Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Unpleasant Gifts of God?

Something to think about before this week's study on James 1:5-18.

Job 2:10 -- ..."Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?" In all this Job did not sin with his lips.

Assumption # 1: Every gift we receive from God is a good gift for which we are needful. (I guess this isn't an assumption, it's straight from James 1)

Assumption #2: Everything we have (time, circumstances, possessions, relationships, etc.) is a gift from God. (This may be uncomfortable if you think about it too long, but awkward truths are still truths)

Thought from Job 2:

If you are willing to keep the pleasant gifts God gives you, why would you not want the unpleasant gifts as well?

Perseverance Produces Great Results

Anna was really old. She might have been eighty-four years old. Or, she might have been a widow for eighty-four years. We’re not sure, but either way; Anna was really old.

Anna’s story is found in Luke 2. Her husband died after only seven years of marriage, and she devoted the rest of her life to serving God. For as many as eighty-four years, Anna faithfully spent her days and nights at the temple praying, fasting, and teaching about God. Her faithfulness was rewarded one day near the end of her life when she was allowed to meet the child Jesus who would one day redeem her people.

What if Anna had taken that day off? 

What if she had for some reason decided not to go to the temple, not to pray or fast or serve God that day?

She would have missed out on the most amazing experience any human could have, she would have missed God.

Anna didn’t miss that day, though, because Anna had developed patterns of discipline in her life. Over all those years, she certainly would have many reasons surface to skip her daily routine, but Anna chose to stick to her spiritual disciplines through thick and thin,

Popular marketing guru Seth Godin has written a book called The Dip. Godin’s premise is that before we ever truly succeed at any major accomplishment, we must first push through “the dip”. The dip is a time of frustration, distraction, and temptation to quit. The other side of the dip, however, is success often in the form of a new skill or habit.

Anna's dip lasted several decades.

James (Jesus’ brother) wrote:
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” 
Our spiritual muscles are formed and developed when we are willing to push through the dip, regardless of how difficult life may be at the moment. The only way to effectively push through is by habitually disciplining ourselves.

Jerry Seinfeld is considered one of the greatest comedians in the world. When he was first beginning to work in comedy clubs he realized he needed to spend time every day writing his material. As a motivational technique, he placed a large calendar on his wall, and every day he spent time writing, he would place a large red “X” on that day’s box. Later he said about that process, “After a few days you'll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You'll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job next is to not break the chain.”  Developing spiritual habits requires the same type of discipline. Don’t break the chain!

We all embrace daily disciplines in our lives. Even those who seem to be the most undisciplined people still engage in a daily habit of food. Have you ever considered why meals are such an easy discipline in which to participate? I’ve identified at least two reasons:
1) Our bodies need food to function. If we don’t eat, we shut down and die. We all desire to live, so we eat. 
2) Our bodies have been conditioned to expect a certain amount of food at a certain time. If we don’t eat at our normal time, we have an internal alert system known as a stomach rumble. If we forget to eat, out body will quickly remind us.
Jesus said “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

A disciplined person will have a spirit which is conditioned to expect a certain amount of spiritual food (prayer, the Bible, fellowship, etc.) at a certain time.

A disciplined person will not be able to endure if their spiritual food is withheld. Once they’ve pushed through the dip, their efforts will pay off with a new hunger and thirst for righteousness.

A fruitful life is the result of many habitual hours spent over time seeking more of God and less of me. As I discipline myself in this way, the results will begin to spill over to every area of my life.

Every day Anna spent time praying and fasting. Are you ready to start today? And continue tomorrow? Don’t break the chain!

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Kicking Off A New Season

The best part about opening day in any sport is that every team is on equal ground. Everyone has the same opportunity to win the championship. What has happened in the past has no bearing on what might happen in the future. Fresh Starts are opportunities to break from the failure and disappointment of the past and focus instead on the possibilities of the future.

God has graciously built fresh starts into His creation. Every morning, the sun rises as a reminder that we have a new day... A fresh start. Yesterday is in the rear view mirror and today is full of potential. Fall is often a time of fresh starts. The NFL kicks off today, school starts, routines change.
My desire is to see our community kick off this new season by focusing on Jesus.
John 15:10 records Jesus' instructions to his disciples just before He went to the cross. He told his followers that those who obey his commands will remain focused on Him. A community focused on Jesus will be a community committed to following his commands.

Mark 12 tells the story of a religious ruler who asked Jesus what was the greatest command? Jesus responded that the greatest command was to "love The Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength." In other words, Love God with everything you have. He then continued His answer by saying, "the second is similar, love your neighbor as yourself." In Luke's version of this story, Jesus used the parable of the Good Samaritan to explain that our neighbor is anyone with whom we have contact. Later in His life, Jesus provided his disciples with a third command. He instructed them to love each other with the type of love He had modeled for them.

