked how you can help financially. We’ve been able to set up a way to get the funds into Ukraine! The funds you give will go to help Ukrainian refugees and the churches and Christians who remain in Ukraine to serve their people and advance the love of Christ. You can give at https://pantano.church/give/. Select the Ukraine fund.
I’m now in daily contact with Ukrainians (thank God for the internet) and we have ways to ensure that help gets to those who need it. Thank you for your love, prayer, and support. Please keep praying. I’m confident that God will not ignore the prayers of tens of thousands of believers.
In my season of transition from being the Lead Pastor, I’ve reminded many folks that all of us are in an interim position. It’s not to be feared but embraced. Nothing in life lasts forever, including the honor of leading our church. All our jobs and roles are temporary. Life itself is temporary. So we plan wisely for tomorrow, knowing that at the same time, we can’t control the future.
James 4:14 reminds us of an important truth – Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. That truth is rather sobering, but we shouldn’t ignore it or deny it. While we can’t control what happens in our future, we can take some steps to make reasonable plans for the benefit of our family and be good stewards that can address the causes we care about.
I can’t even guess how many funerals, memorials, and celebration of life services I’ve done over my 45 years of ministry. Many deaths were a surprise due to accidents or sudden illness. Every family grieves the loss of their loved one. But for some, the situation after the funeral was just as hard. Why? The person who departed didn’t have a plan for their children or the possessions that they left behind. Loving our family includes helping them when we might not be here.
Here at Pantano, we offer a free service to help you prepare your estate documents with our ministry partner, Financial Planning Ministry (FPM). FPM is a trusted Christian organization that will help provide a complete estate plan (living trust, will, and power of attorney) at no cost to you. This can save you thousands of dollars. You will be asked to consider leaving charitable gifts to Pantano or other ministries within your estate plan so that in your passing, you can continue the generosity you’ve expressed throughout your life.
With an estate plan from FPM, your family can avoid paying probate costs and unexpected taxes on inheritance and have all your affairs set in order. Jolene and I are grateful for the legal documents that FPM helped us create.
Our next 90-minute Financial Planning Ministry Information Meeting will be Monday, February 28th at 6:30 PM in the Pantano Student Union.
To register for this event, fill out our FPM Registration Form. Feel free to invite friends and family to register and attend with you. If you have any questions about FPM or the estate planning process, you can email Roger at firstname.lastname@example.org and he would be happy to assist you.
FPM takes the mystery out of estate planning, guiding you and your family through a straightforward process and allowing you to design a legacy plan that blesses your family while honoring God. They can also update an old trust and prepare a special needs trust for families with children who will need care throughout their lives.
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.
Super Bowl Sunday
This Sunday, February 13th, folks will be partying all around the United States as we celebrate one of our biggest unofficial holidays – the Super Bowl. And yes, I’m pretty excited that my Bengals no longer carry the “Bungles” label. Feel free to wear your favorite team’s jersey this Sunday. You bet I’ll be wearing my orange and black Bengals shirt.
We’re also going to have a party at church as we celebrate the completion of our auditorium remodel and reopening. Aren’t the new seats great?! By the way, every other row has seat arms that can raise to give you more room. And yes, the cup holders are coming. We’ll have our regular services at 9 am and 11 am.
We’ll have lots of food and fun after each service. There’ll be regular meals for purchase and free Krispy Kreme donuts and kettle corn after the 9 am service and free hot dogs and pretzels after the 11 am service.
There will be lots for the kids to do. The rock wall will be open for climbing. We’ll have inflatable obstacle courses, slides, and yes, an inflatable axe and football throwing option along with 9 Square and a kids train.
A Service Opportunity
We can use some help to make this party special! Sign up here to serve after one of the services.
This month, our Kids Team is hosting a food drive for our city as they put compassion into action. Please bring non-perishable food items to our Kids tent in the outside courtyard.
Trevor DeVage Speaking
And to top it all off, Trevor DeVage, our new Lead Pastor, will be teaching as we continue our series Playbook. Trevor will be unpacking the Beatitude – “Blessed are the meek.”
See you this Sunday!
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.
Happy Thanksgiving! I think this is my favorite holiday of all. It’s a simple holiday of family gathering around food to be grateful. When we lived in Ukraine, it was a bit more challenging as it was not a national holiday. Finding a turkey and all the traditional Thanksgiving meal favorites was a huge challenge. But no matter what we could find and make, the theme of the day was still the same. We set aside the day to be together and be thankful. Simple. Powerful.
Gratitude is one of the most important spiritual practices we engage in. Of course, it is not only to be remembered one day a year. Gratitude is a way of life, and it is so powerful. A lifestyle of gratitude changes our attitude from that of deficit to that of abundance. It moves us to trust God more because we remember and reflect on how good he is. With that attitude and belief, it changes what we do and how we do it. It is out of gratitude that we learn to be more generous toward others because gratitude overwhelms our natural greed. Gratitude is a game-changer.
If you want one simple daily practice that invites God to transform your ‘stinking thinking’ and bad attitudes, then practice daily gratitude. Try it. This Thanksgiving, have each person in your family complete this sentence: “I’m grateful for…” Then make that your practice every day. You’ll see a remarkable transformation of your soul.
Yesterday was my birthday. I’m thankful for 66 years of life. A great deal has been hard through these years, but I find what I have to be grateful for overshadows the negative. Today is our 42nd wedding anniversary, and I’m so thankful for Jolene. What a gift she’s been to me. I can’t imagine having traveled this life without her. I’m thankful for my two kids and two granddaughters. They are all such special people. I’m thankful for my church that exists not for itself, but to serve others. I’m grateful for my friends that are close and far away. Each friend has added so much joy and adventure to my life. I have so much to be thankful for that it’s actually overwhelming, and that’s the theme of thanksgiving. It overwhelms you and me.
May your Thanksgiving overwhelm you with the joy of rediscovering how much you have to be thankful for.
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.
In my Bible reading, I consistently return to reading the Gospels because I want to keep coming back to Jesus. I’m just finishing reading Matthew. This time I noticed something I had never observed before about Jesus’ teaching. Mercy was a big deal to him.
I love Compassion International’s definition of mercy – Mercy is a gift given to someone who is suffering by someone acting with compassion. To be honest, I would say I’m pretty lousy at mercy. It’s not natural for me. But because it’s a big deal to Jesus, I have to look at this much deeper.
Jesus said that “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy” (Matthew 5:7). Core to being a follower of Jesus is one who gives mercy to others.
Several times folks came to Jesus and begged for mercy. They or those close to them were suffering. Their common words were, “Lord, have mercy on me…” And in each case, Jesus was merciful and compassionate. Here are some of those instances:
Then there’s the parable of the unmerciful servant in Matthew 18:21-35. I urge you to read it. It’s a powerful lesson. Peter asked a question that prompted Jesus to tell the story. He asked how often we have to forgive someone who sins against us. Jesus tells a parable about a lender who settles accounts. The first guy owes an astronomical amount which he can’t repay. He begs for mercy. The lender generously forgives the whole debt.
That same man who received mercy finds a guy who owes him equal to 100 days of work. The debtor begs for mercy, but the guy who just had a fortune forgiven refuses and throws him in jail. When the original lender finds out, he’s furious and says to the man – Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you? (Matthew 18:33). That’s not just a question in a story; it’s a question for you and me. Out of gratitude for God’s goodness to us, we should generously give mercy to others.
Finally, we have the story about how the religious leaders shamed Jesus for hanging out with bad people, sinners, and undesirables. Jesus says to them – It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners. (Matthew 9:12-13). Those who are far from God are struggling. Some know it; some don’t. Jesus wants us to show mercy to those who are still in sin’s bondage.
How is your mercy quotient these days? How would those close to you rate your level of mercy? Who needs some mercy right now? What might the gift of mercy look like? How might you respond with compassion, forgiveness, and grace?
The record monsoon rain has brought us an abundance of weeds. I drive past houses that are overgrown like I’ve never seen before. I just happened to be reading the parable of the weeds that Jesus told in Matthew 13:24-30 last week. He explained the parable in verses 36-43. Take the time to click the links to read the parable and explanation. What was Jesus’ message through this story?
Those of us who sincerely (not perfectly) seek to follow Jesus live in both the kingdom of God and a world of weeds at the same time. Jesus explains that “the weeds are people of the evil one” (vs. 38). The weeds Jesus was referring to have poisonous seeds. The struggle and pain we experience in this world is the work of the devil. Weeds can do a lot of damage. They damage good crops that provide nutrition and income. And the weeds themselves are poisonous.
The workers in the parable ask Jesus if they should get rid of the weeds. That’s logical! But Jesus gives a surprising answer. Speaking for the farmer in the story, Jesus says that they are not to pull the weeds but wait until the harvest. They are to wait! It’s at the harvest that the weeds and good crops will be separated.
In Jesus’ explanation, he teaches us that the kingdom of God has this reality – weeds and good crops exist side by side. His exact words are: “Let both grow together until the harvest” (vs. 30). There are those who seek to be and do good following Jesus, and there are those who follow the spirit of the world. We live together. We are not to fret over that. That’s the reality of this life. Our purpose in this life is to continue to be good seeds, sow good seeds, and stay faithful to the end. We wait, for there will be a harvest day. For Jesus, the harvest means a day of judgment.
Jesus’ description of judgment (vv. 39-43) is so clear. At the harvest or judgment, the angels “weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil” (vs. 41). All that’s evil will be destroyed in the fire, which is a reference to hell. Those who seek what is right as kingdom people will shine like the sun (“you are the light of the world” – Matthew 5:14).
It’s so tempting for Christians to want to take on the role of harvesters and rid the world of evil. That’s not our job. It is Jesus and his angels who will do that in the end. We will exist side by side in this life with the weeds. We must resist the temptation to abandon seeking Jesus and his righteousness. We must be the good seed that gives life to this world by being Jesus in a very evil and perverse world. We leave the purifying and judging to God and his holy army.
But we get impatient. We want to take things into our own hands and get rid of the weeds now. But we won’t see the uprooting or elimination of evil until the very end of the age. We have hope. Hope is confidence that evil will be defeated, even if we can’t see it now. There will be a day when sin and evil are uprooted and eliminated. But until then, we embrace the words of Paul – Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. (Galatians 6:9).
Clarity is critical for healthy relationships. Lack of clarity can lead to disappointment, disorientation, and disequilibrium. For a while, I’ve come to realize that we have some core beliefs that govern and shape our church community and ministry that we need to make more clear and easy to find. When folks are checking out our church, there are some things they want to know beyond our basic doctrinal beliefs (you can find them here).
The Elders and Executive Team decided it was time to clarify some core beliefs that shape our church. We believe our statement of belief is non-negotiable for unity in our church. While we believe our core beliefs are biblical, we also understand that not every Christian will agree with these beliefs exactly as stated below.
Why do we need to add these core beliefs to our statement of faith? The simple reasons are clarity and transparency. When people are looking or searching for a church, they will often look at a church’s statement of belief and core values. Adding the core beliefs makes it easier for folks searching to see if Pantano would be a good fit for them. These core beliefs are often the questions we get when folks visit Starting Point or attend our Discover class and are looking “under the hood” of our church.
Are these core beliefs new? No, these beliefs or values are not new. They already exist in various places like our core values, marriage policy, the elder’s policy regarding women in ministry, and our All In partnership. We’ve just collected them in one place so folks can find them more easily.
Core beliefs that shape who we are as a church community and define how we do ministry:
I hope this brings more clarity to the unique nature of the church we love called Pantano.
This past Sunday, I challenged our church to look for ways to connect with those who hold a position we disagree with. We may hold a true or better position or belief (or we might not), but Jesus is passionate and clear that we seek unity with those who follow Jesus, even when we disagree. Read John 17:11, 20-23. And if you missed my message, I encourage you to watch it here.
If we indeed value the unity that Jesus prayed for, we still face the hard reality of connecting in a healthy way when we don’t share a position with someone. The key is to respond carefully. There’s a world of difference between reacting and responding.
I challenged everyone on Sunday to first do this. I got this from somewhere but can’t remember the source:
Pause before you post.
Think before you talk.
Relax before you respond.
These are critical seconds before you respond. The pause and reflection won’t fix anything automatically. During the pause and reflection, we ask ourselves this question that has been so helpful to me – “What story am I telling myself about what I heard or experienced?” Often it’s my stuff that makes me hear things that were not really said or intended. I can easily misread someone or even the position they hold.
Then we need to determine our goal. Is the goal to be right and prove it, or is it to make a healthy connection? What’s crazy is we fall into either/or thinking. You can be right, and you can make a connection! You can be wrong and make a connection. For Jesus, being right isn’t the only right thing. The connection is also important. Here’s how I’ve learned to respond when my goal is a healthy connection:
You might have seen the famous sign hung in many homes – Live, Love, Laugh. I’ve changed those words to Listen, Learn, Love. As we pause, reflect, and determine the goal of unity is just as important as trying to persuade someone to our point of view, then the next step is to really listen. When we listen, we put our agenda aside for the moment and give our full attention to the person we are listening to.
Then, we seek to learn. We ask questions. Not questions with an edge, but questions seeking to learn. The questions might be like these: “Why is your position so important to you?” “How did you come to that position?” “How does that position make things better for you or others?” And really listen. What often happens when I do that is that I begin to hear the person’s story. And often, the whole discussion changes from the issue or position to other matters of the person’s life.
You still might not agree with the person or their position, but having listened and learned (acts of love), you can then identify ways you can love them. Love seeks the best for the person. Love is a choice. Love is an action. What can you do (actions or words) that would serve the person you are having a discussion with?
Try it! Go to someone you’ve had a disagreement with and say, “I know we’ve disagreed in the past. I’d like to really listen to you and learn more about your position.” While you’re listening and learning, pray for ways you can love the person. After all, Jesus said it all boils down to this – love God with your whole being and love your neighbor as yourself. That’s more important than being right and winning the argument. Listen. Learn. Love.
I was reading Paul’s words that he wrote in 1 Corinthians 11, verse 1 – Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ. I paused for a long time, reflecting on what he wrote. My strongest initial reaction was that I would or could never write that. I don’t think that I’m following Jesus to the level that I could invite others to imitate me. I’m too broken to ask anyone to do that. My motives are still far from pure, even if my actions on the surface look okay.
And then I wondered how Paul could write that, even if he were an apostle. The apostles were just mere men who were sinful and broken like all of us. We see how they had to confront one another on their errors (see Galatians 2:11-13). And Paul admits to having lots of weaknesses throughout his two letters to the Corinthians.
There are a couple of things I discovered as I dug deeper into what Paul wrote. I’m fully convinced that he wrote it under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, so I don’t question its trustworthiness or value. However, we need to remember a few things. First, Paul and the writers of the books of the Bible did not insert the chapters and verses we have. The Holy Spirit does not inspire the chapters and verses; it’s a work of people long ago. I think whoever put verse 1 at the beginning of chapter 11 made a mistake. It really should be the last verse of chapter 10. Many scholars agree.
Second, any challenging verse in the Bible has to be looked at in its fuller context. That’s when I realized his invitation to imitate him was about what he talked about in Chapter 10:23-33 (not primarily about what he says in chapter 11).
Paul wanted the Corinthian church (and us) to understand that in Christ we are free from all the religious rules and rituals, as they don’t build a relationship with Jesus. However, we are not to use our freedom from religion to hurt or damage others. He said everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial or constructive, and we should seek the good of others, not ourselves (1 Corinthians 10:23-33). Well said!
