The Jonah Effect – Contempt vs. Compassion & Evangelism

Many people today, both in and outside of Christianity, know about Jonah from the Bible. Mostly remembered for being inside of a great fish, Jonah’s tale teaches us much more than just the time he spent an aquatic creature’s stomach.

In fact, God’s speaks to us today just as clearly as those who would have read the part of the Old Testament so many years ago. At the heart of Jonah’s struggle resides the war between pride and compassion – self-righteousness versus evangelism.

The first three chapters of Jonah describe the process of God calling Jonah to bring a prophecy to the evil city Nineveh, Jonah running away via ship, God disturbing the sea, Jonah’s shipmates eventually casting him overboard (at his own request – which actually leads to their worship of the Lord), Jonah being swallowed by a great fish and his prayer of repentance, followed by his return to dry land and preaching to Nineveh. The entire city, upon hearing Jonah’s message from the Lord, repents of their sins and worships God.

The fourth chapter of Jonah gives us the real backstory behind Jonah’s foolish escape attempt from God’s calling. Many have tried to say Jonah was afraid of what might happen to him in Nineveh, but Jonah 4:1-3 tells us the truth:

But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. And he prayed to the Lord and said, “O LORD, is this not what I said when I was yet in my country? That I is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.”

Jonah actually grew angry because the Ninevites repented and avoided the judgment of the Lord! Reading that makes me angry at Jonah’s pride and self-righteousness, but does my judgment of Jonah also apply to my own life?

Christ calls all of his disciples to share his gospel to the world, but many of us turn and run from that every day. Are we not in the same boat as Jonah? Why do we act this way?

Sure, some of us may claim that we are afraid to share our faith, but what is the real story behind our excuses? What Jonah lacked we also find ourselves deficient – compassion for those who did not or do not know the Lord. Notice the difference between that and how Matthew describes Jesus in Matthew 9:6:

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

 Jesus had compassion for people – not just the poor and downtrodden. Jesus had compassion on the cities he looked out over, even those that would soon demand his crucifixion.

Paul paints a wonderful picture of Christ’s humility in Philippians 2:5-11, as he urged the Philippian church to imitate Christ’s humility:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Humility sets the stage for compassion. We lack compassion today because we lack humility and servant-hood. We let pride reign in us and fuel our self-righteousness. If this were not true, then the church would be sharing the good news of Christ with a lost world! Instead, the church spends too much time looking down on the lost with contempt like Jonah stared at Nineveh.

Let’s examine more of how pride fuels our self-righteousness and squelches our compassion. For Jonah, he was an Israelite, a member of the people of God. When God established Israel, he wanted his people to live in relationship with him and bear his name to the world. We see through the Scriptures that instead Israel mostly turned inward and developed pride for themselves instead of compassion for the world that did not know God.

When Jesus was on earth in the time of the Pharisees, this attitude had developed into a strong self-righteousness based on how well one would observe and keep the law. The “better” someone could keep all the laws, then the “better” that person was. The Pharisees for the most part believed they were better and treated others just like they were not. Jesus actually addressed this in a parable that would have seemed quite shocking to those who hear it (Luke 18:9-14):

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

We fall into this same trap today. Those of us in the Church, the people of God, get so consumed with our own morality and self-righteousness that we, either blatantly or subtlety, look at the lost world with contempt. Instead of thinking, “They need to hear the good news of Christ from us,” we think, “They need to act more like us.”

Today as cultures and lifestyles that differ from us assert themselves in the world, the sharp division of contempt or compassion becomes more and more apparent. Our contempt grows in the face of the celebration of sin rather than compassion for the lostness of those who are deceived by such things.

How do we combat this battle that rages within us? It all begins when we remember what actually sets us apart is not our own doing. Remember what Paul wrote in Romans 5:8:

But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Even when we did not deserve it – Christ gave his life for us! How quickly we forget this! If we look back at Jonah, he forgot it too:

Jonah went out of the city and sat to the east of the city and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, till he should see what would become of the city. Now the Lord God appointed a plant and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be a shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort. So Jonah was exceedingly glad because of the plant. But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the plant, so that it withered. When the sun rose, God appointed a scorching east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint. And he asked that he might die and said, “It is better for me to die than to live.” But God said to Jonah, “Do you do well to be angry for the plant?” And he said, “Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.” And the Lord said, “You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?”

Our pride lies to us. It tells us that we make ourselves good and what we do good makes us better than someone else. Then we don’t have any reason to share our faith when we are wrapped up in our own self-righteous bubble.

The time has come to burst that bubble and remember that our good is not really that good. Jesus died to set us free from the burden of self-righteousness, but we still struggle with it daily. We will never take the gospel to the world if we continue seeing it with contempt instead of compassion.

May our hearts be broken so that we will honor Christ as Lord and see the world as he sees! Christ, the only one ever without sin, saw the world with compassion and love. As Christ-followers, we are called to do the very same!

