Resources to Help You Grow as a Christian

Here’s the truth: If you’re depending on your pastor (or any other leader for that matter) to meet all of your spiritual needs, you’re going to be disappointed… and odds are, you’ll leave them drained.

We’re not gurus. We’re not experts. We don’t have a corner on the market.

And you can’t thrive as a follower of Jesus if you only engage with God one day a week… through someone else.

Back in the 1500s, a guy named Martin Luther started a reformation helping people understand they could have direct access to God. He was right – YOU have direct access to God. You can pray on your own, worship on your own, and serve on your own.

The church is and should be a vital part of your faith. Plants don’t typically survive unless they are rooted in good soil. But there are things you can do to grow your faith all week long, not just on Sunday.

So, here’s a list of some of my favorite resources and links to help.

  • THE BIBLE
    • This one is easy. Hands down, YouVersion is just about the best platform for reading the Bible digitally. The website is great, but the app is where the magic happens. You can choose a reading plan, share notes and questions with others, and keep track of your progress. Also, every Sunday at Vertical Church, we have an event on YouVersion where you can take sermon notes.
  • BOOKS – Here are just three books I’ve read that have helped me grow in my faith (other than the Bible, of course… see above!)
    • Mere Christianity – C.S. Lewis. This is a classic from one of the most important authors of the 20th century. Great read for both beginners and veterans.
    • Home Run – Kevin Myers. Fairly new edition to my list, the value of this book is in the analogy Pastor Kevin uses to describe how a Christian grows. Plus, we’re doing a series from this in the spring!
    • Simply Christian – N.T. Wright. A bit thicker on the content, I would recommend this one to a person who’s already familiar with Christianity but is looking for some fresh perspective.
  • PODCASTS – I listen to a lot of sermons and preachers. Here are three of my favorites.
    • Andy Stanley – Senior Pastor of North Point Community Church (and a bunch of others) in Georgia. Pastor Andy’s sermons are always incredibly practical and easy to understand.
    • Judah Smith – Pastor of The City Church in Seattle, WA. Pastor Judah is a great communicator, and his stories are hilarious. But don’t be fooled, he’ll smack you in the face with the truth while making you enjoy it!
    • John Gray – Associate Pastor at Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas. He’s a recent addition to my list, and you’ll have to just search him out because he doesn’t have his own podcast. But it’s definitely worth it!
  • WORSHIP MUSIC – I love music. I love Jesus. I love music about Jesus… good music about Jesus 😂! The links here are to their websites. You can also search for them on Apple Music, Spotify, YouTube, or wherever else you like.
    • Bethel Music – The worship songs that come out of this place are just insane! A majority of the songs we play on Sundays at Vertical Church come from either Bethel Church or Jesus Culture, who used to be at Bethel before launching a church in Sacramento, CA.
    • Hillsong – Just because it’s obvious doesn’t mean it isn’t true. Includes Hillsong Music, Hillsong United, Hillsong Young and Free… and whatever else they put out!
    • Ramp Church – This is another place where we find songs for Sunday. It also doesn’t hurt that Hope’s sister and her husband sing and play there!

I hope this list helps you grow in your faith. Pick one or two of these and try them for a week or two. And be sure to let me know in the comments below what you find helpful or what you’d add to the list. I can already thing of a few things I missed!

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The Problem with Comparing Donald Trump to the Persian King Cyrus

Another week and another scandalous set of remarks by Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. This time it’s from a 2005 “hot mic” video with Billy Bush. I’m not entirely sure why people are shocked and stunned by this reveal – we’re talking about a guy here who was repeatedly interviewed by Howard Stern, and I’m not sure if you’ve been paying attention, but Howard Stern interviews typically have a certain… shall we say, bend to them. Anyway, that’s not what this post is actually about.

In an attempt to excuse the actions of Donald Trump, I keep seeing Christians compare him to the Persian King Cyrus (or Cyrus the Great). It usually goes something like “Hey, God used a foreign king in the Old Testament to free the Jews and called him ‘Messiah,’ so who’s to say Trump isn’t a modern-day Cyrus?” In my mind, I’m usually thinking… “Ok, and God used a jackass to speak to Balaam in Numbers 22, so which analogy best fits the situation?” I digress.

