Friday, December 31, 2010

2010

As the year ends I am simply thankful. Thankful for a God who doesn't give up on me. Thankful for a family who loves me. Thankful for brothers and sisters in Christ who encourage me. Thankful for a life that according to Ezekiel 18 should no longer exist.

I have battled against sin more fervently this year than ever before. Only this time I battled more in God's strength and promises rather than my own willpower and guilty conscience. God has intervened directly to remove stumbling blocks in my life. He has opened my eyes further to the pervasiveness of His grace and my utter dependence on Him which is a beacon for freedom rather than weakness. God's goodness has been humbling and inspiring.

I have learned to listen more and to talk less. I have learned to be more measured in my words instead of allowing a quick mind lead to a quick tongue. I have learned more deeply what it means to persevere in the midst of struggles. I have learned to rely on God more than myself. I have learned to give grace more freely because I have realized more fully how freely it has been given to me.

The darkness has been ever present. My flesh, the world and the Enemy continue to conspire to neutralize my effectiveness as an ambassador of Christ. The battle is daily...hourly...sometimes minute by minute. I don't prevail in every battle but I am more aware than ever that the battle is raging and I choose to engage rather than check out. When I stumble I rise anew in God's grace and forgiveness rather than attempting to clean myself up before seeking restoration.

The darkness is persistent, pervasive and real. But the light is greater. The light pierces the darkness that surrounds me. It pulls me out of the abyss and back to my Father. It prevails.

"The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it." - John 1:5

To borrow the theme from the Christmas Eve service...2010 has been illuminating.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

It's called CHRISTmas for a reason

I am getting fed up with reading "xmas" from Christians and non-Christians alike.

What a wonderful subtle dig by the enemy to find a seemingly innocuous way of removing the reason to celebrate Christmas.

I wish Christians would be more cognizant of the message they are sending by saving one second of typing.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Who Are You Glorifying?

At the heart of Christianity is the heart - God's heart and yours. Who does your heart love the most? What does your heart treasure the most? Where do your affections run deepest?

I generally don't post sermons as many can run up to an hour and I am cognizant of the busyness of many who may be reading this. So, when I do post a sermon, you can be assured there is a good reason involved. I have been incredibly convicted this year regarding my relationship with Jesus Christ. I had fallen into the subtle trap of loving God more for what He could do for me than loving Him simply for who He is.

As my heart is being brought back into right standing with God, I am seeing many more examples of this in my Christian friends. Some I can talk to about it, some I can't. A few are well aware of this struggle in their lives without me having to say a word. If I could have every Christian friend of mine watch one 30-minute sermon, I think this would be it. I strongly encourage you to take the time to watch it and to think and pray about what God may have to say to you through this. Believe me...He is speaking to me and will do the same for you if you just listen.

As he started this sermon, I was thinking of a John Piper quote (from God is the Gospel) that I had recently read in Francis Chan's "Crazy Love". Lo and behold, Britt used it just a couple minutes later. Here it is:

"The critical question for our generation - and for every generation - is this: If you could have heaven, with no sickness, and with all the friends you ever had on earth, and all the food you ever liked, and all the leisure activities you ever enjoyed, and all the natural beauties you ever saw, all the physical pleasures you ever tasted, and no human conflict or any natural disasters, could you be satisfied with heaven, if Christ was not there?"

Britt also used another Piper quote which he didn't actually ascribe to Piper. It's a question all of us need to take time to think about: "Do I ultimately love God because He makes much of me or because by giving His Son for me I am now enabled to make much of Him?

A few memorable lines from the sermon:

We have made good things into ultimate things.

We are willing to be God-centered as long as God is man-centered.

We are willing to boast in the cross as long as the cross is the witness of our worth.

From a Driscoll sermon that I think fits well here: "And I’m amazed at how many people buckle up and eat their vitamins and drink bottled water and watch their cholesterol and don’t even think about their eternity. They’re so consumed with their life they don’t remember that they will live forever somewhere."

"If you read history you find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next." - C.S. Lewis

Remember...nothing on this earth was meant to terminate on itself...especially our lives. Everything was meant to point to and glorify the Creator. Idols and addiction come when we make creation the end all.

FYI: This is a picture of Daisy with her 8-year old brother.

Owly Images


Friday, December 10, 2010

All Encompassing

Don't ever come to a point where you feel you have enough God in your life.

God wants more of your you.

Don't ever stop pursuing God.

He won't stop pursuing you.

Don't give up the fight because the battle is too hard.

He has already won the war.

Do you really know the One you call God...Heavenly Father...Savior and Lord?

Thursday, December 9, 2010

His Child, His Reflection, His Likeness

From Eldredge's "Waking the Dead"...

Certainly, you will admit that God is glorious. Is there anyone more kind? Is there anyone more creative? Is there anyone more valiant? Is there anyone more true? Is there anyone more daring? Is there anyone more beautiful? Is there anyone more wise? Is there anyone more generous? You are his offspring. His child. His reflection. His likeness. You bear his image. Do remember that though he made the heavens and the earth in all their glory, the desert and the open sea, the meadow and the Milky Way, and said, "It is good," it was only after he made you that he said, "It is very good" (Gen. 1:31). Think of it: your original glory was greater than anything that's ever taken your breath away in nature.

As for the saints who are in the land,
they are the glorious ones in whom is all my delight.
(Psalm 16:3)

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Are You in the World?

Go back to the 11/13 blog entry and re-read the paragraph from "The Prodigal God". I continue to think about why the American church tends to attract one kind of individual over another. I read a good blog entry from Mark Driscoll today which can be read in its entirety here:

http://theresurgence.com/2010/12/07/why-christians-go-postal-over-facebook-jay-z-yoga-avatar-and-culture-in-general

It brings up another possible answer to the question of why we tend to get moralistic people in our churches rather than the broken and marginalized. The simple answer is we go after the first group more willingly than the latter. Most of us find discomfort in connecting with those who have been discarded by society due to crime, addiction, poverty, bad circumstances or have committed a sin that we have chosen to view as worse than others. But it's a lot easier to seek out and invite those with whom we have much in common. The cycle simply feeds on itself as individuals of similar backgrounds and worldviews tend to congregate together leaving little room for those on the outside - both literally and figuratively. Christianity wasn't meant to be comfortable yet we have layered our desire for comfort on top of the Gospel leaving us with a watered down version that does little to transform lives.

Jesus actually had more in common with those who were ostracized and ridiculed because He was as well. Those who were readily accepted and deemed important because of who they were or what they did didn't really need Jesus. They had themselves. Jesus went after those who had come to the end of themselves.

Do we do the same?

This is one reason I so appreciate my parents. They engage in ministries to those in prison, ESL outreach to Bosnian and Chinese immigrants, the homeless and single moms who are struggling. I see Jesus in both of them. It's good. I need to follow their example more.

5 Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the LORD their God.
6 He is the Maker of heaven and earth,
the sea, and everything in them—
he remains faithful forever.
7 He upholds the cause of the oppressed
and gives food to the hungry.
The LORD sets prisoners free,
8 the LORD gives sight to the blind,
the LORD lifts up those who are bowed down,
the LORD loves the righteous.
9 The LORD watches over the foreigner
and sustains the fatherless and the widow,
but he frustrates the ways of the wicked. - Psalm 146:5-9

Sunday, December 5, 2010

When People Leave

Three or four months ago we had a new guy join our care group. He was invited by another member and was the first new face we had in awhile. He said he was incredibly thankful that he found this group and expressed a great desire to become a regular member. He was active in the discussion from the very beginning and seemed very willing to share his heart and lay out his struggles without fear or hesitation. In short, his presence and transparency were blessings.

This morning I received an email from him telling me to take him off the care group distribution list. No explanation.

Now, between this morning and the last time he attended a couple months ago he has taken a part-time evening job that has conflicted with the care group schedule. I had offered to move our schedule around to fit his if it would help but either his work schedule isn't consistent or he simply didn't want us to do that because he never responded to the offer.

I had sent two separate emails to him over the past month in an attempt to stay connected and to see how he is doing. That is in addition to the bi-weekly care group emails. I never got a response. Until this morning.

A month ago I bookmarked a blog entry that was geared toward pastors. It was about the range of emotions that a pastor endures when a member leaves and how they can best deal with that situation. At the time, I thought it might be useful for my friends in ministry. I wasn't thinking it was for me. God knew better. Here is one paragraph from that blog that describes how I am feeling:

"As much as they say “It’s not about you”, it usually feels like it is. It starts as a lump in the pit of your stomach that slowly makes it’s way up the twists and turns of internal plumbing, until it gets stuck firmly in the back of your throat. You didn’t see it coming and the hurt is commensurate to the level of the relationship. The closer the connection, the more intense the pain."

Granted, I had only known him a couple months but his enthusiasm and desire to be with us was good for my soul. When you open up your home, life and heart to another brother in Christ, and are quickly left with nothing, it can leave a significant void regardless of that relationship's duration.

