Monthly Archives: May 2011

SERMON LEFTOVERS 5.30.11

In 2 Corinthians chapters 8 and 9, Paul is asking the Corinthians to support a ministry project.  He ends in 9:10-15 by encouraging them that when we give ourselves to God, He is glorified:

It shows that God has changed us.

People should see the power of the gospel by how we love God and them.

Ask yourself: what about my life shows God and people that I love them?

It shows that God is using us.

God’s heart is to touch lives; and amazingly, His primary means is through us!

Ask yourself:  how is my life being used by God?

Our actions will lead others to want God more.

People will want more of our ministry, when they are touched by it.  They will also that grace of God to be working in and through them. When our life submits to God, He will increasingly use our life

Are We Thrilled By This Opportunity To Have A Life That Glorifies God?

If we have Christ’s gospel and are not compelled to serve him, something is wrong.  Like a mother who does not care for her infant; or a pardoned criminal who is not thankful – something is perversely wrong in our heart. And like a man starving amidst plenty, in the end we miss life that is available to us.

Give yourself to God

Giving is not just about meeting needs; it is about affecting souls – both ours and the people we touch.  Some believers think their own lives are too burdened to touch others.  Look at Paul’s description of how the Macedonian church served:

“In a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints— and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us.” 2 Corinthians 8:2-5

The issue in serving God well, is not our situation, it is the magnitude of God’s grace!  We are never meant to serve God apart from His grace.  The great obstacle we face is not our weaknesses, but that we fail to approach serving as if it is through grace.

Ask yourself:  If serving is truly by God’s grace, how should that change my approach to it?

Do your best for God

Unless we give and serve with generosity, we are left to a life of self-centeredness.  That is the way of the world; God’s people should be very different.

Ask yourself:  Does my giving and serving reflect what Christ has done for me?

Rejoice that it is possible to serve God and be used by Him

Living in full submission to God’s agenda is how we truly live.  We have every reason for enthusiasm about what can happen in our life. Can you offer better a purpose for your life than to participate in the work of Christ’s gospel?  If you can, you need to reassess whether or not Christ actually has your heart!

In the end, what we do and give is not even our gift – it is God’s gift that He shares through us.  He does this because he loves us and wants us to be in the middle of what He is doing.

Ask yourself: What is a practical step I can take today, to be God’s touch in the lives of those around me?

PERSPECTIVE IN TRIALS

I have been reading “A Gospel Primer” by Vincent Milton as part of our family devotions.  This section on the gospel’s impact on how we view troubles is outstanding.  I hope you not only read it, but that you connect it to whatever is troubling your life.

The gospel enables me to embrace my tribulations and thereby position myself to gain full benefit from them.  For the gospel is the one great permanent circumstance in which I live and move; and every hardship in my life is allowed by God only because it serves His gospel purposes in me.  When I view my circumstances in this light, I realize that the gospel is not just one piece of good news that fits into my life somewhere among all the bad.  I realize instead that the gospel makes genuinely good news out of every other aspect of my life, including my severest trials.  The good news about my trials is that God is forcing them to bow to His gospel purposes and do good unto me by improving my character and making me more conformed to the image of Christ.

Preaching the gospel to myself each day provides a lens through which I can view my trials in this way and see the true cause for rejoicing that exists in them.  I can then embrace trials as friends and allow them to do God’s good work in me.

Who Is Worth Our Whole Hearted Devotion?

Christ is incomparable!  He is beyond the limits of our experience and our knowledge.  He cannot be exaggerated.

“He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power” Hebrews 1:3

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” Colossians 1:15-17

In contrast to God, the world is unsustainable.  It cannot maintain its own existence.  The verses above tells us that Christ must do that.  Whatever the people of this world do, will always end up flawed and broken.

“They have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves; broken cisterns that can hold no water” Jeremiah 2:13

What the world accomplishes is pathetic compared to God.  It is not even close!  Even the greatest in this world end up with nothing!

“As he came from his mother’s womb he shall go again, naked as he came, and shall take nothing for his toil that he may carry away in his hand. This also is a grievous evil: just as he came, so shall he go, and what gain is there to him who toils for the wind?” Ecclesiastes 5:15-16

Here is the truly amazing part: the incomparable God offers us his riches!

“In Christ we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us” Ephesians 1:7-8

“By grace you have been saved and raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” Ephesians  2:5-7

These riches and blessings that God gives, are appropriate to the majesty of His glory!

“No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him” I Corinthians  2:9

The world offers us deception, like a dishonest salesman who guarantees what he cannot provide.   How can the world guarantee any of its promises?   Based on what power, or by what authority?  What the world offers cannot compare to what God freely gives.  It is not even close!

