Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Jesus- Dragon Slayer

In the last week or so I have heard several sermons on the radio and in my own church about Satan and demons.  I have had multiple conversations on the topic in recent days. I think this is interesting because it is not a topic I typically talk a lot about.  Again and again though, it has come into my path.

The Bible is not unclear that Satan exists.  He is described as the liar, murderer, accuser, deceiver, dragon.  He is obviously engaged in a spiritual battle that we can't see but effects us every day.  I want to share just a few words today to acknowledge that we as Christians need to embrace the reality of this truth without shame.  This is another of those places where secularists in our society would rather laugh at our "foolishness" than actually talk about reality.  Christians as a result find themselves apologizing for believing in such a foolish notion.  We mustn't feel that way.  Again, the wisdom of God, the Bible, is not unclear on the issue.

On the other hand, many Christians begin to look for Satan everywhere and attribute to him God-like qualities.  I have heard Christians praying to Satan, yes praying to Satan, as they "bind" him cast him away.  This is also unhealthy and dangerous, and blasphemous.  So how should we think about the devil?

I like to think of him in the terms of David and Goliath.  What?  I don't mean we are David and we will slay the giant.  No, I mean that Goliath represented Satan and David was fulfilled in Jesus.  When David had taken off the head of Goliath he took his armor back and hung it up for display in his tent.  (I assume it was for display...hard to use the armor of a giant on oneself.)  1Sam 17:54  And David took the head of the Philistine and brought it to Jerusalem, but he put his armor in his tent.  Where is Satan's armor?

Well, when Adam and Eve fell and God's curse was brought against them, he pointed to the seed of woman who would have his heel struck by the serpent but he would crush its head.  Jesus came and did just that.  He was bruised, but he crushed the head of the serpent.  The thought that Satan is defeated and his armor is in Jesus tent gives me a great hope.I do not tremble at the thought of Satan or his legions.  I rely on the one who has defeated them.  He may strike out like a wounded animal now, but the chains have already been prepared for him.

Let me encourage you to find your peace in the dragon slaying Jesus Christ as well!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Are you a radical or disobedient?

"Jesus calls us to a radical life, so you are either living radically or disobediently."  This was a statement I made teaching Acts chapter 4 in Sunday School last week.  Ever make a statement while teaching and then think about whether it is a true statement or not?  I hate that feeling.  Little late to be working that out now...should have asked that before the lesson.  Sometimes though, things just come unscripted, and there they are.  That is what this statement was to me.  I still think this statement is true.  Luke 9:23-24:  And he said to all, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.  (24)  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.

The thing that made me question the first statement I made is the fact that it seems to be a condemnation on the christian walk for myself, many friends and family, and millions of church goers.  Am I living in disobedience to Jesus call on my life if I am not living radically?  Yes!  This was understood by those who walked with Jesus...read Acts chapter 4.  (all of Acts actually) James said it this way, "friendship with the world is enmity with God."  If we are not living counter culturally, then we are living counter Godly.  It's not just James, read Paul's charge: 

1Co 4:9-16  For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men.  (10)  We are fools for Christ's sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute.  (11)  To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless,  (12)  and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure;  (13)  when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things.  (14)  I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children.  (15)  For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel.  (16)  I urge you, then, be imitators of me.

He is exhorting the Corinthian believers who are living wise, strong, honored lives.  They have plenty to eat and drink and wear.  They have homes to live in and protect them from the elements.  Their work provides for themselves and their families needs.  They face little persecution for the sake of Christ and when someone speaks ill of them there is a level of indignation.  They are not really treated all that badly by the unbelieving world.  What in that description does not apply to me and to you?  Paul acknowledges that they have a lot of teachers telling them a lot of things.  There are some who teach that this is the way you should live.  "You are a child of the king so live like a prince."  These teachers failed to see the Prince, and hear his call.  Paul says imitate me!  Be like me, be thought foolish, weak, and with a bad reputation.  Go where you may not have food and drink and clothes.  Let your work provide for the needs of ministry not just blessing your family.  Be persecuted and slandered and all the while bless and pray for those mistreating you.  Don't be a friend of the world
but a friend of God.

