By David Wise
Last night I had the privilege of sharing a meal and some great conversations with one of our Growth Groups. After dinner, we sat around and reflected on various things and the leader asked the group how this series on The Kingdom has changed our views of current events, most notably politics. Although various answers were given, my mind and heart has kept coming back to the question all night and morning. Regardless of whom you wanted to see win the election, Jesus was, is, and always will be King. Often Christians have put their hope into a country, election, or politician without realizing that our true hope is supposed to be in Christ as King.
It’s not wrong to be patriotic or to desire a certain candidate to win, but ultimately we are called to something higher and that is the concept of the Kingdom.
The Kingdom is where God is ruling and reigning. That’s been our definition during this sermon series where we’ve been studying the Kingdom to grow in our love for the King, and the definition continues to remind us of the hope that we truly have and that is in Jesus Christ as King. Our love is to grow for Him first and foremost.
No one knows what the next 4 years will hold, but we should cling to the knowledge of what eternity holds. President-elect Trump could do great things, he could do terrible things, or things may not be much different. None of that compares in scope or importance compared to the reality that the Kingdom is here and now and that our opportunity as Christ-followers is to reveal the kingdom and to reflect the image of God to the world around us.
As we move into the end of this year and the beginning of a new president, our King has not changed. If our allegiance is truly to Jesus then it will change the way we respond in the midst of all of this. Our responses should be seasoned with love and grace and not rooted in pride, arrogance, hatred, or exclusion. This political season has highlighted division between people and as Christians we are never supposed to see our battle as with the people around us.
Our nation is fractured and hurting, but the pain is so much deeper than politics; our nation is in need of redemption and that only comes through Jesus. Our churches are filled with bitterness, fear, rejection, apathy, anger, hurt, and brokenness. We do not need a politician; we need a Pastor named Jesus. There is a hymn that has been on my mind all morning and it simply says,
My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.
Regardless of your views, thoughts, or opinions, our hope ought to be in Jesus’ blood and righteousness. May we call to mind and focus on King Jesus, may we serve Him above all else, and worship and glorify Him and Him only. As the Apostle John wrote,
After this I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” At once I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne. And he who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald. Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones were twenty-four elders, clothed in white garments, with golden crowns on their heads. From the throne came flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and before the throne were burning seven torches of fire, which are the seven spirits of God, and before the throne there was as it were a sea of glass, like crystal.
And around the throne, on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind: the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with the face of a man, and the fourth living creature like an eagle in flight. And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say,
“Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty,
who was and is and is to come!”
And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to him who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying,
“Worthy are you, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they existed and were created.”
Regardless of how you feel this morning, Jesus was, is, and always will be King.
By David Wise
The initial concept for this blog was to give an opportunity for a P.S. after a sermon was over; this week is the perfect example of that happening. Within the concept of idle relationships there were so many directions I could have gone and so much content that it felt impossible to do justice to any single area. As I was listening to the communion meditation given by one of our elders, I realized that I spent the vast majority of the sermon focusing on our relationships with people without spending much time emphasizing the needs to prioritize our relationship with God. The truth is, if we’re not prioritizing our relationship with God then none of our other relationships will be what they’re supposed to be.
I realized this morning that my relationship with God has not been what it should be. The past few weeks, or maybe even months, I have been trying to do more work for God rather than relying on Him to work through me. While my intentions may be good, they have been causing tension in every area of my life. I was completely blind to this until I was meeting with a retired pastor last week and he explained his previous behavior and I realized that it was exactly what I had been doing.
As a pastor, part of my work is to pray, read the Bible, study, and preach. The issue arises when my work becomes my only time of reading and devotion. For some time now, I’ve been getting up in the morning and instead of spending time with the Lord, praying, and reading the Word, I’ve been jumping into work. Usually this means reading books, studying, and working on sermons. While there’s nothing wrong with doing those things, they have been placed in a higher position of priority than simply spending time with God.
I realized it recently when it was my day off and I didn’t want to read the Bible because it felt like work. That was a sad realization and a somber moment to realize that I’ve reduced my relationship with God to a mechanized version of work. The idea has slowly drifted to become an attitude of inputs and outputs and simply spending time in prayer or reading the Word has become a chore instead of something to delight in.
I have been idle in my relationship with God.
As I began to be convicted of this over the last few days, I spent some time yesterday simply repenting to God and asking the Holy Spirit to lead and direct me. This morning instead of waking up early to get a head start on work, I simply woke up and spent time in prayer and then reading. I resolved to wait for work to start until I’d left the house, but for that hour before the kids got up I simply spent time being in God’s presence.