He concludes this section and theme by encouraging us in whatever we do, do it to give honor to God while making sure we don’t cause another person who follows Jesus to stumble (verses 31, 32). Then he repeats his main idea in verse 33 – For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved. Now, that’s how I want to live my life! That’s the example that Paul wants us to follow.
Third, notice carefully what Paul invites us to do or what he doesn’t ask us to do. He invites us to imitate him only as he follows Jesus. He’s not boasting and saying we all need to be just like him. He’s asking us to not seek our own good but the good of others so that they might find Jesus and the love of God. That’s the example of Jesus that he’s following. We only imitate someone to the extent that they are following Jesus. I want to love well and seek the good of others above myself. That’s a life worth imitating! We should ask ourselves: Am I living the kind of life that I would invite others to model?
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!
The majority of Americans have a favorable view of the Bible. In 2020, Bible searches rose significantly. No doubt that was due to a combination of folks being home more due to COVID, the social, racial, and political tensions we experienced, and the general upheaval that sent folks looking for trusted answers. The top search words were: love, peace, hope, and fear. There was also an increase in searches about sickness – no surprise there.
In 2020, Isaiah 41:10 ranked as the most searched, read, and bookmarked verse in the YouVersion Bible app.
So do not fear, for I am with you;
do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
Overall, Bible reading dropped 5%. That was a surprising discovery. Even though searches were up, we wrongly assumed that folks would be reading more, not less.
128 million Americans regularly read the Bible. But 30% never open it. 54% say America would be worse off without the Bible, while 14% say America would be better off without the Bible.
Currently, 54% say that the Bible provides everything a person needs to live a meaningful life, but that is down from 68% the previous year.
I’ve been reading through the Bible. I’m just now moving into the New Testament. I found myself thinking a bit broader about God after rereading the Old Testament. The Old Testament doesn’t present a “different” God, but it did remind me and give me a bigger view of him. While there are some really challenging situations and events in the Old Testament, what I came away with was that God is God, and he’s tough. Of course, he’s loving and an abundant grace giver, but you also don’t want to mess around with him. He’s bigger than just a pal, and he won’t be manipulated. While God is love, he’s also fair and justice-based too. I needed that re-calibration.
How is your engagement with the Bible these days? Are you regularly reading and reflecting on what you read? We know from research that the Bible is one of the keys to continued spiritual growth. It’s vital for spiritual correction, which we all need from time to time. It faithfully and reliably points us back to its ultimate author – God himself. Is it time to get reacquainted? You can find a Bible reading plan in the YouVersion Bible app or use our Pantano plan at pantano.church/biblereadingplan. Or, if you’ve been reading the Bible, maybe it’s time to slow down, absorb it, and do what it says, not just read what it says. Blessed reading!
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
Goodness. It’s not a word we are attracted to. It has connotations of being weak and wimpy. Goodness doesn’t win the races of life. The words of Billy Joel’s song ring in my ears: “Only the good die young.” We are more drawn to words like “strong.” Also, there’s a sense in which goodness is unattainable since the Bible says that no one is good. We are all sinners (Romans. 3:12). If we say we are good, others might accuse us of being arrogant. Yet, the root word for “good” is used over 700 times in the Bible.
God is good (Psalm 119:68). God, through his Word, implores us to be good. Goodness is a fruit of the Spirit having influence in our lives (Galatians 5:22). It characterized Jesus – “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him” (Act 10:38). Jesus says others are to see our good deeds – that is how we shine as a light for others (Matthew 5:16).
But here’s three of my favorite encouragements to take seriously having a character of goodness:
Goodness is doing what is right and just. Goodness is how love is expressed. Goodness results in generosity. When goodness is present in us, we will respond with empathy to the wounded, neglected, or marginalized. Goodness is itself a power that resists fear and offers grace. Goodness always puts people first over cultural or institutional pressures that are demeaning to folks. Goodness embraces truth as it seeks it and refuses to put a spin on things. Goodness seeks to empower others.
Goodness is at the heart of who Jesus is. After all, he is our good shepherd (John 10:11 and 14). Jesus embodied all that’s in the paragraph above.
A church that has a powerful culture of good will reach lost people! (Matthew 5:14-16). Goodness draws people. If you are good to your “one,” that person you are praying for and want to engage, your “one” will notice your goodness. “Never tire of doing what is good.”
Let me begin with a powerful summary of the gospel that captures the heart of what Easter is all about. It’s found in 1 Corinthians 15:1-8. Please don’t skip reading these verses. Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.
For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.
The apostle Paul summarizes the gospel (the good news about Jesus) as the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. In college, as lazy students, we shortened this to the initials – D. B. R. The death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus is core to our hope of salvation. It is the basis of our faith. It is the center of the good news. It is the reason why Jesus came. The death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus is pictured in baptism (see Romans 6:3-4).
We are within weeks of Easter, and next Tuesday, March 23, we’re having a Deeper Dive about the gospel – the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. Our own Pastor Josh will be interviewing Pastor Joshua Ryan Butler, who serves as the Pastor of Teaching and Direction at Redemption Church in Tempe, AZ. Butler is also an author and national speaker.
In this Deeper Dive, we’ll look deeper into why Jesus died, what his resurrection means to us today and what is the evidence that Jesus rose from the dead. This will be a great opportunity to invite anyone to join you who has questions about faith. Maybe invite your “one” to experience this with you!
Join us live online for our Deeper Dive on Tuesday, March 23rd, at 7:30 pm. Send us your questions about the death, burial, or resurrection of Jesus by going to our Deeper Dive page – https://pantano.church/deeperdive/.
This event will launch us into Palm Sunday and then into Easter. Easter services will be both in-person and online. If you’ll be attending Easter in person, don’t forget to RSVP for the Easter service you’ll be joining. We’ll have four services at 7 am (no kids ministry this service), 9 am, 11 am, and 1 pm. Our Café team will be offering a free meal for those joining us on campus. Make your reservations at https://pantano.church/easter/.
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
Make a Point or Make a Difference
We can opt to make a point, or we can attempt to make a difference. I’ve seen this idea quoted in several places, so I don’t know who to attribute it to, but it’s right on. In this polarized, divided, angry, broken, messed up world we live in, we are tempted to use social media to make a point and it’s so easy to do. Making a point almost always leads to arguments, or it sends people into retreat or silence. But making a point rarely makes a difference. And isn’t the idea of making a point to make a difference?!
Several people have asked several times directly and indirectly why I don’t take immediate stands on controversies in our culture. Let me assure it that my caution to make a point is not out of fear, cowardice, or lack of conviction. The fact is whatever I say or don’t say offends someone these days. Long ago I chose to make a difference and when I’m doing that I don’t have to make a point through a reactionary post or tweet. Making a difference requires a long term personal investment.
In our current hyper-divided, polarized, angry, and judgmental world, we have to be wise. I’ve taken seriously the teaching in the Bible (especially Proverbs) to act and live as a wise person and not as a foolish or evil person. I want this to guide me on how and when I respond and react. Unfortunately, I sometimes act like a fool. I’m still tempted by evil sometimes. But wisdom wins the day.
Proverbs is very clear on how a wise person lives and acts. I’m putting the links to the actual Proverbs below. It’s worth the time to actually read them. A wise person…
I want to be wise in what I say, write, and post! These are some of the things that guide and temper what and how I communicate. A wise person doesn’t seek to make a point, they want to make a difference in a way that honors God.
Then, the Proverbs warns us about being a fool and about how to relate to fools. This term is not meant to be just a derogatory label but instead describes people who act foolishly. Here’s what we know about fools from the Proverbs: Fools don’t seek the truth; rather, they twist the truth to fit their own agenda. Fools care first for themselves and are driven by pride. They don’t listen, period. They will react harshly when confronted with the truth. Here are just a few of the Proverbs that describe a fool – 9:6-8; 12:16; 14:3, 7-9; 18:2, 6-7.
Finally, there are those who are evil. They reject the truth outright and want to hurt you. Dr. Henry Cloud says it this way: You should: 1) Talk to wise people about problems;
2) Talk to fools about consequences; and 3) Not talk to evil people at all, period. We did a whole series on this in 2018 called Peopling. On our watch page under “Messages,” you can find the four-session “Peopling” series. Select “All Series,” then look for Peopling at the end. I’ve learned from the Proverbs and life that it is useless to “make a point” to foolish or evil people. They will only make a point back, usually in a selfish and/or hurtful way. The internet is full of foolish and evil people who will not listen but react in anger. Only the wise will listen.
This past year we witnessed racial injustice and demonstrations across our nation. I decided to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger, as the Bible teaches (James 1:19). I did eventually write and speak about it, but it wasn’t about making a point! Rather, I want to make a difference.
I started over eight years ago to intentionally engage with the black pastors and churches in our town. As wise men of God, we learned from each other and really listened. As trust grew, we developed a number of programs and events to address racial injustice in our churches and city – Pantano hosted most of those events. In fact, we were able to have conversations with our police department. Long before the events of 2020, we were working to make a real difference through wisdom, starting right here at Pantano.
We are in the midst of divisive political tension and hostility. I will address things like I did last week in my blog, “The Path to Change,” about rejecting violence to follow the humble way of Jesus. But a post or a tweet doesn’t change the world. In the end, rather than alienating people, I choose to engage people while never forgetting that a post or a protest doesn’t change people’s hearts. Only Jesus changes hearts which results in changed lives. Only a life submitted to Jesus will change our culture for the good. A wise man and woman of God who seeks to make a difference does so by putting Jesus first, ahead of political, COVID-19, or racial biases and issues. Be wise! Make a difference, not just a point.
This past year we saw the violence in reaction to the need for changes to bring racial justice. This past week we were mortified by the violence inflicted to and in our nation’s Capitol. I’m not writing this blog about the right or wrongs of these causes and of the changes sought. I’m writing only about HOW change is sought. Of course, as followers of Jesus, we want to pursue changes that reflect the heart of God. But the “how” must be considered, as well, and the path to change must also follow the way of Jesus.
I believe that violence does not bring about real, significant, and lasting social change. Humans are tempted to think violence will bring quick change, but if it does, it is usually only short-lived. Long term change happens not by force, but by winning over hearts.
In a few days, we’ll celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day. He was a man of faith. He was a man with a vision for racial justice, but his “how” was unusual and rare. He sought justice through nonviolence. And he was not the first. There was Gandhi. And before him was Jesus, who transformed all of humanity through nonviolence.
Nonviolence is a clear and understandable strategy. But there’s something deep and profound that underlies a nonviolent approach to change. It is not talked about enough. It is even more rare to find. It is key to real, lasting change. The lack of this is why real change often fails to materialize. I’m talking about the foundation of nonviolence and lasting change – humility.
Jesus is the supreme example of this “how.” One of my favorite passages of scripture is found in Philippians 2:6-8. It appears in the form of a Hebrew poem or song. Jesus…
6 Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
Jesus, who is God, gave up the peace, glory, and safety of heaven to come to earth. He gave up all the privileges of heaven to come to suffer with us. He did so willingly. He came to serve us, not to be served. This was the ultimate act of humility and flowed from humility. He gave his life for us to bring us peace with God through his sacrifice. He gave us abundant life now and for eternity. Our salvation and hope are all a reality because of his humility.
He changed you and me and changed the world we live in through humble nonviolence. In our actions and in our hearts, we may choose out of humility to serve others to bring about the change that our world needs. May humility become the dominating character trait that moves us to live for others above ourselves. May we follow in the footsteps of Jesus.
Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus (1 Thessalonians 5:18).
This is a challenging command. Giving thanks in ALL situations alludes almost all of us some of the time. Recently I’ve been doing nearly a funeral a week. These folks have died from accidents, old age, cancer, and other diseases, including COVID. Try telling a grieving family to give thanks in their situation.
Some of our circumstances are just plain horrific. I know because you share them with me. All of our lives have been disrupted in so many ways by this pandemic, the election, and the racial tension we’ve experienced. I’ll just state the obvious – it’s been tough to be thankful in 2020! But as we come to Thanksgiving in this crazy year of 2020, I’ve been reflecting on President Abraham Lincoln and the context in which he instituted our Thanksgiving holiday. In 1863, Lincoln declared that the last Thursday of November was to be a day of thanksgiving. It’s been celebrated ever since.
Think back to 1863. It was a time when our country wasn’t just polarized; we were thick into a civil war. The country was literally torn apart and killing each other. The battle of Gettysburg had just been fought in early July. Some 50,000 soldiers died – the most in any American battle. Then later that same month, there was a massive riot in New York City – the largest urban racial riot in American history. It started as a draft riot that ended up becoming a race riot. Troops from Gettysburg were called to restore peace. What a season of chaos, fear, loss, disruption, and yes, for many, hopelessness!
Our current season of disruption isn’t anything close to the horrors of 1863. Yet, as that year ended, Lincoln reminded us that there was much for us to give thanks. Giving thanks in all circumstances does not mean we are thankful FOR bad situations. Instead, we look for ways to be thankful IN all difficult circumstances. We all have much to be grateful for, even in 2020! Don’t let 2020 rob you of the joy of thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is a gift God gives us to pull us out of sadness, fear, hopelessness, anxiety, and worry!
This Thanksgiving, take some time to slow down and reflect on all the things for which you are grateful. We can all be thankful for the grace God has shown us. He loves us, forgives us, is merciful toward us, is for us, promises always to be with us, and has adopted us as his children. That alone is cause to be thankful, no matter what 2020 has looked like. Then add to your thanksgiving your family, our freedom, and our faith. 2020 is nothing like 1863 when Lincoln declared a day of thanksgiving. Give thanks!
I was reading an article by Colin Smith where he made a simple point from an unusual story in scripture. The point is that God notices. The story was of a poorly treated Egyptian servant named Hagar.
The story is found in Genesis 16. God had promised Abraham and Sarah they would have a huge family. But Sarai (before God changed her name) was without a child, so Sarai gave her servant Hagar to Abraham, and she bore him a son – Ishmael. That starts an ugly rivalry between the women, and their marriage becomes dysfunctional. All of this was predictable. Pain, hurt, jealousy, and broken relationships are inevitable when you or I refuse to trust God and then take things into our own hands.
In jealousy, Sarai mistreats the pregnant Hagar so badly that the servant flees to the desert. Abraham didn’t protect her. She’s alone, abused, afraid, and in danger. It’s in this condition that an angel of God finds her and tells her to go back to her mistress, which was the right thing to do. It is back “home” where she bore a son who was given the name Ishmael.
But there is one verse that most of us miss when reading this story. It is Genesis 16:13 where Hagar says to the angel: You are the God who sees me, for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.” God saw her in her greatest need. God saw her when no one else saw her. God noticed her when others had rejected her. God had mercy on her when others abused her. God went looking for her when others had given up on her.
God sees us. He notices when we are struggling and in pain. He notices us when we are being tempted and giving into temptation. He has compassion on us in our suffering, and he hears. And God will direct us to do the right thing if we’ll seek him and listen.
All this is summed up in the name of the baby boy born to Hagar – Ishmael. The name Ishmael means “God hears.” God hears! That’s the only hope in this whole story. The story of Hagar and Ishmael doesn’t have a storybook ending where everyone lives happily ever after! But in the next chapter (17:20), God promises that he has heard Abraham. We don’t know what Abraham specifically asked for, but God promises to bless Ishmael, who will have a large family.
God hears! Even when the circumstances look bleak, he hears us. Even when God feels far away, he hears us. Even when we are upset or angry at God, he notices. God is with us. God is for us. That’s all we truly need to know. That’s the basis of faith.