Here are some steps to take if you are struggling with a compassionate heart for the lost:

  1. Ask for forgiveness – Ask God to forgive you for holding on to your pride and self-righteousness
  2. Remember – Remember back when you gave your life to Christ. What led you to that?
  3. Humbly serve – Start small and serve others. Have the same mind that Christ did like Paul wrote in Phil. 2
  4. Read the Bible – this may sound like a no-brainer, but the best way to combat the lies of pride is with the Word of Truth
  5. Be accountable – Be a part of group of believers that will help keep your heart in check

 

 

 

 

 

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What Deuteronomy 17:14-20 Tells Us About the Perfect King & Living Differently As God’s People

Who would you consider to be a great leader today? What qualities make up a great leader?

This question has surrounded great historical figures, drives our news media today, and comprises the content of many books and courses aimed at developing leaders.

In the ancient world, a leader was defined by his power, influence, wealth, and image. However, we see from the Bible, God’s perspective, that a true leader does not follow these same standards.

In fact, Jesus turned the turned the world around when it came to leadership. He embodied a new ideal of humility and servanthood in leadership, radically different from prior paradigms. In fact, author John Dickson describes this at length in his book Humilitas. He contrasts Christ’s attitude with those of the Caesars and the like who would place their faces on the currency or build monuments to themselves.

Interestingly, what Christ embodied in his leadership through his incarnation and time on earth actually reflects the mandate for the kings of Israel that God prescribed in the covenant of Deuteronomy.

Let’s look at what God told his people through Moses regarding the kings they would have in Deuteronomy 17:14-20:

14 “When you come to the land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you possess it and dwell in it and then say, ‘I will set a king over me, like all the nations that are around me,’ 15 you may indeed set a king over you whom the Lord your God will choose. One from among your brothers you shall set as king over you. You may not put a foreigner over you, who is not your brother. 16 Only he must not acquire many horses for himself or cause the people to return to Egypt in order to acquire many horses, since the Lord has said to you, ‘You shall never return that way again.’ 17 And he shall not acquire many wives for himself, lest his heart turn away, nor shall he acquire for himself excessive silver and gold. 18 “And when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law, approved by the Levitical priests. 19 And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them, 20 that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left, so that he may continue long in his kingdom, he and his children, in Israel.

Notice some of the defining characteristics of king laid out in this passage:

1. Not acquiring of many horses – focus on the might of one’s military, a temptation to rely less on God and on the strength of oneself or potential allies (vs. 16)
2. Not acquiring many wives – one of the biblical passages that speaks against polygamy, warning of the dangers of the practice, turning one’s heart away from the Lord (vs. 17a)
3. Not acquiring excessive wealth – resisting the temptations of greed and exploitation of others to gain status; a wealthy king would mean poor people (vs. 17b)

Instead of a king focusing on these things, God instructs that a king should instead focus on the law and following the Lord, so that his heart will be right. Notice in verse 20 the emphasis placed on “his heart not be lifted up above his brothers.” God’s true desire for a king over his people was someone who would serve the people and use his position for the good of others – not to build himself up.

We know that all the kings of Israel fell short of this standard, even David, the “golden king” of Israel. Christ, the King of kings, accomplished this standard and demonstrated it in his life.

What does this mean for us today as God’s people? Deuteronomy contains many powerful themes, but possibly the most important lesson it can teach us is that God desired for his people to be set apart from the world around them to display his character through them.

A king, like one described in Deut. 17, would accomplish this, especially in contrast to the other kings and leaders of the world. Can you imagine how incredible life would be like with leaders living out the greatest commandments to love God and love others, leading people to do the same? We might describe it as “Heaven on earth,” because we look forward to that one day.

Instead, so many kings and leaders, now and even today, fall to the temptations of selfness and greed. We may hold up Christ as the example of a true leader but few come close to the standard. Even those who do not follow Christ exemplify humility but rarely call for it when it counts.

Any leader today, especially ones that claim to follow Christ, should first and foremost study the call of leadership from God’s perspective: serving others, not serving self.

Many lessons can be learned from Deut. 17:14-20, but not just for leaders. We can all see the call of God to his people to be holy, set apart – different in a desirable way – to display his character to the world.

Are we living this out as God’s people? Are you living this out as a Christ-follower, living in the kingdom of God? We should examine ourselves and our actions when it comes to issues today like taking care of widows and the poor, treating others with respect who live different lifestyles, how people are treated at our borders, and so much more.

Too often standards derived from culture or political parties influence us, not God or His Word. We must ask ourselves in response to all of this, “Who do I really follow?”

Jesus Christ reigns as the Perfect King. The One who became man to serve and save us (Phil. 2:5-11) and who calls us to deny ourselves daily and follow Him (Luke 9:23). Who are you following?

The Right Tools for the Job – Growing in Christ

A few weeks ago, a strong May storm suddenly popped up in the middle of the day here in Oklahoma, which usually means lots of rain and wind. On this particular Tuesday, the storm that moved into town so quickly dropped about three inches of rain in 20 minutes, with winds blowing straight over 70 miles per hour!

