The Main Thing

When I left the world of college athletics to enter ministry more than three decades ago, my home church pastor told me something I have never forgotten. We were preparing to move away to Texas to begin seminary, and he said his one piece of advice to me was this: “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”

A few years later author Steven Covey popularized that expression in his best-selling book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, but I will always remember where I heard it first. And the context of that advice was that as I entered vocational ministry, I should never forget that my purpose, my calling–“the main thing”–was to make disciples for Jesus Christ.

The truth is, all of us who are followers of Christ have the same mission–our Co-Mission with Jesus actually–which is to make disciples. When you give your life to follow Jesus, you are signing on with His mission. That’s not new information, but it is a helpful reminder to keep us focused on why we are here. 

So how do we keep the main thing the main thing?  How do we live our lives in such a way so that we intentionally reach out to our community with the gospel and disciple them to Christian maturity? Every church asks those questions, or at least they should. But the answers we come up with are not always the same. 

Some use the internet, and specifically social media, to try to communicate with the masses. Others use mass mailings or advertising to try to reach people. Still others host big events to attract attention from their community, and may even resort to gimmicks to try to draw a crowd. You will probably see some of those in the next month as Easter approaches. 

There’s nothing wrong with any of those approaches to outreach, but they don’t make disciples. When Jesus gave the Great Commission to His disciples before He ascended to the Father–“go into all the world and make disciples”–He expected them to follow the model He had lived before them for more than three years. His strategy for disciple-making always involved relationships.

So, the key to making disciples is…disciples being disciples, and thus being disciple-makers. The key to reaching people is…people, like you and me, who live among our neighbors, love on them in the name of Jesus, and share a life-changing message they desperately need to hear. That’s keeping the main thing the main thing.

 In his book, Leading Beyond the Walls, pastor Adam Hamilton says that every church will flounder if it does not wrestle with and answer these three questions: 

Why do people need Jesus Christ?

Why do people need the church?

Why do people need this church? 

The answers to those questions are not that complex, really. People need Jesus Christ because only in Him can be found the answers to the most serious problems that we all face–ultimately salvation from sin’s curse, and the gift of eternal life with the Father.

People need the church because God created us to live in community and fellowship with other Christ-followers and to be the “body of Christ” to one another. We are born with a need to belong. 

But, why do people need The Church at Shelby Crossings?  Well, I’ll let you answer that.  And when you determine the answer, be sure to share it with an unchurched friend. 

I’m praying for you, as you live your life “on mission” this week, and I look forward to seeing you Sunday. 

–Pastor Ken

Under Construction

Several of our folks were late for worship this past Sunday because of a shutdown of Interstate 65 in the Alabaster area for construction. Others were so late they gave up and didn’t make it at all. For those who did make it, there was a noted spike in blood pressure and stress levels. Road construction and the traffic that goes with it has a way of doing that.

Driving on the interstate in the Birmingham and Shelby County areas has never been fun, but these days the challenges are everywhere from constant construction. The much talked about closure of the I-20/59 bridge in Birmingham for what will end up being more than a year has created plenty of headaches for those who work in or travel through downtown. And of course we’ve been battling our own issues for a while in Shelby County as I-65 is expanded from Pelham to Alabaster. We won’t even mention the delays on the Hwy. 31 bridge across I-65 at the exit in Calera.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but let me remind you that it’s going to get worse before it gets better. The snow birds will soon be descending from up north, making their way to the beach for spring break, creating traffic logjams that will back up I-65 and Hwy. 31 north and south for several weekends straight. It’s bad every year, but this year with the construction issues in Alabaster it will likely be even worse.

I guess you can’t have progress without construction, though the detours and delays do bring their share of frustration. One day soon, they will finish those projects and we’ll have more lanes to work with, which should actually decrease our traffic problems and lower our stress levels each day. But in the mean time, our roads are a mess.

Which is a pretty good picture of each of our lives walking with the Lord. You can’t have progress without construction, but often that is messy. And really, on this side of heaven, we will always be a work in progress. At least I hope we will.

