A Year of Advancing

Imagine for a moment what a chess match looks like. There are two sides lined up facing each other—usually light and dark—with calculated movements used to strategically gain the pieces of the opposing team, until the king is cornered, resulting in a “checkmate”. In order to win this game, the pieces have to “advance” on the board in direct and purposeful interception of the opposing team. It requires skill, but more so, it requires a willingness to make a move.

This year, the Lord is calling The Church On The Way Santa Clarita to “A Year of Advancing”. I’m so excited for this prophetic theme. Advancing doesn’t mean that we give up the territory we’ve occupied thus far—it means we lay hold of new things and gain new ground. It involves active and purposeful expansion and growth. When I think of “advancing” in this context, it brings to mind Isaiah 54:2,3:

“Enlarge the place of your tent, And let them stretch out the curtains of your dwellings; Do not spare; Lengthen your cords, And strengthen your stakes. For you shall expand to the right and to the left, And your descendants will inherit the nations, And make the desolate cities inhabited.”

There are two things I would like to draw from this passage as we begin this New Year:

  1. Advancing requires movement. Just like a chess match, we can’t advance if we don’t make a move. The Lord will not force us to advance against our will—it is up to us to make purposeful decisions that will advance us this year. Perhaps that means you spend more time in God’s Word, or volunteer in an area at church, or begin faithfully tithing, or go on a mission trip. We even have programs available through The King’s University that will enrich your knowledge of the Lord and give you greater insight into His Word. Make a decision to choose to advance in one of these areas this year.
  2. Advancing requires faith. I like how the passage in Isaiah says, “Do not spare; Lengthen your cords, And strengthen your stakes…And your descendants will inherit the nations.” We may not be in a place at this very moment where we can see the vision of how God wants to advance us this year, but the great thing about the Lord is that He is always faithful to grow us and work through us if we’re willing to let Him. Ask the Lord to increase your faith this year; that you will have a willingness to trust Him as you “enlarge the place of your tent”.

I’m truly excited for all this year has in store for our church corporately, and for each of us individually. May we all see the Lord work mightily in and through us in 2015!

Stepping Up

My upbringing is different than that of many. I lived in one house all my childhood years. I went to one elementary school, one jr. high, and one high school. I went to the same church until I was about 20. Things just didn’t change that much. My folks were satisfied with their home (it’s actually still in the family, and I live one mile from it), and they would never have thought of “shopping for a church”—that was foreign to their deeply committed and anti-consumeristic convictions. I loved the stability of that life. I know that many people’s upbringing placed them in multiple homes, multiple cities, and multiple schools—that’s not a problem in any way, but it’s just not what I knew.

Each year when I would finish a grade, I would advance to the next. I knew most of the kids—and a couple of them go to the church today. When we left first grade, we advanced to second grade. The idea was that we wouldn’t forget anything we’d already learned, but that we’d advance in our education and move forward. A key principle of education is to never lose the fundamentals, but to learn the specifics as you begin stepping up into what you are supposed to be doing with your life. For me, there was only two times in those first 12 grades that I actually changed location (elementary to jr. high then to high school)—each time it was to move to a new level of study that required new disciplines and different approaches to continue advancing my education.

This week, we are stepping into a new year—one that I would pray would be a time for each of us to be “stepping up” in our relationship with God. That doesn’t require leaving behind what you’ve learned or where you’ve been, it instead demands application of those skills that allows you to advance to the next place God has for your walk with Him. In these next several weeks, we’ll be stepping up to embrace our theme for the year. As most in the church are aware, we ask the Lord to give us a theme each year to shape our growth together as a body. It’s actually an amazing picture of His Holy Spirit at work when you hear how many different ways the theme gets applied each year with specific application to each person’s life.

This year, the Lord has clearly placed on our heart that it is to be “A Year of Advancing”. We’re asking the Lord to show us how to step up into new areas of responsibility and growth as He matures us from where we were and advances us to where He desires us to be. That’s just a brief introduction—I’m really looking forward to unfolding this process together as we step up into this New Year.

Advancing together with you!

