Here is sermon #2 in a series I began a couple weeks ago in Weaverville, called "Confidence In Prayer." The series is based on The Lord's Prayer from the book of Matthew, and this sermon starts us off on line one, "Our Father who is in heaven." Enjoy!

Confidence in Prayer: Our Father from Neighborhood Church of Redding on Vimeo.

THE CLIFF & THE NET ~ 6/25/10

Two squirrels ran side-by-side on an open plain. They were surrounded by many, many other running squirrels. They all ran in the same direction.

The two squirrels running together were friends. They had been for some time. But as close as they were to each other, they saw the world differently.

One squirrel was named Hank. Hank believed in things. Things he couldn’t see or prove or grab hold of. The other squirrel was named Sam. Sam only lived for what he could see. For Sam, belief was an unnecessary thing, because to him it sounded a whole lot like guessing. To Sam, there was no need to guess about the world. It was plain as day, all around them. What you could see, what you could touch—that was real. Nothing more.

One day, as Sam and Hank ran along on the open plain, two squirrels among many, Hank spoke.

“Sam, the squirrels ahead of us have been talking.”

“They always talk. So what?”

“Well,” said Hank, “they say they’ve heard news from the squirrels in front.”

This troubled Sam. This troubled Sam because he couldn’t see those squirrels. The squirrels just ahead he could see. But not the squirrels in front. Sam wanted to argue about this, but Hank had roused his curiosity. He wanted to know what the squirrels in front were saying.

“What did they say?” he asked.

“They say that at the end of this plain is a cliff,” said Hank. “A big, tall cliff.”

“And--?” prompted Sam, pretending to humor Hank, but really caring very much.

“And,” continued Hank, “they say all the squirrels before them ran right off it. They fell.”

Sam considered this news. It was not good news. But it wasn’t proven news either. He couldn’t see the squirrels in front, and he certainly couldn’t see any cliff. All he could see was the plain, and the other squirrels running near him. The news from the squirrels in front could be a lie. Or it could be a joke. Granted, it would be a bad joke. But still… something told him it was true. There had been rumors of this sort of thing before, passed backwards from somewhere up ahead, traveling rearward from mouth to mouth, squirrel to squirrel... And at that very moment, something deep inside Sam knew instinctively this plain would, in fact, end. At that moment he believed that every squirrel would one day stop running and fall. And a sadness came over Sam.

He looked up to see Hank watching him. “There’s more,” Hank said.

“Tell me,” said Sam.

“Well… they also say there’s a net. They say that if we all just keep left, just keep leaning and running and steering to the left, that there’s a big, huge net, ready to catch falling squirrels. They say there’s a safety net on the left side of the cliff.”

At this, Sam snorted out loud. He couldn’t help himself. A cliff was one thing. It made sense. It was somehow inevitable, logical. They couldn’t just go on running forever, after all. It made sense to him that all of this would someday end. But a net?

“You’re nuts,” Sam said.

“Please," pleaded Hank, "don’t make me hungry. Besides, what harm does it do to believe in a net?”

“You’re kidding, right?” said Sam with raised eyebrows. “You’ll drive everyone crazy. We’re all going our own way. No one wants to be told to change direction.”

“But…” stuttered Hank—“It doesn’t matter what way the other squirrels are going… if what the squirrels in front say is true, every way ends at the cliff… except the one way that ends at the net.”

But Sam had stopped listening and was busy running his own way.

After that, Hank and Sam debated off and on about the cliff and the net. Hank believed in both. Because Hank believed in things. Things he couldn’t see or prove or grab hold of. But Sam only believed in the cliff. Because he reasoned that some squirrel up ahead could actually have seen the edge coming in time to relay information backwards, to the squirrels behind, and so on. But a net? How could anyone know about that? How could a squirrel communicate after falling off the cliff? It just didn’t make sense to Sam.

As the weeks wore on, the two friends grew further and further apart. Because Hank was always leaning to the left. But Sam kept going his own way. Finally, one day, in desperation, Hank made his final plea. He didn’t want to lose his friend. They were almost out of sight of each other as it was.

“Sam,” shouted Hank, “please run to the left.”

“Why?” Sam yelled back in response, “It’s pointless. There’s just no proof of a net.”

Hank was not a learned squirrel. He was not a scholar. He was simple and furry and gray, and he was at the end of his cleverness. All he had left was his love for a friend.

