Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Lose to Win

Eric LiddellMany of you recall the movie Chariots of Fire. It was about Scotsman Eric Liddell running in the 1924 Olympics in Paris. Liddell was a committed Christian and refused to run on Sunday (which he felt was the Christian Sabbath). The consequence was that he was forced to withdraw from the 100 meters race, his best event. Instead he entered the 400 meter race. The day of the race as Liddell went to the starting blocks, an American masseur slipped a piece of paper into Liddell's hand with a quotation from 1 Samuel 2:30, "Those who honor me I will honor." He not only won the race, but broke the existing world record  with a time of 47.6 seconds.
Liddell gave up his chance to race for the gold in the 100 meters. But he held true to his Lord and his convictions.
Jesus said, "For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it.” (Luke 9:24). I don’t think this just means to lose your life in the way that a soldier might lose his life in battle. It means to become so immersed in something that you “lose yourself” in the task. Eric Liddell said, "I believe God made me for a purpose, but He also made me fast. When I run, I feel His pleasure."

What is the glorious obsession of a disciple? What brings you God's pleasure? Jesus Christ and His Kingdom. All you need in order to have a kingdom is a king: That’s Jesus. He said, “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.” (Matthew 6:33).
There are two aspects to the Kingdom of God. There is the present kingdom of God: Jesus said, “the kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:21); “The kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 14:17).  There is also a future Kingdom. In Luke 9:26 Jesus speaks about coming in the glory of the Father and the angels—that’s what we call the Second Coming. Jesus is coming again and will one day set up a literal Kingdom. Don’t you want to be a part of that kingdom? I do, but you must lose your life in the Kingdom of God now in order to find your life in the Kingdom of God to come.
Is Jesus Christ and His Kingdom my obsession? Do I live to be a disciple and a disciple-maker?
The best part of Eric Liddell’s life occurred after his Olympic medal. He didn’t return to Scotland to have his picture on a box of Wheaties and to live off his endorsements. In 1925 Liddell accepted God’s call to serve as a missionary in China as his parents had earlier done. During the Japanese invasion, Liddell was arrested along with many Chinese Christians and placed in a prison camp. Even in the camp, he led many Chinese to Christ and discipled them.
In 2008 it was revealed by the Chinese authorities that Liddell had given up an opportunity to leave the camp and instead gave his place to a pregnant woman. Apparently, the Japanese made a deal with the British, with Churchill's approval, for prisoner exchange. This information was released near the time of the 2008 Beijing Olympics by the Chinese government and apparently news of this great act of sacrifice came as a surprise even to his family members.
Eric Liddell died at the camp on 21 February 1945, five months before China was liberated. At the young age of 43 He met his Master. He had run another kind of race, for another kind of prize and he received another kind of medal—more priceless than gold. Liddell is quoted as saying, “We are all missionaries. Wherever we go, we either bring people nearer to Christ, or we repel them from Christ.”
Are you a missionary, a disciple? Are you running the right race? Jesus isn’t after attenders or spectators. He doesn’t just want 10,000 well-dressed carnal believers to gather in church every Sunday. He is still calling people to be disciples and to be disciple-makers.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Follow Me

Footprints in SandOver the last few posts I have written about being a disciple as we focused on Jesus’ challenge to His disciples in Luke 9. After telling His disciples what it meant for Him to be the Messiah, He told them what it meant for them to be His disciples. Jesus has said that if we would come after him (be His disciple), we must deny self, take up our cross daily, and follow Him.
Jesus said, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.” (Luke 9:23).
FOLLOW ME. That means to walk the way Jesus walked. I remember a few years ago when my son was just about five, we went to Florida for a few days of vacation. One day when we were walking on the beach I looked back and Ricky was intentionally stepping in the footprints I left in the sand. So, I started taking giant steps and going around in circles. He laughed as He tried to copy my crazy movements.
Following Jesus means to walk in His footsteps. Now this doesn’t mean you have to live a perfect life to be a disciple—that’s impossible. But you must make a conscious decision to follow Jesus. It means you choose to obey God in every area.
Sometimes following Jesus involves leaving some things. When Jesus called Peter, Andrew, James and John they were fishermen. He challenged them, "Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men." (Mark 1:17). They immediately left their nets and followed Him.
In I Kings 19 there is a great illustration of discipleship. Elijah, the national prophet, was coming to the end of his ministry. God told him to choose Elisha to be his disciple and his replacement. Elijah found Elisha hard at work on the family farm, plowing with twelve yoke of oxen. Elisha probably came from a wealthy family with a large farm because we see him supervising eleven other men as he plowed with the last pair (for you farmers, it’s like having a tractor that will pull a 12 bottom plow—that’s no small tractor!).
The prophet Elijah walked up to this farmer and threw his prophet’s mantle over him.  Elisha ran after Elijah to follow him. But before he agreed to be Elijah’s disciple he first did something very important. He had a barbeque for his family. He slaughtered his oxen and used the wooden yoke and plow as fuel to cook the beef. Do you see what Elisha was doing? When you burn your plow and eat your ox you don’t ever intend to go back to farming. He was cutting ties with his past so he wouldn’t be tempted to go back to that life. It was his way of showing he was totally committed to following his new master. That’s discipleship.
I can’t follow Jesus and blaze my own trail at the same time.
You have probably heard of Florence Nightingale. Although she was raised in great wealth and privilege in England, at age 17 she experienced the call of God to help suffering people. She became known as the founder of modern nursing. While serving during the bloody Crimean War, she treated the wounded even after she contracted a deadly illness herself. She was the first female to be awarded the British Order of Merit. What made her life so exceptional?
She was a serious disciple of Jesus Christ. She wrote in her diary, “I am 30 years of age, the age at which Christ began His mission. Now no more childish things, no more vain things.” Late in her life she was asked to explain how she had accomplished so much, she said, “I can give only one explanation and that is this: I have kept nothing back from God.”
Are you holding back anything from God?