When Ruth Graham, the wife of evangelist Billy Graham, died in 2007, she chose to have engraved on her gravestone words that had nothing to do with the remarkable achievements of her life. The short, quaint epitaph was a brief message she wanted to share with those who knew her and all who would see her grave.

The idea came to her when she was driving one day along a highway through a construction site, not unlike those near us, where there were miles of detours and caution signs and machinery and equipment. She finally came to the final sign, which read:  “End of construction. Thank you for your patience.”

And that is what is written over Ruth Graham’s grave:  “End of construction. Thank you for your patience.”

Here’s hoping the signs of your life reveal that God is still at work in you, making you more like Christ every day, no matter how long you have walked with Him. None of us have arrived, and by His grace we are all still “under construction.”

I’m grateful to be on this busy, crazy, messy road with all of you. I’m praying for you, and I look forward to seeing you on Sunday. 

–Pastor Ken

The Sincerest Form of Flattery

Back in the early 1990’s, Gatorade ran a series of television commercials featuring their new spokesperson and mega-star Michael Jordan, with the catch-phrase “Be like Mike.” The idea they were trying to communicate (and indoctrinate) to the minds of those who watched was that if you want to be a superstar like Jordan, you should drink Gatorade like he does.

The ad executive who first came up with the idea for the campaign originally wanted to use the song “I Wanna Be Like You,” from the 1967 film The Jungle Book, though Disney asked for more money in licensing to use it than Gatorade was willing to pay. So they wrote their own song, “Be Like Mike,” which played in the background while we watched a series of videos of Jordan dunks.

Whatever catchy tune they used–and I think I would have favored the Jungle Book song if they had been able to pull it off–the idea was still the same. All who would aspire to be like Michael Jordan should do the things to “be like” him. Even drinking Gatorade.

I have been studying through 1 Corinthians of late in my devotional time and a couple of verses have stood out to me. The first was from 1 Cor. 4:16, where Paul wrote. “Therefore, I urge you to imitate me.” I have read that verse before and it always got my attention, first for the audacity of someone saying that to anyone, and then the courage it would take to live such a life that you could confidently tell others to follow your example.

But that was not out of the ordinary at all from the apostle Paul. In those early days in the life of the first-century church, Paul the church planter found himself needing to instruct those followers who had either come from a background steeped in religious legalism, or from pantheistic paganism that had no moral restraints. Rather than just offer them unfamiliar instruction to tell them how to live, he showed them.

On a number of occasions Paul wrote to those early Christians–in Corinth, in Thessalonica, and in Philippi–to follow His lead. Ultimately, he summed up his point in the second verse I read this week, from 1 Cor. 11:1 when he wrote: “Be imitators of me, as I also am of Christ.” (ESV)

I have to admit, I’m pretty uncomfortable ever asking anyone to “be like me.” I can hardly imagine instructing another Christian to “do what I do” or “say what I say.” It’s more than just some over-spiritualized sense of humility. I’ve lived with myself long enough that I know my example is rarely worthy of following.

But there is a great truth for us about setting an example and having an influence on our world, by modeling the behavior and character and values that reflect our faith in Christ. Whether it be in parenting, where we’re always being watched and regularly being imitated, or in interpersonal discipleship, where we are called to reproduce more disciples (who reproduce more disciples), it’s so very important that the model we set comes from the model we follow, which is Jesus.

Remember the old saying, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” It’s also the sincerest form of genuine discipleship. That was Paul’s method–“Follow me, as I follow Christ”–and that’s what we say to our children and youth, and to those young in the faith who are looking for worthy Christian models to pattern their lives after.

May our lives truly reflect Jesus in all that we do, and may we live in such a way that we can boldly, and yet humbly, say “Imitate me, as I imitate Christ.”

I’m praying for you, as I hope you are for me, and I look forward to seeing you on Sunday.
–Pastor Ken

Temple Cleansing

The Bible is full of surprises.

One of the most shocking stories in all of Scripture is the account recorded in three different gospels where Jesus cleanses the temple of the money changers. He made a whip out of cords, which he used on people and animals alike, turned over their tables, scattered their money around the temple, and accused them of making the temple a “den of robbers.” It was nothing short of a violent display.

