So, what is real, lasting love? Join us on Sunday mornings at 10:30 at Northside throughout the month of December for our Christmas series Love: Unwrapped as we learn about the five most important ways you can express and experience true love.
Have you ever noticed just how many songs have been written over the years about the concept of love? Listen to the radio long enough and you'll hear songs about lifelong love, lost love, failed love and perfect love. Our culture is saturated with the concept of love. It's in our music, our movies, our TV shows, our books and even our smartphone apps and text messaging emojis. With all of these social representations buzzing around us every day, it can be easy for the timeless truths and meanings about love to get lost amongst all the noise. In fact, we can express our love for a chocolate dessert and our spouse in the same sentence, even with the same vocal inflections, and not even think twice about it. Love can be confusing at times.
So, what is real, lasting love? Join us on Sunday mornings at 10:30 at Northside throughout the month of December for our Christmas series Love: Unwrapped as we learn about the five most important ways you can express and experience true love.
In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus weeps when He approaches the city of Israel because they have missed the message and the Man of Peace:
"As He approached Jerusalem and saw the city, He wept over it and said, 'If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace -- but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God's coming to you. [time of visitation]" -- Luke 19:41-44 (NIV)
The people of God didn't read the signs around them and they didn't see the hand of God working out their redemption. It was right before their very eyes and they were missing it. I wonder how many blessings, gifts and works of God we miss because we are distracted either by the cares of this world or by the Enemy of our soul. Consider these three facts that are revealed in this short glimpse of history:
Jesus' heart breaks and He openly sobs when He sees His people outwardly acting like He is important, but inwardly living for themselves. Is your life consumed with you? Is what you need, want and hope for more important than what God is trying to do in your life?
Don't miss the peace of God! His perfect and unexplainable peace is available to all who would trust in Him fully and follow His ways. (John 16, Philippians 4:4-7)
For a more in-depth teaching of this concept, you can listen to my sermon "Are You Missing the Peace?" at: northsidemobile.org or by visiting Northside's podcast on iTunes.
How can you raise and maintain a healthy family? It seems impossible given all of the obstacles in today's culture, but there is hope and help. God designed us to work together and function together as a family and He gave us clear instructions on how to do so. Join us at Northside at 10:30AM every Sunday in April for a new series called "Family Matters." We'll discuss the curse on every family in this world, the cure and we'll give weekly practical strategies for raising a healthy, fun-filled and meaningful family.
I know it's hard to believe, but, yes, even pastors get criticized. As I was preparing to lead a Bible study last week, I reflected on a few of the criticisms I've received over my years in ministry. One man, for example, told me that I "didn't yell enough" when I taught. Another time, someone submitted a letter to the church board, stating that I often "stand in the wrong place" after the morning service is over. Another lady wrote to the church and, although she had never once attended a service, claimed that I was an "unbiblical" pastor. Sometimes you just have to laugh at the things people think about you. However, I've also had harsher things said about me. At one time, there were people in the inner circles of my life who said that I was an uncaring person. I've also been told that I'm a bad counselor. A fellow staff member even once explained to me that I was "unfit for pastoring." Considering that my career and life's calling is pastoring, that was hard to swallow. Criticism comes in all shapes and sizes and we can learn from our mistakes and flaws. I recently read a good article on DesiringGod.org that helped me put together some biblical ideas on how to handle criticism.
Sometimes when we're criticized, the criticism is just poorly assessed opinions from people who do not have all the facts. Sometimes even total strangers will mumble a criticism toward us in a crowded line at the local Walmart. I once had lady criticize how I loaded my items on the conveyor at the grocery store (and I was only purchasing three items.) Uninformed or impersonal criticism is one thing, but when the criticism comes from family, friend or co-workers, it can be quite painful. And the real problem with being criticized is that it can easily become an opportunity for us to sin. We are often tempted to respond with anger, bitterness or defensiveness and this can lead to further sin. And if we internalize the criticism, we can think self-condemning thoughts that are unproductive and even sinful.
So the question becomes: How should Christians handle criticism? Well, here are four biblical truths that help us welcome criticism as a friend.
1. We need to recognize the raw reality of the Gospel.
When Christ died for your sins, He removed the curse of criticism from your life. One of the greatest benefits you received from Jesus paying for your sins is that ALL of your sins were paid for. Your past, present and future sins and failures are paid for by the precious, holy blood of Jesus Christ. The raw reality of the Gospel is that I am a lifelong sinner and Christ is a loving Savior. Acknowledging that I am a sinner and imperfect can take the sting out of any criticism I might receive. I cannot save myself or even remotely justify myself before God. But, Christ did that work for me on the cross.
