There Is No Comfort in Religion

One of the major themes of my life’s work has been to make a distinction between religion as a thing we do to try to appease God, and being Christian which is a relationship initiated with us by God, through Christ.

My singular passion in our Polyester Jesus series is to help you clearly understand the difference between an artificial, religious practice and an authentic, genuine relationship with Jesus.  Jesus is a giver.  He gives assurance, contentment, peace, rest, and, most of all, comfort.  The problem with religion is it can’t give what it doesn’t have.  A religious person isn’t filled up with the overflowing joy of their efforts; they are worn out by working so hard to please God.

So today we talked about the concept that you simply cannot give what you do not have.  If you’re going to have love, comfort, joy, and peace, you’re going to have to find someone who has it that’s willing to give it to you.  And that’s Jesus. Then and only then can you give it. Listen to today’s talk and see what I mean.

God Loves You More When You’re Good; So be Good for Goodness Sake

You’ve all heard the little song, “You better watch out, you better not cry. You better not pout, I’m telling you why. Santa Claus is coming to town. He knows when you are sleeping. He knows when you’re awake.  He knows when you’ve been bad or good so be good for goodness sake.”  I think a lot of us treat God like Santa Claus.  He loves us more when we’re good.  So we better be really, really good if we want God to love us more.

I’m amazed at the number of people who call themselves Christians who have absolutely no inner conviction or confidence that God loves them as they are, not as they ought to be.  That’s why we can’t rest.  That’s why we’re working constantly to prove ourselves and earn our way in life.  We’re trying to earn God’s love.  But you can’t do that.  Good works do not bridge the gap between you and God.  Only grace can do that.  Only Christ can offer grace.

So we started out in this talk by talking about why people are so serious, why people have such frowns on their faces, and we dealt with that with four reasons for our inner restlessness.  And then we talked about what rest really means.  We used the word rest and gave four points each based on a letter: R-E-S-T.  Listen to the talk and see if you find yourself reflected in the story about the tube of toothpaste.

Why Aren’t You More Prosperous?

This past Sunday we continued our series, Polyester Jesus, distinguishing the difference between artificial religion and authentic faith.

Each weekend we’ve been talking about one of the benefits that real Jesus offers.  We’ve been talking about things like assurance, contentment, peace, and this week we focused on prosperity.  One of the most difficult things, it seems, for Christians to understand is that God intends for there to be a harmony between our spiritual and our physical well-being.

Being raised in a conservative, protestant church, I never heard 3 John where John says, “Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers.”

I’ve heard about prosperity.  I’ve heard preachers on TV talk about it.  I’ve even heard about a thing called prosperity gospel which means if you do enough things, you can obligate God to be really, really, really good to you.  As a matter of fact, whatever you’re experiencing right now is in direct correlation to how well you’re doing spiritually.  But is that really what the Scriptures teach?

In this talk we talk about life math: the difference between addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division in the real world. We also talk about the three ingredients of prosperity.  Actually there are 4, but we only had time to talk about 3. And then we give a practical four-step process on how you actually go about doing this and realizing true prosperity in your everyday life.

If prosperity isn’t just more, or more than you; if prosperity isn’t power and the ability to control and manipulate, then what is it? It was Victor Hugo who said, “Adversity makes men, and prosperity makes monsters.”  How is it that we can prosper in all the dimensions of our lives, and that be a good thing and a God thing?  You’ll find out in this talk.

Paula’s Home, and I’ve Still Got Peace

As many of you know, my wife Paula gave us a scare this past weekend when she became ill, and we rushed her to the hospital.  The good news is, she passed all of her tests, and she’s perfectly fine. We’re giving God all the praise and thanks, which makes us especially thankful this Thanksgiving season.

As some of you also know, even while she was in the hospital undergoing tests, we decided that it was best that I go ahead and speak at The Gathering in both services.  Since the subject of the day was about peace, (and our peace was certainly tested during this time) we’re glad to say that we’re still in one peace.

