Monday, December 22, 2014

Where Would We Be Without Christmas?

Where would we be without Christmas?

This question was posed at church this weekend.  At Easter we emphasize the empty tomb but at Christmas the manger must be filled.  Both locations are vitally important.  Together they encompass the gospel - Jesus put on flesh, lived a sinless life, died for our sins and rose from the dead.  He qualified Himself to be our Redeemer by becoming man and He defeated death by raising from the grave. Both the filled manger and the empty grave are essential truths upon which our faith is built.

So here is my latest observation - we really do live in a world void of God. Oh, I know He's here and the only reason we can take the next breath is because He is alive and ever present.  But we live in a world that ignores God.  Ignore isn't even the right word - the world is filled with people who live without a second thought toward God.  Their lives are completely void of an awareness of God's presence, His deity, His will, His holiness, His activity, His precepts, His way and His hand.

Maybe this sounds obvious, but for some reason it's really hit me hard this past week.  I might just be a bit slow, but let me show you what I mean:
  • When's the last time you watched a sitcom that mentioned Jesus that wasn't in the context of swearing?
  • What about music?  How much secular music has no hint of God's presence or even a mention of His majesty?
  • Movies, books, magazines, websites - all filled with stories and information but no mention of the Creator or His goodness
  • Weathermen surely don't credit or thank God and news reporters don't mention Him, as well
  • Politicians make laws and policies without considering God and His law
  • Detective shows and mysteries only throw in religion to add to the mental instability of the suspect
Seriously, day after day after day people eat, drink, work, converse, think, decide, travel, create and cry without thinking about God.  This is such a strange truth for a believer because our first waking thought is of Jesus and the last words in our head are prayers of thanksgiving.  We meditate on scripture, talk about sermons, think "what would Jesus do?", listen to worship music and cry our troubles out to our Savior on a daily basis.  But life around us is operating completely void of God.

In essence, the world's manger is empty.

They don't understand the gospel and they don't see God when they look in the manger.  They don't see how that baby has anything to do with them and they aren't even sure it's a true story.  And they don't really even give it a thought, to be completely honest.

So this is bad enough, right?  But lately I've been noticing how many believers live as if the manger was empty as well.  We aren't thinking of Jesus when we awaken, we aren't spending any time in the Word, we can't remember what the pastor preached on the day before, we never consider what Jesus would do, we pride ourselves on knowing the top 40 and we worry about anything and everything - going to Jesus is a last resort because we're not sure He's really paying attention or cares anyway.

So now it's Christmas week.  We have a choice to make.  We can live as if the manger is empty and let this week fly by without even as much as a nod in the baby's direction, or we can celebrate the life that has been purchased for us because of the filled manger.  It's never too late to change our focus and start living the transformed life that Jesus paid for - like the Christmas gifts that sit under the tree, will we simply look at the beautiful wrapping or will we open and use them?

Remember, friends - we do what we do and we feel how we feel because we think what we think.  Let's set our minds on the manger this week and each of us answer the question - where would we be without Christmas? Pondering the answer can be life-changing.

Monday, December 1, 2014

It's a Mind Issue

"For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit.  For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh CANNOT please God."
Romans 8:5-8

What occupies your mind?

It's as simple as that.  Your actions and your feelings are controlled by your mind, so what is on your mind?

In Philippians 2:12, Paul urges the church to work out their salvation with fear and trembling.  He is not telling you to save yourself, but he is telling you not to take your salvation for granted.  I have had many ask me, how do I know if I am truly saved? That "fear and trembling" thing is pretty sobering, isn't it?

Well, according to our verses above, if we are in the Spirit, our mind will be set on the things of the Spirit.  That's a great test.  During the day in your mind are you worrying about life, arguing with your spouse, fuming about your children, complaining about your boss, longing for what you don't have, imagining what you shouldn't, cussing out rude drivers or stressing about the holidays?  

Or are you meditating on scripture, asking the Lord how you can please and serve Him today, longing for heaven and confessing your sin?  Are you choosing to forgive, laying down your rights for others, seeking out ways to show Christ to your children and discussing how to apply what you learned at church to your daily walk?

Can you see the difference in the mindsets of these two examples?

