Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Growing In Security


In my Facebook Bible Reading group, we just finished a 12-day devotional plan called In_Security: Break Free from What Holds You Back. I didn't want this one to end! It has truly been one of my favorites in the several years I've been using the YouVersion Bible app. It has spoken so much life to my heart, and I know it’s been meaningful to others in the group as well. This reading plan directly attacked the issue of insecurity in our lives and challenged us to grow in God's security.

I believe that security essentially starts with a healthy self-identity, independent of what others say or think. In John’s account of the Last Supper, we get a glimpse of just how secure Jesus was.

Jesus knew that the Father had given Him authority over everything and that He had come from God and would return to God. So He got up from the table, took off His robe, wrapped a towel around His waist, and poured water into a basin. Then He began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel He had around Him.”
(John 13:3-5 NLT) (emphasis mine!)

Because Jesus knew who He was (“Jesus knew that the Father had given Him authority over everything”), where He came from (“Jesus knew … that He had come from God”), and where He was going (“Jesus knew … that He would return to God”), He was able to humble Himself to serve. He wasn’t so wrapped up in His own insecurities that he needed to BE served, but instead He was secure in His identity and was able to serve others.

That goes against what our culture tells us. Have you ever watched the show “Undercover Boss?” It was a “reality TV” series where CEOs or other top level executives went undercover in their own organizations doing entry level work. The shock value of the program’s premise worked in large part because those who are successful and secure in the world’s eyes are usually seen (and often see themselves) as being “above” that type of work.

But Jesus isn’t an undercover boss… He’s the Revealed Savior! Washing the Apostles’ feet was just one example of an entire life lived in the kind of humility and service that only comes from true security.

“Though He was God,
   He did not think of equality with God
   as something to cling to.
Instead, He gave up his divine privileges;
   He took the humble position of a slave
   and was born as a human being.
When He appeared in human form,
   He humbled himself in obedience to God
   and died a criminal’s death on a cross.”
(Philippians 2:6-8 NLT)

Insecure people have a hard time serving in humility. Their insecurity causes them to fear being seen as "less.” One of Satan's greatest tactics when it comes to planting seeds of insecurity, is to make us question our identity and worth. If we're not sure of who we are, we'll constantly be looking for affirmation and validation from others. It can come out in people-pleasing tendencies, but it can also be seen in our willingness to put others down in order to make ourselves look better. We can become preoccupied with worrying about how others perceive us and trying to carefully craft and control a fa├žade to impress them or influence their opinions of us.

I remember my mom saying to someone who was struggling with this, "Honey, you're so wrapped up in what you think people are thinking about you. But people just don't think about you as much as you think they're thinking about you!" Interesting, no?

We need to be set free from the prison of what we *think* people are thinking.

But there's another issue here as well. Sometimes what we think others are thinking is actually a projection of our own negativity, our own struggle. As a young missionary I was often bothered by my fellow missionary's apparent selfish behavior. Every time we ate at a restaurant together, if he offered the prayer to bless the food it seemed as soon as he said "Amen," his hand was already reaching for the ketchup bottle.

I was complaining to the Lord about his selfishness when I heard the Lord whisper that the only reason I was worried about his selfishness was because I was selfish! OUCH! Sometimes the truth hurts – but that was a truth I needed to hear. I never worried about his ketchup bottle again!

At the beginning of his Gospel, John tells us that Jesus was "full of grace and truth." That's an amazing and powerful combination. And they need to come in equal parts. Too much grace (or grace alone) never deals with the problems that need correcting. Too much truth (or truth alone) deals so harshly and severely with the problem that there's hardly any room for correction. So we need the right combination of truth and grace - truth to reveal the problem, and grace to empower change.

But here’s another great truth: It’s not enough to know the truth, we must apply it! The devo author used an analogy of a delicious, healthy meal. It does you no good unless you eat it. You can look at it, smell it, admire it, take pictures of it, tell others about it - but unless you eat it, you get none of the nutrients, none of the benefits.

So it is with God's Word. We can read it, tweet it, put plaques of it in our walls - but unless we believe it and act on it, we get none of the benefits. And just like in the example of the healthy meal, it’s not enough to eat once and assume you’re covered for an extended time! Growing in a relationship with God is a process. It requires daily attention. Security comes from having a healthy relationship with God. And that’s a process, not an event, not something we’ll ever be “done” with on this side of heaven.

I love the picture of this being a process, not a destination. That's encouraging because while we can find freedom from insecurity in one area we can still struggle in another. And if we’re not careful, that second struggle can make us feel like we've failed. But we should celebrate every victory as we continue to take every thought captive to the obedience is Christ!

