Monday, March 31, 2008

Our Dreams and God's Desires

Think for a moment about the different dreams you have had for your life. What have you dreamt for a family, a job, friendships, a house, or a vacation? Why do we dream the dreams that we do? I would wager that one of the influences on our dreams are our expectations for what will make us happy, yet, if you are anything like me, many of your dreams are still that, dreams. Very few people ever achieve the life of their dreams.

On the one hand this isn’t a terrible thing. The life we dreamed about when we were younger was filled with many unrealistic expectations. In fact if we achieved those dreams our lives may have turned out for the worse rather than the better. I can’t imagining living the life of a sports or rock star. Would I be able to live a life which pleases God if I was surrounded by such temptations which they face? What if I married the first crush I ever had; would reality be like the fairy tale I dreamed? As we mature we recognize that it is not a horrible thing that many of our dreams go unfulfilled.

Yet on the other hand we have dreams which we believe are essential to our happiness. The single person might begin to believe that the one thing which will make their life truly happy is to be married (while a married person might wish for the freedom of singleness). Or a person might believe a certain job, achievement, or possession is essential for their happiness. When these things do not come our way or, even more tragic, are taken away our dreams of a happy life are shattered. We shake our fist towards the heavens and shout; “Don’t You care about my happiness? I thought You loved me!” More often than not God’s answer to us is silence. We pray and pray and pray and God remains unresponsive.

According to the Bible God does care about us. 1 Peter 5:6, 7 reads:
6 Therefore, humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, so that at the proper time he may exalt you. 7 Throw all your worry on him, because he cares for you. (ISV)
This provides us with a troubling dilemma. Either the Bible is lying and God doesn’t care about us (maybe He doesn’t even exist) or we are blowing it. What other explanations are there for God not helping us live the life of our dreams?

I am convinced that God does care for us. How do I answer this dilemma? I believe that the answer is found in the reality that God is preparing us for something much more than mere happiness here on earth. What God wants from our lives and the dreams that we have for our lives are not the same thing.

We dream of being served, and God desires that we serve. We dream of winning the lottery, and God desires that we give until it hurts. We dream of being recognized for all the wonderful things we have done, and God desires that we work quietly behind the scenes. The reality is that in order to discover the life God has for us our dreams for life need to shatter so we can accept God's desires for our lives.

Until our dreams are shattered and we wake up to God’s desire for our lives we will always put more effort into achieving what we think will make us happy rather than on what will make us holy. Ultimately God’s desire for our lives are concerned with us becoming holy and rather than making us happy. Consider what James wrote:
2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers, when you are involved in various trials, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4 But you must let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing. (James 1:2-4; ISV)

James says that troubles and trials are the first step become mature and complete: the people God created us to be. When we are distracted by our dreams we can never become the people God created us to be. God has to allow our dreams to shatter so we will wake-up to the reality that He has a totally different life for us to live. If we never re-adjust our focus we will always live a life that is not in line with the best God has for us.

  • Point to Ponder: Ultimately God’s desire for our lives are concerned with us becoming holy and rather than making us happy.
  • Passage to Remember: James 1:2-4
  • Question to Consider: How have your dreams hinder from becoming the person God created you to be?

Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Words of Prayer

When You Pray: Part 4

When we pray place is very important. If we are going to pray so we can connect with God then we need to find a place that has few distractions so we can give our full attention to our Heavenly Father. That is the point Jesus made in verses 5 and 6 of Matthew chapter 6. Moving on we notice that there is a second area of prayer that Jesus wants us to think about.

This second area of prayer we need to consider are the words we use.
7 “When you are praying, don't say meaningless words like the Gentiles do, for they think they will be heard because of their wordiness. 8 Don't be like them, because your Father knows what you need before you ask him. (Matthew 6:7-8;ISV)

What Jesus says here is that some people pray and the use certain words and pray for a long time hoping that God will take them seriously. They might repeat certain words because they think these words have power or they just keep on praying and their prayers a long, and maybe even very beautiful. These people pray in this manner hoping to get God to move in their favor.

Having a powerful prayer life is not about saying the right words or praying long prayers, but it is about having a desire to connect with God. Until we have this desire in our hearts our pray life will always seem frustrating.

Why shouldn’t we try to use words to persuade God to do our will? It is because God already knows what we need. God is not up in heaven waiting for us to pray so He can discover what needs to be done in our life. There is nothing that you are going to tell God that He didn’t already know.

Jesus isn’t saying that we shouldn’t tell God about our concerns and our needs, but He wants to make sure that isn’t where we spend all our time. God will make sure we are taken care of, that what we need for life and godliness is provided for us, and at times He will even indulge us, just like you do for your children, but God will not answer all our prayers, because only He knows all ends. What seems good and full of promise right now might have disastrous consequences in the future. This means we have to trust God to do the right thing, even though it goes against our desires.

The question that we have to consider now is: What do we pray about? If our prayers aren’t about our needs and wants how do we fill the time of our prayers? That is what we will talk about next time, but let me give you a question to ponder in the mean time: Who is God and what does He want from your life?

Prayer is about connecting with God. I believe that we have made pray about a tiny part of what prayer really is. We have missed out on the power of prayer, not because we lacked faith or failed to say the right words, but because we had the wrong focus. When we come to God with the desire to connect with Him in our hearts and we make it important enough to get away from all the distractions in our lives, we will begin to go to a whole other stage in our relationship with God. We will realize it isn’t about God doing things for us, but inviting God to be part of our lives.

  • Point to Ponder: Prayer is inviting God to be part of our lives.
  • Passage to Remember: Matthew 6:7-8
  • Question to Consider: What do you pray about?

Friday, March 28, 2008

Environment for Maturity

"But this relationship of submission to Christ, far from crushing our personalities, enables them to develop. Just as children grow most naturally into maturity within the loving discipline of a secure and happy home, so Christians grow into maturity in Christ under his loving authority. To lose ourselves in the service of Christ is to find ourselves. His lordship in our lives spells not frustration but fulfillment and freedom." ~ John Stott; Life in Christ; p. 55

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Some Pictures I have Taken

This is the sanctuary of the church building where I preach. It is really the best thing about the old building. I love the stained glass.

These are some tulips that were poking out of the ground before the snow came today. I was told that it was 85 degrees here last year and this year we got snow. I love Iowa!

This is my puppy Barkley. He is 4 months old and he is a rat terrier/fox terrier mix. He is a cute little guy.

This is just a stick that was at the shore line of Storm Lake. As you can see the ice is finally beginning to retreat.

Where We Pray

When You Pray: Part 3

Matthew 5-7 we read Jesus’ teaching that we have come to call the Sermon on the Mount. In this teaching time Jesus trying to change His listeners’ perspective on religion and what it means to follow God. One of the areas Jesus teaches on is prayer. Jesus wanted to change their perspective on what prayer was about and how they should pray. What we find in verses 5-8 of Matthew 6 is Jesus focusing on two areas of prayer.

The first area of prayer Jesus is concerned about is the place we should pray.
5 “And whenever you pray, don't be like the hypocrites who love to stand in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they will be seen by people. Truly I tell you, they have their full reward! 6 But whenever you pray, go into your room, close the door, and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:5-8; ISV)

Where we pray is very important to Jesus. He first tells us not to be like the hypocrite and pray in public to get attention from people. Let’s be honest this isn’t a big temptation for us. Most of us would prefer not to pray in public, but there is an important note that I need to make. Jesus said that the person who prays for the attention and recognition of people have received their reward. Their reward is the praise and recognition of people.

What is the purpose of religion? Religion, it doesn’t matter which one, is about bringing men and God together. By make a show of religion for men they miss out on the reward their religion is supposed to have.

