Impact Church

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Rejoice Evermore

Luke 10: 21 In that hour Jesus rejoiced in spirit…

A clause of such brevity, couched securely between the fruitful obedience of disciples and the foreordained will of God, offers potentially the greatest expression of a soul enthralled with life and truth. Knowing the travail and hurt of Jesus’ journey, to see Him rejoice at all is oddly provocative. For the traditional view of our pious Jesus is that of folded hands in prayer, whispered words of hope, and willing submission to violent men. Yet, to see Him rejoice at the level the text declares is to have both our perception of Him and our perception of difficulty, shattered to smithereens!

Ultimately, the Holy Spirit in breathing such words intends to expand our limited concept of God in order to expand our limited response to the rough and tumble of our own discipleship.

The Greek rendering of our English word, rejoiced, is “agalliao”, and is defined, “to jump for joy, to exalt, to be exceedingly glad with exceeding joy, to rejoice greatly”. And in the Hebrew, “to spin around (under the influence of any violent emotion) to be glad, joyful or rejoice”. Both are quite illustrative and far different than the sedated Jesus of modern academia. It is from these undiluted moments of Jesus euphoria that we gain insight into what true faith looks like! We understand and honor His birth, divinity and purpose; but the action verbs of His day-to-day living teach and inspire us at levels historical sketches never provide.

No scriptural mandate is more pure, emphatic or unworldly than Paul’s exhortation to “Rejoice evermore”, or “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice.” And they are no more impossible to obey in our own strength than those requiring us to be both holy and perfect. So that similarly, the greatest testimony of today’s discipleship is the consistent display of a glad and rejoicing heart.

Our gifts and talents may well speak of our abilities in Him, but the ability to consistently rejoice in Him declares, and requires, a far greater submission and strength. It’s only from the vantage point of a rejoicing heart that all of God’s prophecies, promises, and provisions are fully trusted and patiently anticipated. And when our circumstances and present surroundings are contrary (as they always seem to be!), Read the rest of this entry »

Do It Again, Lord

The Christian church was born through the power of the Holy Spirit. As we read through the book of Acts and the epistles of the New Testament, we see a picture of the early church the way God intended it to be. “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42).

Here was a community of believers who freely loved the Word of God and were devoted to the apostles’ teaching. No one needed to badger or coerce them to love the Word. Instead, the Spirit within them inspired it. The same Spirit who wrote the Bible created an appetite inside of them for what it said. They shared with one another the deep love the Spirit had put in their hearts. They also became bold witnesses for Christ, filled with wisdom beyond their training. Their hearts were full of the Holy Spirit and they experienced surprises as God did things that no one could anticipate.

Not only had the Holy Spirit been sent to earth, but He acted in and through His people—demonstrating His power to glorify Christ. The early church experienced Him moving in their hearts and in their lives. Because of the hostile environment around them, they were repeatedly driven back to God for a fresh supply of the Holy Spirit, and they were wise enough to yield to His direction. Is the Holy Spirit moving like that in our lives? And in our churches?

I sometimes wonder if the early Christians were around today, would they even recognize what we call Christianity? Our version is blander, almost totally intellectual in nature, and devoid of the Holy Spirit power the early church regularly experienced. How much loss do we suffer because we don’t expect the Spirit to show up as promised? Everything we read about the church in the New Testament centered on the power of the Holy Spirit working in the hearts of the Christian believers. Sadly, for many of us this has not been our experience.

I believe it’s time to return to the kind of faith we see in the New Testament church. They believed God’s Word, they expected the Spirit to do great things, and He came through as promised.

He will do the same for us today.

Is Image Everything?

“Everything they do, they do to be seen of men…”
Matthew 23:5 (NLV)

If you are a sports fan, you may have heard in recent weeks that two of the biggest names in golf — Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy — are looking for new clubs.

Nike, which has supplied these guys with their playing equipment in recent years, has announced that it is scrapping its production of clubs and balls because sales are “underperforming” in the market sector compared to competitors like Callaway and Titleist.

