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

Monday, August 29, 2016

The antidote


(Acts 15:13-35)



The whole world has contracted a disease in which the people wallow. It is called sin. And it breeds death. Faith in Christ is the antidote. The Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 moved to make sure that the antidote is never diluted by taking away from or adding to the pure blood of Jesus shed for the sins of the world.  As the gospel spread it became clear that there is a ‘background radiation’ – a resistance to the gospel not immediately noticed. As people came into contact with the gospel – their friends, neighbors, family; the institutions of society often resisted the cure. They had their own ideas about curing the disease infecting humankind. More sports diversions. More sexual freedom. Better education. Greater dedication to science, global climate change and multiculturalism. A stronger economy. These would cure what ails society.  Oops. I’ve strayed into our present age. J  But Christians know that the blood of Jesus is the pure cure for sin. So should we face ‘the world’?



1.     Be on the alert. The world is not your friend.  And look out for your brother.  When something challenges his faith – pay attention to it.  Clement may think that eating meat offered to idols is no big deal. But Demetrius may be drawn back into idolatry.  Tom may not see the NFL as a challenge to his faith. But Bob is susceptible to being drawn into the NFL like some people embrace a cult ignoring the fellowship of Christian friends and his faith may be at risk.



2.     Use your head. Be Biblically smart. When God says, ‘Don’t eat meat that hasn’t had the blood drained properly’, it may be more than a simple Old Testament idiosyncrasy that doesn’t apply any more.   It may be rooted in Noah stepping off the boat and God saying, ‘Now you can eat meat but not with the blood. Because the life is in the blood.’  This respect for the life giving properties of blood is huge. Blood that cleanses the body of Carbon Dioxide and refreshes the body with life giving Oxygen illustrates what the blood of Jesus Christ does for our eternal souls, cleansing us from sin and infusing the very righteousness of Christ.   We overcome by the word of our testimony and the blood of the Lamb.



3.     Sexual immorality & deviancy of any kind will mess you up, stay away from it. God did not make you that way. Popular culture believes that restricting your wanton desires will mess you up.  ‘Don’t repress – express,’ is their mantra.  ‘Question your gender and don’t let anyone question you questioning your gender’, they say.  God says, ‘I created you male and female, in my image.’  (Gen1:27)  Maximize your gender.  Fight the battle for sexual purity and only give yourself to someone if God blesses you with a spouse of the opposite gender, (strange world we live in that I have to specify that).



I believe that these things are illustrated for us in Acts 15:28,29 to help us battle a world set against the gospel. We would do well to listen. There is a popular culture positioned against the antidote to sin and harbinger of good health and eternal life.  We must keep the gospel the main thing and not be drawn into false cures. The Jerusalem Council kept the gospel simple and straightforward so that Chris could overcome the world through our faith.  



Happily serving Christ,



Dean

Monday, August 22, 2016

The case for grace


The grace, mercy and peace that one receives when one simply trusts Jesus far exceeds our self-kudos for personal accomplishments. What sets genuine Christianity apart from all the cults and religions of the world is that it’s not another way to work one’s way to heaven.  It is how God moved heaven and earth to bring salvation to us through simple faith in the blood of Jesus Christ.  Paul goes to great length in Galatians to say that discipleship isn’t about learning techniques and rules for bringing my behavior (or others) into conformity with God’s expectations. It is about feeding my inner man by faith and watching the character grow. It results in spontaneously pleasing God because I want to not because I have to.  You can’t fake it. It has to grow from within.  Nothing matters except a new creation. ‘But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.’ Galatians 6:14,15 Believe by faith that you are dead to the world.  And by faith, fill up your inner man.  Here’s how:



1.     Practice gratitude. This is why we teach children to say, ‘please’ and ‘thank you’.  It promotes a heart of gratitude like Piglet of Winnie the Pooh fame, ‘Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude.’  The opposite of gratitude is entitlement. Entitlement grows an ugly fruit of sullen, angry, demanding, & greedy attitudes (not like – love, patience, kindness, & joy).  Rather we should reflect Nick Vujicic: ‘Often people ask me how I manage to be happy despite having no arms and no legs. The quick answer is that I have a choice. I can be angry about not having limbs, or I can be thankful that I have a purpose. I chose gratitude.’



2.     Practice praise. Praise is an outward expression of pride in something impressive that Jesus has done. It’s called ‘getting your God-swagger on. As a child of God our whole reason to exist is to give God praise.  As A.W. Tozer once wrote, ‘In almost everything that touches our everyday life on earth, God is pleased when we’re pleased. He will that we be as free as birds to soar and sing our maker’s praise without anxiety.’  The opposite of this is ‘the little world of me’.  In this world I excel in the criticism of others while I blame God for the ills of my life! I rarely soar to the heavens in the simple joy and release of praising and trusting Jesus.



