Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Five Vows for Spiritual Power (3)

Here is the second "vow for spiritual power" from A. W. Tozer.

***

2. Never own anything.

I do not mean by this that you cannot have things. I mean that you ought to get delivered from this sense of possessing them. This sense of possessing is what hinders us. All babies are born with their fists clenched, and it seems to me it means: “This is mine!” One of the first things is “mine” in an angry voice. That sense of “This is mine” is a very injurious thing to the spirit. If you can get rid of it so that you have no feeling of possessing anything, there will come a great sense of freedom and liberty into your life.

Now don't think that you must sell all that you have and give it to charity. No, God will let you have your car and your business, your practice and your position, whatever it may be, provided you understand that it is not yours at all, but His, and all your are doing is just working for Him. You can be restful about it then, because we never need to worry about losing anything that belongs to someone else. If it is yours, you're always looking in your hand to see if it's still there. If it's God's you no longer need to worry about it.

Let me point out some things you'll have to turn over to God. Property is one thing. Some of the dear Lord's children are being held back because there's a ball and chain on their legs. If it's a man, it's his big car and fine home. If it's a woman it's her china and her Louis XIV furniture and all the rest. Take that vase for instance. There it stands, and if anybody knocked it off and broke it the poor owner would probably lose five years from her life!

At Hand...the reward of repentance (2)

Here are two big ideas from the prior post on "the reward of repentance"... about the story where Jesus tells us what the Kingdom of Heaven is like and Peter's questions relating to the subject of forgiveness:

When it comes to forgiveness, those who…

… get it…

Have you really received the forgiveness from God? Think about your sins. Things you’ve done wrong. Ways you’ve hurt people. Stuff you regret.

We have a King who has a record of the debt we owe. Our list is long. The 6 billion dollars that the servant owes is a ridiculous amount. But the reality is this: That’s the weight of our debt, and there’s no way we could ever repay it. The penalty is prison – forever. “The wages of sin is death.”

In the story, the King is God the Father and we are the servant who owes the huge debt; 10,000 talents = 6 billion dollars. It’s huge. There is no way the man can pay that debt but he begs for mercy…and gets it.

Out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt.
Matthew 18:27 (ESV)

I remember reading through this story when God spoke to my heart and said, “That’s your verse.” My dad taught me to put my name in verses to make them more personal.

"Out of pity for Rick, Rick’s master, Jesus Christ, released Rick and forgave him the debt."

Jesus came to pay a debt He did not owe because I owed a debt I could not pay.

Now compare verses 26 and 29:

26 So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.”

29 So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you.”

This servant should have remembered, “Hey, I’ve heard this before! It’s what I said to the King and He forgave me!”

When you are hurt by someone, you have to remember, “I’ve been forgiven a huge debt by a great King, He’s had patience with me, He’s released me, He’s forgiven me. So, how can I not forgive that person who has hurt me?”

… give it.

Give it? Wait a minute, Jesus. You don’t understand how hard it is for me to forgive that person. You don’t know how many times I’ve given them a 2nd chance only to be hurt again. You must not understand how wrong what they did was. You don’t understand how mean that person really is. You can’t see how good I am – how I don’t deserve to be treated that way. You just don’t get how the world works – how people really relate. Maybe you don’t understand how things really are Jesus.

Why give it? It makes us like God. Follow Jesus. Father forgive.

Bear with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.
Colossians 3:12-13 (ESV)

If you harbor bitterness and resentment, that’s a pretty big red flag. Maybe you haven’t really received the forgiveness God has offered you in Christ. If you can’t give it, then maybe you didn’t get it. Forgiveness is deciding that someone who has wronged you doesn’t have to pay. You need to know that forgiving others sets you free. How can your freedom be spared one minute and the next you’re choking a guy and then having him thrown in prison when he owes you much less than you were forgiven for?

Do you see yourself in this story?

There’s just something wrong and maybe even evil about a person who could have such a debt forgiven and hold much smaller debts against someone. Look at the size of the debt for which you have been forgiven. Surrender your so-called “right” to even the score.

We’ve seen forgiveness at its best. At the cross. Jesus died to pay all the debt. We don’t owe anything because Jesus paid it all. We owe. He paid...the big debt. Now, if we receive Him, we can forgive like Him.

I want to share some Frequently Asked Questions about forgiveness:

1. What if the one who hurt me never asks for forgiveness?

Our example is Jesus. When He was nailed to the cross, He didn’t wait for the Roman soldiers to say “I was wrong; will You forgive me?” He initiated it. He said, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they are doing.”

The person who’s hurt you may never ask for forgiveness. But don’t let that keep you in the jail of resentment. Just like we should not look for “Thank you,” when we serve, we don’t look for “I’m sorry” when we put out our hand to forgive. And don’t forget: Forgiveness is not condoning the behavior. When we forgive someone we’re not saying what they did was OK. It wasn’t.

2. What if I don’t feel like forgiving?

Forgiveness is first a matter of the mind and the will more than the emotions. The emotions will follow the mind and the will in time. Old illustration: A steam engine train is made up of 1) the engine, 2) fuel car with the coal, and 3) a caboose. The engine is fact - God and His word. The fuel car is faith - our trust in God and His word. The caboose is feelings - our emotional response. Notice that the train runs with or without the caboose.

Some of you have your feelings completely attached to your forgiveness. You’re thinking, “If am ever able to feel better – to heal, to deal with the memories, the hurt, and the shame, then I can forgive.” You’re stuck in all the feelings from the past. You have so much bitterness, pain, hurt, and anger. Your feelings are strong and things are not getting better. Don't allow feelings to run your life. What you are seeking to do is simply trust God by being obedient to God in this matter. Whether you feel forgiving toward the other person is not the biggest issue. The biggest issue is whether you will choose to obey God and His Word or not.

3. Do I have to forgive and forget?

Sometimes, people think that forgiveness and forgetfulness go together because of a verse in the Bible that says that God remembers our sins no more. But is that true? God is omniscient, He knows everything, He can’t forget. If He could forget, He wouldn’t be God. So, when the Bible says that He forgets sins, it means that He treats us as if He doesn’t remember our sins.

If you’ve been hurt badly, you won’t forget it.

4. Shouldn’t the one who hurt me have to pay?

God has made a promise that he himself will repay all wrongs in perfect measure.

Never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord."
Romans 12:19 (ESV)


Do you believe this promise? Do you trust God to settle accounts for you far more justly than you could ever settle them? God’s justice will prevail and no wrong has escaped his notice. He sees its evil far better than you do. He hates it far more than you do and he claims the right to take vengeance. Forgiveness does not eliminate justice and consequences. Sometimes a wrong done to you will bring consequences to the one who hurt you; they earned it. Maybe they need to endure those consequences to grow from it.

5. How will I know if I’ve forgiven?

The short answer? You’ll feel free. Remember how the passage ends?

In anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.
Matthew 18:34-35

After having his massive debt cancelled by the king the servant refuses to cancel the tiny debt of his friend. And so the king throws him into jail for his heartlessness.

If you are in jail, you have not forgiven. What is the jail? A bitter soul. You build your own prison. It doesn’t really affect the other person. They are going on with their lives. It consumes you.

6. Does forgiveness mean that reconciliation happens?

I don’t think Jesus is saying that you have to reconcile. Reconciliation takes two people. If you’re offering forgiveness and they don’t own up to their wrongs and won’t receive the forgiveness, there’s nothing more you can do. Reconciliation may not ever happen. We can hope for it, we can work for it, we can pray for it. But it might not be desired by the other person. Whether reconciliation happens or not, you can still forgive.

7. What if I can’t (won’t) forgive?

An unforgiving heart is very dangerous. If it takes root in your heart and becomes a grudge, it can destroy you – eternally. That's the point of the story. No one is forgiven who is unwilling to be forgiving. No one goes to heaven who is unforgiving.

Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
Matthew 6:12

If you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
Matthew 6:14-15

That verse is pretty point-blank. If we don't forgive, we aren't forgiven. This is why an unforgiving heart is very dangerous. It can turn into a lasting grudge and the result will be judgment.

It sounds like what Jesus is saying is that our forgiveness is dependent on whether or not we forgive. But that would mean we somehow have to earn forgiveness. But the story here in Matthew 18 teaches us that we can’t earn forgiveness. No. God simply chooses to erase the debt for no good reason. So, He’s saying, “If you get forgiveness, you will give it. But If you can’t give it, then you didn’t get it.”

People who are forgiven actually see what Jesus had to go through to forgive them. He died on the cross for their forgiveness and they understand that Jesus not only died for them, but He also died for the one who hurt them. He died for his/her sins, too. If we can’t forgive, it’s like we’re telling Jesus that He died so we could be forgiven BUT His death wasn’t enough for the one who hurt us.

***
Forgiveness is a choice. How will you respond? For some of us, we’ll need to call someone and let them know, “I’m sorry that I’ve been harboring bitterness in my heart against you. Will you forgive me?” For others of us, the one who hurt you might not even know you’ve held something against them, so your forgiveness may be internal. The question is, What do you need to do and what will you do? Will today be the day you repent of your resentment, bitterness, and unforgiveness? Will you be set free?

Here is a prayer you can pray to make it "personal." Fill in the blanks of that person you need to forgive.

Because I have been forgiven of such a great debt by Christ, by faith I now choose to forgive -____________________ unconditionally in Christ. No matter how much he/she sinned against me, it doesn’t compare with how I sinned against God. So, I release him/her from the hurts. He/she is no longer accountable to me for those hurts. I know that I do not have the power to forgive this way. So, I am here and now trusting Jesus to forgive through me. I put ____________________ in the hands of God – the One who will handle things righteously. Thank You, Jesus, for setting me free.

If you can pray this from your heart, no matter the feelings, then I think you can have a clear conscience before God about living in forgiveness. Pray this way over and over and then, over time, you will see that you will have been set free. If you can pray this prayer, please take heart. You may not feel forgiving. But you are doing good work. Only God can see in your heart, but it seems to me that you ARE forgiving those who hurt you. You aren't plotting revenge. You are seeking to let go. These are all signs of a forgiving heart, not a revenge-filled bitter heart.

***
Forgiveness – those who get it give it.

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:32, ESV)

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Five Vows for Spiritual Power (2)

Here's more from A.W. Tozer as he continues to point us to ways to find and keep spiritual power.

***

Now there are five vows I have in mind which we do well to make and keep.

1. Deal thoroughly with sin.

Sin has been driven underground these days and has come up with a new name and face. You may be subjected to this phenomenon in the schools. Sin is called by various fancy names--anything but what it really is. For example, men don't get under conviction any more; they get a guilt complex. Instead of confessing their guilt to God and getting rid of it, they lie down on a couch and try to tell a man who ought to know better all about themselves. It comes out after a while that they were deeply disappointed when they were two years old or some such thing. That's supposed to make them better.

The whole thing is ridiculous, because sin is still the ancient enemy of the soul. It has never changed. We've got to deal firmly with sin in our lives. Let's remember that. “The kingdom of God is not meat and drink,” said Paul, “but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost” (Romans 14:17). Righteousness lies at the door of the kingdom of God. “The soul that sinneth, it shall die” (Ezekiel 18:4, 20).

This is not to preach sinless perfection. This is to say that every known sin is to be named, identified and repudiated, and that we must trust God for deliverance from it, so that there is no more sin anywhere in our lives. It is absolutely necessary that we deal thus, because God is a holy God and sin is on the throne of the world.

So don't call your sins by some other name. If you're jealous, call it jealousy. If you tend to pity yourself and feel that you are not appreciated, but are like a flower born to blush unseen and waste your sweetness on the desert air, call it what it is -- self-pity.

There is resentfulness. If you're resentful, admit it. I have met people who live in a state of sputtering indignation most of the time. I know of a preacher who acts like a hen thrown out of the nest. He keeps running in all directions clucking and complaining -- somebody is always doing him wrong. Well, if you have got that spirit, you must deal with it now. You must get that out of you. The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses from all sin. Instead of covering it up and trying to find a Greek marginal rendering somewhere to hide it under, call it by the right name, and get rid of it by the grace of God.

And then there is your temper. Don't call it indignation. Don't try to christen it by some other name. Call it chat it is. Because if you have a bad temper you will either get rid of it or it will get rid of much of your spirituality and most of your joy.

So let's deal with sin thoroughly. Let's be perfectly candid. God loves candid people.

At Hand...the reward of repentance

I know so many of your stories. Deep hurt. There is lots of hurt in this room every weekend.

As a child, your mother slapped you; your dad hit you; a parent left home and you felt it was your fault. As a teen, you were damaged forever by the cutting words from your brothers and sisters; you were told by parents that you’ll not amount to anything; you were abused sexually. As an adult, your spouse walked out; your ex has taken advantage of you financially; someone has turned kids against you.

Lock in on a hurt. Do you have something/someone in mind?

I know two that are true: I will sin against you and you will sin against me.

As Andy Sikora our 707 Teaching Pastor says, “No matter how much you try and protect yourself, somebody is going to hurt you. Maybe intentionally. Maybe unintentionally. It may hurt a little or a lot. It may cause minimal damage or it may cause immense damage. The reality is this: It will happen.”

Think about a wrong done to you. Maybe something from this week. Maybe something from a roommate or a boss. Maybe something from years ago from a friend, or a sibling or a parent. Maybe something that happened and the offending party doesn’t even know how offensive it was. It doesn’t matter how big or small. But think about something that happened and you’re feeling grudges or hurt feelings or unresolved pain. Make it personal.

There is a story where Jesus tells us what the Kingdom of Heaven is like, and it is in Matthew 18:21-35.

Jesus has just told His followers how to deal with someone who has done something wrong. He gives a strong process for how to confront, care and hopefully correct. In the midst of the conversation about how to deal with someone who’s done wrong the subject of forgiveness comes up.

Peter has a question for Jesus that gets to this story.

21 Then Peter came up and said to him, "Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?"

The rabbis back then taught that you had to forgive someone three times and then you could retaliate. Peter doubled that and added one for good measure. I think he thought his answer would impress Jesus.

22 Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.

That’s 490 times – only 483 more than Peter’s 7. Jesus isn’t suggesting that we count the number of times we forgive someone. If you’re still counting, you’re missing the point. You don’t keep score when it comes to forgiveness.

N.T. Wright says, “Peter’s question and Jesus’ answer say it all. If you’re still counting how many times you’ve forgiven someone, you’re not really forgiving them at all, but simply postponing revenge. “Seventy times seven” is a typical bit of Jesus’ teasing. What he means, of course, is don’t even think about counting, just do it.”

23 "Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. 24 When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents.

1 talent = 20 years of wages. Let’s be conservative. Say someone makes $30,000 a year. 1 talent = $600,000. In today’s dollars, 10,000 talents = 6 billion dollars.

If you’re trying to collect your cash, this is the first guy you’re going to call in. The king takes out his books and says to the guy, “You owe me 6 billion bucks. And today’s the day you pay me back.” We’re not sure exactly how he ran up this kind of debt but it’s clear that he would never be able to repay the king. He’d never live that long to make that kind of money to pay the king back. It’s impossible.

What kind of king is handing out a 6 billion dollar loan? A very generous king.
And what kind of person takes out a big loan, blows it, and can’t pay back. A very foolish servant. Who can pay back a 6 billion dollar loan?

25 And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made.

The king knew he could never recoup all his losses -- he just wanted to get back whatever he could. So, he says, “Sell him. Sell his wife, his kids, his cars, his house – everything. At least I’ll get something back.” The servant knows it’s over. He knows he has no hope. He knows he’s ruined his life and the lives of everybody in the family. He’s destined to a life of slavery

Then something CRAZY happens…

26 So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, 'Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.'

Yeah, right. You’re going to pay all 6 billion dollars? But somehow this captures the heart of the King.