While we may not be tempted to pray and make a show in public, we are tempted to say place doesn’t matter. We throw up prayers as we drive along to work thinking about all the details of the day. We shoot off prayers when all of a sudden we are burdened with a bunch more work. We earnestly pray as the State Patrolmen walks to our car that we won’t get a ticket. Rather than seeking to connect with our Heavenly Father we plead with Him to miraculously intervene in our lives so things will be more to our liking.

What would you marriage be like if the only time you talked with your husband or wife you talked about schedules and what you needed them to do. Sure you can talk to them anytime you want and you often do to remind them about the next thing on the calendar or the next job that needs to be done. After awhile of this type of communication you would be able to set right next to your spouse and feel totally disconnected from them. It is not that you are made at each other or that there is some sort of problem but the intimacy that should be there has been swallowed up in all the details of life.

I would imagine that it is essential for people who are married to make sure that they find time, even schedule time, when all these things are pushed to the side with no agendas to worry about. A time to talk, dream, share fears and hopes, and the love that they share so that the intimate connection can remain alive. Of course I am ignorant about such things, but I would imagine that would be important.

Jesus isn’t saying that we shouldn’t pray in public or that we can’t offer hurried prayers throughout the day about our concerns of life. What He is saying that in order to really connect with God that we need to schedule a time with Him, get away from all distractions so it can be just the two of us. Jesus practiced this. Though His example was to go into the wilderness the principle is the same. When Jesus needed to connect with God He removed Himself from all distractions and prayed.

One of the neat things we find in verse 6 is Jesus’ admission that God is unseen or secret. Isn’t that one of the things that make prayer difficult is that we can’t see Him. Maybe I shouldn’t admit this, but at times prayer seems a little silly because you are talking to somebody who isn’t there. So I think it is wonderful that Jesus admits that God is unseen, because it means that He understands the difficulty of praying to a God who we cannot see or touch.

Jesus closes the verse with a promise. When we pray in this manner, not because we want to seem religious, but because we want to connect with God, we will be rewarded. Answered prayers is not the reward Jesus is talking about. Shutting the door to your room is not the missing part of the formula to get what you want by praying. The word reward here means to pay back or recognize. Just as the recognition of men was the reward for the hypocrite, the recognition of God is the reward for the humble man who seeks to connect with God. It is the deepening of our relationship with Him and knowing that He is with us regardless if the answer to our prayers is yes, no, or even silence.

Here is the point I think we miss about prayer: Prayer is about connecting with God. It isn’t about getting our wish list answered by God. If all our prayers are just about bless me, bless us, do this, and do that then we will miss out on the power of prayer in our lives. We may have a few stories of when God has answered our prayers, but overall the answers will seem random and the silence of God seem deafening making us wonder what the point of it all is.

  • Point to Ponder: Where we pray is very important to Jesus.
  • Passage to Remember: Matthew 6:5-6
  • Question to Consider: Do you have a place where you go and pray?

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Becoming More Human

"Christlikeness is what God wants to see in us. If we had to sum up in a single brief sentence what life is all about, why Jesus Christ came into this world to live and die and rise, and what God is up to in the long-drawn-out historical process both B.C. and A.D., it would be difficult to find a more succinct explanation than this: God is making human beings more human by making them more like Christ. For God created us in his own image in the first place, which we then spoiled and skewed by our disobedience. Now he is busy restoring it. And he is doing it by making us like Christ, since Christ is both perfect man and perfect image of God (Colossians 1:15; 2 Corinthians 4:4)." ~ John Stott, Life in Christ, p. 114

A Foundation for Prayer

When You Pray: Part 2

There is a right way and a wrong way to pray. Prayer shouldn’t be entirely focused on ourselves and our needs, but it should get us to focus on God and His will. Part of the reason we get frustrated with our prayer life and our prayers seem so ineffective is because we have been focused on the wrong thing.

When our prayers are ineffective the religious cover we give God is that we didn’t have enough faith. Somehow we are messing up and if we could just work up enough faith then God would do what we ask (do you see a problem there?). Yet Jesus told us that it wasn’t about having great faith, but having just a little faith. If we have faith the size of a mustard seed God said we would be able to do great things.

I want to let you know this that ineffective prayer isn’t a faith issue. The reason our prayers seem ineffective and why the answers seem so random is that we have focused on just one small aspect of what prayer is. We have made prayer about asking God for things, and in the process prayer has become us trying to get God to do things our way. God is not a good luck charm, He is not Santa Claus, and He is not our personal Genie. When we try to use prayer to get God to do our will we miss out on the power of prayer in our lives.

We can hardly be blamed for praying the way that we do. Too often the way we should pray that has been modeled for us has been all about bless us, bless this ministry, bless this program, watch over this person, heal that one, provide us with peace, give us the resources, bless, give, watch, strengthen, us, me, and mine. Now don’t misunderstand me. Our prayers need to include these sorts of things. It is an act of faith to give these things over to God, but they are not to make up the bulk of our prayers. Our prayers need to be focused on something very different.

What we need then is to be taught how to pray. I know that may seem to be silly, but if we find our prayers to be ineffective and frustrating then that has to be an indication that we are praying in a wrong way. The good news I have for you is that we have someone willing to teach us about prayer, and it isn’t me.

Matthew chapters 5-7 contain what we call The Sermon on the Mount. The culture Jesus lived in was a very religious culture. While it was no longer the theocratic society God planned Israel to be religion still dominated the way they lived. It would be very similar to what many Middle Eastern countries look like today with the dominance of Islam. What we find Jesus doing in this sermon is attacking the religion of the day. “You have heard it said…but I say…” Over and over again Jesus provides them with the best way to live and a new perspective on life.

Since it was a religious culture it was important to be thought as a religious person. People, especially the Pharisees, would make a great show of their “religious” deeds such as giving to the poor and praying so people would marvel at what marvelous men they were. This is what Jesus said about such deeds:
1 “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of people in order to be noticed by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. 2 So whenever you give to the poor, don't blow a trumpet before you like the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets so that they will be praised by people. Truly I tell you, they have their full reward! 3 But when you give to the poor, don't let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be done in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:1-4; ISV)

Our religion, our faith, isn’t about what we do for others to see, it is about what we do in secret. This teaching is Jesus’ lead into how we should pray.

Jesus is teaching people who were taught how to pray since they were very little. In fact there were formalized prayers that these ancient Jews were required to memorize and say every day. There were also the set times of prayer at 9 a.m., noon, and 3 p.m. Prayer was a very important part of their life.

Yet we get to verse 5 of chapter 6 it almost seems that Jesus says: “I have been listening to you pray, and you are doing it wrong. Let me teach you to pray.” Jesus wanted to make sure that they, and us, understood how to pray.

  • Point to Ponder: When we try to use prayer to get God to do our will we miss out on the power of prayer in our lives.
  • Passage to Remember: Matthew 6:1-4
  • Question to Consider: How would you evaluate your prayer life?

Monday, March 24, 2008

Wrong Prayers

When You Pray: Part 1

Christmas is a favorite holiday, if not the favorite holiday, for many people. As you know, one of the traditions that we have is to prepare lists of what we would like to have for Christmas. With the children we usually have them address their lists to Santa Claus and then we will take them to the mall so they can sit on Santa’s lap and tell him what they would like for Christmas.

I believe that we often do the same thing with prayer. We would never admit it, because we have been told somewhere along the line to say, “not my will but Your will be done.” Yet if we were truly honest with ourselves we would admit that our prayers are about God providing for us, watching over our loved ones, and keeping us safe. In short we use prayer to convince God to create the type of life that we want to have. I believe that when we do this we miss out on the true purpose of prayer in our lives. The question I would like for you to consider is: Does my prayer life resemble more of a list for Santa Claus or a child having a relationship with their parents?