All God’s riches come to us through Christ!  There are common graces enjoyed by everyone, but the highest and eternal graces are only through Christ.

“Having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe”  Ephesians 1:18-19

How wonderful is Jesus to you?   Can you compare anyone or anything to Him?  Has anyone committed themselves to you like Him?  Does anyone guarantee more or come through like He does for you?

So what part will Christ and His gospel have in your heart and actions today?

THE DANGER OF SEDUCTION

In his book “Worldliness”, CJ Mahaney identifies seduction as a great danger in the battle for our heart

The greatest commandment is to “love the Lord God” with all that we are.  Anything that leads us to do less has become a seduction.

Why is seduction such a danger?

  • Our old nature is self-centered and wants to be seduced away from submission to God
  • The world exalts in its own wisdom; no matter how sick it gets, the world keeps gorging on its own ways
  • We have a familiar history with earthly things and they seem important to us
  • Satan knows if he can gain an inch, he can later grab a yard

Prosperity is one of our great seductions.  Especially when there is so much offered to us that we can have. Deuteronomy 8:11-19 is an excellent description of how prosperity seduces us away from God.  Randy Alcorn quotes a pastor who served in an area of intense persecution.

“In my experience, 95 percent of the believers who face the test of persecution pass it, while 95 percent who face the test of prosperity fail it.”

In America, we are trained to pursue the “American Dream” of always having more.  Prosperity and success lead to self sufficiency and pride that diminish God in our hearts. We lose our sense of dependence upon God and our urgency in pursuing Him.  Once God has a diminished place in our heart, the road is opened to worship at other altars

Seductions are not just obvious temptations.  Here are some common seductions we may not notice:  I must fill every moment with activity . . My situation determines my contentment  . . More is better . . I deserve it . . I need it . . God wants me happy . . My children need to be happy and have the best . . Indulging in our comforts . . Wanting to be known, liked, attractive or respected

These desires are not all wrong. It is the place they have in our heart which makes them an idol.  Seductions are usually subtle they ask for just a little from us and only hold God off a little.  Seductions put a sheen on immediate and temporal things; while they try to dull our urgency for God

Technology has added many new and easy seductions.  We are constantly plugged in and we become used to always being entertained.  Many activities available to us via technology are just plain addicting!

How do we keep our heart from seductions?

  • Pay attention to the amount of time we spend on what we do.  Are they out of balance?  Do they keep us from better things?
  • Know that while we must love and reach out to the world, our paths are different
  • Shine the light of Scripture on our desires, attitudes and activities
  • Be a worshipper, filling our thoughts and heart with more God
  • Giving thanks to God will build up love and add luster to the grace and goodness of God
  • Be accountable to fellow believers; never allow anything to pull you away from engagement in church
  • Make life a pursuit of Christ’s Kingdom instead of your own
  • Preach the gospel to yourself every day, let those truths instruct your life

Just as we drift away from Christ in gradual steps – that is how we grow as well.  Be consistent in doing all you can to love and desire God more.

SINFUL ANGER vs GODLY ANGER

 

The Biblical Counseling blog recently had an excellent short article by Brad Hambrick, that guides our understanding of anger in a very practical manner.  Click here to read the article

 

 

SERMON LEFTOVERS 5/23/11

II Corinthians 9:6-8 “God wants to use us”

God wants us to sow and reap bountifully

We have all heard this principle twisted by teachers of the so called Prosperity Gospel, so what is true?

  • Sowing is a biblical principle, but it is not given as a wealth building principle
  • Reaping does includes material things, because they are part of God’s world
  • Most importantly our harvest is always for Christ’s kingdom, not our own

In verses 10-12 you will notice, the emphasis on God blessing us is not our having.  We are told our seed is “multiplied” to sow not to keep; and our “enrichment” is for generosity and to produce thanksgiving in those we bless.

There is another wrong theology about having: it is known as the American dream. The American Dream tells us we should always expect to have more; it tells us that we labor in order to indulge.  Whether it is living for the weekends or for retirement, we are told that life is about gathering and having.  It is not wrong to prosper, but it is wrong to live for self-centeredness rather than the gospel.

God wants to use us for the glorious purpose of His kingdom

He has called us to be in the middle of His great and eternal work of reaching people enslaved by sin and weighted down by evil.  We have been appointed to be Ambassadors for Christ Himself! Will we who can make a difference, choose selfishness instead?

God clearly wants to use us, but what gets in the way?

