Sunday, November 29, 2009
Friday, November 27, 2009
The Offer Is Life
What did Jesus mean when he promised us life? I go back to the source and what I find is just astounding.
I am still confident of this:
I will see the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living. (Psalm 27:13)
I tell you the truth," Jesus said to them, "no one who has left home or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and, in the age to come, eternal life" (Luke 18:29-30).
Jesus doesn't locate his offer to us only in some distant future, after we've slogged our way through our days here on earth. He talks about a life available to us in this age. So does Paul: "[G]odliness has value for all things, holding promise both for the present life and the life to come" (1 Timothy 4:8). Our present life, and the next. When we hear the words "eternal life," most of us have tended to think, "a life that waits for me in eternity." But eternal means unending, not later. The scriptures use the term to mean you can never lose it. It's a life that can't be taken from you. The offer is life and that life starts now.
And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives (Romans 6:4 NLT).
The glory of God is man fully alive? Now? Hope unbidden rose at the thought that God's intentions towards me might be better than I thought. His happiness and my happiness are tied together? My coming fully alive is what he's committed to? That's the offer of Christianity?
The offer is life. Make no mistake about that.
(Waking The Dead , 11, 12)
Thursday, November 26, 2009
Ponder for a moment what Erwin McManus wrote in his book Uprising; “Perspective is not shaped in a vacuum; it is formed in the context of gratitude. An ungrateful person sees the glass as half-empty and wonders who is holding out on him. The grateful see the glass as half-full knowing that someone has shared with them more than they deserve.”
Gratitude informs our perspective on life. When we are grateful not only are we content with much less, but we also will have an optimistic outlook for the future. Contentment, peace, and hope are characteristics which define the grateful person.
What I have found to be amazing is the number of people in this country who are not grateful. We live in a country where food is plentiful, jobs are plentiful, medicine is plentiful, and education opportunities are plentiful. I know you can tell me about the unemployment, jobs going overseas, a shortage of flu vaccine, and a number of other bad statistics, but the truth remains that when compared to any other country, past of present, this country is still the best place to live. We might consider our unemployment high, but it is nothing compared to what other nations deal with.
Even though our economy is a mess, unemployment continues to rise, and we have soldiers dying on foreign soil we still live in a wonderful country. While it is easy to complain about what is happening to our country, we are still able to live in a country that is a land of plenty.
I am grateful for the United States of America. One reason I am grateful is because I realize in many other places I would not have the opportunities that I have. The problem is so many of us have come to believe that these things are our rights and that we deserve them. When that is our perspective we will not be grateful for what we have, instead we will become bitter because we believe someone is holding out on us. When we are ungrateful for what we have, we will end up wasting it the great gifts God has given.
Another reason I am grateful is because I realize what I deserve. I deserve nothing. As rebellious sinners none of us deserve anything. Everything we have, from the air we breathe to the pleasure of Bunny Tracks Ice Cream, is a gift from God. If it wasn’t for God’s grace we would never experience any of the pleasures of life. Please remember that God gives, not because we have earned it, but because He loves us. I don’t deserve to live in this great country with our Constitution and opportunities, but God put me here because He knew this is the best environment for me to discover Him. When I was God’s enemy He still gave me what was best for me.
When we live a life of gratitude we have a perspective of hope. Rather than being pessimistic about the future, because I believe someone is holding out on me, I believe things will turn out for the best because God is willing to give me what I need. Regardless of what happens with the economy or health care, I am optimistic about what lies ahead. My life is not tied to what happens in Washington, it is tied to my faith in a generous and loving God. No matter what happens the future is bright because of Him.
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
What do we do when this happens to us? How should the follower of Christ react to the news that the life he/she wanted was no longer the life they could live?
There is only one option I can think of: commit ourselves to living the life that we already have. That requires us to seek God's will for our lives right now and move in that direction. It means that we focus on the responsibilities that we have right now and complete them.
It is good to have dreams and desires, but we have to be willing to give those dreams up when God calls us in another direction. We have to remember that it is through the circumstances of life that God is able to grow us into the people He desires us to be. No matter how painful it might be or how broken our heart becomes, God is able to use the worst circumstances in our lives to mature our faith.
The hard part is allowing these words to move from my head to my heart, to really trust God with my life rather than blaming Him for not making life turn out the way I want it to turn out. May God give me, and you, the courage to follow Him no matter what life throws our way.
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Tuesday, November 24, 2009
We must forgive those who hurt us. The reason is simple: Bitterness and unforgiveness are clawsthat set their hooks deep in our hearts; they are chains that keep us held captive to the wounds and the messages of those wounds. Until you forgive, you remain their prisoner. Paul warns us that unforgiveness and bitterness can wreck our lives and the lives of others (Eph. 4:31; Heb. 12:15). We have to let them go.
Forgive as Christ has forgiven you. (Col 3:13)
Now – listen carefully. Forgiveness is a choice. It is not a feeling – don't try and feel forgiving. It is an act of the will. "Don't wait to forgive until you feel like forgiving," wrote Neil Anderson. "You will never get there. Feelings take time to heal after the choice to forgive is made . . ." We allow God to bring the hurt up from our past, for "if your forgiveness doesn't visit the emotional core of your life, it will be incomplete." We acknowledge that it hurt, that it mattered, and we choose to extend forgiveness to our father, our mother, those who hurt us. This is not saying, "It didn't really matter"; it is not saying, "I probably deserved part of it anyway." Forgiveness says, "It was wrong. Very wrong. It mattered, hurt me deeply. And I release you. I give you to God."
It might help to remember that those who hurt you were also deeply wounded themselves. They were broken hearts, broken when they were young, and they fell captive to the Enemy. They were in fact pawns in his hands. This doesn't absolve them of the choices they made, the things they did. It just helps us to let them go – to realize that they were shattered souls themselves, used by our true Enemy in his war against femininity.
