Wednesday, July 30, 2008

His Mission, My Example

Living Right: Part 3

We acknowledge that it is a struggle to live a life that honors Jesus. From the hardships of life, to the temptation to sin, to the little doubts from the lies of this world we are worn down. The result is that many of us want to give up. It isn’t like we are in danger of becoming atheists, but we just don’t want to try as hard and to go with the flow.

The Bible tells us that if we want to have life, real life, eternal life, then we have to stay connected to Jesus. We stay connected to Jesus by obeying His teaching, loving His creation, and believing His truth. When we give up, even if we remained involved in the church, we are in danger of severing that needed connection to life.

So we read throughout the New Testament that the encouragement to remain faithful and to persevere. One of the ways we do this is to keep our eyes on Jesus. Reading through 1 John I believe we can find two eyes of Jesus life that we need to focus on if we are going to keep our eyes on Jesus, and thus remain connected to Him. Yesterday, I pointed out that when we remember the promises of Jesus we have the hope we need to hang on through the difficulties of life.

The second area of Jesus’ life we must get to know is His Mission.
4 Everyone who keeps living in sin also practices disobedience. In fact, sin is disobedience. 5 You know that he was revealed to take away sins, and there is not any sin in him. 6 No one who remains in him goes on sinning. The one who goes on sinning hasn't seen him or known him.
7 Little children, don't let anyone deceive you. The person who practices righteousness is righteous, just as he is righteous. 8 The person who practices sin belongs to the evil one, because the devil has been sinning since the beginning. The reason that the Son of God was revealed was to destroy the works of the devil. 9 No one who has been born from God practices sin, because God's seed abides in him. Indeed, he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born from God. 10 This is how God's children and the devil's children are distinguished. No person who fails to practice righteousness and to love his brother is from God. (1 John 3:4-10; ISV)

John expected the mission of Jesus to have an effect on our lives. What is the mission of Jesus?
16 Now Jesus came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, 18 "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and the regaining of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." 20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 Then he began to tell them, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled even as you heard it being read." (Luke 4:16-21; NET)

Jesus said that this prophecy from the book of Isaiah applied to Him. His mission had to do with setting captives free and making the wrong right. John puts it a little simpler: take away our sin and to destroy the work of the devil.

Before we can really understand Jesus’ mission we have to first understand the rebellion of Satan. It is the rebellion of Satan that gives context to the mission of Jesus Christ. Satan is absolutely opposed to the will of God. He is dedicated to hindering God’s work at every turn. Clinton Gill in his commentary on the letters of John wrote; “The devil sins as a matter of principle...” (Hereby We Know: A Study of the Epistles of John, p. 79). While God’s character can be described in the word love Satan’s character can be summed up with the word sin. Satan is the greatest sinner in the universe. His every action is opposed to God’s will.

From the very beginning with Adam and Eve we can see how Satan has been out to destroy all the good things God has created. Do we really believe that he has stopped? The biggest way Satan can oppose God’s will is to deceive people, men and women God loves, into opposing God as well.

John has to remind his readers of this because a very serious deception had crept into the church. That deception was found in the false teachings of the Gnostics. The entire letter of 1 John, and this passage in particular, is directed at undermining their false teachings. According to William Barclay the Gnostics taught:
“that the body was evil and that, therefore, there was no harm in sating its lusts, because what happened to it was of no importance. They said that the truly spiritual man was so armoured with the Spirit that he could sin to his heart’s content and take no harm from it. They even said that the true Gnostic was under obligation both to scale the height and to plumb the depths so that he might be truly said to know all things.” (pp. 76-77; The Daily Study Bible: The Letters of John and Jude)

The denial of sin and its effects in our lives is one of the quickest ways we can cut ourselves off from our source of life: Jesus. These false teachers said that sin didn’t matter and that you could sin with no fear of consequences. This, my friends, is a lie from the depths of hell. Of course it is an appealing deception because it means we don’t have to struggle with the temptations of life, we can do what we want, and not feel guilty. In the process Satan begins to undo all the work Jesus came to accomplish.

In this passage we find John contrasting the work of Satan, the lawless one, with Jesus, the obedient Son of God, and then John asks the question: which one are you following? To live a life of sin is to follow Satan not Jesus. To live a righteous life is to follow Jesus.

This whole passage deals with our commitment. John is not suggesting that we must never sin again for us to follow Jesus. The Apostle already told us in Chapter 2 verse 1 that if we do sin we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense--Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. What John wants us to understand is that we can commit ourselves to getting rid of the sin in our lives and struggling with the temptation that leads to sin. To live a lifestyle of sin is to ignore the example of Jesus and the fact that He came to destroy the work of Satan, which is sin, the opposition of God’s will. If we are born of God then the sin we have in our lives will have no place to dwell and we will do what it takes to get rid of it.

How do we know if we are striving to live a righteous life? Righteousness is tied to our love. If we are seeking to love our brother and our neighbor, then we are striving for righteousness. Love is the evidence that we are seeking to live righteously.

The mission of Jesus provides us with the example to live righteous lives.

  • Point to Ponder: The mission of Jesus provides us with the example to live righteous lives.
  • Passage to Remember: 1 John 3:4-10
  • Question to Consider: Am I following Jesus or Satan?

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Hope From His Promises

Living Right: Part 2

It is not always easy to do the right thing. In fact, it is one of the hardest thing to do in life. The easy way to live is to submit to the pressure, to give in, and not struggle to follow Jesus. Following Jesus is a struggle. It is a struggle because of the false teachings we hear from inside and outside the church. It is a struggle because life doesn’t go the way we planned. It is a struggle because the we get worn down by all the hassles and difficulties of life.

