A few weeks ago I posted a blog about the Puritans, and their freakish (freakish is a GOOD thing :)) desire to understand, and follow scripture.  You can check that out here : https://tobyward.wordpress.com/2010/02/08/much-does-not-matter-if-you-do-not-know-what-it-means-part-1/

They were so thorough their pastors would often create entire sermons around one verse. You see the Puritans were more concerned about truly understanding scripture than just memorizing it. I guess this probably came on the heels of what they were escaping in their original churches in England. Nonetheless it was a GREAT way to understand scripture, and would certainly stretch a pastor when preparing a sermon.

Recently I came across Romans 6:22 (Romans 6:22 – But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life)  in my devotions, and this verse got me thinking about the Puritans as God spoke to me through His word. He showed me INSTANTLY five truths in this one verse that carry enormous weight. I knew instantly this was the power of the Holy Spirit because quite frankly I’m just not smart enough to have figured that out myself. Isn’t it awesome when God speaks to you through His Word? Lets see if we can get all Puritanical on this one verse.

Truth One – We are no longer slaves to sin – Romans 6:22 – But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.

The resounding theme throughout Romans 6 is that we have been set free from the bondage of sin. More importantly we see that when Christ died He gave us a way to break free from the burden of sin through His blood. To often in life we try to get over our daily struggles through our own means. However when we become new creatures IN CHRIST our old life has DIED WITH HIM!!! His blood has covered it all, and not only provides us eternal life, but also gives us the ability to overcome sin through the blood. Galatians 5:24 nails this point.

Galatians 5:24

And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

Folks our flesh, our sin, our passion for sin has been CRUCIFIED with Christ!! He has already done all the work for us to break free from the burden of sin. We just have to lean and trust on Him. Why the heck would we want to do this ourselves? The blood has covered it all!!!

Truth Two – We were bought with a priceRomans 6:22 –  But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.

I believe it was the great hair metal front man Jon Bon Jovi that once sang: “Its my life, its now or never”. Thats a popular sentiment in today’s culture. Take control of YOUR life, get what YOU deserve, make YOURSELF feel good. You, you, you. Trying to make YOURSELF feel better yourself will drive you nuts. It will actually only drive you deeper into sin. Since we are sinful depraved humans at our core we will always strive to please ourselves sinfully outside of a life filled with Christ. 1 Corinthians 6:20 and 7:23 says we were “bought with a price”. Fundamentally speaking if we are “bought” then we belong to someone. The price paid was Christ’s blood, and we belong to Him. All of us in Christ do not own our very own lives, but rather we belong to Him to be used for His glory. Thus we become slaves to Him because He shed His blood on Calvary for you and me!! Call me crazy, but that makes me WANT to be a slave to Him. The cross was excruciating, and humiliating and He did that for me!! WOW. Why would He do such a thing? Thats the last three truths

Truth Three – A Spirit filled life will produce Christ-like qualities in us – Romans 6:22 –  But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.

Who doesn’t love fruit? Its sweet, decadent, good for you, and when dipped in chocolate becomes irresistible. Our character is the first thing Christ changes when He enters our life. Out with the old, and in with the new. The entire new testament refers to spiritual fruits that will be evident in our lives once the Holy Spirit enters our hearts. Galatians 5:22-23 defines these as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness, and self-control. These are the fruits Romans 6:22 is refering to.  The first one mentioned is love, and the original text used the greek word “agape”.  Agape love is a divine love, and can only be given to us as a gift from God. This is how we learn to love others, and see humanity through the eyes of Christ. Its also a pre-requisite to the rest of the fruits. Without agape love you cannot display the other fruits. Living a life that reflects the image of Christ should be the goal for all Christians. Is your fruit on display? 

 Truth Four – We will become new creatures when Christ returns – Romans 6:22 –  But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.

