Tuesday, October 30, 2012

My life is in you!

Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help
and rely on horses,
who trust in chariots because they are many
and in horsemen because they are very strong,
but do not look to the Holy One of Israel
or consult the Lord! Isaiah 31:1


Human beings have a strong aversion to insecurity. We want to be secure from violence, from being robbed, we want to know what will happen tomorrow, and we want enough money to meet our needs. Why are we like this?

Two reasons:
Security brings a sense of completion. We feel confident that everything we need physically and emotionally is intact; we have no need. 

The second reason is fear. Fear drives our need for security and this need for security often drives us to choose people, things and circumstances that we think will make us secure and stifle our fears.

These feeling are not negative or sinful. It's a question of how we resolve these needs. Sadly, fear based decisions or an innate need of feeling complete are temporary and never lead to sustained security.

In today's reading, God's people are desparately in need of security from the powerful and advancing armies of Assyria. Within themselves they feel incomplete and they are afraid. So what did they do?

They formed an alliance with Egypt, their neighbors to the south. Egypt was bigger, more powerful and would give them a level of security that their enemies would not attack them. Even if they were attacked, Egypt would come to the rescue.

But there was one problem: what about God? What about their Maker? Is God not able to keep and sustain them? Is God not their provider and protector? Did they not find security and consolation in the presence and power of God? Apparently not!

Read all of Isaiah 31 and notice how their descision was flawed and their hopes for security dashed.

How about you? On what do you base your security? How do you deal with your fears and your desire to feel complete? Here's what I believe...

Security comes from God. God is our refuge and strength (Psalm 46:1).
Security comes from knowing that God is good and his plans for your life will never fail.
Security comes to those who trust in the Lord. Those who trust in the Lord are like mount Zion which cannot be moved but abides forever (Psalm 125:1).
Being complete does not come from money, a relationship, or within ourselves. These things are stamped with temporary. Only God through Jesus Christ and his self-giving for our salavation offers ultimate security.

The following video is a song about trusting in God. Our church has been signing this song and it has blessed our congregation. I hope you enjoy it; it is called Forever Reign!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

The rise of the "Nones"

In early October, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life released a study confirming what many concerned believers and pastors have known for sometime: more and more Americans are increasingly disaffiliating from organized religion.

In the last five years alone, the unaffiliated have increased from just over 15% to just under 20% of all U.S. adults,” the report reveals. Furthermore, the report found that one-third of adults under 30 do not see themselves as members of any religion, compared to one in 10 among people 65 and older.

What does this mean for the future of the church in North America? Pessimists will hear this and think the sky is falling. The church has lost its influence and role in society; the religious landscape will increasingly resemble European nations, where religion is an after thought for many. Churches will struggle to fill their pews. 

But there is another way to view this report. This might actually be a good thing for the church to be relegated to the margins of society. The cozy church-state relationship is now sundered and we may finally be able to declare civil religion dead--spelling the end of fuzzy Christendom religion.

America as a pre-Christian society enables the church to pattern itself after first century Christians who, under great hardship, learned how to live gospel-centered lives in a majority pagan culture. The contrasts between light and darkness were stark and therefore the claims of the gospel of Jesus Christ sounded like foolishness to the ears of unbelievers ( I Corinthians 1:18).

That's not a bad thing. It just means we can jettison fuzzy, easy-believism (invite Jesus into my heart) and for the church of Jesus to finally, and without shame say, Jesus is Lord; take up your cross and follow him. 

The church of Jesus Christ now has a chance to reflect what authentic, submitted, sacrificial commitment to Jesus looks like. It means we must now depend on Christ's power to change human hearts and minds and less on the church's location, music, and other superficial means of reaching people. If this is the future of the church in America, I am in!


Friday, October 26, 2012

Trust His Heart

Came across the lyrics for this song in an article and thought you might be encouraged by the message as I was.

All things work for our good
Though sometimes we don't
See how they could
Struggles that break our hearts in two
Sometimes blind us to the truth
Our Father knows what's best for us
His ways are not our own
So when your pathway grows dim
And you just don't see him,
Remember your never alone

Chorus:
God is too wise to be mistaken
God is too good to be unkind
So when you don't understand
When don't see his plan
When you can't trace his hand
Trust His Heart

He sees the master plan
He holds the future in his hand,
So don't live as those who have no hope,
ALL our hope is found in him.
We see the present clearly
He sees the first and last
And like a tapestry He's weaving you and me,
To someday be just like him

(Chorus)

He alone is faithful and true
He alone knows what is best for you

(Chorus)

When you can't trace his hand
When you don't see his plan
When you don't understand
Trust His Heart

 By Babbie Mason

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Chosen


But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong (1 Corinthians 1:27 ESV).

