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Thursday, October 17, 2019

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October 15, 2019: Testing Prophecy

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This past Sunday, we continued our series on the book of Romans.  Romans 12:6 says, “We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith….”  Therefore, we took time to address spiritual gifts, including the gift of prophecy.  After that message, someone emailed me asking if I would clarify what it means to “test” or “weigh out” prophecy in my blog.  It’s a great question!

First, if you missed last Sunday at Hope, let me encourage you to listen to my message “A School for the Gifted.”  What I am going to share below is a supplement to that message and assumes that you have already listened to that message.  That’s important because I shared some very important Biblical balances regarding New Testament prophecy.

As we noted on Sunday, 1 Thessalonians 5:19-22 says:

19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not treat prophecies with contempt 21 but test them all; hold on to what is good, 22 reject every kind of evil.

Paul’s exhortation gives us a great balance.  On the one hand, he warns us not to be skeptical about prophecy, treating it with contempt.  On the other hand, he also warns us not to be naïve, but to test all prophecy—to weight it out as we consider if it is really from the Lord (cf. 1 Cor. 14:29).  But how do we do that?

Let me suggest a number of practical things that relate to both testing prophecy and also giving of words of prophecy:

1)    Weigh it against the authoritative standard of Scripture.  If someone shares something that is contrary to Scripture, you can be sure it is not from the Lord.  This is the most important criteria.

2)    Do not use prophecy to establish doctrine or interpret Scripture.  When studying or reading Scripture, it is a great idea to ask Jesus to fill us with His Spirit so we can understand Scripture.  In fact, Jesus promised us that His Spirit would illumine the meaning of Scripture to us.  However, in controversial passages where evangelical scholars disagree, be cautious of people who say, “God showed me what the true meaning of this passage really is.”

3)    Be cautious of anyone who is overly authoritative in communicating prophetic words.  Remember, that prophecy in this era of the new covenant does not carry the same authority as Old Testament prophecy.  Therefore, be very wary of those who are overly authoritative in communicating prophetic words.  In addition, as you share prophecy, never say, “Thus sayeth the Lord….”  It is much better to say, “I think the Lord might be saying…” or “I sense God might be saying…”

4)    Regarding prophecy, the greater the risk, the greater the need for confirmation.  Let’s say someone texts you saying, “I felt that God might want me to remind you that you are loved by God and as a follower of Jesus, you are His precious child!”  Whether or not God actually told that person to text you, because the essence of that message is Biblically true, it’s fairly safe to assume it was probably from the Lord.  In other words, the risk is low, so you can accept that word without spending lots of time wrestling over if the word was really prompted by God.  However, if someone tells you, “I think God might be telling you to quit your job, and He will provide you with another job,” the risk is much higher.  Therefore, you need to pray about it and weigh that word much more carefully.

5)    If confirmation is needed, pray and ask God to lead you.  If God is truly trying to lead you through a prophetic word, then it means there is something He wants you to know.  If that is the case, then He won’t play the guessing game with you.  Instead, ask God to give you wisdom (James 1:5) to confirm it.  Asking God for confirmation about a prophetic word is not a lack of faith, rather it is being wise, and it is obeying God’s commands in 1 Thessalonians 5:19-22.

6)    Seek the Counsel of Others.  For those words which need greater confirmation, seek the counsel of others, particularly mature believers (Proverbs 11:14, 24:6).  This is really helpful!

7)    If God gives you a word of prophecy, don’t assume you are supposed to share it.  Sometimes, God may tell you something that He might not want you to share with others.  This is especially true if it is a negative insight about someone.  (Btw- be very, very careful that you hold these insights with humility, recognizing that you might be wrong and you may also be guilty of falsely judging someone.  For instance, if some is talking and you think God says to you, “This person is not telling the truth,” weigh that word out and recognize that the source may be your own thoughts, or even worse, the enemy himself!)  In general, 1 Corinthians 14:3 tells us the main reason for prophecy is “for strengthening, encouraging, and comfort.”

8)    Give prophecy with humility, knowing that you may be wrong.  This applies to all prophecy.  It also includes sharing with church leaders something you think is from God.  There have been so many examples of people who share with elders or church leaders something that they believe the church should do or not do; but when the elders pray, seek the Lord, and decide that the word was not from the Lord, the person giving the word develops a very negative attitude towards the leaders, believing that they are either disobedient to God or that they are not filled with the Spirit.

9)    There are some positive things which you should be very hesitant to share. In general, do not share prophetic words that relate to getting married, having babies, or the healing of a terminal disease.  If you are wrong, telling someone, “You will meet your spouse in the next year” could lead them to do something that is not what God wants.  In addition, it can be very disillusioning if you say to someone, “God is going to give you a baby next year.”  I know of some situations where someone shared, “God is going to heal you from this terminal disease,” and God did not, causing the remaining family to really question their faith or even question if it was because of their own sin.  Instead of sharing these things, use those words as an encouragement for you to pray with greater faith.  In addition, sharing those words with the person after the words come true can be a great encouragement and confirmation to that person.  There are some exceptions to these guidelines, but this is a good general principle to adhere1.

Lastly, here are a few recommended resources.  For a Biblical understanding of prophecy, let me recommend Wayne Grudem’s “Systematic Theology.”  Grudem taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School before moving to Arizona because of his wife’s health.  Grudem’s chapters on spiritual gifts are excellent.  Another very practical resource is “The Beginner’s Guide to Spiritual Gifts” by Sam Storms, who formerly taught systematic theology at Wheaton College and now pastors a church in Oklahoma.  For a more in-depth explanation, I recommend Grudem’s “The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today.”  It is a book based on his doctrinal thesis.

1Note: This may be what Paul is indicating when he wrote, “If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith…”  These things (e.g.-marriage, babies, healing from terminal disease) should only be shared if a person’s faith that the word is from the Lord is very high.  Because our spiritual gifting may be in other areas, most of us do not have that kind of faith when sharing prophetic words.  So as a general principle, it’s wise not to share these very high-risk prophecies with them. Rather use them as an encouragement for you to pray in faith for them.

October 8, 2019: Extending Forgiveness

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For those of you who missed our service at Hope last Sunday, during communion we played a powerful video. It was from the trial of Amber Guyger, a Dallas police officer. Guyger went home to her apartment after being on duty, got off on the wrong floor, and went to the wrong apartment. When she saw Botham Jean sitting eating ice cream in his apartment, she thought he was a burglar, and tragically shot and killed him. She was tried, convicted, and sentenced to 10 years in prison.

But after the trial, Brandt Jean, the 18-year old younger brother of the victim, said and did something that surprised the world. It’s a great testimony of his faith in Jesus Christ. Here’s the video:

Judge Tammy Kemp was so moved by Brandt Jean, that she also did something that was unprecedented. Watch this video:

Unfortunately, there were mixed reactions to what transpired. The Freedom from Religion Foundation said that what the judge did and said was unconstitutional because she was promoting her personal religious beliefs. They filed an official complaint with the Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct. In addition, others criticized Brandt Jean, saying what he did diminished the issue of police brutality against African Americans.

But for those of us who know Jesus, we know that Brandt Jean and Judge Kemp were really living out their faith in Jesus Christ. Brandt Jean is a great example of one who understands that we forgive others because we have been forgiven. Judge Kemp is also a great model to all of us of one who took Jesus with her into her workplace. She knew that Jesus was “in her boat.” And she let her light shine, even at the risk of being persecuted for her actions. Jean and Kemp’s expression of love and their desire to share the life-transforming gospel are challenging inspirations for us to follow.

So as you think about that person who has hurt you, have you also extended forgiveness just like Brandt Jean? And as you think about that difficult person in your workplace, are you allowing your faith and love of Jesus Christ to shine through you like Judge Tammy Kemp?

October 1, 2019: Grass cutting in the Spirit

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This morning (Tuesday), I decided to cut the lawn before my noon lunch meeting since it was predicted to rain later in the afternoon. As I began cutting the lawn, I asked God to fill me with His Spirit. Moments later, a thought popped up into my mind. Jesus said, ““I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” So does that mean I can’t cut the grass without Him?”

Surely, even non-believers can do a good job cutting the grass. So does that mean I don’t need His help in cutting my lawn? The New Testament states that in everything we do, we can glorify God. So if I want my grass cutting to glorify God, I do need His Spirit to help me. With that thought, I continued cutting the grass.

After I finished using the lawnmower, I went to use my weed whacker. That’s when the problems began. It would start, but it wouldn’t keep running, even if I left the choke on. I was having some problems before, but never to this extent. After wrestling with it for a few minutes, I finally concluded that I need to take apart the carburetor. But because I knew I had a meeting, I just put the weed whacker away. That’s when I noticed that it was a lot later than I thought.

I had just enough time to sweep, shower, and dress before my meeting. It occurred to me that if the weed whacker ran normally, I probably would have been late for my meeting. So was that God making my weed whacker not run? And if so, would the same thing have occurred if I had not prayed to be filled with His Spirit? I’m sure skeptics would say it was just a coincidence. But I have learned that many of God’s miracles and His guidance in my life have been through “divine coincidences”!

So as I finished up sweeping and showering, I was reminded how we can tend to think that we don’t need the Spirit’s help for more mundane tasks, whether at work or at home. We tend to think, “I can do this on my own.” But if we are called to walk in the Spirit throughout our day, it means that even in those mundane tasks, God wants us to depend on His Spirit for power, wisdom, and His leading. So periodically throughout the day, pause and pray to be refilled with the His Spirit. Ask the Lord to lead and empower you in whatever you are doing.

In my case, I can’t help but think that God intervened because He knew I’d be late. Instead, I arrived at my meeting 2 minutes early. In fact, I was the first pastor there. If you know me, you know that was a confirmation—it was definitely the hand of God!

September 24, 2019: Christ—the end of the law?

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I’ve often said to people that in my message prep, I spend half my time thinking about what to say and the other half thinking about what not to say! So last Sunday, we had to skip over the first seven verses of Romans 10. But there are some interesting things in those verses, especially in Romans 10:4 which says:

“For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (ESV).

What does it mean that Christ is the “end of the law”?
 

Some have interpreted the word in a temporal sense as in the “termination” of the law. Others have interpreted it as the “goal” or “climax” of the law. Because there is ample evidence for both, scholars like Dr. Doug Moo believe that Paul implied both. The NIV captures both senses by translating the verse:

“Christ is the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes” (NIV).

Christ is the goal or climax of the law in that the law had always pointed to Christ. The law not only made us aware of our sinfulness, it also pointed to the solution. When you think about the Mosaic law’s instructions about sin sacrifices, the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), the temple construction with the veil separating the holy of holies (which was torn in two when Christ was crucified)—all of these pointed to a greater sacrifice in Christ. Jesus died once for all as our ultimate, effectual sacrifice for sin. In that way, Jesus did not abolish the law, rather He fulfilled it (Matthew 5:17).

But Jesus is also the termination of the law in that the old covenant has ended, and we now live under the new covenant. Galatians 3:24-25 says, “So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.” 

The law promised life to all who kept it perfectly. But since no one can do that, the law which claimed a promise was instead a law of condemnation. The law showed us our need, but it could not save us. So unlike many of the Jews of Paul’s time who were still striving to establish a righteousness before God based on obedience to the law, we have instead embraced a righteousness that is by grace through faith in Christ. Since Christ has fulfilled the law’s requirements, we have now been justified, i.e,- declared righteous by God’s grace through our faith in Jesus Christ. As a result, we now live under a new covenant. As Romans 8:1-4 says,

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

So today, be sure you are living in the reality of Christ as the culmination of the law. Don’t live in condemnation! Embrace the righteousness of Christ which has been given to you by grace through faith. In addition, live this new life under the new law of the Spirit—live in dependence of and through the guidance of the Holy Spirit who has given you a new heart in this new era of the new covenant!

September 18, 2019: Some thoughts on death

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During this past week, five people who have Hope connections have lost love ones. Death has brought a dark shadow on the lives of our Hope family. But amidst their grief, I hear the confident faith of our people trusting God.

The world would like to tell us that death is natural. Some religions embrace death as part of the “circle of life,” a phrase made popular by the original “Lion King” movie. Other eastern religions see it as a natural, complementary part of the yin and yang.

But Scripture teaches that death is not natural. We were originally designed to never experience death—not our own death nor the death of others. Death is unnatural. That is why we grieve when we lose love ones. That is why we wonder at funerals, “Her life was too short… This doesn’t seem right…. We were so hoping he would live to see…” Death brings sorrow, because death is not natural. In fact, Scripture calls death the enemy.

But thankfully, that is not the end of the story. Because Jesus Christ died on the cross and rose again from the dead, not only has our sin been forgiven, but death itself was defeated once and for all. So even though we still grieve at the death of a loved one, yet we do not grieve without hope. We have the confident assurance that we will once again see all our loved ones who have placed their trust in Jesus Christ.

Romans 8:35-39 reassures us—

35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written:

“For your sake we face death all day long;
    we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

And again, in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18—

13 Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. 14 For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. 15 According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.

So we grieve, but not without hope. Because He lives, we also will live.
 

September 10, 2019: The false dichotomy between the sacred and the secular

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One of the regrets I have about my time on staff with Cru (Campus Crusade for Christ) was my teaching on living with an eternal perspective. In my teaching, I created a false dichotomy between the sacred and the secular aspects of our lives.

As we talked about last Sunday, Colossians 3:23-24 says, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” The whatever means that whatever we do in our jobs or even at home.

I love this quote by A.W. Tozer: “One of the greatest hindrances to the Christian’s internal peace is the common habit of dividing our lives into two areas- the sacred and the secular. But this state of affairs is wholly unnecessary. We have gotten ourselves on the horns of a dilemma, but the dilemma is not real. It is a creature of misunderstanding. The sacred-secular antithesis has no foundation in the New Testament.”

So does that mean that everything I do is sacred? Does that mean that it really doesn’t matter what I do? Does it mean that I can read the newspaper instead of spending time with God in the morning and God views that as sacred? And does it mean I can go fishing on Sunday morning instead attending church and still reap eternal benefits?

Does it really matter what I do?
 
The answer to that question is “yes” and “no.” On the one hand, the answer is “no.” Whatever means whatever. Now of course, Paul is not talking about sin. To think, “Today, I’m going to get drunk for the glory of God” would be absurd. But we can do all things for the glory of God.

On the other hand, yes, it does matter what we do. In the verses I quoted above, there are some important qualifications. Colossians 3:23 says, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” Likewise, 1 Corinthians 10:31 says, ““So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” These verses point out that motivation is crucial. All that we do must be done with the motivation of serving the Lord and doing it for His glory. 

So how do we know if we are doing something for the Lord?  One way to know is to simply pray and ask God to lead and guide you about what He desires for you to do.
 
On Sunday afternoon, Ollie and I were watching TV. It had been a very busy weekend, and we felt like just chillin’. Resting and relaxing can be done for the glory of God. In fact, God calls us to rest. But then Ollie suggested we could go for a walk. I responded, “Sure.” But then she added, “And I’d like to stop by to ask one of the new neighbors a few things.” I hate to say this, but my first thought was, “That stop could potentially take a long time. Besides, I’m in my relaxing mode.” But immediately the Spirit of God tapped me on the shoulder and reminded me, “What did you just talk about in the bridgebuilding cohort this morning about making time to get to know your neighbors?”
 

At that moment, I had a choice. I could continue to stay home and watch TV. But I knew I would not be resting and relaxing for the glory of God, I’d be doing it out of my own selfish desires. All to say, we must keep in step with the Spirit and following His lead if we are to know that what we are doing is for God’s glory. (btw- we did stop by to meet our new neighbors. And it did take longer—they invited us in their home & we stayed for at least 30-45 minutes. But it turned out to be a great time! All to say, God was leading Ollie to make that suggestion.).

One other thing:  Doing things for the Lord also means doing it in His power. We’ll talk more about that this coming Sunday.

So does it really matter what we do? The answer is “yes” and “no.” But the determining factors are not the false dichotomous categories of the sacred and secular. But rather it is tied to our motivation and our commitment to walk in the Spirit (i.e.—to follow His lead and to depend on His power).

Let’s talk more about that this Sunday…
 

September 3, 2019: Surrender: Defeat of Victory?

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Did you know what Monday celebrated? Of course, it was Labor Day. But it was also something else. Here’s the blog I wrote on our worship program this past Sunday:

On September 2, 1945, Japan formally signed the Potsdam Declaration on the battleship USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay. The declaration was a statement of unconditional surrender. It ended their imperialistic wartime efforts of WWII.   The date was officially named “V-J Day.” In the minds of most Japanese, the surrender was a defeat. It also began the Allied occupation of Japan to help rebuild the war-torn country.

Today, Japan is considered the third most powerful economic nation in the world, third to only the United States and China. So was their surrender really a defeat or in an ironic twist, was it a victory?

Romans 12:1-2 challenges us to surrender all to the Lord Jesus Christ. It’s a command of unconditional surrender. But when we surrender to Jesus Christ, the Spirit begins a new work of occupation to transform our lives. Surrendering our self-rule begins us on the journey of becoming all that we were made to be. And so the irony is that our surrender is the beginning of our true freedom and victory.

On Sunday, Tim Olsen challenged us from Romans 12:1-2 to live fully surrendered lives. If you missed his message, let me encourage you to listen to it.

For those of you who did hear it, here is a link to a powerful song that Beth Griffin sent this morning. It’s a beautiful song of surrender and a longing for transformation. It’s a fitting complement to Paul’s exhortation in Romans 12. It’s entitled “New Wine.” May this song be our personal prayer!

 

August 27, 2019: Does our new life in Christ ever get old?

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What a great service we had last Sunday at Lehmann Park! We had the privilege of witnessing and celebrating with Joe Stewart, Gerry & Lisette Contreras, and Elizabeth Manarpaac as they made public confessions of their faith in Christ and followed the Lord Jesus Christ in baptism!

On Sunday, we read Romans 6:3-4, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (ESV).

Yesterday, as I was reflecting on Sunday, I kept thinking about that phrase “walking in the newness of life.” Those four individuals are now experiencing the newness of life as a result of becoming Christ followers.

But does that new life every get old?
 

I wonder if for some of us who have been Christ followers for many years, that our new life in Christ can seem to get “old hat.” Like a new car that ages with the years, does our new life get old? Does the newness wear off?

After feeding the 5,000, Jesus said in John 6:35, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” Here’s a more wooden translation: “I am the bread of life. The one coming to me, no not will he hunger; the one believing in me no not will he thirst, never!” Jesus promises us that we can continue to experience that newness of life no matter how long we have walked with Him!

Now realistically, maybe some of the initial, surface excitement can wear off as we are faced with the reality of life’s challenges. However, if we walk with the Lord consistently, that surface excitement is replaced with a deeper joy, peace, and fulfillment of life that comes with a life lived in communion with the God of the universe. Perhaps our new life is not like a new car that gets rusty and old, but rather it’s like a bottle of expensive wine that becomes more valuable as the years go by.

So how can we continue to experience that newness of life every day?

First, consistently come to Jesus. Note the tense of the verbs in John 6:35. The verbs “coming” and “believing” are in present tense which indicate continuous action. So in order to continue to experience our new life, we must consistently spend time with Jesus. That is why we advocate and encourage you to establish the daily habit of spending time with God.

Secondly, walk in the Spirit. John 7:37-39 tells us that “On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.’ By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.” 

The source of the overflowing, new life is the Holy Spirit. That is why Romans 8, the climax of the book of Romans, is all about walking in the Spirit. So at the beginning and throughout your day, ask God to fill you with His Spirit. In other words, depend on the Spirit’s strength and follow His lead. Ask Him to empower you whether at work or at home. In addition, ask Him to help you be sensitive to know and follow His subtle nudging as He leads and guides you throughout the day.

One final action point—reach out to unchurched people by building relational bridges and by loving them into the Kingdom. As we experience people making that decision to become fully-devoted Christ followers, we too are reminded afresh of the great work of grace that God has done in our own lives. We are also reminded of the pain that God has spared us by drawing us to Himself.

So does our new life ever get old? No! It only gets deeper and better as we walk with Jesus! So walk today in the newness of your life in Jesus Christ!

August 20, 2019: Calvinism vs. Arminianism—How can I be assured of my salvation?

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How many Calvinists does it take to change a lightbulb? None. They believe that God has predestined when the lights will be on. How many Arminians does it take to change a light bulb? Arminians do not change light bulbs. They simply read out the instructions and hope the light bulb will decide to change itself. So Calvinists believe that Arminians were predestined to be Arminians? And do Arminians believe that Calvinists simply chose to become Calvinists?

All humor aside, historically this debate has unfortunately fostered some very heated exchanges. This past Sunday we looked at Romans 9, an important text in the whole Calvinist vs. Arminian debate. If you missed my message, I encourage you to listen to it.

I mentioned that we probably will not solve this tension in this lifetime, because words like predestination, foreknowledge, prevenient grace are all time-bound concepts. Yet God lives outside of the realm of time (listen to my message from last Sunday).

I also mentioned that I believe that these two views are actually much closer in actual application and practice than what we perceive. But what about assurance of salvation? Some Calvinists would say that you can only have assurance of salvation if you are eternally secure (i.e.- once saved, always saved). But Arminians would disagree. How so?

Arminians would state that as long as one has sincere, saving faith, then one can be assured that they are saved and are going to heaven. Certainly, Calvinists would also agree with that. So both camps would say that true Christians can and should state with absolute confidence, “Because of my faith in Christ, I know with certainty that my sins are forgiven and that I am going to heaven” (Romans 8:1-4). Neither camp would say that Christians should vaguely hope that they might go to heaven one day.

But Arminians believe that true apostasy can occur. For example, Hebrews 6:4-8 says:

It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age and who have fallenaway, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace. Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God. But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned.

Arminians would say that this text is referring to those who were once Christians, but who have fallen away and now deny their faith, i.e.—they lost their salvation. Calvinists would say that these are people who, in spite of outwardly looking like Christians, never had sincere faith in the first place. So whether one defines apostasy as either losing one’s salvation (Arminians) or as revealing that one’s faith was not sincere in the first place (Calvinists), both camps would agree that apostasy is possible. Unfortunately, we have seen this recently in some high-profile Christians who have denied their faith.

So here’s the bottom-line question: If assurance of salvation is predicated on having saving faith, how do I know if my faith is truly sincere?

Traditionally, both camps would point to three important legs upon which our assurance of salvation stands: a) the Word of God, including all the promises regarding faith and salvation (e.g.- John 3:16, 1 John 5:11-13), b) the Holy Spirit bearing witness to our spirit that we are indeed children of God (e.g.- Romans 8:14-17), c) a transformed life (James 2:14-26). Btw- James is not saying that we are saved by good works, but rather that true faith will necessarily result in good works. This means that only those who are walking with the Lord can actually have true assurance of their salvation. Those who are not walking with the Lord will not know if their faith is sincere or if they are falsely assuming they are in the Kingdom, when they are actually not (cf.- Matthew 7:21-23).

But the final, acid test of whether faith is sincere, is that true faith will endure to the end. In Matthew 24:10-13, Jesus Himself, referring to the last days, said,

10 “At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, 11 and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. 12 Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, 13 but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.”

Likewise, in Revelation, Jesus repeatedly encourages being steadfast to the end, saying, “The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son” (Revelation 21:7, see also 2:7, 2:11, 2:17, 2:26, 3:5, 3:12, 3:21).

All to say, both Calvinists and Arminians would say that as believers, we can and should have the assurance of salvation. However, both camps would also say that it is possible to look and act like a Christian earlier in life, but at the end of life not have true, saving faith. So both camps would exhort us to remain faithful to the end. Both camps would say that if one ends his/her life and does not have sincere, saving faith, then he/she will not be saved. So while both camps would assure us that God guarantees salvation to anyone who has sincere faith, they would also both exhort us that we must remain faithful to the end.

So as I did last Sunday, I’ll end with theses last verses in 2 Peter 1:10.

10 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble, 11 and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

August 13, 2019: Lessons from a Spilled Mayonnaise Dip

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Yesterday while I was frying some eggs for breakfast, I reached into the refrigerator to get something, when a bowl of mayonnaise dip fell on the floor, spilling the dip on the floor. My first reaction was, “Good grief! Are you kidding me?” (btw- thankfully the mess was not as bad as the one pictured above!)

As I looked on the mess and continued cooking my eggs, I reflected on Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” I thought to myself, “So even with this spilled mayonnaise dip, God can work this for good. I wonder what good will come out of this?” 

The first thing that came to mind, was God’s reminder to rejoice and give thanks in all things. Perhaps that was the good that would come from this minor incident. But as soon as I had that thought, the Spirit of God brought to my mind, “And your need to walk in the Spirit every moment of every day!”

How can we rejoice and give thanks in all things? It is only through the Spirit’s power. In fact, if you were at Hope on Sunday, I began the message talking about our need to walk in the Spirit. Romans 8 emphasizes that in this time of “the already but not yet,” it is absolutely crucial that we live under the law of the Spirit, i.e., the rule, authority, & power of the Spirit (Romans 8:1-2). The definitive work of salvation was accomplished by the finished work of Jesus on the cross and by His victory over the empty grave. However, it is Holy Spirit who appropriates in us all the blessings of Christ’s atonement.

Below is the diagram that we looked at on Sunday as we reviewed Romans 8. Every blessing that Christ has won for us can be viewed through this “already, but not yet” time period in which we live. So because of Christ, we are currently experiencing the “already” aspects of the Kingdom, but we await His 2nd coming to experience the fullness of those blessings. (For a PDF version of the diagram, click the diagram).

For example, there is no condemnation because God has already declared us righteous because of Christ. However, we are not yet made righteous. We already triumph over death because of Christ’s triumph over the grave, however we are not yet freed from experiencing physical death. We already experience victory over sin, but we are not yet sinless in this life because we still struggle against our flesh (i.e., the propensity in us to sin). We already have been adopted as God’s children and co-heirs with Christ, but we also still await our adoption, because our bodies are not yet clothed with the eternal health of our new bodies that we will gain when Christ returns. We are already being transformed, but we are not yet perfect and glorified, even thought that is our predetermined, assured destiny. We already experience the promise of God’s goodness and sovereignty amidst difficulties, but we have not yet experienced a life which is free from suffering.

So as we live in this “already but not yet” period, how do we live victoriously as citizens of heaven and not as those conformed to this world and bound by the defeat of sin? How can we live with joy and hope amidst the suffering and trials that we experience in this life?

It is only by the Holy Spirit’s power. That is why Paul tells us in Romans 8 that it is absolutely crucial that we walk in the Spirit, i.e, trusting and depending on His power, and following His lead. So pause right now, and ask the Spirit to fill you afresh.

So did God bring good from the spilled bowl of mayonnaise dip? He did! It was a great reminder to me and to you to walk in the Spirit today!
 

August 8, 2019: Lifeline

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When I was in college, I worked for a construction company during the summers. One summer, when things were slow, my boss had me paint all the trim on his two-story house. One of the trim boards ran up the peak of his house, adjacent to the roof. I could have used an extension ladder to reach it, but then I thought, “I really don’t want to adjust and move that ladder ever few feet and keep going up and down with a bucket of paint. Afterall, the peak is over 30 feet high.” So instead, I got up on the roof, laid on my stomach, and leaned over the edge to paint that board.

Now before you think I was crazy (or stupid!), I did have enough sense to tie a rope to the chimney and tie it around my waist. That rope was my lifeline. It gave me enough security to do the job without being in total danger (just a little danger!).

In life we also need a lifeline to weather the storms, difficulties, and disappointments which we encounter in our journey through life. One of those crucial lifelines is Scripture. For instance, I cannot tell you how many times I have felt like I was falling and reached out and held fast to the promise of Romans 8:28 which states, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (NASB). That promise has kept me safe and secure so many times as I felt like I was on a roof, dangling from a rope. 

But like many lifelines, we often don’t think we need it until the danger takes us by surprise. So let me encourage you to do this—memorize that verse. Memorizing that verse is like tying that rope around your waist before you begin falling.

Now you might think, “I’m terrible at memorizing verses. It’s not my strength.” But that’s OK. In fact, if you are not good at memorization, it may actually work to your advantage. How so?

Like water flowing over the ground which creates natural gullies, so too our thoughts and feelings traverse through our brains, creating various pathways—both good and bad. Part of the benefits of Scripture memory is that it forces us to repeat the verse over and over in order to remember it. In that process, we naturally tend to meditate on every word of the promise. So like a cow chewing its cud, we ruminate over the meaning of the verse. That process of meditation redirects our thought patterns—it creates new natural pathways. Therefore, when we are faced with the next trial, our mind and even our feelings go down a new path—a Biblical path. That is how our faith grows steadfast and how we can find peace amidst our challenges and difficulties.

So let me encourage you this week to take time to memorize Romans 8:28, because a lifeline does not do much good if it is tied to the chimney, but not tied around your waist!

July 23, 2019: Don’t go down to Egypt

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Years ago, I heard the story of a man who fell off a cliff. As he descended, he was able to grab a small tree sticking out of the side of the cliff. As he dangled in the air from the branch of the tree, he frantically began yelling, “Help me! Help me! Is there anyone up there?”

Out of the clouds came a booming voice, “This is God. I will save you. Just trust me and let go of the branch.”
 

The man paused and looked down. He then began yelling again, “Is there anyone else up there who can help me?”

I think part of our depravity is this propensity to trust in human effort and human solutions, rather than trusting in our God who saves. We are not alone in this tendency.

After the Babylonians invaded Judah and took over Jerusalem, many of the Israelites were taken captive to Babylon. But some of the Jews were left behind. They rallied together and sought out Jeremiah asking him to seek the Lord for them. They told Jeremiah, “May the Lord be a true and faithful witness against us if we do not act in accordance with everything the Lord your God sends you to tell us. Whether it is favorable or unfavorable, we will obey the Lord our God, to whom we are sending you, so that it will go well with us, for we will obey the Lord our God.”  (Jeremiah 42:5-6)

Jeremiah sought the Lord and then delivered to them God’s message, saying, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, to whom you sent me to present your petition, says: ‘If you stay in this land, I will build you up and not tear you down; I will plant you and not uproot you, for I have relented concerning the disaster I have inflicted on you. Do not be afraid of the king of Babylon, whom you now fear. Do not be afraid of him, declares the Lord, for I am with you and will save you and deliver you from his hands. I will show you compassion so that he will have compassion on you and restore you to your land.’ However, if you say, ‘We will not stay in this land,’ and so disobey the Lord your God, and if you say, ‘No, we will go and live in Egypt, where we will not see war or hear the trumpet or be hungry for bread,’ then hear the word of the Lord, you remnant of Judah. This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: ‘If you are determined to go to Egypt and you do go to settle there, then the sword you fear will overtake you there, and the famine you dread will follow you into Egypt, and there you will die. Indeed, all who are determined to go to Egypt to settle there will die by the sword, famine and plague; not one of them will survive or escape the disaster I will bring on them.’ This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: ‘As my anger and wrath have been poured out on those who lived in Jerusalem, so will my wrath be poured out on you when you go to Egypt. You will be a curse and an object of horror, a curse and an object of reproach; you will never see this place again.’” (Jeremiah 42:9-18)

However, instead of accepting that word, they instead doubted God and rebelled. They chose instead to go down to Egypt. How sad! Their initial commitment (if you can call it a commitment!), was shallow and short-lived. Instead of trusting God, they instead chose to trust in their own wit and place their trust in what they could see, i.e. Egypt.

Now let me clarify—trusting God does not necessarily mean that we do nothing (remember the other story of the man on the roof of his house during a flood waiting for God to rescue him?). There are times God wants us to do our part. God delivered Jericho into Joshua’s hands, but God also instructed Joshua and his army to do specific things. So we are not necessarily actionless. However, in the end our trust must be in God, not in ourselves nor in any other human solution.

So what is your challenge today? What is the Babylonian army that threatens you? And what’s the Egypt in your life that you are tempted to trust, rather than trusting in God Himself? Heed the admonition of Jeremiah—Don’t go down to Egypt. Instead, place your trust in God!

July 16, 2019: Lessons from a little lost half inch deep socket

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Yesterday I was wrapping up a home repair project. I placed a cardboard box top full of tools, nuts & bolts on our dryer. However, our dryer has a curved surface on the top (what design engineer thought of that brilliant idea?!). So as I was putting some of the tools away--CRASH! The box top fell to the concrete basement floor, scattering everything, including an open tray drawer of miscellaneous washers. Those little round washers rolled everywhere! And since this was our laundry area, things fell into baskets of clothes, around jugs of laundry soap, and under metal storage shelves.

My first reaction was to exclaim in frustration, “You got to be kidding me!” I took a deep breath, then began to pick up everything. It then occurred to me that I was missing a ½ inch deep socket. I looked everywhere. I shook out the clothes. I looked around all the stuff on the floor. I checked underneath the shelves and under the dryer itself. I thought that maybe I already put it away but didn’t remember, so I checked both of my open toolboxes, checking every socket to see if any were labeled ½ inch. Nothing. My frustration rose.

I was about to give up when my eye caught something in the small trash can on the floor. There hidden amidst the myriad of various colored lint balls and used dryer cloths was peeking out part of one of my tools. Sure enough, not only was the tool there, but also the ½ inch socket.

At first I was both grateful and relieved—not only relieved to find them, but also grateful that we didn’t unknowingly throw both things away when we emptied that trash can. I thought to myself, maybe God purposely didn’t allow me to find that socket so I would also find the other tool that was in the trash. I was about to thank God for not allowing me to initially find that socket when it also occurred to me, “But wait, couldn’t God had also prevented either thing from falling into the trash can? In fact, couldn’t God had prevented the box top from falling in the first place?”