It’s not exactly a picture of the meek and lowly Jesus that we come to expect from reading the rest of the gospels. And it’s certainly not the picture that some in our day would paint of a Savior who is so gracious and merciful that He would never condemn or judge sin.

However, amidst the seeming incongruence and surprise of the passage, there are several lessons we can learn from that occasion. For one, we see how “righteous indignation” works; that is, contrary to what some have taught, anger is not wrong, when it is channeled against things that are wrong. Some things should make us mad, but how we respond to those things is the key. That’s why Paul wrote in Ephesians, “Be angry, and do not sin.” There is a way to do both. Jesus was angered that those who were selling their goods in the temple courts had turned His Father’s house into a market, and He showed it. “My house will be called a house of prayer,” He proclaimed. 

Accordingly, there is another lesson that many in today’s church would do well to understand: compromising the place where God is to be honored with the pursuit of making a buck is never something He approves of. Greed and God do not go together. Jesus was angered when he saw people trying to use religion to make money. And I can only imagine what He thinks of those in the church today that do the same.

The lesson that I have focused on personally of late is the need to clear the temple of those things that do not belong, so that the presence of God can be fully experienced. My devotional readings over the past week have been from 1 Corinthians, and the Lord has reminded me of a couple of familiar passages that Paul wrote that basically say the same thing, though one is singular and the other plural. The point of both: as followers of Christ, our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in us, whom we have received from God. (1 Cor. 3:16-17, 6:19-20)

That was and is such a significant statement because it reminds us that God’s presence does not dwell in a building made of hands, but in people who have placed their faith in Him, through His Son Jesus Christ. That means, among other things, that there is nothing particularly holy about our warehouses at Shelby Crossings, but there is something holy contained in the people inside it.

And practically speaking for myself, I have been trying to be like Jesus in clearing the temple that is my body of anything that would compromise or distract from His presence. That can be sin that I need to repent of, however blatant or subtle; but it also means the daily clutter and busyness and anything else that keeps me from giving my full attention to God. I need to ruthlessly take a whip to those things and turn over the tables of my own life to make sure His presence gets my undivided attention.

Like the temple in Jerusalem, my prayer is that my body, which is His temple today, would be “a house of prayer,” constantly in communion and communication with Him. That is my daily goal, moment by moment.

I suspect that some of you who read this need to consider your own temple cleansing, and allow the Holy Spirit to fill your life with His presence. Some of the upheaval may be a little uncomfortable, but I assure you it will be worth it.

I am grateful for each of you and I pray that God is at work in your life this week. I look forward to seeing you Sunday.  
–Pastor Ken

Hold on to the Rope

If you know me well, you know that I am a big fan of snow, and so, I have been disappointed again so far in the winter of 2019. I know, all of you from “up north” will tell me if I had ever lived through snow like you did, I wouldn’t want to see it. But I didn’t, and I do. Every single winter.

I am not sure what it is about snow that I am so enamored with. Obviously it is beautiful to see, both when the flakes are fluttering down in front of our eyes, and when they accumulate to cover the ground and bushes and trees (and even roads). I also enjoy playing in it, though my poor, old brittle body doesn’t quite cooperate to do the crazy snow stunts of my youth. 

There’s also the gift that wintry precipitation brings to us in the deep south: the snow day. I was reading this week about how when everything is shut down on a snow day it is like a free day of few responsibilities. And the author compared it to what a Sabbath was intended to be for God’s people. I do like that analogy, and the Sabbath experience that comes with snow.

But then there are those snowfalls, that I have rarely experienced, that are dangerous. No, I’m not talking about our “Snowmageddon” from a few years back, when the worst thing that happened for most people was they got to do a sleepover at their office or school. I am talking about serious blizzards–akin to what we had in Alabama in March, 1993–when snow moves from fun to scary, and people’s lives are literally at stake.

In his book A Hidden Wholeness, author Parker Palmer tells a story about farmers in the Midwest who would prepare for such dangerous blizzards by tying a rope from the back door of their house out to the barn as a guide to ensure they could return safely home. Their winter storms were known to come quickly and fiercely and were very dangerous if you got trapped out in one. When a blizzard’s full force was blowing, a farmer could not see the end of his or her hand.