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Good Reads for the Week

Some Things Worth Checking Out 2
Below are some things I have read this week that caught my eye, my ear, or my heart. Give a click and maybe they will yours also.
  1. Kevin Weatherby, my cowboy pastor friend says, “There is nothing wrong with just being a cowboy for Christ. I don’t have to be a rancher for Christ to be someone important to God. The Lord has put you in a place for a reason.” Read more…
  2. Nolan Bobbitt wrote a post called Pleasing Insiders or Reaching Outsiders? as a take-off on a statement from Perry Noble, “You are going to have to choose whether or not you want to please insiders or reach outsiders…you cannot do both.”
  3. Kevin DeYoung tries his hand at a Screwtape Letter, the C.S. Lewis inspired form of address where you write like you’re one of the bad guys. In it he deals with the issues new college students will face and the danger of falling out of church. Pass it on your friends and children. Churchless Christians are on their way to being no Christian at all.
  4. Chris Branscome at The Prayer Experiment wrote a series this week on How Jesus Prayed. He says, “Focused time alone with Him gives us room to see His intrinsic worth, glory, and majesty, instead of only seeing Him within the context of what He can do for us. We remember that His love for us is not based on who we are or what we can do for Him or others, but based only on the fact that He is love, and that we have done and can do nothing to earn His infinite affections.”
  5. Randy Alcorn shares the moving story of how his Eternal Perspectives Ministries got started. He says, “God didn't die and leave this earth to you and me. He still owns it. The more I thought about it, the more real it became. Once I owned nothing legally, this became clear. I realized that the house that might be taken from us belonged to God, not to us. Why worry about what belongs to God? He could do fine without our house, and we knew He'd give us someplace else to live.” Great testimony! Read part 1 and part 2.
I hope you enjoy these as much as I did.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Death to Self!

Jim ElliotJim Elliot is one of my spiritual heroes. On January 8, 1956, he and three other men were attacked and killed by the Auca Indians in the jungles of Ecuador. Elliot and a few others went to take the gospel to these primitive people. The story about their deaths captivated the nation because of a story in Life Magazine. Jim’s wife, Elizabeth Elliot, wrote about the event in her book, Through Gates of Splendor. Although it was a tragedy, Jim was ready to die. In his journal, Jim Elliot wrote: “God, I pray Thee, light these idle sticks of my life that I may burn for Thee. Consume my life, my God for it is Thine. I seek not a long life but a full one like You, Lord Jesus.” … “He is no fool to give up that which he cannot keep in order to gain that which he can never lose.”
Yesterday we saw that Jesus said to be His follower, His disciple, we must deny ourselves. Next, Jesus says we must take up our cross daily (Luke 9:23). For you to take up your cross doesn’t mean you carry a little cross in your pocket or wear one around your neck. It doesn’t mean you carry around a large wooden beam down the road. Some people think their “cross to bear” is some kind of physical ailment. I’ve heard people complain about their ingrown toenail or migraine headache and say, “But I guess it’s just my cross that I’ll just have to bear.”
Jesus isn’t talking about ingrown toenails or migraines. The meaning is so simple that many have missed it. He is talking about dying. A person carrying a cross had only one destination: Death. It was always a one-way trip. It isn’t physical death but death to self. The disciple’s cross demands death to self-will, self-interest, and self-seeking. In the words of Jesus, it requires denying self (Luke 9:23). The “way of the cross” is the way of death to our own will and interests. As our Lord set aside His glory and prerogatives as God in order to come to earth and “bear His cross,” so the disciple of Christ must do likewise (cf. Philippians 2:1-8). The cross means that we must also “put to death” the old nature and its practices:
“Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.” (Colossians 3:5).
After you have denied Self, you must constantly subject your Self to death. Actually, since all our sins were nailed to Jesus on the cross and since our ego is the essence of our sin problem, our Self was already crucified with Jesus; we just need to acknowledge it daily.
One of my all-time favorite verses which I recite almost daily is found in Galatians 2:20. "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”
In other words, my Self was put to death when I identified with the death of Jesus. But here is the real problem: our Self has more lives than a lucky cat. Crucified self keeps wanting to jump down from the cross and step up on the throne of your life. That’s why Jesus said taking up your cross was a daily discipline. I usually have to quote and claim Galatians 2:20 several times a day and sometimes even several times an hour!
Being dead has its advantages. For instance, you can’t really bother a dead person. Go down to the funeral home sometime and walk into a room where a body is lying in rest and try this. Wait until the room is empty and walk up to the corpse. Compliment him. “You look wonderful today!” He isn’t moved by flattery or the praise of men. Try criticizing him. “That tie looks awful.” Does it bother him? That’s a good thing about being dead, compliments or criticism don’t affect you. Try to bribe him. “Here’s a hundred dollar bill, do you want it?” I bet he won’t even glance at your money, much less take it. Try to tempt him. Pull out some illegal drugs, “Here do you want some?” Get the point? When you are dead to Self, then flattery, criticism, money and temptation have no appeal to you. That’s what it means to take up your cross.
When the Auca Indians killed Jim Elliot, it was not a tragedy, because Jim Elliott was already dead before he got to South America. He had lost his life in order to save it.
The only way you can truly experience life is by dying to Self. A real disciple is a dead man walking.
Have you experienced the difficulty of dying to self daily?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Who's On the Throne?

Luke 9:23 is one of the most important verses in the New Testament because it contains the essence of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.” Jesus said you can never be a disciple unless you “deny yourself.” That doesn’t simply mean you have to deny yourself something like sweets, sleep or food. It means you deny your Self. Think of your “self” as your “ego” or the “Big I.” Because we are sinners, our human nature makes us self-centered. We put the “Big I” at the center of our own little universe and everything revolves around “me”.

I can’t help but remember the final lines to the poem “Invictus” by William Ernest Henley. It reflects the attitude of a life separated from God. The day Timothy McVeigh was executed he left this poem to be read as his final statement. Although they would never consider killing 168 people, many people share McVeigh’s attitude. The poem ends, “I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul.”