So how should I process this? Here is what the blog suggests and I think they are good ideas:

* Be secure in the Fathers love. There was never any doubt in Jesus' mind about whether or not the Father loved him. I’ve got to believe that he knew His worth had nothing to do with how many were at the synagogue this Sabbath as compared to a year ago. The echo of the words of His baptism, “This is my son and I am really pleased with Him”, can’t be under estimated. A friend told me recently that our first thoughts every morning should focus on how much our Father loves us. Everyone else may think you are a jerk, but hey, what difference does it really make if God loves you?

* Try to play for an audience of one. Jesus says in John 6:38, “I have come to do the will of God who sent me, not what I want.” There’s a lot of pressure in trying to please everyone. As the crowd grows there will be more voices clamoring for your attention and potentially becoming offended if you don’t play their hand. One is a much less stressful number.

* Learn to process it with your inner circle. Even Jesus didn’t go at it alone. In response to his question Peter says, “Where are we going to go? You have the words of life.” You need people like that. “I’ve got your back” type of people. Sure you need some who will tell you when you’ve got spinach in your teeth, but you also need a few “I’m not going anywhere boss” types for situations like these. Do you have people like that in your inner circle? Do you have an inner circle?

* Trust in God’s sovereignty. Jesus knew ahead of time who would leave and who would stay. You and I don’t. It would be a great gift to have. It would certainly save time and a lot of grief. You may not know, but God does. And according to Romans 8:28, He will weave it into the plan in a way that serves both yours and His best interest.

Friday, December 3, 2010

So True...

Jesus has to thwart us too - thwart our self-redemptive plans, our controlling and our hiding, thwart the ways we are seeking to fill the ache within us. Otherwise, we would never fully turn to him for our rescue. Oh, we might turn to him for our "salvation," for a ticket to heaven when we die. We might turn to him even in the form of Christian service, regular church attendance, a moral life. But inside, our heart remains broken and captive and far from the One who can help us.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Matt Chandler's Latest Blog

Helpful to hear him confess issues with pride as that can be a struggle for me.

This Saturday, Dec. 4 marks the one-year anniversary of the 7-8 hour craniotomy that removed a malignant cancerous tumor from my brain and started a year of radiation, chemo and recovery. To say that we’ve been doing some reflecting as a family would be an understatement. So on the one-year anniversary here are a few random thoughts I’ve had:

He really is enough.

For years I have taught that simple sentence to people, and I believed with everything in me that it was true. Seeing it personally has been another story, like the difference between seeing a picture of the Grand Canyon and actually seeing it. I found out on Nov. 26 that I had a mass on my frontal lobe, on Tuesday Dec. 1 that I was going to need surgery soon and that the scans “didn’t look good,” and on Dec. 4 had a good portion of my right frontal lobe removed. I’ll be honest, that season was terrifying, and we wept. I wept with Lauren, my friends, family members, partners in ministry and by myself. Leading up to the surgery if I saw one of my children, particularly my oldest daughter Audrey, it was a fight to hold myself together. Under all of that fear and all those tears there was this quiet confidence, this firm foundation, this unshakable promise, and we never lost it. The world would sink in the days and months to come but we continually found our footing in the truth that He is in control of all things and loves me deeply (Romans 8:28-39).

The only thing that matters is I am His.

If you ask people about me, depending on who they are, they will tell you I am a husband, father, preacher, leader, son, brother, friend, etc. When we were prepping for surgery, they went over this long list of things that were “possibilities.” I could lose the ability to speak, walk and lose short-term or long-term memories. The list was much longer, but I think you get the point. I am primarily known as a pastor and preacher, but here’s the truth that slammed into me when I was wrestling with God over this surgery. One day I am not going to preach or pastor; one day I am not going to be Lauren’s husband or my kid’s father. All the things that define me here will be gone, and I will simply be His. I’m still meditating on that. That’s all I really am…His. Now, while He gives me breath there are sermons to preach and people to shepherd, children to impart the glory of God to and an extremely beautiful wife to love. All these things are shadows of a greater reality. (Ephesians 5:22-33, Colossians 2:17)
If it’s not by grace alone, I’m in a lot of trouble.

Jonathan Edwards was right to resolve, “to think much on all occasions of my own dying, and of the common circumstances which attend death.” The thought of dying, though repulsive to most of us, brings an uncanny clarity to life. I was told in mid-December that what I had was fatal and that the average lifespan was 2-3 years after diagnosis. So I have at max, 2 years left (I want to quote Twain here on statistics but don’t want to answer the e-mails and complaints in the comment section I would get). When you hear that kind of news, you do some real soul searching and here is something disturbing I found out about me. I don’t trust all my motivations in ministry. Now don’t get me wrong. I deeply, deeply love the God of the Bible. I love to proclaim Him and think about Him and talk about Him to anyone who’ll listen, but I learned in college that when I do that, good things happen and by good things I mean good things for me. People want to hear me teach; they pay me money. I’m actually “famous” in some circles. What a dangerous culture we live in. In some places being used powerfully by God can get you killed and here it makes you “famous.” Hear me confess this. I like it. I like that people download me, watch videos of me, want my take on things and I believe that there is a part of me (that’s hopefully dying) that likes it not just because it makes much of Jesus but makes much of me. That is an embarrassing truth about me, and I have fasted and prayed that God would put it to death. So to quote Lecrae “If Heaven ain’t a gift then I ain’t getting in.”

I suck at praying.

I didn’t think I did before this. I thought it was a strength, but I was wrong. When you realize that all you are is His, you realize or at least I did, that I don’t stay connected to Him as I have been commanded to. I would spend some time praying in the morning, but my life wasn’t saturated in it. I lived like I put my time in and now I can handle this. So again, I confess that I went into hundreds of meetings over my first seven years as pastor of The Village without asking for direction and wisdom, without asking for power and clarity. Although I knew I wasn’t wise enough, experienced enough or seasoned enough, I went and tried to be what they needed. I have grown exponentially in this area this year and I’m hoping that when I’m done with my race, I would be known not just as a faithful preacher of God’s Word but a man who communed with his Father without ceasing.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

If God grants me another 100 years, I couldn’t begin to thank all of you who have prayed, encouraged, sent me cards, letters, books, money, prayer blankets (BTW I sat under everyone of those blankets and received your prayers in Jesus’ name), pictures, paintings and poems. Things came in from all over the world, and the entire Chandler family felt the tangible love of God made visible through His saints.

If I kept going this would be too long to be considered a blog so I’ll stop here for now and write some more next week — including one of the biggest, most painful lessons I’ve learned.

Christ’s blessing to you all,
Matt Chandler

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Double Reach of Self Righteousness

From Pastor Tullian...

The Bible makes it clear that self-righteousness is the premier enemy of the Gospel. And there is perhaps no group of people who better embody the sin of self-righteousness in the Bible than the Pharisees. In fact, Jesus reserved his harshest criticisms for them, calling them whitewashed tombs and hypocrites. Surprisingly to some, this demonstrates that unrighteous badness is not the only threat to gospel advancement. Self-righteous goodness is equally toxic.

In Surprised by Grace: God’s Relentless Pursuit of Rebels, I retell the story of Jonah and show how Jonah was just as much in need of God’s grace as the sailors and the Ninevites. But the fascinating thing about Jonah is that, unlike the pagan sailors and wicked Ninevites, Jonah was one of the “good guys.” He was a prophet. He was moral. He was a part of God’s covenant community. He was one who “kept all the rules”, and did everything he was supposed to do. He wasn’t some long-haired, tattooed indie rocker; he was a clean-cut prep. He wasn’t a liberal; he was a conservative. He wasn’t irreligious; he was religious. If you’ve ever read S.E. Hinton’s novel The Outsiders, than you’ll immediately see that the Ninevites and the sailors in the story were like the “greasers”, while Jonah was like a “soashe.”

What’s fascinating to me is that, not only in the story of Jonah, but throughout the Bible, it’s always the immoral person that gets the Gospel before the moral person. It’s the prostitute who understands grace; it’s the Pharisee who doesn’t. It’s the unrighteous younger brother who gets it before the self-righteous older brother.

There is, however, another side to self-righteousness that younger-brother types need to be careful of. There’s an equally dangerous form of self-righteousness that plagues the unconventional, the liberal, and the non-religious types. We anti-legalists can become just as guilty of legalism in the opposite direction. What do I mean?

It’s simple: we can become self-righteous against those who are self-righteous.

Many younger evangelicals today are reacting to their parents’ conservative, buttoned-down, rule-keeping flavor of “older brother religion” with a type of liberal, untucked, rule-breaking flavor of “younger brother irreligion” which screams, “That’s right, I know I don’t have it all together and you think you do; I know I’m not good and you think you are. That makes me better than you.” See the irony?

In other words, they’re proud that they’re not self-righteous!

Listen: self-righteousness is no respecter of persons. It reaches to the religious and the irreligious; the “buttoned down” and the “untucked.” The entire Bible reveals how shortsighted all of us are when it comes to our own sin. For example, it was easy for Jonah to see the idolatry of the sailors. It was easy for him to see the perverse ways of the Ninevites. What he couldn’t see was his own idolatry, his own perversion. So the question is, in which direction does your self-righteousness lean?