Many froze to death in those snowstorms, disoriented by their inability to see in the heavy whirling snow. They wandered in circles, lost sometimes in their own backyards. If they lost their grip on the rope, it became nearly impossible for them to find their way home. Some froze within feet of their own front door, never realizing how close they were to safety.
To this day, in parts of Canada and the Great Plains, weather forecasters counsel people that, to void getting lost in the blinding snow when they venture outside, they tie one end of a long rope to their house and grasp the other end firmly.

So, what’s the point of this little meteorological anecdote? I’m glad you asked.

We live in a crazy, busy world, and are often overcome by the blizzard of daily distractions that cause us to lose our way in the whiteout swirling around us. Blizzards of saying yes to too many things. Of multitasking every minute so we can be productive, even though in the end the stress is counter-productive. Of being bombarded with so many messages and media on so many different platforms that we find it hard to keep up.

Add to that the storms and trials of life that blow into our lives unexpectedly and catch us off guard, and it is no wonder why so many of us are disoriented and confused. We need a rope to lead us back home.

God has provided that rope, and it is found in His word. If you are feeling overwhelmed with all that is accumulating around you, and if you can’t seem to see a way out, may I strongly suggest that you pull back on all the stuff of this world, and commit yourself to feeding on Scripture every day. His word is truth, and in it we find freedom.

I’m not talking about adding another duty to your to-do list or adding more to your already busy schedules. I am talking about resetting your entire life and reorienting your priorities so you don’t get caught up in the world’s confusion any longer. It’s a radical shift, but I believe for many of us it takes such a change for us to find peace and joy again in this crazy blizzard of a world in which we live.

So hold on to the rope, and find your way home through the truth of God’s word. And let’s hope and pray for at least one more chance of snow before this winter’s end!

I am praying for you, and I look forward to seeing you Sunday.  

–Pastor Ken

Give or Take

And one of the first indicators that we are taking on the character of Jesus is that we will adopt His attitudes which will be reflected in our actions. In the second chapter of his letter to the church at Philippi, the apostle Paul wrote that our “attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus,” and then he went on to describe the humility and servant-mindedness in which He lived (and died). “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit,” he wrote, “but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (2:3-4)

This was reflected in what Jesus Himself said of the attitude and motivation behind His ministry. “The Son of Man did not come to be served,” He said, “but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45)

The theme of our recent message series to kick off the new year is also our focus for the year as a whole, and I guess, from now on. “Going deeper” is really the focus for all followers of Christ, all the time. It is a call to deeper devotion, deeper maturity and ultimately, a deeper relationship with Christ. That is what Christian discipleship is all about, and that is how the process of sanctification works. We grow into conformity to Christ-likeness a little more every day.

In other words, if we are going to go deeper, if we are going to be like Jesus, it will show in our humble mindset and outward focus to serve instead of being served, and to give instead of taking. 

Our natural bent in our flesh is toward being takers instead of givers. We are self-focused and self-centered and want to take care of ourselves first. But as we discussed in last Sunday’s message, one of the fundamental aspects of our call to follow Christ is understanding that “it’s not about you.” That is a major paradigm shift of our entire focus, and plays itself out as we submit to the will of God, and as we relate to others, whom we “regard as more important than ourselves.”

To be like Jesus is to be a giver. The first verse many of us ever memorized was John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son…” And then Jesus came and “gave His life as a ransom for many.” He was the gift who keeps on giving. And if we truly follow Him, we are more concerned with giving than taking.

So how do we live out that Christ-like attitude and be a giver instead of a taker? For one, you seek to serve instead of being served. That could be as simple as helping out a neighbor or friend in need, giving a night to serve the homeless at the Firehouse shelter, picking up after yourself or others after a Sunday worship service, or volunteering to serve one Sunday a month in our children’s or preschool ministry. (We have several needs for teachers and leaders that Mrs. Shellyn would love to talk to you about.)

