Sunday, December 23, 2007

A Blog Vacation

To all my fans out there I wanted to let you know that I am taking an extended vacation from blogging. Don't worry I will be back, but with Christmas and two weeks visiting my girlfriend and her family in New Mexico I thought it would be best if I didn't have the distraction/added pressure of my blog. Feel free to wander through my archives or listen to my sermons (my Christmas Sermon is What is the Fuss About?) and I will be back with you January 14, 2008. Merry Christmas and a happy New Year.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Experiencing the Impossible

The God we serve specializes in doing the impossible. He is the God who creates a universe out of nothing by saying a Word. He is the God who turns water into blood, dust into gnats, and parts the Red Sea. He is the God who causes a donkey to speak, the sun to hold still, and an axe head to float. He is the God who delivers His people from the land of Egypt; defeats tens of thousands of Midianites with 300 men who have clay jars, trumpets, and torches; who defeats a monster of a man, a seasoned warrior, with a young shepherd boy. God makes the impossible possible.

I truly believe we miss out on God making the impossible possible in our lives because we think we have God all figured out. Several years ago Erwin McManus was lecturing at a seminary and when he was finished, a young student shared with him how she had planned to go to the Northwest to help start a new church. She continued to explain that in the process she had discovered it was not the will of God. Erwin McManus asked her how she came to that conclusion, and she said, “The money never came through.” He went on to ask her who told her that lack of finances was proof that it was not God’s will. She said her pastor and her parents. They told her that if God wanted her to go, everything would be provided before she left (Seizing Your Divine Moment, p.64).

Somehow we have gotten it into our heads that if God wants us to do something than He will “open the door” to make it happen; that everything will be provided before go. We want to risk as little as possible, and in the process we miss the impossible God wants to do in our lives. Here is what I want you to understand: God wants to do the impossible through you. Just as God has used Noah, Moses, David, Esther, John, Paul and many more to do great things God wants to do great things through you. I don’t care if you 99 or 1 it is God’s desire to make the impossible possible because of your life.

How can we live a life which leads us to experience the impossible? I think the answer is found in the Christmas story. God is once again working to make the impossible happen and this time it involves as young girl.
26 Now in the sixth month of her pregnancy, the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin's name was Mary. 28 The angel came to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you!” 29 She was startled by his statement and tried to figure out what his greeting meant. 30 Then the angel told her, “Stop being afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 Listen! You will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and you are to name him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of his forefather David. 33 He will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and his kingdom will never end.” 34 Mary asked the angel, “How can this be, since I have not had relations with a man?” 35 The angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come over you, and the power of the Most High will cover you. Therefore, the child will be holy and will be called the Son of God. 36 And listen! Elizabeth, your relative, has herself conceived a son in her old age. This is the sixth month for the woman who was said to be barren. 37 For nothing is impossible for God.” 38 Then Mary said, “Truly I am the Lord's servant. Let everything you have said happen to me.” Then the angel left her. (Luke 1:26-38, ISV)

Mary exhibits two traits of a person who is ready to experience the impossible.

1. Obedience

When we receive a word from God there are only two ways to respond. The first way we can respond is to reject God’s word.

Earlier in Luke Chapter 1 we read the story of Zechariah. Here are a few things to consider about Zechariah: One is that he was just one of 18,000 priests. He wasn’t a superstar or in a position which demanded a lot of attention, he was just one of many priests. The second is that Zechariah is righteous. He prayed and he followed the Law, which means when he did sin he did what was necessary to take care of it. He was religious. Being a priest he was part of the assembly which kept the religion in Israel moving. When Gabriel appeared to Zechariah, the aging priest decided to reject the angel’s message. It’s not enough that an angel personally delivered the message, but Zechariah wanted a sign as proof: “How can I know this?” He asks. “I am an old man and my wife is well along in years” (Luke 1:18).

Isn’t this the exact same reason why we want to make sure God “opens a door” before taking a big step of faith? We want to know for sure that things will work out the way we want.

But that is not faith. Faith is seen in obedience when God reveals His will. Faith is Abram leaving his homeland to follow God into the unknown. No map, just following God’s lead. Faith is Jonathan taking his armor bearer and going to pick a fight with 30,000 Philistines, because God wanted the Philistines out of Israel (1 Samuel 14). Faith is Ruth leaving her family and homeland to follow her widowed mother-in-law back to Israel. Nothing but a life of poverty could be promised because of her decision, yet she ends up being an ancestor to David, and ultimately Jesus. Faith is not about guarantees; it is about doing what we know God’s will to be.

We can reject God’s word, but we also can accept it. Mary’s statement in verse 34 is significantly different from Zechariah’s statement: Mary asked the angel, “How can this be, since I have not had relations with a man?”

First, we note that Mary doesn’t ask for a sign. She isn’t sure how this is going to be possible, but she doesn’t doubt that it will happen. Second, she wants to know her role in making sure this miracle happens.

When we attempt to do God’s will our way, bad things can happen. Remember Abraham? God promised him a son, and Abraham waited and waited and nothing happened. Abraham and Sarah decide that they would help God out and Abraham has a child with Sarah’s maidservant. That was not God’s plan, and it cost Abraham, and it is still costing the people of the Middle East. Abraham was to have a child with Sarah, and he was to wait for God’s timing to make it happen.