From time to time, someone in our church shares something that I want to pass on. This story is from Donna Gudgel, who’s been a part of Pantano for almost two decades and served on our mission’s leadership team.
Have you ever been the “first in the world” for something? Anything? Or have you ever wished to be the “first in the world” in something – like an astronaut? That one’s taken. Perhaps the first to find a cure for a disease – like many are trying to do today for the COVID-19 virus?
If you were asked, “What would you like to be the ‘first in the world’ in?” What would that be? For me, it’s hard to think of something that’s not already achieved. Plus, I am not really interested in being the first in the world for anything.
Recently I had a procedure done to treat a large aneurysm in a carotid artery in the left side of my brain. My surgeon asked me to be a part of a trial study for an improved flow diverter called the Evolve. Since I was willing to help pave the way for others, I agreed. I knew it was experimental, and I thought I was one of the first groups of patients for this procedure. It was not until a month after the procedure that I learned I was not only one of the first group, not only the first in Tucson, not only the first in the United States, but the “first in the world” to receive this procedure. The world!
I got to thinking about the question above. If God asked me to be the first in the world, what might that be? If it seemed impossible or risky, would I trust Him?
Then I got to thinking about what was said about Pastor Bryan Lee at his memorial – that he daily asked God how he could serve Him that day. We would do well to bring that question to our lives daily in our known world. What if we asked each morning, “God, what do you want me to be the first person to do today in my world?” Call someone and pray with that person? Be the first one to take a plate of cookies over to the new family in the neighborhood? Be the first one to stop and pray with a homeless person that day? Be the first one to love someone to Jesus? The questions can go on and on.
Some months ago, I was the first one in our neighborhood to take a plate of cookies to our new neighbors, welcome them, and ask if they had a church home. Now months later, I have been asked to come alongside the grandmother and daughter to pray with them, encourage, and support through difficult times.
So again, I ask: “If God asked you to be the first one in your world to do something, what might it be?” Would you trust Him to give you the courage to do what he asks? Will we experience “His incomparably great power for us who believe” (Ephesians 1:19)?
– Donna Gudgel
I do a Discovering Faith Bible study with a neighbor every week. He is reading the Bible for the first time, and every time we meet, he’s discovering new things about God, Jesus, the Bible, and about himself. It’s so fun to watch the proverbial lights go on and all the “ah-ha” moments. But just as rewarding are the discoveries I make. Even though I’ve read, studied, and taught what we study each week, I, too, find I’m getting new insights. The Word of God is living and active, and it speaks to us no matter where we are in our spiritual journey.
Recently we were studying just one verse. It was Matthew 7:12 – So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.
It is known as the Golden Rule. It shows up in the negative form in ancient Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism in some form of “Don’t do to others what you don’t want done to you.” Jesus’ teaching is in the positive. It requires action; thus, the word “do.” We are to do or act toward others in ways we would want to be treated.
But this time, I noticed a few more details. Jesus started by saying, “In everything…” Every single conversation. Every encounter with someone. Every reaction. Every action. This response is to be our guiding principle for all of life.
Then I noticed how Jesus concluded this simple one verse teaching. He said that it “sums up the Law and Prophets.” That is the same conclusion he made with Great Commandment in Matthew 23:37-40. We are to love God and love others, and he concluded by saying: “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” All the Old Testament laws and teaching point to love. And the Golden Rule is all about love and gives us a great definition of what love is! The way of Jesus is the way of love. We have to get this right! We have to practice the way of love and treat others as we want to be treated.
It’s so simple. It’s so profound. What if we practiced this today with every person we meet? What if every encounter, every day, we lived this principle out? What a change would happen in our homes. What a transformation in our marriages. What a difference we would make where we work or hang out. Others would see Jesus in us and be drawn to the one we follow. Today… in everything, do to others as you would have them to do you.
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!
We just started a new series called Peacemakers. Why? Our nation (and world) needs peace. You and I need peace. Jesus calls us to be peacemakers to fulfill our true identity as his children (Matthew 5:9). But on our own, we can’t make peace. Peace first starts inside us before it can move beyond us. The source of peace is God and God alone.
God reminded me of a situation in the book of Acts. It’s found in Acts 12:1-19. King Herod has just arrested people in the new church that had formed. He put James and John, some of the first disciples, to death. Being an astute politician, he saw that made the Jews happy so he arrested Peter too. He was going to do to Peter what was done to Jesus!
Then there’s Acts 12:5 – So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him. The church prayed earnestly! What happened? An angel appeared, his chains dropped off and he walked right past the guards. That would be a great ending, but there’s more.
He goes to the very place where people had gathered to pray. Can you imagine the celebration that occurred when Peter showed up? Peace came over the church. They saw God act in a mighty and powerful way. God did the impossible.
What if today we decided to do less talking, posting, complaining, and venting and focused more on praying? What if we did like the early church and prayed earnestly as we head into this toxic and partisan election season? What if we asked God to do the impossible – unite our city and nation and bring peace? What if…?
Here are some practical ways you can pray:
J17 Ministries has initiated the #PrayForTheUSA prayer movement. It is a very specific call to pray…
This call is NOT for prayer that a specific candidate or party wins or loses the election. Learn more here and join the movement!
10 Days of Prayer for Tucson
4Tucson is sponsoring a 10-Day prayer meeting for Tucson. It starts Friday, September 18th. We are praying for God’s kingdom to advance, for supernatural unity in God’s church, and for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Click here to find out more.
We encourage you to intentionally pray in the upcoming weeks. God hears us, and it changes our hearts in the process.
I’m a full-blown extravert! I miss connecting with people. I miss you! I love to sing worship songs with the band in a full room! I know that’s true for many of you also. Yes, I’m excited to regather! My two main goals as I lead our staff and volunteers in regathering are to create as safe as possible experience with the quality and excellence we are used to at Pantano.
We will regather in physical services on Sunday, October 4th at 9am, and 11am. That’s six weeks away. For some of you, that’s still too soon. That’s okay, and we respect your decision. We will always provide a quality online experience for you. For some of you, that is too far away. I get it and feel it too. We have a pile of things to address and work on to be able to regather with my two key criteria: safety and excellence.
There are a ton of factors that led to deciding on this date. None of this is born out of the fear of the virus, the government, or whatever. This date was set because we are a bit short on staff and have some staff schedule issues we need to consider. We are contacting our volunteers to ensure we’ll have enough volunteers willing to serve. We are also in the middle of some major program changes that require staff attention and energy which would be diluted once we restart our physical services. We have to train our volunteers and then put our new procedures for kids and students on video to help families prepare for regathering. And so much more. Please trust your leadership and me that we have tried to make the wisest decision to open as soon as we can.
Here are some more details about regathering:
Our safety measures will include:
Please check our website that we’ll continuously be updating over the next few weeks. As we get closer to our actual regathering, we’ll provide details regarding the procedures that will be in place for our kids regathering. Go to https://pantano.church/updates/ or the Covid-19 Response at the top of our home webpage.
Pantano, I’m so grateful for you. You have continued to be the church, the true church, that has not been dependent on a building. You have continued to love people to Jesus! Thank you!
I’ve been feeling, dwelling on, and thinking a lot about loss and grief these last few months. Every one of us has experienced a ton of loss through this COVID-19 season. We’ve lost freedoms. We’ve lost interpersonal connections. We’ve lost jobs or income. We lost our routines and “normal.” We’ve lost peace. Many of us have lost people we know and love to the virus. So much loss. Sadness has been almost a daily experience for me.
One of the things I’m trying to learn is to embrace sadness. It has been a feeling I’ve tried to avoid and move past as quickly as I can. That is not healthy.
All this sadness has been compounded for me. A guy I mentored and loved passed from this life to live forever with Jesus. Bryan Lee, the pastor of Elements City Church, died from an injury from a fall. He did not suffer I am told. But oh, how his family, church, and friends will suffer. Grief can feel overpowering.
I invited Bryan to join our staff a long time ago. We had Bryan start Elements as a service at Pantano on Sunday nights. Finally, we were able to launch them in 2014 to start as a church in midtown. I’ve had the privilege of being the chairman of the Elements City Church board and work with Bryan all these years.
Grief is a part of life. And we need to lament. Lament means to express our grief and sorrow. It’s vital that we express it. When we hold it inside, it finds its ways to disrupt our lives – almost never in a good way.
The Bible records many laments. We have a whole book of lament called “Lamentations.” About one-third of all the Psalms are categorized as laments. Here are the first few verses from Psalm 13 in the Message version:
Long enough, God—
you’ve ignored me long enough.
I’ve looked at the back of your head
long enough. Long enough
I’ve carried this ton of trouble,
lived with a stomach full of pain.
God can handle our lament. In fact, he wants us to share our grief. What do you need to lament? What grief do you need to verbalize to both God and others? What loss do you need to recognize inside you? In the end, we journey through the grief better as we learn to own the sadness and express it in lament.
As I write, I’m hurting. I feel the sting of the loss of a good friend. I have questions about so many things that I’ve lost. And it’s okay to lament and it’s necessary to grieve openly.
By the way, if you missed our Deeper Dive this week where we talked about loss and grief, you can watch it here. You are not alone in the grief you are experiencing during this season.
Some of my greatest regrets are those times when I failed as a friend. Just this week, one of those regrets came pouring into my mind.
One of my best friends is Ukrainian. When I started to investigate working in Ukraine, the communist economy created shortages and deficits of almost everything like toilet paper, food, clothes, or almost every kind of consumer goods. Before we actually moved there, I would stay at my friend’s small apartment as I was preparing for our relocation.
When I used the bathroom at his apartment, I discovered that the toilet seat had cracked. When I used the seat, it pinched me on a tender part of my body. So one day, while out with some other American visitors touring a factory and in the company store, I found a treasure: there was a toilet seat for sale. These were hard to find. So, I bought it, put it over my neck, and paraded around in public making all kinds of jokes about it. In my mind, I was a hero for finding a toilet seat for my friend.
But, he was completely mortified and totally embarrassed by this gesture. In his mind, I was showing all his esteemed American guests how “bad off” he was. I never, for a second, considered how my fun was ripping him up inside. I was such an insensitive and unkind friend that day.
Recently, I was challenged with this question: Am I the friend to myself in the same way that I want to be a friend toward others? I really try to be a good friend. I’m loyal. I want to encourage my friends. I’ll challenge them when I need to speak the truth, but I’ll do my best to make sure it is motivated by love. I’ll give a friend the benefit of the doubt. I’ll offer lots of grace to my friends. I’ll sacrifice for my friends willingly.
Do I do that to myself? Am I a good friend to myself? Not very often, unfortunately. I’m a terrible friend to me. I’m probably harder on me than Jesus is. I don’t give myself the benefit of the doubt. I rarely offer myself grace. I’m not kind to myself very often. Is that you as well?
I’ve been meditating on John 15:15 lately. It’s a profound statement that Jesus made. I would love to see the reaction of the disciples to what he said. Jesus said; I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. Jesus calls us his friends, with all that means. He is wide open to us and holds nothing back. Like a super friend, he speaks the truth in love. He encourages us to love and have good actions. He’s loyal. And he offers never-ending grace. What a friend we have in Jesus (someone should write a song about that… oh, they did).
If Jesus treats me as his friend, maybe it’s time I start treating myself as my friend. How about you?
Global Leadership Summit
You and I are living and leading through very difficult times. God wants to use you to have a good and godly influence on those he has placed in your life. But to hear the words, “you have influence” may feel like a weight of responsibility you don’t have the strength to carry right now.
Only you can bring your strengths, heart, and skills into the world—your leadership matters now more than ever.
This is why the Global Leadership Network is committed to delivering the best Global Leadership Summit event on Thursday and Friday, August 6-7.
Are you discouraged? Uncertain? Burnt out? Anxious? This is your chance to get equipped, encouraged, and refreshed for your leadership journey ahead. Learn more here.
Give yourself something to look forward to this August!
The 2020 faculty is awesome again this year. They are eagerly preparing to bring you timely advice and support to equip and encourage you in your leadership during this season. Some of the topics the faculty will dive into this year include:
Pantano will not be hosting a live event this year – the first time in 11 years! However, you can join us virtually for the GLS Online Experience. If you already bought a ticket, it will be honored for the online experience.
Get today’s lowest Super Early Bird Rates before June 30th and save up to $40 per ticket! Register Today >>
Glen ElliottSubscribe: https://pantano.church/blogsubscription
You won’t see me for three weeks as I’m taking my annual break. I usually use vacation time to take off the entire month of June, but with resuming services last Sunday, my break will be a week shorter this year. So, if you don’t see me, it’s not because I have COVID-19 or I’m afraid to gather; I just need a break.
For the last 13 years, I’ve put the principle of Sabbath into practice as I take off the month of June. God taught us the principle of Sabbath; in fact, he modeled it. He created the world in six days and on the seventh, he rested. I think this shouts out to us that God himself rested! His rest wasn’t because he was tired or exhausted; it was to take time, reflect, and enjoy his amazing creation. We are not God, so we get tired. But we also need to pause regularly to reflect on and enjoy the life God has given us.
Sabbath is not so much about a particular day or a particular season; it’s less about when and more about what we do with that time. It’s about resting from work to reflect and refresh. We all need to practice this. I try to put a sabbath moment into each day (some call it quiet time), each week (some call it a day off) and each year (some call it a vacation). My yearly sabbath break is how I use my vacation time.
I love what I do as a Pastor. I feel called to what I do. I pour myself into being the Pastor of our amazing church, but it takes a toll on me (it would on anyone, for that matter). Leading has been especially difficult and demanding as we’ve had to pivot, adjust, and change just about everything through this pandemic. The pandemic and now the racial tensions have increased interpersonal conflict, which drains me even more than usual.
So, I block out time so I can really unplug and have a break from the daily stress of leadership and pastoring. I need the time to refresh myself physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I need this time to refresh my vision for the next season of our church. If I don’t, I end up leading and pastoring out of an empty soul, and that is not good for our church, our staff, my family, or myself.
What will I do? I’ll do projects around my house. I love hard physical work (like moving two tons of rock) and using my hands (like replacing fascia boards). I’ll go to the lake with my old boat that I’ve completely rebuilt over the years. I love to take families to the water and help them enjoy one of my favorite and refreshing places. I enjoy water skiing. I treasure being away from my work world for a while!
I’ll be back teaching on July 5th, Lord willing. I really look forward to seeing you all and leading us into our new normal!
Every single one of us struggles in judging others. Every so often, I hear that voice in my head that is judging someone’s actions or behaviors, whether it’s how they drive or the type of music they listen to.
I was standing at a restaurant entrance to get take out to honor my wife for Mother’s Day. There was a crowd waiting for the take-out and myself and others were trying to respect proper physical distance. Then, some guy stands within a foot right next to me. What?! I started to make judgments about him. Judgment comes fast and easy. Unchecked, they cause us to act and react in ways that are not like Jesus.
Jesus made it clear – “Do not judge.” (Matthew 7:1-5). James repeats the caution – But you—who are you to judge your neighbor? (James 4:12). And Paul says it this way – Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another (Romans 14:13).
In fact, all of Romans 14 is about how we are not to judge one another. I encourage you to read the whole chapter. Basically, Paul is saying that followers of Jesus often have strong opinions and disagree about matters of opinion and preference. We have different concerns and convictions. To that Paul says; Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. (Romans 14:1). There are so many disputable matters that we easily judge, whether its politics, proper social customs, or how to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.