Of course, being a giver also means being a…giver. That is, giving of your time, and talent, and resources that the Lord has provided you. That includes the practice of giving back to the Lord, and to others who have needs, instead of spending your resources all on yourself or hoarding it away. Jesus spoke often about “laying up for yourselves treasures in heaven” instead of on earth, and He was specifically talking about money. And let us be sure, it is not that heaven needs our money to pay the rent, but that we need to release our money to God as part of trusting Him as our provider. It is another way we become more like Jesus, and live as giver more than a taker. Really, that’s what tithing is all about; trusting God enough with the resources He has blessed us with, to give back to Him.

Here’s the exciting part. When we selfishly try to just take care of ourselves and our own needs, we are never satisfied. But when we seek to give ourselves away, we find our lives by losing them, just as Jesus taught. Because, as He also taught, “it is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35) And we are more blessed when we give, than when we take.

So in this year of going deeper, my prayer is that you will have the heart of a giver instead of a taker. Just like Jesus.

I am praying for you, and I look forward to seeing you Sunday.

–Pastor Ken

The Danger of Distraction

In 1942, C.S. Lewis published a Christian “novel,” made up of 31 letters written by a mentoring uncle to his nephew, which became a classic. Many view “The Screwtape Letters” as religious satire, and indeed it does fit into that genre, but there is much ever-timely truth woven within those fictitious epistles.

In case you didn’t know, Screwtape was actually a demon, one of Satan’s “senior tempters” in fact, and he was writing to his apprentice tempter Wormwood. The letters offer meticulous strategy and scheming to make sure their subject, “the Patient,” never fully develops as a Christian. And though those letters are not real, they are instructive to how easily we get sidetracked and neutralized in our walk with Christ.

What is the demon’s suggestion for the most effective temptation to undermine the Christian and paralyze us spiritually? Is it blatant immorality? Dangling forbidden fruit of fleshly lusts before our eyes? Appealing to our pride? No, it is much more subtle and sly.

The strategy, in a word: distraction. “You will find that anything, or nothing, is sufficient to attract his wandering attention,” he writes.

Seventy-seven years after Lewis gave us the “fictional” account of Screwtape and Wormwood and the Patient, we see the real life enemy busier than ever, distracting us, overloading us, and hurrying us in so many directions that the first thing we seem to neglect is our spiritual lives. Just as he planned.

And I believe that there is no more dangerous arena for that demonic distraction and temptation than the internet in general, and social media in particular. I called social media a “cesspool” in my message on Sunday and mentioned that I am intentionally taking steps to pull myself away from it. And the reason is, very simply, that I have allowed it to become a daily distraction from my spiritual focus on God. And that has to change.

The average American these days spends eleven hours a day looking at a screen of some kind. Those of us with smart phones–which is the vast majority–check those phones on average 150 plus times a day. If you’ve sat at a restaurant or even a family gathering and looked around at everyone staring down at their phones, you are not surprised by that. When you add up all the time people spend on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and Pinterest each day, it is no wonder that we have so little time left for such things as family, community, reading, meditating on Scripture and praying–or even sleep.

And it’s not just the time wasted. It’s the physiological and psychological effects of being absorbed in an unreality for so much of our lives. Studies continue to show how the internet destroys our ability to concentrate and shrinks our attention spans. And social media in particular feeds our base desires for approval and attention, and somehow fuels our pride and insecurities at the same time. Not to mention the environment it creates where we are dragged into “foolish and stupid arguments” that Scripture tells us to have nothing to do with (2 Tim. 2:23).

Several generations ago, Lewis wrote the following words to describe hell, but as author Drew Dyck suggests, it is certainly not hard to see that it could also be applied to describe social media in our world today:

“We must picture hell as a state where everyone is perpetually concerned about his own dignity and advancement, where everyone has a grievance, and where everyone lives the deadly serious passions of envy, self-importance, and resentment.”

Sounds like Facebook or Twitter to me. And all the while, it distracts our focus from the Lord, just as the demon Screwtape instructed. 

Ironically, I am writing this and you are most likely reading it on an internet platform. It is disseminated by email, on a website, and on our church social media accounts. That just goes to show that the internet can be used for good, as it provides opportunities for us to communicate better, share life together and make the planet a little smaller as we seek to reach our world for Christ. Not to mention it comes in handy for showing off photos of our kids and grandkids.