Mary had to be wondering how this would happen, since she was not yet married. Was it going to happen after she married? Was she supposed to go tell Joseph that she didn’t want a big wedding and that they should elope instead? If Mary simply went with her understanding on how babies are born, then things would have been a disaster. It was essential for Mary to clarify how God was going to make this happen. Mary wanted to do God’s will.

James 4:11 reads:
Don’t speak evil against each other, my dear brothers and sisters. If you criticize each other and condemn each other, then you are criticizing and condemning God’s law. But you are not a judge who can decide whether the law is right or wrong. Your job is to obey it (NLT).
We are not to sit in judgment of God’s will, but rather, when we understand what God’s will is we are to obey it.

2. Humility

Humility is not about ignoring talent or degrading our abilities, but it is about a proper evaluation of our talent. Without a proper evaluation of our talent we either end up like the horrible singer trying out for American Idol or the talented person who wastes their talent because they didn’t understand what they had been given. Each of us has talent. We might put different values on the talent we have, but we all have abilities which can be used to expand the kingdom of God.

Humility is not minimizing your talents or the successes you have in your life. Humility is all about understanding who we are. Romans 12:3 reads:
For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith (NASB).
We need to honestly look at ourselves and the gifts God has given to us. Humility then isn’t about think lowly of ourselves, but understanding who we are in relationship with God.

Mary had this understanding: Then Mary said, “Truly I am the Lord's servant. Let everything you have said happen to me.” Then the angel left her. Mary had surrendered her life to God, and she was willing to do anything that He wanted her to do. Humility begins when we realize God is God and we are His servants.

Sometimes we forget this and we want to bargain with God about the details of our service. “God I will start a quiet time with You as soon as things settle down at work.” “God I would be willing to help a week at church camp, but I can’t afford to take time off right now.” “God, I would go visit John in the hospital, but I have this deadline I have to meet.” So much of what God wants from us will inconvenience us and result in personal sacrifice.

Poor Mary didn’t have a choice, she was inconvenienced. She had no idea how Joseph would react to the news that she was pregnant, if he divorced her it would lead to a life time of shame. Even if he didn’t people would always talk about the fact her oldest child was conceived before she was married. I don’t think we can fully understand the “inconvenience” God was giving to Mary.

The amazing thing is that she accepted the responsibility without complaint or guarantee. She could have no idea how people would respond to her, but she probably understood what happened to girls who turned up pregnant without being married. God did not guarantee that Joseph would stand by her side or that she would have the support of her family. God turned Mary’s life upside and did not promise a smooth ride. Mary simply said; “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.” That is humility, understanding who you are compared to God.

I believe God longs to do the impossible with your life. He wants you to experience His power at work, to use your life to do something incredible, and to make the impossible a reality in your life. Yet we miss out on the impossibilities becoming possibilities because we haven’t put ourselves in the position to make it happen.

God used J. Edwin Or mightily around the world in the area of spiritual revival. He was an ordinary man who experienced God working repeatedly in his life in extraordinary ways. God invited him to travel across Europe, preaching and spreading awareness of the need for revival. Orr was not a wealthy man, but he concluded that if God called him, God would provide. As he obeyed his calling, Orr witnessed a tremendous response. Wherever he went, people united together to pray for revival.

He arrived at Londonberry late in the evening of January 29, 1934. His funds were exhausted and so was he, but he knew of no place to spend the night. A Christian man at the YMCA told Orr he would take him to a comfortable lodging place. When they arrived at a luxurious hotel, Orr felt uneasy because he knew he could not afford such first-class accommodations. Nevertheless, the proprietress set a hearty meal before him, then ushered him into a spacious room.

The next morning Orr prayed silently all the way to the front desk, prepared to be shocked by the extent of his bill. To his surprise (and great relief) he was told there would be no charge. The owner explained that she was a Christian. That morning during her devotions the Lord had clearly instructed her that she was not to charge her guest for his stay because he was God’s servant. She had resisted at first, planning to charge just enough to recoup her costs. However, the Holy Spirit so convicted her of this attitude that she relented and chose not to ask for a penny.

In Ireland, Orr went to the train station without the funds for a ticket, yet convinced God was directing him to a nearby city. As he neared the ticket booth, a stranger suddenly appeared and handed him a ticket to his destination. On another occasion Orr was in Glasgow, Scotland, when he was encouraged to attend a rally that was taking place in Stirling, thirty miles away. Orr sensed God leading him to attend, but he barely had enough money to purchase a one-way bus ticket. Since he was committed to preach in Glasgow that evening, Orr knew it was imperative that he make the return trip that same day. At the close of the afternoon service, people began to leave the meeting place until Orr was left almost entirely alone. He began to pray that God would provide for his need.

Suddenly a stranger approached him and introduced himself as Austin Stirling, pastor of the Baptist church in Cumnock. When Orr introduced himself, the man’s face lit up. He had been praying that God would allow him to meet Orr! Stirling urged Orr to accompany him home but was informed of Orr’s commitment in Glasgow that evening. Suddenly, his new friend had an idea. “I simply must have an hour’s conversation with you,” he declared. “Would you mind not using your return ticket to Glasgow? I’ve got a car around the corner. I’ll motor you to Glasgow, and then we shall have our talk.” God had provided yet again, and again the provision came after Orr proved his faithfulness by obeying God’s specific directive. (Henry and Richard Blackaby; Hearing God’s Voice; pp. 55, 56)

When I hear or read stories such as this one about J. Edwin Orr I become very skeptical. After all it doesn’t quiet fit my image of God, “God doesn’t work like that!” I think. My experience with God is not anything like what J. Edwin Orr experienced. Orr experienced the impossible, but my life is filled with what I have managed to accomplish.

