Win With God in 2016

The following is a sermon I delivered on Sunday, December 27 at Graymere Church of Christ. Feel free to use this in its entirety - and you can also download the Powerpoint or Keynote.

[1 John 5.4]

We love winners, don't we?

There may be no greater mystery in professional sports than the Buffalo Bills in the early 1990s. You'll recall that the Bills were able to advance to the Super Bowl in each of the seasons from 1990-94. Notice that I didn't say that they won the Super Bowl. 

In the recent documentary by ESPN entitled The Four Falls of Buffalo, it was remarked that "there is no greater joy in sports than winning the Super Bowl, and no greater pain in losing one." The Bills were a team that just couldn't finish, and in dramatic fashion. While hindsight is 20/20 and looking back it was certainly a great accomplishment to even play in four consecutive Super Bowls (4 of the 32 teams in the NFL have never even had the honor),the inability to just finish the season the way you started has haunted this proud football franchise for decades

Because it's not how you start, it's how you finish

What matters is what happens in the end. 

We're finishing up an entire season that most of the world dedicates to the birth of Jesus Christ. And while that is a significant event, it is no nearly as significant as how Jesus died and was resurrected. 

Jesus had what was the greatest comeback in history. To be put to death on a cruel cross and be raised by God from the dead three days later was the most focal point of global history. It not only showed him to be the one true Son of God, but it showed everyone he was who he said he was. 

It's not how you start, it's how you finish. 

Maybe you're finishing this year on a bad note. Maybe you're a little down. Maybe you're battling health problems. Maybe you're in a bit of financial bind. Maybe you're a little lost spiritually. Maybe you haven't been the Christian you wanted to be this year - maybe you didn't attend worship as faithfully as you wanted, you didn't get involved as much as you wanted, or you didn't study as much as you wanted to. 

A new year is a perfect opportunity for a fresh start. It's an opportunity to turn over a new leaf. Nothing really changes except the calendar, but mentally, there's something new and awesome about having a new year to get some things done. To resolve ourselves to change and make things better. 

The Buffalo Bills had not one, not two, not three, but four opportunities to finish strong. They didn't capitalize. But you can. 

Tonight I'm going to give you three reasons why you can win in 2016. 


We can win in 2016 with God because...

I. We Have the Power to Change

There seems to always be a guarantee in life that change will happen. Change is something we tend to fear and become anxious about because we do not feel in control of life. The good news is that God has a plan for your life to hope, future, and to prosper. If we trust in God and allow the change to grow us to become more like Jesus Christ in how we respond and act, then we are promised that all things will work together for good for those who love Him and keep His commandments!

As I look back on 2015, lots has changed for my family and I that I never saw coming. This time last year I was looking at planning the Church Street Youth Group for 2015, and I was really excited. I had become a little jaded in youth work and a little burnt out. But through some time off, some study, and talking with some mentors, I was back at work and fired up about 2015. I was working harder than ever and I really thought that was where I was going to be for a number of years to come. 

And then Graymere came knocking. And it was an opportunity that my family and I could not pass up. 

It has been a different kind of challenge working here - one that I didn't expect. But my family and I dealt with the changes that came to us and we responded in a great way. 

Change is inevitable. Sometimes people say "I don't like change" and to me, that's just an excuse not to push yourself, to not test yourself and realize the true servant that God would have you to be. 

But the greatest thing about change is that the power lies within us to make change in our own lives. We can also choose how we respond to changes around us. God has given us an uncanny ability to evaluate what needs to change in our lives and make it happen. 

A New Year is a great time to rededicate your life to serving God. We can have the assurance that God will be faithful to us in times of change, whether that's in our own lives or the lives of those around us. 

The well-known passage in Deuteronomy illustrates this perfectly for us:

31.6 - Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified of them, because the Lord your God goes with you, and he will never forsake you.

Just as we might take a walk with our spouse down a path, I like to imagine that God is with me, right beside me, where ever I go and whatever I do. And it's important to note that God will not change. Ever. We are the ones who must do that. 

