Tuesday, November 29, 2011

When someone you love takes their own life...

Saddened.

Confused.

Grateful.

Angry.

Motivated.

You may have these emotions and attitudes and reactions as you remember the tragic death of a friend or a family member. How can we make sense out of this tragic death? Let’s look at each of these feelings and reactions one at a time.

I. Remembering fills our hearts with sadness.

We will miss those who have gone on before us. We’ll miss the smile and the laugh. We’ll miss the warmth and the tenderness. We’ll miss the care and the concern. We’ll miss the conversations and the jokes. So, what do we do with this sadness? We must simply take it to the Lord Jesus Christ. He invites us to cast all our cares on Him because He cares for us (I Peter 5:7).

II. Remembering fills our hearts with confusion.

1. How can someone with major conflict in his soul live his life with such a wide positive impact?
2. How can someone who professed to love Jesus and His truth fail so dramatically to follow Him fully?
3. How can someone who so obviously loved his family and friends put them through so much pain and disappointment?

Perhaps a lesson can be learned in all this: We don’t have to have it all together to do some good in this world. But what do we do with our confusion? We take it to the Lord Jesus Christ. Isaiah 55 tells us that His ways are higher than our ways and that His thoughts are higher than our thoughts. When we go to Him, God may give us insights and answers to our questions. But if not, we can rest in the knowledge that He knows the answers. He’s capable of handling the confusion. We can trust in Him even when all we have are questions.

III. Remembering fills our hearts with gratitude.

Friends and family members who have gone on before their time struggle. Let’s not pretend there was no struggle. Our friends and family members who have committed suicide wouldn’t want that. It’s appropriate that we honor the struggle. They never found the victory that they longed for and that so many here wanted for them.

The Bible describes the conflict this way: “For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want”(Galatians 5:17). Jesus describes the struggle this way: “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.”

The bad thinking sometimes gets in the way. Sometimes a person’s true self is disguised. Sometimes, people give into temptation too easily. But the war that rages when a person struggles with temptations toward suicide is fierce. The true heart is striving to get out. Very often, the suicide victim was able to show people the good that was in him.

And just what is the good? Think about it. Fill in the blanks. Make a list of all the good qualities. Meditate on the good times. And be grateful.

What should we do with our gratitude? Once again, we must take our gratitude to the Lord Jesus Christ. James 1 tell us that every perfect gift comes down from above. Truly, a friend or family members many positive contributions to our lives are to be seen as gracious gifts to us from God.

IV. Remembering has left us feeling anger.

We’re angry because we had to sit through an unnecessary funeral. We’re angry that so much good will now go undone. We’re angry that we’re left with a mixed legacy from our freind or family member. We’re angry that the walk of his or her life didn’t more closely match the talk. We’re angry that our loved one didn’t take full advantage of all the help that was available. And we are angry at the cunning of the enemy that shortens lives.

Just as we must take our sadness and our confusion and our gratitude to the Lord Jesus Christ, we must also take our anger to Him. We are told in scripture to “Be angry without sin” (Ephesians 4). Anger is okay when it’s handled properly. It’s right for us to be angry at anything that detracts from the glory of God and the good of mankind. Let’s make sure that our anger doesn’t turn into depression or bitterness or despair.

V. Remembering gives us greater motivation.

It just doesn’t seem right, does it? This friend or family members was too young to leave us. It doesn’t feel right. It’s not supposed to happen this way. But our God can take even a tragedy and use it for His purposes. Early death can be used by God to make us more victorious - more like Jesus.

1. A too early death can motivate us to purity. Galatians 6:7, 8 says, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” A suicidal death is an opportunity to for each of us to make a commitment to live in a more healthy and a more righteous way. We must live pure, holy, godly lives.

2. A too early death can serve as motivation for us to care. Did we love well? Did we pray enough? Did we work hard enough to help our friend or family member gain victory in the struggle? Be careful. Those kinds of questions can create in us a sense of false guilt. But the questions are good ones to ask ourselves as we go to God in prayer. We pray, “God, forgive me and help me respond better to the next person in trouble.”

3. A too early death can motivate us to surrender. We must give every part of our lives to the control of the Lord Jesus. We must not hold back. He is to be the CEO of our lives. He’s the Boss. He’s the Leader. People who take their own lives keep part of themselves back. Let’s not make that same mistake. Jesus said in Luke 6:46, “Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” Let’s not only know what He says, but let’s do it as well. May God give us the grace to be not only hearers of the word, but doers as well.