Yesterday we looked at Hebrews 12:1-4 and noticed that the author of that book tells us to look to the faithful of old and to Jesus to discover the encouragement we need to continue our struggle to live the life God created us to live. In 1 John 2:28-3:10 I think the apostle John helps us understand how we can keep our eyes on Jesus. John tells us we can keep our eyes on Jesus by focusing on two areas of His life.

The first area of Jesus’ life we must focus on are His promises:
28 Even now, little children, abide in him. Then, when he appears, we will have confidence and will not turn away from him in shame at his coming. 29 If you know that he is righteous, you also know that everyone who practices righteousness has been born from God.

1 See what kind of love the Father has given us in letting us be called God's children! Yet that is what we are. For this reason the world does not recognize us, because it did not recognize him either.

2 Dear friends, we are now God's children, but what we will be like has not been revealed yet. We know that when Christ is revealed we will be like him, because we will see him as he is. 3 And everyone who has this hope based on him keeps himself pure, just as he is pure. (1 John 2:28-3:3, ISV)

John apparently takes Jesus at His word when Jesus promised to return. In John 14:1-4 we read Jesus’ promise:
1 "Do not let your hearts be distressed. You believe in God; believe also in me. 2 There are many dwelling places in my Father's house. Otherwise, I would have told you, because I am going away to make ready a place for you. 3 And if I go and make ready a place for you, I will come again and take you to be with me, so that where I am you may be too. 4 And you know the way where I am going." (NET)

What is the purpose of this promise? Jesus makes this promise in order to give His disciples hope. “Don’t let your hearts be distressed...” Hang in there, don’t grow weary and lose heart, I am coming back, Jesus is telling us. It is a word of encouragement that we need.

In 1 John 2:3-27 the Apostle warns his readers to be on guard against antichrists and false teachings. They needed to remain connected to Jesus, the true source of life. We know we are connected to Jesus when we obey Him (vv. 3-6), when we love (vv.7-14), and when we seek truth (vv.15-27). John wants these people to remain in Jesus.

Then John writes, “continue in him...” Translation: “Life is hard, don’t give up, because Jesus is coming back, and we want to be confident on that day.” Without this hope that Jesus is coming back to make everything right, then it is next to impossible to continue in him, and the trials of life will makes us want to throw in the towel.

Our confidence doesn’t come from our good behavior, but from our trust in Jesus. Remember that is what remaining in Jesus is all about: obeying His teachings, loving His creation, and believing His truth. Faith allows us to come to know the One has made the promise, and as we begin to know Him we discover that we can trust Him.

Not only can we be certain that Jesus is coming back, but John gives us an equally impressive claim: we are Children of God! Not that we will be, but that we are. In the language of the apostle Paul we have been adopted into the family of God, He has chosen us as His children. In the language of Jesus we are the prodigal son returning home. God wants to lavish His love on us, but we have to go back to Him in order to experience that love.

As children of God we are experiencing the lavish love of God through the transformation of our lives. And just as all of us have stories about our lives being opposed by Satan, I am certain we all have stories about how God has made a difference in our lives as we have followed Jesus.

We have seen evidence of the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives and we know that we are not the same people we were last year, let alone 5 or 10 years ago. Yet John makes another startling claim, what we will be has not yet been made known. But when he appears, we shall be like him...Wow. God isn’t finished with us. While we can see evidences of transformation in our lives, that transformation isn’t complete. It won’t be complete until Jesus makes His triumphant return.

When we live out this hope, this trust that Jesus will keep His promise and return, then, John writes, we purify ourselves. I think this is a verse we have difficulty with because it seems to say that it is our good works that purify us, and we have been taught that we are saved by grace through faith and not by good works.

Just as our faith is demonstrated through our actions, our hope is demonstrated through what we do as well. We show that we have hope in the return of Jesus because we take the necessary steps to clean up our lives and to struggle against temptation and overcome sin. We show that we have hope when we continue to prayer for our brother to know come to know Jesus, even though he has demonstrated hostility to the idea in the past. Hope gives us a new perspective on life.

“College football fans knew the late Woody Hayes as a fierce competitor whose passion for winning once led him to slug an opposing player who intercepted an Ohio State pass. But when columnist Bob Greene interviewed him just before his final illness and asked if anything was as important as winning, Woody said yes. ‘The important thing is not always to win. The important thing is always to hope.’

“Hope kept Red McDaniel going in his Vietnamese imprisonment. For him to abandon hope, he wrote, was to abandon survival itself and with it his sense of self and all his personhood. The Jews at Auschwitz and Treblinka lived in daily horror and fear of dying, even as they saw other Jews die. Still, they never lost hope that they personally would survive. ‘Where there is life, hope must never be relinquished,’ one said.” (Speakers Sourcebook of New Illustrations, p. 104).

Even though our lives are being opposed as Satan seeks to steal, kill, and destroy our lives, we can have hope because of Jesus’ promise to return and make everything right. We know Jesus can be counted on because God promised a Savior, and at just the right time Jesus appeared. The promise of Jesus first coming provides us with the necessary evidence to trust the promise of His second coming.

The promises of Jesus provide us with the hope we need to live righteous lives.

  • Point to Ponder: The promises of Jesus provide us with the hope we need to live righteous lives.
  • Passage to Remember: 1 John 2:28-3:3
  • Question to Consider: How is hope made a difference in your life?

Monday, July 28, 2008

We Are Opposed

Living Right: Part 1

Jesus has come to us with the offer of life. That is the promise of John 10:10; “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come so that they may have life, and may have it abundantly” (NET). Now we can be certain that we have access to this life when we remain in Jesus (John 15:1-8). To remain in Jesus means that we live our lives in faith. Our lives should be a reflection of Jesus’ life.

