Acts 3

If you’re anything like me, you may find yourself filled with what feels like righteous jealousy when reading much of the New Testament – especially Acts. Reading about great men of the faith who spent so much time with Jesus in the flesh, who witnessed his crucifixion and ascension, who shook his hand and looked him in the eye, it can be so tempting to think “no wonder they were so bold and so faithful and so impactful and so…” (and so on and so on). They had a front row seat to see God in the flesh, living! It’s easy to feel a little cheated that we have to walk by faith when it seems like the apostles got to walk by sight. Thankfully, Acts is filled with signposts that point us to the truth – God is no less alive today than he was when Jesus walked the earth.

Oddly enough, I’ve been thinking a lot about plants this week as I consider redecorating our entry hall, and I realized today that I tend to think of God living in much the same way as I think of plants living. I know somewhere in my mind that a plant is a living thing when I buy it, and I certainly recall that it was a living thing when I inevitably kill it, but something about its life doesn’t fully register to me, because I don’t see it moving. That’s why – I suspect – learning for the first time about the Venus Fly Trap, a moving plant, is so discombobulating for most of us.

The lame beggar’s healing in Chapter 3 of Acts is something of a Venus Fly Trap moment in the early church – a perplexing sign of life that left witnesses in the temple “utterly astounded” (3:11). There was a clear element of anticipation following Pentecost, as the world was beginning to wonder what was next for the church with Jesus ascended and the rhythms of daily life resuming. This miracle is a signpost clearly declaring, then and now, “God is alive.” Jesus has bodily left the earth, but the Holy Spirit is present and moving to grow the kingdom.

Similarly, though we find ourselves now bodily and temporally separated from all the wonders we read about in Acts, we have the assurance that God is moving. When we read now about that “creation moment,” as Sean called it, of God restoring the lame man’s withered body to perfect health and his heart to perfect joy in Christ, we read it as part of our own history and heritage, as part of the continuing narrative of God at work in his people, and as a signpost of the new life available to us in Christ. God is alive in the acts of the apostles, just as God is alive in us today.

Where is your wealth?

 Over the summer, I have missed a small handful of Sunday services due to traveling and having the privilege to serve our Providence Kids one Sunday of each month (shameless plug for volunteering here). Fortunately, I’ve been able to follow along with the sermon series via weekly podcasts (shameless plug for catching up on podcasts here). But the one thing I’ve missed on these occasions is being a part of corporate worship – hearing and singing biblical truths together with the body of Christ (shameless plug for going to church… doesn’t have a link, just, you know… be reminded).

This Sunday, we sang a line on repeat that goes hand in hand with what we’ve been learning in Proverbs – “my wealth is in the cross.”

As Sean pointed out last week, the many references to wealth in the text of Proverbs, if we’re not careful, can read like a poster for the prosperity gospel. Sean talked about the dangers of prizing creation over our Creator last week, but this week’s sermon from our guest speaker Brent Stanfield served to balance us in the wake of those warnings, lest we let our doctrinal pendulum swing too far to the other end. Just as there is, for every action, an equal and opposite reaction, there is also for every heresy, an equally awful and opposite heresy – in this case, something I’ve heard called the “poverty gospel.”

Where the prosperity gospel elevates the gifts over the Giver, the poverty gospel adopts a forgetfulness of God’s giving nature entirely – elevating the dramatics of suffering woe and want for the sake of Christ over the delight of His great love for us (for help out of this pit, see Psalm 84:11, John 10:10, Romans 8:32, etc.). Both views are problematic for a number of reasons, not least of which because scripture can at times read like it really does lean one way or the other. The greatest help out of this paradox is that when you dig in and when you zoom out, the point is the same: it’s not about us either way.

Sunday, Brent pointed us to Colossians 1:16-17: “All things were created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” When God is truly central in our hearts, as he is in all of reality, our gain (prosperity) and our loss (poverty) become inconsequential. God’s goodness cannot be categorized as a prosperity gospel or a poverty gospel because it’s not an earthly gospel – it’s a heavenly one.

When we read the myriad expressions of earthly, material wealth in Proverbs as Solomon encourages his son to “seek [wisdom] like silver” and “search for it as for hidden treasures” (2:4) … when he writes that the gain from wisdom is “better than gain from silver, and her profit better than gold” (3:14), we learn not that we must grow in wisdom to gain material riches, but that wisdom is itself a heavenly concept of wealth.