Thankfully, while our self-righteousness reaches far, God’s grace reaches farther. And the good news is, that it reaches in both directions!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Life Well Spent

I have heard it said there is a story inside
Begging to be set free out of need and not pride
To give voice to the struggle that one must endure
In order to stand in what is right and pure
But now I think that story is more than a word
It is a life well spent that can best be heard
For to glorify God in all bears much fruit
In us and in those who witness our pursuit

"I want to be one of those rare Christians whose very presence
incites others to also be better Christians." A.W. Tozer

"The most powerful sermons are lived, not merely preached."
- Rick Warren

Counterfeit Gospels

From Pastor Tullian's blog...

In his book How People Change (co-authored with Tim Lane), Paul Tripp identifies seven counterfeit gospels– ways we try and “justify” or “save” ourselves apart from the gospel of grace. I found these unbelievably helpful. Which one (or two, or three) of these do you tend to gravitate towards?

Formalism. “I participate in the regular meetings and ministries of the church, so I feel like my life is under control. I’m always in church, but it really has little impact on my heart or on how I live. I may become judgmental and impatient with those who do not have the same commitment as I do.”

Legalism. “I live by the rules—rules I create for myself and rules I create for others. I feel good if I can keep my own rules, and I become arrogant and full of contempt when others don’t meet the standards I set for them. There is no joy in my life because there is no grace to be celebrated.”

Mysticism. “I am engaged in the incessant pursuit of an emotional experience with God. I live for the moments when I feel close to him, and I often struggle with discouragement when I don’t feel that way. I may change churches often, too, looking for one that will give me what I’m looking for.”

Activism. “I recognize the missional nature of Christianity and am passionately involved in fixing this broken world. But at the end of the day, my life is more of a defense of what’s right than a joyful pursuit of Christ.”

Biblicism. “I know my Bible inside and out, but I do not let it master me. I have reduced the gospel to a mastery of biblical content and theology, so I am intolerant and critical of those with lesser knowledge.”

Therapism. “I talk a lot about the hurting people in our congregation, and how Christ is the only answer for their hurt. Yet even without realizing it, I have made Christ more Therapist than Savior. I view hurt as a greater problem than sin—and I subtly shift my greatest need from my moral failure to my unmet needs.”

Social-ism. “The deep fellowship and friendships I find at church have become their own idol. The body of Christ has replaced Christ himself, and the gospel is reduced to a network of fulfilling Christian relationships.”

As I said a few months ago in one of my sermons, there are outside-the-church idols and there are inside-the-church idols. It’s the idols inside the church that ought to concern Christians most. It’s easier for Christians to identify worldly idols such as money, power, selfish ambition, sex, and so on. It’s the idols inside the church that we have a harder time identifying.

For instance, we know it’s wrong to bow to the god of power—but it’s also wrong to bow to the god of preferences. We know it’s wrong to worship immorality—but it’s also wrong to worship morality. We know it’s wrong to seek freedom by breaking the rules—but it’s also wrong to seek freedom by keeping them. We know God hates unrighteousness—but he also hates self-righteousness. We know crime is a sin—but so is control. If people outside the church try to save themselves by being bad; people inside the church try to save themselves by being good.

The good news of the gospel is that both inside and outside the church, there is only One Savior and Lord, namely Jesus. And he came, not to angrily strip away our freedom, but to affectionately strip away our slavery to lesser things so that we might become truly free!

Chandler Article

http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/dn/latestnews/stories/112610dnmetpastorcancer.3fcb92b.html

An excerpt:

During a break at his most recent visit to Baylor hospital, Chandler said, "At the end of the day, I don't believe God gave me this cancer, but I do believe he could have stopped it and didn't. ... God is not punishing me, but somehow, for my joy and his glory, he's let me endure this and walked me through."

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Interesting Dream Last Night

I had a dream in which I was talking on the phone with my friend Brian and we were discussing spiritual matters. I was talking to him about the temptation to compartmentalize our relationship with God and keep it separate from the areas of our lives that we want to keep to ourselves. I was telling him how essential it is that God permeates and saturates everything we say and do because we belong to Him completely. I also distinctly remember telling me that I struggle with this quite often because I am, after all, selfish and a sinner.

Then he said something about how I shouldn't judge myself. So, then I continued on about the two types of judging...how we are called to admonish one another when we see a brother/sister in Christ on the wrong road and how God is the ultimate Judge when it comes to our eternal destination. I mentioned how many non-Christians like to use the verse "Do not judge, lest ye be judged" (yes, I was in King James mode apparently) in an attempt to be excused from any moral bounds when that isn't how the verse was intended. In the dream, my mom and dad were in the background nodding their approval at my words. It was nice to have their affirmation.

These types of dreams occur fairly often. I find it pretty cool that God gives me opportunities to practice discipling and witnessing while I am unconscious. Talk about a productive use of sleeping. Does anyone else have these kinds of dreams?

Comments can now be made on my blog if you care to answer there.

Blessed Thanksgiving

This is the first Thanksgiving that I have spent apart from my family. As we were just together a few weeks ago for my sister's wedding it was agreed upon that it would also serve as our celebration as we certainly had many things to be thankful for during that weekend. Given the inclement weather and my brother being in Chicago it appears for the best that we would reconvene as a family at Christmas.

It is also of benefit to me as I feel the need for time with God. I need this time of rest, reflection and meditation. This morning has already proven fruitful in those endeavors. As a cold rain (and now snow) falls outside, I am thankful for God's presence and His truths which have been expressed through Hank Hanegraaff and the beginning of Charles Spurgeon's autobiography.

"If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead." - Luke 16:31

My "Jewish" friends are never far from my thoughts. I put Jewish in quotes to indicate that while they have ancestral connections and engage in some of the customs, their belief in the Torah is anything but foundational. This verse reminded me of the night of the BBQ and the never ending skepticism that was thrown my way regarding God's truth. Truly, there is no amount of apologetics that I can present that will convince them to accept God's truth as absolute. Only an act of the very God in question will suffice. I do find that freeing...knowing that I am responsible only for sharing diligently...not for changing their hearts.

Charles Spurgeon recounts a story of a servant who asked his master to be allowed to leave his cottage and sleep over the stable. What was the matter with his cottage? "Why, sir, the nightingales all around the cottage make such a 'jug, jug, jug,' at night that I cannot bear them." A man with a musical ear would be charmer with the nightingales' song, but here was a man without a musical soul who found the sweetest notes a nuisance. This is a feeble image of the incapacity of unregenerate man for the enjoyments of the world to come, and as he is incapable of enjoying them, so is he incapable of longing for them.

Read that last sentence again. In our last Bible Study, Francis Chan asked us through "Crazy Love", "Why do so few people genuinely find joy and pleasure in their relationship with God?" What do you think?

If you don't love God you won't enjoy Him. If you don't enjoy God you won't desire Him.


"The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies Me." ~ Psalm 50:23

"If mans hunger proves he inhabits a world where food exists, my desire for Paradise is a good indication it exists." - C.S. Lewis

Monday, November 22, 2010

It Can Be So Subtle

The whole article can be found here and is worth reading...

http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2010/11/22/the-3-most-disturbing-words-on-tv/


There are other terrors that lurk in primetime slots of our national networks. Few Christians would openly defend viewing a show like Rock of Love, but who doesn’t get teary-eyed watching the final moments of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition? Never mind that it’s a spinoff of a show about radical plastic surgery, EMHE pulls together a whole community to give a deserving family a new, grandiose home. Who could argue with that?

Which brings me to the three most disturbing words on television: “Move that bus.”

Again, there’s no arguing with the warmth and altruistic sentiments of the show. The families who have been profiled always seem to be wonderful people, I don’t impugn them or the show’s creators with secret evil intentions. But a disturbing thing happens in the final moments of the show. After profiling the family’s suffering, after talking about hardship and perseverance, after recruiting an army of volunteers, the family is brought in front of the new home, which is hidden from view by a large touring bus. They count down and call out those three words, and the reaction can only be described as worship. There are tears and shouting while people fall to their knees, hands raised in the air.

Here it is on bold display: the ultimate hope of most Americans. It’s as though a phantom voice is responding to their suffering with the words, Well done, good and faithful servant. Here is your reward: dreamy bedrooms, big-screen TVs, privacy fencing, and wireless internet. We watch. We weep. And we hope for ourselves. It’s yet another gospel alternative, this one packaged as a heart-warming vision of the way life is “supposed to be.”

Sunday, November 21, 2010

My Sin Isn't Very Original

Thinking about this today...

"At the heart of sin is the feeling that God's commands are a burden rather than a blessing."

"Could it be that his glory and our well-being really are part of the same script?"

The oldest lie is that we can become God...and that we deserve to be like God. All of us are susceptible to the desire of being our own God. But why? For me, I guess it's still a belief that I know myself better than anyone else so I know what is best for me better than anyone else. Obviously untrue since the Creator knows his creation intimately. However, maybe there is a sense that God isn't as familiar with me now as He was on the day I was born. A lot has happened...a lot has changed. Do I truly believe He has been paying attention every second along the way?

