The Joy of Easter

I love Easter and I love the springtime, don’t you? It is a time of Joy.  I would like to share with you a few thoughts about joy today, and what it means to have “the joy of the Lord” in your life.

There is a verse a Scripture found in Hebrews 12:2. This verse gives great insight into the type of joy that transcends every experience known to man, and totally blows away every other definition of joy.  In the preceding  (12:1), the writer describes the Christian life as a race, and challenges his readers to run that race with endurance.  Then he gives us the secret to successfully running the race. He says,

“ . . . Looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (ESV)

Did you catch that reference to joy? “. . . who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross . . .”

What a thought! In the face of horrible suffering and shame, Jesus saw great joy! This blows me away! What exactly is the joy Jesus saw beyond the brutality and horror of death by crucifixion?

I believe Jesus saw joy in at least three things. He could see the joy of His Father’s Kingdom coming on earth as it is in heaven. He could see the joy of reconciling the world back to God though His sacrifice on the cross. In addition, He could see the joy of presenting you and presenting me before His Father, blameless and without a single fault.

Listen to what Jesus said to His disciples earlier in John 15:11. He said, “These things have I spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”

Let’s ask ourselves two questions related to joy. Do you have His joy in you – the “joy of the Lord?” If you have His joy, how full is that joy? On a scale of 1 to 10, how full is your “joy tank?”

We should remember two biblical truths about joy.  First, Jesus is the source of true and lasting joy. According to His prayer in John 17, He prayed that our joy might be full. He wants us to have joy, but He wants us to have the best and most complete joy possible (to the fullest). Second, it is possible to loose that joy! The reality is, there are things, circumstances and people who, if we are not careful, will steal our joy and keep us from experiencing the fullness of joy in Christ.

King David knew exactly what it meant to loose this joy. After his sin with Bathsheba, and after murdering her husband, Uriah, the prophet of God confronted him with his sin. David learned the only way to restore His joy was by confessing His sin and returning to God in repentance.  After his prayer for forgiveness and cleansing, he cried out to God (Psalm 51:12), “Restore unto me the joy of your salvation, and make me willing to obey you.” (NLT)

If your answer to the question about the fullness of the joy in your life is not as positive as you would like it to be, or if your joy tank is not as full as it needs to be, then follow King David’s example. Repent and return to God. Let Him restore to you the joy of His salvation!

What about you?  Do you have His joy?  How full is your joy today?

 

 

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What Really Matters?

Priorities!  How do you set your priorities?  What comes first in your life?  Of all the things that you do, what matters the most?  Determining our priorities can be an illusive and difficult task, especially for people like me who are not wired to think like that.

I think most people do things without really thinking about their priorities.  It is not that we do not have them rather we have not identified or defined them.  We must remember, just because we have not identified them does not mean they do not control our lives!  They do!  Every single decision we make is determined by our priorities – even down to the color of socks we put on in the morning, to the make and model of car we purchase.

Priorities stem out of our values.  Sometimes values are called precepts or controlling principles.  Regardless of what you call them, they represent your core beliefs.  These convictions and core beliefs are the convictions you hold based on your experiences.

These values are the deeply engrained drivers behind all behavior.  These includes decisions we make, money we spend, risks we take, problems we solve, and goals we set.  These priorities control our lives!

In the journey of life, when values are poorly identified, it is easy to be distracted or detoured with a secondary or unimportant issue.  Here is the key.  Without clearly defined values, our priorities remain unclear; and without clear values life can easily spin out of control.

It is important to ask this simple question.  What really matters to us?

As we strive for success in our job or career, our greatest fear should not be the fear of failure, but of succeeding at something that does not matter!

We must be certain our priorities are in line with God’s plan and purpose for our lives.  Jesus taught His disciples about priorities in Matthew 6:33.  He said, “seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.”  Shortly after saying this, Jesus warned them they could not serve two masters because they will hate one and cling (love) the other.  “You cannot serve God and money (mammon)”

What reveals our priorities?  I believe two things tell us what we value the most – our checkbook and our calendar!  Our checkbook reveals what is important because we see where we spend our money.  Our calendar reveals what we value in terms of how we spend our time.

Jesus told a parable about a rich farmer who had an exceptionally good year.  He was in a dilemma about what to do with the excess harvest.  His decision was to tear down the existing barns and build bigger ones.  Jesus called this man a fool.  He was foolish not because of his great vision for the future, but for his misplaced priorities!  He could not see beyond the temporal things in his life.

