Monday, January 16, 2017

Only the mature are happy

Fellow Pilgrim,                                               January 16, 2017

Are you a happy person? If you really want to know ask your spouse or a close friend, ‘Do you think I’m a happy person?’  Don’t ask it like this: ‘You do think I’m a happy person don’t you?’  This is an unfair way to ask it!  Here’s a self-test to help you determine whether you’re a happy person or not:

1.    Do I frequently blame others when I’m unhappy? (be honest!)

2.    Do I have difficulty forgiving someone who has wronged me?

3.    Do I even like my spouse (or family)?   (this one requires a little attitude)

4.    Do I criticize others when they don’t live up to my expectations?

5.    Have I spent time in conversation with God or listened to His Word this week – one on one?

6.    Am I happy just to pursue my own passions and desires?

In the first half of Philippians 3 Paul clarifies what a mature believer is.  He or she is someone who finds knowing Christ more exciting than anything else.  This person delves into the power of the resurrection (redemption), and the fellowship of His sufferings (letting go of small ambitions), in order to gain the hope of eternal life.  A mature believer is the only one who can begin a journey to true happiness. This is a simple lesson few people ever learn. We grasp for happiness and it slips through our fingers. People let us down. Things don’t go our way. One more crisis to mop up.   A mature believer isn’t perfect. He makes mistakes. He has to say ‘I’m sorry’ sometimes. But he always hungers for more of God. He presses on like an athlete intent on winning. (Philippians 3:8,12)  Here are four marks of a mature person:

1.    Do you keep on with what you’ve already learned – even if it doesn’t seem to be helping? This is called ‘perseverance’. (v16)

2.    Do you forget what lies behind? (v13) You don’t replay your victories. You don’t replay your defeats. This will either give you a big head or make you feel like a failure.  I don’t have to try very hard to remember certain bad memories. It takes discipline to say to yourself – I am not going there. But I can do it! Nothing squashes joy like living in the past with her glories and regrets.

3.    Do you live fully in the present? The late Dr. Clyde Kilby, a teacher of English literature at Wheaton College, resolved: “I shall not allow the devilish onrush of this century to usurp all my energies but will instead, ‘fulfill the moment as the moment’. I shall try to live well just now because the only time that exists is now.”  John Piper remembers him as one who had an ‘extraordinarily awake, God-oriented palate for wonder in poetry and nature.’ Is today something to get through or something to wring every ounce of life out of?

4.    Do you look to the future with optimism? Paul says that the mature person of faith is ‘reaching for what lies ahead’.  It pictures a runner straining for the finish line.  Tomorrow is not a threat to my tidy little world but an opportunity to adventure further into the wonderful mystery of God and faith!

Funny thing is…this is the recipe for joy. It is a mixture of faith, struggle, purpose and trust that we live in a God-drenched world, if we would only reach out and discover him.

Monday, November 21, 2016

More alive than ever!

‘More alive than ever’: (Philippians 2:5-18) Joy and ‘more alive than ever’ are synonyms. As Paul sat in prison he longed for the Philippian believers to ‘shine like stars in the universe’ (v15).  But at the same time he was a realist.  He despairs that Timothy is his only surrogate who sincerely is interested in their welfare (2:20).  He pleads with Euodia and Syntyche to just get along (4:2) G.K. Chesterton once responded to a newspaper ad inviting response to the question; ‘What is wrong with the world?’, with ‘Sirs, I am.’ So it is that we are own worst enemy when it comes to happiness.  So Paul admonishes in this passage:

                        1. Think like Jesus.

                           2. Revel in your salvation.

                           3. Live grumble free.  

Think like Jesus? Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow him.  To misquote a Snickers commercial – ‘You’re not you when you’re not like Jesus.’ (I’m thinking of Danny Trejo playing Marcia BradyJ.  Jesus emptied himself (denied himself), took on the form of a human slave (took up his cross), and was obedient to death on a cross (followed his Father).  We are exalted with him.

Revel in your salvation? ‘Work out your salvation with fear and trembling for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work his good pleasure.’ (vv12,13) Why not revel? He’s already at work. You’re aware that he’s at work.  And he’s happy with what he’s doing!