Could it be that the reason we haven’t experienced a life of the impossible is because we haven’t put ourselves into the position to see it happen? J. Edwin Orr was a man of obedience who realized that he was just a tool in the hand of God. He made the decision, not only to keep the moral teachings of Jesus, but also to obey the Great Commission to make disciples of all nations.

We are not in the position to experience the impossible in our lives because we have limited obedience to obeying the moral teachings of Jesus. Our great concern is living right and not expanding the Kingdom of God. While we may recognize God’s power, we haven’t humbled ourselves and submitted our entire lives to God. It is still about our dreams and desires, not what God wants to do through your life.

God, the Creator of the Universe, wants to do the impossible through you. Will you put yourself into position to make that happen?

  • Point to Ponder: God wants to do the impossible through you.
  • Passage to Remember: Luke 1:26-38
  • Question to Consider: How have you prevented God from working through your life?

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

God Uses Unlikely People

One of the things that strike me about God is that the value society has given to people makes no difference to Him. In fact it seems that God would rather use the common, even the despised, people of the world to make a difference in this world. Consider Moses. God doesn’t use Moses when he is a prince of Egypt, but when he is a nomadic shepherd. Certainly God has used the rich and the powerful, but more often than not God has used the poor, sinful, and abused. God uses the unlikeliest people.

This reality comes our loud and clear at Christmas time. Think about the major characters of the Christmas story: Joseph who is a poor and scandalize carpenter, Mary who is a young and scandalized girl, Shepherds who are a bunch of untrustworthy characters. Only the Magi have credibility in society, but this diminishes in Jewish culture since these men were Gentiles. The most important event in the history of the world and God chooses people who are rejected and wouldn’t be believed by society!

Makes you wonder why doesn’t it? Wouldn’t it give Jesus more credibility if he had been born to the upper class of society to people who were well respected? Wouldn’t more people believe the message if the angels appeared to the Sanhedrin rather than to a bunch of no account shepherds? One could get the impression that God intentionally uses the least likely people make it difficult for people to believe.

God uses unlikely people to show His power

The apostle Paul writes:
20 Where is the wise person? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? God has turned the wisdom of the world into nonsense, hasn't he? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know God, God decided through the nonsense of our preaching to save those who believe. 22 Jews ask for signs, and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified. He is a stumbling block to Jews and nonsense to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is God's power and God's wisdom. 25 For God's nonsense is wiser than human wisdom, and God's weakness is stronger than human strength. (1 Corinthians 1:20-25; ISV)

Paul tells us that God’s weakness (as if He had any) is stronger than man’s strength. In other words there is no situation in which we find ourselves in that we are stronger or smarter than God. There may people who think that if God really existed He would do this or that, but the reality is all they can do is speak from their limited experience. They have no clue of what God is doing and the wisdom and power He truly possess.

It is a testimony to God’s power that from such humble beginnings He established His kingdom that continues to grow in number and influence in this world. When we truthfully consider Christianity it shouldn’t even have gotten out of the first century, but here we are two thousand years later and the Church of Jesus Christ continues to grow in this world. As it loses influence here in the West it is exploding in the rest of the world.

I hope this is an encouragement to all of us who wonder about our value in the world. It doesn’t seem like we have any special talent and we lack the resources to really do something meaningful. We feel like we are on the sideline of what God is doing in this world. If God can use nobodies like Joseph, Mary, and the disciples to change the world than He can use and me to make a difference in the communities we live in.

God uses unlikely people to humble arrogant

The apostle Paul continues to write:
26 Brothers, think about your own calling. Not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is nonsense in the world to make the wise feel ashamed. God chose what is weak in the world to make the strong feel ashamed. 28 And God chose what is insignificant in the world, what is despised, what is nothing, in order to destroy what is something, 29 so that no human being may boast in God's presence. 30 It is because of him that you are in union with Christ Jesus, who for us has become wisdom from God, as well as our righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. 31 Therefore, as it is written, “The person who boasts must boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:26-31, ISV)

Many people miss out on God because they are too proud to trust in God. For some they are too proud to change their way of life and follow the example of Jesus on how we are to live. Other people are too proud of their wisdom and if God doesn’t do things their way then they are not going to believe in Him or trust Him.

Remember this: God isn’t interested in people believing in Him, but He is interested in people trusting Him. This is where many people, especially atheists, become confused. Yes, God could reveal Himself for all to believe (which will happen one day), but believing in Him doesn’t mean you will trust Him. The Bible is full of stories of people who believed but did not trust. God has decided that the best way for us to learn to trust is through the experience of discovering belief and living that belief.

The intelligent and well educated, just like the rich, will have trouble entering the kingdom of heaven because of their pride. God has chosen the simple and the unlikely people in this world to remind us that it isn’t our place in this world that matters, but whether or not we will trust Him in a world that denies His very existence.