Many of us don’t remember the first prayer we prayed. Prayer has always seemed to be part of my life. There are two prayers that I vividly remember from my going up years. The first one I prayed when I was in 3rd grade. As a 3rd grader I was somewhat of a ladies man. I was constantly being chased around by the girls because they wanted to kiss me. As an eight-year-old boy this was a problem because girls were still…yucky. One of the things my best friend David and I would do was to pretend to spray for “cooties” where ever a girl had been.

As I thought about my problem something occurred to me. David and I were very similar. When we were at Church Camp people assumed that we were twins. We looked and acted very much alike, yet David did not have the problem that I had. What was the most noticeable difference between him and I? David wore glasses, and so I realized there was the answer to my problem. I prayed and I asked God to give me glasses so that the girls “wouldn’t like me anymore.” As you can see from my picture I have my glasses (Though I also have to admit that for just the second time in my life I have a girlfriend, so this isn’t as funny as it has been).

The second prayer that I remember praying was when I was in 7th grade. Our Jr. High jazz band was scheduled to go to a jazz band contest at Wayne State College in Wayne Nebraska. Music was something my parents thought would be good for us, but I didn’t practice like I should. The result was that I was bad. I began to become very self-conscious about the whole thing and I prayed and asked God to allow me to go on the trip, I wanted to get out of school, but not play in the contest. A week or so before the contest we were playing basketball in P.E. For whatever reason the teacher left and one of the other boys began knocking down the girls and playing very out of control. I told him to stop, we got into a little scuffle, and I threw a punch at him. He put up his arm and my first barely caught it, but the result was that I broke my hand. Since I had a cast on my hand I was able to go on the trip but I was not able to play my trumpet.

As we look at these two examples two things jump out at us. First, they are very self-centered. The sad thing is that nothing much has changed. Sure the language I use may be different, it might sound more spiritual, but my prayers are still overwhelmingly concerned with God fixing or changing my life so that it will be more pleasant for me.

The second thing is that they are both unimportant in the larger picture. They have been unimportant in the larger picture of my life, let alone in the larger picture of eternity. When our focus is on such a tiny bit our our lives our prayers will tend to be more selfish.

There is a right and wrong way to pray. Jesus told this parable:
10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed, ‘O God, I thank you that I'm not like other people—thieves, dishonest people, adulterers, or even this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week, and I give a tenth of my entire income.’ 13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance and would not even look up to heaven. Instead, he continued to beat his chest and said, ‘O God, be merciful to me, the sinner that I am!’ 14 I tell you, this man, rather than the other, went down to his home justified. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the person who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:10-14; ISV)

Jesus says the Pharisee prayed the wrong way and the tax collector prayed the right way. What made the difference? Their focus. The Pharisee was focused on his life and the tax collector was humbly focused on God. Where is your focus when you pray?

  • Point to Ponder: There is a right and wrong way to pray.
  • Passage to Remember: Luke 18:10-14
  • Question to Consider: Where is your focus when you pray?

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Back On Top

Press-Citizen / Matthew Holst

The Iowa Hawkeyes are back on top of the wrestling world. After dominating the sport for so many years the Hawks are national champions for the first time since 2000. Leading this resurgance has been head coach Tom Brands. The article on Brands in The Iowa City Press-Citizen I thought was very interesting. Here is one thing that Coach Brands had to say:
"When I talk about lifestyle, that's what these guys are doing," Brands said. "It's them buying into themselves and believing and knowing they have to live that lifestyle and become fanatics about a certain standard every day."
Perhaps we in the church would do well with remembering that very thing. We need to be fanatical about following Jesus. Just something to ponder.

Sunday Video: Here Is Our King

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Thank God Through Worship

The Grateful Living: Part 5

In Luke 17:11-19 we read about an encounter Jesus had with 10 lepers. The lepers wanted Jesus to show compassion on them and help them in some way. The way Jesus helped them was to heal them of their disease. The nine Jewish lepers went to the priest to be declared clean, but the lone Samaritan came back to worship Jesus and say thank you. While the nine did a good thing it was the one who did the best thing.

Mark Moore in his study on the life of Christ wrote:
“Now, the nine are doing just what they were told. They are obeying Jesus as well as the Law. They are doing what is right. However, the Samaritan is doing what is better. That’s a tough distinction for Christians as well. Often we are motivated to do what is right, to obey, and to fulfill God’s laws. There is certainly nothing wrong with that, but the ‘better” is to worship Jesus. Again, we see the distinction between ritual and relationship. It is possible to do all the right things and still miss Jesus” (The Chronological Life of Christ: From Galilee to Glory, pg. 96).

Worshipping out of gratitude will help us, not only do the right things, but to connect with Jesus as well. The best is to worship.

It is interesting to note that the Jews never had a documented case of leprosy being healed, cured, without the direct action of God. So for Jesus to heal these lepers it means, at the very least, that He is a prophet from God. Only God can cure leprosy, no one else could.

One more interesting thing to note from this event in the life of Jesus is that Jesus not only heals the lepers, but He, being the great High Priest, also declares the man clean. “Your faith had made you well” (verse 19). The Samaritan didn’t need a priest declaration, for the true and everlasting High Priest had declared him clean. Another reason for the man to praise God.

God has blessed us so very much, and the greatest blessing He has given us is eternal life through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. If God never gave us any other blessing other than this it is enough to eternally worship Him. This blessing is so much greater than being cured of leprosy and being restored to the community and your family. Salvation is being restored to a relationship with our Creator, a relationship that cannot be severed or destroyed what a great and awesome gift this is.

This is the truth I want you to take with you this morning: Our gratitude for God is best expressed through worship. Not just singing a few hymns on Sunday morning, but our everyday living for Him. Not just acts of obedience, but prayers of thanksgiving, songs of praise, deeds of compassion, and using our blessing to be a blessing to others. That is when we do what is best in the eyes of God.

  • Point to Ponder: Our gratitude for God is best expressed through worship.
  • Passage to Remember: Luke 17:19
  • Question to Consider: How do you thank God for what He has done?

Friday, March 21, 2008

Overflowing Gratitude

The Grateful Living: Part 4

In part three I pointed out that the nine Jewish lepers who were healed by Jesus responded to Jesus’ compassion through obedience. Obedience is certainly a good way to respond, but it doesn’t necessarily reflect the gratitude and love that is in our heart. There is a better way to respond to God’s love.

The best response to God’s love is to worship from gratitude.
15 But one of them, when he saw that he was healed, came back and praised God with a loud voice. 16 He fell on his face at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. Now the man was a Samaritan. (Luke 17: 15-16; ISV)

I wonder how far these lepers got before healing over took them. Did it happen immediately as they turned to find the priests? Did it take a few steps? Did they go a mile or two?

Not only that, but what was their reaction when they realized that their curse had been cured, that no longer did they have to leave the life of a person who was regarded as dead? Did the dance and yell? Did they give high fives to one another? Did the hug their brothers? Again we don’t know, all we know is that one lifted his voice to thank God. The amazing thing is that it was the Samaritan, rather than the Jews, who properly thanked God for what happened.

I also wonder if part of the Samaritan’s reaction was due to the fact that he was a Samaritan, and therefore was stuck with a double curse. Not only did he have to deal with the leprosy, but he also had to deal with the rejection for being a half-breed. The ancestors of the Samaritans were Jews who mixed with Gentiles during the exile and Greek occupation of Jewish history. So while they still considered themselves descendants of Abraham and Jacob, and still worshiped God, they were considered foreigners by the Jews. They couldn’t worship in the Temple like the Jews did, and therefore they modified Judaism to fit their situation. So even if this man didn’t have leprosy he would have been told by the Jews that he was worthless and that God didn’t love him.

