Open-Handed Living

Jon Cobler —  December 17, 2014 — Leave a comment

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God’s goodness finds its way to those with open hands. The 19th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew says,

Behold, a man came to Jesus, saying “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.”

Paraphrasing the rest of the exchange; the young man says to Jesus, “Which ones?” Jesus replies, “Well, don’t murder, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, don’t bear false witness, honor your father and mother, and love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man stands up tall, and says to Jesus, “All of these I have kept. What do I still lack?” Let’s pause this exchange here and recognize this young man identifies that he’s following all the rules, but he also identifies that there’s something missing in his life. Continue Reading…

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I want to tell you little about someone very important to me.  My grandfather on my mother’s side; his name was Conrad Bauer. He was kind of a hulk of a man. He was the first generation of his family born in the United States, raised on a farm. When he was old enough to move out of the house, he started a construction company. He built it with success in Southern California. He later moved back and reestablished the family farm while still maintaining construction business. Everything he did, he worked with his hands. He was 6’7″, and he was the small brother in his family. He weighed 300 pounds. He was the strongest man I’d ever met. And the Con that I knew was a man of great faith and trust in The Lord.

He lost an eye when he was young, so he wore a patch. We called him “Pirate Grandpa.” He passed away two years ago on Christmas Eve. At his memorial, during the reading of his eulogy, I saw another side of my grandfather. There were moments in his life where, as a self-made man, he had struggle to come to grips with an authentic faith which would trust a God that was greater than he was. In his eulogy, my grandma wrote beautifully about the moment in his life where he didn’t just know God, but where he first trusted God with his life. Continue Reading…

Give Thanks

Jon Cobler —  November 27, 2014 — Leave a comment

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And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you. Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. – Luke 12:29-32

Have you noticed that what you long for is sometimes all you can think about? Have you ever woken up in the morning thinking, “I want a cheeseburger?” And you know at 5:00 in the morning you should not have a cheeseburger. You drink a cup of coffee, and it kinda smells like a cheeseburger. And then as you drive to work, all you can think about is a cheeseburger. And as you do your work, you are distracted, looking at the clock, wondering when it will finally be time to eat a cheeseburger.

That’s a silly example, but I’m sure it’s one many of you can relate to. Have you ever fallen in love? You fall head over heels for a person, then you think about them, you dream about them, day and night. If you’re a high school girl, you write your name with their last name over and over again, practicing. You can’t wait to be with them. You can’t wait to call them. You can’t wait to talk to them.

What about a job, what about money? Have you ever been strapped financially and you can barely pay the bills? And have you noticed how when you just wish you had enough money to take care of this stress, that every thought you have is filtered through how much that’s gonna cost me? Because the things that we seek after – the affections, the desires in our life – shape the direction of the compass of our life. Continue Reading…

Last Days Living

Jon Cobler —  November 19, 2014 — Leave a comment

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A lot of people are observing what’s happening in the world around us – in the Middle East, in our own country and in other places around the world – and they’re asking questions. What’s going on in our world today? And when the Bible talks about end times and last days, what does that have to do with what’s happening around the world and what does it have to do with my life?

When the Bible uses this term last days it is referring to a period of time between the first coming of Jesus, when God revealed himself through his son – that’s the beginning of the last days – and the time when we will see Jesus once again – that’s the end of the last days. We live in this in-between time, between the incarnation of Jesus, when God’s redemptive plan for humanity was set in motion, and His second coming, when that redemptive plan will be fully realized for all of the world. With all of that being said, how do we think about the days in which we live, and what should we be looking for in these days?

Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. … Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of your time, because the days that we live in are evil.” – Ephesians 5:8-10, 15-16

I want to admonish you, to exhort you, to ask you to live wholeheartedly before God and people. As you read the Scripture, as you come to the Word of God, let it shine its light on your own lives.

As as we look around and we see the signs of the times in which we live, will Jesus come again to earth in our generation? I don’t know. But should we become numb to the signs, numb to the issues, numb to the realities of what’s happening around us, and just become numb to this world that we’re living in? No – we can’t. There’s too much at stake to just kind of let these things pass us by and roll off our backs. We need to know that when we see these things  these things, it’s time to “turn the lights on,” so to speak, and pay attention.

So I want to ask you, are you living wholeheartedly before God and people? To live wholeheartedly before God and people means that you are letting the light of Jesus shine into every part of your life. When you see the signs of the times that we’re living in, it should call us to attention and say, it’s time to stop keeping secrets. It’s time to stop holding back. It’s time to stop holding things back from the Lord.