One obstacle is when we don’t really believe God wants to use us

The biblical response to doubt is faith.  Faith is not wishing hard, it is acting on what God says.  As you read God’s word, act on the calling He gives us to serve Christ’s Kingdom

A second obstacle is fear

We are fearful to give ourselves fully to God, because of what we may lose. The biblical response to fear is love.  I John 4:18  “perfect love casts out fear”.  If we love God
and His church, we will want to serve them both.

In Luke 7:47 we see thankfulness causes love to flourish.  Do you daily thank God for his gospel and its affects in you?   We should never be fearful of giving our all to God

A third obstacle is the sense of our inability

If we don’t think we are able to give or serve, we don’t even try.  The biblical response is to trust in God’s sufficiency.

v8 “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.”

We can trust that God is our sufficiency for all He asks of us; and we can trust that God will always use our submission to Him in a meaningful way.  Start doing and you will find God producing fruit through you

A fourth obstacle is when we are unwilling

Many who claim to be Christians are simply unwilling to seek God, or to take a step, or to even pray about it. The biblical response to unwillingness is repentance. Unwillingness for a believer is a grievous sin that requires immediate and humble repentance!

God’s wants his grace to abound to us and through us.  We will discover that God’s grace makes us whole; His grace satisfies and brings joy. What foolishness when we choose not to have grace abound to us!

Thoughts about Stuff

In his excellent book entitled Worldliness, C.J. Mahaney offers the following true story:

An American company had trouble keeping employees working in their Panama factory.  The laborers lived in an agrarian, barter economy, but the company paid in cash.  Since the average employee had more cash after a week’s work than he had ever seen, he would periodically quit, satisfied with what he had made. So the company gave all their employees a Sears catalog.  No one quit then, because they all wanted the previously undreamed-of things they saw in that book

This story illustrates a reality we all face.  We are trained to be discontent.  The purpose of much advertising is to stir us up to want what we do not have.  I was thrilled with my Kindle until the new Kindle came out.  In a moment, what I had throughly enjoyed, seemed old and sad.

Add to that the amazing breadth of experiences and products available to us, and our wealth.  For those who immediately think, “I am not wealthy”.  That is only when you compare yourself to the even more wealthy.  If you compare yourself to most of the people in the world – you are a wealthy individual!  Compare what your children have to what you had as a child.  If you are in your 40’s or older, how many times did you eat in a restaurant as a child, compared to children today?

We can and do have much.  What motivates our desiring, pursuing and having?  What is God’s part in that process?  Where is the Kingdom of God and its wondrous purposes in that process?

May we have eyes to see that we have wondrous opportunities far more glorious than what we see in our favorite catalog or online store. We have an invitation to experience the amazing God of creation and to jump right into the middle of His glorious eternal plans.

How Do We Decide Which Activities Are Acceptable? Part 2

Yesterday, we saw that choosing what is acceptable for a Christian is not as easy as finding a dividing line we can always use; such as never go to R rated movies, but G rated movies are okay.  The problem with finding a dividing line is that everything in the world is corrupted by sin – including G rated movies. Here are some thoughts to guide us.

1  Replace our focus on external rules with a focus on responses of our heart

“What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.  All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” Mark 7:20-23

Rules are limited in their application, and they do not deal with the core issue.  God is interested in our heart condition.   We could watch only G movies and be stimulated in many fleshly ways such as lust, envy, pride, or apathy.

Wise decisions about what is acceptable are based on how the activity fits scripture and affects our heart.

Some decisions do have a clear biblical rule: premarital sex is always wrong.  But in most activities the answer can change according to the person and circumstance.  Dancing can be an appropriate or a poor decision, based on who we are dancing with and how it affects our heart (and hormones).

If we are serious about Christ, we will avoid anything that gets in the way of honoring Him

2  Eliminate the category of neutral from our thinking

When we divide activities into godly – neutral – ungodly; we squeeze God out of most decisions.  We consider the vast portion of life as neutral, meaning we can decide whatever we want. That perspective makes us managers over most of our life.  One of the great compromises among Christians is to live in the half-hearted land of neutrality; where we act as if God has no concern or opinion over what we are doing.

There are only two categories of activity: what is in submission to Christ and what is withheld from Him.  An example of what might be considered neutral is reading.  Reading is a decision of content and time.  We can misuse even a good book, if reading leads to avoiding responsibilities or ignoring our family.

If we are serious about Christ, we will want everything under His rule

3  Fill our life with God

I use an easy to remember three part focus:  “Now God – All God – Wow God”

Filling my life with God always begins now.  Whenever we think we need to complete something else first, we don’t get it!  We are always in the moment God wants most from us.  Faithfulness now is our greatest possible priority

All the doors of our life are open for God to enter in and do what He wants.  This removes any “yes, but . .” responses to God.  When all our life is given to God, then all our life will be used well!