The world and the devil have a great way of trying to convince us that God will conform to whatever box we try to fit him in. And that's just not how it is. 

[Malachi 3.6] 

I, the Lord, do not change.

I'm reminded of the well-known story of the battleship that was out at sea. The captain, who was worried about the deteriorating weather conditions, stayed on the bridge to keep an eye on all activities.

One night, the lookout on the bridge suddenly shouted, “Captain! A light, bearing on the starboard bow.”

“Is it stationary or moving astern?” the captain asked.

The lookout replied that it was stationary. This meant the battleship was on a dangerous collision course with the other ship. 

The captain immediately ordered his signalman to signal to the ship: “We are on a collision course. I advise you to change course 20 degrees east.”

Back came a response from the other ship: “You change course 20 degrees west.”

Agitated by the arrogance of the response, the captain asked his signalman to shoot out another message: “I am a captain, you change course 20 degrees east.”

Back came the second response: “I am a second class seaman, you had still better change course 20 degrees west.”

The captain was furious this time. He shouted to the signalman to send back a final message: “I am a battleship! Change course 20 degrees east right now!"

Back came the flashing response: “You change course 20 degrees west. I am a lighthouse.”

The Lord is our lighthouse, and no matter how much fussing or complaining or sin or the devil tricking us into God somehow changing, he won't. It is we who must do the changing. 


We can win in 2016 because...

II. Jesus Has Already Overcome the World

Jesus says himself in John 16.33 to "be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world."

That's great news. Because we can reason from that one statement that Jesus made that if he has already overcome the world, then there is nothing in this world that should overcome us!

In fact, Jesus says in this same verse that we will have tribulation. We will be tested. We will be tempted - by the world. He says these things so that we can have peace. He has already overcome the world. 

[1 John 5.4-5]

For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world - our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

This passage is all about victory. We sing the song so many times: Victory in Jesus. My savior forever, he sought me, he bought me with his redeeming blood. That's our victory. But what does victory have to do with a maturing love for God?

We as Christians live in a real world with real obstacles. Real temptations. Real pain. Sometimes you may read scripture or come to worship or Bible class and feel like it's not the real world. That the Bible isn't speaking to you - it's speaking to all those people without sin, distress, or pain. 

It isn't easy to obey God. It's much easier to drift in the world, make our own decisions, follow our own plan, and "do our own thing." 

But the Christian is "born of God." We may look at that phrase in scripture and gloss over it, but this is what gives us ultimate victory. This is what can help us win. "Whatever is born of God overcomes the world." 

The Greek word for victory is actually Nike (NÉE-Kay). Not the shoe brand. The word simply means victory, and those two words: overcome and victory are favorites of John, both in his Gospel and his letters. 

Our victory is the result of faith, and we grow in faith as we grow in love. 

There's an old legend of a soldier who was serving in the army of Alexander the Great. The soldier wasn't acting bravely, he wasn't fighting and pressing as he should have. 

The great general approached the young man and said, "What's your name, soldier?"

"My name is Alexander, sir," the man replied. 

The general looked at him straight in the eye and said firmly: "Soldier, get in there and fight - or change your name!"

What is our name? We are called "Children of God, the born-again ones of God." Alexander the Great wanted his name to be a symbol of courage - our name carries with is the assurance of victory. To be born of God means to share in God's victory. And when we're victorious, we have overcome the world. 


We can win in 2016 because...

III. You're Backing the Winning Side Already

We need to understand that God is on our side, and it's the winning side!

When you feel overwhelmed, it's important to go to God in prayer and confess your inability and inadequacy. You need to be honest if you're afraid and tell God exactly how you feel.

In 2 Chronicles 20:12, Jehoshaphat says to God in prayer, “We are helpless in the face of this large army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but we look to you for help" (GNT). 