Yet, we know that just because we have this life-giving connection doesn’t mean our lives will be easy. Remember our lives are being opposed and that we are living in a world that is at war. Jesus reminds us of this fact before making His promise in John 10:10. Satan is in opposition to the will of God and that means he is opposed to us having life. The Enemy is going to do everything in his power to oppose us and to keep us from living the life God created us to live. That means life will be a struggle. I want you to consider this question: How has Satan opposed your life?

Perhaps you can relate to this couple’s Paris vacation:
“Some dear friends of mine just returned from a three-week vacation in France. It had been their dream for nearly twenty-five years. What could be more romantic that strolling the Champs Élysées in the evening, as lovers do? It seemed an ideal way to celebrated their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. They’d both served God faithfully for decades, but over the years a European rendezvous seem about as reachable as the moon. Then, late last fall, things suddenly came together.

“Friends of theirs were headed to Europe and offered two tickets to come along. TIme off was available. They were going to France. And right after they made it to Paris, it all fell apart. Craig down with walking pneumonia; Lori wanted to leave the third day. All sorts of issues in their marriage surface, but since they were with friends, the issues mostly played themselves out in their own thoughts--which tended toward divorce. It wasn’t romantic; it was hard. Afterward, as we talked on the phone about the whole thing, Lori said, ‘Life never seems to turn out the way you think it will, about 90 percent of the time.’ No kidding. Haven’t we all got a story that goes with that little bumper sticker?” (John Eldredge, Waking the Dead, p. 6)

Our lives are being opposed. Satan doesn’t want you to live life, he wants you life destroyed. Doesn’t this help us make sense of the world? Why do the evil seem to prosper and the good struggle? Why do tragic events happen that erase the joy of life? Only when the answers are built upon the fact that our lives are being opposed do we even begin to make sense of what is happening.

Put this in the context of your life: You have tried to become more obedient to Jesus, but you can’t seem to break free from the habit of gossiping. You just need to be “in the know”. You want to be more loving to your next door neighbor, but then he knocks on your door to let you know all the things that are wrong with your yard and house. He leaves and you are seething inside as you visualize putting your fist through his face. You want to be certain about the truth of the Bible, but last night’s program on the Discovery Channel has you wondering if naturalistic evolution isn’t right after all. It seems so ridiculous to believe in God the Creator in the face of “scientific evidence”.

The more we try to follow Jesus, the more we will be opposed by Satan. Things don’t go as planned because Satan is out to steal, kill, and destroy our lives. Because life is hard we will be tempted to give up and do our own thing. Please remember to do so would allow Satan to win the fight for our life.

Why should we continue our struggle against the opposition of the Enemy? The writer of Hebrews wrote:
1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, we must get rid of every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and run with endurance the race set out for us, 2 keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. For the joy set out for him he endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Think of him who endured such opposition against himself by sinners, so that you may not grow weary in your souls and give up. 4 You have not yet resisted to the point of bloodshed in your struggle against sin. (Hebrews 12:1-4; NET)

The inspired author of Hebrews tells us that there are two reasons why we should continue our struggle against the opposition to our lives. The first reason is because of the faithful people who went before us. Hebrews chapter 11, as many of you know, continues a list of men and women who remained faithful to God. He reminds us that not one of these people received everything God had promised them, but that they looked forward to the time when God would make everything right. We too must follow their example and look forward to Heaven.

The second is Jesus. Jesus experienced hardships, trials, and opposition, yet in the end He was obedient and faithful. Because Jesus endured so much for us, we should endure through the opposition that we will face. The life God created us to live is not going to be easy, it is going to filled with opposition, but if we endure we will discover it is the best life that we can possible live.

  • Point to Ponder: The more we try to follow Jesus, the more we will be opposed by Satan.
  • Passage to Remember: Hebrews 12:1-4
  • Question to Consider: How has Satan opposed you?

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Sunday Quote: Following Jesus

"Only by walking with God can we hope to find the path that leads to life. That is what it means to be a disciple. After all—aren't we 'followers of Christ'? Then be all means, let's actually follow him. Not ideas about him. Not just his principles. Him." ~ John Eldredge, Waking the Dead, p. 97

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Hating and Loving Ourselves

“Sin is not something you just shake off, like a pesky viral infection. It is enslaving, immobilizing. WE ARE HELPLESS against it.” ~ William Pile, What The Bible Says About Grace

One of the things that I really liked about the movie The Two Towers is the portrayal of the creature Gollum. If you were able to watch the movie you probably began to pity the sad little guy. We could plainly see the struggle Gollum had with the ring, the two distinct sides of his personality. I found what Colin Duriez wrote about Gollum in The J.R.R. Tolkien Handbook very interesting.
The character of Gollum also reveals Tolkien’s concern for repentance in human life. Despite his depravity, a side of Gollum struggles to rise above the overwhelming demands of the Ring, which possesses him. There are times in the story when it seems possible that Gollum will be saved.

For almost five hundred years Gollum was enslaved by the power of the One Ring. Even after years without the Ring, Gollum still was consumed by his “Precious.” Because of this enslavement Gollum both hates and loves the Ring and himself.

Watching The Two Towers I found myself pitying Gollum. Not because he is such a miserable creature, but because I understand his feelings. I know what it is to hate and love oneself and that enslaving sin that controls a life. I would guess that you too have experienced these feelings.

We may not want to participate in sin any longer and we hate it because we know the consequences. We also have a desire within ourselves to continue our lifestyle, for we still love our sin. Since we have this dual personality, we end up loving and hating ourselves, not just our sin.

