Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Spiritual Warfare - Schemes of the Devil (5)

What are the schemes of the devil? v. 11b

“Schemes” in the Greek language is methodia. It could be translated methods, strategies, or deceits.

We are to stand against the devil’s methods and strategies that are designed in a diabolical way to make us fall. And we are, sadly, way too ignorant of his tactics.

We would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs.
II Corinthians 2:11 (ESV)

“Designs” in the Greek language is noema. It could be translated devices, intentions, or evil purposes. It is the word used for the minds that are blinded or corrupted by Satan (II Corinthians 3:14; 4:4; 11:3). And we are, sadly, way too ignorant of the way Satan blinds our minds to his tactics.

In war, generals will study the strategies and tactics of the enemy leaders so they can anticipate an attack. You have to know some things about your enemy or you are doomed to lose the battle.

We need to do a little recon. We need some intelligence. We need to know more about our enemy than we do. What are the devil’s tactics, strategies, and methods?

Here's a little illustration that can help us see how the enemy works.


The guy in the middle is you. Or us. We are made in God’s image. (Sorry, girls, that you’ve got to identify with a guy. This is just how Bryan Karas, our 707 worship pastor, drew things.)

The Bible says we are surrounded by a triple threat.

1) The world.

[We] once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air.
Ephesians 2:2 (ESV)

When the Bible says that the world is a spiritual enemy, it’s not talking about the planet. It’s talking about a godless value system designed to pull us away from Jesus and from each other. It’s the pursuit of money, pleasure, fame, influence. An enemy in this triple threat? The world.

2) The flesh.

I love the way Bryan drew the flesh. He’s kind of a bloated, ugly duck-like Jabba the Hutt. Now, when the Bible talks about the flesh, it’s not a reference to our bodies. The flesh describes our sinful craving to live for our own pleasure. We want to gratify our flesh with food, drink, sex, and comfort.
Those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh.  Romans 8:5

Enemies in this triple threat against us? The world. The flesh.

3) The forces of darkness. Our enemy can look friendly. But it's a mask - and behind it all is darkness.

Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.   II Corinthians 11:14 (ESV)

Enemies in this triple threat against us? The world. The flesh. The forces of darkness.

How does this war work?

The enemy uses the influences of the world and the desires of our own flesh against us. And the battlefield is our mind. He leverages the world and the flesh against us. He lies to us about the world and the flesh.

The more we listen to the lies, the bigger the world gets to us and more power our flesh has over us. The enemy’s scheme is to get us to feed our own flesh and to allow the world to overcome us. When that happens, we've been overcome by darkness.

And that’s right where some of us are today. The world is big to you. Your flesh is controlling you.

But Ephesians teaches us that we can stand against the enemy’s schemes. How? We believe the truth of God’s word rather than the lies.

The weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.  II Corinthians 10:4-5 (ESV)

The implication here is that devil and his followers have access to our minds. They can’t read our minds, but they can influence our thoughts. An ungodly thought can be planted by the enemy. The Bible tells us that spiritual warfare is the battle for your mind.

The more we choose to reject the lies of the enemy and believe the truth – what God says about Himself and about us – then the less and less influence the world will have and we desire to satisfy our flesh less and less.

God has already won the victory. But in this in-between time, the battlefield is in our minds.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Why Jesus has not returned yet

11/29/2010 Loving God Journal

Learn - 

The Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. II Peter 3:9 (ESV)

Observe - 

Why hasn't Jesus returned?  

I remember as a kid being in a church environments where teaching about the Second Coming of Christ was prominent.  We were constantly told that Christ's return was near - that the world events pointed to His coming.  The teachers surely didn't put a date on things, but no one who heard them would have ever thought that we would make it to 2010.  Obviously, the Father has delayed Christ's return long after the preachers of my childhood had predicted.

Why hasn't He returned?  This passage says it's because of His patience.  Not enough people are saved yet.  He wants more to repent.

The ESV Study Bible says, "Peter explains that the delay of the second coming is not a long time from God's perspective. He then explains further that the delay is also because God is patient, and He has not quickly brought the present period of history to an end because He does not wish that any should perish (see... 1 Tim. 2:4; cf. also Rom. 2:4). Though Christians long for Christ's return and the defeat of all evil, as long as the present period of history lasts, an opportunity remains for people to turn to God in faith."

But how will people repent if we don't tell them?  We have to wear the shoes of the gospel of peace (Ephesians 6:15, Romans 10:14-17) and take the gospel to those who don't know Jesus.  We have to use the sword of the Spirit, the word of God (Ephesians 6:17), to help capture the thoughts of the lost so they are obedient to Christ (II Corinthians 10:4-5).  We have to pray that we will be bold in proclaiming the gospel (Ephesians 6:19-20) so that more people will repent and be ready for the return of the King.

Value - 

Jesus is waiting for people to repent.  What are you waiting for?  Tell them about Him!

Express - 

You, Lord, are incredibly patient.  Thank You for being patient with me.  If you held my sins against me, I could never stand.  Thank You for Your patience with the lost.  Help me help them be ready for Your return.  I do not know when You will return.  But I do want to help more people be ready.  So, give me grace to open my mouth and to be bold.  Give me grace to use the sword of the Spirit.  Give me grace to wear the shoes of the gospel of peace.  Don't come back until my family, my neighbors, my friends are saved.  Help us at CVC pick another unreached people group and do what we can to reach them.  Keep being patient, Lord Jesus!  Amen.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Spiritual Warfare - Armed and dangerous

"Pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints" (Ephesians 6:18).

I was challenged and encouraged by Chad Allen's message today in our "Armored" series from Ephesians 6:18. Below are my favorites quotes from the message.

***

Sometimes, the hardest things to do are the best things to do. Like prayer.

Prayer is the real deal. "Dear God" is not a casual thing to say.  We are engaging in spiritual battle when we pray.

It is prayer that makes you armed and dangerous.

A battling Christian is a praying Christian.

Prayer is our nuclear weapon.

We have to hit our knees to fight.

A soldier of Christ prays at all times. Make your life a prayer.  Have an ongoing conversation with God.  What prevents us? 1) Unconfessed sin.  You can't approach a holy God doing unholy things. 2) Bitterness. We nurse the hurt.  3) Spiritual laziness.  4) Distractions.  We can get to the end of the day and notice that we haven't prayed once.

When you see something cool, talk to God about it.  When you are tested or tempted, ask God for strength.  When you talk to someone who is struggling, pray.  When a siren goes by, pray with your kids.  A siren is like a flare to pray.  It's a prayer flare.

Pray like you text.  I love texting.  They are little conversations.  We can send 1,000s of texts during the month.  In the same way, we can send 100s if not 1,000s of prayers up each month.

A soldier of Christ prays in the Spirit. We must be Spirit-led in our prayers.  He tells us who to pray for and how to pray and what to pray. When we pray according to the Spirit, our prayers are powerful and potent.

A soldier of Christ prayer with all prayer and supplications.  We can fall back into a self-sufficient mindset.  It's like we are saying, "I don't need you, God."  But I need the Lord.  He's not a crutch.  I just need Him.

A soldier of Christ prays with alertness.  One of our problems is that we have a peacetime mentality.  There is a war waging spiritually all the time.  The souls of our friends and family are at stake.

If we arent careful, we can slip into an unalert state of life.  There were two times 2 we weren't alert in the US.  12/7/1941 and 9/11/2001.  Do we need to experience a personal pearl harbor or a personal 9/11 before we realize that we have to pray?

When it comes to spiritual warfare, we are always in a state of either yellow, orange, or red alert.  Spiritually, we should always be on alert.

A soldier of Christ prays with perseverance.  Seven days without prayer makes one weak.

A soldier of Christ prays for their fellow soldiers of Christ. Often something takes place during a war so that a soldier's instinct for self-preservation is overridden to protect others.  When we pray, we pray for the protection of our fellow soldiers.

God has given us prayer because Jesus Christ has given us a mission. And what is our mission? Faithfully live for Jesus Christ and tell others about Him.

We don't want to be just armed, but we want to be armed and dangerous... to the devil.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Spiritual Warfare - Schemes of the Devil (4)

How are you doing in spiritual warfare? Ephesians 6:10-11 give us hope. How? They tell us that…

Jesus helps you stand.

Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand…  Ephesians 6:11a

We’re to stand – to dig in, to not run. Stand in Christ. There is a very real danger that we might fall in this invisible war.