Romans 5:12 - "Therefore since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand." (NIV)
If Christ is your Savior, He exchanged your ledger of sins with His righteousness. Your ledger no longer has any stains or sins listed. His death on the cross, His love for you, covers all of your sins.
2. We need to remove ourselves from the formula.
In Biblical terms, this means that we need to die to ourselves. Criticism gains a foothold and leads us to sin when we put ourselves on the throne of our lives and we decide that we need to be defensive. If we are on the throne, Christ is not. This is why the Apostle Paul writes in Galatians 2:20 - "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." (NIV)
If you will crucify yourself, particularly your pride, to "be something," and recognize that God is the one who "is something," you will not sin as you are being criticized. One of the ways that I do this is to turn to my accountability group and openly share the criticism without defensiveness. I simply let them know what I have been accused of and ask for guidance, counsel and help. This exposure immediately gives me a level of humility with a group of spiritual men who are guiding me.
3. We need to realize the real depth of our deceived heart.
God says in Jeremiah 17:9-10 - "Man's heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked." Think hard about this verse. Dwell on it. Your heart, my heart, is deceitful above "all things." God is saying that my heart is dangerously deceitful. This is why we can often shock ourselves with our sinful choices. When God says that our heart is desperately wicked, it literally means that there are many crooked pathways in it. So, if we truly realize the depth of our sinful, foolish, deceived heart, then a person who is criticizing one of our flaws or failings is only seeing a portion of the real story. The truth is that, as Christians, most of us know the real depth of our sinfulness. We know the weak faith, judgmental, depressed, apathetic, uncaring, unloving, dark thoughts that rattle around in our heads on an hourly basis. Even if what you are accused of is without merit, you know that they don't know the half of your sinful ways. Sometimes when a person criticizes me of something, I simply acknowledge that they are right, make apologies and then express other areas where I am failing. This, again, keeps me off the throne and keeps me humble.
4. We need to rest in God's acceptance.
We saw a moment ago that Romans 5:1-2 says that we are at peace with God. When you go to bed at night, you can know that God is at peace with you. Romans 8:1-2 says, "Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death." (NASU)
So, not only are you at peace with God, but there is absolutely no condemnation from God toward you. The same chapter ends with this great truth: Romans 8:31-35 - "What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? Who will bring a charge against God's elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ?" (NASU) We can rest in God's acceptance!
When people criticize you, evaluate the message, learn from your mistakes, mature in your behavior and, above all, rest in God's grace, peace and acceptance of you.
The approaching Christmas season is often a mixture of fun and stress. Hectic schedules, traffic jams, family gatherings, shopping for the perfect gifts, office parties and long days at work often make this a difficult and challenging season for many Americans. I'd like to invite you to join us on Sundays in December at 10:30am at Northside for a Christmas sermon series titled "Tis The Season" -- featuring practical ideas that will help you to slow down and enjoy this time of the year like never before!
You can see more of Northside and our ministries at our official website: northsidemobile.org.
Have you ever seen those football game blooper reels showing players running the wrong way on the field with all their might, only to find out they've accidentally scored points for the opposing team?
The "rat race" of life can be quite confusing. Many us find ourselves confused about which way to run. But , God offers grace and help and mercy to all who run to Him. Unfortunately, our natural instincts often cause us to follow the examples of Adam, Peter and Jonah -- to run from God and hide.
Our summer series "Run To Grace" will explore various ways to get help and grace at God's throne and how to avoid running in the wrong direction of life. Join us this Sunday, June 14 at 10:30AM at Northside Bible Church as we kick off this series with a look at Jonah.
A few years ago, I had the privilege of taking my second missions trip to Transylvania, Romania. I was blessed to lead a team of 13 American collegians to a beautiful camp -- nestled in the western Carpathian Mountains -- where we would teach English and Bible to Hungarian and Romanian high school and college students. This would be the second of 12 trips for me. Our first year, we discovered the needs and asked how we could help. God gave us the joy of returning to serve there for 12 summers. I remember watching in awe as almost 90 Romanian students -- many of who worked hard all year long -- came to this foreign mountainside completely devoid of any buildings or manmade structures just to hear the Word of God. It was in this setting, where there was little more than nature and a few makeshift tents, that God showed me, for the first time, what it means to hunger and thirst for Him and for His Holy Word.
In 1991, the political and societal bonds of communism had only recently been broken. Many of the students didn't own a Bible. Some owned only partial fragments of a Bible. Oftentimes, youth groups would gather together and share the different Bible pieces -- perhaps trying to complete one of the Apostle Paul's New Testament letters. On our first trip to the camp, we were blessed to bring 100 Romanian Bibles and 100 English Bibles, the latter a gift from a very generous Baptist ministry in Birmingham, Alabama.
