Saturday, August 27, 2011

I Can't Do It!

Tomorrow I am preaching on Luke 10:25-37. A lawyer comes to Jesus and asks Him how he can gain eternal life. Jesus responds by asking him his thoughts. He essentially responds, "You got it, just do it."

The lawyer should have responded like Grace responds at the end of this video!

Instead, he wanted to gain eternal life on his own. May we come to the place where we say, "I can't do it" and turn to Jesus trusting Him alone.

Friday, August 26, 2011

How to read the Bible?

The Bible is unlike any other book for it is the very word of God. It is thick and intimidating--especially if you grew up like me with no foundational knowledge about it. I remember being attracted to it, but not know where to start. On more than one occasion, I played "Bible roulette" on the Gideon's Bible in just about every hotel room. Nothing really came out of it.

Often I am asked, "How, or what, should I read (in) the Bible?" There are books and books on hermeneutics. I don't want to go there in this post. Let's keep it simple. We are about to start a new month and I would love to give you something tangible that is guaranteed to grow your relationship with God.

Okay, in the morning start with Proverbs. Read the chapter that corresponds with the day of the month we are on. Now September only has 30 days, so you will have to read two chapters on the last day. Proverbs is all about wisdom. It hits about every area in life. Starting your day with a chapter of Proverbs will help you have godly wisdom at the forefront of your mind as you take on the day. You will be blessed if you do this year round!

I normally tell people to start a deeper study with Ephesians. It is in the New Testament. It is short and packed with all sorts of important stuff. It is simple to read and understand, yet it contains deep theological truths that you can chew on for a long time. I don't know how you like to study, but I would take on Ephesians later in the day...say sometime between lunch and bedtime. Read Ephesians everyday for the month of September. Don't freak out, it is only six chapters and you can read it in about 15 minutes. Reading it everyday you will notice that you almost memorize the book--you can think through it and it will be with you throughout the day even when you are not near your Bible.

Okay, now we know what we are going to read in September, let's check out the "how to" portion.

How should we read the Bible? Let me give you some quick tips:

1. Pray. Ask God to help you understand, to guide you, to soften your heart as you read His word. The Bible just isn't a is God's very word and we should seek Him for help before reading it.

2. Bring a pad and pen with you. As you read make notes. What things caught your attention? What don't you understand? What encouraged you? Actively engage what you are reading.

3. Buy a good study Bible and read the notes, the background information...anything that will help you understand the context of the text. I highly recommend the Life Application Study Bible. There are many out there and I am happy to help you find one that fits you. Just ask!

4. Close in prayer. Thank God for His word, ask Him for help to work through things you were convicted of--maybe confess sin that was exposed.

Hope this is helpful! Do it this September and let me know how it goes!

Monday, August 15, 2011

A One Side Marriage

Imagine your wedding day. You have just made your side of the vows. You have vowed to stay with your spouse in sickness or in health, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, and forsaking all others till death do you part.

Then your soon to be spouse whispers to the the minister and says, "You know, I have made some modifications to the vows and would like to read them myself." Your heart races with excitement as your significant other begins to say their vows to you. "I promise to take you in health only, for better only, in riches only, and I will most likely not forsake all others till whenever we part." Can you imagine the look on your face? Would you go forward with the marriage?

There are plenty of Bible passages that illustrate this is how God feels by the actions of His people. Check out the book of Hosea (3:1-2) as an example.

Now, this post may seem to contradict my last doesn't. We are saved by grace through faith alone and we stand in grace as Christians, but does God not want us to live for Him? How do our actions fit into the Christian life? I wrestled through these thoughts in preparation to preach on Luke 9:57-62. You can listen to the message by clicking here.

I find it funny when Jesus challenges American Christianity as we know it. Seems, He sets the bar, not vice versa. MacArthur suggests this passage reveals three areas that hold people back from following after Him--1) personal comfort, 2) personal riches, and 3) personal relationships. I think these three point adequately outline the message of this passage. What does the text say and how do we struggle with each.

Personal Comfort - Luke 9:57-58
As they were going along the road, someone said to Him, “I will follow You wherever You go.” And Jesus said to him, “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.”
I wonder how those who preach a prosperity gospel on television can keep a straight face. The promises they make to people practically exclude Jesus from their club.

