Thursday, February 25, 2010

A Godly Possibility

Do you ever get on your own nerves? Really – do you get tired of struggling through the same battles and wondering if you'll ever get right the things in your life that have been wrong. I drive myself crazy a lot because I go through a period where I'm learning a lot, I'm surrendering my heart and sensing a real closeness with the Lord and then – BAM! – I start to fall in one area after another – selfishness, impatience, anger, lack of discipline and organization. I'm one messed dude. (I'm sure that’s something everyone wants to hear from their pastor!)

Christianity means change is possible - deep, fundamental change. It is possible -
• to be disciplined when you, at one time, weren’t
• to become tenderhearted when you were once hard and insensitive
• to stop being dominated by bitterness and anger
• to become a loving person no matter what your background has been

The Bible assumes God is the decisive factor in making us what we should be. With spectacular bluntness the Bible says to put away malice and be tender-hearted. It does not say –
• If you can…
• If your parents were tender-hearted to you…
• If you weren’t terribly wronged…
It says - be tender-hearted.

This is incredibly freeing - it frees us from the terrible fatalism that says, “Change is impossible for me”. It frees me from enslaving views that make my background my destiny. If I was in prison and Jesus walked into my cell and said, “Leave this place tonight,” I might be stunned, but if I trusted His goodness and power, I would feel a rush of hope that freedom is possible.

If it is night and the storm is raging and the waves are breaking high over the pier, and the Lord comes to me and says, “Set sail tomorrow morning,” there is a burst of hope in the dark. He is God. He knows what He is doing. His commands are not throw-away words – they always come with freeing, life-changing truth to believe.

For example – “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. 1Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. 2And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Ephesians 4.32-5.2)

1. God adopted us as his children - We have a new Father and a new family. This breaks the fatalistic forces of our “family-of-origin.” Matthew 23.9, “And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven.”
2. God loves us as his children - We are loved children. The command to imitate the love of God does not hang in the air, it comes with power: be imitators of God as loved children. Love is the command and being loved is the power.
3. God has forgiven us in Christ - Be tender-hearted and forgiving just as God in Christ forgave you. What God did gives us power to change. The command to be tender-hearted has more to do with what God did for you than what your mother did to you. This kind of command means you can change.
4. Christ loved you and gave himself up for you - Walk in love just as Christ loved you. The command comes with life-changing truth - Christ loved you. At the moment when there is a chance to love and some voice says, “You are not a loving person,” you can say, “Christ’s love for me makes me a new kind of person. His command to love is just as surely possible for me as his promise of love is true for me”.

Let's pray together, for our lives and our church, as St. Augustine did, “Lord command what you will and grant what you command”!

Welcome To The Main Event

“The victory may have been theirs, but it is not for the victory alone that they are honored. Rather, it is for the quality of their effort and the manner of their striving.”

The quote above is one from Sports Illustrated – and I have it hanging on my office door because, while Sports Illustrated intended for it to refer to athletes, it makes me think so much about life. It reminds me, and challenges me, too, that I can glory in the Lord and enjoy the blessings He brings because He strengthens me to fight through the struggle He also brings.

It's interesting that when the Bible speaks of life, it often does so in terms of competition – fight, run, race, finished, endurance. These are some of the words you would find, referring to how to live this life, reading through the New Testament. Hebrews 12.1 says, "…let us run with endurance the race that is set before us." The biblical word endurance (or perseverance) is the ability to keep on doing the things you have been called to do (and have committed yourself to doing) when you are on top of the world and when the world is on top of you. Nothing is more essential to success than endurance. Faith is the gunshot that starts the race – endurance is what keeps you going.

Other than Christ, there might not be any greater example of one who strove more than the Apostle Paul. We're talking about a guy who was shipwrecked, thrown in prison, stoned and dragged out of a city to be left for dead - only to get up and walk back into that same city. Some would call that dumb – I call it tough as nails. But in writing to his young protégé, Timothy, Pauls says – “Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses” (1 Timothy 6.12). Then in the next letter he writes, just before he's about to die, he tells Timothy – “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing” (2 Timothy 4.7-8). In other words – Hey Timothy, remember when I told you to fight? Well I did – I fought, and finished, and won. And now the Lord is going to reward me for fighting the fight He gave me the strength and power to fight. Talk about sovereignty. Talk about grace and faithfulness. Talk about redemption when before Christ I couldn’t even fight - I couldn’t even put on the gloves or the shoes.

