“BEElieve in Jesus!”

Image result for Honey bees
Several months ago, Ted & Laura allowed us to bring several youth over to their house and go swimming.  Ted asked Mark & me if we wanted to see his bees.  I have had several occasions in my life when I have been stung by flying insects, so before I could answer, “No thanks!” Mark said, “Sure!”  Because I didn’t want to surrender over my man card, I reluctantly tagged along behind them.   Ted assured us that they were the European Honey Bees and that unlike the African Honey Bees, they weren’t really aggressive in nature.  What I learned that day was amazing.  The Humble Honey Bee has to be God’s most amazing insect!
I have since researched the Honey Bee and have been blown away by what I’ve learned.  Everyone knows that bees make honey, which is not only delicious, but also has medicinal properties.  However, if bees suddenly went extinct, mankind would also have to say goodbye to most fruits, vegetables, nuts, and several types of oils; for Bees are responsible for pollinating 1/3 of all the crops in the world!  But beyond the tangible things that Honey Bees bring us, there are also several lessons we can learn from them that will help us to be better a follower of Jesus and a more productive part of the local church.  The honey bee is a living illustration of how we as BEElievers can move together in faith and unity.

Lesson # 1 – BEE Active!

Have you ever heard the expression, “Busy As A Bee”?  It is for good reason that a bee is considered to be one of the most active insects in the whole insect world.  Just to have one teaspoon of honey, a bee has to visit and collect nectar 4,200 flowers.  One honey bee will make 10 trips a day and visit over 400 flowers.  To get just one pound of honey, the honey bees will have to visit 3 million flowers and travel the distance that is equivalent to traveling 3 times around the earth.  The harder the bee works, the happier and more productive the hive will be.  Every single bee has a role and function within the hive.  Every bee fulfills their role for the good of the hive.
Much like the honey bee, a follower of Jesus needs to be active within the body of the church.  If 20% of the bee hive did 80% of the work, it wouldn’t be able to flourish and would eventually become extinct.  The same is true for the local church.  In order for the body of Christ to be healthy and flourish, every member of the church body must find and fulfill it’s role.  In short, believers must be active!  The Lord wants us each to grow into maturity and to become committed to the Christian colony and serve.  The role of a Christian in the world is to make the world around us a sweeter place to live.  Jesus said the world will recognize us as his followers in how we love one another.  Part of that love is to build up the body of Christ.  Much like in the bee hive, every church has takers and givers; those who need to be served, and those who have dedicated themselves to serve others.  Sometimes we all need to be served.  But the question is, are you the type of BEEliever who has never matured to the point of serving others?
When we read the words of Jesus we are reminded of a critical truth about the work ahead of us to be done.  He said in Matthew 9:37, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few!” (NIV)

Lesson # 2 – BEE Humble!

As I said before every bee has a role and function.  Essentially there are three major types of honey bees; the Queen Bee, the Drones, and the Worker Bees.  There is only one Queen in a hive and it is usually the largest bee in a colony.  It’s role and function is to make babies by laying eggs and fertilizing them.  She is intentional about which eggs she fertilizes because the ones she doesn’t fertilize turn into Drones (or male bees).  The Drone really only has two functions, to walk around the hive eating honey, and mating with the queen.  Unlike the worker bees, the Drone doesn’t have a stinger so it is unable to protect the hive.  While this sounds like the ideal job in a hive because he doesn’t work and just mates with the queen, in truth, the Drone’s male part has a barb on it which will pull it’s guts out after mating with the queen.
The last kind of bee is a worker bee.  Worker bees are all female (which isn’t that different from who does all the work around our home).  While the Queen Bee really only has one function in the hive, to lay and fertilize eggs, the worker bees fulfill several roles and functions in the hive as they grow up and mature.  The average lifespan of a worker honey bee is somewhere around three to four months from the larva stage to a full grown adult.  When an egg is laid, it hatches into a larva.  Under developed worker bees (bees that are only a couple of weeks old and are unable to fly) have the responsibility to feed the larva until they are old enough to go through their metamorphosis stage, which we will talk about a little later.  Once the worker bees are old enough to fly, they will go out and gather nectar and pollen which the hive uses to either make wax which lays out and caps the cells, or they will make honey.
One incredible thing that you may not know about honey bees is that they have amazing memories.  When an older female travels out, they map out the area in search for flowers that contain nectar.  They might even travel up to 8 miles out but are still able to fly back and return to the hive.  You might even notice in a bee hive, there are a few bees that sit out in front of the hive and just flap their wings.  They aren’t being lazy, they are communicating to the foraging bees where the entrance of the hive is.  So they sort of resemble greeters at church by telling everyone, “Hey, welcome back!  We’re glad to see you and can’t wait to see what you’ve got to contribute to the hive!”
Every bee in the hive has a role and function and no bee considers themselves to be independent of the hive.  In fact, if the bees were to try to establish individuality and live out on their own, the hive would suffer and eventually all the bees would cease to exist.  This is an important lesson for each of us.  Not only does the church need the individuals, the individuals need the church.  When Christians try to exclude themselves from the body of Christ and serve themselves, their faith deteriorates to the point of being non-existent.  We as BEElievers must commit ourselves to Christ by becoming a servant to all.
You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free.  But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh, rather serve one another humbly in love.” – Galatians 5:13 (NIV)

Lesson # 3 – BEE Holy!

A long time ago, scientists determined that it should be impossible for bees to be able to fly.  Their bodies are too big and their wings are too small!  Not only that, but the foraging bees carry pollen and nectar that is equal to it’s body weight.  For decades, scientists could not explain how the honey bee was able to fly.  In recent studies, they have determined that honey bees are unlike any other flying insect in that they can change their wing strokes without adjusting their wing beat frequency.  In other words, they can determine how much air they want to push with each wing flap!  They are “set apart” from the insect world and are able to accomplish something miraculous!
As followers of Christ, we are called to be holy or “set apart” from the world.  This means followers of Christ are unique.  This doesn’t mean that once we’re saved, we smarter, faster, or stronger than unbelievers.  It simply means that we have something that the world doesn’t; faith in Christ.  Genuine faith in Christ fills us with joy to the brink of overflowing!  We, as BEElievers can do what no one else in the world can do.  We can live lives others say is impossible and be filled with joy in the midst of even the most difficult circumstances.  The best part is we can welcome death like a friend because we have inherited eternal life!
For it is written:  Be holy, because I am holy!” – 1 Peter 1:16 (NIV)

Lesson # 4 – BEE Evangelistic!

