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“Hi, I’m Gary, and I use Facebook.”

23 Sep

Facebook addictions are real.  It starts innocently, wanting to “stay in touch” or “see what so-and-so is doing” or “find pictures of my grandkids.”

But Facebook addictions start when we try to meet ACTUAL needs with VIRTUAL answers.

People turn to Facebook to cure loneliness.  Does it?

You can have a thousand Facebook “Friends,” but how many of them really know you?  The name doesn’t fit the reality that most of these are not “friends,” but rather, “people I may or may not have met at some point over the years.”

People turn to Facebook to relax and catch up at the end of the day.

But does Facebook really help you relax or reduce any stress at all?  I guess it depends on what your “friends” are posting at that time.  If they are angry, critical, sarcastic, or down… be careful and don’t let their thoughts get you angry, critical, sarcastic, or down.  Facebook attitudes can be contagious.

People turn to Facebook as a better alternative to e-mail.

I know I have.  It’s easy to get in touch with people and keep up a conversation, even as a group!  I love that!

Why do you turn to Facebook?  Did you know that more than 33% of divorces these days are caused by affairs and emotional connections that started over Facebook?  Did you know that most people spend twice the amount of time on Facebook than they think they spend?

Don’t get me wrong, Facebook can be a GREAT tool.  A GREAT avenue to connect with friends, encourage people, and keep up-to-date on what’s going on with the people that matter most.

But you have to get control of Facebook.

You can change the settings.  You can limit your time.  You can designate certain posts or pictures to certain friends.  You can get a Facebook accountability partner.  You can think through WHY you use Facebook and how much you will use it.

Personally, I enjoy Facebook, but I have learned to watch how it affects my time, my thoughts, my pride, my “need” for any affirmation from people, and my conversations with people.    If you use it, use it with thoughtfulness and take control of Facebook!

 

Connected: Follow Me on Twitter

22 Sep

Smartphone behind logo Yesterday at Delaware Grace, we concluded the “Connected” sermon series about faith and technology.  Or, as the tagline said, “Following Jesus in a Digital World.”

Alex McCue, our Student Ministries Pastor, gave a practical and powerful challenge for followers of Jesus to think and act like it when we go online or in real life.  Galatians 3 reminds us that we are sons and daughters of God!  Matthew 5 calls us to act like salt and light in a rotten and dark world!

Personally, I thought Alex’s challenge and the entire message put compelling words to how I’ve felt as a Christian online and as I’ve observed Christians online.

If you’re a follower of Jesus… does your social media presence reflect Jesus in a positive way?  Or do your status updates and Instagram photos reflect something far from Him?

Cell phones have made the internet and social media posts available on a 24-7-365 basis.  That’s all day, all week, all month, all year.

Once you put it out there, it’s out there.

Once you click send, it’s sent.

Once you post it, people are seeing and reading it.

Your online life is a matter of the heart.  What kind of person are you?  What do you want people to see in you?  Why do you want them to see that?

Next Sunday, we’re having a one-night forum about technology at Delaware Grace – “CONNECTED: THE NEXT STEP” – at 6:00PM at Delaware Grace, in the chapel.  I hope you’ll join us.  In the meantime, I’d love to hear any questions or concerns you hope we will address that night – shoot me an email at garyunderwood@mac.com.

“Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” – Proverbs 4:23

 

—————————————————————————————————

follow Gary Underwood on Twitter at @garyunderwood

and Alex McCue at @admccue

and Delaware Grace @delawaregrace

 

Everyday Courage

04 Nov
Samwise_the_Brave

He’s called “Samwise the Brave” in Lord of the Rings. But, as far as we know, he’s never had to raise kids, pay the bills, deal with health issues, or solve any 21-st century problems. What real-life situations are calling us to be brave?

The word “courage” comes with a Hollywood vibe to it.  As if “courage” is only for the warrior in battle or the guy that climbed Mount Everest.

It’s so easy to think of “heroes” who have done something courageous.  Our imaginations and minds fill up with memories of Luke Skywalker, Batman, Jason Bourne, and William Wallace.

Who is your fictional hero?