It’s time to stop saying, “God, you can have part of my life, but not all my life.” It’s time to stop living with one foot in and one foot out. It’s time to recognize that that cycle of behavior, that cycle of addiction, if you don’t do something different, then that will never change. It’s time to wake up and let the light of life shine into every part of your life, every area of your relationships. Why? Not so that somehow condemnation or guilt comes in, but because God says, “In these days, let the life and the light of Jesus in, so that not you live,not halfheartedly, but wholeheartedly before the Lord.”

Are you living wholeheartedly before God today? Is there anything that you’re holding back? Walk and live as children of the light; no more shadows. It’s time to turn the lights on.

Secondly, here, the apostle Paul says that we should discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Who are you seeking to please every day? What gets you out of bed in the morning? “Discern what is pleasing to the Lord.” What’s going to please the Lord tomorrow? What’s going to please the Lord in your relationship with your spouse? What’s going to please the Lord as you think about the future of your business, or your retirement, or when you think about the influence that you have over your children or your grandchildren?  And in these days that we’re living, I want you to push in that direction.

And then finally, he says this, “Look carefully how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of your time.”  We need to leverage our time for the things that matter.  Whether your current stage of life has you beginning a career, or retiring from it, or doing the day-to-day deeds of work and raising kids, are you going to look at your day-planner for the last six months and say, “Jesus, I’m so proud to show you what I did with my time?” Or are we going to say to the Lord, “Man, I wish you would’ve given me another month, ’cause I was about to change some things?” Make the change today, right now, and let the light of his life come rushing into our lives like never before.

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And when he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home.And many were gathered together, so that there was no more room, not even at the door. And he was preaching the word to them.And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men.And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay.  And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” – Mark 2:1-5

If you can imagine this old town outside of Jerusalem, with just narrow streets, and small houses that are all crammed together. Masses of people have come to hear this teacher, Jesus, and as you get closer, there’s just no way to get through to the house where he is teaching. The way that the houses were built in that town was to provide a place on the roof that could be used as living space, and so the roofs were flat. They were mainly comprised of some beams, that were then covered with branches, that were then covered with maybe rocks and dirt and mud that was all packed together, and sometimes with tiles placed on top, so that you could climb up the stairs on the outside of the house and you could have a picnic on the roof if you wanted to.

And one of the guys had this idea. “Well, since we can’t get through the crowd to get to Jesus, let’s make a way.” I love the very simple reality that these four guys were undeterred. I think that so often we sense the potential for God to do something, but then the moment we hit an adversary or an obstacle, we think, “Oh, it’s a closed door. If God wants it to happen then He’ll open the door.” While it’s true that God opens and closes doors, I’ve seen some pretty amazing miracles on the other side of a door that was not opened – it was kicked in.

This act of faith would not have been a simple process; it would’ve required some effort for them to get through the tile, get through the dirt, get through the branches, and to get to the place where they would have space to lower their man, their friend, down into the center of the crowd. Think about this scenario for a minute. You’re sitting around listening to Jesus, and all of a sudden, it kind of gets dusty in the room. And you’re thinking, “That’s strange – what’s going on up there?” And then light begins to peek through from outside.

It begins to become more obvious what’s happening as the space becomes cleared, and then down comes this man, being lowered on a stretcher and laid at the feet of Jesus. There’s a lesson here. In verse 20, when the man is set before Jesus, it says that He saw their faith. I think that one of the things that we need to draw from the story is that these men brought their friend to Jesus, and Jesus observed their faith. But how did Jesus observe their faith?

I think too often we think about faith as an internal feeling we have which makes us feel confident about something. You’ve heard it said, “I’ve got faith for this.” But I think – and the book of James tells us this over and over again- that faith without action is dead. I think we need to remember that the faith that Jesus saw was not just the existential reality of their belief that Jesus could heal. But the faith that Jesus saw was the sweat on their brow, and the blood on their hands, from digging through the roof. And as we look at the world around us today, all of us have people in our lives that in some way – spiritually, emotionally, physically – are paralytic in their own right, and they’ll never get to Jesus of their own accord.