As I stated earlier, bees will travel up to 8 miles away from a hive in search of nectar.  I recently watched a documentary on netflix called “Hive Alive” where researchers were able to explain how it is that a bee can know if a flower has already been visited and to move on.  Apparently, flowers produce a negative charge and bees produce a positive charge.  Once a honey bee lands on the flower and drinks up its nectar, the flower will send out a positive charge which will allow another bee that happens to pass by know that it’s recently been visited and hasn’t produced enough nectar to warrant attention.  So sometimes, it can be really challenging for a bee to find the nectar that it’s looking for.
Once a bee finds the sweet nectar, it returns to the hive and does something incredible.  Instead of saying to itself, “I know where some nectar is and I’m going to save it for myself so nectar is easier to find…” it returns to the hive and tells it’s worker bee sisters where it found a large amount of nectar.  But how does it communicate?  When the foraging bee returns to the hive, it will do a complicated dance and will spin in figure 8 motions.  The worker bee tells the other bees which direction the nectar can be found, how far away it is, and it will tell them how good the source of nectar is, all through this dance.  The bee doesn’t horde the nectar for itself, it shares the good news for the good of the colony!
You most likely see where I’m headed with this.  While I know this sounds like we should be evangelistic only inside our churches, in truth, a person who is evangelistic will recognize places in the world where the work is needed and will send out missionaries do the hard work of evangelism.  Some jobs are just too big for one person to accomplish and so it takes a whole colony.  In short, we must involve the church with the work that God shown us and return, with a group of Christians, to reach the world.  Remember if a bee doesn’t travel from plant to plant, all the beauty of nature will cease to exist!  Unless a BEEliever is active in sharing the good news with the world, the Christian colony will not flourish and will eventually cease to exist.  We can’t be selfish, we have to be evangelistic and share the good news we have!
“And He said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.’”
– Mark 16:15 (NKJV)

Lesson # 5 – BEE Authentic!

There are more kinds of bees than just the humble honey bee!  In truth there are over 20,000 different species of bees.  For example, the much more aggressive and dangerous yellow jacket belongs to the bee family and even looks a lot like the honey bee in that it too has a yellow and black striped coat.  The yellow jackets even make honey!  The major difference between the honey bee and the yellow jacket is that the honey bee isn’t aggressive by nature.  In fact, the honey bee can only sting a human being once in it’s life where the yellow jacket can sting us multiple times.
The reason for this anomaly is because the worker bees have barbs on the end of their stingers.  Once a honey bee’s stinger is inserted into our skin, the skin closes around it and when the bee pulls away, it’s guts and venom sack are torn out.  Something to note about being stung by a honey bee; if you are stung, don’t try to pull out the stinger with your fingers or tweezers.  If you do, you will squeeze the major part of the venom out of the venom sack and into your body.  It’s recommended to scrape the stinger off with a knife or something flat.  Honey bees don’t want to be aggressive, but they will do what is necessary to protect their colony; including to sacrifice themselves!
As Christians, it should be in our nature not to be aggressive and seek to hurt another individual.  This doesn’t mean we should be floor mats for others to wipe their feet on.  It simply means that we must be meek in nature like the honey bee.  Our goal should be to protect the Christian colony and make the world a sweeter place.  Unfortunately, there are those who masquerade as BEElievers and are quite aggressive (even violent) in nature.  Authentic followers of Christ love one another!  And when called to do so, we must be willing to sacrifice ourselves (not just our lives but our comfort as well) for the sake of the church!
This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.” – 1 John 3:16 (NIV)

Lesson # 6 – BEE Born Again

None of these lessons are possible or even apply until you have completed this last and greatest lesson.  Did you know that the honey bee is actually born twice?  It initially enters this world as a larva and is fed by it’s older sisters.  Then, when it is ready, it is buried in a tomb-like chamber until it’s metamorphosis (or transformation) is complete.  It then emerges from it’s chamber as a new creature.  This transformation isn’t always easy; in fact, it’s believed to be pretty painful for the bee.  The bee’s brothers and sisters don’t help it out its cell; the bee has to struggle and wiggle it’s way out of the chamber until the membrane on it’s back is broken which releases its wings.  Eventually its wings dry out and develop which allow it to fly.  In short, the bee develops in the world through pain and struggle; when this happens it is born again!
Jesus told Nicodemus that we all must be born-again if we want to enter into the kingdom of heaven.  Our family can’t get us to heaven.  We can only enter through the heavenly gates if we have died to ourselves and have been born again as new creations of this world!  Surrendering your life to Jesus isn’t easy.  In fact, it’s quite painful.  How can a person be willing to lose their life and hand over control to someone else?  And even after we surrender our lives in service to our King, our life is full of labor and toil.  This isn’t something you can do by yourself!  You must first be enabled by the Holy Spirit to confess Jesus as Lord!   Without the Holy Spirit, living for Christ is impossible.  However, he has sent the Counselor to guide us down the path he has laid out in front of us.  Because of the Holy Spirit we are given the opportunity to be adopted into the family of God.  But without BEElief, God is impossible to please.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” – 2 Corinthians 5:17 (ESV)


I sincerely believe that honey bees are God’s most amazing insects.  If we study them and apply these very same principles to our lives, we too will be able to share a precious resource with the world.  The honey produced by bees parallel with eternal life in that if it’s properly preserved, it will never spoil and will last forever.  Not to mention, honey bees produce way more honey than they could ever consume themselves!  It’s meant to be shared with others!  So the next time you see a bee buzzing by in search of nectar for its hive, don’t swat it!  Instead, let it remind you that as a BEEliever in Christ we too must go out into the world in search of those who need the precious gift of Eternal Life!
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” – John 3:16 (NIV)

