Archive for the ‘Grace’ Category

Conventional wisdom tells us that we are supposed to become better at things we are not that good at.  However there’s another school of thought in leadership circles that says to focus on our strengths.  In a recent video series called Trombone Player Wanted, Leadership guru Marcus Buckingham shows how a young boy is yearning to play the drums yet he seems stuck as the trombone player.  It’s something he does well, but not great.  His real passion are the drums.  The video is really well done and the point is very powerful…do what you are passionate about, do what you are really, really good at, follow your strengths.

I get the point.  Don’t just be mediocre at everything, try to be great at one thing.  Unfortunately for many people this is a luxury.  Wouldn’t it be nice if all we had to do at the office or the home was what we were great at?  Forget making the bed and keeping the house clean because I’m just not that good at it!  If you are a student in school you could skip Algebra but attend Art classes all day.  Is “well rounded” a thing of the past with the advent of finding your strengths?

As a pastor who works with people who have various levels of talents and passions, this is a really important concept for me to grapple with.  There are many who want to serve in areas where they may not quite be up to snuff compared to others.  Perhaps they are new to a certain ministry or have never been given an opportunity before.  Then there are others who are just going through the motions…volunteering without passion.  Do I push these folks to only do what they are really strong at?  Do I help them discover their true passion?  What if they are passionate about teaching but they can’t hold anyone’s attention?  How about if they “love love love” singing but they can’t hold a tune?

Maybe the question is not so much what are you passionate about or what your strongest at right now…but what has the Lord called you to?  And even beyond that, where have you been faithful whether or not you love it?  I appreciate the way that the apostle Paul said to Timothy that he should “entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified…”(2 Timothy 2:2).  It’s as if we need to emphasize faithfulness and commitment and serving above everything else.  After that, God equips and raises us up.  Then we are strengthened and even looked upon as individuals who are truly qualified, truly gifted.

What do you think?  Is it more important to focus on your strengths or to grow in areas where you are weak?  I think we all can agree that whatever the Lord truly calls us to…whatever ministry He asks us to serve in, or to whomever He has sent us to reach…that He will strengthen us if we are faithful to Him!

-Peter

Easter 2012 is in the rear view mirror.  Sunday was an incredible day in the state of New Hampshire.  The reports of places of worship being overflowing has caused all of us to be happy.  In our church, twice as many people attended and most of those people came as invited guests.  It was a grassroots explosion that can only be explained by God’s Spirit softening hearts and giving us all a passion for our friends and family.  I say all of this on the heals of the new Gallup poll that says we are among the least religious state in the country.

While it may be true that going to church on Sunday is not a normal activity here in the Northeast compared to the South or Midwest,  I’ve got to believe that something is changing in people’s hearts.  If this Easter is any indication, we are seeing something of an awakening take place.  Take, for instance, a church in Manchester, NH  that held their Easter service in the Verizon Arena.  Take, for instance, the many churches that added multiple services throughout the state.  And take our own situation where just one year ago we launched a new campus of Grace Capital Church in Laconia…and this Easter over 450 people attended.  In challenging people at our church that One Invite Can Change a Life, over 2200 people gathered in one of five different services.  This is not normal for NH.

But here’s the main thing…what happens to everyone now that Resurrection Sunday is over and it won’t come again for another 12 months?  This is the true test- the power of the gospel and the influence of our story upon others.   I’m hoping that no one will be like the two who walked with Jesus on the road and didn’t even recognize Him…that people won’t remain oblivious to Him working and calling and loving them.  Instead, like the two at the end of the story, their hearts will burn with His grace and they will respond. Because it’s not enough for Jesus to be alive…He wants to be alive inside of us.

God burns in hearts causing eyes to be open.  Everyday.

I found myself welling up with hatred.  Strange thing to hear from a pastor, but it’s true.  As I was watching a basketball game, the team I was cheering for (my college team) was struggling to stay in the game.  Playing in their conference tournament in what was supposed to be a neutral venue, the fans started turning on “my” team with incredible intensity.  Most of the loud crowd showed up at the end of the game preparing for the next matchup that featured their college team, which happened to be, located only 30 miles away.  So much for a neutral venue!  You see, they wanted my college team, the favorite and number one seed,  to lose so that their team would have an easier road to the Big Dance.