Maybe it's also a sense that I just don't need any more authority figures in my life. Look at all the people/institutions in our lives that give us direction which we must follow or face consequences. Parents, teachers, coaches, government, bosses, etc. I get to the point of just saying, "OK, enough. I got it. Let me do it." The prideful part of me has the same attitude as when I was 2. "Thanks but I can do it on my own. I don't want your help because I know I can handle it." A necessary attitude at points in our temporal life. A dangerous attitude at every point in our spiritual life.

The follow up to that is the thought that this is my life. Sheesh, I only get one life here so just let me live it Lord. You get me for eternity so can I please be in charge of this brief window of earthly existence? I mean...does it always have to be about YOU??? I fall into the trap of thinking that doing everything for the glory of God is somehow mutually exclusive to my happiness and fulfillment. It's the same lie that says obeying God's commands is going to rob me of the enjoyment of the things I really like doing on a daily basis. Nevermind the fact that God is much more interested in my ultimate joy than I am and that He knows infinitely better how to go about producing true joy and satisfaction in my life based on things that truly matter.

Adam and Eve fell for Satan's lie that becoming like God was justifiable and advantageous. We fall for the same lie every single day.

I still act like I'm 2.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Faith

There is no way of getting around faith. Faith is essential to the life of a Christian. Not blind faith but faith nonetheless. God didn't leave us without a mountain of tangible evidence to support our faith in Him but there is something deeper beyond that which satisfies our logic and intellect. When tragedy comes to us in this fallen world it is of little use to us to know apologetics. Instead we need faith to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that God is on His throne, that He is in control and that He is personally and intimately involved in our lives. We need faith to have the assurance that God loves us completely and will not leave us and that what is happening to us will ultimately be worked for our good and for His glory.

5 weeks ago Chris Norton injured his spine in a football game and he initially had paralysis from the neck down. He is a freshman at Luther. I worked with his mom for 3 years over a decade ago and became a friend of the family although we have lost touch over the years. My mom brought this incident to my attention and I have been following his progress at the Mayo Clinic with daily updates through CaringBridge. The Norton family loves Jesus. They are living our their faith beautifully in the midst of something tragic. Chris is already progressing well ahead of his initial diagnosis. I just want to share excerpts of some of the postings from his dad because I think they are beautiful and poignant and words that are edifying and inspiring for all of us to read. I have always loved this passage:

8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. - Philippians 4:8-9

And finally I want to thank God. We do not question "why" this happened. We will never know. This battle has only just begun. But we face tomorrrow without fear in our hearts. I pray that Chris will have a full recovery and for the strength of our family. I also pray that this battle will not be in vain. I pray that somehow through this that others will rexamine their relationship with God. That people will hold their families a little closer to their heart, that wounds between friends will begin to mend and that we all look a little closer at what is really imortant in our lives. That is my prayer.


Tuesday night when I was home (we came up on Wednesday) I was flipping through my bible and came across a Daily Bread that I had tucked in the leather cover. On the front was Psalm 46:10 "Be still, and know that I am God". It brought such a sense of peace over me. When I arrived in Rochester I shared this verse with Deb. I told her I felt the most calm I had felt since this had happened. I felt so positive about what was to come. The next morning Chris wiggled his toes.


There was an article in the DM Register today. It was nicely done. There was however one quote I heard Chris say that I wished would have made the paper. Chris responded to one of the questions, "it is tough, but I know God has a plan for me." To have an 18 year old son have that kind of faith? I can honestly say it was one of the proudest moments I have had as a father.


The first week after Chris' injury I contacted Steve, one of my best friends, that I needed strong Christian men to pray for me as a father. The following day he had 24 guys assesmbled in a room to give me support on a conference call. That has turned in to a men's support group that meets once a week for an hour and call me. I shared with them last week that many of them had known me for 15-20 years. I told them I have seen miracles. Whether it is people taking us in to their home to stay at no charge, providing us with financial and prayer support, people we didn't know before coming to our aid. People like Greg, who have provided us with support when we needed it most. And I have seen healing and strength in my son. There are no coincidences.


5 weeks ago today my guy friends and I did not hug or express that we "loved" each other,
5 weeks ago today little, petty words and slights separated me from some of my friends that have all now become meaningless
5 weeks ago today I took things for granted and did not give "thanks" for every blessing bestowed upon us,
5 weeks ago today I did not realize how many of my friends, co-workers, and others around me are Christians (why are we afraid to express that?)
5 weeks ago today I stressed about little things like bills, work, our lawn, sports, etc
5 weeks ago today our Faith was tested and our lives have been changed forever


I should be in bed trying to get some sleep but I had some things on my mind. I was thinking about the word "faith". Sometimes we like to use words that sound "catchy" but really have no substance or meaning to us. I have been involved in sports all of my life and have watched people who talk the talk, but don't walk the walk. They use words like "heart", "competitor", "winner", but what I have found is that we all look good and sound believable when things are going well. It is easy to talk about these things when things are going our way, and we are "front runners". But where these words really have meaning is when things don't follow our plan, when things don't go like we want them to, or when we are truly faced with adversity and the wheels are falling off. The world is full of good "intentions". When I talk about "faith", it is not a general I have faith in the future, or faith in good luck, or faith in my own abilities. My "faith" is based on a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. And because of this faith, I welcome what tomorrow has to bring for us.


Romans 5: 3-5
"More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that sufferings produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us."

I keep telling Chris that he is been tried by "fire" and will come out steel. I asked him what could he not accomplish after this? I leave with this last thought. As I watch Chris in his occupational therapy try to feed himself and it literally exhausts a person who was in the best shape of their life until they can't raise their arm anymore, I think about all of the complaining I have done in my life about meaningless things, and all that I have taken for granted in my life, I think we all need to give thanks for our blessings each and every day, and appreciate all that we have.


Chris and I were talking about a specific bible verse last night and he reminded me that is what he had written on his shoes during basketball season. Joshua 1:9 "Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go." People ask us how we are able to have such a positive attitude as we face each day. We have a positive attitude because we believe His word to be true.


As a parent, this is the toughest thing I have ever had to deal with. I see so many posts from parents, and I think we all have a common bond. I would step out in front of a truck to protect my children, as I know all of you would. I can honestly say without my Christian faith I have no idea how I would be able to get through this. Nights are the toughest because they are the toughest on Chris. We read posts from this site, read scripture, and talk. I have no doubt what the power of prayer can do. I have witnessed one small miracle after another, whether it is an unknown person stepping forward and offering their home, or family and friends helping us with taking care of our pets at home, chores around the house, and fund raising. We have had people call or send cards at times we have really needed it. I believe there are good days ahead. I have already seen the impact on our family in terms of our Christian walk and the love that has grown stronger between all of us. I pray for continued strength for our family, and all families who are facing struggles in their lives as well.
Isaiah 41:10
Fear not, for I am with you;
Be not dismayed for I am your God.
I will strengthen you,
Yes, I will help you.
I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Jesus Identifies With Us

Most important tenet of Christianity (in my opinion) and toughest lesson to learn?



It's not about me.

If you get this it will change life as you know it.

I am still trying to fully grasp it.

Who is the central character in your story? You or God?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

On My Mind

Remember this? From Tim Keller's "The Prodigal God"...

"Jesus' teaching consistently attracted the irreligious while offending the Bible-believing, religious people of his day. However, in the main, our churches today do not have this effect. The kind of outsiders Jesus attracted are not attracted to contemporary churches, even our most avant-garde ones. We tend to draw conservative, buttoned-down, moralistic people. The licentious and liberated or the broken and marginal avoid church. That can only mean one thing. If the preaching of our ministers and the practice of our parishioners do not have the same effect on people that Jesus had, then we must not be declaring the same message that Jesus did. If our churches aren't appealing to younger brothers (as in the younger brother from the parable of the Prodigal Son), they must be more full of elder brothers (again, from the same parable) than we'd like to think."

I read a lot. Some things I remember and some things I forget within hours or days. This paragraph is something that has stayed on my mind for well over a year now. The original post was in August 2009 and I followed it up in October 2009 with insight from a John Piper sermon and his quoting John 5:43, "I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not receive me. If another comes in his own name, you will receive him." The implication being that people will be attracted to a preacher who makes much of himself because we all have an inherent desire to do the same. It's natural to follow someone who is doing the same thing we want to do. This is part of the answer but there must be more as God keeps bringing the question back to me.

I saw a Lady Gaga TV special this week on her rise to fame and success. It noted that one of her biggest fan bases has been the homosexual community. Care to guess why? Because she wears outrageous clothes? Because they love her music? I am sure both of those play a part. But the primary reason is because she accepts them for who they are. (I understand that as a Christian I would say that homosexuality is a behavior and not rooted in identity.) Jesus did this as well. Now, he never left people where He found them. An encounter with the living God made a difference. Jesus led people to His father. Lady Gaga leads them no closer to God. But there is this unconditional acceptance offered by both that I found to be an interesting parallel.