Contrast that with the unselfish life Jesus taught.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a pastor in Germany during the horror of Hitler. Because of his opposition to Nazi tactics, he was put into prison and later hanged as a traitor. He understood something about the cost of following Jesus. In his book, The Cost of Discipleship, he wrote, "When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” And to explain that further he wrote, “Self-denial is never just a series of isolated acts of mortification or asceticism. It is not suicide for there is an element of self-will even in that. To deny oneself is to be aware only of Christ and no more of self, to see only who goes before us and no more the road which is too hard for us.”

Denying your Self is not thinking harshly of your “self” or hating your “self.” It is just not thinking of your Self at all. Look at these three graphics. They are from a Campus Crusade for Christ booklet entitled “Have you made the wonderful discovery of the Spirit-filled life?

         Natural Man                       Carnal Man                     Spiritual Man

SELFThe first circle represents a Natural Man or a person without Christ. Self, represented by a big S on the throne. The cross, or Christ, is outside the person’s life. The smaller black circles represent different interests like family, work and hobbies. See how unbalanced they are? That’s a self-centered life.

The second circle represents a Christian but he is a Carnal Man. The cross (Christ) is in his life but “self” is still trying to be on the throne. He is still self-directed because he hasn’t “denied” himself as Jesus instructed. He is basically miserable. See how the interests are still unbalanced?

The third circle represents a Spiritual Man or a Spirit-filled person. Self has been dethroned and Jesus is on the throne. This person has made Jesus Lord by denying Self. See how balanced his life is? Think of it this way: As long as Self is on the cross, Jesus is on the throne. Whenever Self climbs back up on the throne, we put Jesus back on the cross. You see, the throne of your life is a single-seater; there’s only room for one at a time.

Many people want Jesus in their lives so they won’t burn in hell, but they still want to call the shots. They want to maintain control. But Jesus insists that we deny and dethrone self.

Which circle represents your life right now?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Who is the Messiah?

Manger and CrossYesterday in my post, Jesus on the Buffet, I wrote about the most important question in the world: Who do you say Jesus is?
Jesus had asked this question of His disciples. And Peter answered, “The Christ of God.” (Luke 9:20). Peter was correct in his confession. But he was incomplete in his understanding. He knew Jesus was the Messiah, but he did not know what it meant for Jesus to be the Messiah.
Peter’s “messiah” was surely not a suffering messiah. As Jesus began to explain His mission, to suffer, be killed, and rise again, Peter has a violent negative reaction, "Never, Lord!" he said. "This shall never happen to you!" (Matt. 16:22). The very same Peter who rejoiced in identifying Jesus as Messiah, rejected the possibility of Him being a suffering Savior. Peter’s idea of “messiah” was a distorted picture, a messiah of his own hopes and aspirations.
Peter believed that stopping Jesus was the loving thing to do. No doubt, Peter thought that this would be the greatest display of love to the Savior that could ever be expressed. But, Jesus knew the most loving thing would be to follow God’s plan that would take Him to the cross of Calvary. Peter’s version of love would have stopped salvations plan. God’s version of love made salvation available to all who will believe.
At this point Jesus clues them in to their future travel itinerary. He said, "The Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day."(9:22).
Who is the Messiah?
(1) The one who must suffer. The cross of the Christ was mandatory. Notice how Jesus uses the word “MUST.” In other words, this thing wasn’t up for a vote. It wasn’t just some proposal that He was throwing on the table for a committee to think about it. This was His divine mission. He had to go to Jerusalem to suffer.
(2) The one who must be rejected. The cross of Christ involved more than the physical wooden cross, the instrument of His death. Jesus had to suffer the rejection of His people and their leaders. The Lord had to suffer not only the rejection of men, and death on that cross, with all its physical pain, but He had to suffer the alienation from God while bearing the sins of the world. The extent of His suffering is infinitely beyond our ability to grasp.
(3) The one who must die. Jesus’ death was God’s plan for our salvation. It was no accident, or coincidence, it was His whole mission. Leave out the death of Jesus, and you have no Messiah. The Christ had to suffer death on our behalf.
(4) The one who would be raised to life. The good news is that Jesus did not stay dead, but destroyed sin and death by His resurrection. The third day He came back from the grave. And now He gives life to all who come to Him in faith.
Tomorrow we will examine what kind of disciples we are to be if Jesus is this mind of Messiah.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Jesus on the Buffet

