Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Greater Than the Holy Places

A few years ago I said something dumb to Kelly. Actually I say dumb things to her pretty often, but the specific dumb thing I have in mind was said a few years ago. We were talking about our wedding day, how special it was, etc. And Kelly mentioned what a fun day it was with all the make up, getting her hair did, all that girly stuff. And, in an attempt to be sweet, I said, "You looked as pretty to me on our wedding day as you do first thing in the morning." Now of course I meant that I think she's a knockout whether she's made up or not, that I'm just completely taken with her. That's not quite how she heard it. She heard her loving husband saying that on her wedding day, she looked like she had just rolled out of bed. Needless to say, my words didn't have the desired effect. But a few days later she calmed down and everything was OK. The point of that story is this; first, I'm apparently not the silver-tongued devil I always thought I was; and second, I was trying to get across that I love my wife for who she is. I love it when she gets all gussied up; but that's not why I love her. I love it when she has on her favorite outfit and knows how good she looks in it; but that's not why I love her. I love it when she takes care of things around the house and I don't have to worry about them; but that's not why I love her. I didn't marry her because of how she looks when she's dressed up, or for what she does around the house; I married her for her. And the reason I say all this is not just to score brownie points. It's because of a verse I read this morning. It's easy for me to say that I love my wife not for what she does but for who she is; but can I say the same things about God? Do I love God for who He is, or for what He does?

Look at David's words in Psalm 68:35: "O God, You are more awesome than Your holy places." In this Psalm he has referenced the 'mountain of God', an incredibly holy place for those in Israel. And as awesome and majestic as this place was, David says, "God, you are more awesome than this holy place." We could imagine David thinking of the tabernacle, the place where God met with men, where sin was atoned for, and God's holy wrath was satisfied. But as incredible as such a place was, God was more awesome than that. And what this verse caused me to think about is this simple question: Do I think God is more awesome than His holy places? Or asked another way, do I think God is more awesome than the things He does for, the things He gives me? How often do we hear Christians talking about how blessed they are, and then begin to list all the things God has done for them? Nothing wrong with being thankful for God's blessings, but if the gifts are good, how much greater must be the Giver? In your mind, is God more awesome than His holy places? Do you desire God more than the the things God can give? Our satisfaction, our fulfillment must come not in what God does, but in who He is. And the embodiment of who He is was revealed to us in the person of Jesus Christ. My highest aim, my greatest joy, my soul's deepest satisfaction must come from a personal knowledge of, and interaction with, Jesus Christ. If not, I've turned Christianity into an exercise in selfishness. Is Jesus Christ your greatest joy? Is God greater than His holy places? Paul said in Phil. 3:8, "Yes indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ..." Paul wanted Jesus. Not things from Him, just Him. He was enraptured by, caught up in the grandeur of King Jesus. Sadly, my focus often falls far short.

In his book, "God is the Gospel", John Piper asks this question: "The critical question for our generation-and for every generation-is this: If you could have heaven, with no sickness, and with all the friends you ever had on earth, and all the food you ever liked, and all the leisure activities you ever enjoyed, and all the natural beauties you ever saw, all the physical pleasures you ever tasted, and no human conflict or any natural disasters, could you be satisfied with heaven if Christ was not there?" Powerful question, isn't it? Our answer reveals where our heart lies. God is greater than His holy places. And knowing Jesus is the greatest experience we can have. Let's make sure our lives demonstrate that.

Father, forgive me for putting the things You give me above the One who gives them. Forgive me for finding my satisfaction in anything other than you. Lord, help me see Your greatness. Show me Your glory, that I may fall at your feet and worship You in spirit and in truth. Let me desire to know Jesus more than anything. And let me be satisfied with nothing but You. Amen.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Sin, Twinkies, and Forgiveness