The lesson I learn from this man is I do not come to Jesus as my personal butler that has the job of making my life comfortable. I come to Him as Savior and Lord over all. He has saved me from my sin and I serve at His pleasure.

Personal Riches? - Luke 9:59-60
And He said to another, “Follow Me.” But he said, “Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father.” But He said to him, “Allow the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God.”
This one offers to possibilities of interpretation. I will explore both.

The dad is dead. People don't like this one because it makes Jesus words sound very harsh. But if this is the case, let's step back and examine human history. Whether or not you trust in Christ for salvation, the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ are the number one event in human history, yet this guy opts out. The lesson is simple. Follow and serve God now, don't make promises for all you will do...later.

The dad is not dead, but the son doesn't want to displease his father and be cut out of the family business and ultimately lose his inheritance. In this case, Jesus is stressing the point that He is our ultimate provider. He will provide for you...too often we place our trust in God second to things like our 401k, IRA, or our inheritance.

Personal Relationships - Luke 9:61-62
Another also said, “I will follow You, Lord; but first permit me to say good-bye to those at home.” But Jesus said to him, “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”
Letting personal relationships hinder your following Jesus. The thought of loosing face or relationship with friends and family is a terrifying thing. I know that following Jesus seriously has closed the door on some close relationships of mine over the years. Early on I felt a tug-o-war in my heart trying to live two lives (one for Jesus and the other for my friends). These worlds eventually collided and I had to choose one...I chose Christ and haven't looked back.

Last week I caught myself struggling with this one. This may seem stupid, but I think it identifies this problem at its core. During worship my heart's desire was to raise my hands in surrender to the Lord, but I resisted because my tattoos might show and thought, "What would people think?" Ah, there it is..I should care about what God thinks. Who cares what people think...and they don't even care!

So What?

The bottom line is I want to be loyal to God. Fully sold out with nothing holding me back. Lord, I am yours. Help me to live for you with all of me!

Standing in Grace

One of the first things I learned as a Christian was I was saved by grace. In short, this means my being right with God was done totally by him and activated when I believed upon Jesus. This truth is summarized in a couple places in Ephesians.

The first place is Ephesians 1:13 which says, "In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation--having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise..." The second place is found in Ephesians 2:8: "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God."

It seems to me the Protestant world pretty much understands the truth that salvation is by grace alone. But what about the Christian life? I love the old hymn "Jesus Paid it All, All to Him I Owe", but is this misunderstood by Christians who think works sustain their relationship with God? I wrestled with this question preparing for a sermon on Luke 6:1-11. In this story there are some Pharisees who essentially jump out of the bushes trying to condemn Jesus for breaking their self imposed laws.

What process does one take to get to this point of legalism (i.e. the strict enforcement of non-biblical rules)? How do we guard ourselves from creating rules that are not biblical commands? I think this is a very important issue as I have seen many turn a relationship with a loving God into a strict list of things to do or not to do if you are going to please God. The list is so long of examples, but some I have seen recently concern how a Christian family educates their children, style of worship in church, the translation of Scripture one uses, etc, etc...

In my own life I have learned that God uses the conviction of the Holy Spirit to move me into closer relationship with him. The conviction of the Holy Spirit can be painful, but he is so good to help us in our walk with God. One area in my life where I felt this conviction in a mighty was was my drinking that led to drunkenness on a regular basis. I really struggled to maintain sobriety for many years. About 10 years ago, I quit drinking altogether through the Lord's help.

This was a great victory for me in my weakness. But as the years went by, I started to notice a root of self-righteousness sprout up. I don't think it was evident externally, but I see it in the depths of my heart. From a theological standpoint, I don't thinking having a glass of wine, or a beer, is wrong. The Bible is clear that drunkenness is the problem. For more on my views on drinking read my blog about Christians and Drinking. But my self-righteousness would sprout up when I saw a Christian having a beer (without drunkenness and under legal conditions) and it was evident to me through a critical spirit within.