Jesus summarized the parable saying, “A person is a fool to store up earthly wealthy but not have a rich relationship with God.”  In the same passage he also said,

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also!  (Matthew 6:19-21)

The Apostle Paul, the great missionary of the early church, said, “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

What are your priorities today?  What is shaping and driving your life today?  I hope you will take a good long look at your priorities.

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Like A Splinter in Your Mind

In the movie, The Matrix, the character Morpheus said to Neo, “You are here because you know something.  What you know, you can’t explain, but you feel it.  You’ve felt it your entire life.  There is something wrong with the world, but you don’t know what it is.  But it’s there, like a splinter in your mind.”

Most pastors know there is something wrong, or I should say, missing, in the way we are “doing church”, and more importantly, the way most of our church members are living as Christ’s followers.  We cannot explain it, or put our finger on it, but it is there, “like a splinter in our mind.” Instinctively we want to get it out, and we are willing to trying anything to relieve the pain.  However, we cannot seem to find it!

The “splinters” in my own mind have  to do with how to be missional every day.  For me it is about learning to be intentional in seeing myself as being on mission; it’s about bringing the presence of the living Christ into my world; and most importantly, about connecting and building relationships with individuals in the world God has placed me.

Getting rid of this splinter is so difficult because of the church culture we have inherited and are now passing on to the next generation.  I call it the consumer-driven, self-indulgent church culture, a culture that enslaves us and effectively keeps us from being fully empowered agents of the Kingdom of God.  Sadly “belonging to a church” has become more about what is in it for my family, and me than it is about serving our communities.  Folks today look for the church with the best youth program, the best children’s ministries, the best preaching, music, etc.

Church leaders have attempted to work around the splinter, and ease our consciences by leading our members to become involved in “missional” events at our church, volunteering at the local homeless shelter, or even going on a “mission trip” to a third-world country.   However, being missional is not about what we do, it is about who we are!

Getting the splinter out requires changing our lifestyles, our buying habits, and our preferences so we free up both our time, and our budgets, to allow us to give, serve and live, and be on mission 24/7.

The bottom line is this; everyone who becomes a follower of Jesus, is a missionary! His call to “Follow Me” defines who we are.  Our culture, and sometimes our brand of denominationalism, however, teaches us something different.

If we ever hope to see our churches realize their true potential, we must focus on helping our members discover how to live their lives as missionaries!  What our churches need today is not more members, rather more missionaries.

It is not so much that the church has a mission but that God’s mission has a church.

This is the “splinter” in our mind.  This is the greatest “blind spot” of the church today.  This is what we must get out!  When we do, we will recover Christ’s original purpose Jesus has for His church.

Let me encourage you to ask God to examine your heart about your responsibility to influence your family, friends, neighborhood, school, and work place with the Gospel.  Ask yourself how you are doing in the area of your witness to the people in your sphere of influence.  Let me invite you to be a missionary 24/7, and to consider every area of your life a holy calling from God – your mission field.

Only as church members like yourself embrace God’s missionary calling in your life, will the church begin to impact and transform the world as we are called to do in the Great Commission of Matthew 28:19-20

NOTE:  This article can be heard in audio on Mission Magazine Radio.

Posted in Church, Discipleship, Missions | 2 Comments

Silence and Solitude

Have you ever thought about the importance of silence and solitude in your spiritual growth and formation? I come from a tradition and culture that places a high value on being busy and doing things for God, so much so, that taking time to sit quietly and enjoy the presence of God is often neglected.

I have discovered how to reshape and renew my heart through the practice of solitude and silence.  It is not an easy discipline.  Through this discipline I came to realize how noisy my world is, and how accustomed I had become to the surround noise and activity.  I have also discovered how difficult it is to find a place where this noise does not invade my heart.

Silence makes some people feel uncomfortable, even anxious.  I know people who must have some kind of noise in the room at all times; so this discipline is not for everyone.  Silence and solitude, however, is more than just the absence of noise, or conversations with others. Even when I find a quiet place, my solitude is easily compromised by my preoccupation with the “to-do-list” for today, or the “should-have-done-list” from yesterday.

Silence is a quality of the heart! Abba Poemen, a Fifth Century Desert Father said,

“A man may seem to be silent, but if his heart is condemning others, he is babbling ceaselessly. But there may be another who talks from morning till night, and yet he is truly silent.”