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Monday, November 23, 2009
The point of my message was that the best way for us to say thank You to God is through our obedience (Micah 6:6-8).
At the start of the message I asked them to imagine that they were in a hospital bed, paralyzed from the neck down. All their family and friends were gone, and the only their only ministry was prayer. Then I throw out this question: Would you still offer thanksgiving to God?
The reason that so many of us are thankful are because of all the good that God had placed in our lives, but would we have the faith of Job if all of a sudden hell invaded our lives?
I think these are good questions to think about, and the reaso I think that is because they help us to shift our focus away from our lives. God is doing a whole lot more in the world than just blessing our lives. We should be thankful whenever God's Kingdom breaks into this world and when God's will is done here like it is done in heaven.
In order for us to be able to give thanks through the struggles and tragedies of our lives requires us to know what God is in doing in this world. My challenge for you today is to take some time and find an example of God making a difference in this world. How is He moving in the lives of the missionaries you support? How has God softened the heart of a family member? How has God used an Americanchurch family to make difference?
This Thanksgiving season do not just focus on the wonderful blessings in you life, but also take time to thank God for the great things He is doing in this world.
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Sunday, November 22, 2009
For the follower of Christ this holiday of Thanksgiving should be a time when we acknowledge that God has blessed our lives and tell Him thank you. It isn't enough just acknowledge that there are good there are good things in our lives. Everyone can find something in their lives that they appreciate, what needs to set Christians apart is our willingness to say thank You to the one who gave us the good gifts.
My challenge to all of us is not just to be thankful, but to give thanks as well. Anyone can be thankful, but it is an act of faith to give thanks to Creator God for all He has given us.
"Anyone can attend church. Only truly devoted followers of Jesus can change the world." - Aaron Brockett
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Saturday, November 21, 2009
What I want to do today is to point out that no matter who good we think another person has it, he/she has a set of problems that are all their own. No one lives a perfect life.
I find myself, when I am feeling lonely and depressed, wishing I had a different life. "If only I had a million dollars," I think, "then I would be able to help so many people" (I had a dream recently in which I won the lottery and I was try to figure out how to give the money away).
"If only I was at a bigger church, then perhaps I would get invited to speak at events." There are times when I think it would be cool to have people seek me out for advice and value my opinions.
No matter whose life we would like to have, or what dreams we have that remain unfulfilled, there is no such thing as the perfect life. The single guy can envy the married guy and the married guy can envy the single guy, but each situation has its own unique set of challenges. The same is true for money. As much as we like to think that money is the answer to all our problems, the fact remains that a rich person has a set of problems that a poor person knows nothing about.
Because we live in a fallen world, a world where sin messes everything up, the is know problem free life. We might be getting tired of the set of problems that make up our lives, but that doesn't mean that anyone else had it easier. Since we cannot know everything that goes on in a person's life, their problems are probably not easier, they are just different.
Instead of wishing for another person's life, we need to deal with the problems that we have in our lives. Perhaps that means confessing a sin or seeking forgiveness. Maybe that means going to counseling for guidance or going to the doctor for a physical exam. Perhaps you need to create a budget and cut up the credit cards or you need to repay you friend for the money he lent you.
Worrying and wishing will not change our lives. Change happens when we seek out God's will and then take the necessary steps to accomplish that will. That means that God will provide the guidance, but we must make the choice.
Everyone has problems, so we might as well stick to our own, and put our effort towards making changes rather than wishing to trade lives with someone else. After all, I know my problems, I don't want to have to learn a brand new set of problems.
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Thursday, November 19, 2009
Erwin McManus wrote; “It is gratitude that nurtures wholeness and expresses itself as generosity in the end. Gratitude is the pathway of love. It unleashes the healing power of love. It increases our capacity to experience love and give it” (Uprising; p. 114). Gratitude helps us to become people of love.
Love is a choice, but first it was a gift. God’s love for us is the greatest of all the gifts which He has given. Our very lives are products of God’s love. If God did not love we would not exist. If God did not love all the pleasures we enjoy in life would never have been woven into the world. It is God’s love that is behind every gift and blessing that we have ever enjoyed.
Even before we became Christians God’s love was freely given to us. When we were God’s enemies He showed us love through giving us time to repent and an opportunity to hear the Gospel. That is cause for thanksgiving.
I do think we run into a problem with God’s love. The problem is that God’s love has been such a constant for us we have grown use to it. We no longer see it as the great gift that it is, and instead we come to think of it as something that we deserve. God’s love is a gift to be treasured, but it has become an everyday occurrence which is easy to ignore.
How do we show our gratitude for the love God has given us? I believe the first step is taking an honest look at ourselves. This is not a one time occurrence, but it is something which needs to be done on a regular basis. As God’s messenger, I give each of you this warning: Be honest in your estimate of yourselves, measuring your value by how much faith God has given you (Romans 12:3; NLT). This is the beginning point of humility. Without humility we begin to think we deserve gift that is given to us. Only the humble see the blessings of God as the gifts that they are and therefore respond in gratitude.
I believe the next step in being grateful for God’s love is by using the gifts He has given us. Rather than wishing we had life of someone else, we live the life God has blessed us with. God has given gifts to each of you from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Manage them well so that God’s generosity can flow through you (1 Peter 4:10; NLT). When we use the gifts God has given us we are expressing the gratitude we have towards God and we are allowing His generosity to flow through us into the lives of other people.