“What have you got to lose by running to the left?” Hank pleaded. “If I’m right and there’s a net, we’re both saved. And if I’m wrong… well, then, you and I both end up over the cliff with all the rest of the squirrels. We fall, but at least we fall trying. But if you keep running your own way, and you’re wrong about the net…” he swallowed hard—“then you lose everything!” Hank held his breath, waiting for Sam to speak. Nothing.

“Sam?” Hank shouted—“Can you hear me? SAM?!”

But there was no response.

Two squirrels ran further and further apart on an open plain. They were surrounded by many, many other running squirrels, and they all ran towards a big, tall cliff. But to the left was a net.


Routines are funny things. They function to keep us engaged in our world, in touch; they are steps, one after the other, built into the staircase of life. Routines keep our teeth from rotting out of our heads. They keep our children fed and our hair combed, our bodies clothed, armpits bathed, and, if we’re wise, remind us to show up in church once a week on Sundays. Routines keep us sane and the world turning. Routines keep us coming back for more.

My wife and I took a trip to Sacramento today, stopping in Willows on the way home to spend some time with her family. I like coming here because it represents for me a break from those times routines stop being helpful and world-turning and turn instead on their masters like a pack of rabid dogs. Routines can do that. They’re fickle friends.

But even this small break is itself part of a larger routine cycle. We come down from our mountain home every couple months and sojourn to Sacramento to deal with some recurring medical appointments for our youngest son, Aaron. He was born three years ago with some minor physical defects, had his first plane ride to UC Davis on day one and his first operation on day three of ‘life on the outside.’ Since then, this gem of a child has endured DNA testing, additional surgery, multiple therapists a week, the ominous rumblings of autism and, this weekend, his second MRI. The bottom-line is the doctors don’t know why our dear boy is ‘delayed’ the way he is. So… we keep praying, keep sojourning and keep embedding ourselves willingly into this larger cog of a routine in hopes of eventually figuring out... ‘why?’ and then, presumably, ‘what’s next?’

In the meantime—each time we make this trip— we stop here, in Willows, at the In-laws. Their home is situated almost exactly halfway between ‘here’ and ‘there,’ an oasis of crazy and quirky and calm that sits like the last flashlight with batteries on the way across the valley of the shadow of death. And while we’re here, we settle into other routines. While we’re here, our boys always feed the horses. And chase the cats. And get yelled at for chasing the cats. While we’re here, our dog always tries to run away when he’s left outside, and when he’s brought inside he always sits staring at the guinea pigs in their cage. He drools when he does this. Always. It’s his routine.

We disrupted our routine-away-from-routine slightly today by deciding to stay overnight in Willows. This agitates Joey, one of my brothers-in-law who was adopted as a child from Ecuador. He’s mostly deaf and has albinism, obsessive-compulsive tendencies, and many, many other delays of his own. The normal time of our departure comes and goes, but we haven’t left yet, and Joey becomes agitated. My father-in-law comments on this as we watch Joey pace. If routine for the rest of us is a seatbelt in a crashing car, for Joey it is the car itself. Crash the car and you potentially crash his day. Our youngest son Aaron can be the same way. Once you initiate the ‘goodbye sequence,’ for example, the lift-off cannot be aborted, or we risk total and complete meltdown. Routine keeps the world turning, but it can turn on you too. Like I said, it’s a funny thing and a fickle friend.

On the topic of funny routines now, my father-in-law tells me about his two little Dachshunds, Russel and Tucker, and how every morning when he lets them outside to use the bathroom they go running to the far fence to bark at the horses and donkeys that… have lived with the family for years. But still, they do this every morning. Then, having sated their primal need to prove their ancestors were indeed wolves and not rats, they come waddling back to the front porch, pencil-thin tails waving proudly behind them. There is a sacred beauty in routine, no doubt about it. Like the reassuring lap of waves on a seashore, some measure of predictability is a gift to fragile psyches trying to survive in an ever-changing world. But today, just at dusk, I glimpsed the beauty in change, the glory in broken routine.

We had moved outdoors to lawn chairs as evening came on, and a steady breeze blew the heat and mosquitoes northward towards Redding. I watched as encroaching shadows made the top leaves of a giant pecan tree dance like silhouette puppets against the pale blue backdrop of the valley sky. To the left of the tree, a crescent moon played hide and seek with Venus as it rose behind clouds of pink elephants fading. And that’s when the children ran.