Silence therefore, is not the goal, rather the means to an end – to glorify  God and enjoy Him forever!

Noise, whether it comes from the outside world, or from within our heart, can rob us of one of one of the most precious and powerful experiences of our lives – enjoying communion with the Father.  Noise also keeps us from reflecting honestly on who we are, and where we are in relation to God and others. Sometimes, noise gives us a false sense security, because if we’re active, achieving something, moving forward, and getting things done, we must be okay.

The essence of silence and solitude is found in the words of Psalms 46:10 “Be still and know that I am God.”  You don’t have to spend the day in silence in order to “be still and know.” Yet, how often is there enough silence in our lives to really hear God?  When do we take time to be still?  We truly “hear” God when we are intentionally listening – and, being still precedes listening. The “peace that passes all understanding”  (Phil. 4:7) often comes when we are willing to block out the noise of the world, and really listen.

Jesus set the example for us. He often left His disciples and His followers to be alone with His Father. (Matthew 14:23; Luke 9:18; John 6:15) If it was important for Jesus, don’t you think it is important for us? Yet, how many of us practice silence and solitude? How many of us know what it means to be unhurried, quiet, and to truly rest in His presence?

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The Gathered and Scattered Church

The record-breaking storms this winter caused huge delays in airline flight schedules, and as a result, thousands of people were stranded in airports all over the country.  Because of the backlog of canceled flights, many airports looked like pajama parties gone awry, with people gathered everywhere — many sleeping on couches, benches, chairs, tables, and floors.  Watching these events unfold time after time this winter, all of us, especially the thousands of stranded passengers, learned an important truth; airport terminals are not designed to be hotels.  More importantly, when they fail to fulfill their purpose, the result is chaos.

Even though some airports have a reputation for their unique themes, live music, and great atmosphere, they are not vacation resorts.  They are not destinations! They have one basic function – provide a place where people can gather, make connections, and move (scatter) toward their destinations.

Like an airport terminal, the church gathers people in order to send them out.  Our church gatherings take many different shapes and forms depending on our various traditions – from simple events, to elaborate programs, from small gathering in homes to huge worship services in enormous auditoriums.  When the church only gathers people, and fails to send them out (scatter), the gathering loses its purpose, people become inward focused, and the gathering morphs into something God did not intend – a place where people sit, soak and sour!

Hugh Halter, in his book And: The Gathered AND Scattered Church, said, “… what brings meaning to your gathering is how well you scatter.”  The very purpose for our gathering is that we might be a “scattered people.”  He adds, “If we want people to find meaning in our church gatherings, we must help them to gather for the purposes and people outside the gatherings.” Just as airports are gathering and sending places, so the church must define and clarify its role in both of these areas.

We understand how to gather, and we do okay gathering people into our buildings week after week. However, why don’t we do a better job of scattering? Why do we stay hidden under the eaves of the church when we should be out in the community sharing the Gospel? When you think about it, most of Jesus’ ministry did not happen in the synagogue. It happened out in the community where those who needed Him most lived. Jesus’ disciples became a scattered group. As His followers today, can we do less?

We must learn how to scatter as well as how to gather. Here is the real danger – If our church gatherings become destinations rather than launching pads, we will cease to be relevant in our mission and purpose as the Body of Christ. Moreover, when this happens, our gatherings become idolatrous substitutes for God’s eternal design for His people.

I am deeply grieved when I think about the vast majority of the members who fill the pews in our church buildings each week.  It is evident, at least to me; they are unable to find their way out of the terminal.  Church has become a destination – one more activity to check off the religious “to do list” for the week. Even worse, we keep designing our services and our programs in a way that seems to say “stay” rather than “go.”

Here is a great question for us to ask, “How well are we doing in scattering the folks we gather every week?

Larry Doyle

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Surviving and Thriving Under Pressure!

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the United States government developed and deployed nuclear powered submarines.  The USS Thresher was one of these early vessels. Designed with steel bulkheads and heavy steel armor the Thresher could dive deep, and withstand the tremendous pressure of the ocean.

Unfortunately, on a test run in 1963, the Thresher’s nuclear engine failed, and it was unable to return to the surface. The submarine sank deeper and deeper into the ocean, and the pressure became so intense that the steel bulkheads buckled, crushing the Thresher with 129 people inside.