I think this is an important talk for you to listen to, if for no other reason than, it was given under duress.  I have to be honest, I was more than a little worried, more than a little concerned. I was trying to focus on the task at hand because I think sometimes you have to live what you preach, as you’re preaching it; which means you should never try to traffic in truths that you’re not living.  So in this talk I am telling not just what I think, what I learn as a teacher, or what I aspire to as a pastor, but what I am walking through every single day.

Each Sunday morning I ask The Gathering family how they are doing.  And we all respond, “Still in one peace.”  That is never more a real statement, for me at least, than it has been this weekend.  I hope you know of the peace that Jesus gives, real Jesus.  Because it’s a gift unlike any other you will ever receive.

When Discontentment is a Good Thing

One of the most elusive things, it seems, we pursue in life is contentment.  Even when we pursue it, we really wonder what it is.

For a lot of people contentment is not wanting anything, being satisfied with mediocre, and really just another word for being lazy.  But is that really what contentment is?

Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness for they will be filled (or contented).”  Contentment isn’t the lack of desire.  It’s putting the proper desire at the core of your life.

The way to contentment is not through the lack of passion and ambition, but having the right core.  The Scriptures teach us that our lives reflect what we worship.  In other words whatever is at the core is what will give us contentment, or not.  To worship your job means discontentment.  To worship a football coach is discontentment.  To worship a thing, to worship power, all lead to discontentment.  But to worship God your Creator, and Jesus your Redeemer, leads to the kind of contentment that truly satisfies.

I talked about the four steps to contentment in this talk.  You might be surprised to know the first three are “must stops” and the last one is a “must start.”  Let me know what you think and how you think this all fits together in a life lived with contentment.

Do You Have a Polyester Jesus?

I’m reading Rodney Stark’s newest book, “The Triumph of Christianity.”  I’ve enjoyed his point of view on history; none better than in his brand new book.

In it, Stark tells that an over 40% of people on the planet today pledge some allegiance to Jesus; that Christianity is the most vital, vibrant, and growing faith on the planet.  I stand amazed at that, particularly when you think about 2,000 years after the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, with all the hate, anguish, misunderstanding, and abuse that Jesus has suffered, He is still relevant, still here, and still changing lives.

As a ramp-up to the Christmas season, I decided to do a 7-part series entitled, “Polyester Jesus.”  The idea that like polyester, we try to make Jesus into some synthetic religion; something that’s easy to clean and care for.  And yet Jesus is anything but easy, nice, sweet, and simple.  He is alive, here, and dangerous.

So in these weeks we’re going to be talking about the contrast between synthetic religion and authentic faith.  Today we talked about that the real Jesus gives assurance.  That’s the fundamental foundation.  That’s where we start.  We have assurance of His love, assurance of His acceptance, and assurance of a place in His new future.  Yet all of life takes on a different view.

Listen to the talk today.  Sit down with your family or your group of friends and ask, “Just how relevant is Jesus?”  Do you understand the difference between synthetic faith and authentic faith?  Identify the four absolute essentials of an authentic faith in Christ and make application in your own life.

Overcoming the People-Pleaser Inside You

Jesus said something that I am not sure I fully understood until lately.  It’s the famous verse where He says, “Narrow is the way, and difficult is the road that leads to eternal life.”

I understand the narrow part, that Jesus is the way to God. He is God’s love and flesh, paying the price to redeem my soul.  It’s the “difficult” part that I’ve never quite gotten my arms around.  So this week we identified that, or at least I attempted to give my interpretation of what Jesus meant.

The difficulty is not about some moral discipline, abstaining from certain activities that Christians have deemed unacceptable.  The difficult part I think at least finds it’s expression in how difficult it is to not find yourself living a life to please other people.

To follow Jesus is to please Jesus.  And I’ve learned, sometimes the hard way, that following Jesus can not only not please the people around you.  It can actually make these people quite irate and dangerous.