4. A too early death can motivate us to be better prepared for the life that is to come.

The loss of people we love reminds us that life is brief and that death is certain. The Bible puts it this way, “We are destined to die once and after that to face judgment.” That sounds like bad news since we all know guilt. We fail to live up to our own standards of behavior, not to mention God’s standards. Who among us always acts loving? Who among us always treats others the way we want to be treated? We all know guilt. The Bible says, it this way, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

But God loves us so much that He provides the way of salvation. Jesus Christ came to this earth to take away our guilt. He died on a cross to pay a debt that we should have paid. The Bible says, “Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and He will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for Him” (Hebrews 9).

To become a real Christian is to humbly receive God’s gift of forgiveness and to gratefully commit to following Jesus as our leader. When we do that, He adopts us into His family and begins to change us from the inside out. As we respond in gratitude for what He has done for us, He enables us to have a greater ability to love God and others.

The ball is now in our court. It’s up to us to decide what you’re going to do with it. Jesus paid the price of salvation. But only those who say “Yes” to Him will actually receive His forgiveness. That’s the Bible means in John1:12, “But as many as received Him to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name.”

Admit your need of a Savior. Acknowledge your sin. Trust in what He did on the cross. Say “Yes” to Christ. Truly receive Him into your life. Make Him the Lord of all.

You may express your faith in a prayer like this:

“Lord Jesus, I am a sinner who needs Your forgiveness. I believe that You died on the cross for me. I believe that You rose again. Right now, I receive You as my Lord and Savior. I put my faith in You alone. Please change my life and make me the kind of person that You want me to be. I will become an active part of Your church to bring glory to You and good to mankind. Amen.”

If that prayer expresses a desire in your heart, just pray it back to God in your own words.

Sorrow.

Confusion.

Anger.

Gratitude.

Motivation.

Let’s take them all to the Lord.

We can take comfort together in the promises of God. Revelation 21 tells us what God has in store for those who believe in Him. “They shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away. And He who sits on the throne said, Behold, I am making all things new. And He said, Write, for these words are faithful and true.”

Maybe you’ve seen an artist’s picture of a young man with a hammer in one hand and a spike in another. He’s being held by Jesus with nail-scared hands. It’s a tender picture of how we are the ones who have driven the nails into the hands of Christ because of our sin. Let’s face it. When someone takes his or her own life, like all of us, he or she is that one driving the nails into the hands of Jesus. But thanks be to God, Jesus is there embracing the very one who put the nails in His hands and feet! We have a great Savior who loves us with a great unconditional love!

As Pastor John Piper says, “People who truly know Jesus can be so weak at times that their hearts give way to severe sin.” But this doesn’t mean that the saving relationship with Christ disappears when a person gives into serious sin.

When a Christ-follower yields to temptation, his faith in Christ at that moment is weak and the pull of sin and the power of Satan get the upper hand. But there is a great difference between Satan winning a battle and Satan winning the war.

Maybe your friend or family member had an overall pattern of life that resisted an evil that he hated to do. And that’s the evidence of the Master’s work in your family member or friend’s life.

Before Jesus, a person is like a prisoner in a concentration camp far behind the lines of Satan’s territory. The result is a kind of numbness toward spiritual things. Then at the point of salvation, Jesus Himself penetrates the lines of Satan’s territory. Jesus breaks through the fences of the concentration camp. Jesus begins the process of rescuing His people.

Jesus equips His people with spiritual armor for this fight for freedom. As they leave the concentration camp, the sirens go off and fight for freedom is fierce.

When a believer commits suicide, the sword gets knocked out of his or her hand and the shield slipped from his or her arm. And the flaming arrows of the enemy hit and sink so deep into his heart that he or she fell.

Piper asks, “And where was Jesus? We believe He catches his people when they fall and He carries his people home. And if we say to Jesus, ‘You should have protected my friend or family members better while he was escaping,” Jesus might say, “My ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. You can no more grasp my wartime strategies than a child can read the graphs of the Chief of Staff. And remember, if I hadn’t broken through the prison of his unbelief, you would have never seen him again.’”

Remember that all true believers will see each other again because "death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O Death, where is your sting? But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (I Corinthians 15:57).

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Is "To Make You Feel My Love" by Adele upside down?

On Wednesday, I painted the ceiling in our kitchen. When I do that kind of work, I like to listen to music. So, I set Pandora to listen to one of my favorite voices, Adele. 

One of her songs is titled "To make you feel my love." It's simple. The melody sticks in the mind. The lyrics are winsome. Who wouldn't want someone loving them like the lyrics describe?