Live grumble free? God has to tell us ‘don’t grumble’ because we do grumble. It’s human nature. That’s why the second word our kids learn is ‘no’. (The first is ‘daddy’:) This is why ‘I’m sorry’ and ‘I forgive you’ are so important.  It’s soooo hard!

(1) So never forget that this is a process of trial and error full of grace.

(2) But it takes purpose. We must recognize & reject complaining in all its forms. (perhaps I should do a 10 part sermon series on this:) We must choose to fill our lives with God’s Word and good thoughts. As I reminded you yesterday, ‘TV eats brain cells’.  If you don’t believe me take this little test: Watch TV for two hours and then see how you respond when your wife asks you to rub her feet. Grumpy!

(3) The goal is to shine like stars in the universe. (v15) That is a tall order. But it is what sets apart the believer ‘in the midst of a crooked and depraved generation’. What!? The thing that sets me apart is that I shine, grumble free, in the midst of a grumbling, complaining world??  Lord help me!  But don’t put this expectation on fellow believers. Paul caps this lesson off with: ‘Even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with all of you.’ (v17)  Paul say, I’m not going to wait to share my joy when I see you live up to my expectations. I’m going to spill all over you right now!

Pastor Dean

Monday, October 31, 2016

Doing Faith Together

Philippians 1:1-11 ‘Doing faith together; a study in Philippians.’

1.     Own sainthood.  You are forgiven by faith; called to serve Christ and be a grace giver. It is not your grace or mine – it comes from the expansive heart of our risen Savior.   We simply don’t obstruct it. God is able to complete the work he began in another. It is a powerful gift to give another undeserving sinner grace and the peace that comes with it. So stop holding back!

2.     Ooze thankfulness.  Maximize, don’t criticize.  There is a place for tough love but we only go there as a last resort.  We can thank God no matter what because we have confidence that ‘He who began a good work in you, is able to complete it.’ (Phil1:6)  We are not his ‘enforcer’.  Our primary job is to ooze the affection that Christ has for others onto them. (1:8) God’s grace is spilling from our hearts onto those around us. And we are on this mission together.

3.     Breathe prayer.  When Paul prays that ‘your love may abound still more and more’ (1:9-11) keep this in mind:  The end that he is praying for is ‘the praise and glory of God’.  That is the end of all true praying.  Secondly (and here is where I get messed up) he’s not praying that you will overflow emotionally with very strong feelings of love for one another. Love is to overflow in ‘real knowledge and all discernment’.  Paul is careful to direct us (by using ‘real’ and ‘all’) to wisdom.  Wisdom is what happens when I put God’s truth to work in my life. Love is a sacrificial attitude towards my neighbor. ‘Looking to their interests’ is how Philippians 2:4 puts it - the same attitude Jesus had. Paul’s prayer (and so should ours be) is a petition for real service, real concern, real fruit for the glory of God – especially in the lives of our fellow saints at AspenRidge Church.

Call me an idealist. This is my idea of the heart of a good church. This is how we do faith together.

Pastor Dean

Monday, October 17, 2016

When the going gets rough

 Acts 16:23-40

·       It is no accident that when the going gets tough, Christians turn to God honoring poetry that is sung. Paul and Silas get beaten and thrown into a prison cell and midnight finds them ‘praying, hymning to God’.  (Acts 16:25) They were ‘sing praying’ if you would.  Sometimes our struggles are too deep to formulate prayers so we sing. ‘Nobody knows the troubles I’ve seen. Nobody knows but my sorrows. Nobody knows but Jesus. Glory Hallelujah!’ (negro spiritual sung during the days of slavery in the south) On a lighter note last week Bob Dylan won a Nobel Prize for his song, ‘Hey, Mr. Tambourine Man’.  But it follows the same theme – poetry put to song lifts up the soul.  Recently country music legend Randy Travis, as he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, spontaneously broke into song, singing ‘Amazing Grace’ to the amazement of the audience. He cannot speak a complete sentence since his stroke 3 years ago but he can sing glory to God! It moved the audience to tears. Arguably the first hymn to show up in the New Testament is fittingly found in the letter to the Philippians; 2:5-11. It honors the humility of Christ in becoming a man and dying on a cross for our sins. It exults in his glorious exaltation from the grave. Every knee shall bow to Jesus Christ for the glory of God the Father.   Kind of lifts us out of our old earthly doldrums doesn’t it?  Sometimes it takes a dungeon to bring the worship out of us.

