The Day My Life Changed Forever

My baby girl turned five years old yesterday.

As crazy as that sentence is to write (where is the time going?!), it doesn’t even begin to compare with the gravity of January 25, 2010 at 3:58pm when I met Tristin Laine face to face for the very first time.  In a single moment (that was immediately preceded, as my wife would point it, by many, many, many moments that led to it), my life was radically altered forever.

With the arrival of that little girl, I came into a brand new position which I had never held before- that of fatherWhoa…talk about a weighty realizationLiterally entrusted by God with the life of another, I now held in my arms a gift and a responsibility like nothing I had ever known before.  At that moment, there was no looking back, no turning away; life as I had known it was over, and a new reality was ever before me.  Such is the power of a positional change.

Fast forward five years (plus one day now, if we’re being technical), and guess what?  My position as a father hasn’t changed- in fact, it has actually expanded threefold with the subsequent additions of our two boys, Jude and Asa.  But in five years, my practice of fatherhood has been transformed dramatically.

I’ve learned, grown, and matured in more ways than I can count, and though I certainly don’t get this thing right anywhere close to all the time, I’ve come a long way since those anxious first days in January 2010.  I still remember crying tears of both fear and joy as we drove home from the hospital with our little gift from God, and while my kids still occasionally bring me to tears (for multiple reasons!), I am learning a thing or two along the way.

In this way, fatherhood is both a completed work- after all, I became one in a moment- and at the same a continuing work in which I develop just a little bit more with every passing day.  To put it more succinctly, it is both a position I hold and a practice I practice- and will be until the day I pass from this life into the next.

This is a powerful picture of what it means to follow Jesus- to be, as we’re discovering as we walk through Paul’s letter to the Colossians as a church, a ChristianTo bear the name Christian is to both stand in a secure position “in Christ” and practice the outworking of that position on an everyday basis.  The positional reality is made possible through Christ’s completed work of living perfectly, dying sacrificially, and rising victoriously, while the practical reality is experienced through Christ’s continuing work of transforming us daily to look more and more like Him.

This dual truths standing side by side in Scripture are undeniably powerful and immensely encouraging.  This is true for two primary reasons- one, that our position in Christ is eternally secure in a completed historical reality, and two, that Christ really can and will bring about practical transformation as we walk with Him daily in that position.  This is the “Good News” of the Gospel- that we have no need to earn our position before God, and that our practice is not in vain!

As a father, January 25, 2010 was the day my life changed forever, and at the same time the day my life started changing.  Becoming a father wasn’t an end, but a beginning, but the process of change that has happened since that day- and will continue on indefinitely- wasn’t possible apart from that initial change in position.

So it is as a Christian.  To bear that name, we all must begin somewhere- and that “somewhere” is in trusting Jesus alone as our Savior and Lord, which results in a dramatic, and necessary, change of position.  But recognize at the same time that change isn’t the end of the conversation; it’s just the beginning of a lifelong process that will culminate one day when you meet your Father in heaven face to face, and are finally perfected forever.

So then, how Christian are you?  It is a question of both position and practice.  Let’s allow God’s Word to us in Colossians instruct and inspire us to answer it well.

Christianity is not an achievement

gold-trophy-cup

I am proud of a lot of things in my life. I am definitely not the most acclaimed, but I feel I have achieved a lot. My greatest achievements required long, hard work. Whether it’s my educational degrees or the imprint left in ministry, none of it came without effort. I’ve always heard that what comes easy won’t last long and what lasts long won’t come easy. Even my greatest goals I strive for, to love my wife every day in a way she would choose to marry me all over again and for my children to think I am the Godliest person they know, require grueling effort.

And when we achieve, we show it off. We hang our certificates and proudly display our awards. Deep in all of us is the longing to be the best, to be known for what we have done. It is good to strive for better. You should expect nothing less from yourself.

BUT…

Be warned. All of your achievements combined will always leave you longing for more. They will never completely satisfy you.

Only Christ satisfies.

At Fellowship, we are about to start a new series called HOW CHRISTIAN ARE YOU? It is a study through the book of Colossians. The pastors have been pouring over the book in preparation. In my reading, this phrase stuck out today.

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him –Colossians 2:6

So, did you become a Christian by working hard? By doing good? Getting your life right? No. It’s not about what you achieve. It’s about what you receive. By grace.

Many people freely receive the forgiveness of Jesus at the point of salvation, then spend the rest of their lives trying to pay God back as if salvation were a loan. “Thanks for the jumpstart of grace, God. I’ve got it from here. I’ll hit you back on the flip side.”

Stop trying to achieve His love, blessings, and favor through ridiculous, performance based self-righteous rubbish. Continue to live in Him the same way you started your life in Christ.

Receive it. By grace.

