Broke: When I Remain Thankless

brokeThree weeks ago we started a series called “Broke.” Since we enjoy living like we are broke, I thought it would be good to understand the principles that keep us broke. The first thing we said was if you want to remain broke, live your life like it all belongs to you. Keep fooling yourself that it is your money. You earned. You deserve it. It is your money. If you will keep this attitude, I promise you will continue to stay broke.

The second principle we discovered about living broke was if you want to stay broke stay stingy. Never give. When that stirring shows up inside your heart telling you that you have the opportunity to make a difference, don’t do it. If you like being broke, stay stingy. Keep thinking it is your money and staying stingy will keep you in the broke category all your life.

The third principle for staying broke is remaining thankless. Refuse to be grateful. Reject any notion that you are blessed. If you want to stay broke, then don’t cultivate an attitude of gratitude. Let your self continue to loathe in self pity. Play the blame game. Stay focused on what others have and what you don’t have.

If you want to stay broke, do not let gratitude sneak into your life. It has a way of doing that. Gratitude is the worst enemy of being broke. A child sharing her toy, a gift given out of the blue, or an act of selfless love can all trigger an attitude of gratitude. So, be on the watch for it. Don’t give in to it if you want to stay broke. Remember the story of How the Grinch Stole Christmas? Remember the Grinch became the one who saved Christmas instead of the one who stole Christmas because his heart was captured by the gratitude of little Miss Cindy Lou Who.

Gratitude is an attitude. We don’t have to wait for everything to be perfectly straightened out in our family, or our business, or for all our problems to be solved before we can start showing gratitude. We can choose today to be a person of thankfulness. To the church in Colossae, the Apostle Paul says, “Be thankful.” The Message translates it as “Cultivating gratitude.” He challenges the church to put on the wardrobe of Christ: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, and discipline. We are to give the message of God’s love plenty of room in our lives. As we live out this life in Christ, we are to be thankful for all that God has done for us and in us (Colossians 3:15-17). Psalm 136:1 says, “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.”

Gratitude orients us toward what we have rather than what we lack. You don’t have to wait to be thankful until you lose weight, break an unhealthy habit, or accomplish your goals. If you make the mistake of allowing your circumstances or the people around you to dictate gratitude, then it won’t never happen.

The Apostle Paul says, “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (I Thess. 5:18). Be thankful for the little things. You may wish you drove a brand new car, but be grateful that you have something to drive. You may be jealous that your neighbor can take three vacations a year but be thankful that you can spend time in your backyard playing with your children. Don’t take for granted what God has already given you. Give thanks in all circumstances.

Broke: When I Am Stingy

Broke Graphic(Week 2)Last week, we said that if you want to remain broke, then live your life like it all belongs to you. Keep fooling yourself that it is your money. You earned. You deserve it. It is your money. If you will keep this attitude, I promise you will continue to stay broke.

Today we are going to discover the second key to staying broke. Since we like living in desperation, it is good to know what keeps us feeling desperate. If you like running on empty, then today’s key to staying broke is going to make sure the well stays dry. If you like living with a shriveled up soul, then today’s concept of staying broke will make sure you never come alive.

Here it is: If you want to stay broke, stay stingy. Never give. When that stirring shows up inside your heart telling you that you have the opportunity to make a difference, don’t do it. When the thought comes that maybe you should give to others, don’t listen to it. If you like being broke, stay stingy.

Do you like living with a bad attitude? Do you like having a bad heart? Do you like looking at the world through negativity? If so, then stay stingy. You like being one of those people who is living unsatisfied? Then the answer is to stay stingy with your money, your time, and your resources. Keep convincing yourself that the world revolves around you and you will always be unhappy.

Who really likes living that way? Who really enjoys living unsatisfied? C.S. Lewis put it this way, “We are half hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at sea. We are far too easily pleased.” Stay stingy, my friends, and you will keep making mud pies in the slum.

