The Greatest Love Story Ever Told

Tomorrow we  celebrate Valentine’s Day.  The day was named after St. Valentine, a Roman priest.  The emperor at the time was a man named Claudius.  Claudius believed that single men were better soldiers so he made a decree forbidding marriage.  Valentine believed that marriage was from God and that Christians should follow God’s commands.  He performed secret marriages. Valentine was found out, imprisoned, and eventually martyred for his faith.  He became known as the patron saint for lovers and the day focused upon love is named after him.  (Adventures in Odyssey, a family audio show from Focus on the Family, has a great episode sharing the story of St. Valentine. The episode is #562 and is called The Last “I Do.  It would be a great opportunity for a family night with your children.)

Valentine’s sacrifice reminds us of the greatest love story ever told.  God sent His Son who gave His life for our sins.  God Himself took on human form to die for us.  This Sunday we are going to focus upon the incredible love of God demonstrated in that story.  I hope to see you there and trust that you will invite someone to come with you.

“Love ran red” Worship Gathering

Some songs just capture me.  The first time I ever heard Chris Tomlin’s song “Love ran red”, I was caught up by God’s Spirit and had to stop to worship Him for the amazing love Jesus displayed on the cross.  I was overwhelmed by the thought of His precious blood flowing out in “real love” for me, so I thought it would be a great thought for our upcoming worship gathering. We are rapidly approaching Valentine’s Day when most of us are thinking about doing special things for the ones we love and adore, so why not shower our affections on the author of love and life?

I want to invite you to come and worship God and experience His magnificent love for you next week on Wednesday February 10th at 7:00 in the Fellowship Room.  And not just to experience His love, but to be transparent and show extravagant love to Him as well.  Hallmark cards, flowers, and fancy chocolates may be the way to win a few extra points with the special people in our lives, but God desires is all we have and all we are…our hearts.

My hope and prayer is that young and old will join hearts and voices together for a little more than an hour to thank Jesus for His love that ran red so that our sins could be washed white.  Because of His great love we can love, we are forgiven and free, and we have purpose and reason to praise! Hope to see you there! Pastor Josh

“The Gathering” – Night of worship

Over the past few weeks we have been in a series on personal and corporate worship.  To celebrate and practice some of what has been taught, we are having a night of worship on November 6th from 6:30 to 8:00 and everyone is invited!  This will be a night unlike any other worship experience you’ve probably had at Hannaford.

The theme for the night is “postures of worship” so we will be exploring what God’s word says about different ways we can praise Him.  If you are looking for an experience that will challenge and stretch you to go deeper, this is it.  If you simply love to express your love for God in untypical ways you will want to come.  If you are unsure and a little nervous, come anyway and see what God has for you…seek to be a blessing to Him in your outward forms of praise.

My desire is that there be an atmosphere of freedom, that the Holy Spirit is welcomed, and that God is worshiped and praised in such a way that even if there are unbelievers in the room, they will fall down and say “God is really among you” (1 Cor. 14).  Notice I said worship and praise…I hope that both occur, but I’m convinced that without opening ourselves up to praise God, it is very difficult to worship Him.

Since we began this worship series, we haven’t had much opportunity to hone in on the physical forms of praise.  When Jesus told us to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength He was covering all aspects of our humanity and how they can be an offering to the Lord.  One that I’m convinced we don’t employ enough here at Hannaford (or in life in general) is the aspect of using our strength or our physical expressions of praise to honor God.

A physical expression of our love for God is considered praise.  Praises can be given by anyone and anything, even if there’s no relationship…so even an unbeliever can praise.  Jesus even said that the rocks would cry out in praise if His people didn’t.  Worship is the next level and requires relationship.  It is a two-way street involving both giving and receiving.  Praise is always seen or heard, it is largely horizontal (meaning it encourages us) where worship is primarily a vertical (toward God) interaction.  Praise is often preparatory or a gateway into genuine worship (Ps. 100:4).

When we praise God, the Holy Spirit begins stirring our hearts to become more aware of His presence.  He is always with and in us, we just tend to ignore or move away from Him at times.  Lifting our praises can move us toward Him, help us pour out in visible ways and engage more than just our mind and souls, but also our bodies.  We can lift our hands, sing and shout, clap, dance, bow, lay prostrate, stand, play on instruments, and use our strength to praise God.  The ultimate goal for us of course is to move from simply praising God to worshiping Him in spirit and truth.