27 And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt.

The king does something the man doesn’t even ask for. The king not only releases him, he also forgives the debt. He impoverishes his own bank account. He wipes the slate clean, erases the books, and cancels the debt. Now the man owes him nothing.

The king says, “I will pay your debt.” The law says, “You owe, you pay.” But the king says, “You owe, I pay.” This guy gets undeserved grace from the king. He just asks for grace and gets grace. The king cancels the debt for no other reason than he wanted to.

The story is not over. That’s just Act 1. Now comes Act 2.

28 But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii…

100 denarii is a lot. It’s about 20 weeks of work. It comes to about $12,000 in today’s economy.

…and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, 'Pay what you owe.'

Moments ago this guy owed 6 billion dollars to the king. He was about to lose everything and be sold into slavery. His debt was going to cost his family everything. But the king looked at him and gave him grace – forgave him everything. Changed his life forever. Now he walks out the door and saw a guy who owed him about $12,000. He walks right up to the guy and starts to choke him and he yells, “Give me my money!”

29 So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, 'Have patience with me, and I will pay you.'

These are the same words he used with the king. You’d expect him to be just as generous and compassionate as the king. But no.

30 He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt.

There are other people around who see all this.

31 When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place.

He gets called back before the king and the king throws him in prison not because of his debt, but because he refused to forgive the debt owed him. Everyone is stunned that the man who was forgiven of so much is so unforgiving himself.

32 Then his master summoned him and said to him, 'You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?' 34 And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt.

The story is over. Here comes the big idea. Jesus has Peter’s attention.

My friend John Alan Turner says that what Jesus says next is the scariest thing Jesus ever said.

35 So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart."
Matthew 18:21:35 (ESV)

This story is your story. This is what happened to you. You owed a debt to God that you couldn’t have paid back in a zillion years. You couldn’t ever begin to repay the debt you owe to God. Our king has invited you to live in a kingdom where you owe and the king pays.

But we’re a lot like this man when we don’t forgive others. We enjoy putting people in prison if they’ve wronged us. We want them to suffer, to hurt as bad as they hurt us. We put people in prison in various ways: We talk about them. We give them the silent treatment. We avoid them. We attack them verbally.

Are you trying to hold someone hostage right now? Are you trying to make them feel miserable? Are you determined to punish a friend or family member for something that he or she said or did to you? Well, you’re not hurting them as much as you’re really hurting you!

The torturers will come and take you away if you don’t extend forgiveness to those who have wronged you. What torturers, you ask? Bitterness that eats your insides out. Resentment that gives you ulcers, high blood pressure, migraine headaches, and lower back pain. Anger that makes you lie awake at night stewing over every wrong that someone has done to you. Unforgiveness that stalks you day and night, that never leaves you, that sucks every bit of joy out of your life.

Why? Because you will not forgive from your heart. We can try to punish and imprison those who hurt us, but the reverse actually happens. Do you know where the worst prison is in the entire world? It’s the prison of an unforgiving heart. It’s an internal concentration camp. We’re imprisoned in the past. The most miserable people in the world are those who are unwilling to forgive others.

God doesn't tell us we must forgive because we’re doing Him a favor if we do. No. He commands us to forgive because it’s helping us! Our unwillingness to allow others to be free of their past only keeps us tied to our past. In forgiving the person who hurt you, you are setting a prisoner free. And that prisoner is you.

To experience a healing, you need to forgive. It’s your own choice.

And think about it: The one who hurt you isn't hurting because you’re not forgiving him/her. That person is most likely just going on with life. You are the one who is hurting and paying a price.

Lewis Smedes has said, “When I genuinely forgive, I set a prisoner free and then discover that the prisoner I set free was me.”

Maybe you’re thinking that your dad is the meanest man in town. And maybe he is. You’ve been yelled at, beat up, and lied to. It’s hard for you to give him a birthday present or a Father’s Day card. You can’t forgive. But truth be told, you’re the one who’s in jail – in prison. Maybe you married what you thought was the girl of your dreams and you had some expectations. But now she’s letting you down financially, sexually, emotionally. You are bitter and resentful and angry. You can’t forgive. You think you’re punishing her. But truth be told, you are in jail – in prison.

Check back for two big ideas from this story and some “Frequently Asked Questions” on forgiveness.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Five Vows for Spiritual Power (1)

Over the next few days, I will be posting sections from a booklet written by A.W. Tozer that has been used by God in powerful ways in my life and ministry. Maybe it will help you, too.

Five Vows for Spiritual Power

by A.W. Tozer

Some people object to taking vows, but in the Bible you will find many great men of God directed by covenants, promises, vows and pledges. The psalmist was not averse to the taking of vows: “Thy vows are upon me, O God,” he said. “I will render my praises unto thee” (Psalm 56:12).

My counsel in this matter is that if you are really concerned about spiritual improvement--the gaining of new power, new life, new joy and new personal revival within your heart--you will do well to make certain vows and proceed to keep them. If you should fail, go down in humility and repent and start over. But always keep these vows before you. They will help harmonize your heart with the vast powers that flow out and down from the throne where Christ sits at the right hand of God.

A carnal man refuses the discipline of such commitments. He says, “I want to be free. I don't want to lay any vows upon myself; I don't believe in it. It is legalism.” Well, let me paint a picture of two men.

One of them will not take vows. He will not accept any responsibility. He wants to be free. And he is free, in a measure--just as a tramp is free. The tramp is free to sit on a park bench by day, sleep on a newspaper by night, get chased out of town on Thursday morning, and find his way up a set of creaky stairs in some flophouse on Thursday night. Such a man is free, but he is also useless. He clutters up the world whose air he breathes.

Let's look at another man--maybe a president or prime minister or any great man who carries upon himself the weight of government. Such men are not free. But in the sacrifice of their freedom they step up in power. If they insist upon being free, they can be free, just like the tramp. But they choose rather to be bound.

There are many religious tramps in the world who will not be bound by anything. They have turned the grace of God into personal license. But the great souls are ones who have gone reverently to God with the understanding that in their flesh dwells no good thing. And they know that without God's enablement any vows taken would be broken before sundown. Nevertheless, believing in God, reverently they took certain sacred vows. This is the way to spiritual power.

Now there are five vows I have in mind which we do well to make and keep.

***

Come back to this blog for vow number one tomorrow.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Choosing marriage over ministry

Watch and listen to John Piper talk about his leave of absence from ministry for 8 months to focus on defeating the pride in his life. He refers to it as a kind of fasting from the ministry to defeat idolatry in his life. Piper says that he wants his wife to feel precious over the ministry. It's a sobering statement. Pray for John and Noel Piper... and for all pastors and wives in ministry.

Are you a rebel?

I am proud of our son, Evan, for editing his own video for the song, Rebel, by the Christian artist, Lecrae. Are you a rebel for Christ?

Lecrae - Rebel (Intro) from Evan Duncan on Vimeo.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The fruits of gaining assurance

Several weeks ago, we held a special meeting to help CVCers gain assurance of salvation. Read more about our special meeting regarding Questions and Answers about Assurance of Salvation. God is working to help CVCers grow in thier understanding of eternal security. Below is a testimony from a CVCer that has found the gift of assurance.

***

Hi Rick,

I just wanted to take some time and thank you for the special message you gave a couple of Sundays ago. I, as probably most of the people in attendance, wasn’t sure of my salvation. I had doubts and fears that I wasn’t saved, but after hearing you and reading the handout my doubts and fears have gone away. I signed, dated and put the time on [the handout]. Now I have something to wave in the enemy's face when those doubts come in my head.

Work had been especially tough for me. With a difficult boss to work for and non Christians to work with, I found myself falling into what I termed “work talk” and not feeling very good about myself.