Have you ever felt that way? Have you ever felt like there was a problem in your marriage, your career, or somewhere in your life that you thought was overwhelming? You start at the beginning of the week thinking maybe you can handle it, but by Wednesday you're out of power.

Maybe you've felt like the author of this poem:

"The world had a hopeful beginning
But man spoiled it all by sinning
We trust that the story
Will end in God's glory
But right now the other side's winning."

Have you ever felt like that? You pick up the newspaper, and it looks like the bad guys are winning. There are kids killing other kids in our schools! The moral and spiritual climate of our society is collapsing. It looks like the bad guys are winning in many ways.

So what do you do? You say, “God, we're powerless, and we don't know what to do.” You tell God exactly how you feel. 

It's interesting when you compare verse 12, where it says we're powerless, to verse 6, where Jehoshaphat says, "God, you have all the power in the world." It doesn't matter if you're powerless if God has power. If you put your trust in him, he'll take care of you.

I don't have to have power. You don't, either. And you don't have to pretend that you do. All you have to do is trust in God, who's got all the power that you need.

It's difficult to express our inadequacy, even to God. But when we turn over control to Him, we can trust that he will bring us the ultimate victory. 



The Buffalo Bills couldn’t win the one game at the end of the season that mattered the most. If we trust in God and fight those battles for him - it may even look hopeless and look like we’re going to lose, but we will have victory in the end. 

So this evening, how does your story end? What’s happened in the past doesn’t matter - only moving forward is what God cares about. We can win with God because we have that power to change. We can win with God because Jesus has already overcome the world. And we can win with God because we’ve backed the winning side already. 

New Podcast Launches Today

Along with Ministry Bits episode 39, Notes about Notes, I announced my new podcast Coding Chronicles is now available.

Coding Chronicles is all about me creating my first iOS app, and all the struggles in between. I won't go into too much detail (because that's covered in episode zero), but I will tell you that it's my attempt to catalog my triumphs and struggles in this whole process from start to finish.

I hope you go give the first few episodes a listen at or find it in your podcast client of choice through the iTunes directory.

As always, thanks for your support!

The Future is Still Bright

When I watched Back to the Future Part II as a 10-year old, I was in awe. Hovercars. Hoverboards. Holographic sharks. Video phones. I've always been facinated by the future, but that movie had me wishing for it to be now.

I thought then, "Man, the future looks bright."

It still does.

Today is the future. Today is the day in that movie where Marty and Doc go to the future to correct an injustice - a mistake - that would cripple Marty's family for years to come.

Can we go back in time and fix mistakes? Certainly not. But we can appeal to the One who is in charge of our future.

If you look at the headlines or talk to people over age 50, you might get a pretty bad impression of the world today. They'll say the world is doomed, that people can't be trusted, and that we're all heading to oblivion on the same boat.

It's a good thing that my faith isn't in this world. It's a good thing that my faith is in God, who is able to do far more than I can possibly imagine. It's a good thing that I know that he's going to take care of my family. It's a good thing that I know He will take care of His Church.

I know, without a doubt, that my future is still bright with God. And yours is too.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Ephesians 3.20-21

The iOS 9 Review for Ministers

I'm privaledged enough to have a couple of iOS devices laying around that I don't use daily and also fortunate to be a registered Apple developer, so I've been able to use iOS 9 since early June. Most of the changes are relatively minor - this isn't an iOS 7-level redesign here, but several things have been reworked to allow you to get more done on your devices. So as a minister, here are some things that I care about and I think you will too.

New system font. This may seem like something you wouldn't care about, but once you see it, it will be hard to unsee it. The new font is named San Francisco and was custom-designed by Apple themselves. And it's marvelous. To me, it's much better for reading, and apps like Instapaper and Twitteriffic (where I spend most of my time reading) have been updated to support the new system font. Text is much more legible by the glance, and this font was pioneered by none other that the Apple Watch. So it was made for high-resolution but smaller screens.