Three times in these verses, Paul tells us to make sure that we stand – that we not fall. He writes about standing here in verse 11. And he writes about standing again twice in verses 13 and 14.

Take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore…  Ephesians 6:13-14a (ESV)

The “standing” is not that we’re like brick walls that are passive. No. We have the battle gear on. We’re ready to fight. We’re both defending and attacking. We’re standing our ground. We’re withstanding the enemy’s attacks. We resist his onrushing attacks. And we even gain ground.

Stand. But we don’t have to stand on our own. Jesus helps us stand. I love what the Bible book, Jude, says about this:

[Jesus] is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of His glory with great joy.  Jude 1:24 (ESV)

How are you doing in this war?

Friday, November 26, 2010

Missional or attractional? How about AND?

Tim Stevens author of the blog Leading Smart took some notes at the AND conference and posted them. Lots of talk has been taking place about the issue of missional church vs. attractional church. The conference was designed to emphasize that the answer is both/and not either/or. Good stuff about the mission of the church.

***
Some quotes from Alan Hirsch’s opening session at the AND Conference…

I’ve always had a respect for the megachurch. The modern church growth movement reintroduced evangelism into the equation of church–and I highly respect that.

Our world is becoming increasingly more complex. There are hundreds of sub-cultures that have the potential to divide us.

Churches tend to reach people like them. That’s fine, but as culture becomes more divided–the reach of the church is diminished.

I introduced the word “attractional.” I wish I could change that–now I would call it “extractional.” Because within 3-5 years of becoming a Christian, that individual will no longer have any significant relationships outside the church. And that becomes a problem for the spread of the gospel!

Recent report said 95% of Americans believe in God.

The vast majority of Americans think highly of God, Jesus and spirituality–but very poorly of the church.

I love Apple, but hate AT&T. But can’t use my iPhone without AT&T. I think a lot of people think that way about God and the church. They give God a thumbs up, but really dislike the church.

The problems of the world can’t be solved by doing the same thing that got us here.

If you keep digging in the same hole, you become very invested in the hole. And so you dig deeper, and become more invested.

The demise of Christendom is not such a bad thing. We didn’t do so well when we were in control. Christianity tends to thrive when it isn’t culturally acceptable.

House church isn’t doing missional very well. They tend to have bad music, bad teaching and all the kids are running around the house. Who wants that?

Church comes out of mission. Not the other way around.

Don’t be captive by your own success. Churches in decline are sometimes more open to hearing God and trying something new.

Is a can opener a can opener if it no longer opens cans? Is a church still a church if it no longer does what a church is meant to do?

The Bible knows no distinction between clergy and laity.

***

The conference continued with a tremendous session led by Matt Carter who pastors The Austin Stone Community Church. Some things he said…

I think the attractional model of church is still very effective–and will reach some people that smaller forms of church will never reach.
The attractional model alone won’t curb the decline of Christianity in America.

The primary model of church has been “come to us.” And that’s where it has ended.

Lay people (especially those who are 18-30 years old) are starting to get restless. They want to get in the fight.

I realized even if we build a bigger building and grow another 4,000 people–nothing really changes for the city of Austin.

What if people got the vision not to “come and see” — but to “go and do.”

Jesus wouldn’t make a very good American megachurch pastor. Why? It wasn’t his church-growth philosophy. His church growth philosophy was 12 men.

The difference between a small group and missional community: A small group is primary about community–a missional community is primarily about mission.

We had to change the definition for our small groups–now they must have moved beyond gathering, have found a group of people, and are engaging that group of people to introduce them to God.

There is nothing on the planet that can foster deep, biblical community than getting a shared mission for God.

If we aimed for community alone, we hardly ever got community or mission. But if we aimed for mission–we almost always got mission AND community.

We teach our leaders how not to be consumers–but to be self-feeders.

***

Dave Ferguson is the lead pastor of Community Christian Church in Naperville, Illinois — and led the conversation in our final session day one of the AND Conference.

Although the church is in decline, there is a missional impulse alive and well throughout the world. There is much to be hopeful about.
I often hear people in my church say, “I want to do more.” I recently got an email where someone said, “Can we do something for people who won’t go to church?” That is a missional impulse. It is alive in our people.

Missional people PLUS multiplying churches EQUALS a missional movement.

How do you get to missional people? You ordain every follower of Christ.

As leaders, if we want missional people, we have to say “yes” as often as we can.

There’s a business strategy that we’ve used too long in the church — it is to identify your target market, do only what will reach your target market, and say “no” to everything else. That is a brilliant business strategy. But it is not what the church is about. We need to release people.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Living in victory over the enemy

11/25/2010 Loving God Journal

Learn - 

Jesus Christ has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.  
I Peter 3:22

Observe - 

This is a reason to give thanks.  Whenever we feel defeated by the enemy, we must remember that Jesus has already won!

The ESV Study Bible says, "The central truth of vv. 18–22 is that Christ has triumphed over his enemies. He is now ascended to the right hand of God, and all angels and demonic powers are subjected to him since he is Lord and Christ. We can therefore rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that Christ has triumphed."

This gives additional insight as to why Paul would tell us in Colossians 3 to set our minds on the things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.

Value - 

Today, see Jesus seated at the Right hand of the Father, victorious and praying for you.

Express - 

You are high and lifted up Lord Jesus.  I cannot think of You in exalted ways enough.  You came, You bled, You died, You rose, You ascended, You are coming again.  Meanwhile, let me tap into Your victory by seeing You as the ascended Champion that You are.  Let me gain strength and victory from you.  Let me see myself as in a battle today.  Forgive me for forgetting my battle and for not drawing on Your strength.  In You, I can stand.  in You, I have strength.  Bless those I love today, Lord, with this same dependence on You.  Amen.

TV and your child's soul and mind

My friend Al Baker, the guy who introduced Maryanne and me back in 1974, is a pastor in Connecticut. He shares some challenging words for parents. Kids will be off from school a lot over the next month and a half. How much TV and media should they (and we!) consume?

***

Selling to Five Year Olds

Do you remember when Britney Spears burst onto the adolescent culture scene in 1999? She was so wholesome, claiming to be a Christian and a virgin. Her persona has noticeably morphed over the years and she is now making a comeback, much like her idol Madonna. Both have re-invented themselves many times. Is this an accident or is this a well orchestrated marketing plan, and so what, what difference does it make?

Walt Mueller writes in “How to Make a Pop Star”2 of how in 2005 he attended a conference for marketers on how successfully to market to children ages two to twelve. Yes, you read correctly—age two to twelve. Mueller says that a woman from Virgin Records, who claims to be the one responsible for Britney’s stardom, outlined how she did it, and how they continue to make pop stars. First, she said they had to put Britney in the public eye and portray her as the All American girl. Why? She had to grab the attention of children. Then their mothers, the gatekeepers to the family and the pocketbook holders, had to approve of Britney as wholesome if there was any hope of selling music, tickets, and merchandise. Believe it or not, the target audience reached down to four and five year olds!

But second, marketers realize that kids grow up, their bodies and their likes change. More specifically, they tend to rebel when they reach puberty, or at the very least, wish to have more independence, so the last thing an adolescent wants is Mom’s approval of his or her music. So in order for Britney, Christina, Jessica, and Madonna and their sponsors to keep making money these pop icons must reinvent themselves. So Britney developed an edge to her, a wild streak that upsets parents, but endears her to teens who want to “breakaway” from parental authority. So, this is no accident. It is all so well orchestrated! That’s right—your five year old, even now is being manipulated by marketers, right before your very eyes!