When the rain is blowing in your face
And the whole world is on your case
I could offer you a warm embrace
To make you feel my love

When the evening shadows and the stars appear
And there is no - one there to dry your tears
I could hold you for a million years
To make you feel my love

I know you haven't made your mind up yet
But I would never do you wrong
I've known it from the moment that we met
No doubt in my mind where you belong

I'd go hungry; I'd go black and blue
I'd go crawling down the avenue
Know there's nothing that I wouldn't do
To make you feel my love

The storms are raging on the rolling sea 
And on the highway of regret
The winds of change are blowing wild and free
You ain't seen nothing like me yet

I could make you happy; make your dreams come true
Nothing that I wouldn't do; go to the ends of the earth for you
To make you feel my love, to make you feel my love

The song was originally written and recorded by Bob Dylan. Billy Joel, Garth Brooks, Trisha Yearwood, Bryan Ferry, and Adele have had success with the song.

Wwhen I woke up this morning, the thought hit me: The song as sung by Adele or by Trisha Yearwood to some man (who can't make his mind up about her) is "upside down." I think it's best sung by a man to a woman.

Ephesians 5 says that it's the man, not the woman, who is to love, to pursue, to initiate. That, unfortunately, is counter-cultural.

Our culture has produced passive men who want to be pursued. It's a result of the fall in Genesis 3. And women are wired by God to want relationship so much that they will do the pursuing when men stay passive. 

Men, as the book Wild at Heart suggests, there is a beauty to win. When a man wins his beauty, it's a picture of the relationship between Christ and the church.

I know that some people might say that I am quibbling over words/roles or that I'm simply too old school, but it's a man who should be singing those lyrics to a woman. What woman wouldn't want a man pursuing her the way these lyrics suggest?

So, men, find your beauty and pursue her. And once she says "I do" keep on pursuing her. 

I still like the song. I still like the way Adele sings it. Now, when I hear Adele sing it, I am going to ask God for grace to love my wife, Maryanne, this way: "I could make you happy; make your dreams come true. Nothing that I wouldn't do; go to the ends of the earth for you. To make you feel my love, to make you feel my love." 

"Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish" (Ephesians 5:25-27, ESV).

Friday, November 11, 2011

Missio Dei - The Invitation (Week 8, Day 5)

... Matthew 11:28-30 ...

Christians on mission for God to reach out for the kingdom get tired and weary. Jesus invites fatigued missionaries to come to Him in Matt. 11: 28-30, and promises He will give rest. Sounds easy—sounds refreshing—sounds like what we need, but it is difficult to actually “do.” Why? We are much better at doing than at being.

The invitation from our Lord requires coming to Him, sitting at His feet, and hearing His voice to receive the refreshment and restoration our souls so desperately want and need.

Ahhh--but, wait! We also have the opportunity to influence the people we are praying will come to know the Lord. Planned, deliberate resting is not something the world sees too often. Doing is seen as productive. Being still is not valued.

The world is running so fast that many cannot hear the invitation to receive Jesus as their Lord and Savior. Technology, over-loaded schedules, materialism, and the like keep us and those we seek to reach from truly resting and hearing.

A believer's rest most often happens at the feet of their Lord. However, it can also happen when we simply slow down. What if our neighbors or those we love saw us resting on the Sabbath, playing with our family and friends, or sitting on our front porches with elderly parents and neighbors? What if our neighbors saw us taking long walks down the street where we live? Maybe we would have time to hear the stories of the ones who are closest to us and the ones around us who may be far from God. Maybe, in accepting the invitation to be restored by our Savior, we might receive the opportunity to tell the great salvation story of a Savior who gives rest to the weary.

***
  • How have you ignored the invitation to receive rest from the Lord and continued to live a life of serving Him so that you end up feeling tired and weary?
  • What has been the outcome when you have continued to live and serve on mission in your own strength?
  • What are some creative ways to build relationships with those in your neighborhood as you rest from the busy-ness of life and ministry?
Prayer ...
Dear Lord, I praise you for being a God who cares so deeply for me. Thank You for the invitation to come to You and receive rest for my soul. Forgive me for the times I have continued to serve You in my own strength, even when I am weary, tired, and burdened. Please show me when I need to slow down and be still, and help me to be obedient to the prompting of the Holy Spirit to rest. I pray others will see more of You in me as I live on mission because You have refreshed me. Amen.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Missio Dei - Seek to Seek (Week 8, Day 4)

... Isaiah 50:4-7 ...

These verses in Isaiah are part of the “Servant’s Songs” and deal with the servant’s mission. These are prophetic words that illustrate and explain the patterns in the life of Christ.
 
Jesus understood the importance of spending time daily with the Father. Morning after morning, Jesus listened to His Father. He learned all that He needed to know to live out the mission the Father planned for Him for that day. Jesus had open ears and a well-instructed tongue. Jesus encountered weary people day after day. His time with the Father meant that He had a well-instructed tongue so He could offer help to the weary. Jesus was able to share God’s truths with them in word and in deed.
 
