Saturday, July 28, 2012

Thoughts while driving home...

Its a good thing i live close to the hospital, if I had a longer drive home after work, who knows where my mind would wander... Praying on my way home this morning, and I got stuck on the sovereignty of God. I don't like to give over control of anything, and I don't like the idea that God doesn't have to answer to me... I like to believe I am of such great importance (as evidenced by the, roughly, 4 people who read my blog) that God should revolve around me. He should choose His actions based on what I have done, or how they will affect me.
But, He doesn't... God exists in His own glory, and acts in ways to increase that glory. He works to extend the reach of His glory by extending His kingdom. He extends His kingdom by calling more people to Himself that we might be accepting of the gift of salvation. He allows this gift of salvation by making Him who knew no sin, to become sin so that through Him we might become the righteousness of God. He achieves this through the birth, life, death, and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ. Christ, as a member of the trinitarian God, chose to humble himself, and take on the flesh of His creation, to live a sinless life, so that He alone could be found righteous as judged by the law of God, as is found in the Old Testament... But then, through an act of immense love, chose to gift that righteousness to US in exchange for our eternal condemnation... This allowing a sinner like me to be called righteous, a friend of God. And as such, I am to give myself over to accepting that same sovereignty that I struggle to enjoy. Because, Jesus paid it all, all to Him I owe...

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Not a Fan: looking back

We finished up our church-wide study of Kyle Idleman's book, Not a Fan, tonight... I just wanted to put some words together on what I am taking away from the book: 1) What are the times in your life that you can distinctly remember Jesus calling you to follow Him? Did He ask you to give something up? What sacrifices have you made to follow Christ? If you re-walk your life up til now, what mile markers are along the way that you cling to as moments that Jesus really grabbed hold of you? I keep looking, and finding instances in my life in which I would say I was close to God. I remember Him asking me to let go of a relationship (an engagement actually) so that I could follow... I remember Him asking me to give up my pride, countless times, to better follow... I remember Him asking me to give up my career ambition... and most recently, I remember Him asking me to give up some financial comfort and personal comfort. I struggled in different ways which each of these sacrifices, but looking back, the times I willingly and joyfully was able to say "Yes Lord" have been directly correlated to times of great contentment and growth in my life. They led to closer relationship with God, better understanding of the man I am to strive to be, a better comfort with who I am, following Jesus led to my wonderful wife and our 2 gorgeous kids (instead of stuck in a residency, or graduate program), and my hope is that following in this latest way will lead to a greater opportunity to serve. 2) Salvation is not a one time choice, it is an active pursuit of a growing relationship. I thought, for a long time, that having said a prayer was good. That those words established my relationship with Christ, that I was no longer a sinner. What I have come to better understand is that salvation takes time. Yes, the moment you make a choice to turn to Christ and place Him the priority of your life, your salvation is sealed... but it is a start to a journey. I have learned that there are some sins that I have to renew my commitment against daily. I have learned that we do not come to God, trying to pretend that we are clean, we come saying, "God, I know I'm filthy... I want You to clean me... I want you to reveal in me the depth of my sin, let me know what they are... and work in me that I might turn from them and to you." In this way, we see that we truly can come to God as we are, without fanfare or facade. We don't even have to know what all of our sins are, we just have to be willing to open ourselves to the Holy Spirit, and allow God to shine His light on our darkness. We are called to recognize when God does convict us of our sin, that we will honestly and truly deal with it... recognize it as sin, and desire to turn away from it. We also see through this why, as Paul says, we are saved by grace, not of our works so that none may boast. We are all on the same journey, simply at different points along that journey. 3) I must, every day, look in the mirror, commit to emptying myself of all of me and allow that space to be filled by the Holy Spirit. I must allow myself to be aligned to God's will, and be willing, no matter the call, to act. God does not require perfection in this, but authenticity. I must accept that I will fail, but still strive to never do so. I must accept that I have to live in God's grace in order to have true joy or meaning. 4) I hope that anyone who reads this would allow themselves some time to honestly, openly, and intentionally reach out to God. I hope that you will remain open, and give the thought that He might have something to offer to you, or that He even might truly exist (in a very real and personal way), a fair chance. When we walk to God, he runs to us... when we seek Him, He allows us to find Him.