Imitate Paul as he imitates Christ.  That is the life Christ chose.  Chose!  He didn't have to live that way.  Neither did Paul, or James or anyone else.  They chose to follow Jesus.  He told them up front that to follow him would mean self denial and taking up death. I don't want to just accept this hard life if it comes upon me, I want to choose it.  Lord please rescue me from the disobedience of living like I can love God and mammon.  Let me love you!  Free me to live a radical life!  

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Can there be mercy still reserved for me?

Depth of Mercy

"Depth of mercy! Can there be
Mercy still reserved for me?
Can my God His wrath forbear,
Me, the chief of sinners, spare?

I have long withstood His grace,
Long provoked Him to His face,
Would not hearken to His calls,
Grieved Him by a thousand falls."

The hymn asks the question.  How can God possibly love me?  How can there possibly be any way that God could respond to my repeated revolts against his holiness with anything but unbridled wrath?  If you rightly understand your own heart you might ask the same question.  I love the answer.

"There for me the Savior stands,
Shows His wounds and spreads His hands.
God is love! I know, I feel;
Jesus weeps and loves me still."

Jesus gave himself that God would be just and yet we would be justified.  It is beautiful and gracious and exalts Christ above every name!!!  So where do I go from here?   Is Jesus sacrifice a get out of jail free card?  Should I go on sinning that grace may abound.

"Now incline me to repent,
Let me now my sins lament,
Now my foul revolt deplore,
Weep, believe, and sin no more." 

Lord let my sin not go unseen by me.  Let me turn from it.  Let it break my heart that I would mourn. Let me hate the life that would pull me away from your best and from you.  Let me believe and be set free.

Monday, November 21, 2011

I am arrogant

I am pretty arrogant.  Sometimes it even spills over onto my blog.  Using the word "sometimes" is probably my pride masking the fact that I should say "usually" or "always."  I don't want to be that way.  I just want the Lord to receive glory in my life.  So, I am sorry.

1Pe 5:5-11  Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble."  (6)  Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you,  (7)  casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.  (8)  Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.  (9)  Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.  (10)  And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.  (11)  To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.

I hope to share tomorrow.  Hope I can do it humbly.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Does dirt make soap dirty, or does soap make dirt clean?

When grimy hands touch a bar of soap, why do we assume the hands become clean, instead of saying the soap is now dirty? Silly question I know.  Technically I guess the soap does take on some of the dirt, but we still use the same bar the next time we want to be clean.  Consider this passage about uncleanness touching the pure one.

Mat 9:20-22  And behold, a woman who had suffered from a discharge of blood for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment,  (21)  for she said to herself, "If I only touch his garment, I will be made well."  (22)  Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, "Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well." And instantly the woman was made well.

This account is found as Jesus is on his way to raise the dead daughter of a ruler who has come to ask Jesus for help.  Jesus is on his way to accomplish a great spiritual miracle.  This woman was suffering. Not only did she suffer from this physical condition, but this condition must have had an isolating effect on her life.  She was perpetually ceremonial unclean.  She could not go to the temple.  She couldn't be touched by those going to the temple.  She must have been avoided in large part, and for twelve years.  Then an amazing thing happens.  She considers Jesus.  She thinks she can be healed if only she can touch the fringe of his garment.   Wait, this could be disastrous.  A Jewish man like Jesus gave great significance to the fringe of his garment.  God had commanded in the law:

Num 15:37-40  The LORD said to Moses,  (38)  "Speak to the people of Israel, and tell them to make tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and to put a cord of blue on the tassel of each corner.  (39)  And it shall be a tassel for you to look at and remember all the commandments of the LORD, to do them, not to follow after your own heart and your own eyes, which you are inclined to whore after.  (40)  So you shall remember and do all my commandments, and be holy to your God.

The fringe of Jesus garment would have had these tassels which were a reminder to obey the righteous requirements of the law.  They represented a setting apart, a holiness before God.  Some of the Pharisees would extend the length of these things out of pride and self exaltation.  "They were really holy!" So this unclean woman thought she could be made clean and whole if she could be connected, even slightly, to the righteousness of Jesus.  And she was right!