Buffet TableTwice a month after Sunday morning worship our church shares a fellowship meal together. Many of us bring food and we lay it all out on the table buffet style. Don’t you just love buffets? You can pick and choose between many scrumptious dishes. Some restaurants like the Golden Corral or Ryan’s have that kind of set up. If you go with a group of people everyone can get what they want. They can go down the line and pick and choose … Mexican food, Seafood, Chinese, Italian, good old American. You can try something new, and if you don’t like it … set it aside and go back for something else…
That’s great when you’re eating out (except that you may over-eat trying to get your money’s worth). It doesn’t work so well when you take the buffet approach to your faith. A lot of people think of “religion” as a kind of smorgasbord. They take a little of what Buddha said over here and try out some of what Moses said over there with a little Jesus sprinkled over it and some Scientology sauce on the side. And for dessert they try some Dr. Phil and Dr. Laura with a big dollop of Oprah on top. If it all tastes good, they keep it … and they’ve put together their own buffet of life. If they lose their taste for any part of it, they can set it aside and try something else.
The only problem is: although the Bible is nourishing to our souls, it doesn’t offer a buffet. God isn’t a buffet kind of God. The Bible presents ONE God and ONE way to be saved. Some people accept that as truth. Others don’t like it. They want to set it aside and find something else on the buffet table that looks better to them.
Ravi Zacharias in his book, JESUS AMONG OTHER GODS, says, “We are living in a time when sensitivities are at the surface, often vented with cutting words. Philosophically, you can believe anything, so long as you do not claim it to be true. Morally, you can practice anything, as long as you do not claim that it is a ‘better’ way. Religiously, you can hold to anything, as long as you do not bring Jesus Christ into it.”
Once when Jesus was alone with His disciples He asked them, "Who do the crowds say that I am?" (Luke 9:18). They all began to suggest answers that they had heard. You see, everyone was talking about Jesus. It seems that everyone had an opinion about Jesus. Even King Herod heard about all that was going on and what people were saying about Jesus. The disciples gave the very same report that Herod heard, "John the Baptist, but some say Elijah; and others say that one of the old prophets has risen again." (9:19).
If we were to go around today and ask people who Jesus is we would probably get even more answers than the disciples had heard. Muslims will say that He was a prophet, but that He did not die on the cross nor was He raised from the dead. Buddhists will gladly call Jesus a “guru” and one of the incarnations of Buddha. Mormons say that Jesus is “a son of God” along with many others. Philosophers may acknowledge Jesus as one of the great minds of the ages. Historians point to him as one of the most influential people that has ever lived. Jesus has been called a first rate teacher, a political activist, and a worker of miracles.
Then Jesus asks the more important question, "But who do you say that I am?" (Luke 9:20).
That is the most important question any man or woman will ever answer. The difference between salvation and condemnation, between heaven and hell is bound up in the answer to the question, “Who is Jesus?”
This question is an individual matter, to be answered by every person. Frankly, the view of the masses will never be the right view of Jesus. We must stand apart from the crowds who may think of Jesus fondly but reject Jesus as the Christ of God. The world may want to just add Jesus to everything else on the buffet, but He will not have it. He calls people to make a choice, “who do you say that I am?”
Peter answered for the group, "The Christ of God." (Luke 9:20).
At this point Jesus “strictly warned and commanded them to tell this to no one.” (Luke 9:21). Jesus is the Christ of God. But before they start spreading the word, the disciples need to know what it means for Jesus to be the Christ, the Messiah.  
Tomorrow we will examine from His own words what it meant for Jesus to be the Christ.

Monday, August 23, 2010

How to Make Much from Little

Feeding 5000
Jesus took five small barley loafs and two little fish. He looked up to heaven. He blessed them. He broke them and gave to His disciples. They fed five thousand people so everyone had enough. They picked up twelve baskets of leftovers. Seems impossible doesn’t it?
The story is found in all four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John. It’s the only miracle besides Jesus’ resurrection that is recorded in all four accounts. Maybe that gives us a clue as to its importance.
The equation was simple: Jesus’ supernatural power added to a little boy’s lunch equals plenty of food for all. Looking closely at the story I believe we can find four practical steps we can take so Jesus can make little become plenty.
1. Look up to heaven for your help.  When Jesus took the food, the first thing He did was to look up to heaven. When you face a need, don’t look at the problem and don’t look at your meager resources. Lift up your eyes and look to heaven. Here’s great advice from Psalm 121:1-2: “I lift up my eyes to the hills—where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.” It may be you feel overwhelmed right now with your marriage problem, your financial problem, your family problem or your physical problem because you are looking in the wrong direction? Like the song says, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus; look full in His wonderful face; and the things of earth will grow strangely dim; in the light of His glory and grace.”
2. Thank God for the little that you already have.  The next thing Jesus did was to thank God for the food. It was only a tiny amount, but Jesus blessed it. Too often we spend much of our time asking God for more rather than thanking Him for what we already have.
3. See the value of brokenness.  Brokenness is an important spiritual concept. After Jesus looked to heaven and thanked God for the food, He broke it. It was in this act of breaking the bread that it began to multiply. God truly values broken things. David, a broken man, prayed this prayer in Psalm 51:17, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” In our materialistic culture, a broken object becomes less valuable, but in God’s economy, brokenness only increases the value. The bread had to be broken before it could be multiplied; the alabaster box Mary brought had to be broken before the perfume could be poured out; the clay pots of Gideon and his 300 soldiers had to be broken before the light could spill out; the roof above Jesus had to be broken up before the friends could lower the paralyzed man to Jesus; and the body of Jesus had to be broken before our sins could be forgiven.
4. Serve others before you serve yourself.  Jesus instructed His disciples to serve all the people first. I’m sure every time the disciples returned for more they just knew they would be out by the time they could eat. Here’s an important lesson. If you are most concerned about meeting your own needs first, you will suffer through a pretty miserable existence. Be willing to help other people FIRST and you’ll find your needs and problems don’t seem quite as severe after serving others.
Five Loaves and Two Fishes
God uses
what you have
to fill a need which
you never could have filled.
God uses
where you are
to take you where
you never could have gone.
God uses
what you can do
to accomplish what
you never could have done.
God uses
who you are
to let you become who
you never could have been.
--Philip Clarke Brewer
Have you seen Jesus take your little and do much with it?

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Some Things Worth Checking Out

On Saturday this week I thought I would share some things I have read this week that caught my eye, my ear, or my heart. Maybe they will yours also.
  1. Kevin Weatherby, my cowboy pastor friend, posted a Letter from Jesus, a Letter from the Holy Spirit, and a Letter from God. Kevin’s warm conversational style captures God’s love and sends it home to us. These might be especially useful to give to someone you know who has yet to come to trust in Jesus.
  2. Larry Westfall posted a heart-touching video about the Gainesville State School football team and how the coach from a Christian high school asked parents and fans to cheer for this other team-- Are You Willing To Cheer For The Other Team?
  3. Ron Edmundson wrote an insightful post that might help you understand your pastor a little better: 10 Things You May Not Know About Senior Pastors.
  4. Two ladies each wrote about allowing the Holy Spirit to control our thought life. Both helped me to re-examine how I think and react. Lara shares her experience in Thinking on Purpose. And Janis shares a similar episode in Tell Yourself the Truth.
  5. I could so relate to what Brian Croft wrote in his post, What is a healthy way for a pastor’s wife to relate to her husband? Kathy has always been my greatest supporter in the ministry and also my most helpful critic. Croft says A pastor’s wife should always be…Supportive, but unimpressed.
  6. In honor of my sci-fi nerd son, I share Randy Alcorn’s take on “Will there be sci-fi super nerds in Heaven? And will we all get together and build the Enterprise?” Of course my wife says I am also a sci-fi nerd, that’s where my son gets it from. Anyway, read it at Sci-fi Nerds and Heaven.
I hope you enjoy these as much as I did.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Does God Ever Ask Us To Do the Impossible?

