Red Ferrari

I don’t know anything about cars but I know a nice one when I see it. This was a nice one. It was a red Ferrari. When I looked at it, I saw a little bit of myself. Now before you bail out on me for comparing myself to a Ferrari, just hang on.

I don’t see cars like this where I live. It seemed to appear from nowhere just outside of my driver’s side window while I was stopped at a red light. When I pointed the car out to my sons, the questions started flowing. And they were questions that I didn’t have the answers to. But that’s never stopped me before.

“Dad, is that a fast car?”

“Oh you bet. It’s got twin dual cam headers.”

The three of us sat and gazed at that red sports car. It was almost like we felt honored to have such a fine vehicle visit our common town and to be so kind to share the same road with our humble Chevrolet. When the light turned green, a little piece of us died. The Ferrari would soon be out of our sight and out of our lives forever. I thought about racing, just to prolong the experience. Cooler heads prevailed.

I was going straight and the car was turning left. Well, the car wasn’t exactly turning left. It was being taken to the left. That beautiful red Ferrari was tied down to the back of a flat bed truck. And this wasn’t one of those trucks that carries rich people’s expensive cars across the country. This was the type of truck that some dude named Big Ed uses when he comes to pick up your gently used Toyota Tercel after you drive it off into a ditch.

That’s when I saw a little bit of myself and my brothers and sisters in the body of Christ in that Ferrari.

By God’s grace and through faith and repentance, we have been given much. God has given us eternal life. But he has also given us the resources we need to glorify and enjoy him in this life.

In Christ, we have power over evil, both the kind in our hearts and the kind in the world (Ephesians 6:10-20).

In Christ, we have joy (John 17:13).

In Christ, we have access to our Creator (Hebrews 4:14-16).

In Christ, we have peace and love and self-control and so much more (Galatians 5:22-24).

But we don’t use those gifts. Instead, we settle for getting through life on the back of some spiritual tow truck.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying that God is going to bless you with a beautiful new Ferrari. And I’m not saying that Christians never have hard times or that we never deal with issues like depression or anxiety.  What I am saying is that our identity is not found in those things.

Too many Christians put a heavy emphasis on their sin while ignoring the righteousness that is theirs in Christ. An emphasis on personal sin is a good thing. It’s a necessary thing if you care to keep in step with the Holy Spirit. But it’s incomplete if it does not lead us to see our new identity in Christ.

Yes, Christian, you were a wretch. You were an enemy of God.

And yes, your struggle against sin is still very real.

But please do not forget that great exchange that took place by God’s grace. Because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, when God looks at you, he sees the perfect righteousness of his perfect Son (2 Corinthians 5:21).

You are no longer an orphan.

You are no longer an enemy of God.

You have been given eternal life.

You have been given hope and joy in this life.

And here’s the thing about God’s gifts. They are meant to be used. So ditch the flat bed truck and take your gift for a spin.

If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Galatians 5:25 (ESV)

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Something To Consider Before You Start Counting How Many People Were At Your Church Last Sunday

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He was a traitor.

And a thief.

Jesus could have told him anything. What Jesus chose to say to him shocked most everyone there. It was just two simple words.

“Follow me.”

That comes from Matthew 9:9. The following verse, however, is not in the Bible.

Jesus saw a man sitting at the tax booth and he said to him, “Take up your tax booth and follow me.”

Grace doesn’t work that way. Jesus came to save us from our sins, not affirm us in them. The world, and even some claiming to be Christians, would have us to believe that real love looks beyond the sin and accepts the person as is. That’s not what Jesus does. He told Matthew to leave it all behind. God, in his grace, meets you where you are. Grace never asks you to get your act together first. Grace never waits for you to make the first attempt at change. But when your life is invaded by grace, you will change.

Matthew was no exception.

When he heard the words of Jesus, Matthew obeyed but not by going on a short term missions trip. He didn’t find the nearest orphanage and get to work with the soup distribution. He did probably the last thing you would expect a new follower of Christ to do.

He threw a party.

There was quite the crowd at this party. Other traitors and thieves were there. There were even people who just wore that general old label of sinner. The Bible doesn’t jump out and say why so many sinners showed up to the party Matthew threw for Jesus but if you look closely, you can see it.

And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. Matthew 9:10 (ESV)

I’ve been in churches my whole life. I’ve seen a lot of gimmicks used to get people in the doors. When I was a kid, Newt Gingrich showed up to my church on friend Sunday. We also had pack a pew Sundays. Other churches give out free gas cards to the first 50 people in the door or have raffles for iPads. Numerically speaking, these schemes usually work.

And all the Christians walk away from the church service that day talking about the big crowd as evidence for how God worked.

Only God didn’t work.

The gas card and the iPad did.

Sinners weren’t coming to Matthew’s house because of some gimmick. We can’t know all of their reasons but, simply put, they came to Matthew’s house because Jesus was there. The church could learn a lot from Matthew.

There’s more to following Jesus than getting a crowd. Any organization can draw a crowd with free iPads and $200 gas cards. Here’s a cutting edge, relevant idea for you. Perhaps it is the presence of Jesus, not the presence of gadgets and gimmicks, that really impacts sinners.

For years, the church has used the world’s methods to draw a crowd. The church has even tried to act like the world in order to make the world feel more at home at church. And it has worked brilliantly at drawing crowds. Just no so much at making disciples.

Your church may have 5,000 people in it or it may have 5. Either one is fine. But there is something more important to consider before you start thinking about who all was at your church services last weekend.

Was Jesus there?

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Preachers Aren’t The Only Ones With Pulpits

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Every Sunday morning I stand up behind a small wooden podium to tell people about Jesus. Some of them listen politely. Some of them laugh, even when I don’t say anything funny. Some of them fall asleep. Some of them take notes.

The task of delivering a message to a group of people is not one that is unique to my profession.

Parents do it every day.

When someone pulls out in front of us in traffic, gives us the finger and goes on about their way, our reaction preaches a sermon to the watching eyes in the backseat. It may be a sermon filled with tons of new and exciting new words or it may be a sermon about love, forgiveness and patience.

Our response to the increasing horror we see and hear on the news is a powerful sermon as well. It’s main point can be, “We’re all gonna die!” or it can be, “God is in control.”

Parents carry a pulpit with them. And from it, thousands of times a day, we preach a sermon to our kids. Whether the sermon is a good one or a bad one, we can be sure of this one thing.

Our kids aren’t sleeping.

They’re taking notes.

Every year on Father’s Day, I get a book. The same book. It’s an old composition notebook. The first page has scribbling on it followed by a note from my wife. The next page, written a year later, has scribbling that is a bit more defined along with another note from my wife. A few days ago, there were two paragraphs written in the most recent addition to my Father’s Day book. One was from my wife. One was from my son. His scribbles have turned into sentences. And now he’s got a younger brother who’s not too far behind.

When I read their words and admire their pictures, I can see pieces of myself and I am reminded that my kids are taking notes.

I like to talk to the TV. It never accomplishes anything but I do it anyway. A while back I saw a commercial for a handheld video game system. The commercial showed kids playing it in tree houses, on the beach and at internationally known exotic locations. Before  thinking, I spoke about the absurdity of the commercial. The kids were sitting in the middle of some of the coolest, funnest places on earth but they were too busy to enjoy them because they were playing a video game.

A few days later my son was talking about that same handheld video game system. I could feel it coming. I was sure that he was going to ask me to buy him one.

I was wrong.

He told me that those games looked like a lot of fun but they also looked like they kept kids from things that are more fun. Things like tree houses. Just like in the commercial.

I preached my sermon.

My son took his notes.

Every parent is a preacher. Just like the preachers we see and hear about in pulpits at churches all around the world, some parents share a message of love and hope. Some lay heavy, legalistic burdens on their hearers and others make empty promises.

We are all preachers.

Some of us deliver our sermons to large crowds while we stand behind wooden podiums.

Others preach their sermons to crowds of two while driving to soccer practice.

Regardless of the size of our congregation or the shape of our pulpit, this much is certain.

Those who are listening to us are taking notes.