It is an amazing thing when uncleanness touches Jesus.  Any other person she touched would have been left ceremonial unclean and need to begin the regimen of washing.  Not Jesus.  Her uncleanness touched Jesus righteousness and she was cleansed.  Her bleeding stopped.  This is an obvious picture of sin.  We all carry an isolating uncleanness that keeps us from approaching God.  The way to be brought close is to be made righteous, clean and whole by the righteousness of Jesus Christ.  Let us reach out to Him today.

God has no hands but our hands...say what?

"God has no hands but our hands.  God has no feet but our feet."  I heard this phrase in a sermon I was listening to on the way in to the office this morning. The preacher was Liam Goligher, but in his defense, he was being as critical of that statement as I intend to be in this post.  Liam made a statement as he is preaching out of 1 Samuel, "when you make this statement you are saying your god is no bigger than Dagon."  I have to agree.  Many in the church today seem to have adopted the self reliant attitude of our humanistic society.  This statement goes further than saying "I can rely upon myself" and moves to "God must rely on me too."  

I appreciate the desire to find us as God's people serving and not just talking.  I appreciate that we are the body of Christ and need to be actively involved in missions and serving and all that God would have us be a part of.  But we must be careful not to approach God with such a heart as to picture him as dependent upon us.  (Act 17:24-25  The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man,  (25)  nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.)  Our lives are wrapped up in him, not the other way around.

In Psalm 50 we read of God coming to judge his people Israel.  He draws powerfully and impressively before the people and renders his verdict: Psalms 50:7-15  "Hear, O my people, and I will speak; O Israel, I will testify against you. I am God, your God.  (8)  Not for your sacrifices do I rebuke you; your burnt offerings are continually before me.  (9)  I will not accept a bull from your house or goats from your folds.  (10)  For every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills.  (11)  I know all the birds of the hills, and all that moves in the field is mine.  (12)  "If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and its fullness are mine.  (13)  Do I eat the flesh of bulls or drink the blood of goats?  (14)  Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and perform your vows to the Most High,  (15)  and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me."

He does not rebuke them because of failure to sacrifice and serve him.  This they are doing.  His rebuke is that in serving him, they have thought they were providing for God.  They saw God as dependent upon their sacrifice and work.  God points out that everything they bring to him was already his and says, "offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving."  This removes the focus from us doing for God and lets us realize that God is the one who we call upon in the day of trouble, it is God who delivers us.  This is the sacrifice that gives God the glory instead of elevating ourselves.  

So go be the hands and feet of Christ...but realize he could use a rock or stone.  Thank Him for the privilege of serving him and receiving all that we need from Him.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

From suicide to life giving faith!

Please pray for the freedom and abundant life that comes through Jesus to be seen and sung throughout the world!

How free is my will?

Jos 24:15 ..."choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD."

Choose.  The Bible calls us to do it.  There is no doubt that God calls us to make a willful choice to follow him.  The difficulty with that, is that our will isn't as free as we think.  It has limitations.  I am not suggesting that God is rejecting a persons willful choice to follow him, saying "You want to repent and choose me but I have not chosen you, so no!"  Absolutely not!  The Scriptures are clear "Any who call on the name of the Lord will be saved."  The limitations I see on our will is something that comes from our ability.  I am free to do anything that I am able to do.

Take for instance me sitting down at a piano.  I have absolute freedom, right?  I can hold down any key or combination of keys for any length of time I choose.  I can rest or play as I desire.  No limitations.  I am free to do whatever I want...right?  Wrong.  I am not free to play "Flight of the Bumblebee."  I can't even play "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star."  I can't play the piano.  So my absolute freedom is not in fact absolute, it is limited by my own ability.  

Our choosing of God is also limited by our own ability.  "None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one." "Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive." "The venom of asps is under their lips." "Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.""Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.""There is no fear of God before their eyes." Sin has so marred us, that we don't even understand God, much less seek Him.

This incredible passage shows how God moved us from death to life.  Eph 2:1-9  And you were dead in the trespasses and sins  (2)  in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience--  (3)  among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.  (4)  But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us,  (5)  even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ--by grace you have been saved--  (6)  and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,  (7)  so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.  (8)  For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,  (9)  not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

I am not bringing this concept up today to join the endless theological debate.  I am bringing it up for us to revel.  God loved us so much, that in Christ he made a way for sinners and God haters to be made alive, and adopt them as his own children.  He didn't do this because we were good enough, or smart enough, or humble enough, but because of His great Love.  So choose you today whom you will serve, put your faith in Jesus Christ, confident that you are received by God through Him.  But understand, this gospel leaves no room for boasting.  There is no room for having enough spirituality to turn in faith...realize that even that is a gift of God.  