Friday, July 13, 2012

An open invitation

I'm probably going to get Dengue Fever... Ok, so probably not, but there was totally just a mosquito on my hand, and it's been pretty much a sub-tropical climate out there lately... Not to mention, we've had a case of it recently. But that really has nothing to do with this morning's post, this morning, I want to ask, why do you not like Jesus? Even more pointedly, why do you hate him?
I think most people would say that they don't hate Jesus, they may even say they like him just fine... Then why not learn more about him? Why not dig into seeing if you want to follow him? I think there are plenty of people who are afraid of stepping into a church because they think we are going to bombard you and try to force you into deciding right away, or that if you don't decide, then we will shun you... That shouldn't be true.

There are those churches... too many of them I'm sure, that are still I'm the turn or burn business. Bit the church should be a place where ALL are welcome to come and learn about who Christ is, what He has done, and what He is doing. A churches job is to share the truth of the gospel, it is up to those who attend to decide what to do with it. The church is there to answer questions and help guide one's understanding of scripture so that you can reach a well-informed, properly educated decision on who Christ is in your life. The church's hope is that through the proper guidance and understanding of the Bible that those who congregate would come to know Jesus as their Lord and Savior, but it is not a choice we can make for you, or a choice we should thrust upon you forcefully.

I hope that this Sunday, you might make a choice to visit a local church, I pray that the one you visit has its priorities in proper alignment to serve. I hope you enter with a heart and mind that is truly open... I also hope you don't expect to learn it all in one visit. If you need a suggestion for a church that meets that criteria, I recommend First Baptist Church in Nixa, we're right behind Braum's and we'd love to know how we can better serve the communities we impact. We'd love to introduce you to a God that requires nothing more than for all to come, as they are, and recognize His love for them. We'd love to deepen your knowledge and understanding of who Jesus is.
I hope to see you Sunday morning, but if I don't, I hope you pop in another church... If you don't, I'll still be praying for you.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Kingdom Advance: what I learned

After a day of listening to some great teachers talking about advancing the Kingdom of God, and reaching out into areas of high influence in our world in order to make a higher level if impact in a positive way, on an earth that is in rebellion against its Creator, I am even more convicted by something that God has been trying to teach me...

I touched on the subject in a couple of recent posts that when we are far from Christ, we open ourselves to the deeds of Satan. This truth led to some personal struggles that I have discussed and also to some thoughts on one aspect regarding the struggles of the church in our current culture. Listening today to men that have given much of themselves passionately to advancing the gospel just shines light on the brokenness of so much of church culture in America.

There are too many churches in America that started to loosen their grip on Jesus, and as they have, Satan has gradually moved in, and (as he does) he started influencing little changes. Knowing that leaders were searching for ways to get more people into their church, and to advance the kingdom, Satan began twisting their understandings... he slowly gained more control by whispering lies about cultural relevance, and tolerance. He masked his words with perversions and out of context scripture, meanwhile leading otherwise well meaning leaders further away from the basic message of the gospel. This lead to a movement of churches who suddenly stopped speaking of sin, and the brokenness of our world, instead teaching that if you love God, then God will accept you. Gone was repentance and the need for salvation... Gone was the cross and shed blood that is needed for the atonement of sin... and I'm came a further broken and lost culture that no longer has any sense of its own lostness. Satan has created a culture of religion that thinks it is Christianity... he has used God's word, out of context and twisted it to turn people into all manners of self-righteous and self-sanctifying religious nuts that are lost in darkness that they can't see because the light of Christ has been nearly extinguished.
Through this there has been such damage to the work of true Christianity to bring the good news of a true salvation that you cannot earn, but must accept. I am thankful to serve a church that does not compromise the message of Christ, and a pastor that will not accept anything less than committed followers and believers in the words of Christ.

I am thankful for men like Ed Stetzer, Aaron Coe, Steven Pike, and John Marshall who will put on a conference that encourages us, as believers. To advance the Kingdom that is here and yet to come, that all might hear and come to faith in Christ alone.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Not a Fan: week 5

I think week 5 is right, with work I've had to miss some...

I've heard it said by many different pastors, authors, and friends that when we stray away from Christ it opens a foothold for Satan to come in and do some work... This week in the Not a Fan series, we get to see this at a high level.