·       When the jailor believed (Acts 16) in the Lord Jesus Christ it says that he ‘rejoiced greatly’ with his whole household.  The apostle Peter says that we ‘greatly rejoice’ because God in his great mercy has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead – and we have an inheritance that can never perish kept in heaven for us.  He rightly concludes, ‘In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer all kinds of trials.’ Kind of nails it doesn’t he? In this old fallen world my treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue. Maybe it’s because ‘I can’t feel at home in this world any more’ that I can be really happy! J

·       Before we get too far from Paul’s jail experience at Philippi in Acts 16, I’d like to say that he walked proud out of the prison cell. “They have beaten us in public without a trial, men who are Romans, and have thrown us into prison; and now are they sending us away secretly? No indeed? But let them come themselves and bring us out.” (v37) Paul stood up for truth proudly and was not afraid to call on, even demand, that the laws of the land be honored.  Social media would shame Christians by saying that we are ‘behind the times’ on certain issues or ‘on the wrong side of history’ with our sexual ethics.  These same people would scoff that a holy God holds sinful men responsible for their actions.  But we know that Jesus went to the cross to save the whole world from their sins. We speak the truth fearlessly, not fearfully.

So, stand firm when the going gets rough.

Doing my best to joyfully serve Jesus,

Pastor Dean

Monday, October 10, 2016

On the road again

As we plunge back into the 2nd missionary journey of Paul (Acts 16) we discover a ‘man from Macedonia’ challenging Paul in a vision to cross over into Europe with the gospel. When they arrive in Philippi they do not discover a man awaiting their arrival but a spiritually prepared business woman named Lydia, a demon possessed slave girl who called them out, and a beating with a jail cell!  And a church was born – one that would reach out even to the men of Macedonia. Who says God isn’t creative and funny! This was a church that Paul writes back to 10 years later saying, ‘I thank my God every time I remember you, confident that He who began a good work among you will carry it on to completion.’ 

If you’ve known me long you will know that I am keenly aware that our culture is in the habit of belittling masculine traits in men and denigrating women who ‘settle’ for being wives and mothers.  I believe that God has created men and women differently.  Men are meant to be strong, protecting and faithful.  Women are meant to be strong in their own way, nurturing and faithful. Each has a distinct role in marriage. I also believe that God has created men & women different to reveal his complete nature.  In other words; God is a strong spiritual Father & Leader and He is a great Helper and Encourager.  Jesus is both Redeemer and Servant. Almighty God is a stern Father and a cuddling Mother (check out Psalm 131).   It took ten Jewish men to form an ‘assembly’ the precursor to a ‘synagogue’.  We look for a minimum of ten, relationally, spiritually & financially strong family ‘units’ to start a church.  But God picked a small women’s prayer meeting to start the church in Europe! (Acts 16:13,14)  Lydia and ‘her’ household turned to the Lord.  If that wasn’t enough, a young demon-possessed girl called the Apostle out as he walked through the city.  Now I may be reading something into the story but it seems to me that Paul, Silas, Luke and Timothy may have been a bit intimidated in the Roman city of Philippi, a city big on her Roman roots and little on some crucified, Jewish Savior.  (A fact perhaps supported when they are accused before the city magistrates of being ‘Jews’! v20)  God often uses the unexpected, the ‘weak things of the world’, to accomplish his purposes so that He alone receives the glory. (I Cor.1:27-31)

I quote from ‘Sacred Marriage’ by Gary Thomas; ‘Consider the virtues I have recommended as necessary to a deep relation with your wife: patience, listening, humility, service, and faithful, tender love. I hope it is not heretical for me to claim that in his dealings with us, God acts in many ways like a woman.’  I continue to plea for men to join our ‘Fostering Hope Team’.  I am the only man from Aspen Ridge Church on the team but I am proud to serve with women.  It is no surprise that God chose to start his church in Philippi with a women’s prayer meeting. Not only do they represent a significant side of God’s nature, they were the willing instruments of his grace.  