What’s interesting is that Nike isn’t leaving the links altogether. To the contrary, the multibillion-dollar company intends to expand its ubiquitous swoosh logo’s visibility by sponsoring more PGA pros,…but only with its clothing and footwear lines. And the sports giant apparently decided to “just do it” after rival Adidas earlier this year put up for sale its golf-equipment brands of TaylorMade and Adams.

devo(Photo credit: Associated Press)

So what’s the point? Well, one might infer that appearance is more important than performance. Consumers apparently are more than willing to spend their hard-earned dollars to look like Tiger and Rory even if they’re not willing to try to perform like them in making birdies.

Seems like the old PGA Tour adage could be updated to “Drive for show, putt for dough,…but dress to impress!” (Or the Fifth Avenue hucksters might change “These guys are good!” to “These guys look good!”)

Just as in athletics, the religious realm is no stranger to posturing for the public. When it came to image management, the scribes and Pharisees of Jesus’ day were the pros at looking good. But the Master lashed out with laser-like intensity by repeatedly calling them blind, foolish hypocrites: “You are like white-washed tombs, which look fine on the outside but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all kinds of rottenness.” (Matthew 23:27, Phillips)

Whether that stinging statement makes you laugh or wince, remember that Jesus directed those darts at the religious leaders of God’s chosen people. Read the rest of this entry »

Give Me This Mountain

Now, therefore, give me this mountain ~ Joshua 14:12

Few there are who have not experienced frustration in waiting for the fulfillment of a dream or promise. The faith of a former time visualized a possibility: maybe a grasp of reality through a divine promise; or maybe some sense of a rightful possession through a divine connection or relationship; or perhaps the fruition of time awaiting an inevitable inheritance. Whatever was believed, whatever faith had made deposit for that season, faith would likely be introduced to undesirable interruptions, delays and complications.

From faith’s anticipation of fulfillment to the anxiousness of where’s the promise, the testing elements of space and time appear. And from wondering why, how, and how long will it be, the experiential virtue of hope waits to come alongside as faith’s support. Lest faith grow weary, an endearing ally to faith arrives; a brother of the same spirit, of the same courage, of the same vision. A friend to faith that encourages faith to endure, to persevere, to patiently learn contentment till faith has overcome every opposition. So that where faith is engendered, so the inseparable friendship of hope is also found. Hope becomes the constant lifter and confident lover of those who believe life beyond the periphery of natural sight. And though time and trouble may seek the demise of faith’s invisible substance, hope stills the angst and assures faith that the journey will reach completion. Hope underwrites what faith saw from the heart, making disappointment an impossibility and joy a guarantee.

Consider then today’s scripture. Caleb never lost vision for his life, legacy, destiny, or his nation. Time rolled on, but he never gave up on his rightful place in the Promised Land. Forty-five years before, Caleb, one of twelve spies under Moses’ leadership, explored the land of Canaan and found it a highly desirable land. It’s likely the territory Caleb personally spied out, was in fact the Mt Hebron region he was emphatic about taking when he returned from the reconnaissance detail he’d been assigned. Brimming with confidence and assured of God’s help, he declared: “we should take this land! Right now! I know there are some tough guys over there, but that’s our home and God will see us through!”

May we not forget that the Hebron region of the Promised Land was known for the home of the giants. Not the San Francisco Giants, but the sons of Anakim, the largest and fiercest of mountain dwelling warriors. May we also remember that though 12 spies ventured into the land, only two returned with reports of courage, faith and confidence. And sadly, their fellow spies turned the hearts of the Jewish people against conquering the land, and forty years of wondering and wandering were the dishonorable and tragic aftermath of a nation in utter unbelief.