Could you imagine then his reaction when he was healed just like his Jewish companions. What would he have realized? That God loved him just like He loved the Jews. This is probably one of the reasons Luke uses this story, since the biggest problem the early church had was racism, a reminder to all Christians that God loves everyone, it isn’t about race. What is important is a person faith demonstrated through their love for God and people.

When this man is healed he gives way to the joy that is in his heart and he thanks the one person who had the power to heal him: Jesus. The Samaritan knew that his healing was supernatural and he knew that Jesus was responsible for it.

Are we as quick to thank God for the blessings that come into our lives? I know that I am terrible at overlooking God’s work in my life and attributing blessings to my own hard work or the generosity of others. The result is that I don’t thank God they way that I should. We have to remember that everything that we have been given comes from God.

Peter reminds us:
{2}May grace and peace be lavished on you as you grow in the rich knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord! {3}I can pray this because his divine power has bestowed on us everything necessary for life and godliness through the rich knowledge of the one who called us by his own glory and excellence. {4} Through these things he has bestowed on us his precious and most magnificent promises, so that by means of what was promised you may become partakers of the divine nature, after escaping the worldly corruption that is produced by evil desire. (2 Peter 1:2-4; NET)

God gives us wonderful gifts for the purpose of growing us into the people He created us to be. He wants us to escape the sin and the decay of this corrupted world and share in the eternal life He has prepared for us. Our destiny isn’t death but life, and that should fill us with gratitude.

This gift of life isn’t something we have earned, but something God has freely given to us. Since this is the case how can we respond in any other way other than worship? While obedience is a better way to respond to God, to worship is the best way we can respond to God’s gift.

  • Point to Ponder: While obedience is a better way to respond to God, to worship is the best way we can respond to God’s gift.
  • Passage to Remember: 2 Peter 1:2-4
  • Question to Consider: How quick are you to praise God for the blessings of your life?

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Doing Our Duty

The Grateful Living: Part 3

Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem to face betrayal, beating, and crucifixion when 10 lepers plead for help. Showing compassion Jesus healed the 10 lepers, but only one of the lepers came back to thank Jesus and worship Him (Luke 17:11-19). What can we learn from the two distinct responses to Jesus’ healing?

The first response is obedience to ritual. Luke 17:14 reads; When he saw them, he told them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” While they were going, they were made clean (ISV).

To be honest with you it is hard for me to find fault the nine Jews had. After all they were obeying. They were not only obeying Jesus, but they were also obeying the Law God had given through Moses. For these men to be declared clean it was essential for them to be examined by a priest. Shouldn’t Jesus praise these men for their obedience and question the one for his lack of obedience? On the surface this is difficult to figure out.

Here is the problem with obedience, is especially to religious rituals. It can make us believe we have earned the blessings God has given us. In other words God’s blessings, in our minds, cease to be gifts, and become what we are owed.

This is what C.S. Lewis had to say about obedience to religious rituals:
“One mustn’t make the Christian life into a punctilious (meticulous) system of law, like the Jewish, [for] two reasons. (1) It raises scruples (second thoughts) when we don’t keep the routine. (2) It raises presumption when we do. Nothing gives one a more spuriously good conscience than keeping the rules, even if there has been a total absence of all real charity and faith” (Letters to an American Lady, pg. 38; The Joyful Christian, pg. 80).

It is entirely possibly that these nine Jews felt they were owed healing because of their obedience. Rather than being grateful they were getting what they were owed. That is why they didn’t return to Jesus to say thanks because they had finally been given what they deserved.

We have to guard ourselves against such thinking. God doesn’t owe us anything because we come to Worship Service on Sunday morning, on the Church Board, or give a small percentage of our income to His Kingdom. If all we did was perfectly obeyed then all we would be doing is what is expected from us.

If we take a look at the few verses that precede our text this morning we discover the Jesus taught about this very thing:
{7}"Would any one of you say to your slave who comes in from the field after plowing or shepherding sheep, 'Come at once and sit down for a meal'? {8} Won't the master instead say to him, 'Get my dinner ready, and make yourself ready to serve me while I eat and drink. Then you may eat and drink'? {9} He won't thank the slave because he did what he was told, will he? {10}So you too, when you have done everything you were commanded to do, should say, 'We are slaves undeserving of special praise; we have only done what was our duty.'" (Luke 17:7-10; NET)

While God desires our obedience, especially when it is done out of faith and love, that doesn’t mean God owes us anything because we have obeyed. Obedience is simply the duty that is expected from us.

The problem with the nine isn’t that they obeyed, but they lacked the real love for their Creator and Healer to take time to worship Him for the wonderful gift He had blessed them with. If all we do is obey God and never take the time to worship Him from the gratitude that has welled up in our hearts then we have settled for the good and missed the best.

  • Point to Ponder: Obedience is simply the duty that is expected from us.
  • Passage to Remember: Luke 17:7-10
  • Question to Consider: Are you doing your duty?

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Reason for Thanksgiving

The Grateful Living: Part 2

In part 1 we looked at how ingratitude is part of the human condition. No matter what God has done for us in the past it always seems that we take a “what have you done for me lately approach”. Humans are just not very grateful.

Thanksgiving should be a mark of a follower of Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul wrote:
6 So then, just as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live in him. 7 For you have been rooted in him and are being built up and strengthened in the faith, just as you were taught, while you overflow with thanksgiving. (Colossians 2:6-7; ISV)

We should be thankful for all that God has done for us through Jesus Christ. Even if God doesn’t do another single thing for us besides what He has already done we have enough to be eternally grateful.

I ended part 1 with the encounter Jesus had with 10 lepers. Since this is what will be the foundation for what I have to say about gratitude let me provide you with some context for what is happening in Luke 17:11-19.

After the raising of Lazarus the Sanhedrin has made it clear that Jesus is to be arrested. Jesus is aware that His time hasn’t arrived so He moves toward Galilee and further away from the influence of the Sanhedrin. There he spends time laying low in a village called Ephraim, but now spring has arrived and Jesus begins the journey back to Jerusalem for the final time. This marks Jesus’ final teaching tour and a large crowd follows him from Ephraim down to Jerusalem.

Traveling between Galilee and Samaria, Jesus is about to enter one the the border villages when he is hailed by a group of lepers. It appears that in this group there were nine Jews and one Samaritan. Ordinarily the Jews would not have been seen with a Samaritan, but their common fate has brought them together. (Mark Moore, pg. 95, The Chronological Life of Christ: From Galilee to Glory)

In Leviticus 13 God provided to Israel the regulations for dealing with those people with leprosy. But from there religious leaders, rabbis, and scholars added to what God had said.

Leprosy was not merely the emblem of sin, but of death, to which, so to speak, it stood related, as does our actual sinfulness to our state of sin and death before God. Even a Rabbinical saying ranks lepers with those who may be regarded as dead. They were excluded from the ‘camp of Israel,’ by which, in later times, the Talmudists understood all cities walled since the days of Joshua, who was supposed to have sanctified them. Lepers were not allowed to go beyond their proper bounds, on pain of forty stripes. For every place a leper entered was supposed to be defiled. They were, however, admitted to the synagogues, where a place was railed off for them, ten handbreadths high and four cubits wide, on the condition of their entering the house of worship before the rest of the congregation, and leaving it after them. (The Temple: Its Ministry and Services, Alfred Edersheim, pg. 286)

True, as wrapped in mourner’s garb the leper passed by, his cry “Unclean!” was to incite others to pray for him--but also to avoid him. No one was even to salute him; his bed was to be low, inclining towards the ground. If he even put his head into a place, it became unclean. No less a distance than four cubits (six feet) must be kept from a leper; or, if the wind came from that direction, a hundred were scarcely sufficient. Rabbi Meir would not eat an egg purchased in a street where there was a leper. Another Rabbi boasted, that he always threw stones at them to keep them far off, while others hid themselves or ran away. (The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, pg. 342, Alfred Edersheim)

So once again we see that our Lord’s response to Lepers was not the typical response. He listened to their plea rather than running them off. He had compassion on them rather than judging them (since leprosy was thought to be a sign of some terrible sin). He healed them rather than ignoring them.