In her book Branded: The Buying and Selling of Teenagers,3 Alissa Quart says that children are treated just like any natural resource to be mined and refined. It’s all about making money. Marketers to teens prey on teens’ need to belong, to be accepted. So a teen will “die” if he or she is perceived as uncool, outside the desired group. Marketers know that and spend billions of dollars to tell kids that they must have the right clothes to make it work in their world. This is especially true of print magazines which target young girls, solidifying in them “feelings of economic and taste inadequacy.” And parents are a large part of the problem because they tend to substitute DVD players, TiVo, and iPad’s for meaningful parent/child relationships.
Not allowing yourself and your children to be conformed to the world, of not being squeezed into its mold, of not becoming so well adjusted to our culture that you and your children fit into it without even thinking—does not just happen. It takes intentionality. My friend Ted Baehr gives chilling evidence on the detrimental effects of television and movies on the cognitive development of young children. He says the average child gets about twenty-one minutes per day of primary attention from their parents while spending over ten hours per day with the Internet and TV. So by the time a child is seventeen years old he has spent 63,000 hours with mass media, 11,000 hours in school, and 800 hours in church (assuming he has gone one hour every week since birth).4 Even more ominous is how television and movies fail to allow the viewer to reflect, react, or review the information just received, something absolutely critical to cognitive development. Baehr quotes John Rosemond in the Atlanta Journal and Constitution who says, “The next time your child watches television look at him instead of the screen. Ask yourself, ‘What is he doing?’ Better yet, ask yourself, ‘What is he not doing?’ He is not practicing motor skills, gross or fine. He is not practicing eye-hand coordination. He is not using more than two senses. He is not asking questions. He is not exploring. He is not exercising initiative or imagination. He is not being challenged. He is not solving problems. He is not thinking analytically. He is not practicing communication skills. He is not being creative or constructive.” Furthermore, television does not promote long term attention, nor does it promote logical, sequential thinking. Rosemond concludes by saying these are all marks of learning-disabled children who don’t seem to get it all together when it comes to learning how to read and write.5

What then, parents, should you do to mitigate the marketing manipulation and cultural corruption being foisted on your five year olds? I am not saying you must place a moratorium on TV or DVD’s. I am saying, however, that you surely ought significantly to limit the exposure of your children, whatever their age, to these mind-numbing, soul-destroying, character corrupting machines. A good friend of mine, whose children are now in college, and incredibly bright, well adjusted, and pursuing Christ, told me that he limited his children’s screen time (whether TV, DVD’s, or Internet) to something like one hour per day. The rest of their time was spent reading, exploring, practicing their musical instruments, playing outside, and asking questions. Having your children play with other children whose parents hold Christian values like you is also vitally important. When our children were very young, we monitored carefully those with whom we allowed them to play. As they grew older, we allowed them to have non-Christian friends, especially in our home where we could control the activities, and later in the homes of their friends, provided our children had proven their spiritual maturity by not caving into peer-pressure. Finally, as your children gain the security of your love and the Father’s love, they will be less prone toward “needing to belong.” So, do you need to make changes? Is your child’s cognitive ability being stunted? Is he being manipulated by Madison Avenue? What will you do?

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
1 From The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language, by Eugene Peterson.

2 Used by permission from The Center for Parents/Youth Understanding, 2006.

3 As reported by Paul Robertson in his article “Commodified Kids”, used by permission from The Center for Parent/Youth Understanding, 2003.

4 Ted Baehr, The Culture-Wise Family, page 88.

5 Ibid. Page 100. Chapter five, “The Eyes of Innocence”, is especially important for it outlines the five stages of cognitive growth and how television adversely affects them.

The His-story of Thanksgiving

Joe Savage of The University of Mobile Leadership Institute shares the following thoughts about the first Thanksgiving. It's really His-story.

Happy Thanksgiving everybody!

***

The year was 1620. The small ship was called The Mayflower. Those on board were called the Pilgrims. Their purpose was to establish self-government and freedom of religion. They set sail with 102 passengers. The voyage took 66 days. On November 21, 1620 they reached the Cape Cod coast. As they sailed looking for appropriate land for settlement, they encountered a horrific storm causing them to anchor at Cape Cod. Before coming ashore, 41 men aboard the ship sign an agreement which would set up a new style government. The agreement was called the Mayflower Compact. It would be the first document of self government in the New World.

With sea weary legs, the men began exploring Cape Cod for suitable land to settle. The women and children stayed on board. Winter was upon them. Temperatures began to plummet at night. Urgency began to set in. The journey was becoming quite difficult, but their toughest days were still ahead!

As they began to settle, natives appeared with arrows flying. The Pilgrims fired back. Knowing they would never have peace, the Pilgrims board The Mayflower and set sail again. This time they would land at the place they called Plymouth. It would be here that they would settle; more out of desperation and urgency, then out of finding the perfect Utopia.

Several members of their group became sick. Others passed away. William Bradford's wife would drown - either by accident or by suicide. No one knows for sure. Being ill-prepared for a harsh winter and all that came with settling a New World, the Pilgrims would began to die at a rapid pace. In no time at all, half of the Pilgrims would pass away leaving them with only 53 individuals counting women and children.

They didn't know where to fish. They didn't know how to grow crops in this new type soil. They didn't have enough housing to protect them from the bitter cold. They didn't know if natives might attack and kill them. They didn't have shipments of supplies on the way or a new group of people to join them. They didn't know how to stop the death of so many. To put it mildly, the Pilgrims were in grave trouble and if they didn't receive some help soon, they would all die only to be remembered as Christian fools looking for freedom.

Then the incredible happened! It would be something that Americans three hundred years later would forget . . . or simply not know about . . . or simply leave out of the script we call "American History.

The Pilgrims were having an excruciating experience. Nearly half of their community had died leaving them with only 53 people. Winter had set in as New England temperatures hovered around freezing with storms of snow often blowing through. The ground had become hardened. The crops were lacking. No ships were on their way to help. Nightfall would bring the howls of wolves in the distance and sunrises would deliver another day of death. The Pilgrims were alone, tired, and virtually helpless. They were in need of a miracle.

On March 21, 1621, as the Pilgrims were going about their daily duties, they heard a rustling in the woods nearby. The men grabbed their guns thinking this might be the dreadful attack they had so often feared. Suddenly, an olive skinned native named Someset stepped out of the woods and greeted the Pilgrims in a broken form of their own language, explaining how he had learned English from fishermen and traders in what is now Maine. A few days later, Someset brought a friend named Squanto to meet the Pilgrims. Squanto would be a man who was both peaceful in approach and fluent in the British language. He would turn out to be God's answer to their persevering prayers.

Can you imagine the shock and amazement as the native dressed Squanto emerged from the wildness of the woods with an outstretched hand and an English vocabulary?

As Squanto, William Bradford, and the other Pilgrims sat to talk, Squanto began to tell them his life story. They were dumbfounded  by the story of Squanto as the providential hand of God was being unveiled!

At the age of twelve, Squanto and some other natives were kidnapped by Englishman Thomas Hunt. Hunt took the natives to Malaga, Spain to sell them into slavery. Some local friars discovered Hunt's plans and purchased Squanto. Soon after, they allowed Squanto to attempt a voyage back to his homeland. Squanto managed to get to London where he lived and worked with John Slany, a shipbuilder who assisted Squanto in learning more English. After a few years, Squanto traveled with Slany to Newfoundland and then on to his native homeland in New England in 1619 to be reunited with his family and tribe.

Sadly, upon arrival, Squanto found only skeletal remains and empty homes as the majority of New England tribes including his family had all died from an epidemic plague, possibly smallpox. He would remain in the area alone and saddened. For months, he would mourn his great loss and remember the bountiful times he shared as a boy with his family fishing and hunting.

It would be less than two years later that the Pilgrims arrived and unknowingly formed Plymouth at the same exact location where Squanto's family once lived. And it would be the English speaking and heart-broken Squanto who would teach the Pilgrims where to fish, how to grow crops, and how to live at peace with neighboring tribes.

Squanto would adopt the Pilgrims as his new family and he would become their answered prayer! Governor William Bradford described Squanto as "a special instrument sent of God for [our] good."

That summer, the Pilgrims reaped a bountiful harvest. Pilgrim Edward Winslow exclaimed, "God be praised, we had a good increase of corn"; "by the goodness of God, we are far from want." The grateful Pilgrims therefore declared a feast in December 1621 to thank God and to celebrate with their Indian friends. Ninety Wampanoag Indians joined the fifty Pilgrims for three days as they feasted (which included shellfish, lobsters, turkey, corn bread, berries, deer, and other foods), played (the young Pilgrims and Wampanoags engaged in races, wrestling matches, and athletic events), and gave God thanks.

Squanto would remain with the Pilgrims for years serving as a helper and peacemaker. According to Bradford, Squanto "never left [us] til he died." When Squanto lay dying of a fever, Bradford wrote that their Indian friend "desir[ed] the Governor to pray for him, that he might go to the Englishmen's God in heaven."

Modern-day American leader Chuck Colson observed, "Who but God could so miraculously convert a lonely Indian and then use him to save a struggling band of Englishmen? It is reminiscent of the biblical story of Joseph, who was also sold into slavery--and whom God likewise used as a special instrument for good."

On this day of Thanksgiving, may we look again to God for His amazing providence in our lives. May we give Him sincere thanks and may we each by faith acknowledge that God's Word is true that "all things work together for good for those who love the Lord and are called according to his purpose" (Romans 8:28).

May God be praised today in your life and through your lips! Happy Thanksgiving! I am grateful for you!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Spiritual Warfare - Schemes of the Devil (3)

How are you doing in spiritual warfare? Ephesians 6:10-11 give us hope. How? They tell us that…

Jesus is our strength.

We cannot underestimate our spiritual enemies. They are very, very clever. They are good at what they do. They have been causing believers to fall for centuries and centuries. You do not stand a chance of winning this war on your own. It’s why we read verse 10.

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might.    Ephesians 6:10

The enemy is no match for the Lord Jesus. The enemy is not eternal. Jesus is. Jesus is the Creator. The devil is a created being. Jesus and the devil are not equal forces.

Martin Luther called the devil “the Lord’s devil.” Read the OT story of a man named Job. The devil can’t do anything unless God in His providence allows him to do it. As Pastor Chad said last weekend, the devil is on a leash. He’s not omnipotent. He’s not omniscient. He’s not omnipresent. God has already won the war and the devil has lost. God is supreme over the devil’s schemes.

[Through] the cross, He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them… Colossians 2:14b-15 (ESV)

The Bible teaches that while Jesus has won the war, battles still remain.

We are in an in-between time. We are between the arrival of salvation through Jesus’ first coming and the ultimate fulfillment of our salvation when Jesus returns and establishes His eternal kingdom. Theologians call this in-between time the “already” and the “not yet” aspects of our salvation. God is allowing this rebellion against Him to play itself out to prove for all eternity to all creation, that rebelling against a loving, sovereign Creator is foolish and futile and devastating.

So, we shouldn’t be surprised that even though we are saved, we still struggle with the enemy.

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might.  Ephesians 6:10

“Be strong” is a present passive verb. A literal translation might go like this: “… keep on being made strong…” You can’t in yourself work up the strength to win this war. You don’t have the strength in yourself. You need to let Jesus make you strong. And you can’t let your guard down. Keep on being strong in the Lord. You always have to be vigilant to get strength from the Lord for this fight.

How does Jesus strengthen us? Once said to a follower,

Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail.   Luke 22:31-32 (ESV)

While we are on this side of eternity, temptations will come. And no doubt, Satan has asked to sift all of us. But Jesus, as Hebrews tells us, is our great High Priest and is praying for us that our faith will not fail. Jesus is our strength.

Since He’s praying for us, whom should we fear?

We are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither… rulers… nor powers… nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.   Romans 8:37-39 (ESV)

Even though the devil and the rest of his wicked spirits are powerful when compared with us, they stand no chance against Jesus. They can go only as far as He allows them and no farther.

When it comes to spiritual warfare, we have to learn to focus on the power of Jesus more than the ploys of Satan.

You are in an invisible war. You can’t win without Jesus and His strength. So, stay close to the Lord. Abide in Jesus. Stay connected to Christ. Be filled with his Spirit. Pray without ceasing.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

God is using CVC in Argentina

I received a very encouraging letter from a young woman, a CVCer who is currently studying in Argentina.  Kirsten was a student who was a part of our choir when she attended Brecksville/Broadview Heights HS.  Our services are able to reach her in Argentina through the web.  I literally had tears of gratitude to God for using CVC in her life in such a wonderful way.  And I am so grateful for the entire team at CVC that makes all this possible.  Thanks, everybody!

***

Dear Pastor Rick,


I have no idea if you will remember me [I do remember her!], but my name is Kirsten Battaglia. I live in Broadview Heights and used to be a member of the worship choir when I was in high school at BBHHS.

When I went off to college, I obviously could not come to CVC every weekend because of the distance, but I went to a local church in the area where the pastor was very kind and reminded me of you with his spiritual convictions in Christ, especially when he gave a message.

This rambling brings me to the point of this message.

Right now, I not only cannot go to CVC on Sundays with my family, but nor can I go to the church down by my university. I am currently studying in Argentina, spending a year here to live with a family and to take classes at the university in International Relations and Vocal Studies.

So, why am I telling you this?

I mainly wanted to write you to thank you for your messages. Every week, the Sunday morning's service is posted online and anybody can stream it and hear what happened that day.

There are some churches here, but hardly nobody goes at all, not even on Christmas. It is so weird for me to be away from everything I know--the church with its beautiful worship music, Thanksgiving with my family, Christmas in the snow--but I am able to open your messages and listen to them every week and it brings a part of home into my life, though I am halfway across the world. I continue to have the benefit of your services even though I cannot be there singing and listening with everyone else.

I particularly enjoyed the message about defense and the spiritual sword, because it reminded me that any person--whether you are nineteen like me or ninety one like my great-grandmother--can use the Bible as armor to protect against the horrible things that the devil tries to do in our lives.

I have worship music on my computer and I listen to it all the time, as singing brings me the closest to God. After I began to download your messages, I combined them with my worship songs and it almost felt like I was back at church again.

The only thing that's missing is the smell of coffee perfuming the air and the light chatter of happy people filing into their seats around me. Oh well, I'll get that when I come back in July. I just really wanted to thank you for uploading your messages and allowing me the opportunity to still go to church. That just shows that God has no barriers and that distance cannot stop a follower of Christ from partaking in his word.

So, how does it feel? You are now global! :)

God bless and take care,

Kirsten

***
 
All I can say is wow.  And thank you, Jesus.  Now, will you join me in praying for Kirsten?

What Are You Willing To Be Fired Over?

What Are You Willing To Be Fired Over?

Worship that counts - Costly (7)

Chad Allen wrote this about the story of extravagant worship in Luke 7: “A great sinner with a great need of forgiveness gave a great gift of love and sacrifice and received a great reward.”

Which are you? Who are you most like in Luke 7? Simon or the woman of the city?

Lots of us are like Simon. Not perfect, but leading a pretty moral life.

People respect you. You have values and virtues. You’re in church on Sundays because it’s the right thing to do. And you respect Jesus. But you don’t want to get too close. Those people who are so excited about Jesus are a bit too fanatical. You don’t really love Jesus all that much. You don’t really treasure Him.

But the one in the story who gets the peace in the end is the woman. Her worship counts. And Jesus is looking for that kind of worship. He’s looking for people who admit failure and then who find forgiveness, who admit great sin and then find great grace. Jesus is looking for worshippers are broken at His feet of Jesus, grieving their sin, and hanging onto His words. He’s looking for you to pour out your alabaster jar filled with your very best gifts.

Worship that counts costs and worship that costs counts. That kind of worship will bring your great peace. Your God will become increasingly big to you and your problems will be increasingly small.

The key? The difference? Recognizing that we all are guilty of great sin. If you don’t think you’re a big sinner, then you won’t need a big Savior and you won’t be a big worshipper.

I like to listen to a young pastor from Texas named Matt Chandler. He talks about a time in college when he met a young woman who was far from God. She was “the woman of the city.”



Jesus wants the rose! He wants the women of the city.

And, listen, self-righteous preacher. Listen, Simon the Pharisee. The women of the city are not the only broken roses that Jesus wants. No matter how good you have been, no matter how much church is in your past, no matter how much Bible you know, you are the broken rose. I am the broken rose. We are all broken roses.

What’s wrong with our worship? We don’t think we’re that bad. But…

All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. There is none righteous, no not one. All of our righteousness is like filthy rags. We all stand guilty before a holy God. We’re all crushed, broken, damaged, used, sinful, deserving of the wrath of God. We are all “women of the city.”

And when you see yourself as a great sinner, you will see Jesus as an even greater Savior. And when you realize that He has forgiven you fully, freely, finally, then you will want to pour out your alabaster box. And as you worship, Jesus gets bigger and bigger in your heart and the problems get smaller and smaller in your head.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Spiritual Warfare - Schemes of the Devil (2)

Let’s look at Ephesians 6:12..

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

It is a terrible mistake to think that after we come to Christ all our troubles in life are over. That fight that you had at work – that trouble you’re having at home – that conflict you’re in with a Christian friend? We’re being told here that we don’t wrestle (or struggle or fight) against flesh and blood.