In my first year of high school, I was one of the tallest boys in my class. I attended an all boys’ high school where the competition in the class room and on the athletic field was intense.

Pick up games of football (what Americans call soccer), Cricket, basketball, were all about choosing the best players for your team. Even though I was one of the tallest boys, I was also one of the least talented at that time. So I either got picked last, or I did not get picked. Talk about rejection!

Paul reminds the Corinthian church, mostly Greek Christians who celebrated power, human wisdom and wealth, that God also picks his team. But when he looks for members on his team, God does not begin with the brightest and best; or the fastest, or the strongest, or the richest.

God chooses what the world rejects. God chooses people the world deems foolish, weak and insignificant to expose the world’s so-called power, wisdom and wealth.

This is why the rulers of the world missed Christ. In humility he came riding on a donkey, born in an animal stable, the child of a poor, peasant girl; his father was a carpenter, and he mostly spent his time with outcasts. His message was a message of repentance, not revolution and war.

Yet it is because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption (1 Corinthians 1:30 ESV).

He chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him (Ephesians 1:4 ESV). Hallelujah!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

8 biblical views on human suffering


Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God. I Peter 4: 1-2

For centuries, philosophers of every age have struggled to explicate reasons for human suffering. Why does a good God allow his creation to suffer? Scripture has much to say on the subject and gives many reasonable answers that both explain and comfort those who suffer. By no means do these views become THE answer, but a way to begin thinking about the subject. 
 

Suffering as a direct attack from Satan
Don't be afraid of what you are about to suffer. The devil will throw some of you into prison to test you. You will suffer for ten days. But if you remain faithful even when facing death, I will give you the crown of life (Revelation 2:10 NLT).
From a human vantage point, suffering is often inexplicable
Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and nights. No one said a word to Job, for they saw that his suffering was too great for words. Job 2: 13
Suffering as a byproduct of following Jesus
For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in his steps (I Peter 2:21; 2 Timothy 3:12)
Suffering because of the offense of the gospel
I, John, am your brother and your partner in suffering and in God's Kingdom and in the patient endurance to which Jesus calls us. I was exiled to the island of Patmos for preaching the word of God and for my testimony about Jesus (Revelation 1:9)
Suffering because of human sin and rebellion
The earth suffers for the sins of its people,
for they have twisted God's instructions,
violated his laws,
and broken his everlasting covenant (Isaiah 24:5; Jeremiah 25:14)


Suffering because of the selfishness of others
Sodom's sins were pride, gluttony, and laziness, while the poor and needy suffered outside her door (Ezekiel 16:49).
Suffering prepares us for future glory
And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God's glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering (Romans 8: 17)
Suffering as a tool to transform our lives
I am still thinking and praying about this thought: one additional reason, among the other reasons why we suffer, is that suffering strips away the idols we have propped up for our support and comfort. Suffering removes sin and clarifies in our lives God's will as better and more desirable than our will.
This is in part what I Peter 4: 1-2 says: Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God.
What do you think?

Friday, October 19, 2012

Don't Leave Home without Him!

I will not go up among you, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people” (Exodus 33:3 ESV).

When the people of Israel heard this disastrous word from God through Moses, they were stricken with grief (33:4). At least for this moment, they realized the gravity of their situation.


Since their departure from Egypt, God’s presence among them was manifested as a pillar of cloud by day and pillar of fire by night. With the assurance of God’s presence among them victory over their enemies was a sure thing. Without God’s presence they would not stand a chance against their enemies.

They were large in number; they had an army of men ready to defend their women and children. They had Moses as their leader, but without God’s presence they had nothing.
How many times do leaders lead, address challenging ministry concerns without ever wondering if God is in their midst? How many times do leaders prepare messages, preach, teach, and lead congregations without any sense of God’s presence? How many times do we go through a work week, parent our children, relate to our spouses, engage in social settings without wondering where is God in this part of my life?
Without God’s presence in the midst of all that you do, the work will not prosper. Pause for a while and ponder what you just read. Without God’s presence and power graciously at work, nothing we do will last or have the desired impact!