You're not who you were. Hallelujah! But you're not who you're going to be, either. So keep growing, keep pressing forward, keeping leaning in to truth, and keep walking in every freedom Jesus gives you. You'll walk from truth to truth, from freedom to freedom, from victory to victory. And you'll live in the security that Jesus has provided for you. No more insecurity, but rather living securely, Growing In Security!

Thursday, February 09, 2017

God’s Perfect Peace



“The steadfast of mind You will keep in perfect peace, because he trusts in You.”
(Is 26:3 NASB)

When all is going well, it’s easy to read this scripture in a very superficial way. But it was given to Israel in a dark period of her history. That makes it even more precious to us. The Bible doesn’t promise that we’ll be free from troubles, wars, trials, temptations, tears and sorrows in life. God promises something better. He promises peace in the midst of the storm. In the fiercest of battles, while the storm is at its height, the trusting soul can know inward peace and tranquility. There can be a deep down calm and quiet confidence. How much do you want God’s wonderful peace? Do you long to experience it?

“For thus the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, has said,
‘In repentance and rest you will be saved,
In quietness and trust is your strength.’
But you were not willing,”
(Isa 30:15 NASB)

Are we willing? That’s the question each one of us has to ask ourselves.

PERFECT VS IMPERFECT PEACE

God’s peace is described as “perfect peace.” In Hebrew, this is “shalom shalom.” It’s like a “man’s man” or “pizza pizza”. This is the kind of peace that peace has! Not necessarily freedom from conflict on the outside - but freedom from disturbance on the inside. “Shalom” has an idea of soundness or health. I would equate this to being spiritually healthy. This is Jesus saying “Peace be still” to your soul.

We all want the “perfect peace” that God offers us, but if we’re honest, most of what we call “peace” is actually something less than God’s best. God’s Perfect peace is qualitatively different from our own imperfect peace. For example, you’ve probably heard the phrase, “Ignorance is bliss.” We can believe that all is going well in our lives when it really isn’t. Sometimes we choose to ignore reality because it is uncomfortable to face – but don’t mistake human comfort for God’s peace! Satan can delude the minds of people and make them think all is well when it just isn’t so.

“They have healed the brokenness of My people superficially,
Saying, ‘Peace, peace,’
But there is no peace.”
(Jer 6:14 NASB)

Stagnation is another form of imperfect peace. A pool of water may appear beautiful and serene, but underneath it is a foul, green slime. The peace some people know is just like that. We can stagnate out of complacency – “things aren’t so bad, I’m doing OK,” so I’m lulled into a false sense of peace. Stagnation can also come from dependence on someone or something. But that “thing” can fail and that “someone” can let us down. It doesn’t take much to stir up the waters of our lives: illness, financial difficulties, problems at work or at home. These circumstances have a way of revealing what lies beneath the surface. Unfortunately, when trouble comes, we may discover that we have no real peace at all.

God’s peace is “perfect peace.” It’s a peace despite our circumstances, not because of them.

DOUBLE PEACE

God’s peace isn’t just perfect in quality, it’s perfect in quantity. The supply is more than sufficient to meet our needs. Going back to the Hebrew, this “shalom, shalom” is “peace, peace” in English. It means a “double peace.” (Mother of all peaces!) There’s enough peace in this double peace to guard both our hearts and our minds! How? First by giving us peace WITH God then giving us the peace OF God. Peace WITH God comes at salvation.

“Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,”
(Rom 5:1 NASB)

Jesus gave us this peace. He obtained it for us and it is our through saving faith in Him. You’ll never know the peace OF God until you come to peace WITH God.

“And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus… The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”
(Phil. 4:7,9 NASB)

The peace of God is with us because the God of peace is with us!

HOW DO WE GET (AND KEEP) THAT PEACE?

It is only through Jesus that the peace of God flows through our souls. Only the Christian can know that peace. So it’s not surprising that the same activities that are associated with having a healthy relationship with God are also associated with having peace.

“Those who love Your law have great peace,
And nothing causes them to stumble.”
(Psalm 119:165 NASB)

“If you walk in My statutes and keep My commandments so as to carry them out…  I shall also grant peace in the land, so that you may lie down with no one making you tremble…”
(Lev 26:3,6a NASB)

Peace is given to those who love God’s law – which is God’s Word. When our relationship with God is vibrant, we’ll want to spend time in His Word. It won’t just be an obligation; it will be something we love! And it won’t just be an intellectual exercise, we’ll want to do what it says!