Do most churches do that? Are we unconditionally accepting of anyone that walks through our doors? Or are we instinctively judging their appearance, clothes, smell, language, manners, etc.? I'm listening to a Chandler sermon tonight. In it he says this, "The prettier a church becomes, the more I tend not to trust it. Like if I walk into a community of faith where I am teaching on a weekend where I am not here (meaning, his church) and everybody is pretty and nobody is struggling and there are no issues and there are no problems and nobody is immature, then I think we have (spiritual) drift. Because the church has always been a rag tag, battered group of humanity that God has glorified because He uses such people. More and more churches have become about themselves...a self-betterment place. Do these things to feel better about yourself instead of...this is the mission of God, let's join Him in what He is doing."

A guy in my care group recently returned to his church after a several month hiatus surrounding the birth of his first child. As he sat in their Sunday morning Bible class with his wife, he made a very interesting observation. No one was sharing anything personal. He was made very aware of it because we lay it all out on the table in care group. Why are people reluctant to share with their church community on a Sunday morning? I think the top reason is because they want everyone else to think that their life is good and that they have no problems. You don't glorify God by pretending everything is OK. You glorify yourself. And you certainly don't influence others for Christ with that attitude. No one ever said to me, "Chris, I see that your life is so great and you have no issues. That makes me want Jesus." No. Someone sees perceived perfection in someone's life and they simply want that person's life. People are drawn to Jesus because they see your failures and your brokenness and they can truly RELATE to you. Then they see God's working in your life through changed desires, restored relationships and a mending heart and they desperately want Jesus Christ to do the same for them.

But most churches rarely get that real. They play in the kiddie pool of Christianity where everyone is on their best behavior and no one wants to be the first to admit that they are literally at the end of their rope. They would rather hang on to a fantasy that justifies themselves in the eyes of others then fall on their face and cry out for God's grace and the love of their community. I think this is why so many churches attract conservative, buttoned-down, moralistic people. A church community that finds its image in itself will draw like-minded people. The most broken, marginalized members of our society have reached a point of no longer finding salvation with themselves so there is no place for them in these churches. They are simply looking for a Savior, something outside of themselves, something bigger than themselves, something to fill the emptiness that they can't deny any longer. Jesus always recognized that desire in people and he pursued them. Many of our churches don't even allow that desire to be expressed...let alone pursue those who need to hear of God's love and grace the most.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Gospel Tweets

God's law reveals how quick we are to run from him; God's gospel reveals how quick he is to run after us.

God's law is for those who think they're good; God's gospel is for those who know they're bad.

http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/gospeldrivenchurch/2013/09/16/can-i-tell-you-about-my-friend-jesus/

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Amen

Prayer Answered by Crosses
By John Newton

I asked the Lord that I might grow 

In faith and love and every grace, 

Might more of his salvation know, 

And seek more earnestly his face.

‘Twas he who taught me thus to pray; 

And he, I trust, has answered prayer; 

But it has been in such a way 

As almost drove me to despair.

I hoped that, in some favoured hour, 

At once he’d answer my request, 

And by his love’s constraining power 

Subdue my sins, and give me rest.

Instead of this, he made me feel 

The hidden evils of my heart, 

And let the angry powers of hell 

Assault my soul in every part.

Yea, more, with his own hand he seemed
Intent to aggravate my woe, 

Crossed all the fair designs I schemed, 

Blasted my gourds, and laid me low.

Lord, why is this? I trembling cried; 

Wilt thou pursue this worm to death? 

This is the way, the Lord replied
I answer prayer for grace and faith.

These inward trials I now employ 

From self and pride to set thee free,
And break thy schemes of earthly joy, 

That thou may’st seek thy all in me.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

I am learning this...

Only the gospel can liberate us from our enslaving thirst to control what others think about us.

Just a quick follow up. This is one of the other side effects of being the "smart kid" or the "funny guy". I began to live out of what others liked best about me. It's pretty hard to have others see Jesus Christ when they look at you if you are spending your time trying to desperately control the image other people see. It's not authentic or genuine.

In beginning to learn that my life and worth are defined by what God has done for me rather than the things I do, it blows up the need to control others' perceptions of me. I can rest in the fact that I am enough because of Christ. I find it much easier now to just be me. I have fewer desires to appear like I have it all together. In fact, I find it more liberating to admit my failures. In doing so, deeper conversations can take place because others are disarmed by my admissions of weakness and God's strength is made great when others know that he has sustained me and pursued me through selfishness and sin.

I am caring less what others think and more of what God thinks. I am learning.

The Greatest Treasure

This just fits right in with what God has been talking to me about so I wanted to post it here. From the book "Justified: Modern Reformation Essays on the Doctrine of Justification."

=====================================================

Scripture is of no use to us if we read it merely as a handbook for daily living without recognizing that its principle purpose is to reveal Jesus Christ and his gospel for the salvation of sinners. All Scripture coalesces in Christ, anticipated in the OT and appearing in the flesh in the NT. In Scripture, God issues commands and threatens judgment for transgressors as well as direction for the lives of his people. Yet the greatest treasure buried in the Scriptures is the good news of the promised Messiah.

Everything in the Bible that tells us what to do is “law”, and everything in the Bible that tells us what God has done in Christ to save us is “gospel.” Much like medieval piety, the emphasis in much Christian teaching today is on what we are to do without adequate grounding in the good news of what God has done for us in Christ. “What would Jesus do?” becomes more important than “What has Jesus done?” The gospel, however, is not just something we needed at conversion so we can spend the rest of our Christian life obsessed with performance; it is something we need every day–the only source of our sanctification as well as our justification. The law guides, but only the gospel gives. We are declared righteous–justified–not by anything that happens within us or done by us, but solely by God’s act of crediting us with Christ’s perfect righteousness through faith alone.

======================================================

The commands in the Bible are like a set of railroad tracks. The tracks provide no power for the train but the train must stay on the tracks in order to function. The law, in other words, never gives any power to do what it commands. It shows us what a sanctified life looks like but it has no sanctifying power. Only the gospel has power, as it were, to move the train. This is why the Bible never tells us what to do before first soaking our hearts and minds in what God in Christ has already done.

The fact is, that any obedience not grounded in or motivated by the gospel is unsustainable. No matter how hard you try, how “radical” you get, any engine smaller than the gospel that you’re depending on for power to obey will conk out in due time.

Monday, October 25, 2010

You Aren't God

"The stamp of the Saint is that he can waive his own rights and obey the Lord Jesus." - C.S. Lewis

Matt Chandler wrapped up his 20-sermon series on Colossians a few weeks ago and is starting a series on the ultimate authority of God.

Here's the truth...you have no inherent rights.

Psalm 115, Daniel 4, Romans 9.

The point is clear. God can and will do what He wants in whatever way He wants to do it. Not a popular topic to preach. We are much more interested in the verses that make us feel warm and cuddly. We like the verses that help us make God into the image we want rather than explore the depths of His actual being.

Humans have always been keenly interested in their rights and what they deserve. The US Constitution speaks to every human as having certain unalienable rights...right to life, right to liberty and the pursuit of happiness. George W Bush also used the idea of "rights to freedom" as one of his many justifications for the Iraqi war. Do we really have any rights?

The right to life seems like a no brainer. But that is a right only in the context that God gives life and it is up to God, and not to man, when that life should end. So, it's not our right we should be fighting for in the war against abortion but rather that humans shouldn't be taking a life that isn't their right to take.

Chandler talked about the modern day understanding of human rights being born in the "Age of Enlightenment" from 18th century France. Jefferson and Franklin were both spectators and students of that movement whose primary purpose was to abolish the authority of state religion and the hereditary aristocracy. In its place, proponents believed that human logic and reason should dictate the rights of the individual rather than some faceless, power-hungry institution. (As a quick aside, the times that Christianity has gotten in the most trouble and strayed furthest from the will of God is when it has aligned itself with the powers of this world.)

So, the language of the Constitution makes sense in that context, as well as the tyranny that the Founders and their families had experienced both in Britain as well as in the wars leading to the founding of this nation. It is pervasive in our culture now. The idea that we are entitled to certain things and that our sense of fairness and justice is rational and justified are as natural as the air we breathe.

How does it make you feel to hear God say that He will do what He wants in whatever manner pleases Him? Does it make you say, "But wait...or what about...or that doesn't seem...?" God's sovereignty will drive you to one of two places. It will either lead to immense anger as you feel yourself being trampled upon by a dictator or it will lead to immense freedom and joy as the benevolent and just Creator of the Universe is on His throne. Your response will be largely determined on whether or not you think you are the center of the story. Most of us think we are...even Christians.

The only right you have is the right of sonship...the right to be called a child of God because of the cross. And guess what? That right wasn't inherent in your being a human. It was a gift of grace and mercy.

Friday, October 22, 2010

True Love

I came across this quote by C.S. Lewis this week...

"I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer. You are yourself the answer."

If I had to sum up what God has been teaching me over the past year this would probably be the best way to do it. I have had a couple conversations with friends lately in which they wondered why God wasn't answering their prayers. It was certainly true that what they were asking for and desiring wasn't sinful and wouldn't be viewed as self-centered. In fact, they were desires that all of us have at one time or another as human beings who need love and rest.

