Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Sunday was Palm Sunday. The day the crowds were ready to crown Jesus as king. "Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord; Peace in heaven and glory in the highest." This is the day they had been waiting for... the day Israel would be set free from the oppression of Roman rule... the day the promised Messiah would deliver his people and establish His kingdom on earth. The air was filled with anticipation, and as the night grew dark, the excitement refused to sleep. The next day, Jesus walks into the temple and what He observes makes His stomach turn. The same people who were ready to make Him king were now in the temple preparing their hearts for worship. But instead of bringing their own animals, those that were without spot or blemish, they simply bought one from the merchants in the temple courts. Of course, they weren't as good as the animals they had at home, but it sure was more convenient. And in the end, it allowed them to fulfill their religious obligation without a great deal of personal cost. Jesus looked at the compromise that filled the temple and he knew it reflected the hearts of those who wanted to crown him as king. They liked the idea of worshiping God on their terms. They preferred a religion that minimized sacrifice and maximized benefit. They were all for Jesus when He did what they wanted Him to do. But when He began to turn over the tables in the temple, they just stood and stared. They began to realize that this might actually cost them something. It was a subtle but important shift. Those who were ready to crown Jesus as king began to wonder if this was such a good idea. After all, they like the idea of Jesus as one who would conquer their enemies and give them a comfortable life, but they were not as excited about the idea of Him ruling over their heart as well. They preferred the idea of a customized Messiah that came with minimal cost and maximal benefit... and we are not all that different.

Monday, March 24, 2014

I'm Discouraged

I have not written in recent weeks because I just didn't feel like I had anything worth saying. To be honest, I've been discouraged. I've seen the evidence of the enemy's attacks in what seems like every direction I turn. I've stood at the graveside of young parents who had to bury a child that didn't live long enough to see the light of day. I've looked into the eyes of a wife who has been abandoned by her husband... I've seen the same look of pain in the eyes of a husband whose love has been repeated rejected by his wife. Our church had an intruder who broke in and stole instruments and equipment used by those who help lead worship on Sunday mornings. People I've discipled have walked away from the church and the list goes on and on. And then I turn on the TV and listen to Carl Sagan's mentor speak of the spiritual connection he feels with science in knowing that all living things are connected in a great web of life that originated for the spontaneous evolution of a single life giving cell. I see a Russian tyrant have his way in the world because everyone else is too impotent or too apathetic to do anything about it. It's discouraging! It's discouraging because it's times like these that it "feels like" the enemy is winning. Like he's gaining ground and we are losing hope. Now, intellectually I know that's not true. I'm a pastor for goodness sake and so I know all the right answers. But I'm also a human being and sometimes it just "feels like" the prince of this world is advancing at a greater rate than the kingdom of God. And then God spoke to my heart as I prepared another sermon in our study of Nehemiah. Here you have a remnant of Jews, who are in the midst of a spiritual revival, trying to take steps of faith as they re-build the wall their enemies have destroyed. They are good people trying to do a good work for God. And yet, what does the enemy do? He shows up to mock the Jews and their miserable conditions. He belittles the work they are doing and threatens to terminate their progress by taking their life. As a result, the workers begin to crumble under the pressure. "The strength of the workers is failing and there is too much work to do. We are convinced that we will never be able to finish the wall." I look at those workers and I see myself. I too easily listen to the lies of the enemy and start to believe they are true. After most Sundays, I go through a mild to moderate depression as the enemy whispers in my ear, "Boy, that was a lot of work but I'm not sure anyone was listening. Did you notice that person nodding off? Is what you have to say really making a difference? The church sure had a lot of empty seats. Maybe your mission is failing." The enemy knows where it hurts and that's where he attacks. Like we see in Nehemiah, his goal is to discourage you enough that you will lost hope and quit. He speaks lies into those areas in your life where you struggle and doubt. It's like a person who stands over a piano and sings a note. Without touching the piano at all, the string that matches the note that is sung will begin to resonate. In the same way, Satan will speak a lie that will resonate in the areas where you struggle. For me, he tells me that I'm failing. That what I am doing is not making a difference. And if I'm not careful, I begin to believe this is true. I start to lose hope. And so as Nehemiah taught the Jews, I go to the Lord in prayer. I speak honestly about what is on my heart and I let the truth of His word speak louder in my life than any lie of the enemy. I crawl under the shelter of my God and know that He has gone before me. This battle belongs to Him. His is the victor, and when I belong to Him, His victory is my reward. I am more than a conqueror in Christ who saved me and set me free. I am an ambassador for Christ, a minister of reconciliation, and I am not ashamed of the gospel for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. That truth of the gospel is what informs every aspect of my life. For what Christ accomplished on the cross has not only transformed my life but it has given me a new and everlasting hope. And the hope of God does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. I will take up the full armor of God so that I will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. Because greater is He who is in me than he who is in the world. I cling to this truth, because He alone is my rock and my salvation. In Him I will not be greatly shaken!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Every Member a Missionary