This matter of striving is so critical to the Christian life that James 1 tells us that above all other human traits, this is the one God wants built into our lives. Why? Because if we will strive and endure then God can do anything in our lives and through our lives – “And let steadfastness (endurance) have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1.4).

So what do you do when the pressure is on? All kinds of people get up in the morning, put on their running clothes, and start the race. But the test comes when the miles click past and the muscles start to fatigue. What do they do then? It’s easy to put on a white dress, rent a tuxedo, and get to the front of the church to say, "I do." But to have a happening marriage - not for five years, but for life - that takes striving and enduring. It’s one thing to have a kid(s), but to keep on training that kid(s) day in and day out, following through on what you have said and taught - that takes commitment!

Let me say in addition to that - it's easy to pray a prayer, it’s easy to confess (with words) faith in Christ - but to keep following Him when the pressure is on takes striving, staying power.

As you look ahead, there's no way for you to know what's ahead in 2010 but you can be sure that God’s mercies will be new every morning. Start each day asking Him for the strength to strive and endure so you can fight the good fight of faith – AND WIN!

In A Time of Crisis

Two weeks ago, an earthquake made its presence felt as buildings fell, thousands died, and countless were left homeless in the country of Haiti. I didn't feel it in New Jersey at first - but after a while I began to feel the reverberations in the news reports. The more I heard and saw, the more I was left shaken. As Mark Driscoll put it - I'm haunted by Haiti. In addition to Haiti, tragedy strikes every day. Think about it. Right now, as you read this –
• people are dying from sickness
• there is abuse, murder, rape, and kidnapping
• many are without homes
• terrorists are plotting their next attack
The list could go on and on.

Whether or not we are experiencing tragedy at a particular moment – the aftershocks are going on in our lives through the questions that are asked. Tragedy causes people to search and we need to be prepared to give them direction. Here are a couple of the more popular questions that are asked by a world looking for answers –
What good could possibly come from this tragedy? You say that God loves us. You say He has a purpose and that good will come of this. Like what? First, God's sovereign goodness is seen throughout Scripture. The classic New Testament passage is Romans 8:28 – “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” God causes all things – the all things is the hard part because that is made up of what we call the good thing and bad things. There is really no denying the good that comes out of tragedy when people respond – 9/11, the tsunami, Haiti, etc., all clearly display God's glory, through His working, for those who are open to seeing it.
Another question that is asked is - How should this event change me? That is an excellent question to ask God in prayer. However, I don’t think it's one we often ask because we're afraid of what God might do in us or what God might ask us to do. But we need to put ourselves aside and ask God to change us – to work in us so He can work through us.

Change demands action. So what steps of obedience can we take to show our world Christ today?

1. We need to pray (Eph. 6.18). That might sound cliché but the truth is we can do nothing in our own strength – we must ask the Lord for His strength. We also need to pray for those who are suffering – that God would show them His purposes, love, grace, mercy, and glory.
2. This is the day to be a bold witness for Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5.10). People are looking for answers. This is a time to speak up for Jesus. Open our mouths, Lord, and fill them with the good news you've provided.
3. We can respond to God's call to help in tangible ways. The Chinese word for crisis is made up of two symbols – each with their own meaning. The first symbol means danger. The second symbol means opportunity. So many of you gave generously from your hearts to our church family's efforts to support aid/relief to Haiti. Thank you for your kindness, I am so proud of our church. But continue to be on the alert for opportunities, now in Haiti, but also elsewhere, and then act on the need. Ask God for a willing heart and the rest of you will follow.

A Devine Jealousy

On Thursday, I was watching our men's ice hockey team play Norway, in what is called the preliminary round of the Olympics. Going into the Olympics, Norway was characterized as a "push-over" team, and on Tuesday, Canada had rocked them 8-0, so I wasn’t expecting much of a competition. Well, if you saw the game, then you know exactly what I'm talking about, as the Americans did most of what they wanted during the course of the game. As I watched the game, thinking, "These guys stink," I learned the Norwegian team had only one full-time ice hockey player on its roster (note: every player on our team plays hockey full-time in the NHL) – and it showed. There was such a clear difference between the players who had made hockey their profession and those players who were construction workers, teachers, truck drivers, etc., by profession, and only part-time hockey players.