Jesus In The Room

As you may or may not know, for the last several months, I’ve been going to counseling.  In essence, I believe I have been under heavy spiritual attack which led me down a path of dark thoughts and depression.  Why this has been happening to me is complicated, but in short, I believe it’s because I’ve not been establishing necessary boundaries and taking care of myself the ways I should have been.
If you’ve never been to counseling, it’s essentially a road to self-discovery.  I needed to understand why I am who I am and what I do, and where I need to go from here.  Most counseling sessions theoretically sound like this:  I say something direct like, “My teeth have been hurting me.”  The counselor then responds, “Oh?  Tell me what things were like when you were growing up…How does your toothache relate to your relationship with your dad?”
So, it often feels as if we’re not getting anywhere.  However, on my road to self-discovery I have encountered something that is difficult to talk about and even harder for me to understand.  At the beginning of last week’s sermon, as I began my message in front of the congregation, I recalled how I started getting into the habit of clearing out my passenger seat and buckling the seat belt because it helped me to imagine Jesus riding shotgun with me.  Another thing that I often do is when I’m placing my hands on someone and praying for them, I try to visualize Jesus with his hand on them as well.  This is helpful for me to see Jesus with me everywhere I go.  I even asked the congregation if there was anywhere they wouldn’t invite Jesus to.
Well, this week in counseling, I found a place I haven’t invited Jesus into and honestly feel like he isn’t welcome.  I know it’s highly hypocritical for me to say that Jesus isn’t welcome somewhere when I just told the congregation that Jesus should be welcome everywhere!  I think when I initially said this, it was with functional places in mind; church, special events, home on the couch, work, a hospital operating room, etc.  But what about the dysfunctional places?
If you don’t know this, I grew up in a dysfunctional home that incidentally was also a pastor’s home.  These two adjectives don’t seem like they should go in the same sentence, but it’s where I grew up.  A home is not necessarily dysfunctional because an alcoholic lives there, for my dad never drank.  It isn’t necessarily dysfunctional because sexual abuse was taking place; my dad never harmed us in a way like this.  A home is dysfunctional because it focuses all of it’s attention on the emotional needs of one individual and neglects the emotional needs of others.  This is why a home of an alcoholic is considered to be dysfunctional because everyone in the home is focused around what the alcoholic is going to do next time they get drunk.  Because of the shame the alcoholic brings upon the family, they are forced to “keep the family secret”. Perhaps you experienced growing up in a dysfunctional home as I did.
In counseling, I was recalling an event that happened when I was a child.  I was somewhere around 8 or 9 years old.  Unknown to me, my dad had recently replaced the ceiling tiles in our bedroom.  I guess I never seemed to notice things like that.  Anyway, as I walked into my bedroom one day, I saw my older brother throwing a miniature dart up into the ceiling.  Understand that younger brothers think their older brothers must have hung the moon and will do anything they see their older sibling doing.  So, I started throwing the dart up into the ceiling as well.  We were having a lot of fun doing it until my dad found us.  At that point, we had thrown the dart up in the ceiling around 100-200 times, ruining the ceiling tiles he had worked hard to install.
I won’t share with you the full details of the aftermath.  My siblings and parents know what happened that day.  I talk about it with my wife occasionally (she tells me it’s taken years to get the full story from beginning to end), I’ve even talked about it with my counselor, but I’m just not willing share it with you.  Just understand that the event was heavily traumatic and abusive.  Not just physically abusive, but emotionally and psychologically abusive as well.  Because of who my dad was  (and I say “was” because I believe he is a different man today) and what he did for a living, events like these became a family secret.  It would have ruined the image my dad tried to uphold at this church.  So this event became just another thing we swept under the rug and never addressed.  I’m sharing this with you, not to discredit the reputation of my father (for I truly believe he is a great man), but to express that there is at least one place where I don’t want Jesus to be present.
Every week after counseling, I have homework to do.  My assignment is to walk through a work-book called, “Making Peace With Your Past” that was written by a Baptist minister who grew up in an alcoholic home.  In the work-book, he says, “Some people find it helpful to imagine Jesus in the midst of a painful memory.”
I don’t have any difficulty imagining Jesus standing in the audience of my eight grade graduation.  It’s not difficult for me to imagine him sitting in my office next to me as I write this article.  It’s not even difficult for me to imagine him standing in the room with me as I took another hit off a marijuana pipe.  However, it has become increasingly difficult for me to imagine Jesus in that room that day.  Where in the world would he be standing and what would be doing?  Let me give you a different scenario that some might be all to familiar with.  Imagine being in bed as a small child, and a grown man slips into your bed and begins forcing you to do things you don’t want to do.  Is Jesus in the room then, too?  If so, where is he standing and what is he doing?!?!
Is Jesus in the abuser?  For obvious reasons, NO!  Is Jesus in the abused?  Jesus isn’t helpless like I was that day.  So where is he?  Is he standing in the corner being a silent observer?  If so, why didn’t he do something to stop it?
Initially, I rejected the idea that Jesus was in the room.  I dismissed the idea by saying, “Jesus wasn’t in the room, that was the problem!”
But then, I talked to one of my friends who knows scripture and is very wise.  He reminded me of a verse that Jesus said in Matthew 28:20, “And surely, I am with you always.  Even to the end of the age.”
As uncomfortable as it makes me, Jesus was in the room with us that day.  But he wasn’t the abuser, nor was he the abused.  So does that mean he was the silent observer?  Again, my friend with wisdom unlocked a new possibility in my mind.  A possibility where Jesus could be in the room and all that could still take place.  In that room, Jesus was on the cross.
Every outburst of cruelty, every expression of rage, every moment of heartache, every aspect of abuse, was simply my father holding the hammer that drove in the spikes that went through Jesus’ hands and feet.  And all the while, Jesus was looking down on my father and saying, “Forgive him, for he knows not what he does.  My grace is sufficient, even for this.”
To my brother and I who wept bitterly on the floor, Jesus was whispering in our ears, “I know the men you are to become to bring me the most glory.  I hate that you must endure this abuse to become those men, but I will use even this to do great things!”
It breaks my heart to imagine all the times I have stood with the very same hammer in my hand, driving in the spikes.  In my life, I have experienced several episodes of heartache and tragic loss.  I have experienced times when I wept bitterly, cursed angrily, and worshiped joyfully; each directed towards the Lord.  And in the times where my sorrow was great, he has always been with me, comforting me.  When I cursed angrily towards him, he was silent and patient.  When I worshiped him joyfully, he was at work before me.  When I sinned openly, he laid there as I drove in the spikes.  When I acknowledged my sin and looked to him with shame in my eyes, he forgave me.
Perhaps there’s a room from your memories that you have great difficulty imagining Jesus in.  Perhaps it’s a room of abuse, like mine.  Maybe it’s a room of great shame and embarrassment.   Can you picture Jesus there?  It has been extremely difficult for me to imagine Jesus in that room with me.  It gives me great discomfort to see him there.  However, if he weren’t present, the purpose of that room would have been meaningless.  I must be conformed into the image of Christ.  So, I have surrendered the room over, and to him I say, “You are welcome to come inside!”
“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with them, and they with me.” – Revelation 3:20 (NIV)