I don't want to argue, this is marvelous.  I want to worship.  I hope you will too.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Loving Jesus and serving self.

The American...Nightmare!

The American Dream!  In America we have been blessed with an abundance of physical blessing.  I was moved to tears this morning at breakfast.  My children ate the grits their mother had prepared for them just the way they like it, with sausage and cheese all mixed in.  After finishing the grits they said, we are still hungry, and their mother began making toast to finish off the remains of their hunger.  I thanked the Lord that my children would not go through this day hungry.  It is a great blessing, and I am so thankful.  Yet, I realize the danger crouching to consume me in that moment and to consume my children.  The American Dream is a ferocious monster with an appetite that even overshadows my hungry little hoard.

The American dream is the thought process that goes like this:  I need to work really hard to become successful.  When I have become successful I need to enjoy the fruit of that success all the while balancing investments to ensure continued success. I need to be constantly upgrading to bigger houses, newer cars and TVs, nicer clothing, and on it goes.  There is not much more distasteful to an American than the guy who refuses to work and just wants a hand out.  The hero is the one who works and succeeds.  But do you know what Jesus calls the mindset of the American dream? He calls this mindset foolishness!

Luk 12:15-21  And he said to them, "Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions."  (16)  And he told them a parable, saying, "The land of a rich man produced plentifully,  (17)  and he thought to himself, 'What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?'  (18)  And he said, 'I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.  (19)  And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.'  (20)  But God said to him, 'Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?'  (21)  So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God."

Jesus is clear, "life does not consist in the abundance of possessions."  He says to the rich man who was successful in obtaining "the dream" life "Fool!"  He had lived his life for himself without regard for God.  This is obviously not a call for laziness or a condemnation of those who work hard.  It is a call to honor God in our poverty and with our wealth.  It is a call to recognize that God does not (as Randy Alcorn says) grow our wealth to "increase our standard of living, but to increase our standard of giving."  David Platte likens materialism to drinking salt water.  It feels like it is meeting the need that we have, but every sip of salt water dehydrates the body further.  Thirst increases.  It will kill a man.  Wealth is that way for a man spiritually.  It feels good, but every taste only leads to wanting more and brings destruction spiritually.  Wealth causes us to depend less on God and increasingly upon ourselves.  It is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.  

Break the cycle.  Lift your eyes to that which really matters.  God does not call you to live poor miserable lives.  He calls us to live in the treasure of heaven and not to settle for the limited treasure that this world has to offer.  Mat 13:44  "The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field."  Jesus is so glorious that it truly is a joy to the man who would hold all his earthly wealth so loosely that he is freed to lay hold of the treasure of Christ!  Let us let go and lay hold today!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Mary, Martha, a Paralytic, and the Crowd who Wouldn't Let Him Pass!

Our pastor preached yesterday from Mar 2:2-12  And many were gathered together, so that there was no more room, not even at the door. And he was preaching the word to them.  (3)  And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men.  (4)  And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay.  (5)  And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "Son, your sins are forgiven."  (6)  Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts,  (7)  "Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?"  (8)  And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, "Why do you question these things in your hearts?  (9)  Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Rise, take up your bed and walk'?  (10)  But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins"--he said to the paralytic--  (11)  "I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home."  (12)  And he rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all, so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, "We never saw anything like this!"

This is an amazing passage in a lot of ways.  One of the points stood out to me was the thought that the most needy man among all the people gathered that day was unable to approach Jesus without his friends taking extraordinary effort to lower him through a roof they had demolished.  Why could he not get close?  The answer is that there was a crowd of people around every entrance eager to hear from Jesus.  They were so eager, in fact, that they chose their right to hear Jesus over the need of the paralytic.  It is an incredible thought to me.  Do I worship God in such a selfish way.  Do I come to receive...of course I do.  Do I receive in such a way as to be oblivious to the needs of others trying to come to Jesus?  Probably.  I am sorry.