All over town streets were flooding and lights were flashing, but in my area of town quite a few of us had wind damage. Tree limbs were strewn about yards and streets, trash cans were blown over, and a church even lost part of its roof and steeple!

In my own yard, three of my wooden fence posts snapped at the ground, causing part of my fence to fall and my side gate to be undone. We still had a roof and had not lost a steeple, but we still had plenty of repairs to do.

Thanks to friends and family, I have learned over time how to repair and replace fence posts, so I decided to undertake this project – with the help of an invaluable friend (practically family) who often helps me with these types of projects (you know who you are).

To prepare for setting the posts with my friend, I knew I needed to get the old parts of the post still in the ground surrounded by concrete. Again, this was something I had done before and did not think would be a very big project.

You can probably see where this story is headed, and believe me, I was sorely (emphasis on the sore part) mistaken.

I began at 10am on Friday morning digging out the first of three fence posts. I dug. And dug. Annnnnd dug. Then I found this particular piece, the gate section, was stuck to the actual foundation of my house. So, I then started chipping away with a pickaxe, then a hammer, then a shovel.

Two hours later, I had freed the concrete from my foundation, but it was still in the ground. I keep digging and prying and trying to get the chunk of rocks and sand out of that hole.

By 2:00pm that afternoon, the concrete was still in the ground and I was now laying in the ground. With exhausting and absolutely no pride left, I called in the big guns. A friend from church I knew had the right tool for the job, and he came over to assist me. This short video below demonstrates just what it took to get that chunk of what I know realize was pure evil out of the ground.

Keep in mind, this was hole 1 of 3 I was going to dig. Thankfully, my gracious friend took his excavator and within 10 minutes was able to do what I could not in four hours.

My problem did not reside in not having the will or determination to accomplish the task. I simply did not have the right tools necessary. Have you ever been in a situation like that where you are trying to get something done without the right tools? It either takes everything out of you or the job gets done the wrong way.

Spiritually, the same principle exists. Many spend their whole lives trying to “be good” or “live a good life” to hopefully get to heaven one day or earn God’s favor. However, we do not possess the right tools for that job – only Christ’s work through the cross and his resurrection was able to make us right with God. Romans 6:23 describes this in such a profound way, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.” All our working does is earn us death, but eternal life is a free gift through Christ!

Those who have committed their lives to following Christ also get stuck using the wrong tools when it comes to growing in their relationship with Jesus. Especially in our culture today, many who follow Christ try to grow in their faith by being good or just working hard at doing “Christian” things. But are those the right tools?

When I think of the right tools and Christians growing in the faith, I am reminded of the early church in Acts 2:42-47:

42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

Where did these Christians focus? Simply put, they focused on spiritual disciplines not just individually but also in community. Today we often see these in disciplines like Bible study and prayer, not just on your own but also in a Sunday School group and in Worship as a church.

Trying to grow as a Christian without spiritual disciplines is like trying to do a job without the right tools – it just will not work.

This is just a brief blog post to encourage you to get the right tools in your belt. Entire books and studies have been written to teach and guide Christians to the practice of spiritual disciplines in their lives. Getting started on the right track is a journey that has a great support of resources available – including the church!

Far too many Christians try to live and grow in faith apart of the power of the Holy Spirit or the guidance that spiritual disciplines provides. I encourage you – connect with a pastor or staff member of your church (or get connected in a church)! If you are at my church, I would love to speak with you! Don’t be like me and trying to accomplish something that just will not happen without the right tools.

Growing to be like Christ and set apart for him, also known as sanctification, is an incredible journey of the Holy Spirit working in our lives as we pursue the Lord in knowledge and faith. Do not miss what God has in store for you!

 

God’s Plan to Bring the Hope of Christ to the Earth Has Always Been the Church: Redeemed With a Purpose // Ephesians 1 – Acts 19:1-10

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First Baptist Church – Chickasha, OK – June 2015

All to often, when we speak of the salvation & the redemption of our souls through Christ’s blood on the cross, the conversation remains centered on us. Even when we discuss discipleship, the focus can be far too inward, striving towards our growth through the Holy Spirit individually and not giving time to the purpose for which God has called and redeemed us.

God has not only called us individually to a purpose, but He has also called us at the body of Christ, the Church, to a purpose: to bring the hope of Christ to the earth.

The Church is not just a gathering of believers to be like-minded – it is so much more. We gather to bring glory to God through our praise but also though the mission of being Jesus to the world.

Paul emphasizes this in his Letter to the Ephesians. Chapter 1 reminds the Ephesians that Christ has redeemed them but also that God has always had the plan to use His Church to share Jesus with the world.

11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory – Eph. 1:11-14 (ESV)

We get hung up on words like “predestined” and think Paul is only talking about doctrines of salvation. I’m not going into a theological debate here, but a main point that we miss is that Paul is emphasizing the purpose of the Church that God has always known, even from before the world was made.

The purpose that God gives us as the Church is incredible, and even Paul understood that we can miss the brilliance of it at times. In Ephesians 1:16-23, he prays that the church would have their eyes open to see the fullness of what God wanted to do in them and through them!