Why 4 Gospels?

When I began studying the Bible for the first time, I was surprised to see that there were four different books in the New Testament that each talked about the same thing; the life of Jesus.  I remember wondering to myself, “Why did they put four accounts of the same thing in here?”
As I was preparing for this week’s message, I was reminded of this question and it occurred to me that I might not be the only one who wanted to know the answer to this question.  Maybe others have the same question and are just to shy or ashamed about what they don’t know about the Bible to ask it.  Which if the latter is true, allow me to offer up some encouragement to you.
There’s nothing wrong with being ignorant.  Everyone is ignorant from time to time.  However, being content with being ignorant is foolish.  The Bible (especially the book of Proverbs) has much to say that condemns foolishness.  Never be afraid to ask questions that you don’t know the answer to.  The more I read about the Bible the more I feel like I don’t know.  In truth, I often present myself as if I have all the answers but nothing could be further from the truth.  If you are wondering, “Why four gospels?” I would like to offer up some of the things I have discovered in my times of study.
The most practical answer I have discovered when asking the question, “Why are there four Gospels?” has to do with perspective.  Think of it this way.  Imagine a family, a father, mother, son and daughter, are walking down the road and they see two cars speed towards each other and have a head on collision.  The police are going to want a statement as to what happened and, because this family saw the whole thing, they are going to be questioned.  Each member of the family saw the same event, however they will each have a different perspective on the event.
For example, the father might tell the police officer what the year, make, and models were on the cars involved in the accident.  The mother might focus on the color of the vehicles and try to explain why the drivers might have gotten in the accident in the first place.  The son might recount how when the vehicles lost control they almost hit a dog.  The daughter might talk about how a doll flew out the window and onto the pavement when the two cars collided.  Which one of these testimonies is most correct?  All of them.  Each family member brought their own perspective and, together, the officer is able to get a more complete story as to what happened that day.
The Gospel writers, Matthew (a.k.a. Levi), John-Mark, Luke, and John each bring different perspectives to this monumental event in history, the coming of Christ; his death, burial, and resurrection.  However, it should also be said that each of these men had different agendas when writing their accounts of Jesus’ life.
For example, Matthew (a.k.a. Levi) was a former tax collector-turned-disciple of Jesus Christ.  When he wrote his Gospel, his intended audience was specifically to the Jews.  Matthew wanted to show the Jewish people that Jesus was the promised Messiah talked about in the Old Testament.  Which is why he begins his Gospel talking about the Genealogy of the Messiah’s line.  He shows there are 14 generations from Abraham to Moses, 14 generations from Moses to David, and 14 generations from David to Christ.  He also recounts 40 different Messianic prophecies found within the Old Testament in his Gospel.  The reason why is because he wanted his people to see Jesus as the promised Messiah.
Mark, on the other hand, didn’t address his letters to a Jewish audience.  Mark was writing to the Romans, a group of Gentiles, which is why he often has to explain the background behind many Jewish customs in his account.  It’s believed that, of all the Gospel writings, Mark was written first.  You may be wondering, who is Mark, anyway?  Well, as it turns out, Mark was actually referred to as John-Mark in the book of Acts.  When the Holy Spirit appoints Barnabas and Saul to be missionaries from Antioch in Acts 13:2, Barnabas and Saul decide to take John-Mark along as an assistant (Acts 13:5). But something happened after the team left Cyprus and headed on into Pamphylia.  When they were leaving, John-Mark left them and returned to Jerusalem.  Two or three years later, the first Missionary Journey has been completed, and Paul feels the Holy Spirit prompting him to continue on another Missionary Journey.  Only this time, John-Mark wants to go again.  Paul refuses to take him because he abandoned them previously, but Barnabas has great patience with John-Mark and decides he should get another chance.  This “difference of opinion” causes division between Paul and Barnabas and they end up going separate ways.  Something important to note is that, if this hadn’t occurred, perhaps we wouldn’t have the Gospel of Mark.
Luke is a very unique individual.  In fact, it’s believed that he is the only Gentile writer in the entire Bible.  Luke gives a more detailed chronological order of Jesus’ life.  As he says in Chapter 1, verses 3-4 of his Gospel, “…it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.”
Luke was the first historian of the early church.  No doubt, his extensive background as a physician helped him to gather facts and details.  He draws up an account from several eye-witness testimonies.  Luke was a gentile writing to gentiles about the Savior of the world.  Another not-so-well known fact is that Luke also wrote the book of Acts.
The first three gospels are known as the “Synoptic Gospels”.  “Synoptic” meaning “Similar” because they are very similar.  John on the other hand is very unique.  As I have recounted in this week’s sermon, “Visualizing the Invisible God” which is based off of John 1:1-18, John had his own agenda as well.  Very likely being the last living disciple of Jesus, he writes his gospel, not to Jews or Gentiles specifically, but to the second and third-generation Christians who were inside the church.  He wanted to combat the fallacies that were being spread about Jesus.  Since he was the one person who most likely knew Jesus the best, his Gospel carries a lot of weight.
William Barclay, author of the book “The Gospel of John”, once wrote, “Many people find themselves closer to God and Jesus in John than any other book in the world.”
Perhaps this is why when, people have never read the Bible, seasoned Christians suggest that they should begin reading in the book of John.
One final thought on the Four Gospel writers that you might find interesting.  Occasionally you might see the Gospel writers associated with the four different creatures written about in Revelation 4:7.  One with the head of a man, another with the head of a lion, another with the head of an ox, and another with the head of an eagle.  You might even see this displayed in a church’s stained glass windows.
There is much debate as to which of the four gospel writers should be associated with which creature, but here’s the argument I like.  Mark could be associated with the man because his retelling of the Gospel of Jesus is very straight forward and plain.  Matthew could be the lion, for he shows Jesus as the lion of Judah.  Luke could be the Ox, for he displays Jesus as the animal of service and sacrifice.  John could be the Eagle, for it is the only creature in the world that can look straight into the sun and not be dazed.  John offers the greatest look at all the eternal mysteries and truths that are inside the very mind of God.
Of course, my wife, Erin, and I like to laugh about the possibility of Revelation not being figurative at all, but quite literal.  We’d feel pretty silly if each of these creatures actually showed up at the end times.  Regardless, these four Gospels aren’t redundant at all, they offer us a more detailed look at the life and nature of Jesus Christ.  I hope this was helpful for you and answered more questions than it created for you.  They are each incredible letters!  Go read them and discover the God of all creation in the person of Jesus Christ!