Jesus speaks to this in Matthew 6, as he teaches the crowd about laying up treasures in heaven. We’ve probably all seen verse 21 on a coffee mug, but it hits home just the same: “where your treasure is, your heart will be also.”

So the question becomes this: do we mean what we sang on Sunday? Can we really say that our treasure is in heaven – that our wealth is in the cross? Or are we seeking the wisdom of God for self-help/self-righteousness?

Let’s check our hearts against those questions this week. Let’s make this song our true anthem.

The Complacency of Fools Destroys Them

The Christian journey is a beautiful and complex thing. It is bursting with blessings and promises that make our darkened hearts glow with hope and at the same time fraught with peril and pitfalls that prompt us to call out in desperation for God’s grace. Thankfully, God has given us his word – particularly books of wisdom, like Proverbs – not as a guidebook that tells us how to stay away from sin, but as a revelation of who God is and how we can draw near to him.

In the first few weeks we’ve spent studying Proverbs at Providence North, we’ve learned a great deal about what Godly wisdom offers us. Solomon teaches extensively in Proverbs about the blessings of wisdom, but he also brings attention to the pitfalls of foolishness. One of the passages about the latter that Sean has highlighted was particularly challenging to me…

“The simple are killed by their turning away, and the complacency of fools destroys them.” (1:32)

Ouch. When scripture challenges the so-called “big” sins, like murder and adultery (that we totally have a handle on, right…?) or the “little” sins, like gossip and gluttony (that are really no big deal, you know…?) we cozy up and hide in our complacency. But when God calls out complacency itself, we have nowhere to run.

Sean has mentioned repeatedly in this series that our default position is not wisdom or holiness, but foolishness and rebellion – that we naturally cling to the “counterfeit ease” of complacency – and I’ve been reminded of this quote from D.A. Carson:

“People do not drift towards holiness. Apart from grace-driven effort, people do not gravitate towards godliness, prayer, obedience to Scripture, faith, and delight in the Lord. We drift towards compromise and call it tolerance; we drift towards disobedience and call it freedom; we drift towards superstition and call it faith. We cherish the indiscipline of lost self-control and call it relaxation; we slouch towards prayerlessness and delude ourselves into thinking we have escaped legalism; we slide towards godlessness and convince ourselves we have been liberated.”

Complacency is such a sneaky thing, but the beauty and challenge of Proverbs is that it confronts complacency directly in an either/or framework. Solomon says “look, either you are growing in wisdom or you are growing in foolishness; either you are seeking God or you are slouching into sin.” I’m reminded of a tagline from an old Crest White Strips ad: “if you’re not whitening, you’re yellowing.”

So, what are we to do? How are we to overcome our natural bent toward the complacency of fools? Solomon answers this in Proverbs 2: we take his example of “grace-driven effort” and ask…

“If you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find knowledge of God” (2:3-5).

James puts it even more simply: “if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (1:5).

We don’t need a complex formula to overcome our foolish complacency, but we can’t be passive about it either. As Sean has pointed out, what God is telling us is simple: if you ask, you will receive; if you seek me, you will find me.

Before we continue on in Proverbs, let’s ask God to make our ears attentive to wisdom and incline our hearts to understanding (2:2). Let’s be intentional as we dive in to all He has for us.

Culture of Welcoming

One of the core lessons that my professors in college taught me was tolerance. I really like the idea of respecting all people and fostering a perspective of understanding for ideologies and ways of life that differ from your own.

However, my biggest qualm with the idea of tolerance is that it is shallow. Tolerance stiff arms with a smile and sends the message that what you believe works for you but I don’t care about you enough to point out problems or blind spots that you have. To me, that is not love, it is too easy to actually be true love.

If tolerance doesn’t take us far enough into the deep end, what does it take for us as the church to wade through the waters and dive into really loving others? 

Sean taught on Romans 15 this past Sunday, and the main verse that stuck out to me was verse 5: “May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus...”

When I see the word “harmony,” my default instinct is to think about tolerance. Harmony seems sort of like a hippy commune descriptor as opposite to genuine, sacrificial love. But, as many nerdy pastors like myself do, we look up the Greek of the word and usually changes everything.

The Greek word that harmony comes from is “harmos,” which means joint. 

When I think of “joint,” I immediately think of the body and how our joints help intertwine and hold our bodies together. When you break your hand, the hand certainly hurts, but not exclusively. The whole body hurts. When the immune system is fighting off a disease, the whole body suffers and feels the consequences of the infection. When endorphins fire off as we experience an event of happiness, the whole body feels good. 