The third step in having a grateful life is living a life of love. We cannot be grateful to a person we do not love or care about. If we are going to be thankful to God for the gifts He has given, then we need to first love Him. Follow God’s example in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love for others, following the example of Christ, who loved you and gave himself as a sacrifice to take away your sins. And God was pleased, because that sacrifice was like a sweet perfume to him (Ephesians 5:1,2; NLT). A life of love is a life lived in obedience to God’s Will. Paul states here that a life of love is a life which is pleasing to God. A grateful persons seeks to please the One who has blessed him.
God has given us the gift of love. Often in return we accept that love as if it is something that we deserve, rather than worshiping and thanking Him for His generosity. If we are going to be grateful we need to be humble, we need to be stewards, and we need to be lovers. That is how we show God, and the world, that we are thankful for His love.
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
We make the same mistake that Thomas made: we forget that “impossible” is one of God’s favorite words.
How about you? When was the las time you let some of your dreams elbow our your logic? When was the last time you imagined the unimaginable? When was the last time you dared to dream of the day when every mouth will be fed and every nation dwell in peace? When was the last time you dreamed about every creature on earth hearing about the Messiah? Has it been awhile since you claimed God’s promise to do “more than all we ask or imagine?” (p. 99)
My dreams tend to be “realistic”. I have shared before about the condition of the church family I work with, that our numbers are dwindling and there is nothing about us that would attract people to attend. My dream for this congregation is that God would send one or two families willing to do the hard work of ministry, but perhaps I should be dreaming and praying for something grander.
I know of church families that have partnered with church families in Africa to bring the gospel, food, and medicine to the dirty slums there. Why shouldn’t I pray that God would enable this church family to have a similar impact?
I know of church families that have their own free medical clinics. That is something which is truly needed, and so perhaps I should pray that God make it possible for us to minister to the hurt and sick.
Here is my point: I think too many of us have a small vision of God and His Kingdom. We are satisfied if God increases the attendance at church, and so that is where all our focus is at and we miss out on the masses of hurt and lonely people that are in the world.
The gospel is more than that our sins are forgiven and we get to go to heaven when we die. It includes that to be sure, but the Gospel also includes the Good News that God’s Kingdom is breaking into this world. The Gospel is the proclamation that Jesus Christ in Lord, and the days of Satan, sin, and death are numbered. The Gospel is the call to people of faith to pray for and work towards the day when God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven. The Gospel contains both salvation and mission; hope and purpose.
Instead of focusing on “realistic” things like growing our church attendances, I think we need to start thinking and praying about how we can bring the whole Gospel to the communities that we live in.
Max Lucado mentioned quotes part of Ephesians 3:20. This is what the apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians 3:20-21; Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen (ESV).
We are not going to out think or out imagine God. He has the power to accomplish our greatest hopes, and so maybe it is time for us to unleash those hopes. Let us dreams great dreams about ushering God’s Kingdom into the lives of people, and than ask God to help us make it happen.
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Wouldn’t it be great to win $10 million? Who among us hasn’t taken time to dream about what we would do with that type of money? Of course being Christians we think about the good we could do with the money: the orphans we could help, the missionaries we would support, and the ministries we would start. After all we are not greedy; we just want to be comfortable.
I don’t know about you, but I often play the “if only” game. If only I had $10 million I would use it for God’s glory. If only I had courage I would plant a church. If only I had the ability I would lead worship. The list could go on and on, but I think you understand my point. I tend to think that if I had a couple of additional talents or blessings I would be able to do so much more for the Kingdom.
The truth is that our gifts have very little to do with the difference we make in this world. The important thing in God’s eyes are not our talents, but our love. God is the Creator, and He can provide us with the gifts we need to accomplish the task He has called us to do. The one thing God cannot do is make us love. Love is a choice which we make. It is a product of our free will.
We may be jealous over the amazing talent someone else has, but what makes those talents meaningful and effective is love. Without love our gifts are meaningless. That was the apostle Paul’s point in 1 Corinthians 13:
If I could speak in any language in heaven or on earth but didn’t love others, I would only be making meaningless noise like a loud gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I knew all the mysteries of the future and knew everything about everything, but didn’t love others, what good would I be? And if I had the gift of faith so that I could speak to a mountain and make it move, without love I would be no good to anybody. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would be of no value whatsoever (1 Corinthians 13:1-3; NLT).
Paul wants us to understand that the power behind our talents is love, and if we don’t have love then we what we are doing is ultimately meaningless. I think this is an important truth that we should ponder for a while. All the money in the world and all the awards that are won do not mean a thing without love. Love for God and love for people. Are you allowing love to power your talents?
While all the blessing God gives us are wonderful and amazing, none of them has the impact to influence another person outside of our decision to use those blessings in love. Love shows people we care about them. It makes our message both authentic and relevant in their lives.
While love is a choice, I think it is essential to remember that love was first a gift. The apostle John wrote; This is real love. It is not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins (1 John 4:10; NLT). Because God first loved us we are able to love those around us. It is through His love overflowing from our lives that we are able to change the world. That is why the greatest gift God has given us is love, and that is why He wants us to keep giving it away.
Sunday, November 15, 2009
Thursday, November 12, 2009
That requires me getting out of bed, making coffee, and getting a bowl of cereal. With a cup of coffee in hand (with lots of chocolate Carmel creamer in it) I sit down in my chair to pray and read.
I may not feel like doing it, but the mere fact of having a routine gives me steps to go through, one at a time, so I can be ready to take on the day. Disciplines, whether they are spiritual or not, help give focus to our days, and provide meaning when the rest of the day seems meaningless.
I know in the past I have devalued the idea of discipline, especially the idea of spiritual disciplines. The reason I did this was because I didn't want to get caught up in "works" and that praying and reading my Bible should flow out of my desire to connect with God.
Because we still live in the flesh there are times when our flesh desires something other than time spent with God. That is why the spiritual person sets time aside each day, as a priority, to connect with God. The spiritual person is well aware that giving the chance his/her flesh will find other things to do rather than spend time with God.
