The basis for this series of posts is to work through the difficulties of life as a Christian. The first post dealt with the influence of the world against living a life on mission. The world offers so many alternatives to life in Christ and that alone is a challenge to living a life on Jesus’ mission. That is not the only enemy of a life in Christ though. The Bible talks frequently about our flesh as a source of the desire for much of the sin and distraction in our lives. When it comes down to it for many of us, the greatest battle for focus and life on mission is… ourselves.
For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. -Romans 7:18
For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. -Romans 8:7-8
Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. 1 Peter 2:11
When the Bible uses the word “flesh” (sarx–Greek) in certain contexts, it is referring to the corrupted nature of humanity. What that means, basically, is that the Bible recognizes that we are all broken… all of us. We don’t have righteousness of our own, we are all corrupted. The flesh in the believer is a really interesting concept. Is it still there or is it gone? We have warnings about submitting to the passions of the flesh but we also have “and those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” -Galatians 5:24.
This is an area that causes more guilt in the Christian that just about anything else I can put a finger on. How is it that Jesus has redeemed us and we are free from the bondage of sin and death, our flesh is crucified…? but at the same time we still struggle, we still want, we still lust, we still choose sin?
I realize that this is a topic that people have written thousands of pages on and I’m attempting to tackle it in the length of a readable blog… so I’ll just summarize and give you some suggestions as to where to read more. The Bible tells us that we have everything we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). Victory over the flesh is available to us through the power of the Spirit. While victory over the flesh is available, the desires of the flesh still exist. That is the remnant of our sinfulness. We are saved, but we are also still us, with all of our histories, our patterns, our emotions, even our desires. Galatians 5:16 says, “But I say, walk by the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh”. That is super important language. What it means is that when you are walking by the Spirit, you will overcome the desires that still exist! You still want, you still struggle, you still lust, you still covet… but in Christ, through the power of the Spirit, you now have the option of choosing righteousness!
What God is inviting us into is a life where the Spirit of God replaces our sinful flesh as the dominant voice for daily life! That’s what Paul was saying in Galatians 2:20: I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live now in the flesh I live by faith in the son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.
Our flesh longs for many things. Honestly, the desires of the flesh probably vary from person to person. For some it is money, fame and power. For others it is sexual satisfaction and gratification. For others still it is control, approval and validation. I do battle with my flesh on a moment by moment basis. I am a wickedly selfish person. The ongoing work of Jesus Christ in my life equips me to choose the things of the Spirit over the things of the flesh.
So, we talked about disciplines and choices in our lives that will help us break free from the influence of the world, let’s do the same with the flesh.
Since there are so many different desires of the flesh, let’s start with identifying our key areas of weakness.
1. What is the most common tendency (or tendencies) towards sin that you experience? (Lying, gossip, lust, greed, laziness, hate, etc.)
2. Once you have identified it (or them), start to pray through those sins: Confess, repent, invite the Spirit to remind you of his presence when you are tempted to sin.
3. Search the Scriptures. What does God’s Word have to say about your tendencies towards sin? You can use something like the YouVersion App to search keywords like “anger” or “sexual” or “gossip”. You should be able to find Scriptures that talk about what you’re struggling with. Make sure to read whole chapters and not just individual verses… or more ideally, the whole book in the case of the Epistles like Philippians, Ephesians, Colossians, Thessalonians, Corinthians, Hebrews, James, Peter, Timothy, Romans, Titus, Philemon, 1, 2, 3 John, and Jude.
4. Work on an intentional plan to eliminate opportunities to sin from your life. You may never cease to “desire”, but if you struggle with drunkenness, you can start by getting alcohol out of your house. If you tend towards lust, you can remove opportunities for pornography from your life. These are specific actions that you can take to lessen the influence of the flesh towards your life on Jesus’ mission.
We are on a journey towards the image of Christ in our lives. It is not all our work, God is at work in us, but it does involve diligence and discipline (make every effort… they devoted themselves… work out your salvation…). The Spirit of God fills us, empowers us, encourages us, ministers to us, and leads us towards a life of holiness.