To me, the body doesn’t just tolerate other parts of it, instead, it is all interconnected. Although it has different functions, all of these functions work together. The body is not independent, but interdependent. 

I think this mindset is how we should view fostering a culture of welcoming in our body, our church. We are the body of Christ, and we want others to not only experience that body but become a part of it!

Ultimately, we want to fight for this culture of welcoming because verse 6 literally tells us that this type of culture glorifies God. This culture shows off a unique part of His character and it brings a smile to His face.

I pray that our desire to make each other feel welcome in our community would not only make our church a place where we want to go now, but it would make our church a place where visitors and future members of our community will be welcomed, loved, seen and known for years to come. 

Let’s dive into the uncomfortable. Let’s be incredibly vulnerable. Let’s serve others even when inconvenient. Let’s be the church that blesses the heart of our God.

One speaker from the International Mission Board captured this culture perfectly with this quote: “churches will thrive because of relation, not sensation.”

Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.

Life and Life to the Full  

We recently read out of Romans 6:15-23. When I opened my Bible to read the Scripture, I noticed an interesting subheading for the section: “Slaves To Righteousness.” It is certainly an interesting phrase and one that may cause some eyebrows to be raised in skepticism without proper context.

In an American culture that is historically rooted in suspicion of authority that can be traced back to the American Revolution, any type of submission to authority, particularly any imagery of “slavery” seems outdated and cruel.

However, the slavery that the Scripture is referring to is not alluding to the oppressive institution of chattel slavery. In fact, this type of “slavery” leads to a culture of life and life to the full when taken on. Pastor Matt Carter once said, “True freedom doesn’t mean being under no authority - it means being under the right authority.”

A culture of life comes from a recognition of our liberation. Before Christ lived the life that we could not live, took our place on the cross and defeated death, we were slaves to sin. But Jesus, at the cross, redeemed us. He literally purchased our freedom with the cost of his life and the currency of his blood. Therefore, we are now his and under his authority, because he paid the price that we could not.

We couldn’t buy ourselves back. In fact, we chose to sin and chose to be under the rule of the Enemy (Ephesians 2). But God in His grace bought us back, for His glory and because of His rich mercy and love for His sons and daughters. That kind of sacrifice, that kind of love, that kind of grace changes everything. When we dwell on the eternity-changing news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we are changed. When we realize the cost that Jesus paid for us and what he saved us from, it has to affect our response.

Our response in the light of the Gospel is how we live in light of the fact that we are owned by the God of Universe. Instead of taking advantage of that grace to sin even more and consider Jesus our ticket into heaven, our response should be a total surrender to the Lordship of Jesus. He is a kind and loving King. He is not an unfair Master, but a gentle and loving one. Our response to our God should be like young kids to their parents - we should want to imitate everything our Dad does. Our lives should look like His and we should heed His instruction and discipline on us.

Although we won't be perfect, we are hidden in the One who is. Although we don’t have the power on our own to model a life to the world like Jesus, we have the same Spirit of God in us that led and empowered Jesus. We should want to look more like Jesus and less like the world that used to own us. This is our apologetic to the world!

We have a new hope, a new life, a new trajectory and a new identity. Let us be a church that doesn’t just believe the Gospel with our heads, but may we love this Gospel with our hearts and live this Gospel out with our lives - life and life to the full.

A Culture of Peace

Forgiveness.

The word itself can make you cringe even reading it because it likely brings up memories of someone committing a serious wrong towards you, or it reminds you of a wrong that you have committed towards someone else. 

In a country that is ever-growing in terms of political polarization, where our beliefs and preferences seem to group us into narrow social boxes, the idea of creating a culture of peace anywhere in our time may seem like an unattainable feat. It seems that compromise or empathetic listening is a thing of the past. Even seeing reality clearly, for goodness sakes, is now a contested issue!

And yet, I believe that in our desire as a church to create a culture of peace, we can not only achieve that feat, but we can take it a step further and strive for a culture of forgiveness. I believe this sub-culture, within the greater culture of grace that we desire to cultivate, could be our greatest apologetic to the world.

One of my old mentors once told me that when you are in genuine community with other people, two things are inevitable - you will need to ask forgiveness to someone else, and someone else will need to ask forgiveness of you.