Reflection and Anticipation

It’s hard to believe that another year has come to an end. In just a few days, we will welcome 2015 and all the wonderful joys and exciting events a new year brings. While many face this time of year with anticipation of all things new, there are others who would experience a tinge of regret. Perhaps 2014 wasn’t the year it was expected to be, or perhaps trials and difficulties are overshadowing any recollection of victory in this past year. Whatever category you fall into, I would like to challenge you to spend the next few days in prayerful reflection and anticipation:

REFLECT

  • Ask the Lord to reveal to you the ways in which your influence was increased in 2014.
  • Make a list of five victories you experienced in the last year (they don’t have to be earth-shattering—sometimes just getting through the day is victory enough).
  • Seek the Lord regarding the things in this past year that weren’t so great, and ask Him to heal your heart so you can enter 2015 with a new perspective.

ANTICIPATE

  • What new thing would you like to see the Lord do in your life in 2015? Seek the Lord for a fresh outpouring of His Spirit and for a new level of intimacy in your relationship with Him.
  • Commit to growth in your walk with Jesus. I’m not referring to the establishment of a short lived “New Year’s Resolution”—but rather the establishment of a new pattern in your relationship with Jesus. Perhaps this is the year you choose to commit to a daily Bible reading plan, or take steps toward actively serving in the church, or decide to be baptized in water. Whatever the step may be, make 2015 a year in which you actively pursue a new level of spiritual growth.
  • Ask the Lord to correct you. This may sound scary, but correction is vital to our growth as believers. Seek the Lord for areas in your life that are not in alignment with His purpose for you, and surrender to His correction. This will enable you to grow and mature as a Christian and experience a new level of intimacy with the Lord.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. Spend time with the Lord over the next several days and determine the things you would like to see Him do in you, and the things you’d like to do for Him, in 2015. When we ask the Lord to work in us, and then actively pursue a fresh work from Him, He is ALWAYS faithful to answer. I pray this New Year will be a milestone for you in your relationship with our Heavenly Father.

Happy New Year!

Why Give?

Have you ever met someone who just loves giving gifts? There are several people I know who just aren’t happy unless they are giving some token of affection to others. This level of gift giving is beyond mere obligation because of the Christmas season, or the result of another special occasion—it’s an ongoing, year-round way to express love and appreciation of someone. This is the “love language” of gift giving—and it’s a love language we learn from our Heavenly Father.

The Lord loves to give us gifts. At Christmastime, we celebrate the gift of His Son coming to Earth in human form (Luke 2:1–20). But the Lord also gave us the gift of salvation (John 3:16), the gift of the Holy Spirit (John 14:15–18), and many spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12), just to name a few. And because we are created in His image, and live our lives striving to be more like Jesus, it is important for us to develop the character trait of giving generously to those around us. When we love the Lord and allow Him to change our lives, we can’t help ourselves—we long to give gifts to others.

This season, we committed as a church to give at every opportunity possible—and you responded generously. We helped provide a Thanksgiving meal for those in our city who are in need, we gave gifts to children with an incarcerated parent through Angel Tree, we donated food to those in need, we collected clothing and blankets to distribute to the needy, we adopted an apartment complex, and we provided an excellent community outreach with our Winter Wonderland event this last weekend. Because of your generosity, we even had extra gifts given toward Angel Tree—and we were able to bless children at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles as a result. Thank you for following the Lord’s example and giving so freely this Christmas season. Out of your love of God, you’ve chosen to serve others by giving gifts, and the resulting outcome is that lives will be changed. This equation works no matter what time of year it’s implemented—and it’s always so life giving and impactful.

So, why give? Why be generous? Because we have a great example in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave everything so that you and I could spend eternity with Him. It’s the greatest love story ever told, and it started with a gift. Let’s ensure this true Gift remains in our hearts year-round, and that we continually strive to give Him away to those in need around us.

 

War on Christmas?