I have come to discover how vital disciplines are in my life. As a guy who likes routine, they give me a path to follow as I go through my day. They also give me any opportunity to connect with God when I would rather spend more time in bed. We need disciplines in our lives, not because we want to show people how spiritual we are, but because with out them we will disconnect ourselves from God, our very source of life. For the sake of life, and to grow in our relationship with God, we need to have spiritual disciplines in our lives. We cannot live a life of faith without them.
"Anyone can attend church. Only truly devoted followers of Jesus can change the world." - Aaron Brockett
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Wednesday, November 11, 2009
One of the things I inherited from my father is a love of westerns. I particularly love the stories written by Louis L’amour. One of my favorite books is a collection of short stories entitled West of Dodge. The main reason why I think I like this book so much is because many of the stories seemed to contain the truth that John Eldredge wrote about in Wild at Heart. These are stories of what it means to be a man. The story I think I connected with the most is the story To Make a Stand. The story contains the following scene.
Hurley knew death then. He knew the Talbots were behind him, and he knew there were four of them, and he knew he was fairly caught.
But he was calm.
That, of all things, was the most astonishing. There were, he knew in that moment, worse things than death, and there were few things worse than fear itself.
He turned slowly. “It’s my fight, Benton,” he said. “You get back in bed.”
Fear is a huge life robber. Fear paralyzes us from doing what we need to do. We have a fear of rejection so we are careful not to reveal too much about ourselves, and the result is that we miss out on the close relationships we need for life. We fear ridicule so we tone down the message we have for other people rather than risk stepping on their toes. We fear looking like a fool so we avoid new situations rather than trying to expand our experiences. Fear keeps us back from going where God wants us to go.
Think about how fear kept a generation of Israelites out of the Promised Land. The Israelites had been slaves in Egypt, they had passed through the Red Sea, they had received the Ten Commandments, and they had witnessed God at work. The nation gets to the borders of the Promised Land and Moses decided to send out 12 spies. They reported back that the land was very good, but it was controlled by people who were big and strong. Ten of the spies had fear in their hearts and advised against moving into the land. The other two spies, Caleb and Joshua, urged the people to follow God into the Promised Land; “Let’s go at once and take the land. We can certainly conquer it!” (Numbers 13:30; NLT).
Why were Joshua and Caleb so confident about conquering the land? The rest of Israel had witnessed the same miracles, the same power of God, as Joshua and Caleb had. God’s power was not a mystery to the Israelites. Joshua and Caleb had seen the same fortified cities and strong people the other 10 spies saw. The impossibility of the task had not escaped Joshua and Caleb. The difference was that the ten spies allowed their hearts to be ruled by fear, and that fear spread to the rest of the people. Caleb and Joshua allowed their hearts to be ruled by faith, and that caused them to live by courage.
Miracles and examples of God’s power will not extinguish the fear in our lives. Fear is present anytime there is a risk involved in what is before us. What allows us to have courage, to do the right thing even though we are afraid, is trusting in God’s power and promises. Courage comes because we are confident that God is in control and trust that whatever happens to us that He will use the experience for good in our lives.
That generation of Israelites missed out on the Promised Land. Their fear held them back from experiencing what God had in store for them. When we allow our fear to dominate our lives we too miss out on what God has for us. What are you missing out on because of your fear?
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9; ESV).
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Since most of my readers believe in God, I don’t have to take time offering up evidence for God’s existence. What I want to do is help us understand how we can live like God is real. I have this question for you to consider today: How has the knowledge of God’s existence influenced the way you live your life?
Many years ago, two philosophers told this parable to debunk God’s existence:
Once upon a time two explorers came upon a clearing in the jungle. In the clearing growing side by side were many flowers and many weeds. One of the explorers exclaimed, “Some gardener must tend this plot!” So they pitched their tents and set a watch.
But though they waited several days no gardener was seen.
“Perhaps he is an invisible gardener!” they thought. So they set up a barbed-wire fence and connected it to electricity. They even patrolled the garden with bloodhounds, for they remembered that H.G. Wells’s “Invisible Man” could be both smelt and touched though he could not be seen. But no sounds ever suggested that someone had received an electric shock. No movements of the wire ever betrayed an invisible climber. The bloodhounds never alerted them to the presence of any other in the garden than themselves. Yet, still the believer between them was convinced that there was indeed a gardener.
“There must be a gardener, invisible, intangible, insensible to electric shocks, a gardener who has no scent and makes no sound, a gardener who comes secretly to look after the garden which he love.”
At last the skeptical explorer despaired. “But what remains of your original assertion? Just how does what you call an invisible, intangible, eternally elusive gardener differ from an imaginary gardener or even from no gardener at all?” (Jesus Among Other Gods, pg. 126)
These philosophers want us to think of the universe around us as a garden. Christians say that one evidence of God’s existence is what is all around us, “Creation.” We say that the earth has the fingerprints of God on it. The philosophers say that doesn’t matter, because we have never seen God or have been able to catch a glimpse of Him. It is not enough for them to see the design of the universe, they want “scientific” evidence for God’s existence.
That is what evolutionary science is all about, to explain how we got here without a Creator. Evolution is science’s explanation to the evidences of God that can be found in the world around us. For most people who believe in evolution the creation account found in Genesis lacks a certain scientific sophistication that they are looking for to answer their questions. They want to know the X’s and O’s of how God created and how this all came about.
The sad thing is that Christians have many times tried to make Genesis say things that it never was intended to say. The Bible is not a science book, it was not intended to give us a “scientific” description of Creation. We cannot determine how old the earth is from the Bible or how God created animals and people. When we look for those type of answers from the Bible we miss the point of what Genesis is telling us. If you want to get into a debate with someone about evolution don’t use the Bible as your tool, use science. For too long we have made this debate with evolution one of science against religion, when actually it should be science against science. You should be opposed to evolution, not only because it takes God out of the picture, but because it is bad science.