Multi-tasking is much faster. If you're like me, you're flipping between different apps on your iPhone or iPad all the time. Instead of the one-card-at-a-time approach like in iOS 8, iOS 9 features a stacked card layout to the left. Flipping between apps and quitting them is much faster.

Safari View Controller. SVC is a term used by developers to describe a new way that iOS handles web views, i.e. when you click on a link inside of another app. Say you're browsing your Twitter feed in the Twitter app and you click on a link that brings it up in the in-app browser, which means you don't leave the app you're using to view web content. Now apps can use Safari View Controller, which means everything is based on (Webkit) Safari for web browsing. Using SVC in Twitteriffic, which adapted SVC about a month ago in their app, has significantly sped up load times for websites.

Ad blockers. Speaking of Safari, iOS now allows you to install ad blocking apps. Just today, Overcast and Instapaper developer Marco Arment released his ad blocker called Peace, which connects to Safari (enabled after you buy the app in Settings > Safari > Content Blockers) and blocks almost all incoming ads and tracking using Ghostery as a backend. With 300 million+ iOS devices out there, ad blocking is going to become a big deal here in the near future.

Great iPad-only productivity improvements. While some features are only available on newer iPads (iPad Air 2, iPad Pro, and iPad Mini 4), the productivity improvments are awesome. For example, I'm writing this very post on my iPad Air 2 using Slideover to check and research certain websites as I write, while never leaving Editorial, my main writing app. Slideover lets you bring in certain apps that support it from the right side of your screen. Split View lets you run two apps side by side. This is a powerful feature and only available on the aforementioned models, but it's great to work side-by-side in the new Notes app and copy text directly from Safari into my document. A great tool for preachers writing sermons for sure. There's also picture-in-picture now - whatever video app supports it, you can have a video in a box overlaying your screen in virtually any app while you're surfing the web or writing a post.

Search is getting better and better. Swipe to the left on any iOS 9 device and you'll get a nice search screen. This goes deep too - apps can enable this quick search to search within their apps as well. For example, I use Scanbot to make scans of important documents and file them away in Dropbox. Now Scanbot will let me search with its documents with the quick search. One swipe, type, and I'm there. It's very nice and very quick.

Battery life and low power mode. If you're like me, you're always running on empty with your iOS device battery. iOS will have improvements with battery life and Apple has reported that newer devices may see 1-2 hours more life with iOS 9 because "there's switches that we can switch that you don't even know about." One of the benefits of making the software and hardware, I guess. One other major improvemnet is Low Power Mode. Every time your device gets below 20%, it will ask you if you'd like to go into low power mode. Apple has implemented this really intelligently. Things like not lighting the screen up for a notification if the phone knows its laying face-down on a table or in your pocket can save you a few precious minutes of battery life.

New Notes app. Last but not least is the new Notes app. I never had a use for Notes - the syncing was always unreliable and it didn't have enough formatting featuyres for me - but that's all changed. Notes can now have bulleted lists, photos, sketchings, as well as formatted text. The syncing engine is now built on Cloudkit, so most of the syncing problems are history. Apple says that 80% of users use the Notes app, which isn't very surprisng to me. So if you're a Notes user, you're in for a treat. They've also redesigned the Mac app as well on El Capitan, so when that releases on September 30, you can use it with your Mac as well.

iOS 9 won't appear to be a huge change on the surface to the average user, but sublte improvements in infastructure and stability will make this a great iOS release. Coming from using the betas for two months and now the actual 9.0 release, I can say that the update process was painless and easy and the OS seems incredibly stable.

If Apple continues this trend with toning down the number of major feature updates and including some great maintenince updates like these, I think iOS is on a very good track.

How Quickly We Forget »

A luxury once tried becomes a neccessity.

In the case of the mobile web and its status in 2015, we have forgotten what it was like just a decade ago.

In 2005, Windows Mobile, Motorola and Blackberry ruled the mobile browsing world with horrible WAP (Web Access Protocol) browsers, or what they liked to call browsers. The web experience, for the most part, was terrible and confusing. Which is why no one used it.