As I pondered these things, it occurred to me that instead of being thankful, I was instead questioning God’s sovereignty. I thought of Jean’s testimony on Sunday about rejoicing in the little things and being thankful in seeing God’s hand at work. She could have instead questioned God about why she had to move, why it took so long for her to get her own place, why God allowed her marriage to fail—but instead she was thanking God, rejoicing in the little things, and experience joy amidst her challenges. But instead, I was questioning God and missing out of that same, simple joy.

When we go through difficult times, we are all also faced with that same choice. When faced with an illness, we can thank God for His provision of doctors, modern medicine, and progress reports that point in a positive direction—or we can question God’s sovereignty that we got sick in the first place. When facing financial difficulties, we can thank God for providing in so many little ways—or we can question God why He allowed us to get layed off and why He didn’t provide new employment sooner. When facing challenges at work, we can thank God for showing us ways to solve the issues—or we can get frustrated that He allowed another fire to interrupt our normal, heavy workload. When our toddler spills her milk, we can thank God that we still have another quart left in the refrigerator, or we can get frustrated that we need to clean up another spill for the umpteenth time today. The list goes on and on, but you get the picture.

So the next time you are feeling frustrated, ask yourself, “Have I overlooked the gracious hand of God and have instead taken a detour on the gloomy road of unhealthy questioning that only leads to more frustration or even despair? Is this instead an opportunity to rejoice and thank God for the little things—things I may have overlooked in my questioning of His ways?”

Who would have thought that God would speak to me through a little lost half inch deep socket?

“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

- 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

- Isaiah 55:8-9
 

July 9, 2019: Solitude

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This week I am headed out on an annual pilgrimage to spend a few days in silence and solitude. This morning I happened to be re-reading a book by Craig Barnes.** “Coincidentally,” I came across a quote he made about solitude:

When the Gospels tell about the many times Jesus had good reason to feel loneliness, they show Jesus turning that loneliness into an experience of solitude. Sometimes Jesus physically left everyone to go to “a deserted place.” Other times, while battered by outer distractions, he descended into his heart to enter into solitude through prayer. What Jesus always discovered in solitude was that he was loved by the Father, who “has not left me alone.“

Solitude is significantly different from loneliness. Loneliness is the unwanted aching of the heart. If we let it control us, it makes us needy and manipulative as we consume and use people in a vain effort to relieve the ache. By contrast, solitude is a courageous choice to set aside the distractions, the relationships, and the busyness in order to confront the heartache head on. If we can stand to be prayerfully quiet long enough, we will discover what Jesus discovered. We will learn that we are not alone, but we are known and loved, even cherished, by our Father in heaven. Why? Because the Holy Spirit has adopted us into this same cherished relationship that assured the Son in the midst of his times of trial.

In the middle of a lonely night King David once cried out to God, “You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle.” David was not alone, and neither are you. God has not forgotten about your dark nights of restless sorrow. Only when you discover God in the darkest moments of life will you believe that he can and will make the sun finally rise and the new day dawn.

So instead of running from the loneliness, stay with it. Stare it straight in the eye, and turn it into a prayer of confession. It is the only way you will hear the word of the Lord: “I have not left you alone.” This is the only word able to calm the inner distractions of your heart, and until the heart is calm, all of your relationships will never be more than narcissistic outer distractions. No abundance of friends, no number of different marriages, no quantity of moves to new cities can ever take the loneliness away. The heart can only be satisfied by the One who created it. The yearning is for God.

To stand alone in the presence of God is to stand in a place of transformation. There our lonely hearts are re-formed and transformed with deep emotions such as joy, love, even compassion for those around us. In solitude with God we learn how to stop consuming people and to truly care for them. In solitude we learn to behold beauty and see the quiet miracles unfolding all around us. In solitude before God warriors are turned into poets, slaves and addicts are set free, wonderful visions of mission for life are discovered. For it is only in solitude that we discover the sufficiency of a God who also yearns for us—so much so that in Jesus Christ he came looking for us.

 

**Note: Craig Barnes has written some great books. Unfortunately, however, he has compromised with Scripture regarding his stance regarding homosexuality. So while I would endorse many things that he writes, I would not endorse his stance regarding the LGBT movement.

July 2, 2019: Downward Mobility

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Yesterday I saw a commercial for Indeed (a job search app).  It’s about someone who has been passed up for a promotion. She has a hard time celebrating the other person’s promotion until she gets a text indicating she has an interview with another company.

In stark contrast, this morning I was reading about John the Baptist. Jesus’ disciples also had begun baptizing people. But as His popularity grew, Jesus began attracting more people than John the Baptist. So John’s followers said to John, “Rabbi, that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan—the one you testified about—look, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him.” Listen to John’s response:

“A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven. You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’ The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom's voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:27-30)

“He must increase, but I must decrease.” This is an incredible statement of humility by John. Remember also that Jesus and John were cousins. Chances are that they had known each other growing up (John’s comment “I myself did not know him” probably does not mean John did not know Jesus at all, but rather he did not recognize Jesus as the Messiah until God revealed that to him. See John 1:29-34.). Yet instead of being envious of Jesus, John took joy that Jesus’ ministry was beginning to outshine his own. No wonder that Jesus later said among men born of women, there was no one greater than John!

Jesus said that to be great, we must become a servant. This is the downward mobility of greatness in the Kingdom of God. It’s another example of the upside-down ethics of the Kingdom. And John the Baptist modeled that value of downward mobility.

I’m challenged when I think that if I were in John’s shoes, would I have had the same attitude? More importantly, do I have that same humility and servant attitude today? How about you? Do you find yourself comparing your success and accomplishments with others? Do you rejoice when others around you are successful? 

It’s only when we are secure in Christ that we can exhibit true humility and servanthood. It’s only when we value Jesus above all that we can also value the upside-down ethics of His Kingdom.

He must increase, but I must decrease. Father, please help us all to be truly great, just like John the Baptist!

June 26, 2019 Finding grace in the wilderness

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I have been reading Jeremiah during my times with the Lord. Yesterday, a few verses from Jeremiah 31:1-3 really stood out to me: 

1 "At that time, declares the Lord, I will be the God of all the clans of Israel, and they shall be my people.”

Thus says the Lord:
“The people who survived the sword
    found grace in the wilderness;
when Israel sought for rest,
    the Lord appeared to him from far away.
I have loved you with an everlasting love;
    therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.

Jeremiah wrote this when Israel had been taken captive into Babylon. Jeremiah is prophesying about the day when God would restore them and bring them back into the promised land. But in doing so, he seems to refer back to the Exodus. Just as Moses led the nation of Israel out of Egypt and into the wilderness, so God has allowed the Israelites to escape the sword in Judah, but He has brought them into the wilderness of Babylon.

But note that it says they found grace in the wilderness. During the Exodus, the wilderness was a difficult place for the Israelites. They struggled with the lack of water and food. They wrestled with trusting God and at times even rebelled against Him. But in their desire to seek rest, God met them. And He reassured them of His steadfast love and faithfulness towards them. In many ways, the wilderness was part of God’s favor towards them. It was in the wilderness that they met God on the mountain. It was in the wilderness that they learned to trust God. And so as difficult as it was, the wilderness was actually part of their deliverance and salvation. Jeremiah is saying that God will do the same for the Israelites in Babylon.

Perhaps today you find yourself in the wilderness. You feel like God has left you in the desert or has taken you captive to Babylon. But perhaps God has led you there because He wants you to experience His grace. Perhaps you are there because God’s favor rests on you and He wants to teach you to trust in Him. He wants you to experience His rest, but He knows that you can only do so if you learn to trust in His steadfast love and faithfulness.

So if you find yourself in the wilderness, go to the mountain of God and seek the Lord. He will be found by you. And in the end, He will bring you back into His promised land. It may look very different than what you imagined, but God has good things in store for you. He has not forgotten you. Rather He loves you with an everlasting love and He will continue to show His faithfulness towards you.  That's His promise to you.

June 18, 2019: The song of nature

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This morning I’m sitting on our patio spending time with the Lord. It’s one of the things that I enjoy about summer—getting to spend time with the Lord while enjoying the outdoors. 

Ollie’s peonies are in full bloom and the roses are just coming out. In addition, the air is full of song as birds visit our birdfeeder—mostly purple finches, cardinals, goldfinches, chickadees, nuthatches, sparrows, and various woodpeckers. But periodically we will get a rose-breasted grosbeak. And a few times this year we have had an indigo bunting visit our feeder or birdbath. In addition, we have a pair of bluebirds that have built a nest in our bluebird house (btw- I can’t take credit for the photo).

Btw- Did you know that bluebirds and indigo buntings technically do not have blue coloring in their feathers? Apparently, what makes them look blue is the way their feathers refract the light. 

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indigo bunting

OK, I’ve become a bird-watching nerd. I admit it. Even as I write this, my binoculars are right by my side. But it really does remind me of how incredibly creative our God is! Romans 1:20 says, “For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made….” The Psalms also talk about creation itself singing the praise of our creator.

Last week, we heard on the news that there was a study in England that determined that spending 2 hours a week in green space (e.g.- neighborhood parks, hiking in a forest preserve or near a lake or pond, etc.) can lower a person’s stress levels, decrease blood pressure, reduce the risk or all sorts of medical ailments, while also boosting mental health and increasing life expectancy. As a result, some doctors are actually giving a prescription to people to get outdoors! In our high stress world, that makes total sense. But perhaps there is also a spiritual component to this—perhaps being in nature also exposes us to the praise of creation, reflecting the incredible character of God Himself.

So here’s a practical application: Take a walk this week. Spend a couple of hours in nature. And while you do, let creation speak to you about the glory of God. And as it does, let your heart also join them!

June 12, 2019: Manchester by the Sea

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On Monday, Ollie and I watched the movie “Manchester by the Sea.” IMBD ranked it the best movie of 2016. It was a depressing movie. We don’t recommend it!

Spoil alert: Stop reading this blog if you intend to watch it. 

The movie is about a depressed uncle who is asked to take care of his teenage nephew after the boy's father dies. It forces the uncle to come to grips with a past tragedy that has affected his life. Years earlier, after partying with his friends in his home, he put some logs in the fireplace, and then walked to a local minimart to buy more beer. On the way there he remembered that he may have forgotten to replace the screen in front of his fireplace, but then assumed it would be fine. After returning from the minimart, he found his entire house ablaze, killing his three young children.

The one redeeming takeaway from the movie was that it illustrated how guilt can paralyze a person. The uncle was imprisoned by regret and guilt. As a result, he was living his life under a dark cloud of depression, shutting everyone out of his life. He emotionally shut down, not allowing himself to experience anything but anger and rage. In the end, he could not move past his guilt and allowed it to keep him in bondage.

It was a good reminder of how Christ’s offer of forgiveness, not only can change our eternity, but can profoundly impact our life here on earth. It is only as we experience God’s forgiveness that we can also forgive ourselves.

Romans 8:1-2 says, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.” Just as God has declared us free of His condemnation, God wants us also to let go of our guilt and self-condemnation. If God forgives us, should we do any less? 

In fact, in the light of the cross, our sin can even highlight God’s grace and give Him glory. When you think of the life of Paul, his previous life as a persecutor of the Church only highlighted the mercy and grace of God.

So is there something in your past over which you are tempted to beat up yourself? Are you weighed down with guilt and regret? If so, bask in the grace of Jesus Christ. You are a child of God, a trophy of His grace. Exalt in the fact that where your sin abounded, God’s grace abounded even more. So go your way in joy and freedom, and sin no more.

OK, maybe I did gain something from that depressing movie. But I still don’t recommend anyone to watch it!

June 4, 2019: Experiencing joy amidst disappointment

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Life is full of highs and lows. 

Amidst our high of Justin and Thabata’s wedding, one of my lows continues to be my knee. When I first had my knee surgery, the doctor told me I would be back to normal and running again in 2-3 months. It’s been over 3 months now, and my knee is far from normal. It still catches periodically, and even seems to slightly lock at times. Granted, since I finished physical therapy I have not been nearly as regular to do my exercises. But I still would have thought I’d be further along than I am. It’s been disappointing.

So this morning I paused to think, “What is God trying to teach me during this time?”

One of things that came to mind is that I need to learn to rejoice in all things. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 says, “16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” I must confess that I have complained far more than I have rejoiced. In fact, I’m convicted at how little I have rejoiced and given thanks regarding my knee.

In the Greek, the original language of the New Testament, the word “rejoice” and “joy” are very similar. “Rejoice” is a verb and “joy” is a noun. But since these words are so different in English, we can sometimes miss the correlation between the two. We can assume that rejoicing is something we consciously do, while joy is just something we experience when certain things happen in our lives. In other words, we can view rejoicing as active (something we do) and joy as passive (something we experience).

But the New Testament would say they are related. I experience joy as I choose to rejoice. So I can experience joy regardless of my circumstances.

When I think about Jonathan Seiver, how he exudes with contentment and joy in spite of his health, I am amazed. Is it because he has learned the secret of rejoicing in all things? I too want to learn that secret, but I don’t want to go to the school in which Jonathan is enrolled to learn it! But if any of us is going to learn how to rejoice in all things, God must take us through those times of disappointments in order to teach us.

Life is full of highs and lows. The secret of living a life of joy is not learning how to avoid the lows, but rather how to experience joy amidst them. When I think about it, my knee issue is a very small price to pay in order to learn that valuable lesson. How about you? Is God teaching you the same lesson?

May 29, 2019: I want to be like my son

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Last Sunday I had the privilege of officiating our son Justin’s wedding. It was a huge honor! He married a beautiful Brazilian woman named Thabata. A few years ago, they both arrived in Seattle to start new jobs, but neither of them was really walking closely with God in the way they desired. But both of them wanted to recommit their lives to Jesus. That is when God sovereignly brought them together. Now they are both living as fully devoted followers of Christ! And on Sunday, their vows to each other really reflected that commitment.

But one of the many highlights of the weekend was to hear from so many of their friends at the wedding. My guess is that apart from family members, the majority of the guests were unchurched. Yet person after person came up to Ollie and me and mentioned how Justin and Thabata have had an impact on their lives. In fact, a number of them commented to me that Justin has caused them to think about issues of faith. I had numerous opportunities to talk to his friends about a relationship with God, mainly because they brought it up! I could not have been more proud of my son!

But part of the reason why Justin has had an impact on them is that he has spent time building genuine friendships with them. He doesn’t see them as projects. Nor does he see them as just potential people to grow his church. Rather he just naturally loves and befriends them.

Later as I reflected more about that, I thought to myself, “I want to be more like my son when I grow up!” Seriously though, I really do want to be more like Justin. I want to learn more about how to love people into the Kingdom. I want to learn more about how to be a true friend to those who don’t know Jesus. I want to be like my son, because Justin reflects the love of Jesus who was a “friend of sinners.”

Unfortunately, most all of my friends are Christ-followers. It’s a reflection of how I live much of my life in this Christian bubble. But I think to myself, wouldn’t it be great if someone decided to throw me a surprise party, that a significant number of the guests would be unchurched? I want to learn how to be like Justin and Jesus!

How about you? If you would like to do the same, please consider joining us for our Bridgebuilding Cohort (formerly entitled “Missio Dei Cohort”) this Sunday after the worship service. Let’s learn together!

May 23, 2019: God’s invitation

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Last week I was talking with someone who was going through some challenging times. I think he was tempted to think that God was disciplining him. But I wonder if it was really God’s invitation to call him back into greater intimacy with Himself. Perhaps the difficulties were a gift motivated by God’s love and grace.

It reminded me of an article that I had read earlier last week. The author was concerned that many of us church leaders can get so busy that we forget the priority of loving God. We were once filled with a passion for God. That passion motivated us to want to see others experience what we have experienced. So we committed ourselves to reach people for Christ and to serve the Lord in ministry. But in the midst of all the service, somehow that passion for Jesus can get squeezed out amidst the busyness. The irony is that our passion for God, which was initially the motivation for ministry, can be the very thing that gets squeezed out by our ministry.

But this tendency can happen not only to church leaders, but to all Christ-followers. We need to be reminded of the exhortation that Jesus gave to the church of Ephesus in Revelation to return to our first love.

So when our hearts get distracted and begin to wander, sometimes God interrupts our lives with a challenging detour. But it’s really not a detour. Instead, it’s really the road home—home to our first love. Home to the life of clinging to Jesus. Home to a life being desperately aware of our need for Jesus. It’s God saving ourselves from ourselves.

So the next time you experience difficulties, view it as an invitation from God. It’s an invitation to leave behind all those things that can steal your heart away. It’s God’s heart, inviting you into a deeper walk with Him. 

April 14, 2019: An eternity of insisting unjust treatment

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Growing up I had an uncle who has since passed away. He had extraordinary abilities when it came to auto mechanics and home improvement projects. When I purchased a Honda Accord, he helped me install the manufacturer’s AC system (or more accurately, I helped him to install it!). He also converted his garage into a family room and then built a huge 3-car garage with a bedroom above it, doing all the work himself, including pouring the concrete garage floor.

For a number of years, he taught high school shop and auto mechanics. But one year he was asked to also teach health. He refused. He continued to resist until finally the school board fired him. He sued the high school, claiming that the real issue was racial discrimination. He believed he was fired because he was a Japanese American.

He continued to pursue that litigation for years and even decades. Everyone I knew, including most family members, believed it was not an issue of racial discrimination, but rather his refusal to teach the subjects that the school had asked him to teach. But my uncle insisted he was unjustly treated. In fact, he never taught nor held a full-time job after that incident. 

Many of us encouraged him that even if he was right, he would be better off just letting the issue go so he could go back to work. He never did. Instead he chose to live off his wife’s salary who worked as a nurse. Throughout the rest of his life he continued his ranting and raving about how that school system treated him unjustly.

Last Sunday I mentioned that we can be tempted to think that people in hell will be truly repentant and longing for a second chance.  We can assume that they will long to be with God in heaven.  But I wonder if in hell, people will be like my uncle, but instead of being angry with other people, they will be angry with God Himself.  They will be fully convinced that God has treated them unjustly and with bitter insistence, proclaim that God is in need of repentance. Perhaps they will be much like the religious leaders in Jesus’ day, who were convinced that Jesus was a heretic.

If you missed last Sunday’s message on “Will a loving God send people to hell?”, I encourage you to listen to it. My main point was that because of the injustice of sin, God’s love necessitates hell. Please listen to it and let me know if you agree or disagree and/or if you have any questions.

May 7, 2019: One way or no way?

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I just listened to Brian Clements’ message “Is Jesus the only way to God? What about other religions?” Brian did a great job! If you missed it, I encourage you to listen to it.

Brian is so right in stating that the entire New Testament really addresses this issue. I’m sure the greatest challenge in giving that message was not what to include, but what to exclude! But at the risk of being redundant, let me add my two cents. 

I can remember as a young believer having an “aha moment” as I read about Jesus’ struggle in Gethsemane. Jesus wrestled in prayer, dreading the cross that lay before Him. As horrible as the physical pain was, that was not His greatest fear. His greatest dread was bearing the weight of the sins of all mankind and absorbing the wrath of the Father for those sins. (btw- When you read the Mosaic law, there is a definite sense that the penalty for an offense was relative according to the severity of the offense. Imagine what justice would be required to be relative to every sin that has and ever will be committed by humans on this earth, a penalty that would also be relative to the cumulative pain that sin has caused.) As you probably remember, Jesus repeated a similar prayer 3 times, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

Jesus was asking the Father if there was any other possible way for people to be saved other than through His death on the cross. But on that night, heaven was silent because there was no other way. Paul makes the further comment, that if right standing before God can be earned by our good works, “then Christ died needlessly” (Galatians 2:21).

So the Bible is clear—either Jesus is the only way, or He is not a way at all. Either Christ’s death and resurrection was the only solution to our sin problem, or it was a needless waste of pain and suffering. Those are the two choices. Both cannot be true at the same time.

Jesus gave His life because He knew it was the only way. Many of the apostles and early believers also gave their lives proclaiming it was true. God tells us that the cross was not the best option among many, but rather the only option.

For that reason, Jesus asks us as well, to give our lives for that same truth.

“And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, 'If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's sake will save it.’” (Mark 8:34-35)

April 30, 2019: What we would not have known if evil and suffering did not enter into this world

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On Sunday, we began our Tough Questions series addressing the first issue: Why does God allow evil and suffering? If you missed the message, let me encourage you to click the link and listen to it online.

In that message there was one more thing I wanted to include that we didn’t have time to address.  If God never allowed sin to have entered into this world, we would never have known about God’s attributes of mercy, grace, and forgiveness. 1 Peter 1:10-12 (ESV) says this:

10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, 11 inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. 12 It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.

Angels know about God’s grace and salvation. However, they do not know about it in the same way we do because they have not experienced it. There’s a huge difference between intellectually knowing about God’s mercy and forgiveness versus personally experiencing it.

My dad fought in WWII in the 442nd infantry battalion, an all-Japanese-American army unit. They fought the Germans on the Italian front and experienced heavy frontline causalities. In fact, unbeknownst to many, they were the most decorated infantry battalion in WWII.

After the war, every 2-3 years, my dad would join his fellow company veterans in a reunion. Most of them were from Hawaii, so they would often meet in California or Las Vegas. During some of those reunions, my dad would also take some of us in the family; So I got to tag along.

I remember seeing the comradery that they all had together. There was a very strong bond and connection. In fact, I remember at one of those reunions, we were in the lobby of a very nice hotel. My dad casually commented to one of his war buddies that he liked the Hawaiian shirt he was wearing. The man immediately offered the shirt to my dad, removing it right there in the lobby and insisting that my dad take it!

I can intellectually understand the bond my dad felt with his war comrades. But because I have never fought in a war, never been in a foxhole, never had bullets and mortars flying over my head, never had to experience the loss of so many friends, I will probably never really know what it’s like to have that kind of bond with other men who have experienced the terror and brutality of war.

But as fellow-followers of Christ, we do know the experience of God’s grace and mercy in a fallen, broken world. In addition, we also know the experience of God’s faithfulness and sovereignty which is accentuated during our own personal challenges and trials. We also know what it is like to fight together amidst the spiritual battle, while seeking to follow the Spirit’s lead in rescuing people from an eternity of suffering that they might experience the glories of Christ’s Kingdom.

In the end, in the new heaven and new earth, we will worship and glorify God in a way that angels cannot. We will know God and His character in ways that angels can only long to know. And perhaps, every 2-3 years, we will have a Hope Community Church reunion and celebrate and reminisce about God’s grace, sovereignty, and faithfulness during our time here on earth. And who knows, maybe I’ll give you the shirt off my back!

April 23, 2019: Making every Sunday Easter Sunday!

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What a Sunday we had! It was a great celebration of Christ’s resurrection and victory over sin and death!

This morning I remembered that next Sunday is the Greek Orthodox celebration of Easter. So maybe we should celebrate Easter all over again! I wish every Sunday could have the joy of last Sunday. But then again, maybe it can. In fact, maybe it should!

Yesterday for my time with the Lord, I was reading John’s account in John 21 of Christ’s resurrection appearance at the Sea of Galilee. This is when Jesus asked Peter three times “Do you love me?” One of the details that stood out to me was John’s final comments in John 21:20-25.

20 Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is going to betray you?”) 21 When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?”

22 Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.” 23 Because of this, the rumor spread among the believers that this disciple would not die. But Jesus did not say that he would not die; he only said, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?”

24 This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true.

25 Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.

So why is that significant?

Most people believe that John originally ended his gospel with John 20:31, but he added chapter 21 at a later date. John 21:23 may tell us why. Apparently, there was a well-known rumor that John would not die, but live to see the return of Christ. So John wrote chapter 21 to end the rumor, lest he die before Christ’s return and the faith of the believers of the early church be shaken.

But this also gives us some insight into the faith of the first century church. The downside is that some of them had erroneous theology thinking that Jesus promised to return before John died. However, the positive aspect to their faith was that they were very expectant that Christ’s return was imminent.

All to say, because of that expectation, many lived with a constant sense of readiness and urgency. Perhaps it also made every Sunday a joyous Easter celebration.

Bottom line..... if I truly thought that Jesus might return later this year, would that affect how I worship every Sunday? I think so!

So let’s celebrate again with the joy of Easter next Sunday, and the next, and the next…! Let’s make every Sunday, Easter Sunday!

 

April 16, 2019: Wayne makes a bold prediction regarding Christ’s coming again

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I’d like to make a bold prediction regarding when Jesus will come for you and me. If you are a follower of Jesus, I predict that Jesus will come for us in our lifetime.

Now, before you pass out petitions to have me burned at the stake, let me clarify. This past Sunday I preached a message entitled “Anticipating the Return of Christ.” I said very clearly that no one knows when Jesus will come again.

But here’s the reality. If you know Christ personally, you will experience one of two things in your lifetime. Either you will be alive when Christ returns in all His glory or you will have Jesus individually take you home to be with Him on the day of your passing. So one way or another, you will experience Jesus coming for you.

Is my prediction just a gimmick of semantics? Possibly. But there is great significance in that prediction.

I said on Sunday that one of the great emphases of the New Testament is that we must be ready because Jesus can return at any moment. But for many of us, Christ’s return still remains as a vague event in the distant future that has little to no impact on how we live our lives on a daily basis.

But what if we knew for sure that Jesus would be returning in 40 or 50 years? Would that affect how we would live today?

The reality is that for each of us, Jesus is coming for us in 20, 30, 40 or maybe 50 years. Whether it be His second coming for us or our going home to be with Him, for each of us the reality is similar.

So then the question is: How then should we live? If you knew for sure that Jesus would be coming again in your lifetime, would that affect how you would live today? This is not just a theoretical, theological question, but rather a question of real-life consequences.

So let me encourage you to do this during your next devotional time with the Lord:

1)    The average lifespan of an American is approximately 80 years. So do the math—if you live an average lifespan, how many years do you have left before Jesus takes you home?

2)    Then think about this: If God told you that Christ is really coming back after those years, write down all the things you would do differently than what you are doing now.

3)    Then go back over that list and cross off all the things that are not truly legitimate (for example, if you knew for sure that Jesus would return when you turned 80, you might not choose to have children, or you might choose to give away all your retirement savings in your 70’s, etc.)

4)    Then seriously ask yourself—In light of the remaining items on my list, how should I live differently? What things should I be doing? What things should I stop doing? What things do I need to do differently?

What if each of us at Hope were to do this? What if we each lived radical lives with the reality that Jesus really could return at any time? Perhaps Hope would look much like the first century church did!

Isn’t that the life your soul really longs for? Today this life is reality, but Christ’s return seems like a dream. But one day Christ’s return will be reality, and this life will be the distant dream. So when that day comes, when Christ comes for you—whether it be out of the clouds with the trumpet call, or in the hour of your quiet homecoming—isn’t that how you want to look back on this short, temporal life?

April 9, 2019: Is it too late?

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Last Sunday we wrapped up our series on “Courageous Parenting.” If you missed any of the messages, let me encourage you to listen to them online.

But perhaps you walked away from those messages wondering, “Is it too late? I didn’t become a follower of Christ until after my children were grown, so I missed out on applying all those Biblical principles and action points in raising my kids. Isn’t it too late to really have an impact on them?”

The answer is unquestionably, “No, it’s never too late!” As I mentioned before, once a parent, always a parent. Our parenting and our influence may look different, but it’s never too late to have an impact on our adult children. But let me suggest a few things:

First, radically pursue being personally devoted to Jesus. God promised us that when we become a follower of Christ, He makes us into new creatures (2 Corinthians 5:17). As your adult children watch you—and trust me, they are still watching you—they will wonder if your faith is something that really has changed your life or are you just a slightly different version of the same, old you. They will wonder if this is just another new activity in your life like your new diet, or your new exercise routine, or your new hobby—or is this something truly life-transforming. Show them that your relationship with Jesus has radically changed you. But of course, in order to show them, it needs to be real! So radically pursue being personally devoted to Jesus. Pursue your growth in Christ with renewed vigor!

Secondly, go the extra mile to pursue them. One of the tendencies that we can often have as parents of adult children, is to wait for our children to initiate towards us. Yet one of the things that characterizes the love of Jesus, is that He took the initiative towards us, even when we had absolutely no interest in Him. Paul writes, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). God took the initiative in sending His Son to us, when we were far from Him. He took the initiative in drawing us to Himself. Likewise, one of the greatest ways you can demonstrate the love of Christ, is to continue to take the initiative towards your adult children.  Even if they don’t seem to desire a close relationship with you, still initiate towards them.

If needed, ask their forgiveness for past wrongs. Many of us look back on our lives with regrets about how we parented our children when they were younger. Maybe you had anger issues before coming to Christ. Or maybe you were too controlling or too harsh as a parent. Or maybe you allowed work to dominate your time and you were not real involved in your kids’ lives. Or maybe you did things that contributed to the end of your marriage, and now your kids are faced with loving two parents who have no relationship with each other. If needed, ask your adult children for forgiveness for past wrongs. Whether or not they can truly forgive you is ultimately up to them, but take the initiative to ask their forgiveness. Don’t just assume, “Well, I think they already know I’m sorry.” If it is helpful, write them a letter before meeting with them in person to ask their forgiveness. Writing gives you more time to think through what you really want them to know.

Finally, continue to pour out your love and encouragement. I heard that recently Dr. Oz did a segment on his show on how to reverse the effects of past bad health and eating habits and how to restore your heart to a healthier state. We can do the same with our relationship with our adult children. And one of the key ways is to continually and consistently pour out your love and encouragement. One of the most radical changes that Jesus does in our hearts is making us into people who love well. In fact, John tells us that if we don’t see changes in this area, it may be an indication that we really don’t love and know God Himself. So, one of the ways you can show the radical change in your heart is by pouring out your love on your adult children.

If you do all these things, will you be guaranteed that your children will come to Christ and also embrace you with a greater warmth? Unfortunately, no. Let’s face it, even God Himself continues to experience rejection by those who should embrace Him as their heavenly Father. But that doesn’t keep Him from trying. And neither should it keep us.

But maybe, just maybe—they will surprise you. And just as God has changed you by His grace, maybe they too will turn to Him and experience that same radical transformation. But you’ll never know, unless you try.

It’s never too late.
 

April 2, 2019: Gray Hair

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This morning I was reading in Proverbs and a verse popped out at me. Proverbs 20:29 says

29 The glory of young men is their strength,
    but the splendor of old men is their gray hair.

I like that verse, especially because I have lots of gray hair! But the verse is probably talking about more than just gray hair. It’s probably also referring to character and wisdom. Proverbs 16:31-32 says,

31 Gray hair is a crown of glory;
    it is gained in a righteous life.
32 Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty,
    and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.

As we walk through this short series on parenting, these verses are good reminders that parenting never ends. Our adult children may have a lot of strength and energy—much more than us ol’ geezers! But hopefully we still have something to offer them—wisdom that comes from walking with Jesus, from living a lifetime in His Word, and from the experience of both victories and failures as we have sought to glorify God.

So how can we pass on that wisdom to our adult children?

First, we need to consistently model a life worth living by pursuing the Lord and continuing to grow in our walk with Him. Our adult children will not want our input if they see hypocrisy in us. It’s only when our gray hair reflects the character and glory of Jesus Himself, that our adult children will ask for our input.

Secondly, our adult children must want our input. So be very careful about offering unsolicited advice. Think twice and pray hard about giving it! Most adult parents have regretted giving advice more times than regretted not giving it.

Thirdly, as I mentioned this past Sunday, treat your adult children as adults. Unfortunately, we can fall into old patterns and say things in such a way that we would never say to another adult whom we respect. In addition, when appropriate ask for their input and advice. If you are teachable to them in areas where they have more expertise than you, they will tend to be more open to ask you for your advice.

One last thing—we can also pass on our wisdom to other younger adult believers who are not our children. Paul instructed Timothy to disciple men who would be able to teach others also. Paul also instructed Titus with these words: “Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.” At Hope we call this discipleship or disciple-making. It’s another opportunity for older believers in Christ to pass on their wisdom to younger believers.

So for those of us who are older, whether you are showing your naturally gray hair or whether you color your gray, either way, still glory in that gray crown! It can be a great a sign of deep wisdom and strong character!

March 26, 2019: Grace and Truth

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Today (Tuesday) it was announced that all the charges against Jussie Smollett have been dropped. All the details of why the charges were dropped have yet to be revealed. But in a news conference, Mayor Rahm Emanuel called it a “whitewash of justice” and Chicago police superintendent Eddie Johnson agreed.

The state’s attorney’s office said that they do not believe that Smollett was innocent, but rather that they want to focus their time and energy on violent crimes. So in essence, they decided to let him go free without pursuing the case and to seal all the evidence from the public, in spite of the fact that Smollett remains defiant in his claims of innocence.   Though we don’t know all the details, I do think that this is a reminder to us that grace without truth is not truly grace, just as truth without grace is not really truth.

So what does the Smollett verdict have to do with parenting?

As we said on Sunday, both grace and truth are needed in our parenting. If we only give grace to our children, without helping them to understand and experience truth, we are teaching them to become irresponsible. We can inadvertently communicate to them that their actions are inconsequential to others, to themselves, and to God Himself. 

On the other hand, if we only communicate truth without grace, we reflect a skewed, harsh picture of God. Inevitably, it often leads to rebellion—first rebellion towards us as parents, but then secondly, rebellion against God Himself.

It would be great if we all had a perfect balance between grace and truth, but most of us lean towards one or the other. (An exception to this could be that we think we are balanced, but in reality we err towards a lack of involvement in our children’s lives altogether.)

 

 

Grace without truth is not truly grace, just as truth without grace is not really truth

In addition, when it comes to parenting, we can exhibit different strengths and weaknesses at different developmental stages of our children. As I mentioned on Sunday, I felt like I was stronger in giving grace, love, and nurture when our children were younger, but weaker when they grew up into their teenage years.
 

One other factor—we also tend to be stronger in the area in which we experience those qualities from God Himself. For those of us who are weaker in experiencing God’s grace, we tend to be weaker in giving grace. For those of us who are weaker in embracing and living out God’s truth, we tend to be weaker in helping our children embrace truth in their lives.