So, whether you’re young or old, male or female, big or small – step out in faith and let God use you!  It isn’t a bad idea to be found praying with others of like mind!  And what about Aspen Ridge Church? Can God do his work through us? Is He who began a good work able to complete it?  I think he is. J  

Monday, October 3, 2016

A Whale of a Challenge 2

I have thoroughly enjoyed the book of Jonah.  It isn’t a parable.  Jesus said that just like Jonah spent three days and nights in the belly of the fish so He would be buried in the grave. He thought Jonah’s experience was real and historical – just like His own story! Jonah really experienced an amazing faith journey as God sought to create within him a heart for those outside the kingdom.  He experienced a horrific storm at sea; got swallowed by a sea monster; got barfed up on the shore; and was used to promote a great revival in Nineveh. And, except for a few moments of personal revival in the belly of the fish, he didn’t enjoy a minute of it. L  Not even when God initiated a great spiritual revival through him did Jonah sit up and smell the proverbial roses.  This begs the question: Why was Jonah so unhappy doing God’s work? Even when he obeyed God he remained supremely unhappy.  Before I try and answer that let me ask a related question – Why are you and I so often unhappy doing the Lord’s work?  Perhaps our faith is focused too narrowly on our own welfare, while God has a heart for everyone around us, indeed, for the whole world.  God knows a secret: the happiest you and I can ever be in this fallen world is to reach out in our human frailty to those around us in the name of Jesus.

“But the Lord said, ‘You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?’”  Jonah 4:10,11  The end!

The implication is clear: God took great joy in engaging the lives of these folks.  He had worked in their hearts to bring revival about.  He cared about the children. Jonah did not share His joy at bringing life & redemption to the people of Nineveh. Perhaps we believers in Jesus Christ can be content to live joyless lives because we aren’t tuned into the heart of God.  Perhaps every turn in our faith adventure is meant to nudge us into a messy world that needs the presence of God established there.  Perhaps it’s not protection from discomfort or security that brings joy but to embrace His heart for the world.

I thank God for the Chapmans, the Tabors, the Boceks who have committed their lives to seeing the gospel cross geographical and cultural boundaries.  But should we not share in their joy? J

Happily Serving Jesus,

Pastor Dean  

Monday, September 12, 2016

A Whale of a Challenge!

We all know the story of Jonah being swallowed by the large fish (usually called a whale). It’s a child’s tale and usually it is trivialized.  I am not doing that. It is a true story with huge implications and amazing miracles. In Jonah chapter one, he runs from God.  That’s right. As if he could! J He does not want to share God’s heart for the Assyrians; in fact he doesn’t want to share God’s heart for anyone who isn’t from his home country. But God insists. Jonah is sleeping in the hold of a ship heading for the far outreaches of the civilized world when God sends a storm to fetch him back.  In the process God saves a boatload of lost men whom he uses to teach Jonah about caring for the lost.  Here’s how he does it:  First, he terrifies the men on the ship. These were men used to rough weather but as the ship began to tear apart they began to look to their gods.  They discovered Jonah who worshiped the Lord of heaven who made the sea and dry land. They couldn’t believe he cared so little about pleasing his God.  They didn’t want to throw him overboard. In the end they worshiped Jonah’s God even though he didn’t want to.  God is trying to teach Jonah to care for others as much as these pagan sailors cared about him.  God is trying to reach Jonah to worship him and obey him like these pagan sailors were doing around him.  It should have made Jonah ashamed. But even after three days and nights in the belly of a big fish we don’t know if he really gets it. In fact at the end of the book – we still don’t know if Jonah gets it.  Do you?

This true story reminds us of God’s heart for every people of the world. It has always taken purpose, faith and sacrifice to reach those who haven’t yet heard or responded to the gospel of Christ. Even God set out with purpose and sacrifice to reach the lost human race on earth.  He became a Man; healing and truth flowed from him; he died on a cross for the sins of the world so that the lost could find their way home to God. As those who have already believed no one is excluded from catching God’s heart for those who have yet to hear of his redeeming love.  He calls us to share his heart – by going, sending and/or interceding on behalf of the lost.  Perhaps we need a faith exploding experience like Jonah went through; an experience that blows the doors off of our little world of petty concerns and self-absorption! 

Pastor Dean