The bible says, “A generous person will be enriched” (Prov. 11:25). Giving is a vital part of the Christian faith. It is crucial to living out our walk with Christ. God gave to us and God gave generously. Our whole understanding of giving comes from the fact that God has given to us. The Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, “Thank God for his Son – a gift too wonderful for words” (2 Cor. 9:15). Giving is an essential part of the Christian faith because God is so very generous to us.

The very act of living generously is at the core of what it means to be Christian. The world lives in constant retaliation mode – an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. Jesus said this is not the way His followers are to live their lives. If someone takes a slap at you, give them the other cheek. If they want to take your shirt, give them your underwear as well. If someone demands a mile more from you, go ahead and give them two (see Matthew 5:38-42). Generosity is at the core of being a follower of Jesus.

How can we live this way? How is it possible to live generously? How can we not be stingy in a world that just takes what it wants? We must realize this world is not my home. When Christ returns, the world “will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare” (2 Peter 3:10). Now if you were living like this world is your home then that is very depressing. If this is all you are living for, then that is sad to think it will all be laid bare and burned to a crisp. But what if you get it? What if you finally understand that this world is not our home? The bible says we’re pilgrims and aliens on earth (Hebrews 11:13). We’re ambassadors representing our home country and king (2 Cor. 5:20). “Our citizenship is in heaven” (Phil. 3:20). We’re citizens of a “better country – a heavenly one” (Hebrews 11:16). Where we choose to store our treasures depends on where we think our home is.

When the groom returns for his bride, everything in the universe will come to a stop. All trading will end. All borrowing will cease. All money-making will be no more. All transactions will be closed. The banks will be out of business. All attention will be given toward the one who comes to gather his bride. Every day we are moving toward that wedding day. Does what you doing with your resources show that you are giving toward the eternal wedding gift?

Broke: When I Think It is My Money

Let me share with you how you can stay broke. I know you like living paycheck to paycheck. I see the smile on your face when you don’t have enough money to pay the bills at the end of the month. Joy just radiates from your marriage when you and your spouse discuss the finances. Since we like living “broke,” here is how you can continue to do so.

Are you ready? Here is the first secret to living broke – keep thinking it is your money. Yes, that’s right, keep fooling yourself that it is all yours. Every dime belongs to you. You earned it. You deserve it. It is your money. If you will keep this attitude, I promise you will continue to stay broke.

You don’t want to be broke? You don’t like living paycheck to paycheck? You hate the conflict that money brings to your relationships? Then the first thing you must do is change your mindset toward money. As long as you continue to think that it is your money, you will remain broke.

When you were just an infant, you came into this world clutching your fists. Every time someone put their finger by yours, you would wrap your little hand around it. Ever since we have been clinching as tightly as we can to what we think is ours. When you were a child you latched onto your toys and declared, “Mine.” When you were in high school you grabbed the hand of your girlfriend or the class ring of your boyfriend and you said, “Mine.” In college you took hold of the diploma and said, “Mine.”

When you started a career you grabbed hold of the ladder and with every rung upward you said, “Mine.” Since then you have grabbed hold of steering wheels to new cars, golf clubs, and door knobs to new houses, while boldly declaring, “Mine!”Could our last attempt to letting the world know it is all “mine” is gripping tightly to the edge of the hospital bed during our final breaths? It is not until we die, that the grip is relaxed.

Broke Graphic (Week 1)I know why we go through life with clinched fists and shouting “Mine” at every turn. You know why also. It is not because we are all greedy human beings out to hoard every thing we come across and put our name on it. When I was in elementary school my mom would write my name on the inside of my jacket. This was to identify it as my jacket. It didn’t belong to Shane or Becky. It was mine. It had my name on it. She wrote my name on the inside of the coat not because she was greedy but because she was afraid. She was afraid I would lose it. If it showed up in the lost and found without a name on it then it could belong to anyone. But if my name was written on the inside, the other kids would know it belonged to me.