Anyway…

Back to King Cyrus, I think there are several problems with this line of thinking. Now before I list those, let me make a disclaimer. I am not a political strategist and this isn’t an endorsement of any candidate. I’m a pastor who tries to help people read the Bible with integrity. I’ve had a bit of training in that area, but I make no claims about expertise. Having gotten that out of the way, here are the top 4 problems I see with comparing Donald Trump to King Cyrus the Great.

  1. God’s people did not chose Cyrus. They did not vote for him to be the leader of the Persian empire. They did not endorse his military conquest of much of the known world, including the Babylonian empire where they lived as exiles. This seems obvious, but I think it’s a pretty important distinction.
  2. Cyrus the Great was a foreigner (from modern-day Iran) with an anti-Yahweh religious background. In fact, many Iranians refer to him as “The Father.” Strange, right? Surely the irony isn’t lost… Iran, Trump, Cyrus, Father… On another note, Cyrus was also known for his religious tolerance and advancements in human rights. Again, irony.
  3. God’s people did choose a leader once. His name was Saul, and it didn’t work out so well. He absolutely looked the part of a great leader. But his character couldn’t keep him where his talents took him.
  4. This is 2016 AD, not 539 BC. And this is the United States of America, not the ancient near east, and you’re not living as an exile in a foreign country. I’m all for a narrative reading of the Bible that puts us into the action… “What’s the Red Sea in your life that you need God to part… trust in Him, stretch out over the uncertainty in your life, and watch God bring deliverance…” I love that reading and I especially love that preaching. But as they say on Monday Night Football… C’MON MAN!!! Or better yet, to quote the famous theologian, Inigo Montoya, “You keep using that word, I do not think it means what you think it means.”

So that’s it. I don’t think Donald Trump is a modern-day Cyrus the Great, and there are my reasons. It’s not an exhaustive list, and I’m sure you can list more reasons. In fact, I’d love to hear them in the comments below.

P.S. You may disagree with my remarks at the top, and you may be quoting Jesus’ words to me – “Let him without sin cast the first stone.” Now, I can’t take credit for this thought, but I think it’s very appropriate… “When Jesus said: Let he who is without sin cast the first stone. He was using those words to defend a woman from powerful men who sought to destroy her humanity. Don’t use His words to defend powerful men who want to destroy the humanity of women.” Thanks @micahjmurray.

Deeper Cuts from “The One with the Good Samaritan”

Yesterday, I preached a message in our series, “Little Stories with BIG IDEAS,” about the Good Samaritan.  If I’m not mistaken, I think it was the first message I’ve ever preached from this passage.  I have the tendency to shy away from really known and often preached passages of the Bible.  For me, I enjoy finding that passage or angle that no one has considered… to bring something really fresh and different and insightful.  Obviously, this is probably easier when dealing with a passage of scripture that is less familiar, unlike the Good Samaritan parable.  That one story has become so well-known in our culture that if we just hear the word Samaritan, we automatically think “good.”  Just consider the number of projects, hospitals, outreach organizations, etc… named “Good Samaritan” something.  So to bring something fresh and unique to that well-worn story was a daunting task.  (You can check out the video of the sermon here.)

As is often the case, I usually end up with more material than I could ever present on a given Sunday morning.  Sometimes it’s because it just doesn’t fit with the overarching thought I’m trying to convey; other times it’s just too much stuff, and something has to get cut.  Periodically, I’m going to attempt to offer some of that material here.  We’ll call it “deeper cuts.”

I’m really mesmerized by the characters in this parable (from Luke 10).  Perhaps its just an oversimplification, but we can catch a glimpse into the beauty of God’s love when we compare and contrast the players in the story.  Consider how each character acts towards the man on the side of the road.  The robbers harm him by robbing and beating him.  The priest and the levite harm him by inaction and neglect.  Only the Samaritan acts in a favorable way by bandaging his wounds and paying for his stay at the inn.  The robbers act in selfish gain.  The priest and the levite act in self-preservation.  The Samaritan acts in self-giving love and care.  Consider the state each character leaves the man: the robbers leave him half-dead; the priest and the levite leave him unhelped; the Samaritan leaves him safe and cared for.  Finally, consider how the man might react toward each character’s potential return: fear and terror toward the robbers; bitterness and anger toward the priest and the levite; and devotion and hope in the anticipation of the Samaritan’s return.