It is a dangerous place to be "according to the Spirit" but setting your "mind on the flesh."  Is that even possible?  According to our passage above, the mind set on the flesh is death, hostile to God, unwilling and unable to submit to God's commands and unable to please God.  Is that the picture of someone who has traded places with Jesus and received His gift of eternal life?

So as we head into December, this is a great time to check our minds.  With all the holiday lights, music and craziness surrounding us, let us choose to set our minds on the things above, not on the things that are on the earth.  For we have died with Christ and now our lives are hidden with Christ in God - it is not us who live, but Christ who lives in us.  If we truly believe this, then what should we be thinking about and how will our thoughts change our actions and feelings?

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Contentment Produces Gratitude

"But godliness actually is a means of great gain 
when accompanied by contentment. 
For we have brought nothing into the world, 
so we cannot take anything out of it either. 
If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content."
I Timothy 6:6-8

How quickly does the weather steal our contentment?  

What are you talking about, Kristen?  It might steal our joy temporarily, but not our contentment…we're not that shallow!

Hmmmm…perhaps I am wrong, but from the response to our local weather both written and verbal, I might have a case.   In addition to weather, there are many other things that steal our contentment, right?  People can steal it, situations can steal it, illness can steal it, and even a well-placed accident by a beloved pet can make us long for the days when we didn't have to worry about well-placed accidents. 

And now we have a holiday approaching - one where we're supposed to be thankful, but thankfulness is really hard when everyone is stealing your contentment.  It's hard to be thankful when people are lying to you, your boss is grumpy, the bridge is under construction, you've already got the Michigan crud, your kids won't stop fighting and in general you really don't like yourself very much.  What you need is new friends, a new job, a new town, a new set of lungs, different kids and a new personality.  Then you'd be content which would make you thankful for what you have.

If you find yourself struggling with contentment today, I want to push you a bit and assert that contentment is not something that can be stolen.  If it was a possession that could be taken from you, then that would make you a victim of theft.  But it is not a possession, it is a choice.  Let's let Paul lay this out for us:

"Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself!  Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong."  II Corinthians 12:7-10

(Paul chose to be content, even during difficult times, because he set his eyes on Christ and in his weakness, Christ's strength was sufficient - Jesus was his treasure and Jesus was his strength.)

"But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned before, but you lacked opportunity. Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.  I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me."  Philippians 4:10-13

(Paul chose to be content in whatever circumstance he was in because in all things Christ again was His focus and His strength - Jesus was his treasure and Jesus was his strength.)

"But godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentmentFor we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content. But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction.  For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. But flee from these things, you man of God, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called, and you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who testified the good confession before Pontius Pilate, that you keep the commandment without stain or reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which He will bring about at the proper time—He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see. To Him be honor and eternal dominion! Amen."  I Timothy 6:6-16
Paul needed very little to be content - he knew that longing for things he didn't have was only a snare that would lead to harm and grief.  But what I love about this last passage was where Paul placed his mind - Jesus truly was his treasure and his strength.
This year, especially with all the snow we've gotten, we all have a great opportunity to choose contentment.  Rather than believe we are victims in this life, let's choose to set our eyes on Jesus and trust that wherever we are and whatever we're doing, He's right there with us.  Let's put on contentment and not long for what we don't possess.
Rather than have a spirit of complaining, let's be thankful for our jobs, our town, our friends, our children and the life God has given us.  Let's praise the Lord for such a great salvation and for His Spirit who comforts us in need, explains the Word to us when we don't understand, prays for us when we're struggling and produces life-giving fruit in us when we walk close to Him.  Let's be content with our homes and our children, stewarding what God has placed in our care with His strength and for His glory.
If Jesus is your treasure and if Jesus is your strength, then contentment will be an easy choice for you - you already have the BEST thing!  And once you are content, gratitude will freely flow…I pray that this Thanksgiving will be one filled with true gratitude and contentment for you.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Harvest University Nuggets

Hello, Friends!

This is going to be a different kind of blog than I usually post.  I am going to toss some nuggets to you - tiny, theological treats for you to munch on.  I am not going to expound on them, except for one (I can't help myself), but rather, I'd prefer that you just ingest it, ponder it, maybe even look up the scripture with it if applicable and enjoy an afternoon snack.  Sound like a plan?