We don’t necessarily live with trying to put our name on everything because we are greedy but because we are afraid. Fear forces us to go through life with clinched fists. Fear has a name and it is called the “What if’s.” What if the economy collapses? What if I loss my job? What if I can’t pay my bills? What if something unexpected happens? Fear helps us to explain away our opportunities to give. Fear causes our heart to be numb to the needs around us, the needs that God intended for you to meet.

If I was to take a poll, I believe the majority of us would agree that it is better to live generously than to be greedy. We know it is right to live with open hands but fear has us clinching our fists. I have struggled my whole life with the desire to open my hand. I want to make a difference with my possessions – even as small as they are. The answer to overcoming fear and living with an open hand is understanding that it is not my money. If you believe that everything belongs to God, then you have nothing to fear.

If fear is keeping you from trusting, remember that at the heart of God is the desire to love. Psalm 145:16 says, “You open your hand, satisfying the desire of every living thing.”

When Jesus came and saw the needs of people, he opened his hands. He taught, he healed, he touched, he fed, he freed, and he loved. And when it was time for him to be nailed to a cross to take upon himself the debt of our sin, he did not turn away. He did not keep his fist clenched as they put nails into his hands. He opened his hands.

Take a look at your hands. What do you see? Are your hands so clinched as a result of fear that it is causing anxiety to control your life? The only way we can live with open hands is if we believe that it all belongs to God. The more you start believing that God owns everything and we are simply stewards of his resources then your hands will look more like his.

 

Defend the Orphan

Liberty Hill Decal - BlueThe movie Elf begins with Buddy as an infant in an orphanage. On Christmas Eve, when Santa is not looking, Buddy crawls out of his crib and into Santa’s toy bag. He is taken back to the North Pole where he is raised by elves. Eventually, Buddy finds out that he is human by overhearing two elves talk about Buddy’s lack of toy-making abilities.

Unfortunately, as strange and difficult as it is for an elf to adopt a human, most people look at adoption and orphan care just as challenging. We find all types of reasons not to be involved. The financial commitment is huge. The psychological pressure of bringing an abandoned child into a structured environment can be overwhelming. The cultural challenges in cross-racial adoptions are a reality. However, if we refuse to act because it appears too difficult, it could be that being Christian may not be the faith for you. Jesus says, “None of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions” (Luke 14:33). Before this, he says, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Luke 9:23). Living as a Jesus follower looks strange. It requires commitment. It demands sacrifice.

Caring for the orphan is part of being a disciple. The author of the letter of James makes the point, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world” (James 1:27). Does this mean that we all rush out and start the process of adoption? No! It does not mean that all of us are called to open up our homes to an orphan child but it does mean that we are all called to open up our hearts. We are commissioned to “rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan” (Isaiah 1:17).

If the two billion Christians worldwide would defend the cause of the one hundred and fifty-three millions orphans worldwide, then every child would have a forever home. The writer of James makes it clear, “It is a sin when someone knows the right thing to do and doesn’t do it” (James 4:17).

If you need some motivation today, just remember that without our heavenly Father acting on our behalf we would all be orphans. We have been adopted by God through Jesus and brought into God’s family. According to Ephesians 1:5 God’s plan from the beginning has been to “adopt us into his own family by sending Jesus Christ to die for us.”

I read a story of a woman who explained that her favorite spot at the local zoo was the “House of Night,” where nocturnal creatures crawled and flew about. She said, “One very bright day, I stepped into the exhibit and was plunged into total darkness. Almost immediately, a small hand grabbed mine.” “Who do you belong to?” she asked. A little boy’s voice spoke in the darkness, “I’m yours till the lights come on.” It is easy for us to think of ourselves as the adult in this story. We approach adoption thinking we are rescuing a particular child or “saving” a child. But truth be told, we are the ones being rescued. We are the ones being saved. We are the little hand that latches onto the hand of our heavenly Father and who says, “I am yours till the lights come on.”