But after reading and absorbing the handout material and now knowing I was saved, I went into work the next day with a much more positive attitude. And it has been a totally different atmosphere for me ever since. My attitude has changed, people had asked me if I won a lot of money because I was totally different. Even my boss has responded to my change with a change of her own and has been much more pleasant to deal with.

Only the Lord could have accomplished that task. Praise the Lord.

Every week I hear someone say, “Wow, Rick was sure talking about me today”. We are truly blessed to have you and the rest of the staff.

Thank you, Jesus, for the work You’ve done through CVC!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

When you need a little lift


Ministry can often be discouraging. Spiritual leaders are tempted to focus on the problems more than the victories. We battle the world, the flesh, and the devil who is, in the words of Luther's hymn, "our ancient foe who seeks to work us woe." As leaders, we are in a great struggle and we certainly do take our hits.

That's one reason why encouraging notes and emails to leaders are so needed and so welcomed.

I received two such notes today. I've edited both and posted them below. They encouraged me greatly and let me know that God is a work in, through, for, and with CVC. Maybe the notes will encourage you, too.

***

I just wanted to write a quick e-mail to ... express our true thanks for so many things. It is important that you know you are serving God with excellence! Everything you do at 707/CVC is high quality, and that is so important for what it says about God and His Kingdom--it's not just a casual "whatever" sort of thing, but a passionate embrace of the best that He can do through each of us...

You guys are doing something rare and special and we appreciate that, and applaud you for the commitment required from you each... Know that you are in our prayers daily as you surrender to God doing great things through you and changing the spiritual landscape in northeast Ohio.

On a more personal level, I want to thank you for how you have reached out to me and helped God give me new life. The past couple of years have been brutal--mentally and spiritually... You have blessed me and helped God in healing me. We need courage, comfort, conviction and direction... for the days ahead and now we are in a place where God is providing that through the way He uses you. My prayer is that God blesses you in the way you have blessed me and my family.


***

I didn’t get opportunity to tell you; but last week’s message [from Luke 19 on being accepted by God] hit my heart right out of the box. In talking about rejection, and the various scenarios in our lives where that’s experienced, you surely touched a chord with me on a couple fronts. I sat in 3 times, and each time it was one of those experiences where I’m asking myself, “Can this guy read my thoughts? Has he been in my home, has he been “reading my mail”?!?

Now this weekend... I can’t wait to hear the forgiveness message for a lot of reasons. Forgiveness, like grace, should work simply enough: I get it so I need to give it.

Our Community Group has decided that through the summer, we’re going to use our group time to discuss the NT readings and your messages. If you could hear the comments about your messages, as well as the discussion that they and the readings ignite, you would be hugely encouraged.

God has gifted you in your teaching, in particular. You’re able to teach God’s Word in a practical, yet deep and profound way, touching people at whatever degree of spiritual depth they’re at. That’s true giftedness.


***

Thanks. CVCers! I needed that encouragement today! God is at work in and through and with and for us. Let's keep praying that He continues to use us. He works in ways we cannot see.

Now, who can you encourage today?

Friday, March 19, 2010

Radical forgiveness - Corrie ten Boom

Corrie Ten Boom lived through the holocaust during WWII. Her family hid Jews from the Germans in Holland. Eventually, her whole family was caught and arrested. Her beloved father died 10 days after he was imprisoned.

Corrie and her sister, Betsie, ended up in a Nazi prison camp called Ravensbruck. 80,000 people died in that camp over a period of seven years. Many were shot, given a lethal injection, or gassed. Sick prisoners had to strip in front of the Nazis. Corrie watched her sister Betsy grow ill, suffer, and die.
After the war, Corrie began to speak about the forgiveness of Christ. In 1947, she spoke at a church in Munich. That’s where she saw the man. The man had been a guard, one of the most cruel guards.

He was in front of her with an outstretched hand. “What a fine message. How good it is to know that, as you say, all our sins are forgiven.” She fumbled in her pocketbook. She didn’t want to take his hand. He obviously did not remember her. But she remembered him.

She was face-to-face with a man who not only hurt her, but her sister. He said, “I have become a Christian. I know that God has forgiven me.” And his hand came out again.

Let's let Corrie ten Boom finish this story in her own words

I stood there - I whose sins had again and again needed to be forgiven. And I could not forgive. My sister, Betsie, had died in that place. Could this guard erase her slow terrible death simply for the asking?

It couldn’t have been many seconds that he stood there - hand held out. But to me it seemed hours as I wrestled with the most difficult thing I ever had to do.

For I had to do it - I knew that. If you do not forgive others their trespasses, Jesus says, neither will your Father in Heaven forgive your trespasses.

I knew it not only as a commandment of God, but as a daily experience. Since the end of the war I had had a home in Holland for victims of Nazi brutality. Those who were able to forgive their former enemies were able also to return to the outside world and rebuild their lives, no matter what the physical scars. Those who nursed their bitterness remained invalids.

It was as simple and horrible as that.

And still I stood there with coldness clutching my heart. But forgiveness is not an emotion - I knew that too. Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart. So, I prayed silently, “Jesus, help me! I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You must supply the feeling.”

So woodenly, mechanically, I placed my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place.

The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm and sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.

“I forgive you, brother, with all my heart.”

For a long moment we grasped each other's hands - the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God's love so intensely as I did then. But even so, I realized it was not my love – not my forgiveness. I had tried and I did not have the power. It was the power of the Holy Spirit as recorded in Romans 5:5: The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. Forgiveness. It sets us free.

A prayer to forgive those who have hurt you

Have you been hurt deeply? This weekend, I am speaking from Matthew 18 about the need for us to forgive the hurts we've suffered. Below is a prayer that I have put together with the help of a friend who's suffered deep, deep trauma. If you've been hurt, maybe you could use the following prayer as a guide will help you experience the freedom Jesus longs to give you.

***

Jesus, I'm coming to You because I know I need to forgive ______________.

I feel like I don't have anything to bring except all this sadness, anger, and shame from being hurt. Jesus, I know living with all of this pain steals Your glory and hinders my joy.

I know that can't forgive on my own. I don't have the grace in me to forgive on my own.

So, I am bringing the hurt to You and laying it all at Your feet. Your Word says I must forgive the ones who have hurt me. So, I here and now make the decision to do it. By faith, I choose to obey You by forgiving those who have hurt me.

I entrust the ones who have hurt me to You. You can handle the justice. Give me the strength to give this all to You and rest in the fact that You will make these wrongs right one day.

Please heal me from the inside out. I want to let go of this. I don't want this to consume me anymore. Change my heart, O God. Set me free from the prison of bitterness, resentment, and unforgiveness.

Help me to learn to live by faith and not by my feelings. Jesus, You forgave me a huge debt that I could never have repaid by dying on the cross for me. And I know that those who have hurt me do not owe me as much as I owe You. No matter how much someone has sinned against me, it doesn’t compare with how I sinned against You.

Because I have been forgiven of such a great debt by Christ, by faith I now choose to forgive ____________________ unconditionally in Christ.

I know that I do not have the power to forgive this way. So, I am here and now trusting You, Jesus, to forgive through me. Give me the supernatural ability to give to others the same grace and mercy that You have given me. I release to You those who have hurt me. They are no longer accountable to me for those hurts. I put ____________________ in your hands because You are the only One who can handle justice righteously.

Thank you Lord, for loving me and forgiving me. Thank You for supernaturally enabling me to forgive by the power of Your Holy Spirit. And thank You, Jesus, for setting me free.

I love you, Lord, and I pray this in Jesus' name. Amen.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

10 Ways to Pray for the Lost

This past weekend, many, many people at CVC listed 5 names of those who are without Christ. we have over 1,000 names of people to pray for.

As a church, we'll be praying for all these people name-by-name through Easter Sunday. If you have an extra 10-15 minutes between now and Easter and you would like to pray with us for those without Christ, simply drop by the church and go to the prayer room. The cards are there. Today, I spent a few minutes in the room praying for some people.