It doesn’t matter who we are or what we have done God can use us to make a difference in this world. God isn’t looking for people with lots of money, jaw dropping good looks, and lots of degrees hanging on the wall. He is looking for ordinary people willing to put their trust in Him. God loves using people just like you and me.

  • Point to Ponder: God uses the unlikeliest people.
  • Passage to Remember: 1 Corinthians 1:25
  • Question to Consider: Are you willing to be used by God?

Politics Quiz

You are a

Social Liberal
(65% permissive)

and an...

Economic Conservative
(80% permissive)

You are best described as a:

Libertarian (80e/65s)

Link: The Politics Test on Ok Cupid
Also: The OkCupid Dating Persona Test

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

A Holiday of Promise

We are a week away from Christmas. As a Christian Christmas is both a wonderful and dreadful experience. It is wonderful because of the reality behind the celebration. It is dreadful because of the pressure to buy gifts, not because we want to, but because it is expected. Too often, as it has been said time and time again, the wonderful part of Christmas is overlooked and consumed by the dreadful part of Christmas.

This is the reality of the culture that we live in, but it doesn’t have to be true for us. You and I can reclaim Christmas for our families. We can celebrate the holiday and remember what makes this holiday so very special to us.

We are forgetful creatures. Human beings have always had a, “What have you done for me lately?” mentality. This comes across loud in clear in the Old Testament. God shows up and Israel is happy, but time passes and Israel forgets and goes her own way. To help Israel remember God gave Israel holidays, rituals, and commandments, but these things only work if people use them and Israel rarely kept these gifts from God.

Christmas is not a holiday that God has given to us as Christians. There is not one verse in the Bible which asks us to celebrate the birth of Jesus. The one tradition God gave us to remember Jesus is communion, and that is why I believe it should have a central part in our weekly worship services. I am not saying that Christmas is unimportant, just that it isn’t commanded by God for us to celebrate, we can be Christians and not celebrate Christmas. I mention this because I want to give you permission to drop some traditions or obligations that are associated with Christmas which distract us for remembering and celebrating. Give few gifts, go to few parties, and skip a Christmas program (grasp) at church.

The value of Christmas is found in taking time to remember what it is all about. What is special about Jesus? Why should we remember his birth and life? We are prone to forget if we don’t set time aside regularly to remember the promise God made and how Jesus fulfilled that awesome promise.

The reason I have come to love Christmas is because Christmas is an opportunity to celebrate the God who keeps promises. Christmas reminds us that God is working through history to restore His creation to the way it ought to be. Christmas reminds us that God is willing to do whatever it takes for us to have life. Christmas reminds us that God is not some distant being out there somewhere not caring about us, but that He became one of us in order to save us from certain death.

This Christmas I hope you take the time to remember and celebrate God for being a promise keeper. Here are a couple of suggestions:

Have family communion at Christmas dinner

Communion is the Christian ritual of remembrance. What better time to remember the purpose of Jesus and our commitment to Him than at Christmas? I think this could be a very special time for you and your family, a time that everyone takes their focus away from the gifts and food and focuses on Jesus.

Read John 1:1-18 and pray before opening presents

Especially if you have children. They will be eager to rip off the paper and see what they have received. This is a great time to help them remember that Christmas isn’t about them, but it is about Jesus and how He fulfilled God’s ancient promise to bless all the nations of the earth.

Christmas shouldn’t be a holiday about gift giving, but a holiday of celebration. We should be celebrating the God who has kept His promise to save us and give us life. Jesus is the promise we celebrate at Christmas.

  • Point to Ponder: Christmas is an opportunity to celebrate the God who keeps promises.
  • Passage to Remember: John 1:14
  • Question to Consider: How will you remember Jesus this Christmas?

Ron Paul on WHO Radio

Growing up one of the radio stations we listened to was WHO radio from Des Moines, Iowa. In the summers we listened to Rush Limbaugh every afternoon and Saturdays in the fall we listened to Jim Zabel cover the Iowa Hawkeye football games.

This morning Dr. Ron Paul was on with Jan Mickelson. Check out Jan's podcast and listen to what my candidate for president has to say.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Authority Guarantees Freedom

"Tyranny excludes freedom, and is therefore fundamentally opposed to authentic humanness. But authority is not identical with tyranny. And Christians want to add that if tyranny destroys freedom, a right authority guarantees it. That is why the same New Testament which emphasizes 'freedom' through Christ also emphasizes both 'authority' and 'submission' as entirely consistent with it." ~ John Stott; Life in Christ; pp. 53-54

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Meaning of Freedom

One of the reasons I am supporting Ron Paul for president is his message. Too often politics have boiled down to promises. Each candidate seems to make bigger and bigger promises. For Ron Paul he seems to be content, not to make promises, but simply to proclaim the message of freedom and liberty, the way our founding fathers intended it to be. I want to encourage you consider the message of Dr. Paul. Let me direct you to an article he wrote for his website:
The problem is that democracy is not freedom. Democracy is simply majoritarianism, which is inherently incompatible with real freedom. Our founding fathers clearly understood this, as evidenced not only by our republican constitutional system, but also by their writings in the Federalist Papers and elsewhere. James Madison cautioned that under a democratic government, “There is nothing to check the inducement to sacrifice the weaker party or the obnoxious individual.” John Adams argued that democracies merely grant revocable rights to citizens depending on the whims of the masses, while a republic exists to secure and protect pre-existing rights. Yet how many Americans know that the word “democracy” is found neither in the Constitution nor the Declaration of Independence, our very founding documents?