These three commands make up the heart of Jesus' expectation of His followers. If we want to remain focused on Jesus, will concentrate on obeying these commands. We will work to love God, love one another and love our neighbors.

LOVING GOD (Knowing & Obeying)

A simple way to demonstrate love toward God is to pursue a deeper knowledge of his character, actions and expectations. The best way to better know God is to spend time in His Word. However, just knowing God isn't really loving Him. When we love someone, our knowledge of them compels us to action. Our love can most clearly be seen in that action. Our love for God is best demonstrated when our knowledge of Him leads to obedience. As we obey Him we become more like Him. We become more generous, more kind, more loving.

LOVING ONE ANOTHER (Connecting & Caring)

Jesus said that our love for each other would be the identifying mark of his followers. Our love for one another is cultivated when we connect with each other and care for one another. The more connected we are to each other, the more successful we can be in carrying out Christ's mission for His church. The better we are at caring for one another, the more we demonstrate to the world our allegiance to Jesus.

LOVING OUR NEIGHBOR (Investing & Inviting)

As those who have experienced true peace and true hope because of the work of Christ, we should regularly be inviting others to experience the same salvation and freedom. We should invite them to follow Christ, to explore our faith community, to experience the relationships we enjoy. However, an invitation without investment can sometimes be odd or even creepy. Jesus invited people into the kingdom of heaven, but he also invested in the lives of those around him. He healed the sick, set the captives free, touched the untouchables and loved the children. Loving our neighbors means we invest in their lives and invite them to know Christ.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Servant - The Highest Calling Possible

Last Sunday we began a series on the book of James. We will be addressing the misunderstandings,any people have about religion and pursuing the authentic Christianity James challenges us toward.i think our understanding of James' book begins with understanding how James viewed himself.

James’ identity in his own mind is that of a servant. He could have claimed “leadership” of the Jerusalem church, he could have claimed brotherhood to Jesus or sonship of Mary. Instead he chose to identify himself as a servant.

It would not be inconsistent to suggest that servanthood is one of the central character traits of those who have chosen to follow Christ.

Jesus suggested as much when he washed the feet of his disciples in John 13 and then told them to do the same for each other. This was a job reserved for servants and slaves.

Paul made a similar suggestion in Philippians 2 when he told the church to take on the mind of Christ, and then went on to describe Christ’s attitude as one of a servant, who subjects himself to an office far below that which he deserves.

For those who adopt servanthood as a marking identity, there is no room for pride, self-centeredness, entitlement, upward mobility, seeking personal advancement, etc. True servanthood requires the servant to be content with his station in life (“I have learned to be content…”) and to work only for the good of his master, not himself (“seek first the kingdom of heaven”).

If I am concerned with getting what I want or deserve, I am not a servant. If I am concerned with pusuing my own needs or advancement, I am not a servant. If I’m more concerned with how people think about me than with how they think about my master, I’m not a good servant. My only responsibility as a servant is to do everything within my power to bring the greatest possible benefit to my master.

James identified his masters as God and Jesus. When the cosmic dust has settled on the ever-waged warfare between right and wrong, it will be better to have been servants of the winner than to be king of the loser. Power, authority, fame, respect, and everything else the world encourages us to value and pursue for ourselves will all be meaningless if they put me on the wrong side of the conflict. The world promises many kingships and lordships and high offices, God promises none. In fact, there only exist two offices on God’s side, God and servants. If I am willing to be his servant, I am with him, if not, I lose.


Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Don't Drown in Life's Stormy Seas. Rest in God's Control

But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. (James 1:6)

Some might like to take this tiny phrase and pull it out of the context of the surrounding paragraphs to suggest that no matter what we ask, if we have enough faith, God will give it to us. Some might take a similar approach and suggest that God will not give us something (which he otherwise would) because our faith is not strong enough, or because we have doubts.

This is not James’ point.

photo by Phil Jameson
James is telling his readers not to doubt that God has heard and answered their prayer. When they ask for wisdom, God may allow them a trial from which they will learn perseverance, and then become complete (full of wisdom). James does not want to see his brothers, while in the throws of suffering, doubt that God has answered their prayer. He wants them to believe.

Wisdom is the result of our knowledge being applied to our experience. We cannot gain wisdom without a variety of experiences, both good and “bad”. Therefore, when we ask God for wisdom, we should expect a variety of experiences, both easy and difficult. Rather than view our suffering as a sign that God has rejected our prayers, James wants us, in faith, to recognize that the difficulties we are facing ARE God’s answer to our prayer.