If this is the way you feel I hope that you can find comfort in knowing that others have felt the exact same thing. The Apostle Paul fought against these same feelings and desires.
{21} It seems to be a fact of life that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. {22} I love God’s law with all my heart. {23} But there is another law at work within me that is at war with my mind. This law wins the fight and makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. {24} Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin? (Romans 7:21-24; NLT)
Will power, right thinking, pep talks, even a greater knowledge of God’s law will not give us victory in this struggle. This struggle brings us heart ache and disillusionment, but it is good. I hope that you are struggling with this love/hate relationship, because it serves a purpose. It reminds us that there is something greater, a higher calling for us to achieve. If you find yourself feeling like Gollum it means that you are on the right track. People might not understand your struggle or how far you have come, but God knows. Just because you have not reached a standard set by someone else or have not lived up to your own ideals doesn’t mean that you are failure. Don’t give up. Remember that even though you may hate and love yourself, God’s love has not changed. He still loves you.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Bringing People to Jesus

One of my favorite stories about Jesus is found in Luke 5:17-26. You know the story. Jesus was teaching one day, and people gathered around him, bringing to Jesus their sick and crippled friends and relatives, so that they could be healed. The place where Jesus was teaching became so crowded that there was no room left in the house. Jesus healed many people and the news that he was there spread quickly around town, and soon a group of friends brought one of their own, a man who was paralyzed. The problem was that because the were late they could not get near Jesus. So what did the do? They climbed onto the roof, removed some of the tiles there, creating a hole, and then four of them lowered their friend down in front of Jesus. And because of the faith of this man’s friends, Jesus forgave his sins and healed him, allowing this former paralytic to get up and walk.

This is an amazing story about Jesus the healer, because we see the two different ways Jesus heals. When we speak about Jesus the Healer we tend to focus on the physical healing that he did: giving speech to the speechless, sight to the blind, healing leprosy, raising the dead to life, and many more. Jesus’ healing went much deeper than that, Jesus has the ability to heal our souls, and that is the first thing he does here, he forgives this man of his sins. When a person’s sins are forgiven, then and only then can he start on the road to recovery and building a strong lasting relationship with God.

The reason this man was healed was because the faith of his friends. The man was powerless to get to Jesus on his own, but his friends, even though there were obstacles, made sure he had an encounter with Jesus.

We all have friends and family who are paralyzed because of the sin in their lives. They are powerless to do anything about it, they are powerless to see Jesus. If these people, whom we claim we love, are going to experience the healing Jesus offers, it is going to take us to show them Jesus. That means we love them, we listen to them, share the gospel with them, and we pray for them.

The paralytic in the Bible would never have known the healing touch of Jesus if his friends hadn’t taken the initiative. Our friends and family living without Jesus will never know the healing Jesus has to offer unless Christians, people like us, take the initiative, and show them Jesus.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Needing God's Grace

"The truth is, we all mess up our lives, some in ugly ways, some in tidy ways, and God provides a way out for all of us." ~ William Pile; What the Bible Says About Grace

I am not perfect. This may come as a shock to you, but I struggle with temptation and sin in my life. When I take time to think about my sin I become so angry. I desperately want to do better, but I constantly do things that get in the way of my relationship with God. I just don't have the strength or the self-control to overcome the evil that is in my life.

At times like these it is so wonderful to remember God's amazing grace. God is not up in Heaven waiting for us to sin so He can punish us. God sits on His throne with so much love for us, wanting us to have the wonderful life He created us to have. He weeps for us because He knows the consequences of our sins take us far away from the life we are to enjoy. The consequences of our sin make our lives hard and painful.

Grace is God's way of saying, "I love you even though you have hurt Me." Sin is always first and foremost against God, and it always damages the relationship we are intended to have with Him.

The consequences of our sin have us bound and we do not have the strength to break free. God comes to us and offers us the key to escape the power of sin. The key comes in the form of Jesus Christ. Through His death and resurrection the penalty of our sin is dealt with. Without Jesus the wages of our sin is death, but with Jesus our sins are removed and we can stand before God with confidence.

In addition to Jesus we have the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. While Jesus takes care of the penalty of our sin, the Holy Spirit gives us the strength and guidance we need to overcome the everyday sin we have in our lives. With the Holy Spirit's help we are able to overcome the problems sin puts in our relationship with God, and helps us to pursue the life we were created to have.
For the grace of God has been revealed, bringing salvation to all people. And we are instructed to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures. We should live in this evil world with self-control, right conduct, and devotion to God, while we look forward to that wonderful event when the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be revealed. He gave his life to free us from every kind of sin, to cleanse us, and to make us his very own people, totally committed to doing what is right. ~ Titus 2:11-14; NLT

The reason we can look forward to the wonderful event of Jesus' return isn't because of the righteous life we have lived, but because of God's grace seen in Jesus' sacrifice and the gift of the Holy Spirit. Our righteousness has little to do with our behavior and everything to do with God's gift.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Wickedness of Ungraciousness

The last two days I have been working on personal devotions for a high school week of church camp. To help me write these I have turned to Stand Against the Wind by Erwin McManus. One of the thoughts that have struck me today is this: “To receive the grace of God and yet treat others ungraciously is an act of wickedness” (p. 41). Do we believe that?

I know that I don’t consider it wickedness when I ignore a request or when I treat another person with contempt. We are constantly acting ungraciously to other people, and we don’t even consider how graciously God has acted to us. When we lack the gratitude to appreciate what God has done for us we will, in turn, be ungracious to other people.