He or she is probably someone “strong and courageous.”  Someone who saved the day.  Someone who faced their fears and ran towards the battle.  Someone who never gave up.

Mine is probably Rocky Balboa.  Or the aforementioned Jason Bourne.  Or the “against all odds” Die Hard hero, John McClane.

In real life, we tend to use the word “courage” when we describe our servicemen or servicewomen in the armed forces.  Our police officers, firefighters, first responders, emergency teams, and everyone who helps in times of crisis.And these people deserve our full support, encouragement, gratitude, and prayer!

But what about courage “for the rest of us”?  What about everyday courage – the willingness or perseverance that us “non-heroes” may need just to face the day.

Or, as a friend of mine said yesterday, “sometimes, it takes courage just to get out of bed and face another day.”

Another day of grief.

Another day of physical pain.

Another day of rejection by loved ones.

Another day of uncertainty.

Another day of loneliness.

Another day of waiting.

Another day of wondering when God is going to show up or answer that prayer you’re tired of praying.

You see, the world still needs each one of us to “be strong and courageous” at times.

Each day, I must choose to move forward, press on, fight a good fight, and seize the day – and this requires an inner-strength and a God-given courage.

You may never carry a world-saving mission on your resume.  You may never crack an international spy code or destroy evil’s attack on a grand scale.

But you can take heart and live a life of courage – every single day.

 
 

When God Calls My Name… (Sermon Remix from 11/3/13)

04 Nov

Be-Strong-and-Courageous1Yesterday, we kicked off our new “Be Strong and Courageous” sermon series here at Delaware Grace.  Just like God called His people, and specifically His leaders, to “be strong and courageous” in how they approached life… He is calling us to a “strong and courageous” type of faith.

Which begs the question… what does it even mean to be strong and courageous?

“Courage” literally means to “have heart” or “be daring” – expressing a willingness to press on, move forward, take a stand, and face your fears.  “Courage” is not just about doing something different or difficult or daring.  It’s much deeper than that.

True courage in the Bible is about taking God’s promises to heart and getting God’s strength for the victories that lie ahead.  Victory over fear.  Victory over sin.  Victory over pain.  Victory over apathy.   Victory over… everything!

As we focus on the life of Joshua, we find that God had promised His deliverance and victory centuries in advance!  It was Joshua’s turn to follow God’s plan, claim God’s promises, and live in God’s presence.

That’s the sermon, if I could do it again.

Follow God’s plan… claim God’s promises… and live in God’s presence.

The plan?  Just as God had a specific life and calling for Joshua… He has one for you and me.  Most of it involves our character, our salvation, our growth, our increasing ability and desire to follow and be like Jesus!

The promises?  Just as God has promised victory for Israel and Joshua… He has promised tremendous things for those who follow Him in 2013.  He works all things together for the good.  He saves, forgives, and heals.  He still changes human hearts, relationships, and eternal destinies.  If you want to get stronger and more courageous, then you’ve got to be connected to God’s promises – read the Bible!

The presence?  Joshua was able to move forward and face his fears.  He was able to escape discouragement and rally a nation.  He survived a grief-stricken journey and became a true inspiration to God’s people.  How?

God was with Him.  And… Joshua was with God.   Every step of the way, the ultimate Shepherd and Lover of our Souls was watching over Joshua.  Teaching, guiding, empowering, leading, correcting… God’s Spirit was always with this guy, and Joshua was worshiping, listening, reading, obeying, praying… committed to being with God every day.

If you’re not strong and courageous, it’s because you’re flying solo.  You’re either ignoring God or trying to prove yourself to Him.

True strength isn’t about your determination or abilities, it’s about God’s presence and grace.

True courage isn’t about your risk-level or fear-tolerance, it’s about God’s never-ending care and nearness to us.

God called Joshua to an outrageous and unforgettable life.  But Joshua had to choose to be strong and courageous, and embrace the realities and directives of our Lord.

When God calls your name… with His plan in mind, His promises in your heart, and His presence every day… you and I can actually be… strong and courageous!

 

 
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Posted in Church, Faith

 

The Invitation…

17 Oct

Follow Me LogoWhen I decided to trust Jesus, I knew very little about the path we’d travel on together.  No clue about the speed bumps.  Couldn’t foresee the forks in the road.