Jesus did not come to be served, but to serve. Because He spent time with the Father, Jesus was able to bless the weary and the worn, the least and the last.

 
God has a mission that will ultimately be accomplished by the power of His word. God invites us to participate with Him on that mission. Be willing to seek the Father’s face daily and to learn from Him, so you can be part of His mission to sustain others.
 
***
  • What changes in your life can you make to make you more teachable and equipped for your mission like Jesus?
  • Who do you know who is weary and discouraged? How can you be better prepared to encourage them? What word from the Father might He want you to give to them? How do you feel when you seek to offer words of encouragement?
Prayer ...
Father in heaven, I want to be more teachable like Jesus. Forgive me for those times when I do not make daily time with You a priority. I want to be a servant that meets others’ needs in a way that is pleasing to You. Stir in me a heart that is on mission for You and cares for the least and the last in a way that shows off Christ in me. Send me on a mission to sustain the weary with words from You.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Missio Dei - Rest A While (Week 8, Day 3)

... Mark 6:30-32 ...

Rhythm. It defines and delineates so much of the way we experience reality. From the cycle of sunrise and sunset, to the broader ebb and flow of winters and summers, to the pace of our very own heartbeats; rhythm creates order in which we can experience dimensional time.

As followers of Christ we strive to live as He lived—and the rhythm of His existence must become as much a part of our character as it was His.

In our insanely fast-paced culture we frequently err in one direction or another. Some of us surround ourselves with activity—and computer screens of one variety or another. Some of us fall into patterns of sloth and the goal of relaxation becomes an idol for us.

Christ and His disciples demonstrate a rhythm of intense dedication, striving, and labor for the sake of the Kingdom—punctuated by times of rest in order to refill on the fuel of time with the Father. Let us strive to reject the mandates of our society and the greedy desires of our flesh. Let us break our bodies and pour out our blood in remembrance of our Savior and in working to further His Kingdom—and then let us not rest idly or wastefully, but give ourselves to the rhythm of finding peace and recuperation in the presence of our Father.

***
  • Do you fill your life exhaustively with busy-ness? Do you spend your leisure time in a way that honors God? What needs to change for you to find a God-honoring rhythm?
  • What one item on your weekly schedule can be dispensed with in favor of a mission-oriented, Kingdom-building activity?
  • What one item on your weekly
Prayer ...
Lord, we praise You for the life you lived as a perfect display of humanity. You showed us the best possible way to go through this existence. You exchanged temporary comforts for eternal joys. Forgive us for both our wasteful busy activity and our self-centered times of leisure. Help us to live lives of passionate and exhaustive labor for Your Kingdom—and help us to find perfect rest and comfort in You. You are our strength, You are our energy, our passion, our guide. We surrender our every moment to You—our schedule today, this week, and ongoing is Yours to determine and guide.

Missio Dei - Prepping for the Journey (Week 8, Day 2)

... Mark 1:35-39 ...

What do you do when you are about to leave on a road trip? Most people get up early, check the oil, fill the car up with gas, test the tire pressure, clean the car up inside and out, load it up for the day and then get ready to leave. We want to feel prepared for the journey. Each day is a journey, especially living on mission for Christ. We never know what’s in store for us each day. Even Jesus said “…each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:34). It is interesting to think that we will put so much effort into preparing for a trip, but far less preparation for our day. Sure, we may shower, get our clothes ready, eat breakfast, and write a “to do” list, but do we exert the same level of intentionality to prepare our hearts, minds and souls for the day?

Jesus had just finished a full day and night of teaching and healing in Galilee. He was going to spend the next day traveling and teaching. So, how did He start the new day? He woke up early. He removed himself from the distraction of his environment. He spent unhurried and focused time in prayer. Jesus modeled for us a perfect way to prepare for the journey of each new day. How strange does it seem that as people living on mission for Christ, we oftentimes go into each day without communing with Christ? We get refueled, refreshed, focused and prepared when we begin our day at the feet of Jesus. Our personal devotion time provides inner refreshment, renewed intimacy with God, and strength for facing the seen and unforeseen challenges of each day as we live on mission for Christ.

***
  • Jesus went away in the morning. When is your ideal time to be alone with God? Are you giving yourself enough time so that you are not hurried?
  • Jesus went away to a secluded place. Where is your ideal place to be alone with God? Are you giving yourself enough distance from distractions so that you can focus?
  • When you are faithful in spending time with the Lord, how have you seen it prepare you for the mission He has for you each day?
Prayer ...
Lord Jesus, forgive me for when I fail to make time to be with You. I am not fully prepared for each day without spending time with You. I cannot live on mission without being connected to You. I want to spend time with You. I need it. I ask that my times with You bring refreshment, energy, focus and a spirit of preparedness for Your mission for each day. Amen.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Right your wrong rhythm

Last night I spoke at 707, our young adult service. A young woman named Andrea gave her testimony and was baptized. The worship was powerful and engaging. I was blessed.