It was incredible to prioritize my relationship with God, but also to experience His love and grace. As I was opening to 1 John, I began thinking about the apostle John. We don’t know much about him, but in the gospel account named after him, there are multiple times where a disciple is mentioned as, “the disciple whom Jesus loved”. Most scholars and teachers acknowledge this as being the apostle John and that title, or designation, has always annoyed me. It either comes across as arrogant or needy, but either way it has never left a positive impression on me, until this morning.
As I was simply spending time in relationship with God, I thought about John as not being arrogant or needy, but being firm in his identity. What if John simply clung to the fact that Jesus loved him? What if John wasn’t trying to point out how special he was, but was just resting in God’s personal care for him? Perhaps John was just making a statement, but I believe there is something more to this. The Bible is the inspired Word of God, which means that although John wrote it, the Holy Spirit inspired it. God wanted those words to be written, multiple times, to show that Jesus loved John. What I was reminded of in that moment this morning is that I share the same identity. I am also one whom Jesus loves, personally.
Perhaps that’s not a deep and profound concept for many, but for me it was incredibly refreshing to be reminded that God loves me. Even when there are periods of time where I slowly drift into a works-based mentality of performance-driven spirituality. Even when there are times where I wobble between being arrogant and almost simultaneously needy. To be reminded that the God of the universe loves me was exactly what I needed to see this morning and to cling to that identity.
God desires relationship with us, personally. Yes that relationship should make us desire to live differently, but too often that becomes us working for God rather than abiding in Him. Jesus loves each of us and that should confirm our identity as God’s children. It is only as we engage in relationship with God that we will be able to be purposeful in our relationships with people.
I’ve had multiple people ask me if I’m okay lately, and I guess I haven’t been. I’ve been trading in a purposeful relationship with God for some idle counterfeit that’s based on my work and not His love for me. My relationships with those around me have been under tension because I was trying to do this on my own effort and without entering into God’s presence simply to spend time with Him. Without prioritizing our relationship with God our relationships with people will never be what they’re supposed to be.
By David Wise
As we finished this week’s focus of avoiding idle words, without purpose or effect, there were so many other areas I wanted to focus on but due to time I had to narrow down the ideas to what seemed most pertinent to our congregation. In this first part of the post, I simply want to flesh out a conviction that I have felt, ignored, embraced, neglected, moved toward, and ran away from at multiple times in my life. The area: idle words within music and songs.
This thought started as I was driving my daughters to school a few weeks ago and they were singing along (loudly and proudly) when a lyric came out that made me pause. I’d heard the song countless times before, but hearing it from a 7-year-old and a 4-year-old somehow caused me to reflect differently. The lyric was a part of a love song and without getting legalistic, this made me think about the reality of lyrics and how we repeat them so easily without really reflecting on what they mean.
Essentially what was being said is that some guy is more important than anything else and this girl would do anything to be with him. That’s not a message I want my daughters to embrace. Their relationship with Jesus should be the most important relationship in the world. It’s more important than their relationship with their mother and me, more important than friendships, and more important than any romantic relationships (once they’re 25 and done with college). What was more convicting though, was how many songs I’ve sung along with without thinking about what I was repeating and the heart behind it.
Legalism comes about when we try to place the burden of our personal conviction upon the masses without regard to the Holy Spirit’s prompting and leading. I’m not suggesting that it is wrong to listen to so-called secular music (even though the divide between sacred and secular is a pet peeve, that’s another post completely). I’m not saying you should go throw out all of your CD’s that have any lyrics that aren’t focused solely on God, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit. What I am saying is that as Christ followers, we should constantly be asking if what we’re taking in is beneficial in our relationship with God, or if it is bringing distance between us.
I know from first-hand experience (to quote Eminem) that “music can alter moods and talk to you.” The question we should ask ourselves is whether the music we’re exposing ourselves to is speaking life into us or furthering our usage of idle words. This is not an answer that I can, nor will, provide, but it is a question that I believe each of us must lean into: is what I fill my head with helping me to look more like Jesus or is it causing more of a disconnect?
Obviously only on paper are there such neat categories, in reality there are people who never understand the lyrics of songs and they can listen to just about anything without it affecting them. I’m not one of those people though, once I’ve heard a line or a lyric I can’t stop thinking about what was said. Sometimes that points toward grace, forgiveness, a great story, love, or life in general, but sometimes those lyrics point toward sex, gluttony, anger, violence, or revenge.
For me this is an area where I have to be diligent in what words enter my ears because those words will play on repeat over the loud speaker of my mind. If I listen to music with obscene lyrics, then I know my words will often follow suit and become more coarse. It doesn’t matter what negative thing the lyrics entail, those words are powerful in my mind and often come out of my mouth. Again, I can’t emphasize enough that my point is not to dictate what music people listen to, but only to start a thought process and begin a dialogue that gets others thinking and talking about how lyrics, in this case, can impact other people’s thoughts, hearts, and ultimately words. So let’s open up the dialogue, what are some ways that you’ve experienced the impact (positively and negatively) of words within music?
By David Wise
Yesterday we went through chapter 15 of The Story. What God put on my heart was a heavy message about Israel’s (and our) unfaithfulness. There are sermons that are fun to preach, and there are those that are weighty, yesterday was the latter. Comparing our actions to that of adultery was not easy and I found myself emotionally exhausted after preaching. Part of what goes into every sermon is prayer and study during the week leading up to Sunday. This last week was full of the weight of the message of Hosea and I found myself nervous to see how the message would be received.
As with most churches, we have people who are in pain, some who have cheated in relationships, and others who have been cheated on (sometimes recently). To explore the message of Hosea meant to grasp with and try to understand the pain of adultery and then to apply that in our relationship with God. All week I thought about ways that I’ve been unfaithful and I have never had a problem coming up with a list of idols and other gods that I’m guilty of worshipping, but to reframe those sins within the lens of adultery emptied me emotionally.
Yesterday I found myself wanting to block everything out and just move on to a new sermon and a new theme, as if the concept of adultery was simply too much for me to deal with. This morning I woke up and began reading the next chapter of The Story, but I couldn’t shake the reality of my unfaithfulness. All morning my heart was heavy and I felt defeated. While most sermons leave me feeling convicted, today I feel condemned.
As I was thinking and praying earlier, I was reminded that, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” (Romans 8:1). Although I am too often guilty of cheating on God, “through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set [me] free from the law of sin and death.” (Romans 8:2). The Apostle Paul goes on to say, “For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” (Romans 8:3-4)
I know that we as a people need to hear God’s message, and more than simply hearing it we need to obey the message and return to God with all of our hearts. In the midst of that message I would hate for anyone to hear that it depends on our work, because really I am powerless. It took God sending His own Son. Because of everything God has done, now I am able to live according to the Spirit, and by His power, I no longer have to commit adultery on God. I can’t restate this enough; this is only possible because of the Holy Spirit’s work in me.
When I think about my unfaithfulness, the tendency can be to try harder and often that leaves me in a place of hopelessness because my best effort is simply not good enough. When I put the focus back on God and what He has done through Jesus, then (and only then) I am left with hope. While God wants us, desperately, to return to Him, He does not manipulate us with feelings of condemnation. God may convict us through His Holy Spirit, which will not leave us feeling hopeless, but rather empowered by His very Spirit.
Although each of us may struggle with adultery in different shapes and forms, do not allow the enemy to make you feel condemned. Christ has taken our condemnation so that we can live according to the Spirit. As we strive to live according to the Holy Spirit then we no longer focus on our adultery, we focus on our good and loving God who sent His very Son to set us free and give us life.
As we begin this year and continue through The Story, may we be a people who return to God with all of our hearts. May we be a people who strive to live according to the Spirit and not according to the flesh. Although we’re each guilty of adultery against our God, may we constantly remember that there is no condemnation because of Christ Jesus.
Cling to that truth and move toward God constantly, listen to the convictions the Holy Spirit gives you, but do not allow condemnation to cripple you. We have an enemy who wants to disable us from following our Lord, and he is cunning and will use whatever works against us. Too often I have allowed my own mistakes to take the focus when I should have simply been focusing on life in the Spirit. May this message bring comfort, peace, and freedom from condemnation as we get rid of the flesh and follow the Holy Spirit.
By David Wise
Personal weakness is not something we like to admit or talk about. As we talked about obedience in weakness yesterday it was necessary to think through my past and process weakness in my life, but as soon as the sermon was done then it was time to move on to the next chapter and a new theme or concept. Except that isn’t happening. As we’ll discover this week in chapter 8 of The Story, obedience in weakness is a continuing theme and will run throughout the Bible as a whole.
Weakness is not bad, it’s just uncomfortable and difficult to be open and vulnerable about. I’ve talked about it before, but weakness is one of those things that we’re willing to admit after the fact. We share a weakness that we used to have (even I was guilty of that in yesterday’s sermon), but sharing weakness as we’re struggling against it is not often bridged as a topic. The truth is though, I am currently weak.