My dream is to see the greater body of Christ growing in Gospel-centered (rather than legalistically motivated) holiness. The battle with the flesh is real and challenging. It is unrelenting, but it is something that God empowers us to overcome. If you’re struggling with anything in particular and you’re looking for specific next steps, talk to your community group leader about what it looks like to grow together.
The life of a Christian is one that requires constant attention, correction, and motivation… We’ve all experienced it. We hit a lull in our passion. We get distracted from our mission. We start becoming concerned with things that, when all is said and done, really don’t need to be concerns. Why is this? Why does it take so much effort to stay on track? Why is it that we so frequently find ourselves wondering when we drifted away from God’s purpose for our lives?
Martin Luther spent some time thinking about this and identified the 3 enemies of the Christian life as The World, The Flesh and Satan. In Scripture each one of these can be identified as potential distractions to God’s purpose in our lives. Let’s take a deeper look at these and see if we can work towards great faithfulness in this journey of following Jesus!
When Scripture talks about the world, what is it referring to?
They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. -John 17:16
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world–the desires of the flesh, and the desires of the eyes and pride of life–is not from the Father, but from the world-1 John 15-16
The “world” as a concept that Scripture refers to is described as “Worldly attitudes or values that are opposed to God.” When you read the Scriptures that talk about the world in this way, they seem to identify a collective movement or direction of culture and humanity that points people away from the heart of God. We might put something like consumerism in this category. The general direction of American (or Western) culture is that the basic needs of humanity: food, shelter, clothing–are simply not enough. The message of the “world” is largely being pushed by people who stand to make money off of a culture that buys in to the message of excess being normal. As Christians, when we buy into this message of the world, we find ourselves being increasingly less satisfied by God and more distracted by the offerings of the world. We make decisions to buy more, get more, eat more, wear more and it erodes our satisfaction in the presence of God in our lives.
We could also put bad theology that is widely adopted by culture in this category. For example, “God just wants me to be happy”. This is an underdeveloped “theological” statement that many in our culture have adopted, or at least used. Using this theology as a basis for action can lead to outcomes of divorce, debt, adultery, sexual immorality, dishonesty, and on and on. Unfortunately, it is a theology that is widely adopted and is a part of how the “world” thinks when it thinks about God.
When the Bible identifies the “world” as an enemy of righteousness, God is using it to help us see clearly the tendency of the world to operate outside of God’s authority. As Christians, our call is to be alert to the patterns of the world and to recognize when the mindsets, habits and patterns of the world have crept in to our lives. When they do, they prevent us from living lives of mission, worship, generosity, and intimacy with God.
So, here’s the $8 question… How has the world crept in to your life? In what way are the habits and patterns of the world, the world’s values, the world’s theologies, etc. affecting your life in Christ?
What disciplines can you take on to break free from the influence of the world? Here are a couple suggestions:
A time tithe… 2.5 hours a day in Scripture/Prayer–battle the influence of the world by giving God and His Word greater influence and input than the world.
A Media fast to break from the steady stream of influences–battle the influence of the world by cutting off it’s information flow.
A Dave Ramsey-esque financial commitment (get out of debt, live generously)–battle the influence of the world by living counter-culturally, living to give rather than get.
Share your home with a person or family in need of a place to live–battle the influence of the world by generously giving up some of it’s favorite rights, like space and privacy.
Do you have any recommendations or things that you’ve done to center your life more on the influence of Jesus and his word than the message of the world?
This is Part I, in parts II and III we will discuss 2 more enemies that the Christian life faces… The world is just one of them. When you realize this, you understand why Peter admonished the church to Be sober-minded and watchful -1 Peter 5:8
For the glory of God in this world and in our lives, let’s be overwhelmed by God!