Our “defense of the orphan” is a response to God acting on our behalf. We love because He first loved us. It is because we know our heavenly Father has adopted us and called us to be a part of His family that we are motivated to care for the orphan. Once we were vulnerable and without hope in the world. Like a child living in fear of the darkness, we cried out, “Daddy, help me!” and God came to our rescue. Our heavenly Father came running. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus, God brought us in and adopted us as His very own children. We no longer live as slaves in the world but as children who have been rescued by a loving savior.

The cross of Jesus is God’s welcome embrace to be a pat of his eternal family. If anyone is going to be able to hear the cry of the orphan it is those who have felt the embrace of a heavenly Father. It is under the shadow of the cross that we “defend the orphan.” It is under the shadow of the cross that we embrace the forgotten. It is under the shadow of the cross that we strive to provide homes for homeless children. It is under the shadow of the cross that we give hope to the hopeless.

The Apostle Paul tells us in Ephesians 3 that God will do even more than we can ever imagine if we allow him to work in us. I praise God for those of you who believe that message. I am grateful for those of you who took up the challenge to foster children, adopt children, or host children in your home.  Thank you for being an example for the rest of us on what it means to “defend the orphan.”

Are you interested in orphan care ministry? Send me an email at jamey@libertyhillumc.org.

 

 

I Love Our People

I Love My Church GraphicHistory was made in Taylor County, Georgia during the high school prom of 2002. For the first time in thirty years the prom would be racially integrated. For over three decades this South Georgia town had held two proms, one white and one black. The school was approximately half white and half black, and the kids were conditioned to simply go along with the way things had always been. That was until a seventeen-year-old African American girl by name of Gerica McClary stepped up along with others in her class to campaign for one prom. We are not talking the South of the 1960’s. This was 2002. For the first time, blacks and whites and all ethnic groups could step onto the dance floor together.

This is my vision for the church. I imagine a day when all God’s people will join together as one body, one church, and one people to proclaim the name of Christ together. I imagine a day when the color of our skin or the culture we identify with no longer serves as a dividing wall for the church. Instead those differences are celebrated as what makes us each unique and united in our proclamation of Jesus as Lord.

What the church needs is more prophets like Gerica McClary. We need those who are not afraid to call it what it is – the church is one school attending two proms. Why is it that families who live in the same neighborhood get up on Sunday morning, dress themselves and their children, pile in a car, and drive to their white Churches, black Churches, and Latino Churches? Is there are any prophets out there among us willing to call us all to God’s dance floor? Is there are any dancers available to show us what the dance of God’s amazing grace looks like? When the Jewish Peter stands before the Gentile Cornelius to share the Gospel, he begins, “I truly understand that God shows no partiality” (Acts 10:34). He proclaims this because God had shown him in a dream that he is not to call “anyone profane or unclean” (10:28). So, where are the dreamers among us? Where are those who are not afraid to preach reconciliation?

The apostle Paul declares to the racially diverse congregation in Corinth, “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free – and we were all made to drink of one Spirit” (I Cor. 12:13). I have a vision of Church as the one body of Christ. I have a dream where race, social status, or age does not divide. But as long as we continue to think more of ourselves than we should as Paul tells the church in Rome, it isn’t going to happen. As long as the privileged of society drown out the voices of the underprivileged and the wealthy stand over the poor and we don’t have ears to hear what the young people are trying to say, we will never be a church that is united in Christ.

I love Liberty Hill Church because we are a church that cares for the poor, where race is identified as a person’s uniqueness in Christ and not used as a dividing wall, and where the voice of the next generation matters. We don’t always get it right. We are broken people. We need the Christian practice confession and forgiveness because at times we can be racist, judgmental, and threatening.

We cannot live out this thing we call church without you. While God may have individually spoken to you, called you, and saved you, you have been joined to a body, the body of Christ. We cannot be Christian without being joined to the body of Christ. The author of I John will go as far as to link salvation to fellowship. He believes there is no salvation outside of fellowship with God and with one another. If you think that you can be a Jesus follower without making your connection to the body of Christ a priority, then you have fooled yourself.