Whether it’s self-induced stress, worrying about everything, discouragement, frustration, or bitterness, I am struggling constantly in my weakness. Even today I have felt discouraged and I can’t figure out why. Usually I would sink into a mild depression and hide that fact from everyone around me, but today I decided to reach out to some friends and simply ask for prayer. I don’t know why it’s so difficult to ask for prayer about discouragement and depression, but even that simply task is hard for me. I think that as a pastor sometimes I’m supposed to have it all together, but I don’t and the sooner I can share that with those around me the sooner God can work through my weakness.
By sharing the need for prayer in the midst of my current weakness, I was forced to take down my own walls and admit where I’m at right now and I had to acknowledge that I can’t do this on my own. That was a small example of what needs to happen more often and on a larger scale. I realized that I don’t admit my weaknesses very often, and even if I admit them I don’t allow God to work on them.
To work through weakness, the first step seems to be acknowledging those weaknesses. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it is the most constant weaknesses that I’m faced against. I struggle with discontentment constantly: there were distractions during the morning or things didn’t go as smoothly as I hoped and the sermon didn’t turn out the way I hoped it would, the church hasn’t grown enough and I wonder if I’m the reason new people aren’t coming or staying, I still snap at the kids over little things and feel defeated as a father, I don’t support Natalye like I want to and make her feel devalued, I don’t feel like a good enough friend, a caring enough pastor, and the list goes on and on.
Those are not past weakness, they are current ones and they are difficult to admit, but trying to hide from them (or simply hiding them from others) does not solve anything. I’m learning that as I acknowledge my weaknesses (both to God and to others) that the Lord comes alongside me and provides His power to cover my weakness. God also uses those around me to help me work through those things. This isn’t just a theory but something I’ve seen recently as I’m learning to bring my power to an end and to rest in my weakness.
Over the past few weeks as I’ve opened up about weaknesses I’ve seen God bring people alongside me to help with my shortcomings. At times it’s been the elders who are constantly helping me be a better pastor, the staff who have stepped up to take responsibilities in areas where they are stronger and more proficient, my friends who are faithful to listen and pray through things with me, and the congregation who is much more graceful and loving than I deserve. I’m learning that when I acknowledge my weaknesses that people don’t lose respect and trust for me but they seem to find comfort in knowing that I’m human but also it becomes an incredible opportunity for different people to minister in their strengths and above all God is glorified through the process.
Whatever it is about our society that devalues weakness needs to change and allow people to acknowledge their weaknesses. Until we’re able to be vulnerable and open, we’ll walk around thinking we’re the only ones who don’t have it all together and we’ll continually fail while trying to make things happen in our own power. God is capable of working through the weak and when we allow Him to work in us and through us in our weakness then God is able to receive all glory, honor, and praise. Thank God that I am weak and praise God that He is strong.
“Familiarity breeds contempt.” I first heard those words when I sat across a table from a newly divorced man. Although he was sharing about the negative downfall of a marriage, I remember that short sentence sticking in my mind. There is truth in the statement for more than marriage relationships. As we’ve been making our way through The Story, the first few chapters are familiar to those who have grown up in church and read their Bible continually: the creation account, Abraham and Isaac, Joseph, and Moses. They are familiar to so many people, and unfortunately just like the man sitting across the table, people can allow the familiarity to breed contempt.
As someone who was dedicated in a church as a baby, attended Sunday school, youth group, small groups, sermons, summer camps, and even Christian college, and now seminary, there are times where familiar stories can seem redundant. I’ve talked to friends who have heard a pastor merely mention the name of a familiar Bible character and their eyes glaze over and they’ve tuned out. As a pastor I would like to tell you that something like this has never happened to me, but I would be lying. I know all too well what can happen when there’s a familiar story, idea, or theme. The first reaction is, “I already know all of this.” Then a variety of emotions flood over me: apathy, frustration, arrogance, disappointment, and pride (just to name a few). This is not how it should be though.
The Bible is not some virus that our bodies should become inoculated toward. The stories that make the mosaic of Scripture are not one-hit wonders where we hear them and then discard any future worth or value from them. The Bible is living and active, which means that God can bring fresh meaning even from stories we’ve heard our whole lives. It doesn’t matter if we’ve seen the story in Sunday school, read it in our study Bible, and heard 20 sermons about it over the years, there is still something fresh that God can reveal to us because the Word of God is alive.