These lepers demonstrate faith. Not only do the appeal to Jesus for help, but they leave to show themselves to a priest before they were healed. It is only after they respond in faith that they were healed. In part 3 we will explore the first of the two different responses to they lepers had to this remarkable gift.

Point to Ponder: Thanksgiving should be a mark of a follower of Jesus Christ.
Passage to Remember: Colossians 2:6, 7
Question to Consider: Why should you be grateful to God?

Monday, March 17, 2008

A Lack of Appreciation

The Grateful Living: Part 1

From my point of view, Israel complaining in the desert after being freedom from slavery is an amazing thing. They have witnessed God’s power through the plagues visited upon Egypt and the parting of the Red Sea, and yet when things got difficult with food and water instead of trusting God they complained. They were very much people whose gratitude depended on what have you done for me lately. Freedom wasn’t enough to get them to worship and trust God, they demanded that God had to continue to do the miraculous in order for them to worship God.

We can look back on Israel and judge them for their lack of faith and ingratitude, but are we much different? Do we thank God for saving us from our sins or do we demand that He proves Himself over and over again? Would we continue to worship God even if He didn’t bless us anymore? I don’t know about you, but I think I am very much like Israel. I have had a time in my life when I was ready to turn my back on God when He didn’t come through in the way I thought He should. Rather than focusing on the blessings of my life I focused on the problems and as a result I was ungrateful for the life God has given me. Here is the question I have for you to consider: How are you showing your gratitude to God?

The Christmas of 2003 my family, at the suggestion of my brother Tom, went in and bought me a single Christmas present. The bought me a replica of Sting. Sting is the sword Frodo Baggins used in the epic story The Lord of the Rings. This is one of my favorite present that I have ever received (another gift that is one of my favorites is the picture my girlfriend gave me for Christmas this past year). Not only because I am a fan of The Lord of the Rings, but because it also symbolizes the fact that I am on a journey, a quest, that is bigger than I am and the real reason my brother wanted to give it to me for Christmas.

Because my entire family went in on this one gift that Christmas as everyone else is opening their presents I sat there thinking: “Isn’t there more, is this all I get?” I loved the gift, but I wanted more. Ingratitude showed its ugly head and made it hard for me to truly appreciate what I had been given. Like Israel I wanted more.

How ungrateful are you? Consider the following story:
There is something about our condition that make it difficult to thank others. Consider Edward Spencer. Edward Spencer was a ministry student at Northwestern University near Chicago who also was a member of a life-saving team who would assist passengers on Lake Michigan boats. On September 8, 1860, the Lady Elgin floundered near the campus of Northwestern and Edward Spencer risked his life and personally rescued seventeen people. The exposure from the frigid waters from that rescue mission permanently damaged Edward’s health and he was unable to continue to prepare for the ministry. Some years later when he died, it was noted that not one of the seventeen people he saved ever came back to thank him (pg. 410, 1001 Great Stories and Quotes)

This ingratitude is not a generational thing but it is a human thing. For whatever reason, whether we think it is what we deserve or just don’t know how to respond, we never take the time to thank those who help us. Jesus experienced the ingratitude from the people He healed. Take a look at what happened when Jesus healed 10 men infected with leprosy:
11 One day, Jesus was traveling along the border between Samaria and Galilee on the way to Jerusalem. 12 As he was going into a village, ten lepers met him. They stood at a distance 13 and shouted, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”

14 When he saw them, he told them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” While they were going, they were made clean. 15 But one of them, when he saw that he was healed, came back and praised God with a loud voice. 16 He fell on his face at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. Now the man was a Samaritan.

17 Jesus asked, “Ten men were made clean, weren't they? Where are the other nine? 18 Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he told the man, “Get up, and go home! Your faith has made you well.” (Luke 17:11-19; ISV)

Amazing! Only one of the ten men returned to Jesus to worship Him. How easy it is to sit here and judge the nine, but the reality is that we are much more like the nine than we care to admit. We ask God to do things for us, and then we neglect to thank Him when He works in our lives. We need to examine our lives rather than judge the examples of others.

  • Point to Ponder: Ingratitude is not a generational thing but it is a human thing.
  • Passage to Remember: Luke 17:11-19
  • Question to Consider: How are you showing your gratitude to God?

Saturday, March 15, 2008

God's Holy People: Part 6

The follower of Jesus Christ is to live counter culturally. In other words Christians are not supposed to imitate the behavior and values of the world, but to imitate Jesus. We are to live differently because we have been set apart by God for His purposes. This is what this series of posts have been about: God’s holy people live differently from the world.

Several years ago a young couple walked into Mosaic on Sunday morning. They stood out for a number of reasons, one of which was that they made their way to the front just to find the minister, Erwin McManus, and say hello. They both seemed bright, energetic, and extremely enthusiastic about being there that day. Colin Johnson and Shiho Inuoe were at the same time living together and searching for God. They were a contradiction of terms in that Colin grew up in a Christian home and had tremendous disdain for the church and Shiho grew up in a Japanese home without any teaching about God and had an unexplainable attraction to Jesus.

Colin’s earring, nose ring, and tongue ring somehow didn’t seem to match the culture of a child whose parents had master’s degrees from Regents University, a Christian University. At first glance you would conclude that Colin was a classically unchurched university student, yet the reality was quite the opposite. He had become quite comfortable with being identified with one camp while working for the other. Even while he was worshiping at Mosaic’s San Gabriel location, he was dealing drugs on the west side of Los Angeles. He was one of perhaps millions in our Western society who had learned to life within a religion without experiencing transformation. In some ways you could say Colin was a Christian who did not know Christ. Yet in the end their quest for God proved to be genuine. If there was a God to know, they wanted to meet Him.

Soon both Colin and Shiho became followers of Christ, yet Colin’s defining moment may have come in one particular conversation. Even after coming to faith Colin was an extremely bright guy who always looked for loopholes. A range of issues such as moving to a life of moral purity created a real crisis for Colin. Colin could take a clear teaching in the Bible and make it obscure for his own purpose. All the arguments in the world really did not have a significant impact until one day at the end of a conversation with his mentor, Mike Tafoya. As he was walking out the door, Mike stopped him with one last thought: “Colin, you’re radical about everything else. Why don’t you become radical for Jesus?” Colin said that was the moment when everything changed.

That one thought made everything clear. The compelling reason he was looking for to live his life differently was right in front of him. Religion just wasn’t enough to change Colin’s life. The fear of consequence or the opinions of others were not adequate motivations to change his priorities. The call to be a good person just wasn’t compelling. Colin was anti-institution, and if anything, he was resistant to conforming to the expectations of others. It was the movement that captured him—that something important was happening in the world, that God, through His Son, Jesus Christ, had started a revolution and was inviting him to join. No observers invited, no spectators necessary, only revolutionaries, only radicals need apply. (Seizing Your Divine Moment; pg. 237-239)

Erwin McManus concludes the story about Colin by writing:
“When someone has chosen to walk away from God or God’s people, polite religion will not be enough to draw him back. There are thousands upon thousands who may never again step through the doors of any religious institution, and openly explain, ‘I’ve already tried that.’ The individual who has rejected religion and is living like hell will not be won back except by those who are living like heaven.”