And as we look at a world filled with people just like this man, the question I want to challenge you with is: would you have the same kind of faith that these guys had, to bring those that are spiritually paralyzed all around us and get them to Jesus? One of the images we have of ourselves as followers of Jesus that needs to be changed, in relationship to the people around us who are far from God, we see ourselves as waiters and waitresses. We wait on them to identify a need, and then we’ll go and we’ll fill up their glass of water, or we’ll answer a question. I think we need to begin to change the paradigm, and see ourselves more like firefighters and paramedics.

And here’s the point: you will hear over and over and over again from preachers and pastors and evangelists that we need to win the world. We need to love people like Jesus loved us. We need to go and save people. But if you’re living in the same world that I’m living in, when I look at the people around me, I’m thinking some of those people are really hard to love. I’m sure you have some people that are hard to love in your life. I’m not just talking about distant people. I’m talking about the people sometimes that we live with; I mean spouses, or ex-spouses, or children, or parents.

We know that there are things in their life that only Jesus can heal, but loving them is like hugging a porcupine. We miss the reality that the thing that ought to motivate us to love others is not a religious obligation; it’s a revelation of God’s love for me. So when I have a revelation of the greatness of God’s love towards me through Christ Jesus, it is out of the overflow of that revelation that I can then love others.

What I believe we need is to have a greater revelation of God’s love for us, and I pray that today, as we would identify those people, that we would be inspired to love then beyond our own capacity to love. If following Jesus is about loving like he loved, and going where he would go, all of a sudden, following Jesus is calling me to live beyond where I’m comfortable. Beyond where I’ve got the capacity to generate it in and of myself; but the beautiful thing about following Jesus is that his miraculous abundance of love and grace and power shows up on the other side of when you run out of you.

Seeing and Believing

Pastor Jon —  September 24, 2014 — Leave a comment

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As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” Having said these things, he spit on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud and said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing.

You may ask yourself, “What does this blind man’s story have to do with me?” I want to suggest that it’s a lot more like me, and maybe a lot more like you, than we would realize at first. Let me tell you why. The Bible teaches us that, everyone begins spiritually blinded by unbelief. This man was physically blinded, but every single one of us began spiritually blinded by unbelief. 2 Corinthians chapter 4 says that if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case, the God of this world has blinded the minds of unbelievers.

Here’s the point: unbelief causes us to be blinded to spiritual truths.

One of the great challenges that people have coming to Jesus is that if you want to understand and see Jesus, you have to believe in order to understand, not just understand in order to believe. It’s not that there’s no understanding. It’s not that this book doesn’t make sense. It’s not that there’s not historicity, or that there are no historical facts associated with the person of Jesus Christ. But there comes a point where no matter how much evidence a man or woman asks for, we have to take a step of faith beyond what we can make sense of in the natural world in order to believe that Jesus is who He says He is. It is then that our eyes can be opened to understand.

If you will look at other religions, other cults, other philosophies, there’s always this same component of “you’ve got to figure this out,” and you better work harder, and you better be smarter – and Jesus does it so different. He says, “Come to me, and by the way, I’m going to send my Spirit to you because you need help getting from where you are to where I am. So I’m going to send the Comforter, the Helper, who’s going to lead you along the way and show you Jesus.” So, we all need our spiritual blindness healed by the gospel. But faith comes by hearing, and hearing, the word of God, and there’s something about the simplicity and even the foolishness of the Gospel that is just as foolish as Jesus taking spit mud and putting it on a man’s eyes, and yet it works. It works.

when you find yourself in that place of aloneness, Jesus is already on the way. He’s looking for you.

This is one of my favorite things about Jesus; about the Gospel. You need to hear this. I don’t know your situation, I don’t know your circumstance. I don’t know the challenge, I don’t know the tears. I don’t know if you find yourself where this man found himself, on the corner of rejection and confusion. But you need to hear this. When Jesus heard that he had been cast out, he came and found the man, and you need to know that when you find yourself in that place of aloneness, Jesus is already on the way. He’s looking for you. And He may not have found you yet, because you’ve dug yourself a pretty deep hole. Rest assured that he will not stop until he finds you. And the fact that you find yourself rejected and alone, and maybe confused about how this can be God, does not mean you’ve missed God. It means you’re simply waiting for him to show up.

In every person’s life – every life that has come to know the surpassing joy of knowing Jesus – you have to walk through those valleys where you feel like he’s nowhere to be found. But the day will come, loved ones, the day will come when, all of a sudden, that knock on the door comes, and you thought, “I thought you were never showing up,” and Jesus says, “I was just waiting for the right time. Now let’s get down to business.” Coming to Jesus has a price, but God wants to show us that the reward is so great.