I never want to get over the wow of God working in and through me.  How amazing, that our life has intersected with the holy and glorious God!

If we are serious about Christ, we will want our life filled with Him

4  Fall in love with Christ

Love for Christ makes submission a joy rather than a burden    

“This is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.” I John 5:3

When we love Jesus, our heart tells us to do all that we can to please him.  The Bible says David was a man after God’s heart.  What helped David to be an extraordinary lover of God?  David was an extraordinary worshipper of God!

If we are serious about Christ, we will be ardent worshippers

How Do We Decide Which Activities Are Acceptable ?

There is a question that is often been difficult for God’s people.  “What is the dividing line before God between living for Christ and compromise?” What music can we listen to?   What TV shows can we watch?  What places can we go?  What clothes can wear etc?  If we have any seriousness about living for Christ, we are concerned about knowing what is acceptable to Him.

However looking for a dividing line starts with a premise that can actually be an obstacle to living for Christ. There is no way we can divide a world that has corruption in everything that it does (1 John 2:16, Romans 1:21 and 3:10-12).  Whatever line we draw through the activities of this world, we will find ungodliness on each side.

Everything unbelievers do is unrighteous, because none of it done in submission to God.  Even the most noble of human activities, cares nothing about glorifying God as its purpose.

How do we draw a line between which TV shows are acceptable, when they all are based on ungodliness?  “Family friendly” programs feature people living without the fear of God, which makes their good actions anti-God.  If we decide we will only watch G rated movies; they may have less graphic sin, but those movies can be just as dangerous with their humanistic themes.

We let our children drink from Disney’s fountain as if all it produces is wholesome.  I am not anti-Disney, but we need to be on guard against the ungodly perspectives of the Magic Kingdom, as we are against those from Hugh Hefner’s kingdom, because neither of them are God’s Kingdom!

However, God’s alternative is not to withdraw from the world (John 17:15-18, Matthew 10:16, Luke 16:9 and Colossians 2:20-23).  When we make separation our focus, we get off track in other significant ways. Isolation from the world leads us away from the “Great Commission” which demands that we “go into all the world”.

Others treat all material things suspect as if only the unseen world should be of interest to Christians; yet God created all things and called them good (1 Timothy 4:1-5).

Separation also encourages a moralistic approach to godliness; the idea that the most restrictive people are the most godly.  This only reinforces to the world, their false perception that we come to God through our works.  And it leads to legalistic believers who become proud and exhibit little true fruit, such as love, joy, patience and kindness etc.

Yet, this does not mean we are less active about guarding our participation in the world.  What we watch, listen to, and participate in are crucial decisions!   God has definite opinions about everything we do.

Does it seem as though I cannot make up my mind?   I am just trying to show that the issue of how we know what is acceptable behavior is not answered by a set of rules and lines.    We should see a need to re-examine how we approach these decisions.  So what is our conclusion?  You have to wait and read about that tomorrow.

EXCITED ABOUT MINISTRY

Last week, Debbie and I drove to Chicago to pick up our daughter, Jillian, who completed her first year at Moody Bible Institute.

She had a terrific year!  Jill thoroughly enjoyed Moody, which is focused on preparing people for ministry.  She also loved Chicago; Moody is in the center of downtown.  But most of all, she enjoyed her many new friendships.

Thursday night we took a small gang of them out for some of Chicago’s classic deep dish pizza (it was nice for a change, but I prefer the east coast thin crust style).

What a joy to be with a group of young people who clearly love Christ and want to serve Him with their lives.  They talked about their PCMs (Practical Christian Ministry), every Moody student has to have an official ministry involvement each semester.  Yet they were involved in other ministry plans beyond that.  Amy described her summer internship working with youth in a church, Ashlen will be serving at a Christian camp, and Ryan was excited about the outreach Moody’s soccer team was planning next season for kids from troubled homes.   As I listened to their plans and enthusiasm, how could my heart not overflow?!

The lives of these young people were filled with vibrancy and purpose, because they are focused on serving Christ.  Do we see ourselves as being in ministry?  Ministry is not something that a few “called” Christians carry out in front of the rest of the Church.  Ministry is how we fulfill whatever we do in a way that serves the Kingdom of Christ and His gospel.

When we see life as ministry, life becomes richer, more joyful and much more satisfying.  Are you limiting your idea of “living” to enjoying the passing things that so occupy the hearts and minds of those who don’t know Christ? You do not have to attend a Bible College to become excited about ministry.  It is as simple as giving your heart to God and asking Him how He wants to use you right now where you are.

Open your eyes to see that people around you are wounded, worn down, discouraged, mislead and empty.  They need Christ and He wants them!  Ministry is jumping into the middle of that reality.