Our oldest son Nathan loves playing with Aaron, and their favorite game is tag. Of course, little Aaron almost never catches Nathan, who runs like a gazelle, but does he care? To Aaron, the joy is in the running, and to parents who prayed to God our little boy would someday walk, our joy is in the running too. So they ran, and our hearts felt full, but as beautiful as that was, it wasn’t yet the glory. While our boys ran and shrieked, their uncle Joey sat mute and pensive, watching. I’ve never seen Joey do anything even remotely approximating a run. ‘He has balance issues’ explained my father-in-law, apparently reading my thoughts—“running is uncomfortable for him.’ Just then, however, Joey made a sign for ‘running’ at his father. His dad looked genuinely surprised, but nodded his head in encouragement. Joey then turned, facing my children, and seemed to collect himself for a moment. Then, with a gait both awkward and beautiful, he began running towards them and out of the shackles of routine. Instantly, he was accepted into their game. Shrieks of laughter, huge smiles and simple fun made magical, they all stumbled around together in a shabby circle of joy.

We live in a world of routine, and it helps us to survive, but I wondered as I watched their faces how many times it also keeps us prisoner? Because I’ve never seen running look so much like dancing.

Surrounded By Grace,



During the “Grill Bill” series at church, Pastor Bill received so many questions he couldn’t fit them all into the sermon series. As a result, he split the remaining questions up between staff and pastors at Neighborhood. This is the first of four questions I was asked to answer…

Q: I often hear people pray, "Let God's will be done and not my own." What is God's will? How do we know it IS God's will and NOT our own? Thanks for this obviously important question! I’d like to answer in 2 parts; on a ‘big picture’ level and then on a smaller scale. First, the big picture.

A few weeks back, Community Life Pastor Jim Botts preached a great message about discovering God’s will for our lives. His “big idea” for the entire sermon was this: “God’s will is for God’s people to live as God’s beloved.” What does it mean to ‘live as God’s beloved?’ Jim explained that the best picture we have of a person living as God’s beloved is the picture of the life of Jesus. If you desire to live life according to God’s will, you can bet Jesus did too! And if Jesus lived a perfect, God-pleasing life, as the Bible clearly affirms, you can bet that means Jesus lived His entire life in harmony with the will of God. So what are some big picture things we can expect to be God’s will for the life of every Christian based on the life of Jesus? Jim suggests that the way Jesus interacted with bread four times in the gospels was meant to be a summary description of God’s will for His beloved Jesus—meaning it’s also a prediction of what God’s will is for all Christians. Each time Jesus interacted with bread (Example: Matthew 14:19), He 1) Took it (chose it), 2) Blessed it, 3) Broke it, 4) Gave it. So… what is God’s will? God’s wants you to choose Him; He has already chosen you (Deuteronomy 14:2). God wants to bless you, and He has already blessed you in Jesus Christ (Luke 3:22). God wants to break you (Hebrews 12:6) so that, like a re-set bone, you can heal properly and, as a result, grow to be a source of healing and life for others (John 20:21). If you’ve ever prayed for God’s will to be done in your life, you’ve asked for these four things. If you’ve ever wondered what God’s will is for your life, it’s these four things.

Now for part 2, which I’m guessing is closer to what you’re getting at with your question. When people ask questions about “God’s will”—they’re usually wondering about God’s will for the next day. Or for their job interview. Or His will regarding a sick friend or family member. More often than not, the real, nitty-gritty questions about God’s will have to do with the way life is affecting us and those we love on a day-to-day basis. At this level, questions about God’s will are more about trying to figure out what He wants regarding specific situations than about figuring out our overall life purpose.

Before you read any further, please understand that as Christians, we obviously want to live our entire lives “in the will of God.” If we love God, we will want what He wants. However, all too often I‘ve seen and heard Christians so afraid they’re not ‘praying God’s will’ when it comes to specific situations that they neglect to pray at all! Or, if they do pray, their prayers are timid and full of emergency exits designed to give God a gracious ‘out’ to save face in case what we want isn’t what He wants. These kinds of prayers do not promote much confidence in the power of God. That being said, the following steps I’m suggesting are made with the belief that prayer is God’s gift to help us express our wills to Him with CONFIDENCE, and without fear of messing up His sovereign ends.