Teaching through Luke and Acts has been one of the great joys of my life. It seems like in each teaching experience, a single commentary has emerged as the voice that is most helpful. In Romans, it was Doug Moo’s commentary from the NICNT series. In Luke it was Darrel Bock’s from the Baker Exegetical Series. Acts has been most supported by NT Wright’s Acts for Everyone. It’s meant to be read by… wait for it, everyone. He writes it as a commentary with incredible depth and insight, but adds great color and flavor for anyone to enjoy and learn from. If you’re looking at studying the book of Acts, I would highly recommend picking up these works to add to your collection! They are on Logos, Kindle and actual, physical forms.
I got to baptize my son this morning… Quite possibly one of the greatest experiences a dad can have. This is the story that Jeremy put together with a bit of help from me and Kristen. I was so proud of how he had wrestled with his own faith and how he came to believe in Jesus! Here’s his story for those that weren’t able to be there!
The first time I heard about Jesus, I was 4 years old. I was at Anthem and I came into the big room to hear my dad preach. After that, I started hearing more about the Messiah, that he would come to earth and he would wash away all of our sins. That sounded good to me because I had lots of sins that needed to be washed away. When I was born I had sin and then I kept on sinning again and again (I could say again for hours). But the Messiah (Jesus) showed people that he was God, and when he died on the cross God put all my sin on Jesus. So now I can live a holy life because Jesus died for me. I want to be baptized because God is ready for me to get baptized and I’m ready to obey him.
Being baptized is telling all of you that I truly believe in God, it’s also showing you all that I died with Jesus, and rose up just like he did to live a new life. So now, I still struggle with sin and bad dreams, but now I pray and I ask God for forgiveness when I sin and courage when I am afraid. God has given me the belt of truth, the shield of faith and the helmet of salvation for when I’m scared and feeling like Satan is attacking me. I am thankful for God giving me a perfect family that I love and who will pray for me and read the Bible to me. They help me understand the Gospel and they keep reminding me that God loves me. Lily always reminds me that God loves me.
I get the privilege of teaching a class in the Fall at Eternity Bible College. They asked me to put together a reading list for the class. Here’s what I’ve come up with so far!
In case you hadn’t heard, we’ve got a HUGE Weekend Ahead!!!
If you haven’t been around for the past few weeks, I’ll fill you in on what’s going on. We have been in the process of establishing our first pastor/elder team for a little over a year. We’ve spent time with a group of guys and their wives, getting to know their hearts, the passions and their character. God has opened the door for us to step into our new age as a church, with a team of elders in place.
That is happening THIS SUNDAY!
On Sunday, May 19th at 10:00, we will be having an all campus morning with a worship team made up of leaders from both campuses. We will have a time of ordination for our new elders. And we will hear from Chris Wienand (VEE-nandt). Chris is serving Anthem in an apostlolic role, helping to establish our foundations in the Scriptures, the Spirit and the mission of Jesus.<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/65665922″>Chris Weinand Introduction</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/user1358481″>Anthem Church</a> on <a href=”http://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a>.</p>
I would love to invite everyone who calls Anthem Church their home to join us on Sunday.
We will be meeting at Los Cerritos Middle School with Anthem Kids happening at the Boys and Girls Club.
We have heard there will be a softball tournament happening and we’re expecting a large attendance, so please plan a few extra minutes for parking and Anthem Kids check in!
We will have a parking team out on the streets pointing you where to park!
Trust me when I say that you won’t want to miss one minute of our day. We will start promptly at 10:00. Feel free to show up early and mingle, just to make sure you get in a settled on time.
Sunday is a big day, not to celebrate the guys who will be stepping in to eldership, but to honor the Lord by stepping into a pattern of church life that has been established for 2000 years. We want Anthem to reflect the church of the Bible and pastor/elder leadership is a major part of that.
On Sunday night we will be holding our monthly Leadership Community. This is a chance for our leaders to gather for vision, training, and encouragement! It’s going to be a lot of fun talking vision in light of our pastor/elder leadership transition. Please join us!
We will be at Lighthouse Church in Newbury Park at 5:00 on Sunday evening! The dinner is potluck style, so please see the event posted on the City for more details on that. We will have childcare available at Lighthouse as well.