My grandmother has this bad habit of giving away gifts that were once given to her. If our family gives her a night gown and slippers for Christmas, someone next year will get those same slippers. Sometimes she won’t even open it. She will ask, “What is in here?” and then put it aside. We will find it in the same wrapping paper under the tree the following Christmas.

It is frustrating and yet, comical. But this is what the apostle Paul tells us to do with the gifts that we have been given. We discover our gifts within the body of Christ and in return we use those gifts in the body to build one another up. The gifts and talents that the church helps us figure out are to be used to shape the church into being who God has called us to be.

Paul could have used a variety of metaphors to describe the church. He could have used family. We are family who stick by one another in tough times. He could have used team. We work like a team to fulfill our mission. And yet, Paul uses the metaphor of body. We all know that we can take a break from the team. We can say, “I am not playing this year” or “I am taking this season off from the team.” We all know that we can go on vacation without the family. We see the family all the time, we have dinner with them, we celebrate holidays with them but sometimes we say, “You know, I love you but I need to take a break from you.”

It is hard to take a break from the parts of your body. The right arm cannot say to the left arm, “I need to take this season off.” The left leg can’t say to the right leg, “I need a break. Can you pick up the slack?” If that ever does happen, we don’t give excuses to parts of the body for not being what it suppose to be. Instead we go to the doctor and say, “My leg is not working right or my arm is not functioning.”

The church is a body that belongs to Christ. We are the body that gives Christ a face to the world. We are his voice. We are his hands and his feet. We cannot do it without you. You matter and Liberty Hill Church needs you.

And you need Liberty Hill Church. You need us to be Christian. You need us to mature in your faith. You need the church to know what love, grace, and forgiveness is all about. Some claim they don’t need the church to be Christian or simply they don’t think the church makes a difference in their Christian walk. This is unbiblical and self-centered. If you think that life is better lived in isolation from the community of faith that has been shaped by a great cloud of witnesses then you are claiming to know more than Jesus and the biblical writers. I don’t want spiritual insight from someone who sits around trying to be Christ-like alone. I want someone brave enough to encounter God in a real human community. I am not coming to you for prayer and Godly wisdom if being Christian among other people is not important to you. When I need someone saying a prayer and encouraging me, I want it to be someone who has lived out the faith with other people and not someone who claims to do it in the comforts of their own selfish lives.

I Love Our Mission

I Love My Church GraphicMale birds develop sophisticated ways to attract mates. They build up more and more “attractors.” These attractors mean more weight, more elaborate color, more refinements to the feathers, until they can no longer fly or become easy prey for predators. The elaborate dance, bright colors, and beautiful feathers are impressive in attracting a mate but they also can become the male bird’s death. They can limit the bird from doing what it was intended to do – fly!

The modern Church has built its whole way of being Church around the attractional model. It has created “attractors” – large buildings, complex productions, and elaborate programs; all with the hopes that they can be the Church with the loudest “Come and see” appeal. The problem with the “come and see” model is that it puts the Church in competition with Disney, Hollywood, and Madison Avenue. The “come and see” Church will always be forced to focus more energy on putting on the latest production or creating the edgiest marketing instead of discipling the people to become more like Christ. “Come and see,” “come and be a part,” “come and follow,” is a part of the Christian way but only after the church “goes and tells,” “goes and lives,” goes and invites” to come and follow.

At Liberty Hill Church we want people to “come and experience” but we want it to be as an invitation from us who have “gone and told.” The Church should always be growing, always changing, always maturing but not because it has the best marketing in town or the coolest space available but because its people believe the words of Jesus when he said, “Go make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28: 19-20).  The Church grows because people believe that Jesus is with them as they go forth telling the Good News of God’s amazing grace. People should be flooding into the place of worship because the people who worship in that place have gone into the entire world and proclaimed the “good news to the whole creation” (Mark 16:15).

God is a God who sends. God sent Moses to rescue his people out of slavery. God sent his people, the people of Israel, to be a “light to the nations.” God sent prophets to remind Israel of their mission. God, the Father, sent Jesus to be reconciler and freedom announcer to all people. Jesus sends us. He says, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (John 20:21). If we stop sending, we stop being the church.