It seems as though that one of their gut reactions was to question God when He didn't come through in the timing or manner in which they thought made the most sense. It wasn't necessarily that they were questioning God's sovereignty or love but certainly His actions, or lack thereof, and His reasoning.

This to me gets right back to Tim Keller's "Prodigal God". Both sons, the younger and the elder, didn't want their father. They wanted only what their father could give them. The elder brother may have even convinced himself that he loved his father but he couldn't fool himself any longer after his father didn't give him what he thought he deserved.

I think C.S. Lewis offers the best insight into the heart of God that I have come across. God may not (I can't know for sure) be answering your prayer(s) because He is waiting for you to want Him more than what you are praying for.

I quote this verse to my friend all the time..."But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well." - Matthew 6:33. I remember singing that song in Midweek choir practice when I was a youngster. I loved singing it then but I love it even more now because I understand what it means. By giving you whatever you ask without teaching you to seek Him first, God would simply be enabling you to live a life void of true love for Him. If you have someone in your life that you only keep around because of what they can offer you, you definitely don't have love for them...only for what they can give you.

God is more interested in giving us Himself than anything else. That is what the cross is all about. We keep asking for the Creator to give us His creation when we should just be asking the Creator for more of the Creator. In God you will find rest, relationship, provision, peace and unconditional love and grace. Do you really need anything else?

I am not saying that it is wrong to ask God for other things. The Lord's Prayer makes it clear that it is good and right to bring our petitions and requests to the throne of the Almighty. But we would be well served on every level to start and end our prayers with pleas for the Almighty Himself. You don't glorify God by asking for anything but Him.

"Thou art coming to a King, Large petitions with thee bring; For His grace and power are such, None can ever ask too much." - John Newton

The gospel exhorts us not to purchase from the world (security, significance, etc.) a false version of what we already possess in Christ.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Follow Up Quotes

"Better a hundred times to have less and have God than to have more and cloud the face of God." - A.W. Tozer

"Thou hast created us for Thyself, and our heart is restless until it rests in Thee." ~Saint Augustine

The partner in crime of our sinful nature is an unsatisfied soul.

You will become a bitter, angry, and sad person if you do not see God's love for you behind your suffering.

"God allows us to experience the low points of life in order to teach us lessons that we could learn in no other way." ~ CS Lewis

Friday, October 8, 2010

Forgiveness

"The essence of forgiveness is absorbing pain instead of giving it." - Tim Keller

"Mercy and forgiveness must be free and unmerited to the wrongdoer. If the wrongdoer has to do something to merit it, then it isn’t mercy, but forgiveness always comes at a cost to the one granting the forgiveness." - Tim Keller

"It's impossible to love someone who has sinned against you grievously unless you're aware that you're capable of the same sin." - Pastor Tullian

"Whatever offense you've received is infinitely smaller than the offense God has received from you. The Gospel frees you to forgive quickly." - Pastor Tullian

"Don't buy the lie of bitterness. It's like drinking poison hoping it will kill the other person, but you're the one who dies." - Jefferson Bethke

“Many of us are being held hostage by bitterness because we are not willing to give to others what we have been given.” -Tony Evans

"When I am bitter and unforgiving what I am really saying in my heart is, 'I am better then you as I would never do what you just did.'" - Tim Keller

"If they are wrong they need your prayers all the more and if they are your enemies, you are under orders to pray for them." - C.S. Lewis

"When someone does you wrong....trying to hold a grudge and wish pain on them is like holding your breath and hoping they suffocate."



From "Captivating" by John Eldredge:

We must forgive those who hurt us. The reason is simple: Bitterness and unforgiveness are claws that set their hooks deep in our hearts; they are chains that keep us held captive to the wounds and the messages of those wounds. Until you forgive, you remain their prisoner. Paul warns us that unforgiveness and bitterness can wreck our lives and the lives of others (Eph. 4:31; Heb. 12:15). We have to let them go.

Forgive as Christ has forgiven you. (Col 3:13)

Now - listen carefully. Forgiveness is a choice. It is not a feeling - don't try and feel forgiving. It is an act of the will. "Don't wait to forgive until you feel like forgiving," wrote Neil Anderson. "You will never get there. Feelings take time to heal after the choice to forgive is made . . ." We allow God to bring the hurt up from our past, for "if your forgiveness doesn't visit the emotional core of your life, it will be incomplete." We acknowledge that it hurt, that it mattered, and we choose to extend forgiveness to our father, our mother, those who hurt us. This is not saying, "It didn't really matter"; it is not saying, "I probably deserved part of it anyway." Forgiveness says, "It was wrong. Very wrong. It mattered, hurt me deeply. And I release you. I give you to God."

It might help to remember that those who hurt you were also deeply wounded themselves. They were broken hearts, broken when they were young, and they fell captive to the Enemy. They were in fact pawns in his hands. This doesn't absolve them of the choices they made, the things they did. It just helps us to let them go - to realize that they were shattered souls themselves.


http://pastormark.tv/2012/08/14/5-crucial-steps-for-reconciliation

http://www.bloggingtheologically.com/2014/03/24/3-things-forgiveness

http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2014/may/forgiving-sins-of-my-father.html

www.bloggingtheologically.com/2014/07/28/when-forgiveness-becomes-a-discipline

http://dailykeller.com/what-is-forgiveness/

Opening Up My Eyes

You fought but you were just too weak
So you lost all the things you tried to keep
Now you're on your knees
You're on your knees

But wait everything can change
In a moments' time
You don't have to be afraid
'Cause fear is just a lie
Open up your eyes

And He'll break open the skies to save
Those who cry out His name
The one the wind and waves obey
Is strong enough to save you


I have heard this Tenth Avenue North song a number of times and have always liked it but tonight it hit deeper, right at my core. It's spot on. I have come to realize that the biggest idol in my life is me. Not just me...but what I can do. Ever since I was in 2nd grade I have known that I had special gifts. My above average intelligence led to straight A's, teacher approval, numerous academic awards, the pride of my parents, scholarships, special opportunities, and on and on I could go.

We talked a little bit about "cause and effect" last night in care group and I have touched upon it here before. How can you not become a slave to it when it is all you knew during your formative years? My success and my achievements were a function of my abilities and my hard work. I validated myself. I took a lot of abuse growing up because I was the smart kid. But I still knew...at the end of the day and deep inside...no one could take from me the gifts that I had.

So, although I wasn't one to go around and brag about my achievements (quite the opposite, in fact), I still found my worth in them. It was a big reason why I kinda went the opposite direction in college. I got tired of being known as the "smart kid". I wanted people to define me another way but, in the end, I still defined myself that way because it was always something I could fall back on. It was safe and comfortable and proven.

So, now I am 37 and anyone taking an objective look at my professional path would say that I am far from successful. My achievements in the workplace have been minimal. My personal attempts at trading have been met with mixed success. No promotions, no monetary increases, no largely successful firm. Whatever it was that used to bring me worth and affirmation is no longer there.

"All of the suffering of God's children happens ultimately because God loves us and has as his goal for us our spiritual enlargement." - Pastor Tullian

So God thwarts that which we have made an idol. God intervenes. And thank Him that He does. God takes away those things that have replaced Him...those things that we use to define who we are rather than defining who we are by what He has done for us. That is what He has done to me. It hasn't been fun or easy or comfortable. It's still not. But it is good...and right...and praiseworthy.

Everything can change. The One the wind and waves obey...is strong enough to save me.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Don't Waste Your Life

"If he's truly raised to life then this news should change your life."



I know a lot of people out there scared they gone die
Couple of em thinking they'll be livin in the sky
But while I'm here livin man I gotta ask why, what am I here for I gotta figure out
Waste my life
No I gotta make it count
If Christ is real then what am I goin do about
All of the things in Luke 12:15 down to 21
You really oughta go and check it out
Paul said if Christ ain't resurrect then we wasted our lives
Well that implies that our life's built around Jesus being alive
Everyday I'm living tryin show the world why
Christ is more than everything you'll ever try
Better than pretty women and sinning and living to get a minute of any women and men that you admire
Ain't no lie

We created for Him
Outta the dust he made us for Him
Elects us and he saves us for Him
Jesus comes and He raises for Him
Magnify the Father why bother with something lesser
He made us so we could bless Him and to the world we confess him
Resurrects him
So I know I got life
Matter fact better man I know I got Christ
If you don't see His ways in my days and nights
You can hit my brakes you can stop my lights
Man I lost my rights
I lost my life
Forget the money cars and toss that ice
The cost is Christ
And they could never offer me anything on the planet that'll cost that price.

Suffer
Yeah do it for Christ if you trying to figure what to do with your life
If you making money hope you doing it right because the money is Gods you better steward it right
Stay focused if you ain't got no ride
Your life ain't wrapped up in what you drive
The clothes you wear the job you work
The color your skin naw we Christian first
People living life for a job
Make a lil money start living for a car
Get em a house a wife kids and a dog
When they retire they living high on the hog
But guess what they didn't ever really live at all
To live is Christ yeah that's Paul I recall
To die is gain so for Christ we give it all
He's the treasure you'll never find in the mall
Your money your singleness marriage talent and time
They were loaned to you to show the world that Christ is Divine
That's why it's Christ in my rhymes
That's why it's Christ all the time
My whole world is built around him He's the life in my lines
I refused to waste my life
He's too true ta chase
That ice
Heres my gifts and time cause I'm constantly trying to be used to praise the Christ
If he's truly raised to life
Then this news should change your life
And by his grace you can put your faith in place that rules your days and nights.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Why Don't We Pray?