Read What Does Freedom Really Mean? and ponder whether or not he is right.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Imitate the Faithful

I am currently doing my personal study through the book of Hebrews. This morning part very end of the passage I studied was Hebrews 6:11-12. The writer of this book wrote:
11 But we passionately want each of you to demonstrate the same eagerness for the fulfillment of your hope until the end, 12 so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and perseverance inherit the promises. (NET)
These two verses come at the end of a very controversial passage of Scripture. And while the Hebrews 6:4-6 may hold controversy this passage, Hebrews 6:11-12, is very clear. We need to persevere and continue to live faithful lives even when things are difficult and the easiest thing in the world to do is to turn our backs on God. Perseverance demonstrates our faith in God.

Because perseverance is so important it is absolutely essential that we have people in our lives who are models of Christian living. That is what the writer of Hebrews clearly says: imitators of those who through faith and perseverance inherit the promises. We need to people to follow and people who will teach us how to navigate this life in a right and holy way. If we simply begin this journey by ourselves seeking to make it on our faith alone we will eventually give up. Role models provide examples to follow and encouragement to remain faithful in the face of adversity. Remember role models can come in various forms.

Role models people whom we have an actual relationship.

People whom we can watch, observe, question, and interact with can teach us how live our faith each and every day. Kevin Perdew, a youth minister I met when I was an 8th grader and church camp was one of these for me. He took and interest in me and helped me understand a little bit better how to be like Jesus.

Role models can be authors and teachers, people with whom we have very little contact.

Through their writings and teachings we can be inspired to improve our relationship with God and to change our lives. Erwin McManus has been this for me. Ever since I heard him at the National Youth Leaders Convention in 2003 I have been inspired by what he has written and said.

Role models are also found in people long gone.

The Bible provides us with many people who were examples of great faith. People we can read about and discover how they handled the difficulties of life. One of my heroes is Jonathan. Not only did he have the courage in 1 Samuel 14 to take on the Philistine army, but he had the love for David and the faith in God to step away from kingship and allow David to become king. Jonathan is an overlooked man of faith in the Bible.

Role models provide us with an example to follow. We need these examples in our lives. The writer of Hebrews writes that if we don't follow the examples of the men and women of faith who have gone before us we be in danger of becoming spiritual dull and indifferent (sluggish). We will miss out on what God has for our lives.

Role models provide encouragement in the face of adversity. Following Jesus isn’t easy. The New Testament never promises that it would be. During those tough times of faith we need people in our lives who can, through their words and actions and example, encourage us to stay with Jesus rather than just going our own way. The original readers of Hebrews, because of persecution, considering leaving Jesus and going back to Judaism. The writer of this book wants to encourage these people to hang on and remember those faithful people who have endured so much already for the kingdom of God.

It is never enough to remain where we are when it comes to following Jesus. We must constantly be trying to move forward, maturing in our faith, and becoming the people God desires us to be. Here is the thought that I want to leave you with. Just as we need role models in our lives, the people behind us (our children and new Christians) need role models as well. They are counting on us to be examples of Christian living for them. We do this by loving other people, by being servants, and being faithful in the place God has put us. If we are going to make a difference in this world it is going to happen because we are following those Christ Followers who have gone before us. Through their example and inspiration we can avoid becoming spiritually dull and instead make an impact in our family, community, or even the world.

  • Point to Ponder: Role models provide examples to follow and encouragement to remain faithful in the face of adversity.
  • Passage to Remember: Hebrews 6:11-12
  • Question to Consider: Who are you following? Who is following you?

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Lacking Identity

"Sometimes the most irrational things we do are in response to our lack of identity or to our pursuit of a sense of identity. When we don't know who we are, when we have no clue as to who we were meant to become, we try to become something we are not. Who we understand ourselves to be is dramatically affected for better or worse by those we hold closest to us. Sometimes that can even be someone we've never really known." ~ Erwin McManus, Soul Cravings, Intimacy: Entry 17

Why Follow Jesus? Experience

I believe that experience gives us confidence to walk faithfully with God. The more we walk by faith the more reason we have to place to our trust in God. Without the experience of God working in my life it would be very hard for me to remain a Christian. Experience is the firmest evidence we have to personally follow Jesus Christ.

As I read different blogs written by atheists I do come across arguments and questions that I have no answers to. I sure wish I did. It would be nice to be able to write arguments that left no doubt that God exists and that Jesus is His name, but it can’t be done. I have come to realize that uncertainty is part of life. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t good solid evidence to believe in God and to follow Jesus, what it does mean is that intelligent people can give good arguments supporting a number of positions. There are intelligent atheists who can offer well thought out arguments supporting why God doesn’t exists. There are smart theists we can demonstrate why believing in God is a very reasonable thing to do. There are well educated Christians who can provide evidence on why following Jesus Christ is the best way to live. So who do we believe? After all many of us lack the training and skill to properly evaluate these arguments. In the face of this reality what we have to fall back on is experience. Experience has helped me understand that it is perfectly reasonable to follow Jesus. It is my opinion that experience is an essential ingredient to the life of faith. Experience provides the personal evidence of God at work in the world around us that we need to continue to trust Him.