This morning is not about the evidences for Creation, rather it is about what we can learn about God in the Garden of Creation. I want us to take a look at the important truths the first three chapters of Genesis teaches rather than getting hung up on the Creation/Evolution debate. What I want us to realize, and it is something very basic, is that God is real. That is the main point of Genesis 1-2, all for truths we will look at support that one point. God is real. I know that many of you out there are saying, “Duh, I know God is real. That is what I believe.” I want you to know that it is something totally different to believe a certain list of doctrines and believing the Truth. You see the demons believe the God is real, they have a been theology of God than you and I have. Their problem is they don’t believe Truth. They don’t trust that God’s way is best so they don’t follow Him. They live to ignore God. Too many of us believe in God, we believe in a certain list of “doctrinal truths,” but we live lives that ignore God. We must live lives that say God is real. Romans 1:20 reads; “There are things about God that people cannot see--his eternal power and all the things that make him God. But since the beginning of the world those things have been easy to understand. They are made clear by what God has made. So people have no excuse for the bad things they do.” (NCV) We need to live lives that proclaim God is real.
The first two chapters detail creation. These two chapters tell us that God decides to create, and so He creates. He speaks and it is so. Light, sky, land, vegetation, sun, moon, animals are all made with a word of God. Then God makes man in His image, both male and female (which is important to remember) are BOTH made in God’s image. Here God doesn’t speak, rather He gets His hands dirty, and He forms man, and puts His breath, soul-life into the man. That is it in a nutshell. Today I want to draw four truths from Genesis 1-2 that when applied to our lives will help us live like God is real.
1. God is the Creator. (Genesis 1:1)
What does it mean that God is the Creator? Does it make any difference if God created or if this is just an accident of nature? I believe that there is a tremendous difference. Not only because we are created, but because who created us. Revelation 4:8 we get this description of God; “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty--the one who always was, who is, and who is still to come.” (NLT)
God is holy. That means He is with out sin, without wrong intention, that He is perfect. We don’t need to worry about God doing the wrong thing, because God is Holy, and He will always do what is right. This is such a contrast from the other gods that are out there, who struggle with many of the same temptations that we face and have the same shortcomings that we have. The God of the Bible is different because He is holy.
God is almighty. There is no one or thing that is more powerful than God. He can make the impossible happen, He can create out of nothing, and He can use a “nobody” to make a difference in the world. Nothing is impossible for God.
God is eternal. God was before time, God is right now, and God is in the future. He is always present, working through history to bring about His will. We don’t have to worry about God dying or disappearing, He will always be.
I want you to think about what God being the Creator means for your life. Since God is holy there is a certain standard by which He wants you to live. Since God is almighty, there is nothing in your life that He cannot help you with. Since He is eternal there will never be a break in our relationship with Him. That means we need to set God apart from everything else in our lives. He needs to be loved, awed, feared, respected, and trusted.
Because God is the Creator, He is the one we worship.
2. The world didn’t come about by accident. (Genesis 1:31-2:1)
God created the world. It was not by accident or boredom that He created, but He do so out of a purpose and a design. He did not create randomly or without thought, but He created something that was very good. A world that measured up to His specifications and that would bring about His purpose. Evolution tells us we are here by accident, but God wants us to know that we are here for a purpose.
Ephesians 2:10 says; “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” (NASB) God created us to do good. That is the purpose that He has given to us, and we live out that purpose as we use the talents He has given us with love and compassion, seeking to tell others of God’s love. God has a part for us to play. He didn’t just create us to exist, but He created us to live for Him.
Colossians 1:16 reads, “Christ is the one through whom God created everything in heaven and earth. He made the things we can see and the things we can’t see--kings, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities. Everything has been created through him and for him.” (NLT) Not only are we created by God, through Jesus, but we are created for Him. God created us for Himself. He wants to have a relationship with us, He wants us to use us, and He wants us to be devoted to Him. What that means is we is that we are answerable to Him. We belong to God and if we ignore Him or treat Him like He does not exist we will one day answer to Him.
Because this is not an accident, we need live according to our God given purpose.
3. Life couldn’t be lived alone. (Genesis 2:18)
God created us to be social beings. Here in 2:18 God created a woman to be with Adam, and from there on it was always possible for people to have relationships with other people. From a marriage relationship to a family relationship to a friend relationship, God created us to be with other people. Life is not to be lived alone.
Hebrews 10:24 and 25 reads; “We should keep on encouraging each other to be thoughtful and to do helpful things. Some people have gotten out of the habit of meeting for worship, but we must not do that. We should keep encouraging each other, especially since you know that the day of the Lord’s coming is getting closer.” (CEV) Life is tough. It would be hard to live life alone, without any support or encouragement from anyone else. God has given us family, friends, and most importantly a Church Family, to encourage us to do the right thing, remind us of God’s love, and to support us in our time of need. We need people in our lives.
Romans 5:11 says, “So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God--all because of what our Lord Jesus Christ has done in making us friends of God.” (NLT) The most important relationship we have is our relationship with God. Without that relationship life would not be worth living. It is relationship that God wants to have with us, a relationship that Jesus died so we can have. A relationship with the Creator is necessary for life, and if that relationship is not right then nothing else in our life will be right.
Because we are social beings, we need to have relationships with God and people.
4. Humans are moral beings (Genesis 1:26)
God created humans in His image and entrusted us with the care of His creation. That means we have the ability to love, to create, to help, and to care. Most importantly it means we have the ability to choose. This is the greatest gift that God gave us, but it is also the most terrible. It means that we can love or we can hate. We can create or we can destroy. We can help or we can hurt. We can care or we can ignore. To help us with these dilemmas God created in us a sense of morality, of right and wrong. It is this that separates us for the animals. Being moral beings means we are more than evolved monkeys, it means we have the ability to choose right from wrong.