This past week several of us went down to Chicago for the 2014 Harvest University.  HU is really a church planting conference, with main speakers, the Vertical Church Band and then lots of electives on church systems - elder formation and responsibilities, worship leaders track, children's ministries, soul care, women's ministries, assimilation tracks…etc.  Our whole staff was there, minus one who had a precious baby boy this week (welcome, Anderson!).  So I thought I would share some of the nuggets I gleaned from the few days down there. This is by no means exhaustive, but rather just a little snack for you to enjoy! So…here goes!

1.  Waiting for God to Move (keynote speaker, James MacDonald, from John 5)

  • God wants to work IN you (first) and THROUGH you (second) - in that order
  • Life expectancy in Jesus' time was 40 years (wowsers!)
  • The hardest part of a trial is not the depth of the valley or the darkness of total uncertainty, it's the duration
  • as pastors, we need to focus less on historical uncertainties and more on "It is written…"  (be sure to think about that one for a while…)
  • Application:
    • Take your eyes off the clock and get them on Jesus
      • dismiss the lie that there is a connection between time and relief
      • determine to wait
      • devote yourself to prayer
    • Take your mind off the obstacles and get it on Jesus
      • Three reasons why we stop hoping:
        • It's a hassle to hope
        • It's hard to hope
        • It hurts to hope
    • Take your faith off the formula and get it on Jesus
2.  Some nuggets from the Soul Care Electives
  • Every day that the sun rises is a day that God is being gracious to those who don't know Him
***This is the one I want to just throw a comment at - read it again and ponder this truth.  The sun does not rise for the righteous - life on this earth does not continue for us.  Our destiny is sure and this earth is broken. But God extends grace to the unbelievers as each day is an opportunity to repent and turn to Him. He is not late in bringing His judgment - He is patient so that all who will come to know Him actually do come to know Him.  I think we spend so much time thinking that every day is a day for God to do incredible things in our lives, forgetting that He uses us to bring the lost to Himself.  Isn't it a better perspective to see each day as an opportunity to point others to our Savior?  So every morning when the sun rises and we get another day, be reminded of God's grace on the lost…it is a powerful perspective!
  • Guilt is a judicial term - if you are guilty, then repent. But if you feel guilty, then re-inform your conscience
  • Psychology offers description, the Bible provides prescription
  • You before Me, except after C (Christ) - nice, huh?
  • Don't wait for perfection to do ministry
  • Just as prayer is a universal language, so is brokenness
  • The person who refuses to go to small group is rejecting God's care for them through the local church
  • What we believe about God is exposed during the valleys and crises of life
  • You know it's time to graduate a counselee when they are talking to others about the gospel
  • Whatever is in your heart, when it is squeezed, it will come out
  • Our enemy goes after the weak, the wounded and the isolated
  • Anything that captures our hearts, minds and affections more than God is idolatry
3.  Final Session (James MacDonald)
  • 5 wisdoms James has learned from the past 5 years
    • Friends are important but family is forever
    • Hurt held hinders happiness (Some of his biggest regrets were actions taken which were motivated by hurt)
    • Love above truth (this is not a theological statement, but well explained that basically love is greater than holding to a truth that breaks a relationship - don't get too worked up on this point.  Just remember that choosing love instead of a bludgeoning with truth is always preferable)
    • If you're wrong in the way that you're right, then you're wrong (Don't let the manner of your discipline disqualify your message)
    • Grace is never wasted
Okay, friends - that should be plenty to get you through the weekend!  


Friday, October 17, 2014

Phone Challenge

"Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, 
whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, 
whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence 
and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things." 
Philippians 4:8

I love to tell the stories to my children of me, sitting in front of the television with my hand on the knob, turning the stations every time my father said, "Next."  I can see the look in their eyes as the reality sets in that I, their mother, was the first television remote my family owned.  

Or the stories of driving all over town - to school, to the grocery store, to the gas station, to church - even across country - without a…wait for it…phone.  Wow.  How did we ever survive?  

But times change and because of that technology has greatly improved our lives.  Enter the lifeline of the modern phone.  It not only allows you to talk to someone, but you can text them, Skype with them, check your FaceBook, tweet a snarky comment, video a cop beating up a civilian, get directions, check the weather, surf the web and oh, yes, let's not forget play Words with Friends till the cows come home.  And all this is made possible by a thin cord we call the battery charger.