The very idea of forgiving someone else for wronging you from a worldly standpoint makes no sense if the goal in life is money, power, and success. Forgiveness oftentimes means forgoing temporal justice and meeting your perpetrator instead with unmerited grace. 

The only way that forgiveness could possibly ever make sense is if we see, live and act through the lens of the Gospel. Jesus illustrates the why behind desiring a culture of forgiveness far better than I ever could with the parable of the unforgiving servant. 

Peter, one of Jesus’s disciples, has the same stance as I would have if I was being mentored by Jesus. He asks Jesus, “hey...how many times should I forgive my dude when he wrongs me...seven times is pretty good, right Jesus?” 

Jesus responds with a story of a servant who is pardoned a lifetimes worth of debt from a generous master. Many biblical scholars say that it would be like the president pardoning you millions of dollars that you owed him personally. Yet, after this happens, the pardoned servant goes and demands a debt from a fellow servant who owes him literally a few dollars in comparison. The king finds out and this is His response to the servant:

Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you? - Matthew 18:32-33

Because Jesus lived the life that we could not live and died that death that we deserved, he paid an eternal debt that was unobtainable for us to ever pay apart from his grace towards us. How in the world could we ever, if we truly believe we have been forgiven the astronomical debt that we had, not forgive others? The vertical forgiveness that God gives us must spill over horizontally in how we interact with others.

Forgiveness is at the core of the good news of Jesus, of Christianity. We forgive because we have been forgiven.

I want to leave you all with a video of the most powerful act of human forgiveness that I have ever seen. Anita Smith’s husband was murdered for being a missionary in a nation that was hostile to the Gospel. This was her response on national television, days after her husband was killed. Please take a chance and watch this short video if you are able.

http://www.cnn.com/2013/12/20/us/libya-widow-teacher-forgives-attackers/

That is a woman who understood the debt she had been forgiven. May we learn from Anita, and may we be a people who are able to forgive others in light of the King who pardoned us.

On Earth, As It Is In Heaven: A Rewording of The Beatitudes

As our church continues to walk through our preaching series on creating a culture of grace, Sean hit the nail on the head this past Sunday on how we will live and model that culture. A culture of grace looks like the beatitudes - arguably Jesus’s most notable sermon and arguably the single sermon that flipped the world on its head.

Oftentimes, I know that I am guilty of skipping over the key words or phrases of the sermon on the mount. Quite frankly, sometimes I do understand the depths or the specificity of what Jesus is teaching. In an attempt to equip the saints of God’s church (Eph. 4:12), here are the beatitudes in my own words, with the heartbeat of wanting to capture the essence of what Christ says to us as his church today.

Sean taught this past Sunday that the term “blessed” is synonymous to the “smile of Christ,” and I think that is scandalously beautiful. I pray that as you read through these beatitudes, the smile of Christ would comfort you and remind you of the great love of our King.

3 How fortunate you are, my child. You have absolutely nothing to give. And you know what? That makes you qualified for a life, eternally, with the King of the Universe who loved you so much he took your death and gave you His life. Blessed are the poor in spirit.

4 How fortunate you are, my child. You are heartbroken and are struggling. I assure you, your tears will be wiped away by the holy hands of the Savior who conquered death. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

How fortunate you are, my child. You get overlooked for people who boast more than you. I know it is frustrating. But, your reward is that you are going to be coheirs with me and reign over the Earth as my co-regents. I see you. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

How fortunate you are, my child. You genuinely want God for who He is, knowing that you bring nothing to the table. God wants to be with you, know you, love you...and He will do it. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

How fortunate you are, my child. You extend mercy to others that don’t deserve it. You will be the ultimate recipient of mercy as I will take your sin upon my shoulders and gave you my life. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

How fortunate you are, my child. Your heart is marked by transparency and an uncompromising desire to please God in all things. God will reward you by giving you His home, forever. You’ll see Him face to face, and He’ll say “well done.” Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

How fortunate you are, my child. You fight for reconciliation even when it's uncomfortable and undeserved. That makes you look just like your Dad - the King of Kings. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

How fortunate you are, my child. You are treated unjustly and suffer greatly. Yet, I promise you, your future is sealed and heaven is your home. You have a hope that is sure. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

May we be a church that will live on earth, as it is in heaven.

The Scandal of Grace: Creating a Culture of Humility

On November 30, 2013, college football rivals Alabama and Auburn were playing each other in the annual Iron Bowl. This game stands out in my memory more than any other because of the dramatic plot twist at the end of the game. To save many details, heavily favored Alabama decided to kick a long field goal late in the 4th quarter to try and break a 28-28 tie with Auburn and win the game.