It’s all part of God’s original design. Man and woman, created in the image of God. Instructed by God to be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth as stewards of His creation. God designed mankind to live in fellowship with Him and in loving unity with one another. His original plan would accomplish God's goal of filling the earth with the goodness of His presence through the blessing of walking in fellowship with Him. But sin changed all that. Adam and Eve were deceived by Satan to doubt God’s provision. They were convinced to live outside of God’s design, and at that moment, everything changed. Instead of seeking to walk with God, they hid from Him. Instead of encouraging one another they blamed each other for their own mistakes. And this same corruption of sin now resides in the heart of every descendant born from the seed of Adam. As Paul explains to the Romans, “There is none righteous, not even one. There is no one who understands, there is no one who seeks for God. All have turned aside.” Sin brings death by separating us from what we were created to enjoy from the beginning—fellowship with God and unity with one another. Only the cross can change our hopeless condition. It is Jesus who restores what sin has destroyed. Only through faith in Him can we live according to our original design. Which includes the great commission given at the beginning of creation. The cross redeems the mission of filling the earth with the goodness of God’s presence as His Spirit now indwells the heart of every believer. Every member in the body of Christ is called to be a missionary who declares God’s redeeming love to the world! But don't overlook the power of sins deception. Our enemy continues to offer His distractions that lure us away from our original design. Like the good and pleasing apple, there is no outward sign of corruption. In fact, what we see in front of us is often good for us and our family. It can be a delight to the eyes with promises of so much good to be gained. But we must listen closely for the hint of a hiss in anything that draws us away from dependance on God or distracts from the call to be His light to the world. Just because its good, doesn't mean it's from God. He created you with a purpose and the cross has redeemed you to live according to your original design. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations...

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Celebrate God's Grace

The book of Nehemiah records an occasion when Ezra the priest stood before the people and read the Book of the Law. In hearing the words of the Lord, the people "bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground." (Neh 8:6) This is a response of a people who have been in captivity for 70 years. A people who have not heard God's Word, and for the most part, have not lived according to its truth. Their only right response is to worship the One they have all but forgotten. The passage goes on to explain how certain men were appointed to take what had been read and then go to the people to teach them what it means. Once again, "they read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading." (Neh 8:8) After doing this, the people have a completely different response. It says, "the people wept as they heard the words of the Law." (Neh 8:9) So why such a dramatically different response? First it was worship and then it was weeping. I think what we see is often reflected in our own life as well. We go through the routine of religious observance and find ourselves worshiping a God who is very far off. We stand before Him and exalt the holiness of His name but we don't always understand how what He says applies to our life. His truth becomes personal only when we draw near to the Lord and listen to what He says to our heart. A place where His holiness comes close enough to reveal our sin. This is where our worship turns to weeping because we are undone. Like Isaiah we proclaim, "I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips". But God's grace does not allow us to remain in this place. Ezra and Nehemiah know this to be true and so this is what they say to the people:
"Go your way. Eat the fat and drink the sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to the Lord. And do not be grieved for the joy of the Lord is your strength."
They tell them to put aside their weeping and throw a party instead. Why? Because the grace of God is worth celebrating. We are to be strengthened by the joy of the Lord who's delight is in our redemption. He wants us to see our sin in the light of His forgiveness and grace. Because without drawing near, we continue to carry the burden of sin along with us. But God wants to set us free and give us a reason to celebrate. Lord, I want to draw near to you so that your Word becomes personal in my life. I want you to search me O God and know my heart. Try me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in your everlasting way. Set me free in the joy of your forgiveness and grace to the praise and glory of your great Name! Teach me to celebrate your grace.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Rejoice in Suffering