So the other day I was babysitting the kiddos. Actually, Kelly likes to inform me that when it's your own children it isn't babysitting, it's parenting. So the other day I was parenting the kiddos. We needed a couple things from the grocery store so I loaded Emma and Owen up and off we went. When we got there I noticed a wicked, sinful, immoral display; Twinkies were on sale, 2 boxes for $5. Since Kelly wasn't with me, I grabbed a box of Twinkies and a box of cupcakes. Now understand that I completely realize how unhealthy a Twinkie is. I know that it's terrible, will kill me, etc. However, I love me some Twinkies. Or I thought I did. When I finally got around to eating one, it was OK. Not that great, just OK. Then later that night Kelly and I shared a post-dinner Twinkie (don't tell me the romance is dead). And while enjoying this horrendously unhealthy snack, she said, "Twinkies are never as good as you remember them." So I said, "How do you know how I remember them?" Actually, I didn't say that. But I began to think about what she said. And I thought, "That's not just true for Twinkies; that's true for sin."
Sin is never as good as we remember it, is it? We're going along serving Jesus, doing all we can for Him. And then we start to feel the old pull of temptation. The flesh rises up, wants to be gratified. And we begin to think about how enjoyable that sin is, how much fun it would be to indulge the flesh "one more time." And so we do. But what I've discovered in my life, and what I'm sure you've discovered, is that sin is never as good as I remember it being. The overwhelming guilt, the shame knowing that I've rebelled against my King, that I've trampled on the blood of Jesus outweighs any temporary pleasure I get from the sin itself.
Now that doesn't mean that sin isn't pleasurable. Of course it is; if it wasn't, it wouldn't be temptation, right? The Bible references the temporary enjoyment that sin affords in Hebrews 11:24-25: "By faith Moses, when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin." Notice that the Bible makes no attempt to hide the enjoyment of sin. Sin is fun. The flesh loves to be gratified, and when we engage in sin, it's always enjoyable; for a little while. But just as this verse reminds us, the pleasures of sin are passing. That means they won't last. And at the end of the day, when we come back to our senses and realize we're breaking God's law, all the enjoyment ends. We are brought face to face with our own iniquity, and must plead the blood of Jesus once again.
I know a guy who dated a girl on and off for several years. They would break up, get back together, break up, get back together, etc. I asked him why they continued in this cycle, and his answer was telling. He said, "When we're not together I miss her, I wish I was with her. But then when we get back together I'm reminded of why we broke up in the first place." Isn't that just like our struggle with sin? We turned our backs on it because we saw the end result. We saw that we stood condemned before a holy God, and we repented. But then the flesh began to desire gratification. And we turned back to our sin. And about the time we got neck deep in it, we remembered why we repented of it in the first place. Sin is never as good as we remember it. So when you're tempted, look beyond the temporary pleasure. Look to the end result of your sin. Realize that you're trading in eternal joy for temporary pleasure. And choose to find your pleasure in the surpassing greatness of Jesus Christ, rather than the temporal things of this world.

Father, forgive me for sinning against You. Forgive me for turning my back on the eternal and embracing the temporal. Forgive me for comparing Your greatness with the things of this world. Forgive me for choosing them over You. Help me to see Your all-surpassing majesty. Help me to see how incredible, how magnificent You are. And when I'm tempted, help me to remember the end result of my sin. Help me to run from it and run to You. Amen.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Cabela's & Christ-like love

Here's a little story about how God can use anything to teach you a lesson. A couple days ago Kelly and I were heading down Highway 67. It was the opening weekend for muzzle-loading season and there were several vehicles on the side of the road where hunters had parked to go and find that elusive wall-hanger. As we passed one vehicle there was a guy getting ready. And he was putting on some nice gear-Cabela's Outfitter's Fleece, which is pictured above for your viewing pleasure. Good stuff, high dollar gear. And I salivated appropriately. I even mentioned it to Kelly; "That guy has got some good gear; that's Cabela's Outfitter's Fleece, high dollar, good stuff." And as we drove on, I with visions of Christmas presents from Cabela's dancing in my head, I had a thought (or more accurately, God gave me a thought): I can identify a specific line of hunting gear from a moving car, going 65 miles per hour but I often fail to identify the needs of my wife. And suddenly, Cabela's Outfitter's Fleece wasn't the only thing on my mind. How is it that as a follower of Jesus Christ, a man who has pledged my love to Kelly, how is it that I can so easily recognize hunting clothes but can be so obtuse when it comes to noticing what my wife needs from me? The answer is painfully simple-I'm selfish. I could dress it up in nicer sounding words, but that would miss the point. I am a wretched, self-centered person. I can pick out a camo pattern from a moving car, but I have no idea what size shoes my wife wears. And I know that show size isn't a spiritual issue, but it is indicative of a spiritual issue; I take the time to learn about what matters to me and often ignore what matters to Kelly. Don't get me wrong, I don't beat her or anything like that. People often tell her how good she has it. And I there are certainly times when I'm a good husband. I can outwardly do all the things a husband is supposed to. But God hasn't called me to be an outwardly good husband; He's called me to be an inwardly good husband. Not just to act right, but to be right. And this is where I fail. I can do the things I'm supposed to, but if the inside doesn't match the outside, God isn't honored. Let me give you a 'for instance.' Kelly is feeling unwell today. She asked me to stay home and take care of the kids so she could rest. Know what my first thought was? Not, "Here's a chance to love my wife like Christ loved the church." Not, "Great, a day to spend with my kids!" And not, "My poor wife, I hope she feels better." No, I began to think of all the way that inconvenienced me. What a wicked, unrighteous attitude. Jesus told me to love Kelly like He loved the church. Paul tells me to consider others as better than myself. And I fail to do both. I have no problems making sure that my needs are met. But am I as concerned for Kelly's needs? Do I truly love her like Christ loved the church? Sadly, the answer is "No." So what's the lesson? I need to fix my stinkin' thinkin'. I need to quit being so selfish. I need to focus on Kelly instead of focusing on myself. That's tough. In fact, it's impossible. We're not wired to think of others, we're wired to think of ourselves. And so I need to be rewired. I need to claim Paul's promise; "I can do all things (including love my wife like Christ loved the church) through Christ who strengthens me." The gospel message that saved my soul is the same message that will give me the strength to serve my wife.

Father, thank You for my wife. What a precious gift. Thank You for her love and encouragement. Forgive me for failing You by failing her. Help me love her like Jesus loves the church. Help me to learn to think of her before I think of myself. Help me to learn her shoe size. Thank You for the sufficiency of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It fixes all my shortcomings and gives me the ability to obey and glorify You. Help me to rest in the gospel today, and to live it in all areas of my life. Amen.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Psalm 49:15 says, "But God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave, for He shall receive me." What really caught my attention was the phrase 'the power of the grave.' So often salvation is presented as a future event. When we get to heaven, then we see the fruits of our salvation; pearly gates, streets of gold, etc. And all that will be great. I'm looking forward to seeing what the Bible describes; I'm looking forward to seeing loved ones, Bible heroes, all that. But salvation isn't just a future event. It's a present event. Every day, I can demonstrate the fruits of my salvation. Why? Because God has redeemed by soul from the power of the grave. We're not just saved from the penalty of sin, i.e., Hell. We're saved from the power of sin-we are no longer slaves to sin. Before Christ, I couldn't avoid sin. After Christ, I've got the choice. I now have within me the power to choose holiness instead of wickedness, righteousness instead of immorality. I can live in the freedom by which I've been made free. I can cast aside every hindrance and the sin which so easily entangles and run the race with Christ has set out for me to run. What a powerful promise this is! I can see the fruits of my salvation today, not just in the future. In fact, scripture tells me that I better see the fruits of my salvation. Jesus said you know someone by their fruit, right? Not by the fact that they walked an aisle or were baptized or any of that. You know someone by their fruit. Does my life bear the fruit of salvation? Am I bearing witness that Jesus Christ is my Lord and Master? One of the most important questions we can ask ourselves is this; since I say I'm saved, what am I saved from? Are we saved from the power of sin in our daily lives? God has redeemed us from the power of the grave. Jesus saves us from the power, the presence, and the penalty of sin (that sermon is copyrighted, by the way-don't use it without my written permission). Let's live that truth today.

Father, thank You for saving me in spite of who I am. Thank You for loving a wretched, wicked sinner enough to provide an atoning sacrifice. Thank You for the blood of Jesus that washes away my sins. Thank you for the power that defeated the grave. Help me today to walk in victory over sin. Not because I have the power to, but because You have the power to, and I am walking in submission to You. Be glorified in my life today. Amen.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Working with Dad

