Christian Living

Ten Things I Love About Ovilla Road

14117967_1197411463635697_4902979874426544245_nPeople need to hear the words “I love you.” I try and tell my wife and kids I love them every day.  The phrase is bigger than just a superficial recognition.  It’s a phrase used to express a covenant commitment in the relationship.  Churches are no different.

Here are ten things I love about my church. These items are not the only things I love, just things that are stirring in me right now.

  1. Uncool – Now some people might take issue with this, thinking they are cool when they are really not, but I genuinely love the fact that we are not hip, trendy, laser loving, and a smoke machine driven church. Don’t get me wrong, we have some cool and fun people to be around, but it’s hard making liturgy cool.  For me, it’s being drawn into the ancient, the stuff the church has been doing for thousands of years, the ordinary means of grace that makes us cool.  The reading of scripture, preaching of the Word, baptism, the Lord’s supper, and discipline are counter cultural to where many churches are headed, but for us, it’s a desired sweet spot.
  2. Multi-generational – I love the fact when I bring my kids to church, they are surrounded by people who have been here for thirty years and are in their 80’s and some who have just been here for a few that are in their 20’s. We are a diverse body that hasn’t narrowed in on a specific age group, demographic, or socio-economic class, but is rather pursuing gospel-centered community that transcends age and differences.
  3. Staff – I love my staff. They are an eclectic bunch made up of introverts and extroverts and every known combination of Meyers Brigs you can think of.  They are for collaboration and willing to stick it out and work through the hard things.  They are supportive of one another, open, and understand we are all on the same team. They are willing to do what it takes, stay the extra hours, and pursue excellence not for the sake of excellence, but because Christ has excellently served us.  I am grateful for all of them.
  4. Elders – Almost five years ago, when our family moved to serve as the Senior Pastor here, it was partly because of the Elders and the wisdom that comes with the counsel of many. They have kind and understanding hearts.  They are open to change and willing to do whatever it takes to see people reached with the gospel and grow in their relationship.  They are some of the most committed and forgiving men I have ever served with.
  5. Confession of Sin and Prayer – I see this on a weekly basis, God’s people gathering to confess where they are weak, to pray with one another in the services and in their Care Groups, bearing one another’s burdens and seeking the presence of the Lord together.
  6. High view of Scripture – We believe in the inerrant, infallible, and sufficient Word of God. In some circles we’d be called fundamentalists, and maybe that’s true, but at least we are not mad about it.
  7. High view of Church Membership – It’s true denominationalism as a whole is in decline, and church’s seem to minimize membership at every turn. I’m thankful that our church want’s to belong to a community that goes beyond a Sunday morning experience.  That we are committing to one another as a family, as a husband and wife do at the marriage alter, for better or worse, till death separate us.  It’s about belonging, taking care of, and being committed to one another.
  8. Liturgy – Liturgy is not something usually associated in Baptist circles, but I have to admit, I love the familiarity of opening and closing the service reading Scripture.  I love the regular practice of baptism and the Lord’s supper.  I love the intentionality in connecting the songs we sing to the message being preached.  I love the familiar.
  9. Ordinary – In the day and age of bigger is better, do extra-ordinary things for God, I’m glad to belong to a group that understands that it’s okay to be called into ordinary acts of extraordinary faithfulness. These acts of faithfulness embodied in the stay at home moms who change diapers and care for their children, the families who go out to serve their neighbors by mowing their grass, or helping with plumbing problems.  They are embodied in the parents who work 40-50 hours a week to provide for their families and then come home at night to play with their kids or coach their soccer teams.  Most of our people will never be known in the history books as doing BIG things for God and their names will never be great, but they understand that God has ordained the ordinary moments of life to give extraordinary means of grace.
  10. Laughter – Whether it’s a deacon’s or elder’s meeting, a staff meeting, or Sunday morning service, there usually involves someone smiling and laughing. My church is a place of joy and lots of smiles.  Sure we have hard things we deal with from time to time, but they always seem to remember that Jesus died to deliver me from my sorrows and has called me to walk in joy and life, and that includes lots of genuine smiles.

I love you Ovilla Road and am honored to be your Pastor.

Being Bitter and Dwelling In Hurt

hurtI’ll admit it, I’m bitter. I’m bitter and up until recently, I didn’t realize it. God has made me in his image and therefore wired me for relationships, even though he made me an introvert.  Relationships involve people. Relationships are messy. People disappoint, plans get changed, and the beat goes on. In the middle of the hurt, I’m tasked with guarding my heart, for it is the wellspring of life, (Proverbs 4:23). What does that even mean, to guard my heart? If my heart is my inner self that includes my thoughts, will, affections, and emotions, how do I protect it? Figuring out how to protect it, begins with understanding where my heart is prone to wander.