I'll admit, I don't get it. It's counterintuitive. This whole idea of rejoicing in times of suffering is difficult to grasp. I read the account of the apostles preaching in Jerusalem as "more than ever believers were being added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women." This turn of events and the attention being given to the saving message of the gospel was unacceptable to the religious leaders. So they took the apostles and threw them in jail. Only for them to be miraculously released to go right back to the temple in order to pick up where they left off last. Once again they were captured and brought before the religious council who forbid them to continue any more teaching in Jesus name. Peter, speaking on behalf of the others said, "We must obey God rather than men." In other words, you can forbid us if you want to but we will only do what the Lord has called us to do. In order for the religious leaders to put some teeth into their demands, they punished the apostles with a beating before sending them out. And the amazing thing is, as they walk away, skin bleeding and body bruised, the scripture says,
"Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name." (Acts 5:41)
As you read closely, you'll find that the apostles didn't rejoice in their beating. They didn't enjoy their physical suffering in a kind of sadistic euphoria. They rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name of Christ. They realized that the lashing they received was they same that was given to their Savior. After all, they (like Jesus) were not being punished for a crime. These religious leaders didn't have a problem with the apostles per se. They had a problem with their message. And so, in the end, they rejoiced because they knew that the message they were preaching was being heard. For many who were seeking a Savior, it was the good news of salvation. But for those who were doing just fine on their own, it was an irritable inconvenience to their preferred way of life. But in either case, it was confirmation for the apostles that the good news of salvation in Christ was heard and understood by all. Lord, I too desire to be in a place where I might rejoice when suffering dishonor for Your name. Where my life is so centered around your gospel that my reaction to circumstances is not judged by the presence or absence of pain, but instead, on the understanding of the message I am called to proclaim. I realize that some with respond with great joy, while others will lash out with hatred. But may I realize that the reaction, in both situations, is not based on me and what I have done. It is a response to your truth which is salvation to some and foolishness to others. In whatever I do (or not do), may it be for the glory of your name.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Practicing What You Preach