But let us dwell on the good part, the Caleb part, the faith part; yes, the part where, in several scriptural occasions, Caleb wholeheartedly follows his God! His commitment, his faith-filled words, his patience, his unmoved trust in God’s promises for his chosen people- those virtues lifted him above the clamor of the fearful and declared his qualifications for receiving whatever his faith desired! Through decades of Israel’s seemingly fruitless existence and innumerable temptations to forget their purpose and call, Caleb remained resolute in trusting God’s care over His promises for His people.

So after so long a time, forty years in the wilderness and five years more as the Promised Land is being inhabited, Caleb implores Joshua to “give me that mountain! I saw it as mine when I was 40 years old, and though I’m now 85, I’m just as capable of taking that land now as I was then!” And Caleb got what he asked for! The tribe of Judah finally got a place they called home! (A real home for sure, for Hebron was the burial site of the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and the matriarchs Sarah, Rachel and Leah. Jewish tradition also places the bodies of Adam and Eve being buried there!)

“Give me that mountain” has been the rallying cry of many who’ve fought against time and elements to achieve a goal or receive a promise or experience a dream. The ageless spirit that dwelled with Caleb has never left the hearts of those who’ve caught a glimpse of God’s promised favor and glory! That Spirit now indwells the Church, the Body; the people Christ gave His blood to redeem! May that indomitable Spirit be forever abundantly visible in the thoughts, words, and deeds of those who call on the name of Jesus!

Read the rest of this entry »

This Grace in Which We Stand

“Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” Romans 5:1,2

“In the whole Bible there is hardly another chapter which can equal this triumphant text!” Those were the words of Martin Luther describing the fifth chapter of Romans.

Thank God for Romans 5! After spending the better part of four chapters convincing us that we all, Jews and Gentiles, stand guilty before a holy God and are in need of a Savior, the Apostle Paul seemingly turns his pen into a laser of welcome sunlight. Not only has Jesus Christ satisfied the demands of the Law and paid the debt we could not pay on our most self-righteous day, but His atoning work on Calvary has given us benefits beyond our comprehension!

Sadly, many Christians seem to be content with being forgiven and saved from hell. But Paul clearly declares here that our salvation is not the top rung of the ladder; indeed, it is the starting point of a whole new life in Christ. A mind-blowing, intimate adventure with the Creator of the universe is now ours since we are justified (put in right standing with God) by believing that Jesus lived, died and rose again so that we might be reconciled to His Father.

The power and authority of sin has been defeated in our lives as we accept Christ’s righteous sacrifice in our place! Brethren, we are not just forgiven,…we have been made sons and daughters of the King! And this royal new birth comes with privileges! It’s time to get excited,…Hallelujah!

Paul spends the whole chapter developing the “Ok, we’re saved,…Now what?” theme. Let’s just look quickly at the first two verses for a few fringe benefits of being a follower of Jesus: Read the rest of this entry »

Believe That Even Now, God Will Still Help Us

Acts 27: 21) ..Sirs, you should have hearkened to me… 22) and now I exhort you to be of good cheer: for there shall be no loss of any man’s life among you, but of the ship. 23) For there stood by me this night the angel of God, whose I am, and whom I serve.

No imagery arises as quickly and vividly as the breaking news of a ship lost at sea. Throw in nature’s raw violence of hurricane winds and the brooding psychological maelstrom associated with days without seeing the sun and stars – and there is narrative and drama sufficient for a full feature movie.

Inherently infused in the fury of any disaster are personal stories – some of heroism and valor, others of fear and selfishness, and always some of faith, courage and wisdom. It was in a setting of such terror that Paul became the single voice of reason and hope. His wise approach to crisis became fruitful when he overcame three major temptations: 1) when he renounced any victimization of circumstance, 2) when he rejected repeatedly the temptation to be a jaundiced critic of inferior intellects, and 3) when he refused to be an angry finger-pointer when he could well have been justified by those scorning his advice.

Divine wisdom rooted in the heart of the righteous rises to prominence when those of lesser character are losing hope. And when crushing regrets become centerpieces of conversation, or when condemnation and guilt set the present but dour mood, it’s there that the mind of those born of God is at its heavenly best.