Sanctification simply means to be set apart from sin. Striving to be righteous.  Only one man on  this earth has ever been truly sanctified.  Jesus lived a perfect life on this earth, and gave that life as a propitiation for our sins. He made a way for us through Him to be sanctified. On earth we should always be striving to live a sanctified life, but ultimately we know that is impossible. We are sinful depraved humans, but that is where the power of the cross comes in. Again it all goes back to the cross!! We will never be truly sanctified until the Lord comes back to take His Kingdom, and the dead in Christ shall rise to meet Him in the air, and then WE WILL TRULY BE SANCTIFIED IN HEAVEN!!!!!!!!! Which leads to the last and most EXCITING truth in Romans 6:22.

Truth Five – Heaven is our reward – Romans 6:22 –  But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.

If Christ has entered your life, and you are a new creature in Him you will get to spend all eternity with Him in Heaven!!  ALL OF FREAKIN ETERNITY!!!!!!!!!!!! If that does not get you excited then check your pulse!!! As Christians we have something to look forward to, strive for, and long for the day that our sanctified bodies will be in Heaven. Thats going to be a joyous time, and we can place our hope in it.

All of these truths SHOUT one thing, and they SHOUT it LOUD: God’s glory was manifested on the cross, and that day we were all given a way to break free from sin, shout His glory through our fruits, and spend a life endentured to Him awaiting our rewards in Heaven. I can’t think of a better way to spend life.

I hope this breakdown of Romans 6:22 was as encouraging for you as it was me. Gods word is powerful, and if we will just take the time to read it, and pray the Holy Spirit open our minds to it, I GUARANTEE you it will change your life.


Gift of Giving

My most recent post is @ my churches blog. Check it out @ http://www.imagechurch.wordpress.com

 During the 15 and 1600’s a group of Christians known as “Puritans” began migrating across the Atlantic from England to America. They mostly set up shop in the Northeast part of the country, and pre-dominantly New England. They were a group of people who truly desired to live out the Image of Christ, and were escaping the tyranny, and political climate of English churches. At their core they desired to start a nation founded on God, and living out biblical principles as Christ intended. In short they used the early churches of the new testament as their model, and they were wildly successful here in this new land. The foundations they laid led to a Christian American nation, and ultimately led to God being a part of all original American documents in the 18th century.

They were a remarkable group of people who desired to live in community, and see God glorified above all else. Now they had their faults. In their attempt to be “not of this world” they formed colonies, and took themselves out of the world. Ultimately outcasting the “sick” Jesus said he came to save in the Gospels. Additionally certain sects of Puritans  took their desires, and wants a bit far at times as their treatment of women in the church, and the witchcraft trials can attest to. This is what they are ultimately remembered for in society, and I guess it does have its place. However to overlook their view of  Christianity, and especially the bible would be tragic.

As Christians today we can learn a lot from these 500-year-old Puritans. Especially the way they studied the bible. They LOVED the Word, and desired for all their people to TRULY understand it, and live it out. As a result they had an ENORMOUS impact on America, and it all started with the Word!!

Today we love, especially in our church kids programs, to push scripture memorization to the point of absurdity. We give trinkets at church to the kid that can memorize the most verses. However how many of those verses do our kids TRULY understand? How much of that scripture had an impact on their life, and how much of it are they living out? Scripture is God’s word given to us to help us bring Him glory while in our temporal home on earth. The only way thats going to happen is to UNDERSTAND God’s word because you WANT to!! Not because you are rewarded with trinkets. I am not against this or saying its wrong. I’m just saying we have to be careful in what we teach our kids about scripture.