It occurred to me that some people might want to pray for these people but might not know how to pray. So, we have a prayer guide available. I've included it below:

10 Ways to Pray for the Lost

by: Dave Hintz


1. John 6:44 “No one can come to Me, unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.” — Pray that the Father will draw them to Himself.

2. Romans 10:14-15 “How then shall they call upon Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? 15And how shall they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring glad tidings of good things!’” — Pray that they will hear a clear presentation of the Gospel.

3. 1 Corinthians 2:14 “But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.” — Pray that they will be able to understand spiritual truth.

4. 2 Corinthians 3:14-15 “But their minds were hardened; for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remains unlifted, because it is removed in Christ. 15But to this day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their heart; 16 but whenever a man turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.” — Pray that God will lift the veil from their hearts so that they might understand spiritual truth.

5. 2 Corinthians 4:3 “And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, 4 in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” — Pray that God might prevent Satan from blinding them from the gospel of glory.

6. Matthew 13:3-8 “And He spoke many things to them in parables, saying, ‘Behold, the sower went out to sow; 4and as he sowed, some seeds fell beside the road, and the birds came and ate them up. 5And others fell upon the rocky places, where they did not have much soil; and immediately they sprang up, because they had no depth of soil. 6But when the sun had risen, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away. 7And others fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked them out. 8And others fell on the good soil, and yielded a crop, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty. 9He who has ears, let him hear.’” — Pray that their hearts will be like the good soil so that the Word of God when preached to them will sink in. Pray that Satan will not “steal” the seed of the Gospel.

7. Romans 16:18 “For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting.” — Pray that false teachers will not deceive them with spiritual lies. (Pray this especially when you know that the person you are praying for is under the false teaching.)

8. 2 Corinthians 7:10 “For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation; but the sorrow of the world produces death.” — Pray that they will have sorrow over their sin that will lead them to repentance.

9. Matthew 5:4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” — Pray that they will mourn over their sin.

10. Romans 1:16 "For I am not ashamed of the gospel for it is the power of God for slavation to everyone who believes." - Finally, pray that they will understand and embrace the specific elements of the Gospel - that they have sinned and fallen short of God's glory; that Jesus loved them enough to die on the cross for their sins; that Jesus rose again for their justification; and that they must repent of sin and trust Christ as Lord and Savior.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Story of Zac

I like to read the blog written by Perry Noble, pastor of New Spring Church in South Carolina. Here is wisdom from one of his staffers about the goodness of God in a fight against cancer. This is worth a few of your minutes.

The Story of Zac Smith from NewSpring Media on Vimeo.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Costly grace vs. cheap grace

Here's an interesting and much-needed conversation about what a famous 20th Century pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, called cheap grace vs. costly grace.

***
Someone wrote to me that a friend said, "Who cares [about sin]? All you gotta do is ask for forgiveness and bam! you're forgiven."

My friend wanted to know how to respond to someone who presumes on God's forgiveness.


***

Here's my response:

I think in such cases it's helpful to talk about the difference between costly grace and cheap "grace." A German theologian and pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, made this distinction in his book "The Cost of Discipleship."

Cheap "grace" gives a person a license to keep on sinning. Some think that if sin abounds, more grace will abound. But Romans 6:1 says that this is not true. Cheap "grace" is the thinking that we can get forgiveness without repentance. It's trying to get "grace" without knowing and loving Jesus. It's "grace" without a cross.

But costly grace condemns sin. Costly grace realizes that our sinning cost God the life of His Son. We don't want to hurt the One who died for us. Costly grace results in our fighting against the sin that violates the holiness that keeps Jesus from being the Lord of our lives.

If a person's view of grace dosn't make that person hate his/her sin and forsake the sin, then that person has bought the lie of cheap grace. Cheap "grace" is really not grace at all.

It's only costly grace that forgives and saves.

Those who want cheap "grace" are spurning the Son of God, profaning the blood of Christ, and outraging the Spirit of grace (as Hebrews 10:29 says).

Believing in a cheap grace is an offense to the cross of Christ and the glory of God. God takes sin seriously and so should we.

So, pray that those who want cheap "grace" will get a new view of the glory of God in the Lord Jesus Christ. They need to see Jesus in a new, fresh, true way.

May God give us all His assistance in communicating these things.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Should Christian women wear bikinis?

A CVCer, Lisa Dayton, began a discussion on facebook where she posted, "As bathing suit weather approaches, I have one request for all my Christian sisters: please keep your bikinis at home. They aren't necessary for swimming or sunbathing and we all know it... As my boys get older, I think about it more and more. Should Christian women be wearing bikinis?"

Then she wondered, "If our desire to be 'cool laid back Christians who aren't judgmental' has made the topic of Christian women's clothing standards too tabu to even discuss..."

This began an amazing conversation on her facebook wall that has dozens of posts to date.

Lisa then asked me to join the conversation and to comment on I Timothy 2:9, "Women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire."

Below are a few of my thoughts.

***

First of all, this is not to be seen as a total prohibition of women seeking to look beautiful. In Proverbs 31, for example, the virtuous woman clothes herself in fine linen and purple (v. 22). Why? Evidently, she wants to look good. So, whatever I Timothy 2:9 is saying, it's not contradicting Proverbs 31.

The real issue seems to be this: What's the focus for the godly woman? External beauty or internal beauty? (See also I Peter 3:3-4.)

Some women are good at trying to use their physical beauty - their charms, their bodies - to "win" with the men in their world. As Madison Avenue tells us, there's power in sex appeal.

But God wants women to be people of influence not because of their female "charms" but because of their character.

God is not condemning women for seeking to look as beautiful as possible. In the south, when I was growing up there were churches that did not allow women to come to church with make-up on. They were forbidding women to wear make-up by using verses like I Timothy 2:9.

I once heard a pastor who was asked, “Pastor, what do you think about women wearing make-up in church?” He said, “If the barn needs paintin’, paint it!"

Think about it. No matter how much you paint it, it’s still a barn. You can scrape it. You can fix broken boards. You can caulk it. You can prime it. And you can give it two coats. But when you open the door and go inside, it’s still a barn. It still smells like a barn.

So, what God may very well be saying in I Timothy 2:9 is this: “Don't spend your time, talent, and treasure focused on the outside. Get some pitchforks and some shovels and clean out the stalls.”

When, as I Peter 3 teaches, the hidden person of a woman's heart is gentle and quiet, then God looks on this kind of life with great favor. He delights in it. So, women must seek to be beautiful in God’s eyes and they will find themselves being more and more beautiful to God. And not only are they precious in God's sight, but they are also powerful in the sight of their husbands.

This is a world where women are seeking to use age-defying products to try to look as good as the models on the magazines. But God says, “The outer man is decaying. It’s the inner man that needs to be renewed day by day.”

If a woman compared the time and money she spends on outward beauty with the time and energy she spends on developing her inward beauty, how would they stack up? Are Christian women truly passionate about the right things?

So, to me, the big question for women is this: Are you seeking to exert influence from external or from internal beauty?

Now regarding the bikini question. Should Christian women wear bikinis?

Romans 14 is a passage that speaks to a wide variety of issues where believers have a measure of freedom.

On the one hand, the Bible says that we should not pass judgement on each other (vs. 10) for each of us will give account to God. On the other hand, the Bible says that we should never put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of each other (vs. 13) for we should only do (wear!) what will edify others (vs. 19).

As John MacArthur teaches, "Love Limits Liberty." In other words, a woman might be "free" to wear something like a bikini. But if her wearing it is a potential stumbling block for some spiritually weaker brothers, then for the sake of love, she would be pleasing God and edifying the saints by choosing not to wear it.

Yes, men do have a responsibility to "bounce" their eyes away from the temptation as the book "Every Man's Battle" teaches. But it would surely help the men if there weren't so much temptation out there.

So, I'll say what no man has said yet during this conversation and what Lisa is right in asking Christian men to say, "Stop wearing them [the bikinis]. It makes things difficult for us."

And one more thing. As for me and my house, the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition is off limits! Old fashioned? Maybe. But I truly think that a no SI swimsuit edition decision honors God, limits temptation, and creates more security for the women in our world.

Thanks, Lisa, for making us think!

Questions and Answers about Assurance of Salvation

This past weekend, about 125 people showed up at an informal meeting between our 9:30 and 11:30 services to learn more about gaining assurance of salvation. We set up the meeting because of the interest indicated on our CARE cards from the previous week's message from Matthew 3:1-12. On that Sunday, 30 people checked a box that said, "I am not sure of my salvation. Please pray for me."

So, this past Sunday, I shared some thoughts from God's Word for about 20 minutes and answered questions for about 10 minutes.

If you would like to hear the audio of the meeting, please click here for "How Sure Are You?"

A couple of year ago, I gave a series of 3 messages on assurance of salvation. The message series was called "Sure." You can access the audio messages by clicking on the links below.



It is possible for us to “be sure.” John encourages us, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life” (I John 5:13, ESV).

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Repentance prayers (3)

Here is another classic prayer that might help you in your Lenten repentance. This prayer is from the classic book "The Imitation of Christ" by Thomas a Kempis. As you use this prayer, ask the Lord to bring to your mind any sins that you need to confess today.

***

“O most sweet and loving Lord, whom I now devoutly wish to receive, you know my weaknesses and my needs. You know how many bad habits and vices I have. You know how often I am burdened, tempted, shaken, and stained by sin. I come to You for healing. I pray to You for comfort and support. I speak to You, who knows all things, to whom my innermost thoughts are evident. You alone can adequately comfort me and help me. You know what good things I need most, and You know how poor I am in virtue.

Look! I stand before You poor and naked, asking Your grace and imploring Your mercy. Feed me, for I am hungry. Inflame my coldness with the fire of Your love. Illuminate my blindness with the light of Your presence. Make all that leads me from You not worth thinking about. Make me forget it all. Lift up my heart to You in heaven, and let me not wander aimlessly around the world. From no one, You will be my only delight, for You alone are my food and drink, my love and joy, my sweetness and my whole good.

Oh, that by Your presence You would set me fully on fire, totally consume me and transform me into You, so that through the grace of inner union and by melting in love’s flames I would become one spirit with You. Do not leave me hungry and thirsty, but treat me mercifully as You have so often and so admirably treated Your saints. How wonderful it would be if I were burned and wholly consumed for You, since You are a fire always burning and never consuming, a love that purifies the heart and enlightens the mind.”

Friday, March 05, 2010

Repentance prayers (2)

Today's prayer of repentance during this season of Lent is a prayer of the Scottish reformer, John Knox (1513-1572). As you pray, may the Lord bring to your mind any specific sins that you need to confess today.

***

Omnipotent and everlasting God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who by Thy eternal providence disposest kingdoms as seemeth best to Thy wisdom: we acknowledge and confess Thy judgements to be righteous...

Justly mayest Thou pour forth upon us the uttermost of Thy plagues, for we have not known the days and time of our merciful visitation. We have scorned Thy Word, and despised Thy mercies; we have transgressed Thy laws, for deceitfully have we wrought, every man with our neighbor; oppression and violence we have not abhorred; charity hath not appeared among us, as our profession requires. We have little regarded the voice of Thy prophets. Thy threatenings we have believed to be vanity and wind.

So that in us, of ourselves, there remains nothing worthy of Thy mercy, for all are found fruitless; even the princes with the prophets, as withered trees apt and meet to be burned in the eternal fire of Thy displeasure.

But, O Lord, behold Thy own mercy and goodness, that Thou mayest purge and remove the burden of our most horrible offenses. Let Thy love overcome the severity of Thy judgements, even as it did in giving to the world Thy only Son, Jesus, when all mankind was lost and no obedience was left in Adam or in his seed.

Regenerate our hearts, O Lord, by the strength of the Holy Spirit. Convert Thou us and we shall be converted. Work Thou in us unfeigned repentance, and move Thou our hearts to obey Thy holy laws. Take not from us the light of Thy gospel. Repress Thou the pride of those that would rebel; and remove from all hearts the contempt of Thy Word. Look Thou to the honor of Thy own name, O Lord; and let Thy gospel be preached in this realm.

If Thy justice must punish, then punish our bodies with the rod of Thy mercy and let us not faint under the cross of our Savior, but assist us with the Holy Spirit, even to the end.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Repentance prayers (1)

Many believers have found it helpful to use a written prayer to help them move toward repentance during this Lenten season. Below is a famous prayer from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. See if God might use this prayer to assist you in becoming more and more repentant as we prepare our souls for Easter.

***

Almighty and most merciful Father;

We have erred and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against thy holy laws.

We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; and we have done those things which we ought not to have done; and there is no health in us.

But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders. Spare thou them, O God, who confess their faults. Restore thou them that are penitent; according to thy promises declared unto mankind in Christ Jesus our Lord.

And grant, O most merciful Father, for his sake; that we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life, to the glory of thy holy Name.

Amen.

… AT HAND: the reward of repentance - Prepare

Are you ready? Are you prepared?

Take a look at 3 things Matthew 3:1-12 teach us about what it means to be prepared – to be all set.

Prepared people havea new direction.

Can you really say, “Yes, there’s a new direction in my life and it’s God’s direction”? Look at the very first word in verse 2.

“Repent…” Matthew 3:2a (ESV)

Literally, the word means “a change of mind" but it’s more than just a change of mind. In the NT, the word has taken on the meaning from 2 Hebrew verbs: “naham” (“to be sorry for your actions”) and “sub” (“to turn around to new actions”). Some people say that the word would be better translated “be converted.” To repent is to experience a radical change of mind and heart that leads to a complete turnabout of life.

It involves a sorrow for sin that results in a radical transformation of a person’s whole life. It’s a total turnaround involving a person’s mind and a person’s actions. See, the Bible teaches us that our attitudes and actions are off course. We need a radical change.

Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Acts 2:38 (ESV)

Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.
Acts 3:19-20 (ESV)

Now [God] commands all people everywhere to repent. Acts 17:30 (ESV)

Do you have a new direction? Can you honestly say, “I am headed in a new direction in life”?

If you’re not all new, then you’re not all set. You’re not ready for the kingdom of heaven. You’re not prepared. So, ask Jesus for the grace to change, to repent, to head a new direction.

Prepared people have a new direction.

… a new allegiance.

You may not know it or realize it, but you are in a current kingdom already...you are already under some authority. Maybe you think you’re calling the shots for your own life...you think you’re your own king. But I have found that most people have something deeper and darker as king:

For some people, their king is power and control. They need to be in charge.
For other people, their king is approval and admiration. They need to be liked.
For some people, their king is comfort and ease. They need to be soothed.
For other people, their king is security and protection. They need to be safe.

And when these kings rule, we lose. We stay in the dark. That’s why John says, “Repent…”

“…for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Matthew 3:2a (ESV)

The kingdom of heaven is the rule of God in heaven over earth. It’s describing the reign of God in the hearts of His people. God is seeking to demonstrate His sovereignty – His reign – on earth and in our lives. Jesus was born King and the kingdom was coming when He walked this earth and performed His miracles. The kingdom advanced when He died and rose again. The kingdom exists now in the hearts of all who follow Him and the kingdom will come in its fullness when Christ returns to this earth. Jesus is the once and future King.

Is He your King now? Today?

Make no mistake about it. We’re not just automatically in God’s kingdom. We have to be transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light.

He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. Colossians 1:13 (ESV)

Has that happened to you? The Kingdom of God is at hand. Do you have a new allegiance? Can you honestly say, “I have a new King for my life”?

If you’re not all new, then you’re not all set. You’re not ready for the kingdom of heaven. You’re not prepared. So, ask Jesus to take you out of the kingdom of darkness and place you into the kingdom of light – to give you a new allegiance.

Prepared people have a new allegiance.

… a new lifestyle.

One of the biggest problems with the church today is that our lifestyles really are not that much different than the lifestyles of those outside the church. We watch the same shows, we go to the same places, we buy the same stuff, we get just as many divorces, and we are just as materialistic. What this means is that many of us profess Jesus, but we don’t possess Jesus. Our faith is fake. And we have a false sense of security. Many in the church think they are saved, but they are not.

George Barna talks about this group. He calls them Casual Christians.

Casual Christianity is faith in moderation. It allows people to feel religious without having to prioritize their faith. Faith is not demanding for Casual Christians. A Casual Christian wants to be a nice human being, a family person, religious, a good citizen, a reliable employee. But a casual Christian really doesn’t want to have a faith that requires him to heavily invest.

Casuals think this way: “I just want some kind of connection to a deity. I want the image of being a faith-friendly person. Just give me 2 dollars worth of God please. Don’t fill up the tank. Just give me enough of God to make sure I have a pleasant and peaceful existence.”

What’s proof that you are really a follower of Jesus, that you are really and truly saved? John tells us to be fruit inspectors.

Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. Matthew 3:8 (ESV)

Are you a fruit-bearing Christian? Does your Christianity change your lifestyle? We have to move from Casual Christianity to Captive Christianity.

George Barna says that for Captives, success is defined as obedience to God, as consistently serving Jesus and doing what He says. For Casuals, success is defined as balancing everything just right so that they are able to maximize their joys in life without undermining their so-called relationship with God. Casuals are about moderation and comfort while Captives are about extreme devotion to Jesus regardless of the worldly consequences.

Bear fruit! So what if you prayed the sinner’s prayer? So what if you’ve walked an aisle or raised your hand at the end of a church service? So what if you’ve been baptized? So what if you go to church? If your life hasn’t really changed, you’re not saved! Fruit is the proof that your faith isn’t fake.

In Luke 3, John explains what this fruit should look like.

And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?”

And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.”

The fruit that proves repentance is a willingness to give our food and clothing and money to those who have need. We have more than we need to help people in need. Think of all the hundreds of commands John could have given. “What shall we do?” He could have said lots of things. But the command that he gives to the crowd refers to their stuff...their things and their money. You can see this over and over again in Luke. True repentance shows up in how we handle our money and our possessions. Why? Because where our treasure is, there will our hearts be also.

You can tell where your heart is resting by the way you handle your money and by the attitude you have toward his possessions. If you know the generosity of God, then you will have a generous lifestyle. You’ll live a life that signals to the world that your treasure is in heaven.

Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do," and he said to them, “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.” Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?,” and he said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.” Luke 3:10-13 (ESV)

The fruit shows up in your lifestyle because of true repentance is a refusal to exploit someone to get more yourself. The pursuit of your career – your occupation – is a part of your walk with Jesus. John doesn’t say, “Quit your job. You can’t be a tax-collector who follows Christ. You can’t be a soldier and a follower of Christ at the same time.” He’s saying, “Do what’s right in your job. Live a life of integrity at work…whatever your work might be.” So, bring Jesus with you to work. He’s already there anyway. He’s seeing all you say and do there anyway.

You bosses, stop raising the sales quotas to ridiculous levels – and give your workers a fair wage.
You employees, stop padding your expense accounts. Employers, stop holding back on the benefits because they take away from your bottom line.

Fruit is the proof that your faith isn’t fake.

Do you have a new lifestyle? Can you honestly say, “I am living a new way. I’m different. I’m changed”?

If you’re not all new, then you’re not all set. You’re not ready for the kingdom of heaven. You’re not prepared. So, ask Jesus for the ability to bear fruit, for a new lifestyle.

Prepared people have a new direction, a new allegiance, a new lifestyle.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Being sure

On Sunday, I encouraged everyone who atteneded CVC to pray this prayer prior to the message:

Jesus, show me my true spiritual condition. Show me if I know You or not. Show me if I’m prepared to meet You or not. I don’t want to be deceived. I don’t want to think I’m saved when I’m not.

After the message, on the response cards, many people checked the box that said, “I am not sure about my salvation. I need a new direction, a new allegiance, a new lifestyle. Pray for me to be a prepared person.”

It is a good thing to periodically evaluate our spiritual condition. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test" (II Corinthians 13:5, ESV).

This coming weekend I will be meeting with those CVCers who are struggling with assurance of salvation. We'll meet in the main auditorium at 10:45. We will examine the whole issue of assurance of salvation. I will share from God’s word for 15 minutes and then will spend 15 minutes or so seeking to answer your questions. All are welcome to participate.

A couple of year ago, I gave a series of 3 messages on assurance of salvation. The message series was called "Sure." You can access the audio messages by clicking on the links below.

Secure.

Heartcheck.

Q4Certain.

It is possible for us to “be sure.” John encourages us, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life” (I John 5:13, ESV).

As God leads, join us this coming Sunday morning at 10:45 as we wrestle assurance of salvation issues.

… AT HAND: the reward of repentance - Prepare

If Jesus returned today, are you ready? Are you prepared? Are you all set?

In the previous post, we looked at Matthew 3:1-6. Let's finish with Matthew 3:7-12...

7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism…

The religious leaders are there. So, it’s a crowd like us. Religious people are tempted to say, “He’s a bigger sinner than me. She’s a bigger problem than me. It’s my boss, my wife, my husband, my kid who need to change most." So, everyday people – John and Jane Doe – are there. The spiritual leaders are there. John has a big crowd...what’s he going to say to keep them coming to hear him speak?

… he said to them, “You brood of vipers!

“You snakes! What do you think you're doing slithering down here to the river?”

You know what John is doing here? He’s seeking to knock down some mountains of pride. A proud person can’t say, “Yep! That’s me. I’m a snake!” We say, “She’s a snake. He’s a snake.” But the truly humble aren’t trying to get everyone around us fixed. We’re fixated on our own need to be fixed. And then John asks a question:

Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?

"Wrath"... a word that describes what’s coming for those who are not prepared. It’s the indignation of God for those who have every opportunity to love Him, but don’t – who have every opportunity to love the world of hurting people, but don’t.

Romans 1:18 says that “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness…” Are you sure you are going to be safe from the wrath to come? Really?

How can I flee from the wrath to come?

8 Bear fruit in keeping with repentance.

You need to repent. Especially you “holier-than-thou” types, and if you’ve repented, bear the kind of fruit that proves it.

Fruit. We can be pretty good at faking it. Which fruit is real? Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between the fake fruit and real. A self-righteous person is pretty good at producing a fake kind of fruit. But it’s manufactured by self. Therefore, it’s fake. It’s can’t ever satisfy. But a truly repentant person produces real fruit that comes from God.

Are you for real? Does the fruit of your life prove that you’re the real deal – that you’re authentic, that you’re all new?

9 And do not presume to say to yourselves, "We have Abraham as our father," for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.

Abraham was the father of the Jewish nation and the Jews were proud of their heritage. They said, “We are God’s chosen people, so if anyone is going to heaven, it’s us, the Jews. We keep the rules of religion.” But John says, “Don’t go there. God doesn’t need you. You need Him.”

John might be pointing to the stones in the river bed. “He can turn these rocks into His people. Don’t think that being a physical descendent of Abraham means that you are a true son of Abraham. Don’t think your Jewishness is going to save you.” Being a Jew is not a guarantee that you’ll make it to heaven.

If John were talking to us, he’d say that being an attender at CVC is no guarantee and being a listener of WCRF or the Fish is no guarantee. Walking an aisle or saying a prayer is no guarantee. Your momma’s prayers are no guarantee. Outward religion never made anyone a child of God. Anyone can figure out the rules and regulations and conform, but God is looking for people who will be transformed from the inside out.

10 Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

“Wait a minute. I thought church was about good news! Lighten up!” It is good news when someone wakes you up and says, “Quick the hotel’s on fire, but there’s still time. I'll show you how to get out.” Listen, the day is coming when time will be up for each of us...God is looking for trees that bear fruit – good fruit. If He doesn’t find good fruit, the axe flies and the tree is cut down and thrown into the fire.

Dawn Brancheau was just doing her job as a trainer at Seaworld on Wednesday, February 24 when a killer whale grabbed her hair and pulled her into and then under the water. She didn’t survive. It was a freak accident. I don’t know about much about Dawn, but I wonder this, “was Dawn prepared to meet her Creator? Were there fruits in her life to show that she had repented? Did God suddenly let fly the axe that was laid at the root of the tree?”

What if the axe hit you? John is saying that a catastrophe is coming. There is only one way to avoid that catastrophe. There has to be a radical change...you have to become all new.

11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

John was the most sought-after speaker in Israel for centuries, but he says that he’s not worthy to shine the shoes of Jesus. John knew something that we often forget. “It’s not about me." John lived for the purpose of elevating somebody else. John had a massive following, but he didn’t want that to last. He was pointing people to Jesus, not himself. You see this over and over as you look at John’s life...for John, it was never about John...it was all about Jesus. “Prepare the way of the Lord.” That was his ticket to greatness.

Jesus said that John was the greatest person ever born. What made Jesus say that? Remember this: Jesus makes much of people who make much of Him.

12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” Matthew 3:1-12 (ESV)

A winnowing fork was kind of like a pitchfork. The threshing floor is an exposed area, about thirty to fifty feet in diameter. A pile of wheat is placed in the middle and then bunch by bunch the wheat is tossed into the air. The breeze blows away the chaff so that heavier grain kernels fall straight down, and that is how the grain and chaff are separated. The “chaff,” what is not the true grain, is burned up and the wheat stored in the barn.

Now this, I hope, is obvious. The grain represents the prepared people – the people who have repented and are bearing fruit. The chaff represents the unprepared people – the people who have not repented and are not bearing fruit.

What are you? Grain? Or chaff? The image is unmistakable. Every person in this room will either be gathered or burned. Are you prepared or not?

Behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the Lord of hosts.
Malachi 4:1 (ESV)

Listen, you don’t want to be unprepared...you want to be all set. But, if you’re not all new, then you’re not all set, you’re not ready, you’re not prepared.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

… AT HAND: the reward of repentance - Prepare

I remember as a kid hearing a lot about end times. The topic of lots of sermons was what’s going to happen at the end of time – what the signs are for the return of Christ. The message was that Jesus comes back and takes all believers to be with Him in heaven. That’s called the rapture of the church. Those left behind go through chaos and catastrophe called the Great Tribulation. We’d hear that Jesus could come back at any moment and then the question would be asked, “will you be left behind?”

I can remember as a young teenager both my parents worked outside the home. So, I would come home from school and be alone for awhile. Sometimes, my parents would be late. After a message on end times and left behind, I have vivid memories of standing at the living room window, looking outside and seeing no one...no cars drive by, no dogs walk by. This feeling of horror would fill my heart, “Jesus came back, took my mom and dad to heaven, and I’ve been left behind!" Of course, mom and dad showed up, but God got my attention. I wanted to be sure I was ready in case Christ came back.

I still want to be prepared and I want you to be prepared, too.

End times...an 8.8 magnitude earthquake hit just off the coast of Chile early yesterday morning. Homes, highway bridges and hospitals collapsed and at least 300 people were killed. The death toll is likely to rise when the true extent of the devastation becomes known...and this comes on the heels of the earthquake that hit Haiti.

I can’t help but think about the words of Jesus we read earlier in February in our One Year Bible reading. Jesus talked about what’s going to happen at the end, just before He returns to set up His kingdom.

Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. Therefore you…must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.
Matthew 24:7, 44 (ESV)


If Jesus returned today, are you ready? Are you prepared? Are you all set? If you’re not all new, then you’re not all set. You’re not ready. You’re not prepared.

Here’s what I want you to pray today: Jesus, show me my true spiritual condition. Show me if I know You or not. Show me if I’m prepared to meet You or not. I don’t want to be deceived. I don’t want to think I’m saved when I’m not.

In this series, we’re going to see that there’s something better than what we’re currently experiencing.

If we were honest, most of us would have to admit that there’s too much darkness, too many shadows, too little light in our lives. Wounds. Fear. Doubt. Discouragement. Conflict. These are the things that mark our lives. But God has something better for us, and it is close, it’s just outside, light, warmth, healing, hope, courage, peace.

If you look at Isaiah 51:11, it is a picture of where God wants to take us – where God wants to take you.

The ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. Isaiah 51:11 (ESV)

Jesus has come to take us out of the cold, damp, dark into His warmth, light, love.

When I think about my life, I know that I want Jesus to come with fresh power, fresh joy, fresh peace. The following verses will help us see what’s needed to go from the dark to the light, from the cool to the warm, from sorrow to gladness, from sighing to joy.

This kind of transformation only comes to prepared people. Are you prepared? Are you prepared for Jesus to show up in your life in new, fresh, powerful ways?

Matthew 3:1-12. Today we will look at v. 1-6.

Look at a day in the life of a spiritual leader named John. He was a rugged man. He was the lead man for the most significant spiritual awakening in world history. John was a man who was greater than everyone who had lived before him. Who says?...Jesus does. Jesus said that neither Moses, Abraham, David, Elijah, nor Daniel were greater than John the Baptist.

The story begins when John is just about to become the talk of the town. What is his job? To get people prepared for the coming of Christ. Matthew 3:1.

1 In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea,

John the Baptist, JB, is Jesus’ cousin. He’s a passionate preacher who began his public ministry in the desert near the Jordan River. He’s outside the big city and it’s not an easy place to live… or visit. He had a simple message.

2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

John is saying, “Unless you repent, you’re not really prepared. The kingdom is close but you’re going to miss it unless you have a change of heart.” He’s saying, “If you’re not all new, then you’re not all set. You’re not ready for the kingdom of heaven...you’re not prepared...so change, repent.”

Telling people to “repent” might seem like an offensive message today. But think about it this way: wrapped up in the word “repent” is an opportunity – an opportunity to change. John’s message might have offended some people, but it was a message of hope...we can start over.

So, where do you need a fresh start? School? Work? Home? Some relationship?

You don’t have to stay the same. Repentance is a beautiful, powerful, awesome opportunity. You can’t change what you’ve already done. You may not be able to fully escape the consequences of your past. But you don’t have to keep on going down the same destructive road. You can start again. So, why should we repent? It’s because of the nearness of the kingdom of heaven. We’ve got this expectation God is coming to establish justice, to defeat the oppressors, and to make all things new.

3 For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight."

In ancient times, when a king came to visit a city, a messenger would go beforehand, telling the people to prepare. The people of that city would then get busy preparing the road for the king.
Here John is telling us to do that. “Prepare for King Jesus!” Give the Lord access into your heart and life. Before the King comes, we have to be prepared. This passage tells us what needs to happen before Jesus comes with a new power. We have to “make His paths straight.” It’s word picture that teaches us to build a road.

For Jesus to show up, there are some things that have to be cleared out of the way. We have sin that must be dealt with. We have to clear away all the obstacles. We have to get rid of self, complacency.

4 Now John wore a garment of camel's hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey.

This guy doesn’t have a power wardrobe, he’s not dressed for success, and he doesn’t do business lunches - no Longhorn’s Steakhouse, no Chipotle. He’s just living off the land.

5 Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him,

Thousands of people go 20 miles out of the city and into the wilderness to hear him talk. As far as we know, he had no formal education, or much money, or friends in high places.

6 and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

Baptized. In John’s day, a non-Jew who wanted to convert to the Jewish faith had to be baptized. So, when John said to the Jews, “Be baptized,” it was an offensive message. “You who think you are God’s chosen ones? You need to be baptized just like the pagans do.”

If Jesus returned today, are you ready? Are you prepared? Are you all set?


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