16 I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. – Eph. 1:16-23 (ESV)

As a ministry leader, I have to ask myself, “Do we realize that mission? Are we leading people to realize the purpose that they have been called to, as well as the purpose of our church?”

Acts 19:1-10 tells the story of the beginnings of the church at Ephesus. Paul left the large crowds behind to spend daily time with 12 men for two years. During the time, the church in Ephesus began and their ministry helped the Gospel go out into all of Asia! That’s incredible!

And it happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the inland country and came to Ephesus. There he found some disciples. 2 And he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” 3 And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They said, “Into John’s baptism.” 4 And Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.” 5 On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying. 7 There were about twelve men in all.

8 And he entered the synagogue and for three months spoke boldly, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God. 9 But when some became stubborn and continued in unbelief, speaking evil of the Way before the congregation, he withdrew from them and took the disciples with him, reasoning daily in the hall of Tyrannus. 10 This continued for two years, so that all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.

Paul’s introductory section to the letter sent later to that same church reminds them of what God has called them to do, and he continues to focus on the church being a unified body to change the world through the Gospel.

For us today, that purpose and mission is ours as well! For a Christ-follower, being a part of a church is not just important – it’s essential. Jesus, the New Testament Authors, and God’s divine plan from before creation was always for the people of God to live as the body of Christ.

Churches are not perfect, neither are the people who are in them, but God’s plan is perfect. He has chosen us to be a part of changing the world! Isn’t that incredible? May we, as Paul prayed, have eyes and hearts that see the hope that God has called us to and the glory of what He is doing through and is us.

Demas: 3 Short Verses That Tell Us a Big and Important Story

For some time now I have been meeting weekly with a few guys to study through 1 & 2 Timothy. Just this week, we came to the final chapter of what many consider to be Paul’s final letter, 2 Timothy. In these final words, Paul distinguishes by name some people for Timothy to seek help from and to watch out for. One very interesting name appears in verse 10 of chapter 4: IMG_5904

For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. – 2 Timothy 4:10

Here, Paul makes a very powerful statement about this man named Demas. As it is with many of the names Paul includes in his letters, not much is known about Demas, but this is not the only place that Demas is mentioned in the New Testament. Earlier in the chronology of Paul’s letters, Demas is mentioned twice:

Luke the beloved physician greets you, as does Demas. – Colossians 4:14

Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends greetings to you, and so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my fellow workers. – Philemon 1:23-24

Demas was a missionary companion and fellow worker of Paul in spreading the Gospel. He was considered a leader in the eyes of the Colossians, so much so that Paul used his name – a name those in the Colossian churches would recognize. But by the time Paul was imprisoned, Demas had left Paul to live his own life and do he wanted to do.

In fact, Demas did more than leave Paul, he “deserted” him. This word deserted falls short of the full meaning, which can be translated “left in the lurch.” Today we might use the phrase, “left me in a ditch to die.”

What was the motivation for Demas’ departure? Paul describes it as “being in love with this present world.” The present world, to Paul, was everything outside of the Kingdom of God. Being in love with the present world meant not being in love with Jesus, the One who had given His life to save us. Being in love with the world is really about following oneself and not Christ. Paul writes in Colossians 3:

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. – Colossians 3:1-4

If we think of Demas in the context of today, he would be a respected deacon or elder in a church, maybe even a church staff member – someone who has served the church and the Lord. However, the story of Demas is all about one who serves the Lord for a time, but then decides to shift his priorities. We might even think of it as a sort of retirement from serving the Lord. “I’ve done my time. It’s time for someone else to do the work.”

The Holy Spirit worked through Paul to show us in the three short verses that this is not at all what the Lord desires for our life. There is no retiring from following Christ or serving the Lord and His church! All of Scripture teaches us that the world and its selfish desires leave us empty, but serving the Lord fills us and leaves an eternal legacy.

May our love be for the Lord and His Kingdom, not for this present world. May we set our minds on things above – on Christ – the One who gave His life so that we could live.

What Makes a Church “Attractive?”

What really makes a church attractive? Stained Glass6

In our western culture, much of how churches reach out to prospective members is through marketing. Some churches even begin with a budget that devotes half of its assets to marketing!  Many of today’s worship services are driven by thousands up to millions of dollars in audio & visual production costs.

Buildings are also an “attractive” emphasis for some churches. Style and function are the focus on building programs that also require incredible amounts of money. Often churches seem to take on a “if you build it, they will come” approach to being attractive.

There are many other factors that can go into the conversation: worship style, preaching style, clothing style, service times, ministry programs, Sunday School or small groups, and so on and so on.

The truth is, many people in our culture are drawn to these things – what they find to be attractive. Our church culture has become consumer-driven, and the church members have morphed into consumers. As ministers we see people come and go, many times based on the factors discussed above. People want to go to a church that has the things they like and where they can feel comfortable.

Are we getting it right? What really makes a church attractive? 