As the opposite of faith, doubt is a state we find ourselves in when we are uncertain that God is in control. Those who are not completely sure of God's ability find it necessary to exert their own effort and energy to control every situation. Rather than persevere through a trial to discover what God is doing, they are more likely to exhaust themselves trying to fix the trial, and in the process, miss the gift God is giving them.

When times are good, they believe God is blessing them; but when times are bad, they assume God has lost control and the resolution is now dependent on them. (Of course, very few people would consciously suggest that God has lost control; but their unwillingness to patiently be joyful in suffering demonstrates their lack of belief that God is in control)

A balance in life is lacking for those who are unconvinced of God’s sovereignty. Like waves of the sea, they are up and down, back and forth; driven into exuberance and depression by whatever situation enters their life. Unable to rest in God’s hands, they often drown in life’s stormy seas.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

15 Traits of Churches Who Reach Their Communities

No matter how much value you place on getting doctrine right, you’ve missed the boat if you aren’t making disciples.  I can’t escape this truth.  Of course, the first step in making disciples is sharing the gospel with people who are lost…

Here’s a list from Thom Ranier about churches that effectively reach the unchurched. I have two qualifiers for the list:

a) This list clearly focuses on churches that are “attractional" in nature. Thus it should be pointed out that this is not the ONLY way to reach the lost.
b) The items below are the characteristics of the churches that are effective, they are not necessarily the “steps" to being an evangelistic church.

That’s all I have to say about that. Here’s the list!

“Churches that are effective agents of transformation take the time to know the needs and expectations of those who are spiritually distant, and they focus on what is truly important.

Such Churches…

1. Major on majors
2. Are Biblical, conservative and convictional.
3. Give evangelism priority and passion.
4. Provide deep Biblical teaching.
5. Develop an effective comprehensive smallgroup ministry.
6. Discern patterns of relationships in their own church.
7. Check their facilities.
8. Cultivate a user-friendly greeter ministry.
9. Keep the friendliness issue before the congregation.
10. Seek excellence.
11. Provide an inquirers’/new members’ class.
12. Expect much/receive much.
13. Know their purpose.
14. Foster ministry involvement.
15. Never forget the power of prayer.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Stop Sinning.

Sin is bad and we shouldn’t do it. In fact, if you are sinning right now, you should stop. And if you sinned earlier today, you shouldn’t do that anymore. And if you are planning to sin later, you should change your plans.

Easily said.

The problem with sin is that it is somewhat habitual. We all probably have those times when we do something that is out of character for us, and are immediately repentant and take quick action to make right the wrong. But probably the biggest hang-up we struggle with is those issues that continuously evidence themselves in our lives. Our besetting sins. 

One of mine is impatience. My impatience often causes me to act in ways that are unloving toward others. Sometimes, my impatience gets in the way of my relationship with God. Impatience is something I need work on.

 Marco Adragna at wrote a short post with instructions regarding how to quit a bad habit. DISCLAIMER: Marco seems like a fairly intelligent dude, but is clearly a bit humanistic in his writing. Thus while common grace may have provided him with some statements which reflect wisdom, he should not be looked at as a guru for spiritual growth. Glean what you can. 

Adragna suggests five reasons why it is difficult to break a habit. I’ve listed four below:

  • The forbidden fruit is always very attractive.
  • Quitting something is difficult when you always think about it.
  • There’s no excitement in just saying no.
  • You never simply quit something, you do something else instead. 

Think about your besetting sin, and contemplate whether any of these are reasons why you struggle for victory.

Later Adragna gives four questions you can ask yourself to fire into “habit-breaking mode":
1. What will you do instead?
2. Do you really want to change?
3. Is now the right time?
4. What’s in it for you?

 I would suggest this. Give these questions serious consideration… Then, notice how individual-centric these are. Understand this, you cannot defeat sin yourself, or by doing what is “good for you". So if you want to break a sin-habit, you’ll have to change these questions.
1. What is the virtue God has called me to in place of impatience?
2. Does God expect me to change?
3. —— forget this one, it’s always the right time to stop sinning.
4. What kingdom benefit is in it?

 Of course, the final step is to figure out the how of changing. I must rely on the Spirit to change me, but in order to do so, I must utilize the tools He’s given me for change, namely, the Bible and the community of believers.

Stop sinning.
Rely on the Spirit.
Engage the Word of God.
Commune with the Body of Christ.
Open yourself to the correction of others.
Discover the actions the Bible is teaching you.
Consider the direction of the Holy Spirit in your life.
Determine the next step to end the sin that is besettting you.