However, not only was the field goal short but miraculously, an Auburn player caught the ball and ran for a 103-yard touchdown as time expired. It was an astronomical upset in one of the most incredulous ways I have ever seen a football game end. Myself, like many Alabama fans, responded with a pose that sportscasters infamously named “The Surrender Cobra.” This is a pose in which fans look upon the outcome of a game in utter disbelief, and cannot fathom how the events could have possibly occurred.

More than any sports event, this passage of Scripture should leave us in “The Surrender Cobra” position. Our hands on our heads, our mouths open, left in utter disbelief.

5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. - Philippians 2:5-11

Consider this scene: The same God of the universe who created everything and who everything was created for emptied himself of his perfect power to become like his creation, so that he could save his creation from the cancer of sin that they chose in favor of relationship with him -- and he would do this by dying the death his creation deserved so that hell-bound rebels and traitors could become sons and daughters.

Are you kidding me? That story is scandalous. It is undeserved. It is foolish.

Yes, and it is the scandalous gospel of grace that brings salvation to all who believe. It is our story that we gather around and celebrate, it is our rallying cry, it is our anthem.

In our desire as a leadership team to create and cultivate a culture of humility at Providence North Community Church, the answer of how to do this is simple: marvel at the humility put on display by the Savior, Jesus Christ. 2 Corinthians 3:18 puts it this way:

“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”

Simply put, the way we change is by beholding the glory of the Lord. To behold literally means to see or observe. The life of Jesus Christ and the gospel that he brings to use is so powerful, all we have to do is behold it, marvel at it, see it for how scandalous and beautiful it is and we will be changed. Isn’t that amazing, and even a bit counterintuitive? If we want to foster a culture of humility, we need to be a church that consistently thinks on the gospel, sings the gospel, reads the gospel, lives the gospel and loves the gospel. We need to watch Jesus and see how humility is lived. The King who counted our needs more important than his own calls us to give our lives away to others in the same manner.

May we be a church looks at Philippians 2:5-11 and responds like Pauls call in Philippians 2:3-4:

3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests but also to the interests of others.

Let us behold Jesus’s humility, and may our natural response be to try and intimate the King we follow, serve, and love.

Faith Restored to a Fractured Family

A few Sundays ago we wrapped up our 3-week series on relationships and the gospel, Andrew and Bria Huber were kind enough to share their marriage's beautiful story of redemption and restoration. When grace and forgiveness seemed impossible, our Father used the counsel and mentorship of other believers to soften their hearts and remind them of the purpose of marriage: to reflect the gospel. The Hubers learned that healing is a product of vulnerability - vulnerability with the Lord, with your spouse, and with trusted gospel community.

In a confusing and challenging time, The Hubers' mentors pointed them back to the Truth. When they needed it the most, they were tenderly reminded that because of Jesus, there is now no condemnation for us, and because of the Holy Spirit, we can love and forgive one another as the Father loves and forgives us. The Hubers’ story showed that laying your sin at the throne of the Father and receiving the never-ending gift of grace from the Lord not only moves our hearts towards Jesus, but it allows our hearts to reflect that grace to others. Their story shows how grace comes to us vertically before it can go horizontally.

Live As You Are Called

Life today makes it really easy to catch a glimpse into one another’s lives. With the quick tap of a finger, we can look into each other’s living rooms, closets, kitchens, fridges, vacations, birthdays, and even quiet moments. When we have the ability to see all of these things, it can become easy to entertain the idea that the life they live is the life we want. We can fall into the lie of believing that what they do with their time is more important, the stuff that they buy is better, the stage of life they are in is better, their ideas are better, their creativity is better, what they do with their time is better, their choice of profession is better, their parenting style is better, their giftings are better. We can begin to envy the snapshots of the lives we see via edited lenses without fully valuing what the life we have been given looks like.

1 Corinthians 7:17, 23

“Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches… You were bought with a price; do not become bondservants of men.”

Measuring our lives against others’ not only stifles our ability to be thankful and content with what we have been given but also our ability to empathize. Whatever our lives look like – whether we perceive them as good/bad or not enough/too much, God has given them to us. He has allowed different circumstances and situations into each of our lives, not because we can handle them, but because through them He will be the most glorified. When He is glorified, He is known and when He is known people are saved by the salvation He offers. Can He be glorified in the prettiest house with the healthiest homemade meal? Absolutely. Can He be glorified in the house with toys strewn about and lunch from a box? Or in a job that isn’t glamorous? Praise the Lord the answer is yes.