Peace is a result of obedience. “If you walk in My statutes…” God guarantees us that if we will do our part, He will do his part. It might be tempting to read that as a legalistic statement – some sort of spiritual quid-pro-quo. But it’s not a transaction, it’s a relationship, and relationships need to be cultivated!

Having a peace problem? How are your daily devotions going? How’s your obedience?

Remember, Jesus purchased our peace on the cross and He is the source. But it is CONVEYED to our hearts and minds through the Holy Spirit. Galatians 5:22 says peace is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. As we give ourselves over to Him more, we are filled with Him more. And as He fills us and controls us, He produces in us more and more peace.

So that means we need to be “Spirit-filled” believers! I don’t mean that we’re supposed to be emotional chandelier-swingers - although there’s nothing wrong with that at times! In fact, having God’s peace doesn’t mean that we’re always outwardly calm – we can be exuberant in praise and worship. But the reality is, we’re to live submitted to the Spirit at all times, constantly listening for His nudgings and promptings as we seek to please Him in all respects.

I know that the idea of being “Spirit-filled” might have different connotations for different people, depending on your church background. But I believe we can all agree that a person who seeks to live filled with God’s Spirit is going to demonstrate that, not necessarily by certain gifts, but most definitely by the fruit of their lives. Whatever is inside them is going to overflow onto the outside! That's how you can tell what a person is filled with! And since peace is certainly listed among the fruit of the Spirit, if we're filled with God's Spirit, His peace will overflow our lives!.

I do believe we have a lot to do with whether we experience God’s peace or not. Because, ultimately, experiencing God’s peace comes from trusting that God is in control, even when it doesn’t look like it! So when we are troubled, we bring our concerns, fears and worries to the Lord in prayer. And when we finally choose to leave them there, we leave with God’s peace. Listen to Paul’s description:

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
(Phil 4:4-7 NASB)

Ultimately, peace is not a thing. It’s not some experience, doctrine, a code of belief, or even an “it.” God’s Peace is a Person – the Lord Jesus Himself. As Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “For He Himself is our peace…” (Eph 2:14a) Have you experienced God’s Perfect Peace yet? If not, may I introduce you to Jesus?

Thursday, February 02, 2017

Don’t Grow Stale


Some things go stale or go bad over time. Untreated wood can weather and decay. Clothing wears out. Food goes bad. Even Twinkies, the stuff of urban legend for their seemingly endless shelf life, officially expire after 45 days!

And it isn’t just tangible things that grow stale. It’s now the beginning of February. So let me ask you… how are those New Year's resolutions going? Are you still on that diet (did you ever really start it)? What about your exercise plans? If you’re still going strong, you have my utmost respect and congratulations! But if you’re like most of us, you’ve probably slipped a little bit over the last 31 days. The excitement and novelty of doing something “new” wears off and our attentions are drawn away to other things. It’s human nature.

The key to spiritual maturity is to grow up in Christ, but not grow stale. Problem is, the longer we follow Christ, the easier it is to let our relationship with him grow to simply be a routine or ritual.

What qualities on this list are marks of a true, mature believer?
  • Avoid Evil
  • Memorize scripture
  • Read the Bible daily
  • Be faithful to your husband/wife
  • Tithe
  • Believe every word of Bible is true
  • Attend church regularly
  • Do good deeds.

All of these things could describe a good Christian. But they could also describe a good Pharisee, someone only interested in the outward behavior.

THE DANGER OF KNOWLEDGE

Head knowledge about God is a dangerous thing. It can lead us into a false sense of security and keep us from experiencing intimacy with Him. It also leads us to hurting others, as was happening in the Corinthian church.

“While knowledge may make us feel important, it is love that really builds the church.”
(I Corinthians 8:1 NLT)

Knowledge is not valuable until it is transformed into action.

“But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.”
(James 1:22 NASB)

“Do not merely listen to the word and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.”
(James 1:22 NIV)

Those who are “merely hearers” are deceived because they think just knowing something is enough. But it’s NOT! If you are a follower of Christ and you are in church to merely learn more, you are missing the point! If you believe church exists to simply satisfy your needs, then you need to investigate your heart. Church is a place where you get to DO what you’ve learned. It should be a place where you are encouraged to act out and practice the gifts God has put in you - even (and ESPECIALLY) when you are NOT in the church building!