"To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing." - Martin Luther

"I have often learned more in one prayer than I have been able to glean from much reading and reflection." - Martin Luther

"Is prayer your steering wheel or your spare tire?" - Corrie ten Boom

"If all your prayers were answered the last 30 days, would anything change in THE world or just YOUR world?"- John Bryson

Pastor Z used to say (and I'm sure he still does) that when we get to heaven, one of the first things we'll say will be, "Why didn't I pray more?" When we see God in all His glory it will cause us to regret not constantly taking advantage of this incredible gift to converse with the Creator of the universe. Some of the following is from a Matt Chandler sermon and some is from things God has been talking to me about.

Most of us treat prayer like a chore. That seems heretical at the surface but guess what? The New Testament repeatedly acknowledges that prayer is difficult. We can't let that be an excuse not to pray but let's be honest and admit this isn't easy rather than beating ourselves up over our lack of follow through. Paul says, "Labor with me in prayer." That should say something to us if Paul views prayer as work. Our flesh and Satan certainly don't want us praying. Yet, it is integral to our Christian walk and the Bible exhorts us to be devoted to prayer - Acts 1:14, Acts 2:42, Acts 6:4, Ephesians 6:18 and Romans 12:12, which is my favorite. "Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer."

So, why don't we pray more? Sure, we know it's difficult but so is work and we do that 40-60 hours or more a week. Anyone praying that much? Yeah...me neither. Anyone praying 10% of their working hours? Not me. What if you truly understood how much God wants to hear from you? Proverbs 15:8 says, "The prayer of the upright is His delight." Delighting God. That sounds like a good thing. Look at Isaiah 65:24 and Revelation 5:8 as well. Isaiah 62:6-7 takes it a step further. God doesn't just want to hear from us a couple times a day. He wants us to pester Him. He wants us to be the 4-year old saying his name over and over. When all mom wants is a moment of peace, God wants more of us.

We don't pray because of 2 primary issues. The first is pride. Prayer is designed to show the complete sufficiency of God and the complete helplessness of man. We humans aren't big on being helpless. This is why many prayers are spoken only after we no longer believe we can do anything to affect the outcome. So, we finally put it into God's hands when we feel there is no other choice. I am still on my old church's prayer chain and probably 90% of the prayer requests revolve around health issues. Now, there is nothing wrong with praying for healing and God's blessings on our physical health. I think we have to be careful about ONLY asking for healing and not for courage or strength or wisdom as to why God is allowing this season of suffering. But healing prayer is good prayer. However, I would love to see other prayer requests that aren't a last resort. Prayers like "help me show more grace to my wife" or "wisdom on how to love my neighbor better" or "humility at work after being given a promotion". Those would be great to see.

The other issue is we don't understand the story we are in. I loved that Chandler put it this way. Too many of us live in the story we have constructed for ourselves. The story inevitably has us in the center with us attempting to arrange for the life that revolves around us - work, family, recreation, church, friendships, etc. This is what keeps us so busy, where we feel like there is no time for anything else. All our energy is spent on making our story work as well as it possibly can. But we have been fooled into thinking this is the PRIMARY story. It's not.

Eldredge writes..."I am staggered by the level of naivete that most people live with regarding evil. They don't take it seriously. They don't live as though the Story has a Villain. Not the devil prancing about in red tights, carrying a pitchfork, but the incarnation of the very worst of every enemy you've met in every other story. Dear God - the Holocaust, child prostitution, terrorist bombings, genocidal governments. What is it going to take for us to take evil seriously? Life is very confusing if you do not take into account that there is a Villain. That you, my friend, have an Enemy. One of the things that surprised me when I first read the New Testament seriously was that it talked so much about a Dark Power in the universe - a mighty evil spirit who was held to be the Power behind death, disease, and sin . . . Christianity thinks this Dark Power was created by God, and was good when he was created, and went wrong. Christianity agrees . . . this is a universe at war."

That's the REAL story. If you truly understood that your greatest enemy was after your family, your friends, and yes, YOU...you would pray a whole lot more. You have been fooled into thinking that Satan is weak and ineffective and not worth contemplating. He has already succeeded in convincing you that there is no battle so you can go blissfully along unaware of what is truly transpiring around you and in you. It's time for all of us to wake up.

11Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. 12The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. - Romans 13:11-12 (ESV)

“I would rather teach one man to pray than ten men to preach.” - Charles Spurgeon

Friday, September 24, 2010

Today's Relevant Tweet

From Pastor Tullian:

"Joylessness in suffering happens when we lose something we’ve held onto more than God. Suffering itself doesn't rob u of joy; idolatry does."

Amen brother.

And now today's (9/25)...

"How is your present disappointment, discouragement, or grief a window on what has actually captured your heart?" Paul Tripp

And one more (9/26)...

"Suffering exposes what you're building your life on; what you're relying on to give your life meaning."

And another (9/30)...

"Idols always break the heart of their worshippers." – CS Lewis

I don't take the timing of these as coincidence. God is talking. I am listening.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Hope Part 2

I wanted to follow up on the last post with a couple of others thoughts regarding depression and our ultimate hope as children of God. I was told the other day that Jim Cymbala, pastor of the Brooklyn Tabernacle Church, had once said that you can't be an authentic Christian and struggle with depression. Now, I am not sure in what context those comments were made but on the surface they appear horribly misguided. I know of several Christians, myself included, who have struggled and currently struggle with depression. According to John Piper, none other than G.K. Chesterton, struggled with depression during different parts of his life. But I think there is one very good reason why Christians SHOULD experience some level or some season of depression.

The following is an excerpt from John Eldredge's Desire:

"All good things come to an end." I hate that phrase. It's a lie. Even our troubles and our heartbreaks tell us something about our true destiny. The tragedies that strike us to the core and elicit the cry "this isn't the way it was supposed to be!" are also telling the truth - it isn't the way it was supposed to be. And so Pascal writes,

Man is so great that his greatness appears even in knowing himself to be miserable. A tree has no sense of its misery. It is true that to know we are miserable is to be miserable; but to know we are miserable is also to be great. Thus all the miseries of man prove his grandeur; they are the miseries of a dignified personage, the miseries of a dethroned monarch?What can this incessant craving, and this impotence of attainment mean, unless there was once a happiness belonging to man, of which only the faintest traces remain, in that void which he attempts to fill with everything within his reach?

Should the king in exile pretend he is happy there? Should he not seek his own country? His miseries are his ally; they urge him on. And so let them grow, if need be. But do not forsake the secret of life; do not despise those kingly desires. We abandon the most important journey of our lives when we abandon desire. We leave our hearts by the side of the road and head off in the direction of fitting in, getting by, being productive, what have you. Whatever we might gain - money, position, the approval of others, or just to get away from the discontent itself - its not worth it. "What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?" (Matt 16:26).



Hope

"We must accept finite disappointment but we must never lose infinite hope." - Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

"To lose heart is to lose everything."

"When the world says, 'Give up,' hope whispers, 'Try it one more time.'

2We always thank God for all of you, mentioning you in our prayers. 3We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. - 1 Thessalonians 1:2-3

I've been struggling with depression again. Not nearly as bad as the dark times around 2004 but it has been more pervasive than it has been in some time. For me, depression isn't a function of a chemical imbalance in my brain. God has shown me that pretty clearly. The brutal honesty is this...I still place too much of my hope in this world.

It's frustrating and somewhat maddening. I implore fellow Christians quite often to keep their eyes fixed on heaven...to maintain proper perspective on what has eternal importance and what is only temporal and ultimately meaningless. I tell myself to do the same. But I struggle with this all the time because the things of this world are constantly in my face every single day. There is no reprieve. There is no escape in the here and now. The problem as I see it is twofold.

One, my heart, and therefore my hope, is still way too tied to the pleasures of this world. Matthew 6:21 says, "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." So, I am still desiring too much treasure here. Part of this is due to my job. The goal of any profit-driven small business is to be successful and flourish. I desire to flourish. We aren't flourishing. It is difficult to work hard every day and to not only go nowhere but to have actually gone backward significantly over the past two years.

The second issue is that I continue to view too much of my self-worth in terms of worldly success and failure. I put too much hope in myself. I judge myself on an absolute basis given what I know I have the ability to accomplish, but for one reason or another, have not. I also judge myself on a relative basis with what others my age and younger have accomplished who, in my opinion, are certainly no brighter or more skilled than I am. It's kinda interesting...the bigger temptation for Christians is usually to look at the sin of others to justify their morality whereas I tend to view others in a better light compared to myself. Just shows it is so easy to go from erring on one side of the spectrum only to go all the way to the other side to find a new way to err.

