Your Seat

Balcony Seats 1600pxIt’s Friday night. You have planned for this evening for a long time. The usher made sure you found the right seat, the Playbill was handed to you and you’ve taken time to read through the show synopsis and actor list in preparation for the performance. The curtain is closed and the room is a buzz with people getting in to their seats. You wouldn’t think of being late, because you know you won’t get in once the curtain opens. You notice a friend from work coming in and you wave. The lights dim and a voice from the sound system reminds you to silence your cell phone or other electronic devices. The audience immediately gets quiet in anticipation; the lights go down and the curtain opens. For the next several hours, you are wrapped up in the story portrayed on the stage. Bravo!

It’s Saturday night; you paid for parking, stopped and got popcorn and a drink on your way in. Found your seat. You paid good money for these seats and the view. You still are pretty high up in the stands, but still it’s worth being in the middle of the action. You stand for the National Anthem and sing along. The whistle blows; the game begins and you are on your feet most of the night cheering at the top of your lungs and clapping! Wow – what a rush!

It’s Sunday morning. You rush in at the last minute, grab a seat, say something to the person beside you; the worship service has already begun.

Hmmmmm…….

How is this different from the past 2 nights?

Who actually paid for you to have this seat in the presence of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords?

“Jesus paid it all. All to Him I owe.
Since had left a crimson stain. He washed it white as snow.”
Lyrics by Elvina Hall 1865
“For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”
Matthew 18:20
photo provided courtesy of Adam Rauch

Big Prayers

5 Bible Verses to Pray for Your KidsBig Prayers lightstock_1859_small_steve_

If God has placed one of his children in your home or sphere of influence, he has done so for a purpose. They are an investment worth making.

As we’ve looked at the role of grace in our homes and relationships, I’ve pondered the ways I do OR don’t show grace to my family and others around me. More than anything, I’ve seen my personal need for God’s grace is ongoing.

Without a steady diet of God’s Word and prayer, we don’t stand a chance of loving and leading our families in grace-filled ways that point back to him. I can’t imagine that I’m the only one that struggles in prayer. Reality is that overstuffed schedules and life in general mean we usually pray very little.

The truth about prayer

We’re quick to pray in an emergency when sickness or hurts add up, but slow to simply spend time talking to God and enjoying his presence. Prayer is more than a list of needs or even a conversation. Prayer is an encounter. Through prayer we are invited to sit and enjoy the presence and glory of God. He meets us with his grace. Through Jesus, he welcomes us as his children.

I remember reading a quote by Tim Keller on prayer that really struck me. He wrote, “The only person who dares wake up a king at 3:00 AM for a glass of water is a child. We have that kind of access.” That must be why Paul wrote, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” Philippians 4:6.

Big prayers for our kids

When we pray for our kids we aren’t talking about our kids to someone who is impartial or incapable. No! We pray to the God who is infinitely wiser, more powerful, more committed, and more loving than we are.

Not only do we pray infrequently for our kids, but we pray too small for our kids. Too infrequent. Too small. We should pray BIG prayers, on a regular basis, for our kids.

As I grow, I’m seeing the importance of Scripture in my prayer life. Praying Scripture has a way of bringing my kid’s greatest needs into focus, but it also changes my own responses and priorities as I seek to guide them. They need grace as much as I do.

5 Bible verses to pray for your kids:
  1. That they would respond in faith to Jesus

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him, (John 3:16-17).

  1. That they would always grow in their devotion to Jesus

But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen, (2 Peter 3:18).

  1. That their minds would be filled with good things

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such thing (Philippians 4:8).

  1. That they would never live in fear but always recognize God’s presence

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you (Deuteronomy 31:6).

  1. That God would someday provide a godly spouse for them

Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? (2 Corinthians 6:14).

God has placed these young ones in our homes or in our spheres of influence. He is their greatest need. Let’s pray big prayers, every day, for our kids.

I can’t wait for this Sunday as we show the ways God’s grace guides a family. It will be a very special Sunday. Please make every effort to bring your entire family!

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (Ephesians 3:20).