Only by being God’s holy people can we hope to make an impact on this world. We need to be people who are living like heaven in this dark world. We cannot hope to impact the world by using the worlds methods and standards, we have to stand apart from the world to be noticed. People need to see that there is a better way to live, before they will give their lives to it. Are we going to be God’s Holy People?

  • Point to Ponder: God’s holy people live differently from the world.
  • Passage to Remember: Ephesians 5:1-21
  • Question to Consider: Am I going to live differently from the world?
God's Holy People: Part 1
God's Holy People: Part 2
God's Holy People: Part 3
God's Holy People: Part 4
God's Holy People: Part 5

Friday, March 14, 2008

God's Holy People: Part 5

To be holy means to be set apart. If we are God’s holy people that means that we have been set apart which requires us to live by faith and be different from the world around us. We don’t get involved in the same sinful entanglements that they do and we live by a different set of standards. To put in simply followers of Jesus live differently than the rest of the world.

How do we do that? In Ephesians 5:1-21 we see that the apostle Paul has given us three different ways we are to walk in order to be set apart, to be different, from the world. The first way is that we are to walk in love. The second way is to walk in light. This brings us to the third way found in verses 15-21:
15 So, then, be careful how you live. Do not be unwise but wise, 16 making the best use of time because the days are evil. 17 Therefore, do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord's will is. 18 Stop getting drunk with wine, which leads to wild living, but keep on being filled with the Spirit. 19 Then you will recite to one another psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. You will sing and make music to the Lord with your hearts. 20 You will always give thanks to God the Father for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 21 And you will submit yourselves to one another out of reverence for Christ. (ISV)

Here we see that the apostle Paul also wants us to walk in wisdom. To walk in wisdom has very little to do with how smart we are or how much education we possess. It has everything to do with our relationship with Truth. Ultimately Truth is not about facts and propositions, but about a Person. Wisdom is borne out of our relationship with Jesus. He is the Truth.

When we walk in wisdom we understand what God’s will is. This begins with understanding God’s desire for us to love Him and to love people and in the process make disciples. It continues with our understanding what God desires from our lives and the life of this Church Family. When we walk in Wisdom we begin to look at everything through the lenses of God’s will.

This means we will do things that don’t make too much sense to us. Think about the story of Jonathan’s daring plan found in 1 Samuel 14. The Israelite army has been reduced to 600 men and the Philistines have come with an army of 30,000. The Philistines have the latest in military equipment and Israel has but two swords. By human standards King Saul did the wise thing by hiding with his 600 men rather than engage the thousands of men in the Philistine army. What Jonathan did by picking a fight with the Philistines, with only his armor bearer by his side, was foolish. In God’s economy of things it was the other way around. Only by looking through the lens of God’s will did Jonathan know what the Wise thing to do really was.

When we walk in wisdom we will encourage one another. No matter how you slice it to live differently from the world is a tough thing to do. In order to succeed we need all the encouragement we can get. So we shouldn’t be tearing one another down, dwelling on faults, and cursing circumstances we have no control over. Instead we need to build one another up, encouraging one another to hang on, and giving thanks to God regardless of the situation we might find ourselves in.

We also need to submit to one another. This doesn’t sound like very wise advice, but then again often God’s wisdom goes against human intuition. We are afraid to submit because we fear being taken advantage of. Yet, Jesus did just that. He submitted Himself to us, because of love. Through our submission to God’s word and our humble service to others we discover God’s Wisdom for our lives.

The way of wisdom isn’t found in the halls of academia, but on the road of faith. Faith will take us places our good sense will tell us not to go and in the process we experience God’s truth in our lives. The truth of God brings us the wisdom that we so desperately need to live. Has walking by faith given you wisdom?

  • Point to Ponder: We are to walk in wisdom.
  • Passage to Remember: Ephesians 5:15-21
  • Question to Consider: Has walking by faith given you wisdom?

God's Holy People: Part 1
God's Holy People: Part 2
God's Holy People: Part 3
God's Holy People: Part 4
God's Holy People: Part 6

Thursday, March 13, 2008

God's Holy People: Part 4

The followers of Jesus Christ are called to live differently from the world. If we are not live differently from those people who are not Christians then we have to ask the question: Am I really following Jesus?

This is more than just going to a worship service on Sunday morning or placing a few dollars in the offering plate, this is about a different set of priorities and trusting God more than you trust yourself. It is seen in the way we love. Part 3 we examined how the apostle Paul expected followers of Jesus to walk in love.

In order to live differently from the world and be beacons of light in this dark world the Apostle Paul also tells us that we are to walk in light.
8 for you were at one time darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of the light - 9 for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness, and truth - 10 trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. 11 Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. 12 For the things they do in secret are shameful even to mention. 13 But all things being exposed by the light are made evident. 14 For everything made evident is light, and for this reason it says: "Awake, O sleeper! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you!" (Ephesians 5:8-14; ISV)

A motto I have for my life is: A Christ-Follower shows the world a better way to live. Ultimately that is what living as children of light is all about. Light exposes what the dark hides. Light shows the way when darkness covers it up. Our lives should be lights for the world.

Do you realize that there are people desperately searching for a better way to live? They are stuck in the same patterns given to them by their parents and friends. All they know is that their way is killing them, but they don’t know there is a better way. There are people who have no clue that it is wrong to have sex outside the commitment of marriage, to beat and abuse their children, or to do drugs. They are just living the best way they know how, the way given to them by culture, and it is absolutely killing them.

Christians need to live their lives is such away as to show people that there is a better way to live. There is hope. There is a way to live life that bring joy to the lives of others instead of destruction. That following Christ is the way to have hope, peace, and purpose for life.

When we walk in light one of two results will take place. First, it will attract people to Jesus. Living lives of faith and hope will make us different, radically different, from the rest of the world. There will be some people who will be draw to the type of life that we live. They want the hope and faith that we have. They want to have the purpose and excitement we have for life. The light will attract them.

Though some will be attracted to the light, some will be repelled. Like rats and mice scramble for the dark place when a light is turned on, some people will seek the dark rather than live in the light. They don’t want the greed and lust of their hearts exposed. In some cases they will turn hostile: “What give you the right to tell me how to live!” They realize what they are doing is wrong, and the way a Follower of Christ lives his/her life exposes all the hopelessness and fear they have in their lives. They would much rather remain hidden in the dark than deal with the reality that the light exposes.

Our lives are meant to be on display for the world to see. People need to see in the way we live how being a follower of Jesus is better than following the way of the world. What is your life telling the world about Jesus?

  • Point to Ponder: We are to walk in light.
  • Passage to Remember: Ephesians 5:8-14
  • Question to Consider: What is your life telling the world about Jesus?
God's Holy People: Part 1
God's Holy People: Part 2
God's Holy People: Part 3
God's Holy People: Part 5
God's Holy People: Part 6

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

God's Holy People: Part 3

In the first part of this series I pointed out that a follower of Christ needs to live counter cultural. It is by living differently from the world that we become beacons of light in this dark world. In part 2 of this series I hit on the truth that how we live reflects what we believe. If we truly believe in God and trust Jesus our lives will be different from those around us. I ended part two by pointing you to Ephesians 5:1-21 and saying that the apostle Paul provides us with ways we are to walk if we are going to be different from the world. In this third part we will look at the first way we are to walk.