So today we talked about the importance of courageous dissent: the ability inside each person to follow Jesus whatever the cost, whatever the consequences.  We talked about the ten must-haves that we must constantly retain in order to have the courage to follow the path that God has laid out for us.  One of the biggest misconceptions about Christianity is that Christians are into conformity: looking alike, living alike, thinking alike, eating alike, dressing alike. Nothing can be further from the truth.  You’ll find out what I mean in today’s talk.

Why Being Driven is a Good Thing

Is being driven a good thing or a bad thing?  I guess it depends on who you talk to and what they mean.  I think being driven is a good thing.  As a matter of fact, God created us with drive.  What else is there, to get up every day and dread what may happen?  To just drift and go along with everyone else? As some people say, just go with the flow?  Remember before you go with the flow, that everything flows downward.  No, I think driven is a good thing.  William Faulkner said, “An artist is a creature driven by demons.  He doesn’t know why they chose him and he’s usually too busy to wonder why.” 

I understand that a little bit.  The drive inside won’t go away.  It wasn’t put there by demons.  I believe it was put there by God.  So today we talked about the four things for which we were created with drive.  These are the things we pursue because it is how God created us.  They are hot-wired into our soul.  We long for them every day.  And then we talked about how important it is to channel these drives into the right areas.  How do we know what the right areas are?  Well we have to take the time to define what success is, and we talked about four different channels our drives can find, not only fulfillment, but true joy.

Wimpy Christian Stuff’s Gotta Go

If I’ve learned anything over the years, it’s this.  There are a lot of misconceptions about what it means to be Christian ranging from highly political, to pushy, to arrogant, to soft and wimpy.  None of these stereotypes really make it.

Today I talked about some of the things that, as a follower of Jesus, I must oppose.  Things like: those who want to dilute the gospel into something it’s not, people who want to deceive or divide, even those who want to destroy.  The truth is, it’s a very dangerous world out there.  And you have to be on guard.  Today we talked about the ways to do that without becoming a jerk.  There are ways to be on the offensive without being offensive.

What Are You Into And Why?

Every once in awhile I hear someone ask this question, “What are you into?” or “What do you do?” or “What do you do for a living?”  All of these are probing questions with the intent of finding out who we are and how we fit int the world.

In this series, “Leave No Doubt,” we’re talking about the 6 things worth standing up for.  We want people to remember us for something specific and meaningful, right? So we want them to know where we stood, what we believed, and not only what we did, but what made us tick, and why we did it.  This is a very timely topic, given the fact that Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple just died at age 56.  One of the most memorable things he said was at a Stanford commencement speech in 2005.  “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.”

Over the years I’ve seen too many people try to live their life by someone else’s standards or values.  As a follower of Jesus Christ, it’s important that I understand why I do what I do, that I do indeed live before an audience of One, but I also serve in a world full of needs and people reaching out for help.  So how do you become who you are and at the same time make sure that that is a person who does things that matter and can leave a meaningful legacy?

Yesterday, we talked about our three imperatives.  They go something like this: Because of who I am and whose I am, I – not you, my wife, my children, the government – determine what I must do.  This is what it means to be a follower of Christ.  To let that relationship so define my identity and my intentionality that people know why I do what I do.

The next question is what do you do?  We talked about seven different things that could describe what we do and what we’re into; what we’re for rather than what we’re against.

Life is short.  You don’t need certainty.  You don’t need clarity, but you do need the confidence of who you are and that that will always be enough

How to Drive Out Doubt

We continued this weekend in our series “Leave No Doubt: 6 Things You Want People to Know About You,” with the question, how can you know for sure that you’re right with God and ready for the future?

Over and over we ask these questions of how can you know? Things like: why are we here? where are we going? what really matters?  what awaits us beyond this life? – all questions that we can’t hide from.  So we might as well face them and find the answers.  The truth is, they are available.  You can know them and be absolutely, positively sure.

My heart grieves over the people I’ve dealt with over the years who, no matter how hard they try, can never really be sure.  They have doubt in their faith with God, doubt in their marriage, doubt in their relationships, doubt in their careers.  It seems like doubt, fear and uncertainty follow them wherever they go.  This is not God’s will for your life.  And if you continue in it, you’re life will not only be diminished, you’ll be miserable, and in the process, make everyone around you miserable.

In this talk, I spoke about the seven reasons you can be absolutely sure; not only that you’re right with God, that you have a relationship with God, that you’re ready for eternity should you die this week or sometime in the future; but how you can know for sure that you’re in the right place, doing the right thing, for the right reason.  This was one of my favorite talks in the last couple of years.   I hope you will enjoy it and let me know if it does for you what it did for me in writing it.

How Will You Be Remembered?

We began a brand new teaching series yesterday at The Gathering entitled, “Leave No Doubt: 6 Things Worth Standing Up For.” The heart of this teaching series is to acknowledge the fact that all of us want to be remembered.  But we want to be remembered for the right things.  How often have we heard people talk at a funeral unable to say anything about the person who has passed away because they don’t know much about what they stood for?  When I am finished with this life I want people to know what the themes of my life were.

As I’ve counseled, led, and coached people over the years, I’ve come to understand that while we may all be different, from different places, even different cultures, we’re still all very much the same.  We all want to be heard, we all want to be respected, and we all want to be remembered.  The question is, what for?

So yesterday we talked about the four things in my life I want to be remembered for.  As you listen to this talk, maybe you’ll resonate with one or all of these things.  And while they all may be good things, maybe you would describe your life differently. The question is not what four do you adopt, but the fact that you take responsibility to live so clearly and distinctly before people that people remember you for some important things.  It’s your life and you get to choose not only how you live it, but how you’ll be remembered.

Where Have All the Heroes Gone?

As our country searches for the answers to our economic downturn, what we’re really looking for are heroes; people who will stand up and not only lead the way, but show the way by their example.

For these past six weeks, we talked about six basic beliefs that can rebuild a nation, starting with believing in God’s favor; that is God is for us, no one can defeat us.  Also raising up values like hope,  work as a calling, money making us responsible, and the value of service.  But maybe the most important variable in the future we face is, can we recover the lost art of compassion?

Two times in the Scripture a question is asked, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”  Both questions arose out of sarcasm and cynicism. But the Scriptures use both cases to answer in the affirmative.  What does that mean?  As a Christian, I show compassion, not only because I have to as a follower of Christ, but because I can, because I have a new capacity.  Christians can never be known as apathetic and uncaring.  We lead the way in the world in showing compassion in practical ways. 

Today we talked about six different qualities in a compassionate life.  As you listen to the talk, ask yourself, “Do these qualities show up in me every day? Where am I falling short and at what place can I change so I can join God in His work in the world?”

Can we really call ourselves Christians if we’re not known primarily for our compassion?

It’s Not About Me

One of the most important things you’ll discover in life is that you’re not here to be self-absorbed and self-obsessed.  The true way to success is by serving others; in other words by waking up every day and realizing it’s not about me.  It’s about the people I work with, the people on my team, and my family.  I’m here to serve them and pour into their lives. And the more I serve them, the more others serve me.

Jesus said it this way, “Give and it will be given to you.”  We usually think that’s just about money, but it’s not.  It’s about everything in life.  Business book after business book, testimony after testimony keeps coming across our path telling us that the way to success is service. Today we talked about the most important thing in all of life.  And that is serving God by serving His agenda. What is His agenda?  Simply this: loving people, being involved in the three epic movements that have been going on since Jesus was on earth – redemption, reconciliation, and restoration.

So today we talked about the 7 reasons we serve.  We used the word “reason” and made it an acrostic so it would make it easy for you to remember.  As you listen to this talk, use it in your workplace, at home, raising your children, with your teams so you’ll all understand why service is the most important thing you’ll do in any given day.