Blame or Blessing

lightstock_226820_small_steve_Picture Perfect: when graces frames relationships

 

“I’m right and you know it!” rings out across the living room. The whole situation started off simple enough but now lines have been drawn and pride is at stake. This battle won’t end soon.

We like to think there isn’t conflict in our homes and closest relationships. We imagine living life in perpetual bliss. Then without warning, conflict pokes its ugly nose into an otherwise wonderful day.

These situations shouldn’t surprise us or leave us feeling “less than Christian.” Far too often we quickly sweep them under the rug or avoid it altogether. Sadly, in many cases the source of the conflict is never addressed and the wound only festers.

In Dave Harvey’s excellent book When Sinners Say I Do: Discovering the Power of the Gospel for Marriage he lists four ways to put our beliefs into practice in conflict.

  1. In humility, SUSPECT yourself first

Harvey argues that we should be regularly suspicious of ourselves for two simple reasons. First, our hearts play a clear role in our behavior. Second, our hearts tend to oppose God and his ways (see Jeremiah 17:9).

Unfortunately this is the road less traveled in most marriages. Rather than humbly admitting our struggles we deceive ourselves and attempt to make our stand on our own righteousness.

  1. In integrity, INSPECT yourself

So often we automatically assume we need to fix the other person. Consider the words of Jesus.

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye (Matthew 7:3-5).

Most conflict involves wrongdoing on both parts. How would your struggles be different if both parties took Jesus’ words seriously?

  1. Admit that circumstances only REVEAL existing sin

I understand the desire to be honest. However, that can’t be an excuse to unload on the other person. That’s just blame shifting and mean. God often uses tense circumstances to reveal the nastiness in our hearts. Consider the ways Jesus responded in conflict. There was no door-slamming or name-calling. Remember Jesus’ words:

A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of (Luke 6:45).

That’s true in conflict as well. I feel less self-righteous when I think about the ways I have responded to conflict recently.

  1. FOCUS on undeserved grace, not unmet needs

My needs aren’t being met! If you’ve thought that – you’re not alone. Marriage counselors hear those words on a daily basis. Scripture however offers a different source of our relational problems.

What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God (James 4:1-2).

According to James, it’s not our needs, but renegade desires that cause the issues and lead to irreconcilable differences. What if we chose to focus on the grace God has given us rather than our desires? If we look close enough, we might see that He’s been gracious enough to show us the reality of our problem and provide the solution.

Join us as we continue our sermon series Picture Perfect: When grace frames a family. For additional resources check out the sermon series webpage here.

Next week: Picture Perfect – When grace frames parenting

 

 

The Most Effective Witness in the World

lightstock_72547_xsmall_steve_What comes to mind when you read “the most effective witness in the world”? We probably think of a great preacher like Billy Graham. Some might think of a professional athlete that turned to God after crawling out of the gutter. Or, maybe it’s a missionary who travels to far off adventurous places to bring the gospel. But it seems the answer is much simpler.

This past Sunday, John Caldwell preached at Seerley Creek while my family enjoyed a much-needed weekend away. As expected, John brought a great message about fulfilling our biblical obligation to take the good news of Jesus’ love and sacrifice to every person everywhere. As I watched the video this morning I was struck as John explained who the most effective witnesses are. He said, “The most effective witness in the world is a truly converted Christian who is desperately in love with Jesus simply telling others.”

That really got me thinking. We tend to glamorize the great testimony. You know what I’m talking about; those awesome stories of God pulling someone out of the most awful circumstance and now uses their sordid past to bring others to Jesus. I love those stories. But, my story isn’t that great. Yours probably isn’t either.

As I considered John’s statement, I was reminded of something imperative; it’s not my story (or yours for that matter) that saves people, it’s Jesus’ story. His story changes everything. That takes the pressure off of us. We don’t have to have a great story—Jesus does. The more I’m amazed by His story, the more excited I am to simply tell others about him.

Let’s take it a step further. To be an effective witness we don’t have to have a microphone or TV camera, we simply have to be willing to tell someone. Often the most natural conversations happen with the people we see regularly. It’s the chat with the neighbor at the mailbox. It’s the conversation with a family member who doesn’t know Jesus.