Who then? Look at the verse. … against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

When the devil rebelled, in those ancient days, a host of angels rebelled with him. And these are names for these rebellious angels, these evil spirits and demons. “Rulers” and “authorities” and “powers” point to the fact that demons have a measure of control in a world that is dark in its rebellion against God. These are “spiritual forces of evil” – an army of wicked spirits waging war in heavenly realms.

It’s not a reach to think that an evil spirit has been assigned to tempt you and me. You are in an invisible war.

One of the enemy’s schemes is to make you think that the battle is against flesh and blood. Don’t say, “My wife is my problem (or my kids, or my boss, or my friends).” Satan’s scheme is getting us to focus on people, not on the real battle. She is not the enemy. He is not your enemy.

The war is against supernatural evil powers. We have to know that whenever we are seeking to do God’s will and someone attacks us or someone gets really ticked at us or someone stands in our way, something else is also going on – something deeper, bigger, more terrible, more sinister, more destructive than meets the eye. This doesn’t mean that flesh and blood can't hurt or hinder the cause of Christ. But the spiritual forces of evil are more dangerous and must be overcome in every conflict or the battle is lost.

The invisible war often shows up in a skirmish with flesh and blood. But that can’t become the focus of the fight. You are in an invisible war.

All of your life in Christ is a war. From the cradle to the grave, your life is war. The devil and his followers hate God. The devil and the demons want to keep you from knowing God, loving God, serving God, or honoring God. The devil and his minions want to destroy your love, your joy, your peace, your family, your career, your church. And until we get to heaven, we will be in an invisible war.

How are you doing in this war?

Friday, November 19, 2010

Spiritual Warfare - Schemes of the Devil (1)


Ephesians is a letter that a spiritual leader named Paul wrote to a church he started in a city called Ephesus. We are reading some of the last words in the letter. Earlier in the letter, Paul has written about the need for unity in our relationships. He’s written about what it means to be filled with the Spirit so that we submit to one another. He’s written about relationships in the home, about marriage, about parenting – that the home should be filled with love and respect, honor and nurture. He’s written about relationships in the marketplace.

He’s concerned about the quality of our relationships – about the unity in our relationships. So, he writes these words:

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.
11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.

12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.  Ephesians 6:10-12 (ESV)

Don’t divorce this passage from its context. The unity and vibrancy of our relationships will be under attack from a very real spiritual enemy.

Could that be happening to you? Are you wrestling against flesh and blood when you should be wrestling with the real enemy of your relationships? Satan.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Worship that counts - Costly (6)

Worship that counts is extravagant, not cheap.

Simon in Luke 7 was cheap. Yes, he invited Jesus to dinner. But I wonder what was on the menu. He used no water on Jesus’ feet. He used no oil on Jesus’ head. He was going through the motions.

And that’s some of us. We want to give just a little of our time, talent, and treasure. “How little can I give to keep God off my back? How little can I give and still feel kind-of-OK about myself? How little can I give so God won’t be ticked at me?”

But the woman in Luke 7? She was willing to offer something of great value. She poured out a precious, valuable ointment on Jesus feet. She was going to be engaged in worship no matter what the cost.

In II Samuel 24, we see King David seeking to build an altar to worship God. He found the right place, a threshing floor owned by a man named Araunah. He was generous man. He said, “King, you can just have my property to build an altar to God. But I love David’s response in II Samuel 24:24.

I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God which cost me nothing.  II Samuel 24:24

So, David bought the threshing floor. He knew that true worship costs.

What is your worship costing you? Some of us have been holding back – holding back our time, holding back our money, holding back our devotion.

What are you doing that is extravagant worship? What is your alabaster jar that you will pour out for Jesus? The jar He desires from you is you! Be broken before Him. Pour out your soul - your mind, your will, your emotions, your time, your talent, your treasure. Don’t hold back. Don’t have the “little-goes-a-long-way” approach to worship.

Worship that counts is extravagant, not cheap.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Abiding Isn't Complicated - Joshua Harris

Abiding Isn't Complicated - Joshua Harris

Here are a few thoughts on abiding in Christ from one of my favorite pastors.

Are you abiding in Christ today?

Worship that counts - Costly (5)

Worship that counts is passionate, not casual.

In Luke 7, Simon did not even give Jesus customary hospitality. Simon says, “Don't get too excited about Jesus. We’ll be polite, but turn down the “gushing over Jesus” business. Let’s not be undignified here. Take it down a notch. Let’s make sure we don’t overdo things.”

He wanted a casual encounter with Jesus. And that’s some of us. But that’s, frankly, frightening.  Jesus talks about casual worship in Revelation 3:

I know your works:  you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. 
Revelation 3:15-16 (ESV)

Does that scare you? It should.

This woman in Luke 7 had the faith to go to the house. Why? She heard Jesus would be there. She had the courage to crash the party. She drew in close. She had passion enough to cry and kiss his feet. Not casual – not lukewarm. Passion. Zeal. On fire.

Is that you? Is your heart moved and engaged?

God is spirit and those who worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.  John 4:24

Our worship pastor, Brian Howell, taught us that worship must involve both head and heart. Worship must engage our minds and our emotions. Worshiping in spirit without truth can lead us to unthinking emotionalism. Worshipping in truth without spirit can lead us to lukewarmness. True worship comes from people who are deeply emotional and who love deep and sound doctrine.

Worshiping in spirit means that we respond emotionally. Going through the motions, ritualism, and formalism won’t cut it. Just showing up and filling up space misses it. We must worship in spirit. I’m not saying that we all ought to cry every Sunday or every time you pray. But if your heart is rarely touched, you just must not love Jesus much.

Worship that counts is passionate, not casual.

Questions for spiritual leaders

11/16/2010 Loving God Journal

Learn - 

Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.  Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.  Hebrews 13:7, 17

Observe - 

These are verses to challenge the followers at church.  How rare it is for people in the USA to obey these verses.  We have such an individualistic spirit in America.

Yet these verses also yield instruction for the leaders.

Am I living a life worth remembering?
Am I speaking the word of God to the people?
Is the outcome of my way of life worth consideration?
Is my faith worth imitating?
Should people really obey and submit to me because they know and I know and God knows I am keeping watch over their souls?
Am I remembering that one day I will give an account to God regarding my leadership?
Do I serve with appropriate joy when the people are doing well?
Do I serve with appropriate groaning when the people are not doing well?  

Value -

Remember that you will give an account for your leadership.  Lead well.

Express - 

Lord Jesus, You were and are the greatest leader of people ever.  No one led like You.  You were and are worth following.  You have given me a stewardship.  I have people entrusted to my leadership.  Show me areas of weakness.  Show me areas of growth.  Forgive my lax leadership, Lord.  Help me lead more and more like You.  Help me keep watch over the souls of CVCers.  I will fail without You, Lord.  Please give me grace to do this.  In Jesus' name, Amen.

The Screwtape Letters (16)

The reading for today is chapter 16 in C. S. Lewis' Screwtape Letters.

In this chapter, the tempter is seeking to get the patient to think wrongly about the church so that the church is ineffective in his life.

The tempter says that if you can't keep the believer from church-going altogether, then keep him looking for a church that suits him.  Lewis was a faithful participant in the Church of England and saw the forms and rituals as valuable, so he has the tempter planting thoughts in the patient's mind that the "parochial organisation" should always be attacked.  The tempter wants believers to be critics instead of being pupils.  

The enemy recognizes that it is good for the believer when a believer is critical in a good way to reject what is false at church but is humbly receptive to any nourishment at church.p. "There is hardly any sermon, or any book, which may not be dangerous to us if it is received in this temper."

Lewis than has the tempter discuss two churches near the patient.  One is led by a pastor who waters down the faith and shocks the believers with his unbelief.  He has only a few favorite texts from the Bible that are used.  The other church is led by a pastor who is always wanting to shock, grieve, puzzle, or humiliate the faithful.  Both churches are "party" churches, meaning that they have particular agendas that are extra-biblical and non-essential.

The tempter wants to keep believers divided between "High church" (formal, ritual) and "Low church" (informal, non-ritual).  The tempter wants believers to forget the teaching of Paul in Romans 14-15 where believers with differing views regarding non-essentials give care and thought to the others.  The tempter doesn't want the non-ritual believers in the presence of the ritual believers to not make the sign of the cross or to genuflect and he doesn't want to ritual believers to refrain from these in the presence of the non-ritual believers.

Finally, the goal of the tempter is to do whatever possible to keep the church from being "a positive hotbed of charity and humility."

Let's reflect on how the enemy has caused the church to be limited in it's effectiveness in our lives.  And let's ask God for grace to make His church a powerful tool for the Spirit' to use in our lives to make us holy.    

     

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Worship the counts - Costly (4)

Worship that counts is grateful, not critical.
It’s obvious in Luke 7 that Simon is proud of himself. He’s a holier-than-thou type. He’s judgmental. He sees himself as spiritually elite.  Remember Jesus reads his thoughts...

39b [Simon] said to himself, “If this man [Jesus] were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.”

He’s thinking, “She’s bad. Real bad. And if He’s letting her touch Him, then He’s bad, too.”  He’s not only critical of the woman, he’s critical of Jesus.

And that’s the way it is with religious types. They think, “I’m not that bad. I’m pretty good. I’m better than him or her.” They think their way of approaching God – of worshipping God is the right way, the best way, “The songs I sing, the prayers, I pray, the words I speak are the best.”

But the woman is oblivious to all that. She’s too grateful to be critical. She knows where she was and she knows where she is. She’s not trying to be morally or spiritually or religiously better than somebody else. She simply knows that she’s been forgiven. She knows she’s been accepted by Jesus. And she’s filled with gratitude and love.

47 … her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.Big sin, big forgiveness, big gratitude, big love. That’s the woman.

Little sin, little forgiveness, little gratitude, little love – with pride, criticism, and judgmentalism for others. That’s Simon.

How about you?

Do you love Jesus a lot… or just a little? Be honest.

Listen, you may not be a “woman of the city” or a “man of the world.” But you are still a big sinner.

The person who keeps all of the laws except one is as guilty as a person who has broken all of God’s laws.  James 2:10 (NLT)

We are all big sinners. If we don’t see ourselves as hell-deserving, big-time violators of God’s law, then we won’t be grateful for the forgiveness Jesus offers us.

We ought to be grateful for every ounce of amazing grace we get.

Little sinners, polite sinners, religious sinners, “I’m-not-that-bad” sinners can afford to be critical of others, can afford to keep Jesus at arm's length.

Jesus came, as He said in Luke 19:10, “To seek and to save the lost.” If you love Him, you will love the ones He loves. And He loves sinners. In fact, He was called the friend of sinners. If you love Jesus, there will be room in your heart for people who cuss and drink and steal and cheat and lie and commit adultery and do drugs.

Worship that counts is grateful, not critical.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Pursuing the greater reward

11/13/2010 Loving God Journal

Learn -

He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. Hebrews 11:26

Observe -

This is a passage about Moses.  He chose to be identified with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin (see verse 27).  

Sin can be fun and pleasurable.  But it is short-lived.  The treasures of the world are indeed treasures but they are not eternal.

The problem with us is that we don't consider.  We don't think.  We just go with the flow of the world.  Consider!  Think!  Reflect!

Following Christ does have an element of reproach to be sure.  If you are following Christ to get applause, then think again.  He says that we have to take up a cross.  If you get only applause for following Christ, then you really aren't following Him closely and you then miss out on the greater reward.  

Who reproaches you for following Jesus? This kind of reproach mean that you actually have great wealth.  Why?  There is a reward for this.  Do you have enough faith to believe this?

"Blessed are you when men revile you..." says Jesus.  "All those who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution," says Paul to Timothy.

Value -

Embrace the reproach of Christ because great will be your reward.

Express -

Lord Jesus, You are the model for us when it comes to living by faith for the greater reward.  You humbled Yourself in obedience to the point of death and You were therefore highly exalted.  Now, give me the grace I need to follow Your example.  Forgive me for wanting the applause of the world.  Let me see that embracing the reproach of Christ makes me rich - that there is great reward for suffering with and for You.  By Your grace and for Your glory, give me faith to live for the greater reward with You. Amen. 

Friday, November 12, 2010

How to engage in spiritual warfare when guilt is neutralizing you

At a Passion Conference, John Piper shared an absolutely brilliant application of Micah 7:8-9 for young adults when the guilt of sexual sin is being used as a weapon of accusation by the enemy to neutralize them.

Rejoice not over me, O my enemy; when I fall, I shall rise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light to me. I will bear the indignation of the Lord because I have sinned against him, until he pleads my cause and executes judgment for me. He will bring me out to the light; I shall look upon his vindication (Micah 7:8-9 ESV).


Check out Piper's message on "Gutsy Guilt" here.

About a year ago when I was teaching from Psalm 51, I used many of Piper's thoughts from that message to help train our people at CVC in a way to engage in spiritual warfare.  Here is a way to resist the devil and make him flee:

***


O my enemy, do you gloat over me because I have sinned? Do you think you can keep me wallowing in my guilt and shame? Think again.

Yes, I have fallen. And I hate what I have done. I grieve because I have dishonored my Savior and my God. But now hear this, O my enemy: I will rise.

For a time, I may sit in darkness and feel miserable because of my guilt. But it is a good thing to be broken before God. My brokenness will bring about my blessedness. The same God who makes me sit in the darkness is my light in the midst of the darkness. He will not forsake me.

Yes, God is rightly angry because of my sin. And I deserve His discipline.

But the very One who is indignant with me will plead my cause. Jesus Himself intercedes for me. The judgment that should have fallen on me has fallen on Him.

O my enemy, you say that God is against me? He is not. He is for me… for me!

On the cross, He executed judgment for me. He took my guilt and I get His grace.

I will accept this dark misery that I now feel because of my failure as long as God sees fit. But just as sure as Jesus died and rose again, I know that He will bring me out to the light.

He forgives my failures. He clears my name. He pardons my sin.

O my enemy, rejoice not over me, because God’s grace is greater than my guilt.

Worship that counts - Costly (3)

I want us to think about worship that counts. Because I want Jesus to be bigger for you and your problems to be smaller for you.

Worship that counts is relational, not religious.In Luke 7, Simon is a good guy.  Remember, he’s a Pharisee – part of the group of the most zealous religious people of His day.  He keeps the rules.  He performs the rituals.  He reads his Bible.  He prays.  He fasts.  People look up to him as an example.  He’s one of the most spiritually elite people in the whole nation of Israel.

He has a curiosity about Jesus, a respect for Jesus. After all, he invited Jesus into his home. He looks at Jesus as an interesting teacher, as a spiritual phenomenon.

Even though he is in the same room with Jesus – in close proximity with Jesus, he’s far away from Jesus emotionally, spiritually, relationally. He won’t greet Jesus with a customary kiss. He won’t give Jesus a customary foot wash. He won’t anoint Jesus with the customary perfume.  He’s keeping Jesus at arm’s length. God was in the house. But Simon missed it.  He’s curious, but not close.  He’s interested, but not intimate.  Simon didn’t want to get too close. He lived this way: “Let’s relate, but at a distance.  I’ll invite you into my home, but not into my heart.”

Jesus talked about his kind of person in Mark 7.

This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.  Mark 7:6 (ESV)

And that might be you today. You’re religious. But you don’t really have a relationship. You are in the vicinity of Jesus, but you won’t really come close. Week after week, you show up at church, but your mind is somewhere else. You honor Him with your lips, but your heart is far from Jesus.

Are you like Simon? Or are you like the woman in Luke 7?

It’s personal for her. Jesus is her Savior, the only One who can help her, the only One who will not despise or reject her. She knows Jesus won’t chase her away.

She doesn’t care what people are thinking about her. She only has eyes for Jesus. She slips into the courtyard, sees Jesus reclining at the table, remembers that she’s forgiven, and starts to cry tears of joy and gratitude and hope. She wipes the tears from His dusty feet with her hair. She pours the perfume on His feet.

For her, it’s not about all the others in the room. It’s her and Jesus. She is in relationship with Jesus.

How about you? Is this personal and relational for you?

In the OT, Isaiah describes people who reject religion and who, instead, pursue relationship. God says,

They seek Me daily and delight to know My ways… they delight to draw near to God.  Isaiah 58:2 (ESV)

Does this describe you? Do you seek Him daily? Is your relationship with Jesus your delight? Or is this religion you have your duty? See, a relationship is a delight. But a religion is a duty. Big, big difference.

Worship that counts is relational, not religious.


Thursday, November 11, 2010

Why doesn't God wipe out Satan now?

A question that came up in our Q and A at Saturday's UpClose service was "What doesn't God just stop Satan right now?  Why is God allowing this rebellion to go on and on?" 


A long time ago, I read a book by Donald Grey Barnhouse called "The Invisible War."  As I recall, his anwer included the following ideas.  And here is what I said this past weekend. "We are in an in-between time.  We are between the arrival of salvation through Jesus’ first coming and the ultimate fulfillment of our salvation when Jesus returns and establishes His eternal kingdom.  Theologians call this in-between time the “already” and the “not yet” aspects of our salvation.  God is allowing this rebellion against Him to play itself out to prove for all eternity to all creation, that rebelling against a loving, sovereign Creator is foolish and futile and devastating." 

In my research for the message this weekend, I came across another thought-provoking answer to the question, "Why doesn't God just stop Satan now?  I thought I'd share John Piper's response to this question in a sermon he called "The fall of Satan and the victory of Christ."  

***

Why Not Wipe Out Satan?

Why, then, does God not simply wipe Satan out? He has the right and power to do this. And Revelation 20:10 says he is going to do it some day. Why didn’t he cast him into the Lake of Fire the day after he rebelled? Why let him rampage through humanity for centuries?

The ultimate answer, as we saw last week, is that “all things were created through Christ and for Christ” (Colossians 1:16). The Son of God, Jesus Christ, will be more highly honored in the end because he defeats Satan through longsuffering, patience, humility, servanthood, suffering, and death, rather than through raw power. And the more highly honored the Son is, the greater the joy of those who love him.

For the Fullness of Christ’s Glory

The glory of Christ reaches its apex in the obedient sacrifice of the cross where Jesus triumphed over the devil (Colossians 2:15). Jesus said, “Now [in my final hour] is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him” (John 13:31). Paul said, “We preach Christ crucified . . . the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:23-24). Jesus said to Paul about Satan’s thorn in Paul’s side, “My power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Satan, and all his pain, serves in the end to magnify the power and wisdom and love and grace and mercy and patience and wrath of Jesus Christ. We would not know him in the fullness of his glory if he had not defeated Satan in the way he did.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The ESV Seek & Find Bible (for Families and Young Readers)

Here is a wonderful new tool for Bible reading for young families.

The ESV Seek & Find Bible (for Families and Young Readers)

Worship that counts - Costly (2)

Today, we’re going to be looking at a story about people who had a chance to be in proximity to Jesus. We’re going to see how a few different people related to Jesus, and I hope you’ll look for yourselves in this story. Who are you? Which character best shows where you are when it comes to proximity to Jesus?


One character is a Pharisee. His name is Simon. He’s a religious leader. He never missed a weekend service. He knew his Bible backwards and forwards. He was a good guy = a really good guy.

He throws as dinner party...

36 One of the Pharisees asked him [Jesus] to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee's house and took his place at the table.

This religious leader invites Jesus. Why? We’re not sure. Maybe Simon had a curiosity about Jesus, maybe even a respect for Him. Jesus takes a seat at the table.

Simon says, “Not a bad turnout today! I love having a big dinner party, especially when I can invite a guest of honor.”

The house probably had an open courtyard. Passers-by could look through the windows and doors. Anyone could have access to the people at the party. In those days, they didn’t have tables and chairs like us. They had a low center table in the dining area. The guests and the host would lie down on their sides to eat. And the feet of the people at the dinner party would have faced outward like spokes from a hub.

37 And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he [Jesus] was reclining at table in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment,

"A woman of the city” probably means a prostitute. She’s from the seedy side of town, where all the strip joints and porn shops are. We don't know her name. We don't know how or why she turned to prostitution for a living. In her day it was probably because she had been abandoned by her husband or rejected by her father. She’s the kind of person that Simon, the Pharisee avoided. She’s the kind of woman that the men of the city used and then threw away. You can be sure that she was not invited to this dinner party.

But her life had changed. Look at that word “was” in the verse. She “was” a sinner. She had lived a sinful life. It’s not a stretch for us to say that she wasn’t still living a sinful life. Her life had changed. Why? I believe it’s because she had already met Jesus before this day.

38 and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment.

Why was she crying? Could it be that this is the woman who had been caught in adultery and brought to Jesus when He said, “I don’t condemn you. Go and sin no more”?

It seems clear that she had previously met Jesus – that He had forgiven her and changed her life. Now, her heart is moved. And she responds - emotionally.  She had met Someone who knows everything she has ever done and who loves and accepts her anyway. She kisses His feet. And she has brought with her an alabaster box. Alabaster is a soft stone that frequently was shaped to be a perfume container. She pours the perfume onto the feet of Jesus.

The fragrance of the perfume, the oil, grabbed Simon’s attention. Someone had splashed on a little too much perfume. And he sees this woman of the city.

39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.”

This man had little love for Jesus and it showed in his attitude toward the ones Jesus loved. He was quick to judge, quick to criticize.

Simon is “a good man.” He couldn’t understand why Jesus would accept this display of affection from such a sleazy a woman. He’s thinking, “If Jesus were a true prophet – a true man of God – then He would not even be letting this woman touch Him. Her touch makes Him unclean. Doesn’t He know that? He just can’t be a holy man.”

See, religious people will often criticize true worship. When we come close to Jesus, there are always going to be some people who will think it’s a little much! It’s easier to criticize worship than to join in.

40 And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.” Jesus knows what Simon is thinking. How did He know? He’s God. “Simon, I have something to say.” Simon says, “Bring it on!” Jesus tells a story.

41 “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty.
42 When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?”


There’s this banker. One guy owed him 20 months of pay and another owed him 2 months of pay. The banker canceled both of their debts. So, the question is, “Which one of these guys is going to be the most grateful?”

Simon’s probably wondering, “Is this a trick question?” But he takes a stab at the answer.

43 Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” Now, Simon got the answer right, but does he really get it? Jesus doesn’t think so.

44 Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair.
45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet.
46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment.

See, in those days, it was customary for a host to make sure that the feet of the guests were washed after traveling on the dusty roads. Simon didn’t do that. It was customary to be welcomed with the fist bump of that day – a manly kiss, one of those “pecks” on each side of the face. Simon didn’t do that. It was customary to put a little perfume on the guests’ heads because people could smell a little ripe in that hot country.  Simon didn’t give Jesus typical common courtesy.

So, what’s the take-away for Jesus? What’s His “truth to take home”?

47a Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much.

Jesus never minimizes her sin. In fact, He says she is a big-time sinner. But in some previous encounter with Jesus, she has evidently come to Him broken, humble, repentant. And Jesus has given her what no one else had ever given her: Grace.

Her response? Love. As far as we know, the woman never speaks a word that day. She didn't have to. We can see her love for Jesus. We can witness her worship. Her actions speak. She comes close. Her love for Jesus is not the cause of her forgiveness. It’s the result of her forgiveness.

And now Jesus confronts Simon.

47b But he who is forgiven little, loves little.”

Simon didn’t see His great need for forgiveness. So, He gave little love, token love. Maybe he thought He was doing Jesus a favor by letting Jesus hang out at his house to eat a meal with him.

Now, Jesus looks back to the woman.

48 And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”

He’s confirming to her what was already true. He forgives her.

49 Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?”

The crowd whispers, “Who is this guy to say that someone’s sins are forgiven? Only God can say something like that!” Right. That’s the point. Jesus does what only God can do. He forgives sins. Therefore, He is God.

50 And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
Luke 7:36-50 (ESV)

Jesus rewards her costly worship. She gets peace. Peace with God. Peace inside. The guilt doesn’t keep her up at night anymore. As she worships, Jesus gets bigger and her problems get smaller. Worship that costs counts. And worship the counts costs.

Spiritual Warfare - Jesus makes His enemies His footstool

11/10/2010 Loving God Journal

Learn -

When Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet.  Hebrews 10:12-13

Observe - 

2,000 years ago, Jesus offered Himself as a sacrifice for my sins as well as fir the sins of then world.  "For me, Jesus, You did it for me.  And for those I love.  For our sins."  

And now, Jesus sits at the Father's right hand. Doing what?  He is at the place of honor and authority, pleading my case with the Father as an advocate.  (See I John 2:1-2..  He is praying for me.  (See Hebrews 7:25.) 

Jesus is waiting, too.  The victory has already been won at the cross and resurrection, but it is not fully realized yet.  His enemies (and ours!) will be made His footstool.  One day, He will come and rescue me from spiritual warfare.

But for now, I fight for Him.  I want to see all His enemies be made His footstool.  It's about His ultimate victory.  When He wins His final victory, I win in Him.