But we must also recognize the danger of getting trapped in the “world wide web” of distraction, and take whatever steps necessary to protect our time and keep our focus on the things that really matter, most importantly our relationship with Christ. May the Lord lead us to be wise, and intentional, as we seek to “go deeper” with Him in 2019.

I am praying for you, as I hope you will for me, and I look forward to seeing you Sunday.  

–Pastor Ken

An Act of Discipleship

The first task of every day–at least for most of us–is to get some sleep.

That may sound strange, if you are thinking that your day begins when the sun comes up or when the alarm clock goes off or when Starbucks opens. But the ancient rhythm of days, all the way back to the beginning of time, is different than that.

In the creation account in the opening pages of Genesis the order of the day is described this way: “And there was evening and there was morning–the first day.” (Gen. 1:5)  That is, each day in creation began with evening. Later, we know that in Jewish life, the Sabbath began not at sunup but at sundown.

The late pastor and author Eugene Peterson wrote that in placing the night before the day the Biblical writers help us to remember that everything doesn’t depend on us. We go to sleep, God goes to work. The world keeps spinning, tides ebb and flow, and life goes on even though we are not here to superintend any of it. We are not in control, but He is. 

“My soul finds rest in God alone,” wrote the psalmist, and sleep is one of the ways that we find that soul rest. As we lay our heads down to sleep at night, in a strange way we do so as an act of faith. We are recognizing our part in this world, but we are sure to turn over the reins of our lives to Him and rest. 

I read this week that people who lead spiritual retreats say the number one barrier for people trying to devote themselves to their prayer lives is fatigue. And I would think that also applies to all areas of our devotional lives.

And this is not a new problem. Remember what happened to the disciples in the garden of Gethsemane when Jesus wanted them to pray? They were so tired they went to sleep. Another time, when they were on a boat in a storm and Jesus was sleeping, they were wide awake with worry and fear. “How can you sleep now?” they asked Jesus. Their problem was that they slept when they should have been awake, and stayed awake when they should have slept. We might call that a sleep disorder.

As John Ortberg writes, planning and arranging to get enough sleep is an act of discipleship. And that is my point: often we are not prepared to “go deeper” in our walk with Christ quite simply because we are too worn out and pulled in too many directions to do so. We have to simplify our lives, eliminate hurry, slow down the RPM’s a bit and get some rest before we are even able to fully focus our attention and devotion on Him.

So here’s a pastoral call to get some sleep, not as an end in itself, but so that you can spend your waking hours “pressing on” toward the high calling Jesus has for your life. You can lay your head down at the beginning of your day–at night–knowing that God is in control and He can be trusted, and then wake up trusting Him with every minute of your day. I promise you won’t regret it.

What a joy and privilege it is to be your pastor. I am praying for you, as I hope you are for me, and I look forward to seeing you Sunday.  
–Pastor Ken

Presence Practice

There was once a man named Nicholas Herman, who worked in the food service industry and made quite a name for himself. He never owned a restaurant, never wrote a cookbook or shared a recipe on Pinterest, and never had a show on the Food Network. But he was somewhat of a big deal nonetheless. 

Herman was what you might call a short-order cook and bottle washer. In time, he became deeply dissatisfied with his life, and was a chronic worrier. One day he was looking at a tree, and after a while he came to the same conclusion that the psalmist did in Psalm 1: that the secret of the life of a tree is that it remains rooted in something other than and deeper than itself. He decided from then on to make his life an experiment in what he called a “habitual, silent, secret conversation of the soul with God.”

He is known today by the nickname given to him by his friends at the monastery where he worked in the kitchen: Brother Lawrence. He never gained fame or any semblance of “success” in his lifetime. He stayed in the background, usually working in the kitchen, doing his work behind the scenes while carrying out his experiment. 

The people around him found that rivers of living water flowed out of him that made them want to know God the way he did. ” The good brother found God everywhere,” one of them wrote, “as much while he was repairing shoes as while he was praying with the community.”