Feeding 5000Would God ever put you in an impossible situation? I’ve heard people say, “God will never ask me to do something I can’t do.” But I have seen that God allows His people to be in situations that are impossible so that we will learn to trust Him, to believe Him, to have faith in Him, to make Him known.
In Luke 9, as Jesus was teaching and healing, the disciples began to get nervous because they saw a huge problem developing. It was getting close to dinnertime and they were in a remote area with over 5000 hungry people. So they say to Jesus in verse 12, “Send the multitude away, that they may go into the surrounding towns and country, and lodge and get provisions; for we are in a deserted place here.” But Jesus refused to send the crowd away. Jesus wants to teach a lesson.
I love Jesus’ statement in verse 13. He says, “You give them something to eat.” Can’t you just hear the disbelief of the disciples as they complained to each other, “What? US feed them? That’s impossible.” Exactly.
There were two big problems they faced that afternoon. One was obviously the lack of food. There were hungry people and no food to feed them. They said, "We have no more than five loaves and two fish, unless we go and buy food for all these people." They saw the problem as a lack of food, but there was another problem present that day, and it was a lack of faith.
In John’s Gospel, we are told Jesus knew exactly what He was going to do all along. He only said this to test the disciples. Didn’t you just love those school teachers who would start class by announcing, “Everyone clear off your desk except for one blank sheet of paper.” We all knew what was coming next: pop quiz. Jesus does the same thing for us today. When you face the very hardest times of your lives, it’s like God is saying, “Take out a blank sheet of paper. This is a test.”
The only question on God’s test is: DO YOU TRUST ME? The score on God’s test is not for His information; He already knows about our faith. It’s to show us our faith. God will allow your faith to be tested, not to shame you but to strengthen you. In James 1:2-3 we read: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know the TESTING OF YOUR FAITH develops perseverance.”
Jesus was creating for His disciples what Henry Blackaby in His book "Experiencing God" calls a crisis of belief. Now there is no question that this was a God-sized assignment. This was way beyond their capability to accomplish and if the Lord did not intervene, they would fail and fall flat on their faces. The crisis of belief is a turning point, a fork in the road that demands a decision. You must decide what you believe about God and how you will respond to Him.
God uses these tests to develop our character, to make us more like Jesus. When you encounter a problem—whether it’s how to feed 5,000 people or how to deal with a difficult boss—Jesus wants you to respond in faith.
God gives me tasks and assignments that are far beyond my abilities and power in order to not only reveal Himself to me, but demonstrate His nature, His strength, His kindness and His provision to a watching world. People today need to see the super-naturally visible hand of God working in and through His disciples, so that when something happens there is no question that God had done it.
What impossible thing has God asked you to do?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Six Secrets of Delight

Lake on Grand Mesa“The trouble with many men is that they have got just enough religion to make them miserable. If there is not joy in religion, you have got a leak in your religion.”-- Billy Sunday.

Followers of Jesus ought to be people characterized by joy. Yesterday I was reading Psalm 16. It is a psalm of delight. David uses the words "delight," "pleasant," "glad," “rejoice,” and "joy" in this Psalm. Although David had many trials and tribulations, none of them are mentioned here. David simply delights in his life.

What is his secret? Where did David find his delight? And where can we find that kind of joy?

1. DELIGHT IN THE LORD’S PERSON. V. 2, "You are my Lord, My goodness is nothing apart from You." The NIV says, "Apart from you I have no good thing." I like the way David said it. The only goodness he has experienced is from the Lord. How true for us all! All good gifts come from the Lord.

James 1:17 "Every good and perfect gift is from above..." If it’s good, it’s from God. Our ultimate delight must always be in the Lord no matter what we have or do not have. The only way to find true delight in life on a daily basis is to find it in the Lord.

2. DELIGHT IN THE LORD’S PEOPLE. V. 3, “As for the saints who are on the earth, They are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight." God has placed believers together in the body of Christ.  We should value people, just like Jesus. People are God’s most valuable creation. Loving and caring for others will bring delight into our lives. Someone said it this way: "Those who bring sunshine into the lives of others cannot keep it from themselves."

3. DELIGHT IN THE LORD’S PORTION. V. 5, "O LORD, You are the portion of my inheritance and my cup; You maintain my lot." What is your lot in life? What is your cup in life? Are you happy with the portion that God has given you? Your portion is your family, your job, your neighborhood, your lot in life. Sometimes God gives us more, sometimes less. Regardless of our cup, our portion, we must be thankful and learn to delight in it. Remember our ultimate portion and inheritance is with the Lord in eternity.

4. DELIGHT IN THE LORD’S PRINCIPLES. V. 7, " I will bless the LORD who has given me counsel; My heart also instructs me in the night seasons." How does the Lord counsel us? Generally, through His Word. We either hear the word preached or taught or else we read it for ourselves. The Word of God counsels us, gives us direction in life. Psalm 119:105, "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path."

5. DELIGHT IN THE LORD’S PROTECTION. V. 8, " I have set the LORD always before me; Because He is at my right hand I shall not be moved." There are times in life when we are faced with fearful situations that could cause us harm either physically or spiritually. And we need to be thankful for the protection that God provides.

6. DELIGHT IN THE LORD’S PROMISE. V. 10, “For You will not leave my soul in Sheol, Nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption.” David believed in the resurrection of the dead. He believed God’s promise of everlasting life. And in this he rejoiced and delighted. Because he knew he would be in the presence of the Lord. That is our delight.