Even watching on TV, I saw how mean these fans were.  They were against the better team winning and I took it personally.  I felt like they thought they were so against us and that really really peeved me.  It even seemed like the officiating was biased.  After all, these were probably some of the same referees that worked the games of the team only 30 miles away from this “neutral” venue.

These are people I don’t know and that made it easier to not like them.  I found myself justifying it in my heart and  I became a hater of the entire state where this game was being played.  “I’ll never step foot in that state,” was one of my thoughts.

As I began to reflect on this, I was convicted and I began to realize something.  What I was feeling was no different from how many people outside the church feel about some of us who call ourselves Christians.  It could be because we often look at ourselves as competitors…and as better than the other team.  It’s the church vs. the world.  I’ve heard from non-believers that they feel like Christians are opposed to them and are “cheering against them.”  Some of this may be because we hold up a standard consistent to God’s Word that causes offense, but some of it may be purely out of our preference.  It’s one thing for me to believe that abortion is biblically wrong, it’s another thing for me to show unbiblical anger toward anyone involved in the pro-choice movement.  Another less extreme example would be the debate over climate change.  Somehow the church has been portrayed as anti-environmental and uncaring toward the earth.

The result…the folks in the grandstands that are not in the church look at all of us who are in the church as enemies.  Many hate us.  The people we are called to love and reach to and bridge the gap for, see us as opponents in the arena of life. I’ve heard that in Israel there are two words that Jewish followers of Jesus avoid using because they have a negative connotation there.  These words are Christian and church.  I wonder if the same is true where we live, and if it’s part of our mission to help people see us not as enemies but as friends.

Have you ever had someone say that “you’re one of those Christians” meaning that you are against them?  What have you done to change that?  Let’s put ourselves in others shoes and see whether or not they feel loved, accepted and forgiven…or if they feel like we are opposing them and rooting for their defeat.

-Peter

The difference between what I want and what God wants is one of the hardest things to discern.  I’m not talking about the obvious things that are clearly against God’s will- the “sin” things or the “self” things.  But it’s the good thing that often gets in the way of the best thing that God wants for us.

I was having this conversation with a friend of mine recently and we both realized how often opportunity comes our way.  This can be flattering and fulfilling, but that should never be our reason for deciding on it.  We are tempted to validate the opportunity when it validates us.  In other words, if it’s something that we truly feel “fits us” we can easily make adjustments in our lives to make it work.  This is especially true when it’s something that I am passionate about.  But I’ve learned through the years that my passion for something doesn’t always mean that this is what God is up to.

Certainly the apostle Peter was passionate about keeping Jesus from going to the cross, but that wasn’t God’s will. And Judas seemed to be passionate about helping the poor instead of wasting precious resources, but we all know how that turned out.

What are you passionate about?  Is it your passion or God’s?  Could it be that in order to get God’s best, we must let go of our good and noble desires?  I believe that this is the starting place, and that regardless of how long we have been serving God, we have to keep coming back here.  So, let’s take an inventory of our passions of the good things we are pursuing and lay them on the altar, right beside the things we already know are not good, and ask God to burn away the chaff and return something pure, something that He wants for us.

-Peter

I did it again.  I got everyone’s lips smacking last Sunday as I described my fantastic Eggplant Parmigiana recipe.  Not everyone likes Eggplant, but somehow I can make it sound so delicious and flavorful that even the skeptics wanted the recipe.  It helps that we’re in a 21 day fast as a church, a time when anything sounds luscious.

When I think of the body of Christ, I think about Eggplant Parmigaina.  It’s probably because of all the time and effort and the various ingredients that go into the dish, and the layers upon layers that become one meal that I truly love.  Let me explain:

After finding that perfectly ripe eggplant, you slice it into thin 1/4 inch round slices.  (This has to be perfect or else you get rubbery or tough eggplant- and that stinks.)  Then you dip it into egg and coat them with Italian bread crumbs.  Get the olive oil nice and hot in a large skillet and begin frying each eggplant piece so that it is golden brown.  This is where I get carried away sometimes, because the smell is out of this world and I am tempted just to nibble the food right now.   Anyway, so you fry it up, dry it on paper towels and prepare the baking dish.  Here you create layers of tomato sauce, eggplant, mozzarella cheese, parmesan cheese- over and over again until you are up to the top of the dish.  Now you put it in the oven for about 30 minutes at 350 degrees or until it’s piping hot!