Afterward, Bryan Karas, our 707 Worship Pastor sent to me the blog from a young woman who attended the service. I am honored that she shared. I am re-posting her words. You can read more her blog here.

***

Just Go With It. Please.

I'm going to try my best to recap tonight's sermon. The last missio dei..

Luke 10:38-42

So, two young ladies- one's got it right, the other's rhythm is off.

What are the signs that your rhythm is off?

• you're distracted
• you're accusing
• you're full of self pity
• you're worried
• you're irritable

Look, I don't know where you are right now.. but how many of us have been too distracted with, e.g., Facebook; you always have something preoccupying yourself. WHY ISN'T JESUS preoccupying you?! That's just an example of the listed "signs"..
To get your rhythm right:

1. Welcome Jesus! Hello, it's that simple!! All you have to do is say,"Lord, I welcome you into my life. Come in. Invade it."

That's what I want. I want Jesus to invade my space.. invade me. I don't want there to be room for anything else except Him and all that relates to Him. Anyone with me?

2. Listen to Jesus! "Those who talk by the yard and listen by the inch get kicked by the foot." ... a glorious foot of Jesus'. Haha, so, here's a tip. SHUT YOUR PIE HOLE. Offended yet? I'm fine by that. But maybe you should .. get this.. HEAR me out. hehe. If you just took a minute to listen instead of rambling, ranting, pestering, blabbing (kind of like I am now), maybe you'd actually hear what God's trying to tell you! If you don't listen, you may end up doing something that He didn't even call you to do!!

I really suggest that everyone takes time to spend with Jesus. Sit at the feet of Jesus. Take time and ask How, Who, What, When, Where, Why? to God. Pray and read. I suggest fasting and meditating.

It's like . . . if you don't listen, and you're doing what you think are the "good" ideas . . you may be missing out on God's ideas.

3. Keep choosing Jesus!

Simple.. He's the "good portion". He the good things. Yep, that's Him. I heard tonight from an excerpt of some letter(?) of a woman,"You're at risk of running dry if you don't spend time with the well of life." That just really hit me tonight. I am at risk of being DRIED UP if I don't keep choosing Jesus. That's it.

Tonight's worship was absolutely phenomenal. I had to share. I have never felt so happy, victorious, worthless, weak, filthy, pure, and joyful at the same time. It was spectacular and I want to feel that everyday, all day.

***

Wow. I am glad that God used my words to encourage a sister in Christ. That is a direct answer to my prayer before I preached at 707. God is good!

Missio Dei - Serving or Sitting (Week 8, Day 1)

... Luke 10:38-42 ...

When we live missional lives and serve the least and the lost, it is tempting to let the work of the Lord crowd out the Lord of the work. When that happens, we quickly run out of spiritual resources. And, we have nothing left to give to those in need.

Martha lived with her sister, Mary, and their brother Lazarus. The two sisters invited Jesus to a meal at their house. Martha stayed busy serving while Mary was caught up in conversation with Jesus. Martha complained because Mary stopped serving to sit at the feet of Jesus.

Since our culture promotes busyness, many of us might side with Martha. We would expect Jesus to come down hard on her sitting sister, but Martha was “distracted.” The word translated “distracted” means “to be pulled away.” Martha was pulled in too many directions. She was pulled away by her sense of “duty.”

Jesus did not scold Martha for serving Him. Serving was necessary. Her problem was that she made serving, not sitting, the priority. Some make this concern a “serving vs. sitting” issue. However, notice Jesus never really condemns Martha for serving. In fact, it appears that Mary served, too. Martha says, “My sister has left me.” Sitting vs. serving is not an either/or issue. It is a “both/and” issue. In this case Jesus makes it clear that sitting must take precedence over serving.

So, let us live missionally, but let us always have regular, unhurried time with Jesus by reading His Word and connecting in prayer. We must love Him first before we love His people. Why? This approach will replenish our spiritual resources so we can serve the last and the least more effectively. And in this way, we will give the Lord an opportunity to direct our serving. Sitting or serving? Choose both. Sitting without serving is lifelessness. Serving without sitting is powerless. Sitting and serving is fruitfulness.