So how did you score on those self-evaluation questions on Sunday? What action points would you like to embrace to be more balanced and stronger in experiencing and parenting with both grace and truth?

 

PS- If you missed last Sunday, let me encourage you to listen to my message, “Parenting with Grace and Truth.”

March 19, 2019: A Call to Freedom

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A few months ago, my sister, who is a principal at Christian Heritage Academy in Northbrook, forwarded an email from one of their Bible teachers. He recommended an excellent video about Martin Luther and the Reformation. I watched it twice and both times have benefitted from it. Let me encourage you to also watch this engaging video! Here’s the essence of the email:

"May I please strongly recommend that you watch on YouTube the exceptionally well-done 59-minute documentary on the Reformation entitled "A Call for Freedom."  The main force behind the documentary, which won three Midwest Division Emmy Awards this fall, was Dr. Erwin Lutzer, pastor emeritus of the Moody Church.  The documentary also includes contributions from church historians at Wheaton College and Northwestern University. Not only will the piece inform you well on the basics of the life of Martin Luther and the Reformation, it will move you spiritually."

Here’s a link to this excellent documentary:  A Call for Freedom

March 12, 2019: 60 Minutes & Francis Collins

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This past Sunday evening, Ollie & I were watching 60 Minutes when they highlighted a possible cure to sickle cell anemia. They interviewed the current director of the National Institute of Health, Francis Collins. He was appointed by President Obama in 2009.

As we watched the program, Collins looked familiar. Then it occurred to us—he is one the people who Alpha interviewed who shared how he came to Christ! 

The interview on 60 Minutes doesn’t mention Collin’s faith since the emphasis was on his medical research. But a few things struck me. First, it is wonderful to see believers who are having an impact in their various fields of study and occupation. It’s a reminder that all we do, even our work itself, can be a form of worship as we do it for the glory of God!

Secondly, it is wonderful to see highly intelligent, thoughtful people who have become believers as a result of looking into the evidence. As Francis Collins has espoused, science and faith do not contradict each other. In fact, a careful examination of science points to faith!

Lastly, after listening again to Collin’s testimony, I’m struck by who God used to initiate his journey into faith. God used an elderly woman who was dying of heart disease who simply shared her story and innocently asked Collins the question, “Doctor, what do you believe?” It’s a reminder that God can use anyone to reach others for Christ. It’s a reminder that God wants to use us to touch the lives of people all around us every day!

Below are links to 3 videos. I encourage you to watch them all. If you are like me, it’s easy to admire Dr. Collins.  However, I can’t help but think that Francis Collins would say that the real celebrity in these videos is that elderly, dying woman who loved him enough to share her simple faith with him.

March 5, 2019: I don’t have time for this!

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“I don’t have time for this!” That’s been my first thoughts as I deal with recovering from my arthroscopic surgery on my knee. I have physical therapy 3 times per week; I have daily stretching exercises that I’m supposed to do at least twice a day; I need to ice my knee periodically to keep the swelling down; I need to keep my knee elevated also to help with the swelling; In addition, it takes me longer to do anything from simple walking to things like getting dress. So I find myself thinking, “Who has time for this?!”

But then God reminded me of something. One of the things about which I was really convicted after I fell skiing was that I had disconnected with the Lord that day. I hadn’t really prayed all day, nor did I pray after I fell. I just tested my knee, thought it was a little weak, but then continued to do 2-3 more runs, not bothering to pray or ask God for wisdom about what to do about it.

I don’t think God is punishing me for my disconnecting with Him, but rather He wants to use this to remind me of my need to connect with Him all throughout the day.

And so it occurs to me. Do I subtly also think that I don’t have time to connect with God throughout the day? Of course I would never consciously say that; but do I subconsciously think that? Do I subconsciously think, “Get real! In the busy culture we live in, amidst our over-flowing to do lists, who has time to connect with God throughout the day?!”

God instructs us in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18:

16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

Pray continually. I know God is not necessarily calling us to stop and have multiple, hour quiet times morning, noon, and night. But God does want us to continually come to Him and pray or give thanks. As we work, as we make decisions, as we enter the room for a meeting, as we interact with people, as we do chores around the house, as we play with our kids—what would our lives be like if a hundred times a day we found ourselves just saying a quick prayer or thanking God for what He is doing?

As much as I don’t think I have time for PT, or for my exercises, or for icing, I know if I don’t do these things, my knee will not recover to its fullest extent. So I’m making time for those things.

But is God also telling me, “If you want your soul to be all it can be, you cannot afford not to take time to connect with me by simply talking with me throughout your day”? I think He is. Is God telling you the same?

 

What would our lives be like if a hundred times a day we found ourselves praying or thanking God for what He is doing?

 

February 27, 2019: Longing for something more….

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This past Sunday I once again mentioned my Penn State days. I was hesitant to do so for fear that some of you might be thinking, “Here he goes again….” I’m sure some of my sharing is just an old man reliving the good memories of the past. But I also know it is more than that. It’s a longing to see God bring spiritual awakening. It’s a desire to once again experience a supernatural moving of the Holy Spirit. And it’s a desire for you all at Hope to experience it as well.

Penn State was not an isolated movement of the Spirit. It was really a by-product of the larger charismatic renewal and Jesus movement that occurred in the late 60’s and 70’s. As a new believer in high school, I can remember driving an hour with an older couple to attend a Friday night meeting at someone’s home for worship, teaching, and prayer. Looking back, it was a strange gathering of people sitting on the floor of that packed house—young, old, adults, children, nuns, retired Presbyterian pastors, college students in tie-die shirts….

I also remember attending a couple of Jesus conferences in the rural hills of Pennsylvania. Thousands of people camped out in tents from Friday night through Sunday afternoon as we gathered on lawn chairs and blankets in a natural amphitheater, worshipping God, praying, and listening to speakers from sunup to sundown. It was like a Christian Woodstock. The countryside was packed with tents and people of all ages, all ethnic backgrounds, from all different churches and denominations—all high on Jesus!

None of these movements could be attributed to human ingenuity and leadership. These were grassroots movements that were led and fueled by the power of the Spirit.

I don’t know about you, but as I enter my last decades of life, I long to be part of something supernatural again. I don’t want to just coast to the end. Nor do I want Hope to be just a human product of a 10-step program for church growth. Now, don’t get me wrong—plans and goals are good and necessary as we seek the Lord for His leading. But I want to be part of something bigger that can only be attributed to the supernatural movement of God’s Spirit. Don’t you?

In light of that, if you are a regular attender of Hope, I want to encourage you to attend one corporate (group) prayer time at least once a month. I’ve listed them below. Let’s pray for spiritual awakening! 

If you are not a regular attender of Hope, I encourage you to attend a similar prayer gathering at your own church. If your church doesn’t have one, consider beginning one!

I remember someone saying that when John Wesley died, he left behind very few things—a few possessions, a well-worn Bible, and the Methodist Church! What a legacy we could leave behind for our children and grandchildren if by the grace of God, He would involve us in ushering in another spiritual awakening. But if that is to occur, we must pray!

PS- If you missed Sunday’s message, we listened to a classic message by the late J. Edwin Orr, a church historian who specialized in the history of revivals: “The Role of Prayer in Spiritual Awakenings.”

PPS- Here’s a list of Hope’s corporate (group) prayer times (text Wayne for the addresses):
  • Evening of Worship & Prayer- 2nd Friday of very month. This next one will be March 8th at the Seiver’s home
  • Sunday Morning Prayer- Every Sunday in room B-200, 8:45-9:30am
  • "Mighty Men of Hope" Prayer- Every Sunday in the commons, 9:00-9:30am
  • Friday morning prayer- Every Friday, 9:30-10:30am at Mary Skelton’s
February 20, 2019: This past weekend...
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Last month I scheduled a day with the Lord. So on a Tuesday morning I drove up to Lake Geneva. I had just settled into the library when it occurred to me that I had originally scheduled this time of silence and solitude for Wednesday. In fact I never schedule it on a Tuesday.  
 
That’s when I prayed, “God, I can’t believe I made this mistake. And it’s hard to believe that it did not occur to me until I got here. If I’d realized it earlier, I probably would have turned around and gone back home. Is there a reason why you want me up here?” That’s when I wrote in my journal, “So what is it that you want to say to me?”
 
I had barely written that sentence when my phone rang. It was Josh Matthews (Katie Kerpan Matthew’s husband). Josh asked me to speak at their youth group retreat. The timing was uncanny! Normally if Josh had called on a typical Tuesday morning, I would be knee-deep in planning out the week. And I am pretty sure my response to his request to drive 9 1/2 hours to South Dakota to speak to a bunch of youth would have been, “Thanks, but no thanks!” But I knew that this was why God had allowed me to come to Lake Geneva. So I accepted.
 
That retreat is where Ollie & I were this past weekend. Looking back, we saw God’s hand leading and protecting us in a number of ways. First, while driving out we hit a section of interstate that had numerous patches of ice. We could literally feel the car slip as we ran over them. But even though it extended the drive time, we made it to South Dakota safely.
 
The retreat itself went well, even though for me it was pretty exhausting. I think the youth responded well, but you never know! But we really enjoyed spending time with them!
 
Weeks before the retreat we had decided not to drive all the way home on Sunday, but instead to spend a couple of days in La Crosse, WI. Once again we saw God’s hand in this because we were hit with a big snowstorm on Sunday. In fact, the leaders of the retreat adjusted the schedule so that everyone left early. So once again we found ourselves sliding around on the icy patches of I-90. At one time, we found ourselves part of a massive, single-lane caravan! As we pulled into our hotel that evening, we were so thankful we had planned to stop in La Crosse rather than driving all the way home that day!  
 
One last thing—On Monday, my laptop died. If that would have occurred during the retreat, I would have been dead meat since all my messages were on my laptop! Once again, God was watching over us.
 
So this weekend has been a great reminder not only of how God protects us, but also how God desires to lead and guide us. Today He wants to do the same for you! Today He wants to lead your steps. Today He wants to go before you to provide and protect you. Today He wants to walk with you on this great adventure we call life. Will you let Him?
 
10 So do not fear, for I am with you;
    do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
 
13 For I am the Lord your God
    who takes hold of your right hand
and says to you, Do not fear;
    I will help you.

(Isaiah 41:10,13)

PS-- Please pray that I can get my laptop repaired or replaced quickly and painlessly!

February 12, 2019: Waiting for God’s Deliverance

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Back in 2000, I was hit hard with an anxiety disorder. That began a long, difficult journey that lasted for years. Outwardly, I was able to function fairly well. In fact, only those who knew me well knew about the difficulty of my struggles. But the battle was long and at times very discouraging. I couldn’t help but wonder, “Will this ever end?”

Have you ever been weary, waiting for God’s deliverance, waiting for God to answer your prayers for Him to rescue you?

I was reminded of that struggle recently as I was reading the Old Testament book Habakkuk. Habakkuk was complaining to the Lord about the degeneration of Judah both morally, spiritually, and judicially. He wondered why God was not doing anything about it. God replied that He did have a plan—He was raising up the Babylonians to exercise judgment and to take over Judah. 

But instead of quelling Habakkuk’s concerns, God’s answer only caused his angst to increase. Habakkuk questioned God, “How could a holy God use a godless nation like Babylon to exercise His judgement?”

God replied that He would ultimately extend His judgement to the nation of Babylon as well. God’s discipline of Judah by Babylon would come to an end in God’s sovereign timing. But as for Habakkuk, God encouraged him with these words:

And the Lord answered me:

“Write the vision;
    make it plain on tablets,
    so he may run who reads it.
For still the vision awaits its appointed time;
    it hastens to the end—it will not lie.
If it seems slow, wait for it;
    it will surely come; it will not delay.

“Behold, his soul [i.e.- referring to Babylon] is puffed up; it is not upright within him,
    but the righteous shall live by his faith. (Habakkuk 2:2-4)

God says we live by faith; in other words, we live by trusting in Him. God is who He says He is and always does what He says He will do. So sometimes we need to write the promises of His Word on our hearts and repeat them to our souls over and over. Regarding His deliverance, God says, “If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay.” Like in Habakkuk’s case, God’s answers to our prayers are often very different than what we would imagine, but in the end, He always shows Himself faithful and true.

So what is the deliverance you are waiting for? Are you growing weary? Take heart! God’s deliverance will surely come in His timing!
 

February 5, 2019: Saving Time Amidst Your Busy Life

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Years ago I heard of a teacher who gave her class a surprise pop-quiz. The quiz was really long—like 5-6 pages full of multiple choice, true/false, fill in the blank, and also essay questions. At the top of the front page of the exam, it said, “Before answering any of the questions, quickly skim read through the entire exam first.” It was a long exam, so most students dove right in and began answering the questions. After a while, a student got up and handed in her exam and left. The other students just thought she probably gave up early. But then other students, one by one, began turning in their exams in early. The other students were befuddled as they thought, “How can these guys be finished so quickly? This exam is so long!” As it turns out, the last statement on the last page read, “Congratulations for reading and following the instructions! You don’t need to answer any of the questions. Just sign your name, bring it up front, and you are free to leave.”

It was a great lesson to the students to read and follow instructions. But I think there is also a great spiritual lesson for us.

There are times when I find myself thinking, “I’m so busy, I don’t have time to spend time with God today. Maybe I should just jump in and start getting things done.” But could it be that in so doing, we are like those students frantically diving into that exam without first following through on the instructions? Could it be that your days might go smoother if you established this daily habit of spending time with God?

When I was in college, I worked for a small construction company in the summers. We did groundwork like paving parking lots and grading ground for new buildings. Every morning we would report to our company’s yard where our boss would give us instructions on where to go and what needed to be done. Although that time was very short compared to the rest of the workday, it was crucial in accomplishing the work that needed to be done.

And so it is with God. Our time with Him is crucial. That time gives us direction and helps us to lean on His power throughout the day. In addition, we grow in our intimacy with God. God will use that time to speak to us, to encourage and motivate us, to give us new perspectives and insights into our lives, and to transform us as we spend time with Him.

So instead of jumping headfirst into your day, isn’t it worth pausing to spend time first to allow God to give you instructions? Who knows, He may just tell you that He has things covered and you just need to sign your name on the paper and go home!

35 Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. 36 Simon and his companions went to look for him, 37 and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!” 38 Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” 39 So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons. (Mark 1:35-39)

15 Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. 16 But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed. (Luke 5:15-16)

PS- I you missed last Sunday’s message on "Spending Time with God", I encourage you to listen to it.

January 29, 2019: Successful Ministry

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This morning I read an online quote from Mark Yaconelli (different from Mike Yaconelli), quoted by Mark DeVries in his book Sustainable Youth Ministry:

“If you have a group of twelve kids who don’t understand your illustrations and one of them wants to kill you, you have a youth group just like Jesus.”

It made me chuckle.  But it also brought up a more serious, thoughtful question: What does successful ministry look like?

Maybe you look at your life and wonder, “Am I really having an impact for the Kingdom? Is my work of service all that significant?”

I think we will always be tempted to evaluate ministry success outwardly.  I remember Brian Clements mentioning the 3 n’s that many people use to evaluate churches: nickels, numbers, and noses.  But how does God evaluate successful ministry?

I would argue that the two most important factors in ministry are these: 1) Are we being faithful to what God has called us to do?, 2) Are we full of faith in trusting God for whatever it is for which He has called us to believe Him?

Think about Abraham.  What did he accomplish?  He did not secure the promised land; he did not see a nation flourish; neither did he see the nations of the world blessed.  Outwardly, the results of his ministry was one person—his son Isaac.  One.  That’s not a big number!  And even that accomplishment was not done without significant failures.

Yet Abraham was faithful and full of faith.  He believed God for what God had promised and he was faithful to pursue the calling that God gave him, even though that pursuit was also marked with stumbling and failures.  It’s the same with us.

Perhaps you wonder, “Am I really being successful?”  Maybe you prayed and invited someone to come to Alpha this past Sunday and yet they were a no-show.  Or maybe you are serving at Hope using your gifts, but it doesn’t seem to you all that significant.  Maybe you keep reaching out in love to your unchurched friends, neighbors, co-workers and family members, but you have yet to see any of them come to know Jesus.  If so, be encouraged.  As long as you are faithful and full of faith, God will honor your ministry to others. 

And yes, it is very significant to God.  If God can bring forth an entire nation from one son, if Ruth can spawn a revival by being a godly great-grandmother, if Jonathan can change the course of an entire battle by one act of courage, if Joseph can change the world by one act of obedience, if Jesus can feed thousands with a handful of bread loaves and a couple of fish, if the Spirit can use a handful of untrained, unlearned men to launch the Church of the new covenant, then God can use your simple, faithful service and your heart-felt, believing prayers to be a huge success in ministry in the eyes of God!

So let’s all do it! Let’s be faithful and full of faith to the glory of God! 

January 22, 2019: Living in Community

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Gordon MacDonald is an author and a former pastor who now serves as chancellor for Denver Seminary. Many years ago he also stumbled badly and had an affair. He placed himself under the discipline of his elders and thankfully his marriage and his ministry were ultimately restored. But later Macdonald offered some helpful insights into his secret journey onto that dark, reprehensible path.

I remember one insight that he shared was that because he was the senior pastor of a large, well-known church in New England, that people stopped asking him the difficult questions. As a senior pastor, it was fairly easy to become disconnected from anyone who really knew him well.

Paul Tripp says in his book, Whiter Than Snow: Meditations on Sin and Mercy, write this:

"We weren't created to be independent, autonomous, or self-sufficient. We were made to live in a humble, worshipful, and loving dependency upon God and in a loving and humble interdependency with others. Our lives were designed to be community projects. Yet, the foolishness of sin tells us that we have all that we need within ourselves. So we settle for relationships that never go beneath the casual. We defend ourselves when the people around us point out a weakness or a wrong. We hold our struggles within, not taking advantage of the resources God has given us."

God made us to live in community—to know and be known, to love and be loved, to do life with others who really do know us. This is not just for our sake, but also for the sake of others around us—that they too might benefit from us. Jesus referred to this as “loving one another.” It involves all of the 59 “one anothers” of the New Testament. Jesus also said that loving one another is inextricably tied to loving God. You can’t have one without the other.

So here are a couple of challenging questions:

  • Have I surrounded myself with some trusted friends who know me well enough to sense if I were to hold on to a dangerous secret?
  • In addition, are there a couple of other brothers or sisters in Christ who I know well enough that I would sense if they began to drift?

If you cannot say “yes” to both of those questions, let me encourage you to join a small group. And if you are already in a small group but don’t experience that level of closeness, maybe you should ask the group to discuss this issue.

We want our church to be a place where life transformation occurs. If that’s going to happen, we’ll need to go beyond the surface and enter in the deeper waters of community. So let’s do it!  Let’s be a church that would fulfill Jesus’ prayer that the unchurched people around us would know that Jesus was sent from the Father when they see us living in community! (John 17:20-23)

PS- If you missed my message last Sunday on “Connecting in Community,” let me encourage you to listen to it.

January 15, 2019: Wrestling God for His Blessing

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For the past two weeks, I’ve still been thinking about that request that Jacob asked when he was wrestling God. 

If you remember, Jacob was about to meet his brother Esau whom he had deceived and stole his first-born blessing from their father. So when he learned that Esau was coming with 400 men to meet him, he was terrified. So Jacob sent his servants, possessions, and his family across the Jabbok River. Then while all alone, a man met Jacob and wrestled with him. Jacob did not initially realize the identity of the man with whom he was wrestling, but most think it was a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus.

Genesis 32:25-30 says:

25 When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. 26 Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.”

But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”

27 The man asked him, “What is your name?”
“Jacob,” he answered.

28 Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel,[f] because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.”

29 Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.”

But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there.

30 So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.”

So does God desire for us to boldly ask for Him to bless us?

I think the answer is yes! When you read this story, it seems evident that God looks favorably on Jacob’s request for God to bless him. In fact, it seems God even commends Jacob for wrestling with Him

Now again it’s good for us to keep in mind that Jacob was desperate. His request for God to bless him was an expression of that desperate dependency. Jacob knew that no amount of deception would save him from Esau. So if God did not rescue him, Jacob knew his life was history.

In addition, it’s also good to remember that at this point, Jacob’s view of blessing was not for a nicer home, a nicer car, a better job, and a bigger paycheck. What he really wanted was God’s favor & His deliverance. In essence, He wanted God’s salvation. He also wanted God to fulfill what God had already promised him with His deliverance.

And so Jacob tenaciously wrestled for God’s blessings. And think about how tenacious he was! Even after God pulled his hip out of socket which must have been incredibly painful, Jacob still hung on to God and would not let Him go until God blessed him. It makes me wonder, “Have I ever wrestled God for His blessings in the same way?”

Hebrews 11:6 says, “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”

I believe that God loves it when we wrestle with Him. I believe He is glorified when we trust in His grace and goodness to the point where we are willing to wrestle with Him, asking Him, “God, I know I don’t deserve it, but I know you are a gracious God, full of mercy and grace. And so I want to ask you to bless me with a life that glorifies you, a life which Jesus promised to all who would come to Him and trust in Him. And I won’t let you go until you grant that request!”

Now again—living a life that is blessed by God does NOT mean living a life of ease and pleasure. Think about all of the original twelve disciples. Tradition tells us that all of them died martyrs’ deaths, except John who died in exile—not what you would call lives characterized by personal prosperity, successful careers, and comfortable retirements.

But if your view of a blessed life is being able to cross the finish line knowing that God’s favor rests on your life & that your life ultimately brought Him glory, then I know God loves it when you boldly and tenaciously ask Him to do that for you.

So do you want that blessed life enough to wrestle God for it?
 

January 8, 2019: Cody Parkey’s Double Doink

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When Cody Parkey missed that field goal on Sunday, my first response was, “Are you kidding?” I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry! My second thought was, “Nick Foles must have been praying!” (Foles is the backup QB for the Eagles who won the game. He is a committed believer who is very open about his faith. He also unexpectedly led the Eagles to their Super Bowl championship last year.) My third thought was, “Time to get a new kicker!”

But then as NBC interviewed Nick Foles on the field, I caught a glimpse of Parkey in the background kneeling with the other Christians during their post-game prayer time. It made me wonder, “Is Parkey a believer?” So I did a little internet searching.

Here’s what I found. On an atheist’s website, they were actually making fun of Parkey’s faith the day after he hit the goal post 4 times during that earlier Detroit game. The article was sarcastically entitled “Chicago Bears Kicker: Jesus is the Reason I Hit the Uprights Four Times.” It cynically commented, “Parkey didn’t just chalk it up to bad luck, though. He’s saying this was just part of God’s Master Plan.”

The article also quoted Parkey saying:

“Of course [the Bear’s coaches] are frustrated with me, but who’s more frustrated than myself? I mean, this is my job, this is what I’m supposed to do, and I’m missing out there. I’ve got just to trust in what I’m doing and trust that my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ makes no mistakes. For whatever reason, that was the day I was supposed to have.”

The article was poking fun at the quote as if Parkey was blaming Jesus. But I believe it is a great testimony of Parkey’s faith to trust Jesus Christ even amidst adversity.

This past Sunday, after missing that infamous game-winning field-goal, Parkey slumped over in dejection, teammates consoled him, but then apparently he pointed heavenward toward the sky. Jason Romano of Sports Spectrum wrote, “Parkey’s reaction is a great reminder that there are many more important things than football.  Jesus remains on the throne in good times and bad.” It’s a good reminder for all of us regarding how to respond to challenging difficulties and disappointments in our own lives.

By the way, on Monday the NFL changed the status of a missed field goal to a blocked field goal when it was discovered that an Eagles player did get his finger tips on the ball to deflect it. Even though it was only a very light deflection, yet the difference of even less than an inch could have caused the ball to fall on the other side of the crossbar. However, I don’t think that will be much comfort to Parkey. And it certainly won’t change the attitude of most Bears fans!

But when you think about the statistical odds of this happening, it does seem to have the fingerprints of God on it. So I can’t help but wonder if God is going to use this significantly in Parkey’s life. I’ve switched my thinking from “He’s gotta go” to “It will be interesting to see what happens if he stays!” I actually wouldn’t mind if the Bears keep him (though that would be a hard sell to Chicago fans!)

Do you still trust God and give Him thanks when you experience the double doink in life?

So pray for Parkey. Watch Foles in the next playoff game. And more importantly, think about how you respond in times of adversity. Do you trust the sovereignty of God? Do you still praise him in the good times and the bad? Do you still give him thanks when you experience the double doink in life?
 

 

PS- It is encouraging to see players and coaches who are very open and vocal about their faith. Last night Clemson beat Alabama and won the college national championship game. Dabo Swinney, the coach of the Clemson Tigers was interviewed on the field immediately following the win. Listen to how Swinney verbalizes his faith and gives credit to Jesus Christ for the win!: https://ftw.usatoday.com/2019/01/dabo-swinney-saved-his-best-interview-of-the-year-for-after-clemson-crushed-alabama.  Be sure to click on the video and listen to the actual interview, because the text in the article edits some of the things Swinney says.

January 2, 2019: The Art of Slowing

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Many of you know I hurt my knee over our family Christmas vacation. It has really slowed me down.

Normally, I’m a fairly fast walker, especially in stores. I like to get what I need and get out quickly. But not now. Now I carefully get out of the car lifting my leg with my hands, slowly make my way to the store being careful to not slip on ice nor step on uneven surfaces, deliberately navigate the curbs, methodically trudge through the store, find my item, and then carefully make my way to the self-checkout area (cashiers take too long! :-) ).

It’s the same at home—whether I’m going down the steps one at a time, getting in and out of bed, taking off my socks and shoes, or doing light tasks outside—every step and leg movement is much slower, much more deliberate, much more careful. To be honest—it’s been a pain in the neck—or I guess I should say a pain in the knee!

But there has been a plus. It has caused me to eliminate hurry from my life.

A number of years ago, John Ortberg said that he had a phone conversation with his spiritual mentor (I think it was the late Dallas Willard). He is how Ortberg describes it:

Not long after moving to Chicago, I called a wise friend to ask for some spiritual direction. I described the pace of life in my current ministry. The church where I serve tends to move at a fast clip. I also told him about our rhythms of family life: we are in the van-driving, soccer-league, piano-lesson, school-orientation-night years. I told him about the present condition of my heart, as best I could discern it. What did I need to do, I asked him, to be spiritually healthy?

Long pause.

"You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life," he said at last.

Another long pause.

"Okay, I've written that one down," I told him, a little impatiently. "That's a good one. Now what else is there?" I had many things to do, and this was a long-distance call, so I was anxious to cram as many units of spiritual wisdom into the least amount of time possible.

Another long pause.

"There is nothing else," he said. "You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life."

If you are like me, whenever I hear that story, I’m convicted. My life tends to be characterized by hurry. When people ask me how I am doing, my typical response is , “Good, but busy.” Perhaps it’s because I think my busyness is a sign of productivity and significance; after all, aren’t all important people busy?

In Psalm 46:10, God speaks to us and says, “Be still and know that I am God.” Be still—stop rushing around, cease striving, rest, ruthlessly eliminate hurry for your life—and know that God is God! Btw- the psalmist does not write these words in the context of a monastery, but rather in the backdrop of chaos—mountains quaking, waters roaring, and nations in an uproar.

So if you want to know God as your refuge and strength, an ever-present help in time of need, if you want to experience his peace rather than fear and anxiety when everything around you is in chaos, you will need to learn how to ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life. Hopefully you can learn that without messing up your knee!

December 19, 2018: Smith & Bush

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This Sunday we will light the fourth candle of Advent representing love. It’s a great reminder of the love that God has for us in sending us His one and only Son.

But not only do we celebrate the love that Jesus has for us, we are also reminded that Jesus’ love motivates us to love one another, even as He has loved us.

Earlier this month I heard that Michael W. Smith sang at George H. W. Bush’s funeral. Before Bush passed away, he planned his own funeral and requested that Smith sing “Friends are Friends Forever.” The song was very popular years ago. In fact, it was sung so many times, that for me it lost its meaning through overuse. But hearing about the friendship of Michael W. Smith and George Bush, and listening to Smith sing that song at his funeral, for me it renewed the significance of the song.

I encourage you to click on this link and listen to the video. Perhaps you too will be moved as you reflect on how Christ’s love for us has transformed our love for one another.

 

December 12, 2018: Is the fulfillment of hope a long ways off in the future?

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It was around 2002, a couple years after my anxiety disorder overwhelmed me. I was getting weary of battling with the anxiety disorder, so in addition to anxiety, I also experienced depression. I remember reading in the New Testament about hope in the 2nd coming of Christ. My first thought was, “That’s great, but that seems a long ways off. Is there any hope for this life?”

Have you ever thought the same thing?

This past Sunday we looked at 1 Peter 1 and focused on Peter’s teaching about hope. The focus of that hope was centered on the confident expectation of Christ’s return. Because we can trust God that the best is yet to come, no matter how difficult our circumstances are in this life we can always live with hope. But what about this life? Is our only hope in the life to come?

Romans 8:22-30 gives us some great answers. Listen to what Paul writes:

22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

Once again, Paul writes that our ultimate hope is in Christ’s return. But what do we do in the meantime? Read on--

26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.

28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

Here are just a few quick observations:

First, the Spirit helps us. “In the same way”—In the same way as what? Just as hope encourages us in our struggles, so too the Spirit helps us. He actually prays for us. As you are going through difficult times, know that the greatest prayer interceder is lifting you up in prayer!

Secondly, we know that God will work all things for our good. Even in the most difficult things, God is so sovereign that He can bring good out of those difficulties. Just think of the story of Joseph in the book of Genesis.

Thirdly, God is transforming our lives to make is more like Jesus. Yes, that process can be painful. But amidst the pain, God is conforming us to the image of His Son.

Lastly, the end of our story has been written and it’s a great ending! Note that in v. 30 God says we are not only called and justified, but also glorified—all three are in the past tense. Now we know that our glorification will come in the future when Jesus comes back again.  So why does Paul state this as something that has already happened? It’s because he wants us to have the confidence that it’s a done deal! To God, the end is so assured it’s as if it has already happened.

And so it’s because of that we can live victoriously, even amidst of difficulties. In fact, read the remainder of Romans 8:31-39 to finish Paul’s thought. It will encourage your soul.

Have hope, my friend, the best is yet to come!
 

December 4, 2018: Forgiven much, loves much; forgiven little, loves little

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This past Sunday we talked about our need for a Savior. We looked at the story of Jesus, Simon the Pharisee, and the sinful woman. One of the verses that we focused on was Jesus’ statement, “He who has been forgiven little, loves little.” As I mentioned on Sunday, I came to Christ as a teenager and by God’s grace was spared from falling into many of the dark pitfalls that my peers fell into. And so my conversion in becoming a follower of Jesus was not dramatic, neither were the initial, outward changes. So does that mean my love for Jesus will not be as great as those who have been delivered from a much more sordid background?

On Sunday, I attempted to address this question. If you were not there, I encourage you to listen to my message. One of the things I mentioned is this: Our gratitude and love for Jesus is not proportionate to any specific sins, but rather to our awareness of how much we desperately need Jesus to be our Savior.

I mentioned a couple of important things that I have found helpful in this area, but there is something that I wanted to add but time did not permit.

When you look up the words “saved, salvation” in the Old Testament, the overall emphasis is of God delivering the Jews from their circumstances, especially their enemies. However, the overall emphasis in the New Testament is God saving us from a greater enemy—the enemy of ourselves, the enemy of our sin.

For many of us, when we think of Jesus as our Savior, we first think of Him as the One who forgave our sin—and rightfully so! Jesus’ saving us from our sin is the ultimate deliverance of all. This great salvation which Jesus purchased with His blood has brought us into a relationship with Him which we will be eternally gratefully!

But there is still the reality that God continues to save us from our circumstances as well. Some of those challenging situations in which we find ourselves are a result of our sin. But others are not. Yet in both cases, God comes to rescue and delivers us. This is not to say that all our circumstances will always result in our desired, happy ending. But it does mean that God promises to save us and to turn even the worst moments of our lives into something good (Romans 8:28).

In addition, our gratitude is not just what God has saved us from. It is also what God has saved us to. What awaits us after this life is an eternity spent in unfathomable bliss in God’s holy, awesome presence in the new heaven and new earth!

And so even though Jesus saving us from our sin is by far the greatest deliverance, His saving us from our circumstances and delivering us into eternity are also parts of our wonderful salvation. And so when I really think about all the times Jesus has rescued me in this life, and when I think about what awaits me in eternity, my heart really does soar in my love for Him.

So if you are like me and think your testimony of coming to Jesus is just milk toast, you are not destined for a lack of love for Jesus. Rather, your gratitude and love for Jesus is not proportionate to any specific sins, but rather to your awareness of how much you desperately need Jesus to be your Savior—to save you first and foremost from your sin, but also to save you from the challenges of this life and save you into an eternity with Him!

November 27, 2018: Learning to use the L

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This past fall I needed to fly out of Midway in the evening just after rush hour, so I decided to take the train rather than having Ollie drive me. I found it pretty easy—the Metra to Union Station, then a short walk to the L (CTA elevated rail system) which then would drop me right off at the airport.

Everything went fine until I got to the L and bought my ticket. When I tried to go through the turnstile there was no slot to insert my ticket. I looked around to see if there was another turnstile that I was supposed to use, but they were all the same. Now there were dozens of passengers who had plastic monthly or yearly passes. They just waved their pass over a scanner and it let them through. But my ticket was one of those one-use cardboard tickets. So for a while I just stood there, contemplating what to do. It felt really awkward. It reminded me of being overseas in a foreign country, trying to figure out how to use their train system when I could not read or speak the language.