I hope that you will join us, invite others, and prepare yourself by praying and coming with an attitude of humility and joy.  I truly believe that when we allow God to awaken our hearts, minds, bodies, and spirits that revival will take place.  Pray for revival in your own life and in the life of this church…pray that we are no longer just fans of Jesus but players in His kingdom work…pray that the Holy Spirit is alive and well in us so that when He comes back for us He doesn’t find lukewarm followers, but a people that is on fire and preparing for the great eternal worship gathering in heaven!

Grace be with you,

Joshua

Putting out the fire

The last few weeks have been characterized by hot weather and smoke-filled skies caused from all the wildfires burning in the west.  We haven’t been able to enjoy the grandeur and beauty of the mountains all around us and the famous “Big Blue Montana Sky” because the smoke settles in the valleys, blocks the sun, and causes some pretty nasty air conditions.  We pray for a strong wind or rain to clear the air and put out the fires so the smoke will recede.  In contrast, when it comes to our spiritual lives, the Holy Spirit’s fire (which is a good fire) doesn’t need smoldering or “quenching”, it needs rekindling…we need an all consuming wildfire burning at all times to be effective in God’s kingdom.

A couple of weeks ago when I was reading a book by David Jeremiah called “God in you”, a book about the Holy Spirit’s role in our lives, he made a point that we quench or grieve the Holy Spirit any time we don’t do something we know to do or do something we know we shouldn’t be doing.  Conviction came like water to the desert when I read that I wouldn’t be as effective in life and ministry if put out the Spirit’s fire in my heart and drown him out when ever I’m disobedient.  It’s kind of like the man described in James 1:22-24 which says, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.”

One of my specific struggles has always been not using my words build people up.  I’ve been nudged many a time by scriptures like Col. 4:6, “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”, Mat. 12:36, “But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken.”, and Eph. 4:29, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”  Ouch!

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read these things and heard a small voice saying, “Josh you really need to look at this area and do something about it”.  Most of the time I would pray for God’s help, make a small effort to change, and then slowly return to old habits, quenching the Spirit’s power in my life.  The realization that God’s power and Spirit wasn’t fully alive in me if I kept ignoring these nudges finally convinced me to make a real and lasting change.

With the conviction fresh on my heart and mind, I asked my wife and daughter to help me by reminding me when I fell into old habits.  Let me tell you that old habits don’t die easily.  I got defensive a couple of times and made some excuses, but with God’s help I have made some changes.  I have also noticed that since I’ve allowed God’s Spirit to make these changes, my joy has been more complete, I’ve noticed other areas I’ve been hiding from the Lord, and I have a renewed sense of passion and energy that I know is the Spirit finally being able to produce more fruit in and thru me.

Kind of like the smoke from the smoldering fires, habits and sins can get deep into the valleys of our lives making it difficult to clear out, but take courage in knowing that God will rain down and refresh you if you will only surrender and allow His Spirit to be president and not just a resident in your heart.

Grace be with you, Pastor Josh

Don’t forget your angry eyes…

I always wondered what “empty-nesting” was going to be like and here we are; one kid is now married and the other will be heading to college in the fall…where did the time go?  This is a transition in life that many parents look forward to, but others like Jen and I struggle with because we are very close to our children and really don’t like the thought of letting go.  In this month’s blog-article, I wanted to share some of those struggles and encouraging words I found in God’s word to help those who may be facing one of these life transitions or something similar to it.

Maybe you’ve seen the popular children’s animated movie “Toy Story” and remember the scene where Mr. Potato Head was about to head out on an adventure with the rest of the toys, when Mrs. Potato Head stopped him and made sure he had all of his appendages.  The last thing she said as he departed was, “Don’t forget your angry eyes”.  That’s a running joke around our home because my wife Jenny always does the checklist to make sure we have everything we need before we go, so the last thing we always say after she goes thru her list is “and…don’t forget your angry eyes”.  It’s funny, but it’s also sad that we can’t hold on to our kids and really anything else in this world because God designed us to “leave and cleave”, “fly the coop”, “cut the apron cords” and just let go.  Even though we have to the urge to remind our kids of things they need to do, make sure they have everything they need, or just hold on a little longer before they head off, we have to come to grips with the fact that God designed this world and us so that we can’t and shouldn’t hold on.

I’ve been referring primarily to our situation of letting our kids go, but there are so many types of life transitions that require us to loosen our grip and allow God to take control.  There are all the stages of growing up, college, marriage, grandkids, and finally death.  In each of those situations, there is a death of sort that occurs, but death brings new life.  Change is good and necessary for us human beings to become more mature.  We can’t stop change, so all we can do is embrace it, deal with it in a godly way, and trust that God will fill our empty places and take care of whom or whatever we may have to part with.