So remember that after losing much of the ship’s cargo, much of its rigging and tackling, much of the confidence common to rugged sailors, and while much of the storm was still raging and inflicting damage – Paul declared before 275 shipmates that things were going to be okay. Not in pride’s fleshly and arrogant boast, but in the calmness of faith in a heart that had experienced God’s presence in previously dire situations. There is no inherent logic or iPhone weather map that inspired Paul’s confident report; only the presence of an angel confirming God’s instruction through the crisis. We’re going to make it; it won’t be easy, and it won’t be quick; but we’ll make it! Be of good cheer!

Yet, Paul didn’t ignore the disobedience and failed attempt of those who sailed against his counsel; neither did he allow it to be the focus. Wisdom made its point, placed the faulty decision squarely on those who missed it, and moved forward with revived hope and courage! Isn’t that so like God? God never overlooks our sin, selfishness or stupidity, nor does He ignore us because of such; but exposes their weakness and impropriety, so that our next step is based on God’s constant care and clarifying purposes! How kind and merciful is God’s grace that after we’ve royally flubbed up, He brushes us off and sends us back in the battle!

Delinquent and overworked parents often spawn delinquency and distance in their children. Never intentionally, no; but disciplined lives diminish such opportunities.

Careless spouses often create crisis in marriages. Never intentionally, no; but intentional connection times are a simple antidote for coldness and apathy.

Unguarded youth are susceptible to undue temptation. Never intentionally, no; but holding a hand, guiding the steps and teaching a heart may save some from falling through the cracks of an uncaring culture.

Devastating affections and destructive addictions seldom scream “Run” when in the flirting and winking stage. We’d never intentionally be entrapped, no; but hearing and considering the end of their pain and anguish may redirect an awakened life.

So to wise men, teach. Be an example of righteousness and character. Inform, educate, counsel and embrace. Be diligent in explaining the long term effects of another’s behavior, whether proper or improper. Wear the mantle of knowledge and wisdom with confidence and compassion. Love others enough to speak the truth in love; and allow what’s offered time enough to process and obtain a positive course of action. The Holy Spirit is expert in such occasions.

And to the wise, teach the fallen and the falling, the failures and the failing, equally. Be available to the undiscerning, to those less adept at life, those drowsy with temporal interests, and those who seem to have run out of grace. Don’t condemn with finality or disconnect with harshness from those in our “boat community” who’ve messed up… again! We are in this race together, we are our brother’s keeper, and we are the saving voice and loving care so many need to move their lives forward!

Remember: whatever Jesus has done and been for us in our experience, may we be the same to others in theirs!

Stay With The Bunch

Two are better than one,…and a threefold cord is not quickly broken. Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

Ever seen an episode of “Wild Kingdom” or a National Geographic special? Think about the moments leading up to the lion pouncing on his prey. There is usually a herd of animals clambering near a waterhole, but the hungry lion doesn’t have his eyes on the potential smorgasbord. Instead, he is locked in on the antelope who has wandered off from the pack.

To avoid the unsavory scene about to unfold on your mental screen, let’s consider another one of nature’s lessons. Picture stepping into your kitchen and spotting a bunch of ripe, yellow bananas,…and a separate one that has already been pulled from the rest. Which one is about to get peeled?

What is true in the Serengeti and in your kitchen is often true in the church world as well. It’s the one who splits off from the rest that is an easier target for the predator. Now, after you get over the shock of having been just compared to a ravenous lion, consider who the Apostle Peter says is stalking isolated Christians who start to sever their ties to a local body of believers.

Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. (1 Peter 5:8-9, ESV)

Which believer do you think is an easier target for Satan: the one who is entwined with like-minded brothers and sisters in the weekly life of the congregation, or the one who shows up only for worship services on a somewhat regular basis? There is no wonder that Peter warned us that a big part of our resisting and standing steadfastly in our faith is to remember that we are not isolated members of Christ’s body but part of a worldwide brotherhood!

Jesus knew we needed to belong to something bigger than ourselves. If anyone ever could have accomplished His purposes as a Lone Ranger, certainly the Master could have done it. But He hand-picked what Millennials today would call a “posse,” a group of followers with whom He shared His life and ministry. He enjoyed intimate fellowship with His friends, investing in them and sending them out in pairs to proclaim His life-transforming Gospel!

Sounds like Jesus knew well the principle that the wise King Solomon laid out in Ecclesiastes 4. Two are better than one – not the worst philosophy when you’re considering that banana sandwich, by the way – …and a threefold cord is not quickly broken. Earlier, Solomon praised the countenance-lifting virtues of simple friendship and brotherhood, even when adversity arises. (Proverbs 17:17, 27:6,17)

What the two wisest men who have ever walked this earth knew is this: life is better lived in fellowship and loving relationship – Paul calls it “koinonia” in the Greek – with others who share the common bond of faith, love and devotion to the Godhead.

Sadly, many believers run from the church when they should be running to it. They hit the rough patches of life: Read the rest of this entry »

Not Yet

7:1 After these things Jesus was walking in Galilee, for He was unwilling to walk in Judea because the Jews were seeking to kill Him. 2 Now the feast of the Jews, the Feast of Booths, was near.

3 Therefore His brothers said to Him, “Leave here and go into Judea, so that Your disciples also may see Your works which You are doing. 4 For no one does anything in secret when he himself seeks to be known publicly. If You do these things, show Yourself to the world.” 5 For not even His brothers were believing in Him.

6 So Jesus said to them, “My time is not yet here, but your time is always opportune. 7 The world cannot hate you, but it hates Me because I testify of it, that its deeds are evil. 8 Go up to the feast yourselves; I do not go up to this feast because My time has not yet fully come.” (John 7:1-8)

Making Jesus and the Church attractive to the world and popular with everyone is a worldly temptation.

Jesus healed the lame man at the Pool of Bethesda in John 5. After 38 years of futile waiting, the man had no man to place him in the healing waters. Jesus sees him. Asks if he wants to be healed. It’s the Sabbath. The man believes and Jesus commands him to get up, take up his mat, and walk. 3 verbs. After that many years waiting, Jesus could have waited for another day to heal the man. He chose to heal him on the Sabbath, the 3rd miracle in the Gospel, to solicit a challenge with the Jewish leaders.

The next feast is Passover referenced in John 6. Jesus never made it to Jerusalem for that important feast. Instead, He spent His time around the Sea of Galilee, feeding 5,000 and walking on the water for His disciples. He told the Jews following Him, looking for another free meal, “I am the Bread of Life.” By the end of the chapter, Jesus offended the multitudes with His command to eat of His flesh and drink of His blood. At the sound of the hard sayings, all but the 12 disciples abandoned Him. Peter offered the reason why they stayed – even Judas; “”Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life. We have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God.”

Right on the heels of Peter’s confession that Jesus is “the Holy One of God”, John takes us to the Feast of Booths, and Jesus’ unbelieving brothers. They offered 3 points of counsel:

#1 – 7:3 Therefore His brothers said to Him, “Leave here and go into Judea, so that Your disciples also may see Your works which You are doing.
MAKE A SHOW OF YOUR WORKS!
#2 – 7:4 For no one does anything in secret when he himself seeks to be known publicly. If You do these things, show Yourself to the world.”
PUBLICIZE YOURSELF TO THE WORLD
#3 – 7:5 For not even His brothers were believing in Him.
UNBELIEF LEADS TO WORLDLY COUNSEL

Long before radio, TV, social media, web sites, page views, followers, likes, etc. the temptation of impressing the world with spiritual truth has been present. Jesus’ brothers are an example of following the worldly counsel of unbelief.