And how could I?  I was six years old.  My parents loved me, and so I believed them.  Jesus was a real Person, a heroic Savior, and He would take me to Heaven one day.

Sign me up!  As a child – or with a child-like heart full of trust and hope – the step of “believing in Jesus” came pretty easy for me.  Call me gullible, or call me hopeful.  But at age six, I made a big boy decision about God and accepted Jesus as my Savior.

At age 6 or 66, we can’t really know what the rest of life with God is supposed to look like.  As Gary Haugen wrote, “How can the object of transformation be the one in charge of the process?”  We can’t.  I couldn’t.

But Jesus invites you and me to follow Him.  Just like His arms-wide-open announcement to all who would believe, Jesus is looking for people who would “come, follow me” (Mark 1).

Some people follow and others fight.  Some follow the crowd, and others just follow their heart.  God made each of us in His image, and there’s only one place – one relationship – where we’ll find the kind of fulfillment that we long for.

Relationships and sex can’t fulfill you.  Money, success, career direction, and achievements won’t satisfy your soul.  Hobbies, toys, memories, and a million Facebook friends can’t sustain or produce a healthy heart.

That’s a lesson I first learned at 15, and continue to re-learn ever since.  Though I believed in Jesus, I had foolishly built my life and identity around sports, girls, good grades, and rap music.  Yeah, boyeee!  God was cool too, but He was merely an add-on in my Gary Underwood fan club.   I believed in Jesus but followed the crowd.

By God’s grace, He broke into my life at age 15 life-transforming ways.  He broke my heart.  He broke my knee.  He broke my pride.  He shattered some of my closest friendships.  For nearly a year, it seemed like my whole future was in transition – my identity and soul was at stake.  It truly was.

In those moments, as I recall, Jesus saying it in a personal way – “Gary, I want you to follow me.  It doesn’t matter what your friends do or what Michael Jordan does.  I want you to follow me.”

I started reading the Bible, as if God might actually have something of value to say to me.  He spoke – so it seemed – louder than ever!

I connected with others who seemed to have more passion and awareness of God in their lives.  God brought me some mentors and peers that encouraged, mentored, and inspired me to keep following Jesus.

After a while, I sensed something strange happening.  My heart began to change.  I began to prefer eternal things over earthly things.  I began to confess sinful thoughts or actions and truly desire to change who I was.  My passions and affections for the old life started to fade, and God’s Spirit filled me with a new life.  Don’t get me wrong – I still liked sports, girls, good grades, and rap music, but those things became servants of one singular calling and passion.

To follow Jesus.

And for the last twenty-four years, I’ve tried.  And God’s been patient and showered me with grace.  He’s blessed me far beyond what I deserve.  I’ve failed more times than I’ve succeeded, and that’s no surprise – no disciple is perfect.  But we follow the One who is.

His invitation is still as real here at age… well, whatever age I am.  Jesus invites me to lay down things of the past.  To surrender to His leadership and make Him my first passion.  Give God the controls, as if He isn’t already driving.  For His glory and for my own experience in the abundant life, I’m at my best when I hear His invitation…

Come, follow me.”

 

 

 

 
 

Friday and the YMCA…

06 Apr

I’m glad Delaware has a YMCA.  I remember when our family moved here in 2004.  I said it about four times a month – “the only thing I’d change about Delaware, besides moving all of our friends here, would be to give it a YMCA.”

You see, I loved working out at the Warsaw/Winona Lake (Indiana) YMCA when I was at Grace Seminary in the late 1990’s.

You see, I loved working out at the Benton Harbor/St. Joe (Michigan) YMCA when I was a youth pastor in Southwest Michigan in 1996-97.

You see, I loved working out at the Green YMCA when I was at The Chapel back in the day.

I also enjoy starting sentences with “You see,” you see?

Hey, I even worked at the Milwaukee Metro YMCA in 2000 when Jennie and I were first married and living in Milwaukee off of the infamous Brown Deer avenue.  As if Deer came in other colors!