There is growing discord in the church and between churches regarding COVID-19. Some who follow Jesus are demanding we meet in our church building, as it is a constitutional right. Others are saying it is unwise and unsafe and will refuse to attend. Some applaud the use of masks while others jeer those who do. Some judge others on the mask issue as being either soft or reckless… depending on the choices they make. Yes, this is happening between brothers and sisters in Christ and between churches. May I encourage us to choose kindness and grace and refuse to judge one another?
Let me speak into this a bit more. Our Governor and Attorney General have been very clear that churches are considered an essential service and are constitutionally protected to meet, so any church can physically meet right now. The question of when to physically meet is not a constitutional matter or about religious persecution. The question is only about what is safe, wise, and prudent.
Some churches have started meeting while others are not. Every church is different because of their buildings, their programs, their size, and complexity. Smaller churches can meet much more quickly than can the larger ones. Let’s not judge each other.
We are looking at the soonest date it is wise to resume physical services on our campus. There are a huge number of factors and realities we have to face in order to open with reasonable safety and protection for all attendees. Here’s just a few of the myriad of issues and questions we are dealing with: How can we provide meaningful worship in an auditorium while practicing physical distancing guidelines? How will we adequately sanitize the facilities before and after each service? Can we count on enough volunteers willing to meet and serve? Is it wise to open in phases?
I hope I can answer these questions, and more, as early as next week. Stay tuned! No matter what we decide, some will be eager to physically meet while others may choose to never attend a church service again and only participate online. Let’s not judge one another on disputable matters. What I’m sure of is that the love taught by Jesus and presented in our Bible is one that puts others first, sacrifices for others, accepts others even when there are differences, and is patient and kind. Let love overwhelm any temptation to judge.
Everything in our physical world can be shaken. Nothing is stable. Our health can deteriorate – virus or no virus. Our bank accounts and the stock market are never stable. Our jobs are never secure. Even relationships change… sometimes for the better, sometimes for worse. We live in a world that not only can be shaken; it will be shaken. Who would have guessed in January that our world would be so shaken by a new virus pandemic?
This week, I was reading Hebrews chapter 10 for a message I’m teaching this Sunday. I kept reading and came to chapter 12. The writer of Hebrews 12:18-29 reminds us of the time that God descended on Mt. Sinai in the desert. It was there that God gave the law to Moses. There were flashes of lightning and peals of thunder. A dark cloud hovered above. The whole mountain shook and it caused everyone to be terrified.
Mt. Sinai is a real place, but it is also a symbol. It’s a metaphor for the law. The law reminds us of our guilt, sin, and punishment. It is a mountain of doom. It helps us realize how much we long for a different mountain.
The writer then contrasts Mt. Sinai with another mountain that he calls Mt. Zion (vs. 22). This is a mountain of joy. This mountain is a symbol of the grace God has given us in Jesus. In Jesus, we have the forgiveness of our sins and the promise of an eternity with God. It too is a metaphor about something much bigger. It represents the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is anywhere God has influence! You and I are a part of this kingdom as long as we allow God to be the primary influence in our life.
God will shake the earth once more. At the end of time, he will remove all that is temporary, impermanent, and passing and create a new heaven and new earth. God will forever establish eternity that will never be shaken. It is an unshakeable life where our well being and very life will be permanent, lasting, and secure.
I love how chapter 12 ends in Hebrews 12:28-29 (The Message) – Do you see what we’ve got? An unshakable kingdom! And do you see how thankful we must be? Not only thankful but brimming with worship, deeply reverent before God. For God is not an indifferent bystander. He’s actively cleaning house, torching all that needs to burn, and he won’t quit until it’s all cleansed. God himself is Fire!
In this life that’s shakeable, God is “cleaning house.” In this season of unprecedented disruption, God wants to refine us and remove the “junk” that hurts us, others, and our relationship with God. Our God is a consuming fire who wants to eliminate all the useless things that need to be burned away. Yet, we are not afraid, because we belong to a kingdom that cannot be shaken. That causes us to overflow with thanksgiving in the midst of an unstable world. We are in awe of a God who is not an “indifferent bystander,” but who is working all things for good for those who love and trust him.
The internet is an amazing tool that allows us to do so much. We can’t even imagine life without it. Our stay-at-home life now would be miserable without the internet. More than ever, our kids and grandkids are dependent on the internet to do their schooling.
Yet, most of us are unaware of the dangers to our kids via the internet. I’m not just talking about porn or “R” rated movies that have reached pandemic levels for students of all ages (90% of all children 8-16 have watched porn). Many don’t realize that kids are being trafficked primarily through the internet. Cyberbullying is perpetrated online and via social media. Toxic relationships formed digitally often lead to severe emotional trauma, sometimes leading to suicide. Students are being tricked and tempted to engage in sexting, a criminal act that can ruin their future lives.
I’m not just trying to raise everyone’s fear quotient; there’s enough fear-mongering going on these days. There’s a real danger that comes right into our homes and phones. Internet and media filters are necessary to protect our children for sure, but we need more. We need to educate our kids to be wise and protect themselves from harm.
We have been friends and partners with a nationally recognized ministry here in Tucson called Sold No More. Our friends at Sold No More have been invited to schools all across Tucson (and the nation) to help students avoid toxic, dangerous relationships that can cause trauma and harm. They are offering their program online for free, called Power Over Predators.
Now, all lessons of the Power Over Predators online student course are now available!
Log in or register at poweroverpredators.org to view the online student course and share it with the students in your life.
What parents and teens are saying…
After hearing Lesson 3: Safe and Supportive Relationships, “Mark”, a senior in high school said, “Where has this been all my life??? Now I know how to avoid toxic relationships!”
Janet, a mother of five writes, “My 15-year-old daughter met a guy while playing a game online. He convinced her to send him nude images of herself. When she tried to block him, he started posting her pictures on other sites and was threatening to hurt her. It has been a nightmare for her. She did not want to stay trapped and had the courage to tell me. She is getting the help she needs. This program empowers kids to tell their stories. Thanks for all you do in protecting kids and helping families.”
The online student course is available for free until July 31, 2020. Take advantage of this valuable tool which is sure to bring awareness to you and your family.
Almost everyone is thinking or saying something like this – “I can’t wait to get back to normal.” We want to go back to our normal work environment. We want our kids to go back to school. We want to resume our normal routine. But does God want to take us back to normal? Was normal that good for our souls?
What if “normal” never returns? What if normal has been forever changed? I’m not sure that life will go back to the way it exactly was before COVID19. I think more companies will figure out that working from home is a better financial option. Education and shopping might not ever be the same. Travel, especially internationally, will likely never be the same, much like after 9/11. However, I’m no futurist who can prognosticate what things will look like in a year from now. No one knows for sure!
But here’s the bigger issue: Do we want things to go back the way they were? Yes, we want to have the freedom to go out and eat and shop without fear or worry. Yes, we want to have access to basic services. But the fact is that having to shelter in place for the last five weeks or so has taught all of us some things that need to change about ourselves and our lives. We’ve discovered and are now doing things that in fact are valuable and important. We’ve learned that what we thought was essential and important wasn’t so valuable while replacing those things with things that matter.
I’ve heard fathers talk about how they are more engaged than ever with their kids and are loving the extra time with them doing silly kid things that just didn’t happen before. Do we want to go back to “normal” when we didn’t have lots of margin for our kids?
Parents are engaged more with their kids’ education and are taking responsibility for their spiritual development because they have to. Do we want to go back to “normal” where we left that all to other people?
More people are attending church right now than at any time in American history. Half of all churches are reporting growth right now. Decisions for Christ are at an all-time high! Do we really want to go back to the normal of the past where folks routinely disregarded God?
Personally, I’ve spent much more time in prayer and the prayer times have been richer, deeper and longer. I’ve needed God more now than before COVID19. Do I really want to go back to the days before when I thought I could manage most things on my own?
What if God has a purpose in this time of disruption to take us to a new and better “normal?” What if we were to seek God asking him what he wants us to take into our new world after COVID19? What if God is trying to help us see what needs to be changed in order to be transformed into someone more like Jesus? God does work all things for good when we trust him, seek him and desire him to work through our hardship and trials (Romans 8:28).
If you missed last Sunday, I spoke about this in my online message based on James 1:2-5. You can watch it or share it with those who need a message of hope and encouragement right now. Watch What in the World is Going On? – click here.
Happy Easter everyone! Who would have ever guessed that we would not gather physically for Easter services in 2020? But, we are in a critical time when physical distancing is vital, so we’ll celebrate digitally this year.
I know many are disappointed that we can’t gather for worship this Easter. We love to dress up! We look forward to the energy of celebrating the resurrection. We can’t wait to sing the songs of hope. May I encourage you to be intentional about making worship this Easter just as meaningful as any Easter in the past; but it might take a little more thought and effort. Maybe you dress up this Easter, even though you won’t be leaving your home! How about preparing a special set up for communion and make it something you’ll never forget? But most importantly, prepare your heart to worship and celebrate that Jesus is alive.
I find the conversation Jesus had with a Samaritan woman in John chapter 4 so applicable to our current situation. She was focused on the “proper” physical location where worship is to happen. Jesus replied by saying it is not about where we actually meet, rather, he said: Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth. (John 4:24, 25). This Sunday, as you watch online, prepare yourself to worship in the Spirit and in truth.
I believe more than ever we need to celebrate Easter, even if it is digitally. Our team has worked hard to prepare a meaningful Easter service. You can watch at 9 am, 11 am and 1 pm online, on Facebook or YouTube. In case you didn’t know, we have an amazing service for our students on Instagram and YouTube. And, there’s something for our kids online also on Easter Sunday.
Also, in case you missed this, our student leaders are connecting with our students live on Instagram every weekday at 9 am and 8 pm.
This COVID19 pandemic has created a profound interest in spiritual things. I just read a report about the spike in Google searches about prayer over the last few weeks. It’s in times of crisis that folks are open more than ever to the Gospel. Folks need to hear the message of hope found in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Invite your friends and family to watch. You can even do a watch party on Facebook! We have created some social media Easter graphics for you to use to invite others.
9/11 changed our world forever. COVID-19 will do the same. It doesn’t take a genius to understand that when the crisis passes, we won’t go back to the way things were before. More folks will work from home. We’ll use all our digital tools in new and deeper ways. Small groups will utilize online meetings more. And we can’t even imagine how it might change shopping, food delivery versus eating out and more.
A couple of years ago I committed our church to develop a legitimate online campus with the technology and the staff needed to make that happen. That included having our first online pastor – Nick Farr. I’m so grateful we did that as we were able on day one of this crisis to provide a quality online alternative to a physical worship service. I’m so grateful for our amazing production team who are working overtime to provide great online options not just for adults, but for students and kids too.
By the way, some of you had trouble getting online through our website last Sunday; the reason was the platform we use added 12,000 churches in one week and their server had issues. They’ve purchased extra bandwidth and servers to keep that from happening again. We should be fine going forward. Every week there are three ways to watch: 1) Pantano.Online; 2) Facebook live or; 3) YouTube.
Stay Up to Date, Connected, and Get Help
We’ve set up a special web page titled COVID-19 Update to keep you up-to-date on what’s happening. With things changing so fast, we are even dating the updates! On that same page, you or someone you know can also request help like food, supplies or help shopping. You can leave prayer requests or ask for pastoral help on that page also. To get updates to your phone text “Pantano” to 31996.
Day of Prayer and Fasting
In times like these, we need the church to come together to pray and fast. Wednesday, March 25th was a day set aside by church leaders from around our city for prayer and fasting. If you missed this announcement, you can choose any day to pray and fast for our city, nation, and world. Our tech team and leaders (Did I say how proud I am of our team?) were able to help broadcast a one-hour prayer service from our auditorium. If you missed it, you can watch it at pantano.church/LightUpTheDark
Deeper Dive – Thursday at 7 pm
Thursday night at 7 pm Josh Reich, Michael Goodwin and I will be hosting a Deeper Dive into the Holy Spirit. This will finish our teaching series called Ghost. We received about 3 pages of questions and we’ll be able to answer most of them. Go to https://pantano.church/online/ to watch the Deeper Dive. I’ll also make my notes available online at Deeper Dive along with the video, so you can watch if you miss the Thursday 7 pm broadcast.
During this time, be confident in the fact that our God is in control. Ask the Holy Spirit to continue to lead Pantano as we Love People to Jesus.
Daily we are summoned to court. A trial occurs in our head. We hear the voices of a prosecutor (the Hebrew word “Satan” means accuser) and witnesses that testify against us. We’ve got the right attorney or advocate – Jesus, who pleads our case before God. But still, we listen to the voices accusing us. The accusing voice says things like, “You’re not good or smart enough”, “You’re a failure”, “You’re not worthy”, “You’re hopeless”, “You’ll never get better”, “You’re trapped”, etc. These phrases replay over and over in our minds.
This internal critic, a voice of inner chatter and non-stop conversations, drives our reactions. It tries to govern our lives. It’s mostly negative and focused on ourselves, and appeals to our pride. It creates a constant low-grade crisis and at times creates an all-out crisis. It’s focused on the past (usually regrets and mistakes) and the future, but rarely on the present moment which is the only thing we can affect or control. It’s driven by unexamined urges and desires that are deep in our subconscious (see Jeremiah 17:9). It judges us and others. It taunts us. It is never satisfied. It compares you and me to others. It thrives on drama.
Here’s how it works: Something happens or happened to us. We have a thought or belief about it. That belief or voice may or may not be true or accurate. If the thought goes unexamined, then we’ll feel and act on it. To change how we respond, we have to change what we believe about what we are experiencing. You see, the Bible promises that we can renew our thinking, change the way we react and be transformed (Romans 12:2).
Our thoughts are just thoughts. They are not necessarily true or based on reality and they tend to be extraordinarily negative (one research said 70% of our thoughts are negative). Our thoughts exist only in our heads. They must be examined. The Bible says we are to guard our hearts (Proverbs 4:23) and take every thought captive and let it be subject to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5).
We are not our every thought or feeling. We have to examine the lies that fuel our lives. How do we do that? We start by slowing down our minds and reflecting on what that “voice” is telling us. We identify the thought and then let the Word of God and the Holy Spirit judge it. If it is a lie, we have to consciously choose to reject it. When we get stuck (we all do, I have), we reach out to trusted friends or even professionals to help us objectively deal with the lies. There’s also an excellent book by Jennie Allen that might help called Get Out of Your Head.
In the end, you can’t stop all the negative thoughts from popping up in your head. They come from Satan himself and arise out of our mysterious subconscious. You can, however, control how you handle those thoughts. Join us this Sunday at all of our campuses as we address this issue and explore God’s invitation to us to renew our minds.
Sunday I watched the Super Bowl. The Chief players and fans celebrated. The 49er fans suffered in their loss. I watched the camera show some of the 49ers players after the game. You could see in their faces and body language how painful the loss was.
Loss is a part of life we can’t avoid. The list of losses is unending. We experience the loss of those we love through death. Divorce is an ugly loss. Friendships and close relationships are lost through conflict, betrayal, and hurt. We can lose the love and respect of those who are important to us. We lose things like a career or a dream. We lose our health or physical and mental abilities. We lose money and possessions that were valuable to us. Losses are non-stop. With each loss there is pain and it is added to the previous pain.
With a loss that brings pain, we face a critical option. Will we engage the pain and grieve the loss, or choose to neglect the grieving process in order to avoid the pain? Some try the John Wayne approach and just push through the loss and pain and focus on other things to avoid grieving. Others find ways to mask the pain. We might do that through drugs, alcohol, porn, cutting, eating, spending, video games, workaholism, and more. These hide the pain for a while, but they can never remove the underlying cause of the pain, so it keeps coming back.