3.     Practice worship. If praise is thanking God for his blessings, then worship is tarrying in His presence (instead of just dropping the thank you note off).  The aforementioned A.W. Tozer wrote, ‘Without worship, we go about miserable’. Or as someone else observed, ‘If you come to worship for any reason other than the joy and pleasure and satisfaction that are to be found in God, you dishonor Him. God’s greatest delight is your delight in Him.’   The opposite of worship is narcissism, which means that I am captivated by myself!! I am enchanted by and filled with affection for myself instead of God.  It sounds silly on paper and we hate it in others but if you don’t worship God some addiction will tell on you. A narcissist gets exactly what he wants: an eternity in hell with himself, cut off from God, other humans, stuck in blackest darkness without even the light & beauty of nature, forever.



So I say, ‘Fill your life with gratitude and praise and worship and do what you want!’  Let the fruit of the Spirit grow.



Happily serving,



Dean

Monday, August 15, 2016

To whom will I do good today?


It should be powerfully invigorating to understand that if we walk by faith in the power of the Holy Spirit:  (1) We will not empower the flesh. (2) We can truly love our neighbor as ourselves. (3) We can experience the growth of the fruit of the Spirit in our lives.  Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control! Imagine all the pe-ee-ple living for the Lord!  (I’m hearing a slight echo of  a better informed John Lennon…) These three are found in Galatians 5:16-26.  In this context the Apostle Paul seems to be saying – if you don’t exercise your Spirit power you can expect the flesh & the devil to take over. This is evidenced by giving in to impurity or sexual immorality; in broken relationships; or by walking away from the very truth of the gospel that brought you to Christ.  Serious, wouldn’t you agree?  In light of this let us regularly count our blessings as we practice gratitude, praise and worship.  Gratitude creates an awareness of God’s active involvement in my life. Praise puts the value and worth of my blessings directly on the person of Jesus Christ. Worship is tarrying in the presence of God, sharing his ‘love, joy & peace’.  This produces Holy Spirit desire in my heart. ‘Walking by the Spirit is what we do when desires produced by the Spirit are stronger than desires produced by the flesh.’ (John Piper).  So what do we do when these Spirit inspired desires rise to the surface?  (1) We bear each other’s burdens. (2) We use material means to honor the Word of God (instead of just spending it on ourselves). (3) We don’t lose heart but look for opportunities to ‘do good to all people’. (6:10)  



In lieu of a verse on the bathroom mirror this week I’ve asked you to post this question: ‘How or to whom will I ‘do good’ today?’  Each day chart what opportunity you had to actively express a desire of the Holy Spirit welling up in your life. It can be quite simple or a project that you must act a little on each day. It can be an act of kindness to an animal or sending a special gift or note to someone in ministry that you know.  Ask God first. Then act on it. Don’t over spiritualize this but don’t under spiritualize it either. J   



Happily serving,



Dean


Monday, August 8, 2016

Walk by faith


In his letter to the Galatians Paul is battling those who have gone to work proving their mettle by trying really hard rather than simply living by faith. His summary at the end of the chapter is; ‘If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit’ (Gal5:25).  I suggest that the reason believers struggle with this is twofold: (1) We don't fully understand what ‘accepting Christ is all about’ and (2) we underestimated the power of the flesh. When we struggle with anger, envy or lust; we double down thinking that if we just try harder we can whip this thing. Maybe we get someone to hold us accountable.  When someone comes to town with the latest self-help seminar we sign up and throw Jesus on top like the cherry on a SundaeIf I just try a little harder. But according to the Bible this is like throwing gasoline on a fire. Trying harder empowers ‘the flesh’.  Where did the; ‘I have been crucified with Christ and it is no longer I who live but Christ lives in me’ part of accepting Christ go?  Whenever my fleshly ego raises its ugly head I stake him back down in the coffin by faith.



So Paul teaches us that if we ‘walk by the Spirit’ three wonderful things will happen:



I.                   We will not empower the flesh. (5:16)

II.                We can truly ‘love our neighbor as ourselves’. ((5:14)

III.             The fruit of the Spirit will grow in our lives. (5:22,23)



But how do we define ‘walk by the Spirit’?  It reminds me of a time, a long time ago, when Adam & Eve walked with God in the garden.  Or perhaps this is what Jesus talked about when he said, ‘I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.’ (John 15:5)  George Muller wrote a century ago; ‘I saw more clearly than ever that the first great and primary business to which I ought to attend every day was to have my soul happy in the Lord. The first thing to be concerned about was not how much I might serve the Lord, or how I might glorify the Lord; but how I might get my soul into a happy state, and how my inner man might be nourished…now what is the food for the inner man? Not prayer but, the Word of God.’ 