Too often, I find my heart wandering around in the dwelling and retelling: dwelling in past mistakes, and retelling how I was wronged. I don’t often realize how quickly this attitude creates a posture of distrust and cynicism. Not dealing with hurt and dwelling in bitterness only makes me hostile in my heart and paranoid in my thinking. Bitterness is one of those sins that blinds me from recognizing my own role and culpability. It causes withdrawal, it breeds contempt, and it’s rooted in my self-righteousness.

The world tells me I have a right to be bitter. It tells me to listen to my inner consciousness, to dwell on a childhood trauma, to understand my unmet emotional needs, or simply just blame the man, whoever that guy actually is? The gospel speaks about my bitterness in another way. It speaks about it in the context of freedom: freedom to live, walk, and abide in forgiveness.

The gospel gives me the cure. It reminds me that bitterness is like a blade meant for another, that eventually severs the hand that conceals it. It’s like taking a poison pill and hoping my enemy will die instead.

In the end, bitterness leads to death. It robs me of joy and maximizes my anguish, while my offender is wiser, nonetheless.  As I deal with my own bitterness wrapped up in my failures, hurts, disappointments, and struggles, I’m thankful that Jesus was the one severed on my behalf. He was the one who took the poisonous pill, so I didn’t have to. He was the one who freed me to forgive, because he has freely forgiven me. He is the one who takes my bitterness and turns it from mourning to joy. It’s through his blood stained hands that he reminds me of his resolve to guard my heart because he has taken my heart of stone and given me a heart of flesh, (Ezekiel 32:26).  In other words, I’ve been made new.  I’ve traded in the corruptible for the incorruptible.  I’ve given up the bitterness and am finding rest in the peace, peace that comes only through Jesus.  At the end of the day, I’m still dealing with it all, but little by little pride is being put aside and righteousness is prevailing.  At the end of the day, I’m resting in the good truth that Jesus is better than my resentment, he’s better than my entitlement, and most certainly Jesus is better than my bitterness.

Building Humility

built to lastJim Collins wrote the hugely influential Built to Last in celebration of the highest kind of leadership, what he calls level five leaders.  They combine two qualities.  One is the persistence of a tenacious will and the other is humility.  The latter displays itself in leaders who view themselves as servants, who sacrifice their own egos for the benefit of the many.  Collins goes on to say they are more like Lincoln or “Father Abraham” than Douglas MacArthur the “American Caesar.”

Humility is a tricky thing.  To boast about one’s humble nature is in fact a very prideful thing.  So how does a person keep a humble mindset and not become prideful in their posture of humility?  The world that surrounds us is a world where the lowliest of the low are seen differently than they were two thousand years ago.  Often, we think of ourselves as morally superior to members of the ancient world, but we have to be reminded that we are no better because we live later.

This Sunday, my church will look at John 6:30-50, where Jesus deals with a group of people who claimed moral superiority in their search for truth.  We will see how Jesus redirects their superficial desires and lack of humility in seeking the truth into eternal promises related to his personhood and work.  We will be reminded that our great King entered the world wearing swaddling cloths and left wearing the towel of a slave.

John Owen and Christmas

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John Owen is considered by many to be one of the most prolific writers of his time.  One of his most important works written in 1656 is entitled Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers.  By mortification, Owen meant warfare on our own sin with a view to be killing it.  In this work he writes, “I hope I may own in sincerity that my heart’s desire unto God, and the chief design of my life…are, that mortification and universal holiness may be promoted in my own and in the hearts and ways of others, to the glory of God, that so the Gospel of our Lord may be adorned in all things.”  These words capture the essence in which Owen lived and built his life around, namely his pursuit of being made like Christ.  To Owen, personal holiness mattered a great deal. 

This Christmas season should be a reminder of that truth for us today.  In a culture of commercialism and greed, we should be pursing holiness.  Though we gaze and look upon a tiny baby in a manger, we should be drawn into a greater reality that the tiny baby in a manger would eventually become a bloody offering that will soon return as a triumphant King.

The Christmas season is filled with many things.  Let this time of year be a time where we draw close to our coming King and remember that the Gospel doesn’t end or begin in a manger, but has been decreed in eternity past and will soon culminate with His return.

Passivity Is An Enemy

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This Sunday, I have the opportunity to finish my 12 week series in Nehemiah. Chapter 13 contains one of the funniest and most dramatic descriptions of managing conflict found anywhere in the Scriptures.  Verse 25 paraphrases like this:

“I confronted them, cursed them, beat them, and pulled out their hair.”  

This is probably a better description of something that happened rather than a prescription of how to handle a bad situation.  Even though this seems abrupt, I can’t help but admire Nehemiah’s ability to get in the thick of things and reject the passivity that can characterize many leaders.  Praying I find the balance between rejecting passivity and pastoral empathy and figure it out before this Sunday.  🙂

Help Required

Help Required

In understanding God’s word, I need all the help I can get. God has used many men, dead and alive, to help me understand the mysteries of Scripture. Today, I came across a quote by Charles Spurgeon, the Prince of Preachers, that reminded me of the necessity of learning from others that was worthy of sharing, “He who will not use the thoughts of other men’s brains, proves he has no brains of his own.”