If you’re anything like me, this time of year can sometimes be a frustrating reminder of the politically correct excesses of the environment in which we live. People can get so fearful of the Gospel being presented at Christmastime, and as Christians, we can feel like this commercialized, Santa-exalting culture has developed a dual, or alternate, meaning to this wonderful celebration. We can so easily become fearful that Santa will draw people away from Jesus—that “Happy Holidays” will dilute the “Merry Christmas” that should be represented. If we aren’t careful, we can allow ourselves to become self-appointed foot soldiers in the alleged “War on Christmas”.

Recently, I was reading an article about Christians and Christmas, and a quote about this very thing stood out to me. It’s by Ryan Duncan, the entertainment editor for the Christian website, crosswalk.com, in his review of C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe:

“Over the years, many Christians have taken to the idea of a ‘War on Christmas.’ We believe that if everyone starts wishing us ‘Happy Holidays’ or if we stop calling our decorations ‘Christmas ornaments’ that Jesus will somehow disappear…God is stronger than commercialism, He is stronger than our fear, and He will be moving in this season regardless of what people call it.”

I loved this little article. And as I read it, it made me realize our job as children of the King is to help people see that Christmas is still about Christ—even if those celebrating don’t know why they’re celebrating. Our goal is to shine the light of Jesus in such a way that we will be penetrating the darkest areas of our culture and seeking to provide opportunities for people in our community to know of God’s love and how it’s wrapped up in this special season. If we legalistically admonish every person who doesn’t celebrate Christmas “correctly” then we run the risk of a “Religious Spirit” overpowering the “Spirit of Christmas” in our lives—and that won’t help us shine the light of Jesus to those around us.

Now, I’m still going to wish everyone I come in contact with a “Merry Christmas” instead of a “Happy Holidays”, but I will also choose to be joyful about the celebrations of those who have no idea why—or Who—they’re celebrating. Won’t you join me?

Come Like a Child

It’s hard to believe that the Christmas season is upon us. In a few short weeks we’ll be gathering with our families, exchanging gifts, and enjoying the festivities. Christmas always evokes a myriad of feelings, but as Christians, it also has dual significance as a time to celebrate the birth of our Savior.

Most of us are familiar with the Christmas story in some capacity or another. We’ve heard about Mary and Joseph, the shepherds, the angels, the wise men, of course, Jesus—all the key figures that played an essential role in this historic event. But this year, I want to focus our attention on a vital participant who is often overlooked in this story: the Holy Spirit. He is mentioned throughout the events leading up to the birth of Jesus, but the significance of His presence is rarely highlighted. Let’s look at some verses in Luke 1 to set the stage:

“The angel replied, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and He will be called the Son of God. What’s more, your relative Elizabeth has become pregnant in her old age! People used to say she was barren, but she has conceived a son and is now in her sixth month. For the word of God will never fail.’ Mary responded, ‘I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.’ And then the angel left her. A few days later Mary hurried to the hill country of Judea, to the town where Zechariah lived. She entered the house and greeted Elizabeth. At the sound of Mary’s greeting, Elizabeth’s child leaped within her, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:35—41, NLT).

There are several important things we can glean from this passage. First is that God’s miracle works take place when the Holy Spirit comes upon us. Without the presence of the Holy Spirit, there would be no miraculous virgin birth. Second, the Word of God will NEVER fail (verse 37). We can trust in the Lord’s promises because He keeps His word. And finally, when we encounter Jesus, God’s perfect gift to us, we become open vessels for the Holy Spirit to enter in. Just as Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit when Mary walked into the room, the Lord wants to see us experience a new level of intimacy with Him, if we simply open ourselves up to receive His gift of salvation.

My prayer is that in this Christmas season we will all experience a fresh and intimate encounter with Jesus, and that the (Holy) Spirit of Christmas will fill us as a result. Join me in opening your heart to receive all the Lord has in store for us this Christmas!

The Spirit of Christmas

It’s hard to believe that the Christmas season is upon us. In a few short weeks we’ll be gathering with our families, exchanging gifts, and enjoying the festivities. Christmas always evokes a myriad of feelings, but as Christians, it also has dual significance as a time to celebrate the birth of our Savior.