Looking back at the first churches in the New Testament, what did they have? There were no multi-million dollar budgets, no buildings, no lights, no sound, and no marketing budget. They couldn’t advertise – they would get arrested! Still, they saw transformation, growth, missions, community change, and movements of the Holy Spirit that would shock the world today.

Acts 2:42-47: 42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

For the early church, they were “attractive” because of the transformational community of the believers. People saw the change that Christ can make in a life, and they saw the true love of God between the believers. That’s what makes a church attractive – real change & real love.

Not only did the early church demonstrate this, but the New Testament writers continually wrote about it and instructed the believers to practice it. Here are just a few of many examples:

  • Acts 11:19-26: The church at Antioch demonstrated their transformation in such a way that those outside the church gave them the title “Christian,” identifying them with Christ
  • Galatians 6:10: Do good to all, especially the household of faith
  • Ephesians 4:26-32: Build up the community of faith, not tear it down
  • 1 Thessalonians 5:11: Encourage and build up one another
  • 1 Peter 4:7-11: Our love for one another glorifies God
  • James 2:14-17: How we take care of each other’s needs in our church demonstrates God’s love to others

Why is the transformation of the Holy Spirit and the love of God so attractive? Because everyone is created in the image of God, and deep inside of all of us we long to be a part of the way things God intended them to be. That is what changes people. Impressive marketing, grandiose worship production, and beautiful buildings do not transform lives.

I’m not saying that buildings, sound systems, lights, even advertising is a bad thing. Using these things to glorify God is smart and effective. They are great tools in leading people to follow Christ and be like Him. We must always remember, however, that what really makes a church attractive has not changed in 2000 years, nor will it ever be different.

Is My Faith a Joke?

IMG_1992The other night I was watching The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, a rerun from back in May, when he told this joke in his monologue:

“The St. Louis Rams made history on Saturday by drafting Michael Sam, making him the first openly gay player in the NFL. Yep, an NFL player who’s never been with a woman — or as Tim Tebow put it, ‘Eh, it’s been done.’”

After the first part of the joke, Fallon and the audience applauded at decision of the St. Louis Rams, and then laughed at reference to Tebow’s faith and belief.

I was fairly fired up, mainly because in a world today that raises the banner for “equality,” this joke was a microcosm of what reality is really like. I know, it’s just a joke on a tv show, but it got my gears turning. And then I got even more fired up, but this time it was directed at me.

This whole instance made me ask myself, “Is my faith a joke?” What does it say about me, other Christians, and the Church, when what we believe and so many have given so much for is the punchline in a joke?

What do others say about God because of me? Is my faith a joke?

Paul dealt with this very issue when he wrote the letter to the Romans. Actually, he was bringing up an issue that was a constant in Israel’s history. Their lives and actions did not match up with the God and faith they professed. Take a look at what Paul wrote in Romans 2:17-14:

17 But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast in God 18 and know his will and approve what is excellent, because you are instructed from the law; 19 and if you are sure that you yourself area guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, 20 an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth— 21 you then who teach others, do you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? 22 You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? 23 You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law. 24 For, as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”

Verse 24 is a reference to Isaiah 52:5, when the prophet deals with the same problem. No one took God seriously because the Jews were no better than anyone else. Their lives reflected no difference, no desirable qualities.

Jim Putnam wrote about this idea regarding today’s Christians. In his book DiscipleShift, he looks at the fact that Christian marriages are just as likely to end in divorce, Christians are not healthier, in as much debt, are not more generous, and so on. Basically, overall, our faith really is a joke to those that look on. Many of us are trying to hold to the days when being a “Christian” was something that was respected or admired, but those days are quickly crumbling away.

Even though Christians are divided on issues in our culture today, the Bible is very clear on many things. It is also equally clear on how much the world rejects God and all that He stands for. We can never expect to tell the world that such and such is a sin and expect anyone to listen if our lives do not show that following Jesus is better than anything else in life.

Ask yourself, are people laughing at God because of my life? Is my faith a joke?

As long as there is sin in the world, people will always reject God – even if we lived incredible lives full of faith. But we must ask ourselves about the reality of our faith.

If we really want to change the world, we have to live in such a way that shows people that Jesus really DOES make a difference. Our lives at church and at home must be the same. We must love our neighbors as we love ourselves. Our marriages have to be better. Our business dealings have to be better. Everything should be better – because Jesus is better!

I Hate Giving Blood, But…

I hate giving blood.blood

Don’t get me wrong, donating blood is an incredible thing that we can do to help others that really need it. I think it’s wonderful, our church supports it, and I have no beliefs or opinions against it.

My body, however, does not agree.

I am not exactly sure why my body freaks out when I give blood, but it is rather embarrassing. The first time I ever donated was in high school. I was sitting there, chatting along, and all of a sudden I got really dizzy and even more pale than I already am. Everyone started putting ice packs on me and buzzing about.

That’s pretty much how it goes every time. So when a blood drive rolls around every few months, I don’t get too excited. I really hate it, because I want to do it, but it’s hard.