Now that Delaware has a YMCA, I’m down.   Thanks to Paul Weber for directing more than one YMCA but giving a lot of time and energy to this community right here.  Thanks to people like Jeremy Byers and Roger Hanafin, who oversee huge programs and community initiatives to help us all get healthy and make more out of our lives.  Thanks to Kathleen Maynard and everyone else there who loves working with kids.

I’m glad we have a YMCA, that’s all I’m saying.  In fact, in March, I was there more than ever, pushing into the “Body of Iron” challenge.  I had to run 26.2 miles, bike 112 miles, and swim 2.5 miles – over the course of the entire month.  It wasn’t hard, but it did push me to get back at the routines and discover my love for running.

I love to run.  Shut out the world.  Turn on the iPod jams.  Push myself.  Think.  Sing.  Pray.  Work it out.

Yes, it’s Friday, and it’s time to go to the YMCA.  Glad we have one here!

 
 

Wake Up, Quarterbacks!

05 Apr

Quarterback_Club_logoIt was going to be one of those days.  A dreary Wednesday morning in central Ohio.

I couldn’t sleep.  I felt sick.  Oh, and I had an early morning breakfast meeting scheduled.

Flesh says, “Dude, just call or text someone else to lead the meeting.  You need to sleep in and catch up on your rest.”

Spirit says, “Dude, don’t listen to ‘flesh’, just wait and see how you feel later today.  Flesh is a wimp anyway.”

Fortunately, I forced myself to get up and go to Quarterback Club.

“Quarterback Club” is our Wednesday morning Bible Study at Buehler’s restaurant here in Delaware.  It’s no Akron Family Restaurant, and that’s fine by me.  It’s better in some ways, like free WiFi and the connected grocery store and the chance encounters with Zach Younkin.

My son asks, “Did you see all the quarterbacks today?”  “How was Braxton Miller?”

I get to explain that (A) it isn’t for real football quarterbacks and (B) Braxton had to skip out on us again to practice with the Buckeyes and (C) I don’t really know Braxton Miller, and that’s okay and (D) “Quarterback Club” is my nostalgic tribute to Knute Larson’s Chapel Tuesday morning group circa 2002 when I was his intern and he was offensive coordinator to about 30 non-quarterbacks each week.  Except Tom Kot, who actually played quarterback back in the day.  Great job, Tom Kot!

Anyhow, I went to Quarterback Club.  This morning it was six of us with Bibles and bagels or bacon.  We opened up Romans 5 and talked about the Gospel.  We shared some observations about the passage and some deep lessons from the text.  Even better, a few guys opened up about some questions we had and some struggles with actually putting our faith into practice in real time.

Questions like, “How has God used suffering in your life to help you grow?

Questions like, “How do you keep God and His Good News as an important message for your life everyday?

Questions like, “Are you trying to perform for God or are you actively depending on God?

I won’t share any of the personal details that I or others shared.  What happens at Quarterback Club….

But I will say it woke up my heart and soul.  Time with God and the guys was well worth it once again, and I’m not surprised.  God loves it when we come together to spur and encourage one another on.  There was almost no “small talk” about the weather or sports or television.

We all need that kind of group, where God is present and where the talk is real. 

Even without the quarterbacks.

 
 

For God.. or With God?

04 Apr

john15_5Are you doing life “for God” or “with God”?

There IS a difference.

Living “for” God involves striving to please.  Striving to impress or live up to a standard.  It starts with good intentions, perhaps, of using your time, your talent, your treasures “for” God and His purposes.

But it assumes something that is far from true.

When I try to do something “for” God, I assume that I have something worthwhile to give.

That I have something worthwhile to do.  That my efforts are powerful or humble enough.  That God will be impressed, honored, or praised by the work of my hands.

On the surface, this sounds so well and good and right.

But within, it can lead to pride (in my own efforts), independence (in my own thoughts), and perhaps even manipulation or game-playing with God (“If I do this for God, then He….”)

It was Jesus who told us, “Apart from me, you can do nothing.”

It was God who told us, “There is none righteous, no not one.”

It was Paul who reminds us that God’s strength is on display and “made perfect” when we are actually weak before Him.