Martin E. Niemoller was born on January 14, 1892 in Lippstadt, Westphalia. During World War I, he served as a German submarine commander, but when the war was over, he went to seminary and became a Lutheran minister. Niemoller spoke out against National Socialism. He organized the Confession Church, a group of German Protestant Christians that opposed Hitler. Niemoller was imprisoned in concentration camps from 1937 to 1945, after which he helped to rebuild the German Protestant church.

Not long before he died on March 6, 1984, Niemoller lectured at Drew University in New Jersey. In his speech he told of a recurrent dream that involved the voice of Hitler, a voice he had heard numerous times. Niemoller said in his dream he heard a voice speak from the clouds: “Before I pass final judgment, do you have anything to say in your defense?” And from behind him he heard an answer. He tried to turn his head to see the voice that was at the docket, but he couldn’t get it back far enough. However, he recognized the voice. “I never once heard the true gospel message,” Hitler said.[1]

Niemoller’s point was that even the most evil needs to hear the gospel. And it is our mission to get it there, to take up our commission, to agree that we have been sent. If we are not going to our neighbors, to our friends, to our co-workers with the Good News of Jesus Christ, then we have no right to call ourselves Christian.

Let me be clear, being sent does not always mean packing a suitcase and boarding a plane to the remotest part of the world. It could mean that you do that but it means as much about walking across the street or down the hall. When Jesus gave the Great Commission he said, “go” which the best translations read “as you are going.” It is not so much a change of territory as it is a change of mindset. The focus of going is “making disciples” which means as you are living out your life, going from here to there, “make disciples.” As I listen to the conversations that some have around missions I am afraid that missions have become idolatry. When missions is reduced to an agenda – feed the poor, build churches, take care of orphans – rather than living as a response to what God is doing in the world then it is salvation by works. If your need is to accomplish a predetermined task for God then it can no longer be called missional or Christian vocation. At that point you must call it what it is, good humanitarian work.

I love the mission of Liberty Hill Church. We exist to engage people in the life and mission of Jesus. We make no excuses about it. We exist to engage. We know that if we are going to continue to be a viable witness to the work of Christ in this area that we must engage. We will not hide behind walls. We will extend invitations. We will invite our neighbors. We will tell the Good News. We will take seriously the call to follow Jesus into the world.

As we said last week, we believe Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. He has come not to just give us life but to give us abundant life. He extends an invitation for life filled with passion, a life of purpose and meaning, and life of joy. Anything less than these things is not the Jesus way.

If Jesus is the way to abundant life then we know that we must tell others. First, people must make Jesus the leader of their lives. He must be their lord and savior. When we say, “We are Christian,” we declare that, “Jesus directs my decision-making, my parenting, my marriage, my finances, and my relationships.” Jesus is my life.

Secondly, we believe everyone has a vocation. Everyone has a call, a purpose, and a mission. We exist for more than filling up space. Our life has meaning.  We believe every person matters.  We exist to engage people in the life and mission of Jesus. This is why we are here. This is what keeps us forward-looking. This is the reason we want the world to know that God planted Liberty Hill Church.

The revolution started with twelve men, twelve ordinary, common men in first century Palestine. Eleven saw it through to completion. It wasn’t easy. They were human. They had feelings. They had their own desires, wants, and dreams. Their emotions got the best of them at times. Their hunger for power limited their view of what Jesus was trying to accomplish in and through them.

In the first chapter of Acts, we find them staring up into the heavens watching as Jesus ascends out of sight. Jesus who was their closest companion was now removed from them. Jesus who went about doing good, proclaiming the kingdom of God, healing the sick and giving himself in love is now no more. The one who they witnessed as his life was poured out in love and whose love bled down a wooden cross was rising into the clouds. Their moment of awe is quickly interrupted by two angels who ask, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). Other words, “Quit standing around. Go and live your lives as redeemed men of God.”