“The most effective witness in the world is a truly converted Christian who is desperately in love with Jesus simply telling others.”

What a statement! If we truly love Jesus, we’ll live it and tell it. That’s the most effective witness there is. So, what are you doing to cultivate your love for Christ? Who are you simply going to tell? For me it starts in the family. My family is probably like yours. There are some who know Jesus and live for him. There are others who don’t. I pray they will see his transforming grace in my life and hear his awesome story as we simply get the chance to talk. I’ll share more about those family conversations in the weeks to come as we study “Picture Perfect – when grace frames a family.”

Misconceptions and Redirections

On Sunday I preached a message with this same title. The point was: Jesus is greater than your misconceptions and he cares more than you can possibly imagine. As I prepared, it gnawed on my heart all week. I couldn’t wait to share it with our church family. Finally, Sunday morning came and it was an awesome morning at Seerley Creek as we worshiped together.

However, God was just getting started driving home the point of the message – to me directly.

backpak pix from event 2015We had planned an outreach event for that afternoon to provide school supplies for a local neighborhood. And I’d been stressing over it for the past few weeks. A fundamental part of Seerley Creek’s vision is reaching out and this was the first new outreach event we had undertaken in a while. I had no idea how God would use the occasion to correct my misconceptions and remind me of just how much he cares.

As typical, Seerley Creek folks came up big! Paper, pencils and everything else you can think of started pouring in. Every time I turned around another family was bringing in supplies. The schools keep expanding the list of supplies kiddos need to bring with them on the first day. I get it, but it can add up quickly if a family has several kids.

Two things began to stress me out; would the weather cooperate and would anyone come? These were real issues. I probably prayed more last week than I have in a long time. As I walked out after the service on Sunday I peeked at the weather app on my phone. My heart sank. It predicted 100% chance of rain at 5:00. That was exactly when we were to start. Bad weather could ruin everything!

Here’s where I needed to hear my own sermon. I stressed out over the weather prediction, but I didn’t connect the greatness of Jesus to our little circumstance (see Mark 4:39-41). I’m usually quick to tell you how great Jesus is and how much he cares. But I had forgotten that the wind and the rain are at his command. Amazingly at 5:00, it poured everywhere except for our little corner of town. I shouldn’t have been surprised.

But what if no one came? That would be awful!

This time Jesus worked through Rene, a kind woman who just recently started visiting Seerley Creek. Before we got started, Rene walked door-to-door inviting folks. I couldn’t believe my eyes. People came from every direction! It was remarkable to watch as 40 of Seerley Creek’s finest, along with the good folks from Active Grace, fed dozens of families and filled over 60 backpacks and bags full of school supplies. What an evening! Despite my anxiety and overactive imagination, Jesus redirected my thoughts and showed me that he was watching and working through his church for our neighbors all along.

Jesus is greater than our misconceptions and he cares more than we can possibly imagine!

Pain and Hope

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI keep a bullet to a gun that I do not own. I know that sounds odd but it serves as a powerful reminder that I plan to keep a long time. It reminds me of the reality of the heart-pain so many people face on a daily basis.

This particular bullet fell from the pocket of a man who planned on using it to take his own life. He doesn’t live in our area and he has never visited us, except this once. By “chance” he chose to stop in our parking lot. Here he would succumb to the darkness. Thankfully God had other plans. By “chance” a Christian police officer drove through our lot at the right time. God used the officer to spare the man and bring him to safety.

Two truths are evident; pain is real and God is good.

 

Every day we pass by scores of people without ever knowing the depth of pain that may be plaguing their hearts. We don’t see it easily because life conditions folks to camouflage the pain. We do too.

Thankfully Scripture doesn’t hide from pain. In particular, the Psalms show us we’re not alone when we hurt. Here we realize pain and brokenness are common denominators. The psalmist writes, “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?” (Psalm 13). Over and over the Psalms are gritty and raw. They’re brutally honest. They invite you in and allow you to experience the pain alongside them. Scripture however, doesn’t stop with the pain, it point us towards hope.