Life changes. Health changes. Relationships change. But God never changes. Jesus is still the Christ, the Son of the living God, our risen Lord! Oh, how I delight in Him. V. 11, “In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”

In what do you delight?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Dealing With Failure

Dusty SandalsThomas Edison once worked for months to find a filament that would burn for more than a few seconds for his incandescent light bulb. He tried over 700 filaments and each one was a failure. One reporter interviewed Edison and said, “It must be frustrating to work so hard and see no results.” Edison replied, “Oh, I have lots of results. I know 700 things that won’t work!”
Jesus told the disciples that if they were not accepted in a certain village to “shake the dust off their garments as a testimony against them.” (Luke 9:5). The act of “shaking off the dust” was a symbolic way of saying, “I don’t want anything in that city to remain on me. I don’t want their bitterness, their rejection, and their lack of faith to remain part of me.” Jesus didn’t want their feeling of failure to bog them down. Instead, He told them to just shake it off and move on to the next village.
Evangelist Jay Strack has written a book entitled Shake off the Dust. Jay was physically and emotionally abused as a child. He started doing drugs when he was 13 and by the time he was 16, he was hooked and was dealing drugs to pay for his habit. He was busted and found himself as a teenage junkie and criminal. He met Jesus, but it took him a long time to shake off the dirt and dust of his troubled past. In his book, he writes, “As long as you remain a prisoner to your past, you will never know the freedom of the future. You can’t spend the rest of your life sitting in the ashes of devastation, crying over what went wrong. You’d don’t have to carry around the dirt of your past mistakes. Get up, shake off the dust, and go on.”
Is there some dirty, dusty experience or failure from your past still lingering on your character? What a simple way to deal with failure: shake off the dust and move on.
Even the very best followers of God stumble and fall at times. Judas and Peter both failed. Judas betrayed Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. Peter denied Jesus three times. What was the difference between Judas and Peter? Judas went out in despair and hung himself. On the other hand, although Peter felt as badly as Judas did, he recognized his failure, he wept bitterly at his mistake and then he got up, and shook of the dust from his failure, and moved on.
The Bible says in Proverbs 24:16: “For though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again, but the wicked are brought down by calamity.” Don’t become a victim of your past. You can’t do anything about your past mistakes except confess them and learn from them. Once you have recognized your mistake, move on. I have failed as a husband, a father, a pastor and a Christian more times than I can count. But Jesus picks me up, dusts me off, and sets me to following Him again.
Have you failed morally? Shake off the dust and keep on moving ahead. Have you failed relationally? Shake off the dust—keep on moving ahead. Have you failed financially? Stand up, shake off the dust. Jesus is not through with you yet.
Isn’t that what the Gospel of Jesus Christ is all about? The Bible says we are all sinners. We have all failed and fallen short of the kingdom of God. But God does not leave us there in our failure. Instead, He took the initiative and sent His Son Jesus to be the Savior of the World.  Jesus carried our sins and failures on Himself when He went to the cross. He took the just penalty for our sin, dying in our place. And God validated His sacrifice by raising Jesus from the dead and seating Him at His right hand on the heavenly throne.
Now Jesus offers forgiveness of sin, and eternal life to all who come to Him. It is so simple: believe in Jesus. He gives you a new life, His life.
How have you dusted off after failure?
(This post is the fifth in a series called SIMPLIFY. The other posts are: A Simple Authority for Our Mission , A Simple Approach to Ministry, and A Simple Attitude Toward Possessions. Some of the ideas I’m sharing in this series came from a message called “Packing Light for the Journey of Life” by Pastor David Dykes in Texas.).

Monday, August 16, 2010

Pack Light

Packing a suitcaseChuck Swindoll tells the story of a friend who, in mid-career, was called into the ministry. In fact, God ultimately led him overseas. At that point he found it necessary to move all his family and as many of their possessions as possible beyond these shores, all the way to the island of Okinawa. He said, "We put all of our possessions that were a part of our trip into our station wagon. We packed that car all the way to the top of the windows." 
While driving to the place where they would meet the ship that would take them to the Orient, they stopped for a rest and a bite to eat. While they were inside the restaurant, a thief broke into their station wagon and took everything except the car. "The only thing we had," he said, "were the articles of clothing on our backs. Our hearts sank to the bottom!" When asked about it later, he said, "Well, I had to face the fact that I was holding really tight to the things in that car. And the Lord simply turned my hands over and gave them a slap...and out came everything that was in that car. And it all became a part of the Father's possession."
I heard some great advice from someone who has been on lots of trips overseas for mission projects: Pack what you think you’ll need and then take half of it out of your suitcase.
Notice the packing instructions of Jesus in Luke 9. He not only told His disciples to pack light for their mission, He told them not to pack anything at all! "Take nothing for the journey--no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra tunic.” (Luke 9:3).
Jesus was teaching his disciples to trust Him more than their own resources. Since they couldn’t take money, they would have to depend on His Word that strangers would show them hospitality. Since they couldn’t take food, they would have to really pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” Since they couldn’t even take a walking stick, they would have to depend on Jesus for their strength on the long journey. Jesus sent them into an environment of need requiring both faith and obedience. God is looking for people of faith. It’s like He is asking: “How much do you trust me?”
How different that is from most of us. We pack our suitcases to overflowing because we like having our precious “stuff” with us. But when we are loaded down with our own stuff, we often depend on our possessions rather than on God. I must ask myself, “Am I trusting God to provide my needs, or am I trusting my job, my bank balance, or my retirement account to meet my needs?” Jesus issues a strong warning in Luke 16:13: “No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.” Living a life of simplicity demands we love God rather than possessions.
Jesus did not preach the American dream. He did not preach prosperity and success. He preached the Gospel of the Kingdom of God. And He said His kingdom is not of this world.
If we are supposed to pack light, who is going to take care of us? God will. How will He do it? Look again at the words of Jesus, "Whatever house you enter, stay there, and from there depart.” He knew in every village there were people who would respond to their message of the Kingdom. Jesus required His disciples to depend on the generosity and hospitality of these people.
Do you need to unpack your suitcase a little bit? You say, “What am I going to do with all my stuff?” Why don’t you become like the people Jesus said would freely help His disciples in need? In other words, find a disciple of Jesus who has a need and give some of your stuff to them. Lighten your load and see if you don’t enjoy the journey a little more.
(This post is the fourth in a series called SIMPLIFY. The other posts are: A Simple Authority for Our Mission and A Simple Approach to Ministry. Some of the ideas I’m sharing in this series came from a message called “Packing Light for the Journey of Life” by Pastor David Dykes in Texas.).