I balance this passage with the passage about Mary and Martha.  Remember Luke 10:38-42  Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house.  (39)  And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to his teaching.  (40)  But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me."  (41)  But the Lord answered her, "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things,  (42)  but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her."

Martha missed the good portion because she was focused on meeting peoples needs.  Mary drew near to Jesus and chose well.  It seems completely opposite that the crowd in Mark two missed it because they refused to meet the need of another, demanding their spot before Jesus.  (granted they are never rebuked by Him) I think the key is this: There is a way to sit before Jesus that exalts Jesus and makes him the prize.  There is also a way to sit before Jesus that exalts self and prizes my own needs.  Likewise, there is a service to others that exalts Jesus and a service to others that merely exalts man.  Let us draw near to the Lord today.  Let us exalt Him.  Let us make way also, for you are not the only needy person approaching the King today.

Bob Kauflin- Disability


This is a link to a song by Bob Kauflin that ministers to those with disabilities by pointing them to all loving, all wise, all powerful God!  Love it!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Follow the Leader

I love the Scriptures.  I love when you come to a passage that you have read a thousand times and never "gotten it."  This happens a lot for me, I will humbly...and honestly...admit.  I love the moment when some clarification comes along and the passage opens up and a nugget of truth is revealed.  One of these passages for me was:

Joh 12:20-26  Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks.  (21)  So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, "Sir, we wish to see Jesus."  (22)  Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus.  (23)  And Jesus answered them, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.  (24)  Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.  (25)  Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.  (26)  If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.

This passage always had me scratching my head because it seems like horrible storytelling or that Jesus just missed the opportunity in a big way.  What I mean is that these Greeks come to Jerusalem to worship and they go to Philip; he sounds approachable.  they tell him they want to see Jesus.  Phillip takes their request to Andrew who takes it to the Lord.  Jesus answer then apparently shoots out some other direction like he never heard the request that was made of him.  He starts talking about his own death and the fruit it will bear, he challenges his followers to do just that...follow him.  I can picture Andrew thinking "so...what should I tell Phillip to tell the Greeks?"  "Is that a yes or no?"

I know that the story is told just as it needs to be told and I know Jesus is not missing anything, so I was praying and asking God to show me how Jesus response is answering the request the Greeks brought to him.  Then, there it was.  Jesus came for the Jews.  Sure, he shared some crumbs that fell from the table to gentiles like Greeks, but his ministry was to the Jew first.  The gospel has always been  God's promise for all the families of the earth and gives hope to all peoples and nations, but Jesus personal earthly ministry was primarily among the Jewish people.  

His answer then goes something like this.  "It is time for me to be glorified.  That is, to be seen and worshiped by everyone, just like these Greeks.  My glory will be seen amazingly in my suffering and death.  This is the most magnificent display of my glory.  But my death won't be alone, it will like a seed grow up and bear more fruit.  That fruit will also be willing to follow me in suffering and death. It is those disciples who will be showing Jesus to the Greeks."  The Greeks will be killing Jesus "body" just like the Jews killed Jesus.  In both cases Jesus would be magnified.  

Are you a follower of Jesus Christ?  Really?  You realize that to follow Jesus is to choose a road of suffering.  He did say "If anyone would come after me he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me."  You can't follow Jesus and seek a life of comfort and ease.  "You can't serve God and Mammon."  I think as modern Christians we hear words like that from Jesus and we wouldn't say it out loud but we think "oh yeah, watch me."  We think we can follow Jesus and serve our own desires.  

Here is the call, ringing from the keyboard of a convicted hypocrite...let us follow! Choose the road that requires self denial and crosses.  Let these difficulties seem light and momentary as we hope in eternity with Christ.  Let us lay aside every sin and hindrance and let us run with endurance the race that has been set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith! As we follow him down that road the Greeks (and every other tribe and tongue) will see Jesus in us.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Does God ask you to do hard things?