Finally, I asked the woman sitting in the ticket booth what to do. She looked at me with one of those looks that said, “What’s your problem, old man?!” She said to waive the ticket over the scanner just like everyone else. So I tried, but nothing happened. Apparently, when I was previously trying to figure out where to insert my ticket, the scanner inadvertently scanned it. So I again had to interrupt and ask the ticket woman. She didn’t look happy. She got up and came outside her booth to let me through the turnstile. I thanked her and told her that this was my first time using the L. No response. She just walked back into her booth.

As I stood on the platform waiting for the train, I wondered how many people were standing there snickering at me thinking, “What an idiot!” Actually, I didn’t see anyone looking at me. Most were either looking at their phones or just gazing into nowhere with that after-work tired gaze. But for a few moments I did wonder what people thought of me.

And then it occurred to me. This is exactly how new people can feel like when they enter into our church. This is especially true of those who did not grow up going to church. Even for those who do have a church background, they can have all sorts of fears and hesitations—Will there be a cross in the service and do I need to bow and pray before I sit down…will there be things I need to recite that I do not know…do I need to stand and sit at different times… will I be put on the spot…what will others think of me if I seem like I don’t know what is going on…?

We may think that because we are a casual, friendly church that people will immediately feel right at home. That may be true for some, but not for most people. 

So here are some tips for all of us:
  • First, take time to build a trusted relationship with the unchurch neighbor, friend, or co-worker that you want to invite to church. Realize how threatening it is for them to take that step to come to an unknown environment. If they know and trust you, it will go a long ways to ease their fears. In fact, if they don’t feel like they can trust you, they won’t even say “yes” to your invitation. That’s why it’s important to build the relationship first. Remember our acronym: B.L.E.S.S. Begin with prayer, Listen, Eat, Serve (& be served), Story- share your story.
  • Secondly, when you meet new people at Hope, be sure to avoid Christian lingo. This can be difficult to do since we can get so accustomed to using “Christianeze.” Here’s a general rule of thumb: only use language that you might use if you were at a neighborhood party and an unchurched neighbor were to ask you about spiritual things or about our church.
  • Finally, think about how you might feel if you were in a foreign environment. How would you want others to treat you? This is simply doing what Jesus said when He commanded us to treat others as we would want others to treat us.

Let’s be a church of people who know how to make others truly feel at home!

November 20, 2018: Happy Thanksliving!

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When I think of people who have exemplified joy in my life, one couple that comes to mind is an older couple in PA. They were retired missionaries who supported us on Cru staff for $5/mo. Although they had few possession, had some health issues, and lived in a very small mother-in-law apartment which was connected to the home of one of their adult children, they radiated with joy. 

Their joy was rooted in their love for God, love for each other, and a heart for lost people and the Great Commission. But I also think their joy stemmed from a life of thankfulness. To them, Thanksgiving was not just a holiday. It was a way of life. They lived a life of thanks-living.

It’s a stark contrast to some other elderly people we know who have become increasingly negative, skeptical, complaining, and just plain grumpy. If I’m honest, I can also see that same temptation and tendency in me, especially the older I get (& especially as I watch the national news!).

So this Thanksgiving, make it more than just a holiday of food, family, and football, Make it a time to commit yourself to a life of thanks-living. Begin by completing that list of “101 things for which I am thankful.” You will not only bless God, but you will also experience great joy yourself!

PS- If you missed our special Thanksgiving service, you can listen to my short 13-minute message "101 Things For Which I am Thankful" online.

 

November 13, 2018: Prayer That Move Mountains

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Do you know what the object is in this picture?

It is a Buddhist prayer wheel. It’s not only used for chanting, but it’s believed that spinning the wheel also earns merit and adds to one’s karma.

As followers of Christ, we not only view the practice as idolatrous, but in light of true prayer, it also seems absurd. How can the spinning of a wheel truly affect anything?

As absurd as that may seem, I wonder if God views some of my prayers in a similar way. I keep an on-going prayer list. My list not only includes personal requests, but also Hope requests. It also includes people for whom I pray, both those who are believers and those who are not. But to be honest, sometimes I can go through my list and instead of true prayer, it becomes a recitation of a list of things. In addition, sometimes I get a prayer request from the prayer chain and I pray for the request, but it’s more like a rote rehashing of the request rather than a prayer. It’s not unlike the turning of the prayer wheel, thinking that by simply reciting words that God will somehow act.

In Matthew 6:7, Jesus says, “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words.” Jesus says don’t pray that way. It’s meaningless. So what’s the alternative, especially when it comes to intercessory prayer (i.e. praying for others)?

Remember the passage we looked at this past Sunday? Matthew 21:18-22 says,

“In the morning, as he was returning to the city, he became hungry. And seeing a fig tree by the wayside, he went to it and found nothing on it but only leaves. And he said to it, ‘May no fruit ever come from you again!’ And the fig tree withered at once.

When the disciples saw it, they marveled, saying, ‘How did the fig tree wither at once?’ And Jesus answered them, ‘Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen. And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.’

What if every prayer we prayed, we prayed with sincere trust in God’s character and promises, and fully expected Him to act? What if we truly believed that our prayers really did make a difference? Would we pray with greater earnestness? Would we pray with greater anticipation? Would we pray more often and pray for longer periods?

 

What if we truly believed that our prayers really did make a difference?

And what if we all prayed that God would use us to truly have an impact on others? What if we sincerely prayed that Jesus would fulfill His promise to make each of us fishers of men as we follow Him? What if we prayed that God would use our church to be salt and light in our community and to prevail against the gates of hell themselves?
This week, I am determined to put down my prayer wheel and come to God with bold, trusting prayer, expecting Him to work. How about you? Will you join me?
 
 

November 6, 2018: Walking with a limp

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Last night I woke up about 2:30am and could not go back to sleep. I’d love to say that this was an unusual experience, but unfortunately it is not. It happens quite frequently, especially when I get busy and when exercise gets squeezed out of my schedule. But often it just happens.

This past summer I’ve concluded that it’s part of my limp. Ever since I wrestled with that long bout of anxiety back in 2000, I’ve walked with a limp. What do I mean by that?

Remember when Jacob physically wrestled with the Lord in Genesis 32? The text tells us that Jacob would not let God go until God blessed him. The reason why Jacob tenaciously hung on to God was because he was desperate. Throughout Jacob’s life, he lied and connived his way to achieve his agenda. But now he was about to face his brother Esau who he had deeply offended earlier in their lives. Esau was coming with 400 men and Jacob had no escape. This time there was no option of conniving his way out of disaster. He was distressed and desperate.

Jacob finally realized that unless God came through, he was toast. He finally recognized that only God could save him. That’s why he wrestled with the Lord. He was literally wrestling for the sake of his own life and the life of his family. Only God’s blessing could save him. And God did.

But as a result, Jacob walked away with a limp. The text seems to indicate that he had that limp for the rest of his life. Why did God do that?

It think it served as a lifelong reminder to Jacob of the lesson God was trying to teach him—the profound lesson that our future is in God’s hands, that only God can determine the course of our lives, that only God can deliver us from our desperation, and that we are utterly dependent on Him.

I think during those years of anxiety, God was trying to teach me a similar lesson. But sometimes life-altering lessons are hard to learn. We need to be reminded of them. So sometimes God brings deliverance, but for the rest of our lives, we walk with a limp.

So when I wake up in the middle of the night and can’t go back to sleep, I’m reminded to pray. I’m reminded to meditate and even memorize Scripture that calls me to remember the greatness of God and to recognize my utter need for Him to work. I’m reminded of how desperately I truly need God. Once again, I’m invited to trust Jesus anew as my compassionate and caring Savior.

How about you? Have you wrestled with God, only to walk away with a lifelong limp?

 

October 16, 2018: The most highlighted verse in the Bible

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Did you know that Amazon tracks what e-book owners highlight? So every time someone highlights a passage in their Kindle, Amazon takes note of it.

So back in 2014, Amazon released a news article that cited the most highlighted passages in various books. Included in this list was the most highlighted passage in the NIV Bible. So what do you guess is the most highlighted verse?

My guess would have been verses like John 3:16, Genesis 1:1, Psalm 23, Philippians 4:13, the Lord’s prayer, or “love your neighbor as yourself.” But the most highlighted verse in the NIV Bible according to Amazon is Philippians 4:6-7, which says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

I think this is a big reflection of our stress-filled culture. We live lives under constant pressure. Whether it is the pressure of finances, the stress of having more things to do than time allows, the expansion of work hours and the death of the 40-hour work week, the strain of marital tension, the challenge of keeping up with our kids’ activities, the health challenges of those of us who are getting older, or the overall anxiety of the future of this nation and the world—we are people who live in a culture riddled with stress. Even when it comes to simple things like shopping, the more options we have available to us, the more difficult it can be to make our decisions. Instead of making life easier, too many options make it more stressful.

But God gives us a solution to that anxiety. It is prayer.

But note what these verses promise and don’t promise. They don’t promise all our concerns will disappear because God will change our circumstances. They don’t promise that we will have peace because God will remove whatever it is that is causing our stress. Rather it says that through prayer, God will change us. He will grant to us a peace that transcends all understanding—a peace that goes beyond human logic or comprehension.

 

Perhaps prayer was meant to change us even more than it changes our circumstances

Perhaps prayer changes us even more than it changes our circumstances. That’s interesting to think about since when most of us think about prayer, we probably tend to think about prayer as primarily getting from God what we ask for.
 

But maybe prayer was meant to do something much deeper. Maybe prayer was meant to transform us and our relationship with God. How so?

Join us this Sunday as we begin our new message series “30-Day Prayer Adventure”!

October 9, 2018: God’s Provision

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Jesus talked a lot about the kingdom of heaven. That’s because He had a different worldview than ours. He saw that the real way to view this life is not from an earthly perspective, but rather from the eternal perspective of God and His kingdom. So in Matthew 6, Jesus encourages us not to worry about our financial provisions, but to trust in God our heavenly father to provide. He also exhorts us to live with an eternal perspective by seeking His kingdom first.

Ollie and I have by no means have done this perfectly, but overall we have tried to honor God with our finances. And it’s been fun to see how God continues to provide. In fact, it never ceases to surprise me by all the things He does to show us His faithfulness and goodness.

Here is just one recent example:

Over Labor Day weekend, I heard on the news that because stores have Labor Day sales, it can be a good time to buy certain items like gas grills. Now I had wanted to replace our gas grill for awhile. It is over 20 years old and we have replaced the burners numerous times. But still, the grill cooks very unevenly. In fact, if I am not careful, I can burn a burger in one place while another burger sitting at another place is still completely raw. So when the news said that there was a grill on sale at Lowes for half price, I decided to check it out.

In purchasing appliances, we always first check out Consumer Reports. So I quickly glanced at the report but unfortunately, the grill at Lowes was not listed. But there was another grill that was rated very high, but with a surprisingly lower price than most of the top-rated grills. So I looked it up online and found that Amazon & Home Depot had it listed for $300. But then I noticed that Tractor Supply Company had it on a Labor Day sale for $169. So I went on their website to check it out.

Since the nearest Tractor Supply store is in Burlington, WI (although they are currently building one in Antioch), I tried to see if I could buy it online and then pick it up in Burlington. But the website would not allow me to do it for that particular grill. At first I was very disappointed, especially since most of the other grills on their website allowed free shipping to one of their stores. But this was an instore purchase only. So I called their Burlington store, but they were sold out—another disappointment.

The next closest store was all the way out in Hebron. But for half price, I thought it might be worth it, so I called them. The woman responded, “Yes, we have them and they are on clearance right now for $110!" So Ollie drove out there that night and we bought a $300 top-rated grill for $110!  Those previous disappointments were really part of God’s provision!

I can’t tell you how many times God has done that for us! All to say, if you apply the 4 principles and 7 practices of this message series on Dealing with Financial Pressures, I guarantee you that you too will have many stories like this to tell! Btw- what are those principles & practices? Join us this Sunday as we wrap up this series! You cannot afford to miss this last principle and practice!

October 2, 2018: On Breeding Spotted Mice

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This past Sunday I quoted A.W. Tozer in our worship program. I thought you might want to read the entire article that he wrote. Here it is:

The Associated Press lately carried an interesting if somewhat depressing story out of London about a certain British peer who had died just a few days short of his eighty-ninth birthday.

Having been a man of means and position, it had presumably not been necessary for him to work for a living like the rest of us, so at the time of his death he had had about seventy adult years in which he was free to do whatever he wanted to do, to pursue any calling he wished or to work at anything he felt worthy of his considerable abilities.

And what had he chosen to do? Well, according to the story, he had "devoted his life to trying to breed the perfect spotted mouse."

Now, I grant every man the right to breed spotted mice if he wants to and can get the cooperation of the mice, and I freely admit that it is his business and not mine. Not being a mouse lover (nor a mouse hater for that matter; I am just neutral about mice), I do not know but that a spotted mouse might be more useful and make a more affectionate pet than a common mouse colored mouse. But still I am troubled.

The mouse breeder in question was a lord, and I was born on a farm in the hill country of Pennsylvania, but since a cat can look at a king I suppose a farm boy can look at a lord, even look at him with disapproval if the circumstances warrant. Anyway, a man's a man for a' that, and I feel a certain kinship for every man born of woman; so I cannot but grieve for my brother beyond the seas.

Made in the image of God, equipped with awesome powers of mind and soul, called to dream immortal dreams and to think the long thoughts of eternity, he chooses the breeding of a spotted mouse as his reason for existing. Invited to walk with God on earth and to dwell at last with the saints and angels in the world above; called to serve his generation by the will of God, to press with holy vigor toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus, he dedicates his life to the spotted mouse, not just evenings or holidays, mind you, but his entire life. Surely this is tragedy worthy of the mind of an Aeschylus or a Shakespeare.

Let us hope that the story is not true or that the news boys got it mixed up as they sometimes do; but even if the whole thing should prove to be a hoax, still it points up a stark human tragedy that is being enacted before our eyes daily, not by make-believe play actors, but by real men and women who are the characters they portray. These should be concerned with sin and righteousness and judgment; they should be getting ready to die and to live again; but instead they spend their days breeding spotted mice.

If the spiritual view of the world is the correct one, as Christianity boldly asserts that it is, then for every one of us heaven is more important than earth and eternity more important than time. If Jesus Christ is who He claimed to be; if He is what the glorious company of the apostles and the noble army of martyrs declared that He is; if the faith which the holy church throughout all the world doth acknowledge is the true faith of God, then no man has any right to dedicate his life to anything that can burn or rust or rot or die. No man has any right to give himself completely to anyone but Christ nor to anything but prayer.

The man who does not know where he is is lost; the man who does not know why he was born is worse lost; the man who cannot find an object worthy of his true devotion is lost utterly; and by this description the human race is lost, and it is a part of our lostness that we do not know how lost we are. So we use up the few precious years allotted to us breeding spotted mice. Not the kind that scurry and squeak, maybe; but viewed in the light of eternity, are not most of our little human activities almost as meaningless?

One of the glories of the Christian gospel is its ability not only to deliver a man from sin but to orient him, to place him on a peak from which he can see yesterday and today in their relation to tomorrow. The truth cleanses his mind so that he can recognize things that matter and see time and space and kings and cabbages in their true perspective. The Spirit-illuminated Christian cannot be cheated. He knows the values of things; he will not bid on a rainbow nor make a down payment on a mirage; he will not, in short, devote his life to spotted mice.

Back of every wasted life is a bad philosophy, an erroneous conception of life's worth and purpose. The man who believes that he was born to get all he can will spend his life trying to get it; and whatever he gets will be but a cage of spotted mice. The man who believes he was created to enjoy fleshly pleasures will devote himself to pleasure seeking; and if by a combination of favorable circumstances he manages to get a lot of fun out of life, his pleasures will all turn to ashes in his mouth at the last. He will find out too late that God made him too noble to be satisfied with those tawdry pleasures he had devoted his life to here under the sun.

September 26, 2018: The Liability of Forgetfulness

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I have a very selective memory. There are some things I just cannot remember. For instance, the names of actors, actresses, and singers—it’s as if when I hear their names, the data immediately goes into the spam folder in my brain. In addition, I can easily forget the movies I watch. I can’t tell you how many times Ollie and I will be hearing someone describe a movie and I will turn to Ollie and say, “Honey, we should watch that movie,” only to have her respond, “Wayne, we already have!” Perhaps like that Gary Larsen cartoon, my brain is just too full!

But there is a greater liability for my faulty memory. I can all too easily forget God’s faithfulness.

If Moses were here and we were to ask him what is the opposite of faith, he might answer, “forgetfulness.” In the book of Deuteronomy alone, the word “remember” occurs about 15 times. Moses constantly reminded forgetful Israel to remember what God had done for them. Here’s just a sample:

You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. (Deuteronomy 5:15)

If you say in your heart, ‘These nations are greater than I. How can I dispossess them?’ you shall not be afraid of them but you shall remember what the Lord your God did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt, the great trials that your eyes saw, the signs, the wonders, the mighty hand, and the outstretched arm, by which the Lord your God brought you out. So will the Lord your God do to all the peoples of whom you are afraid. (Deuteronomy 7:17-19)

Remember the days of old;
    consider the years of many generations;
ask your father, and he will show you,
    your elders, and they will tell you.
(Deuteronomy 32:7)

Take a moment and reflect back on your life. How has God shown you His faithfulness? How has God delivered you? Has there ever been a single incident when God was unfaithful to you?

Maybe like me there are many things you cannot remember. But the accounts of God’s faithfulness towards us are memories that we cannot afford to forget. Let those accounts build your faith. And when you are tempted to worry and to be anxious, give your soul a good talking to. Like Moses, remind your soul to remember!

September 19, 2018: C.S. Lewis on our eternal destiny

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This past Sunday, we talked about heaven and about our new bodies that we will receive when Christ comes again. The assurance of heaven gives us great confidence that no matter what happens to us, we have everything to look forward to. Not even death itself can keep us from experiencing the incredible blessings that await us and all who are sincere Christ-followers.

But there is another motivation that this assurance gives us. The apostle Paul, after talking about our new resurrected bodies, wrote this, “Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58).

Knowing our eternal future not only gives us the assurance to stand firm a midst difficulties, it also motivates us to give ourselves fully to the work of the Lord. Because of eternity, we who are Christ-followers recognize that the eternal destinies of people all around us hang in the balance.

C.S. Lewis put it this way:

It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest, most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree helping each other to one or the other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all of our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations - these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit - immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.

As Lewis has said, “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.” This should affect all our relationships and all our interactions with those around us.

So I encourage you to pause for just a moment. Look around at your co-workers sitting in your workroom. Take a moment to look out the window and think about your neighbors. Glance at your phone and think about your friends and family members on your contact list.

“There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.” How then should we live?

September 11, 2018: The Passionate Pursuit of God

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Last night Ollie and I re-watched the movie The Last of the Mohicans. When I think of God’s relentless pursuit of us, I’m often reminded of that movie.

The movie portrays the passionate determination of the rugged hero who courageously pursues a daring rescue attempt to save the woman he loves. The passion and loving resolve reminds me of the relentless determination with which God pursues us.

I think for many of us, it is fairly easy to picture God pursuing those who do not know Him. After all, Jesus Himself gave us a picture of God’s heart for the lost through parables like the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the prodigal son. Likewise, it’s easy to understand how God feels passionate about us when we are feeling passionate about Him.

However, how does God feel when we who are followers of Christ don’t feel very passionate towards Him?

This past Sunday I shared how a couple of weeks ago I felt somewhat spiritually blah. I did not feel real motivated to seek the Lord, to pray, or to spend time listening to His voice. It wasn’t like I was straying, but rather I just didn’t feel very passionate towards the Lord. As a result, I subconsciously thought that since I was not feeling passionate towards God, that He must not feel very passionate towards me.

But that’s when God brought to mind the book of Hosea. It was as if He was saying to me, “Wayne, even when you are not feeling very passionate towards me, I am always passionately pursuing you. Do you believe that?”

So let me ask you the same question—Do you believe that God feels passionate about you, even when you don’t feel passionate towards Him? Do you believe that God always pursues you with a relentless love?

If you missed last Sunday, let me encourage you to listen to my message, The Passionate Pursuit of God.  It’s the climax of the book of Hosea as well as the climax of this message series.

The message posted on our website does not include the last five minutes of the sermon, including the last 2 songs with which we ended the message and service. So here are links to those last two songs: I Will Find You (from The Last of the Mohicans—the words repeat in English and in Cherokee) and How He Loves. As you listen to these songs, I pray you’ll sense the passion of God as He pursues you even now.

 

September 4, 2018: Reaching out in grace and truth

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I’m proud of my wife.

Earlier this summer Ollie was at Ulta shopping. She was looking for something and needed some help. The store was not busy so most of the store clerks were gathered in groups of twos and threes talking to each other. All except one.

He was a transgender male who was really “dolled up” with makeup. Ollie noticed that he was standing alone, looking almost a little awkward. In the past Ollie would have avoided asking that person for help. But instead, she purposely went up to him and asked for his assistance to help her find what she needed. It was a small gesture, but I think it was a big one.

When it comes to the transgender issue, I think we can make one of two opposite mistakes. On the one hand, we can think that morality is relative, that there are no absolute right or wrongs, that ethics are determined by each individual, and that we should not make any waves about controversial ethical issues. On the other hand, we can also react in coldness by joining anti-protests against the LGBT agenda and/or just by ignoring anyone who claims to be gay or transgender.

Yet Jesus came in grace and truth. He never compromised when it came to truth. He never allowed the societal moral pressures to change His views on ethical behavior. But on the other hand, he treated people with grace and dignity.

I think when we read stories of Jesus spending time with tax-collectors and “sinners,” we have a difficult time relating to what that was really like since we don’t have tax-collectors in our culture (though some would view the IRS with the same revulsion!). But could those in the LGBT community be the “tax-collectors” in our culture today?

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In Jesus’ day the Pharisees and scribes criticized Jesus for spending time with people like tax-collectors, believing that He was compromising on His moral ethics. I’m sure that some of them felt that by spending time with them that Jesus was sending a message that He was giving approval to the corruption and exploitation of the system. And yet instead, Jesus saw people for who they truly are—human beings, made in the image of God, precious in His sight, languishing in the need for love, and desperately lost in need of the grace and forgiveness of Jesus, our Savior.

I’m proud that Ollie had the courage to respond to God’s prompting. Her action was a simple one. But I can’t help believe that it communicated dignity and care to that man. Sure, she didn’t get to share Christ with him. But I believe that God could use that simple act of kindness to help open that man up to Himself.

So what is Jesus asking you to do to communicate His grace and truth?

August 28, 2018: Character Matters

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Like many of you, I have been watching the news as many well-deserved accolades have been shared about the late Senator John McCain.  These moving remarks have come not just from political allies, but also from those whom many would deem as McCain’s opponents. 

One of the things that has struck me listening to their heart-felt eulogies is that all of them highlight his exemplary character. In fact I don’t remember any of them focusing on his specific political accomplishments.

I’m sure Senator McCain was influential in passing specific bills of legislation.  I’m sure he was a very influential voice in chairing the Armed Services Committee and was responsible for specific recommendations offered to the Senate. But no one focused on his specific accomplishments. Instead their comments are overshadowed by something much more significant—John McCain’s character.

It’s a great reminder to us all that character matters. In the end, what is important is not so much what we have accomplished through our life, but rather how we lived our daily lives--did we live with grace, truth, and integrity; did we glorify God through loving others; did we consistently bear the fruit of the Spirit; did we treat those with whom we disagreed with grace; did we live a life of Christ-like character.

McCain was by no means a perfect man. Many commented that he had a hot temper. But they also said he had the humility to admit his weaknesses and mistakes—a quality which seems lacking today in many of our political figures.

I’m thankful to say that McCain also had a quiet faith in Jesus Christ. In fact let me encourage you to read this Christianity Today article entitled “Three Lessons We Can Learn from the Brave Life (and Quiet Faith) of Sen. John McCain.”

In heaven, we will get a chance to meet John McCain in person. And when we do, we will get a chance to thank him personally for reminding us through his life that character does matters.

 

August 22, 2018: Our Airbnb Bust

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Ollie & I are on a mini-vacation to the Starved Rock area. We decided to try and use Airbnb for the first time. We booked a place which had a half-dozen recommendations, all positive. The host was very friendly, welcoming, warm and sweet—in many ways ideal for hosting an Airbnb. But unfortunately, the place itself was not clean.

It was like a mother-in-law apartment, but the kitchen sink and dish drainer were dirty and stained. There were food crumbs on the stove & food splattered all over the backsplash. The stove looked like it had not been cleaned in ages. We later found a cobweb on one of the burners. You could not see through the oven door window because it was so dirty. There was dust and dog hair on the toilet, indicating that she had not cleaned the toilet nor the bathroom sink. We tried to grill outside, only to have the grill run out of gas as our chicken was half-cooked. Later at night we discovered a box of D-Con mice poisoning in the corner on the kitchen counter, right near the coffee makers!

Being Airbnb newbies, we tried to stick it out for the first night, but we made the decision to cancel our second night and go to a hotel. Thankfully, the host was accommodating and reimbursed us for the second night’s rent.

It was hard to believe that someone could rent her place and not notice the things we immediately saw. In the morning, we walked her through her place and pointed out all of the issues. She made a comment that really made me think. She thanked us for pointing everything out and then said, “I guess when you live here you really don’t see things that others see. You just get used to it.”

It’s easy for us to think that anyone should have seen what we saw, but she didn’t. But it also made me think—Was this how Hosea felt as he preached to the nation of Israel and pointed out their idolatry? Did he scratch his head in disbelief as he looked at their idolatrous behavior?

But then it also made me wonder—As God looks at our own lives, what would He say about them? Are there blind spots in our lives—things that are obvious to God, areas of blatant contradiction, idolatry, or plain sin that we are simply oblivious? Perhaps it is a good reminder to us all of our need to do some serious self-reflection.

If you missed last Sunday’s message, I encourage you to listen to it. It’s entitled “The little gods that steal our hearts away.”

So our first Airbnb experience was a bust. But hey, at least I got a great message illustration out of it—one that we will never forget, even if we wished we could!
 

August 14, 2018: The Beloved

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One of my favorite books of all times is Abba’s Child, by the late Brennan Manning. Ollie loves it also. In fact, she is currently reading it again. Listen to what Manning writes in his chapter, “The Beloved”:

The ordinary self is the extraordinary self—the inconspicuous nobody who shivers in the cold of winter and sweats in the heat of summer, who wakes up unreconciled to the new day, who sits before a stack of pancakes, weaves through traffic, bangs around in the basement, shops in the supermarket, pulls weeds and rakes up the leaves, makes love and snowballs, flies kites and listens to the sound of rain on the roof.

While the impostor [which Manning would say lurks inside each of us] draws his identity from past achievements and the adulation of others, the true self claims identity in its belovedness. We encounter God in the ordinariness of life: not in the search for spiritual highs and extraordinary, mystical experiences but in our simple presence in life.

Writing to a New York intellectual and close friend, Henry Nouwen stated, "All I want to say to you is, ‘You are the beloved,’ and all I hope is that you can hear these words as spoken to you with all the tenderness and force that love can hold. My only desire is to make these words reverberate in every corner of your being –‘You are the beloved.’" Anchored in this reality, our true self needs neither a muted trumpet to herald our arrival nor a gaudy soapbox to rivet attention from others. We give glory to God simply by being ourselves.

God created us for union with Himself: This is the original purpose of our lives. And God is defined as love (1 John 4:16). Living in awareness of our belovedness is the axis around which the Christian life revolves. Being the beloved is our identity, the core of our existence. It is not merely a lofty thought, an inspiring idea, or one name among many. It is the name by which God knows us and the way he relates to us….

If I must seek an identity outside of myself, then the accumulation of wealth, power, and honors allures me. Or I may find my center of gravity in interpersonal relationships. Ironically, the church itself can stroke the impostor by conferring and withholding honors, offering pride of place based on performance, and creating the illusion of status by rank and pecking order. When belonging to an elite group eclipses the love of God, when I draw life and meaning from any source other than my belovedness, I am spiritually dead. When God gets relegated to second place behind any bauble or trinket, I have swapped the pearl of great price for painted fragments of glass.

"Who am I? " asked Merton, and he responded, "I am one loved by Christ." This is the foundation of the true self. The indispensable condition for developing and maintaining the awareness of our belovedness is time alone with God. In solitude we tune out the nay-saying whispers of our worthlessness and sink down into the mystery of our true self. Our longing to know who we really are – which is the source of all our discontent – will never be satisfied until we confront and accept our solitude. There we discover that the truth of our belovedness is really true. Our identity rest in God’s relentless tenderness for us revealed in Jesus Christ.

Our controlled frenzy creates the illusion of a well-ordered existence. We move from crisis to crisis, responding to the urgent and neglecting the essential. We still walk around. We still perform all the gestures and actions identified as human, but we resemble people carried along the mechanical sidewalk at an airport. The fire in the belly dies. We no longer hear what Boris Pasternak called "the inward music" of our belovedness….

But when the night is bad and my nerves are shattered and Infinity speaks, when God Almighty shares through His Son the depth of His feelings for me, when His love flashes into my soul and when I am overtaken by Mystery, it is kairos – the decisive inbreak of God in the saving moment of my personal history. No one can speak for me. Alone, I face a momentous decision. Shivering in the rags of my fifty-nine years, either I escape into skepticism and intellectualism or with radical amazement I surrender in faith to the truth of my belovedness….

Frederick Buechner wrote, "Repent and believe in the gospel, Jesus says. Turn around and believe that the good news that we are loved is better than we ever dared hope, and that to believe in that good news, to live out of it and toward it, to be in love with that good news, is of all glad things in this world the gladdest thing of all. Amen, and come, Lord Jesus."

The chorus of voices quoted in this chapter call out to us to claim the grace given to John Eagan: Define yourself radically as one beloved by God. This is the true self. Every other identity is illusion.

August 8, 2018: The Next Turn

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Yesterday I received a text from a friend who is having health issues. She commented, “Wish God spoke verbally and we could just have a one on one with some clear direction. This blind faith thing is quite a challenge.” I think we can all relate to her text!

It reminds me of two different perspectives when driving using a GPS. Because Ollie & I are old school, we grew up using maps. So we like to know the big picture. So even when we use a GPS we like to see the overall route before venturing out.

On the other hand, my son Justin does not feel the need to know the big picture. All he needs to know is the next turn which he needs to make. Why is that? Part of the reason is that Justin fully trusts his GPS to get him where he needs to go. So he doesn’t need to know the longer route, just the next turn ahead. 

I think when it comes to faith in God, we need to become more like Justin and his trust in his GPS.

Of all the men in Scripture, Abraham is commended most for his faith. The writer of Hebrews tells us, “By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going” (Hebrews 11:8). Abraham didn’t have the big picture. He only knew the next turn.

Often God does the same with us. He only gives us enough direction for the day. Perhaps God knows that if He gave us the big picture, we would worry, get discouraged, or even try to take a short cut and mess everything up. So instead, He simply says, “Trust me and I’ll give you directions for the next turn.”

Perhaps God knows that if He gave us the big picture, we would worry, get discouraged, or even try to take a short cut and mess everything up

 

Is it easy? Not at all—especially for those of us who like having the big picture so we can map out our lives. But that’s why Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

So the next time you find yourself longing to have clearer direction for the future, remember your GPS and simply trust God to give you instructions for the next turn.

July 31, 2018: Evolution as Idol Worship

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Lately during my times with the Lord, I’ve been reading the Old Testament prophets. One of the practices that they repeatedly warned against was the issue of worshipping idols. 

Today those of us in America tend to think of idols as primitive and very unsophisticated. Both believers and unbelievers tend to think of the worship of idols as practices in cultures that are undeveloped and uneducated. However, idol worship is just as prevalent today in our western culture as it was back in Old Testament times. How so?

In a broad, general sense, idol worship is worshipping anything other than God Himself. But in a more narrow sense, idol worship is worshipping something created, rather than the Creator.

Isaiah seems to poke fun of the flawed logic of idol worship (Isaiah 44:12-20):

12 The blacksmith takes a tool
    and works with it in the coals;
he shapes an idol with hammers,
    he forges it with the might of his arm.
He gets hungry and loses his strength;
    he drinks no water and grows faint.
13 The carpenter measures with a line
    and makes an outline with a marker;
he roughs it out with chisels
    and marks it with compasses.
He shapes it in human form,
    human form in all its glory,
    that it may dwell in a shrine.
14 He cut down cedars,
    or perhaps took a cypress or oak.
He let it grow among the trees of the forest,
    or planted a pine, and the rain made it grow.
15 It is used as fuel for burning;
    some of it he takes and warms himself,
    he kindles a fire and bakes bread.
But he also fashions a god and worships it;
    he makes an idol and bows down to it.
16 Half of the wood he burns in the fire;
    over it he prepares his meal,
    he roasts his meat and eats his fill.
He also warms himself and says,
    “Ah! I am warm; I see the fire.”
17 From the rest he makes a god, his idol;
    he bows down to it and worships.
He prays to it and says,
    “Save me! You are my god!”
18 They know nothing, they understand nothing;
    their eyes are plastered over so they cannot see,
    and their minds closed so they cannot understand.
19 No one stops to think,
    no one has the knowledge or understanding to say,
“Half of it I used for fuel;
    I even baked bread over its coals,
    I roasted meat and I ate.
Shall I make a detestable thing from what is left?
    Shall I bow down to a block of wood?”
20 Such a person feeds on ashes; a deluded heart misleads him;
    he cannot save himself, or say,
    “Is not this thing in my right hand a lie?”

Sounds very primitive, doesn’t it?   But I’d submit to you that today’s view of evolution is a more sophisticated form of this ancient practice. Evolution is based on two things—random mutations and natural selection. Evolution states there are random mutations in any species. As a result, certain organisms have a greater chance of survival than others. Those with a greater chance of survival will tend to thrive, produce offspring, and thereby pass down their genes producing change over time. Because microevolution has been proven to be factual (which I personally concur), evolutionists expand this theory outward and claim that macroevolution can explain how all of life came about (btw- this is why some evolutionist claim that evolution is a fact not a theory).

