February 28, 2012

A hero has fallen


What happens when the heroes you once had as a kid reveal their true character and are not the real heroes you once believed them to be?

True character reveals itself in time.  Those words were written to me in an email exchange from someone who will remain nameless who saw a glimpse of someone’s true character.  This particular person was speaking of someone in which we both knew and have seen do horrific things.  For a moment, this person spoke wisdom and truth but like the tides this person, and we are all guilty of this happening, became blind to the truth once again.

It does not take great effort to see with human eyes the true character of someone.  How we handle life eventually reveals to everyone in our life the type of person that we truly are. The problem becomes that we often choose to look the other way.  We choose to pretend that what is taking place is not that bad.  NO matter the lies or destruction caused by the person or situation, we turn a deaf ear and choose to remain the side of Switzerland.  No sense in rocking the boat or causing someone to feel uncomfortable.  Right?

I posted a couple of weeks ago about the disciple Peter.  He was a fly by the seat of your pants kind of guy.  Always talking and getting into trouble.  Kind of a loose cannon. Though is was a risky candidate, He was chosen to be a disciple. He was a man that Jesus chose to be part of “His team”.  Though Jesus chose Peter, he was not instantaneously transformed into perfection. 
Peter was a walking demonstration of what the work of Christ looks like within us.  He was a great example of true character revealing itself over time.  Peter messed up a lot.  We could sit and make a list of his sins but that is not the point right now.  The point I am trying to make is that though he sinned, he continually revealed through his actions his true character.  When he fell, he got back up and pressed on toward the prize.  He pressed on toward the goal of being transformed into the person God created him to be.  He experienced speed bumps and roadblocks but was able to get around each one because he walked with Jesus.  He had been with Jesus.  He reflected Jesus.  Though his life was not perfection, his heart was a heart that followed the Perfector and finisher of his faith, his life.

 1 Corinthians 3:13 says “their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. One day we will stand before the Lord and our work on earth will pass through the fire.  Our words and actions will be tested and our true character will be revealed.  No amount of singing, writing, sporting of God proclaiming tattoos, speeches and so on will matter if done with deceptive hearts. 

Throughout the Bible, we are given access to the lives of many who walked with God.  We see their stories, ugliness and all. We are also able at times to see the motives behind their actions, which may be ugly as well.  We are given insight into stories. We are given the ability to see what God sees in some of those people.  What does He see in you today?  Do the words you speak align with the actions you participate in behind closed doors?  Do you proclaim to stand for Christ but choose to support those things that hurt others?

Our true character is never hidden from God.  Though we may hide it from the world, God sees our devious ways and dark hearts.  In time, those around us will see our true character, whether good or bad, being revealed.  When we are tested and our faith is stretched, our character will be revealed and the world will know where we truly stand in hard times.  Did we make the choice to be bitter and full of hate or did we choose to love as Christ has commanded us to love.  Just sit back and watch.  That person who claims to follow Christ will eventually reveal true character and you will know who claims the throne of their life.


February 23, 2012

Jesus did NOT die unnecessarily


Have some of you noticed that we are not yet perfect? (No great surprise, right?) And are you ready to make the accusation that since people like me, who go through Christ in order to get things right with God, aren't perfectly virtuous, Christ must therefore be an accessory to sin? The accusation is frivolous. If I was "trying to be good," I would be rebuilding the same old barn that I tore down. I would be acting as a charlatan.
What actually took place is this: I tried keeping rules and working my head off to please God, and it didn't work. So I quit being a "law man" so that I could be God's man. Christ's life showed me how, and enabled me to do it. I identified myself completely with him. Indeed, I have been crucified with Christ. My ego is no longer central. It is no longer important that I appear righteous before you or have your good opinion, and I am no longer driven to impress God. Christ lives in me. The life you see me living is not "mine," but it is lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I am not going to go back on that.
   Is it not clear to you that to go back to that old rule-keeping, peer-pleasing religion would be an abandonment of everything personal and free in my relationship with God? I refuse to do that, to repudiate God's grace. If a living relationship with God could come by rule-keeping, then Christ died unnecessarily.
Galatians 2:17-21 The Message


I began attending a church over a year ago, a church that has helped to change my walk, my faith, and my view of God. It has changed the way in which I view things.  Instead of always looking through worldly eyes, I attempt to see through spiritual eyes (God's Truth) as well. 

This church is a church that believes in planting other churches.  It believes in building those churches out of itself.  There is no desire to become a mega church.  No desire for a big budget in order to build a large building. This church is not a church about numbers.  It is not a church about programs.   However, it does focus on the need to raise up a body of believers that are willing to leave the comfort of their current church seats to follow a new leader and plant a new church in order to reach the lost.  It is a church about community. For me, it is a totally new concept in the idea of church.

The pastor on more than one occasion has preached the sermon on the condition of our churches in America today.  We have churches that are thriving and growing but we also have churches that serve as social clubs and museums.  Until he spoke on this subject, I must admit that I was a little na├»ve as to what is taking place in the American church, especially here in the south.  We seem to be the worst at it. 

Last month, the state of our churches became incredibly real to me.  I witnessed in one Sunday morning over seventy people accepting Christ and choosing to be baptized on the spot.  I posted a status update about it on Facebook as I was in awe of God that morning. I was in awe of what He was doing in the hearts of His people.  It was not until I read a comment that left on my status about “never seeing that happen before” that I stopped and really thought through that I too had never witnessed anything like that happen. I had to ask myself why.