The presence of God is the mysterious movement of the Holy Spirit who indwells and guides God’s people. Jesus promised to never leave or forsake his children. He tenderly promises, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you” (John 14:18).


Why not pray this prayer right now:  Teach me to do your will,
for you are my God! Let your good Spirit lead me on level ground! (Psalm 143:10)




Thursday, October 18, 2012

How prayer begins

Before he was called Abraham (father of a multitude), he was Abram, (exalted father), the son of Terah living in Ur, an ancient pagan community located in southern Babylonia, modern day Iraq. He did not know God, but that's ok, for God knew him. Abram was not seeking after God, but God was seeking after him.

For Abram, life in Ur was settled and predictable, but one day God disrupted his patterned life. We are not told how, or when, or why God chose him. The text simply says, “Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. (Genesis 12:1-2 ESV)

This is an important principle to remember as we live in the presence of Almighty God. The life of prayer begins with God seeking us. Prayer is fellowship between God and his children. This means prayer is not driven by our efforts and our will power. Before prayer becomes our desire, prayer is first and always an invitation to walk with God.

For example, Jesus issues an invitation to all who will hear:

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30 ESV)

Come to me is an invitation to trust Jesus personally, not merely to believe historical facts about him. All who labor and are heavy laden refers in the immediate context to those oppressed by the burden of religious legalism imposed on people by the scribes and Pharisees. But the wider application is that Jesus provides “rest for your souls” (v. 29)—that is, eternal rest for all who seek forgiveness of their sins and freedom from the crushing legalistic burden and guilt of trying to earn salvation by good works.

This is where the life of a prayer driven man or woman originates. Come to me and rest. Our response to this invitation from the One who invites us, and walks with us marks the beginning of a relationship of prayer.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Casting your cares away

As I make my way from meeting to meeting, decision to decision, and phone call to phone call, I find the counsel of Charles Spurgeon very helpful. “I always feel it well,” he wrote, “to put a few words of prayer between everything I do.” Throughout his busy days, Spurgeon scattered words of prayer between each activity, a model I have sought to emulate over the years.

The content of my “few words of prayer” is not unique and if you overheard them, you wouldn’t be impressed. I am a simple man and when I think of casting all my cares it is a simple acknowledgement of my dependence upon God and my need of grace throughout the day.

But the very act of pausing in a busy day to pray is an act of weakening pride in my life, acknowledging that I am a dependent creature. I am not self-sufficient.

And taking a brief moment to humble myself in prayer makes all the difference in my soul throughout the day.

At its root, weariness is often the result of pride and self-sufficiency in my life. When I neglect casting my cares upon the Lord, the heavy fatigue of weariness will settle into my soul.

Casting our cares upon the Lord and humbling ourselves before him are critical activities, regardless of how busy we are. And this practice cannot be replaced by hours of careful planning and scheduling.

How about you? Do you follow the practice of Spurgeon and “put a few words of prayer” between everything you do throughout each day? Are you casting cares or accumulating burdens? Are you humbling yourself before the Lord or displaying self-sufficiency?

Monday, October 15, 2012

Discipleship according to Jesus

What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self? Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels Luke 9: 25-26)

These words of Jesus are some of the most demanding words in Scripture. They are so challenging that I am often tempted to do one of two things: 

Close my eyes to these words as irrelevant to my life. 

Or try to mitigate the hard parts of this text and read it as metaphor--Jesus really doesn’t mean this, he wants me to be nice to everyone. In doing this I soothe my conscience and settle for a bland, safe, low-cost, and painless response.

But that won’t do. Luke 9 is one of the great chapters on discipleship. It’s the gospel according to Jesus. Jesus is not interested in building monuments; he is not seeking a statue erected in his honor; he is not trying to establish an army of zealots, or build a fan base, or run for political office and gain power. Jesus intends to change lives. And when he meets people, he invites them to follow him.

Being a disciple is hard. C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity explains why:
           
Christ says, "Give me all. I don't want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want you. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it. No half-measures are any good. I don't want to cut off a branch here and a branch there. I want to have the whole tree down. I don't want to drill the tooth, or crown it, or stop it, but to have it out. Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think are innocent as well as the ones you think are wicked—the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you myself: my own shall become yours."
            —C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity


Sunday, October 14, 2012

Unbreakable Love


Romans 8:38-39 ESV
"For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers,nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."