We hope you join us Sunday as we kick off this series. I can’t wait!

Well Placed Art (And the Art of Stepping)

hicks.art                                 IMG_0491

Art impresses me.  I am amazed at the talent and the creativity.  The ability of an artist to see ahead of the blank canvas to the painting is a talent I do not understand.  Every piece of art takes action, talent, and work.  Paintings do not paint themselves.

Life is not that different.  Life is full of hope and potential like a blank canvas.  People hope their life will become something greater than it is.  They hope they improve and that beauty comes out of the ugliness and chaos they experience. Yet, we also give up on that. We grow frustrated, tired, and weary of trying to paint over and smooth out the same mistakes and problems again.

These experiences can cause us to say things like, “This year will obviously be no different than the last one. I mean, it is only January 19th and I have already blown it.” Have you?

What does God want this to be THE YEAR OF for you?” Romans 12:1-2 are powerful words of challenge, encouragement, and inspiration about experiencing real change.

First, we are called to view God’s mercy.  Every pleasing sacrifice begins with God.  It is his mercy that draws us to repentance.  God initiates the action.  (He demonstrated his love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Rom. 5:8)  We are challenged to offer ourselves as living sacrifices.  Every pleasing sacrifice responds to God.  We present ourselves fully to God.  We respond to God’s action.  We are then instructed to not conform to the pattern of the world, but to be transformed by the renewing of our mind.  A sacrifice that is pleasing to God is continually given to God.  This changing, however, is not fully our work, yet we must fully participate in it.  We actively participate in a passive work.

So, if we want to change we must be about the change, yet we also must know that we cannot start it, we cannot cause it, nor can we finish it, and at the same time, accepting the truth that it will not happen if we do not participate actively in it.  So, what in the world do we do?

Live Different.  Do not conform to the world.
If you never do different, you will never be different.  The comfortable life will always be the conformed life.
Be Changed.  Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.
The frustrating part of this command is that it ends with a passive verb.  Be responsible for what you cannot be responsible for…cause to happen what you cannot cause to happen.  The work of transformation is God’s activity and our active passivity.

I want to come back to art for a moment.  Imagine you are the blank canvas, what must be true of your connection with the artist for change to happen.
Live in humble relation toward God.  You must be willing for God to paint what he wills and wants.  The Holy Spirit convicts of worldly conformity and calls us out of it.  Are you willing to hear what He says or have you learned to ignore his still, small voice?
Live in available position to God.  You must be willing for God to do what he desires with the work he creates.  The Holy Spirit renews right thinking in us.  He convicts, not only of what is wrong – sin, he convicts of that which should be right – righteousness.

Then you will be able to know God’s will and how good it is, how pleasing it is, and how perfect it is.  That road might seem like one you could never walk, but here is the key.

Start with a step and don’t stop stepping.
When my children learned to walk they fell often.  Over and over again.  You know what I never did.  I never yelled at them, belittled them, or gave up on them.  Why do you think your Heavenly Father is any different?  I helped them up.  I held their hands.  I showed them how.  I set them up in close enough relationship to the table so they could make it successfully.  God is at work doing the same thing.

So you already stumbled and fell in 2015?  Good.  Now Get up.  Take hold of your Father’s out-streched hands.  Tell him, “paint what you will and do with me what you want.”  And keep on stepping.  You might feel like it is already done, but graciously, God has just begun.

(The two paintings above are by Mark Hicks and Danny Moore as they helped us illustrate humble relation and available position at our 2 campuses.  Thank you men for sharing your passion and talent with us.)

The Forsake Challenge

And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10:24-25)

Experiencing healing and hope this year will require healthy action on our part. Each of us needs relationships that stir up faith and good works. We all need people in our lives that challenge, encourage, and exemplify Christ-following. This is only experienced through the actions of faithful participation and investment.

Growth will require some old things to die in us and will allow for new things to take root in our lives. We often hope that new things will take root in the same patch of that an old way is still rooted in. This will never work.

The Forsake Challenge is challenge to set priorities, to press in and to actively seek growth in Christ, knowing this will require forsaking things we know (and perhaps love or enjoy) for things we do not know (and, therefore, do not love or enjoy).

Here are some actions that exemplify not “forsaking the meeting together” and some ideas of what people might need to forsake to regularly and actively participate.

I will attend worship services regularly at Fellowship.
Potential Items to Forsake:
– My family will not participate in multiple travel ball teams.
– I will not pick up extra overtime on Sundays.
– If I already miss church regularly because of work schedule, I will make it a
priority on my weeks off, over sleeping in and having a family morning.
What are the things you are not forsaking that cause you to forsake the
assembling of the saints on Sundays?