The East Texas Church

What are people looking for in a church?  This question drives pastors to burnout, difficult decisions, stress, confusion, and sometimes, growth.  Despite the difficult emotions this question might uncover, it’s still a question worth asking.  Why would Jesus feel it was so important to establish a body of believers and then leave them under the supervision of the Holy Spirit?  What’s the point?  We’ve asked this question several times in our Department Head Meetings.  I’d love to tell you we always have a good answer, but on occasion, we just stare at each other with confusion.  Why do people come?  Why should they want to come?  How can I explain to an unbeliever why it’s so important to be a part of a Church?  While I’ve been on vacation, I’ve been “researching” other churches to see if they have a clear vision of their role in the lives of believers.  Last week my wife and I attended a church in Las Vegas (see the previous post).  This week we visited a Church in the oldest town in Texas, Nacogdoches. If you’ve ever heard me talk about East Texas Churches before, you know that I usually leave them with a bad taste in my mouth.  This is mostly because the churches I’ve visited in the past were behind culture by at least 50 years.  The East Texas churches I’ve visited were dying because they were fighting to preserve the way the church has always done things and are disgusted by what they see outside their four walls.  Most have forgotten the mission Christ put them there for, to be obedient and reach people for Him and to train them as His disciples.  Today, however, I was pleasantly surprised.
Today we visited Grace Bible Church.  I selected their church to visit for two reasons.  1) They came first in the “largest church in Nacogdoches” Google search and 2) Their website was simple but well maintained.  I know these are fickle, vain reasons to visit a church, but I tried to approach a church the way an unbeliever who was interested in church might.  This church wasn’t perfect, but it had a lot of good things going for it.  Just like last week, I’m going to give the pros and cons of our time and what we experienced at this church service.  This time, however, I’m going to start with the negative and end on a positive note.

The Negative Experiences

1) We got lost.  The location Google sent us to wasn’t where the church was so we were late.  This was no fault to the church.  Their website gave the correct address.  When I asked Siri to take me there, we went straight there.  Google, however, made us late.
2) We couldn’t find anywhere to park.  This is a trivial concern.  In fact, I was happy to see no parking, even though I was a little frustrated.  No parking means people show up.  People showing up generally means they have a reason to.
3) They made mistakes.  The words on the screen weren’t transitioned quickly enough so we, the congregation, didn’t know what we were singing until halfway through the verse unless we’d heard the song before.  There were a few mishaps on instruments.  Once, the song leader went to the wrong verse and quickly changed what he was singing to match what was on the screen.  The speaker got mixed up on how to say “drank” instead of “drinked” and just made a big joke of it and everybody laughed.  Especially when he said he knew he wasn’t supposed to get “drunk” in church.
These negative experiences were flaws in this church.  But the truth is, I saw their flaws and didn’t care at all.  It just made the whole time there feel more real to me.  People aren’t perfect, we are flawed, Grace is what we need, not a flawless show.

The Positive Experiences

1) I saw God working there.  Just like Las Vegas, we visited on Baptism Sunday.  But instead of explaining their full discourse on Baptism, they simply let those being baptized do all the talking.  We listened as they each confessed having their lives changed by a person that was committed to that church.  Roommates, friends who were happy even outside the party scene, leaders in their circle of friends, each of them discovered the love of Christ because of another believer who invested their lives into them.  God worked on me while I was there.  But that’s a different post entirely.
2) They acknowledged us.  As soon as we walked in the door, a lady in a staff shirt directed us where we should go.  When we walked into the sanctuary, a man asked us how many people we had and then showed us to our seats.  Sure it was a little gesture, but the room was packed and he took the frustration and embarrassment from us of having to look for a seat in front of a bunch of people who saw us walk in late.  Erin took our son Pete to the nursery and reported that the nursery workers went out of their way to make them both feel comfortable.
3) They emphasized teamwork.  They didn’t have a single music leader and his or her band.  They had multiple people lead worship for songs.  It seemed like it felt very natural for them to step back and let someone else lead.  They don’t have a senior pastor, they have a team of pastors.  The Pastors and  Elders are each committed to discipleship and ministry and regularly meet with individuals.  I know this because I talked with one of the pastors after the service and bombarded him with questions (so many questions I probably came off as creepy and awkward).
4) They made themselves available.  In their bulletin it has their mission and where to go if they have questions.  It says there will always be a pastor or elder at the front if anyone wants to ask questions.  This is what I experienced so they weren’t bluffing.
5) People were hanging around and talking afterwards.  Not only did Erin and I both feel the presence of joy in these people’s lives, they also wanted to be around each other.  Friends talked about what they were doing later that day.  In the bathroom I heard two men (one older, one younger)  talking about how much fun a previous ministry was and how much they are looking forward to the next event.  They enjoyed genuine community.  It was fun to see people enjoying each other.
6) They proved a lot of misconceptions wrong.  I once heard a person talk about how churches shouldn’t have pews anymore because they were old fashioned and will deter the younger generation.  I saw nearly 400 college students sit in pews today and worship.  I’ve also heard that the bulletin should be colorful and attractive.  Theirs isn’t.  Nobody seemed to notice or care.  Worship supposedly needs moving lights and moving backgrounds on the screen.  The lights didn’t move or change colors once, the background was black the whole time during worship.  The worship was awesome because nobody appeared to be out for personal glory or worried about performance.  They simply played and we sang.
7) There was a next step.  Before leaving they gave an invitation to begin the process of discipleship, joining in membership, interest in baptism, etc.  They even had an event for students pop up on the screen when the pastor talked about it.  Sometimes people want to move, they just don’t know where to go.  They took this problem away from us.
If I wasn’t a pastor somewhere else, I would definitely attend this church on a regular basis.  It’s not because they are perfect — no church is.  It’s not because they can appeal to my generation and had a lot to offer my family.  The main reason I would attend this church is because my family and I felt welcome and my wife and I engaged with the Holy Spirit while there.
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid, for I have overcome the world.” – John 14:27 (NIV)