Value -

Fight until Jesus' enemies are made a footstool for His feet.

Express -

Lord Jesus, You have offered a perfect sacrifice for sin - for my sin.  I am so grateful for that.  You are in the place of honor and authority at the Father's right hand.  And one day, when this rebellion has run its full course and al creation will see how futile and foolish it is to rebel against You, You will come again and make Your enemies Your footstool.  Grant unto me the trust that You will make all wrongs right.  Help me to join with other soldiers of Christ to fight this fight in the "in between time.".  While I wait with You for Your final victory, Lord Jesus, give me grace to be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might to wear all the armor of God to stand against the devil's schemes.  Protect my family and my church.  In Jesus' name, Amen.   

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Worship that counts - Costly (1)

We’ve said many times here that life is a series of problems one after another. That means that you’re either coming out a problem or you’re right in the middle of a problem or you’re getting ready to go into a bad new problem.  Life is a series of problems one after another.

The surest way to get help for your problems is not necessarily to have them solved, but to get into close proximity with Jesus.

Without worship, the problems seem big and God seems small.  When I worship, God grows bigger and bigger to me and my problems get smaller and smaller to me.  And that gives me peace.

When our eyes are on Jesus, our problems will be transformed. They don’t always go away. They often do not go away.  But when we worship, our problems suddenly shrink. Worship causes us to look at our problems in a brand-new way.

Once we truly worship Jesus with a costly kind of worship, our problems won’t loom so large. We’ll see our God can handle our problems.

So, does your worship count? Does it cost? Worship that counts costs and worship that costs counts.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Noise (5)

A technical phrase for what it means to know God is knowing theology. Not interested in theology? You are doing theology all the time. Theos is the Greek word for God. Logia is the Greek word for reasoning. So, theology is reasoning about God or words about God or the study of God. We all have thoughts about God. We’re always doing theology. But are our thoughts about God right thoughts? Knowing God – knowing theology – is very, very practical.


Matt Chandler helped me develop the following illustration:

Let’s say that my wife, Maryanne, is at home and I am at the office getting ready to leave to go home. And I see her picture on my desk. And I’m reminded how blessed I am to have her as my wife and my affection for her is stirred up. So I get in my car: I rush home; and I walk into the house. And there she is, sitting on the couch. Fine. I walk over to her and get down on a knee in front of her. I grab her hands and look into her eyes and say, “I want you to know that you mean the world to me. I love you so much. I sing, “I only have eyes for you…” Then I say, “When I see your gorgeous blond hair and your beautiful blue eyes I am amazed that you ever said ‘I do’ to me.”

Right now, some of you ladies are thinking, “Why doesn’t my husband ever talk to me like that?”
Let me explain to you why if that scenario happened at my house, that’s going to go bad for me:  Maryanne does not have blond hair and blue eyes. She’s a brunette with brown eyes.

So, making the right noise and singing the right song and having a heart filled with affection is not necessarily a win if I’m wrong about some important truths about my wife.

Some of us have affection for God, but we don’t know Him. We’re wrong about who He is. We don’t know His attributes. We don’t know what the Bible says about who He is and who He isn’t. We don’t know God.
Some of us view theology and doctrine as love-robbing, unimportant information that is cold and dead.

But that’s the same as me telling Maryanne, “It’s your blond hair and blue eyes that get me fired up.” She’s going to say, “I don’t have blond hair and blue eyes.” But then I go, “Don’t tell me who you really are. I want you to be what I want you to be. Get some colorized contacts and dye your hair. Blond hair and blue eyes. That’s who I love.”

Now is that love? No. That’s ridiculous.

Maybe you have a genuine affection for God, but you don’t know Him. You don’t really know much about who He is. You don’t know enough about how He works. Maybe that’s where you are.

Today, God is saying, “Get to know Me. The real Me.” Theology matters. Truth matters. Knowing the nature and character of God matters. It’s why we challenged you to read, “The Knowledge of the Holy” earlier this year. It’s why we encourage you to read your Bible and to ask, “What does this passage tell me about God?”

Know about God. Know how He’s revealed Himself to us in the Scriptures. If you don’t know God, then you’re living with an immature and wrong-headed kind of love for God. And when suffering comes or troubles happen,  you will lose hope and faith and joy. And you won’t want to make some noise. You won’t worship. You won’t want to be in proximity to God.

Too many of us have that type of relationship with the Lord. We just don’t know enough about Him. So we’re constantly saying, “Well, my God wouldn’t allow this to happen or that happen to me. Here’s who God is to me.”

And God’s saying, “Hey, get to know Me. The real Me. Because I don’t have blond hair and blue eyes.”

We shout, serve and sing. Why? We know the truth about God. No matter what troubles or trials we may face, we know God is God the Creator, the Owner, the Shepherd. We come, thank, and bless. Why? We know the truth about God. No matter what pain and suffering we might face, we know God is good.

We know God is God and we know God is good . . .Do you know God? Really?

Chad Allen shared a story a short time ago about his childhood connection with sea anemones. How he’d find them in little pools on the beach in Santa Cruz. How he’d poke them. How they would close up. How they’d open. How he’d poke them again. How they would close up a little longer. How they’d slowly open up. And how he would poke them yet again. And how, this time, they’d stay shut a long time. And how he’d go to the next little pool to find another sea anemone.

Chad says that this is the way we can be with God. We’ve been hurt. We’ve been damaged. We don’t want to open up again. But when we stay closed – stay away from God, we close ourselves off from the very One who can heal us.

Open up. Get into proximity with God. Worship. Shout. Serve. Sing. Come. Thank. Bless. Because God is God and God is good.

I know God so I make noise.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Noise (4)

So, how do we come close to God? Even when we have a damaged heart? Psalm 100 tells us how. Verse 4 gives us three things to do.

come v. 4a

Enter His gates with thanksgiving, and His courts with praise!   Psalm 100:4a


thank v. 4b
Give thanks to Him…  Psalm 100:4b

bless v. 4c
… bless His name!   Psalm 100:4c

Come. Thank. Bless.

Come. Thank. Bless. Even when you have a damaged heart. Why?

Why? Verse 3 tells us that we know that God is God and verse 5 tells us that we know God is good.

For the LORD is good; His steadfast love endures forever, and His faithfulness to all generations.
Psalm 100:5

I think verse 5 picks up the concept of knowing from verse 3.  Know that the Lord is good.

When the finances are tight and the losses are hard and the disappointments are many and your dreams are seemingly dead, do you know that God is good?  Can your theology handle the tough stuff of life?  Do you know God?  In spite of the fact that your world is seemingly falling apart, do you know God – that He is still good and that His steadfast love is enduring for you and that His faithfulness to you will never, ever fail?

Friday, November 05, 2010

The Screwtape Letters (5)

On 11/5, read chapter 5 of the Screwtape Letters.

In this chapter, Lewis introduces the concept of the "European War."  As The Screwtape Letters was written in 1941, Lewis is no doubt referring to WWII.  He procedes to share insights as to how the enemy might seek to use something like a war to tempt a "patient."

One temptation is for us to have "terror-pictures of the future."  The other is for us to have "self-pitying glances at the happy past."  Either way, the tempter wins that skirmish because he has caused us to doubt the provision and the love of God in the here and now.  Remember that Jesus told us to never focus on tomorrow for each day has enough trouble of its own.  He also told us that we should not be anxious about tomorrow because the Father will provide for us. (See Matthew 6.)  The tempter says that his "real business" is to undermine our faith.  Why?  When we don't have faith in God, we fail to love Him and give Him glory.

When it comes to citizenship, the tempter wants to make us either an "extreme patriot" or an "ardent pacifist."  (Now, why would Lewis write this?  Perhaps because the former worships country more than God while the latter excuses evil/sacrifices justice on the altar of brotherhood.)

Lewis indicates that God can and will use a war for His purposes.  The tempter says that war can lead to "the continual remembrance of death."  The tempter says that one of the best weapons against a believer, "contented worldliness," will then be "rendered useless" and that "in wartime not even a human can believe that he is going to live forever."

As I reflect on today's reading, I am reminded that we ought to think often about the brevity of life.  It's hard for us in America to do so.  "Contented worldliness" is a strong delusion for us with the mass of materialism here.  We forget Matthew Henry's challenge: It ought to be the business of every day to prepare for the last day.

So, how will CVCers in a safe and secure USA fight "contented worldliness"?  How can we live with a realization that life is truly brief?  What difference will that make?

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