But when you take a step back and look at the big picture, is not evolution the same as idol worship? Isn’t evolution attributing to creation something that only our Creator can do?

I’m sure if Isaiah were here today, he would shake his head and say the same things as he did back in the 8th century BC. It’s also what Paul reiterated in Romans 1. Creation was meant to point us to our Creator, but instead mankind has chosen to worship creation rather than the Creator.

But before we judge evolutionists too harshly, perhaps we need to look at our own lives. Are we also trying to obtain from creation what only God our Creator can give us? Are we seeking fulfillment, joy, and peace in things that are created? That’s a whole other topic for another blog, but something still well-worth pondering! Don’t make the same mistake as Old Testament idol worshippers and today’s modern day evolutionists!

 

PS- Some well-meaning Christians have wondered, “Couldn’t God have used evolution to create life?” The problem with this theory is that whenever one introduces an outside force which intentionally directs the evolutionary progression, the process is no longer random. Therefore it is no longer evolution. So let’s say that at some point, God causes some reptiles to lay eggs, and those eggs hatch and they are actually birds. That is not evolution. Rather that is another form of progressive creationism. All to say, theistic evolution is an oxymoron—it is not evolution, nor does it recognize God as our Creator.

July 24, 2018: Sleeplessness- A Curse or an Invitation?

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For most of my life, being able to sleep has not been an issue. I would consistently sleep soundly until my alarm would wake me in the morning. To this day I still fall asleep very quickly. Often I will turn off the lamp on my nightstand and a minute later Ollie will say something, assuming that I am still fully awake. Instead, it will startle me and jerk me out of that twilight stage of falling asleep!

However, as I have aged I have a difficult time staying asleep. Granted, getting old means I need to wake up every night at least once (or even up to three times :-( ) to use the bathroom. And that’s when I can often find myself lying in bed, not being able to fall back asleep. To complicate things, the older I get the more I find that my sleep patterns are more sensitive to stress. Even when I am not feeling stress, my mind can sometimes engage on mundane things and I find myself tossing and turning in bed.

I feel like it’s the curse of old age. Or is it?

In David’s latter years as king, he found himself literally running for his life, being pursued by his own son Absalom. That is when some think he may have written Psalm 63. The subtitle says, “A Psalm of David, when he was in the wilderness of Judah.”

David begins:

1 O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;
    my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
    as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.”

Like the dry, parched desert wilderness, David says his soul thirsts for God. He reflects on times he had been able to spend in the presence of God in His tabernacle in Jerusalem. He then says this:

5 My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food,
    and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips,
6 when I remember you upon my bed,
    and meditate on you in the watches of the night;
7 for you have been my help,
    and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.
8 My soul clings to you;
    your right hand upholds me.

David pictures himself feasting at a rich table of royal food. But when does that happen? He says, “when I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night.” David is having a difficult time sleeping! So what does he do? He meditates on God. And when he does, God fills his soul like the food of a fabulous meal!

Now there is a lot of talk these days about meditation. Not only do eastern religions and secular spiritualists promote this, but also many medical doctors are encouraging meditation as a healthy counter balance to the busyness and stress of our culture. But what many do not realize is that meditation is really a spiritual discipline that God instituted long ago. However, just as false religions and the world in general can take good things instituted by God and turn them into something that is detrimental (e.g.- worshipping is good, but not worshipping false gods; sex is good, but not sex outside of marriage, etc.), so too the practice of meditation can be easily twisted.

However, meditation is a good thing instituted by God. What makes it good or bad is what we meditate on. And the highest and greatest thing on which we can meditate is God Himself. That is what David did when he could not sleep.

Perhaps your difficulties in sleeping is not a curse old age, but rather God’s invitation to take you deeper

Perhaps I need to view my difficulties in sleeping, not as a curse of my old age, but rather God’s invitation to take me deeper--an invitation to meet with Him in the sanctuary of my bedroom, to meditate on His greatness, His character, His mind-boggling attributes; and an invitation to commune with Him as I remember and reflect on the myriad stories of God’s faithfulness and deliverance in both Scripture and in my own experience. Perhaps it is God’s invitation to you as well!
 

So where to begin? If you were there last Sunday, begin with Isaiah 40. If you missed last Sunday, I highly encourage you to listen to my message, “Your God Is Too Small.”  (Also be sure to watch the Youtube video that we showed.)  I pray that after listening to that message, you will never think of God in the same way again! In fact, you may want to use those midnight wake-up times to both memorize and meditate on some of these verses and others that focus on God’s unfathomable greatness.

So tonight, when you wake up in the middle of the night, meditate on what we learned on Sunday about God and the stars, and let that boggle your mind until you drift back into sleep!

July 17, 2018: God’s hand & Sweet Baby Rays

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Last Saturday we needed some Sweet Baby Ray’s BBQ sauce for an open house that we were hosting. Since none of the grocery stores had it on sale, Ollie said that the best place to buy it might be Sam’s Club. Earlier when we checked online, it said that the Gurnee Sam’s Club was out of stock. But since I needed to go to there anyway, Ollie told me to see if they had any. So on Saturday morning I went into Sam’s Club and went to where the BBQ sauces are kept. There just so happened to be a worker standing right there so I asked him if they had any. He replied, “We just got a shipment in this morning, but haven’t had time to put them out. I’ll go in the back and get you some.”

Now I’m sure some will say, “It was just chance that the worker was standing there. And it was just chance that the timing worked out.” But I sensed God’s hand in it. So as I stood waiting, I took the time to thank God for His provision—even for Sweet Baby Ray’s BBQ sauce! It was a great reminder of how gracious God is and how He is even concerned with the little details of our lives. But it also occurred to me—Are there times when God does things and we miss it because we fail to recognize His hand at work?

Scripture instructs us to “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). I wonder if one of the reasons why we don’t rejoice more during the day and why we don’t have an attitude of consistently praying and giving thanks is that we sometimes miss God at work. 

Years ago I heard someone say, “If you only look for the Holy Spirit in the supernatural and miraculous, you’ll miss Him every time.”  I think there is a lot of truth to that statement. Sometimes we can miss recognizing God’s hands at work and miss the opportunity to glorify His name because we fail to recognize His involvement in some of the more mundane occurrences in our lives.

If you only look for the Holy Spirit in the supernatural and miraculous, you’ll miss Him every time

So this week look for God in the mundane. And when you see Him at work, take the time to rejoice, give thanks, and to pray. You may be surprised to realize that God is at work in your life far more than you previously recognized!
 

July 11, 2018: If our sins have already been forgiven, why do we need to confess them?

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Years ago I remember meeting with a leader of a large church. During our lunch, he asked, “If I die and have unconfessed sin in my life, will I still go to heaven?”  It brings up some great questions: Do we need to confess our sins in order for God to forgive them? If all our sins are forgiven the moment we receive Christ, why do we need to confess them? These are not just academic, theological questions. They are very practical to our everyday life.

So if someone asked you those questions, how would you answer them?

The Overall Emphasis of Scripture

First, the overall emphasis of the New Testament is that when we place our sincere trust in Jesus Christ, all of our sins are forgiven—past, present, and even future. 

“And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” (Hebrews 10:11-14). Note: The overall emphasis of Hebrews 9 & 10 is that there is nothing we can do to add to Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. 

“And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.” (Colossians 2:13-14)

 “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:4-6)Note that the verb tenses are not future but past tense, giving us the sense that not only have we been saved, but we are already raised up and seated with Christ in the heavenly places.

The Need for Present Confession

However, 1 John 1:9 instructs us “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” So God also instructs us to confess our sins. Btw- there are a few people who object saying that this verse is really talking to unbelievers. The reason why they think this is that it seems to place a condition on forgiveness (IF we confess our sins, THEN God is faithful to forgive us). So these people would say that in light of the verses above, John must be addressing unbelievers. So is this verse for unbelievers of believers?

Salvation and Forgiveness as Past, Present, & Future

When you read through the entire New Testament, salvation is presented as something that is past, present and future. As mentioned above, the overall emphasis is that we have been saved when we placed our trust in Jesus, i.e., it’s done deal. But consider these passages:

“For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18)

“Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.” (Romans 5:9)

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again… who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time…. Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 1:3-5, 13)

Conclusion
So what do we make of all this?
  1. When we receive Christ, all of our sins- past, present and future have been forgiven.
  2. However, because we as believers still sin, we must confess sin in order to experience God’s forgiveness afresh. Remember Brian Clements’ illustration of Johnny and Sally in his message this past Sunday? The grandmother already forgave Johnny the moment he killed her duck with his slingshot, but Johnny didn’t experience that forgiveness until he confessed it. It’s the same with us and God!
  3. When we get to heaven, when Christ comes again to earth, and when the final great white throne judgement takes place, there will be another sense of God granting and confirming our forgiveness and salvation anew. We will once again experience afresh our forgiveness and our eternal gratitude for His grace and mercy! I believe our joy at those times will be just as great or even greater than the first time we realized our sins had been forgiven when we initially placed our faith in Christ!
 

July 4, 2018: The Author of Our Freedom

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Today, we celebrate our nation’s birthday. But without our Christian faith, our nation would not be the nation it is today. The Declaration of Independence gives clear evidence of this.

The writers of our nation’s birth certificate understood that the premise of our freedom is that we are all created equal by God. Thomas Jefferson was not a follower of Christ, but he was a deist influenced by Christian values. I find it interesting that the secular world would like to downplay this fact. In fact, today I looked up the Declaration of Independence on Wikipedia. On a chart, it says that the introduction “asserts as a matter of Natural Law the ability of a people to assume political independence; acknowledges that the grounds for such independence must be reasonable, and therefore explicable, and ought to be explained.” But note what the introduction actually states:

"When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation."

Note that contrary to Wikipedia, the basis for our freedom is not only natural law, but also God Himself. The declaration reemphasizes that point in the next statement:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Finally, the Declaration of Independence ends with these words:

"We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor."

So celebrate our nation’s birthday today. But amidst the hot dogs, brats, potato salad and fireworks, also take a moment to thank Jesus for our nation. He is the one who truly laid the groundwork for our freedom.

June 26, 2018: God’s Enemies

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One of the fun distractions for Ollie and me has been a pair of bluebirds who have built a nest in our bluebird house in our backyard. I have been surprised at how fiercely these bluebirds protect the territory around their nest, especially now that their eggs have hatched and their young chicks are so vulnerable. When squirrels make the mistake of traversing the trees next to their house, those bluebirds dive-bomb those squirrels which send them scurrying away in quick haste. Just yesterday I saw two robins which unwittingly landed in a tree next to the bluebird house. There was an immediate fluttering squall of wings and leaves resulting in the quick expulsion of both robins exiting with a frenzy, leaving the determined, protective bluebird sitting calmly victorious on the branch alone.

Yesterday morning during my time with the Lord I was reading in Psalm 74. The psalmist asks God to deliver the Jewish people from those who are oppressing them. But in this psalm, twice the psalmist refers to their enemies as “your foes,” referring to God’s enemies. So who are the enemies of God?

Certainly there are those like in this psalm who scoff and revile the name of God. Many of us have heard and even personally know of atheists or agnostics who make fun of those of us who believe in God as if faith is a sign of intellectual weakness. This is a direct affront to God.

But when you read the psalms, God’s enemies also include those who come against God’s people. Because the nation of Israel was God’s chosen people, his holy nation, Israel’s enemies were ultimately God’s enemies.

Today, those of us who are committed Christ followers are also part of God’s chosen people. We have become part of His holy nation, His royal priesthood. We are God’s precious children whom He loves and protects. So our enemies are also God’s enemies. So unless God has a specific purpose for allowing them into our lives, we can rest assured He will fight for us to overcome those enemies. Like those protective bluebird parents, God hovers over us with His diligent, guardian gaze.

So who or what are the enemies that you face today? Is it sickness, financial pressure, relational discord? Maybe it’s a difficult person at work or a family member who is giving you a hard time. Or maybe it is a demonic lie that takes the form of a thought that flies into the branches of your mind telling you that you are worthless, that your life is insignificant, that you will never amount to anything, that you need to be anxious, that your circumstance is hopeless, or that your life will never change.

 

Our enemies are also God’s enemies. Unless God has a specific purpose for allowing them into our lives, we can rest assured He will fight for us to overcome those enemies.

God wants to fight for you! Your enemies are His enemies. He will protect you with even greater diligence than those bluebirds who are protecting their young. So cry out to God and trust Him today!

O God, why do you cast us off forever?
    Why does your anger smoke against the sheep of your pasture?
Remember your congregation, which you have purchased of old,
    which you have redeemed to be the tribe of your heritage!
    Remember Mount Zion, where you have dwelt….

18 Remember this, O Lord, how the enemy scoffs,
    and a foolish people reviles your name.
19 Do not deliver the soul of your dove to the wild beasts;
    do not forget the life of your poor forever.

20 Have regard for the covenant,
    for the dark places of the land are full of the habitations of violence.
21 Let not the downtrodden turn back in shame;
    let the poor and needy praise your name.

22 Arise, O God, defend your cause;
    remember how the foolish scoff at you all the day!
23 Do not forget the clamor of your foes,
    the uproar of those who rise against you, which goes up continually!

Psalm 74:1-2, 18-23
 

June 19, 2018: God speaking through a lawnmower

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Yesterday I woke up motivated to get a bunch of things done on my day off. I had a dentist appointment in the morning, so I cut my time with the Lord short to accomplish another errand before my appointment. I came home and grabbed a quick lunch. I needed to cut the grass, but my lawnmower has been having issues for the past few weeks. I had already spent time trying to fix it, but I thought I’d give it a go one more time.

With the help of YouTube I figured that I finally had diagnosed the problem and a solution. So I tore apart my lawnmower’s carburetor, drove over to the repair shop to pick up a part, drove back, installed the new part, put the mower back together, and finally started it up. The result—nothing changed. :-( My response—frustration! For the past two weeks I’ve had to borrow lawnmowers belonging to my neighbors on either side of me. I was hoping to have this issue finally resolved. But alas….

This morning I was spending time with the Lord reflecting on yesterday. I sensed God speaking to me. Lately I’ve been cutting my times with the Lord short. Some mornings it has been a scheduling thing, but more often it has been an issue of either distractions or feeling the pressure of jumping into the day to get things done. Perhaps God was using my frustration with my lawnmower to slow me down enough to make me realize that I need to keep Him as my priority. If things would have gone well yesterday, I may have just kept going with my check-off-the-box mentality.

After pondering this, I read in 2 Chronicles 28 about King Ahaz. He was having trouble with the Philistines and the Edomites who were attacking their cities. Ahaz even turned to Assyria for help, but to no avail. So the text says,

22  In his time of trouble King Ahaz became even more unfaithful to the Lord. 23 He offered sacrifices to the gods of Damascus, who had defeated him; for he thought, “Since the gods of the kings of Aram have helped them, I will sacrifice to them so they will help me.” But they were his downfall and the downfall of all Israel.

The Philistines and Edomites were actually God’s grace to Ahaz. In fact they were really part of God’s salvation to save Ahaz. God was calling Ahaz to turn to Him. But instead, Ahaz used a very pragmatic approach to the problem: “If worshipping the gods of Aram helped them, maybe it will help me.” But this pragmatic approach was obviously disastrous.

Two things stood out to me about this text. First, just as God used the Philistines and Edomites to call Ahaz back to Himself, so God will sometimes use trials in our life to do the same. We may think our trials are the problem (e.g.- my lawnmower), when they are actually helping us to see our greater need—the need to consistently pursue the Lord.

Secondly, we can all too easily view pragmatic solutions to our challenges as a substitute for God’s help and deliverance. It should be noted that God is not against pragmatism. In fact there are many places where God encourages pragmatic wisdom. The entire book of Proverbs attests to that. But pragmatism without seeking the Lord is disastrous. When our ultimate trust is in our pragmatism and our own ability to accomplish things rather than the Lord, those solutions can become like the false idols of Ahaz.

So what is your challenge today? Could God be using your challenge to call you back into greater intimacy with Him? Perhaps like me, your problem is not just your lawnmower!

June 13, 2018: Adding God to Your List

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Earlier this week I was reading in 2 Kings 17. After Assyria deported Israelites from the northern kingdom of Israel, they imported people from other nations to live in Samaria. This was a common practice which Assyria implemented to discourage revolts among the nations that they conquered.

Because these foreign people in Samaria began worshipping their foreign gods, Yahweh sent lions which began to kill some of them. When the king of Assyria heard about it, he sent back some of the Levitical priests in order to “teach them the law of the god of the land.” Surprisingly, the text tells us, “So they feared the Lord.”  But it quickly adds this commentary:

“So they feared the Lord but also served their own gods, after the manner of the nations from among whom they had been carried away…. So these nations feared the Lord and also served their carved images. Their children did likewise, and their children's children—as their fathers did, so they do to this day.”

Even though these foreign people did engage in worshipping Yahweh, their hearts were obviously divided. They did not leave their old gods, but rather just added Yahweh to their list of gods which they worshipped.

I think it is easy for us to see how contradictory and even foolish this was. But it made me think—Are we not tempted to do the same? Do we worship the Lord, yet subtly hang on to the gods of our past?

Granted, we don’t make gold idols and place them under the trees in the high hills of our land, but any time we allow other things or people to take precedent over God Himself, we are involved in idol worship. In addition, any time we find ourselves hoping that something or someone will give us what only God can give us, we are essentially engaging in worshipping false gods. For instance, if we struggle with addictions to alcohol, prescription drugs, and/or to pornography, we are hoping these things will give us what only God can give us.

But it is not just addiction to negative things, but even good things can become false gods. When we think that financial success or security will ultimately make us happy, we are worshipping the god of money. Similarly, it can be said about our careers, our hobbies, our homes, our possessions, and even our families.

Any time we find ourselves hoping that something or someone will give us what only God can give us, we are essentially engaging in worshipping false gods

 

So what are the foreign gods in your life? Is there anything you allow to take precedent over your relationship with God? Are you seeking to gain in something/someone that which only God can give you? Is your life distinctly different from the lives of those around you, or do others just assume you have added God to the normal long list which everyone else is pursuing?

How tragic it would be if God’s commentary on our lives read like His commentary on the foreign people in Samaria. On the other hand, what if instead it read like this: “So the people of Hope feared the Lord and they left behind all the foreign gods of their past. Their children did likewise, and their children's children—as their fathers did, so they do to this day.”

Oh Yahweh, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, may it be! Amen and amen.
 

June 5, 2018: Stepping Out-of-Bounds

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I remember when I was on staff with Cru, I had a conversation with a college student who was a self-proclaimed atheist. He was not an evil person. In fact he was an eagle scout. But he was strong in his atheistic views.

As I shared the gospel with him, we began to talk about why he was an atheist. I countered his arguments with my arguments for the existence of God. As time went on, the temperature of the conversation began to rise. It frustrated me because I felt his arguments for God’s non-existence were weak. And so I tried to argue him into the Kingdom. If you have ever tried to do that, you already know the outcome. It never works!

The conversation ended with tension. As I walked away from the time, I felt like I had done more damage than good. It’s a good example of what not to do when sharing your faith. But it’s also an example of what happens when we don’t respect each other’s boundaries. I didn’t respect his boundaries, i.e., I did not accept his “no.” It’s OK to present truth and even challenge people at times. But as much as we want people to receive Christ, we must never press our will on theirs. Jesus never did that. He always lived with perfect boundaries.

For those of you who were at Hope on Sunday, you’ll see the chart which we discussed, looking at how Jesus perfectly modeled healthy boundaries in all four quadrants. So can you identify both good and bad current examples of each quadrant? Insight and self-awareness is the first step to growth, so take that first step if you have not already. In which quadrant are you strong? In which quadrant do you need to grow?

 

Discernment & Ability to…

 
…SAY NO
(Responsible behavior)
 
…HEAR NO
(Respectful behavior)

 

…SAY YES

(Flexible behavior)
 
…HEAR YES
(Interdependent behavior)
 

PS—If you missed last Sunday, let me encourage you to listen to the message “Understanding Boundaries.” Then join us on June 17th as we talk more about this important concept of boundaries.

May 29, 2018: What I learned from Dr. Harris

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When I was in seminary, I had the privilege of learning Greek from a professor named Dr. Murray Harris. Some said that Dr. Harris was among a handful of the top Greek scholars in the world. His handle on Greek was incredibly impressive. But that’s not what impressed me most about him.

Years before I attended Trinity, there was a controversy between Dr. Harris and another professor who also taught at Trinity at the time. Dr. Harris held the position that Jesus’ resurrected body was physical, but not necessarily physical in the sense of atoms and molecules as we understand today. He based his belief on his study of the gospels. We know that Jesus did have a physical resurrected body because He invited His disciples to touch Him. In addition, He actually ate food with them. However, the gospel writers also record that Jesus suddenly appeared to the disciples in a room which was locked. Similarly, He disappeared suddenly right after the men on the road to Emmaus recognized Him. So Dr. Harris has concluded that Jesus’ resurrected body was physical, but not necessarily physical as we know today. Btw- there are others today would also hold this view.

But at the time there was a world renown apologist who also taught at Trinity who vehemently objected to Dr. Harris’ view. In fact, he publicly made it known that he thought Dr. Harris’ beliefs were outside evangelicalism and that Trinity seminary should dismiss him. Many of the faculty at Trinity stood by Dr. Harris, even those who did not hold to his view. But like a bulldog clenching a bone, this apologist would not let the issue go. He kept taking Dr. Harris to task. Some had said that it seemed this apologist was determined to ruin the reputation of Dr. Harris. Eventually, the apologist left Trinity, although I am not sure if it was over this issue. This apologist never apologized to Dr. Harris.

During my classes with Dr. Harris, there were numerous opportunities that he could have legitimately brought up the past offense. Whether it was discussing the resurrection, talking about conflict, or addressing the topic of forgiveness, he never mentioned the situation or the hurt that this person had done to his reputation. In fact, I think someone in our class vaguely mentioned something inviting Dr. Harris to talk about it, but instead he made a gracious comment and moved on.

We can all learn at least three things from that situation. First, just because we may be incredibly intelligent and know a lot about the Bible and theology, it does not mean that all our actions will be godly. We all have blind spots—all of us!

Secondly, we need to listen to the counsel of others. We may think we have the corner on truth, but we don’t. When we vehemently think we are right, but other godly people think otherwise, we need to pause and seriously listen to their counsel. We may think we are standing with God, only to find that God is not standing with us!

Finally, we can learn from the way Dr. Harris dealt with that hurt. To me, he modeled true forgiveness. He let go of the offense that this apologist did to him. Dr. Harris consciously made the decision to take him off of his hook and did not allow the hurt to weigh him down or to pull him into bitterness.

Before taking any classes with Dr. Harris, I was most impressed with his mastery of Greek. But after those classes I was even more impressed with his character. For that, I will be forever grateful.

 

PS—For those of you who were at Hope last Sunday, did you throw your rock into the lake yet? Ollie & I still need to do that! Mine is still in my pocket! How about you?

PPS—If you missed either of the last 2 Sundays, I encourage you to listen to these messages on forgiveness: Emptying the Rocks in Your Backpack and Wrestling to Forgive

May 22, 2018: A Non-Profit That Forgives Debts

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Yesterday on the news I heard of a non-profit organization that raises money to help people pay off medical debt owed to hospitals. The organization was started by someone who used to be a debt collector. He felt so badly about making phone calls all day long to people who owed money that he thought it would be great if instead he could actually help those people. So he began a non-profit organization. 

Here’s how it works: First they raise money from donations. But then to help people the group does not take requests nor does it work with individuals. Rather what they do is work directly with hospitals to negotiate a settlement to relieve a batch of debts of some of the most needy people. Interestingly, they will often negotiate to pay off $10,000 with a payment of only $100. They then send out notices to the people that their debt has been relieved. Imagine getting a letter out of the blue, without any prior notice, explaining that your medical debt of thousands of dollars has been forgiven!

Wouldn’t it be nice to have an outside organization that would come alongside us to forgive the debts that people owe us? I’m not talking about people’s financial debts, but rather the debt they owe from offenses and hurts towards us. We wouldn’t even need to interact with them. That organization would just pay the debt and send them a letter—forgiven, simple, done.

The first and often the only person to be healed by forgiveness is the person who does the forgiveness…. When we genuinely forgive, we set a prisoner free and then discover that the prisoner we set free was us. 

--Lewis Smedes 

Unfortunately, only we can forgive those debts. Only we can wipe the slate clean of all those offenses.   That responsibility cannot be delegated to someone else. It must be done by us. God in His heart forgives us. So He commands us to do the same.

But in the end, we are the ones who benefit when we extend forgiveness to others. I love this quote that I shared on Sunday by Lewis Smedes, “The first and often the only person to be healed by forgiveness is the person who does the forgiveness…. When we genuinely forgive, we set a prisoner free and then discover that the prisoner we set free was us.”

  

So is there someone in your life today whom you need to forgive?

PS- If you missed last Sunday’s message, I encourage you to listen to it online—Emptying the Rocks in Your Backpack

PPS- Sunday, Ollie and I re-watched the movie, "Les Miserables."  I highly encourage you to watch it.  It's a great example of one who lives in grace and forgiveness vs. one who does not.  However, if you do, I encourage you to watch the older 1998 version with Liam Neeson.  I personally think that the character development is much better in that version than the more recent movie.

May 15, 2018: Golf & Resolving Conflict

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As I mentioned on Sunday, like golf, resolving conflict is a learned skill. No one just picks up a set of golf clubs for the first time and begins hitting great drives. It takes intentionality to learn to play golf well. Similarly, it takes intentionality to learn to resolve conflict well. It doesn’t just happen naturally.

So let me encourage you to do this—if you missed last Sunday, listen to my message on "Go for the Win/Win." You may also want to look at the attached message notes (see the PDF on the right side of the main message web page).

For those of you who were there this past Sunday, let me encourage you to take a moment and review the message notes. There were a lot of practical action points in this message—hopefully, it was not overwhelming! If you are like me, there are areas in which I am stronger and areas where I still need to grow. Take the time to identify those areas and think about what you can do to grow in those skills. A great time to think about these issues is before you actually need to resolve a conflict. So now is a great time to do it.

One of these days, I’m going to ask someone to give me some instructions on my golf game. Unfortunately, before that occurs, my golf game will probably look more like croquet than golf! But I hope that won’t be said of my ability to resolve conflict. And my prayer is that neither will it be said of you!

May 8, 2018: Embracing a Youthful Mindset

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Why is it that when young people, including high school and college students, come to Christ, their lives seemed to change fairly quickly? It’s almost like sanctification (i.e.—becoming more like Jesus) is accelerated. Why is that?

I personally think there are numerous factors. First they tend to have more zeal. Secondly, they are in a learning mode, a mindset that is more naturally open to learning new ideas and new behaviors.  Thirdly, they have not had a long history were they have built longer-term habit patterns which hinder their transformation. In essence, the concrete in their lives has not yet hardened and they still are more pliable. But does that mean that those of us who are older are destined to remain unchanged or that the process of transformation will necessarily take a much longer time?

I think that when it comes to change, younger people will have an advantage over us older folks. However, much of our age is also determined not just by time, but also by mindset.

Take for instance Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Ginsburg is best known for being the second woman to ever serve on the Supreme Court. Granted, many of us would disagree with her view on Constitutional law and disagree with many of her judicial decisions, but there is still a lot we can learn from her**.

At 85 years old, she is still learning and trying new things. She vigorously works out twice a week, regularly does 20 pushups, and tosses around a 20 lb. medicine ball! She loves the opera, and has even appeared as an extra on a few productions. Five years ago, she finally gave up water skiing and horseback riding. All to say, Ginsberg, or RBG as she has now been called, is still young at heart.

So when it comes to resolving conflict, it’s very easy for us to just drift back into old habit patterns. In fact, many of us either consciously or subconsciously can make the excuse, “That’s just who I am. At my age, I don’t need to change.” But we do! The Spirit of God wants to transform us to be more like Jesus. In fact, one of the great challenges of dealing with conflict is not falling into those established habit patterns that go contrary to what God is calling us to do and to be.

So perhaps for many of us, the first step towards navigating healthy emotional relationships is recognizing that there are some things that the Spirit of God needs to change in us. Therefore, we need to pause and ask ourselves, “What old patterns am I tempted to drift into that would cause me to react in ways that are contrary to the Spirit’s leadings?”

Last Sunday, we talked about 6 things not to do when faced with conflict. If you missed that message, I encourage you to listen to it. As you do, pray and ask God to give you a youthful mindset—one which is not only open, but passionate in a desire to reflect Jesus in all aspects of life.  Let's not let our youth outdo us in our zeal to become more like Jesus!

**On a side note: While in seminary, I had the privilege of attending a class by the late Dr. Kenneth Kantzer. He was one of the pillars of evangelicalism when many of the seminaries had adopted a very liberal view of Scripture. As brilliant and as strong as he was in his view of all Scripture being the inspired Word of God, yet he was very gracious and encouraged us to always listen and learn from others, even from people with whom we disagree. In fact, he made us read a short book from someone who holds a very different view of Scripture. The objective was not to critique his view (we had already done that), but rather to list all the things we could glean from him. It’s an exercise I will never forget. So yes, even though we may disagree with the judicial decisions Ginsberg has made, we can still learn a lot from RBG.

May 2, 2018: Finishing Well

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Last week, the sobering verdict on the iconic entertainer Bill Cosby was delivered—guilty on three accounts of sexual assault.

I remember laughing at Cosby’s humor—for instance his Noah monologue. I also grew up watching the Cosby show. He was a successful physician, a loving husband, and a caring dad. Many viewed him not only as a role model for the African American community, but also for all of America. But now those images have been revealed for what they were—a façade, just a play-actor’s role on the artificial TV screen. As one news commentator said, Cosby’s tarnished identity will forever be “criminal, convicted felon.”

It’s a sobering reminder that it’s not how one starts that counts, but how one finishes.  The Bible is also full of people who began well, but finished poorly—Saul, Solomon, Uzziah, Judas…. It’s a reminder to all of us that to leave a lasting legacy, we must finish well. But how do we do that?

I’m convinced that tarnished legacies are not primarily caused by one or two major stumbles. Rather what proceeds those downfalls are a series of compromises—first small compromises that continue to grow that inevitably lead to major failures.

Similarly, lasting, godly legacies are not created through short-term major accomplishments. Rather they are formed through countless, daily decisions—the decision to spend priority time with God today, the decision to serve my spouse by doing the dishes today, the decision to turn off the TV and play with my kids today, the decision to not click on that pop-up pic on my laptop today, the decision to not compromise with my addiction today, the decision to not react in anger towards that bothersome co-worker today, the decision to not gossip today, the decision to not dwell on someone’s offense today.

 

Lasting Legacies are not formed through short-term major accomplishments, but rather through a countless series of daily decisions

So how do you leave a lasting legacy? It’s making those daily decisions to keep in step with God’s Spirit—to walk in dependence and obedience, following the Spirit’s lead as much as we know how. Those daily decisions, turn into weekly walks, which turn into monthly movements, which result in yearly yieldings, which ultimately ends in a lasting legacy. 

So today, decide to live well. Don’t compromise, but rather consciously choose to keep in step with the Spirit.

24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26 Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. 27 No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. – 1 Corinthians 9:24-27

April 24, 2018: Initial Inertia

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Have you ever noticed that when you are driving, your car is barely moving before it shifts from 1st gear into 2nd, but then at higher speeds, your car can cruise between 45mph and 75mph in the same gear? (I know some of you cruise at higher speeds, but that’s the topic of a different blog!)

Part of the reason for this is the principle of initial inertia. One website defines inertia as “the resistance of any physical object to any change in its state of motion. This includes changes to the object's speed, direction, or state of rest.” Initial inertia is that resistance to change when a body is at rest. It’s like the difference between getting off the couch and taking a first step vs. continuing a series of steps after you are already walking (especially when it is walking towards the doors of Chick-Fil-A or Dairy Queen!).

This is not only a law of physics, it’s also a spiritual principle. It’s always harder to begin to seek change rather than continuing to pursue change after we have already begun.

I also think the older we get, either physically or spiritually, the more it takes to overcome initial inertia. When we are young believers, everything is new. The Spirit of God begins to change our lives and we are excited. We gladly welcome those changes. In fact, we begin to pursue those changes. But then as we grow older in Christ, we can all too easily become set in our ways. Often change comes much more slowly; not necessarily because God’s Spirit slows down, but rather our unspiritual initial inertia kicks in.

If you have been with us these past 2 Sundays, you know that we are in a series, “Navigating Emotionally Healthy Relationships.” But to have emotionally healthy relationships, we first need to be emotionally healthy ourselves. Now emotional health, just like physical health, is a continual process. Probably all of us who consider ourselves in good physical health, still need to pursue better health (e.g.—weight loss, exercise, better eating habits, etc.). It’s the same with emotional health. 

But the principle of initial inertia can keep you from taking the first step.

So let me encourage you to do two things. First, if you missed either of these past 2 Sundays, listen to the messages: What Does Emotional Health Look Like? and A Successful Failure.” Then look at the contrasts below from the two messages. Ask God, “In which area do I need to grow?” Ask God to help you overcome that initial inertia. Then simply ask God to help you grow. Ask His Spirit to give you insight when are tempted to fall into the same unhealthy patterns. You can be confident that God will answer your prayers, because He is more committed to your transformation than you are!