True hope is never found in circumstance or experience. Hope is found in a person; Jesus. That’s where Scripture points us. Jesus doesn’t belittle our pain. He doesn’t require us to act as if it doesn’t exist. True faith never asks us to deny reality. Rather, Jesus stepped into our reality. He lived the life we refuse to live and paid the penalty we deserve all to bring us hope. Hear a portion of one more Psalm:

Hear, O Lord, and be merciful to me!
O Lord, be my helper!”

You have turned for me my mourning into dancing;
you have loosed my sackcloth
and clothed me with gladness,
that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent.
O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever!

                                                Psalm 30:10-12

Hope is found in Jesus. He never attempts to hide or ignore the hurts. Neither should we.

 

I’m keeping that bullet. It reminds me that many people I pass every day are aching and groping in darkness. They desperately need hope. They desperately need Jesus.

Grace and Peace,
Steve

Stepping into the Great Unknown

unknown imageNew ministry ventures can be scary business, that’s for sure. Stepping into the great unknown can be paralyzing for a local church. Without intentional focus we naturally turn towards the familiar. Why wouldn’t we? The familiar brings expected results. The familiar isn’t scary. The familiar is, well, familiar. On the other hand, the familiar rarely results in the unsaved hearing the gospel. The familiar rarely encounters people who think or look differently. The familiar rarely accomplishes great things for the Kingdom.

Recently I watched a challenging sermon by an older preacher who lamented that many churches have few friends and fewer enemies.[1] These churches have few friends because they think of themselves rather than the Kingdom and end up isolated. Even worse, they have fewer enemies because they attempt very little. What a sad prognosis.

As folks who love the church but admittedly fear the unknown, here are a few thoughts:

  • Keep the Great Commission front and center

Matthew 28:18-20 records Jesus’ marching orders for the church. He says, “Go and make disciples.” Go where? Go into our living rooms, neighborhoods, classrooms, and every other square inch of this planet. We go with the intent of making disciples, not simply converts.

Thankfully, Jesus’ promises provide a powerful antidote to the fear generated by going. First, Jesus tells us all authority has been given to him. Second, he tells us he will be with us always. Because he has all authority, he has the right to send us. Because he has all authority, he will be with us every step of the way.

  • Get ready

There is nothing worse than feeling ill-equipped for a task. Let’s face it, we’ve all got plenty of reasons to believe we’re not ready. The problem with that line of thinking is that it focuses on us rather than Jesus. Trusting in him, we get ready for the work he has given us. We spend time in prayer asking him to prepare our hearts. We spend time in Scriptures that provide a biblical basis for our task. Finally, we take the time to prepare and know our task well. Hear Paul’s words, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord” (Col 3:23).

  • Believe what we profess

It’s easy to talk on Sunday about God being sovereign, powerful, or good. But, does that knowledge change the way we live and work on Monday through Saturday? Do we really believe what we profess? Too often we fall into the trap of keeping our theology in our heads and out of our circumstances. We disconnect God’s attributes from our day-to-day lives. What a mistake! Whatever God is, he is all the time, everywhere. That means his goodness, power, and sovereignty are present in the middle of our day-to-day lives. I’ll challenge you to take a few moments to consider the evidences of grace you see in your life and those around you. If we believe he is who we claim he is, the unknown is much less intimidating.

  • Great reward involves risk

Jesus said, “Go and make disciples of every nation.” That means we are going to have to trust his authority and his presence, and take some risks. I can’t shake the old preacher’s words, “You attempt very little.” As a church leader, those words scare me (see the “Parable of the Talents” in Matt. 25). I never want to reflect on my life or ministry and think, “I sure wish I would have tried…” Sure we’ll get some scrapes and bruises. That’s okay. God never calls us to be successful; he simply calls us to be faithful. That means we are going to have to step out of the familiar and into the unknown.

So, what does that mean for us at Seerley Creek Christian Church? God is calling us to attempt great things for his glory. Some of the things he calls us to will be familiar. Some will be extremely challenging and uncomfortable. They may even seem unwise. But, as we sense and respond to his Spirit’s guidance, he will accomplish great things through us.

Yours in Christ,

Steve

[1] Ben Merold, NACC 2015 Indianapolis, digital copy of the sermon on file at Seerley Creek Christian Church.