Yes, without the battery charger, life as we know it comes to a halt.  For some reason in our house, for every phone we own, we have about 5 charging cords - one for our car, one for the wall, one for the computer, and two because someone in the house is inevitably going to steal the one plugged into your computer and the wall charger.  

So the key to using this phenomenal, life-changing technology of the phone is keeping the phone charged.  Why?, you ask.  Because without power, the phone is dead.  It is useless and suddenly you become void of contact with the world. Simple things like knowing what time it is suddenly become a black hole of lost information.  How can anyone be expected to be on time without a phone? So every night, before you go to bed, you religiously plug in the phone, so that you can have enough power to make it through the next day.  You might even plug it in for a little extra umph here and there, to guarantee you survive while on the go.

Okay, let's switch gears.  What empowers your walk with Christ? Believe it or not, it's time in the Word.  Let me explain how that works.  As a child of God, we have the Holy Spirit who indwells us, convicts us, leads us, brings our prayers to God and even produces fruit in us when we are walking in obedience to the Word.  So time in the Word is that time where we are seeking the things of the Lord, we are striving to see Him more clearly and the Spirit uses that time to grow us in Christ.  When we neglect the Word, we limit the resources that the Spirit will use to sanctify us.  Don't get me wrong - the Spirit is never truly "limited" but He also doesn't magically make us like Christ when we ignore spiritual disciplines - He works through those disciplines. 

Our verse above talks about dwelling on whatever is pure, lovely, honorable, right and excellent.  All those things are found in the Word and "dwelling" in the Word means it's where your mind lives.  If you start your day in the Word, your mind will think all day on these things because the Spirit will use that scripture to enlighten you throughout the day.  It is a power source to get you through the day.  If you read romance or mystery novels, then your mind is going to be bent in that direction as you go throughout the day.  If you start your day with Sports Center or arguing with your spouse, or if you fill your mind with to-do lists and worries, then all day long your thoughts will be used up by worldly concerns.

As followers of Christ, we are called to set our minds on Him. Do it the first thing when you wake up so that you are headed in the right direction for the day or do it as you close out your day, to have that time with your Savior.  The problem is that few of us actually do this and we wonder why we struggle day after day.  Could it be that our battery is low?  Could it be that we are not taking the time to recharge in the Word?  We would not go a day without charging our phone battery but will go day after day, week after week, month after month with only a Sunday morning service to charge our batteries.  Isn't there something wrong with this picture?

So here is my Phone Challenge.  Each night when you plug in that phone to charge, grab your Bible and start reading it.  Or when you unplug it each morning, stop and take some time in the Word.  Read through the life of Christ in the gospels, or through the creation of the world in Genesis, check out the Psalms or soak up some great doctrine in the epistles - whatever you choose to do, search the scriptures to see Jesus more clearly.  Look for the heart and character of God.  Let the charger cord be the reminder to you that you need to recharge spiritually as well, and see how this transforms your life.

Remember, you wouldn't go a day with out charging your phone.  Isn't your walk with Christ more important?

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Snowflake Propaganda

"Behold, I go forward but He is not there, 
And backward, but I cannot perceive Him; 
When He acts on the left, I cannot behold Him; 
He turns on the right, I cannot see Him. 
But He knows the way I take
When He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold
My foot has held fast to His path
I have kept His way and not turned aside
I have not departed from the command of His lips
I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my necessary food
But He is unique and who can turn Him? 
And what His soul desires, that He does."
Job 23:8-13

I think you might need to take a seat for this blog today because I have some bad news, and here it is: the Bible doesn't say you're a snowflake.

Now, for those of you who attend HBCSL most likely you know what I am talking about because David talks about snowflakes all the time.  But for those of you who have no idea what I am referencing, let me explain.  Snowflakes are supposedly unique - no two snowflakes are identical. (In researching this claim, I came upon a thought provoking question - if there were two identical, who would know?) So living life believing you are a snowflake - and heaven forbid, raising your children to believe they are snowflakes - means you believe you are truly special, unique - there's no one like you, which makes you even more wonderful.

Unfortunately this mindset is not just a worldly mindset - it is a big part of the church, as well.  Haven't you ever heard someone say, "His testimony is so powerful - God has big things in store for him!" Or, "That guy?  Oh, he's a rockstar!  You should hear him sing!"  Or, "She's a genius!  Three years old and can already recite the Gettysburg address!"  Praise, praise, praise - we praise ourselves and believe the lie that there is something new under the sun and it's…ME!  Ta-da!