In my Facebook Bible Reading group, we’ve been reading a plan called Lessons From The East. The author wrote this in the devotion for Day 5:

"When we release people to dream, pray, and serve, it’s no longer the job of our church staff and board to come up with all the ideas for ministries. Our people are engaged in their domains, and they’re creative enough to come up with plenty of ideas. Our job is to be traffic cops to direct people to the best paths to use their passions, talents, and expertise. We don’t want to control all the traffic. We just want to limit the number of wrecks."

I love the idea of people serving in their passion, coming up with fresh ideas and being empowered to innovate and serve with heart. At Christian Challenge, that’s why we teach that each member can (and should) hear the voice of the Shepherd for themselves! Ministry is not the exclusive domain of the professional clergy. No matter how you make a living, ministry is your real job! The church shouldn’t just be a place where you come to receive ministry. It should be a place where you become equipped to minister to others!

The Dead Sea is dead because the water that flows into it doesn’t go anywhere else. It just stays there and stagnates. In a similar way, our spiritual lives can become stale and dead if we focus only on what we can get and not what we can give to others.

THE ACTION OF CONVICTION

One sign of a thriving life is motion. Have you ever noticed that a person who is moving is never mistaken for being dead? God calls us to live a life of motion or action, not to earn His love but to reflect His love.
           
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”
(John 14:15 NASB)

“The one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.”
(I John 2:6 NASB)  

“Anyone who claims to be intimate with God ought to live the same kind of life Jesus lived.”
(I John 2:6 The Message)

Our love and commitment to Christ is demonstrated in the actions of our lives.  

“Dear friends, do you think you will get anywhere in this if you learn all the right words but never do anything? Does merely talking about faith indicate that a person really has it?”
(James 2:14 The Message)

The issue is that knowledge doesn’t DO anything. It just knows. That’s why we need to move beyond mere knowledge to conviction! Howard Hendricks said, “A belief is something you will argue about. A conviction is something you will die for!” Conviction initiates action. It causes us to reach out to act on what we know. Knowledge puffs up, conviction acts out.

Is your walk with God a knowledgeable preference or an unchanging conviction? God has called us to live mature lives of convictions so it is demonstrated in the action of our lives. And here is the greatest conviction of all – LOVE! God so loved the world. So we too must love the world and each other.

THE POWER OF LOVE

Paul said that while knowledge puffs up, love edifies. The word “edifies” means to build, to construct. Love has the power to build up the lives of others, to construct a framework of understanding God by demonstrating His characteristics. In 1 Corinthians 8, we see that people were using their knowledge in a way that was destructive, not constructive. Their knowledge was not tempered with love. As a result, new believers or weaker believers were being shipwrecked in their faith. Had these “knowledgeable ones” acted in love, the church might not have had as many problems as they did.


“If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.”
(1 Cor 13:1-3 NLT)

When people come to the knowledge of Jesus, they are often so enraptured by His love for them that everything is fresh and new. Then as they grow in knowledge they sometimes begin to grow stale. They find themselves just going through the motions. What do we need? We need to return to our First Love. Everything we do needs to be grounded in a living, growing, loving relationship with God.

This is what is going to keep you from growing stale. Love will motivate you to act. Love will keep your eyes open to God’s hand. Love will tenderize your heart to respond to the things that break God’s heart. Only love will keep you from growing stale!

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Prayer


This week in my Bible Reading group on Facebook, we’ve been working through a devotional about prayer by Tim Keller. Because I’m a pastor, I’m often considered a “professional pray-er” and asked to offer the prayer before meals and at meetings. I’m always honored to be asked, but sometimes I think there can be a misconception that the prayers of pastors are somehow automatically superior to the prayers of those who aren’t in full-time ministry. That’s just not true! We all can – and should – be growing in prayer. So in this week’s blog I’m going to share a combination of some observations I’ve made over the past 12 days of this reading plan.

WHAT IS PRAYER?

What do you think of when you think of prayer? What kinds of images come to mind? Your upbringing and church background have probably influenced your answers. Is prayer something that is primarily quiet and reverent and hushed? Or is it loud and assertive and emotional? Is there a formula or repetition involved? Or is free-flowing and unscripted? Is it always happy and worshipful? Or can it be mournful and desperate? Is there a right way to pray? Or a better way to pray?

As Keller points out, the book of Psalms is the inspired prayer book of the Bible. In its pages we can find many examples of peaceful worship and adoration. There are also plenty of emotional cries for justice and relief. There are affirmations of who God is and recitations of what He’s done. There are times when the psalmist doesn’t feel like God is there. The reality is that prayer encompasses ALL of these things. Even the ones we might not be comfortable with.