3 John 11 says; “Dear friends, don’t let this bad example influence you. Follow only what is good. Remember that those who do good prove that they are God’s children, and those who do evil prove that they do not know God.” (NLT) It is by the choices that we make that prove us to be God’s children or not. Life will only be found when we make the choices to follow God. Life will be lost when we decide to do our own thing. Moral beings need to do what is right in order to survive. The morality that is needed for life is only found in God.
1 Peter 1:15, 16 reads; “But as obedient children, be yourselves holy in all your activity, after the model of the Holy One who calls us, since scripture says, ‘Be holy, for I am holy.’” (NJB) We are created in the image of God, that means we need to mirror Him if we are going to have the life He intended for us to have. Our lives will not be right if we insist on living them apart from the holiness of God.
Because we are moral beings, we need to choose to follow God.
In the Garden of Creation we discover that God is real. Here is what I want you to take away from this pondering: The reality of God’s existence should influence the way we live our lives. Since there is a God that means that there is Someone that we are answerable to, Someone that will judge, and Someone who will make things right. Our lives need to reflect our belief and our love for Him.
When the Christian thinker John Frame read the parable that started this pondering, he responded with writing his own parable. This is his parable:
Once upon a time, two explorers came upon a clearing in the jungle. A man was there, pulling weeds, applying fertilizer, trimming branches. The man turned to the explorers and introduced himself as the royal gardener. One explorer shook his hand and exchanged pleasantries. The other ignored the gardener and turned away.
“There can be no gardener in this part of the jungle,” he said. “This must be some trick. Someone is trying to discredit our secret findings.”
They pitched camp. And every day the gardener arrived to tend the garden. Soon it was bursting with perfectly arranged blooms. But the skeptical explorer insisted, “He’s only doing it because we are here--to fool us into thinking that this is a royal garden.”
One day the gardener took them to the royal palace and introduced the explorers to a score of officials who verified the gardener’s status. Then the skeptic tried a last resort, “Our senses are deceiving us. There is no gardener, no blooms, no palace, no officials. It’s all a hoax!”
Finally the believing explorer despaired, “But what remains of your original assertion? Just how does this mirage differ from a real gardener? (Jesus Among Other Gods, pg. 137).
God is real. The evidence is all around us. Some people willing close their eyes to it and look for other explanations, living the way they want to live. Other people see the evidence, they believe God is real, but they do not live like it. They don’t seek Him or live according to His commands.
As Christians we need to live our lives knowing God is real and alive. That means seeking a relationship with Him that is real and personal, trusting in His way, and following Jesus (who is the way, the truth, and the life). Do you believe that God is real? Are you living like it?
Monday, November 09, 2009
Take a moment and consider Isaiah 30:18; But the LORD still waits for you to come to him so he can show you his love and compassion. For the LORD is a faithful God. Blessed are those who wait for him to help them (NLT). God is waiting for us to turn to Him.
Though when I examine my life I realize that I am full of talk. When I am feeling down it is easy for me to talk about waiting on the Lord and trusting the plans of God, but my actions tell a different story. Rather than going to God for comfort I seek other ways to distract myself from the circumstances around me. Then I wonder why nothing changes in my life.
In Isaiah God makes it clear that He wants to help us. His desire is to show us the love we want, no the love we need to have. Though God’s love is unconditional and is offered to everyone we still must chose to go to God in order to receive it. We will not discover it while we are seeking life on our own.
How do we receive the love God has for us? King David in Psalm 51 gives us an insight on how we are to approach God; You would not be pleased with sacrifices, or I would bring them. If I brought you a burnt offering, you would not accept it. The sacrifice you want is a broken spirit. A broken and repentant heart, O God, you will not despise (vv. 16, 17; NLT). How we long to do something that shows God our guilt and sorrow, but David reminds us that that is not what God is looking for.
We are not to approach God with a religious piety and tradition. Going through the motions of a religion does not move God’s heart. What moves the heart of God is when we approach Him weak and broken. Not because He enjoys to see our suffering, but because it is at that time in our lives that we realize that only through God do we have hope. Until we approach the throne of God broken and repentant we will never realize the awesome love God has for us. Pride is the biggest obstacle we have in experiencing the love God has for us.
When we are prideful we look to change our circumstance ourselves. We put our energies into pursuing happiness that we want to have. We may say all the right things and do all the right things, but pride will keep us from experiencing God’s love.
I am so tired of mouthing the right things and ignoring God. My pride has kept me from admitting my weakness and my need for God’s strength. I come before God with a humble spirit in search of His love. Will you do the same?
Sunday, November 08, 2009
Saturday, November 07, 2009
The circumstances of life have a way of reminding us that the life we are living is not the life we wanted. Too often we find ourselves in positions and situations in which we had no desire to be. Divorce is never part of our plan for a happy life nor is being stuck in a job which you hate. Being broken hearted and feeling insignificant is not what we hoped for in our lives.
No matter who you are or the life you have lived I would bet that you have been broken hearted or wondered about the significance of your life. Situations and circumstances in your life make you wonder what life is all about. You even question whether or not God exists, and perhaps you come to the conclusion that a loving God would not let His people experience these painful circumstances.
When things don’t go the way we planned it is important to remember what Ravi Zacharias wrote in Cries of the Heart; “Only as we remember and remind ourselves of God’s faithfulness can we even see the pattern God has woven in our lives and learn confidence in His working.” God is working in our lives, even when our lives don’t turned out as planned.