As I was thinking, I was able to make a clear connection to those who give their hearts, all of their hearts, to the Lord, compared to those who create the façade that they've given their hearts to the Lord, when they're constantly trying to find areas of their heart to hold back and reserve for themselves. The truth is, this is a battle we all fight everyday – some just fight it harder than others. Knowing they had idols and were worshipping false Gods, Joshua told the people of Israel – “Then put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your heart to the LORD, the God of Israel.” (Joshua 24.23). In this context, the word incline has the idea of bending. I find that interesting, because our hearts were originally created to relate and enjoy God. He's the way we originally bent. But since the fall our hearts are naturally sinful – that's they we now bend. It takes a constant pleading by us to God, and a daily work of the Holy Spirit, to bend our hearts back to God.

There are several people in Scripture who illustrate this point - David, Peter, and Paul (just to mention a few).
• David – the only man God refers to as "a man after My own heart." Yet David's pride manifested itself throughout his reign as King of Israel. He also lied, committed adultery, and murdered. Doesn’t sound like a man after God's own heart – does it? Yet David's heart remained broken before the Lord and was always bent back toward Yaweh – especially after his sin.
• Peter – often ripped for being foolish, impetuous and lacking faith. Yet Peter was one of the leading apostles and fathers of the early church. As you read through the gospels, into Acts, and 1, 2 Peter you really see him grow in his knowledge, experience, and intimacy with the Lord.
• Paul – once a man who would have followers of Christ imprisoned and killed. Paul was led by the Holy Spirit to author about half of the books in the New Testament. He also became one of the leading apostles and New Testament church leaders. Yet he plainly admits – “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.” (Romans 7.15-20).

Scripture gives us a vivid picture of each man's spiritual growth and constant bending of the heart toward the Lord.

Please live in the reality of this truth – we have a righteously jealous God. He wants our whole hearts – all of our beings. He is jealous over His glory and refuses to share it with anyone – including us. He wants all our worship because He alone deserves it – and He knows for us to give our worship, our hearts, to anyone/anything else only leads to our demise. We need to pray for self-forgetfulness and daily ask the Lord to take control of our lives – this is Christianity. If your identity is really found in Him, it's a battle of the wills – and I promise, HE WILL WIN.

So ask the Spirit of God to search you heart everyday revealing to you your "sins of self" (ways/areas in which you are holding out on God). Forget religion, morality, or any other external thing – there is no comparison between a person who is giving the Lord their whole hearts and one who is not.

Do You Believe In Miracles?

This past Monday, February 22, was the 30th Anniversary of, perhaps, the greatest moment in all of American sports history. On February 22, 1980, the United States hockey team beat the Soviet Union and went on to win the Olympic gold medal in ice hockey. In case you just returned from the moon, it was an incredible event that's come to be known as "The Miracle on Ice." I was only a little more than a year old at the time, but it's still one of my favorite stories. I've seen a replay of the game several times, I've read and watched several interviews of players on that USA team, and my favorite movie is "Miracle" – the story of that Olympic team. In fact, I will still watch the game or any interview relating to that team or whole story.

The American team was made up of all college/amateur players and hadn’t won an Olympic gold medal in ice hockey since 1960. The Soviets were heavy favorites, winning every gold medal but one since 1956. You also had all the politics of the Cold War surfacing. It's a story for the ages – it won't just live on through the years but through the decades (as it already has). And one has to wonder –

§ What does it take for something to be told and retold, like this, through the decades?

§ What is it about an event that would cause one to reflect on where they were and what they were doing when the event took place?

§ What would cause a person, who wasn’t alive at the time, to think about what it would’ve been like to be alive during such a spectacular event?

There are a lot of things that could answer these questions – but the real mark is the impact of the event. How many lives have been touched, even changed, by what has taken place? How long will the results of the event live on, not just in conversation, but in the hearts of people from generation to generation? That being said, doesn’t every other event in the history of the world pale in comparison to the cross? The cross of Jesus Christ is the most explosive event in human history – and the most critical issue in any one person's life. Jesus' life, death, and resurrection have not just changed people – He has changed cultures. Jesus doesn’t just touch hearts for a time – he saves souls for eternity.

The gospel was top priority for Paul. Sure, there were other thing he talked about – but the gospel was the atmosphere in which everything else survived. That passion is implied all throughout his writing but He actually told the believers in Corinth – (1 Corinthians 15.1-4) “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you— unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures…”

God's love, shown to us through His Son, Jesus Christ, is so compelling that it demands we share it. And I don’t mean it demands like "out of duty" – but that the natural result will be that we share it. That we will have this, "You won't believe what just happened…" expression as we share the soul-saving truth about Jesus Christ and the events of the gospel.

Make no mistake – our redemption by the blood of Jesus Christ is the miracle of miracles.