Now I understand there are some key advantages to teaching children to memorize scripture. The bible tells us to “hide the word in our heart”. Teaching kids at an early age to read the bible is always good, and can instill good habits later. Please understand I am not saying that teaching kids or anyone else to memorize scripture is wrong. To the contrary. What I am saying is MEMORIZATION in and of itself is NOT going to help you. We might know the most verses, but if we do not understand what they mean then what good is it? We need to get back to MEMORIZE AND UNDERSTAND!! Understanding scripture can live apart from memorization, but memorization cannot live apart from understanding. They go hand in hand with understanding being the most crucial. Ultimately memorization is the act of the individual, and understanding is the act of the Holy Spirit. We should be teaching our kids to submit to the leading of the Holy Spirit,  and to pray for an undertanding of what they are memorizing. Imagine what THAT could do to them when they are adults!!!

THIS is where the Puritans had it right!! They placed an emphasis on understanding scripture, and not just memorizing for recitation and pandering as was common in the English church. Puritan pastors would often take just ONE verse for their sermons, and preach on it. ONE VERSE!!!!! I have had the great opportunity, by the grace of God, to preach a few times, and I need all the scripture I can reference to fill 30 minutes. Puritan pastors had such a thorough understanding of the Word they could preach for HOURS sometimes on ONE VERSE!!!  That is unbelievable, but goes to show their desire to UNDERSTAND scripture and not just MEMORIZE it.

The Word can change lives if we strive to understand it, and live it out. So the next time you read your bible pray that the Holy Spirit guide you to understand what it is you are reading. Then go out and live what you’ve just learned!!!

Why the heck do we do it?

Do you ever think about why we do the things at church the way we do them? For instance why do we take communion? Why or why not do we extend an altar call? Why do we not sing any hymns? The apostles did!! Why do we use baskets instead of metal plates for the offering? Why can’t I get a money parking spot like the Senior Pastor? I’m a charter member, and I’ve always gave my 10%!!  Why why why?

Or do you turn a blind eye to all going on around you because you really don’t care?

Churches over time will create a culture based on how things are ran. Some are important, and some quite frankly just are not. No matter how much we may think they are.

Truth is a church, God’s church, the bride of Christ, has one main responsibility above all others: STAND ON THE WORD OF GOD!! Now there are many other things we are supposed to do, but it all starts with a firm grasp of scripture, and doctrine so we can live out all the other biblical commands. Instruction from God through prayer, and sound preaching are THE KEYS in any sound church. Period. Everything we do should flow from scripture as we are to let the Holy Spirit direct our paths. Ultimately we are called to be a missional church, and impact the lives of our community.  

Some things like communion, baptism, and church discipline (just to name a few) are biblically mandated, and are very important. However truth be told some things just ARE NOT important. Offering plates, music style, the way you dress, the way you talk (Good to see you brother!! I mean seriously do you call anyone else “brother” besides a church member?), your church back ground, your church decorations (pastel anyone?),  altar calls (YES ALTAR CALLS), and FREAKIN STAFF PARKING are all not biblically mandated contrary to popular church culture. Those, and many other things go towards creating a church culture whether it be good or bad. Now PLEASE understand I’m not saying all these things are wrong. My point to all this is when your church places its priority, time, money, and even arguments into these things then we have lost sight of our missional purpose. So it all begs the question: WHY THE HECK DO WE DO IT? Especially the staff parking. That one has always rubbed me wrong.

As Christians we should be striving to create a church culture where people feel loved, wanted, and accepted. Just get them in the door, and then let the Holy Spirit through the preaching of the Word change their lives. Actually it should all start in our communities since that’s where we spend the majority of our time. Love and serve your neighbors.  NOTHING we do will change their life for the good. We can IMPACT their lives by displaying a Spirit filled life, but that will not CHANGE them.  That is and always will be the redeeming work of the Holy Spirit . However because we are all depraved humans we CAN impact them in a negative way, and sadly churches all across America are doing that with their internal culture. When we get to the point we care more about HOW we do things than WHY we do things the church is in trouble.

