Monthly Archives: December 2010

Thankfulness Sustains Joy (Sunday Sermon Recap: “RE:” Part 1 – Reflect)

Part 1 of Oasis Church’s weekly sermon series RE:.

This week’s recap is about beginnings and endings: both the first in a new series and last of the year, regarding the importance of reflection. I hope it encourages you to spend some time this New Year’s season reflecting on the good things that’ve happened to you in 2010.

Reflection and effectiveness are inextricably linked. I think we inherently know this to be true. It’s essentially another way of putting the commonly-repeated notion that forgotten history is destined to be repeated.

This truism also applies to our lives as Christians: our ability to serve God is directly linked to our thankfulness, which comes in part from reflecting on God’s nature and power.

Friend of NGYN Mark Cox (over at Think Next Now) recently pointed out the frequency with which statements of thanksgiving appear in Paul’s letter in the New Testament. Mark asked “What if there’s a connection to how thankful you are to God and how much impact you have?” I say there is.

Unfortunately, our culture is not one of thankfulness, but of entitlement. We forget that we don’t deserve our jobs, our houses, our significant others, or the clothes on our back. No matter how “good” I am or how hard I work, I don’t deserve anything. It is all borrowed, at best, and only temporarily, from God. 

On the flip-side, when circumstances demand that we go without, we feel cheated. We forget not just that this is God’s world, but that by merely drawing breath we are claiming an invaluable prize. Entitlement is the antithesis of thankfulness. You cannot claim to deserve something and be thankful for it at the same time.

So whether you’re currently in lean times or fat, on top or on bottom, in the red or black, I present the following: four ways to reclaim and sustain joy through thankfulness:

  1. Reflect on what God has done for you. If you look for it, you will see that God has delivered you. Maybe you’ve gone from sickness to health, or loneliness to happiness. Maybe someone out there reading this has been recently cured of a life-threatening illness. Maybe you’ve experienced just the opposite: you’ve lost a job, a spouse, a child, or are facing the end of your life. Regardless, you have reason to be thankful. James 1:2 encourages believers to “consider it pure joy when you face trials of many kinds” (NIV). God can use your pain in great ways. Be thankful for it, just as you would for comfort and security.
  2. Tell others what God’s done. As Steven Furtick recently put it, gratitude is never invisible or silent. If you’re truly thankful for something (and, as I pointed out in #1 above, you should be), let someone know about it. If you do, you might…
  3. Cause others to praise God. You can’t make someone else thankful. But things like happiness, joy, and gratitude are contagious. Vocalize the things you’re thankful for, and others will want to experience the joy you exude. There’s a reason people find such inspiration in the stories of people who overcome great tribulation with strong spirits: their joy resonates with others. As Mahatma Gandhi said: “be the change you want to see in the world”.
  4. Reflect on who God is. David closes his prayer in 1 Chronicles 16 like this: “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.” Even when your world threatens to crumble around you, God is still there: constant; loving; and for you, not against you. Life is not always fair, but it is temporary. Take joy in the trials it presents, and you’ll be rewarded with eternal bliss.

Personally, when I reflect on my last year, I’m thankful for several things that at first seemed challenging or scary.

My wife quit her job this year to start her own business. It’s meant cutting back on a lot of things we’d grown accustomed to, like satellite TV and magazine subscriptions. But we haven’t missed any of them. We’re better off now, and we’ve found ourselves giving away even more money in support the church than we did when our income was greater.

I also lost a close family member this year: my Aunt Floye. I miss her, but more than that I’m thankful for the things she taught me and the joyful times we shared. I’ll never forget her explaining, when I was only six or seven, that she didn’t have time to be angry. That time spent in anger was time wasted, that could instead be spent doing something fun. I thank God for Aunt Floye, and I hope that I can pass that lesson on to my own kids some day.

What are you thankful for when you reflect on your last year on earth? Let us know in the comments section below.

Listen to this and other sermons from the staff at Oasis Church at


What Prayer Is (Part Two): A Two-Way Street

Part 2 in a series on the nature of prayer. Check out the introductory post What Is Prayer? for more background, or go here to see all of the posts in this series so far.

There’s an old saying that goes something like: “We have two ears and one mouth so we can listen twice as much as we speak.” It’s cliche, but it underscores an important aspect of prayer: it’s a two-way street.

Prayer is a dialogue between man (or woman) and God, which implies that both you and He must be fully engaged in order for a prayer to be effective. A philosophical hero of mine, Martin Buber, spent a lot of time thinking and writing about dialogue. Buber described dialogue as a sacred process in which a conversations’ participants open themselves to one another, using the illustration of a “narrow, rocky ridge… where there is no sureness of expressible knowledge but the certainty of meeting what remains undisclosed.” In real dialogue, in other words, we respect others exactly as much as ourselves, considering their perspective as valid as our own and treating conversation as an opportunity to discover them and, in doing so, ourselves.

You know that thing we all do during a conversation, where we listen out of just one ear and split our attention between nodding along and thinking about what we’re going to say next? That’s not dialogue. And we don’t just do that we our friends and spouses and co-workers. We do it with God, too. But we shouldn’t. If prayer is going to be effective, and if we really intend prayer as a way to communicate with God (and not just to cross it off our daily to-do list), then it has to be authentically dialogic.

When you next set aside time to pray, spend some of that time listening in silence. And be willing to accept whatever you hear, because it might just be God revealing his true self to you. You might not like what you hear – it might be painful – but it’s probably exactly what you need to hear, and you’ll grow from the hearing of it. Also, try to be your most authentic self in prayer. Open yourself to God. Again, painful. But worth it.

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter. What is prayer to you? What have you heard while praying? Let us know in the comments section below. I’m hoping to gather your thoughts, questions, and reflections on prayer and present them in the final “chapter” of this series; the more I hear from you, the better this dialogue will be!


Confession: Pardon the Interruption

Any one who has been around Lauren and I on more than one occasion has probably noticed that we have a bad habit of interrupting each other.  When one of us attempts to tell a story, the other is almost always guilty of rudely interrupting.  And many times the one being interrupted will ask, “Are you going to let me tell this story?”  It’s actually pretty funny at times.

The truth is, neither of us mean to be rude when we interrupt.  We usually interrupt because we are so excited over what is being said.   We get excited and want to put in our two cents on what the other is trying to communicate.

You know, I think were all guilty of doing the same thing when God is trying to communicate with us.   At least I know I am. Let me explain.  There are many times when God is speaking to me, revealing truth to me, and showing me things I have yet to discover.  Instead of sitting there and soaking up as much truth as I possibly can, I get excited and run off to tell everyone what I just gleaned.  In other words, when God is trying to give me something really good, I get excited and interrupt.

I think we often miss the full context of what God may be saying to us, because we didn’t let him completely finish what he was trying to say.

“…Everyone should be quick to listen and slow to speak…”  James 1:19



He Will Be Called… Everlasting Father

Part 3 of a 4-week series on the identity of Christ. (See the rest of the series.)

Last week we continued our new feature in which we’ll recap the sermons at Oasis Church. We’re now in the third week of a series titled He Will Be Called… Every week, which we focus on a different aspect of Christ’s identity as revealed in Isaiah 9:6:

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

This week we focus on the third dimension of Christ’s being, that of everlasting father.

Fathers are important. And although our nation currently faces what some call a “fatherless crisis“, there is reason to not despair. I’ll get to that, but first let’s look at some evidence that illustrates just how important a father is (based on findings by the U.S. Department of Health, CDC, and others):

  • 68% of teens who commit suicide live in a home without a father
  • 90% of runaways are fatherless, as are…
  • 71% of high school dropouts
  • 75% of underage patients of chemical abuse treatment facilities
  • 85% of imprisoned youth, and
  • 80% of adult men convicted of rape

In the U.S. today, 25 million children are fatherless. Our culture is characterized by father figures who come and go both physically and emotionally. More tragic than the absence (or harmful presence) of an earthly father, though, is the absence of the Heavenly Father. While I don’t have hard numbers to back this up, anecdotal evidence abounds among the ranks of both believers and doubters. I’ve known plenty of friends and family (and heard stories of many more) who grew up either fatherless or in fear of their fathers’ abuse, but who went on to lead joyful, impactful lives after finding solace and healing in God. I also deal with people every day (and I’ll bet you do, too) whose lives seem to be self-destructing in spite of a perfectly comfortable, “normal” upbringing with both parents in the house. What this latter group lacks is a relationship with Christ, without which they cannot know freedom, peace, or joy. Continue reading

P.J.’s Top 10 Life Changing Books

Last weekend Lauren and I visited our families in Texas for an early Christmas.  We spent Friday with my family exchanging gifts, hanging out, shopping, and eating some pretty good food.  One of the gifts I unwrapped from my parents was the new C.S. Lewis study bible.  This gift led to a discussion about how much I enjoy good study bibles and then Lauren asked me “What are your top 10 favorite books?”  So, after thinking about her question, I have created a list of my top 10 life changing books.  The books and authors below have all had a great impact on my life, ministry, friendships, and relationship with God.

P.J.’s Top 10 Life Changing Books:

10. Unlimiting God by Richard Blackaby

9. Attitude 101 by John Maxwell

8. Sun Stand Still by Steven Furtick

7. Communicating for A Change by Andy Stanley

6. Wild At Heart by John Eldredge

5. Leading on Empty by Wayne Cordeiro

4. Crazy Love by Francis Chan

3. Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller (Actually, all of his books get put in the 3 spot)

2. Grace Awakening by Charles Swindoll

1. The Christian Atheist by Craig Groeschel

He Will Be Called… Mighty God

Part 2 of a 4-week series on the identity of Christ. (See the rest of the series.)

Last week PJ kicked off a new weekly feature in which we’ll be recapping the sermons at Oasis Church (where we both attend, and where PJ is the student pastor). Last week’s message was the first in a series titled He Will Be Called… that focuses each week on a different aspect of Christ’s identity as revealed in Isaiah 9:6, which reads:

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

This week, we focus on the second dimension of Christ’s being, that of mighty God. Keep in mind that this bit of Scripture was written by the prophet Isaiah more than 750 years before Jesus Christ was born. That would be like someone in the 1260’s (around the time of the Crusades and the signing of the Magna Carta) predicting a particular child’s birth today. Too cool.

What does it mean that Christ is “Mighty God”? In a nutshell, that he has the power to move mountains, and he can move them for you. Christ was a man, yes, but one whose life was filled with the power and glory of God, and who now sits at God’s right hand, ready and willing to use that power on the behalf of his followers. Continue reading

P.J.’s 2011 Bible Reading Plan

Last week I wrote a post here at neutralgetsyounowhere about the importance of having a bible reading plan.  After the post last week, I had a couple of friends ask me to post my bible reading for 2011.

Before I share my bible reading plan I want to cover a few things.

1.   The reading plans that have  beside them were taken from and can be found at

2.  I intend to do my bible reading plan in addition to whatever bible study my church or small group may be reading through.  I believe it is very important for one to read and study the material that his or her leaders and pastors have selected to study as a church or small group.

3.  Do not read the bible to get through the bible. Read the bible to get Gods word and truth through you.

4.  If you miss a day, don’t give up! Pick back up with the next days reading or do some overtime and catch up on what you missed the day before.

Below is my plan for 2011.  I hope you find it helpful and motivating.


January Continue reading

He Will Be Called… Wonderful Counselor

Part 1 of a 4-week Christmas series on the identity of Christ.

Last Sunday at Oasis Church our lead pastor Todd West kicked off a new sermon series titled “He Will BE Called.”  The title of the series was pulled from Isaiah 9:6.   In our first week of the series Todd delivered (as usual) an engaging and challenging sermon on “Wonderful Counselor.”

Isaiah 9:6 has always been a passage that I have enjoyed quoting, meditating over, and referencing in different circumstances of life.  Since starting the series last week and thinking about the points from Todd’s message, I have gained a deeper appreciation for this passage.

How have I gained a deeper appreciation?

We live in a world where people have different perceptions of who God is and what God is like.   Even many Christians and faithful church attenders have different ideas in their minds of what our creator is like.  Many view God as the “big man upstairs ready to break up the party or waiting for someone to screw up so that he can punish them.” Many believe and live as though God is distant, rigid, and boring.  Even though the majority of Christians would say that God is forgiving, they live and treat others as though God is unforgiving. Continue reading

Derek’s Weekly Confession #1

PJ has inspired me to rip off piggyback on his own weekly confession posts with my own. And since he’s already brought up the topic of Bible-reading, I’ll just stick with it.

Confession #1: I don’t read my Bible as much as I should.

There are lots of reasons why: I’ve had too much to read for school recently; I’m reading blogs and other things every day that touch on Biblical stuff so I’m covered; when I do read, I cover several days’ worth of scripture at a time; and so on.

But that’s weak.

No matter who I am and what my schedule looks like, I’ve got time every day to spend thoughtfully in God’s word. Even if it’s on my iPhone while I’m in the bathroom, I should be able to manage that. Especially considering what else I manage to make time for daily: facebook, video games, stuffing my face (I have to eat, yeah, but probably not as frequently or as much as I do), and sometimes just wallowing around the house.

Two of my most frequently-used excuses are these: “I’m not in the right frame of mind to really dig in right now, so I’ll wait until I’m feeling more reflective and ‘holy'”; and “I had an awesome Bible study yesterday, so I think I’ll just coast on that one for awhile instead trying to make lightning strike twice”. Continue reading

Confession: I Often Live In Survival Mode

I didn’t get around to posting a weekly confession last week. So, I’m going to make up for it this week.

This past Monday evening I began reading a book titled Sun Stand Still by Steven Furtick.  The main idea of the book is “What Happens When You Dare To Ask God For The Impossible”.  The title, Sun Stand Still, comes from Joshua 10.  Joshua prayed for the Lord to make the sun stand still over Gibeon and the sun stood still, the moon stopped till the nation avenged itself on it’s enemies (Joshua 10:12-13). Regardless of how the sun stood still that day, the bible makes it clear that the day was prolonged by a miracle, and that God’s intervention turned the tide of battle for his people.

Furtick writes in his book that he surrendered his life to ministry while reading a line from page 23 of Fresh Wind Fresh Fire by Jim Cymbala. The quote from Cymbala’s book reads “I despaired at the thought that my life might slip by without seeing God show himself mightily on our behalf.” Furtick refers to this as Page 23 vision.

Sun Stand Still has already been stepping all over my toes.  But, this morning I read a line from the book that really knocked the breath out of me.

Furtick writes “The opposite of Page 23 Vision: Survival Mode.” Continue reading

%d bloggers like this: