Tuesday, December 10, 2013

It's the Little Things in Life...

Author Lynn Anderson, in his book They Smell Like Sheep, volume 2, tells a penetrating story about character and integrity.  It is the story of a stressed-out Christian woman’s conference speaker who was impatiently tailgating a man’s care at rush hour on a busy boulevard.  Suddenly the light in front of the man turned yellow.  Even though he probably could have beaten the red light, he did the honest thing and stopped at the crosswalk.

This infuriated the “Christian” speaker.  She hit the horn, screaming in frustration at her missed chance to get through the intersection.  Then, in mid-rant, she heard a tap on her window and looked up to see the very serious face of a police officer.  He ordered her out of the car, handcuffed her and took her to the police station where she was searched, fingerprinted, photographed and locked in a cell.

After some time, the cell opened and an officer escorted her back to the booking desk, where the arresting officer waiting with her personal effects.  “I am very sorry for this mistake,” the arresting officer explained, “You see, I pulled up behind your car while you were blowing your horn, flipping the guy off in front of your and cursing a blue streak.  When I noticed the Choose Life license-plate holder, the What Would Jesus Do? And Follow Me to Sunday School bumper stickers, plus the chrome-plated fish emblem on the trunk, I just knew this had to be a stolen car.”

The moral of the story?  Don’t put fish symbols or Christian bumper stickers on your car so you can behave any way you want to on the road?  No, that is not it.  It is this:  the little times in life are often the best reflection of our true character.  It is the little frustrations, the little annoyances, the little troubles that often cause a reaction that reflects our true character.

Jesus tells us that what comes out of our life – evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander – come out because they reside in our hearts.  (Matt. 15:18-19)  Our outward actions – especially in those times when we are alone or think no one else is watching – are a true reflection of our hearts.  In another place, Jesus notes that no good tree bears bad fruit and no bad tree bears good fruit.  The good person, out of the good treasure of his heart, produces good, and the evil person, out of his evil treasure, produces evil.  For out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks. (Luke 6:43-45)

For some of us, those might be pretty discouraging words.  After all, if we are honest, it is easy to see our sin.  And believe me, what we see is not nearly as disgusting and ugly as what God sees.  Listen to God’s judgment on our hearts:  The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?  (Jer. 17:9, ESV)  Apart from the work of God, our hearts are sick, disgusting things.  And that could be cause for despair.

But what has Jesus done in our hearts?  He has come to dwell in our hearts through faith. (Eph. 3:17)  In Christ, God has shone the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in our hearts. (2 Cor. 4:6)  God’s love has been poured out into our hearts. (Rom. 5:5)  God has purified our hearts, enabling us to reflect something different than ugliness.  Peter notes that God’s purifying work empowers us to love each other earnestly from a pure heart. (1 Pet. 1:22)

As a result, we have hope.  We are not imprisoned in the ugly habits we may have.  (Rom. 6:12-14)  We are not stuck responding to trouble or trial in a negative way.  We are not powerless in the face of the sins that still influence our heart.  God, who is at work in our hearts, molding them and shaping them to be more like the heart of Jesus, can change us.  He is committed to completing the work of grace and change he began in us. (Phil. 1:6)  Our response?  I could not say it better than the apostle James:  Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.  Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom.  Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.  (James 4:8-10, ESV)

Thursday, October 31, 2013

What's the Gospel to You?

I came across this quote while reading the other day:  The gospel is as necessary to our sanctification as it was to our initial justification. (Counsel from the Cross, Fitzpatrick and Johnson, p. 116)  Do you believe that?  Over the past year, God’s Spirit has been convincing me over and over again of the importance of this concept.

All too often we look at the gospel one way – as something that is in the past.  We look at the gospel as the good news we believed when we became Christians.  We look back and say, “there was a day when I trusted in the good news that Jesus Christ died for my sins, offering me forgiveness, reconciliation with God and an eternal home in heaven.”  We see it as something vital, but something that happened when we first believed and were justified or made legally righteous in God’s sight. 

The problem with that view of the gospel is not that it is faulty, rather it is incomplete.  The gospel is just as important for our daily walk as Christians as it was when we first believed it.  In fact, I am coming to believe strongly that many of the problems believers struggle with – bitterness, emotional insecurity, self-image issues, besetting sins – are there because we do not adequately apply the truths of the gospel to our daily lives.

The gospel reminds us:
1.         Of God’s nature.  He is aware of our sins and our struggles, as well as the sins and struggles of those we interact with on a daily basis.  The gospel tells us that God set in motion a plan to deal with human sins and struggles long before we were ever born.  Because of the gospel, we know that God is able to and is committed to overcome evil with good. 
2.         Of the price God paid to bring salvation.  In a deep demonstration of love and commitment to His wayward creation, God sent Jesus to die in our place.  Full atonement has been made for our sins.  We have been forgiven and cleansed in His sight.  God no longer holds our sin against us. 
3.         That God’s love is not based on our performance, but on the perfect and utterly righteous performance of his Son.  By grace, every believer has been gifted with the complete righteousness of Jesus. 
4.         That our Savior, alive in heaven, gave His life to make us holy and will continue his good work of transformation in our lives.  He never forgets us or gives up on us.  After all, we are His, bought with a price. 
5.         That we are more sinful and flawed than we ever dared to believe, and so are all the people we interact with on this earth.  No amount of training, education, or protection will change that fact.  Only God’s Spirit is able to truly change the human heart. 
6.         That Jesus died for the sinful people we relate to on a daily basis.  Their sins are no more repugnant to God than our own.   And even when they irritate us or wrong us, God loves them and Christ died for them as well.   
7.         That when we struggle against sins – anger, bitterness, self-pity, pride – that our struggle is not in vain.  The empty tomb of Jesus Christ assures us that the power of sin is broken and that in Christ, we have new life.  We are no longer slaves to sin, but rather freed to live in obedience to Him.  God gifts us with daily grace to enable us to live for Him.
8.         That we are God’s beloved children, adopted into His eternal family.   We are more loved than we could ever imagine.  The gospel reminds us that in those times when we doubt God’s love or God’s goodness that God gave up His Son to make us His own.  God will never leave us nor forsake us, regardless of how scary, gloomy or difficult the road we travel is.

There is more I could say, but you get the picture.  There is not a sin, a trouble, or a relationship difficulty that we face on this earth as believers that the gospel cannot or does not address in some way.  So what is the gospel to you?  What you believed way back when that has no bearing on your present life?  Or the daily food for your soul that can captivate your heart and empower you to walk faithfully with God?

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Are You Getting Healed at Church?

It’s an interesting question, isn’t it?  Are you getting healed at church?  I am not talking necessarily about physical healing, but spiritual and emotional healing.  Are you hearing anything during a church service that can bring healing to your life?

In his book, Rewiring Your Preaching:  How the Brain Processes Sermons, author Richard Cox, who is both an ordained minister and a medical doctor, describes the effect sermons have on the human brain.

While Cox describes many ways the human brain is affected by preaching, one of his statements caught my eye the other day.  He wrote this, “Many view public preaching as education, lecturing, instruction, teaching and edification, and it is all of that, but infinitely more.  At the very base, preaching is healing in the deepest and broadest sense of the word healing, for to heal is to make whole.” (pg. 63)

Preaching is healing in the deepest and broadest sense.  I guess I knew that, but it is interesting that there actually some physiological evidence to back that up.  Preaching is healing because it is worship.  It draws the person into a unique encounter with the Living God.  Preaching reminds us of God’s holiness, His salvation and His grace.  No longer are we alone, struggling by ourselves, imprisoned by the guilt of our sin.  In Christ, God has set us free to live for Him.  Preaching enhances our faith, and faith, as the Bible makes clear, is an indispensable part of the healing process.  Preaching offers hope, that certain reminder that our all-powerful, utterly good, promise-keeping God is aware of our circumstances and has an eternal purpose He is moving toward.  All these things positively affect the physiology of our brain and are able to move us toward wholeness in mind and spirit.

But Cox also has some words of warning for folks like me.  

“Good preaching must be applied uniquely to the preacher before it can be made public, thus allowing the power of the sermon to heal the messenger first.  The preacher first digests the message and, after finding the discourse instructive and healing, is able to apply it to others.  If the preacher is not made more whole by the content, there is little hope that others will benefit from it either.  After the preacher has faced the truths and convictions of the Word in the privacy of the study and personal prayer, it may then – and only then – be viewed as appropriate for congregational consumption.”  (p. 63)

Pastors, take those words to heart.  Your sermon should be doing a healing work in you first before it does a healing work in your flock.  And for those who are not pastors – you now know how to pray for your pastor.  Pray that as your pastor studies and prepares, that God’s Word would move them toward greater wholeness, thus equipping them to offer a message of hope and healing their flock as well.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Book Review – Gods at War by Kyle Idleman

Out of all the 10 Commandments, it is the commandment we break most often.  And it is also likely the hardest commandment to detect when we are guilty of breaking it.  What is that commandment?  "You shall have no other gods before me.” (Ex. 20:3, ESV)  Or, in other words, don’t worship idols.  Yet that is what is so easy to do – to set something God created up in our lives as the most important thing.  It is so easy to set an aspect of creation up as god, dethroning the One who should be on the throne of our lives.

Idolatry is the topic of Pastor Kyle Idleman’s recent book, Gods at War:  Defeating the Idols that Battle for your Heart.  As Idleman puts it, gods of various types are at war for our souls.  On one side is the God of the universe, the One who created it all, and the One for whom the universe is created to glorify.  On the other side are various other gods, created things and earthly ideas, that war for control of our souls and our lives.  The question Idleman asks is piercing – who controls our heart?  The Creator or some aspect of the creation?

If any of you enjoyed and were challenged by Idleman’s previous book, Not a Fan, you will get the same kind of treatment here.  Idleman is both self-depreciatingly humorous and hard-hitting at the same time.  The book is easy to read yet hard to swallow.  The concepts click immediately, but it is a painful challenge to apply them to our hearts and lives.

The war that is being raged in our lives is being raged in our hearts.  What do our hearts treasure?  What do our hearts worship?  Creation, tainted by sin, has many things for us to treasure and worship.  It presents many ways to grab and hold our hearts.  And when our hearts are captured, our behavior follows.  Yet God, the One who created it all, the One who sent Jesus, the One who loves us with an everlasting love, is a jealous God.  He does not want to share our heart with anyone or anything.  He created us to be His and His alone.

Gods at War spends the time to dissect many of the common idols we struggle with in our world.  The gods of food, sex, entertainment, success, money, achievement, romance, family and me are all laid bare, revealed in all their counterfeit godhood.  They can never truly satisfy.  Their pleasures are fleeting and earthly.  They make all kinds of promises, but they can never truly fulfill them in a way that lasts.  After each chapter, Idleman leads the reader to examine themselves.  Through a series of penetrating questions and then some devotional thoughts, he challenges the idols in our lives and reminds us of who the true God really is.  He reminds us that only God can truly satisfy and only life in Christ is eternal and lasting.

Grab a copy and prepare to have your idols exposed.  And then prepare to enter the gracious presence of our God, the one who can destroy the power of those idols in our lives and make us into people who place Him in His rightful place – on the throne of our hearts.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

In Appreciation of Jim, Linda and 50 Years

A couple of weeks ago, our family had the privilege to join with the rest of my wife’s family in celebrating my in-laws’ 50th Anniversary.  We hosted an open house at their church for them, and then almost the entire family – we missed you Reid – spent three days together near Yellowstone Park.

As a pastor, I deal with marriages in turmoil all the time.  Sometimes it is the couple I don’t know, who calls me one day and asks if I do counseling.  They share in my office for one evening, but when I don’t have the quick fix answers they are looking for, I never see them again and next thing I know they are divorced.

Other times it is a couple in my church, friends that I know well.  In those times I have the privilege of helping them work through some turmoil with the goal of making their marriage better than it is already.  Every marriage, even good ones, go through their rough patches.

Being confronted with marriages in various levels of crisis, from mild to serious, makes me appreciate the accomplishment of my in-laws all the more.  50 years of commitment to one another.  50 years of faithfulness.  50 years of friendship.  50 years of dependence on God and dependence on each other.

And the fruit of those 50 years was on display a couple weeks ago in a cabin perched above Hebgen Lake.  All three of their children married believers committed to God.  All of their grandchildren are walking with the Lord.  And their first great-grandchild is due to be born into a family that is committed to raising their children to know and love Jesus Christ.

Now I know my in-laws well enough to say that when/if they read this, they will divert all the glory to their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  And they should, since it is God’s grace that sustains us each and every day of our lives.  As the apostle Paul reminds us, “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.” (2 Cor. 9:8)  That includes the good work of being committed to your spouse and committed to raising a family that knows and loves the Lord.

Yet at the same time, although I will be the first to say that it is God who works in us and enables us, I do want to say this as well.  Jim and Linda, thank you for being willing to pursue the things of God for 50 years together.  Thank you for continually choosing to cleanse yourself from what is dishonorable. (2 Cor. 7:1, 2 Tim. 2:20-21)  Thank you for faithfully working out your salvation in front of your family for 50 years. (Phil. 2:12-13)  Thank you for living the type of winsome Christian life that drew my wife to Christ rather than turned her away.  Thank you for 50 years of example, of faithfulness, and of obedience. 

May God’s blessings rest on you now and forever,
Your son-in-law