Thats why the Reserved staff parking has always bothered me. Not that staff parking is all bad, but it points to a bigger issue.  Jesus said it best in Mark 10: 43-45

Mark 10: 43 But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

 Jesus talking to His disciples stressed the importance of being a “slave to all” , and even said He came “not to BE SERVED, but to SERVE” . The King of all came to SERVE!! Some how I just cannot imagine Jesus taking the best parking spot. So why should we? How can we be servants to all if we park the closet? Take the best seat in church? Act like ninjas and disappear from church each week without speaking to anyone? What kind of message does that send to visitors who may have NEVER set foot in the church? Servants and slaves folks. Thats what JESUS HIMSELF said in the bible!!!

The book of Acts records the early church right after Christ’s death. They were a radical group of people living Spirit filled lives. They lived together, took care of each other,  and sold possessions when someone needed something. They were truly living in community, and the numbers added to the church daily were unprecedented even to this day. They kept it simple, and as a result changed the world.

2000 years later we have this blueprint yet some churches care more about staff parking, and offering plates than souls. Why the heck do we do it?

As a Network Service Manager for my employer I get the pleasure of dealing with customers on a daily basis. That is both a pain, and joy as they can bring out a range of emotions based on their wants and needs. I deal in large data networks that result in the customer paying millions of dollars over a contract life-cycle. Whenever that kind of money is being forked over people tend to start to feel a sense of entitlement. Especially the decision makers, and the ones that pay the bills. I think it’s a natural reaction for them, and it seems the more we give the more a customer wants, and ultimately feels entitled to. I often compare my customers to my children. First of all you have to love them unconditionally even though sometimes you want to drop kick them off the deck. Additionally whenever they are being difficult the easiest thing to do is give them what they want to make things easier. Well just like our children; that approach with a customer is very dangerous. It can lead to an unhealthy position for my employer if left unchecked. Like any business you cannot over commit your assets, personnel, or products and services.

Recently this has led to the powers that be at my employer to send out a document called “Vetting Procedures”. I will not bore you with the details, but the gist of it is we now have to go through a multi-step, highly layered, filtering process, to see if we can commit to the customer’s needs and wants. My employer has STRONGLY advised us that committing THEIR assets to the customer without first going through the vetting process will result in IMMEDIATE termination!! WOW!! Thats pretty strong language. However it all boils down to this: My employers network, assets, personnel, and time belong SOLELY to them. I as the employee am trusted to be a good steward of THEIR assets. I am trusted, and paid to manage the customers network, and meet needs WITHIN the bounds of the vetting process. Ultimately it’s not what I or the CUSTOMER wants. It’s what my EMPLOYER will allow.

As Christians we can draw a parallel with our on assets. At my church http://www.imagechurch.com we are currently studying: The Treasure Principle by Randy Alcorn. It’s a great book that shows where our treasure should truly be. Here are a few key thoughts as we are through the first two chapters:

  1. Everything we have belongs to God. Psalm 24:1 says: The earth is the Lords, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.  

 2.  The Lord gives you the ability to earn. Deuteronomy 8:18 says: Remember the Lord your God for it is He who gives you the ability to produce wealth.

3. You do not even own yourself!!!!!!!!!! 1 Corinthians 6: 19-20 says: You are not your own, you were bought at a price.

These three keys are FUNDAMENTAL in understanding how we manage our own assets. First and foremost all that we have is a gift from God, and EVERYTHING in the world belongs to God. Once you grasp that you start to understand that we are just managers of what does not belong to us. Just like I now have to vet thorough my employer before I make a commitment, as Christians it is ESSENTIAL that we vet to God what is His!!! Once you understand that all you have belongs to God it will radically change how you handle it.

If you are having a hard time with #1 then #2 does not get any easier. If it were not for God we would not even have the ABILITY to produce wealth. This verse says that even our ability to earn our money comes from God. So not only does our assets belong to God, but our ability to earn COMES from Him. That is humbling, and should make us even more want to vet to Him what is His.