So there’s the recipe…now here’s the point:  We are like divine Eggplant Parmigiana because when we work together as the body of Christ we become one.  When we worship together, serve together, give together, love together, join together- all of our individuality remains intact, but all of our togetherness is so much better.  It’s such a good mix and very appealing to those around us.  We are fragrant and appetizing!

Whether or not you are a fan of Eggplant, if you are a member of Christ’s church, your involvement with the local church ought to resemble something like this Italian recipe.

Feel free to try the recipe, but even more than that, be the part of the body that God has created you to be!

-Peter

The Christmas season is upon us- a time of peace, joy and of course, Love.  But so many people don’t connect with the idea of love because we have defined it to mean that I’m always happy and everything is going fantastic.  This may be especially true when relating to God as Love.

Many people either have an intellectual mindset that God may be love, but He is not really in my day-to-day world.  Others ask how God can be love when there is so much suffering and difficulty in the world.  And most have a definition of love that is strictly feeling and emotion based.  So, if God is love, how does it relate to me?

For those who have never actually experienced an unconditional, no strings attached kind of love, it’s hard to relate.  And if we only think of love as something that makes me feel good and gives me anything and everything I want, it’s also difficult to connect with God’s love.  Because God’s love goes beyond human reason and understanding, and transforms us into something that we cannot be without it.

A perfect example of this is found in the Christmas story.  God became man.  That in and of itself is love.  He became us to feel what we feel, to suffer what we suffer, to be familiar with our pain, our happiness, our disappointment and our rejoicing.  But it didn’t end with Him coming as a baby or living as a young man.  It didn’t end with the cross and it didn’t end with the resurrection either.  Because God’s love continues to flow through those who know it.

“God lives in us and His love is made complete in us,” is what the Bible tells us in 1 John 4.  If God is love, then it is meant to flow through those who have experienced Him.  This is the answer for the worlds suffering, for individual heartache and for all those who are searching for love but don’t know where to look.  It came in the form of a man and still comes in the form of men and women today.  As someone said, “Emmanuel-God with us,  wasn’t just a 33 year experiment, but the permanent way God connects with people.”

I think that there is something supernatural about both receiving and giving God’s love.  In fact, I think it’s in that place where it flows in and then out that we know God’s love in its fullness.  This Christmas, let’s get beyond the presents, and come into His presence by being the kind of people where Love Flows Through.

 

I can’t help but to think how helpless I am.  Even with all the willpower I muster up I still know that unless the Lord Himself works in my life, my efforts are really, really weak.  Yet, the fact that God uses ordinary human beings: jars of clay filled with something we cannot earn- His presence and glory, is a greater thought than how broken I am.

That’s why we have to do something with our healing other than bask in it.  I’ve known many who have been so blessed by their experience with God but then see them do very little with it other than flaunt their new found life as a trophy.  I’m not saying that we shouldn’t praise and rejoice…but that it’s got to get beyond us and flow to others.  Grace found, grace given!

I was recently reading in the gospels and saw how many times Jesus healed the broken and immediately sent them back to their hometown or out to others.  The woman at the well, the invalid man on the mat, the guy filled with so many demons that he said his name was “Legion.”  All of these were wounded healers, not fully complete, but on the journey toward healing.  What I mean is that instead of going with Jesus and becoming part of the entourage, they took what they had been given and brought it to others.

I think all of us are called to be wounded healers.  Whether we have had a tough upbringing and God brought us through that…or if we had some physical challenges and God is working through that…or if we are seeing God in the midst of questions and challenges.  C.S. Lewis once said,  “Think of me as a fellow patient in the same hospital who, having been admitted a little earlier could give some advice.”

A lot of times we think that we just need more of Jesus, and I agree, we do.  But, I wonder if our next encounter with Jesus is in our encounters with others who need the Jesus that we have, who need the healing we are experiencing.  Could it be that as we confess our life and show our brokenness being healed that we are further healed.  Maybe it’s not only our sin that we confess to one another, but our forgiven sin, our healing, our woundedness.

The man set free from demons begged Jesus to go with him, and I can understand why.  Who wouldn’t want the nurture of the Savior, the touch of the master again and again. Jesus wouldn’t let him though.  He said, “Go home to your own people. Tell them your story—what the Master did, how he had mercy on you.” Go…and become a wounded healer.

-Peter