It's good that I can recognize these dynamics at play. It somewhat lessens the hold that the feelings of depression can bring about but it certainly doesn't magically make them go away either. Here is how these two should be addressed:

Ultimately, my professional goals should not be about business growth, success and profits.

"23Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, 24since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving." - Colossians 3:23-24

I should be about the Lord's business within and through my business. This is not easy for someone who grew up with visions of being very successful in the working world and also has very real financial needs that he feels can be solved with the worldly definition of success. Counter-cultural indeed.

Secondly, I must learn to see myself the way God sees me. Again, this is the Gospel. My worth is not found in what I do but what Christ has done for me. I need to tattoo this on my forehead and spend hours every day looking in the mirror. I am still way too wrapped up in trying to find my worth in my own actions and accomplishments.

So, this is what it comes down to and why I struggle. My hope ebbs and flows between heaven and this world...between the eternal and the temporal...between the saving grace of Jesus Christ and my desperate attempt to save myself. I love Paul's phrase, "your endurance inspired by hope". When I start to lose hope my endurance definitely suffers and the temptation to quit looms large. But that is only when my hope is outside of God. I want to eventually get to the point echoed in the verses below. When all earthly hope has been removed...when there is no worldly reason to go on...I will simply look up and know who I am and rejoice in the God of my salvation.

Habakkuk 3:17-18 (New American Standard Bible)

17Though the fig tree should not blossom
And there be no fruit on the vines,
Though the yield of the olive should fail
And the fields produce no food,
Though the flock should be cut off from the fold
And there be no cattle in the stalls,
18Yet I will exult in the LORD,
I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Monday, September 6, 2010

I once was blind but now I'm...blind?

There was an AP article on 8/25 talking about the ongoing split in the ELCA denomination after their vote last year to allow openly and sexually active gays to serve as pastors. They mentioned that there were two pastors crying at the convention after the vote occurred. One was crying after realizing he would have to leave the ELCA after 42 years of ministry. The other (Anita Hill) was crying tears of joy and relief. She was recently quoted as saying, "At my church there is a sense of great celebration, of people being very happy that our work to make the ELCA a more inclusive place has come to fruition."

She also made the following statement: "There are some who feel they must leave the ELCA over that," she said. "I feel sad about that, it's unfortunate. But to feel you have to leave over the inclusion of your brothers and sisters — that diminishes who we are as the body of Christ."

Ya know...she almost makes a good point in that last statement. The Body of Christ is made up of sinners which means that everyone can be included. However, the diminishment happens when individuals put their love of sin ABOVE their love of God. These openly gay individuals need to be loved and discipled by the Body of Christ. But you can't be shepherding the Lord's flock when you are defiantly mocking His truth found in the Bible. However, this is where I think a lot of people haven't thought this issue all the way through.

The primary issue shouldn't be sexual lifestyle. The primary issue is whether or not you have intentional sin in your life that you are choosing over your relationship with God. That is an extremely serious matter for any Christian but even more so for someone who is put in authority and ministry over others. It just so happens that someone who is open about their homosexuality is easy to spot. What if a pastor was open about his love of pornography or his enjoyment of going to the casino every Friday night and gambling significant amounts of his money? What if a pastor had a love of overeating or was a compulsive liar who saw no reason to stop? Shouldn't they also be removed from the pulpit under this same argument? I am talking about situations where the pastor is actively committing a sin and not only feeling no conviction but taking pride in it.

It is almost a certainty that there are many pastors leading churches today who fall under this category of willing, intentional rejection of God's Word but their sin takes place behind closed doors where no one can see. I certainly agree that any individual who is proudly denying the truth of God's Word in their life is not fit for ministry. Let's be clear. People aren't leaving the ELCA because they don't want to include their brothers and sisters. They are leaving because they don't want to exclude God.

We should just remain cognizant that the issue is a heart issue and while we may be best served to not align ourselves with their flawed theology, we also can't give up on them. The god of this world blinds all of us from time to time and we are all subject to weakness of the flesh. If a church must split over such issues then so be it. But let's not stop reaching across the aisle to admonish and encourage out of love lest we also slip into our own season of foolish pride.

Hosea 4:6-8 (New International Version)

6 my people are destroyed from lack of knowledge.
"Because you have rejected knowledge,
I also reject you as my priests;
because you have ignored the law of your God,
I also will ignore your children.

7 The more the priests increased,
the more they sinned against me;
they exchanged their Glory for something disgraceful.

8 They feed on the sins of my people
and relish their wickedness.

"I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent." - Luke 15:7

Sunday, September 5, 2010

America's Christian Heritage





Some use the word "progress" in describing the removal of God from the public square and the government. I prefer another word...tragedy.

John Adams wrote in 1798, 'Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.' What Adams suggests is the people's character impacts our government's character. The early generations of Americans were independent-minded folks. Help for those in need came from the church, the family, or the community. Citizens expected only a few limited functions to be performed by the state. In 21st century America, we expect the government to provide Social Security retirement and disability, unemployment insurance, Medicare, Medicaid, student loans, and Pell Grants. Parents expect their children to have a free public education through thirteen years of school. ... We cannot effect a permanent reduction in the size and scope of government, or meaningful government reform, unless we change our culture's demand for the government to provide our every need. ... This isn't to say government must or can solve our culture's problems. However, those on the right who think conservative goals for limited government can be achieved through passing economic legislation are spitting in the wind. We will never have a limited government until we have a culture that allows for one." --columnist Adam Graham

This is cool...



One of my prayers for myself and for other Christians is that we would just be so passionately amazed by what we find in God's Word that we can't wait to go tell others about it.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

One More Follow-Up

One of the many things I admire about my brother is his genuine heart for the lost. There are many Christians who have an understanding that they are supposed to be sharing the Gospel with others but fall to the temptation of finding one excuse after another of why they aren't up to the task or why someone else would be a better ambassador for Christ. Some are afraid of backlash or losing a friend. Some insist that they don't know what to say or wouldn't have the right answers to all the questions that would likely be thrown at them. Well, guess what? You probably won't have all the answers. It is likely that the person you are talking to will always have one more question than you have answers. But that shouldn't stop you from learning as much as you can and gaining a better understanding of how to approach people. My brother gets it. He cares enough about the lost to pursue knowledge and wisdom to reach them more effectively. And at the end of the day, he knows it is God that changes hearts and opens eyes. We are just called to be faithful to the task of being the messenger.

I used to have conversations with Pastor Zimmerman about witnessing. One thing he used to say was that you should learn to back someone who doesn't know Christ into an intellectual corner. You should take them to the point where the hole in their belief system is exposed and they have nothing left to stand on. After all, if Jesus Christ is truly God's plan for salvation, then every other belief system would have to be false and have some glaring inconsistency that can't stand under the light of truth. Again, this isn't ultimately about winning an intellectual argument. It's about caring for that person's heart and wanting them to see the truth. But sometimes, in order to help them see, you first have to show them why their beliefs are flawed. Now, just because you are able to do that doesn't mean that their eyes will automatically open. They may simply choose to be in denial about the fallacy of what they believe. But at least you will have raised a question...one that might not be so easily dismissed regardless of how hard they try.

So along those lines, I am copying and pasting some thoughts my brother shared from a book called "No Doubt About It" . It offers arguments against the kind of relativist and skeptical thinking that was on display at the BBQ. I found it very worthwhile and felt it was worth sharing here:

Relativists are illogical - because they apply a standard to
everyone else that they exempt themselves from. They say there are no
absolutes...but that itself is an absolute statement.

a) Partial knowledge is still knowledge. While we don't know it all,
absolutely, it is a logical fallacy to conclude from this caution that
we cannot have any genuine, absolute knowledge at all. The remedy is
not to deny the things that we can know for sure, but to qualify our
standpoint.

b) We are not final reference points for truth. Events occur beyond
our conceptualizations. Like it or not, what is true or false is often
defined for us by reality. The person who denies the law of gravity
will still die if he or she jumps off a skyscraper. Reality, not our
preference, needs to be the ultimate source and authority of truth.

c) Relativism leads to the impossible attitude of skepticism.
Relativism says that everything, including contradictory statements,
can be true. Skepticism says that we cannot know anything to be true.
It turns out that skepticism is a position that nobody can hold, for it states that one cannot know anything. Does the person who makes that statement know it or not? If the skeptic thinks that skepticism is true, then it is false. The skeptic argues that we can know at least one thing, namely, that skepticism is true (that we cannot know anything for sure). If the skeptic does not claim that skepticism is
true, he or she is not saying anything meaningful.

We must distinguish here between what can be said and what can be
affirmed meaningfully. You can say that you cannot know anything, but
you cannot affirm it meaningfully. You cannot even think it: as soon
as you think it is true, it must also be false.

d) Relativism cannot be lived out. An individual will live his or her
life almost entirely on a nonrelativistic true-false basis. Either I
missed the bus, or I didn't miss the bus. Either this is Friday, or it
is not Friday. Relativism only seems to pop up at certain crucial
moments, usually in a sphere of morality or religion.

e) Of course, the best critique against a position like relativism may
be to show that there are better alternatives than to suspend
judgment. The book continues on from there.