***
  • Who do you tend to be most like in this story—Mary or Martha? Why do you say that?
  • Why does Jesus say that Mary’s choice is better than Martha’s?
  • What changes do you need to make so that sitting at the feet of Jesus will become more and more a priority for your life? How do you think this will affect your service to others?
Prayer...
Lord Jesus, You are infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in Your wisdom and power. You supply direction and energy so that I can serve others effectively. Yet, I sometimes try to serve in my own understanding and strength. That is when I quickly run out of resources. I want to learn how important it is for me to sit at Your feet before I serve Your people. Here I am, Lord. Now, send me.

Missio Dei - Amazing Grace...the Perfect Gift (Week 7, Day 5)

... Ephesians 2:8-10 ...

This passage is simply the cornerstone of our salvation. Because of the unfathomable love that God has for us and His unmerited favor on us, He has lavished us with this gift.

And yet so often, as believers, we feel obligated to try to work our way to God through service, good deeds, excellent church attendance, and giving. The gift of grace is free and it is given through faith by the Holy Spirit and all the glory is given to God for this gift. Even our faith is a gift. Paul is saying in this passage that absolutely nothing is of our own doing—not salvation, not grace, not even the faith that is exercised to receive salvation.

Many of us may have been taught that we had to follow certain rules and perform good deeds in order to obtain salvation. But our good could never be “good enough” to earn salvation…to please a holy God. Salvation is something only God can do through Jesus Christ and we can only boast in Him alone!

Out of our gratitude for His free gift, we as believers will seek to do good things—to help and serve others with kindness, love, and gentleness. While no action or good works we do can help us obtain salvation, God’s plan is that our salvation will result in acts of service to Him and to others. We move ahead in this life of grace doing the good works that God planned for us long ago. The new life in Christ that God gives us cannot help but express itself in good works.

Just as God planned salvation in Jesus Christ before the foundation of the world, so He planned that believers should do good to others. And those good works give us credibility in the eyes of others so we can share the good news.

***
  • How could the truth that we are saved by grace through faith be abused and cause some to fail to do good works?
  • What are some of the good works you feel God created you to do that you have not yet done?
  • What are some initial steps you can take to get moving?
Prayer...
Heavenly Father, You are the awesome giver of this amazing gift of salvation. Thank You for showing Your favor on me when I didn’t deserve it. Help me to reach out to someone who has not accepted Your gift of salvation by serving with kindness and love. Lord, I give You all the glory and boast in You alone.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Sitting at the feet of Jesus

Recently, I asked a very influential and effective woman, Sue Gilliland, to share a bit of her life. She is known for her impact. I know that it flows out of her time with Jesus. Below is my question to her about this and her answer.

***

Dear Sue,
I know you value time away with the Lord. Would you share just a few thoughts on what you do to get extended time with the Lord and how that has helped you as a woman, a wife, a mom, a spiritual leader at CVC and in NE Ohio?

***
Dear Rick,
It is important to me that it is understood that I am not a "Mary". I am actually a fallen "Martha" that needs constant instruction and guidance from my Great Teacher. I go to Him because I DON'T do things well. I go to Him because my life NEEDS His redemption. I go to Him to review the mistakes I made the day/year before and I want to do better on the next round.
When people ask me why I take a personal retreat, this is usually my answer:
Even though I am not able to do it often, I do treasure time away from home to be with the Lord. I usually go alone on my "Great Date with my Great King." I have never been disappointed and always come home refreshed and renewed with a clearer FOCUS of what He wants me to BE, DO, HAVE and GIVE (the questions I ask when I am away). It is also time to worship Him and pray in a very specific way that allows me to really LISTEN (too many opportunities to be distracted at home). This time away usually produces great convictions of things I need to change in my own heart...great time for "internal housekeeping".
Getting away does require some effort, time and money , but I spend all of those things on other aspects of my life...I prioritize time with HIM.
As a woman (a lifegiver) I spend a great deal of time pouring out to those I love. I am at great risk of running dry if I don't spend time at the "Well of Living Water". (I am reminded of your object lesson of the pitcher of water, and the cup overflowing.) Spending time with my Lord, whether it is in the morning, or once a year on a personal retreat is a necessity, not an optional luxury. "Front loading" my day or year with time with Jesus helps me to navigate through a fallen world, and helps me respond to whatever "comes in my front door" with responses that are honoring to Him. Being "full" automatically produces overflowing to others, it is not forced or a burden but a joy.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

If you believe in believer's baptism by immersion, is it disingenuous to become a member of a church that practices infant baptism?

This week, I was asked a question about baptism issues and local church involvement. Below is the question. Further below is my response.