Our Mega Church “Experience”

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Recently my wife and I went on vacation in Las Vegas and attended a Mega Church in town.  I have visited a Mega Church before this when I was 16, but not only was this before I knew Jesus, it was before I had any interest in how the church was impacting the world.  Now that I’m a small church pastor, I am very interested in how other churches operate and what kind of impact we make on the world.  So, we took advantage of the opportunity to visit another church (an opportunity that rarely presents itself).  This particular church followed what’s called the “multi-campus” model.  In other words, they have multiple locations with one speaker that speaks to all of them via video.  These sites also have a campus pastor who handles the “in-person” responsibilities such as personal decisions, individual campus directions, and explaining the mission of the church.  In the article below, I’m going to give my personal review of what we “experienced” and even why I keep using quotations for the word “experience”.
I’m going to start with the positive “experiences” for two reasons; 1) I think we can learn more from our negative interactions so I’m going to save those for the end and 2) there were a lot more good “experiences” than bad ones.

Positive “Experiences”

1)  Their facility was huge with clear signage going up to the front door.

They literally had everything a church could need or want.  From covered parking, to solar panel power, to state of the art stage equipment and lighting, to a gym, to a Christian School, to a water slide area for pool parties after church (yes you read it right).  Small church pastors like myself only dream about facilities like these (and drool).

2)  Their worship was wonderful.

They had very talented musicians who were very professional.  There was no dead time between events or songs.  One event ran right into the other with very smooth transitions.  I didn’t see a single error with words on the screen.  I didn’t hear a single error in the way the music was played.  They were very, very practiced and ready for worship when the time came.  At our church we could clearly learn a LOT from how they presented worship.  All the staff was wearing staff shirts, from sound technicians to children’s church staff, to the pastor.  It wasn’t at all hard to make out who was on staff and who wasn’t.

3)  I loved how they presented Baptism.

I was a little uncertain how a non-denominational church might present baptism.  Because we came on baptism decision day, we got to hear their whole pitch and doctrine for baptism.  In fact, that’s what the message was about.  On three separate occasions, I was impressed with what they said about Baptism.  First, they said that if a person was baptized as a baby that they weren’t trying to “undo” what their parents did but wanted to honor that decision instead.  Because Baptism is a lot like an altar where you can look back and remember the moment when God worked in your life, it’s better to have a memory of baptism.  Second, they mentioned that if a person wanted to be “re-baptized” they weren’t going to stand in their way.  However, the water didn’t forgive us.  If a person needed to be baptized every time they sinned, you should never get out of the water.  Third, they presented baptism like a wedding ring.  Wearing the ring at the time of commitment doesn’t make you a better spouse.  Instead, the ring reminds you of the commitment you made.

4)  They had their bases covered.

Because this was Baptism Sunday, they were prepared for baptisms.  They had the baptistry pool filled for people who wanted to do that immediately.  They tore down every excuse a person could have as to why they couldn’t get baptized right then and there.  “We have t-shirts if your clothing is see through…We brought towels for you…We have trash bags so you can ride home in your car wet…The water is warm…Jesus died for you, you can get wet for him…” etc.

5)  They had an encouraging atmosphere for decisions.

When people surrendered to the Lord in Baptism, they received a standing ovation from everyone in the auditorium.  That was really, really cool.  It took me some time to discern how I felt about the way they presented baptism as a decision, but in hindsight, I believe it was on target.  From what I read in the New Testament, I’ve never seen a time when a person didn’t get baptized immediately after the decision to follow Jesus.  The two should never be separated.  So although they weren’t doing an “altar call” for decisions to follow Christ, the decision to be Baptized was the decision to follow Christ.  I have to say, I was impressed with how they presented it.

6)  They respected our time.

They got us out on time (which is something I’m sure everyone in my congregation would love for me to master).

7)  They really wanted people to come as they were.

Nothing is more irritating to me than the idea that a person has to get cleaned up before they come to the Lord.  I have had this conversation on multiple occasions with multiple people.  A suit and a tie isn’t what the Lord asks for, nor is it how you show him respect.  He wants your heart, he wants your life, not your fashion.  If you really want to know why a person dresses their best on Sunday Morning, you really ought to study about Constantine in 313 A.D.  That’s when church “services” moved from the home to the big beautiful buildings.

8)  The message was extremely practical.

One of the things we often do in church is present the gospel in “Christianese”.  We use terms that people don’t understand and almost never attempt to explain them.  This church, however, assumed that everyone was new, instead of experienced, and had never heard of things like “Baptism” or “Salvation”.

9)  Avoided False Doctrine.