Philippians 1:27-28

“Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in the spirit, with one mind striving side-by-side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents.”

The life He has given you is the life that will ultimately most glorify Him. None of us have reason to boast in the life we have – we didn’t create it, He did (1 Corinthians 4:6-7). Be concerned about the life He has given to you and live it well. Does it feel small or ordinary? Live it well. Does it feel overwhelming or fast? Live it well – don’t seek to live another’s life. When we focus on what is at hand in our own lives we can flourish with the talents He has gifted us, with the children He has given us, with the job He wants to use us in, and in the relationships we have with friends.

God has deemed my life at this time, as a single, twenty-something living in Houston, Texas, as the life that is best for me to live. It could look different tomorrow, but today this is the life that He knows will ultimately most glorify Him. And, since He knows where “today” fits in relation to all eternity, I can’t sensibly argue against His wisdom.

The Hustle

Hustle. A lot of us were probably made highly aware of the word because of a coach in junior high or high school. If not, we were certainly introduced to it by our mothers when they were trying to get us out the door for school, or a hair cut, or anything with a start time, really. Lately, the idea of hustling has gone past coaches leading conditioning drills or moms trying to be on time, and has made its way into our day-to-day culture. In a world that values production, hustling is in high demand and is being plastered everywhere from t-shirts to coffee mugs, in an effort to remind us to keep going. Don’t get me wrong; my type-A little heart loves the idea of hustling – getting stuff done, being efficient and going full throttle. But, I am learning that hustling has a cost.

“Man is like a breath; his days are like a passing shadow.” Psalm 144:4

When we live every day with the “hustle” mentality, life can quickly become all about our “to-do” list and how many things we can get done before dinner. We can become enslaved to the desire to hustle and produce and build for the sake of crossing something off a list or, even more dangerous, to feel accomplished or worthy. When we get into a rhythm of constant hustling, tunnel vision sets in and we begin to see only “what we need to get done” and miss seeing needs of those around us. We can fall into seeing people as a means to a goal rather than actual people. We can start to measure our worth by our accomplishments, either at work or at home, and feel crippling shame when we don’t accomplish what we thought we should.

When I get into this rhythm, I find myself looking to the future without being fully present in what God has gifted me that day. I miss the small things that, so often, are meant to remind us of His creativity, His grandness and His sovereign hand. Most importantly, though, I find myself wanting to transfer the idea of hustling to my walk with Jesus. I catch myself rushing through scripture, just to say I have done it, without desiring to get the marrow out of the text. I find myself thinking a one-thought prayer as I brush my teeth and count that as time with the Lord. I begin to fall into wanting to do x, y and z to make sure God sees the stuff I have done to make sure He is be happy with me (even though that is not the gospel at all – just terribly bad theology).

The Lord calls us to couple “working diligently” with rest (Colossians 3:23, Genesis 2:2-3, Exodus 20:8-11). Not only does breaking the constant cycle of hustling allow our eyes to be open to life outside ourselves, but it also tends to reset our perspective. Taking time to step back from the never ending “to-do” list helps to clear our jumbled minds and allows for time to consider the true importance of things we are chasing. Finding time in the day to be fully present in the here-and-now, realigns our hearts with the One who created them. We are free to work with excellence but we are also free to rest well. We, as Christians, are found worthy through the person and work of Jesus, not by what we accomplish or how much stuff we can get done each day (Galatians 4:4-7, Romans 3:21-26, 2 Corinthians 5:21). Rest is the new hustle.

Swimming In The Deep of True Brotherhood

From the mid-1930s to the late 1940s C.S. Lewis met with a group of literary friends every Tuesday and Thursday in an Oxford pub to enjoy good beer and good conversation. They discussed literature, writing, and life. Their pub, the Eagle and Child, is still there today. It was in this this environment within this circle of friends that heavyweight works like Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, and Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia were forged.