They started a revolution that would “turn the world upside down” (Acts 17:6). The movement became unrestrained and unstoppable. It brought down empires, toppled power structures, and proclaimed a message of freedom to the enslaved. Caught by the vision of God’s reign and empowered by the Holy Spirit they set out to be witnesses of the Good News “in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1: 8).

Two thousand years ago, it started with twelve being called. Eleven saw it through. Let’s refuse to be the ones who betrayed. Let us renew our mission to engage people in the life and mission of Jesus. Let’s come out of our religious ghettos and proclaim the Good News of Jesus. Jesus promised the kingdom and God sent the church. The best we can be is a sign of God’s reign on earth. We live out the hope of God’s presence among us. We are the life of the kingdom. We are the people of the vision. The vision that Jesus proclaimed when he said, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). Let’s quit standing around looking up into the heavens and wondering when Christ will return. Instead, let’s go out into the streets, byways, and highways proclaiming the Good News. Let’s mend up the brokenhearted. Let’s feed the hungry. Let’s clothe the naked. Let’s give shelter to the poor. Not because it is to be our agenda but instead because it is where we will find God among us.

We are witnesses of amazing grace. We are witnesses of unconditional love. We have our own story to tell, how we were once blind but now can see, once lost but now found. We are like the eleven with our mixes emotions, fear, and doubts. Like them, we have nothing to boast of except the love of God who saved a wretch like me. Jesus has come to us, he has come to Liberty Hill Church, with a love without limit, and invites us to tell the story of love over and over and over again until all the world hears. Imagine what “Good News” turned loose on the world today would look like? Imagine it. Now go and live it. “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea, and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Can I get a witness?

 

 

[1] Sweet, Leonard. So Beautiful. Pg. 65.

I Love Our Vision

I Love My Church GraphicWe live in an amazing city. I’m not just saying that because I think it is a great place to live. Canton, Georgia was recently named one of the safest cities in the state of Georgia. Our city has been identified as one of the most affordable cities in the state. With these two honors, Canton is ranked as one of the best places in Georgia to live. Our public schools are staffed with some excellent educators. Our public service employees serve our residents selflessly. A quick trip down interstate 575 gets us to downtown Atlanta. If we need to get away from the madness, we head north to the Blue Ridge Mountains. Canton has exploded in population over the past decade, jumping from 3,500 residents in 2000 to more than 23,000 in 2012. The word is out that Canton, Georgia is the place to live.

We have a variety of restaurants. Shopping of all sorts is available. Farmers Market on the weekends, movies in the park, and First Friday Nights on the square make for some great social events. There is an abundance of activities to enjoy. However, are we living abundantly? Do our lives radiate joy? When you speak to your neighbor are you hearing gladness in her heart? When you watch the children play is it carefree or anxiety driven? Just because we have been given the title “safest city” doesn’t mean we are not living in fear. Canton may be considered one of the most “affordable cities,” but it doesn’t mean we are not overwhelmed with trying to keep up with the Jones’. Life can be delayed, put on hold, and made into a doormat. Just because it is existence doesn’t mean it is life.

Jesus says, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10b). He says this after reminding us that the “thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10a). It is not hard for us to name the thief that robs us of life. For the single mom who is trying to provide for her children, he has a name. For the retired person who feels like has no purpose, he has a name. For the teenager who is constantly bullied, the thief has a name. For the suburban family trying to simply survive, he has a name. For the undocumented immigrant, he has a name. For the sick, he has a name. For the broken, he has a name. For the poor, he has a name. What is the name of your thief? What is the name of the one who is trying to rob you of life? What name is given to him – fear, poverty, homelessness, purposeless, cancer, anxiety, or worry? There are so many thieves and bandits in this world who would rob us of life, who would cheat us of abundance, who steal our joy, or snatch away our passion.