As a small church pastor, it would be easy to assume that Mega Churches are large because they teach false doctrine. Why then are they so successful and we aren’t?  However, this was not the case in this church.  They put things plainly and used scripture as a reference.
Before we go into the negative, let me just say that I don’t have an axe to grind.  Not only am I content where God has me, I am not looking to tear down my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.  I post these experiences in hopes that other churches can learn from them and be open to the Holy Spirit’s direction as to how a church should operate, including ours.

Negative “Experiences”

1)  They were too focused on the “Experience”.

I hate to sound as if I was biased before I walked into the front door but this is exactly what I expected when visiting a church in Las Vegas.  Las Vegas has a lot of shows.  From children’s shows, to teenager shows, to adult shows, to adult raunchy shows, they have something for everyone.  And in case you forget about the shows, just drive down the street and they have billboards and lights everywhere to remind you.  I don’t want to be unfair, but this church seemed to buy into that kind of mentality.  They even referred to the service as an “experience”.  But, from what I read in scripture, Church is NOT just an experience.  Sure, you experience things, but is that all there is?  While it’s fine to approach people as an individuals, our responsibility as spokespeople for God is to show them that their life is not all about them.  Sure they have a life, but it’s only because God gave it to them.  This is a needed message everywhere, but I would assume it’s especially true in Las Vegas.  This is the place where people are extremely desensitized to their senses because of what they “experience” 24/7.  Las Vegas has a lot of shows, they don’t need another one.

2)  No one talked to us.

It wouldn’t be fair to say that no one said anything to us.  The speaker talked to the audience from the stage.  I locked eyes with another polite person who said “hi” as they passed me on their way to the bathroom.  But other than that, no one personally spoke with us.  The signage into the building was great.  But once we got inside, we were so lost.  We didn’t know where to take our kids, we didn’t know where the sanctuary was, we didn’t even know where the bathroom was.  There weren’t signs anywhere to help either.  And to make matters worse, we walked past several people with staff shirts on who were busy conversing with each other.  Two women in particular temporarily paused their conversation with each other as we walked closer to them, looked as us, then continued the conversation.  I couldn’t imagine what we must have looked like, but I knew we were lost and if a person was paying attention to us, they could have seen that and helped us out.  We couldn’t find where to take our kids, so we just brought them into the sanctuary with us after we found it and sat down.  It was exactly what you would experience at a movie theater, the only difference is that at least the ticket person tears your ticket up and tells you which way to go.  I thought to myself, “Well, maybe someone will stop us outside the door on the way out.”  Silly me.  It was easy in, and easy out.

3)  The message wasn’t deep and had room for misapplication.

I’ve had a relationship with the Lord for a long time and know where to find spiritual nourishment outside of a church service.  I don’t need a speaker to feed me spiritually, but I’m also in the minority in churches.  Deeper application is needed for people who hadn’t been in church for a while.  As I said earlier the speaker made some great points about Baptism, however, he didn’t emphasize one of the most powerful points of all.  Baptism is more than a public profession of faith saying you’re a believer, it’s a moment when you declare your life is over and your life in Christ has begun.  As a follower of Christ after Baptism, you are submitting to others holding you accountable as a follower of the Lord.
The Baptism ceremony is your funeral. 
You are dead and no longer live for yourself.  Now you live for Christ.  Once, when I was India, I was asked to perform a baptism for a woman who had decided to follow Jesus in obedience through baptism.  I asked her several questions before I did it and the translator told me she asked that I please pray for her because when she got home her husband was going to beat her for making this decision.  In India, if a person believed in Jesus, they could live with no repercussions until they were baptized.  They just add Jesus to one of their many gods.  Once they were baptized, however, their lives were over.  Many women and children are abandoned, some are put in jail, some are killed.  This makes our excuses for why we can’t be baptized trivial by comparison.  Baptism isn’t a decision you can make for others, it’s a decision every person must make for themselves.  Probably one of the most heart wrenching things about this point was the 10-12 year old in front of us at the end of the message.  The speaker talked about how everyone should have that “altar” to look back on.  Apparently the woman in front of us agreed wholeheartedly.  Even to the point that she literally grabbed her son by the arm and drug him down the steps to have that very same “altar” for himself.  We watched as he tried to move out of her way if she wanted to make that decision for herself but she shook her head and took him by the arm talking to him the whole way down.  He was quite apprehensive, but she was bigger than him, what could he do?  I understand that these things can, have, and will happen again in the future.  I’ve even had people come to me and tell me that they wanted me to baptize all of their children at once.  It just broke my heart that the church went through with it after his mom drug him down the aisle.

4)  There was no commitment to each other.

This was the most disconcerting issue I had.  Romans 12:10-13 says,
“Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.  Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.  Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.   Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.” (NIV)
The whole time I was there, I never heard a call to be devoted to the church.  Being devoted to the Lord, sure, but not to the Church.  And truthfully, there shouldn’t be a difference between the two.  There wasn’t a call to join in service, there wasn’t a call to be dedicated to a prayer ministry.  This church had a discipleship plan but it wasn’t talked about nor was it emphasized why a person should be a part of it.  I only know about their plan because I saw it on a screen walking out.  And on the screen it was presented as Christianity 2.0, not Christianity 101.

I’m trying to be fair in this critique.  I suppose it’s going to be unfair regardless since it wasn’t asked for.  However, I hope and pray that God might use it to show people how we need to be focused on making an impact in people’s lives, not putting on a good show.  Mega churches and small churches are both in the body of Christ.  I suppose the frustration I have is when small churches are great at fulfilling the negative part of my list and feel inept because they are terrible at fulfilling the positive parts.  Our “experience” at a the mega church taught me something important.  Small churches and mega churches have much to learn from each other.  But most of all, we’ll never find a perfect church to attend, and if we do, we shouldn’t join it because we’ll mess it up.