“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6)

Here are the contrasts between Emotionally Unhealthy People (EUP) vs. Emotionally Healthy People (EHP) which we talked about these past 2 Sundays:

  • EUP are proud/self-righteous vs. EHP are humble
  • EUP think they “have it all together” vs. EHP admit weaknesses
  • EUP are defensive vs. EHP are open to feedback
  • EUP are very closed vs. EHP are transparent & vulnerable
  • EUP are religious vs. EHP are spiritual
  • EUP only verbally apologize vs. EHP truly repent
  • EUP blame others vs. EHP take responsibility
  • EUP make excuses and/or avoid working on their issues vs. EHP own their faults and deal with their problems
  • EUP are overly concerned with what people think vs. EHP are primarily concerned with what God thinks
  • EUP are envious & jealous vs. EHP celebrate others
  • EUP demand trust vs. EHP earn trust
  • EUP lie vs. EHP tell the truth
 

April 18, 2018: What Does Emotional Health Look Like?

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Every year I get an annual physical. I’m grateful that our insurance pays for it. But from an insurance standpoint, it also makes sense. Helping us stay healthy can reduce longer term costs if they catch things early. And for me, they have.

A number of years ago, my doctor noticed that my cholesterol numbers continued to climb. In spite of adjustments to my diet, the numbers did not fall. So he put me on statins. Three years ago my colonoscopy revealed polyps which were subsequently removed. So the doctor had me do another one this year. This one revealed a precancerous polyp which was also removed. All to say, I’m grateful for my doctor’s commitment to help me pursue physical health.

But what about our emotional health? Unfortunately, there is not a prescribed annual check-up to evaluate our emotional health. So for us to evaluate ourselves in this area is crucial. But in order to evaluate ourselves, we need to have a good handle on what emotional health looks like.

As I mentioned this past Sunday, we tend to think of emotional health as a modern day concept. In fact, some of us relegate this area to just a topic of the secular self-help movement. The terms “emotional health” are modern day terms, but the concepts are as old as Scripture itself. Granted, the Bible uses different terminology, but it’s still there. For instance, Proverbs talks a lot about wise vs. foolish behavior. The terminology may be different, but the writer is often addressing what today would be referred to as emotional health. The same could be said of much of Jesus’ teachings.

So what does emotional health look like?

Since many of us stayed home last Sunday because of the weather, let me encourage you to listen to Sunday’s message. That message and this coming Sunday’s message are foundational to this series because we cannot have emotionally healthy relationships unless we ourselves are emotionally healthy. So I encourage you to click on this link and listen to the message: What Does Emotional Health Look Like? Consider these two Sundays as your annual check-up!

April 10, 2018: An Impossible Calling

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This past Sunday we addressed Jesus’ command to love one another, even as He loves us. That is an incredibly tall command! Jesus’ love is a servant love, a sacrificial love, and an unconditional love. 

To love others with Jesus’ love is a challenge that takes a lifetime to fulfill. And I can’t think of any other relationship where that challenge is more acute than our marriage relationships. God says there is a special oneness in marriage that is unlike any other human relationship. He calls us to love and respect each other unconditionally. That means that our love and respect for our spouse is not dependent on his/her performance or response, but rather it is given freely. Btw- That doesn’t mean we don’t have healthy boundaries in our marriage. Even Jesus had healthy boundaries. But it does mean our love and respect is unconditional.

In a healthy marriage where both spouses are striving to give this love and respect to each other, there is a positive synergistic effect. But what happens when you feel like you’re the only one who is loving with this unconditional love? If you are supposed to love and respect your spouse unconditionally, regardless of his/her response, then where do you get your needs met? How do you keep on giving if you receive very little in return? 

Let me first say that if you are in that situation, my heart goes out to you. The challenge you face is incredibly difficult. And while I will give you some suggestions, I am not in any way saying that the road is easy. To be honest, if you are in this situation, I think it is often more difficult than battling a serious, chronic illness. The latter tends to be more visible to others, and as a result, the support and care given by others is often more present. Those suffering in their marriage often feel like they are suffering alone.

So what should you do if you find yourself in this situation?

First, pursue the Lord and experience His unconditional love. Even Jesus, the perfect Son of God, needed the Father to remind Him that He was the Father’s beloved Son, in whom He was well-pleased. So you also need to hear the voice of the Father reassuring you over and over of His love for you. Your ability to love will be in direct proportion to your experience of God’s love for you.

Secondly, find encouragement with others in the body. Don’t go it alone. Find someone with whom you can really open up and share what it is happening. Sometimes it is helpful to connect with a group of others who can relate. Just like in grief or cancer support groups, it can be helpful to connect with other believers who share the same struggles. In fact, pray if God might ask you to help launch a support group for those who are in similar situations. If He does, let me know. I’d love to help you start one.

Lastly, recognize your task is an impossible task. In your own power, you cannot fulfill this calling that God has placed on your life. But in the power of God’s Spirit, you can. You truly can do all things in Christ who strengthens you (Philippians 4:13). In fact God may use this in your life to allow you to experience a depth of walking in His Spirit that others have not experienced. His forcing you to depend on His power may cause you to pursue an intimacy and a dependency that some of us intellectually understand, but have not experienced as deeply as you.

Is this an easy calling? No, in fact humanly speaking it is an impossible calling. But God is the God of the impossible. In fact, when the darkness is darkest, His light shines brightest. So may God give you grace and light to shine.

PS—I know I am just skimming the surface in this blog. If you would like to talk more about this, feel free to call me or Jim Stewart.

April 4, 2018: From brother to Lord

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I think one of the greatest testimonies to the veracity of the resurrection is James, the brother of Jesus.

John tells us that Jesus’ brothers did not initially believe in Him (John 7:5). Perhaps that is not a surprise. Sibling rivalry alone could have been a huge stumbling block to faith. But the unbelief of Jesus’ brothers also points to Jesus’ genuine humanity. Even though Jesus was without sin, he was fully human—so much so that His brothers did not view Him as anything special other than their oldest brother. So what changed everything for James?

We find the answer in 1 Corinthians 15:3-7. “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas (Peter), and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles….”

Did you catch that? It was the appearance of Jesus after His resurrection that must have been the pivotal turning point for James. Unfortunately, apart from that brief statement, we don’t have any details of that appearance. Wouldn’t you have loved to be a fly on the wall to hear that conversation?!

I can’t imagine what must have initially gone through James’ mind and heart when he saw his oldest brother standing before him. But that experience forever changed James. So much so that James began his letter, “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ….”

It’s easy for us to gloss over this initial verse in the book of James. But think about what is being stated here—James does not call Jesus his brother, but rather “the Lord Jesus Christ” (btw- “Christ” is the Greek title for “Messiah”.) Implied in this title is the deity of Christ. If James could have recalled one single incident in their childhood when Jesus sinned, he would not have believed that Jesus was Lord. 

In addition, James identifies himself as a servant of God and of Jesus. Imagine identifying yourself as your brother’s servant! It not only shows the humility of James, but also his firm faith that Jesus was who He claimed to be—the Son of God, i.e., God incarnate.

James’ faith was not based on someone’s teachings, i.e., his faith was not rooted in what he learned as a child in Sunday School or what the other apostles taught him. James’ faith was grounded in an event in history—Jesus rose from the dead and physically appeared to him and to others.

Likewise, our faith is grounded in that same historical event of the resurrection. And because Jesus lives, so also we live and will live even after we die.

He is risen!  He is risen indeed! 
 

March 27, 2018: When is Disunity Justified and Unjustified in the Church?

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This morning during my time with the Lord, I was reading John 17—Jesus’ prayer for the disciples on the night before His crucifixion. I was struck again at how Jesus prayed that His followers would be one.

Historically, Christian unity has not always been the case. Unfortunately, the church has divided over issues that many evangelical scholars would view as minor issues, not major issues. When it comes to these issues, I think that it is helpful for us to have a paradigm for which to consider issues that can potentially divide the church. Consider the following categories:

  • Christian essentials—These are crucial doctrines that determine whether a person is a true believer in Jesus. (e.g.- The deity of Christ, the resurrection, salvation by grace through faith in Jesus and in His death and resurrection, etc.)-
  • Very important—These are important, major doctrines that while they are not essential for salvation, they have a great impact on how we determine truth in doctrine and practice. (e.g.- Does the Bible contain errors in what it clearly teaches? Should church tradition be viewed with a similar authority as Scripture?)
  • Less important—These are doctrines that do not have overarching influence on how we determine overall truth and practice, but they can influence our thinking and behavior (e.g.- Can a person lose his/her salvation? Does God choose us (Calvinism) or do we choose God (Arminianism)?)
  • Issues that do not influence our practice—These are doctrines that when it comes down to it, they really don’t have a significant impact on our behavior (e.g.- Will the rapture be pretribulation, mid-tribulation, or post-tribulation?)
  • Trivial (e.g.- How many angels can fit on a pinhead? Will we have wings in heaven?)

The danger is when we treat all doctrines with equal importance. This can result in equally dangerous mistakes. On the one hand, we can divide over issues that are more trivial. In the name of “truth and convictions,” we can damage the reputation of Christ by dividing over issues that are not that significant. On the other hand, we can make an opposite mistake that in the name of “love and tolerance,” we can treat essential issues as minor. On the essential issues—i.e, the issues that we would literally be willing to die for, the issues that we are banking our salvation on—these are issues over which we must be willing to divide. In fact, these essential issues are what defines a true Christian church vs. a cult.

Here at Hope, we major on the major and minor on the minors. We take a firm stance on the essentials and on major doctrines. But we want to leave room for sincere believers who hold to differing doctrines of less importance.

One last thing—there is a difference between unity and unification. Unification means we are all under the same organizational structure. Unity means we embrace each other as fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Some think we should strive to have one organizational structure. But I would submit to you that having churches of different denominations who still embrace each other and work together is a wonderful picture of unity and love in the body of Christ!

So, Father, we pray with Jesus, “My prayer is not for them (the original disciples) alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”

 

March 20, 2018: Stephen Hawking

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Last week, the news media announced the death of the brilliant British theoretical physicist, Stephen Hawking. It also saddened me to hear of his death—but perhaps not for the same reasons that the media grieved.

One of the news commentators mentioned that Hawking was once asked about his belief in God. He said something to the effect that he believed that God was a metaphor for the universe. Stephen Hawking was actually an atheist. In his own words, commenting on one of the statements he wrote in one of his books he stated, "Before we understand science, it is natural to believe that God created the universe. But now science offers a more convincing explanation. What I meant by 'we would know the mind of God' is, we would know everything that God would know, if there were a God, which there isn't. I'm an atheist."

It saddens me because as brilliant of a man as Stephen Hawking was, he missed the fundamental truth upon which all true wisdom and knowledge is built upon. The writer of Proverbs stated it in this way: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. (Proverbs 9:10).

I know this would not be political correct to state this, but as brilliant of a man that Stephen Hawking was, from God’s perspective, the children in our Sunday School class were wiser than he was. I say that not as a put down or to make us as Christians feel superior, but rather out of sadness that such a wonderful creation of God as Hawking was, as incredibly gifted as he was in being given an intellect that few can understand, yet he missed the very calling for which he was called and denied the very One who entrusted him with that gift of brilliance.

Below are some quotes from Stephen Hawking. Compare them at the end with what God says through the apostle Paul.  As you read the quotes, don’t step into the temptation of superior pride. Rather let it be a reminder of how God in His grace, has called us to Himself—not because we were intelligent and wise, not because we were brilliant and savvy enough to recognize truth, but rather because of His grace. And let this motivate us to reach out to a lost and dying world all around us. Who knows—there may be another young Stephen Hawking growing up in a family just down the street from you. And God is asking you to reach out and touch that family, that that child might use his/her brilliance for the glory of God.

“If you believe in science, like I do, you believe that there are certain laws that are always obeyed. If you like, you can say the laws are the work of God, but that is more a definition of God than a proof of his existence.” (Stephen Hawking)

"The question is: is the way the universe began chosen by God for reasons we can't understand, or was it determined by a law of science? I believe the second. If you like, you can call the laws of science 'God', but it wouldn't be a personal God that you could meet, and ask questions." (Stephen Hawking)

"Because there are laws such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing. It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the Universe going." (Stephen Hawking)

“When people ask me if a god created the universe, I tell them that the question itself makes no sense. Time didn’t exist before the big bang, so there is no time for god to make the universe in. It’s like asking directions to the edge of the earth; The Earth is a sphere; it doesn’t have an edge; so looking for it is a futile exercise. We are each free to believe what we want, and it’s my view that the simplest explanation is; there is no god. No one created our universe, and no one directs our fate. This leads me to a profound realization; There is probably no heaven, and no afterlife either. We have this one life to appreciate the grand design of the universe, and for that I am extremely grateful.” (Stephen Hawking)

“There is a fundamental difference between religion, which is based on authority, [and] science, which is based on observation and reason. Science will win, because it works.” (Stephen Hawking)

18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written:

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
    the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”

20 Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22 Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

26 Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. 30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31 Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”

(1 Corinthians 1:18-31)
 

March 13, 2018: The Art of Neighboring

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This past Sunday we talked about why and how to tell others about Jesus. For many of us, at the mere mention of evangelism, all sorts of negative emotions can course through our veins—fear, guilt, remorse, resistance. But what if sharing Christ was much simpler than we think?

Recently, a few of us at Hope began reading a book entitled, “The Art of Neighboring—Building Genuine Relationships Right Outside Your Door” by Jay Pathak & Dave Runyon. Here’s an excerpt:

In 2009 I (Dave) gathered a group of 20 lead pastors in the Denver area so we could think, dream, and pray about how our churches might join forces to serve our community. We invited our local mayor, Bob Frie, to join us, and we asked him a simple question: How can we as churches best work together to serve our city? The ensuing discussion revealed a laundry list of social problems similar to what many cities face: at-risk kids, areas of dilapidated housing, child hunger, drug and alcohol abuse, loneliness, elderly shut-ins with no one to look in on them. The list went on and on.

Then the mayor said something that inspired our joint-church movement: "The majority of the issues that our community is facing would be eliminated or drastically reduced if we could just figure out a way to become a community of great neighbors.”  

Later he explained that often when people identify a problem, they come to civic officials and say something like, "This is becoming a serious issue, and you should start a program to address it." Frie shared candidly with us that, in his opinion, government programs aren't always the most effective way to address social issues. He went on to say that relationships are more effective then programs because they are organic and ongoing. The idea is that when neighbors are in relationships with one another, the elderly shut-in gets cared for by the person next door, the at-risk kid gets mentored by a dad who lives on the block, and so on.

After the mayor left the meeting that day our group of pastors was left to reflect on what he had shared. I (Jay) can remember sitting there, and before I could think, I just blurted out, "Am I the only one here who is a little embarrassed? I mean, here we were asking the mayor how we can best serve the city, and he basically tells us that it would be great if we could just get our people to obey the second half of the great commandment." In a word, the mayor invited a room full of pastors to get the people to actually obey Jesus.

You know the Great Commandment, right? Love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself....   Love your neighbor as yourself. Could it be that simple? I (Dave) remember thinking, Jesus is a genius! He is asked to pick one commitment that is more important than all the others. And he shares something that would change the world, if only every person who believes in Jesus would actually do it. The depth of irony was not lost on those of us who were sitting in the room that day. God works in mysterious ways, and on that day he used a government official to urge a group of pastors to start a movement that was simple, powerful, and biblical.

Leaving that meeting, we began to pray about what God was leading us to do next. As we began to talk to other leaders in our city we found that many of them shared the mayor’s assessment. They saw that our neighborhoods were not as connected as they needed to be.

The next time we gathered, we invited Vicky Reier, the Arvada assistant city manager, to attend our meeting. We had heard her talk about neighboring in the past and we wanted to hear her thoughts on how to begin. As she talked about the reasons neighboring matters, Vicki said, "From the city’s perspective there isn’t a noticeable difference in how Christians and non-Christians neighbor in our community.”

Ouch! We are called to be salt and light in the world. And yet, at a very practical level, we are often no different than our unchurched neighbors!

Too often we can view the command to love our neighbor as simply a metaphor. In a discussion with Chris Stephens, the pastor of Gurnee Community Church, he said this, “We have a metaphorical interpretation of the metaphor of the Good Samaritan, and as a result we have a metaphorical impact on our community.”

But what if we took the command seriously to love our neighbors? What if we truly made space in our lives to love those next door? I believe we would see more neighborhoods transformed. And more importantly, I believe we would see more people who would long to experience life in the greatest community—the Kingdom of God!

So where to begin? First, learn your neighbors’ names. Maybe you have lived in your neighborhood for a long time and you are embarrassed that you don’t know your neighbors’ names. If so, you’re not alone! But take the opportunity to go up to a neighbor and simply say, “I’m so embarrassed. We have been living here for 20 years and I don’t even know your name.” (btw- chances are that if you don’t know your neighbor’s name, he probably doesn’t know yours either and he is probably just as embarrassed as you are!)

Then remember our B.L.E.S.S. acronym:
  • Begin with prayer—Pray for them regularly.
  • Listen—Get to know them. Listen to their story.
  • Eat—Have them over for dinner. Remember the general principle--don’t invite them to any church event unless you BBQ first!
  • Serve—Learn to serve them. Learn their needs. Offer to pray for them when they are faced with difficulties. In addition, realize that if you want them to be open to your help, you must be willing to ask their help also. It’s a 2-way street.
  • Story—Share your story; but in general, not before you have done the previous B.L.E.S.

Let’s change the world—neighborhood by neighborhood, one neighbor at a time! We can do that by obeying the simple command of Jesus, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

March 6, 2018: Profile of a Fool

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This past Sunday we talked about how to resist evil.  In my bulletin blog I talked about the value of regularly reading through the book of Proverbs. This OT book promises that if you read and apply it, you will be wise.

Yesterday during my Monday run, I listened to one of my favorite preachers, Crawford Loritts.  He is an African American pastor of a large church in Georgia.  He is currently doing a series on “Profile of a Fool,” with his first message from the book of Proverbs.

Let me encourage all of you to listen to these two messages.  It’s especially pertinent to those of you who still have children at home and for those of you who have adult children who have wandered from God.  Crawford captures the practical wisdom of Scripture for all of us.

February 27, 2018: Sensing the Spirit’s Leading

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Last Sunday we watched the Alpha video on how God guides us. Nicky, Toby & Gemma proposed 5 ways the Lord leads us (commanding Scripture, compelling Spirit, counsel of saints, common sense, circumstantial signs). Out of these 5 ways, the one which produces the most questions is God leading through His compelling Spirit.  Let me attempt to briefly address some of the most common questions.

How does the Spirit lead? I find that the Spirit leads me in a variety of ways. Sometimes I will be spending time in the Word and a certain verse will seem to stand out and speak to something I am thinking about or am concerned about. Sometimes God will use other people or even circumstances. For instance, one time I was driving and talking to Ollie on my phone, mentioning to her that I was wondering if I should attend a disciple-making conference entitled “Keystone Training.” At that very moment, a tractor trailer passed me with bold letters spelling out “KEYSTONE”! Sometimes it has been through a dream, or a word that God gave someone to share with me, or through an impression that I sense in my spirit.

How do I know if it is the Spirit’s leading versus my own thoughts or desires?  If you are praying about something and a thought crosses your mind, don’t immediately dismiss it unless it’s a sinful thought or a simple distraction—squirrel! Instead, bring that thought before the Lord and ask Him if that thought was from Him. Then wait quietly on the Lord. If you don’t sense anything, ask God to confirm whether or not the thought was from Him. Obviously, if it contradicts God’s Word, you don’t need to wait for confirmation; it is not from Him! Here’s another principle—the greater the risk, the more you should seek confirmation. When I initially sensed God telling us to plant Hope, it took over a year for me to become fully convinced that it was indeed God calling us to venture out.

How can I develop a greater sensitivity to the Spirit's leading?  First spend time with God cultivating your relationship with Him. The Spirit's leading often comes out of our developing intimacy with Him. 

Secondly, spend consistent, daily time in God’s Word. Learning God’s Word is like learning the language of God. The more you know God’s Word, the more God is able to communicate to you. Knowing His Word will help you recognize His voice when He does speak to you. In addition, knowing and applying the Bible will give you the needed Biblical balance and boundaries to keep you from veering off into excessive subjectivity.

Thirdly, expect God to lead, guide, and even speak to you. I think many of us can miss His leading because we really don’t expect God to lead and guide.

Lastly, spend time cultivating silence and solitude. Learn how to be still and silent before God, consciously listening for Him to speak. In addition to daily time with God, consider developing the rhythm of taking a half-day alone with God every month, and then a longer retreat of silence and solitude every year. Btw– a very practical book in this area is “An Invitation to Silence and Solitude” by Ruth Barton. I highly recommend it!

We may initially think, “I can’t afford the time to do all this.” But perhaps we need to realize that we can’t afford not to take that time. If being led by the Spirit is one of the marks of being a child of God (Romans 8:14), then learning how the Spirit leads must be an important discipline for us to develop. And if our goal in life is to know God and fulfill His calling, doesn’t it make sense to carve out priority time to learn how to sense His Spirit’s leading in our lives?

February 20, 2018: More than a Penn State fan…

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I’m not a real basketball fan. But lately I’ve been taking a new interest in college hoops. Penn State has come alive the second half of the season and they are one of the teams on the bubble for getting an invitation to the NCAA tournament. So I was watching them play #6 Purdue on Sunday. It was an exciting game--one which the commentators said that it’s a shame that one of the teams will have to lose at the end. It came down to the final seconds, but Penn State fell short by 3 points at the end.

Interestingly, I find that game affected me more than it should. I found myself dwelling on it afterwards and feeling really disappointed. Later as I thought about it more, I realized that perhaps I place too much of my identity with Penn State sports. But then God also showed me something—Why is it that I so easily identify with Penn State, but when it comes to my core identity, I all too often forget my identity in Christ? 

I’ve never struggled to become a Penn State fan. I have never had to remind myself that I am an alum and that I should root for PSU. It comes naturally. So why do I so easily forget who I am in Christ?

I’m not sure of the answer to that question. Granted, embracing our identity in Christ is far more reaching in its implications on our daily lives. Jesus wants those truths to be the core of our true identity. But it often does not come naturally. Rather it demands us making a conscious decision to embrace our new identity in Christ by faith, and reject our old identity though His Spirit’s power.

Ephesians 4:22-24 says,  “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires;  to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”

So what am I referring to as I talk about this new identity? Below is a list adapted from the Freedom in Christ ministry. These things became true of you the moment you trusted in Jesus and became a child of the King. In the next few weeks, try meditating on a couple of these truths each day. This is who you really are!

In Christ I am Accepted:
  • John 1:12- I am God's child
  • John 15:15- I am Christ's friend
  • Romans 5:1- I have been justified
  • Romans 6:1-6- I have died to sin’s power and rule
  • 1 Corinthians 6:17- I am united with the Lord and one with Him in spirit
  • 1 Corinthians 6:20- I have been bought with a price--I belong to God
  • 1 Corinthians 12:27- I am a member of Christ's body
  • 2 Corinthians 5:14,15- I have the righteousness of God in Christ
  • Galatians 2:20- Christ lives in me
  • Ephesians 1:1- I am a saint
  • Ephesians 1:5- I have been adopted as God's child
  • Ephesians 2:18- I have direct access to God through the Holy Spirit
  • Colossians 1:13- I have been transferred into the kingdom of light
  • Colossians 1:14- I have been redeemed and forgiven of all my sins
  • Colossians 2:10 - I am complete in Christ
  • Hebrews 2:11- Jesus calls me His brother
In Christ I am secure:
  • Romans 8:1,2- I am free from condemnation
  • Romans 8:28- I am assured that all things work together for good
  • Romans 8:29,30- I am destined for glory
  • Romans 8:31- I am free from any condemning charges against me
  • Romans 8:35- I cannot be separated from the love of God
  • 1 Corinthians 1:30- I have been placed into Christ
  • 2 Corinthians 1:21- I have been established, anointed, and sealed by God
  • Ephesians 1:13,14- I have been sealed with the Holy Spirit
  • Ephesians 2:5- I am alive with Christ
  • Philippians  1:6- I am confident that the good work that God has begun in me will be perfected
  • Philippians  3:20- I am a citizen of heaven
  • Colossians 3:1-4- I am hidden with Christ in God
  • 2 Timothy 1:7- I have not been given a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and a sound mind
  • Hebrews 4:16- I can come boldly before God and find grace and mercy in time of need
  • 1 John 5:18- I am born of God and the evil one cannot touch me

In Christ I am significant:

  • Matthew 5:13- I am the salt and light of the earth
  • John 15:1,5- I am a branch of the true vine, a channel of His life 
  • John 15:16- I have been chosen and appointed to bear fruit 
  • Acts 1:8- I am a personal witness of Christ's 
  • 1 Corinthians 2:12- I have received the Spirit of God
  • 1 Corinthians 2:16- I have been given the mind of Christ
  • 1 Corinthians 3:16- I am God's temple
  • 2 Corinthians 5:17- I am a new creation
  • 2 Corinthians 5:20- I am Christ’s ambassador 
  • 2 Corinthians 6:1- I am God's co-worker
  • Ephesians 1:3- I have been blessed with every spiritual blessing
  • Ephesians 1:4- God chose me in Christ
  • Ephesians 2:6- I am seated with Christ in the heavenly realm
  • Ephesians 2:10- I am God's workmanship
  • Ephesians 3:12- I may approach God with freedom and confidence
  • Philippians 4:13- I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me
  • 1 Peter 2:9,10- I am part of God’s chosen people, royal priesthood, holy nation, a people belonging to God
  • 1 Peter 1:4- I am partaker of the divine nature
 

February 13, 2018: The Small Ministry of Jesus

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It’s been so encouraging to see how God is using this Alpha in the lives of all of us, but especially in our guests. God is at work in touching hearts and drawing people to Himself.

Throughout the short history of Hope, we have always prayed that God would use this little church to change the world. I think we can underestimate the impact that we can have for the Kingdom. Every life we touch for Christ can result in a God-empowered chain reaction that can touch the lives of thousands more.

This morning as I look out on the snow on the ground, I’m reminded of when we made snowmen when our kids were younger. We would start with a small snowball, the size of our hand. But as we rolled it around, it gained so much mass that we could barely lift it. In a similar way, God often uses small beginnings to initiate great movements of impact. 

The following is an excerpt from a blog that was written by Steve Jones, the current president of the Missionary Church denomination. It’s a great reminder of how the ministry of Jesus Himself had very small beginnings. This blog will encourage your hearts and remind you that there is an even bigger picture of what we are currently seeing on Sunday mornings!

I am sending this… to you from a small country in the Middle East. That country is the country of Jesus’s birth, life, and ministry here on earth … Israel. When I say that Israel is a “small country,” I am referring to the fact that the whole country is smaller than the state of New Jersey, both in size and population.


 

The hotel from which I’m writing is perched in a little town called Tiberias on the edge of the Sea of Galilee. The Sea of Galilee is not a sea at all. It is a lake. And it is not even a very large lake. Yesterday, I went up on a high hill and I could see the entire thing from one end to the other stretched out before me. It is really very small. Let me give you an example of what I mean. Lake Superior is approximately 12,000 km³ in size. By contrast, the Sea of Galilee is only 4 cubic kilometers! That means that THREE THOUSAND bodies of water the size of the Sea of Galilee could fit within Lake Superior.

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So I am sitting in a small country, in a small town, on the edge of a small lake, and looking at a population of people to whom Jesus ministered…. The entire population of the known world at that time was less than the current population of the United States…. The city of Capernaum (which was basically Jesus’s base of operations during His ministry) had a population of approximately 1,500 people. The city of Nazareth where Jesus was raised had a population of only about 400 people. These cities and towns were tiny compared to where we live today. For example, my own neighborhood association has a current population of 2,547.  It is astonishing to me that more people live in my small neighborhood than in Capernaum and Nazareth combined during the years when Jesus ministered on this earth.

The largest cities around the Sea of Galilee would have been Tiberius and Sephora…. Those cities had a population of approximately 10,000 to 12,000 people…. But surprisingly we have no evidence from Scripture that Jesus ever visited either Tiberias or Sephora. In fact… we know that the ministry of Jesus was predominately in the tiny towns and villages that surrounded the Sea of Galilee.

From my vista yesterday I could look to my right and see the north shore of the Sea of Galilee … the place where Jesus spent roughly 90 percent of His ministry. The small arc of about 13 miles would have been comprised of little towns and villages approaching the edge of the Sea of Galilee.

Why do I tell you all of this? Because I want you to understand, as I am coming to understand, that the ministry of Jesus did not involve masses of people in huge metropolitan areas and giant people movements during His lifetime here on earth. It blows my mind to realize that from a sparsely-populated, sleepy little country perched on the edge of the Mediterranean Sea the Lord launched a movement to reach the entire world with His salvation … and that He would choose to confine His entire earthly ministry to a small collection of towns and villages.

 

The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn

--Ralph Waldo Emerson

…When [Jesus] said to His disciples “You will see greater things than this”…, the scope of His majestic vision saw out beyond the little fishing villages and agrarian cities where He would visit. He knew that the gospel which He was bringing to earth would sweep out and beyond even His precious Jewish people and roll like a tidal wave to the ends of the earth. Today well over 2 billion people claim the name of Jesus. They live in huge cities and tiny villages (and everything in between) on all the occupied continents of the earth. And the gospel of Jesus is growing exponentially during these dark and turbulent times in which we live.
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I thought it would be good for you to know that God does great, earthshaking things through little situations which we would consider cramped and confining when viewed from a certain perspective. From the perspective of God launching movements, there is no such thing as a small beginning. There is an early American saying that an entire forest exists within a single acorn. In the same way, wherever you are ministering today, though it may seem small and insignificant to you, it has potential energy to shake and transform the world. Every small child who you raise to know and love the Lord… every young person who kneels at an altar and commits to follow Jesus… every elderly couple who rearranges their priorities and begin living for the Lord who died for them… have within them the potential to absolutely change the world. All of us, no matter who we are, have a ministry of vital importance to the kingdom of God. Scripture says that we are not to despise the day of small beginnings. The only way that the enemy could try to stifle us is to have us forget that last word “beginnings.” If we saw everything that we do as a beginning—the end of which we will not see during our lifetimes, but the potential of which is limitless for the scope of God’s kingdom—then we would go to work every day with our heads held a little higher and our hearts beating a little faster. May God grant you this year the wisdom to see that every person is a potential disciple-multiplication miracle in the making, and may you, sustained by the power of the Holy Spirit, devote yourselves again to this great task that lies before us—to turn the kingdoms of this world into the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ….

 

February 6, 2018: Faith that moves mountains

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Our Thursday night home group is studying the book of Acts. Last week we read Acts 3 where Jesus used Peter & John to heal a lame man. This led to a very engaging discussion about faith. We addressed questions like, “Can our faith heal people? Can we claim by faith that Jesus will draw specific people to Himself? What did Jesus mean when He said that if we believed we could move mountains—was that just hyperbole?”

The following morning I sent our home group an email with some afterthoughts. It initially began as a short email, but my preacher blood started running, so it turned out to be a mini-message! In light of our discussions last Sunday morning on faith, I decided to forward it to you. I also added a postscript with a couple links to two songs. The blog will address faith cognitively, but the songs will address it more emotively. I encouraged you to read the blog and then listen to the songs. I think they will minister to you. Here’s the email:

I think the essence of faith is trusting that God is who He says He is and always does what He says He will do.  Faith is not something we can muster up on our own by convincing ourselves that something will happen in order to make it happen.  Contrary to the word of faith movement, that is not Biblical faith.

There are certain things we can pray and claim, because we know God has promised them in His Word.  For instance, we can confess our sin, pray for forgiveness, and claim that God has already forgiven us because of Christ’s death on the cross.  We can pray that God will fill us with His Spirit and trust that we have been filled based on His command (Ephesians 5:18) and His promise (1 John 5:14-15).  We can also pray and claim that God will provide our essential needs because Jesus promised that to us (Matthew 6).  (However, contrary to the health & wealth movement, Jesus did not promise to make us wealthy.)  We can also pray that God will take even bad situations and turn them out for our good (Romans 8:28).  These are all promises He makes us in His Word.

On the other hand, there are many situations that we do not know what God’s will is.  God never states that He will heal all of us in this lifetime.  So when we pray for healing, we have full confidence that God is who He says He is and that He can heal a person even instantly.  Yet because in most cases we do not know what His will is, we can only ask that He would heal, but yield to His wisdom and sovereign will. That is not a lack of faith.  Rather it is an acknowledgement that we do not know His will. 

 

Faith is trusting that God is who He says He is and always does what He says He will do

Similarly, we can pray for people’s salvation.  In fact, I think it pleases God when we persistently “pester” Him for the souls of others.  But in the end, we obviously we must trust in His wisdom and sovereign hand to work.
 

Occasionally there may be situations where God does reveal to us what He wants to do in our life or in the lives of others.  God told Abraham and Sarah what His will was regarding having a son in their old age.  Scripture tells us that Abraham believed God, and God credited to him as righteousness (Genesis 15:6, Romans 4:3).  Btw- It’s interesting that it doesn’t mean that Abraham never had his doubts.  But in the end, amidst those doubts, Abraham still chose to believe God.  Abraham didn’t muster up faith by convincing himself that he was going to have a son, rather he simply believed that God was going to do what God said He would do.  And so there are occasions when God can and will reveal what is His will and we can pray in bold confidence according to His will, claiming by faith that what we ask for will be granted.

Now this brings up the whole issue of how do we know what God’s will is—which goes beyond our last night’s discussion.  We can talk more about this another time, which would lead to another great discussion!  But all to say, when Jesus talked about faith and removing mountains in Matthew 21:18-22, He was not espousing a name-it-&-claim-it mentality.  Rather we can pray without doubting in the things we know are His will.  But in the things we either don’t know, or we don’t know for sure, we must submit to God’s sovereignty.  Even Jesus Himself, being the Son of God, did not live with a name-it-&-claim-it mentality.  Rather He only did what He knew the Father was telling Him to do (John 5:19).  (btw- I heard that the late John Wimber, who had the gift of healing, said that when he would pray for a terminally ill person, he would first ask God if he should pray for healing or for dying grace.  If Wimber sensed that God was leading him to pray for dying grace, he would not pray for healing.) So if we knew for sure that it is God’s will to remove a physical mountain, we could literally pray for that mountain to be removed with full confidence that it would happen.   