However, there have been a few times when certain people I personally know have had urgent needs for blood or platelet donations, and my donation could really help them. In spite of my physiological aversions, I sign up and give. It’s never easy, and it usually ends up the same way every time. Still, there is an urgent need, and urgency demands action.

I’m not writing any of this to boast, because there anything for me to brag about really. But in the past several weeks our church family has been studying through Dr. Jeff Iorg’s book, Live Like a Missionary, which is challenging us to share the Gospel in our everyday lives. There are many reasons why we do not share Christ with those around us, but one that is huge is a lack of urgency.

Matthew 25:1-13 contains a parable told by Jesus of the Ten Virgins before a wedding. Five were prepared, and five were not. When the bridegroom came, the five who weren’t ready missed out. Jesus told this story because He wanted His disciples (and us) to always live with urgency and be ready. Verse 13 says, “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”

One way or the other, our time is short. Time is short for the people around us. We must have urgency when sharing the Gospel. It may not always be easy, but people NEED Jesus – they need what we know!

I hate giving blood, but I do it because there is an urgent need. Now, don’t read too much into the analogy, I DO NOT hate sharing the Gospel, but it hard for us sometimes. The Gospel is the greatest thing that has ever happened to me. The main point is that there needs to be a sense of urgency in our lives.

Maybe sharing your faith is hard for you, for whatever reason. But please do not let that stop you from sharing the life that Jesus has given you with others. Without Christ, people are dying, and we can share with them what gives life.

Bless the Lord O My Soul – A look at Psalm 103 and 10,000 Reasons

BiblePsalmsI am a terrible gardener. When it comes to mowing the lawn, I will take care of the grass and do what I need to keep the yard looking nice. However, when it comes to flowerbeds and the like, I’m just not that great.

Those beds of bushes and pretty plants take an enormous amount of effort to keep looking nice. When we moved into our new house, the landscaping was not in great shape, and over the busy summer, they have gotten progressively worse. I really do want them to look good, and my wife does especially. It’s just been hard with being so busy.

Flowerbeds do not automatically look nice though. Weeds creep in, mulch dries out, and plants die. They need to be tended to – worked over – cultivated.

Our souls are the same way. The rigors of life can creep in, and we can neglect the care of our hearts. Just like unattended gardens, our souls can become overgrown and out of sorts.

Psalm 103 is a great picture of worship that is cultivation of the soul. The psalmist, perhaps David, is working on the garden of his heart, calling his own being to worship. He is not manufacturing anything artificial, but rather he is doing what he must to clear out the mess and see the beauty of the Lord again.

This Psalm has found its way into many songs, but one today has captivated the heart of Christians all over the world. “10,000 Reasons” is written by Matt Redman, one of the most prolific sacred song writers of our day. The inspiration for this song comes from Psalm 103. I want us to take a look at the Scripture, looking to gain a better understanding of this song and how we worship through it. Through our journey, we will also do a bit of gardening in our own souls, calling our hearts to worship.

Psalm 103
1 Bless the Lord, O my soul,
 and all that is within me,
    bless his holy name!

2 Bless the Lord, O my soul,
 and forget not all his benefits,

3 who forgives all your iniquity,
 who heals all your diseases,

4 who redeems your life from the pit,
 who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,

5 who satisfies you with good
 so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

6 The Lord works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed.

7 He made known his ways to Moses,
 his acts to the people of Israel.

8 The Lord is merciful and gracious,
 slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

9 He will not always chide,
 nor will he keep his anger forever.

10 He does not deal with us according to our sins,
 nor repay us according to our iniquities.

11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
 so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;

12 as far as the east is from the west,
 so far does he remove our transgressions from us.

13 As a father shows compassion to his children,
 so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.

14 For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.

15 As for man, his days are like grass;
 he flourishes like a flower of the field;

16 for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
 and its place knows it no more.

17 But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children,

18 to those who keep his covenant
 and remember to do his commandments.

19 The Lord has established his throne in the heavens,
 and his kingdom rules over all.

20 Bless the Lord, O you his angels,
 you mighty ones who do his word,
    obeying the voice of his word!

21 Bless the Lord, all his hosts,
 his ministers, who do his will!

22 Bless the Lord, all his works,
 in all places of his dominion.
Bless the Lord, O my soul!

Verses 1-5 are written by the psalmist to his own soul. He is calling his own heart to worship the Lord, bringing blessing to the One who is the author of blessings. In these first few verses, the author brings to remembrance all that God has done in his own life. Forgiveness of sin, healing, redemption, faithful love, and true satisfaction have come from the Lord. These wonderful acts of God have brought life to this author, renewing his youth and making his soul soar like an eagle.

Nothing else compares to this – nothing else compares to the Lord. Too often this is forgotten in the midst of everything. The author takes the time to remember just how good God really is.

Verses 6-14 are pointed towards the qualities of the Lord that apply to all. For those that are oppressed, God cares for them and fights for them! He is not a god who wants to remain hidden or distant, but He has revealed Himself to the people of Israel. And we know, that Christ came to the world – came to us – to save us all! John 1:14 says that “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Jesus came to be the light in the darkness of the world.