First we are to walk in love:
1 Therefore, be imitators of God as dearly loved children 2 and live in love, just as Christ also loved us and gave himself for us, a sacrificial and fragrant offering to God. 3 But among you there must not be either sexual immorality, impurity of any kind, or greed, as these are not fitting for the saints. 4 Neither should there be vulgar speech, foolish talk, or coarse jesting - all of which are out of character - but rather thanksgiving. 5 For you can be confident of this one thing: that no person who is immoral, impure, or greedy (such a person is an idolater) has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. 6 Let nobody deceive you with empty words, for because of these things God's wrath comes on the sons of disobedience. 7 Therefore do not be partakers with them, (Ephesians 5:1-7; NET)

I know this isn’t much of a surprise. As Christians we talk about love all the time. We know about the two greatest commandments: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength; and to love you neighbor as yourself. We know that neighbor is more than just the people you live next door, but they are anybody with whom you come into contact with. We have been taught that love is more than a feel, but it is a choice to treat people with dignity and respect in what we do and say. We know these things, but still love eludes us.

We are friendly. We smile at people, shake their hand, and ask them how they are doing, but we don’t really love them. We don’t hate them either, we just are indifferent to their existence. Paul has reminded us in this section two aspects of love that we tend to ignore.

The first aspect is sacrifice. Paul uses the example of Jesus while talking about love. Yes, Jesus sacrificed himself on the cross from our sins, but we tend to forget all that sacrifice entailed. Philippians 2:5-7 reads:
Having this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. (NASB)
There is a mystery in what Paul writes, but one thing is certain: Jesus left his place in heaven and became a servant for people. To follow Jesus means to become a servant, and many times in order for us to serve requires us to sacrifice. We cannot truly love people until we sacrifice for them.

The second aspect of love that we need to remember is humility. Love is absent of self. The actions Paul lists in verses 3-7 are things done because of selfishness. When we are only thinking about ourselves rather than God or others, these are the sins that will be evident in our lives. If we truly loved people we would stop doing these things. You cannot walk in love and be sexually immoral. You cannot walk in love and tell dirty jokes down at the coffee shop. You cannot walk in love and gossip about people. You cannot walk in love and be greedy. To walk in love requires us to put other people ahead of ourselves. In other words we come in third: God, others, us. Are you willing to humble yourself and walk in love?

  • Point to Ponder: We are to walk in love.
  • Passage to Remember: Ephesians 5:1-7
  • Question to Consider: Are you willing to humble yourself and walk in love?
God's Holy People: Part 1
God's Holy People: Part 2
God's Holy People: Part 4
God's Holy People: Part 5
God's Holy People: Part 6

Bohemian Christianity

In chapter 9 of The Slumber of Christianity author Ted Dekker moves from explaining how our imaginations can be used to produce a desire of heaven in our hearts to discussing how we can use pleasure.
“We have explored that wonderful, expansive gift God has given us to awaken to the pleasures of the next life, namely the imagination.

“But there is another gift God has given us to awaken our passion for the next life: pleasure in this life.” (p. 163)

Pleasure is a tricky topic. On the one hand we see how pleasure is misused and abused by the world. On the other hand we realize that God has given us these pleasures, and if God has given them they are for our enjoyment. The church has seemed to over emphasis the first hand and down played the second as we have urged people away from anything that feels good.
“The response of many teachers who see a church enamored by the pleasures of this world has been to drive their flock away from the pleasures of the world rather than toward the pleasures of heaven, which results in only a deeper slumber stripped of not only the pleasures of heaven but those of earth as well.” (p. 166)

We need to remember that pleasure is a gift from God and when experienced within the context that He has decreed add joy to our lives.
“So let’s dismiss every misguided notion that any of God’s gifts are less than perfectly excellent. Let’s not mock the Giver by picking holes in his offerings to us.

“Having said that, however, if you want to enjoy the pleasures granted us by our Creator, you first must understand how they were intended to be enjoyed and what their true purpose is. It’s true that pleasure can be and often is corrupted. But it’s also true that all good pleasures come from God.” (p. 167)

One of the problems we have with pleasure is that we are bored with it. “Been there, done that,” could be the slogan of our lives. Things that brought us pleasure five years ago are now old hat and boring.
“But we aren’t like children. We’ve experienced all of these pleasures, and they no longer meet our expectations for fresh engagement. We grow bored with movies. Bored with our spouses. Bored with life. Bored with God. Bored with the familiar, anemic visions we have of heaven.

“They say that familiarity breeds contempt. You see it at the movies; you begin to feel it with every pleasure that once awed you.” (p. 169)

Of course we can’t get rid of our experiences and approach pleasure like it was the first time, but we can change our perspective on pleasure.
“We can adjust our understanding of those pleasures. We can accurately see all temporal pleasures as limited foreshadows of something coming later. For now, with pleasure as well as with knowledge, we see through only a glass dimly, but then we will see face-to-face. Now God’s gifts to us are fading, but then they will be brilliant.” (p. 170)

Our cravings and desires weren’t meant to be satisfied here, but are meant to point us to heaven. If we make be satisfied our goal the pleasures of this life will disappoint us, no matter how much or how we indulge.
“What does this have to do with heaven? We should not look for any great satisfaction on earth, but in heaven alone. When you finally come to the understanding that nothing in this world can truly satisfy the thirst God has placed in you to see him face-to-face, your disappointments with this world’s failure to deliver satisfaction will start to fade and you’ll begin to enjoy the pleasures on this earth for what they are. Foretastes of heaven.” (p. 171)

Remember we can’t just indulge in pleasure any way we would like. There are proper ways and improper ways on how we should use pleasure.
“Having said that, wallowing in the sin of spoiled pleasures in no fun and only detracts from the joy of hoping for heaven, so let’s agree with Paul and toss spoiled pleasure aside.

“There isn’t a single pleasure that can’t be corrupted. We think of sexual sin and drunkenness and drug addiction, but we also know that the pleasures of religion and worship and self-righteousness themselves can be offensive to God. “ (p. 175)

We have to be careful not to let the pleasures of this world blind us to the hope of eternity. If we let our lives be consumed by the things of this world we will miss out on the pleasures God has waiting for His children.
“But those who see clearly the hope of eternity, and who passionately long for the day of their redemption, and who embrace all that God has given them, acknowledging God as the Giver of all good gifts—these he will embrace as his children.” (p. 176)

When properly embraced the pleasures of this world point us to heaven.
“Again, I say embrace the pleasures God has given you as a foretaste of his great inheritance that awaits you in heaven. Celebrate them. Never abuse them or allow the enemy to fool you into thinking they are more or less than what they are.” (p. 179)

Find the other chapters:
Chapter 1: The Death of our Dreams
Chapter 2: The Search for Pleasure
Chapter 3: Foundations
Chapter 4: Give Me Pleasure or Give Me Death
Chapter 5: The Slippery Slope to Slumber
Chapter 6: In Living We Die; In Dying We Live
Chapter 7: Created to Obsess
Chapter 8: The Eyes of the Heart part 1
Chapter 8: The Eyes of the Heart part 2

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

How to Talk to the Other Side

Tom Gilson at Thinking Christian has a post about how to talk to Evolutionist (which has wider application) that I really appreciated. Here is one of his thoughts:
I am not saying you can’t have an opinion where you haven’t done your homework. I’m also not saying that what you know about God from other sources–revelation, apologetics, faith in general–has to be put on hold on account of this one topic. I am saying that we all ought to admit what we don’t know, especially when the topic is as complex as this one.
I encourage you to read the rest of what Tom wrote: How Not to Support "Expelled;" How Not to Attack Evolution

God's Holy People: Part 2

In part 1 of this series I pointed out how the follower of Christ is expected to be counter cultural. A Christian has to live differently from the world. It was this stark contrast that set the early Christians apart from the rest of the Roman Empire. Because they lived differently they were beacons of light in a dark world. Remember Jesus wants us to be lights of the world (Matthew 5:14-16).