Friday, August 13, 2010

How Do You Do Ministry?

Jeffrey Collins shares the following story in the Christian Reader (Mar/Apr 1998):
It had been a trying week at our Love & Action office. At five o'clock on a Friday, I was looking forward to having a quiet dinner with friends. Then the phone rang.
"Jeff! It's Jimmy!" I heard a quivering voice say.
Jimmy, who suffered from several AIDS-related illnesses, was one of our regular clients. "I'm really sick, Jeff. I've got a fever. Please help me."
I was angry. After a sixty-hour work week, I didn't want to hear about Jimmy. But I promised to be right over. Still, during the drive over, I complained to God about the inconvenience.
The moment I walked in the door, I could smell the vomit. Jimmy was on the sofa, shivering and in distress. I wiped his forehead, then got a bucket of soapy water to clean up the mess. I managed to maintain a facade of concern, even though I was raging inside.
A friend, Russ, who also had AIDS, came down the stairs. The odor made Russ sick, too.
As I cleaned the carpet around Russ's chair, I was ready to explode inside. Then Russ startled me. "I understand! I understand!"
"What, Russ?" Jimmy asked weakly.
"I understand who Jesus is," Russ said through tears. "He's like Jeff!"
Weeping, I hugged Russ and prayed with him. That night Russ trusted Jesus Christ as his personal Savior--a God who had used me to show his love in spite of myself.
What does it look like to do Christian ministry? Jesus makes it simple.
As Jesus sent out the Twelve on their first mission, He told them to concentrate on doing only two things. He told them to heal sick people and to preach the Good News. Jesus was simply telling them to do what they had seen Him doing. He had been going to where the people were and was touching them and teaching them. Here’s what Jesus had been doing:
Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people. (Matthew 9:35).
Jesus went about preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing hurting people. Now Jesus wants His followers to do the same kind of ministry that He does. Go preach and heal. He sends them to help hurting people and to proclaim the good news.
That’s our ministry as well. We must go preach and heal. Jesus never set up a ministry campus and required all the people to come to where He was. Jesus did not have a “Field of Dreams” mentality: “Build it and they will come.” Some think that all we have to do is to build a church building and people will just flock in. But that is not Jesus’ method of ministry. He says go. His ministry was not building-focused, it was people-focused. He was constantly walking around the region going to where the people were.
The Father sent Jesus into this world and Jesus sends us out into the world. The night before Jesus was crucified, He prayed, “As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.” (John 17:18).
The twofold task of a disciple is simple, preach and heal. Jesus didn’t give us four laws or twelve steps or eighteen tasks. He simply said, “GO to where the hurting people are and help them and tell them the good news of the Kingdom.” Our mission is to go where the people are, showing them the love of Jesus by what we do and what we say.
That’s not just the preacher’s job, or the deacons’ job or the church staff’s job. It is the JOB #1 for every disciple of Jesus.
How do you do ministry?
(This post is the third in a series called SIMPLIFY. The second was A Simple Authority for Our Mission. Some of the ideas I’m sharing in this series came from a message called “Packing Light for the Journey of Life” by Pastor David Dykes in Texas.).

Thursday, August 12, 2010

What Gives You the Authority?

(This post is second in a series called SIMPLIFY. Some of the ideas I’m sharing in this series came from a message called “Packing Light for the Journey of Life” by Pastor David Dykes in Texas.).
BullToday’s post starts with a BULL story: A government surveyor asked a farmer for permission to go into one of his fields and take some readings. The farmer objected, fearing that the survey would ultimately result in some highway being built through his land. "I will not give you permission to go into my fields," said the farmer.
The surveyor produced an official government document which authorized him to do the survey. "I have the AUTHORITY," he declared, "to enter any field in the entire country to take the necessary readings."
The farmer shrugged, open the gate, and allowed the surveyor to enter the field. He then promptly marched to the far end of the field, and opened another gate-- which allowed his fiercest bull to charge forward into the field!
Seeing the bull, the surveyor dropped his equipment and began to run for his life. He could hear the farmer shouting after him, "SHOW HIM YOUR PAPERS! SHOW HIM YOUR PAPERS!"
A Simple Authority for Our Mission
The question of authority is an important one. Why do we do what we do as Christians and as churches? To whom do we look for authority and direction? I am afraid that many Christians and many churches today are looking in all the wrong places. Our Christian world today is overflowing with models of ministry, experts of ecclesiology, and gurus for growing churches. And of course not all these models and “experts” are bad or wrong. Most of them are doing good things in their cultural context for the Kingdom of God. That is why they are viewed as authorities on the subject.
But my point is that too many of us take these as our authorities and our models rather than simply looking to the Lord Jesus Christ as our authority for our mission.  In Luke 9 Jesus calls His disciples together and gives them some simple instructions as He sends them out to do ministry.
Then He called His twelve disciples together and gave them power and authority over all demons, and to cure diseases.  He sent them to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.” (Luke 9:1-2).
Jesus sends them out with “power and authority.” Jesus Christ himself is our authority and power for our mission. In Matthew 28 Jesus says, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." 
Jesus claimed to have all authority in heaven and on earth. This was the basis for sending His believers out on mission. There is only one reason, one authority, for our mission: Jesus Christ. We are not here on our own agenda or for our own purposes. We are to be about His mission and His purpose.
I am not to look to any other person as my authority. Our authority is not Rick Warren nor Bill Hybels, not John Piper nor Mark Driscoll, not the Southern Baptist Convention nor the Roman Catholic Church. Jesus Christ is the authority. He is the reason, the purpose, the motivation, the power, the right.
I am privileged to live in a country where we enjoy a measure of religious freedom. But our authority for our ministry and our mission does not come from the Constitution of the United States. If there were no first amendment I would still openly preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. My authority comes from Jesus Christ, the Son of God. It is the same power and authority that all believers enjoy, no matter what earthly governments under which they live.
When we get the question of authority settled, then we are ready for the instructions of our Lord about a simple approach to ministry. That will be the topic for my next post.
Have you seen Christians and Churches too preoccupied with lesser authorities?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