Can you think of a more solid promise? You and I will never find anyone in the entire world who will love us so eternally!

At least ten potential threats aimed at dislodging the believer from God's loving grasp, and they all fail.

Give all the credit to God and zero credit to the Jesus-follower. 

Even though all the hordes of hell should attack, they cannot destroy God's eternal love for you. Even when a thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you. (Psalm 91:7 ESV)

For he stands at the right hand of the needy one, to save him from those who condemn his soul to death. (Psalm 109:31 ESV)

Sometimes it's easy to feel like God has stopped loving, or that we've been separated from His love. But feelings don't win the war. Never giving in to them does.
The true measure of God's love is that He loves without measure. 

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. (1 
John 3:1 ESV)








Friday, October 12, 2012

6 reasons to embrace the gospel


For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. Romans 1:16

When Paul wrote these words early Christians had every reason to feel fear. Many in the Roman Empire considered Followers of the Way (Acts 11:26) a strange sect; a minority group in a majority pagan Roman culture with no rights, respect or legal standing. Early Christians were societal outcasts.

Why would anyone associate with this gospel message that to one sector of society was deemed foolishness and offensive to the Jews? Wouldn't it be safer to down play the gospel and present an inclusive message that offends no one?

Sure, that is an option, but anything less than 100% gospel is a cheap substitute that makes us appealing to the world but offensive to God. The options are slim: either glorify God or please the world!

Here are 6 reasons to fully embrace the gospel and not tamper with or change it:

1. The gospel is the good news about Christ. He is its author, subject and focus. To distort the gospel is to invite a curse on our lives (Galatians 1: 6-9).

2. The gospel diagnoses the heart of the human problem: All have sinned and fallen short of God's glory (Romans 3:23).

3. The gospel outlines the verdict: guilty-- the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).

4. The gospel presents the solution: the gift of God is eternal life (Romans 6:23)

5. The gospel accepts only one response: repentance
The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. 2 Peter 3:9

6. The gospel is God's only means of delivering a sinner from death: it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.

Charles Wesley:
My gracious Master and my God,
Assist me to proclaim,
To spread through all the earth abroad
The honors of your name.


Thursday, October 11, 2012

Girl who stood up for rights of others shot by Taliban

 Woe to those who devise wickedness
  and work evil on their beds!
 When the morning dawns, they perform it,
  because it is in the power of their hand.
(Micah 2:1 ESV)

If you care about human rights and justice for all, I encourage you to spend 30 good minutes and watch this video of a brave 14 year old girl (Malala Yousafzai) who defied the insane Taliban rules in Pakistan, aimed at restricting girls from getting an education. She wanted to be a doctor; that's all she wanted to do. How could such a noble dream incite such violence?

On Tuesday (10-09-2012), Taliban gunmen shot and gravely wounded this innocent 14 year old girl for daring to speak up for her right and the right of other girls to an education.

These uneducated men, drunk with violence and misguided religious views actually believe that the education of girls is obscene.

I ask that you pray for her attackers; pray that the Pakistani government will have the courage to track down and arrest these cowards.

Pray for Malala Yousafzai's family, her class mates and her community; pray that her sacrifice would not be in vain but will serve to open the eyes of many to the spiritual darkness of misguided religions that kill the dreams of little girls for wanting to be empowered through education.

Pray that Malala will completely recover from her injuries. She was shot in the head and in the neck and according this NYT article, a bullet is lodged close to her brain.

Our hope is in the Lord; who sees and knows the wickedness of the human heart, and who will one day judge all workers of evil for their curelty toward the poor, the weak, young and the old.

The message of the Cross of Jesus is that God is able to work through the utter darkness and evil of the human heart to accomplish ultimate good.