How we live is a reflection of what we believe. If we want to be lights in this world that shine with God’s love and truth then we have to live in a certain way. This is what the apostle Paul was getting at when he wrote: But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people (Ephesians 5:3; NIV). There is a proper and an improper way for Christ-Followers to live. The Apostle reminds the Ephesians, and us, that we are no longer sinners, no longer pagans, but we are God’s Holy People! We have been set apart and chosen as God’s special instrument to bring His love and grace to the world.

When we understand who we are it effects the way we live. I think one of the struggles we face as we follow Jesus is an uncertainty about our identity. We are keenly aware of the sins that have been in our lives and the struggles we still have with sin. The enemy tells us that we are sinners and that we don’t have what it takes to follow Jesus. What Jesus wants us to remember, and what Paul is reminding us of here in Ephesians, is that your sin is not who you are. You are more than your sin, Jesus died to free you from it, and if we move forward understanding that we are children of God, His Holy People, our sin becomes less and less a part of our identity.

Here is the truth I think the Apostle Paul wants us to get from chapter 5 of his letter to the Ephesians: God’s holy people live differently from the world!

How do we do that? How do we live a life that is so out of step with the world? I believe the Apostle Paul has given us the answers to these questions in this passage from Ephesians.
1 Therefore, be imitators of God as dearly loved children 2 and live in love, just as Christ also loved us and gave himself for us, a sacrificial and fragrant offering to God. 3 But among you there must not be either sexual immorality, impurity of any kind, or greed, as these are not fitting for the saints. 4 Neither should there be vulgar speech, foolish talk, or coarse jesting - all of which are out of character - but rather thanksgiving. 5 For you can be confident of this one thing: that no person who is immoral, impure, or greedy (such a person is an idolater) has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. 6 Let nobody deceive you with empty words, for because of these things God's wrath comes on the sons of disobedience. 7 Therefore do not be partakers with them, 8 for you were at one time darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of the light - 9 for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness, and truth - 10 trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. 11 Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. 12 For the things they do in secret are shameful even to mention. 13 But all things being exposed by the light are made evident. 14 For everything made evident is light, and for this reason it says: "Awake, O sleeper! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you!" 15 Therefore be very careful how you live - not as unwise but as wise, 16 taking advantage of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17 For this reason do not be foolish, but be wise by understanding what the Lord's will is. 18 And do not get drunk with wine, which is debauchery, but be filled by the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making music in your hearts to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for each other in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 and submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Ephesians 5:1-21; NET)

In part 3 I will look at the first of three ways we are to walk in order to live differently from the world.

  • Point to Ponder: God’s holy people are to live differently from the world.
  • Passage to Remember: Ephesians 5:3
  • Question to Consider: How are you living differently from the world?
God's Holy People: Part 1
God's Holy People: Part 3
God's Holy People: Part 4
God's Holy People: Part 5
God's Holy People: Part 6

Monday, March 10, 2008

God's Holy People: Part 1

To be a follower of Christ has always meant to be counter-culture, to live differently from the rest of society. As the Church began in the first century the days were just as evil as they are today. Rome, as you may realize, was a huge empire and her influence was far reaching, but this empire was not a good place.

The city of Rome was plagued by over crowding. To give you an idea of how over crowded Rome was here are a few numbers to consider: Chicago has about 21 people per square acre. New York is considered over crowded at 37 people per square acre. Rome was extremely overcrowded at 200 people per square acre. This is without the benefit of high rise apartment buildings and with 30% of the city’s space being used for public spaces such as temples, fountains, and markets. Rome as a city in which people were, quite literally, living on top of each other.

With so much over crowding you can imagine that Rome was a place of extreme poverty, and this poverty led to an enormous crime problem. Rome was a crowded and dangerous place to live. In order to keep the people’s minds off their condition the Caesars arranged cheap entertainment for people to watch.

The favorite place of Rome was called the Circus Maximus. This was a horse-chariot racing track of enormous proportions. Around 250,000 people gathered around to watch men in wicker-work chariots race round the track. It was a deadly thing to do, but the crowds loved it: the speed, the crashes, and the death.

The Circus Maximus was also a place of illicit sex. The poet Ovid in his poem on love advised men to go to the Circus Maximus to find a mistress. In such a crowded place with people’s attention on the races who would notice two lovers?

Not only were there races, but the Circus Maximus also held staged animal hunts. Romans loved to see exotic animals killing each other and being killed. These people loved to see death, for no matter how miserable their lives might be, they were still alive.

This meant that the Circus Maximus was also a place of execution. Now many people don’t realize it, but there isn’t any evidence that an Christians were executed in that most famous of Roman structures, the Coliseum, but there is much evidence that Christians by the scores were executed at the Circus Maximus. Here they would be thrown to the lions during the animal hunts, right before the lions were hunted and killed. A deadly evil place.

The Coliseum is probably the most famous place of Roman entertainment. It held between 70 and 50,000 people. The morning began with animal hunts. After the hunts were the executions: murderers, rapists, and other criminals. They would be mauled by animals, burned at the stake, or chopped to pieces by the gladiators as they warmed up for battle. Early afternoon, sometime after 1 as people came after getting done with work, is when the gladiators took stage. These fights were dangerous and often led to the death of one of the opponents. The crowd cheered at the sight of blood and yelled for more. Life was spilled for the simple entertainment of the mob.

Rome was plagued by sexual immorality. Homosexuality was rampant. Many of the high ranking male officials had a teenage boy in their lives. It was also said that a man should have three women in his life: a wife to bear him honorable children, a prostitute to care for his “physical needs,” and a mistress who was witty and fun and could be taken to parties. It was a culture where marriage was not honored.

Abortion was also part of this culture. Women aborted their babies for the simple reason to avoid stretch marks. When unwanted children were born they were left on the streets to be picked up by slave traders.

It was a culture in which women were looked on as property. They were abused and mistreated. A woman’s life in this culture was worth very little outside the value a man found in her.

Into this terrible situation came Christianity. Followers of Jesus refused to support the blood sport entertainment of the Romans. They did not attend the chariot races of the Circus Maximus or the games of the Coliseum. Christians valued life and did not want to see it spilled on the ground for the entertainment of the crowd.

Christians refused to live sexually immoral lives. They honored marriage as being between one man and one woman. They valued women and raised a woman’s position in life. Part of the reason that so many women became Christians was because to be a Christian was so much better than being a pagan.

Christians picked up the unwanted children. At great sacrifice to themselves they clothed and educated these children, often little girls, and gave them a life better than being a slave. Followers of Jesus were committed to living differently than the rest of the world (information taken from Mark Moore’s Encounter messages for 2004 CIY Summer Conference).

What do we, as a Church of Jesus Christ, have to offer the world? We can’t offer riches, fame, or anything else people are desperately giving their lives to. All we have to offer is life. A life that is less complicated and more hopeful than anything the world has to offer. By living differently we become beacons of light in a very dark world.

The Apostle Paul understood this to be true. That is why he spent so much time in the middle portion of Ephesians writing about how we should live. Ephesians 4:17 reads: So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do. (NIV). We are to live differently from the people of this world. The Apostle expects the lives of those following Jesus to be different from the culture around them. How different is your life?

  • Point to Ponder: By living differently we become beacons of light in a very dark world.
  • Passage to Remember: Ephesians 4:17
  • Question to Consider: How different is your life?
God's Holy People: Part 2
God's Holy People: Part 3
God's Holy People: Part 4
God's Holy People: Part 5
God's Holy People: Part 6

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...