*Note the location change*
And last, but not least, for the TO campus (and anyone else that wants to join), we will be meeting on Saturday morning at 7:00 am at Ladera Elementary School in Thousand Oaks to serve our community by taking care of one of our schools! We will be painting, cleaning up their vegetable garden and cleaning out and installing a new computer room!
We are hoping to have 25+ people of all ages helping out on Saturday! Kids are welcome (if they’re up for pulling some weeds🙂
This is a great opportunity for Anthem to be a blessing to our community! Come on out and join us!
Whew! That’s it, that’s all I’ve got. Guys, I can’t even tell you how excited I am about Anthem! Thank you for being a part of this with us! Can’t wait to see you this weekend!
In 2013, Anthem Church is engaging a one-year Bible reading plan as a church. We are using the “Reading God’s Story” plan from the YouVersion family of apps (IOS and Android). Our vision for encouraging the body to go through the Bible together is simple. We believe the Bible is God’s Word. We believe that it is authoritative in our lives, meaning, it instructs life in Christ. We believe that the Bible is God’s story, and that is the story that God has invited us in to.
What that means is that the Bible is not a 2000 year-old dead document, but that it is our story. We continue to live out the pages of Scripture.
So, if this is God’s story that we have been invited in to, we want to know it. We want to know how we fit into the story of God.
In preparation for this (though it’s happening as we start) we will be preaching through our bibliology (our beliefs on the Bible). Dec 3, January 6, 13, 20 and 27 will have messages on different aspects of the Bible, how it is to be read, how we can use it, what it is, why it exists, etc.
Our hope is that going into 2013, you have a great understanding of what the Bible is and why we would take a year to read through it together!
If you’ve got kids, we are recommending that family’s go through the Day By Day Kid’s Bible, which takes a slightly different pace, but allows the entire story to be read in an understandable way! We have these available for $15 purchase at the welcome table or at the Anthem Kids Check-In. You can also buy them off of Amazon (you save $1.40 if you’ve got a Prime account).
We hope you make the decision to join us this year! We believe it will have immense value for you and your value. Check out www.anthemchurch.org for updates!
I’m sure that many of you are aware by now that my parents, Steve and Connie Larson, are stepping down from his role as Senior Pastor at the Bridge (formerly EvFree Conejo Valley). They’ve been there for 34 years as its original church planters, lead pastor/elder and teaching pastor. In that time, my dad has been my pastor, mentor, teacher, elder, boss and friend. I have learned more from watching him teach and lead than I could ever get from $150,000 worth of Bible school, leadership books, seminars and conferences combined. I’ve watched him lead through two major crises in the church’s history, building projects, a church plant, cultural issues, elder challenges, staff changes, vision refinement, transition to multi-site and 34 years of teaching God’s Word.
I’m spending a bit of time reflecting on the impact of the church and my dad in my own spiritual growth, so I thought I’d share some of the learnings. Here you go, I hope they’re interesting enough to read:
When I was about 7 or 8 years old, my dad and I went out to eat at Denny’s in Thousand Oaks. We were getting ready to order and he asked me if I knew what I wanted. I told him that I wanted pancakes and eggs. He said, “Ok, I want you to tell the waitress your order.” When the waitress came over, I buried my face in my menu and mumbled my order to her. My dad told me to look her in the eyes and clearly say my order again. So I did. When she left, he took time to teach me about communicating with people. Looking them in the eyes and speaking clearly to people is a way to communicate respect and to make sure they hear what you’re trying to say. It was a simple lesson, but it stuck with me.
In 5th grade, I went through my dad’s “Foundations of The Faith” class (a class for 5th and 6th graders that he has taught every year for the last 26 or so years). At that early age, my dad taught me about his passion for memorizing Scripture. He talked about John 15 and Philippians 2 like they were a part of his own life and his own story. It was amazing to see Scripture pop off the pages like that, because honestly, up until that point they were just words. I didn’t know what to do with the Bible, but I got a glimpse of what it meant. David talks about how much he loves the Law of the Lord in the book of Psalms. I saw that same love in my dad. At the end of the FOF class, my dad gave us a choice between our own NIV Bible and Haley’s Bible Commentary and he would order it for us. I chose the brown, genuinely fake leather NIV Bible. I still have it on my shelf. I loved that class and I love seeing that Bible. It has the first passages of Scripture that I ever underlined in it!