In other words…

Stop doing things “for God,” and start doing things “with God.”

You see, with God, all things are possible.

You see, with God, our weaknesses fade away in light of His strengths.

You see, with God, our old independent and powerless “selves” get put in the proper place.  The back seat.

I fear that I’ve approached too many issues in my life or too many great opportunities trying to do something of value for God.  Perhaps there is “some value” in our feeble attempts to love Him.

But He invites you and me to do life WITH HIM… as Jesus said in John 15:5 – “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”

 
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What a Pastor feels on Easter Sunday…

03 Apr
The praise and energy in our church on Easter Sunday was a highlight of our year - thank God for a great weekend!

The praise and energy in our church on Easter Sunday was a highlight of our year – thank God for a great weekend!

A few Easters ago, a good friend of mine said he’d pray for me during the week of Easter.  “It’s like the Pastor’s Super Bowl, man!” he said.

He was right – though every Sunday is important, Easter is a very big deal.  It’s big for all who believe in Christ and understand the true meaning of the Resurrection.  It’s huge for nearly every church in every town, as Easter Sunday brings more people, more opportunities, more events, more… well, more than any other Sunday.

But for a pastor, Easter weekend is quite an ordeal.  A roller coaster.  An adrenaline rush.  A “before-and-after” moment that consumes much of my calendar and energies before, during, and even after it all happens.

Just an hour ago, our church staff spent some time thanking God for another great Easter weekend at Delaware Grace.  Like many Easters’ past, this was another powerful reminder of God’s great love for us, and a true moment of the church “at its best.”

Our staff also shared some of our highlights and favorite moments of the weekend.  We made notes of things we might do differently or prepare for in 2014.  We thought about the people, the words, the music, the decor, the schedule, the adults, the children, the hallways, the feelings and the memories of our Easter Sunday together.

Here are some of my personal “highs” and feelings from Easter Sunday…

(1) Focus and Praise to God.  Though we really want to connect with people, the point is to lead them into God’s presence.  It’s not about us and it’s not about them.  It is about Him.  We always say that if God isn’t here, we are all wasting our time.  So it was a privilege to experience worship with three services of people who seemed to really engage and focus thanks, praise, and honor to God.  It was a greater personal privilege to pray privately and experience God’s blessings in my life throughout that entire day.

(2) Grateful for all our People!  When the room is full, there’s more excitement, more volume, more participation, and simply – more people to engage in song, preaching, and simply being together.  Our 9:30 and 11:00am services were packed to the very hilt, and that was awesome!  From the stage, I could see so many familiar faces… some unfamiliar ones… some new faces… some friends from different parts of our lives… it was inspiring, and certainly our prayer and aim is that we all join together for #1 (listed above)!

Easter is usually the most well-attended Sunday of the year, so pastors sometimes fight depression the next week – where did everyone go?  Why are there so many Christmas-and-Easter churchgoers?  I believe it is their loss, and ours, when these people show up just twice a year.

(3) Encouraged by awesome volunteers.  See, most pastors and church leaders know that we are nothing and can do nothing without a strong volunteer base.  Church isn’t about the leader or about the building or about the schedule.  It’s about a team, a body, a whole group of people working together, serving one another, showing hospitality, and “being the church” on Easter Sunday.  You people fire me up!  It is a privilege to serve with you!

(4) Inspired by lively music.  I get a front-row seat, both physically and relationally, to know some of our best volunteers and leaders.  Few things ignite my soul like a tremendous worship set led by about eight people who deeply love God.  Few things are as encouraging as the passion of seeing someone do something they love and serve God in a way that expresses who they are – everything from leading the choir, serving as an usher, helping in the parking lot, playing bass guitar – you name it!

(5) Honored to preach Good News!  Yes, I enjoy it.  I covet your prayers for me, because preaching is a serious calling and requires effort and thought and practice.  That being said, I enjoy it, especially when I have had the chance to walk with many of our people or serve God together!

(6) Fulfilled in (but not “by”) Ministry.  We spent a lot of time this Spring leading up to – and getting ready for – Easter weekend.  It is a thrill to see it all take place.  It also gives us a great sense of “accomplishment” or “participation” in something far greater than any of us.  My heart was full all morning, grateful for God’s work in us and for the chance to experience days like this in our church and in our community.  I should also add that I was physically and emotionally exhausted on Sunday evening!