My heart is broken. I want the pain to go away so I can get back to living life, yet the broken dream continues to haunt me. Living alone is a constant reminder of the loneliness I am experiencing in my heart, and it becomes easy for me to question God’s faithfulness and wonder about His purpose in my life. Yet, it is at times like this that I am drawn to God’s Word.
I believe when we focus on situations and circumstances we lose sight of how God has worked through our lives. All we see is the present and the selective images from the past which we use to justify the way we feel. We totally miss the bigger picture; and how God has been working through our lives to prepare us for the life He has created us to live. It is easy to forget God’s faithfulness when we focus on our current circumstances.
The apostle Peter wrote; So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and in his good time he will honor you. Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about what happens to you (1 Peter 5:6, 7; NLT).
Humility is the key to seeing God’s hand at work in our lives. When we are humble we are able to remember that life isn’t about us, but it is about God’s Kingdom. We are then able to understand that happiness is found, not in our dreams coming true, but in our seeking His Kingdom.
Though it is hard to believe God cares for us when our hearts are broken, it is important that we don’t allow ourselves to be swept away by our emotions. For that to happen we have to be grounded in reality, and that takes going back to the Bible. In Scripture we discover that the best life we can have is found in the Kingdom. We also discover that God allows bad things to happen to us so that we will let go of our desires for the things of this world and set our hearts on Him and His Kingdom. We can trust that God will get us through the terrible times of life, because the Bible tells us that He cares about what happens to us.
Life won’t turn out like we dreamed it would, and that is okay. Through the pain and struggles of our lives God draws us close to Him. When we humble ourselves we begin to see God’s hand at work all through our lives. He will continue to reach out to us, for He cares about us. God wants us to live the life He created us to live, and that is the best possible life that we could live.
Thursday, November 05, 2009
For much of my life I have used the Bible as a book to be studied. In effect my Bible reading was about making observations about the text and not about applying the text. I am not afraid to admit that one of the things I enjoy in life is reading the Bible and pondering the text. This is not bad, in fact, I would say that it is essential to living an authentically Christian life.
The problem is when we leave the Bible at this point. When we don’t live the text then we it is evidence that we have not grasped the full meaning of it. The Bible is not only to give us the truth we need to have correct doctrine, but it is also to guide the way we live our lives. Both Jesus and James taught that to hear God’s Word but not to obey it was foolishness (Matthew 7:24-27; James 1:22-25).
If we are going to follow Jesus then we cannot be content with merely studying the Bible, but we have to make the commitment to obey the Bible. The reason we need to be committed to obey God’s Word, no matter what the consequences might be, is because there will be every reason in the world not to obey. When we are not committed we put ourselves at the mercy of the changing desires of our lives. Commitment keeps us pointed in the right direction when the wind of our desires threatens to blow us off course.
This is one of the implications from what Jesus taught about serving two masters: “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Matthew 6:24; ESV). While the main point of the teaching is that you cannot be committed to both God and money, for when the interests of the two collide we will bend to the will of the one whom we are most committed. All we have to do is insert another master in the place of money and we discover that the teaching has a wide range of implication in our lives. If we do not commit to obey God no matter what, we will not obey God, we will obey whatever master has the most control over our lives.
What master has my commitment? That is a question that we need to ponder on a regular basis, especially when we find ourselves consistently refusing to obey God. Our disobedience is an indication that Jesus Christ is not truly Lord of our lives. We have given that spot of honor to someone or something else.
Let me be honest. Commitment isn’t some magic formula that makes obedience easy. Obedience is never easy, but what commitment does is that reduces your choices. Instead of having options A, B, and C your commitment to follow Jesus leaves you with just option A. It might be the most difficult of the options, but it is the right option. This is the thought I want to leave you with today: our ability to do the right thing is directly tied to our commitment to Jesus. Obedience flows out of our commitment to follow Jesus wherever He leads.
That is why I am writing this post now. I want to give us some time to think of ways we can thank God this Thanksgiving. Of course there are two parts to this exercise. First we have to identify the blessings we have received. One of the big blessings I received from God this year was my trip to Colorado in September. Another blessing that I have received is the instruction of the Holy Spirit, it seems to me that God opened my eyes to so many new things this past year that it was almost overwhelming. One last blessing that I will mention that seems to stand out from this year are the number of people who love and support me. Living alone it is easy to think that you are alone, but God reminded me time and time again that was not true, I do have companions to travel with on this journey of life.
How do we thank God for what He has done for us? Sure we can prayer, and I think that is a wonderful place to start, but is there a creative way you can share your thanks to God. Perhaps you have a knack for writing poetry, and so you write a poem expressing your thanks. Maybe you have a servant heart and so you use your time and talent to help people as a way of thanking God for what He has done for you.
Two of the things I am going to do this year is to write. Thank You note to God in my journal, being very specific about what I am thankful for. The other thing that I want to do is to celebrate
Communion as part of the Thanksgiving meal. If you are celebrating Thanksgiving with other Christians this provides an excellent time to imitate the early Church and weave communion into meal. What better way is there to say thank You than to celebrate the memorial meal that Jesus gave to us so we could remember Him and God's grace.
If we are going to redeem the days, then we are going to have to be intentional about how we live, and not let ourselves be pulled by the busyness of culture. This is especially true during holiday times. If we are not intentional about using Thanksgiving as an opportunity to thank God, then it will be just another day before hectic pace of Christmas hits full force.
Don't let your Thanksgiving be just about food, family, and football. Rather, be intentional and use it as a day when you creatively say thank You to God.
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Tuesday, November 03, 2009
How do we move people from having a belief in Jesus to becoming disciples of Jesus? Remember that on the day of Pentecost 3,000 people believed the Gospel of Jesus Christ, repented, and were baptized. This presents a huge task for the 120 or so disciples of Jesus, for they were now expected to help mature these new believers into disciples. What did they do? Acts 2:42 gives us the answer: “And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (ESV).