I want you to understand that I follow Jesus Christ because the experience of my life tells me that this is the best way to live. If I did not have evidence of God working through my life I would give up and live as if there was no God. It is this evidence of life experience that the apostle Peter appeals to when he encourages Christians to remain faithful.
17 And if you address as Father the one who impartially judges according to each one's work, live out the time of your temporary residence here in reverence. 18 You know that from your empty way of life inherited from your ancestors you were ransomed - not by perishable things like silver or gold, 19 but by precious blood like that of an unblemished and spotless lamb, namely Christ. 20 He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was manifested in these last times for your sake. 21 Through him you now trust in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God. (1 Peter 1:17-21; NET)

Peter reminds his readers of a simple truth: being a Christian is better than being a pagan. They were living an empty life, but now they were able to enjoy eternal life. Hope and purpose came because of Jesus Christ.

As I reflect on my life I recognize three types of experiences that keep me grounded in faith even when doubt creeps in.

The experience of education.

The apostle Paul makes it clear that faith begins with knowledge (Romans 10:14-15). There are basics beliefs that we need to have before we are willing to take that first step of faith which starts the ball of experience rolling in our lives. The knowledge we accept as true has less to do with the quality of argument and more to do with whether or not we trust the source and whether the “truth” supports our world view. For this reason a Christian person, or a person who has grown up in a Christian home, is more likely to accept the argument of a Christian apologist and reject the argument of an atheist evangelist. The reverse is also true.

The education I have received: from my parents, Bible College (Nebraska Christian College, Lincoln Christian Seminary), and from books I have read and sermons I have listened to have helped confirm this world view I have adopted. In light of this knowledge I have received I am able to understand the world in which we live in and come up with a reasonable way to live that I believe will allow me to enjoy the most out of life.

The experience of Christian people

I have lived my entire life in a Christian environment. My brother is also a minister/pastor. My sister is married to a youth minister/pastor. My dad preaches and has a degree in Christian counseling. My mom is very involved in the ministry, especially the educational aspect, of the church my parents attend. This is my environment and so it really shouldn’t be a surprise that I am a Christian.

It needs to be said that during times of doubt, those times when I have come to question the experience of education, the experience of being around other Christians have helped me to remain grounded to my faith. This has worked two ways. First the positive examples of Jesus Christ in my life have helped me understand that the best way to live life is to follow Jesus. Following Jesus makes my life better. Second the examples of non-believers, whether friends or relatives, have reinforced the truth that the life lived without Jesus is an empty life.

Let me give you an example. In my immediate family since we are all followers of Jesus we truly enjoy spending time with each other. There is no drama, gossiping, or backstabbing that goes on it just doesn’t exist. We enjoy life together. This is not true for my extended family where people have turned their backs on Jesus. I have people in my family who have been arrested for drugs, who have failed marriages and broken homes, and have simply made life harder for themselves because they decided not to follow Jesus. This experience tells me that following Jesus just works.

The experience of personal encounter

Let me state this up front: I have never had a “conversion” experience. I don’t even know what that means. I don’t believe every emotional high that I have had during worship, camp, or other events in my life are necessarily encounters with God. The New Testament tells us the Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. I believe that often Satan uses these emotionally high experiences to make us believe that is when we are close to God. The result is that we work hard on manufacturing these experiences and end up missing out on during those things which really build our faith: obedience, service, study, ad prayer.

The most profound encounters I have had with God in my life have not necessarily been times of immense joy and feelings of closeness, but times of fear and brokenness. Like the dream I had when I was a senior in high school which showed me going to hell and my family going to heaven. The meaning of the dream still etched in my mind: I can survive on my family’s faith.

Then there was the encounter I had, not with God, but with Satan. It was the scariest thing that has happened in my life. I left that night with a healthy respect for the supernatural and the war that is raging behind what we see and touch.

There are the answers to prayer that have left me humbled. How God came through in the most unexpected way to provide what I needed. Then there are also the people God has touched through me. From the changed lives of youth I worked with when I was in youth minister to comments I have received on this blog I have had the privilege of being used by God.

I realize that an educated and intelligent atheist could come and read this and tell me why I am crazy for believing what I believe and why this is not a valid argument for believing in God or following Jesus. That is okay because if they had a chance to live my experience they might see things a little differently.

  • Point to Ponder: Experience is an essential ingredient to the life of faith.
  • Passage to Remember: 1 Peter 1:18-19
  • Question to Consider: What experience have I had that allows me to put confident trust in Jesus Christ?

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Telling the Truth

People in our Hearts

"When people are allowed to go on deposit in our hearts, strong affections and attachments form. When people are not in our hearts, there is no interest or concern. Because Christ has called us into the people business, it is important that we find room for them in our hearts." ~ Gary Carpenter, What the Bible Says about the Heart, p. 41

Friday, December 07, 2007

The Consquences of Sin

Have you ever considered the impact sin has had on your life? Every once and awhile I will ponder the consequences of the sin in my life. What opportunities did God with hold from me because I lacked the character to properly respond? How have I hurt people, unknowingly, because of lies or gossip that have passed my lips? Have relationships remained dormant because of some sin I refused to acknowledge?