When I was 15, my dad taught through the book of Acts at EvFree. Up until that point, I hadn’t been too interested in sitting in “Big Church”. Chuckk Gerwig (our youth pastor) was encouraging us to meet up together at one of the three Sunday morning services, then we’d all go to the grassy knoll (a glorified name for the grass patch in front of Judy’s Donuts) and eat lunch together. So I sat through every sermon in the book of Acts. There were times where I joked with my dad about preaching past his 40 minute limit (waaayyyyy past it), but to this day that is the first sermon series where I can remember the teaching. I learned so much about how the story of the Church came together. I learned more about falling in love with the Bible from that series and I really enjoyed being a part of the church.
When I was 19, I had left for college, and I was asked by the EvFree Men’s Ministry to come back to sit on a panel with my dad and my grandpa, Harry Larson. We were asked to talk about faith and generations. Pa’s dad was a pastor. Pa was a faithful follower of Jesus who had eldered and deaconed at churches, served in business and led a missions organization. My dad was a pastor and lifelong follower of Jesus. I was walking with Christ and had just gotten my first ministry position as a youth director. The men of the church asked us questions about disciplining kids, living an example of Christ vs. teaching/telling about him, how faith changed through each generation, and a bunch of other questions. I remember sitting next to my dad and grandpa, and for the first time realizing what a privilege it was to be in a family with deeply rooted faith. For the first time I appreciated that the generations before me had loved Jesus and served his church. That morning shaped a value system for my life and the marriage that I was looking forward to (Kristen and I were dating at the time). It shaped a desire to lead my kids to Christ and to pray through and plan out what that would mean. That was a big day in shaping who I am and how I father my kids.
When I started working as the youth pastor at EvFree, there was an interesting situation at the church. There were essentially two fully functioning youth ministries. There was the “youth group” made up of largely public school kids and the “Awana group” made up of largely homeschool kids. One of the tasks that was assigned to me was to create a single place for these kids to connect with each other and to Christ. Being young and impatient, I wanted my dad (or at that point, my boss) to bring the hammer. I wanted him to use his authority and role to declare that there would only be one student ministry and everyone who didn’t like it could deal with it. My dad sat me down and encouraged me to actually lead people. He talked to me about how with time, investment, shepherding and care we can cast vision and lead and people will unify. That began some of the most challenging 2 1/2 years of my life and ministry, but he was right. By listening to people, responding with love, shepherding students and parents and casting vision for unity, we were able to see amazing things happen. When all was said and done, it wasn’t for everyone, but using authority to force an outcome wasn’t an option for my dad. He taught me how to lead people rather than to simply use our position to make things happen.
About 6 years ago, my friend Tim had decided to step down as the lead pastor of EvFree Moorpark. Tim called me up and encouraged me to put my hat in the ring to be considered as the new lead pastor there. I was still serving in student ministries at EvFree Conejo and was enjoying that, but I was very intrigued by the opportunity. The pastors and elders of EvFree had gotten away for a 2-day retreat and my dad and I were up late talking. I told him about the phone call from Tim and what I was thinking about it. That night, my dad looked at me and said “you’re ready”. I still remember that conversation and how I felt. I didn’t feel like I needed my dad’s permission to make a big decision in life, but this wasn’t about permission, it was more of a blessing. In a sense, it felt like my dad was commissioning me to step out and lead a church. Over the next 12 months 2 things happened. I didn’t end up being called to serve at Moorpark, but Kristen and I did feel the call to church planting. We ended our time at EvFree and we packed up and moved to Chicago to get ready to start Anthem Church. Hearing my dad’s blessing and affirmation of my own readiness was such an empowering word. He had been working with me as a teacher and leader for 6 years (really for 28 years…), he had seen everything that I had to offer, my gifts and my shortcomings, and he believed that I was ready for what God had next. That was a huge moment in my life.