Most of us are familiar with the Christmas story in some capacity or another. We’ve heard about Mary and Joseph, the shepherds, the angels, the wise men, of course, Jesus—all the key figures that played an essential role in this historic event. But this year, I want to focus our attention on a vital participant who is often overlooked in this story: the Holy Spirit. He is mentioned throughout the events leading up to the birth of Jesus, but the significance of His presence is rarely highlighted. Let’s look at some verses in Luke 1 to set the stage:

“The angel replied, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and He will be called the Son of God. What’s more, your relative Elizabeth has become pregnant in her old age! People used to say she was barren, but she has conceived a son and is now in her sixth month. For the word of God will never fail.’ Mary responded, ‘I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.’ And then the angel left her. A few days later Mary hurried to the hill country of Judea, to the town where Zechariah lived. She entered the house and greeted Elizabeth. At the sound of Mary’s greeting, Elizabeth’s child leaped within her, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit”. (Luke 1:35–41 NLT)

There are several important things we can glean from this passage.

  • First is that God’s miracle works take place when the Holy Spirit comes upon us. Without the presence of the Holy Spirit, there would be no miraculous virgin birth.
  • Second, the Word of God will NEVER fail (v.37). We can trust in the Lord’s promises because He keeps His word.
  • And finally, when we encounter Jesus, God’s perfect gift to us, we become open vessels for the Holy Spirit to enter in. Just as Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit when Mary walked into the room, the Lord wants to see us experience a new level of intimacy with Him, if we simply open ourselves up to receive His gift of salvation.

My prayer is that in this Christmas season we’ll all experience a fresh and intimate encounter with Jesus, and that the (Holy) Spirit of Christmas will fill us as a result. Join me in opening your heart to receive all the Lord has in store for us this Christmas!

Who Does That?

Have you ever thought about who fills all those little cups for communion? Or wondered who’s responsible for the beautiful arrangement adorning our coffee set-up each week? Or stopped to consider how the 70 dozen or so donuts get to the church on donut day? Even things that we may think we know who handles, might surprise us—for example, every week there are a couple of faithful volunteers who clean all the bathrooms; there are others who regularly fix things that are broken; and yet more who help with tons of office tasks. We can see the Sunday School Teacher, and Usher, and Greeter—and we’re thankful for them as we should be, Yet, it’s amazing how many things at the church, which we all enjoy, happen because of servants who work behind the scenes and most we’ll never see.

One such couple is the Womacks. Since the day we opened, Wally and Pat have come to the church each week and collected every used tablecloth, wet baptismal towel, soiled cleaning rag, and whatever else they can find and taken them to the back room to wash them. Amazingly, we can so easily take a job like this for granted—always expecting there to be tablecloths and towels available. But a role like the Womack’s have served is a great service to a church family like ours. I know churches our size who spend thousands of dollars each year to have outside laundry services care for these responsibilities, and not do it with the love that these two amazing servants have shown. The fact is that Wally and Pat are both in their retirement years and spend their free time chasing grandchildren around the country, but their hearts are firmly anchored in making ministry happen. Pat is even trained and licensed as a Foursquare pastor and appointed here at the church. Together, they exemplify what it means to be people who Love God and Serve People EVEN if no one is watching—actually, ESPECIALLY if no one is watching. Though they each still serve in many different areas of our church, at the end of the year they plan to “hang up the towel” on their weekly laundry volunteering.

Today, I’d like to thank them for their service and honor them for all they’ve done. Paul tells the Romans to show honor to whom honor is due (ch.13) and Jesus tells the disciples that when they have served “the least of these” that they have served Him (Matthew 25). Wally and Pat have served Jesus while they’ve been serving us. I know they’ll never stop serving—what they’re doing here is giving opportunity for someone else to step up in this arena (maybe you). But, for their faithful willingness to serve people when we didn’t even know we were being served, I honor them and say:

“Thank You, Wally and Pat. Well done good and faithful servants. You are a blessing to Christa and me, to The Church On The Way Santa Clarita, and to Jesus. We love you!”