(7) In Love with my Family.  Note – I’m not listing these in order of importance!  If I were, this one would be at the top, or closely connected with my relationship with God.  To spend the rest of Easter Day with Jennie and our kids and my parents… what can I say, I am one blessed dude.  Thank you, God, for loving me beyond belief… for blessing my life and family… and for days like Easter 2013 at Delaware Grace.  He is Risen, Indeed.

I hope you had an Easter Sunday worth blogging about.  Or at least remembering and thanking God for how He’s at work in your life too!

 

 
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Posted in Church, Faith

 

Better to Receive?

20 Dec

receiving+gift

Christmas is not about giving. 

Did I just type that – on purpose?

I suppose it’s a matter of how you view Christmas, and how you view God.

At Christmas, we do recognize an awesome Giver.

God in Heaven, who “so loved” all of us that He “gave” Jesus Christ to the world, is the Giver of every good and perfect gift!  His generous, compassionate gifts are blessings we should never take for granted.

True Christmas begins and ends with Jesus Christ.  He’s the Son of God (John 3).  He’s the “Word became flesh” (John 1).  He’s the “Resurrection and the Life” (John 14).  He’s truly the “Light of the World” (John 8).

Starting with Jesus Christ, God’s gifts are for us, for our good, and for His glory.

God gives… we receive…

He is the ultimate giver.  He gives generously to all without finding fault.  He provides, protects, and forgives.  He also graciously brings to justice (in His time) those who do evil and rebel against Him.

In response to God’s gifts, we are to position our hearts and our lives to actually receive these gifts!

Consider how God Himself refers to Jesus Christ, the indescribable gift – “Yet as many as received Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to be called children of God” (John 1:12).

God gives… we receive…

In life, it is hard for most of us to simply receive a gift.  We aren’t very good at “receiving” a gift, and we wrestle with various attitudes in response to gifts.

Some of us wrestle with entitlement surrounding gifts, and fail to appreciate the giver.  “I deserved this,” we think, and it’s just part of Christmas.  Thoughts creep in like, “I wanted something else… something better… more gifts, please!”

Others feel burdened to repay someone for a gift.  A distant relative brings a gift for you, and you didn’t bring one for them.  Before you know it, you’re in the next room on Amazon.com buying their “payback” gift to ease your conscience.  We want to trade even or earn a gift.

But God gives… we receive.

God gives you time, talent, treasure, personality, friendships, and life!  God gives us resources, opportunities, thoughts, directions, comfort, and hope!

Without God, I have nothing.  You have nothing.

Before I have anything to give, I must first receive what God has given.

I must admit my personal need for everything God has already given.

I must express thanks and acknowledge the countless blessings I’ve received.

I must believe that I don’t deserve these and couldn’t earn these things.

I must walk humbly, knowing that (without God) my life has nothing worthwhile to contribute to anyone else’s.

God gives… we receive.

God gives each one of us life and breath, and we are all made in His image (Genesis 1).  Every day is a privilege, full of opportunity to grow and experience God’s world!

Receive these gifts.  This Christmas, thank Him and seek His wisdom and guidance to pursue a God-honoring life.  As we follow Him, we have hope and faith and love to give to others!

God gives us an awareness of right and wrong, whether in our consciences or in Scripture.

Receive these gifts!  Learn to admit your mistakes, confess sins, and seek His righteousness for better decisions and lifestyles.  As we learn from Him, we have insights and experiences and empathy to give to others!

God gives us a Baby in a manger who would grow up to be King of the Universe… who died on the Cross to rescue us from sin and death.

Receive this gift!  Believe in Him and live His way and grow closer to Jesus through prayer and His Word.  As we come alive in Him, we have life and salvation and truth to share with others!

But let’s make no mistake about it.  If we aren’t receiving God’s gifts and work in our lives, then we have nothing of real value to give.  Before we set out to give, to love, or to serve others, we must learn to receive what God has given us.

God gives… do you receive?