Eventually, if we don’t face the pain and grieve our losses, the fruit of dysfunction will cause even more damage to us and those we love. Our unresolved grief can manifest itself in so many ways: addictions, worry, fear, anger, depression, chronic complaining, relational isolation, or excessive control, as well as a host of emotional, health, and physical symptoms of ungrieved losses.
I’m learning from my own experience that our ungrieved losses are silent killers. Ungrieved losses continue to have a powerfully negative effect on us. We have to find a way to grieve our losses.
Jesus openly grieved in a garden called Gethsemane (see Mark 14:32-42; Luke 22:39-44). When you read the story you see that he is clearly in pain and sweat like drops of blood. Because he had foreknowledge, he could feel all the physical, emotional, and spiritual pain before it happened. So, what did he do? Ignore it? Hide it? Medicate it? Fight it? No, he cried out with deep emotion, begging God to take the current and impending pain away. Jesus was grieving! He faced and brought out what he was feeling inside. He faced his pain and brought it directly to God.
Jesus modeled how we grieve. We face the pain that’s inside and bring it to our outside world. We express the pain of loss in words. We express the emotion of the loss. We share the pain with God and with safe people who can listen and not judge or try to fix us. We join a group like GriefShare. We talk to a counselor (call our church office for a referral). The point? Don’t let ungrieved losses rob you of life. Don’t face the pain alone.
As 2020 began, we started reading Luke in our Pantano Bible reading plan. I strongly urge you to use one (you can also find various in YouVersion). On January 6th I read the sixth chapter of Luke that said…
27 “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.
Jesus started this command by saying, “But to you who are listening.” I thought, even though I’ve read this so many times, I never really listened! I just read it and agreed this was one of those great teachings by Jesus. This time, however, Jesus was telling me to actually do what he said with a sincere heart. I needed to listen. It started me on a process of meditating on his instruction.
Jesus describes four types of people in this verse. He employed the Jewish form of poetry which is not rhyme or rhythm, but rather parallelism. The four types of people describe essentially the same person. The common denominator is that these are people who have hurt us.
I started by asking myself; “Who has hurt me?” I soon realized I had a lot of people who fit that category. This part of the meditation wasn’t fun. I made myself name their names and picture their faces and identify how they had hurt me. My modus operandi when people oppose me has been to just move on and not let it burden me. It’s worked pretty well, it seemed, until the words of Jesus made it clear that wasn’t an option. It was painful to bring back up the abuse I received. The list keeps growing.
Jesus said to love your enemies. So since January 6th, I’ve been choosing to love my enemies, for love is a choice. I’ve been trying to identify the very best that God wants for each person. As I have, my heart is being changed and the surprise is that I don’t see these folks as enemies anymore.
Next is the hardest one for me – do good to those who hate you. In almost every case, I have no connection to these folks anymore. So my prayer right now is to find ways to actually do good to them. I know God will open these doors.
Then Jesus said to bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. Having identified the good I desire for each person, I’m now praying that God will bless each of those that hurt me. This too has been life-changing.
Some of your “enemies” may be too dangerous for you to engage. Be wise! But at the same time, listen to Jesus’ command. When you love, bless, pray for, and do good to those who have hurt you, you’ll allow God to change you. You’ll find freedom from the offense and freedom to love in a greater way.
There was a lot of social media stir last week about diminishing comments made by a nationally-known pastor toward the preacher and author Beth Moore (See comments and audio here). The role that women can assume in church is a live ongoing debate. At Pantano, we have women pastors and women who teach on our teaching team. How did we come to this decision and practice? We look to the Bible for our answers. But even as we do, there are honest disagreements over what the Bible permits and forbids relating to women in ministry.
The elders (I am also an elder) of Pantano spent several months back in 2016-17 studying key scriptures relating to the role of women in ministry. In humility and without a predetermined goal, we sought to both understand the biblical teaching on this matter and then how to apply to our church. I can’t report all the findings and discussions in this short blog, but here’s a summary of what we discerned. Remember that whole books have been written on this subject, so I’m doing an extremely truncated summary here.
God’s revelation in the Bible is clear that we are to affirm the value and dignity of all humans – men and women equally. And while men and women are created for unique roles, they are equal before God. We believe that God’s salvation is offered equally to both men and women (Genesis 1:27; Galatians 3:28). We believe that the Holy Spirit gifts and empowers both genders for ministry. All gifts are given to both genders by the will of the Holy Spirit. We believe God calls both men and women equally to serve, lead and minister in and through His church (Romans 12:3-8; 1 Corinthians 12).
The elders concluded that women at Pantano may minister, serve, lead and teach in any and all ministry positions, contexts and roles except one; that of elder. The reason for this conclusion was that we could not find a teaching or example in the New Testament that allowed for that type of role. However, women may be ordained, serve as pastors, perform pastoral ministry, teach in groups of mixed genders of any size or location, lead departments or programs of the church, etc. We found clear biblical evidence, examples and permission for women to lead, teach and serve in all areas but that of elder.
The crux of the discussion on the role of women focuses on just three passages of Paul. There’s a principle we used to guide us to understand these texts. To accurately understand an instruction or command of the Bible we have to look at its context and there are two key contexts to observe: 1) the cultural or situational context; and 2) the context of example and teaching of the whole Bible.
I’ll briefly look at each of the three scriptures in their cultural context asking this question for each – Were these universal commands and instructions for all churches, in all cultures in all ages or; were they addressing a specific issue in the church at that time? For example; five times we are commanded to greet one another with a holy kiss (see 1 Corinthians 16:20). We don’t do this (and other commands like hair coverings). Are we flat out disobeying the Bible? Or was this practice part of a particular culture in that time? If it was cultural, is there a truth or principle it was trying to convey that we may apply in a way that matches our culture? In my view, we are to greet each other in a warm, sincere way but not necessarily via a kiss as that is foreign in our culture. Let’s look at the three texts that some use to forbid woman teaching:
1 Corinthians 11:2-16 – The primary issues here are head covering (clearly a cultural issue), husband/wife relationships and propriety in worship. The elders of Pantano in their study learned that the idea of what “head” means is open to various interpretations. Scholars interpret “head” in the text as: 1) honor, 2) authority, or 3) source. However, this scripture is not primarily about the role of women in church ministry but it is primarily about appropriate worship and the proper relationship of a husband and wife in that culture and situation in the first century. Some refer to this scripture as proof of a timeless principle of male leadership in all areas requiring women to be in a subordinate role. Others see it as Paul addressing a situational problem. That appears to be the case in Corinth. Keep reading.
1 Corinthians 14:33-35 – The context has to do with tongues, prophecy, and order in worship. We know from 1 Corinthians 11:5 that women did, with permission and honor, prophesy and speak in worship in the Corinthian church. To assume a literal and universal ban on women speaking would contradict what was permitted in Corinth (women prophesying) as well as so many other scriptures and examples in the New Testament (see below). It is reasonable that Paul’s instruction was to correct a specific problem, not a universal ban on women speaking. The women in Corinth may have been publicly contradicting their husbands, disrupting the service with chattering, constantly asking questions that were causing an interruption, or trying to flaunt social conventions of that day. Because of the disruption, Paul commands them to have discussions at home with their husbands which would solve the problem the church was facing. It is also possible that some women were either disputing the prophecy, were interrupting with their prophecy or asking questions that were interrupting the prophecy of the males. These women may have also been trying to flaunt their newfound freedom in the church. We see this in the next passage. Keep reading.
1 Timothy 2:9-15 – The interpretations of this passage include: 1) All women (at any time, any church, any culture) cannot teach or have authority in the church. Thus she cannot have any position of leadership over nor teach men in any context. 2) The teaching and authority that women were excluded from was that of apostolic teaching and authority that eventually the New Testament was built upon, but not all teaching options. 3) The prohibition addresses a particular situation in Ephesus where women of the church were seeking authority to domineer and control. So, they are instructed to learn in quietness and submission. This also follows instructions about how to dress modestly in worship. The connection may refer to a group historically known as “new Roman women” who were aggressive, confrontational, sexually provocative, identified by their extravagant and immodest dress, and who despised marriage and childbearing while wanting to subjugate men. They were the radical feminists of the day, all of which seems to be addressed by Paul in the fuller context of 1 Timothy 2:9-15. That would explain Paul’s comment about women and childbirth in this passage.
Beyond these three texts, we find clear evidence that God used men and women in leadership and teaching in the church. Here are a few of the many examples:
There are many more examples, but it is clear that women had key leadership and speaking roles in the church. If you have questions or concerns, please speak to me. I would welcome the opportunity to discuss this.
There’s a statement and truth Jesus made that actually answers so many of my questions about life and what it means to follow Jesus. It provides an answer to my many worries. It’s an antidote to my pride. It’s a check on my temptation to be religious. It arrests my tendency to compare myself with others. It sets my limits on my need to be in charge. It gives freedom and so much more. It’s a statement Jesus made in Matthew 11:28-30 – 28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
What a picture! Like two animals yoked together, Jesus invites us to take his yoke and join him side by side. Together, any challenge or hardship goes so much easier. Being yoked to Jesus is a check on my pride because I can’t run ahead of him. Being yoked to Jesus means I also can’t lag behind as he helps pull the weight of whatever I’m carrying. He leads me to the right place at the right pace.
I don’t have to worry if I’m good enough. That is a worry that we all face. Regularly we all ask: Am I a good enough spouse, parent, friend, employee, student, boss, athlete, man or woman or whatever. When we are yoked to Jesus we don’t have to focus on whether we are good enough or not because Jesus is enough. We just have to trust him and walk in step with him. Wow, that takes the complication out of what it means to follow Jesus! Being yoked to Jesus is more than enough.
But the key is that I have to take off whatever yoke I’ve been attached to and let it go. It could be the yoke of performance. It could be the yoke of appearance. It could be the yoke of fear. Whatever name you give your yoke, at the core it’s a trust and dependence on ourselves. Our yoke that burdens us is in some way a yoke about self. That’s also called pride that results in self-reliance. It will wear us out and tear us down by its weight that we feel we have to carry by ourselves. But we don’t just stop at taking off the yoke of pride, we take on the yoke of Jesus. It’s easy. It’s light. It gives us rest.
I spoke with a woman this week who left a powerful group that put a religious yoke on her. It was a yoke that said she had to be perfect. It told her she had to work harder, do more, give more and be better to be okay and acceptable to God and to that religious community. It presented God as anyone but gentle and understanding. And it wore her out.
One day, she discovered that Jesus is enough. That awareness is so simple. It is so profound. Jesus is enough. Get linked to him. Walk with him. He’s gentle. He won’t push us faster or harder than we can bear. He’s humble. He’ll use all his resources to help us on our spiritual journey. The result is that we’ll find rest for our souls.
So ask this question – Am I finding rest for my soul? Religion is a heavy, tiring burden. Jesus is gentle and he helps ease the burden and weight of trying to be enough on our own. Take the invitation of Jesus – take his yoke upon yourself and see how the journey leads to a rested soul.
I didn’t want to get out of bed this morning. That’s rare for me. I’m tired. I have some people asking for help that I can’t help the way I wish I could. There are some challenges I’m facing that easily discourage me. They weigh on me. But, I’m not alone. Everyone one of us has battles. Most of those battles are actually inside us. Our battles are not primarily with others or against situations. The real battles form out of what we think and what we believe. We look at Facebook or Instagram posts and compare ourselves to others and think we fall short. Our overeating, addiction to porn, or whatever ultimately comes out of what we think and believe. What’s your battle right now?
The great Apostle Paul knew all about spiritual battles first hand. He writes about it in 2 Corinthians 10:1-6. He starts by saying: For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds (NIV).
We are in a spiritual kind of war. So, we have to use the weapons that will help us win our spiritual battles. We have divine power to break down the strong temptations or lies in our head that want to destroy us. That’s one reason why we are in our Engage teaching series on Sundays. In prayer, we engage the divine power of God to do what only God can do. We must never think we can, on our own, defeat the trickery, lies, and power of the evil one. We need divine power. In prayer, we engage the God of the universe who is all-knowing, wise, trustworthy, and who will always act for us and not against us. So ask for help. Pray bold prayers seeking God’s intervention.
The only real power our enemy has over us is the power of the lie. So Paul says, “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” We have to challenge the things we think and believe, as they are the root cause of our battles. Does God form our thoughts, or do they come from another source? The evil one wants us to buy his lies about ourselves, about this world, about God, and just about everything. The lies abound! Here’s just a few: “You can’t trust people!” “This is just a private sin that won’t hurt anyone!” “This sin isn’t as bad as…” “I don’t need to be in a small group; I can grow spiritually on my own.” “I have to do what feels right and authentic for me.” “I can never forgive ____.” “God can never use someone like me.” The lies are endless.
The lies we believe are often the root or foundation of the struggles we face and the trouble we get ourselves into. We fight the lies with God’s wisdom and truth that can and will demolish the damage the evil one wants to inflict. That was the very process I engaged this morning. I had to “take captive every thought and make it obedient to Christ.”
What battle are you fighting right now? What weapons are you using to win your battle? Engage God. Let God’s true words about you or the situation carry the day. Take captive every thought that is not of God and not aligned with the Bible and let God demolish the lie so you can find victory in the battle for your mind and your thoughts.
I wanted to share a great blog by my friend and fellow pastor, John Beeson, who is the Co-Senior Pastor at New Life Bible Fellowship here in Tucson. The blog is called The Bee Hive – subscribe here. John, in a very creative way, describes the culture we have worked to create here at Pantano for years! The following is an excellent reminder for all of us:
“We’ve got just enough time. Let’s go!” My wife and I had run an errand on our day off and had a dentist appointment in 45 minutes. If we didn’t get caught in traffic, we would just be able to get home, brush, floss, swish some Listerine, and then head to our afternoon dentist appointment. Why? Because in our world, you don’t show up to a dentist appointment without your teeth in their best condition.
Two days later, I drop my car off at the shop. It has a strange squeak that has me nervous. I haven’t so much as popped the hood. The car isn’t washed, and a fine powder of crumbs dusts the backseat.
When I go to the dentist, I go hoping that I will get a good report. I don’t want any cavities, and I hope not to be scolded that I don’t floss enough. I have a strange desire to receive the dentist’s approval.
When I go to the car shop, I go messy. I go honest. I hope that they hear the squeak I keep hearing. I don’t know anything about cars, and I hope that the mechanic can fix the problem. I know I sure can’t.
How do I go to church? Like I go to the dentist’s office or like I go to the car shop? Do we clean ourselves up, or do we come messy?
Too many of us go to church like we go to the dentist’s office. We put on a smile we don’t actually feel. We try to avoid conversation, but if we have to have a conversation, we make sure it is as surface-level as possible. We are afraid the mess that is just below the surface is going to start leaking out.
Friends, let’s go to church like we go to the car shop. Don’t put on your best face when you walk into your connection group this week. Don’t let your “Sunday best” cover up the truth of where your heart is.
God has given us his family so that they might rejoice with us in our happiest moments and also so that they might grieve with us in our lowest moments. He has given us his family so that they might speak wisdom and hope and grace into our lives. God has given us a family so that we might receive comfort and exhortation.
Over fifty times in the Bible, we are commanded to live in a particular way with “one another.” About fifteen times, we are told to love one another, another five times we are told to encourage or build one another up. We are told to accept one another (Romans 15:7), to “carry each other’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2). We are told to confess our sins to each other and pray for one another (James 5:16). Friends, we can’t do any of these things truly if we treat church like the dentist’s office.
Do you want to experience love, encouragement, forgiveness, and acceptance at church? Stop flossing your teeth. Step into Christ’s family auto-shop with humble transparency and look forward to the gift of true, messy community.
This 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 email@example.com. 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.
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 Sunday we are finishing our Intervention teaching series. Thank you for the great feedback. The content seems to have been helpful for many. The focus of this series has been on how we allow God to intervene in our lives in order to find freedom from our issues, hurts, hang-ups, repetitive sins, and addictions.
There’s an aspect to this that we were not able to speak about, but is so important to understand; to find freedom, we need God to intervene. And, he does intervene. Getting “unstuck” and changing sometimes happens quickly, even instantaneously. But most often, change is slow. And it’s that slow change that’s can feel like torture. We want to be free and we want it now!
This takes me to a profound passage in Hebrews 12:1-4: Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
4 In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.
Verse 4 is the kicker to me. Yes, we struggle against sin, but we have not had the intense struggle that Jesus faced on the cross. Jesus endured the slow, agonizing death on a cross! I think we forget that death on a cross was not just a form on capital punishment; the cross was also an instrument of torture. A person on a cross died slowly. Crucifixion was a combination of asphyxiation, loss of blood, intense pain, organ failure and more. A person could stay alive on a cross for as long as three days if allowed. The Roman soldiers broke the legs of the criminals next to Jesus so they could speed up their death and have it finished before the Sabbath.
The cross was a slow torture. So maybe that’s why Jesus used that image when he said; “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me (Luke 9:23)”. Following Jesus is a journey that means we do struggle, and it’s a struggle that doesn’t go away quickly or easily. Finding freedom and inviting God’s intervention in our lives is not without pain and struggle. To be free we also have to deny what we want, surrender to Jesus and the way of Jesus and endure hard aspects of real change.
The underlying message in both of these verses I’ve shared is the challenge to endure! Hang in there with Jesus as we struggle against sin. Don’t give up. Keep on keeping on. Run with perseverance.
Now, back to Hebrews 12; did you notice a small but significant statement in verse 2? How did Jesus endure the cross? It was the “joy set before him.” The struggle on the cross was excruciating. But the result? Pure joy! It lead to something so good for all humans. And our struggle against sin will also eventually lead us to freedom and joy… if we don’t give up.
The primary way that the devil tries to tempt us, trick us and trap us is though lies (see John 8:44). He wants us to believe lies about ourselves, others, our life, about God, about what’s good or fair and more. Our best defense against this is truth. Lies have the power to hurt us, and we need to know the truth and use it to destroy that power. That’s why Paul wrote this in 2 Corinthians 10:5 (NIV) – We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. We use the truth to evaluate every thought and take captive every lie.
I went through a two-year season where I listened to the devil’s lies about me. The core consistent message I heard was that I wasn’t a good enough leader or pastor for our church. I was stuck listening to the lies repeated in my head, so I sought help from a Christian counselor. He helped me realize I was listening to lies and then directed me to reconnect with God’s truth. After looking carefully at the scriptures and embracing God’s truth again, I was able to resist the devil and his lies and find freedom. He then encouraged me to take the scriptures and put them into a letter as if God were writing them to me. I shared part of that letter in last Sunday’s message. Here’s the full letter:
I have called you to be faithful not successful. You are not responsible for kingdom success. In the end, it is I who will be the one to evaluate and judge your work and My judgments are just (1 Corinthians 4:1-5).
Your competence comes from me. I delight in using you to accomplish My purposes. Allow Me to make you competent to be the pastor and leader I need to boldly advance the revolution of the kingdom (2 Corinthians 3:4, 5). As a carefully crafted piece of art, I will continue to make you into someone who will fulfill My purposes. I am preparing you for good works (Ephesians 2:10). Trust Me in this and fully show up.
Your focus is to first be deeply rooted (abide, remain) in Jesus. That is the only path to producing lasting spiritual kingdom fruit. I want you to produce much fruit, but only as you stay rooted in My love, truth, and power (John 15:4, 5).
So, refuse to listen to the harsh critical voices of condemnation, whether internal or external (2 Corinthians 10:5). Those voices are not My voice. I do not condemn My own children (Romans 8:1; Isaiah 50:7-9). Trust Me to help you faithfully show up with holy boldness, doing what I have called you to do without self-doubt. Cast off anything that weighs you down as you run the race I have set for you (Hebrews 12:1).
I have not asked you to do the work of ministry alone (Philippians 2:12, 13 – the “you” is plural). Trust Me to make you competent and invite others to help you carry the load. Depend on Me and collaborate with others. True collaboration is a part of your faithful service. And finally, don’t rely on yourself to make it all happen. Rather, make it a priority to invest in and equip others to do the work of the kingdom (Ephesians 4:11-13).
What are the lies to which you are listening that are damaging or ruining you? May I encourage you to re-engage with God and his truth to take those lies captive? Join us this Sunday, July 21st, as we look at how to resist the devil. I’ll also be inviting people to make the commitment to follow Jesus in baptism. You won’t want to miss this Sunday.
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Sometimes someone will win or pay extra for a backstage tour to see the artists up close and see how things work behind the scenes. There is so much that goes on at Pantano that the average person doesn’t see. Here are a few important things that happen out of sight.
As I write, we’ve have had a record 425 baptisms in the last eleven months. We want to make sure each person understands the commitment they are making. For many of the people, we’ve had in-depth conversations before the day they are baptized. For those moved by the Spirit on the day of the invitation, we have conversations backstage before a person makes their profession of faith and is baptized; that’s why we have changed our schedule to allow more time between the invitation and the actual baptisms at the end of the service. We follow up with each person baptized to encourage them to continue the discipleship process. Also, we offer a regular class for parents and their children to learn about baptism so the parents can determine when their child is ready to make that decision.
We work hard to present a quality message each week. We want our messages to be relevant, engaging, biblical and applicable. The teacher has to do a lot of work to accomplish this, but none of our teachers do this alone. We use a teaching team to help in this process. The team reviews the message and gives feedback to the teacher three times in the two weeks before it is delivered, and one of those is after live teaching on Thursday. And the teacher also gets feedback from the team on the Tuesday after they deliver the message. That’s a lot of great feedback. We have populated the teaching team with a diverse group of folks who can give feedback from a number of perspectives. There are both staff and non-staff, male and female, younger and older, and feeling and thinking members on the teaching team. All of us on the teaching team feel like we are better teachers because of the great feedback and evaluation.
Curriculum for Children
Did you know our children’s ministry team has begun to write the curriculum we use on Sundays? By writing our own, we can personalize it to our unique community and the needs of the kids and our families.
I hate to have to add this, but it seems a group of thieves are fraudulently sending out emails in my name with an email address that seems close to my real email but is not my actual email address. So far, they have been posing as me asking for gift cards for cancer patients. If you get an email asking for something like this, and you have any doubts, check with me directly or through the office. I’ll never ask you to provide help in this manner. I’ve just discovered that two more of my pastor friends have been used this way too. Our IT department is working on this, but please use caution and be careful!
I’m grateful for all the behind-the-scenes teamwork that makes ministry at Pantano happen!
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I just did a memorial or celebration of life service on Friday for an 11-month old that died from a rare kidney disease. He died one day before his scheduled transplant. What can I say to that grieving mom and dad and family? There are no words of comfort.
There is rarely a week when I don’t hear about a heartache, a tragedy, about suffering and pain. It might be a scary medical diagnosis. It might be a financial setback. It might be an accident. It might be the breakup of a marriage. It might be a student who took their life. I’m telling you, they come to me with such frequency that find myself having to fight the temptation to just go numb. I pray and my heart breaks, but I’m left with the age-old question that we all ask: “Why?” It was the question Job and Moses asked of God. It’s the question I asked God about my mom getting Multiple Sclerosis.
I think I came to begin to understand this better while we lived in Ukraine. You see, Ukraine has no natural boundaries (mountains, rivers, oceans, etc.). For thousands of years in their history, they have been conquered, beaten down and suffered at the hands of enemy after enemy. In more recent history Stalin manufactured a famine that killed over 10 million Ukrainians. Nazi Germany walked right over them. Recently the Russians walked in and took the Crimea away. They’ve known suffering for centuries as a people.
It was living with them that taught me that there is meaning and purpose in suffering. I had known it in my head as an intellectual idea. But they showed me how suffering deepened their faith and their relationship with God. With a deepened faith and connection to God, their character was powerfully formed to be more like Jesus. That’s what I want. But I don’t want it at the price of the pain. You see, the thing we hate is often the thing we most need. It’s one of those many spiritual paradoxes.
I came across a statement Randy Alcorn made. It offers huge wisdom in helping us understand the meaning and purpose of pain. He said; “There’s no nearness to God without dependence on God. And nothing makes us more dependent on Him than when the bottom drops out.” Being near to God is of far greater value than any struggle we face. It is in the struggle that we are most likely to do draw near to him. That’s what he wants. That’s what we need.
Of course, Paul said it the best in Romans 5:3-5 – Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
The thing we hate the most…is often the thing we need the most.
Every person, every organization and every church has values. Sometimes we are not aware of them and often they are not clearly articulated, but they drive how we live and shape who we are. Values are the foundational motivations for what we do. They provide our inspiration as non-negotiable guiding principles. They shape what we say “yes” or “no” to. They influence and characterize everything that happens in and through us. They give our church community its unique “flavor.” And for many of us, these values are what we love about being a part of Pantano. So, values matter!
Over the last six months, our leadership team has prayerfully and carefully looked at what we truly value in our church. After lots of healthy discussions and rewrites, below are the newly clarified values of Pantano Christian Church. I doubt that there will be many surprises at what you’ll see. And remember that these values do not replace what we believe (see our Statement of Faith) but are built on those beliefs. We’ll do a deeper dive into these values and their biblical basis in a series that we’ll launch in May. The six main values are in bold type below, followed by short descriptions in italics. What do you think?
We are unapologetic grace givers.
We are all broken, incomplete people in need of God’s grace. We meet people where they are and generously give away the grace we’ve freely received.
What matters most is loving people to Jesus.
Loving God = Loving People. Everyone has value and matters to God. We pursue those who don’t know Jesus to help them write a new life story with him.
Being “kingdom first” drives us beyond our own church community. We strive to join God wherever He is at work. Church is who we are, wherever we are.
Radical generosity reshapes our world.
As a kingdom first church, we share our resources and people selflessly.
The Bible transforms how we live and who we become.
The Bible is our primary source for transformation. We move beyond information to practical and relevant application.
Connected people are changed people.
Community is essential to connect with God and others in order to be transformed.
We pray you would consider how each of these values could be shown in your own life.
Hospitality! It’s an interesting word. There are many words related such as hospital, hospice, host, hotel, and hostel. They all come from the Latin root word “hospes” which means host, guest or stranger. The core idea is welcoming a stranger and offering food, shelter, and safety.
There are many scriptures that encourage hospitality like Romans 12:13b – Practice hospitality. 1 Peter 4:9 – Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Then there’s the fascinating instruction found in Hebrews 13:2 – Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. When this was written some 2000 years ago, there were few motels and restaurants. So when people traveled, they relied on others, often strangers, to provide food and housing.
Let’s dig a bit deeper. Who is a stranger? It’s someone you don’t know, for sure. 2000 years ago, they were from somewhere other than your village and even from a different culture and background. The stranger was usually different!
In our day, a stranger can be someone we simply don’t know. But they could be someone very different from us. They may be “strange” to us because they are from a different racial, cultural, economic, political, religious or educational background. Why would we be guided by the Bible to open our lives to someone very different from us? Could it be that as we open ourselves to those who are different, God might be teaching us how to love our neighbor who is different? Could it be the Spirit might be opening us up to ideas, values, and insights that are “foreign” to us? Maybe the practice of true hospitality could help us learn to be open to others and welcome differences, welcome the dreams of others, be hospitable and generous with grace, and be a host to something surprising that God has for us and our “guests.” We don’t have to agree with or even like all that a stranger brings, but we can learn to welcome them and expand our perspectives.
Did you catch the end of Hebrews 13:2 – some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. I believe in literal angelic beings and I’ve assumed this passage was asking me to entertain anyone because the guest just might be an actual angel. However, could there be a second meaning to entertaining angels we are unaware of? The word “angel” means messenger and that’s the role of some angels like Gabriel. Could Hebrews 13:2 suggest that these “strangers” could be real human beings who bring us a message from God? Could this different kind of person we welcome into our lives open a door of understanding? Maybe if we intentionally connected with the stranger, someone different from us, we might learn something new about ourselves, about God and about faith and grace that we would never learn anywhere else. Just maybe….
Here’s a chance to enter the world of someone different. Our mission partner, Heartbeat for Africa is having a short-term trip to West Africa on July 15 -27, 2019. There’s an information meeting THIS Sunday (3/17) at 10:15 am in Discover (room 2 off the courtyard). Go and check out this opportunity to show hospitality to a stranger and see what God might do!
No, we did not, nor are we having twins. But I’ve sure enjoyed getting to know some twins. I’ve gotten to observe several sets through our church as well as watch some twins who are athletes, writers, and speakers. Whether identical or fraternal types, there seems to be a very special bond and connection between the two. That bond is strong regardless of the fact that they can have very different personalities, likes, and hobbies. That bond is visible whether they like to dress the same or not.
For several years now I’ve been on a spiritual journey of learning about and growing what seems like spiritual twins. These “twins” are character qualities that also manifest themselves and are grown through practice and action. These “twins” have been two of the powerful forces shaping me lately. The “twins” are gratitude and generosity. There is a strong bond between them. They feed off each other and enhance each other. They are not identical twins, but they clearly are close to and related to each other. Yes, in a spiritual sense, they come from the same heavenly Father.
Here are some random reflections of some things I’ve learned, am learning and continue to explore about the twins of gratitude and generosity:
My wish for you is that you intentionally grow the twins of gratitude and generosity. What I’ve discovered is that it doesn’t matter which you do first. With intentionality, one leads to the other. So, get started! Find a way daily to practice both generosity and gratitude…and watch God grow you in wild and crazy ways.
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.
Next Monday (January 21) is the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday. It’s a time when we remember not just the past racial injustices in our country, but the continual challenges we have with racism, bigotry, and discrimination.
This Sunday, we are going to remember that for those of us who follow Jesus, the issues of racial injustice are bigger than race. These are issues central to the kingdom of God which I spoke about last weekend! The Kingdom of God is made up of people from every race, nation, language, tribe as well as from all economic levels and genders (see Revelation 5:9-10 and 7:9-10).
The Bible is so clear that we are all children of God and thus brothers and sisters by faith in Jesus… period. In Christ, we take on a new and deeper identity without having to abandon our racial heritage or tribe. I am born again or re-born first as a child of God; that is my primary identity. I am secondarily the gender, race and social status to which I was born; that shapes my secondary identity. I seek first the kingdom before all things and only secondarily I seek my moral and legal rights as a ________ (you fill in the blank).
One of the pivotal passages that emphasizes this concept is found in Galatians 3. Paul was addressing a race that thought they were the only legitimate people of faith because they were descendants of Abraham – the Jews. So in verses 7-9 he writes: 7 Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham.8 Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.”9 So those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. Our access to God, our standing before God and our participation in the Kingdom of God is dependent on one thing – our faith in Jesus – no matter who you are.
Then Paul comes to a glorious conclusion in verses 26-29: 26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. It is our faith in Christ that makes us one in Christ. Race, socio-economic standing or gender is not a factor on who is a part of the Kingdom of God. This was revolutionary 2000 years ago. It is revolutionary today! It is what we celebrate.
So, this Sunday, we are having Jamie Benjamin from Greater Faith Church join us to celebrate how the kingdom of God is bigger than any divisions that our culture continues to embrace and tries to challenge us to engage in. Our brothers and sisters from Greater Faith Church will also be joining us for our services and our worship team as we give glory to God together. You won’t want to miss this Sunday… I’m just telling you!
I am so proud of our church. Pantano is a generous church! Literally, a thousand of us at Pantano serve in some way at our church, in our community or globally over the course of the year. We couldn’t do what we do and make the difference we are making without you. THANK YOU!
As a church, we give away about half a million dollars every year to local and global organizations and missions. These organizations have been vetted as trustworthy and are making a difference in their communities. And, that dollar amount doesn’t include the service time we provide. THANK YOU for making that possible.
Christmas Eve Offering – The Center of Opportunity
Every year we give our Christmas Eve offering away. Sometimes we’ve given that to international projects and sometimes we’ve given it locally. Often we’ve split it between groups. This year, I’m excited to announce that our Christmas Eve offering will go to the Center of Opportunity. This is a one-stop center run by the Gospel Rescue Mission. A generous family in Tucson bought the old “Holidome” (the Holiday Inn Conference Center on Park, south of Ajo), and gave it to the Gospel Rescue Mission for $1 a year for 99 years!
Hoping to open in the Spring of 2019, the Center of Opportunity will provide about 300 emergency beds and over 30 Christian social service and government agencies will be serving our homeless population in Tucson in this one location. These agencies will help the homeless move toward self-sufficiency by providing emergency housing and meals, job training and placement, health and dental services, government and veteran assistance and so much more. And, the Gospel Rescue Mission will make sure that each person is introduced to Jesus and will disciple those who are ready to follow him.
Year-End Giving – Room for More
It is normal for folks to evaluate their giving as we come to the end of the year. If you are planning to make a year-end gift, please focus your giving toward our Room for More project. We are just getting started with construction for the Student Union to provide room for our students and children. We must make Room for More. We took out a construction loan to get started, but I’d like to pay off the entire cost by the time we occupy in the spring of 2019. That will only be possible if we all give generously and sacrificially.
How To Give
The easiest way to give is to give online. You can give your regular gifts as well as your Christmas Eve offering and Room for More giving online – https://pantano.church/give/. Or, you can use our envelopes (they have a place to mark regular giving or Room for More) or use the special green Christmas Eve offering envelope that will be in the seat backs on Christmas Eve. Another option is to have your gift sent from your checking account; call us if you have questions and need help – 520.298.5395. THANK YOU again and in advance for your amazing generosity, which allows us to make a difference in the lives of people both now and for eternity.
My wife and I took a couple of days off to celebrate our wedding anniversary. We did our first “staycation.” We stayed in town, saw four movies and went out to eat for lunch and dinner. We got to sleep in a bit. And, one afternoon, I even went out by the hotel pool to read a book!
I’ve had a book of short stories on my shelf for years; written by Leo Tolstoy. Tolstoy (1828-1910) is an interesting character himself. He was a Russian born into the wealthy class, became an orphan at nine, was socially awkward but became a world-famous writer (War and Peace, Anna Karenina, Resurrection, etc.). It was in the second half of his life that he found faith by reading the New Testament and decided to follow Jesus. I like Tolstoy because I share his dislike for religion and his passion to simply follow the teachings of Jesus.
There was one conversation in the short story Where Love Is, There God Is Also that grabbed me. The story is about a shoemaker who meets a little old man. The shoemaker tells the old man of his despair in losing his wife and their three children. He was alone and says to his guest; “I have no desire to live any longer.” The old man replies; “You are in despair because you wish to live for your own happiness.” The shoemaker replies; “But what shall one live for?” The little old man said; “We must live for God. He gives you life, and for his sake, you must live. When you begin to live for him, you will not grieve over anything, and all will seem easy for you.” I had to stop reading. So much was said in that dialog. There is so much wisdom and hope there. Please re-read the conversation in this paragraph again.
What do we live for? For our happiness? Few of us will admit to that. But really, what do we live for day in and day out? Sometimes we fool ourselves and say that we are not living for our own happiness, but the happiness of our family and friends. But in the end, if our family and friends are happy, then that brings us happiness. When we lose the things that are important to us and make us happy, like the shoemaker’s family, where then is our happiness?
We all need to reflect on the shoemaker’s question – “But what shall one live for?” What do I really live for? Am I living for my happiness? I will admit that far too often, I am living for my own happiness. It shows when I internally complain about my long days. It shows when I have a sort of envy for others whose lives seem easy and free of conflict. It shows when I want to complain about not being able to do more of the fun stuff. And, it mostly shows when things, big or little, interfere with my happiness agenda. I hate to confess this, but far too much of my life is still focused on my own happiness. I want to learn to live for God, more and more. Yes, I am living for God…some of the time, maybe even most of the time. But when I fully live for him, as the little old man said, then I will “not grieve over anything, and all will seem easy…” That’s the blessing that Jesus wants to give us: Full surrender to him is the only path to full freedom. May we remember this as we enter a Christmas season that tends to draw us to focus on our own happiness. May we choose to live fully for God.
Happy Thanksgiving! It’s my favorite holiday. Why? The turkey is great. I love family time. There’s usually great football. But the best part is the focus on gratitude. I’m convinced that gratitude is a lost spiritual discipline in American Christianity. There are too few of us that make gratitude a daily practice and choice. If we were to rediscover the art of gratitude, we’d experience a transformation of our attitude that would result in continual satisfaction and contentment.
But our natural response to life is to complain. It has always been that way. The people of Israel wandered in the wilderness for forty years because they just kept complaining against God. Why? They focused on their hardship rather than in all the ways God had and was providing for them. We’ll always have hardships and we’ll always have much to be grateful about. We get to choose which we’ll focus on.
The fact is that we have become experts at complaining – out loud and in our heads. As long as we are ungrateful, we can’t help but complain. And the more we complain, the more we focus on what we lack and find even more to complain about. It’s a cycle and a trap. The very act of complaining and being discontent keeps us focused on what we wish was different. And that ingratitude which leads to complaining interrupts our experience of God’s goodness and grace.
I recently read about a pastor who has A.L.S. – an incurable, debilitating disease. Most of what he used to be able to do, he can no longer do. But he recounted how grateful he was that he could still walk to the bathroom. While he can’t use his right hand, he’s grateful he can still use his left hand to feed himself. Daily he chooses to focus on what he can do rather than complain about what he’s lost. He said his gratitude helps him see God’s goodness and grace in his ordeal.
I’ve tried to make gratitude a planned part of my day. I even have a chair in my backyard that I’ve dedicated to use for my Bible reading and for gratitude. I’ve found that the practice of gratitude changes my attitude. Studies have shown that folks who regularly practice gratitude are healthier both physically and emotionally and a lot happier. I’ve found that the more I intentionally focus on what I’m grateful for the more I discover what I have to be grateful about. The well for gratitude is endless!
And most of all, God commands that we be thankful (Here are just a few scriptures – Ephesians 5:20; Philippians 4:6; Colossians 3:15; 4:2; 1 Thessalonians 5:19). So choose to be thankful. May your Thanksgiving holiday be the beginning of a season of gratitude that lasts long beyond the holiday.
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.
In military terms, retreat is generally a bad word. It can be a sign of defeat or maybe even cowardice. But sometimes, the smartest commanders know that a tactical retreat at the right time can position you for future victory.
There are times when we need to retreat personally. It might be going to the park, Mt. Lemmon or taking a hike for a few hours. We need to change our normal routine and scenery to clear our head and open our heart to God. I try to take personal retreats on a regular basis, and what I’ve learned over the years of this practice is that God often speaks to me in profound ways when I unclutter my life on retreat. Sometimes I get a personal insight or an inspiration that helps me embark on a new path. About twice a year I take a retreat in town to work on future teaching series so I can pray, study and reflect on what God wants to be taught to our church.
There are times when leaders need to retreat. I’m in that season now. I just got back from our annual elder’s retreat. Our elders have the final oversight of our church and I’m accountable to them while also being an elder myself. We use our annual retreat time to do lots of praying. We’ll tackle issues that require more time to process. We take the time to apply God’s truth to policy decisions while embracing and practicing grace.
And, we do something very few elder groups or boards do; we evaluate ourselves as a group and as individuals. I want you to know that our elders are very humble and very vulnerable and transparent. I love our openness to get feedback that is sometimes hard to hear, but always constructive and well intended. I’m so proud to be a part of the Pantano elders. They are the best. We are lead by a very godly, wise and compassionate group of men who truly love Jesus, his Word, Pantano, and our city.
I’m writing this in Prescott at our camp (United Christian Youth Camp) while on retreat with our pastors and directors. We too are doing a personal evaluation as well as how we are doing as a church. We just reviewed our progress in year two of a five-year plan. By the way, we’ve accomplished the majority of the five-year plan in just two years…amazing. There’s more to do for sure, but wow, our team with God’s blessing and leading has accomplished so much. We’ve identified some of the things we’ll be focusing on in 2019 (more on that later).
Here’s the thing that is hard to measure, but so important about retreats – both our elder and staff retreats; these are quality times for strengthening our relationships and in the end, that is more important than strategy or other things associated with leadership. Jesus prayed for our unity knowing that is a spiritual power that can withstand the schemes of the Devil. On a retreat, we share at more personal and deeper levels. We get to eat together, pray together and have fun together more than at any other time… and that’s why I think we have the best church leadership team anywhere. I mean that, and I can quantify that.
We just were recognized as a Best Christian Workplace for the fifth year in a row! Annually our staff takes an extensive survey of 55 questions and we get a detailed report that measures our health. A church that is healthy and thriving scores high in areas like having a fantastic team, uplifting personal growth, a sustainable strategy, work that’s life-giving, having rewarding compensation, healthy communication, having and keeping outstanding talent, inspirational leadership and overall engagement. On a scale of 5, we scored 4.46 (4.0 is considered a “Best Christian Workplace”). There are a lot of factors that have helped us get and stay there over the years, and our annual retreats are one key piece of that.
In our remaining time at the retreat this week, please pray for continued unity and that our pastors and directors would be led by the Holy Spirit to achieve that goal.
A church that is healthy, Bible-believing, and Christ-honoring will attract guests, and weekly we have many guests who visit. That is part of why we are growing so much. I don’t know if you have noticed or not, but on Sunday mornings, besides teaching the Word, my “job one” or focus is to look for, greet and get to know our guests. This is one of the most enjoyable things I get to do. I love to hear the stories of why people were willing to take the risk to visit a church for the first time ever, or at least in a long time. These are the folks I want to reach. Sometimes visitors are new to the area and once in a while someone has been deeply hurt by a church and is looking for a healthy place. It is so much fun to hear the stories of how folks have sensed God is leading them to our church. God still guides and directs people, often in miraculous ways. The question is… will we truly welcome our guests and be great hosts? Will we be hospitable as the Bible commands (1 Peter 4:9; Romans 12:13)?
Helping Guests Find Their Way
It takes a lot of courage to come to a large church like ours. Our size, while it has many advantages, can be intimidating. Yes, we have a level of quality and excellence that is hard to find. We have so many groups, classes, events, and programs that meet so many needs. We have an abundance of opportunities to serve and make a difference. We are a place where folks can find a place to belong and get help as they journey toward or deepen their walk with Jesus. But, how does a new person feel welcomed and stick around long enough to discover all the good we have?
20 years ago, one of the world’s greatest experts on the customer experience found that a company like a hotel had 30 seconds to make a good impression or the client would be disappointed. Today, that expert says the time has shrunk to 5 seconds… that’s crazy! Now, I haven’t found the research for a church, but the point is we have only a short time to make a good impression and usually only one chance to help someone feel welcome. Why do I care about that? Because I don’t want to, in any way, hinder a person who is finding God from being open to his Word when they come to visit. I don’t want anything to “shut them down” before the Holy Spirit can speak into their heart. I want us to do all we can do to help them find, follow and flourish as they follow Jesus. I want anyone who’s currently a part of Pantano and makes the effort to bring a guest to be proud of how their guest was treated.
New Parking Ministry
That’s why we are starting a new Parking Ministry. We have enough parking, but a visitor might not know our campus well enough to navigate finding those places. So, job one for our new parking lot servants is to help visitors find a place to park, lead them in the right direction and answer any questions they might have. We want this new service to help all people feel welcomed as well as direct them to find an open parking space.
Your Help is Needed
We always need more folks who will greet at the gates and entrances, usher folks to open seats in the auditorium and help out at our Guest Services kiosk. If you are willing to help in any of our Host Team positions, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org. We especially need to find a few people who will develop and lead our new Parking Ministry. If God is nudging you, please take the next step and let us know you are open to talking about this. For all who make our church such a warm and welcoming place, I can’t thank you enough. THANK YOU!
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.
It has been said that the shortest story ever written was six words: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” This “story” has been attributed to Ernest Hemingway, but there is doubt about that (check out the full story here). The point of this story isn’t its author. The point is that those six words create in us various kinds of stories. Maybe the story you thought of, created, or felt was tragic and filled with the grief of loss. But, your story could have been one of joy, as the parents were gifted with too many shoes.
Everything is driven by a story… everything! Even our Bible. Our Bible is true. It is based in true historical reality. It conveys spiritual truth that guides how we live. But it also a story. Don’t hear “story” as a fable. Hear the word “story” as God’s story that helps us find out who we are, who God is and what’s important.
The short six-word story I started with isn’t a story told for the author or storyteller’s sake. It is told for our sake. A narrative isn’t primarily about information, it is about the values or what matters that are a part of the story. Stories are ultimately about us and they tap into not only our thoughts but more important, our feelings.
This is perhaps the greatest short story in fourteen words – “For God so love the world, he gave his one and only son…” (John 3:16). It is a story of rare sacrifice. It is a story of outrageous giving. It’s the best love story ever. It is a narrative of hope.
If everything is driven by story, then we have to look at our story. Are we letting others or situations write our story (think victim)? Or are we purposefully writing our story (think intentional)? What are the values that our story tells? Remember that a story is not for the storyteller, but for the reader and audience. What does your story do to and for other people? What values do others “read” or “hear” in your story? What impact is your story having on God and others?
This past weekend, Pastor Joe Stull taught in our adult services and opened our new teaching series, “Contrast.” I hope you didn’t miss it. As Joe shared the story of his struggle with PTSD, he invited us to see what was driving him. For a while, the story was about denial, hiding his wounds, and how it was destroying and defining him. But, that was not the end of his story. He is now writing a story that allows God into the deepest places of his soul. He is writing a story that lets others into those vulnerable places. He’s allowing God and others to help him write a new story, a better story, out of the trials he experienced.
What’s your story? Are you letting your story define you? Or do your godly values push against the story and change the narrative? Does your story allow God to have influence and presence? Are you writing a story that, because God is a part of it, is a story that’s different and worth reading and listening to? Take some time to reflect on your story. With God, you can author a better story!
I didn’t know what else to title this blog. Integrity is a crucial part. But so is humility and maybe a dozen more words. What am I talking about? I’m talking about the recent scandal involving Bill Hybels, the former founding pastor, of the Willow Creek church. Hybels has been accused of sexual misconduct by several women. He resigned in the spring. Last Wednesday night the elders and key staff of Willow Creek church resigned for not responding well to the allegations. You can search online to get the bigger sad, disheartening story and videos.