In Genesis there is a particularly sad story about Abraham’s nephew Lot and his wife.  As God was about to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah where Lot and his family lived, He instructed Lot’s family to leave town quickly and not look back.  Of course we know that Lot’s wife did look back and when she did, she turned to a pillar of salt.  I don’t think the moral of the story is necessarily that we should never look back because reminding ourselves of the past can be beneficial, however it’s when we get stuck and can’t move forward that looking back can be so detrimental.  I don’t know this for sure, but I believe that Lot’s wife had a longing for something in her homeland and she just couldn’t let go of it…to the point that it was more important than the salvation and safety that lay ahead.

There is a great section in scripture that reminds us that there is a season for everything.  God created the earth to have seasons, each lasting their appointed time…each with good and bad things.  He also created His prized creations, us, to enjoy certain seasons in life.  I think it’s worth quoting the whole section of Ecclesiastes 3 which says, “ There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:

 

    a time to be born and a time to die,

    a time to plant and a time to uproot, 

    a time to kill and a time to heal,

    a time to tear down and a time to build,

    a time to weep and a time to laugh,

    a time to mourn and a time to dance,

    a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,

    a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,

    a time to search and a time to give up,

    a time to keep and a time to throw away,

    a time to tear and a time to mend,

    a time to be silent and a time to speak,

    a time to love and a time to hate,

    a time for war and a time for peace.

Here’s the crux of the matter…”He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart.”  Everything (even the hard and the bad) is made beautiful in God’s timing not ours.  He gives us seasons to enjoy things and to mourn them, but that’s all, just a season.  He has set eternity in our hearts not earthly things, people, places, and thoughts, so He expects our true hearts’ desire to be set on being with Him in heaven.  The most amazing thing about having our hearts set on things above is that they won’t be for a season…they’ll be forever!  May our prayer be, “Abba Father, help us to keep our eyes and hearts focused on you in every season of life, so that when we see you face to face we will be able to say, ‘I’ve run the race and kept the faith and tried to do all for Your glory.’”

Blessings,

Josh

Marching to the beat of the Spirit’s drum

Many moons ago, I was a part of and even led my high school band in Kentucky.  We prepared almost all summer every year for our fall competitions and part of the preparation was learning to march.  The first week of band camp was always spent teaching the very basic skill of staying in step with everyone else and learning how to operate as one moving formation on a football field.  When competition time came, we were evaluated not just on the music we played, but how meticulously we placed every foot and heel on the field.  Judges were very quick to point out when one person fell out of step or if there was too much space between two people in a formation.  It was a grueling task to try and perfect each move, but when you watch the results, it’s truly amazing just how seamlessly everything could fit together…it was a work of art!

In Galatians 5:16-25, Paul is exhorting us to walk, be led by, and keep in step with the Holy Spirit.  Like my example of marching in band and staying together with those beside you, we are supposed to be in a daily habit of listening to and following the Spirit’s guidance in our lives.  A marching band can’t stay together without a strong and defined beat.  That beat comes from the field commander who not only sets the beat, but keeps it throughout the song.  As long as the whole group is watching and listening to the leader, everything stays together.  The Holy Spirit is our internal metronome (an instrument used to keep time)…He is our field commander and without His guidance, we get way off in life.

I read a great book by Francis Chan called “Forgotten God” that has really been convicting and helping me see that I’m guilty of being out of step with the Spirit.  Paraphrasing a section Francis basically says, “I think a lot of us need to forget about God’s will for our lives.  God cares more about our response to His Spirit’s leading today, in the moment, than about what we need to do next year…that doesn’t mean God doesn’t have purposes for our lives or that He doesn’t care what we do with them.  If we are to do as Paul suggests in the Galatians passage above, “keeping in step and walking with the Spirit” we must be careful not to excuse ourselves from faithful and sacrificial living now.  When we dwell on the future, it tends to create safe zones, where we can sit around and have “spiritual” conversations about what God “might” have planned for our lives.  Thinking, questioning, and talking can take the place of letting the Spirit affect our immediate actions in radical ways.  Nowhere in scripture do I see a “balanced life with a little bit of God added in” as an ideal for us to emulate.  We have in a sense asked Him to join us on our life’s journey, to follow us wherever we lead instead of allowing Him to be the leader.”