The Lord is rich in love and slow to anger. Many of us have experienced those with quick tempers, even some in terrible ways. David saw Saul’s temper more than once. From God’s perspective, His own people turned their back on Him repeatedly, but He never dealt with them like He could have. Like a true loving Father, His anger and discipline always came to correct and bring people back to Him. God never gave up on His people, and He never will. Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 truly represent the nature of God’s love.

Finally, in this section, the psalmist looks at just how big the Lord’s forgiveness really is. It cannot possibly be quantified. The picture of “as far as the east is from the west” is used as a way to measure the size of God’s redemption. There is no way to fathom it. When the Lord forgives sins, they are gone. Redemption is real and true. Even when we fall, He wants to pick us up. He knows we are not perfect, but He never gives up on us. 1 John 1:9 says if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. That’s not a spot clean – it’s the power wash.

The final section of the psalm, verses 15-22, demonstrate just how big God is and how He still loves us. Our lives are like grass that dries up and blows away. But still, God knows us and loves us.

And God is the complete opposite. He never fades. He is everlasting. His love is everlasting. He is the only true constant – the only good that will never end. Nothing will defeat Him. Even the most powerful kingdom pales in comparison to His.

With this picture, the psalmist calls on the whole of creation to worship God just like his soul. Angels, all His servants, and everything God has made will bless the Lord because of Who He is and what He has done.

And the psalmists voice joins the song of the universe, bringing his melody to the tune.

Psalm 103 is so beautiful, because it is a song that we still sing today. The truths that the author writes about are true for us today as well! God has done so much for us, and He is still doing so much! Everyday, all around us, the Lord is working in so many ways that we do not even see them all.

And our souls need that cultivation too. Have you ever been in a worship service and felt empty? Has there ever been a day when you woke up and wondered what was the point?

Like the flowerbeds in front of my house, our souls will be overgrown and out of shape without proper care. Psalm 103 shows us how to cultivate our hearts and bring our souls to worship.

10,000 Reasons is a song that is a great summary of the truth of Psalm 103.

The first verse deals with praising God with the coming of a new day, and that praise continuing throughout the day – no matter what may come. These lyrics call the soul to worship God through any circumstance:

The sun comes up it’s a new day dawning

It’s time to sing Your song again

Whatever may pass and whatever lies before me

Let me be singing when the evening comes

Verse 2 focuses on the attributes of the goodness of God. “10,000 Reasons” is a number that really is not an exact quantity, but rather it is a picture of just the great number of reasons we have to worship God. Even if we were to sit down and write out each one, ten thousand would just be the beginning.

You’re rich in love and You’re slow to anger

Your name is great and Your heart is kind

For all Your goodness I will keep on singing

Ten thousand reasons for my heart to find

The third and final verse is a beautiful picture of looking back at life but also looking forward to the life yet to come. Praise for the Lord has only just begun, for everything our heart is longing for is just ahead. For ten thousand years we will be with God, and that is just the beginning. During that time, no sin or darkness will be between those who belong to the Lord.

And on that day when my strength is failing

The end draws near and my time has come

Still my soul will sing Your praise unending

Ten thousand years and then forevermore

Finally, the chorus is the call to cultivate our hearts to bring praise to God. For all these reasons, we bring a song to Him.

Bless the Lord O my soul

O my soul
, Worship His holy name

Sing like never before

O my soul, 
I’ll worship Your holy name

Today, lets take some time to cultivate our souls. For the next few minutes, we want to call our hearts to worship like the psalmist and Redman do.

Let’s listen through a couple of versions of 10,000 Reasons together. While it plays, let’s focus on three things:

  1. Remembrance: Write down some of the ways God has blessed you, either recently or throughout your life.
  2. 10,000 Reasons: Write down the goodness of God. What makes Him worthy to be worshipped?
  3. Bless the Lord: Write down a prayer of worship to the Lord. He always blesses us, and our worship to Him is a blessing to Him. Bless Him today. Commune with Him in worship.

May our worship cultivate our souls towards God. And may our worship lead our lives to live for Him. One final question for us to consider, is God calling you to something? As you spend time calling your heart to worship, let the Holy Spirit speak as well. What is He saying to you?

“Singing Seems to Help a Troubled Soul” – Psalm 84

Stained Glass6I love music. For me, music really is an emotional experience. Johnny Cash is one of my favourite songwriters, and his song “Daddy Sang Bass” is my number one Cash tune. It’s all about times singing with his family during the depression. During those days, families would often spend evenings playing and singing songs on the front porch.

A line from that song, one of my most loved lyrics of all time, is “Singing seems to help a troubled soul.” And how true that is! When I sing songs, lead worship, or take part in a worship service, it truly brings joy to my soul.

You may not be a music fan, but I am sure that you have experienced times when your soul is skinny. Maybe you’re there right now. There is a Psalm that talks about worship and the presence of the Lord and how it truly satisfies the soul.