Go here to watch her story in its entirety.
p.s. Would you email this message to others so that many people will know about this atrocity and so shine the spotlight on this matter? Thanks

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

12 ways to know God


Twelve Ways to Know God by Peter Kreeft

"There is the music of Bach, therefore there must be a God."Jesus defines eternal life as knowing God (Jn 17:3). What are the ways? In how many different ways can we know God, and thus know eternal life? When I take an inventory, I find twelve.
  1. The final, complete, definitive way, of course, is Christ, God himself in human flesh.
  2. The Scriptures are the church's book. This book, like Christ himself, is called "The Word of God.".
  3. His church is his body, so we know God also through the church
  4. Scripture also says we can know God in nature see Romans 1. This is an innate, spontaneous, natural knowledge. I think no one who lives by the sea, or by a little river, can be an atheist.
  5. Art also reveals God. I know three ex-atheists who say, "There is the music of Bach, therefore there must be a God." This too is immediate.
  6. Conscience is the voice of God. It speaks absolutely, with no ifs, ands, or buts. This too is immediate. [The last three ways of knowing God (4-6) are natural, while the first three are supernatural. The last three reveal three attributes of God, the three things the human spirit wants most: truth, beauty, and goodness. God has filled his creation with these three things. Here are six more ways in which we can and do know God.]
  7. Reason, reflecting on nature, art, or conscience, can know God by good philosophical arguments.
  8. Experience, life, your story, can also reveal God. You can see the hand of Providence there.
  9. The collective experience of the race, embodied in history and tradition, expressed in literature, also reveals God. You can know God through others' stories, through great literature.
  10. The saints reveal God. They are advertisements, mirrors, little Christs. They are perhaps the most effective of all means of convincing and converting people.
  11. Our ordinary daily experience of doing God's will will reveal God. God becomes clearer to see when the eye of the heart is purified: "Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God."
  12. Prayer meets God—ordinary prayer. You learn more of God from a few minutes of prayerful repentance than through a lifetime in a library.
Unfortunately, Christians sometimes have family fights about these ways, and treat them as either/or instead of both/and. They all support each other, and nothing could be more foolish than treating them as rivals—for example, finding God in the church versus finding God in nature, or reason versus experience, or Christ versus art.
If you have neglected any of these ways, it would be an excellent idea to explore them. For instance, pray using great music. Or take an hour to review your life some time to see God's role in your past. Read a great book to better meet and know and glorify God. Pray about it first.
Add to this list, if you can. There are more ways of finding and knowing God than any one essay can contain. Or any one world.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

11 Reasons to stop complaining


Here are 11 reasons to avoid a complaining spirit like the plague (and why it's bad for those around you).

These are based on Numbers 11

1. It shows a lack of gratitude for God's provision

2. It shows a lack of faith in the power of God to do right by his children and provide His best

3. Unfairly places a burden on the leadership

4. Destroys unity of purpose and fosters a divisive spirit

5. This spirit never stays contained but spreads like gangrene to others in the community

6. Keeps people focused on the problem instead of the solution

7. Creates deep impatience and unrealistic expectations

8. Seeks easy, selfish solutions that in the end create more problems

9. People who complain are generally very immature and unable to deal with ambiguity

10. People who complain today will always find something to complain about tomorrow; they cannot be pleased.

11. Causes leadership burnout

After reading Numbers 11, what would you add or subtract from this list?

Monday, October 8, 2012

Toward a theology of worship

Shout for joy to God, all the earth; sing the glory of his name; give to him glorious praise! Say to God, "How awesome are your deeds! So great is your power that your enemies come cringing to you. All the earth worships you and sings praises to you; they sing praises to your name." Psalm 66:1-4

Many years ago, a dear member of a congregation where I was once pastor felt the need at the end of worship services to bring me a checklist of mistakes made during the worship service. The prayers were too long; the sermon lacked biblical depth; too many praise songs; and not enough of the great hymns of the faith; the bulletin had three errors...

Week after week, this dear saint felt compelled to present a checklist of what didn't work in worship.

After awhile, I asked for a meeting; and over Subway sandwiches, talked about our theology of worship. The conversation yielded the source of the problem: worship as a flawless performance vs. worship as an offering to God.

Worship as flawless performance is worship at the human level; this is worship for the benefit and satisfaction of the audience. This style of worship is always limited to a time--Sunday--and a place--a church building. Worship as performance is controlled, results oriented, and superficial--how did I feel today? Did I get anything out of the service? If the person determines there is nothing to be gained from the service, they also determine that the quality of the worship service is retrograde.

On the other hand, worship as an offering to God is always worship focused on God and for the sake of God. This approach transcends style, checklists, time, location, and feelings. This is worship as a way of life that invites, and offers up all that we do, and all that we are as an offering to the Lord.