I will participate in a life group regularly.
Potential Items to Forsake:
– I will not stay up on more than one television show.
– I will not choose a social club over my spiritual life.
– My children and my family will have a messy schedule one night per week.
– I forsake my ability to live a silently sinful life.
What are the things you are not forsaking that cause you to forsake the
assembling of the saints in small group?

I will serve on a church team.
Potential Items to Forsake:
– I will forsake the ability to decide to not go to church at the last minute.
– I will forsake making decisions without thought of Sunday responsibilities.
– I will forsake being served to serve.
What are the things you are not forsaking that cause you to forsake the
assembling of the saints in serving the Lord together regularly?

We must share in the crucifixion so that we might share in His resurrection. The death of self is necessary for new life in Christ. I encourage you to consider deeply and personally the things in your life that are presenting you from giving yourself fully to God. We have shared some of those possibilities about the corporate spiritual life (which every believer needs to deal with), but what do you need to forsake personally so that you might grow in Christ individually?

Are you willing to take the Forsake Challenge?

Forward Motion

I love the word Discipleship! It is probably one of my favorite words in all of the world, not because I am a nerdy church kid with a cliché answer to “what is your favorite word?” No, I love the word because of the implications of the actual term, if carried out in practice. It is a weighty word that the most famous man in history told his disciples in Matthew 28. It is a word that stings, convicts, sharpens, and provokes thought. So why do I love it so much? This is a word I had never heard until I was fifteen years old, still wondering around aimlessly not knowing how to walk the Christian life. My growth was never a forward motion but a standstill. My youth pastor at the time, Steve Spence, came to me one day and told me that he wanted to pour into me. He wanted to invest his time and effort to disciple me, to which I respond: “Yea of course! But what do you mean disciple me?” Foreign to this term, I had a lot of questions, but Steve never gave me a formal definition. He just showed me. He invited me, with a few other guys, to weekly read God’s word and memorize Scripture. Steve came to my basketball games, we played ball on Sunday nights, and I heard Steve preach on Wednesday nights at the youth service. This dude would invite me to his house to do yard work, spend time with his kids, and eat great meals. Steve would take me and the guys on camping trips. The man just knew how to pour into people with the gospel of Jesus. He would hold us accountable for sin in our lives and challenge us where we needed to be challenged. I wanted to be like this guy. I wanted to inspire like him. I wanted to equip people like him. I wanted to preach like him. I then had this “Aha!” moment: This is discipleship! This is what Jesus did with his crew! Jesus invited them in and said “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men” in Matthew 4:19. Jesus invested in these men, poured his life into them, taught them important life lessons, and taught what it meant to be his disciple. When Steve took me in, this is exactly what he was doing. This changed my life forever.

So what is a disciple? A disciple is a follower who submits to the authority of Jesus. One who accepts Jesus’ principles and teachings and assists in spreading the good news of the gospel. This is what Jesus calls us as Christians to do. It’s who we should be. Matthew 28:18-20 says (emphasis mine), “And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, TEACHING them to OBSERVE ALL that I have commanded. And behold, I am with you ALWAYS, to the end of the age.’” I think one of the most amazing things about this term and truth is the example Paul gives us with his spiritual son in the faith, Timothy. Paul took the calling seriously to equip the saints for good work, and he planted churches and preached the gospel constantly while also pouring into to people. Paul in Acts chapter 16:3 asks Timothy to accompany him in his ministry. Paul invested so much time and effort into Timothy that he was able to leave him as a pastor of the church in Ephesus. Later, Paul writes two letters, now known as 1 and 2 Timothy, to his young “son.” There was this mentor-ship between Paul and Timothy that is so inspiring to me. It’s a model I think we should all adopt. We, as Christians, should desire to be equipped by wiser men and women and also continue this legacy to those younger than us. This is what Steve Spence did for me, and I am forever grateful. I want to continue this legacy. I want to continue the forward motion of discipleship.

In sharing my love for discipleship and the story of how it changed my life and inspired me to do the same, I wanted to give you six practical ways to approach and create a strategy on how to make disciples.

1.Initiate: Be intentional in who you pursue to disciple.
a. Acts 16:3 “Paul wanted Timothy to accompany Him..”
2. Engage: Interact with this person(s) always. *Open your world to them*
a. Jesus opened his world to his disciples when he said “Follow me, I will make you fishers of men.” This is essential. No matter what time of the morning your disciple calls you, no matter what pain they are in or how impatient you get with them, these people are in your world.
3. Develop a Plan: Take time and pray about the plan you want to do with the person(s) you disciple.
i. Book
ii. Book of the Bible
iii. A video Series
iv. A Year through the Bible
4. Meet: This should be a scheduled time, weekly meet up.
a. This is essential but not the whole.
5. Walk with them: In ALL aspects of Life. James 5:15-16
a. Great Questions to ask for personal Accountability.
i. When’s the last time you spent intimate time with Jesus? If not why? How can I help you? If so, what does that time look like?
ii. How often are you sharing the gospel with people?
iii. When’s the last time you looked lustfully upon someone? How emotionally involved are you with someone of the opposite sex with whom you are not married?
iv. What is blocking your relationship with Christ? How can get rid of any weights or hindrances that stunt your growth? —-Hebrews 12:1-2
6. Multiply: Challenge them, when they are ready (if not a Christian), to disciple others. Challenge the believer to continue to disciple others to reproduce believers.
“Discipleship without reproduction is not discipleship” –Robby Gallaty