C.S. Lewis and his friends made a habit of swimming in the deep. You can feel the depth of their encounters in his description of their friendship:

“In a perfect friendship, this Appreciative love is, I think, often so great and so firmly based that each member of the circle feels, in his secret heart, humbled before all the rest … Especially when the whole group is together, each bringing out all that is best, wisest, or funniest in all the others. Those are the golden sessions; when four or five of us after a hard day’s walking have come to our inn; when our slippers are on, our feet spread toward the blaze and our drinks are at our elbows; when the whole world, and something beyond the world, opens itself to our minds as we talk; and no one has any claim on or any responsibility for another, but all are freemen and equals as if we had first met an hour ago, while at the same time an Affection mellowed by the years enfolds us. Life—natural life—has no better gift to give. Who could have deserved it?” (C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves)

You can almost hear the crackling of the fire; you can feel the warmth of that room and taste the depth of their friendship. They made each other better when they were together. That’s what the wisdom of the Scriptures says in Proverbs 27:17 (NIV), “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” True brotherhood. Face to face. Man to man. Iron on iron.

How do you know if you are swimming in the deep of true brotherhood or just splashing around in the shallows? Here are two INDICATORS to identify where you are now and two REQUIREMENTS to get you where you need to be:

INDICATORS

[1] TRUE BROTHERHOOD SHARPENS YOU. In other words, your friendships are making you a better man, like iron sharpening iron. Men need other men to challenge them and bring out the best in them. Men need environments where permission is given and understood—a circle of trust where advice and accountability are welcome. As men, we still need to choose our friends wisely. Proverbs 13:20 (NIV) says, “He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm.”

It goes without saying that there are significant differences in male relationships and female relationships. Sociologists have observed that for the most part men’s friendships revolve around activities while women’s revolve around sharing. I don’t need a sociologist to tell me that. Guys are action figures! We get stuff done! We don’t need to “share.” The less “sharing” we do, the better, right? But that’s not true. Men were created for deep relationships with other men.

We cannot be the men we are designed to be if we are disconnected from other men. Left to ourselves we start writing our own rules. Left alone we can talk ourselves into anything. Proverbs 14:12 (NIV) says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.” Isolated from other men, we won’t know what hit us.

[2] TRUE BROTHERHOOD CONNECTS ON A SOUL LEVEL. Jonathan and David had that kind of connection. Both were warriors. Both had stepped up at critical times when the Israelites were bullied and intimidated by the Philistines. When the Israelites needed something to ignite their courage, Jonathan and his armor bearer walked right into the enemy’s garrison and killed about twenty men in hand-to-hand combat. Later, David would stand up against Goliath and become one of Israel’s greatest warriors. Jonathan and David had a connection so strong and deep that 1 Samuel 18:1 (NASB) describes it like this: “ … the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as himself.” Do you have a healthy God-designed soul level connection with another man like that?

REQUIREMENTS

[1] TRUE BROTHERHOOD REQUIRES HONESTY, TRUST AND VULNERABILITY. Most men settle for having a golfing buddy or a fishing buddy. They don’t feel the need to be vulnerable. Guys can talk about cars, football, real estate and business but never connect on a soul level of honesty, trust, and vulnerability. Some guys think they have to conjure up some practical reason for picking up the phone and calling another man. That’s part of the myth that says, “I don’t have any emotional needs that I can’t handle by myself.” Author David Smith writes:

“The message is clear. The independent man doesn’t feel he needs the company of other men. Therefore, men must manufacture non-emotional reasons for being together. A business deal must be discussed or a game must be played. Rarely do men plan a meeting together simply because they have a need to enjoy each other’s company. Even when men are frequently together, their social interaction begins and remains at a superficial level. The same male employees can have lunch together for years and still limit their conversations to sports, politics, dirty jokes, and comments about the sexual attractiveness of selected female workers in their office or plant.” (David W. Smith, The Friendless American Male)

[2] TRUE BROTHERHOOD REQUIRES TIME AND PRACTICE. Lots of practice! There is no such thing as microwave manhood. You can’t just flip a switch or push a button. And no one will just hand you the time. Stop waiting on someone else to find you friends. Accept responsibility. Carve out the time, and put it on the calendar. Practice, practice, practice.

If you’re married, practice sharing your emotions with your wife first. It will make your marriage better and prime the pump for soul connections with other men. Learn from others who already do it well. Read the Psalms of David and see how honest and vulnerable he was in the way he worshiped God.

Take off your floaties and leave the shallows. Discover true brotherhood in the deep end of authentic manhood. You can’t REALLY LIVE without it.