I was really challenged by the idea that I need to focus more on what God is doing in this moment or this day to change me and make me more like Jesus, than worrying about trying to figure out what direction he wants my entire life to be heading in.  Keeping in step with the Spirit is a moment-by-moment activity…and those moments accumulate into a lifetime of choices.  I need to deal with the issues and tests that are being hurled at me now.  That Galatians passage names a few of the heart ailments (Paul calls them the acts of the flesh) that most of us deal with on a daily basis in some form or another.  He says if we walk by the Spirit we will not gratify those desires to sin.  So that means being so closely in step with the Spirit moment by moment that there isn’t room for sin to creep in unnoticed.  He says when we walk by the Spirit the result will be good fruit.  That would be, “love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control.”

I have committed this list to memory and pray everyday that God will help me to develop these in increasing measure.  Living this way is not natural or easy…that’s why we have to have the Holy Spirit helping us.  These are not called the fruit of the Josh (or insert your name)…they are fruit of the Spirit.  It’s God’s Spirit working thru and in us that produces this result.  If we aren’t closely listening and being sensitive to His leading each moment, we are in danger of leading ourselves and missing God’s best for our lives.  The challenging part of all of this isn’t reading or even really contemplating these things, but being willing to submit to them.  Submitting to the radical overtaking of God’s Spirit will change us and may even cause us to go places, do things, and interact with people we aren’t comfortable with…it’s a terrifying thought sometimes.  However, when we walk in our own wisdom and go our own way, contrary to His leading, it’s even more terrifying.

I want more than anything to be led by God’s Spirit and to walk so closely in step with Him that others see Jesus and not me.  I know people that I would say are filled with and are continually led by the Spirit and the fruits in their lives are very evident and beautiful.  I pray that you’ll consider and work thru this passage again and again too and try to grasp how wonderful it is to march to the beat of God’s spiritual drum…trusting and leaning on Him thru each moment of your life.

Grace be with you,

Pastor Josh

Enjoying the daily grind

We all do it in one area of life or another…whether it’s work, household chores, eating, or spiritual routines. For most of us life is about patterns and finding our groove as we navigate the daily demands placed on us. If we didn’t have routines, things would become chaotic and unmanageable…the problem comes when our routines get us stuck.

I’ve found myself getting in a few ruts lately, even getting to points where I’m bored and at a loss for something to do. That’s hard for me because I like to be busy and to feel productive. Western society in general is very fast paced and based on instant gratification, so it can be hard to feel satisfied when there’s not something going on, somewhere to go to, nothing to watch on TV, when we’re out of internet games to play, and everyone around us seems to be going a hundred miles an hour but your not.

As a nation and Christian’s in general, we have misplaced the fine art of stillness and being satisfied in the daily grind or routines of life. As a brief encouragement for myself and for anyone else dealing with these things, I wanted to turn to some gems I found in scripture that may help us find joy in the mundane and excitement in the ditches. Here’s some advice from our Father on how to grow and maintain a good outlook when the ruts of spirituality are deep and pace of life slow down…

  1. Choose what is better – Most of us know the story about Mary and Martha from Lk. 10:38-42, but the brief version is that Martha was preoccupied with things that didn’t matter and Mary wanted to sit at Jesus feet. When Martha became frustrated with Mary, Jesus said, to her “you are worried and upset about many things,but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
  2. Enjoy the still waters – Ps. 23 is so packed with amazing metaphors and encouragement for this life. As David penned it, he was probably sitting with his sheep in a pasture beside a quiet brook or stream. It reminded him that God wants to lead us beside still waters and into green pasture where things are calm and safe. We should enjoy those times, thank God for them, and relax a little because like a good friend of mine used to say, “if you’re not coming out of a storm, you’re heading into one.”
  3. Do everything for God’s glory – 1 Cor. 10:31 says, “…whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” Steven Curtis Chapman wrote a song called “Everything you do” based around this scripture and the idea of course is that nothing we do is unimportant or insignificant because all we do is supposed to be an act of worship to God. Even the mundane things of life are made fresh when we have the perspective that we are worshiping God in everything we do.

I read a great little book called “Practicing the presence of God” a few years ago and in it the author, Brother Lawrence says this, “Let us think often that our only busyness in this life is to please God. Perhaps all besides is but folly and vanity. ”  May this be our attitude and prayer in the daily grinds of life.

Grace be with you,

Pastor Josh

Unpacking (Part II)

In the previous blog post, I mentioned that it was my desire to being unpacking the vision I believe God has placed in my heart for the worship ministry here at Hannaford. I wanted to go beyond just sharing this with the worship team because worship is actually one of the primary elements of our mission statement, which is “Worship, Grow, and Share”.

Worship is first in that line-up because it is our primary purpose as God’s creations and Christ-followers. Col. 1:16 says, “For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.” Notice that verse says we were created in, through, and for Him (Jesus). That means we were meant to have intimate fellowship with Him, that relationship happens thru our worship of and faith in Him, and reveals that we are not our own, but that we were created for His pleasure and purposes. It’s all about Him!