After Lawrence died, his friends put together a book of his letters and conversations. It is called Practicing the Presence of God, and is one of my all time favorite books. It is thought to be, apart from the Bible, the most widely read book of the last four centuries.  This monastic cook and dish washer likely out-sold novelists J.K. Rowling, John Grisham and Tom Clancy put together. 

The thesis of Brother Lawrence’s experiment that made its way into his letters and eventually became a best-seller was simple: you can experience the presence of God anywhere at any time. You can turn the mundane tasks of your day into expressions of joy and worship of the Almighty by simply making the conscious choice to practice His presence all the day long.

I am doing my best, as I seek to “go deeper” in 2019, to give the good brother’s experiment a try, and I recommend you do the same. Ask the Lord to make His presence real to you, and allow Him to turn whatever you’re doing into an opportunity of glorious service for Him. It may not come easy, in the midst of our busy world full of distractions, but I promise you’ll get better at it–and experience Him more fully–if you’ll just “practice.”

I am praying for you, and I look forward to seeing you Sunday.
–Pastor Ken

Going Deeper…in the Word

This past Sunday we began a new sermon mini-series on a subject that will be a major focus for our church for the whole year ahead– going deeper in our relationship with the Lord. I was encouraged with how many in our church recognized their need for spiritual renewal and revival and committed personally to seek the Lord in a deeper way in 2019.

The question is, what will that look like? Does that mean we have to have some kind of exceptional experience week to week, with each week getting a little “deeper” than the one before? Are we to expect to feel more spiritual every day? Should we make out a checklist that will map our way to greater spiritual depth?

Most of what we are seeking as we move from ankle deep water to knee deep to waist deep to in-over-our-head (Ezekiel 47) is spiritual growth and maturity into Christ-likeness. The ten cent Bible word for that is sanctification. It literally means to be made holy, and speaks of life change, transformation, taking on the character and heart of Jesus. And that does involve a process, an incremental “walk” of putting one foot in front of the other.

Sometimes we are sincere when we say we want to be more committed to Christ, but then when it comes to walking that out in real life we really don’t know where to start. Or when we do start that walk and get tripped up, we are prone to quit because the road is hard. 

The reality is that the process of our personal relationship with the Lord that takes us deeper in spiritual maturity is often a two steps forward, one step back process. There will be ups and downs. There will be roller-coaster rides of highs and lows. But if we are going to allow the Lord to effect genuine change in our hearts and minds, and in our actions, it will be through submitting ourselves to His lordship daily and committing ourselves to certain spiritual disciplines.

And nothing is more important in that process that spending time daily in God’s word. Earlier this week I got an email devotional from pastor James MacDonald that summed up the what and the why of the spiritual discipline of feeding on the truth of Scripture daily. Here’s what he said:

Ultimately we want to saturate our minds with God’s word so it can be increasingly true of us that our “delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law we meditate day and night.” The goal is saturation, meditation, immersion, growth and ultimately love–not legalism, hypocrisy, self-righteousness, compulsion or guilt. The disciplines of a sincere faith are not intended to be an intimidating obstacle between you and God but a way of deepening intimacy with the One who has called you His child and wants the best for you. 

 That’s a pretty good starting place. Accordingly, I am asking you to set aside some time every day to read and mediate on God’s word. The intent is not just checking off the box of religious duty. That can quickly turn into an intimidating obstacle between you and God that brings only legalism, self-righteousness and guilt, as MacDonald reminds us. Instead, we do it out of seeking the heart of God, and saturating our minds with His truth, knowing that ultimately it will be His truth that sets us free. 

One of the greatest prayers in all the Bible is recorded in John 17, when Jesus prays on behalf of His disciples, and those who would believe on Him through their message. That would be you and me, followers of Christ some twenty centuries later. In His prayer, Jesus prayed for, among other things, sanctification for those who follow Him.  “Sanctify them by the truth,” He prayed in v. 17. “Your word is truth.”

There is no more simple and direct way in all of Scripture that describes how God transforms our lives…by the truth, which is His word. So, if you want to go deeper, if you want the Lord to change your life in 2019, it will happen through your immersion into His word on a consistent basis.

I am praying for you, as I hope you are for me, and I look forward to seeing you Sunday.

–Pastor Ken