(Some of the ideas I’m sharing in this series came from a message called “Packing Light for the Journey of Life” by Pastor David Dykes in Texas).
Don KnottsI think that one of the greatest television shows ever produced was the Andy Griffith Show. One of my favorite episodes is called “What’s Your Hurry?” about the folks of Mayberry going to church. This particular Sunday, Aunt Bea was excited about hearing visiting preacher Dr. Breen. Andy and Barney are seen sitting together. Dr. Breen is talking about slowing down and taking it easy. In his sermon he says, “Consider how we live our lives today. Everything is run, run, run. We bolt our breakfast, we scan the headlines, we race to the office. The full schedule and the split second: these are the gauges of success. We drive ourselves from morn to night. We have forgotten the meaning of the word relaxation. What has become of the oldfashioned ways, the simple pleasures of the past? Who can forget for example, the old-fashioned band concert at twilight on the village green? The joy, the serenity of just sitting and listening. We should strive to recapture this simple innocent pleasure. … And so I say to you, dear friends, relax, slow down, take it easy.”
The preacher’s soft voice is so soothing it is putting Barney to sleep. Some of us are familiar with that experience. First his eyes begin to cross, and he fights to stay awake, until finally his head drops to his chest. At that moment, Dr. Breen raises his voice and shouts, “What’s your hurry!?” Barney jerks awake.
That afternoon they are all sitting on the porch rocking after Aunt Bea’s delicious Sunday lunch. They start to talk about the sermon and decide they will put it into practice. Before you know it, they are making plans to reassemble the town band, rebuild the bandstand and repair all the band uniforms. As you might expect, they get in such a hurry trying to slow down that by the end of the afternoon they are all worn out and exhausted.
It’s a message that our fast-paced society needs to hear today: SIMPLIFY. In Luke 9, Jesus is teaching His disciples to keep it simple by trusting in God. The old medieval saint, Thomas รก Kempis wrote, “By two wings man is lifted from the things of earth: simplicity and purity.”
When you look at the life and teaching of Jesus, you learn He was the master of simplicity. He could take the complex and boil it down to a story, or a phrase, or a word. This series will look at some simple directives for disciples from Luke 9. In this chapter Jesus sends out the twelve on a mission and He gives them some simple instructions. Over the next few days we will hear from Jesus:
  1. A simple authority for the mission.
  2. A simple approach to ministry.
  3. A simple attitude toward things.
  4. A simple act to deal with failure.

Have you felt a need to slow down and simplify?

Here’s a trivia question: What was the name of the church Andy, Barney and Aunt Bea attended?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Scandalous Nature of the Cross

Scandalous Nature of the CrossWhy Do Some People Not Believe?
Today’s post is fifth in a series from John 6 on why some people believe and others do not. Read Do You Believe the Impossible? to set the stage for today’s topic. The first reason why some do not believe was The Spiritual Nature of Jesus' Mission. The second was The Gracious Nature of Jesus' Offer. The third was The Demands on Jesus for a Sign. The fourth was The Supernatural Nature of Jesus' Claims.
A fifth reason why some did not believe is:
Part 5: The Scandalous Nature of the Cross. (John 6:49-58).
There is an awesome power about the cross of Christ. It is at the cross that sinners are convicted; the arrogant are humbled; the hardened are broken, the skeptics convinced, the weak strengthened and the repentant forgiven. Max Lucado in his book No Wonder They Call Him Savior, says of the cross:
The cross rests on the time line of history like a compelling diamond. Its tragedy summons all sufferers. Its absurdity attracts all cynics. It’s hope lures all searchers… My, what a piece of wood! History has idolized it and despised it; gold plated it and burned it; worn it and trashed it. History has done everything to it but ignore it. That’s the one option that the cross does not offer. No one can ignore it! You can’t ignore a piece of lumber that suspends the greatest claim in history. A crucified carpenter claiming that he is God on earth.
Paul wrote about the impact of the cross in 1 Cor 1:18 where he said, “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it IS the power of God…”
In John 6 Jesus takes the idea of the bread that comes down from heaven and uses it to describe what He is soon to do on the cross. That is, He's about to give up his life in order to bring life to others. All through this passage Jesus tells us how to receive eternal life. He repeats himself over and over again. In 6:29 he says: "This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent." And in 6:35, "I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst." In 6:40: "And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day." And then in 6:47 "Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life."
What do all those verses have in common? Believe, believe, believe. The way to eternal life is to believe in Jesus.
So now we get to 6:51 and Jesus starts talking about us eating His flesh. He says, "I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world." If the way to eternal life is to believe in Jesus, and He now says, “If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, “ it's fairly clear that eating His flesh has to do with believing in what He will do with his flesh: that is, His death on the cross; His flesh given for the life of the world.
His hearers take offence at this language. In 6:52, The Jews therefore quarreled among themselves, saying, "How can this Man give us His flesh to eat?" The thought of eating His flesh is enough to turn them off completely. But Jesus takes the metaphor even further: He says that his flesh and blood are real food and real drink (6:55). They're such that if you partake of them you'll partake of Christ Himself (6:.56). To eat of this food is to partake in the life that the Father gives to the Son (6:57).
Even Jesus’ disciples begin to complain what a hard saying this is (6:60,61). So Jesus responds, in 6:62: "What then if you should see the Son of Man ascend where He was before? " There would come a time when an even more amazing thing would happen. Not only would Jesus be killed on a cross, but He'd rise from death and ascend again to the Father in heaven. Then their faith would really be tested and even having seen all that, there would still be some who wouldn't believe.
Is the cross of Jesus your salvation or your stumbling block?