One of the reasons that have spurred me to ponder this question today is the fact that God is doing some wonderful things in my life and the church family I serve. I can’t help but wonder if these things are happening as the result of making an effort to deal with some specific sins in my life. It is my belief that we do not fully appreciate the power sin has to keep us from becoming the people God wants us to be. Sin always carries consequences and that means our sin always affects other people. From missed opportunities to serve to intentional harm our sin leaves an impact on this world.

Consider what Henry Blackaby wrote in Created to be God’s Friend:
"Sin carries awful consequences. Sin is devastatingly real in its consequences in every person alike. There are no favorites or exceptions" (p. 107).
There is no person who can escape the consequences of sin. You can’t and I can’t. Even the saints found on the pages of Scripture couldn’t. As history records their sins carried far reaching consequences.

Take for example Abraham. God had promised him a son, but after years of waiting Abraham and his wife Sarah were still childless. To help God out the couple decided to go ahead and have a son by an acceptable cultural method. Abraham and Sarah had a son through Sarah’s servant. While this may have been acceptable to the culture it was disobedience to God, and the consequences of that decision are still felt today in the Middle East. Abraham’s sin had far reaching consequences. David’s sin with Bathsheba assured that David’s family would always have trouble and sexual transgressions would be a part of his family’s legacy.

Because of God’s grace I believe that Satan has led us to believe that our sin is no big deal. "After all," we rationalize, "God will forgive us of our sins anyway." Sin is a big deal and it prevents us from living the life God created us to live. I want to throw out two truths for you to consider:

Sin destroys our witness.

As followers of Jesus we realize that we are called to make disciples of all nations. We tell others about Jesus not only by word but also by deed. Our righteous actions can spur curiosity in Jesus and act as evidence of the message that we proclaim. People are more willing to accept the message of Jesus if they can see that it has made a difference in our lives. Because of this dual nature of disciple making the authors of the New Testament cautioned their readers to pay attention to how they lived.

For example read what the apostle Peter wrote:
11 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. 12 Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. (1 Peter 2:11-12; ESV)

Sin destroys our credibility. The result is that sin distracts for the message of Jesus Christ. How can people put their faith in Jesus if they have not seen a change or difference in our lives? Sin hinders the cause of Christ in the world.

Sin prevents service.

James writes:
27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. (James 1:27; ESV)

The will of God, the life He created us to live, is a life which has compassion (shown through service) on other people. One of the aspects of sin is that it is self-seeking and self-serving. In other words sin keeps us from obeying the two great commandments. Since sin is disobedience we are not loving God (which is primarily seen in our obedience) and since sin is self-seeking we are not showing love (though compassion) to other people.

Sin is the opposite of what God wants for our lives. God desires that our lives touch others for good, but too often sin touches others for evil. God desires that we serve those in need, but sin tells us to use others for our own needs. God wants to use us to restore life, but sin seeks to destroy life.

We don't consider how destructive sin really is. If we acknowledge sin at all we acknowledge it as a problem in our 'personal relationship' (whatever that means) with God. Sin is more destructive than that, because sin always carries consequences that affect the people around us. It is seen in the good we are prevented in doing as well as the destruction of relationships and lives that are left in the wake of our sin. The sad reality is that we will not realize the full impact of our sin until that day when we see Jesus face to face and finally understand how terrible sin really is.

  • Point to Ponder: Sin is a big deal and it prevents us from living the life God created us to live.
  • Passage to Remember: 1 Peter 2:11-12
  • Question to Consider: Has your sin prevented you from doing good?

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Living and Believing

To be followers of Christ means that we live lives of faith. Faith is not only about what we believe, but it is also about how we live. We can mentally agree with different creeds and the teachings of the Bible, but if these things don’t make a difference in how we live then we have to question whether or not we really have faith. The writers of the New Testament make it very clear that we are judged, based not solely on what we believe, but also on how we live. The two go together. True faith is the marriage of belief and action. If one is missing then true saving faith does not exist.

What we believe is very important, but God also wants us to remember what we do is important as well. That is why the apostle Peter wrote:
13 Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 14 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, 15 but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 since it is written, You shall be holy, for I am holy. 17 And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one's deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, 18 knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. 20 He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for your sake, 21 who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God. (1 Peter 1:13-21, ESV)

I think we can see the link between belief and faith which forms faith in this passage.

Faith is an act of the mind.

What we believe is mainly a mind issue. We evaluate the different evidence and truth claims that come at us and determine what is most logical for us to accept. Admittedly there are many factors that come into play here: emotions, experience, culture are just a few of the different things which shape our beliefs.

For Christians on of the biggest factors is whether or not there is evidence for us to trust what the Bible has to say. The Bible, particularly the New Testament, is our source for truth. If the Bible isn’t reliable then nothing we say about Jesus or His teachings can be believed. I want to encourage you to look into the evidence of whether or not the Bible can be trusted to get you started here is an article by Dr. J. P. Moreland entitled Historicity of the New Testament .

The revelation of Jesus Christ found on the pages of the New Testament gives us hope. This hope is the result of understanding who Jesus is and the implications of the promises that He made. Hope, like belief, originates in our mind as we think and reflect on the teachings, promises, and examples that we are given.

Faith is an act of obedience.

So our belief is formed in our mind, but our belief does us no good if we don’t apply it to how we live. Peter tells us that we need to be obedient children. God, through Jesus Christ and the Bible, has revealed to us how He wants us to live. This is not a mystery to us. Sure there are things that we don’t understand, but there is much that we do understand. By acting on what we understand we show our faith in Jesus Christ.