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Acts: 18

Remember this: Discipleship requires: Passion for Jesus, Persistence in our pursuit, Patience with where people are at in life, and Practice/Preparation in our discipline from our own walk to help others walk.
May we as followers of Christ carry the banner of discipleship in a forward motion.

Out Of Your League…But Not Without Hope

Football

Tonight marks the first National Championship Game in major college football’s new “playoff” system. The matchup features two national powers, the University of Oregon and Ohio State University. This may come as a mild shock to you, but I will not be playing in the game tonight. Instead, I’ll likely be at my home, sitting on my couch, eating chips and salsa and cheering for no one in particular.

Let’s imagine, though, for a moment, that the situation were a bit different. Let’s imagine that instead of sitting on my couch tonight, I was sitting in the stands at AT&T Stadium, where the game is being played. Let’s imagine that one of the teams’ starting quarterbacks goes down with a devastating injury early in the game, and for whatever reason, no backups are available on the bench. Let’s imagine that said team’s coach looks to the stands in desperation and eyes me. He points, calls me over, and says, “Alright, Todd, you’re my guy now. You’ve got to win this thing for us. Go!”

Setting aside the total absurdity of this scenario for a moment, let’s think together about how this would likely play out. I’ll give you a hint- Not well. Aside from the fact that I’m pretty sure my college eligibility expired almost a decade ago, I would be a complete and total failure in this role. It would honestly be impressive if I were able to complete even one pass. Even if I tried really, really hard, and wanted to succeed really, really bad, the fact remains that I don’t have what it takes within myself- not the talent, nor the experience, nor the preparation- to be a major college quarterback. All of the wishing, wanting, and hoping in the world can’t and won’t change that reality.

Now consider with me how this ridiculous little scenario connects to our ideas about following Jesus today. Often, we approach this relationship in one of two distinct ways. Some of us genuinely believe that if we simply try really hard and “want it enough,” we can perform well enough to please God and experience real transformation. Others of us, at the opposite extreme, are completely overwhelmed by the expectations of a holy God and consider such transformation to be utterly out of reach- and thus not worth our effort.

The former group has “hope,” but it is set in a woefully underqualified object; they think they can win on their own, but will soon find out how wrong they are. The latter group, on the other hand, has given up on hope altogether; they have accepted “losing” spiritually as a foregone conclusion, and live their lives accordingly. Neither of these approaches, though, aligns with the reality of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This “too good to be true” news shouts to us that hope is real, and it is wholly, personally available to us. But at the same time, such hope cannot and will not ever be found in us “taking the field” and giving life our very best shot.

Instead, all of our hope- for right standing with God, for the practical transformation that such a standing brings, and for the full receiving of the reward of heaven one day– lies in the perfect performance of Jesus Christ on our behalf. That’s the clear, compelling, undeniably hopeful message of Romans 8:1- “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Paul’s goes on in 8:3-4 to tell us why and how this is so- “By sending (God’s) Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us…

Here’s what God is teaching us so powerfully through Paul- In the “game” of life, you and I are completely out of our league…but we are not without hope. On our own, by our own performance, we have no hope; only the just condemnation of a holy God. But God, knowing this but loving us, has purposed that we don’t have to be on our own, setting our hope in our ability to perform. Instead, He has given us an eternal anchor of hope in His Son, Jesus Christ, who came “in the flesh” and lived perfectly and sinlessly, then died sacrificially in our place that we might “win” eternally.

In this way, Christian hope is far more than just wishful thinking; it is founded on actual, eternal substance. You can be right with God. You can begin to change today. You can look forward with expectation to a day when you’ll meet God face to face forever. All of that is true because Jesus “took the field” on their behalf and has now afforded His championship caliber righteousness to all who put their trust in Him.

Now it’s true that you and I do “take the field” each and every day and follow Jesus in the ins and outs of daily life. We do have an opportunity to participate practically in His work of transformation in and through us. But we do this in humble, grateful, obedient response to the work Jesus has already accomplished for us. In Him, we have something far better than “trying hard” and “wanting it bad”; we have hope for eternity that we can begin to taste this very day. That’s true victory, and I pray it’s yours- in Him- today.