Because my early religious experience had such an emphasis on emotional experience, and because that can do easily become “priority one,” I've been cautious about placing too much emphasis on the emotional. Perhaps too much so. I sense the truths shared in these devotionals are giving me freedom to experience God emotionally again and not be afraid of "letting go."

Perhaps when we fully understand and experience the love of God our emotional response will be wholly proper. So with Paul I pray: “And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is.” (Ephesians 3:18 NLT)

OUR PRIVATE PRAYER LIFE


When we think of prayer, we often think of public prayers. Those whose public prayers are eloquent or passionate are often perceived to be more mature in their faith. But true spiritual life is not measured outwardly. Certainly there are outward evidences, but the true measure of our spiritual life is only taken internally and only known by the Lord and us. Sometimes we can even deceive ourselves - if we fall into the trap of believing that since everything seems OK on the outside it must be OK on the inside.

But deep down inside, we know if our public praise is a true reflection of our inner man. I don't share this to condemn anyone, but as an encouragement to examine ourselves. There is such a depth of life and spiritual experience for those who will press through the external expectation into a worship that is "in spirit and in truth." So let us praise privately. Let us worship privately. Let us pray privately. And our outward expression will be a reflection of what's going on inside.

So just how great is God in our lives? How much glory do we give God? If the measure of His greatness were measured by our prayer life, just how great would God be? Do we trust Him enough to ask Him for everything? To truly seek Him for daily bread as well as eternal life?

What does our prayer life say about how much we trust God? Do we pray bold audacious prayers, asking for impossible things, believing that He's able to do exceedingly abundantly beyond what we can ask or think? Or do we only pray safe prayers that won't affect anything if He doesn't answer? The way we pray, and the things we ask God for, reflect what we truly believe about Him. May our heart be so convinced of His greatness that we never pray small prayers again!

PRAYER AS A CONVERSATION


In one of the devos this week, Keller writes, "Prayer is continuing a conversation that God has started through his Word and his grace, which eventually becomes a full encounter with him." That's a wonderful description! I like the idea of "continuing a conversation that God has started..." Prayer is God's invitation to keep the conversation flowing. It's an invitation to relationship, to express our heart, to share our feelings, fears and joys.

So prayer is so much more than just telling God what you want or giving Him your "Never-Ending Shopping List" (as Lulu Roman described in her southern gospel song of the same name). Because it's a continuing conversation, it's an opportunity for us to hear His heart, and to see ourselves in a new light. It's an invitation to consider truth we hadn't seen before, and be transformed.

Let me share part of a passage of Scripture with you that is very meaningful to me, edited in a way that I hope will make it jump out to you like it does to me:

“Long ago God spoke many times and in many ways to our ancestors through the prophets. And now in these final days, [God] has spoken to us through his Son. ... The Son radiates God’s own glory and expresses the very character of God...” (Hebrews 1:1‭-‬3 NLT)

Where you see the ellipses (...) I've just cut a phrase out, I haven't added anything in. I just wanted you to see those two phrases together. The idea is that God spoke in the Old Testament in different ways - dreams, visions, from clouds, from thunder, via angels, and sometimes audibly. But His speaking was rare and unexpected.

However, in these last days God has chosen to speak to us definitively through Jesus. There is no ambiguity, there are no long pauses or silences, there is no partial revelation. The very character of God is expressed through His Son, Jesus.

We sometimes wish we could hear God talk to us like He did to Abraham, Moses, Elijah and Job. But those were isolated incidences - often once in a lifetime experiences. God speaks to us every day in Jesus and tells us everything we need to know about Himself. Wow! Thank You, Lord, for expressing Yourself so clearly!

So when we pray, it’s actually part of a conversation that God started in Jesus! I'm grateful for this understanding of prayer as more than just telling God what I want, more than just fulfilling some spiritual obligation, and more than just keeping up appearances. May we continue the conversation God started, and find the encounter with Him we crave.




If you’re interested in being a part of my daily devotional group, feel free to join the Bible Reading w/Bro. Nathan group on Facebook. We use reading plans from the YouVersion platform, which has Bible apps available for Android, iPad/iPhones and other devices, which have been downloaded over 250 million times! Believe it or not, there are over 1,200 translations in over 900 languages available all for FREE, courtesy of LifeChurch.tv. I announce the reading plan we’re doing in the Facebook group and we all subscribe to the same plan and read the same reading each day. I share a daily devotion based on the reading plan and others are encourage to share their thoughts as well. I’d love for you to join me in reading the Bible every day!