3 years ago when we were getting ready to start Anthem Church, my dad and I went to Starbucks for some coffee (Imagine that…). He started asking me questions about what I had learned in my residency with NewThing and how we were implementing those things in the still-forming church that we were building. He had pulled out a notepad and was taking notes during our conversation. My dad was 59 years old and had been leading a church for 30 years at that point and he was still taking notes and learning things from his 29 year-old rookie church planting son. There’s a quote from some leadership book somewhere that says “leaders are learners”. I got a chance to see this first hand in my dad. Still learning after all of those years, all of that experience, all that time teaching other people, he still wanted to learn. That was a shaping moment for me to think about my own future and how I would pursue knowledge and growth in the years to come.
At the end of the book of John, John says that if all the things Jesus said and did were written down, the world wouldn’t be big enough to contain all the books. I’m not going to go so far as to compare my dad to Jesus in that way, but there are about a thousand stories like these that have shaped who I am, and I haven’t even started on my mom yet. Steve and Connie Larson have invested their lives into shaping me into the man that I am, the leader that I am, the pastor that I am, the father that I am and the husband that I am. I know that they have ministered to thousands of people over the years and I am truly honored to be one of them.
It is very strange to think about the next era of life. I’ve never known the Conejo Valley without Steve Larson pastoring a church here. It has literally been my entire life. I knew that this day would come eventually, but it is crazy that it’s actually here. I’m praying for them and for what’s next. Dad will be preaching at the Bridge through the end of January. If you’ve been a part of the 34-year history of EvFree Conejo Valley, I’d encourage you to make your way there at some point in the next month to say hi. It is amazing to see my parents’ confidence in Christ and his plan for their lives. I love seeing how much they love the church and want it to grow beyond anything they were ever able to do at the Bridge. They are already praying for its next leadership and for what God will do in the years to come. I love my parents and needed a place to share about their impact on my life. If you’re still reading, I hope you learned something from it!
This morning at Anthem, we’ll be talking a bit about one component of who we are. We are a mobile church. What that means is that every week, we tow trailers, set up, tear down and tow again. We rent our facilities from 2 School districts and a boys and girls club. Our “rent” is money that is sown into the community, helping to fund programs and community work. We like that. We also like the fact that meeting in “public” locations, like schools, is often more comfortable for people who are finding their way back to God to attend than something like a church building.
While we recognize that mobile church may not be our permanent state, we also recognize that it is what God has for us right now. This is a part of who we are.
Because of the mobile nature of the church, we have a higher need for people to contribute in a physical way on a consistent basis. The classic church model is that 20% of the people do 80-100% of the work. Being mobile prohibits that from being an option. We simply need more people to contribute in more ways if we are to continue doing ministry in the way that we do it.
In Thousand Oaks, the way we gather on a weekly basis requires a volunteer base of 186 roles giving an average of 2 hours a month. We currently have about 80 people filling those 186 roles, many people serving upwards of 10-20 hours a month.
My hope is to share the responsibility of ministry and to invite more people to be a part of making Anthem Church happen. We are asking everyone who calls Anthem Church their home, to contribute on a Sunday at least once a month. We recognize that there is a huge amount of ministry that happens outside of Sunday, and we appreciate the commitments that many of you have made to serving in those ways. This is specifically presenting the Sunday roles and asking you all to help fill them. If everyone who calls Anthem Church their home commits to serving 1-2 times a month, we would have an abundance of help, easy rotations, and the ability to serve our brothers and sisters who have been serving diligently by giving them the opportunity to participate in worship together with the body.
Our team leaders for the Sunday needs that we have are
Jenny Haseth and Sarah Coleman for Anthem Kids
Ryan Hinkle and Mary Hawblitzel for First Impressions (Setup, Tear Down, Coffee, Welcome, Greeters)
Ryan Hinkle for producing/tech
If you missed being at Anthem Church today (Sunday, Nov 4th), watch the video and contact one of our directors to get involved in serving. Thank you for calling Anthem Church home and for seeing God continue to stir us to greater mission!