One last thought—we can tend to think of great faith as those who know what God desired, claimed it, and received it.  But there is also great faith when we don’t know what God’s will is, when we don’t see answers to prayer, when we don’t understand why we are experiencing what we are experiencing, yet we still trust that God is who He said He is and will still do what He says He will do.  A great example of this is Hebrews 11, the great hall of faith.  The writer of Hebrews gives an long account of people who did see their faith prayers answered.  He then says in vv. 32-40:

 

Great faith is not only trusting God to remove mountains, it is also trusting God when the mountains are not removed

“And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. Women received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.  These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.”

 

Did you catch the turn in v. 35?  The writer switched from those who saw their prayer answered, to those who suffered and did not see the answers that they desired, yet they still trusted God.  They are still commended for their great faith.  But even those in the Old Testament who saw their prayers answered still did not see the fulfillment of the greatest promise that they longed for—the coming of the Messiah in Jesus Christ, whom we have seen!  Hebrews 12 then goes on to encourage us as believers to run with endurance the race set before us, even when we too don’t see our prayers answered the way we desire.  In that way, we are simply following in the footsteps of those who have gone before us whose lives and testimonies surround us as a great cloud of witnesses.

So what is our action point?  Trust that God is who He said He is and always does what He says He will do.  Wait on God this week, and ask God, “God what is it that you want me to trust you for this week?  Is there something you want me to do?  Will you make it clear to me?”  Then quietly wait on God and see if He speaks to you through His still small voice.  But if you don’t sense anything, don’t be discouraged.  Trust that God will still lead you through other means.  He will!

PS—Here are 2 songs that I think capture this balance of faith, especially when we don’t see the answers to prayer that we desire. I encourage you to click on the links and listen to them: The story behind the song “Blessings” by Laura Story; “Blessings” by Laura Story (the song itself);  “Even If” by MercyMe

January 30, 2018: I’ll never know how much it cost….

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Two Sundays ago we talked about who Jesus is.  Scripture is clear that in the incarnation, God became a man.  So Jesus is fully divine and fully human.  He’s not 50% God and 50% man, but rather 100% God and 100% man.  I know that is not good math, but it’s great theology.

This is important because when it comes to the cross, Jesus needed to be fully divine and fully human in order to pay the penalty for our sin.  He had to be fully human so he could identify with us in order to take our place in paying for our sin.  Just as the life of an animal could not be a substitute for us, so too, nothing less than the life of a human being could rightfully take our place.

But He also needed to be fully divine in order to pay for the sins of the entire world.  One perfect human being could only pay for the sins of one other human being.  But only someone infinite could pay for the sins of the entire population of mankind.

Which brings us to another question—How much did Jesus suffer on the cross?  Certainly, there was the physical suffering of the crucifixion itself.  But that really is minor compared to experiencing the wrath of the Father for the sins of the world.

 

I’ll never know how much it cost to see my sin upon the cross

Consider this—in the Old Testament, the Mosaic law laid out the principle that the punishment for an offense was proportionate to the severity of that offense (e.g.– An eye for an eye, etc.)  Thus the payment for the sin of the world would need to be proportionate to all that sin.  So consider all the pain and suffering that sin has caused throughout the history of mankind.  Think about all the pain from man’s inhumanity towards his fellow man— whether it be abuse, tyranny, theft, infidelity, bullying, murder, racism, abortion, euthanasia, slavery, holocausts, etc.  In addition, think about the pain we have brought on God Himself through our rebellion, ingratitude, self-centeredness, pride, idolatry, etc.  If we could somehow quantify all that pain, that is a reflection of the pain that Christ suffered on the cross as He absorbed the Father’s judgment for the sin of the world.

In the song, “Here I am to Worship,” Michael W. Smith penned the words, “I’ll never know how much it cost to see my sin upon the cross.”  Those words are more profound than many of us think.  What Jesus endured on the cross is something we cannot even begin to imagine. 

Yet He suffered for us, because He loved us.  And just as the pain that Jesus endured is beyond our comprehension, so too is the love He has for us that compelled Him to go the cross.  

May this incredible truth never get old to us!  May Christ’s finished work on the cross always cause us to fall on our knees in both wonder and gratitude!  May we be like that woman who poured out that expensive perfume as an act of worship, to whom Jesus declared, “Your sins are forgiven.  Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

January 23, 2018: Childlike Wonder

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Yesterday I finally put away all our outdoor Christmas decorations.  But before I boxed them up, I checked them for burned out light bulbs.  So here’s a question—when checking for burned out Christmas lights, is it best to do that when it is dark or in the daylight?  Answer: If you are checking light strings that are not attached to anything, then checking them in the dark can make it very easy to spot the burned out light bulbs.  But when the light strings are intertwined with garland and wreaths, it is better to check them in the daylight.  The reason is that in the dark, your eyes tend to focus on the bulbs that are lit, and it is easy to miss the bulbs that are burned out.

So what does that have to do with the price of tea in China? 

As Christians, the older we get, the more we can tend to focus on the things that are familiar and known.  In many ways, this is a good thing.  These basic, undisputed pillars of truth allow our faith to stand steadfast.  As one man said, “What really concerns me is not the things in the Bible that I don’t understand, but rather it’s the things I do understand and yet I’m not applying—that’s what concerns me!”  True enough!

But there many advantages to asking questions.  Some the greatest scientists in history not only had brilliant minds, but they also had insatiable curiosity.  They asked questions that everyone else had stopped asking.

Likewise, one of the dangers we can fall into as mature believers in Christ is that we stop asking questions.  When we stop asking questions, we can sometimes lose the mystery and awe of the very doctrinal truths that we so dearly hold to.

For instance, take the nature of Jesus.  We believe that Jesus is God incarnate—fully God, and yet fully man.  Scripture is very clear about that fact.  But there are many things that Scripture does not answer.  For example, if Jesus experienced the limitations of a human being, then we can assume that He also experienced the limitations of the cognitive development of an infant, toddler, and child.  And so when in His childhood did He become cognitively aware of His true identity?  And what was that like?  Did God the Father supernaturally speak and explain everything to Him, or did Jesus just become aware of it?  And did He begin to remember what life was like before His incarnation?  Was He ever tempted as a child to use His supernatural powers?  In addition, Scripture says that not only were all things created by Christ, but that in Christ all things hold together.  So how did Jesus hold together the entire cosmos while He was still an infant?  And was He consciously aware He was holding together the entire universe?

Granted, we need to be careful that these unanswerable questions don’t cause us to seek answers in unbiblical sources like the apocrypha and other unbiblical writings.  But the value of these questions can instill within us the awe and mystery of these foundational doctrines, which in turn leads us to worship God whose ways are not our ways, and whose thoughts are so far above our thoughts!

 When we stop asking questions, we can lose the mystery and awe of the very doctrinal truths that we so dearly hold to

So as we continue this venture through these Alpha videos, take the time not only to dwell on these incredible truths, but also allow your mind to ask some childlike questions that you haven’t pondered before.  Don’t just focus on the lights that are lit, but notice the lights that are not lit, and let them pull your heart into greater wonder and worship!
 

January 16, 2018: Greater

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Last evening Ollie & I watched the movie “Greater.”  It’s the touching, true story of Brandon Burlsworth, a walk-on college football player who played for the Arkansas Razorbacks.  He went on to be one of their best starting offensive linemen.  In fact, in 2010 the Burlsworth Trophy was established, given to the most outstanding division 1 college football player who began his career as a walk-on.  (Btw- in 2015 & 2016, the award went to Baker Mayfield, this past season’s Heisman trophy winner.)

The movie is actually a flashback which begins with Burlsworth’s funeral.  Brandon Burlsworth was a committed believer and his steadfast trust in God is highlighted in the movie.  The movie keys in on the age-old question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?”  I highly recommend the movie.

That question has been asked by people throughout all of history.  It’s a derivation of the larger question, “If there is a God who exists, why does He allow evil and suffering?”  It’s commonly known as the classic problem of evil.  Philosophers have questioned that if God is good, how could He willingly allow evil and suffering to exist?  And if God is all powerful, then could He not stop evil or could He not create a world where suffering does not occur?  So if God is all-good and all-powerful, from whence comes evil and suffering?

In seminary, I had a wise apologetics professor who said there is not one problem of evil, but many problems.  Thus we need to be careful when addressing this issue that we address the right question that people are actually asking.

For instance, there is the theological question of evil.  We can partially answer this question by referring to Genesis 3 and Adam’s free will and his choice to sin.  We can also refer to Romans 8:19-22 and show that when sin entered the world, creation itself also fell, and so natural disasters entered the world.

Then there is the cosmic question of evil.  The book of Job gives us a glimpse of this.  In the beginning chapters of Job, the cosmic curtains are pulled back, and we see the backstage interaction between God and Satan.  But then the curtain closes, and on center stage is Job and his friends wrestling with the issue of Job’s suffering.

However, many people who ask the question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” are not asking the theological or cosmic question of evil, but rather the personal question of evil.  Often underlying that larger question is a personal question such as, “Why did my sister die of cancer?” or “Why was my good friend killed by a drunk driver?” or “Why didn’t God save me from that child molester?”  To these difficult, personal questions the Bible does not give us answers.

The book of Job highlights this.  At the end of the book of Job, God never really answers Job’s questions.  Rather God points to Himself as the ultimate answer.  God is good.  God is all powerful.

In the end, the who question is much more important than the why question—who is in control, who knows best?  Maybe this is because God knows that answering the why questions only produces more why questions.  Or perhaps God knows that if He were to try to explain the why questions, we would not be able to comprehend it.  It would be like Albert Einstein trying to explain the theory of relativity to a kindergartener.

 

In the end, the who question is much more important than the why question.  When our loss is great, God is greater.

So instead, God answers the who question— who is in control, who knows best?  God is good and loving; God is in control; God really does know what is best.  In the end, this is the only real answer that can bring us comfort in our personal struggle with the problem of suffering and evil. 
 

But that answer also necessitates faith—a sincere trust that our Father does know best.  So the Christian life begins with faith, continues in faith, and in the end, it finishes with faith.  When our loss is great, God is greater.

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. 2 This is what the ancients were commended for….   And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”  (Hebrews 11:1-2, 6)

January 9, 2018: Avocados, Alpha, & macArthur

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Yesterday Ollie went online to view a video about avocados.  The woman on the video was explaining how to know when avocados are ripe.  She said that when we buy them, they are often unripe, so we need to give them time to ripen.  On the other hand, we can also make the mistake of allowing them to sit too long and they become overripe.  The flesh in these avocados can turn dark and even go bad if left for too long.

I later thought how that is a great paradigm for what we are doing as we invite people to Alpha.  Some people fall into that very unripe category.  This morning I received an email from Jean talking about her first official rejection to her invitation to Alpha.  I also received my first official rejection this past weekend.  I felt led to invite a neighbor who I knew was fairly skeptical.  His response to the invitation was fairly emphatic.  He told me when it comes to spiritual things he doesn’t have any questions, that he is very comfortable in what he believes, that he is very against organized religion, that issues of faith were to him a very private matter, and that he respected my beliefs and hopes that I would respect his.

To be honest, I wasn’t sure how to respond to him. Later I reflected on the conversation and I found myself second guessing myself about what I could have said.  But then God reminded me—God must be the One who works in the hearts of people.  Jesus Himself said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them.”  It’s God’s job to do the heavy lifting, not ours.  So I simply need to be at peace and continue to pray for this person. 

 

It’s God’s job to do the heavy lifting, not ours!

Some people are just unripe.  But don’t let that discourage you!  There are people like those avocados which are well on their way of ripening.  As we talked about last Sunday, some will respond like the Samaritan’s townspeople in John 4.  They were not only curious about what Jesus had to say, they also invited him to stay in their town for two days so they could hear more.  Ultimately, they enthusiastically embraced Jesus as their Messiah.
 

On the other hand, are there also people who can be overly ripe if no one reaches out to them?  Are there some people who humanly speaking have a limited window of time when they are open?  I have heard some people say that the Church missed a great opportunity after WWII to have an impact on Japan.  General Douglas MacArthur, who oversaw the occupation of Japan, called on the Church in the US to send missionaries to reach a very needy and open country for Christ.  Some did go.  But I’ve heard many say we missed an opportunity to have a huge impact on that nation.

So let’s not make the same mistake in our spheres of influence!  Let’s live with the urgency that Jesus Himself felt.  Let’s go out in the harvest and seek out those who are open!  I think Jesus is telling us that there are a lot of ripe avocados out there!

“My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. Even now the one who reaps draws a wage and harvests a crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. Thus the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true. I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.”  (John 4:34-38)

January 2, 2018: Could 2018 be the year of Christ’s return?

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2018—a new year.  Could this be the year of Christ’s return?

When it comes to the second coming of Christ, believers are faced with a dilemma.  Perhaps this is why some of us have mixed emotions when we think about this issue of Christ’s imminent return.

On the one hand, Jesus taught that no one knows when He will return, that His return will be sudden and unexpected, and that we must be ready because He could return at any moment. 

42 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. 43 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” (Matthew 24:42-44)

“And behold, I am coming soon….  12 “Behold, I am coming soon….”  20 He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!  (Revelation 22:7,12,20)

On the other hand, there are certain signs that Jesus gave us that will precede His coming.  Most believe that those signs have yet to be fulfilled.  So how could Jesus return at any moment if those signs are still in the future?  Truth be told, for many of us, these signs do not make us anticipate Christ’s return with greater expectancy.  Instead, it does just the opposite—we assume that Christ’s return is in the distant future.

Dr. Wayne Grudem has proposed a very sensible solution to this dilemma.  He proposes that “it is unlikely but possible that the signs have already been fulfilled, and therefore we simply cannot know with certainty at any point in history whether all the signs have been fulfilled or not.”  Grudem then examines each sign individually and demonstrates how it is unlikely, but possible that each sign has been fulfilled already. (Grudem, Systematic Theology, pgs. 1091-1105)

This position reflects the balance that the New Testament presents.  The unlikeliness that the signs have already been fulfilled can help us to avoid the mistake that the Thessalonians made in the first century.  It seems that they were so convinced that Christ was coming very soon that they made radical decisions that were unwise.  For example, some quit their jobs.  So Paul had to instruct them to go back to work.

On the other hand, this position can help many of us in our generation who tend to think that Christ’s return is in the far distant future.  Even though it is unlikely that the signs have been fulfilled, it is still possible.  And so we must be ready.  He could come at any time. 

So 2018 may be the year of Christ’s return!  And even if Christ’s second coming does not happen this year, He may still come for you individually by calling you home.  If He does, will you be ready?

So how are you readying yourself for that moment?  If Jesus did come this year, would you have any regrets?  Are there any difficult decisions you need to make?  Is God calling you to make any commitments this year so that you will be ready when He comes?  Don't be taken by surprise!  Jesus Himself said, "I am coming soon."

For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. (1 Thessalonians 5:2-5)

 

December 19, 2017: Alone at Christmas

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So what was your first thought when you saw the title of this blog?  If you are like most, you probably thought that this was a blog talking about those who will spend the holidays alone and the need to reach out to them.  Although that is a very worthy topic to be addressed, that’s not what this blog is about.

When we think about Christmas, we naturally think about spending time with family and friends.  Christmas songs like “I’ll be home for Christmas” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” reinforce those feelings.  We view Christmas not as a time to be alone, but rather a time to be with others.  That’s not a bad thing, but I think we can overdo it and spend all of our time with people.  In doing so, we can lose the opportunity to take in the real meaning of Christmas. 

For me, amidst all the busyness, I find I need some alone time to pause and reflect on the incredible miracle of the incarnation.  I need time to think about the incredible love of God to initiate such a daring plan and the sacrifice of Jesus to be willing to take on human flesh to save the world—to save me!  Let me encourage you to do the same.

Maybe you cannot do this before Christmas itself.  For me, it’s difficult to do it before our Christmas Eve service, because even if I gain any insight, my mind tends to wander back to the worship service.  Perhaps, for you it’s difficult to do before you finish the shopping and/or the food prep and/or the decorations and/or the house prep for family members coming home.  But let encourage you to plan and even schedule some time alone.

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Maybe it’s a time early in the morning before anyone awakes and you grab a cup of coffee and just read the Christmas story in Luke and spend some time thinking and praying about it.  Or maybe it’s late at night after everyone has retired, and you take time to lie on your back looking up under the lighted tree just to pray and to thank Jesus for coming for you.  Or perhaps it’s in the evening when everyone is in a food coma, watching a Christmas special on TV, you quietly grab your warm winter coat and slip outside unnoticed to reflect and to talk with the Lord as you walk around the neighborhood enjoying the Christmas lights.

However and whenever you do it, take some time to be alone this Christmas.  It will make your time with others more meaningful.  And more importantly, it will fill your heart with the joy of the real reason for this season.

December 12, 2017: John Piper on Fasting

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Today is day 8 of our 11-day fast.  For those of us at Hope, we are fasting one meal a day as we ask God to use us to reach people for Christ (see last week’s blog below).  If you missed out on this fast, I encourage you to begin your own 11-day fast.

This fast has also encouraged me to reread John Piper’s book A Hunger for God, Desiring God through Fasting and Prayer.  Let me highly encourage you to read it.  You can purchase it or I just now realized that you can download a free PDF of the entire book by visiting his website (click on this link).

At the risk of overwhelming you with quotes, I want to share with you a number of excerpts from his book.  Because of the length of this blog, you may want to read only a couple of these quotes at one sitting during your prayer time when you would normally eat.  Hopefully, Piper’s insights will encourage you and give your fasting greater significance.  Towards the end of this blog, I also included his answer to an important question: Why Does God reward fasting?

Enjoy….
 

“The birthplace of Christian fasting is homesickness for God.”

“Half of Christian fasting is that our physical appetite is lost because our homesickness for God is so intense. The other half is that our homesickness for God is threatened because our physical appetites are so intense. In the first half, appetite is lost. In the second half, appetite is resisted. In the first, we yield to the higher hunger that is. In the second, we fight for the higher hunger that isn't. Christian fasting is not only the spontaneous effect of a superior satisfaction in God; it is also a chosen weapon against every force in the world that would take that satisfaction away.”

“The greatest enemy of hunger for God is not poison but apple pie. It is not the banquet of the wicked that dulls our appetite for heaven, but endless nibbling at the table of the world. It is not the X-rated video, but the prime-time dribble of triviality we drink in every night….  The greatest adversary of love to God is not his enemies but his gifts. And the most deadly appetites are not for the poison of evil, but for the simple pleasures of earth. For when these replace an appetite for God himself, the idolatry is scarcely recognizable, and almost incurable.”

“Christian fasting is a test to see what desires control us. What are our bottom-line passions? In his chapter on fasting in The Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster says, ‘More than any other discipline, fasting reveals the things that control us. This is a wonderful benefit to the true disciple who longs to be transformed into the image of Jesus Christ. We cover up what is inside of us with food and other things.’”

“When midmorning comes and you want food so badly that the thought of lunch becomes as sweet as a summer vacation, then suddenly you realize, ‘Oh, I forgot, I made a commitment. I can't have that pleasure. I'm fasting for lunch too.’ Then what are you going to do with all the unhappiness inside? Formally, you blocked it out with the hope of a tasty lunch. The hope of food gave you the good feelings to balance out the bad feelings. But now the balance is off. You must find another way to deal with it.”

“I almost subtitled this book: Fasting – The Hungry Handmade of Faith. What a servant she is! Humbly and quietly, with scarcely a movement, she brings up out of the dark places of my soul the dissatisfactions in relationships, the frustrations of the ministry, the fears of failure, the emptiness of wasted time. And just when my heart begins to retreat to the delicious hope of eating supper with friends at Pizza Hut, she quietly reminds me: not tonight. It can be a devastating experience at first. Will I find spiritual communion with God sweet enough, and hope in his promises deep enough, not just to cope, but to flourish and rejoice in him? Or will I rationalize away my need to fast and retreat to the medication of food?….  Fasting reveals the measure of food’s mastery over us – or television or computers or whatever we submit to again and again to conceal the weakness of our hunger for God.”

But you might ask, “But are we not fasting because we want God to use us to see people come to Christ?  Aren’t we doing this because we want people to respond to our personal invitations to Alpha?”  Again, John Piper addresses in the conclusion of the book, Why Does God Reward Fasting?

“One crucial question remains: Why does God respond to fasting? Why does he reward us when we fast? That he does is strewn across the pages of the Bible and history. And Jesus promised he would: ‘Your Father who sees [your fasting] in secret will reward you’ (Matthew 6:18, RSV). The question is urgent because a wrong answer can dishonor God and do us great harm. For example, suppose we said that fasting gets rewards from God because it earns them by showing the merit of the one who fasts. That would dishonor God by turning his free grace into a business transaction. It would imply that fasting springs ultimately from our own will, and that this self-created discipline is then offered to God for recompense. This is a great dishonor to God because it claims for us what belongs only to God, namely, the ultimate initiative of prayer and fasting. In this way we put ourselves in the place of God and nullify the freedom of his grace.”

“Well, if God does not reward fasting because we create it and offer it to him to get a recompense, why does he reward it? If, in fact, God himself is the Creator and Sustainer of fasting, why is it that he has appointed this act as an occasion of his reward? The answer is that God is committed to rewarding those acts of the human heart that signify human helplessness and hope in God. Over and over again in Scripture God promises to come to the aid of those who stop depending on themselves and seek God as their treasure and help.”

“It is the ‘poor in spirit ‘who will be rewarded with the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:3). It is those who ‘wait for the Lord’ for whom he works (Isaiah 64:4). It is those who ‘trust in God,’ not in their horses or chariots, who triumph by his power (1 Chronicles 5:20; 2 Chronicles 13:18; Psalm 20:7). It is those who ‘delight in the Lord’ and trust in him who get the desires of their heart (Psalm 37:4-5). The sacrifices acceptable to God are a broken spirit and a contrite heart; these empty things he will reward (Psalm 51:17). The one who serves God not in his own strength but ‘by the strength which God supplies’ will be rewarded by the Lord (1 Peter 4:11). God rewards those acts of the human heart that signify human helplessness and hope in God. The reason for this is that these acts call attention to God's glory.”

 

December 5, 2017: Hope’s 11-Day Fast

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Kathy Cash from Dallas, TX, told a humorous story in “Today’s Christian Woman”:

One day, my husband announced to the family that he was going to fast and pray. Ginny, our 5-year-old, had recently learned that fasting meant not eating. “No!” she shouted. “You can't fast! You'll die!”  Her dad carefully explained that many men and women fasted in Bible times. Ginny paused a moment. Then, with a flash of insight and a note of warning, she proved her point. “And they all died!” she said.

There are a lot of misunderstandings about fasting.  So if you missed last Sunday, let me encourage you to go on our website and listen to my message, “Why Fast.”

We are asking all of us who call Hope Community Church our home church to fast and pray, skipping one meal every day for 11 days (one day for each session of Alpha that we will be hosting in January).  We actually began this fast on Monday, December 4th, and will continue it through Thursday, December 14th.

During that time which you would normally eat, take time to worship and pray.  Here are some things for which you can pray:

  • that our hearts would break for the those who do not know Christ, just as God’s heart breaks for them
  • for the upcoming Alpha on Sunday mornings beginning in January
  • for the specific people who you personally will be inviting
  • for boldness and sensitivity for everyone at Hope who will each be inviting 1-2 people to this Alpha; for openness for the people who will be invited
  • for protection from the spiritual battle that we will all encounter as seek to expand the Kingdom of God
  • that we would see at least 40 guests join us for Alpha in January
  • that we would see lasting fruit from this Alpha
  • for all the logistical aspects of hosting Alpha—breakfast, set-up/tear down, the audio and projection equipment, signage, for a new parking lot team, our welcome team, children’s ministry teachers and helpers, Alpha facilitator, small group leaders, etc.
  • that through all this, God will be glorified
  • that this emphasis on being missional (embracing Christ’s mission to seek and save that which was lost) would continue long after Alpha and truly become a core value for all of us at Hope

The relationship between fasting, prayer, and people coming to Christ continues to remain a mystery.  No one has formulated a definitive answer regarding the interaction between God’s sovereignty, our prayers and actions, and the response to the gospel of those who do not know Christ.  But all Christians would agree that God calls us to pray for all people to come to Christ and that when we pray, God hears those prayers and responds.

So let’s all join together for this 11-day fast.  Let’s ask God to do something through our church that only God can do.  Let’s continue to ask God to change the world through our body here at Hope!

 

November 28, 2017: Unrighteous “Righteous” Anger

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Yesterday I drove our son Justin to the airport at 5:30am.  Initially I was surprised to see so many cars already on the tollway.  Thankfully the traffic was moving very quickly.  But when we got about a half mile from the O’Hare exit, the traffic on the lane designated for the airport came to a complete standstill.  It was bumper to bumper, stop and go. 

After inching along about another quarter mile, a large SUV pulled towards me in the lane to my left, wanting to cut in line in front of me.  My “righteous” anger kicked in as I thought to myself, “NO WAY is this guy going to squeeze me out!  He’s probably one of those rude drivers who just drives to the front and then cuts in line!”  So as he kept creeping closer, I stayed on the tail of the car in front of me.  He finally gave up and let me drive forward.  There was a strange sense of satisfaction that coursed through my veins.  But that’s when I saw him duck behind me, and then immediately pull off to the right.  As it turns out, he was not trying to butt in line, but rather he was actually trying to take the exit ramp to I-90, but must have got caught to the left of the long line of cars in the O’Hare exit lane.  So much for righteous anger!

But then when I got to the actual exit to the airport, sure enough, there were a few cars that had bypassed the long line, and were trying to cut in line just as the exit veered off to the right.  Again, I pressed the nose of our car closer to the bumper in front of me.  In fact, one time I had to slam on my brakes to keep us from hitting the guy in front of me.  That’s when Justin reminded me, “Hey dad, just let him in.  It’s not worth getting into an accident.”  I hate it when my son needs to remind me to be responsible!  That could have been an expensive repair, especially since the vehicle in front of us was a Mercedes Benz SUV!

In spite of all the traffic, I was still able to drop Justin off an hour before his flight.  Later as I was driving home I thought about those cars trying to cut in line.  How do I know if those people were not just trying to avoid waiting in traffic, but rather they were in danger of missing their flights and were desperate to get to the airport?  Have I not also been in situations where I underestimated travel times due to traffic?  More importantly, what would Jesus have done if He were driving?  Ouch!  Conviction!  I had to repent and ask God for His forgiveness.

It made me wonder—how many times do we think we are totally justified in our “righteous” anger, when God looks at us and just shakes his head thinking, “If only you knew….”  Our sinful nature automatically thinks our judgments are correct and that our anger and actions are totally justified.  But are they?

So the next time your blood pressure rises and you are tempted to say or do something, before you act on that impulse take the time to first pray and ask the Holy Spirit what you should do.  Like me, you may find that your righteous anger is not so righteous.

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.  (James 1:19-20)

 

November 21, 2017: A Thanksgiving Tradition

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A number of years ago, I began a personal Thanksgiving tradition.  Every year, during one of my times with the Lord, I open my journal and quickly write down at least 101 things for which I am thankful.  The list is not in any particular order and I write as fast as I can think.  This little exercise can really lift my heart in gratitude.  It also causes me to think about things that I so often take for granted.

So this Thanksgiving, I encourage you to try it.  If you have done this before, maybe stretch yourself.  Think of 151 things or even 201 things.  Sure your list will include things like those that some of the kids shared on the video on Sunday—e.g. dolphins and butterflies (but hopefully not Nemo, unless Nemo is the name of your dog; although if that’s the case, you need to rename your dog so he doesn’t grow up with a complex!).  You might even find yourself thanking God for cats, though some would say that is really scraping the barrel!

Whatever you do, take time this Thanksgiving to choose thankfulness.  It’s what this holiday is really all about.

Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good.  His love endures forever.  (Psalm 136:1)
 

November 14, 2017: When things go south in a local church

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I just returned from a meeting with some other pastors to address a difficult church situation (not here at Hope).  It reminded me of a few things that relate to my message this past Sunday where I addressed the need to gather together with fellow believers in Christ (Hebrews 10:19-25).  Here are just some random thoughts, hot off my little noggin:

  1. The church is made up of imperfect people.  We are all imperfect and we all need grace.  We will all at one time or another mess up, hurt one another, and/or offend one another.  It’s because none of us is perfect, even though many of us think we are pretty darn tootin’ close!  :-)
  2. As pastors and leaders, we will all make mistakes.  Eventually, we will disappoint and let you down.  The issue is not “if” but “when.”  When that happens, I pray we will have the wisdom to ask your forgiveness.  But don’t be shocked when it happens.  We too are imperfect.
  3. Give grace to one another.  Just as we desire for others to give us grace, so too, we need to give grace to others.  But Jesus raised the bar even higher.  He said, “A new commandment I give to you that you love one another, even as I have loved you” (John 13:34).  What made that commandment new?  No longer was the standard just to treat others the way we desire others to treat us, but rather the standard was now even higher.  The standard is now to love one another with the same love that Jesus loves us.  That love is a love full of grace and forgiveness.  Why did Jesus give us this command?  Because He knows how challenging it is do life together.  He knows how difficult it is to be a loving, united body of believers.
  4. Don’t give up on your church.  I think if someone hurts us, or if our church leadership makes a decision with which we disagree, or if the church doesn’t do something that we want to be done, it can be easy just to walk away.  But in doing so, rather than becoming part of the solution, we become part of the problem.  When you read the New Testament epistles, one thing that is striking is that many of the churches had problems.  In fact, most of the epistles were written to address problems in the church.  But where would the churches in Corinth, Colossae, Thessalonica, etc. be if everyone just bailed and left those churches?
  5. Be proactive.  If someone in the church says or does something that hurts you, be proactive and talk to that person in at timely fashion.  If you see something that concerns you, share your concern with an elder of the church.  If you see a need and see something that needs to be done in the church, share that need with a leader in the church.  But in the latter situation, make yourself available to do something about it.  It’s easy to insist “someone” needs to do something to meet a particular need, but not be available to help.

In the end, the church is really like our family.  When we see needs or even dysfunction in our family, we don’t just walk away.  We try to address those issues because we love our families.  It’s the same with our church.  The New Testament’s solution for problems in the church was not to leave, but to lovingly, proactively, and gracefully address those issues.  Let’s make a commitment to do the same at Hope!

PS—This past Sunday, I addressed "The Individualistic Room” as the final barrier that can prevent us from experiencing God.  I encourage you to listen to it.

November 7, 2017: Responding to the Prompting of Jesus

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We are continuing as a church to be on a journey with Jesus, embracing His call to be on mission.  Let me encourage you to continue to reach out to those in your sphere in influence who do not know Jesus.  Following this simple B.L.E.S.S. acronym will help:

Begin with prayer

Listen (Take time to get to know them.  Ask good questions and listen to their stories.)

Eat (Share a meal with them or do something fun with them)

Serve (Find out their needs and seek to meet them. And be willing to ask for their help when appropriate.)

Story (When appropriate, share your story.  Share what Christ means to you and perhaps about you own spiritual journey.)

But don’t forget to start with prayer. In fact, we need to continue to pray and respond to the prompting of Jesus.  Jesus promised us that we would receive power from the Holy Spirit to be His witnesses (Acts 1:8).  So we must depend on the Spirit’s power and follow His lead.  But that entails responding to the promptings of the Spirit of God, even when it seems inconvenient.

So did you ask the Spirit of God to empower you & lead you today?  Are you willing to respond to the Spirit’s subtle promptings?

Last August during our “On Mission with God” series, Karen Clements sent me a link to a humorous video.  Beth Moore is a phenomenal, gifted Bible teacher, but she is also very funny.  She tells a story about responding to the Spirit’s prompting.  Let me encourage you to take 9 minutes and listen to this true, humorous, and inspiring story by Beth Moore: The Hairbrush Story.

October 31, 2017: It ain’t over until it’s over

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It ain’t over until it’s over!

I was reminded of this big time last Saturday when Penn State collapsed after accumulating a commanding lead in the 4th quarter, giving up 19 points to Ohio State and losing the game 38-39.  Cheryl said they lost because I skipped out on church!  :-)  My friend Dan had some Ohio State friends who texted him saying they were leaving the game at the beginning of the fourth quarter because they were so frustrated.  Can you imagine what they felt like when they got home and realized what had happened?

But that trite saying is actually a good reminder to all of us as well.  This morning in my time with the Lord, I was reading in the book of Ruth.  Naomi and her family move to Moab because of a famine.  In Moab her husband and two sons die, leaving her a widow caring for two Moabite daughters-in-law.  In a culture with no life insurance and no government programs for the poor, this left her dangerously vulnerable.

Naomi’s name means “pleasant.”  But when she returns to Bethlehem, Naomi says to the townspeople, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went away full, and the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi, when the Lord has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?” 

The name Mara means “bitter.”  From Naomi’s perspective, she interpreted her situation as God dealing with her bitterly, as if He was judging her.  Perhaps she thought God was judging her for an unknown sin.  Or perhaps she wondered if they should not have gone down to Moab, or that her sons should not have married Moabite women (btw- some would say that this was not strictly forbidden as was marriage to the Canaanites, but it was very discouraged since the Moabites worshipped false gods).  Whatever the case, she viewed her situation as God dealing with her bitterly.

Before we judge Naomi, don’t we do the same?  When life’s circumstances turn difficult—when we are faced with serious health issues, or financial hardships, or relational difficulties, or workplace challenges—don’t we often view God as dealing with us bitterly?  Certainly there are times when our circumstances are the result of our own sin, but often that is not the case.  But in those situations, do we doubt the goodness of God?