Okay, friends, how about a dose of truth.  What does God's word actually say about us?  Ecclesiastes 1:9 says, "That which has been is that which will be, and that which has been done, is that which will be done.  So there is nothing new under the sun."  So not much new.  Jeremiah 17:9 says, "The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, who can know it?"  And Isaiah 64:6 calls our righteousness filthy rags.  So deep down we're pretty normal and normal means rotten to the core.

But there is good news -  I Peter 2:9 says, "But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light."  Hmmm. I think I like that better. It makes me feel better about myself, right?

Well, friends, I just got to the heart of the problem - we spend too much time trying to feel better about ourselves and no where near enough time proclaiming the excellencies of the One who called us out of the darkness and into the light.  As John the Baptist so humbly declared, "He must increase, I must decrease."  Instead of looking for our uniqueness in a world full of snowflake wannabes, we should look to the One who was truly unique - the One who created with the sound of His voice, who holds the universe in place, who tells the waters how high to wash onto the shore and who gives sustenance to the birds of the air. The One who left His throne in heaven to put on flesh, endured the mocking and accusations of a completely rotten to the core society, hung on a cross and bore the wrath of His Father in our place so that He could claim us as His own.  The One who uses the earth as His footstool, always sees the big picture, understands the big picture and is operating within the big picture, is preparing a place for us and is coming with an army of angels to get us. He alone is unlike anyone else and He alone deserves our praise.

Jesus. (Just stop and take a breath, then say His name again - it's refreshing.)

As Job reminds us above, let us remember the uniqueness of our God and spend much less time proclaiming our own personal uniqueness to a world who couldn't care less ("own" and "personal" were purposefully redundant).  Let's stop competing for the attention which Jesus alone deserves and demands.  Let's put an end to snowflake propaganda and start proclaiming loudly the excellencies of the One who called us out of the darkness and into the light.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Quick Word Study

"Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and all that is within me,
Bless His holy name."
Psalm 103:1


It's a common word among Christians:
  • We love our new car - we are so blessed!
  • God has blessed us with good health this winter…
  • (sneeze) Bless you!
  • Bless your heart, you are such a caring soul!
  • Bless this house
  • Bless the Lord
So, what in the world does the word "bless" mean?  After a quick turn on, here's what I discovered:
  • in the old English, bless means "to consecrate, to make holy, to give thanks"
  • in the old German, bless means "to hallow with blood, to mark with blood" - this was a from an ancient ritual of sprinkling blood on pagan altars
  • the latin words used in scripture for bless mean "to speak well of, to praise"
  • in the English dictionary, bless means several things - to make holy, to give honor, to extol or praise, to glorify and to call upon God for protection or favor
Now, let's define our uses from above:
  • We love our new car - we are so blessed! God's favor
  • God has blessed us with good health this winter… God's protection
  • (sneeze) Bless you! God's protection - sneezes were once thought of as an attack by an evil spirit and to say "Bless you" was to call on God's protection to ward of the spirits…hmmm…
  • Bless your heart, you are such a caring soul! God's favor
  • Bless this house God's favor and protection
  • Bless the Lord Glorify, praise and make holy
I think the most common understanding is the receiving of God's favor when we talk about being blessed.  But when we read verses that declare a blessing on God, it can be confusing if we don't understand that "bless" also means glorify and praise.

Probably the most interesting thing about this word study is the old German use - to mark with blood.  As a believer, this is probably the most accurate definition of "bless" we could have, when it comes to God's favor in our lives.  We are marked with blood - Christ's precious, perfect and powerful blood.  The imagery of protection throughout scripture that is connected with blood is clear:
  • blood sacrifices were required, all the way back to the garden to cover the sinfulness of man (Genesis 3)
  • God did not allow blood to be drank because it represented life (Genesis 9:4)
  • blood was sprinkled on the mercy seat and on the people for atonement of sins (Leviticus 16)
  • the precious blood of the Lamb is what cleanses (I Peter 1:19)
Even though the root may be pagan, don't be fooled - false religions have often stole or imitated truth to deceive.  We absolutely are blessed by being marked with Jesus' blood and this is a great image to have in your mind when you talk of God's blessing in your life.  So yes, God has greatly blessed all of us and we are called to bless Him - glorify, praise and set Him apart from the world.  He alone is God and He alone is to be blessed!