In today's reading, notice the direction of God-saturated worship:
1. shout for joy to God
2. sing the glory of his name
3. give to him glorious praise
4. say to God, "How awesome are your deeds!
5. all the earth worships you and sings praises to you

The heart of worship is entirely about God, who is revealed as Father, Son and Holy Spirit and never, ever about us!
As long as we make worship about us then we gain nothing from the exercise.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Leadership and Sabotage

This is a word of encouragement to all leaders of large and small enterprises. If you are a leader, you are undoubtedly facing challenges from those who follow you. I  would encourage you to get a copy of Ruth Haley Barton's, Strengthening the Soul of your Leadership: Seeking God in the crucible of Ministry, to help you stay strong. Here's a short quote from her book...

One of the basic disciplines that characterized Moses' life as a spiritual leader was his commitment to intercessory prayer, and it seemed to be essential to his ability to sustain himself in ministry and find the wisdom he needed. But in order to carry the people into God's presence with a pure heart and real commitment to their well-being, he needed to understand what was really going on. 
The late Edwin Friedman, in his work applying family systems theory to life in congregations, says that criticism of the leader (which is a form of sabotage) is so predictable that it should be viewed as part and parcel of the leadership process itself. 
Self-differentiated leadership always triggers sabotage which is a systemic part of leadership--so that a leader can never assume success merely because he or she had brought change. It is only after having first brought about change and then subsequently endured the resultant sabotage that the leader can feel truly successful. When the sabotage comes, this is the moment when the leader is most likely to experience a failure of nerve and seek a quick fix. 
This pattern of complaining and blaming the leader repeated itself with utter predictability throughout their journey and Moses dealt with it in a couple of different ways:

1. He refrained from taking it all too personally
2. He refused to accept responsibility for what was ultimately God's responsibility
3. He refused to take on the weight of the Israelites' expectations.
4. He would not allow them to treat him as if he were God, nor behave as though he were responsible for something he was not.

Your complaining is not against us but against the Lord (Exodus 16:7-8).

Saturday, October 6, 2012

7 Marks of healthy small groups


If you are leading a small group in your home or at your church, or you are praying about starting a small group, these 7 small group principles by Rick Warren, and gleaned from Acts 2, are worth integrating into your small group ministry.

1. HEALTHY SMALL GROUPS STUDY THE BIBLE

Small groups in the New Testament studied the Bible together. Acts 2:42 says, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching.” Of course, we know the teaching of the apostles is what we call the New Testament today. They lived in an oral culture, but they were still studying lessons from the apostles. 
One thing you can do is have your small groups study what you taught the congregation on Sunday. At our church, Saddleback, we have a group of volunteers who create “Talk It Over” guides that we put online Sunday night. These can be printed out and used by small groups during the week. They include questions related to the Scriptures we studied in the weekend services, plus additional verses to consider.
The benefit of this is that it helps people focus on one Bible truth. Too often we teach too much. When I was growing up, I could go to church throughout the week and end up with as many as 13 different Bible studies. I started thinking, “My life can’t change that much.” Sometimes I think we teach too much, so something like the “Talk It Over” guide will allow your congregation to focus on one biblical truth a week. 

2. HEALTHY SMALL GROUPS SHARE LIFE TOGETHER

The Book of Acts says the early believers were devoted to fellowship (v. 42). This means they were serious about their friendships. Notice the text here says they were devoted to “the fellowship,” not just to “fellowship.” In other words, fellowship is not just an act the church does; we are the fellowship.
Jesus calls us to be committed to one another, and it is through small groups that we learn the skills of relationship. Small groups are laboratories of love, where we learn to obey the command of Jesus to love your neighbor as you love yourself. 

3. HEALTHY SMALL GROUPS REMEMBER JESUS TOGETHER

The Bible says the early believers devoted themselves “to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (v. 42). The “breaking of bread” in this passage specifically refers to Communion (or the Lord’s Supper). In the early Church, they did not take Communion in a large worship setting; they served it in small groups.
You will, of course, want to work within the tradition of your church, but at Saddleback we allow small groups to serve Communion. For one thing, Communion is only for believers, so a small group setting ensures only believers will take part.