Ezra was leading a spiritual revival among the people of Israel. By an edict from the ruling King of Persia, Israel was being released from their slavery in Babylon and allowed to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple of God. But all along the way, they were being ridiculed and attacked by enemies who were not pleased to see them return to the land. A land now occupied by those who did not believe in the one true God. Ezra knew that they had been given permission by the highest authority in the land, but that didn't mean that the people were going to make it easy on them along the way. And Ezra had made it known that God would be their true refuge and strength. But now it was time for that testimony to be put to the test. Ezra would be transporting priceless articles for the temple some 500 miles from Babylon to Jerusalem. He would be walking right through enemy territory carrying silver and gold, bowls and vessels that were certain to draw the attention of those who would be more than willing to lighten their load. But Ezra had a dilemma: He had made a claim to the king that was sure to be tested. Here is what he said:
For I was ashamed to ask the king for a band of soldiers and horseman to protect us against the enemy on our way, since we had told the king, "The hand of our God is for good on all who seek Him, and the power of His wrath is against all who forsake Him." Ezra 8:22
In other words, we've got to practice what we preach if we really believe it is true. Either we trust God to be faithful or we look for other means to help us along the way. What a dilemma for Ezra that is equally as relevant in our lives today. Here we are in the Bible Belt of America and we can recite verse after verse of things we claim to be true. But what is our response when God calls us to practice what we preach? Namely, those impossible situations in life that may seem foolish from the world's perspective (kind of like walking into enemy territory with a buffet of priceless artifacts). For example, do we trust God's ability to redeem the marriage of an unfaithful but repentant spouse? Do we sacrifice an advancement in our career to pursue a life in ministry? Are we willing to trust that God can comfort those we love who suffer from an incurable disease? In the end, is there anything in my life that is just too big for Him to handle that would require me to go my own way. Or do I truly believe that He is faithful to carry me through? Lord, help me to live a life that truly trusts in you. Give me strength in those moments when my faith is put to the test. When I am called to practice what I preach. No matter what I face, help me to keep my eyes on you. Help me to live out my faith in both word and deed as I proclaim: "You alone are my Rock and my salvation; my stronghold, and in You I will not be greatly shaken." (Ps62:2)

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Living a Jet Ski Life

Every year I take a week of silence and solitude to pray, plan and prepare for what I will be teaching in the coming year. God has been so faithful to allow this to be such a profitable time for both me and the work of ministry at Melonie Park Church where I serve. But now that I've done this for a few years, I have learned to anticipate some predictable challenges. For example, I know I will need to work through the weight of loneliness that I feel most acutely when I wake up that first morning and no one is around. Right alongside the loneliness is the deafening sound of silence. Clocks ticking. The refrigerator coming to life with a steady hum and then holding its breath in silence. I've learned to anticipate the sense of panic when I look at what I have set out to do and become instantly overwhelmed with the certainty that there is no possible way to get it all done. These things I've learned to expect, but this year I encountered something new. Each day I woke up and began my work of praying, reading and studying. I stopped briefly to eat on occasion and continued my work until late at night. On average, I probably spent about 15 hours a day trying diligently to maximize the benefit of this time. But as the week went on, I realized that I was like a starving child seeking to satisfy his hunger by gorging on food recently delivered by the Red Cross. It was as if my soul had become so emaciated from the absence of silence and reflection that I felt compelled to greedily devour every waking moment. I even had trouble stopping to sleep at night in fear that I didn't consume enough time and would soon be returning home to live on the rations of a fast paced, sound bite, twitter feed, pace of life. I realized my soul was starving for the nourishment that can only be gained when I stop long enough to be still... bowing low to cup my hands into the spring of Living Water, where God alone can satisfy my soul. Stepping away has caused me to recognize the effect of living in our fast paced world. As media theorist Marshall McLuhan pointed out in the 1960s (yes, 50 years ago):
"Media are not just passive channels of information. They supply the stuff of thought, but they also shape the process of thought. And what the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation. My mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles. Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski."
That's the world we live in. And perhaps there is a method behind the madness of our highly fragmented information age. Maybe, just maybe, our enemy is behind the schemes of this world and His desire is to keep us moving so fast that we never really stop long enough to feast on the richness of God's love. Oh, we might wave as we zip by on our Jet Ski, but we no longer stop long enough to have a meaningful conversation. We don't go to the quiet place of prayer and reflection to nourish the deepest part of our soul. I think our enemy may be keeping us occupied while he is starving us to death. Lord, forgive me for falling into the enemy's trap. I'm sorry for ever believing that anything in life could possibly be more important than finding my rest in You. Teach me to slow down. Help me step away and be still before You. To listen... to reflect... to pray. I need You to speak words of life into my soul. To nourish me with Your Word... To patiently and lovingly lead me in Your everlasting way. You have my attention. I want to be all Yours. I'm listening now.