There Is No Sacred Secular Divide

I think a lot of us wonder if our jobs really matter. Especially when we are working on the 100th spreadsheet of the day, stressed out preparing for an upcoming conference or project, working on the same tasks day-in and day-out or even when we are at home changing diapers. We start to wonder if our jobs are really that meaningful or worth anything for the kingdom of God. We start to get sucked into thinking our “work life” is on one side and our “God-glorifying life” is on the other. We begin to buy into the lie that if we only had a job in ministry, or with a non-profit that feeds the hungry, that it would be more God honoring than our desk job. We start to believe that work is getting in the way of us spreading the gospel, or even, God’s will for our lives.

The thing is, work was created before the great fall of man – it is not a product of sin (stresses from work are a product of the fall, but not work itself – Genesis 1-3). Work is not a secular idea. Just because we may work in jobs that are not inherently Christian, doesn’t mean they are worth less than a job that is in a church building or that we are going against the will of God (unless, of course, your job is illegal. And, maybe, get out of that…).

Matthew 5:16

“…let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

The perspective we have regarding our work is what makes the difference in how we can still live a life of ministry within a “secular” job. For me, I have to see my job as a “business of people;” otherwise, I can drift into thinking that what I do is useless because my line of work, in the grand scheme of things, doesn’t really matter at all – but people do. People, and the way I interact with them, have to be the focus of my workday. With this perspective, the people we come in contact with are not just clients, employees, coffee baristas, or even screaming toddlers. They become people with hearts and souls – hurts and joys, struggles and disappointments. Some may be in the best season of their lives while others may be struggling to find comfort in one of their worst. When we humanize the names in our inboxes, the line we see between “sacred” and “secular” work becomes blurred.

Just as Jesus made God’s character known to the people He came in contact with, through His actions and words (John 17:6-26), we too should be active participants in proclaiming the very same by the way we conduct ourselves in our corporate jobs. We are in the business of people – the way we do our work and conduct ourselves impacts the people around us and is typically a good indicator of the state of our own hearts. Work honorably, serve and seek the welfare of those around you, don’t be lazy in your work, invest in and respect the people you cross paths with, be the salt in an otherwise bland workday (Romans 12:9-21, 1 Peter 1:12, Matthew 5:13-16). There is no sacred/secular divide. All can and will be used for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31-33). Your work can be a big part of your ministry, even if it is in an office cubicle. The way we conduct ourselves inside and outside of work should reflect our ultimate job as ambassadors of Christ for the ministry of reconciliation, no matter what job field we work in (2 Corinthians 5:18-20).

Child Dedication and Mothers Day Celebration

Mothers day Sunday was an a beautiful morning of celebration. We celebrated moms and we honored our local non profit partner The Refugee Project by providing mothers day gifts for everyone in our service. These gifts provided 50 refugee moms with a job. 

During our child dedication nine families dedicated their precious babies to the Lord in a beautiful ceremony. The Providence North family commited together to be there for the families on stage through prayer and encouragement, believing true community is the environment in which God grows us into the people he has designed us to be. Pastor Sean Eppers introduced the families to the church, and the families read a bible verse of their choosing over the child being dedicated. They publicly commited to teach and demonstrate the love of Jesus to their child in every way possible. 

Below are the verses of blessing and encouragement that each family chose to read over their child. 

The Jennings
Proverbs 2:1-8
My son, if you receive my words, And treasure my commands within you, So that you incline your ear to wisdom,
And apply your heart to understanding; Yes, if you cry out for discernment,
And lift up your voice for understanding, If you seek her as silver, And search for her as for hidden treasures; Then you will understand the fear of the Lord, And find the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom;
From His mouth come knowledge and understanding; He stores up sound wisdom for the upright;
He is a shield to those who walk uprightly; He guards the paths of justice, And preserves the way of His saints.

The Harrelsons
2 Timothy 3:15-17
And how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

The Whites
Joshua 24:14-15
Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. 15 And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

The Perkins
Matthew 19:13-14
Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, 14 but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.”

The Martins
Jeremiah 17:7-8
“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.”

The Agnews
Deuteronomy 31:6-8
"Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread, for it is the LORD your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you. 8 It is the LORD who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed"

The Handfelts
"Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come. She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. She looks well to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children rise up and call her blessed;
her husband also, and he praises her: “Many women have done excellently,but you surpass them all.” Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.  Give her of the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates.

The McGraths
Jeremiah 29:11
"For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future."

The Hoppers
Psalm 103:1-2
"Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me bless his holy name! Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits."