The Most Important Question

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It was a sunny afternoon in Louisville KY. The Ohio River was glistening that day as I walked hand in hand with my girlfriend, Suzy White, along the Louisville Riverwalk. The moment arrived. We sat on a park bench and I asked her the most important question I have ever asked anyone. “Will you marry me?” Each day for the past 34 years I am grateful that she said yes.

In Matthew 16:15, Jesus asked an even more important question, “‘But what about you?’ … ‘Who do you say I am?’”

This is the most important question we will ever answer, even more important than a marriage proposal. The way we answer that question will have profoundly personal and eternal consequences.

How would you answer Jesus if he asked you, “Who do you say I am?”

As we continue our series, Seeking God, we come to

Important Truth #3- To Know God you must know God’s Son.

John 1:1

In the beginning the Word already existed.

    The Word was with God,

    and the Word was God.

John 1:14

So the Word became human and made his home among us.

Imagine you are all-powerful, and you want to communicate with an ant colony to let them understand how much you love them. How would you do it without terrifying them?

About 2,000 years ago, an angel of God appeared to a young virgin girl named Mary who is engaged to be married to a man named Joseph, and informs her that she is pregnant through a supernatural work of God.

The angel said to Mary, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God.”

Important Truth #4: Jesus was both fully human and fully God in one person!

Jesus had a human body and experienced physical limitations. He grew intellectually, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Jesus expressed human emotions and faced all the temptations we face but never sinned.

Yet even in His human fullness Jesus was fully God. In addition to his supernatural birth, Jesus displayed attributes of deity when He changed water into wine, multiplied food, calmed a storm, revealed people’s thoughts and forgave sins.

As I share with people in my life who seek to know God, it is critical that I help them to know Christ because Jesus is God who visited earth in the flesh. It was Jesus who said, “The Father and I are one. If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.”

So encourage those you are sharing with to get to know Jesus. Challenge them to read through one or two of the gospels. Pray with them that God will reveal His son Jesus to them. We can’t know God apart from knowing Jesus.

You can now download my Seeking God booklet on the resource page. 

Knowing God Through the Word

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Brother Lawrence, a seventeenth century monk, wrote in Practicing the Presence of God, “Let us occupy ourselves entirely in knowing God. The more we know Him, the more we will desire to know Him. As love increases with knowledge, the more we know God, the more we will truly love Him.”

The modern theologian, J.I. Packer wrote, “the main business that you are here for is to know God.”

Whenever I share the gospel with someone who has yet to accept it to be true, I start with the question, “Do you want to know God?”  And then I help them see that God has made knowing Him fairly easy and he primarily reveals Himself in two ways:

  1. Through the written Word of God.
  2. Through the person of Jesus Christ.

This week we will look at the first way God reveals Himself.

Important Truth #2-  To know God you must know God’s Word…

In Acts 8:26-35 we meet a man who had a desire to know God. As he was traveling home to Ethiopia he was seated in his carriage and was reading from the book of Isaiah.  God sends one of the early leaders in the church, Philip, to meet this man and to explain to him what he was reading. He showed Philip the passage of Scripture he was reading and asked at least one question. Philip than begins with that same passage and helps the man to come to know God through Jesus Christ.

God has chosen to reveal Himself to us through the written words of Holy Scripture. The Bible is God’s Word. This means that through the Bible God reveals to us His character and identity. We learn that God is three persons in one being, that he is love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness all wrapped together. We also learn through the word that He is holy and just and cannot let sin go unpunished.

The author of the Book of Acts gives honor to believers in Berea because they searched the Scriptures day after day. The Apostle Paul told us that faith is developed as we are exposed more and more to the Word of God (Romans 10:17).

God cannot be known apart from His Word. Thus it is critical that we get the Word of God into the hands of people. Earlier this year I was on a teaching trip in India. I met a man in the church in India who is a taxi driver. His life changed forever one day when our pastor in India handed the man a Bible along with his taxi fare and his phone number. The man read the entire New Testament in about a month and gave His life to Christ. Today this man and his beautiful wife and two daughters have all surrendered to Christ and serve the church in India faithfully.

When I am studying with a non-believer, I explain to them that while many books of the Bible can be difficult to understand, much of the Bible is simple and straight forward. An excellent version of the Bible to start with is the New Living Translation, written in a contemporary language. I challenge them to get a Bible and set a goal to read 15 minutes a day and stick to that plan.

A suggested reading plan for someone new to the Bible is:

  • The Gospel of Luke (A story of Jesus’ life)
  • Book of Acts (The story of the first followers of Jesus)
  • Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians (Letters of Paul)
  • James, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John (Briefer letters)

And so it is critical to help people to see that if they truly desire to know God, they must come to know the Word of God and understand that no prophecy in Scripture ever came from the prophet’s own understanding, or from human initiative. No, those prophets were moved by the Holy Spirit, and they spoke from God. 2 Peter 1:20-21

Seeking God

 childs-faith-christian-stock-photosI’ve always been a fairly organized and structured individual. My favorite app on my iPhone is Wunderlist.  Ask anyone who knows me and they will tell you that I love my lists.

I also am a fairly good thinker. I rarely make decisions based on emotion. I like to consider all points, reasons, opinions and possibilities. 

So it’s no surprise that when I share my faith with people I make use of a study booklet I developed that is organized, structured and appeals to the mind as well as the heart. Conversion to Christ should never be just based on emotions. A commitment to follow Jesus rarely lasts very long when the decision is based on how we felt at a religious event. The mind must be converted as well as the heart.

This study, “Seeking God” is built around ten foundational truths from the Bible. Each of the next ten weeks I’ll share one truth and some logical reasons to accept that truth.

Truth #1- The Bible assumes the existence of God.  It doesn’t attempt to prove the existence of God.

The opening words of the Bible are well known. In the beginning, God…

The writer doesn’t present the ontological (existence), teleological (purpose), or cosmological (origin) arguments for God’s existence. He doesn’t delve into the moral argument of how we determine right from wrong if there is no God. He simply states that from the very beginning of the universe God existed.

The Bible defines God as the creator of all that is in existence including the universe, the earth and all living beings who dwell on earth. Rather than attempt to prove God’s existence, the Bible states, “The fool says in his heart, there is no God.” In other words, it is simply foolish to not accept the truth that God exists.

The issue is less about the existence of God and more about whether or not we will seek to know God.

Solomon, the third king of Israel, knew God and served him with a whole heart and with a willing mind. (1 Chronicles 28:9). Solomon didn’t just believe that God’s exists (even the demons believe that God exists). He personally knew God and served Him both emotionally (heart) and intellectually (mind).

Not surprisingly, God promises that, “If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me.” Jeremiah 29:13

In James 4:8 we are told, “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.”

Many who choose not to believe in the existence of God have never sought God in any real sense. Although my belief in God is built on solid logic, I know God exists because he made himself known to me as I have sought him and drew close to him.

One of the first questions I ask when sharing with a person about Christ is, “Do you want to know God?”  The starting point is to help others recognize that God wants you to seek him in a real, personal and relational way. Sadly, many people who claim to believe in God live like practical atheists, as though God does not exist or is indifferent to man.

Fortunately, God has disclosed himself and has made himself knowable to us.

Next week we will discuss how to help others come to a relational knowledge of our creator.

How to Respond to Heartbreak

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It is undeniably and unmistakably true that Christians suffer and experience all of the same pains, hardships, and difficulties that non-believers experience. And often, as those who belong to Jesus, we face even greater suffering because of our connection to God through Jesus.

And knowing how to respond to our trials and sufferings is critically important, especially in the days and times we are living in. We live in an increasingly hostile environment toward Christian faith and values. We are painfully reminded it seems about every six months of the awful evil humans can bring upon others when another mass shooting takes place. Recently one person who attends NCC and really struggles with life’s challenges said to me, ‘Somedays I just don’t want to get out of bed.”

Paul wrote in Romans 8:18-21 (Condensed for Clarity) For I am sure that what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory God will reveal to us later. For we wait with eager hope, for that future day when we will join all God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay.

This text is Paul’s playbook for handling heartbreak, trouble and suffering.

What enables a person in the midst of great suffering and disappointment to say, “I am sure that the suffering and disappointments I am experiencing is not even worth comparing to the glory God will reveal to us later.”  What gave Paul his sense of triumph over the heartbreaks of life? What allowed Paul to say later in this great chapter that children of God are more than conquerors?

First, Paul had a correct view of time and of his life in this world.

Notice in verse 18 he says, “what we suffer now- compared to what will be revealed to us.”

For a non-believer, this present life and world is it. “You only go around once.”  “You only have one life, make it count.” There is no division of time at all.  So when things go wrong in the non-believer’s life there is nothing to fall back on. But this is not the view of a Christian and it is because of this that a Christian is able to put suffering and hardships in perspective. The non-believer has nothing to look forward to. All he can do is hope things get better and improve while he is still here. And if life doesn’t get better the non-believer is entirely without comfort.

In Eph. 2:12, Paul reminds his readers of that letter that previous to their conversion, you were living in this world apart from Christ, without God and without hope.

A mature Christian is very much aware of the division of time.  We talk about “this present time” and then something which follows in the future.  When Paul wrote, what we suffer now- he isn’t referring to the immediate moment as opposed to a few weeks, months and years. He is talking about the time prior to the end of time, the age we are presently living in between the resurrection of Jesus and His second coming.

So when Paul then refers to the glory God will reveal to us later, he is referring to that which is to come, to that great event that the whole Bible points to. This is the great promise of the Bible, the hope of those who belong to Jesus. We live knowing that this life isn’t where we belong. There is an event out in the future which of course is the second coming of Jesus, which will signal the ultimate restoration of creation and humanity. The groaning, the suffering, the pains of sin, death and decay will instantly be replaced by a glory that will be revealed to us. That is our hope.

This is such an important part of the NT teaching and such a vital, essential part of the comfort that only a Christian can know, experience, and enjoy.

A second reason a Christian is able to deal with his sufferings and be more than a conqueror is:

We look at our present troubles in light of the glory to be revealed to us at the Second Coming of Jesus.

Last summer my wife and I went to Observation Deck of the new Freedom Tower in lower Manhattan. After ascending 101 floors the elevator door opens and you enter a theater room where a video of the development of the NYC skyline is shown. Then without any warning, the screen disappears and you instantly have this uninhibited view of NYC right before you. It’s amazing. It’s like- wow that is so cool.  And then you are released to the observation deck where you can walk around to take in the breath taking views of New York City, New Jersey and beyond.

NY 5This is the idea behind the glory that he will reveal to us later.  One translation phrases it this way: the glory which is in store for us.  We are not going to be mere spectators of this glory. We won’t just be ‘on lookers.’ We are going to be participants and involved in it.

Glorification is the ultimate destiny of our salvation. We think salvation is all about being forgiven and saved from hell. I don’t want to minimize the forgiveness aspect of salvation. We can never thank God enough for delivering us from death, hell and eternal punishment.  But forgiveness is just the first step, the mere beginning.  The destiny is glorification.

Glorification means full and entire deliverance from sin and evil in all of its effects and in every respect- body, soul and mind. All of creation, physical and living, will be completely and entirely delivered from every harmful, tarnishing, polluting effect of sin. We will finally become completely like Jesus Christ.

Our salvation in Christ is not just about getting forgiven from our sins so we don’t spend forever in hell.  The destiny of salvation is glorification where all of creation along with those who belong to Jesus will be restored to what we were prior to the Fall, to what it was like the moment after God created Adam and then Eve and said it was very good- it is glorious.

So how do we face the sufferings and troubles of this life so we can be more than conquerors?

Be realistic, face the trouble as it is and at its worst. And when you feel that you are so beat down that you can’t stand it any longer, look at the other side, look at the glory that God will later reveal to you. And if you really look at this glory you will come to one conclusion: that whatever you are suffering now is not worth comparing to the glory that God will reveal to you later.

 

Growing a Strong Faith (and Lawn)

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Recently someone said to me, “I drove past your house and wow, your lawn looks amazing.”

A friend’s husband once said to me with a bit of sarcasm, “Thanks for giving my wife all that lawn care advice. Now it’s growing so fast and thick I have to cut it every five days.”

My next door neighbor informed me that she told her husband that she wants her lawn to look like Mike’s lawn.

I have been described as a bit fanatical when it comes to my lawn. My wife has challenged me to keep a running tab on how much money I spend on my lawn each year but honestly, I am not sure I want to know.

What I do know is it takes a serious investment of time, effort and money to have a lawn that people notice. One has to decide if it’s really worth that investment.

The same is true also with our relationship with Jesus. It takes a lot of effort to grow your roots down into him, and let your lives be built on him so that your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness. (Colossians 2:7 NLT)

Much like a lawn, you must be committed to growing deep roots so when the heat rises your faith can sustain the increased stress. This doesn’t happen automatically.

I fertilize my lawn about every six weeks. I water it several times each week. Every two years I thatch the lawn, removing all the dead grass and at the same time I over seed the existing lawn with a quality seed. When the lawn needs to be cut, I rotate the direction that I cut from a vertical cut, to a horizontal cut and then a diagonal cut. Each fall I do a lime treatment to keep a proper pH level in the soil.

Each of these steps contribute to a beautiful lawn that others notice.

The Apostle Paul wrote to the Colossian church, “For we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and your love for all of God’s people.” (Col.1:4). The Colossians had a noticeable faith. People spoke of it and I am sure many who took notice wished they had the same type of faith.

What are you investing to grow your faith? Are you intentionally taking steps that will contribute to a healthy faith? Here at NCC we have identified seven habits that are consistently a part of the daily routines of spiritually mature people. Three times a year we create a new small group of the most recent new followers of Jesus and study together these seven habits. I encourage participants to make these spiritual disciplines a regular part of their life. Combined together these seven disciplines grow a strong faith deep down into Christ that overflows with thankfulness.

The seven habits are:

  • Worship Passionately
  • Study Intently
  • Serve Sacrificially
  • Pray Expectantly
  • Share Effectively
  • Live Obediently
  • Manage Wisely

Click Here to go to the resource page to download a WinZip file of the seven lessons. Use them to lead a group of new believers in your church or use them as a personal study.

What do you do to contribute to your spiritual growth? I’d love to learn from you. (And if you have a few lawn tips for me I am all ears.)

God Bless.

8 C’s of History

8 C's BlogIn nearly 35 years of ministry in which I’ve been fairly active evangelistically, one of the challenges I’ve found in teaching folks about God is to help them see the connected-ness of God’s Story.  How does it all tie together? Do the stories of Genesis 1-11 really have anything to do with Jesus or the Gospels?  How do the events of Israel’s history fit with the rest of the New Testament? It’s important to help those who aren’t particularly familiar with the Bible to see that this volume of 66 individual books and letters really does have one overall theme.

I just finished up a series of messages here at NCC that helps to accomplish that specific goal and answer the above noted questions. During these eight weeks we worked our way through the story of the Bible, from beginning to end, Genesis to Revelation. In doing so, myself and two others on our teaching team broke down the story of history into eight smaller stories. We focused on the one thread that ties it all together.

The idea for this series came from Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis ministry. Ken identified and has taught on the seven C’s of History. I chose to add an additional C.

The one thread that ties together Genesis to Revelation is God’s desire to be with us.

Everything God did, from his decision to create the universe, through his responses to humanities rebellion, including the incarnation of Christ, his death and resurrection, is grounded in his desire to be with us. Everything he continues to do together with the events that will complete history, revolves arounds his ultimate desire to be with us. It’s all about the relationship God wants to have with his creation.

If you are a pastor of a church, I encourage you to consider teaching a series like The Eight C’s of History. One of our senior adult members emailed me the Monday after I presented the last message. She simply wrote, “That was an excellent series of sermons.  I especially liked the last one because it was full of hope and joy.”

The Eight C’s include:

  • Creation
  • Corruption
  • Chaos
  • Confusion
  • Cycles
  • Christ
  • Cross
  • Consummation

If I repeat this series sometime in the future, I would consider a ninth C and teach about the Church between the Cross and Consummation.

If you aren’t a pastor but just want to help people to see how the Bible is one story about God’s desire to be with his people, I suggest you do a personal study of the Bible with these ideas in mind to equip yourself to help others recognize that they are an object of God’s love and He desires to be with them forever.

Click Here to go to the resource page where you can download the transcripts of the messages from this series. Note: the messages on Creation and Christ were written by my sermon writing partner. You can also Click Here to view each message via video.

34 Years in the Books

Marriage PictureThirty-four years ago, on May 22, 1982, a beautiful girl from Indiana chose to become Mrs. Michael Cassara. Together we have pastored four churches, raised two girls, and bought two houses. Today, we are adjusting to the empty nest syndrome as well as being able to order from the Senior’s Menu at IHOP. As with most things in my life I’ve done a few things right and too much wrong in my role as a husband. So instead of blogging about what I may have done right as a husband, I’m going to share what she has done well as a wife.

  1. She has loved me unconditionally with a forgiving heart.

If a marriage is going to last “till death do us part” there will be a ton of stuff each spouse needs to get over and release. This is generally truer for a wife because we men can be jerks and idiots all rolled up into one being. In spite of all the dumb words that have come out of my mouth and things I’ve done which lack any resemblance of common sense, I’ve never felt unloved by my wife. She has this incredible ability to not carry stuff into the next day. Maybe she’s so good at it because I have given her plenty of practice.

  1. She has served by my side willingly in our work for the church.

I’ve watched too many pastors done in by a wife that resents her husband’s call to serve God in vocational ministry.  Pastors don’t make a ton of money, we often work very long hours, there are constant demands for our time and attention and we put up with a lot of criticism. It’s no surprise that so many pastors leave the ministry because their wife demands it to keep the marriage together.

Suzy has rarely pressured me to work less. She understands that there will be days when I have to be away from the house 12-14 hours. She is a very content person who doesn’t put financial pressure on me to make and provide more than I am able.  And she has always served in our church in a meaningful and productive way. She has led children’s ministries, women’s ministries, and served wherever else I needed her until I was able to recruit and train someone to fill that need.

  1. She was and is an amazing mom to our two daughters.

Our girls, ages 31 and 28, are incredible young ladies. There is no doubt in my mind who deserves most of the credit. She was and still is “Mama Sue.”  I look forward to us becoming grandparents because our grandkids will be super blessed to have Suzy as their grandma.

So thanks Suzanne Marie White for saying “I do” 34 years ago and living out those vows in such an incredible way.

To celebrate our anniversary I’ve posted transcripts on the resource page from a sermons series I did in 2010 titled Love & Respect based on Ephesians 5:33 and the excellent book of the same title by Emerson Eggerichs. I require couples I do pre-marital counseling for to read this book.

An Average Mic

IMG_0538Thanks for taking time to read this blog. Let me say upfront that I’m a pretty average guy. I’ve been a pastor all my adult life and I don’t pastor a huge church. Heck I don’t even pastor a medium size church according to the metrics we throw around in church work. I think I’ve done a lot of things right in life and too many things wrong. This blog is going to focus primarily on matters of life and ministry where I have some experience that perhaps will help someone that reads this blog.

So let me tell you a bit more about me then you will read on the About page.

I’m passionate about a number of things- and it’s those things that will compose the primary topics I address on this blog.

My first passions are God, Jesus and His Church so I plan to make available a ton of ministry materials I’ve developed over the past 30 years that might be a help to a young pastor or even a seasoned veteran like myself.

I’m also passionate about my role as a husband and a dad (and hopefully a grandpa someday soon) so I’ll write some stuff that I think can help men be better dads and husbands.

I am really into (but in no particular order) my dog Baxter, the NY Mets, exercise, financial stability and keeping my lawn green. So I’ll share some thoughts and helpful hints about some of these things as well.

What you won’t find here is any political postings or heavy theological treatises. Sure Mom always told me that you should never talk about politics or religion, but that’s not why I decided to not write on these topics.  I’ll pass on politics because there are enough people out there ranting and raving about stuff and I’m pretty sure that I wouldn’t add much to any argument. And I’ll pass on the heavy theology because while I do have a Master’s Degree in Systematic Theology, there are some amazing Bible Scholars and Theologians that already write blogs who are way smarter then I am and way better thinkers. I’ll leave the heavy lifting to them.

So that ‘s about it.  An average blog from an average mic. Thanks for coming on the ride with me.