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The Real Mentor

Dallas-WillardThis week one of my mentors passed away. I won’t be attending the funeral. I haven’t gotten choked up thinking about it. There’s no need to pass on your condolences. You see, I never actually met this mentor of mine. His name was Dallas Willard. He was a pastor who became a philosophy professor at the University of Southern California. He went on to write several books, one of which impacted me powerfully. It is called The Divine Conspiracy. It was a book about the sermon on the mount and how Jesus came not just to ransom our souls from Satan, but to radically change the world by introducing a new kingdom. The Trinity conspired together to start a new world order called the Kingdom of God. I learned from this book that life in Christ is not just a spiritual transaction (Christ’s death for our sins), but a beautiful, new way to live.Divine-Conspiracy

Anyway, you hear a good helping of Dallas Willard in my preaching. My ideas about ministry are influenced by this man who was himself influenced by the Holy Spirit. I read a story that someone shared about Dallas Willard this week. A friend asked him about his greatest fear in the ministry he was doing. Willard responded immediately: “Willard-ites.” In other words, he was afraid that people would follow his teachings instead of Jesus’ teachings. All of us have many spiritual mentors in life. Some of them are very close to us, like parents and pastors and older adults who invest in us. Other mentors are people we don’t know personally, like authors and speakers and bloggers. The best mentors have this in common: they point us not to themselves, but to Jesus. Jesus is the ultimate mentor. He may work through parents and pastors and authors, but in the end all spiritual growth and transformation is the result of being mentored by Jesus.

My Heart Knows the Truth

One of the biggest challenges of being a Christian is that it’s impossible to prove what we believe. We can demonstrate that belief in a supreme being who created the universe is reasonable. We can refute any argument that tries to prove God doesn’t exist. But when it comes right down to it, we can’t prove that God exists. We can’t prove that Jesus was the Son of God and that He died and rose again to make us right with God. It’s hard to believe with certainty in something you can’t see. I read quotes from Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins or converse with an atheist friend. I sometimes get overwhelmed and wonder why God doesn’t just prove himself in scientific ways. On rare occasions I’ll even wonder if I’m crazy to believe what some really smart people regard with such disdain.

A song by the Crist Family yesterday in our service summed it up for me. It’s called, “My Heart Knows.” The chorus includes these words: “No matter where my head is at, I will not be moved.  ‘Cause my heart knows the truth.” Despite a lack of scientific proof, my hearts knows with certainty that Jesus loves me. What my head may not be able to fully understand or prove, my heart understands completely. I cannot deny what Jesus has done in my life – how He’s changed me and touched me and healed me. My heart knows the truth.

National Day of Prayer

This week something huge will happen. In some ways it’s bigger than a presidential election. On Thursday we will be asked by our government to pray for our nation. This is an awesome opportunity for all of us who represent the kingdom of God. You see, prayer is something that belongs uniquely to God’s people. Prayer is our thing. And when our national government asks us to do our thing for them, that’s a really big deal. Of course, we do this all the time. We pray for a government regularly as individuals and as a congregation. But this time we’re being asked.

I think that followers of Jesus ought to vote. I think that it is our civic duty as citizens of America. But we are first of all citizens of God’s kingdom. And prayer is an even bigger obligation than voting. So I want to encourage everyone to pray for our nation on Thursday. Prayer gatherings will be held at Grand Haven city hall and Spring Lake and Fruitport township buildings from 12:15pm – 12:45pm. If you can’t make it out to one of those, be sure to pray for our nation with your family and in your own prayers.

First-World Problems

I’d bet that well over half of the casual conversations I’ve had recently involve griping about the weather. It’s been really cold if you haven’t noticed! I’ve commiserated with the clerk at Leppinks. I’ve brought it up to fill a lull in a conversation. I’ve grumbled about it to the waitress and complained about it to my wife. However, when I see pictures of flooded homes along the Grand River, I feel sort of ashamed. These peoples’ homes are ruined and I’m complaining about an unseasonably cool spring? Then I think about the people who lost a loved one in the bombing in Boston. I think about people who lost limbs. Then I feel really ashamed.

It keeps going deeper. What about people in developing countries who are born into abject poverty? What about babies who are born with HIV? What about war-torn countries where people live in constant fear? And here I sit in my warm house complaining about the weather. In a few months I’ll be sitting in my air-conditioned home complaining about the heat. This is more confession than instruction. But maybe we could all complain a little less about what we don’t have and be grateful a little more for all the things we do have.

Putting the Puzzle Together

An old friend of mine died in a house fire two weeks ago. I went to his funeral last Thursday. He had his share of ups and downs in his life. The last couple of years had been good ones. At the funeral, his father got up and spoke about him. He thanked many people who had been there for his son over the years. However his most lavish thanks were reserved for his son’s church community. “If you don’t have a church, you need to get one,” he said. “There were all sorts of people from this church that played a part at different times. Some pastors were better than others. Some people clicked better than others. But they were all there to help put the puzzle together.”

I thought this was a beautiful expression of the family of God. Each life is a puzzle that God puts together through His people. Some people come into our lives, push one piece into place, and are gone. Others are there to connect large sections of our lives. We don’t put ourselves together. We can only become whole in the context of a gracious community of faith. If you have children, thank God for the people of FCC who are putting pieces together for them. Whether you have children or not, make sure that you are doing something to push a few pieces together for a member of your church family.

How Change Happens

Yesterday we began a series of messages called 4G. Each week in April we’ll look at an important truth about God. In introducing the series, I failed to give credit to the originator of the four “Gs,” Tim Chester. He wrote a book called You Can Change. This brings me to what I’d really like to mention. I’ve read a number of books claiming to help a person change. I’ve mostly been disappointed. Yet self-help and “better you” books are continuously bestsellers. What gives?

Here’s the truth about most self-help books: they’re not really selling change. Instead, they’re selling hope. They’re selling the idea that change is possible. In almost every book in this genre, we’re told that if we try hard enough and want it badly enough, then we can change. This is where Tim Chester’s book is different. He is very clear that we can’t change ourselves. Only God can truly change us. So think about an area in your life where you’d like to change. The truth is that you can’t change that. Only God can. Our role in change is not to do the changing. Our role is to prepare ourselves to be changed by God. How do we do that? That’s what the four Gs are all about.

Easter Every Day

Yesterday we had a wonderful celebration of the resurrection. We celebrated Jesus’ triumph over death with wonderful music, beautiful flowers, videos, spoken word, and prayer. FCC was not unusual in doing this. Virtually every congregation in the world was doing the same thing. In the Church, Easter is not just a special occasion. It is THE special occasion.

There might be just one downside to all this celebrating: we can end up thinking that the resurrection is somehow less powerful today than it was yesterday. We can believe that it was more significant yesterday than it will be tomorrow. But the reality for us is that every day is Easter. Every day is the resurrection. Whether we gather to celebrate it in our church buildings or not, the power of Easter is just as strong. No matter how you feel on any tomorrow, He is still risen. And that makes any day a day worth celebrating.

Who Overcame Evil by Good

As we begin Holy Week, a poem by M. Whitcomb Hess.

They stretch Him on a cross to die
Our Lord Who first stretched out the sky

Whose countenance the cherubim
Dare not gaze on – they spat on Him

And gave Him gall to drink though He
Brings us wells of eternity

He prays for them, “Father, forgive…”
For He was born that all might live

Round the sealed tomb of Him they’ve slain
They set a guard in vain, in vain

Round Him creation can’t contain
Who dies for us to rise again

Prayer of St. Patrick

Since yesterday was St. Patrick’s Day, I thought it would be appropriate to share his famous prayer. Take minute to move slowly over these words. Make it your own prayer to God today.

I arise today through God’s strength to pilot me;
God’s might to uphold me,
God’s wisdom to guide me,
God’s eye to look before me,
God’s ear to hear me,
God’s word to speak for me,
God’s hand to guard me,
God’s way to lie before me,
God’s shield to protect me,
God’s hosts to save me
Afar and anear, Alone or in a multitude.

Christ shield me today against wounding –
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in the eye that sees me,
Christ in the ear that hears me.

It Takes a (Church) Village

Yesterday I attended a worship service with my parents at the church in which I grew up in Kalamazoo. It was really strange. I remember sitting in those same pews as a child, my feet dangling down not able to reach the floor. This may sound weird, but it even smelled the same as it did 30 years ago. Once I got past the initial awkwardness and flashbacks, something wonderful began to dawn on me. This is where my faith faith was formed. In the parking lot I met my catechism teacher. A cadet counselor waved at me from across the lobby. Older saints who had prayed for me walked across the sanctuary to shake my hand and welcome me back.

I noticed something else. Many of the same adults that took an interest in my life years ago were still at it. I saw retired men talk with young fathers. Older women were checking in with teenage girls. Young families with their coats on stood near the doors talking in a circle with a couple of seniors. Thirty years later Sunday worship was still a family event – a church family event.

We’re so blessed to have that same vibe at FCC. But let’s not take it for granted. Reach across generations and show an interest in someone’s life. Let someone different from you know that you care. It’s what we do in our own families. And church is a family – God’s family.