As a pastor I have the opportunity to do a lot of different kinds of counselling.  I counsel with husbands and wives who are struggling with their marriage.  I struggle with parents who are struggling with their children   I counsel with children striving to make the right decisions.  I counsel with the grieving.  I counsel with the recovering.  I counsel with the addict.  I counsel with the offended.  I counsel with the offender.  All of these situations, and the many specific situations that arise, are so varied and different that each case must be handled carefully and individually.  No pat answer is a one size fits all answer.  I have noticed one theme that runs throughout each of these situations however.  Before I can tell you what it is I have to give a little ground work.

I may meet with an unbeliever, in fact I often do.  I can not do Biblical counseling with someone though, who has rejected or remains undecided about the gospel of Jesus Christ.  I will meet again and again and again with an unbeliever, but it will always be to seek their salvation in Jesus Christ.  I will always seek to evangelize that person.  I can't move on to tell someone how to live who has no life.  It is hard to "pretty up" a corpse.  The Bible describes our condition before Christ as "dead in our trespasses and sins."

So that said, know that whether I am counselling a husband, wife, parent, child, offender, offended, or anybody else, I am counselling someone who has acknowledged that they are alive in Christ and that they are seeking do walk obediently with Him.  When we look at the scriptures in their very different situations, the common thread is revealed by the common response..."but that is hard."  I hear these words in almost every counselling session.

It is hard to forgive.  It is hard to love sacrificially.  It is hard to submit.  It is hard to seek forgiveness.  It is hard to... fill in the blank.  Often this is an excuse leveled against me in our discussion as to why the counselee could never be expected to do what I am describing to them the Bible says.  In all honesty, I too seem to lean on the excuse "it is hard" as a reason why God would not really expect me to do the things He makes clear in His word.

Here's the shocker.  God often times calls us to do hard things.  In fact it is rare that doing the right, God honoring thing, is easy. This does not excuse us from doing it though.  Hear the promise:

Deu 30:9-14  The LORD your God will make you abundantly prosperous in all the work of your hand, in the fruit of your womb and in the fruit of your cattle and in the fruit of your ground. For the LORD will again take delight in prospering you, as he took delight in your fathers,  (10)  when you obey the voice of the LORD your God, to keep his commandments and his statutes that are written in this Book of the Law, when you turn to the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.  (11)  "For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off.  (12)  It is not in heaven, that you should say, 'Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?'  (13)  Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, 'Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?'  (14)  But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.

Did you hear that promise?  Believer, you are a new creation.  You are a child of God walking in the newness of life.  The Holy Spirit is with you.  Do not believe the lie that would say "obedience to God is too hard."  The life of blessing is near to you today!  Take hold of it.  Do the hard thing God is setting before you!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Is your church a thermometer or thermostat?

I have been reading the book by John Piper "Bloodlines."  I can't review a book that I haven't yet finished, but I have thoroughly appreciated the book thus far.  I have wept.  I have been convicted.  I have been challenged to understand things I have never considered.  I can't recommend this book highly enough...for having not finished it yet.  Early on in the book Piper begins with a representation of Martin Luther King Jr.  The book is dealing with race and the gospel...where else would you start?  Piper squishes these two quotes by Martin Luther King together and I think the point is clear.  

"There was a time when the church was very powerful. It was during that period when the early Christians rejoiced when they were deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed in. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society."

"If the church does not recapture its prophetic zeal, it will become an irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority. If the church does not participate actively in the struggle for peace and for economic and racial justice, it will forfeit the loyalty of millions and cause men everywhere to say that it has atrophied its will."

Turns out to be a pretty prophetic voice.  Many churches today are obsesses with developing the best techniques to know what will be the least offensive message to bring and the most inoffensive way to present it.  MLK was right.  The gospel transforms societies.  The church that stands on the gospel will stand against those who would disregard God and his standard for purity and holiness.  When the church wants to befriend these people they forget the words of James "Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?"  

God has not been unclear in His declarations for our modern day.  Emperor worship and infanticide, were acceptable and popular in the days of the early church.  The early Christians died, standing against it.  Racism was clearly wrong even though some churches argued for its institutions.  Whatever argument is made today trying to validate abortion, homosexuality, or a myriad of other issues, the church is called to stand (and keep standing) for truth!  

If your church is a thermometer that is just reflecting back the values that are popular in our society, it may be big and popular...but it is not really a church.  It has become a social club that has lost moral authority.  That authority is grounded in Gods word...depart from it, and there is nothing left.  But it is not enough to simply refuse to mimic the values of a godless society.  We must strive to engage and change.  I am convinced this change will not be accomplished in the voting booth.  It will come by Jesus Christ and his glorious gospel.  that is why the church must be bringing the message.  A thermostat works to understand the temperature of society...and then works to bring it where it needs to be.  

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Would You Dare Ask God for Something?

The story I am about to tell is not my original thought.  I can't however remember where I read this illustration.  It has impacted me powerfully, but I am sorry I can not attribute the story to the source.

Imagine with me that you have a really wealthy rich uncle who loves you very much.  He calls you on the phone and invites you to a home that he has had built for you.  That's right, he has built a home with you in mind.  No strings attached, he wants you to come and receive the home.  You travel to his, well..., your new home and it is amazing.  It is everything you could hope for in a home.  Your uncle has spared no expense.  When you enter the home you see that he not only built the home, but he has furnished it.  He has taken great care to know your preferences and the whole house is furnished better than you could have done it yourself.  You tour your new home with amazement and come finally to the dining room.  When you come in you find that your uncle has prepared a celebratory meal to welcome you.  All your favorites are on the table, it is a grand feast.  As you sit to enjoy the meal you reach for the salt and pepper.  Now you realize that your uncle has forgotten one detail.  There are no salt and pepper shakers on the table.  Then you ask, "Uncle, can you please provide me with a salt and pepper shaker?"

This imaginary uncle may respond in one of two ways.  Maybe he will be offended.  Maybe he will call you a discontent ingrate and lecture you about counting the blessings he has provided instead of focusing on the one detail you are without.  You will appreciate the gift he has given even as you flush with the embarrassment of having been shamed with your inconsiderate approach to your uncle.  Or perhaps he will respond differently.  Maybe he will survey the table and with a chuckle in his voice he will say, "I failed to get the shakers?" He will will say I have given all these good things to you, of course it would be my joy to add such a small detail to the gift.  You will enjoy your meal and realize you have a good uncle.

With all stories, you can't make all details into direct parallels.  I want to ask you to consider which kind of uncle best represents your view of God.  Obviously God is not the kind of God to forget any detail, however small, so it doesn't carry straight across, but I want you to consider how you view God.  Do you think God receives our approach to make a request of him with resentment or with joy and grace?

Can I suggest that the God of the Bible seems better represented by the second uncle's reaction. Romans 8:31-32  "What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?  (32)  He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?"  He has given his best, what would he now withhold?  He invites our requests.  Luke 11:9-10  "And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.  (10)  For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened."  He goes further to say Luke 11:11-13  "What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent;  (12)  or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?  (13)  If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!""  If sinful fathers can lovingly bless their children see how a sinless God blesses his children with all good things...and best of all, he gives himself.

I hope you will approach with confidence God's throne of grace.  I hope you will come as His child through Jesus Christ.  Yes come humbly, but because of God's goodness you don't have to fear you are being presumptuous to ask.  You have been invited!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Stinkin' Thinkin'!

Jesus was walking out of the temple when he came across a man who was born with a disability.  He sees a man who has been blind from birth. John 9:1  "As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth."  That is in itself, remarkable.  Jesus saw a man.  I was just visiting with a friend whose son is paralyzed with cerebral palsy who was discussing the joy it gives him when someone sees his son and engages him instead of looking away or looking through him.  Jesus saw this man.  He saw him as a man.

The disciples didn't so much see a man, they saw an opportunity for a theological discussion.  They didn't necessarily even care who it hurt. John 9:2  "And his disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?""  That's what the good ol' revival preachers used to call stinkin' thinkin'.  They assumed his disability, his blindness, must be a result of his or his parents sin.  Jesus gives a quick refuting of this thought process which still wields a great deal of destruction for many in the church today, and shows why this suffering had come into this mans life. John "9:3  Jesus answered, "It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him."  Wow, this man's suffering is a unique opportunity for God to display his glory!  It has been a hard privilege.