Living in the Blessing of God’s Love

Today we’re beginning a new series that will lead us toward our celebration of Thanksgiving. On the heels of our recent studies dealing with the blessed dividends of stewarding our lives appropriately and according to God’s plan, it seems only proper that we look at just how blessed we are to live in the amazing and abundant love of God. He is a great God who loves His people and desires His best to manifest in their lives. When we see that, we start to live in a way that engages His direction to guide us as we move forward.

The love of God is something that is poured out to us even though we don’t deserve it. Interestingly, the adversary always wants to draw us to the point of thinking God is angry with us and then seeks to separate us from His love. But quite the opposite is the case—God loves us, and did so when we didn’t come close to deserving it (actually, we still don’t). Look at how Paul explains this to the Romans:

“God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

The beautiful picture in this is that God’s love is not predicated by us having accomplished a series of tasks in our own strength, but is in fact an action totally undeserved on our part. That’s not a common type of love by any means. Actually, in the previous verse, Paul identifies the fact that this is inconsistent with human reasoning. In v.7 he says:

“For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die.”

Then he tells us that God’s sacrifice of His Son was because He loved us when we weren’t yet right with Him. That’s an amazing type of love that is truly a gift to receive—a blessing beyond compare. So the task for us, since we did nothing to deserve this love and were previously unworthy of it, is to now determine to live in a way that shows a recognition of the value of that love and its impact to change our lives.

“Changing Lives” is one of the tenets of our congregational purpose statement. It’s the goal, or product, of lives committed to “Loving God” and “Serving People”, but a life doesn’t get changed just because of us. The transformation happens because of the work of God in that life, and our actions of loving and serving may become the environment that fosters that change in other people—and honestly, the changed life may be our own.

So, all this establishes an objective for us to live toward in that we would allow the sacrificial love that God has for us to truly have a lasting impact on everything of our lives. Living in the blessing of God’s love is us learning to walk in the obedience He’s called us to, which grants us great liberty that should bring the realization of the magnitude of a love that was undeserved, yet will never die. May we all seek to live worthy of His sacrifice!

Where Best to Invest

Last week, I mentioned Pastor Rick Warren sharing five “funds” that Christians can invest in for eternity. This was part of his Financial Fitness sermon series from 2011. He called this portion “Where Best to Invest,” and based it on the concept that every time we use our money for good we’re investing in heaven.

  1. God’s Growth Fund: When we invest our money in things that will grow our character, we are investing in eternity. Proverbs 23:23 says “Invest in truth and wisdom, discipline and good sense, and don’t part with them!” Money that is invested in our own spiritual, physical, intellectual, and social growth will benefit God’s Kingdom.
  2. God’s Mutual Fund: Every time we use our money to encourage fellowship, bless other believers, and foster unity within God’s family, we are investing in God’s Mutual Fund. 2 Corinthians 9:12,13 says this: “This service of giving not only helps the needs of God’s people, it also brings many more thanks to God and it is a proof of your faith. Many people will praise God because you obey the Good News of Christ, the gospel you say you believe and because you freely share with them.”
  3. God’s Service Fund: Giving our money or our time to meet the financial, emotional, or physical needs of others is investing in God’s Service Fund. God gives us an amazing promise for investing in this fund: “When you give to the poor, it’s like lending to the Lord, and He will pay you back” Proverbs 19:17.
  4. God’s Global Fund: God wants us to use our money to bring the lost into His Kingdom. Luke 6:19 puts it this way: “Use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.” In other words, invest in getting people into heaven so that when our time comes to dwell there for eternity there will be people to welcome us in. Imagine how wonderful it would be to get to heaven and meet someone who came to know Jesus because of the missionary you sponsored, or the gospel tracts you purchased! This is God’s Global Fund.
  5. God’s Treasury Fund: When we give our money to God as an act of worship, this is investing in God’s Treasury Fund. Worshiping the Lord through our money means faithfully returning (tithing) the first ten percent of our income back to Him—because He already owns it all. Giving a monetary offering to the Lord is the ultimate act of worship, because, “Wherever your treasure is, there your heart will be also” Matthew 6:21.

What wonderful opportunities to turn everyday deposits into eternal dividends. Won’t you join me in these investments?