What I took away most is how a person, living as a fan... who would even classify themselves as a Christian... can be used by Satan. In the absence of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, we leave ourselves open and vulnerable to the will of Satan. Remembering who Satan is, we realize that possibly the most damage he can cause to the Kingdom of God is to infest the life of someone who believes that they are in fact a Christian.
We all know the type... like the character of Bill, can quote the Bible, knows the laws, and is often in line with the world's stereotype of Christianity. Combine that with the amazing abilities of Satan, and his knowledge of the Bible, and his love for twisting the words of God... What do you get? A religious zealot in the express lane to Hell.

Without the personal relationship with Christ, Satan will use God's word to convince us of our salvation through being "good". We will overlook the need of grace, love, and faith that are so evident in scripture. Satan uses "good people" to do damage to the ministry of Christ. He uses them in church ministry to deceive, he causes otherwise right-meaning people to use God's word to cause pain and hate instead of to promote love and grace.

We need to check ourselves and make sure we know that, as James says in his book, nothing that is evil comes from God...

We need to be in daily conversation with God, strengthening our relationship to Him... Minimizing the space for Satan in our life, protecting ourselves from his tricks.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Catharsis... very personal

Since I was very young, at least since early elementary school, I have been aware of something. There has always been a sense inside of me of a very dark, evil, part of me. When I would allow it to, this part of me would fantasize about things such as hurting people, animals, or anything really. I have long been afraid that at some point in my life, I would lose control of this part of my nature, and would become a very bad person. This deeply ingrained sin nature is not unique to me, it resides within every person. We are filled with a propensity for bad things. None of us are exempt or unable to perform acts of varying degrees of shame and wrong. It is this same sin nature that condemns each of us to an eternity of conscious torment in a place called Hell. Without proper acknowledgement of this part of our being, we are helpless. We can, by our own efforts and will, battle against this nature. We can even succeed to a point, we can be a "good person" on our own... but at our core, we will still be susceptible to a nature that is opposed to God. Only through the acceptance of Christ's sacrifice, and the willingness to allow His nature, through the Holy Spirit, to come into our lives, can we hope to truly have victory over our own nature. This is not to say that a simple, one time, decision to follow Jesus will cure us of our nature. Christians sin, and will continue to sin, because the natures of sin and of God will rage war within us. Sometimes we follow the God nature, sometimes we don't. I have heard many people say that the worst sins they have committed in their lives occurred after they accepted God's grace. I count myself in that number. The biggest difference between a Christian and one who is not, is the level of awareness of the depth of our own sin and need for help. I recently ran headlong into this deepest fear, that I would allow my sin nature to control me in some way. Satan, in his smooth and quiet way, began to tempt me. My thoughts began to feed that part of me. Once well nourished, the thoughts started to become desire to do some pretty evil things, the details of which are of no importance. I, at some point, seemed to choose to lock God out of this issue, I decided to let my sin nature run, it felt good (the way sin does). I was blind to it, was convinced that there was no harm in it. Satan, as is his practice, used God's word... twisting it to make me feel I was doing something good and right. I gradually relinquished more control, continued to feed my wrong desires. I thank God, and never enough, that He gave my wife the courage to step in... She opened my eyes one day, and God worked through her to place a small crack in Satan's work. Even still, I failed to rely on God to help me out of the situation. I fell into another of the devil's common traps. I started to believe I needed to clean myself off and make myself right before God would accept me back. The raging battle of my two natures was incredible. There were days I truly felt ripped in two, my life was echoing the words of Paul... I continued, with much pain and defeat, to do that which I knew I must not do. I felt times of immense pain, and yet pleasure... I fell for Satan's lies that I could control my sin nature. He was stronger than me, and I began to give up the fight. I inched ever closer to allowing that part of me to destroy my life. And again, God stepped in, through my wife. This time was much less gentle, but no less loving. The battle rages on, but, thanks to a God who never fails me, and a wife with the unimaginable loyalty and courage to step in, I know that it is not a battle for me to fight. God is fighting the battle for me, and He wins. I am thankful that all of this happened before I allowed the darkness within me to take over completely. I am thankful that it never went that far. It destroys me to know that it got as close as it did... and that it took that much pain to remind me of my need for God. I sit here today, working down a road of repentance and reconciliation. I walk hand in hand with a wife I don't deserve... being led by a God that never fails. I woke up this morning humble, and more in love with both. Thank you God for reminding me that without you, I'm a pretty terrible person... but with you, I can do anything. I don't deserve your love, I don't deserve Christ's atonement for all I have done and will do, I don't deserve your gift of grace, but you give them anyway.