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

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,


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,


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,