On the first night of the camp, we opened the boxes and passed out the Bibles. Each student received one Bible. I was not prepared for what I witnessed over the next twenty minutes. Some of the students wanted to give their Bibles back, saying that they were unworthy to carry them. Others started reading their favorite verses aloud. Some wept. But all were so grateful and in awe. It was a moment that I will never forget. It was a moment when God's presence was felt in more than just cliches. It was a moment of sincere reverence. The students knew that God had graced them with His Word. They were genuinely touched by His grace. And His grace showed up in five cardboard boxes full of paperback Bibles.
Interestingly, I had kept the same boxes in my office for about ten weeks prior to the missions trip. I had moved them multiple times, sometimes expressing negative sentiments each time they were in my way. I remained frustrated by those boxes. I dreaded having to travel 6,000 miles with them. Taking them from the airport in Budapest, Hungary to the hostel, storing them for two days, putting them on a bus, then a train, and finally hauling them up the mountain in several small Romanian cars was an annoyingly painful experience for me. When we unpacked them from our tents and brought them to the meeting circle, I was beaming with joy, not only from the blessing of giving them away, but because I would no longer be burdened with their care! The weight was no longer ours to carry. What a relief! Then God, in His loving and wonderful way, remained me, once again, of how much of an idiot I had been!
I had been given the privilege of carrying 200 Bibles over 6,000 miles to people who were starving for the truth of the Word of God. I had seen it as a burden. But, watching all of those beautiful students rejoice and weep made me so much more aware of the magnitude of the treasure we carried. I felt ashamed of how I had dishonored and disrespected God's Holy Word. I felt ashamed of how little I had valued what it means to those who do not have it. I felt ashamed of how little I had valued their Bibles and my Bible. Had I ever wept for the joy of reading the Bible? Had I ever laughed from pleasure at the joy of being able to read the Bible? Did I really understand how powerful, meaningful and personal God's Word can be for me?
As a pastor, I had taught many times that the Bible was God's personal letter to us all. But, seeing the faces of those students taught me that I didn't accept God's Word in a personal way. It is only by His "marvelous, infinite, matchless grace" that He chose to reveal Himself to us through His precious Word.
Working with East European Harvest is a great pleasure for me because I can picture the faces of the Romanian, Russian or Chinese men and women reading their Bible for the very first time. Each box shipped out of this mission is a treasure box of truth, filled with the message of grace, hope and help. Psalm 119 teaches us that we should love the Word of God more than food, sleep or money. I wonder how much you treasure and value your copy of the Holy Bible? I hope you will consider helping EEH expand our outreach and share the Word more effectively and more frequently. Let's work together to send this treasure of grace around the globe.
RUNNING FROM GOD
So, what might you learn from reading about failures? Well, here are 17 basic lessons you can glean from the 48 verses of Jonah.
Jonah was an Old Testament prophet sent to warn very evil people of God's judgement. But, Jonah himself was a mess. He was disobedient, pouty and belligerent. Jonah's story is a story of God's grace and God's sovereignty.
I challenge you to spend ten minutes reading the story for yourself, and then ponder these simple truths.
How did you find God?
More accurately I would ask, "How did God reveal Himself to you?"
The truth is, God has to manifest himself to us in order for us to know Him. Anything you know about God He had to show you. One of the truths we can find in the story of Jesus' coming to Earth is that He reveals Himself in different ways. This is most easily seen when you consider the Wise men and the Shepherds.
The Wise Men
Matthew 2:1-2 - "Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, 2 "Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him." [Holy Bible, New Living Translation]
To these great minds, God was a mystery to be resolved, a set of stars shining in the night with some cosmic message.Consider how they would have had to map and chart the skies, night after night. They would have had to research the star maps from years before to see the difference.
They would have found the star in the East to be a BEACON - like a beacon on light house, leading them closer and closer and ever closer to the King of Kings. And once they had discovered this cosmic message. They would have made weeks, even months of preparation for the long journey across the dessert and many foreign lands.
To these men - God was a mystery to be discovered. He left these men clues and signpost to follow. God showed them some amazing star patterns and left one star enough of a mystery that these men had to seek it out and believed God was calling them from heaven to follow the star.
And follow they did, until they found Jesus.
Luke 2:8-20 - "And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9) An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10) But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11) Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. 12) This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."
13) Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 14) "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."
15) When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about."
16) So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17) When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18) and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19) But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20) The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. [NIV]
There was no mystery in their revelation. God had an angel appear to them. SHAZAAMM. POOF! One brilliantly shining angel surrounded by God's glory. When ONE ANGEL appeared... the GLORY of the LORD appeared with the Angel (all around the shepherds). (Like a SCI-FI energy mass, field maybe). And with there hearts pounding out of their chest the Angel told them "Don't be afraid, I have good news of GREAT JOY! Today in Bethlehem (City of David) a Savior is born - Christ the Lord.