So today I had Owen help me rake some leaves. Never too early to get them started. Besides, those pesky child-labor laws don't apply when you're at home. Actually, what happened was I was raking leaves and he wanted to help. So he got a rake and got started. I showed him a spot to start on and let him have at it while I started raking at another spot. After a few minutes, he came over to where I was raking to "help" me. And I know why he did it. I remember when I was a kid, outside trying to help dad with things, there were times when I would have trouble doing what I was supposed to do. I would look over and see that dad wasn't having any trouble at all. So I would sort of ease over to him, work close to him, and that would make me feel like I was getting more done. And I chuckled when I realized what Owen was doing, then I realized what a lesson I could learn from him. How often do I try to do things on my own, in my own power, and stray away from my Father in heaven? In John 15:5 Jesus said, " “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing." Couldn't get much plainer than that. Jesus says that apart from Him, we are incapable of doing anything. And yet so often I find myself working in my own strength, with my own power, trying to do things that I can't do. How much better would it be for me to follow Owen's example? How much better would it be for me to try and work as closely to my Father as I can? Because even if I'm not getting anything done, God is. And when I work close to Him, that's when I'm able to accomplish things. Without Him I can do nothing; but through Christ who strengthens me, I can do all things. One other thing-Owen was a great big helper until he noticed his sisters having fun doing something else. Then he was done helping daddy, and ready to go play. There's another spiritual lesson in there somewhere, but that's for another day.

Father, thank you for the precious gift of my children. Help me raise them in a way that honors and glorifies You. Help me to learn this lesson. Help me realize that apart from You, I can do nothing to bring glory to Your Name. Help me to remember, when I'm struggling to accomplish the things You ask of me, it's only because I've strayed away from You. Help me to stay close to You, to walk close by Your side. And help me to glorify You.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Best of both worlds

You're probably wondering why the Hannah Montana logo is gracing this post. You are right to do so. But there is a point to it. Like most dads of little girls in America, I'm familiar with Hannah Montana. Lily & Emma love the show; unfortunately, Owen is liking it too. But that's another post for another day. As anyone who has watched the show knows, it starts with the now famous theme song, "Best of Both Worlds." The other day, while trying desperately to get this song unstuck from my brain, I realized that this phrase perfectly encapsulates how most of us view our Christian walk. It's not that we aren't committed to following Jesus-on the contrary, we try to be faithful to serve Him, to obey Him, to do all that He's called us to do. The problem is that we don't just love Jesus-we still love the world too. And so we're trying to have the best of both worlds, aren't we? We want to be faithful to serve Jesus, but still not deny ourselves too much. We dress it up in words like "relevance" and "understanding", but in my life I've discovered that it's a love for the world and the things in it. This absolutely flies in the face of what Jesus said, doesn't it? I John 2:15 says, " Do not love the world or the things in the world." Pretty plain, isn't it? Then John goes on to make this amazing statement; "If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him." Do we ever pause to consider the implications of this statement? If we have a deep seated love for the world-the set of rules & values by which the world governs itself-if I love that in the same way I love Jesus, then I don't really love Jesus. Consider it this way; I can say all day long that I love my wife. But if I tell you I love her while keeping a girlfriend on the side, you have reason to doubt whether or not I truly love her. Why? Love for my wife is an exclusive love; if I love her, I can't love another. In the very same way, Jesus demands an exclusive love from us. And here's something we don't often consider-Jesus deserves an exclusive love from us. How sad that we allow our love for the temporal to cloud our love for the eternal. We, as Max Lucado said, allow that which will rot to rule that which will last forever. There are serious implications to trying to have 'the best of both worlds.' My life should be given over to an exclusive, exhaustive love for my Savior.

Father, thank you for Your patience when I don't love You as I should. You are worthy of so much more than I offer you, yet You still love me. I acknowledge that this isn't because of anything good within in, but only because of the blood of Jesus Christ that has atoned for my sins, and purchased my adoption into Your family. Help me to love You above all else; to love You with all my heart, soul, mind and strength. You demand such love from me; You deserve such love for me. Because You love me, help me Love you. Amen.

Why I finally signed up

Okay, so I've finally decided it was time to start a blog which is something I said I would never do. When blogging first began to grow in popularity I thought it was simply an egotistical exercise, an expression of one's own inflated sense of self-importance. "How arrogant" I thought, "to think that people are that interested in your 2 cents." But then I began to read these blogs and saw the value they had. That's right, I've always been a little slow on the uptake. But I saw that it was a great way to connect to like minded people-and to meet people who don't share your particular viewpoints. More importantly, I saw that it's a great way for a pastor to stay in touch with his people and to encourage them through the week. So here I am, feet firmly planted in the 21st century-though in reality, I suppose blogging is so last century. I'll be sharing my thoughts, views, rantings, ravings, etc. Come have a look sometime. If I say something you like, let me know. If I say something you don't like, let me know. If I say something that makes you angry, let me know and we'll talk about it. You know, no big whoop. Mostly, I hope I'll say something that encourages you, that lifts you up a bit; and above all, I hope that something I say will adorn the doctrine of God my savior.