If you want to nail the flesh to the wall and truly love others and see spiritual fruit grow in your life – try this:



1.    Pause to count your blessings.  Gratitude!  Count until you feel gratitude rise in the center of your being.

2.    Don’t just feel it. Send your gratitude flying to God like an arrow.  Thank him for being kind & faithful. Praise!

3.    Become the arrow and when you and your praise arrive in God’s presence, stay awhile. Worship!


Happy to serve,



Dean

Monday, August 1, 2016

Freedom


If you missed Sunday you missed another good event.  Chase, admittedly a little raspy from playing at coffee shops 3 nights in a row, led us in memorable worship.  I think that when we are humble and maybe a little raspy God often shows up especially strong!  As always, our own Lucy provided support vocals. I did my best to do justice to the Apostle Paul’s excellent teaching in Galatians 6.  Please post the verse of the week on a mirror or some other prominent place in your home: ‘For we through the Spirit, by faith, are waiting for the hope of righteousness.’ (Galatians 6:5)  This verse has it all.  (1) Reliance on the Holy Spirit. (2) Active faith while yet imperfect. The back story in Galatians is this desire to be justified by trying real hard.  It’s as if trying real hard can get us forgiven or can somehow energize our lives to live for Christ. Trying really hard wears us out rather than energizing us. Rather, we began by simple faith – that Jesus died for my sins, we continue on by simple faith that he will energize my life to serve him as imperfect as I may be! ‘For in Christ Jesus (nothing matters) but faith energizing through love.’ (Galatians 6:6)  In Christ, our Abba Daddy has given us liberty to live, to enjoy life and to engage in life with others as an imperfect person!!  Every act by faith makes a deposit in heaven’s bank at compounding interest for an infinite eternity!  Every sin simply disappears. Yeah, trusting the blood of Jesus is that powerful!



We are told at the beginning of Galatians 6 to ‘keep standing firm’ in our liberty.  This means that we must be vigilant or we will be spiritually deceived and fall back into relying upon our own efforts.  We will be back in our childhood school room throwing erasers or spitballs, worrying about grades, pulling the pony tails of the girl seated before us J, watching the clock until the bell rings OR we will be living by faith in the liberty the Holy Spirit gives.    Allow me to suggest three actions to take:



1.    Throw away the chalk board.  Stop keeping track of your own sins or the sins of others.

2.    Don’t sit and cry on the field like the girl trying out for the Olympic track and field team.  Brush yourself off.  Don’t accuse or set blame.  You can weep with those who weep and laugh with those who laugh – because you are no longer competing for best athlete with them.  You can cheer on another in their successes because it does not reflect on you. You can cry with those who cry without casting blame for failure. We are all sinners, given liberty to live, enjoy life and engage with others as imperfect people.  Are eyes are on that day when Jesus makes us perfect.  But today is not that day!

3.    Embrace your Daddy’s hug. This is not your daddy’s hug (note the little ‘d’) as much as he loves you and you love him. This is your Daddy’s hug.  The One who sent His Son to die for your sins and freely forgives you because Jesus satisfied justice completely. Jesus bore your shame once for all to the cross. You are free to enjoy Him without fear or regret. So get at it!



Happy to serve,



Dean

Monday, November 3, 2014

Failure to Grace

No illustration of grace in failure can be imagined greater than when Jesus ‘turned and looked at Peter’ as Peter denied him for the third time.  “Immediately, while Peter was still speaking, a rooster crowed. The Lord turned and looked at Peter.” Luke 22:60,61 I suppose we cannot know for sure what Jesus communicated in that look but Peter ‘went out and wept bitterly.’  Later Jesus would deliberately reinstate Peter and he would go on and be a shining example of faith.  But Peter was never the same.  I guess sometimes our shining moments of shame can be a new beginning.

 But remember, Judas went out and committed suicide.  Suicide is nothing to be spoken lightly of.  Nobody really wants to kill themselves. It is an act of desperation.  If you can get your friend through that dark time they will look back in horror at how close they came to the precipice and be grateful.  (sideline: we must resist this ‘culture of death’ that ‘assisted suicide’ opens the gate to).  I believe Judas could have repented, like Peter did, but chose a different path.  Our greatest failures often open the floodgates of grace to overwhelm our souls with God’s goodness if we let it.  There is nothing quite so bad as believers carrying the burden of guilt that Jesus died for. ‘There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.’ Rom.8:1

1.        You and I are a flubbing, bungling, botching, blundering sinners. (Incidentally, so is everyone you know.)   There is no magic button to make yourself perfect.  Own it.

2.       Jesus knows.  (I know you know that J) Like Peter denying Jesus in the same place where Jesus was being beaten. Everything we are and do is in plain sight before him. Don’t hide in the shadows or hang out at the fringes of the world. Hanging with worse sinners than yourself doesn’t make anyone a better person!  Confess it.

3.       Jesus didn’t fail. He is Prophet, Messiah, Son of Man, Son of God who stood tall in our place. (Luke 22:67-70) His character and sacrifice are accepted by the Father in place of our lack of character and failure.  It is good at the first, in the middle and to the end! We are overwhelmed with his grace.  Take it to the bank.

There you have it. You are equipped to be a conduit of grace.