Jesus had three responses to their sinful counsel: Read the rest of this entry »

Stay the Course. Be the Light.

Acts 27:14 But not long after there arose against it a tempestuous wind, called Euroclydon. 15) and when the ship was caught, and could not bear up into the wind, we let her drive.

More often than not, counsel neglected in calm waters is remembered with remorse when waves get choppy. For as the soft breezes promoted the Captain’s unwise decision to depart Lasea and sail to Phenice, so a menacing storm roared in, confirming Paul’s clear advice to stay put. Yet, what can the godly do when the ungodly hold the wheel of the boat we board? And what recourse do the wise have when the unwise have the numbers, the clout, and the might?

Well, when we find ourselves aboard a ship hell-bent to enjoy the wrath of a hurricane, the first inclination of the wise is to jump! But in the scheme of life, the wise and the foolish somehow find themselves doing the storms of life together. And sometimes the discerning get greasy, get hurt or held hostage by the decisions and directions of the unspiritual. And if they could leave the aftermath of those rejecting wisdom, then the astute could wag the finger and walk away…

But the wise live together with the unwise on the same planet, same nation, community, church, business, family, or in Paul’s case, same boat. So as inequitable it may be that life is done with those who leap from tall buildings and sleep on train tracks, God has chosen such interactions as introductions of grace to those distant from it.

A husband unchecked by the peril of credit card abuse, may bring his family under oppressive clouds of debt or bankruptcy. A promising young man may trivialize his education, trashing his scholarship and academic future with a concupiscent college lifestyle. And an intelligent young lady may forfeit her career plans with an unplanned pregnancy, impeding the dreams she and others possessed. And a business-minded mom may bring untold pain thru ill-advised substance abuse, losing interest in her family and enterprise while dealing with diminishing health.

But in any of these cases, do families forthrightly dissolve the connectivity and commitments due to foolish errors in judgment of those they love? Read the rest of this entry »

This Changes Everything

“…Ye must be born again.” John 3:7 

If ever there were someone who could earn his way into heaven, Nicodemus was the one.

Here was a man who undoubtedly studied the Scriptures, attended every church service and walked the line of personal morality and integrity as much as humanly possible. As a rule, Pharisees get a bad rep with our 20/20 hindsight on this side of Calvary, but make no mistake: they were the bona fide religious leaders of their day who devoted their lives to memorizing, keeping and teaching the most minute detail of the Law of Moses.

This Nicodemus was apparently a leader of the Pharisees, a ruler or teacher of the Jews. His story of a nighttime visit to Jesus – recorded only by the Apostle John two or three decades after not even a mention in the Synoptic Gospels – is reminiscent of another “ruler” who will forever be known for his youth and riches (Luke 18). Both men seem genuinely earnest in their desire to please God and had indeed kept the Law to the best of their ability. What more could a just God require, right?

Being a top-of-the-line Pharisee, Nicodemus would have scoffed at honoring only the “Big Ten” commandments, taking pride in obeying all 613 mostly ceremonial regulations of the Torah and knowing every jot and tittle of the written Law and oral tradition. If you had debated him on the Old Testament, you would have been embarrassed.

Even Nicodemus’ name bears witness that he was “the people’s champion,” deriving from the Greek words “nikos” or “nike” (victory) and “demos” (people). If a famous shoe company had a marketing campaign dating back to the first century, ol’ Nic would have been the “Just do it!” poster boy! When it came to good works, they didn’t come any better.

And yet this overtly devout man came to the upstart Rabbi, Jesus, apparently aware there must be something he was missing. Recognizing that the same God he had tried to appease all his life was the One who sent the Galilean, Nicodemus never even got to the same “What else can I do?” question that the rich, young ruler asked.

“Except a man be born again (or, from above), he cannot see the kingdom of God…. Marvel not that I said unto thee, ‘Ye must be born again.’” Jesus’ simple, profound words – the only time in the King James Version that the Master uttered “Ye must…”Read the rest of this entry »