It never ceases to amaze me how quickly sinful man because religiously arrogant. There is phrase in Romans that caught my attention a few years back. In Romans 5:1-2, Paul says this:

"Therefore, having been justified by faith [salvation], we have been peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom with also have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand [the Christian life]; and we exult in hop of the glory of God."
God's grace is not just sufficient for salvation, it carries on into the life that we live as followers of Christ. Why is the concept of living under grace so difficult for us? I think it boils down to our lack of understanding God's nature. The deeper my relationship grows with God, the more humbled I am by His graciousness to us. My worth is based upon God's love for me, not by my accomplishments for Him. In looking at others, I am constantly reminded that while we need to care for each other, we should hold ourselves to the highest biblical standards which will humble us into the arms of Christ and ultimately give us a spirit of grace and love as we hold others to the lowest biblical standard!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Priority of Going to Church

Church. It's something I attempted to evade virtually every Sunday of my youth. I hated it. I found it to be terribly boring and a waste of my time. I try not to bash the Roman Catholic Church, but I was raised in it and it was B-O-R-I-N-G to say the least.

Today I find church to be one of the most important things in my life (I am saying this as a Christian, not as a pastor). Regardless of my vocation, I plan on spending just about every Sunday in church for the rest of my life. There are very few things that would keep me from church. I don't really even remember the last time I missed church. I know that I missed two weeks on my trip to Israel, but other than than I have been in church almost every Sunday for about the last 15 years (of course there were many times as a Navy SEAL where going to church wasn't an option).

What gives? Why the change in my life? These are hard questions. I don't know how well I will do answering them, but I feel guilty for not blogging recently so I will sort of shoot from the hip on this one. I feel like this is an important question to answer in light of the fact that so many people who profess Jesus as Lord rarely attend church on a regular basis. Here are some reasons why I think going to church is important.

1. The Bible commands it. I look to the Bible for instructions concerning this life. According to the passage below, I think God wants Christians to go to church on a regular basis.

"Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near" (Heb. 10:23-25 NASB).

2. According to the above verse, going to church helps you grow as a Christian through community. I am finding this point hard to express right now. Notice the part above that says, "consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds." Clearly going to church is more than just doing your time on Sunday to please God. Church is a place to fan the believer's flame for God and to equip the Christian into action (Eph. 4:11-13). I believe the growth of many Christians is being stifled by not attending church on a regular basis (i.e. once, or more, times per week).

Books could be written on point number two, but time precludes my ability to do this. Instead, I will conclude with some thoughts from my heart. As we go to church on a regular basis a number of very important things will take place:
  • I have developed deep friendships through being connected at church. There is a certain sort of relationship that occurs through the local church that cannot be replicated anywhere else--this is what the Bible means when it uses the term "fellowship."
  • I have grown in my understanding and application of the Bible in my life. This is the foundation of discipleship. I have grown in my walk with the Lord because I have been in church on a regular basis. I have also grown stronger in areas of weakness.
  • I have been given the opportunity to serve and and to function according to my place within the body. I say this as a Christian, not as a pastor. If you are a Christian, God has a place for you to serve (Eph. 2:10).
This list is not exhaustive. Not every church is created the same. We live in an era of consumerism where people are fickle and don't plug in and stick as God wants them, but a church should offer some basic elements:

1. Sound Bible teaching that is interesting, practical, and true to the text. I truly think this is the most important aspect of a church as it is in essence the rudder of the direction of the church. I think other areas can be corrected through solid Bible teaching and the leading of the Spirit.

2. The worship should be worshipful. I hesitate posting this point as I have come to learn as a pastor that the "worshipfullness of the worship" is directly linked to the condition of the heart. This being said, I want to attend a church that aids in my worship, through music, to the Lord.

3. The people should be loving. Now you can't judge a church based on one or two bad apples. This is a general statement concerning the pastor, leaders, and bulk of the people. Jesus said that the world will know people are followers of Him by their love (John 13:34-35). I don't think it is unreasonable to expect a church to be filled with loving people.

I am a rush right now. You got it...I am off to church for Bible study! If you are looking for a church, don't judge the church in one setting. I think it takes between 4-12 weeks to truly get to know the church. I would encourage you to talk to the pastor, talk to the people, plug yourself in, and ask God for wisdom.

I know I didn't hit everything in this post. How has church been a blessing to you?