The Global Leadership Summit (GLS) we hosted last week was started and hosted by Hybels. However, since his resignation in April, he is no longer a part of this event. Fortunately, the current leaders of the GLS owned up to their own slow and inadequate response at first and have made the right efforts to correct things. The GLS is entering a new and even better season. I think the 2018 GLS was the best yet.
I used our GLS hosting opportunity to offer a lunch-time teaching on how we at Pantano create a safe environment free of harassment or abuse at any level: physical, emotional, sexual or spiritual. You can watch the teaching and Q&A here. Here’s part of what our policy states: Pantano Christian Church is committed to providing a work environment that is free of discrimination. In keeping with that commitment, Pantano maintains a strict policy prohibiting unlawful harassment, including sexual harassment. The policy goes on to spell out what behaviors among our staff and leaders are not acceptable. We require all paid staff to sign a document agreeing to these policies. We also do an orientation and a yearly reminder of what we value in this.
Further, I remind all staff and now declare to our entire church, that if you feel like you are being harassed or abused in any way by any staff or identified leader we urge, encourage and even beg you first to confront the person. That’s the biblical way (Matthew 18:15-16). If there is no change, repentance or resolve, we want you to report that to the appropriate leader(s) UNTIL you are heard!
I also talked to the leaders attending the GLS about how they must follow some policies and principles to protect themselves from or in case of false allegations. For example, for our married leaders and staff here are a few of our policies and practices:
Finally, we have developed a governance or leadership system designed to protect the church. One of the great dangers that has prompted the #MeToo movement and was a factor in the “scandal” at Willow Creek Church is that leaders are tempted to abuse their power. The Elders of Pantano Christian hire, evaluate and fire me, the Lead Pastor. The Elders do staff 360 reviews of me, and they get the report. Without me, they meet with the Executive Team leaders and their teams regularly to ensure that Pantano is a safe and healthy church moving toward its vision and mission. I am never the chairman to ensure the elders set the agenda for all our meetings. These and many other things are the policies and systems we’ve created to protect people and our church and create a healthy safe environment.
I have known and believed all my life that in the end, my leadership doesn’t rest on how skilled I am, how good my leadership is or how much I know. My leadership and your trust rest on my authentic relationship with Jesus that results in strong integrity based on humility. I will do all I can to protect my integrity and embrace humility. I appreciate your prayers for all our staff to serve and lead in ways that respect and honor all people.
Our family had just finished our mission work in Ukraine and we moved to Tucson in June of 1998. It was so good to be back in Arizona, as both Jolene and I grew up here. I was the first mission’s pastor that Pantano had ever had. I can’t remember why, but my employment didn’t start until August 1st. I remember I had a mission’s related meeting that Saturday morning. That afternoon of my first official work day, my daughter had 3 grand mal seizures that ended up requiring surgery. That’s how my life and work started here 20 years ago.
I served as Mission Pastor for a few years and then became the Executive Pastor. I loved both roles. It was during a season of genuine gratitude in 2003 that I sensed God calling me to be a Lead Pastor somewhere. Now, the number one rule of an Executive Pastor is to not desire the role of the Lead Pastor. So, I had a conversation with Tim Coop, the Senior Pastor at the time, and told him I loved working with him, I loved Pantano, I loved my job and I loved Tucson – but God was calling me to serve as a Lead Pastor, which at that time was a bit out of my comfort zone. I told Tim I wanted to honor him and Pantano, why I would start looking for a Lead Pastor job, and that I didn’t want to surprise anyone in the process. It was then that Tim offered to do a planned succession. I became Lead Pastor in January of 2007.
I would never trade these last 20 years for anything. Yes, there were some really hard seasons. But, those pale in comparison to the amazing people I’ve had the opportunity to share life with at Pantano and the amazing things we’ve accomplished. I love our church. I’m so proud of our church. I’m so honored to be the 8th Lead Pastor (over the 57 years Pantano has existed).
Here’s what I love about our church: It is a place of grace, and I mean real grace. Pantano is a loving, safe place where anyone can be real and authentic and still be loved and appreciated. That is rare just about anywhere and is even rare in churches. We don’t have to put on a mask and pretend to be anywhere near perfect at our church. I love that Pantano is focused and passionate about reaching people not connected to God or a church. I love that we are invested in making a difference in our city and in key places around the world. God is using us to bring the influence of Jesus to so many people and places. I love that we are a church that has embraced change and are willing to eliminate anything that will hinder a person from finding Jesus, without giving up our commitment to the truth and the Bible. We are externally-focused and not just consumed by our own church’s needs. We are launching our own Pantano folks to all kinds of ministries, organizations and churches around Tucson and beyond. And, there is so much more that I love.
I’ve been in full-time ministry for a total of 41 years. Just about half of that has been here at Pantano. Thank you for allowing me to serve you and be the Lead Pastor. Thank you for sharing your lives with me and my family. Thank you for truly understanding our vision, mission and purpose. Thank you for making Pantano one of the healthiest churches in the country (I mean that!). Thank you for supporting me, encouraging me and loving me, even when I’m not always easy to love. THANK YOU for a great 20 years!
“Together to make a difference.” For many years I put this phrase at the end of my letters and emails. Our mission is to make a difference and as a church we’ll only make a real difference if we all do something! That’s why, as a church, we ARE making a difference here and around the world. For example, our church helped start and sustain Care Portal which has helped literally thousands of families be able to reunited after the Department of Child Safety determined it was safe to do so. And, we helped start a movement that is now in 16 states! There are so many more stories like this. Together we DO make a difference.
God is moving in and through our church. So many of you are DOING our mission. You are loving people to Jesus. You are inviting people. THANK YOU! In the last 12 months, 326 people were baptized. And, we’ve been experiencing significant growth consistently now for well over a year. On campus, adult attendance growth is over 10%. Add our online attendance and it nears 30%! Middle school and children have grown significantly, but our high school ministry has declined by almost 40% and that is because of space issues.
We have combined middle school and high school in the Student Center on Sundays. At 9am and 11am the room is completely full. There is no room to grow. We have to build, and it is in the best interests of the students to separate middle school and high school so they can each have their own service and focus. We are in active search for a middle school pastor to allow Brian Lucas to focus on high school. But, we also need more room!
This Sunday, we’ll “officially” launch Room for More. We are going to build a 19,000 sq. ft. “sprung structure.” We have loan papers signed. Our architectural plans are almost finished. Once finished, we’ll hire a general contractor and submit for permits. This next week, we’ll start preparing the site by removing the storage units, the old ramada and the modular units. We are giving the modulars to two churches. So, you’ll start to see some movement soon.
I’ve been a part of building in every church I’ve served (Yuma, Cincinnati, Ukraine, and Pantano). Every project always took longer than promised! Right now, barring any challenges, we hope to occupy the new high school auditorium no later than November.
While final costs are never guaranteed, it looks like the cost for the preparation, construction and furnishings will be about 2 million dollars. We will be both wise and frugal as we proceed. This not only gets us a state-of-the-art high school room, but we’ll move all the offices to one place and that will free up more rooms on our existing campus for our adult, children and student growth.
Together, we can do this. Please prayerfully consider giving a generous gift above your regular giving. My prayer is that we can pay off the loan by the end of the year. I don’t want to add debt to our budget. Pray and think through how you can make a gift sometime before the end of the year. I began praying about this back in the winter. God provided, so that my wife and I were able to make two gifts already, and I’m trusting we’ll be able to give more. Join me so we can make Room for More. Starting Sunday, we’ll have new offering envelopes where you can identify if your gift is a regular gift or a Room for More gift. You can give online where you have the option of where to direct your gifts (options under “Giving Fund”). Thank you in advance for helping us reach people to introduce them to Jesus, in order to follow Jesus.
Happy Independence Day!
In terms of the history of the world, America is a still a young experiment in democracy and true personal freedom. Having travelled and lived in other countries and systems, I’ll tell you that what we have is very unique and special. There are very few places in the world where freedom is cherished, protected and actually experienced like it is in America.
No, we are not perfect. In humble honesty, we must acknowledge that there is so much in our country that is still wrong and needs to be fixed. And, we are free to even disagree on what needs to be fixed and how we do that. We will have imperfect freedoms as long as humans are a part of the system!
And while our legal freedoms are still not equally distributed, underneath the parts that are broken and even unjust, there is an amazing value and provision of personal freedom. The Bill of Rights is still an amazing protection of personal freedoms. I love our country and the freedom and opportunities it offers.
There is even a greater freedom offered to every human, despite the system they live in. Paul says is so well in Galatians 5:1 – It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. The context is regarding the religious slavery of having to follow certain rules to be accepted into the community of faith. Paul boldly announces that we are free of religion. We can’t gain or earn God’s love by trying to be good and by following certain rules. We don’t have to jump through a bunch of religious hoops to be forgiven. In Jesus, there is no condemnation. God loves us… period. We get to become a free child of God as we trust Jesus and engage in an authentic relationship with him – no matter who you are or what your past looks like. And when we invite Jesus to have primary influence in us, that’s called faith, then Jesus will transform us in ways rules and religion could never change us.
Later in verse 6 Paul says – The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. That’s profound. That’s a clear statement about what really matters. That is the result of the freedom we have in Christ. We are free from the boundaries of religion to let Jesus’ love flow through us. Freedom, in terms of personal rights or spiritual experience, was never meant to just be for our own benefit alone, but to allow us to be free to love and serve others.
I sort of wish the official name of the holiday on July 4th was Freedom Day. No, there’s no campaign forming here. But that’s the heart of what this day is about. Freedom! Priceless in value. But it always costs. Our freedoms cost our early founders dearly. Our spiritual freedom cost God his one and only Son. I’m grateful for freedom and those who sacrificed to make it available. Yet, on this holiday, I’m also reminded of how very few people get to experience both personal and spiritual freedoms.
My vacation has ended. I should insert a “sad” emoji here! It was great to unplug for the last 3 weeks. I used some of the time to do major projects at my house that needed attention. Working with my hands is a great way to unplug and refresh. That break and rest gives me energy to jump back in with my all for the next 11 months! And this Sunday I’ll be starting a new series called Trust. Why “trust?”
As many of you know, at the beginning of the year I challenge people to pick one word to focus on for the year. How’s it going with your one word focus? My word for 2018 is “legacy.” What I’ve noticed over the years is that the most commonly picked word is likely the word “trust”. It can be easy to trust God when life is going great and we have everything under control. But will we trust God in the unknown, the obscure, the unsure, the undefined? Will we trust God when things are out of control or where we have little control? Will we trust God when there’s a total lack of clarity and when the future is ambiguous at best?
The Bible says that without faith or trust, it is impossible to please God. In Hebrews 11:6 we find these words: And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.
What does it mean that trust is essential to please God? Does this mean we must do religious things for God to like us? No. Not at all. God is pleased when we seek him! God wants us to trust him to direct our lives. He wants us to experience that he is worthy of our trust. He wants us to have that kind of deep authentic relationship with him.
Trust goes beyond believing that God exists, as many many people do, to actually saying “yes” to God in both the normal and challenging aspects of life. Trust is the only path to experience a full relationship with God. We trust God that he is for us, he will guide in the right ways, and that he has our best interests in mind all the time. So in trust we say “yes” to God. The more we say “yes” to God the more we’ll experience the depth of a relationship with God.
So, for the next month, we’ll explore what trust means, the benefits of trust, and how we can actually stay on this journey of trust through all the things that attempt to crush our trust in God.
Also, this Sunday we’ll be honoring Robin Blumenthal, our Family Pastor. Robin is completing almost 14 years here on staff. She has clearly sensed God calling her to trust him to lead her to her next challenge. She’ll be sharing about what’s next and how God has guided her to this new ministry. Join us as we honor her!
Every once in a while, I get a comment that I (or we at Pantano) don’t talk about the gospel or at least don’t focus on it enough. I find that interesting because we actually plan to share at least parts of the gospel in every weekend service. The word “gospel’ means good news. It is the good news that God has responded in love through Jesus to our spiritual needs.
There are a lot of significant aspects to the gospel: Jesus came, Jesus died for our sins, Jesus rose from the dead and is alive, God offers grace and multiple chances, he loves and seeks the lost, we have total forgiveness in Jesus, he offers us new life now and for eternity, God adopted us as his very own children, he has come to live and dwell in us and so much more. There is SO much to the good news that a few words or ideas can’t capture the depth and beauty of God’s gift to us.
When I teach on Sundays, I always intentionally find ways to share at least some of the gospel. If you are looking for it, it is always there. So, that’s actually my challenge to you – look for the fresh ways I (we) share the gospel. I try not to only use “church” language that folks who don’t know the Bible or who rarely attend church might find difficult to understand. I try to communicate the gospel in ways that reach where folks actually are. I see every Sunday service as an opportunity to mention that in Jesus our sins are forgiven, and to remind us of God’s love and grace, but say it different ways like this: God is for us, he is with us, and he never gives up on us.
Sometimes I’ll spend a whole message on just one part of the process of responding to the gospel. Back on March 25th, I did a message in our “Bad Ink” series on repentance. “Bad ink” was a way to talk about our sin and God’s grace. Repentance is one aspect of how we respond to the gospel. Knowing that many folks don’t really get the idea of repentance, I spent the whole message focusing on it. If you missed it, you can watch it here.
Approximately once a month we offer invitations for folks to be baptized. In the message the week we offer an invitation, we always share a significant part of the gospel message.
And, every week we practice communion. The very core to the communion experience is the gospel. When we take the bread and grape juice we are proclaiming the very heart of the gospel.
My point is that the gospel is at the heart of all we are and do at Pantano. We don’t exist without the good news. We have no hope without it. We have no motivation to fulfill our mission of “Loving People to Jesus” apart from it. But the good news is alive and fresh, so it may not sound how it was communicated years ago or how it is talked about in other churches. The core meaning never changes, but how we communicate it must be new, fresh and appealing for every generation.
Paul wrote the book of Romans to give what became a 16 chapter explanation of the gospel. I love how he sets up that book in Romans 1:16-17– For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes…“The righteous will live by faith.”
This year, we are hosting our 10th Global Leadership Summit (GLS). Over the last 9 years I’ve learned so much from the GLS and applied so much of what I learned in my own life and leadership as well as how we do things here at Pantano. I think it was 2011 when I was at one of my lowest points in leadership and there was a Summit talk that ended up helping me form my life motto! The GLS is powerful, inspirational, practical and always has something that I take away and use. You don’t want to miss the 2018 Global Leadership Summit. The theme this year is “Everyone has influence…”
We host the GLS for three main reasons:
Everyone has influence! Everyone can get better at how they influence! More importantly, God has commissioned us to bring his kingdom influence to our world. So, come sharpen your skills with us. And sign up now for the rock bottom price.
Here are the details:
Date and Time: Thursday, August 9 & Friday, August 10, 8:30AM – 4PM (both days)
Pantano Christian Church – 1755 S Houghton Rd, Tucson, AZ
Desert Hills Lutheran Church – 2150 S Camino del Sol, Green Valley, AZ
Price: The Pantano rate is $89 until 6/26, then $119 thereafter. You’ll need a discount code to get this price. We can’t give this code out in print or to the general public. It will be posted before and after services or you can call the church office at 520.298.5395 and ask for the code.
The PARTNER rate through 4Tucson is $109 until 6/26, then $139 thereafter.
Student/Faculty/Active Duty Military pricing is $89 (with no cutoff dates).
Registration Link: Pantano GLS Registration Link
Check out the speaker lineup link here.
We hope to see you at the 2018 Summit!