But that’s not all that I’m left pondering with this passage.  Certainly, we are called by Jesus to play the part of the Good Samaritan as we journey through life.  As Jesus says, we are to “Go and do likewise.”  And yet I’m left deeply trouble by the danger of the Jericho road.  For while the robbers and the priest and the levite are clearly playing the role of an antagonist in this story, surely they are not without the possibility of redemption.  If there is grace available to heal the beaten and robbed, surely there is grace available to transform the robber.  And if love can bandage wounds, surely love can bandage the self-preserving, self-righteous tendencies of the religious elite.

As followers of Jesus, we look forward to and participate in the rescue of the beaten and the robbed.  But we must also look forward to and participate in the transformation of the road itself.  What does a world look like where men women are no longer being beaten, robbed, taken advantage of, neglected, ignored?  Where robbers become innkeepers and priests become Samaritans?  The unidentified man on the side of the road isn’t the only character that needs healing, for there is something deeply broken inside both the robber, the priest, and the levite.

What does it look like to be a conduit of healing grace for both victims and victimizers?  The abused and the abusers?   But not only that, but then to bring the same healing to the communities and structures that produce both robbers and priests?

Day #6 – Everyone is a missionary.

Day 6!  It’s been great going through these values like this.  Here’s the last one…

Read the passage we looked at on Sunday – John 1:40-46 – and consider the following:

  • How did Andrew first meet Jesus? (You’ll have to jump back to v. 35.)
  • What does John say the first thing Andrew did after meeting Jesus?
  • Who found Philip? (v. 43)
  • What did Philip do after Jesus found him?
  • Did Nathanael immediately believe or was he unsure?
  • Did Philip try to change Nathanael?  Or did he simply invite him to come to a place, introduce him to Jesus, and let Jesus take care of the rest?

Take some time today to ask God to reveal to you the people who are in your life that need Jesus.  Plan to be patient with them, investing in their lives relationally, and inviting them to a place where they can meet Jesus.  Remember, we are God’s plan for growing His church.

We’ve made it through all six of our core values at Vertical Church!  I’m excited about what God is doing in our community.  I can’t wait to kickoff our new series tomorrow morning, Little Stories with BIG IDEAS.  There’s plenty of time left to invite someone to join you tomorrow!

Day #5 – God gave first.

Honoring God with our finances is one of the most misunderstood and mis-preached subjects that I’ve seen in church life.  It seems to me, just in my own experience, that pastors either avoid the subject altogether or teach it in a way that dishonors God by using the tools of guilt, condemnation, and even manipulation.  But we can not build God’s church using the devil’s tools.  Never.

With that in mind, let’s begin our devotional around this important value…

Read 2 Corinthians 8:9… Paul shows us the proper beginning point for any discussion of generosity.  Where does he say we begin?  (Hint: If you need help, take a look at John 3:16.  Is God a taker or a giver?)

Read 2 Corinthians 8:12-14… What does Paul say is the standard we are to use in measuring our giving?

Read 2 Corinthians 9:6-15 and work through the following questions:

  • What kind of giver does Paul say God loves?  And what role should guilt, condemnation, and/or manipulation play in encouraging people to give?
  • Does God promise to take care of those who are generous?
  • What is the ultimate result of our generosity? Who gets the glory and thanksgiving?
  • Is it possible to give more to God than He has already given to us?

We have worded this value with great care and caution.  We wanted it to encapsulate 2 very important reminders:

  1. God is always the initiator of giving.  Anything we give is a response to His gift.  Giving is not primarily about us, but about God.
  2. God, in his character and person, is generous.  Generosity isn’t just what God does, it is who He is.

Don’t forget that we have one more value to share tomorrow!

Day #4 – God is writing a story.

“‘Child,’ said the Voice, ‘I am telling you your own story, not hers. I tell no one any story but his own.'”

I absolutely love this quote from Aslan, speaking in the C. S. Lewis Narnia chronicle, The Horse and His Boy.  He is speaking to a boy named Shasta, who has faced adventure and hardship on his journey toward freedom.  It reminds me that God is a master storyteller… that through a magnificent multitude of smaller stories, all entangled and meshed together, He is telling His own story in a mysterious and beautiful way.

It’s day 4!  Which means we’re halfway through our devotional series.  Grab your bible or phone (YouVersion App) and let’s dig into this value…

GOD IS WRITING A STORY.

As followers of Jesus, we know that we were not the first to arrive here.  Rather, we understand that we stand in a long line of generations who have taken part in the endless conversation between God and humanity.  We see the Bible to be the key part of this conversation – penned by writers inspired by God to pass along their poems, stories, accounts, letters, and relationships with each other and with God.

And while God may be finished inspiring scripture to be written, we are not convinced that He is in fact finished altogether.  Rather, God is still writing stories of hope, faith, redemption, love, and rebirth in the lives of women and men today.  Because we see our relationship with God as a journey, change is assumed.  And change brought about by the grace of God should be celebrated.  And as we celebrate it, God has a way of writing new stories in the lives of those who hear it.

Read John 4:1-42 and reflect on the following questions:

  • How would you describe the Samaritan woman’s witnessing technique?  What was the content of her message to the people in the city?  (v. 28-30)
  • Initially, why did the people from that city believe in Jesus?  Did they actually, physically meet Jesus before they believed? (v. 39)
  • On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate the effectiveness of this woman’s decision to simply tell her story of what happened?  Why do you think it was (was not) effective?

In 1 John 1:3-4, what does John say they are proclaiming?  And how does this “make their joy complete?”  What do you think that means?

Finally, in Revelation 12:10-11, what are the two things they used to overcome the accuser?  With that in mind, do you think there is power in sharing your story with others?

AND… just FYI – we’re starting a new series this weekend at Vertical Church called Little Stories with BIG IDEAS.  It’s all about the parables of Jesus.  You can catch the promo video here.  I’d like to encourage you to share with at least one person this week what God is doing in your life, and then invite them to join you this weekend at VC.  You can share this video with them, or point them to verticalchurch.tv so they can get a feel for our church family.

#3 – Saved people serve people.

It’s day 3 of our core values devotional, but before we dive into it, just wanted to point you to the message these devotional blogs are based upon.

Having shared that, let’s jump in…

One of the big ideas that we’ve shared over the last few months is this idea of “wikichurch.”  If you’re not familiar with what a wikichurch is, or if you just need a refresher on the idea, it comes from Ephesians 4:7-16: Churches that point people to Jesus aren’t built on the gifts and talents of a few, but on the sacrificial service of many.  With that in mind, let’s reflect on a few questions:

1. Is everyone given grace to serve, according to the measure of Christ’s gift? (You can also check out what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 12.)

2. What did Paul say was the purpose of leaders in the church?  What is their role?

3. When is the church most effective – when the pastor/leader ministers to the people or when the body ministers to the body?

4. According to v. 13-14, what are the benefits of each person involving themselves in the process of ministry?

Read John 13:1-17: Are we more obsessed with being served and recognized than with emulating the actions of Jesus?  As followers of Jesus, what should be our focus?

Read Matthew 20:26-28: How did Jesus describe being great? If we are following Jesus, and seeking to become more like him on a daily basis, then what should be our default attitude when it comes to serving?

Take a few moments today to ask God in prayer to reveal to you the specific way He has wired you to serve.  Allow the Holy Spirit to search your heart and mind, revealing areas and ideas of serving opportunities you may not have considered.  To help in the process, you may want to ask yourself:

  • What do I do well?
  • What do I enjoy?
  • Where can I get involved right away?

If you’re still wondering how and where you can serve, ask you pastor.  She/he may be able to help point you in the right place.  If you attend Vertical, let us know.  We consider it an honor to help you find your sweet spot in serving, and we’ll work with you to discover it.  We can try a few different options until we find that place where your gifting and talents intersect with God’s call and opportunity.  Remember, the best way to discover your calling is to get involved!