Have a blessed day!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Common Grace

"Now one of them, when he saw that he had been healed, 
turned back, glorifying God with a loud voice, 
and he fell on his face at His feet, giving thanks to Him.  
And he was a Samaritan."
Luke 17:15,16

Do you know the story?  Ten lepers.  Ten outcasts with no hope.  Ten men bound together, not by race, religion, or choice but by disease, misfortune, and heartbreak.  They know of Jesus' reputation and cry out for mercy and He heals them all.  Yet only one falls on his knees and thanks Him.  

Only one glorified God in his healing.

So what do you know about common grace?  Have you ever heard of it before?  It's a theological concept that says all men, believers and unbelievers alike, are recipients of God's grace to a certain extent.  It is common because it is experienced by all humanity, and it's considered grace because it's something that mankind doesn't deserve but God in His rich compassion bestows His grace on us.

Let's flesh this out a bit:  In the sermon on the Mount, Jesus says (Matt. 5:45) that God sends both sunshine and rain on the evil and the good.  So the basic ability to live is a gift from the Lord - true.  Life is not something we earn or deserve - God is the giver of life and guess what?  He doesn't just give life to His children but He gives life to all men. 

But His common grace goes beyond this.  He also blesses mankind with great wisdom (science, medicine, education) and with great physical talent (athleticism), and with immense creativity (musical and poetic, written and acted), but He doesn't just bless His followers. All humanity bears the image of their Creator, whether or not they recognize it, and because of this they are greatly blessed.

If God gave humanity what it deserved, if He left us to solely be consumed with our sinfulness, we would have destroyed ourselves ages ago.  But He restrains sin (another blessing), as seen in Genesis 20 when a pagan king took Sarah as his wife, not knowing she was married. Abimelech claims ignorance and God tells him that He personally restrained him from taking Sarah and did not let him touch her.  Here we see God not only graciously protecting Sarah but graciously keeping a pagan king from sinning.  He also directs the hearts of unbelievers to accomplish His will - this is seen in the story of Moses and Pharaoh, as well as a repeated theme in the book of Judges. God moves in the hearts of heathen nations to do His will.

But God is not mocked - we all reap the consequences of what we sow here on earth, believers and unbelievers alike.  Believers will not receive the punishment for our sin but God does not magically cause crop failure when we plant bad seeds, but gives grace to the humble to survive a bad harvest.

Believers today are criticized because when anything good happens to them they say, "God is good. He has blessed me."  Unbelievers think that we are claiming some kind of special grace that is not available to them.  But the truth is that God is good and has blessed all men - He heals their diseases, He prospers their companies, He grants success for their inventions and creations.  A big difference is that believers recognize that blessings comes from the Lord and they give Him glory for what He is doing, rather than denying God's existence and claiming the glory for themselves.

That being said, look at our leper story above again.  Do you see the common grace now?  All ten of the lepers were blessed by Jesus' grace, mercy and compassion.  However, only one recognized and glorified God for it.

Just for the record, there is a grace that is showered upon the believer that greatly surpasses common grace, but I believe that understanding God's love for all men and the grace that He bestows each day has great value.

So, are you one of the nine (just living life off of the common grace of God) or the one who recognizes Jesus for who He is?

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Powerful Triplets

Sorry, this isn't about baby triplets, but that's a wonderfully cute picture, isn't it?

There is a literary style of using triplets as descriptors that makes reading flow.  For example if I were to describe my kitchen to you I would say, My kitchen is bright, comfortable and inviting.  Three descriptors that keep the sentence flowing.  Now I could have written four or five, or even just two, but there is something about three that just fits.

Same with decorating.  I have been told that you should never hang two pictures, there should always be three.  You should never put an even number of something on display - it should always be an odd number.  I am not sure why, and maybe it's outdated, but there is just something right about triplets.

So this morning I want to share a few power triplets from God's Word - I call them "powerful triplets" because any of these if purposefully and practically applied would be immediately life-transforming.  They are rich and deep enough to keep your mind engaged and if, by God's grace, we would strive every day for the rest of our lives to master these truths, it would be an honor to have these triplets put on our gravestones in memory of the lives we chose to live.