Then so they could find the baby and know it was real - There is a sign, search for a baby lying in a manger. Note how different this revelation is... Spirit being, surrounded by the Glory of God.. tell them GREAT THEOLOGICAL TRUTH - followed by practical realities that help them connect the dots. All in Same Night... no long searching..weeks of research.
Now after this CLEAR, complete THEOLOGICAL and PRACTICAL Explanation - A large group, called a heavenly host of angels appeared praising God and saying GLORY to GOD in the HIGHEST - and on earth PEACE to men on whom his favor rest!"
One angel now supported by thousands... speaking of God's glory and man's benefits. This revelation was spectacular
Soon as angels left - they said.. lets' go see it... which the Lord told us about.
For the Shepherds, the News was for ALL the PEOPLE but the Shepherds heard it first. and SPREAD THE NEWS! (are you spreading the News?)
But the results of God's love and the reason He sent Jesus to earth is accomplished in both stories.
God didn't Just send Jesus to Earth for Us, God sent Jesus to Earth so that He could be glorified by us! He sent Jesus for His GLORY! The Wise men - searching and curious find Jesus and worship Him. The Shepherds, stunned and certain, find Jesus and worship Him.
I wonder how God is revealing Himself to you this year. I wonder will you find a supernatural revelation that can only be explained by God or clues that lead you to search for God in unlikely places until you find the One who can make all things new?
Either way, when God manifest himself you are forever changed! And the good news is the JOY is possible. To all my friends who struggle to find JOY. Jesus came to give JOY and the angel announced it to the simple blue-collar/ no collar shepherds. Joy is possible.
Find Jesus, get to know Him and you will find JOY.
I know you’re all really busy this time of the year, so I promise to keep this short and to the point. Here are three things that you can do to make this Christmas season easier for yourself. These things will help you to make Christmas more like it should be!
First: Slow Down
Just make it happen. Teach your kids to slow down. Stop running around at breakneck speed. Miss some parties if you have to. But find a way to slow down. Your family and your children need to see you enjoy the holidays. They won’t benefit from seeing you stressed about the holidays.
Here are five things that you and your family can do to slow down:
Second: Simplify Things
Simple things were meant to be enjoyed. Wanting Christmas to be bigger and bigger every year has become the curse of our American culture. We try to have bigger and better lights and bigger and better gifts. We try to impress more and more people every year. But, Christmas is not about impressing others. It’s time to get off that train. Ask yourself, “How can I make Christmastime simple this year?”
Once mom and dad have slowed down, make some hot chocolate for everyone, gather the family around the TV and watch A Charlie Brown Christmas. Make some stringed popcorn tree decorations. You’ll only spend about three dollars, but you’ll have made a lasting memory for your children. Make a conscious effort to simplify your plans and your schedule. Enjoy good holiday movies like “Santa Clause Is Coming To Town” [the animated version], “Miracle on 34th Street,” “How The Grinch Stole Christmas” and “The Christmas Carol.” These are some superb suggestions for Christmastime family entertainment.
Third: Speak of the Savior
Christmas is about Jesus loving us so much that He saved us from our sins. Tell your family about that baby in the manger. But, be sure to mention the reason that He’s in the manger — one day He will become the suffering Savior on the cross and, three days later, the resurrected Christ. Christmas is a great time to tell the full story of Jesus to your family and, especially, your children. Grandparents, please don’t let this great holiday go by without telling your grandkids the full story of Jesus — His birth, life, crucifixion and His resurrection. Teach your children that Christmastime is about giving to others. Model it. Practice it. Take them with you when you do it.
A Final Warning: Three Things That Steal Christmas From Us
Commercialism. Don’t fall for the hype. “More" is not better. “More” is often clutter and financial pressure that you will dread for years to come. Don’t fall for the hype.
Keeping Up With The Joneses. The Joneses don’t expect you to keep up with them. No one says that you have to! If you’re not careful, this will turn into narcissism. You don’t have to have the same house, car, phone, computer, tablet, yard, dinette set or jewelry as your brother, sister, neighbor or church deacon. You don’t have to!
Consumerism. Having stuff just because it’s there is not always a good thing. If you’re not careful, you’ll have to start buying totes to store all of your stuff! This will lead to bigger totes. And before you know it, you’re buying or building storage units! This is very much like a warning found in the Scriptures about the man who kept building bigger barns. Don’t be that guy! (Luke 12:18-21) Be rich toward God!
Christmas is supposed to be all about Jesus, not about us. Don’t let your kids think that it’s all about them. It will simplify your holiday season!