***
Dear Rick, 
This is a Proverbs 24:6 kind of message, I'm seeking some wisdom from an abundance of counselors.
[My wife]and I are in the midst of an 11 week membership course at a prospective new church where we have lived since July. This is an inter-denominational church, which I have believed to be conservative theologically, prioritizing mission/evangelism, and cutting-edge in ministry/approach. It is an Elder led body, with healthy freedom/accountability for the Senior Pastor to lead. All signs have been really good, and I believe God has us here intentionally.
As I mentioned, we're in an eleven week membership class that is led by various Elders and staff, and today I looked ahead to information for two weeks from now on the sacraments. To my surprise, they practice infant baptisms. I say surprised because they are very conservative theologically...
My immediate reaction was strong, that this isn't biblical and I must reject it. I've spent a lot of today praying about it, reading different views from authors in reformed theology, different denominational positions, etc. I'm to the point now where I think my view has softened, understanding the position of the Abrahamic covenant and it's transfer to the New Testament as the basis. I'm also given comfort the church positions themselves as believing it is an outward sign of justification through a relationship with Christ primarily -- but use the same vernacular to describe the covenant relationship to the local church body.
Forgive the length of my note, but I wanted to clearly explain where I'm at on this. Thanks for... your friendship to me.



***


Hi, I love your heart and your desire to know and live out the truth according to God's Word. 
We have had people at CVC who agree with us about almost all our doctrine except baptism. They DO believe in infant baptism. Yet they still want to participate with us, a church that practices believer's baptism. Although we require believer's baptism for membership, there is still room for these friends of CVC to participate with us in various ministries as long as they don't make their views on baptism a divisive issue in conversations and classes with other CVCers. Over the years, I have been glad that they have served and helped us.
  • Now, your prospective church will likely accept your baptism as valid. Usually, churches like this will accept both believer's baptism and infant baptism as valid for membership purposes. And some of these churches will baptise by immersion if a person asks for it. Given that, a question I might ask leadership is this: "If I am asked what my views are concerning baptism, given the fact that I beleiver in believer's baptism by immersion, what do you want me to say or how would you like for me to handle it? I don't want to be divisive. But I don't want to be dishonest about what I think the Bible teaches. So, tell me what you want me to say or do."
    I remember the old saying, "In essential things, unity. In non-essential things, liberty. In all things, charity." Is this an essential? You'll have to answer that for you and your family.
    For me, it's not an essential. I have many friends here in Cleveland and around the USA who practice baptism like Orchard Hill. I can collaborate with brothers and sisters who view things their way.
     Having said that, it is important to me that the churches I help lead and help plant do practice what I consider to be the correct mode of baptism. 
    All churches have unregenerate members. Jesus said that the wheat and tares grow together. However, it's my personal conviction that churches that practice believer's baptism my immersion have a lower percentage of unregenerate members than churches that practice infant baptism. 
    The question I am asking myself is this: Could I serve on staff at a church that practices infant baptism? Here's my answer right now: After letting leaders know where I stand, I could collaborate with and serve at a church that practices infant baptism but I could not serve in a senior level position and I would not want to reproduce that practice in daughter churches.
    I guess a huge question for me is this: How long do you think you will be in your current city? You are coming back to CVC and Cleveland to help us reach this city for Jesus, right?  
    If you think that being at your prospective church is going to be a 2-3 year commitment, then you might not make this a big issue. If you think you might be there for 10-15 years, then it might be a bigger issue.
    I think you have the freedom to be a part of this church if that's what you want to do. The principles found in Paul's words in Romans 14-15 regarding whether or not to eat meat sacrificed to idols come to mind.
    I wish there were a dynamic baptistic church nearby. And, you know me, if there is not a dynamic baptistic church nearby, I wish someone would plant one. Is God calling you to be a part of a church plant? Want NEO360 to help plant one? Or would a local baptist association be open to planting a church in your neighborhood?
    For further reading, check out J L Dagg's Manual of Theology and Manual of Church Order. He has many well-reasoned explanations as to why the baptist position is true to scripture.
    Can't wait to hear how God leads you on this one.
    Rick

Missio Dei - Devote Yourself to Doing Good - (Week 7, Day 4)

... Titus 3:4-8 ...

We have been given an incredible gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ. Our gift giver, Jesus, has asked us to love others as we love ourselves by doing good works and to tell others about His gift of grace and mercy that we have received. We are to devote ourselves to doing what is good so we need to take it seriously and not just fit it into our spare time. We have to be intentional about it.

 
So how are you doing? Are you too busy to take an interest in the people God has put in your path? After all, we have cell phones, iPads, text messages, voice mails, day planners, DVD’s, satellite, reading programs, kid’s activities, Bible studies, Community Groups. Most of us are much too busy to care very much.