Even music isn’t something you really connect with, the presence of God is so much more than that. Let’s see what this songwriter had to say about being the presence or God in Psalm 84:

1 How lovely is your dwelling place,
O Lord of hosts!

2 My soul longs, yes, faints
for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and flesh sing for joy
to the living God.

3 Even the sparrow finds a home,
and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may lay her young,
at your altars, O Lord of hosts,
my King and my God.

4 Blessed are those who dwell in your house,
ever singing your praise! Selah

5 Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
in whose heart are the highways to Zion.

6 As they go through the Valley of Baca
they make it a place of springs;
the early rain also covers it with pools.

7 They go from strength to strength;
each one appears before God in Zion.

8 O Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer;
give ear, O God of Jacob! Selah

9 Behold our shield, O God;
look on the face of your anointed!

10 For a day in your courts is better
than a thousand elsewhere.
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
than dwell in the tents of wickedness.

11 For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
the Lord bestows favor and honor.
No good thing does he withhold
from those who walk uprightly.

12 O Lord of hosts, blessed is the one who trusts in you!

This Psalm is one of my favourites, and is written by a psalmist speaking of the joy of worship in the temple. The idea behind it is someone who is making a journey to Jerusalem to worship in the temple, which was a difficult journey for some.

Notice the focus of the writer in this psalm – it’s all on the Lord. His soul, thirsts for presence of God. His heart and flesh sing because of who God is and what He has done. And he says that “Blessed” are those who are always in the presence of God, from the priests to the birds who make nests around the temple.

The writer then makes a turn in his thoughts to where we find our strength. He says that blessed are those find their strength in God and whose hearts are set on being with Him. People who live like this can go through the Valley of Baca but make it a place of Springs.

The Valley of Baca was a very arid and dry place on the way to Jerusalem. Anyone singing or hearing this Psalm would understand the depth of this statement. Finding a spring in Baca is a wonderful thing. But those who find their strength in the Lord find refreshment and nourishment in the midst of any circumstances.IMG_6825

In verse 10, we see a line that is also the chorus of a worship song many of us today will recognize, “Better is One Day,” written by Matt Redman. The pure joy and satisfaction of being in the presence of God is without comparison to anything else that we could experience or now.

The psalmist concludes his psalm with a wonderful statement, “Blessed is the one who trusts in You.”

The word “blessed” is an interesting word as well. The author uses it several times in this psalm to describe the person who trusts the Lord and seeks His presence. Jesus also emphasizes this in the Beatitudes in the Gospels. What do you think this word really means? Blessed is more than being happy or some other emotion; it really means being truly satisfied, no matter what the circumstance. And what this psalmist emphasizes over and over again is that in God’s presence is where someone is truly blessed.

For the psalmist and the people of Israel, this was commonly considered to be in the temple. Before the temple, God’s presence was equated with the Ark of the Covenant. Even in the temple, there were big curtains that separated areas where only certain priests could enter because of God’s holy presence. Those who had sin in their hearts could not go into the “holy of holies” because they would die!

But Jesus really changed all of that. The Letter of Hebrews addresses this idea at length, but a few verses in chapter 4 give us a glimpse of the concept:

Hebrews 4:14-16: 14 Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

The presence of God for us is a different truth all together. Jews would travel so far to worship at the temple, but we can be in God’s presence anytime! Jesus made the way for us, and He intercedes for us. His work on the Cross tore those big veils in the temple away.

The same truth applies then and now: God’s presence is what our souls are truly longing for, and He is what truly satisfies. True strength, true purpose, true happiness are all found in Him. He makes springs in the dry places in our lives. We can walk through the Valley of Baca and find living water.

Notice, the psalmist’s focus is on the Lord and His presence. He comes to worship seeking to be with God. What do we come to worship seeking and expecting? What is our focus?

Without God’s presence, our lives are missing what they really need. We can fill our souls with other things that placate our hunger, but we are never truly satisfied apart from Him.

In life, we are going to walk through the oasis and through the valley. If we walk through the valley alone, it’s dry, desert land. If we walk through with the Lord, that’s a whole different story.

When is the last time you were really in the presence of God?  What are some ways that you worship Him and spend time with Him? 

When we come to church and worship, it is easy to get misguided about God’s presence. We will often mistake different factors of the service for God’s presence. Other times, we come with a focus on everything but the Lord even.

Do you feel like you are in the Valley of Baca and your thirst is parched? Do you feel like you are spiritually unsatisfied? Maybe you need to let your heart and flesh cry out for the Living God.

If you have a difficult time worshipping during church services, ask yourself where your focus is. Are you looking for the Lord or something else?

When was the last time you spent quality time with the Lord? When did you last truly let Him fill your soul?

Take a few minutes to listen to “Better is One Day.” As it plays, just spend time in God’s presence. Remember His love and all that He is done. Maybe you want to pray, read some Scripture, write a prayer, or something to spend that time with Him. But as you leave today, make seeking His presence a priority in your life. Find all that you need in Him.