 4. HEALTHY SMALL GROUPS PRAY TOGETHER

The Bible says the early believers devoted themselves to prayer (v. 42). Jesus taught that there is a power to prayers spoken aloud for each other, and he made an incredible promise about small groups of believers: “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am among them” (Matt. 18:20). In the intimacy and confidentiality of small groups, we can pray for each other as we share our hurts, reveal our feelings, confess our failures, disclose our doubts, admit our fears, acknowledge our weaknesses, and ask for help. 

5. HEALTHY SMALL GROUPS ARE GENEROUS

The Bible says these small groups gave “to all, as any had need” (Acts 2:45). Small groups allow us to help each other with practical needs: “Can I loan you a car?” “Can I provide you with some meals when you are sick?” 
We tend to centralize ministries, creating a food pantry or a counseling center. But this wasn’t the New Testament model. The early Church had decentralized ministries, so that’s what we try to do at Saddleback. Let me give you an example. A few years ago, one of our members met someone who had been in a bad situation and ended up homeless. She bought the homeless person a meal and then provided him with a bus ticket to where a sister lived. 
The next day, the Saddleback member told me about it and said, “There are lots of homeless people. The Church should do something about it.” I said, “The Church just did.” The next Sunday, I got up and told the congregation, “I release you to assist the poor and feed the hungry and help the homeless.” There are small groups at Saddleback doing all kinds of ministry that I know nothing about. We’ve decentralized by giving them permission to engage in ministry as a small group.

6. HEALTHY SMALL GROUPS WORSHIP TOGETHER

The Bible says the New Testament small groups worshiped together, “praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people” (v. 47 NIV). We need to worship God more than once a week, and small groups offer an opportunity to worship together.

7. HEALTHY SMALL GROUPS WITNESS TOGETHER

As these small groups met together, “the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (v. 47). They were inviting others to join them. One of the proofs of a healthy small group is that it reproduces, so a small group may add members, but a small group may also help start another small group.
Small groups can be creative in outreach. For instance, one small group at Saddleback pooled their money and bought season tickets for the San Diego Chargers for everyone in the group, but they also bought some extra tickets. They go together to each game, but they also use the extra tickets to invite others to come with the group. They don’t start a Bible study at the game—they just have fun—but that allows them to say, “This same group meets on Tuesday nights for Bible study. Would you like to join us?”
 This post originally appeared on Pastor Rick’s site,Pastors.com.

Friday, October 5, 2012

How temptation works


Dietrich Bonhoeffer skillfully unpacks the struggle all human beings have with tempting desires.
 In our members there is a slumbering inclination towards desire which is both sudden and fierce. With irresistible power desire seizes mastery over the flesh. All at once a secret, smoldering fire is kindled. The flesh burns and is in flames. It makes no difference whether it is sexual desire, or ambition, or vanity, or desire for revenge, or love of fame and power, or greed for money, or, finally, that strange desire for the beauty of the world, or nature.

Joy in God is…extinguished in us and we seek all our joy in the creature. At this moment God is quite unreal to us, he loses all reality, and only desire for the creature is real; the only reality is the devil. Satan does not here fill us with hatred of God, but with forgetfulness of God….The lust thus aroused envelopes the mind and will of man in deepest darkness. The powers of clear discrimination of decision are taken from us….It is here that everything within me rises up against the word of God. Therefore the bible teaches us in times of temptation in the flesh to flee: Flee fornication (I Corinthians 6:18)—from idolatry (I Corinthians 10:14)—youthful lusts (II Timothy 2:22)—the lust of the world (II Peter 1:4). There is no resistance to Satan other than flight. Every struggle against lust in one’s own strength is doomed to failure. (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Temptation, 33-34).

Now compare his insights with James 1:14-15:  But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Words that hurt, words that heal

 But no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. James 3:8-9

Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, author of Words That Hurt, Words That Heal, lectures throughout this country on the powerful, and often negative, impact of words. He often asks audiences if they can go 24 hours without saying any unkind words about, or to, another person. Invariably, a small number of listeners raise their hands, signifying "yes." Others laugh, and quite a large number call out, "no!"

Telushkin responds: "If you can't answer 'yes' recognize that you have a serious problem. If you cannot go 24 hours without drinking liquor, you are addicted to alcohol. If you cannot go 24 hours without smoking, you are addicted to nicotine. Similarly, if you cannot go 24 hours without saying unkind words about others, gossiping about other people, then you have lost control over your tongue."

