Sunday Preview

March 28, 2013

On Tuesday, our pastors went out two by two to the shopping centers, parks and neighborhoods near the Living Streams campus to invite people to join us for our Easter services. Luke Parker and I were having a great talk with one man at a bus stop on 7th St. When the bus arrived, the guy suddenly said that he had left his bus pass at home and asked if we would pay his fare. When he offered to pay us back, I told him it was a gift. Minutes later, he rode happily away on the bus, and we were six dollars lighter for the experience. I don’t know if we were “taken for a ride,” so to speak, or not. I do know that the Lord offers us all far greater riches than a bus fare if we become disciples.

Our pastors reported a number of good contacts with people from the outreach. On Easter many of our members will be bringing family, friends or neighbors they have been praying for, and other visitors will come on their own. I’m hoping we will offer a loving welcome to everyone who joins us for worship. I am feeling stirred by the Holy Spirit with a sense that the Lord will reveal himself to people who come seeking him on Easter. This past Sunday one lady, on her first visit to Living Streams, approached me with tears in her eyes and said that for the first time in her life she had encountered Jesus during our service. That is what we hope and pray everyone will experience.

May this be the year that the deepest desires of your heart are fulfilled.

Sunday Preview

March 21, 2013

Last week, as I prayed in preparation for my message on forgiveness, I felt like the Lord told me he was going to do a deep work in some people’s lives.

I asked Shelly Shaffer if I could interview her in our Sunday services before I preached. So Shelly shared with the congregation her story of moving to America from Cuba as a young atheist. She came to know Christ and then married a man who loved the Lord. One evening her husband did not return from work. She called the sheriff’s office to report him missing and they suggested he was out having an affair with another woman. The next day, in desperation, Shelly had a friend fly his private plane along the path her husband had been driving as he went to inspect farm fields for the Del Monte Corporation. From the plane, they spotted his car. Then a ground search led to a shallow grave, where his bullet riddled body had been buried.

Shelly told us about her struggle to forgive the young men who had murdered her husband and took a loving father away from her children. In the past eight years, the Lord has opened doors for her to speak to judges, prosecutors and others about victims’ rights, as well as the need to forgive in order for our souls to heal.

As Shelly told her story in our 11:00 am service, I could feel the Spirit of God breaking chains in the souls of people who were listening. When she finished, I stood there not knowing what to do next. I had been prepared to preach, yet I felt the power of God had been released. I decided to do another impromptu interview, and then we proceeded with the rest of the service.

I’m telling this story because we have a lot of people praying for spiritual breakthroughs in our services, and I think we are experiencing some of the grace we have been seeking. As we prepare for our Palm Sunday and Easter services, let’s all pray together for the glory of God to be manifested in the church. As we join our hearts and lives in service to Christ, we are seeking the fulfillment of the Lord’s prayer, “Thy Kingdom come and thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

Sunday Preview

March 14, 2013

Spring is here and the desert wildflowers are blooming. Kristina and I like to take walks in the preserve in the early evenings when the setting sun makes the mountains glow with a golden hue. These are good times for us to talk and process the challenges of life in the light of God’s blessings.

My sermon this Sunday is called “The Process of Forgiveness” from Matthew 18. We are all faced with battles in life and we have been given enough grace for victory, as long as we are not weighed down with unresolved issues from our past. People often find it hard to grant forgiveness because they don’t want to see the offender free to damage others. In Matthew 18 Jesus makes it clear that no one gets away with anything. The Lord gives us action steps for dealing with our brother’s sin—not to punish him, but to help free him.

These truths can help us grow in confidence in Christ. Every command he gives us is for our own good, as well as for the good of others. Forgiveness enables all of our hurts to heal, so we can enjoy the fullness of life. I’ll be praying that the Lord will give us all revelation and refreshing as we worship him this weekend.

     My daughter Kelly looked at my eye, which was swollen from an infection recently, and asked, “You’re not going to preach this week are you?”
    “Yes, I am,” I replied.
    “But Dad, people have to look at you when you preach!”
    I know people don’t see a pretty face when I preach, especially when it is distorted by infection. However, if I waited until my life was in perfect order until I did ministry, then I would not have preached any sermons, or written a single newsletter for the past twenty years. At one time or another, my heart has been broken, my body has been broken, or our family has been broken.
    I preach the gospel because it’s good news that Jesus Christ died for our sins and rose from the dead. It’s good news that God loves us, comforts us, forgives us and heals us. We all have needs and prayers that are not yet answered. Nevertheless, God can still use us as long as we don’t withdraw in frustration.
    A question came to me from the Lord recently. “Do you want an excuse or do you want grace?” When pain or disappointments come to us, we can use them as excuses to be angry with God, or we can draw near to Him and experience grace. We can either withdraw from ministry and people, or we can press in closer. Everyone gets offended. Some people use offenses for an excuse.
    Kristina and I were sitting in our living room talking one evening. As we talked, I could see that my wife was troubled.
    “Why are you upset?” I asked her.
    “Oh it’s nothing.”
    “Come on. Tell me what’s bothering you.”
    “It’s nothing I want to talk about. I don’t want you getting upset.”
    “My dear, tell me what’s the matter. I’m not going to get upset.”
    After more cajoling, Kristina told me something that really upset me. It took me a while to realize that I had contributed to the mess she described. Over the years, we have both had many excuses to be upset with each other. Yet we would rather have grace in our marriage than an excuse to be angry. We would rather forgive each other than hold hurt in our hearts.
    I often say to people I haven’t seen at church for a while, “Hey, I have missed you.” I hear many excuses for people not showing up. On the other hand, we have people who walk, bus, or bike to church in the summer heat, and others who come on crutches, or wearing wigs because they are going through chemo treatments. Jesus’ ministry priority is to the poor, the broken hearted and the afflicted. They have many reasons to be upset, but He offers them, and each of us, a choice. “Do you want an excuse, or do you want grace?”

Sunday Preview

March 8, 2013

I hope you are doing well. I have been enjoying seeing some beautiful wildflowers in the desert during my hikes these past two weeks. I’m hoping for one more rain this spring that will water the blossoming desert.

My sermon this Sunday is called “The Importance of Forgiveness” from Matthew 18. This message will continue the theme of the kingdom of heaven explained by Jesus in parables. I have been captivated by the truth that Jesus is declaring how we can experience the kingdom of heaven on earth. The issue of forgiveness is one of the most vital truths for each of us. If we want to enter the kingdom of heaven, we must let go of the painful wounds we have experienced from people, and receive the love our father in heaven offers us. If we embrace God’s grace, our hearts can become whole and our lives can be blessed.

I hope you will take some time to read Matthew 18. I would also appreciate your prayers that I can teach the truths of the kingdom of heaven with an anointing of the Spirit that will set people free.