 
Now the question becomes, “What if God is using you as His hands to reach out and care for a lost
sheep who is ready to fall off a cliff (or has already fallen off a cliff)? What if you are the one to look into the person’s eyes and really care about how that person is doing? Are you the one to ask a couple of questions---to care deeper? Are you the one to give an encouraging word or the one to just listen? What if you are the one to share God’s story? What if you are the one God is using to save a life? Think about it (but not for too long). Don’t miss what God is doing in your life and in the lives of those He has put in your path.

***
  • Whom did God send your way whom you missed this past week because you were too busy or did not care?
  • What does “devoting yourself to doing what is good” look like in your life? Is it slowing down or speeding up? Is it listening or speaking? Is it caring or sharing? Is it focusing on others or on yourself?
  • What one “good thing” will you do for God today to impact a life for eternity?
Prayer ...
Lord, I praise You for Your grace and for Your mercy. Thank you for calling me to You. Forgive me when I live my life focused just on me and not on You and the people You have placed in my path. Help me to have eyes that see how You are working in the people around me. Use me to impact the people around me by doing what is good and sharing Your incredible gift of love.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Missio Dei - Grace is the Everyday (Week 7, Day 3)

... Titus 2:11-14 ...

Notice something about the way this passage is written: It is all one sentence. Standing as the foundation of this thought is the idea that “the grace of God has appeared.” After making that statement, the author then explains the effect of God’s grace.

Far too often we consider grace to be the tool through which God redeems us out of our former sinful lives, redeeming us as sons and daughters of God—and this perspective is true. However, we must keep in mind that the same grace that saves us from our sin is the same grace we need to “renounce ungodliness and worldly passions.” The grace of God has appeared—yes “bringing salvation,” but also then “training us… to live.”

How quickly we move from accepting God’s grace to attempting to live out His will for us on our own strength, and how quickly we fail to even come close to living “godly lives in the present age.”

Notice that godly living means that we will be zealous for good works (v. 14). Grace works. We are to be people who are looking for ways to bless people around us who are in need. Our good works create good will so we can share the good news.

Missionary to Thailand, Charles Harvey, describes his daily routine of following Christ. “I wake up every day, fall to my knees and die.” Only then, when we have daily surrendered to the joy of dying to our selves, can the grace of the life of Jesus Christ living through us be the reality of our daily experience – a daily experience that will include being passionate about doing good to those in need.

***
  • How is God’s grace active in your daily life? What transformations have taken place since you began to follow Christ?
  • In what ways are you now attempting to live a godly life on your own strength? Take time today to pray and hand over the battle to Christ living in you (Galatians 2:20).
  • How can being a recipient of God’s grace motivate you to be more zealous for good works?
Prayer ...
Father, I am very aware of how undeserving I am. I express my deepest gratitude for Your grace. Forgive me for attempting to live in my own abilities and my own strength. May what I have received motivate me to give to others. I surrender and proclaim that the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God – who loved me and gave Himself for me.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Missio Dei - Do the Unexpected (Week 7, Day 2)

... Luke 6:27-36

On October 2, 2006, Charles Carl Roberts walked into a small Amish school in Pennsylvania and shot 10 girls then committed suicide. Five of the girls (ages 7-13) died. Expressing anger and hate would be completely understandable for the Amish community in light of this horrific event. Instead, the Amish did what was unexpected…they poured out expressions of love and forgiveness.

Members of the Amish community visited the Roberts family after the shooting, attended Roberts’ funeral, started a charitable fund for the shooter’s family and expressed great compassion. The wife of the shooter, Marie Roberts, wrote a thank you letter to the Amish stating, “Your love for our family has helped to provide the healing we so desperately need. Gifts you have given have touched our hearts in a way no words can describe. Your compassion has reached beyond our family, beyond our community, and is changing our world, and for this we sincerely thank you.”

Jesus calls his followers to be different. He calls us to stand out and live by a higher standard. What better way to be different than to do the opposite of what the world expects from us? We are to not just do the expected and natural, but the unexpected and supernatural. It makes a bigger impression and impact on others when we do the opposite of what they expect, especially if it is the opposite of what they deserve. This teaching is tough!

***
  • What are areas of unforgiveness in your life? How will you forgive so you can live on mission for the very ones who have hurt you?
  • How can loving your enemies make you more fruitful as a witness?
  • Where might God be calling you to demonstrate His compassion and mercy?
Prayer...
Lord, You are the supreme example of forgiveness, grace and mercy. Cleanse me of any bitterness and resentment that keep me from being effective as Your missionary. Help me to love my enemies, Lord, and return good for evil. Show me how to be on mission for Christ even with my enemies.

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