One day when we finally arrive in heaven that will become the central reality. Right now, we get glimpses, have moments, and see the foreshadowing of what will be, but in heaven Jesus will be the focus of our attention forever. As difficult as it can be to focus in our worship services or even our daily lives, it’s hard to imagine never being distracted for all eternity. I think we can have a slice of heaven right now and can begin rehearsing for that great day while we’re here on earth. That’s the heart of my vision for our church in worship.
The burning coals God has placed in my spirit for myself and for Hannaford are:

-Now is the time to worship in spirit and truth (John 4:23)
We are living in “the last days” before Jesus’ return and in the last days there is urgency, miracles and unexplainable visions and dreams, and power poured out by the Holy Spirit to the church (you and me) to carry out Jesus’ commission.

Our worship can be a witness to unbelievers and can cause them to experience and worship God too (1 Cor. 14:22-25)

When God’s people are genuinely following and worshiping Him in all aspects of life unsaved people notice. If they happen to come or are invited to our corporate gatherings, they will experience God in a tangible way, be convicted of sin, and realize their need for Him.
-Worshiping on earth as we will in heaven (going deeper into the river during individual and corporate worship times) Ez. 47, Rev. 4:6, 15:2, 7:9-10, and 14:3

When I read those passages I am reminded that we are meant for so much more than we realize as God’s children. God created man for an intimate and deep relationship with Him, so our personal and corporate worship times are opportunities for us to engage in and even be swallowed in the depths of His intentions for that relationship. Ezekiel explains it as a river that can’t be crossed…where miraculous things are happening and renewal is taking place. John in Revelation is trying to explain the sheer enormity and diversity of the crowd in heaven, their singular focus on the Lamb, and the intensity of their unending praises.

I will dive a little deeper in the next blog about how I see these things playing out in our individual lives and corporate gatherings, but for now, I encourage you to join me in praying for revival. Much of this is scary and unchartered water for us and new things can cause us to be fearful. What we need to take to heart is that fear doesn’t come from God. His desire for us to have life and have it abundantly now as well as in heaven. He longs to show us more and take us deeper, we just have to get out of the boat and walk on the water with Him…. we need to pray and ask for more!

Grace be with you,
Pastor Josh

Unpacking

If you’ve ever moved anywhere at anytime, you know the woes of packing and unpacking your life’s accumulations.  I’ve had the great privilege to do that about fifteen times in my lifetime, but each time it gets more physically and emotionally difficult. The blessing is that God always brings good out of it and every move has in some way been positively life altering and beneficial…this one is no exception!

The move to Montana was one bathed in prayer and initiated by God. Jenny and I are already settling in, making some wonderful friends, and getting our life moving forward again.  This time when we moved, we did packing a little differently than normal because we had about a month and a half to prepare.  We even had a small packing party with our home group that tremendously helped us get a good start on things.  On the flip side, the packing up process was extremely difficult in that we were not only moving fifteen hundred miles from our kids, but leaving behind a lot of great memories, a house we loved, and some forever kind of friends.  It was with heavy hearts that we packed the U-haul with no inches to spare, took our final tear-filled walk thru the empty halls of our house, said goodbye to our children, and headed west.

We arrived here on New Years Eve, our 21st anniversary, and within a week had completely unpacked every box and had the home in order.  Some people think the speed with which we get settled is nuts, but we like to have order quickly so we can function better and move on to the more important things in life.  I’m kind of that way when it comes to ministry too…sometimes to my own detriment.  Some of you may have noticed that I like to get things done and waste no time establishing order.  I think I get that work ethic from my grandpa who used every minute of every day fruitfully and didn’t believe in “loafing”, as he called it.  I don’t like to loaf when it comes to the weighty matters in ministry either.  So, in the next few blogs, I’ll be unpacking the vision God gave me for the worship ministry here at Hannaford.  Many on the worship team have already been exposed to it, and I hope to be able to eventually share it with the congregation as a whole, but if you’d like to check it out for yourself, I’d encourage you to read the book I’m basing the vision off of called “Following the River” by Bob Sorge.

I’m so excited to be serving with you here in Helena and ask that you pray for the church and it’s leaders as we begin a new journey together.  As a staff I can sense the excitement we share that God has placed us together and chosen us to serve for this season at Hannaford.  I’m convinced if God’s Spirit is allowed to work in and challenge us to be better worshipers we will get to be witnesses to His mighty outpouring in these last days before His return.

Grace be with you,

Pastor Josh