So this week when The Verge published their article attesting to how bad the mobile web is, I had to take a look back.

How quickly we forget.

It all changed with the iPhone. Suddenly you could view entire websites on Safari, and pinch to zoom on those sites to see in greater detail. Then, years later, circa 2012-ish, the mobile web started to take form. No longer did you have to build different websites for mobile and the desktop (even though, to this day, many websites still do just that), but you could build once and deploy everywhere. Squarespace is a great example of this - the very website you're reading right now was built on Squarespace, and I didn't have to write one bit of code for my mobile website, which always looks fantastic.

So for a blogger on a prominent internet tech website to write an article criticizing the mobile web when their very own site is part of the problem greatly irritates me.

The problem is not the mobile web. The problem is monetizing the mobile web. The Verge loads no less than twenty ads, trackers, and services that no doubt make them money for every page view but slow down the web experience on mobile terribly. iMore dealt with this criticisim a week or two ago.

And all this comes into the discussion because of one thing: Safari Content Blockers.

You see, in iOS 9, Apple is providing users a way to block all those ads and trackers (which take the form of various scripts in the webpages that you don't see), and that's not making some many websites who depend on these trackers for revenue very happy. I couldn't put it better than Marco Arment:

I’m interested in running a content blocker not because I don’t want to see ads, but because I feel the need to fight back against being opted in, without my knowledge or consent, to third-party collecting, tracking, and selling of my personal data just by following a link.

And if such blocking becomes a big problem for publishers, it’s up to them to switch to ad delivery methods without these privacy invasions.

And there's your big concern. Have you ever been browsing websites and then see ads on Facebook or Amazon for something you looked at recently? That's an invasion of your internet privacy. While some websites argue that just you visiting their site allows them to legally track you and catalog your data, that doesn't mean it's right.

Websites and the companies that monetize them are going to have to get better at the experience and better at not invading your internet privacy. Up until this point, it hasn't been an issue because people have largely ignored it.

The Sermon Podcasting Toolbox

Since this week marks 10 years of podcasting on the iTunes Store, I thought it was great to share this from ChurchMag:

According to Edison Research, 15% of Americans (39 million people) listen to podcasts at least monthly, with 13 million people tuning in to podcasts on any given day.

Chances are good that your church members are subscribing to, downloading, and listening to podcasts throughout the week. Are they listening to your message?

Some great tips for ministry podcasting, including hardware, software, where to host, and how to distribute. If your congregation isn't podcasting, they should be. Take a look at the full article over at ChurchMag.

Where No Man Has Gone Before

I'm a space nut. For the first time in human history, we'll be visiting Pluto tomorrow. And you can watch. This from Business Insider:

If everything goes according to plan, a NASA spacecraft, called New Horizons, will fly by Pluto at 7:49 am ET. New Horizons is the first spacecraft in history to ever visit Pluto, and it's been a long time coming after 9 years in space. NASA will stream live countdown coverage of the event starting at 7:30 am, followed by a briefing on the mission from 8:00 to 9:00 am ET.

I'll be watching.

12 Things You Should Know About the Apple Watch

Having just gotten an Apple Watch, I disagree with about 75% of this article, especially this:

Don’t buy the Apple Watch (yet) unless you are a developer/designer who needs to develop for it. I’ve tasked myself to fully integrate the Apple Watch into my every day in order to understand it’s full potential. To my surprise, the process of doing so felt a little bit like a burden since I had to constantly remind myself to actually USE it in order to form my opinion.

Read Tobias van Schneider's entire article over at Medium.

5 Things You Need to Know About Bible Translations

Excellent point about Bible translations that I'd never thought about from Wes McAdams:

Because our English language is constantly changing, we will ALWAYS need new translations that help the text to maintain the correct meaning in the current vernacular. One hundred years from now, if the Lord hasn’t come back, we will need new translations because the English language will have changed.

Read the entire post over at Radically Christian.