1) Ask Him! God will often guide you to an answer as you read the Bible. Is there a clear, spiritual principle set forth in the Bible that addresses your situation?

a. If so, you have your answer—that is God’s will (EX. ‘What is God’s will for my finances?’ ~ SEE Genesis 28:20-22, 1 Timothy 6:10, etc.).

2) If there is no specific Biblical position, do YOU have a preference for the outcome? Ask for it boldly! (Hebrews 4:16)

a. Go to God with the desire of your heart (Psalm 37:4) letting Matthew 7:7 be your default attitude of prayer. The best example we have of this is Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. He very clearly asked God for his own preferred outcome, to avoid the pain of the cross (Matthew 26:39).

3) If you pray the desire of your heart and your preferred outcome isn’t the result,

a. It’s helpful to use other Scriptures about prayer as a self-diagnostic tool:

i. Is your heart close to Jesus? (John 15:7)

ii. Do you have unconfessed sin? (Psalm 66:18, James 5:16)

iii. Are you ignoring or rejecting God’s Word? (Proverbs 28:9)

iv. Does God want you to act like part of a larger body, asking for help? (James 5:16, 1 Corinthians 12:20,21)

b. Sometimes, when one or more of these issues are dealt with, the answer comes. If you still don’t receive your preferred outcome, God is clearly “closing the door” on that desire, at least for now. Surrender the situation completely to God, letting Him know you trust Him with whatever the outcome. This is how the prayer of Jesus ended in the Garden of Gethsemane. After asking for his desire, it’s clear Jesus understood the door to that desire was firmly closed. So he ended his prayer-- “not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39).

God’s will for our lives is mainly revealed through the Bible and through prayer. Remain close to Him and He will never fail to ‘lead you in the paths of righteousness, for His name’s sake’ (Psalm 23:3).

Surrounded By Grace,


I’ve been reading a book about sanctification (the process of being made holy) recently, written by the founder of our denomination (The Christian and Missionary Alliance), Dr. A.B. Simpson. The book is called “Wholly Sanctified,” and for my post this week I thought I’d share with you an excerpt from chapter one that I found to be a refreshing, encouraging reminder. Be blessed!

In the upper portion of our metropolis many of our citizens may often have noticed, especially in the past years, a great number of miserable shanties, standing on the choicest sites, perhaps on the corner of a splendid new avenue, looking out on a magnificent prospect, but the house was utterly unworthy of the site. Suppose that a millionaire should want to purchase this site, and that the owner should begin, before giving possession, to repair the old shanty for the new owner, putting fresh thatch on the miserable roof and a new coat of whitewash on the dirty walls. How the purchaser would laugh at him and say, “My friend, I do not want your miserable old wreck of a tenement fixed up like this. At the best it will only be a shanty when you have done all you can to it and I will never live in it. All I want is the ground, the site, and when I get it I will raze the old heap of rubbish to the foundations, and dig deep down to the solid rock before I build my splendid mansion. I will then build from the base my own new house according to my own magnificent plan. I do not want a vestige of your house, all that I require is the situation.” This is exactly what God wants of us and waits to do in us.

The literal translation of the old Hebrew word to consecrate is “to fill the hand.” It suggests the deepest truth in connection with sanctification, viz., that Christ Himself must be the substance and supply of our new spiritual life and fills us with His own Spirit and holiness. After the most sincere consecration, we are but an empty possibility which He must make real. Even our consecration itself must look to Him for grace to make it faultless and acceptable. Even our will must be purified and kept single and supremely fixed on Him, by His continual grace. Our purity must be the imparting of His life; our peace, His peace within us; our love, the love of God shed abroad in our hearts. Our very faith, which receives all His grace, must be continually supplied from His own Spirit. We bring to Him but an empty hand, clean and open, and He fills it. We are but a capacity and He is the supply. We give ourselves to Him fully, understanding that we do not pledge the strength or goodness required to meet our consecration, but that we take Him for all, and He takes us, fully recognizing the responsibility which He assumes to make us all that He requires and keep us in all His perfect will as we let Him through the habit of full surrender. What an exquisite rest this gives to the trusting heart and what an infinite grace on His part to meet us on such terms and bear for us so vast a responsibility! -- A.B. Simpson, Wholly Sanctified


Surrounded By Grace,
*Grace induces faith & Grace is obligated to faith ~