The Navy searched for the Thresher with a much stronger research craft, shaped like a steel ball, and lowered it into the ocean on a cable. When the Navy located the Thresher, at a depth of 8,400 feet, one and a half miles down, it was crushed like an egg shell. This was not a surprise to the search team, because the pressure at that depth is an amazing 3,600 pounds per square inch.

What was surprising to the searchers was the fish they saw at that depth. These fish did not have inches of steel to protect them. They appeared to have normal skin, a fraction of an inch thick. How were these fish able to survive under all that pressure? Why were they not crushed by the weight of the water? They had a secret. Their secret was equal pressure inside and outside. This equal pressurization made it possible for them to survive at great depths, and under great pressure.

When the pressure is on, the Holy Spirit is the “Great Equalizer!  One biblical writer put it this way, “The One who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” (1 John 4:4)   Every believer has God’s Spirit living in them, empowering them, at the moment they trust Christ, and because of His presence we become “more than conquerors through Him that loves us.”  (Romans 8:37)

For those of us who follow Jesus, the Holy Spirit’s power within us makes it possible for us to withstand the pressures of life in this world, and gives us the ability, despite difficult circumstances, to be vibrant witnesses for Christ. Without the presence of the Holy Spirit in our hearts and lives, we would have no hope, and would easily be crushed by the pressures of the world.

God wants more than just survival however.  He wants us to THRIVE under pressure.  Through the pressure of trials and adversity He brings about a transformation in our lives.  In short, we become more and more like His Son

Think about how the potter shapes clay on a potter’s wheel.   As the wheel spins, he uses his hands to exert pressure both inside and out.  It is the balance of this pressure that actually brings the clay into the exact shape and design the potter has in mind, and gives it the strength to go through the tempering fire. We must remember, God never wastes an experience in our lives, but uses each one brings us closer to the divine design He has for us.  Sickness, loss of a job, death of a loved one, or any crisis can bring just the right pressure needed to help shape us into the person He wants us to be.

I pray your are both surviving and thriving under pressure!

Larry Doyle

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How is Business?

It has been said, there are two, critical questions every successful CEO and business owner must answer.  First, “What is your business?”  Second, “How is business?”

If we put these two questions to the Church, how would we answer them?   “What is our business?”  In other words, what is our purpose, or our reason for existence? Defining our business is fundamental to a healthy, growing church.  Without a clear understanding of why we exist, we may produce a lot of activity but never accomplish God’s purpose. In other words, we may work a lot, but never produce any product.

Never before, in the history of the church have so many congregations lost their direction and purpose.  I am convinced this is why over 3,000 Protestant churches close their doors every year in the United States. The real tragedy is not that so many churches are dying, but that so many more have lost their reason to live. The words Jesus spoke to the church at Sardis in Revelation 3:1 could very well have been written to churches in America, “…I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead.”

The Bible gives us a clear and simple definition of the business of the church.  Matthew 28:19-20 says our business is making disciples.  “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”  As we go, we are to make disciples of all people groups. That is our business.

If making disciples is our business, how is business?  Are we making disciples?  If so, what kind of disciples are we making?

Before we can answer the second question, “How is business?” we must define the word “disciple.”  If our business is making disciples, what is a disciple?  The short answer is “someone who reflects Christlikeness in his life.”  Disciples in the Bible however, did more than just reflect the likeness of Jesus.

Greg Ogden in his book, Transforming Discipleship, (Intervarsity Press, 2003), gives a more complete definition of a disciple.  He says a disciple is “a self-initiating, reproducing, fully devoted follower of Jesus Christ.”  In other words, a disciple is someone who is a fully committed follower of Jesus, who consistently leads others to become fully committed followers of Jesus.  Christlikeness is the goal of every disciple – to reflect Jesus Christ in every area and aspect of his or her life.

Disciple-making is more than preaching the Gospel, or sharing the Good News.  According to the New Testament, disciple-making takes place in and through personal relationships.  Andrew found Peter and “brought him to Jesus.”  Phillip found Nathaniel, and led him to Jesus. (John 1)  Disciple-making requires the investment of time and emotional energy in the life of another person.  It means walking with that person beyond their initial encounter with Christ into a full embrace of Christ’s claims on their life – until they learn to take up their cross daily and follow Him. Who in your sphere of influence are you discipling?

This kind of disciple-making is the “business” of the church – leading people to become fully committed followers of Christ who are leading others to become fully committed followers of Christ.

What are we doing both individually and as a congregation in making disciples?  How is business?

Larry Doyle

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