Lastly if #1 and #2 were tough then you can throw them out the window because #3 is a nuke. Folks as Christians we do not even own OURSELVES!!!!  When Christ died on the cross we were bought with his blood, and we owe Him EVERYTHING. We did absolutely nothing to earn our salvation, and its only by His good grace that we are even allowed to approach the Father. His blood has covered it all, and made a way for us to have everlasting life which is ultimately where we should be laying up our treasures.

Once we fully grasp that all we have is His, He gives us the ability to earn, and we were bought with a price we can grasp what it means to vet what is His. Simply put NOTHING we have is ours. It is all His to be used for His glory, and to not vet to Him before we use His assets is a misuse of the trust He has placed in us.

Are you vetting today?

Many moons ago I was a member of the baddest Armed Forces unit on the planet. The United States Air Force. Yes Marines are tough, and the Army strong, and the Navy seaworthy, but the Air Force was the smartest. At least thats what we told ourselves!!! You see when all your fellow soilders have stories from the field you have to fight back with something that makes you feel better. Thus the Air Force brain power was born. I did not invent it, but was merely educated in the ways shortly after joining.  So its with that backdrop I tell you my story.

I was in telecommunications aka Tech Control. The Air Force dubbed us the “Water Walkers” because there was supposedly nothing we could not fix in the telecom world. From day one of our training we were pumped up with pride, and overconfidence to enable us to reach high, and be the best soilder we could be. Those were some of the best days of my life, and I made some great friends along the way.

However God used two  incidents in my early career to ultimately shape who I am today.  I quickly became friends with a fellow Tech Controller named Jeff Hooven.  Jeff was older, and much different than me personally. I was young, quick tempered, quick to speak, and prideful. Jeff was older, mild mannered, thought before he spoke, and very humble.  I was a Christian. Jeff was not. One day at work while answering another co-workers question with a ridiculous answer that made me seem smart, my buddy Jeff called me out.  He busted me for always pretending to know more than I did to impress others. It was pride, and it cut me to the core. God hit me right there that I was a Christian, Jeff was not, but he was the one acting like a Christian should. This cut me deeply, and God taught me a lesson instantly about pride.

Second and shortly after that I answered a call from another tech control center. When we hung up the phone we always gave our initials in the phonetic alphabet, and this was the first time I had to do that. I knew that T was Tango, and totally blanked on W so I just rolled with Willie. (Properly used its Whiskey). I was again humilliated as everyone laughed that someone so “smart” could botch something so simple as their own initials. Again God was there to remind me of my pride, and how quickly it can cause you to fall. Thus Tango Willie was born.

Hi my name is Toby Ward, but you can call me Tango Willie if you wish. Its a constant reminder of how pride can make you seem foolish. What bothers me most about it now is that I mis-represented Christ. Everyone knew I was a Christian, yet I was probably the biggest jerk in there.

My prayer since then is for the Lord to keep me humble, and blameless so I can avoid another mis-representation of Christ. You see back then I was upset that I brought shame to myself through pride. I missed the bigger point. It was years later through a serires of events that I realized what I had truly done. We should seek to glorify God in ALL that we do ALL the time. Especially what comes out of our mouths.

1 Thessalonians 2:4

4 but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts.

As Christians we LOVE to compartmentalize our lives. Church is church, work is work, and home is home. God may exist in some, and be lacking in others. Folks if we are living Spirit filled lives it will flow out of us at ALL TIMES!!!!!!!

I hope that through this blog I can continue to express how God is working in my life, and those around me. I swore I would never have a blog as I hate to write, but I guess things change. Thats what God does as we draw near to Him. He changes us.  I am very thankful He has changed me. I am very thankful where  He has brought me, and look forward to where He will lead me.

Proverbs 16: 18-20

18 Pride goes before destruction,
and a haughty spirit before a fall.
19 It is better to be of a lowly spirit with the poor
than to divide the spoil with the proud.
20 Whoever gives thought to the word
will discover good,
and blessed is he who trusts in the Lord.