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As Jesus went, the people pressed around him. And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, and though she had spent all her living on physicians, she could not be healed by anyone. She came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment, and immediately her discharge of blood ceased. And Jesus said, “Who was it that touched me?” When all denied it, Peter said, “Master, the crowds surround you and are pressing in on you!” But Jesus said, “Someone touched me, for I perceive that power has gone out from me.” And when the woman saw that she was not hidden, she came trembling, and falling down before him declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched him, and how she had been immediately healed. And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.”

We may want to think that our culture isn’t filled with people that are marginalized and cast out, but if look with an honest eye, we will find that we live in a world where people are surrounded by hundreds, if not thousands of others, and yet feel completely alone.  We live in a world where you can have 2,000 Facebook friends and Twitter followers, but at the end of the day, you are isolated with nobody that really knows who you are.  We live in a culture where there is no shortage of people, but there is a crushing shortage of people who know that they are loved for who they are.  We may want to think that there aren’t invisible people in our society or in our culture, but the reality n the United States of America alone, there are whole groups of people that have become invisible. While some look like me, white, middle-class males, may be inclined to believe that in the U.S. of A., racism and bigotry aren’t at issue, the reality is, in the land of the foreigner, where people come from all over the world, there are groups of people that have learned that, “The best thing I can do is to just be invisible in society, so that nobody sees me.”  Every day they live in that world, a piece of their humanity is rubbed from them. I want you to see in Jesus’ response to the desperate woman in Luke, chapter 8, is a picture of the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  It is an amazing picture of how God responds to you in your aloneness. Let’s look at three distinct things that take place when this woman comes into contact with Jesus.

He isn’t just concerned with part of you; he’s concerned with all of you.  He’s not just concerned with your body being made whole, but he’s concerned with your whole person being made whole by the whole Gospel.

When she first comes in to contact with Jesus, she denies it.  Throngs of people are surrounding him and touching him, but He still knows that someone has touched him and that something special has taken place. I’ll tell you, I think that the reason that she would deny coming into contact with Jesus is because for a woman in her state of uncleanness, it’s an unthinkable thing to do to touch a teacher and a respectable leader in that community.  And although physically she’s been healed, she is still shrouded by the same shame that has kept her disassociated from society for the last 12 years.  She still sees herself as a broken outcast, even though she’s been physically healed, and that’s what’s so beautiful about Jesus. In that moment, if Jesus’ words had been something like, “You filthy woman – how dare you touch me in your state of uncleanness?  Be gone from my presence.”  Her life would have been experienced condemnation, even though her body was healed.  But that isn’t what Jesus does.  She confesses what she’s done, and that she had been healed, and in that, vulnerable moment, in the midst of those throngs of people she confesses that is was she who touched Him.  And then she waited, and I don’t think there’s any way to do justice to the weight of the word that Jesus spoke next. In all the words in the human vocabulary, in any culture, in any day, is there anything more powerful than in the moment when you feel the most vulnerable, and the most afraid, and recognize that you are worthy of punishment, to hear the word come out of the mouth of the one who holds the power of life and death over your life, not to speak with criticism or anger, to call out, “Daughter.”  Jesus didn’t just say, “It’s okay, now you’re better.”  Jesus, in that moment, said, “No – you’re a part of my family.  You’re worthy of daughtership.”  And in that moment, not only had she been restored physically, but now in the midst of her whole community, she had value as a person. Let’s be careful not to become complacent as a church, satisfied with simply taking care of the needs of the people around us.  It’s one thing to meet the physical need.  It’s another thing to get into the life of someone who has been shamed by society, and say, “There’s value in your life because you are created in the image of God, and I will not be satisfied by just handing you a loaf of bread, but leaving your soul as starving as it was before I met you.” And the church should never be satisfied doing social justice alone, because social justice without the gospel may meet people’s physical needs, but it leaves them fractured as human beings. He isn’t just concerned with part of you; he’s concerned with all of you.  He’s not just concerned with your body being made whole, but he’s concerned with your whole person being made whole by the whole Gospel.

Powerful Presence

Pastor Jon —  August 21, 2014 — Leave a comment

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I have this thing about my driveway. One of my annual rituals, if you will, is to borrow a pressure washer. (I don’t own a pressure washer, because I think that pressure washers are like hot tubs, boats, and RVs; it’s actually better if you know a friend that has one and will loan it to you. Am I right? All the thrills with none of the bills – that’s what I like to say.) So I borrowed a pressure washer from a friend, and I started washing my driveway. After about a half hour, I just didn’t feel like I was making the progress that I should’ve been making. But, like any, you know, confident, possibly, slightly hard-headed man, I just kept doing the same thing expecting different results.