This was the case for me on Sunday during LifeGroup. As I was leading the discussion questions based on the life of Joseph, we were talking about his relationship with his brothers. While preaching the sermon I was already familiar with the story, but there in the discussion I felt like God was revealing something personal that I hadn’t dealt with or connected to His goodness. As Joseph was talking to his brothers (the ones who had sold him into slavery), he was saying how he would provide for them and in our LifeGroup discussion we started talking about forgiveness.
Even though I had read, studied, written, preached, and started leading the discussion, this story that I’ve heard dozens of times came alive in a new sense. God used that portion of the story to convict me about a person that I had thought I had forgiven. The truth is that I haven’t forgiven the person, it’s just that they’ve been out of my life for 20 years. I asked the group to be praying for me to know how to forgive someone who is no longer a part of my life.
It would have been really easy to glance over the story of Joseph and to blaze through the discussion questions because I was familiar with the story and ideas, but by being open to God’s revelation I have a new area of my life to allow the Holy Spirit to work on. I would have never thought about this if it weren’t for that LifeGroup discussion and being willing to approach a familiar story with fresh eyes.
I know that some in our congregation have heard these stories for decades. Please don’t allow your familiarity to breed contempt toward what God can do through engaging the Scripture with fresh eyes. We have other people in the church who have never read the Bible as a whole, people who are experiencing these stories for the first time. Ask God to use you in their lives, but also to show you things that He wants to do in your life. The story of the Bible is for all of us, no matter how many times we’ve heard these smaller stories, they continue to point us toward our living God who wants to be with us. This week pray for eyes to see something fresh in the stories you may be familiar with. God wants to reveal Himself through every story in Scripture, don’t let familiarity breed contempt.
By David Wise
As I sit on the first leg of my journey to Israel, the anticipation is beginning to build as the trip finally feels real. Up to this point there has been so much going on that I haven’t had time to focus fully on what I’m going to do. I’ve spent the last few months looking over the brochure, reading the books provided by the tour company, outlining ideas for videos with our staff, and talking about the trip to whoever was interested; but I haven’t thought much about the personal impact this opportunity will have.
In just over 24 hours I will be driving through areas where the Son of God walked, performed miracles, talked with friends, shared meals with acquaintances, and prayed to His Father on our behalf. Although I don’t believe that some areas are more holy than others, to be present where God took on flesh and walked among His creation, to feel the weight of this reality, is an experience of a lifetime. Although I should have been living with greater anticipation for the trip up to this point, I found myself weighed down by the worries, struggles, distractions, and frustrations of the day.
I wonder if that’s why more of us don’t reflect more often on eternity. Maybe it’s not that we don’t want to think about heaven and being united with God forever; perhaps it’s just that the day-to-day issues we face take precedence because they’re directly in front of us. Although the reason this happens is understandable, it seems to be an incomplete way of living. If we wait until we’re dying to reflect on the reality of heaven it seems like we’ll miss so many opportunities around us.
As we spent our time Sunday answering questions about things leading up to eternity, I found myself convicted of not living in light of eternity. I don’t ever want to focus so much on heaven that I neglect to live my life fully for God here and now, but I feel like I don’t anticipate heaven nearly enough. I wonder if part of the reason I don’t anticipate it is that I don’t think of the reality of heaven because the things happening today overshadow what’s waiting, or if I place more value on things of this world than the things of eternity.
I know that every time I hear someone use Jesus’ words about storing up treasures in heaven, I worry about a talk on money. I don’t think Jesus was speaking financially though. I believe He was directing our attention and our focus toward heaven to remember the reality of what’s waiting. If I thought more about treasures in heaven (not financially) and being united with God, walking with Jesus, seeing as many people as possible there and as a part of God’s family, then perhaps that would help me to anticipate heaven more.
I realize this isn’t a new thought. I’m not sure there are any original thoughts anymore, but it’s something I believe we need to cling to and live our lives by. We should not focus solely on the myriad of events happening in our lives and around us, but pause and ask ourselves, “Does this impact eternity?” Perhaps then it would put issues in perspective compared to what’s waiting for us. By realizing that eternity is bigger than the day-to-day distractions and frustrations we can better understand the importance of living for God here and now. Only as we’re able to look past everything directly in front of us will we be able to anticipate heaven. As we anticipate eternity with God then we’ll see the actual importance of our individual issues, frustrations, distractions, and worries. This perspective puts things into proper order and allows us to experience things here and now in light of how they affect eternity, just like looking back at everything happening before my trip is now put in a different perspective in light of what’s waiting for me.
What your life look like if you viewed everything now in light of what’s waiting?