In this one sentence Luke shows us the foundation of discipleship that the early church used. Their discipleship process was focused in four priorities. As we take a look at these four priorities I think we can get a picture of what we need to do in order to help people move from merely claiming to be Christians, to truly be disciples of Jesus.
I think the first thing that needs to be pointed out is that the early church was devoted or committed to these things. What I want to make sure that we all understand is that these priorities must be what we, who are following Jesus, are devoted to. As people observe our lives they will begin to understand that these things are important in our spiritual growth.
The first priority is that the early church was devoted to the apostles’ teachings. As we continue in Acts 2 we discover that these first Christians met daily in the Temple for prayer and teaching. They knew they need truth and application if they were going to live like Jesus in the world. This is the starting point of all discipleship, being humble enough to be a student of the Bible (the New Testament being a collection of the apostles’ teaching). We also have to remember that being a student is not enough, we also have to be doers. James tells us:
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing (James 1:22-25; ESV).
The true benefit of teaching isn’t the information that we receive, but the knowledge that we gain. True knowledge is seen in applying what we have learned. If we are not doers of God’s Word, then we haven’t been devoted to the apostles’ teachings, and we are not true disciples. Commitment requires both actions: hearing and doing.
The next priority is that of the fellowship. What this means is that they were committed to each other. This is plainly seen in Acts 2:43-47. They ate together, worshiped together, and generously helped each other. To be committed to the fellowship isn’t about attending events, but it is about doing life together. One of the place where we see this taught is in Hebrews 10:22-25:
...let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (ESV)
The key phrase in the passage is let us. To Christians who were struggling in the face of persecution and who were considering returning to Judaism the author of Hebrews encourages them to do life together. That is what true fellowship is all about. It is hard to come by in our culture, even in the Church, but it is so essential for our discipleship. We need people who will encourage us, who will come alongside of us, and who we can love and serve as well. Find Christian friends with whom you can do life together.
The third priority is that of the breaking of bread. Now there is some debate over what this means. My position is that this refers to communion. The reason I say that is because in the Greek it literally says; the breaking of the bread. While breaking of bread refers to the simple act of sharing meals, the extra “the” I think indicates something specific, and that would be the Lord’s Supper (which was observed during a common meal, so in a sense both meanings fit). The reason Communion is so vital to our discipleship is because it is our time to examine our hearts and our commitment to Jesus. Yes, it is a time for us to remember Jesus and His sacrifice, but that is not its only purpose. The apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:27-29 wrote:
Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. (ESV)
One question that we have to consider when it comes to Communion is: “Do I want to be a part of God’s Kingdom?” The answer to that question will tell us a lot about the condition of our heart and what we truly want our lives to be about. When we take Communion we are reaffirming our desire to be part of God’s covenant people, and thus it provides us with a brand new start. That is why Communion is so vital to our lives as disciples.
The last priority we find mentioned in Acts 2:42 is that of the prayers. The early Christians were not only devoted to praying, but they were devoted to praying at certain times of the day. It is my belief that they continued the tradition of the Jews to pray at 9AM, Noon, and 3PM. One reason I think that is that in Acts 3:1 we read that Peter and John were going to the Temple at the time of prayer. To be devoted to prayer isn’t just about feeling comfortable about praying throughout the day, but have a set time each day when we do not let anything else interfere with our conversation with our Heavenly Father. A great example of this is found in the Old Testament. Daniel was a man of prayer, and because some people were jealous of his success they were able to trick the king into passing law that forbid praying. The penalty for praying was death. This is what Daniel 6:10 tells us: When Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open toward Jerusalem. He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously (ESV).
Not only did Daniel pray in the face of death, but he also thanked God while in exile. Right there we find two excuse many of us would use for not praying. How can we pray when it would cost us our life? How can we thank God when our lives aren’t what we hoped they would be? Yet, Daniel was committed to praying three times a day. If we are going to following Jesus then we must see how vital it is to have this daily time of communication with our Heavenly Father. Prayer was an essential part of the life of Jesus, and if we are going to follow His example then it is going to have to be an essential part of our lives.
We have quickly walked through the four priorities the early church were committed to keeping. Much more could be said about each of these priorities, but hopefully you have begun to see how vital they are to the life of the Church. If we are going to have truly devoted followers of Christ, then we must insist that our church families make these four priorities the foundation of whatever discipleship program they implement. After all, if the early church found these four priorities to be essential to their growth, then it is a good bet they will be essential for our growth as well.
Monday, November 02, 2009
Too often people fail to examine their lives and ask the tough questions. They try to keep the status quo and not rock the boat, and the result is that they remain stunted in their maturity. Some of our most profound times of growth occur when we take stock of our lives and begin the hard work of making the appropriate changes.
What is true on a personal level is also true on a group level. Churches stagnate and die because the members didn't want to take the time and face reality. In our country we are facing the church is facing a crisis because we have ignored reality and have not made the necessary changes to remain relevant to the culture.
This is also true in the nation as a whole. We can talk about a health care crisis or a financial crisis, but we never ask the tough questions that need to be asked to truly get to the bottom of the problem. We don't want to hear that the problem is greed or a lack of responsibility, we just want the government to fix the problem. We don't want to address the crisis of the family that has swept this nation and how that is going to negatively effect the success of the nation.
My point in all of this is to remind us that as long as we are dealing with superficial issues we will continue to miss the core problem. Whether it is in our personal lives, in our churches, or in our nation, let look beyond the superficial and take a look at what really matters. While this might be harder in the short term it will pay huge benefits, because we will have found answers rather than to continue to chip away at all the side issues that come up.
If we never face reality we will never be able to be the people, the church, or the country God created us to be.
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