Seems to me that Jesus told a parable about this.
23 “That is why the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 When he had begun to settle the accounts, a person who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. 25 Because he couldn't pay, his master ordered him, his wife, his children, and all that he had to be sold so that payment could be made. 26 Then the servant fell down and bowed low before him, saying, ‘Be patient with me, and I will repay you everything!’ 27 The master of that servant had compassion and released him, canceling his debt. 28 “But when that servant went away, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him, seized him by the throat, and said, ‘Pay what you owe!’ 29 Then his fellow servant fell down and began begging him, ‘Be patient with me and I will repay you!’ 30 But he refused and went and had him thrown into prison until he could repay the debt. 31 “When his fellow servants saw what had happened, they were very disturbed and went and reported to their master all that had occurred. 32 Then his master sent for him and said to him, ‘You evil servant! I canceled that entire debt for you because you begged me. 33 Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?’ 34 In anger his master handed him over to the torturers until he could repay the entire debt. 35 This is how my heavenly Father will treat each one of you unless you forgive your brother from your hearts.” (Matthew 18:23-35; ISV)

While the subject matter of the parable is forgiveness the principle can be applied to any of God’s gifts. If God has been gracious to us, and we are not gracious to other people we are living evil lives. I know that sounds harsh (in the preaching class I took in seminary I was told I shouldn’t use the word evil to describe such actions), but that is what God tells us.

When we are generous with God’s blessings, when we pass on His forgiveness and love, that is when we are reflecting His image. We need to remind ourselves that the blessings God has given us are not the things that we deserve, but are gifts given out of love. When we think God owes us we will not be grateful for what He has done and we will not be gracious to those around us. When we remember that God doesn’t give us what we deserve, but He blesses us out of His love for us, then we will seek to honor those gifts by becoming a blessing to those around us.

How we treat others and how we use the blessing of God is determined by our perspective. Are the blessings what are owed or are they gifts from God? Let us allows remember that God’s grace means we are not given what we deserve, but we are given the gifts of God’s love. May we share these gifts with those around us.

Monday, July 21, 2008

A Faith Lived Out

Faith is much more about how we live then it is about what we believe. The mark of great faith is not superior knowledge but superior trust. We can know the Bible from the front to the back, but if it is not applied to how we live our lives than it just a bunch of nice sayings. The person of faith applies God's Word to his/her life.

I struggle with this. It is so much easier to know things about the Bible, and thus know things about God, than it is to step into the unknown trusting solely on God. It is easier to read the Bible than it is to love your neighbor, and yet true faith demands that we love our neighbor and not merely agree that it is the second most important commandment.

One of my prayer is that I will have a relationship with God and not merely be content on knowing a few facts about Him. I want to live a life of faith and not just increase my knowledge on what the Bible says. How do I do this? The answer is obedience. When I obey what God has commanded me to do I experience God at work in the world around me and I develop a greater trust in Him and His Word. If I never seek to obey God beyond the Bible's teaching of morality, then I will miss out on experiencing God and never develop my trust in who God is.

Faith is an essential part of our lives. Without it we will never become the people God wants us to be and we will never experience the personal relationship with God that He has made possible. Faith is not just about what we know about God, but it is about our obedience to Him. In this Abraham is our great example: when God said go Abraham went. That is the type of faith I want.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Sunday Quote: The Importance of Integrity

"Integrity cannot be gained by power and authority. Integrity must be gained long before these have been place in our hands. Jesus lived an obscure life for thirty years preparing for a public ministry that lasted only three.

"Integrity requires that you decide what kind of person you want to become. Integrity not only harnesses our passions but focuses our intentions. Our course is guided by an internal compass of convictions fueled by passions." ~ Erwin McManus, Stand Against the Wind, p. 66

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

I am at Church Camp

This week I am helping with Junior Camp (5th and 6th grade) at Camp Nebowa. I had hoped to find some time to blog, but so far this week I haven't. I taught yesterday and then preach tonight so hopefully I will find some time to post, but I am not going to make any promises. So if you stop by wondering where the posts are this is the reason. So now if I post you can be surprised.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Willing to Die for Jesus

"Yet Jesus considers Himself, His mission, and the spiritual welfare of men of such surpassing importance that He calls for the absolute loyalty of the disciple to Himself even when that brings enmity from those most closely related to the disciple by blood or marriage. It is even more important that self-preservation. Jesus calls on men to be willing to die for Him" ~ Donn Leach; What the Bible says about Jesus

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Pleasing God

The follower of Jesus Christ should strive to honor and please God. That is how Jesus Himself lived. On two occasions, at His baptism and at the transfiguration, God declared that He was pleased with Jesus.

Here is a question I would like for you to consider. Do you seek to honor and please God? The answer for is a scary one. I realize what I seek most in this life is the life that I want to live. I plan and ask God to bless that plan, but I don’t take much time to consider what God wants from my life. I want to do what makes me happy, rather than what will make God happy.

This is part of human nature. It is hard to give up our agendas and pursue God’s will. So it really isn’t all that surprising that one of Paul’s prayers for the Colossians centered on them pleasing God.
9 For this reason, since the day we heard about this, we have not stopped praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the full knowledge of God's will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so that you might live in a manner worthy of the Lord and be fully pleasing to him as you bear fruit in every good work and grow in the full knowledge of God. (Colossians 1:9-10; ISV)

In order to honor God we must seek out His will. That means we have to be students of Scripture. From personal reading and study to sitting under the instruction of another person, God’s word must be part of our lives.

Not only do we have to be students of Scripture, but we also have to be people of prayer. We need to ask God to grant us spiritual wisdom so we are able to understand His will. You see we can’t understand God’s will based on human reason alone, we need the Holy Spirit’s help,

We also have to be committed to obey. All the understanding in the world does us no good if we aren’t going to adjust our lives to God’s will. Foolish people are people who hear and know God’s will but don’t obey it. Wise people are people who know and obey God’s will.

Further more we need to be in prayer for those we love and asked God to to give them spiritual wisdom and understanding. While we can’t force anyone to listen or accept God’s truth we can pray that God will grant them spiritual wisdom. It is still up to them to obey, but how can they obey if don’t know God’s will? Followers of Jesus have an obligation to pray each other.