In fact Jesus does a Christ exalting miracle in this mans life.  He gives him eyes that can see.  Then he gives him spiritual eyes that begin to see more and more.  By the end of the story this man is worshiping Jesus.  John 9:38  "He said, "Lord, I believe," and he worshiped him."  Even as this miracle was in the works we see the influence of the stinkin' thinkin' that has marred this mans psyche.  He has the same understanding of God as the disciples when he responds to the Pharisees back in John 9:31  "We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him."  The implication of that statement is blind worshipers get to see while blind sinners stay blind.  If you are blind or suffering then you must be a sinner.  You or your parents?

My hope is that Jesus rescued him from those scars.  I hope he was given eyes to see the glorious Jesus who came and died for us while we were yet sinners.  I hope his eyes were opened to see not his own approach to righteousness but the miracle of Jesus declaring him righteous.  My hope and prayer is that you, reader, might come to see and worship Jesus this way too.  


Tuesday, November 1, 2011

A Disabled Person's Great Need.

Until four months ago I was (I am ashamed to say) almost completely unaware of the needs of the disabled people in my community and their families and caregivers.  The horizon of my world expanded a bit when my my son was born two months premature.  For weeks we had been at our local hospital trying to stop my wife's contractions but nearing the end of June nothing was to be done.  We awoke early in the morning, my wife was flown to the nearest large city that had a NICU that could provide the care a baby born so early would need.  The concern was his lungs.  When a baby is born that early, it is hard to know how developed their lungs will be.

I can remember the day clearly.  By the time I got to the hospital my wife was under an hour away from delivering our son.  As he was delivered the room sprung into activity.  Nurses and doctors were caring for my wife and for our baby boy.  I tried to find my peace in the Lord as we waited to hear how he was breathing and how everything else was looking.  The next few moments were incredible.  His lungs were healthy, he was breathing fine.  His heart looks good!  the reports came in one after the other in a matter of minutes.  The doctor relayed the news, everything looks good.  And then, without even looking up she said "And you know we think he has Downs Syndrome right?"  No, we hadn't done any screening, I was floored by the news.  All the good news was rolling in and then this seemed to come crashing in like some joke that I didn't get.

Over the next few days I sought to bless my wife, bless our other four children, and try to read as much information as I could get my hands on about Downs Syndrome.  Most of the medical information I read was pretty bleak.  I thought it could have been written by Rabshakeh outside the walls.  One percentage after another was given to describe the heart defect I should expect, the intestinal issues that would probably require surgery, the hearing issues, the developmental difficulties...on and on it went.  I had to come to a place where I recognized that the God who delivered my son safely into this world, would see him through this life, whatever difficulties lay ahead.

These were the words I tearfully read in the NICU as I watched my son sleep under the lights and hooked up to all the equipment.  Psalm 71:5-6 " For you, O Lord, are my hope, my trust, O LORD, from my youth.  (6)  Upon you I have leaned from before my birth; you are he who took me from my mother's womb. My praise is continually of you."  I know hard times may lay ahead, but we will trust the Lord in them.

As I mentioned, my horizon expanded that day.  I have the hope of Jesus Christ to walk through this season.  Many organizations reached out to us, some were very gracious and much appreciated.  None offered the hope of Jesus Christ; the hope and help that comes in the gospel.  So God has allowed us to begin a Disabilities ministry through our church.  I am excited for the opportunity to see Christ magnified in the disabled community.  The Gospel of Jesus Christ is a disabled persons greatest need.

I think that is made evident in Luke 5.  Some men bring to Jesus a paralyzed man.  Jesus has compassion of the man and speaks his grace to meet his greatest need.  Luke 5:18-20  "And behold, some men were bringing on a bed a man who was paralyzed, and they were seeking to bring him in and lay him before Jesus,  (19)  but finding no way to bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the midst before Jesus.  (20)  And when he saw their faith, he said, "Man, your sins are forgiven you.""

Jesus forgave his sins.  of course he wasn't done, he would also bring healing to his body, but if the story had ended right there, Jesus would have given the paralyzed man the best he had to offer.  He removed his sin, no barrier remained for him to walk with God for all eternity.  A few years of laying paralyzed would become "light and momentary affliction" in the eternity with almighty God.  I don't make light of his disability or anyone else's.  I mean to highly exalt the glory of Jesus Christ over any of the trials of this life.

I hope you know this Jesus. I hope you have found in him the forgiveness of your sins that you might walk with him forever!