And to lose control of one’s tongue is bad news for us as individuals, it’s bad news for a church, a family and every relationship is imperiled. A tongue out of control is like a dirty bomb that explodes, causing huge collateral damage.

How are you using your words? What words do you use to bless those around you? Do you need to repent before God and others for reckless use of words? May God give you the strength to do it!

Visit our website to hear the complete audio version of this sermon preached at our church on Sunday, September 30. 

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

What God cares about

 Every way of a man is right in his own eyes,
  but the LORD weighs the heart.
 To do righteousness and justice
  is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice.
Proverbs 21:2-3

We have to remember that God cares more about the make up of our inner life than our penchant for self-justification. Through our eyes, we find ways to rationalize our actions; we find ways to project the right image of ourselves to others.

This is such a superficial way to live. And while others cannot see the depth of our inner lives, God sees and knows. God examines us in ways that others can't.

God cares whether or not we live an ethical life. Living a life marked with justice and righteousness is more desireable to God than all the religious sacrifices we make for Him.

God told disobedient Saul,
Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices,
as in obeying the voice of the Lord?
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,
and to listen than the fat of rams, I Samuel 15:22
 
And then Micah, working with the  same theme, asks,
 “With what shall I come before the LORD,
  and bow myself before God on high?
 Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
  with calves a year old?
 Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams,
  with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
 Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
  the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
 He has told you, O man, what is good;
  and what does the LORD require of you
 but to do justice, and to love kindness,
  and to walk humbly with your God?

(Micah 6:6-8)
 
Don't worry about impressing people; focus on giving glory to God!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Solomon's Bucket List

Did you see the movie, The Bucket List? The story is about two men who know they are about to die from cancer. But instead of resigning themselves to their fate, they escape from the hospital, and hit the road determined to complete a list of things they always wanted but never took the time to actually do.

They did things like sky dive, drive a race car, travel across the country and reconcile with loved ones.

The movie resonated with many people and the "bucket list" phenomenon is now a common part of our vocabulary.

I enjoyed watching the movie but it was void of one key truth for human existence: a relationship with Jesus Christ. What does it profit to have lived one's bucket list; accomplished one's dreams; fulfilled one's fantasies and then fail in the most important item on the list...a relationship with Jesus Christ?

Reading through Proverbs, I found Solomon's bucket list. His list was mostly concerned with never missing the goal of life. God, before things. For him, God was the goal of life; honoring God was his ultimate purpose. Here's his bucket list...

Two things I ask of you;
deny them not to me before I die:
Remove far from me falsehood and lying;
give me neither poverty nor riches;
feed me with the food that is needful for me,
lest I be full and deny you
and say, “Who is the LORD?”
or lest I be poor and steal
and profane the name of my God.
Proverbs 30:7-9

What's your bucket list?

Monday, October 1, 2012

Easy come? Easy go


Wealth gained hastily will dwindle, but whoever gathers little by little will increase it (Proverbs 13:11).

On Christmas morning 2002, Jack Whittaker found out he had won the Powerball lottery jackpot - $315 million - the largest individual payout in US lottery history. Though he began with intentions to do good with his winnings, his world quickly fell apart with the death of his granddaughter Brandi from a drug overdose which was funded by her allowance from Whittaker and the breakup of his marriage. Whittaker did give money to churches and to people who were in need but was soon bombarded with lawsuits, thievery and greed. He turned to drinking as he watched what he called the "powerball curse" destroy his life. Go here to read this sad story.

Solomon warned, He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity. Ecclesiastes 5:10


Instead, we are to Honor the LORD with our wealth and with the first-fruits of all our produce;
Proverbs 3:9


Seek love for God and others, for love is still the greatest gift.

Solomon accurately says, money cannot buy love:

Many waters cannot quench love,
neither can floods drown it.
If a man offered for love
all the wealth of his house,
he would be utterly despised.
Song of Solomon 8:7

 Money has its place as tool to be used for the glory of God. John Wesley famously advised...earn all you can, save all you can and give all you can.

Instead of dreaming of get-rich-quick schemes, focus on laying aside a steady percentage of your income for the future.

Finally, whose money is it anyway? Everything we own is on loan from God. “But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able thus to offer willingly? For all things come from you, and of your own have we given you. I Chronicles 29:14