It isn’t easy to orient our lives to please God. It will require getting rid of my dreams and accepting God’s dreams and it will require obedience to God’s will. Even though it isn’t easy we have to set our lives to do it. The starting point in all of this is prayer.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

What is the Motivation?

Let me ask you a question: What is your motivation for following Jesus? As I pondered this question I realized that often my motivation has been to live up to the expectations of those around me. In other words I have been seeking the approval of people rather than seeking the approval of God.

The apostle Paul opens his letter to the Colossians with an interesting thought, one that took me by surprise. This is what he wrote:
3 We give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, 4 because we have heard about your faith in Christ Jesus and the love that you have for all the saints, 5 based on the hope laid up for you in heaven. Some time ago you heard about this hope in the word of truth, the gospel 6 that has come to you. Just as it is bearing fruit and spreading all over the world, so it has been doing among you from the day you heard it and came to know the grace of God in truth. (Colossians 1:3-6; ISV)

I have to be honest, I have not been looking forward to the joys of heaven. I have been wanting a nice life right now. I have been wanting a nice life right now. Now wonder my motivation for following Jesus has been the approval of other people.

This motivation, seeking the approval of people, also comes with a cost. When I am unable to live up to expectations, when I am rejected by another person, my faith in Jesus takes a hit. I wonder how God could allow that to happen when I have been faithful. The reality is that it isn’t God’s fault that I am rejected, since it was I who had put my hope in the wrong thing.

What does it mean to hope for heaven. Here are a few ideas I have had since reading this passage.
  1. It means we have to realize that this world cannot meet our deepest longings and needs.
  2. It means that we value our relationship with God above everything else and make that relationship a priority in our lives.
  3. It means we long to live life the way it was meant to be lived instead of being satisfied with life here and now.

When I first read this passage I thought that the Colossians were awfully selfish in their motivation. As I continued to ponder these verses I realized that my has been selfish because it has been all about me. The Colossians seemed to be motivated by their love of God, their desire to be with Jesus, and the love for other people. The were motivated by heaven because the loved God and they loved people.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

A Good Father?

Do you believe God is a good father? It is easy to answer yes because I know that is supposed to be the “right” answer, but I am afraid my life tells another story. Too often I believe that God is opposed to my happiness.

John Eldredge wrote:
“You are the son of a kind, strong, and engaged Father, a Father wise enough to guide you in the Way, generous enough to provide for your journey, offering to walk with you every step.

“This is perhaps the hardest thing for us to believe—really believe, down deep in our hearts, so that it changes us forever, changes the way we approach each day.” (The Way of the Wild Heart, pp. 22-23)

I know that I struggle with believing that God wants what is best for my life. So often I don’t recognize God being engaged in my life, rather it seems that He is detached and uncaring about what happens to me. The result of this type of thinking has been that now I believe I have to create a happy life for myself, it is all up to me.

How do we trust God to do the right thing? How can we come to see God as our loving heavenly Father?

Let me share with you a couple of thoughts I have had as I pondered these questions:

1. Memorize Scripture that focuses on God as our Father. It is amazing how often Jesus referred to God as Father, or our Father. Perhaps one of the reasons for this is because Jesus knew how we struggled with the concept of God being our loving heavenly Father. One of the passages that keeps coming to mind for me is Luke 11:11-13:
11 “What father among you, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead of a fish? 12 Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, although you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!" (NET)

We need constant reminders that God is our loving heavenly Father. Scripture is one of the best sources of those reminders.

2. Reflect on the blessing in our lives. I take so much of what God has done in my life for granted. He has blessed me in a number of different ways, but when He doesn’t do what I want Him to do then I immediately call into question His goodness and sometimes His existence. What is that about!? A good exercise for us, as Followers of Jesus Christ, is to take time and “Count our Blessings”. We need to reflect and remember how God has worked in our lives and how He continues to bless us. I think another important truth for us to remember is that the greatest blessing God has for us is not found in this life, but in the life to come. In this life He is preparing us for the great blessing He has in store for us in heaven. Some times this preparation will require God taking way my dreams for this life so I can be open to His desire for my life.

May we come to trust God as our heavenly Father. After all, if we can’t trust God who can we trust?

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

I am Sorry

To the faithful few who read this blog I am sorry I have been such a bad blogger lately. I don't feel like posting. It is hard to put thoughts together. I absolutely hate feeling this way. It isn't just about the broken heart, but it is about trusting God do what is best for me. I keep thinking if I understood His purpose that this would be easier to take, but perhaps this is just one of those bad things that happens that God will work for good in the end.

All I can do right now is remind myself about how God has worked in the past, because I sure can't see Him working right now. I am so tired of praying right now, so I ask for you prayers, that I find some hope and am reminded that God is in control.

Thanks for understanding and I will do my best to post a new pondering tomorrow.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Heartbroken Me

I have been in a fog for most of the day. I have been forcing myself to go through the routines of living, because I so much want to just give up. I am tired and discouraged and right now it is hard for me to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Why am I feeling this way? Last night the relationship that I have enjoyed for the past 13 months came to an end. My girlfriend and I came to the conclusion that there were a number of things in our lives that we needed to work on in our lives and that we couldn’t do work on them while we were in a relationship.

This is so hard because I truly thought she was the one I was going to marry. I was getting prepared to close out my ministry here in Storm Lake and move to Las Cruces, NM so we could actually begin to create a life together. Now all that is over and I have to try to get back into a ministry mindset after being on autopilot for the better part of the last month.

Even though the decision was mutual it still hurts and it leaves me with lots of questions about life and about who I am. The two questions that continue to haunt me are: “Will I always be alone?” and “Do I have what it takes to be a man?” I feel so inadequate right now about everything and the path of change seems so difficult that I wonder if it is even worth it. Why can’t things be easy?