I just pressure washed and pressure washed, and pretty soon I tried a different tip on the pressure washer, and pretty soon, I might as well have been scraping the dirt off of the driveway with the tip of the wand, because it just wasn’t getting anywhere. Finally, after a couple hours, I call my friend from whom I had borrowed the pressure washer, and I said, “Dude, I’ve been using your pressure washer, and this is the sissiest pressure washer I’ve ever used in my life. I expected more from you.” And he said, “Well, when you started it, did you do the thing?” I said, “Yeah, of course I did the thing.” And then he said, “Well, after it started, did you do the other thing?” And I said, “What you talking about?” I knew the first thing, but the other thing was a thing that I had no familiarity with; do you understand what I’m saying?So I said, “Let me call you back,” and hung up the phone.

So I did the thing, I started it, and then I did the other thing. And then when I did the other thing, lo and behold, just pounds and pounds of beautiful PSI came surging out of this pressure washer. And all of a sudden I went from like Pee Wee Herman pressure washing to Arnold Schwarzenegger pressure washing. I spent two hours getting nothing done, and then I spent an hour and a half getting the whole thing done.

There are many Christians today that are coming to church, and reading their Bibles, and doing the Christian life. And inside, they know that there is something more, that there is something that God has invited them to be a part of that’s amazing but because they have missed part of the story.

 

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The Gospel of Good Behavior

Pastor Jon —  August 13, 2014 — 1 Comment

In the last generation of Christians in America, on the heels of a time of great hunger and thirst for God, many churches, pastors, and leaders began to give people what I call the “gospel of good behavior”.

If you look back over the last 50 years, you’ll see this arc of messaging growing in popularity. The formula for success that many of these places began to ascribe to, was a focus on a “gospel” of how you need to behave, deriving prescriptive formulas for life like, “if you would behave this way, then your life would go well,” or “here’s three steps to thinking right, three steps to finding your purpose, four steps to having a good marriage, and five habits that’ll make you a happy person.” In general, the world began to watch as this “gospel of good behavior” began to take root. We found ourselves with big name spokesmen, and the Moral Majority, that began to gain popularity and platform to tell people that, you know, “We Christians believe there’s a right and a wrong, and if you don’t get on the right, you’re going to be left behind.”

“We Christians believe there’s a right and a wrong, and if you don’t get on the right, you’re going to be left behind.”

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This could save your life.  If your clothes catch on fire you stop, drop, and roll, right? But what do you do when “fiery darts” start coming at you?  It may be people, it may be bills, it may be medical reports, it may be your picture of what your marriage is going to look like – what do you do when those fiery darts come at you?  Here is the thing that just might save your life in that scenario. If you learn to do this, it can change everything about what your future will look like. This isn’t stop, drop, and roll. This is stop, drop, and worship.

David had no idea how his story would end. We know from historical accounts and the Psalms he wrote that he was persecuted and lied about. He was pursued, sometimes relentlessly, by the “fiery darts” of his enemies, and yet he came day after day to a place where he would surrender himself before the Lord and say, “God, although I don’t see how this could ever turn out the way you promised, I choose to worship you above all else.”  And there’s something about worship that aligns your heart with the rhythm of Heaven.  There’s something about worship that begins to sync up your soul with the words that are being recited around the throne of God from ages to ages, that refrain, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty.”  It may not change your circumstances, but it will change your heart.

Be exalted, O God, above the heavens! Let your glory be over all the earth! (‭Psalm‬ ‭57‬:‭5‬ ESV)

What’s more, worship invites the presence of God into your situation. You need to know that, above all other things, the presence of God changes everything. The “deserts” and the “fiery darts” in life may be unavoidable, but you don’t have to stay there forever, because one thing you can choose to do when chaos and confusion comes your way, instead of fighting back, or making your own path, learn to build altars where you remember the faithfulness of God. Where before you start fighting, you start worshiping; before you start figuring it out, you worship; and before you take matters into your own hands, you build an altar where you remember God’s faithfulness, and you confess with your mouth what’s true about him. And I promise you this – that if you learn the habit of worship, when deserts come, you will find that the your faith, which will carry you through, is not far away.