Don’t Be Greedy

“Stick ’em up!  Put all the money in the bag!”
Does this define your experience in church?  Everybody always wants more.  Right?  I confess, I’m always pushing the congregants to give more.  While I don’t hold them at gun point, I do lay it on pretty thick at times from the pulpit.  “Give God all you’ve got!  If you’re not giving everything, you’re not giving God all He wants!”
While I would never pressure someone to give money, in the back of my mind, I know that money is a part of “everything”.  I’m not after a raise.  I’m not after a new office chair (which by the way, mine is getting pretty sad…Bad timing?).  I’m not even after a bigger church budget.  Honestly, I just want others to have what I have; a meaningful relationship with God.  The more you give God, the more fulfillment you find in Him.  Sure, I’d like more material wealth, but I’m learning to be content with what I have.
As I write this, I know how hypocritical this message can sound,  “Don’t be Greedy!”  Which, I confess, I am good at being hypocritical.  I hope I never lose sight of that truth.  But also, I hope I never lose my hearing.  God is teaching me to listen to the world around me; to genuinely listen to the complaints that unbelievers and the “De-churched” have against those who attend Christian Churches.  I may push the envelope at times (no pun intended), but I consider it a win when people can walk away from one of our services saying, “Wow, that’s not how I remember church being…”
I want people everywhere to understand how relevant the Resurrection of Jesus is to their lives; how relevant church can be to them.  Every Christian has heard complaints about the church; they might even be the ones complaining.
“The church is full of hypocrites…”
“All they want is my money…”
“I’m tired of feeling judged…”
Once a person is convinced of these statements, it takes a lifetime to convince them otherwise.  Often people never recant and carry these beliefs with them to the grave.  This is why it’s especially important for followers of Jesus everywhere to use wisdom and discernment regarding the messages we’re sending.  Are we making attempts to change people’s minds?  Or are we sending messages we don’t intend to; messages Jesus wouldn’t be on board with?
I would argue that on many occasions, we fall in to the later category.  Recently, I was in a Christian bookstore and was looking at a Bible I was considering purchasing.  A man walked up beside me and began looking at the Bibles too.  I’ve tried to practice living in “code yellow” to determine whether people around me are a threat, especially while I’m in a city.  So, I confess, I sized this man up.  He was an older gentlemen; well kept and looked as if he could have afforded to purchase several of the most expensive Bible’s in the store.
He called over an attendant and asked for a specific brand of study Bible and she helped him find what he was looking for.  He asked as she was looking, “Are they on sale?”
She responded, “I don’t think so.”
“Of course they aren’t…” he replied.  “Can I have my name imprinted on it?”
“Yes sir,” she said.  “It takes a day to do since we do them all at the end of the evening.”
“Is it free?” he asked.
“No sir,” she answered.  “It costs $5.”
“Why do you charge money when other stores will do it for free?”  He retorted.
“Do other stores do it for free?”  She asked gracefully.
“Yes they do.  But I don’t suppose you will since you’ve already told me it’s going to be $5,” he jabbed.
She responded by shaking her head solemnly and said, “Yes sir.  I’m sorry.  It’s an additional $5…”
I managed to keep my mouth shut and stay out of it.  But, as I stood a few feet away hearing the exchange, my blood pressure started rising. Who does this guy think he is?  I thought.  I began responding to him in my mind.  A Bible isn’t an expense,  it’s a sound investment.  I would invest in a good Bible even if it cost double that amount because it’s worth it!  Think about what kind of message you are sending when you complain about how much something costs when, it is not only reasonably priced but, many people in other parts of the world would commit crime to get their hands on one!
When I was on a mission trip in India, I sat across the Table from two Indian men with my Missionary Guide.  We were negotiating prices for a huge supply of prescription medication they were selling so we could hold a medical camp and get people help who needed it.  We did this in the middle of a restaurant in broad daylight.  The same scenario in America would have been highly illegal.  The next morning they dropped off the supply of prescription medication in front of our hotel with people walking in and out from several directions.  Later that evening we met with another man in a back room at night asking how many Bibles we could purchase for a women’s conference we wanted to hold.  He kept his voice down and asked us to do the same.  Two days later we scheduled a pick up of the “contraband” as he had organized a “secure location”.  I felt like a criminal.  In India, I was.
Because of how sensitive the material was, there was no negotiating.  This man was risking his life to bring us these Bibles written in Telugu.  We paid him whatever he demanded to do the job.  The next day we handed out the Bibles.  We could only get 100.  There were over 200 women there.  They called the women out by name one at a time.  Spirits and hopes were high at the beginning of the distribution.  But as we got down to the last 5 or 10 Bibles, many of the women began to realize most of them weren’t going to get a Bible.  You could see the insecurity wash over their faces as they began to ask to themselves, “Am I going home empty handed?”
When the last name was called the woman jumped up with exhilaration,  joy, and adrenaline.  She almost ran to the front where she picked up her Bible.  Simultaneously, however, other women in the room began to weep.  One woman in particular ran out the back with her hands covering her face.  I remember that feeling well; tremendous disappointment and shame.  It’s the feeling I felt when I was cut from the 8th grade Basketball team.  Except, there was always next year for me.  Some women came forward and offered everything they had, an entire month’s wages, just to leave with a Bible in hand.  Unfortunately, however, there were no more Bibles to give away, much less charge for.  I don’t know how we selected the women we did.  I do know how extremely guilty I felt about all the Bibles I had at home and didn’t even read.
What do you think these women would say to  someone who, not only had the means and opportunity to buy a Bible whenever they wanted but, complained about how much it cost and probably seldomly ever read it?  We’re always after that “Christian Discount”, aren’t we?   I heard a guy say one time, “If you see a Christian Fish on a business card, It means you’re about to get cheated…”
“I love Jesus and try to serve him, so how about cutting me a special deal since I’m trying to make the world a better place?”  (Substitute “we” for “I” and now we’re talking about organizations).
Considering the message we consistently send about money, is it really a good idea to ask for a discount?  Shouldn’t we as believers be willing to pay MORE than everyone else to send the message that money is temporary but the condition of a person’s soul is eternal?  Sound a bit extreme and foolish?  Think about it this way.  How much more progress could we make in the world if we weren’t asking for a discount because we know Jesus; especially in a world where people constantly accuse us of being greedy?  Who knows, maybe they are right…
What if we could sacrifice a little extra money to change someone’s mind about God, the Bible, and the Church?  A hundred verses come to mind, but I’m going to settle on this one:
“I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ…” – Philippians 3:8 (NIV)