(wow…no pressure there…)

Triplet #1:

James 1:19 - "But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger."

As a mother I have been known to interrupt my children's stories with solutions to their problems.  Here's why - I had six children.  Children do not tell stories quickly.  If I waited to hear all the details of every story from each one of them…well, there's just not enough time in the day.  So I would quickly throw out a solution and move on to the next.  Great parenting, right?

God says, Slow down.  Listen.  Mull over your response and don't lose your temper.  He is so different than my natural instincts.  But here's the truth - I was often solving a problem that didn't exist.  I needed to hear the whole story to find out what the need was.  I needed to ask questions, to listen better. Proverbs 18:13 says, "He who gives an answer before he hears, it is folly and shame to him."  Yes, I agree.  Through the years God has taught me to slow down, to listen, and to seek His wisdom before solving the world's problems.

There is great truth to this first triplet.  If we would write these down, tape them to the fridge and glance often on them during the day (notice the triplet), it would be life changing.

Triplet #2:

Ephesians 4:32 - "Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you."

Kind, tenderhearted, forgiving.  What a great way to live your life.  I have often suggest to some of my counselees who are struggling in their marriages, when their husband is asleep, take a Sharpie and write these three words on his forehead.  Then every time you look at him, you will be reminded of how God wants you to love him.  I don't think anyone's done it, but it's a good mind picture.

Remember that God does not ask us to do anything that does not flow from His very character.  His kindness, His compassion, His forgiveness is on broad display at the cross.  That alone is enough motivation for me to work on this triplet.  My God is kind, tenderhearted and forgiving, so guess what? That's what I want to be.

Again, a great headstone, don't you think?

Triplet #3:

Micah 6:8 - "He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?"

Okay, the piece de resistance!  (That's French for noteworthy or prize feature!)  This triplet will take much more study than this blog has time for, but what a great road map for life:

  • Do justice - behavior - do what is right, lawful, moral - this is a daily battle in each of our lives, not to live by the flesh but to live by God's principles.  I use the word "battle" because if it came easy, we'd all do it.  But our flesh fights to sit on the throne and God wants that chair!  When we choose to live righteously, when we choose to live according to God's law - we are placing ourselves within His boundaries, which are there for protection, not for testing.  His ways are best, His ways are safest, and His ways are where the fruits of the Spirit flow freely
  • Love kindness - other translations say, "Love mercy."  Kindness means to be of a good or benevolent nature or disposition.  We need to love kindness but I think we tend to love justice. Let me explain the difference - justice disciplines law breakers.  Kindness shows mercy to law breakers.  We are instructed to do justice (live rightly) and love kindness (be happy when mercy is extended, not just to you but to others) but because we tend to think more highly of ourselves, we want to see people get what they deserve, rather than receive the mercy that we've been extended.  We need to stop that.  We need to start being kind, tenderhearted and forgiving because that is what has been given to us - we need to love kindness
  • Walk humbly with your God - and here's how we can do justice and love kindness - through a humble walk with the Lord.  Humility does not come from horizontal living - looking at and comparing ourselves to those around us.  Humility comes from vertical living - constantly keeping our eyes on Jesus, comparing ourselves to His holiness and perfection - that will humble us on a regular basis!  Humility is defined as not proud or arrogant; low in rank, importance, status and quality; courteously respectful; having a modest opinion or estimate of one's own importance.  Wow.  The only way to live a life of humility is to walk with God.  And here's an added bonus - Dave has pointed out that we have to humble ourselves - we are constantly instructed to humble ourselves, to be humble - it's a choice.
Powerful triplets - life changing instructions -  pick a set and start working on them!

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Press On

"Brethren, I do not regard myself 
as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do
forgetting what lies behind 
and reaching forward to what lies ahead, 
press on toward the goal 
for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus."
Philippians 3:13,14

What lies behind can be life altering.  How many of us struggle to forget the past?  How can we forget it when it has shaped and molded us into the person we are today?  The past contains the keys to our thoughts - we dwell on past relationships, past conversations, past scenes, past could we forget what lies behind?  What in the world is Paul talking about?

It's no wonder we are a depressed society. 