One of the ways we live as obedient children is to change the way we live. We need a brand new standard. The world’s standard for living cannot be our standard for living. In other words we need to be different. From struggling against sin to how we give our money to our attitudes about sex we have to live by a different standard than the world lives by. We realize that things the world says are harmless have devastating consequences as we strive to become the person God called us to be.

This is what holiness comes down to, setting ourselves apart from the world. We don’t live according to the world’s standards but we live according to the standard that God has provided for us.

Faith is an act of hope

Let’s face it there a lot of reasons that we should give up on this faith. Intellectually we are told that what we believe is a myth. By believing in Jesus Christ we are believing a lie. These people have their own apologists who are able to tells us why Jesus Christ is a myth and Christianity a lie. With the testimony of such intelligent and educated people we begin to wonder if following Jesus is the smart thing to do.

Morally we have the world sending us messages about what the good life looks like and we begin to wonder if following Jesus is all it is cracked up to be. Maybe happiness is found in meaningless sex or money or achievement. Maybe I am wasting my life trying to follow Jesus.

These doubts and discouragements are going to come and so Peter tells us to look to Jesus. We need to remember the price God paid to bring us into His family. When we look to Jesus it reminds us of God’s great love for us and the pain and struggle Jesus went through to show that love to us. Keeping our eyes on Jesus should remind us of that life isn’t easy but it is good.

Faith is more than just believing the right things it is also about living the right way. If we are not willing to change the way we live in order to follow Jesus then we don’t really have faith. Our faith is seen in how we live our lives.

  • Point to Ponder: True faith is the marriage of belief and action.
  • Passage to Remember: 1 Peter 1:13-21
  • Question to Consider: What does your life say about what you believe?

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Acknowledge Personal Sin

It is easy to go off on a rant about the evil that exists in our world. The Church is very efficient in judging the world for her sin. I could tell you about the filth on TV, in the movies, and the music of today’s contemporary culture. I could give you statics about teen pregnancies, STDs, and drug use. We could sit here and shake our heads and bemoan how wrong our world has become. We could remember the “good old days” when prayer was in school and abortion wasn’t seen as a choice protected by the Constitution. I am not going to do that. It has been done before and it has had little positive effect. Besides you can follow the news just as well as I can and you are able to draw your own conclusions.

What I want to talk about is the sin that we have in our lives. We all have it. For some of us it the sin of laziness, we have hard time doing anything unless we are pressed to do it. Others of us have trouble with gossiping, we like being “in the know” and sharing our knowledge with others. Some of us my have trouble with apathy and the terrible plight of other human beings doesn’t even bother us anymore. Others of us have trouble with our attitudes, we love to whine and complain, criticizing rather than loving.

Here is the problem. We have lived with these sins for so long that we have come to accept them as part of who we are. They are not sins, but rather those little imperfections that make us human. We don’t worry about them or try to change them, after all we are only human. Whether or not we want to believe it, these little pesky sins will affect other people. Remember no person is an island, we live our lives with family and friends and what we do affects them. Even more than that, we don’t realize that these little sins, these habits that we have grown so comfortable with, are roadblocks that keep us from becoming the person God created us to be.

It is my belief that we don’t struggle with sin the way we should. We allow sin to be a part of our lives never thinking about the consequences that sin may have in our lives and in the lives of those around us. The bottom-line is that we don’t see our sin as vile as it is. We can recognize the evilness of sin in others, but we ignore the sin in our own lives. Jesus told a parable that dealt with that very problem.
41 Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 42 How can you say to your brother, Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye, when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother's eye. (Luke 6:41, 42; ESV)

When we refuse to deal with the sin in our lives we disqualify ourselves from helping other people overcome their sin. Jesus knows that we will always have sin that we struggle with, but he wanted us to understand that we have to be mindful of our sin before helping others with theirs. If we don’t, we become hypocrites, approaching other people from a superior attitude.

What is the log in your eye? We all have one, a sin that hinders us. I challenge you to start taking steps to remove that sin from your life. I urge you to struggle with sin, don’t allow it to find a comfortable residence in your life. If you do this I know that you will grow in your relationship with God, and you will be able to reach out to others in love. The best way to address an evil and sinful world is to first deal with the sin and evil in our lives.

  • Point to Ponder: When we refuse to deal with the sin in our lives we disqualify ourselves from helping other people overcome their sin.
  • Passage to Remember: Luke 6:41-42
  • Question to Consider: What sin have I allowed to exist comfortably in my life?

It's Big

Saturday, December 01, 2007

All May Draw Near

"As a result of the unique priesthood and perfect sacrifice of Jesus, to whom we have fled for refuge and through whom we have received a complete forgiveness, we may now constantly draw near to God. In Old Testament days only the priests might draw near. Through the veil into the very presence of God in the Most Holy Place, only the high priest might come, and then only once a year on the Day of Atonement. All others had to keep their distance, on pain of death. But now this distinction between priest and people has been abolished by Jesus. Now there is a 'priesthood of all believers'. For now through him all may draw near, pastors and people, sovereign and commoners, without any discrimination whatever." ~ John Stott, Life in Christ, p. 21

Accept the Differences

Most of us understand that people are different and those differences are a good thing. The world would be a boring place if everyone beli...