And so, Jesus comes as a gate-keeper. He says, “I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture” (John 10:9). There are those out there who want to steal and destroy. They want to sneak into your life and take from you all that is right and good and beautiful. Jesus says, “No more! I am going to lay down my life at the entrance of your life and I am going to keep you safe.” By making your coming and going in life through the access gate of Jesus, you will discover abundant life. It is what he meant when he replied to Thomas’ question, “How can we know the way?” with, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Jesus is the way not just to life after death, but life before death. There is no limit to the gift of life that Jesus gives. The Psalmist promises, “The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in for this time on and forevermore” (Psalm 121: 7, 8).

Everyday we are faced with choices. We choose what is from above or what is from below. We choose light or we choose darkness. We choose what is true or what is false. We choose what leads to death or what leads to life. Jesus says if we try to get at this life by any other way than through him, then we become our own worst enemy. We destroy our own life, rob ourselves of passion, or steal our own joy. Without Jesus, the only choice we have is dark, false, and death. Abundant life is not something we earn or achieve, buy or barter for. It is a gift. A gift of God made available to us by the one who has laid down his life for us. We are simply called to walk that way by faith, to walk through the gate he has opened for us. Again, Jesus says, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

Jesus never defines for us what abundant life looks like. We can translate abundance in different ways. It means passion, full, or plenty. But he never explains what a life of abundance is exactly. If we look at it within context, we discover that Jesus has just finished healing a blind man. This was a man who had been blind from birth. Everyday he depended on the kindness of others to take care of him. Some of the townspeople felt that he was blind because of a curse that was on the family. Others thought it was because he sinned. Regardless, everyday was lived in darkness. For the blind man, abundant life meant sight. It meant freedom. It meant new opportunities.

Abundant life looks different in different places to different people. However, it is always a response to whatever it is that tries to rob the children of God of life, purpose, and joy. For the single mom, abundant life may be the friendships of others. For the teen that is bullied, abundant life could be justice for the bully. For the undocumented immigrant, abundant life may be a life without fear. For the suburban family trying to keep up the status quo, abundant life may be the call to simplicity. Whatever it is that moves us from not just persisting, but thriving; not simply getting by, but flourishing; not just existing, but joyful living is abundant life.

What does abundance life look like for you? Is it life without fear? Is it life without anxiety? Is it life without worry? What would give you life back? Jesus says, “I am the gate for you to enter to receive it.” What would give you a sense of meaning, purpose, and fulfillment? What do you need to feel accepted? Jesus, “I am the door.”

Abundant life means different things to different people because the thief is different for each of us. But this is why I love the vision of Liberty Hill Church. If abundant life looks different for different people, we are a church that is not afraid to join ourselves to God’s mission to bring abundant life to all God’s children. We are a church that pays attention to what is robbing the children of God of life and we will stand against those forces. We believe that abundant life is not just a reward at some faraway distance, but an invitation to discover life right now. Our vision is that God’s desire is that everyone experiences this abundant life. It is a life that matters and not just one that fills up space. It is a life of abundance caring for one another. A life filled with passion for living and not just existing. A life of purpose lived out by responding to God’s call to share love and forgiveness.

We may live in the safest and most affordable city but we still have thousands of people missing out on the abundant life. On any given Sunday only 14 percent of the population of Cherokee county is attending worship. That means 86 percent is missing out on the abundance of life offered by Jesus. They will not experience it unless we extend an invitation for them to join us for worship. There should not be a week that goes by that we are not inviting someone to join us for worship. If you believe that abundant life is found in Jesus, then why are we not sharing it? We average three guests a week. If we are going to be a viable church that is living out the mission of God, then we need to be averaging ten guests a week. It isn’t going to happen without us catching the vision of what an abundant life in Christ is all about. People are out there asking everyday, “Is there more to life than this?” “Is there more than just making a living?” Is there really life?” You have the answer. You have the correct response.

By coming into this world, Jesus gathers himself a community of believers who believes he is the bread of life for those who are hungry for purpose and meaning, who believe he is the living water for those who are drowning in despair, who is the vine for those who feel they having nothing to pull themselves back up, who is the good shepherd who protects those under his care. We are that community. Let us be captured by the vision of abundant life.