But in those times, it’s good to remember—it ain’t over until it’s over.  As you know, Naomi’s daughter-in-law Ruth not only marries Boaz, but they have a son, who becomes the joy of Naomi’s heart.  But the story still ain’t over.  Obed becomes the grandfather of King David, making Naomi David’s great great grandmother.  But even then, the story ain’t over.  Naomi ultimately becomes part of the lineage of King Jesus Himself.

So if you are going through a difficult time, remember—it ain’t over until it’s over!  So trust God and believe in His goodness towards you!

October 24, 2017: Understanding Our Baggage

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Last night Ollie and I watched the 2017 movie, “The Case for Christ.”  It’s based on the true story of the spiritual journey of Lee Strobel, a former investigative reporter for the Chicago Tribune and a committed agnostic.  Strobel initially set out to disprove the Christian faith.

In the movie, Strobel visits an agnostic professor of psychology at Indiana University.  Here’s part of their conversation:

Dr. Waters: Before you go, may I ask you something?

Strobel: Sure.
 
Dr. Waters: It's about your father. I am just curious, what is your relationship with him like?
 
Strobel: Uhmmm, complicated.
 

Dr. Waters: Let me guess—distant, cold, doesn't give much affirmation or express love.

Strobel: Guilty on all charges. Why?

Dr. Waters: I imagine that as a skeptic you are familiar with the great names of atheism– Hume, Nietzsche, Sartre, Freud.

Strobel: Of course, yes, some of my greatest heroes.

Dr. Waters: Did you know that all of them had a father who either died when they were young, abandon them, or was physically or emotionally abusive?  In the world of therapy, it is called a father wound.

Last Sunday, in our series on “What Keeps Us From Experiencing God,” we visited the baggage room.  We all have baggage from our past.  For some people the bags are light, but for many of us that baggage is heavy.  That baggage can prevent us from experiencing love, affect our view of God, and significantly influence how we interact with others, including our interaction with our spouse, children, friends, co-workers, and bosses.  All to say, in the Kingdom of God, bags don’t fly free.

Robert Lewis, pastor and founder of Men’s Fraternity says this, ““Everybody has a story.  Every guy in here has a story….  Everybody is who they have become, because of moments like that—noble moments, missed moments, hurtful moments, defining moments.  You are who you are in part because of those things.  But do you understand those things?  And maybe the bigger question: Do you understand how those things are impacting your life right now?  You see, to be a real man, you need to look back.  You have to figure it out and decide what’s worth keeping and what’s worth throwing away.”

Jesus said He would set us free.  He promises us “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32).  But in order to apply God’s truth to its fullest extent, we need to have a good understanding of the lies we have bought into.  Otherwise, those lies will remain blind spots in our life.

So let me ask you—have you taken the time to look back?  Do you have a good understanding of how your past is influencing your life right now?  Have you asked God to give you wisdom to understand how the enemy has planted seeds of lies through those past negative experiences?  Are you experiencing the truth that sets you free?

PS- If you missed last Sunday, let me again encourage you to listen to the message, “The Baggage Room.”

 

October 17, 2017: Taking the Plunge Into Our Fears

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Back in 2010, our daughter Hannah went on a short-term mission project to Zambia.  On one of their breaks, she visited Victoria Falls.  Nearby there was a 300’ bungee jump connected to an abandoned bridge which overlooks one of the rivers near the falls.  Hannah decided to take the plunge.

Now why did she do it?  Mostly because it was a fun thing to do.  But what made it fun?  Fear.

Think about this for a moment.  A huge part of what made that jump fun was that it was a fearful thing to do.  But what countered the fear was trusting that those who operated the bungee jump had everything under control.  As I mentioned last Sunday, fear + control = fun.  However, fear + out of control = terror.  (btw- days after Hannah made her jump, someone did the same jump, but the bungee cord snapped, sending the person into the alligator-infested waters below.  Thankfully, she was fine.  But her fun was turned into terror very quickly!)

When we experience worry and anxiety, which really are forms of fear, it’s because we feel that something in our life is out of control.  Whether it be health, finances, conflict at work, etc., there is something in our life which we cannot control, and that causes us to be anxious.  One solution is to try to gain control over those things.  But as we talked about last Sunday, control is an allusion.  No one is in control of their lives.

But what if we if we were absolutely convinced that someone was in perfect control and we knew that this someone loved us and always had our best in mind?  Would that make a difference?

God tells us that He is that Someone.  He is in absolute control of all things and He loves us more than we can imagine.  So He makes this promise to us—And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). 

If life is uncertain and control is an allusion, then our only hope for true peace is to surrender & trust in the only One who is truly in control.  Therefore, to the degree that we surrender and trust in God’s control will be the degree that we experience His peace.

So will there be fear in this life?  Yes!  But fear + God’s control = fun, adventure!  Now you might be thinking, “But that’s a 'fun adventure' which I really don’t want to take!”  But God doesn’t give us that choice.  Perhaps it’s because He loves us too much to give us a way out.  And why?  Because when we find ourselves curled up in fear in our worry room, we are forced to walk through the door of surrender and trust.  And when we walk through that door of surrender and trust, we not only experience peace, but we experience God Himself in a deeper way.  And anytime we experience God in a deeper way, the adventure is always worth it.  Always.

 

If life is uncertain and control is an allusion, then our only hope for true peace is to surrender & trust in the only One who is truly in control

So strap yourself in and take the plunge!
 

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  (Philippians 4:6,7)

PS—If you missed last Sunday, let me encourage you to listen to the message “The Worry Room” (What Keeps Us From Experiencing God, part 3).

 

October 10, 2017: The Practice of Slowing

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Yesterday was my day off.  After a busy weekend, I decided I really needed to slow down.  But once I got into the mode of doing outdoor chores, I found myself pushing my adrenaline button more times than I should have.  So instead of finishing the day refreshed, I once again went to bed feeling spent.  Now for me, I can tell when I have pushed my adrenaline button too many times because when I do, instead of sleeping well, my adrenaline button goes off all by itself.  So after 5 ½ hours of sleep, I found myself lying in bed, wide awake.

So I decided to get up and spend time with the Lord.  But in light of my addiction to busyness, I grabbed a book off my office shelf entitled, The Life You’ve Always Wanted by John Ortberg.  I read his chapter on “An Unhurried Life—The Practice of ‘Slowing.’”  Here’s an excerpt:

“You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.”  Imagine for a moment that someone gave you this prescription, with the warning that your life depends on it. Consider the possibility that perhaps your life does depend on it. Hurry is the great enemy of spiritual life in our day. Hurry can destroy our souls. Hurry can keep us from living well. As Carl Jung wrote, "Hurry is not of the Devil; hurry is the devil." Again and again, as we pursue spiritual life, we must do battle with hurry. For many of us the great danger is not that we will renounce our faith. It is that we will become so distracted and rushed and preoccupied that we will settle for a mediocre version of it. We will just skim [over] our lives instead of actually living them.

In the story of Mary & Martha, Jesus exhorted the task-driven Martha saying, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

What was that one thing?  It was experiencing the presence of Jesus, listening to His instructions, and staying connected with Him.  Interestingly, in the very next verse, Jesus models what He was trying to teach Martha.  Luke writes, “One day Jesus was praying in a certain place” (Luke 14:1).  Jesus must have done this regularly for the disciples asked Him to teach them to pray as well.  All to say, Jesus stayed connected with the Father.

 

The great danger is not that we will renounce our faith, but settle for a mediocre version of it.

So let me encourage you this morning to stay connected with Jesus.  How?  Simply by depending on the Spirit’s power and following His lead.  I think I remember someone speaking on that topic two Sundays ago.  Maybe I myself need to listen to his message!  :-)

 

PS- For further reading: Read the story of Mary and Martha at the end of Luke 10.  Then read Jesus’ teaching on prayer in Luke 11.  But then note the promise in v.13.  Why does Jesus highlight this particular promise?  Is there any connection between v.13 and 10:38-42?

 

October 3, 2017: The Leading of the Holy Spirit

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This past Sunday, we explored how busyness can keep us from experiencing God’s presence.  Our main point was that to overcome busyness, we must depend on the Spirit’s power and follow His lead.  I wished we had more time to unpack what it means to follow the Spirit’s lead. So let me give you some more input on that topic.

This past spring, during one of my long runs, I listened to a message from Crawford Loritts.  Crawford is a very godly, humble pastor of a church in Georgia.  He was formerly on staff with Cru (Campus Crusade for Christ) and a favorite speaker for various conferences like Family Life Today and the earlier Promise Keepers movement.

Last February, Crawford did a great series on the Holy Spirit.  One of his messages, “The Leading of the Holy Spirit” is excellent.  I encourage you to listen to it.  Crawford has great wisdom.  On your commute back and forth to work or as you run errands, take the time to listen to this message.  It will help answer this important question, “What does it mean to follow the Spirit’s leading.”

September 26, 2017: Never Hunger, Never Thirst

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There's a story that I didn't have time to share this past Sunday.  It’s a story that I have reflected on many times in my life, especially during times of struggle and darkness.

On Sunday we began our new series “What Keeps Us From Experiencing God?”  We began by addressing the “why” question—Why would we want to experience God?  I mentioned that gratitude for what God has done for us and admiration for who He is are great motivations, perhaps even the purest motivations.  But there is another crucial motivation—All of your deepest desires are met in Jesus Christ and in His will for your life.

Jesus promised us this: “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”  As I mentioned on Sunday, the words “comes” and “believes” have a sense of continual coming and continual believing.  And in the original language, the promises Jesus makes are reinforced by double and triple negatives.  Here’s a literal, wooden translation of John 6:35:

 

All of your deepest desires are met in Jesus Christ and in His will for your life

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; the one coming to me no not shall he hunger, and the one believing in me no not shall he thirst never.”
 

Hudson Taylor was a missionary to China.  In 1867 he lost his little 8-year old daughter Gracie.  Three years later, his wife came down with cholera.  As a result, they lost a newborn son after living only one week.  Shortly after that, his wife, who was only 33 years old, also passed away.

Listen to what Hudson Taylor wrote amidst his intense grief and struggles: “How lonesome were the weary hours when confined to my room! How I miss my dear wife and the voices of the children far away in England! Then it was I understood why the Lord had made that passage so real to me, ‘Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst.’ Twenty times a day, perhaps, as I felt the heart-thirst coming back, I cried to him. ‘Lord, you promised! You promised me that I should never thirst.’ And whether I called by day or night, how quickly He came and satisfied my sorrowing heart! So much so that I often wondered whether it were possible that my loved one who had been taken could be enjoying more of His presence than I was in my lonely chamber. He did literally fulfill the prayer:

‘Lord Jesus, make Thyself to me
A living, bright reality;
More present to faith’s vision keen
Than any outward object seen;
More dear, more intimately nigh
Than e’en the sweetest earthly tie.’”
 

Perhaps you find yourself in a similar position today.  Perhaps you also are struggling and find yourself in a dark place.  Let me encourage you to cry out to Jesus in faith.  Claim His promise that as you come to Him and believe in Him, He will meet you and satisfy that deepest longing of your soul.  Claim His promise that He will fill your gnawing hunger and your parched thirst with Himself so that you might experience that overflowing life found only in Him.  Like Hudson Taylor, cry out to Jesus, if need be twenty times a day and claim His promise to you.  He will meet you.  That's His promise.

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; the one coming to me no not shall he hunger, and the one believing in me no not shall he thirst never.”  (John 6:35)

On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.’  By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive.  Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified. (John 7:37-39)

How priceless is your unfailing love, O God!
    People take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the abundance of your house;
    you give them drink from your river of delights.
For with you is the fountain of life;
    in your light we see light.

(Psalm 36:7-9)
 

September 19, 2017: Accomplishing the Mission

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During my time with the Lord this morning, I was reading in Joshua about how they apportioned the land to the tribes of Israel.  To be honest, I skimmed over the verses since they mention a long list of cities and land boundaries.  But there were a few verses that seemed to pop out to me:

13 But the Israelites did not drive out the people of Geshur and Maakah, so they continue to live among the Israelites to this day. (Joshua 13:13)

63 Judah could not dislodge the Jebusites, who were living in Jerusalem; to this day the Jebusites live there with the people of Judah. (Joshua 15:63)

10 They did not dislodge the Canaanites living in Gezer; to this day the Canaanites live among the people of Ephraim but are required to do forced labor. (Joshua 16:10)

12 Yet the Manassites were not able to occupy these towns, for the Canaanites were determined to live in that region. 13 However, when the Israelites grew stronger, they subjected the Canaanites to forced labor but did not drive them out completely. (Joshua 17:12-13)

God had already warned the nation of Israel that they must drive out these nations lest these foreign people turn their hearts from being wholeheartedly devoted to the Lord and entice the Israelites to worship their idolatrous gods.  Amidst the overall tone of victory in the book of Joshua, these few verses give an ominous glimpse into the future.  When you read the book of Judges, the disobedience of the Israelites comes to fruition and their hearts turn to other gods.

So how do these verses apply to us?  Let me suggest two applications:

1.The Danger of Compromise

Instead of being fully obedient to the commands of God, the Israelites compromised.  They did drive many of God’s enemies out of the promised land, but they did not complete the mission.  These verses do not tell us why.  Perhaps they just got too busy settling into their new homes.  Perhaps they thought that the 80/20 principle was good enough in regards to fulfilling God’s commands.  Whatever the reason, they compromised.  And so God’s clear warning of the consequences came true.  Their hearts strayed into unfaithfulness and they turned to other gods.

We too cannot afford to compromise.  When God convicts us of sin, we too must make a decisive turn from that sin and draw near to God for forgiveness and transformation.  This applies not just to the sins of commission (doing the wrong things), but also to the sins of omission (not doing the right things).

2. The Need to Fulfill God’s Mission

God gave the Israelites a mission.  He promised them His presence and power to fulfill that mission.  He told them that they would not only glorify God by fulfilling that mission, but they would also be richly blessed.

So too Jesus has given us a mission.  He has commissioned us to go and make disciples of all nations.  He also promised His presence and power.  In addition, He also said that we would be richly blessed as we seek to fulfill the mission of His Kingdom.

So let’s respond in faithfulness!  If the angels are writing the annals of human history, let it be said that there was a church in Lake Villa, Illinois whose people were faithful to do their Spirit-filled best to not compromise, but to fulfill the mission that God gave them!  May we, by God’s grace, be numbered among the Joshua and Calebs of this world!  May it be said of us, “They glorified God on earth, having accomplished the work that God gave them to do”!

September 10, 2017: An Inconvenient Blessing

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Yesterday when I went for a run, I ran passed a young man who was limping and had what looked like a removable cast on his lower leg.  I didn’t think much of it and kept running.

But on my way back, I saw the same guy.  The moment I saw him from a distance, I sensed God nudging me to stop and pray for him. 

Now you would think that having just spoken on healing this past Sunday and addressing how to touch the lives of the unchurched a couple of weeks ago, that I would be very responsive to the Spirit’s leading.  But instead I objected.  I thought to myself, “I don’t want to stop running (even though I had just reached my distance goal for the day).  This is inconvenient.  Plus there are other people running on the trail towards us.  What will they think?  And I don’t want this guy to feel uncomfortable.  And….”

After the excuses quickly ran out, I said with some resignation, “OK, God.  I’ll ask him.”

So as I jogged up next to him, I asked, “Hey, what happened to your leg?”

What he then said surprised me.  He told me, “I had a stroke when I was 18 years old.”

I was taken back.  He was so young.  So I asked him, “Wow.  Do strokes run in your family?”

“No,” he replied. “It was caused by… “ and then he mentioned something medical that had to do with a blood vessel.  He added something to the effect, “It’s unusual.  Most people have never heard of it.”

“So do the doctors think that you’ll regain what you have lost?”

“No” he replied.

My heart went out to him.  At most, this guy was in his early twenties.  He looked in good shape, other than a limp and also a slight slur in his speech.  I didn’t know if he was walking to get somewhere with his small backpack or if he was just trying to keep in shape.  But I thought about how life-altering that stroke was for a guy who was so young.  It was one of those aha moments where I quickly thought, “OK, God, I think I get it.”

So I stopped jogging and learned his name.  Then I asked Brian, “Hey, this may seem really weird, but I’m a Christian and I believe that God exists and that He really does hear our prayers.  Can I pray for you?  You don’t need to say anything, I’ll just pray,”

“Sure” Brian said.

So I put my hand on his shoulder and I prayed for Brian.  I prayed that God would restore back to him everything that the stroke took away and that God would do it in such a way that He would know it was God.  I also prayed that Brian would know how much God loved him and cared about him.

I think the prayer meant a lot to Brian because right after I prayed, he reached out and gave me a big bear hug.  I was dripping with sweat, but that didn’t make him hesitate at all!

After I left Brian and jogged home, I continued to pray for him.  I wondered what my life would have been like if that happened to me.  My heart was still heavy with compassion for him and I begged God to heal him and draw Brian to Himself.  How different was my attitude after I prayed compared to what I was thinking and feeling as I approached Brian!  It was a reminder that often, God's blessings often come clothed as inconveniences.

 

God's blessings often come clothed as inconveniences

 

Would you please take a minute and sincerely pray for Brian?  Let’s all ask God to do a miracle in his life! 

And keep responding to those subtle nudges of His Spirit as He moves you also to minister to the lives of those who need to know Jesus.  You won’t regret it!

PS—Let me also encourage you to listen to both my message on “How to Touch Lives” and “The Controversy Over Healing.”

September 5, 2017: Killing the Mosquito

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Last Tuesday night a mosquito jarred me out of sleep about 1:30am. For me that buzzing noise is just as annoying as a loud firecracker.  In fact, sometimes I find it’s hard to sleep just knowing that there is a mosquito in the bedroom.  I keep thinking I feel something landing on me and it keeps me awake.  It doesn’t help that I am a mosquito magnet.  Sometimes Ollie & I will be walking outside and she feels nothing, while I am getting eaten!

So I turned on the light.  Thankfully I was able to spot it and killed it.  I turned off the light and tried to go back to sleep.  Minutes later I heard another buzzing sound.  I turned on the light.  Nothing.  I turned off the light.  Buzzzzzz.  On went the light again.  Nothing.  Off went the light.  Buzzzzzzz.  Finally I decided to try to go to sleep with the light on in hopes that if it woke me again, I could see him when it buzzed.  It took a few more buzzes, but I finally opened my eyes just in time to see him land on my arm.  Smack!  Finally, no more buzzing!

As I turned off the light, I asked the Lord, “What was that all about?  Here I went to bed early to get a good night’s sleep, but now it’s the middle of the night and I am wide awake.  Is this just spiritual battle or what?”

As I lay in bed, I sensed God tell me, “Wayne, that’s what worry does.  For you, an anxious thought can be like that annoying mosquito that jars you out of sleep.  What you need to do when those thoughts come up is just kill them.”

“OK, God” I responded, “So how do I kill those the anxious thoughts?”

I sensed God replying, “By trusting in me and claiming my promises.”  He brought to mind Philippians 4:6-7 “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

As I have aged, my sleep patterns have become more inconsistent.  I still fall asleep very quickly—like minutes fast!  But when I wake up, as us old men do to take our nightly trip to the bathroom (thank you, prostate gland), I can often have a hard time falling back asleep.  Anxious thoughts from the previous day or even thoughts of what I need to do the next day can keep me awake.

August 29, 2017: Going Against the Current

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This morning I dropped Ollie off at O’Hare for an early morning flight to Georgia.  On the way home I was driving through rush hour traffic.  Even though I wasn’t in a rush, it was hard not to get caught up in the traffic frenzy.  Multiple times I had to remind myself that I was not in a hurry, that I had no morning commitments, and that I could take my time to get home.  Yet as cars began to pass me on the left, I found myself zipping over to join them not wanting to get caught behind the long line of cars and trucks in the right lane who were cruising just above the speed limit.  It was hard not to buy into the mindset that if I’m not passing others, I must be falling behind!

It reminded me of a verse in Romans 12:2, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”  I like the Living Translation of this verse, “Don’t let the world squeeze you into its mold.”

It’s hard to live counter-culturally.  Yet as followers of Christ, Jesus calls us to march to the beat of a different drummer.  He has called us to intentionally follow Him.  Yet as human beings we find it so easy to get caught up into the mass of human lemmings and allow our world to determine our modus operandi.

This obviously does not mean we become purposefully anti-cultural and lose our ability to relate to the unchurched.  Paul said that he became all things to all people that He might save some.  Jesus Himself was accused of being a drunkard and a glutton.  They knew how to really connect and even party with the unchurched!  Yet they did so while still being salt and light, reflecting the glory of God. They were able to run with the lemmings, while convincing many to take a different course as they modeled that path through living an uncompromisingly distinctive life.

So too, we are called to relate to a world in which we live, while remaining distinct from it.  This can only be possible as we receive wisdom from God’s Word and Spirit, while depending on His power to keep us in step with Him.  As we do, we too will see God use us to infectiously draw people to Jesus and glorify Himself.

So the next time you sense God nudging you to swim upstream--like being at rest in the slow lane while the gears of your flesh are urging you to zip over to the fast lane—heed the Spirit’s leading.  Don’t let the world squeeze you into its mold!  You won’t regret it!

August 15, 2017: Busyness as Moral Laziness

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Yesterday, we returned from Champaign after delivering some furniture to our daughter Hannah.  We were pulling a trailer and running the AC, so I was trying to keep our speed around 65 (or lower) to prevent the engine temperature from going above 220 degrees.  Because our cruise control had stopped working I had to keep monitoring our speed manually.  But I was surprised at how difficult it was to maintain that speed.  With traffic flying by me, it was so easy to find ourselves driving over 70mph, with our engine heat spiking.

I think that is a metaphor for my life in regards to busyness.  The world around us is moving at such a fast speed, it’s all too easy to get caught up in the neck-breaking pace.  But I can’t just blame our society.  I too add to the pace.  In fact, I find that I can be addicted to busyness. 

On our vacation in Seattle, there were a few times when I would find that I had nothing to do.  For instance, on our long flight there and back, after catching a nap, I’d find myself getting a little antsy thinking, “I should be/need to be doing something.”  It was challenging just to sit and do nothing for a while.

Today, busyness can be seen as a badge of honor.  In fact, in a study that was done on social perception, people viewed others who were busy as much higher in their social status than those who were not.  In our own minds, we can view ourselves as more important when we are busy.  The irony is that we complain about busyness and say that we hate being so busy, when all along we are deeply addicted to it!

But our busyness can rob us.  It can rob us from spending time with the Lord.  It can rob us from implementing the God-given principle of resting on the Sabbath.  It can deaden our ears to the subtle, quiet voice of the Spirit who desires to lead us.  In addition, busyness can keep us from reaching out to the unchurched, spending time with them, loving and serving them, and ultimately touching their lives for Jesus Christ.

Someone once said, “Busyness is not just from the devil, it is the devil!”  Perhaps there is much truth in that statement.  In many third world countries, the enemy’s strategy is to manifest himself through power so that people will fear him.  This seems particular true in villages and countries where animism is prevalent.  But here in the US, his strategy seems to be much more subtle.  Perhaps by promoting busyness, the devil knows he can keep us from fulfilling the mission that God has called us to undertake.

 

We must make space in our busy lives to love people into the Kingdom

If we are going to be the people that God has called us to be, if we are going to reach the unchurched for Christ, we must make space in our busy lives to love them into the Kingdom.  But that requires making critical choices—choosing not just what to do, but also what not to do.
 

I recently read that the desert fathers labeled busyness is just moral laziness.  Ouch!  It is not being intentional in discerning and pursuing the Spirit’s leading on what we should do.  Perhaps when people ask me, “How are you doing?” instead of responding, “I’m busy,” I should instead say, “Oh, I’m just morally lazy today.”  Double ouch!!

Well, I need to end this blog because I have a lot to do—Oh wait, maybe I’m just being morally lazy!  But let me challenge you today to slow down enough and consider: Is my busyness robbing me from accomplishing what God has called me to do?  What has God called me to do?  What has He called me not to do?  And amidst all those tasks, is my soul at rest, listening and pursuing the Spirit’s leading in my life?”

“I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do.”  (John 17:4)

33 “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”  (Matthew 6:33)

25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. (Galatians 6:25)

My heart is not proud, Lord,
    my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
    or things too wonderful for me.
But I have calmed and quieted myself,
    I am like a weaned child with its mother;
    like a weaned child I am content.

Israel, put your hope in the Lord
    both now and forevermore.

(Psalm 131)

August 8, 2017: Random Chance or Sovereignly Appointed?

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When it comes to our neighborhoods or workplaces, I think the tendency can be to think that we are where we are just by chance or by circumstance. In other words, we can think that we are living in our current neighborhoods only because it so happened that we liked our current house and we chose to live there. Or we can think that we are working in our present jobs because we needed work and our current employers happened to have openings and they hired us. But I’d submit to you there is something greater going on that you may not have been aware of.

In John 15:16, after Jesus tells us that He was the vine and we are the branches, He goes on to say this: “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.”

Here’s a few things that I want you to note from this passage (btw- I’ll let the Calvinist and Arminian theologians wrestle over the first few phrases in this passage!). Note that each of us has been appointed by Jesus. In other words, there is a calling that Jesus has given each of us. And a crucial part of that calling is that we would go and bear fruit, fruit that would last. This fruit could be referring to the fruit of the Spirit which is the internal characteristics that the Jesus wants to produce in us. But when you look at the context, more likely it is the fruit of ministry. And because Jesus says, “that you might go,” He probably has in mind reaching people who do not know Christ.

What this means is that Jesus has sovereignly placed you where you are in order that you can reach those around you in your sphere of influence. Maybe it is your neighborhood, your workplace, your extended family, your kids’ soccer team, or your kids’ play group families. Jesus has sovereignly placed you where He was placed you because there are people there whom He has ordained for you to reach for Himself.

When Ollie & I moved into our neighborhood, we found out that our next door neighbors had twin girls, although they unfortunately lost one of their daughters soon after birth. But it turns out that their girls have the same birthdate as our twin girls! I estimate that the odds of that happening is 1 in 21,800! (For those who like statistics, you can check my math below1). All to say, Ollie and I know God has sovereignly placed us in this neighborhood for a purpose.

And you know what? God has done the same for you! God has placed you in your neighborhood and in your workplace because He has appointed you that you might go and bear fruit, fruit that would remain.

So let’s join together and trust God to reach our spheres of influence, our Jerusalems. And together, we will have an impact on this community and yes, even on the world!

PS- If you missed this past Sunday, we began our new series, “With God On Mission.” I encourage you to listen to this first message.

1So here is the math: The odds of a twin birth in the USA is .0335. The odds of those twins being both girls is .25. The odds of those girls having the same birthdate as our girls is 1/365 or .00274. Therefore the odds that someone would have twin girls born the same day as our girls is .0335 x .25 x .0027397= .000022945 or approximately 1 in 43,600. But since there are two homes/families next to us, the odds are about 1 in 21,800. (Note: This does not take into account that many families have more than one birth; however, it also does not take into account that not all families in Lindenhurst have children at home, so rather than looking up all those statistics, I just assumed that those 2 factors would cancel each other out).

Tuesday, August 1, 2017, 8pm PT

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I’m here with Ollie and my sister Joan on a plane flying back from Seattle. We’ve had a great week with Hannah & Justin (2 of our 3 adult children; Christin was in Indonesia), my 3 siblings, my brother’s wife & grandson. We also enjoyed Justin’s girlfriend who was able to join us for a few days. We ate and talked, ate and laughed, ate and saw some spectacular sights, ate and relaxed, and ate some more! I can see why Seattle is such a popular place! I’m so grateful to have spent this time with our extended Okamoto family!

While we were staying at our vacation home I was able to spend consistent time with the Lord in the morning, but the last 4 days have been very busy. Some of us stayed at Justin’s apartment while others stayed in a hotel, which made connecting a bit more difficult. We did some traveling and had some earlier morning commitments and some late nights. All to say, my times with the Lord these past few days have been very inconsistent.

Which brings me to the present moment. I thought I should spend some time on the plane praying, but quite frankly, I don’t feel like it. In fact, God seems a little distant right now. It occurs to me that it is obviously not His fault, but mine. It’s so easy for the heart to drift. All it takes is a few days of not consistently connecting with Him, and my heart grows strangely cool to the Lord.

So what do you when that happens?

First, I need to keep pursuing the Lord. In Psalms 27, God says, “Seek my face.” The psalmist responds, “Your face, O Lord, shall I seek.” Seek God, even when you don’t feel like it. Secondly, recommit yourself to spending daily time with Him. It’s just like our relationship with our spouses. If we don’t connect with them, it’s easy to feel disconnected, even after a few days. Finally, reject the lie that God is distant from you. He is not only present with us, but Jesus’ Spirit lives in us. He yearns for us. He thinks about us all the time—much more than we think about Him. His compassion and grace passionately pursues us in love.

So I need to shut down my computer, and do those very things.

I look forward to reconnecting with you all this Sunday! Shalom!

 October 10, 2017: The Practice of Slowing

Yesterday was my day off.  After a busy weekend, I decided I really needed to slow down.  But once I got into the mode of doing outdoor chores, I found myself pushing my adrenaline button more times than I should have.  So instead of finishing the day refreshed, I once again went to bed feeling spent.  Now for me, I can tell when I have pushed my adrenaline button too many times because when I do, instead of sleeping well, my adrenaline button goes off all by itself.  So after 5 ½ hours of sleep, I found myself lying in bed, wide awake.

So I decided to get up and spend time with the Lord.  But in light of my addiction to busyness, I grabbed a book off my office shelf entitled, The Life You’ve Always Wanted by John Ortberg.  I read his chapter on “An Unhurried Life—The Practice of ‘Slowing.’”  Here’s an excerpt:

“You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.”  Imagine for a moment that someone gave you this prescription, with the warning that your life depends on it. Consider the possibility that perhaps your life does depend on it. Hurry is the great enemy of spiritual life in our day. Hurry can destroy our souls. Hurry can keep us from living well. As Carl Jung wrote, "Hurry is not of the Devil; hurry is the devil." Again and again, as we pursue spiritual life, we must do battle with hurry. For many of us the great danger is not that we will renounce our faith. It is that we will become so distracted and rushed and preoccupied that we will settle for a mediocre version of it. We will just skim [over] our lives instead of actually living them.

In the story of Mary & Martha, Jesus exhorted the task-driven Martha saying, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

What was that one thing?  It was experiencing the presence of Jesus, listening to His instructions, and staying connected with Him.  Interestingly, in the very next verse, Jesus models what He was trying to teach Martha.  Luke writes, “One day Jesus was praying in a certain place” (Luke 14:1).  Jesus must have done this regularly for the disciples asked Him to teach them to pray as well.  All to say, Jesus stayed connected with the Father.

So let me encourage you this morning, to stay connected with Jesus.  How?  By depending on the Spirit’s power and following His lead.  I think I remember someone speaking on that topic two Sundays ago.  Maybe I need to listen to his message!  :-)

PS- For further reading: Read the story of Mary and Martha at the end of Luke 10.  Then read Jesus’ teaching on prayer in Luke 11.  But then note the promise in v.13.  Why does Jesus highlight this particular promise?  Is there any connection between v.13 and 10:38-42?

 October 9, 2018: God’s Provision

Jesus talked a lot about the kingdom of heaven. That’s because He had a different worldview than ours. He saw that the real way to view this life is not from an earthly perspective, but rather from the eternal perspective of God and His kingdom. So in Matthew 6, Jesus encourages us not to worry about our financial provisions, but to trust in God our heavenly father to provide. He also exhorts us to live with an eternal perspective by seeking His kingdom first.

Ollie and I have by no means have done this perfectly, but overall we have tried to honor God with our finances. And it’s been fun to see how God continues to provide. In fact, it never ceases to surprise me by all the things He does to show us His faithfulness and goodness.

Here is just one recent example:

Over Labor weekend, I heard on the news that because stores have Labor Day sales, it can be a good time to buy certain items like gas grills. Now I had wanted to replace our gas grill for a while. It is over 20 years old and we have replaced the burners numerous times. But still, the grill cooks every unevenly. In fact, if I am not careful, I can burn a burger in one place while another burger sitting at another place is still completely raw. So when the news said that there was a grill on sale at Lowes for half price, I decided to check it out.

In purchasing appliances, we always first check out Consumer Reports. So I quickly glanced at the report but unfortunately, the grill at Lowes was not listed. But there was another grill that was rated very high, but with a surprisingly lower price than most of the top-rated grills. So I looked it up online and found that Amazon & Home Depot had it listed for $300. But then I noticed that Tractor Supply Company had it on a Labor Day sale for $169. So I went on their website to check it out.

Now the nearest Tractor Supply store is in Burlington, WI (although they are currently building one in Antioch). So I tried to see if I could buy it online and then pick it up in Burlington. But the website would not allow me to do it for that particular grill. At first I was very disappointed, especially since most of the other grills on their website allowed free shipping to one of their stores. But this was an instore purchase only. So I called their Burlington store, but they were sold out—another disappointment.

The next closest store was all the way out in Hebron. But for half price, I thought it might be worth it, so I called them. The woman responded, “Yes, we have them and they are on clearance right now for $110”! So Ollie drove out there that night and we bought a $300 top-rated grill for $110!

I can’t tell you how many times God has done that for us! All to say, if you apply the 4 principles and 7 practices of this message series on Dealing with Financial Pressures, I guarantee you that you too will have many stories like this to tell! Btw- what are those principles & practices? Join us this Sunday as we wrap up this series! You cannot afford to miss this last principle and practice!

 

 

 

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Sometimes I think that my best messages are the ones I preach in the car on the way home from church! So my blog gives me the opportunity to follow up with some afterthoughts. It’s all the things I wish I would have said on Sunday morning. Other times, it’s just things I’m still processing that have nothing to do with my last message.

So thanks for reading my ramblings. I hope you get something from them!
 
Wayne Okamoto
Pastor