Thanks for reading my little therapy session. I don’t want to bore you with anymore of it. I want to ask for your prayers that God will direct me and that I will have the courage to follow that direction.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

We Were Made For Relationships

"Contact with the real word--it's not optional; it's essential. We are created for relationship. We are born for community. For us to be healthy, we must be a part of of others. Independence is one thing; isolation is another. The more we live disconnected lives, the more we become indifferent to the well-being of others." ~ Erwin McManus, Soul Cravings, Intimacy: Entry 5

Saturday, July 05, 2008

A Place to Grow

The Environment for Growth: Part 6

The reason God has given us the church is to help us along in our journey of faith. He sends us people to teach us, equip us, to lead us, and help us mature. But the church is also where we can begin to live out our love and practice serving people. We need to give to the church as much as we get from it. From this process of give and take we are matured into the people that God wants us to be.

This is what I want you to take away from this series of ponderings: The Church exists to grow Christ Followers. The Church is there to help us grow and it is there to help the person across the room grow. In this community of faith we find the environment God ordained to be the environment to mature faith. If we are not maturing then it means that we haven’t allowed ourselves to be lead by the right people. The right leadership is essential in creating the right environment.

Here is what I would ask you to do: pray that God will help the leadership of the church family you are a part of to create an environment where you can mature as a Christian and that God will send your church family more teachers and leaders who will help your members mature.

This is something that Jesus asked us to pray about:
2 He said to them, "The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest. (Luke 10:2; NET)

The church is where God wants us to mature, among other believers, let us do our part to make the Church the right environment to grow.

  • Point to Ponder: Pray for leaders.
  • Passage to Remember: Luke 10:2
  • Question to Consider: Are you doing your part to make the Church a place to grow?

Friday, July 04, 2008

Help in Maturing

The Environment for Growth: Part 5

Jesus told a parable in Luke 8 about a Farmer who planted seeds. Some of these seeds fell on hard ground and were eaten by birds. Some fell in shallow soil and sprang of quickly, but did not develop root systems, and they died just as quickly as the dry heat scorched them. Still others fell in weedy soil, where they were choked out after a while by the weeds. A some fell in good soil and produced a good crop. One of the lessons we can take away from that parable is that environment is vital to our growth.

Remember this: Our spiritual growth doesn’t happen by accident. Not only doesn’t it require us to be intentional about doing those disciplines that lead to growth, but it also requires us to be part of a good church that provides the right environment for us to grow. The right environment includes leaders who are interested in Cultivating us to Maturity.
11 It was he who gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, that is, to build up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God - a mature person, attaining to the measure of Christ's full stature. (Ephesians 4:11-13)

A Christian leader is needed in the church so the church can become an environment for growth. The worries, cares, and passions of the world will kill the faith of a Christian, but so will a bickering and divided church. A person, and thus the church family, cannot reach maturity if there is fighting. Too many church families have been held back from making a positive impact in their communities because of their bickering and fighting. Not only did they fail to make an impact in the community, but they failed to mature the believers that were part of their family.

What a terrible thing it is when we don’t take advantage of the opportunities God provides for us. When God sends a church family people that church family needs to treat them as precious resources. He has a plan for their lives and He has entrusted the Church to prepare them for that plan.

What does this mean for us? A couple of things. First, it means that we must be committed to meeting together. We have to understand that our time with other Christians are for our spiritual growth. Second, we have to remember that a church that provides the right environment for growth is a church that is united and loving. We need to do our part to make sure that the our church family is a good place to grow. Remember the church provides not only the environment for us to grow spiritually, but it is the place other Christians grow as well. We have to do our part to make sure it remains a place where spiritual maturity can happen.

The Church is the place were Christian maturity happens.

  • Point to Ponder: Spiritual maturity happens within united and loving church families.
  • Passage to Remember: Ephesians 4:11-13
  • Question to Consider: Why is a united and loving church vital to our growth as Christians?

Thursday, July 03, 2008

The Need For Leadership

The Environment for Growth: Part 4

Did you know that rainforests make up 6% of the land on the earth but account for more than 50% of the animal and plant life? Why is that? Because the environment of the rainforest makes growing and surviving easier than it is in the desert or the tundra.

The right environment is so essential to our spiritual growth. If we get in the wrong environment it can quite literally kill us. God has given us the Church to provide the right environment for us to grow. And to make sure the local church is the right environment God Provide Leadership for that church family.
11 And it is he who gifted some to be apostles, others to be prophets, others to be evangelists, and still others to be pastors and teachers, 12 to perfect the saints, to do the work of ministry, and to build up the body of Christ 13 until all of us are united in the faith and in the full knowledge of God's Son, (Ephesians 4:11-13a; ISV).

On a football team the coach provides leadership. This leadership is seen in giving the team a sense of direction, goals to achieve, and a game plan to execute. Because of this unity exists and the members of the team understand what their responsibilities are.

Not only does God send people to the Church to equip people for service, but He also sends people to the Church to provide leadership. For unity to exist and for the right environment for growth to develop in the Church then those members need to have a common sense of purpose. Good leadership is able to communicate to people a vision, to help fit people in the right places to accomplish that vision, and give them the tools and resources they need to accomplish that vision.

The leaders God sends are to foster unity and bring people to a broader understanding of God and His will for the church. I think that we have had many great preacher and teachers in the Church over the years, but we have lacked great leadership. A great leader is able to put his or her agenda behind them and lead according to God’s will, even if that means offending people. Sometimes the best way for unity to be achieved is knowing which people need to leave.

Another aspect of great Christian leadership is continually pointing people to Jesus. Giving people a knowledge of who Jesus is and how He wants us to live will help foster unity and excitement in any church family.

I know that we all know of church families that are not the right environment to grow. The majority of the time I think it is due to a lack a good leadership. Corrupt and/or immature leaders will not have what it takes to nurture the right type of environment that is ideal for people’s spiritual growth.