Teachable Moments

father and sonI’m often challenged by Moses’ words in Deut. 6:7 encouraging the Israelites to continually teach their kids about God. I try. I imagine most folks are like me—sometimes it’s gone well, others…not so much. I imagine I’m not the only one who struggles to identify teachable moments. I’ve tried to (figuratively) beat my kids with a Bible. That sort of response hasn’t proven to be helpful. Frankly, the greatest successes have come during the simplest times.

I find I need to be reminded of three things:

Laugh. Sometimes we (I) need to be reminded of this simple fact. Kids need to laugh and have fun. This involves things they think are fun; not things you think are fun. This doesn’t mean watching them have fun; you get involved and laugh as well. A wise counselor-friend of mine told me that if I wanted cooperation from my kids, I needed to have fun with them. Fun is the wrecking ball that destroys the wall keeping us from having an open relationship with our kids.

Look. They’re all around us; a sunset, a rainbow, fresh snow—all of these are opportunities for casual conversation to teach your kids (and yourself) something about God. In Psalm 19, David is singing about how the skies and all of nature remind us daily of God’s creative majesty. Or, it could be a circumstance that prompts the conversation. We just have to pay attention.

Link.  Don’t over-think it. Apply God’s truth to the conversation. Be open and honest—share your own questions. We don’t have to be professional theologians. Our kids don’t need another sermon; they need a guide. They need someone to point them to the Savior. Just like you, they need Jesus.

Without a doubt you are the greatest influence in your child’s life. Your words and actions mean more than you can measure. Choose them well. Be prayerful.

Yours in Christ,
Steve

Removing Ministry Limits

ministry-limitsI recently read an article by Dr. Paul Tripp discussing our tendency to place ministry limits on what we do in the church. And I thought I’d share some of his thoughts. We tend segregate our lives into tidy compartments. I lead a life group here; I work there, I help my son’s baseball team. But God calls us to be ambassadors. A good ambassador represents the will, work, and agenda of the leader that sent them. Ours is God himself. This isn’t a responsibility we can place in compartments.

Tripp lists four ways we limit our ministry:

1.       Limited by people

There is a tendency to think “professionals” are called to ministry. That is simply unbiblical. Every believer is called to be an ambassador for King Jesus. The staff’s job is to equip the church (Ephesians 4:11-12).

 2.       Limited by place

We often think of ministry primarily happening in the church building. Again, this is wrong. Ministry happens everywhere. The office, the ball diamond, the neighborhood, and your marriage are all places of ministry. Belonging to Jesus makes life ministry and ministry life. We are ambassadors.

3.       Limited by schedule

We place ministry as simply another category of life. He states, “The Bible makes it clear that the most important thing we can do is participate in the glorious work of the Kingdom of God, but we’re easily seduced to pursue our little kingdoms of self-glory.” We jam ministry events into our already crammed schedules. Those schedules reveal more about our priorities than we like to admit.

 4.       Limited by activity

Ministry is not simply preaching or even leading a Life Group. Wherever we are and whatever we are doing, we are called to reflect the character of God. Tripp states, “Talking with your spouse is ministry because you should speak in a way that represents God. Disciplining your child is ministry because you should express authority in a way that represents God. Serving your neighbor, even if you don’t mention Jesus explicitly, is ministry because you’re representing the service of God.”

We need to widen our understanding of ministry. God’s call to ministry is not a place or activity, but a lifestyle.

Ministry is every place we look. We simply need to ask God to soften our hearts to recognize what is all around us.

Yours in Christ,
Steve

Welcome To Overflow

home-overflowWelcome to Overflow: the Seerley Creek blog!

Sometimes, there’s just way too much to say. My heart just gets so full. There are so many things that are important to say, so many exciting stories to tell. I want to fit it all in on Sundays, but I’m afraid you wouldn’t put up with three-hour-long worship services. I needed an outlet where all that extra stuff could overflow.

Well, here it is. Welcome to our blog. Bookmark this page and return to it often. Or, subscribe to our mailing list by entering your email (under Subscribe on this page) and following the prompts.

You won’t want to miss.

In Christ,
Pastor Steve