Here are two scenarios for your consideration:

1.  You wake up in the morning and your first thought is a reminder of the argument you had with your husband before you fell asleep.  You turn over in bed and he's already up and gone.  Good, you don't have to deal with that.  In the shower, you remember the four things you forgot at Meijer and try to figure out when you're going to have time to pick them up later today.  You can feel a dull headache coming on, but brush it off in lieu of your morning cup of coffee - the caffeine will handle it.  Kids are running late, lunches aren't made yet and for some reason you've run out of hot water before the conditioner is out of your hair.  So much for a good shower.

You finally get the kids ready and off to school and your phone rings.  It's your mother and you just don't have the time to deal with her so you let it go to voice mail.  Her divorce from husband number 3 is still too fresh and you just don't feel like being a sounding board about how terrible all men are.  While you're thinking of it, your husband isn't rating so high either.  

Work is a pressure cooker today.  The new management doesn't like the way things were run in the past and you feel like it might be easier for them to just hire someone new, rather than train the old staff in their new ways.  You miss your old boss - he never worried about your schedule or your priorities - if you got it done, he was happy.  But this new boss has no patience for your personal limitations - he doesn't care that you never went to college and are self-taught. He expects you to be on top of the latest technology and makes it clear that there are many women younger than you who can do this in their sleep.  If only your mom and dad hadn't been so focussed on ruining their marriage, you might have gotten that education that was spent on their divorce instead.  

The after school babysitter just texted you that she's running a fever - now you'll have to call your mom and endure a 20 minute male bashing just to get the kids covered.  You're not going to call your husband because in the past, he's not very cordial the day after fights.  

Things continue to weigh down on you.  You forget the Meijer stop and as you walk in the front door, your son meets you with his cleats in hand - time to head out to soccer and it's your turn for treats.  No one ever considers the working mom when they schedule treats.  You're pretty sure you can drop him off at practice and grab some apples at the store and get back, but the unexpected low fuel light means you're late back to practice and the kids are almost all gone.  Once again you've proven yourself to be the unreliable mom.  But you'd hate to start something new and actually do what was expected of you for once...

Dinner is McDonalds, your husband rolls his eyes, you get the kids in bed and decide not to start the laundry, wipe down the kitchen, clean the bathroom or run the vacuum - all things on your to-do list from last week.  You're too tired, you're too unappreciated and you just want to go to bed.

2.  You wake up in the morning and your first thought is the argument you had with your husband before you fell asleep.  You reach over and he's already gone.  You grab your phone and type a quick text - "Call me when you have a free minute. I love you and hate when I go to bed mad."  You jump in the shower and immediately the praise song from Sunday is in your head. You sing full voice and even though you are apparently the last one to shower this morning because the water has turned cold, you're just glad the rest are up and moving.  You work on your memory verse that is taped to your mirror in the bathroom as you blow dry your hair, thankful for another day.

You whip up lunches and get the kids on the bus as your phone rings.  You chat with mom on the way to work, encouraging her to come to study with you tomorrow night.  When you hang up, you ask the Lord to move her heart to come - she needs a savior so bad and maybe now, after another failed marriage, she'll reach out to God.  You want a front row seat for that transformation!

Work is tense and though you might not be there forever, there are a few gals who need to see Jesus in you.  You run to Meijer at lunch, grab the apples that your son says are not a treat but a fruit, and head back to work.  Your husband calls you and things are headed in a better direction and in the car on the way home, you turn on last Sunday's message by Matt Chandler and grasp at a few minutes of wisdom.  You hit pause, load up the kids and sit in the parking lot at the practice, munching on an apple and finish the sermon.  

Dinner is McDonalds, there's snuggle time before bed and once the kids are tucked away, you spend another 45 minutes getting on top of some cleaning that was neglected over the weekend.  You fall into bed, thanking the Lord for another day, for a faithful husband, for children that keep you running and for the promise that one day you will be with Him in glory.

Which one of these gals is struggling to forget what lies behind?  Which is reaching forward to what lies ahead?  Can you see which one is on the road to depression?  Can you see why what goes on in your head during the day can wear you out?

Our past is a part of our history, but it is not our future - our future is in Christ - made whole, without sin, without struggles, in perfect communion.  We have a future.  We have a hope.  We have so many promises.  We must determine to set our minds on the things above, not on the things that are on the earth - when we do this, it will set our focus in the right place and transform our lives rather than dwell on the past which is absolutely unchangeable.

So what will you do?  Hold on to the past or press on to towards the future?