A Christian leader needs to strive for unity and give people a better understanding of Jesus.

  • Point to Ponder: Good leadership is essential in producing the right environment for spiritual growth.
  • Passage to Remember: Ephesians 4:11-13a
  • Question to Consider: Why is good leadership so vital for growth?

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Equipped to Serve

The Environment for Growth: Part 3

If we are honest with ourselves we would admit that it isn’t easy to grow spiritually and mature in our faith in the culture that we live in. We live in a culture that is hostile to God’s Word and to God’s people. The millions of different temptations that rush at as all the time. If we are not intentional about growing then we will be swept way with out culture. We will be like those seeds Jesus talked about (Luke 8:4-15) that sprang up quickly but allowed the worries and carries of the world to choke the growing plant of faith out.

The Church is God’s gift to us; the right environment for spiritual growth to happen. If we don’t make use of the Church as we strive to grow in our love and our faith, then it will be doubtful if we will survive. For spiritual growth isn’t about filling our head with a bunch of knowledge and nice sounding doctrines, but it is about preparing for ministry. The apostle Paul in Ephesians tells us that the special people God has placed to lead the Church are to Equip Us For Service.
11 And it is he who gifted some to be apostles, others to be prophets, others to be evangelists, and still others to be pastors and teachers, 12 to perfect the saints, to do the work of ministry, and to build up the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-12; ISV).

The culture that these people lived in was not so much different from ours. They lived in a sexualized, violent, pagan culture. In fact they would have faced a big obstacle that we don’t have to face. Because of they followed Jesus and refused to acknowledge the other gods they wouldn’t have been allowed to participant in culture. They wouldn’t have been allowed to sell goods in the market place because they might anger the gods. They wouldn’t have been allowed on city council because they didn’t acknowledge the gods of the community. They would have been shunned and survival would have been that much harder.

Not only did these people have to equip Christian by providing them with a foundation for faith and teachings to help them remain rooted to Jesus, but they also had to teach them how to serve a community that didn’t want them around. God sent people to the church so they could learn how to make disciples in that community while they went about the task of living.

It isn’t enough for the local church to equip us with the basic Christian disciplines of Bible Study, prayer, worship, giving, and fellowship. The church must equip us to serve the world, to make disciples. We need to know how we can influence people when we are at work, at the store, at the gym, at school, or even at home. May I point out that no place can we have more influence than at home. My faith is dependent on what I was taught and what I saw modeled at home when I was growing up.

As we try to become the Church Family that God wants us to be we have to remember this aspect of our purpose. We need to help equip people, to equip you, to be servants for God in this world. This isn’t just about learning are evangelism technique, but is about help you live a life of faith that reflects Jesus, so that people ask: what is different about you. 

The church is to equip people to carry out the great commission and not just to equip them to grow personally.

  • Point to Ponder: The church must equip us to serve the world; to make disciples
  • Passage to Remember: Ephesians 4:11-12
  • Question to Consider: Are you being equipped to serve?

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

The Right People are Essential

The Environment for Growth: Part 2

The Church is God’s environment for our spiritual growth. Basically that is what the apostle Paul writes in Ephesians. You need to know that the Ephesian church was a divided church. They were segregated by Jew and Gentile, slave and free, and male and female. Paul’s word to them was that they needed to be a united church, a church that enjoyed fellowship with each other just as the Spirit, Son, and Father enjoyed fellowship with each other.

In that same chapter, Ephesians 4, Paul tells them why they need to be a united church.
11 And it is he who gifted some to be apostles, others to be prophets, others to be evangelists, and still others to be pastors and teachers, 12 to perfect the saints, to do the work of ministry, and to build up the body of Christ 13 until all of us are united in the faith and in the full knowledge of God's Son, and until we attain mature adulthood and the full standard of development in Christ. (verses 11-13, ISV)

The Church is God’s idea. It is not something man came up with, and in the church we are to grow. We can only grow if we take advantage of this great gift that God has given to us. We make use of the Church when we understand the purpose it serves in our lives. One of the purposes it serves is to bring us into fellowship with other Christians and who are dedicated to helping us grow. It is through our individual growth that the Church is strengthen and is able to carry out her purpose in our community.

These people God sends to us to help us grow are apostles, prophets, teachers, preachers, and pastors. Each one of these positions play a vital role in our lives. Apostles were the original 12 disciples (with Paul taking the place of Judas) who had been chosen by Jesus Himself to carry His message. That means they came with Jesus’ authority, and their writings are the foundation that we need to build our lives from.

Prophets are men and women who personally received a message from God. We usually think of prophets as people who tell the future, but in a Biblical sense they are people who proclaim the word of the Lord. Usually their message contained a call to repentance. It is generally thought they prophets died out in the first century as the church began to receive the Bible which allowed God’s Word became available to a larger group of people.

Teachers and preachers are people who communicated God’s word, not because they received a special revelation like the prophets, but because they dedicated their lives to learning and understanding the teaching of the apostles and the Old Testament. Today we still have people dedicated to knowing and understanding God’s word and sharing that knowledge with other people.

A pastor isn’t just a preacher or teacher, though he may do that, but is a person who cares for other people. He is a mentor, counselor, and servant. He will pray for you in time of need and do what he can to help in physical way as well. While in today’s world we have given the title of pastor to the preacher, in the first century pastor was the title given to the elders. The elders of the church family were expected to serve the people in that family. Having called and mature Christians are essential in providing the right environment for our spiritual maturity. Remember the Church is designed for our spiritual growth.

  • Point to Ponder: God has given us people to helps us grow.
  • Passage to Remember: Ephesians 4:11-13
  • Question to Consider: Who has helped you grow spiritually?

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...