Our pastor has spent time talking about the state of the church and the struggle of churches fighting against turning inward upon themselves.  There is a habit within churches of becoming complacent with where things are within our churches and we either stop growing or our growing slows down tremendously.  If you think about it, when a church is young, people are excited. They are out in the world talking about what is happening in their church and their excitement is contagious.  People come and churches begin to grow.  Over time though, programs are developed and activity is thriving.  There is enough happening to keep the people of the church busy in the church and everything running smoothly.  People then become preoccupied with all their classes, meetings and rehearsals and church becomes their social club.  The activities we attend are activities planned by our church.  All of our friends are people from church and we find it difficult to relate to anyone outside of our “club”.  Suddenly the people of the outside world just don’t measure up to those in our “club”.  Eventually we forget or maybe are just not as mindful to the world outside of our safe four walls that need Christ.  A dying world is neglected because our focus turns inward. We become comfortable and happy with what our church is doing for us. The sad thing for me is that I knew something was missing in my “church experience” but I had no clue what was lacking until the world fell out from under me and my social club was not there.  It was a painful fall but the awakening was amazing!

We have all been a part of this kind of “social club”.  I was at one time. I was guilty of being caught up in the hustle and bustle of being at church every time the doors were open.  I had a checklist of things to do. I had rehearsals and bible studies.  Meetings and obligations but something was missing. I tried religion.  I tried to follow a crowd.  I tried to fill my life with studies, ministries and “church” friends but I ended up lacking in major ways.  It is not because church is bad.  Church is awesome but it is awesome when done the way in which God designed.  Oftentimes we sometimes just cannot see what we have become until we are away from it.

Too often for many of us, church is a building.  It is the place we go to “meet” God.  We forget that church is not stained glass windows and bricks but instead the coming together of His people.  Church can happen anywhere.  It can happen at McDonalds or someone’s home.  Church happens when we are sharing the gospel with someone who has never heard the gospel.  Church happens when are spared from a horrific traffic accident and we praise God for His faithfulness for the next half hour in our car. There is so much more to church because church happens wherever God’s children are present.  

Church is not about what it can do for us.  Church is about what we can do for the glory of God.  It is not about putting into place programs and activities to keep its members busy but instead it is where we train and raise up believers to share the gospel with those who need to hear.  I love the way in which The Message Bible ends Galatians 2:21, Is it not clear to you that to go back to that old rule-keeping, peer-pleasing religion would be an abandonment of everything personal and free in my relationship with God? I refuse to do that, to repudiate God's grace. If a living relationship with God could come by rule-keeping, then Christ died unnecessarily. For too long I put the focus on what my church could do for me instead I what I can do to enlarge the Kingdom.  I want to be a part of growing God’s Kingdom.  I want to know that I have made a difference with my life and taken the necessary steps to demonstrate the grace of God. I want it known that Jesus did NOT die unnecessarily. What can we as a “church” do to demonstrate His love and grace to those outside of our social club?


Protection

Psalm 91:9-12

If you make the LORD your refuge,
if you make the Most High your shelter, no evil will conquer you;
no plague will come near your home. For he will order his angels
to protect you wherever you go. They will hold you up with their hands
so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.

When things begin to feel completely hopeless in my life, instead of freaking out, I go into the secret place of the Lord. I choose to shout His praises when I recognize the enemies attempt to bring me down. I find refuge and strength under the shadow of the Almighty.  When I worship and seek after God, HE fights my battles. It's taken years to reach this place. I do NOT always recognize the attacks of the enemy the second they start but I'm getting better. I'm learning to trust, abide and rest in the arms of my Savior.

February 6, 2012

"Spiritually dead bury their own"


As they were walking along, someone said to Jesus, “I will follow you wherever you go.”
 But Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens to live in, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place even to lay his head.”
He said to another person, “Come, follow me.”
   The man agreed, but he said, “Lord, first let me return home and bury my father.”
But Jesus told him, “Let the spiritually dead bury their own dead![a] Your duty is to go and preach about the Kingdom of God.”
Another said, “Yes, Lord, I will follow you, but first let me say good-bye to my family.”
But Jesus told him, “Anyone who puts a hand to the plow and then looks back is not fit for the Kingdom of God.”
Luke 9:57-62

I have been spending some of my time thinking about the twelve disciples lately.  Pondering over just who they were and why Jesus chose them.  Why did Jesus not pick great scholars of the bible?  Why did He not choose the holy priests to walk beside Him and share the good news? 

At my current church, my pastor often talks of the tax collectors.  He refers to the tax collectors as being wretched men back in their day.  No one liked them.  In bible times, the tax collectors were considered by the Jews to be traitors and probably much like thieves. Tax collectors were hated. They were considered the worst sinners by most of the population. Jesus chose a tax collector. He chose a tax collector to follow Him and to be one of His closest friends.

Jesus also chose fishermen.  One fisherman in particular was Peter.  He is described in this way by Josephus, "They were ever fond of innovation and by nature disposed to change and delighted in sedition. They were ever ready to follow the leader and to begin an insurrection. They were quick in temper and given to quarreling and they were very chivalrous men." The Talmud says this of the Galileans, "They were more anxious for honor than for gain, quick-tempered, impulsive, emotional, easily aroused by an appeal to adventure, loyal to the end." 
As I read about the twelve, I think it is safe to say they were sinners and not the most likely of candidates.  I think I am just like them.  I can be a loose cannon at times.  I have been hated and probably still am by some.  I am emotional and can be “given to quarreling” at times. I too am not the most likely of candidates.

Like Peter, I have denied Jesus because of my fear of what others would think if they knew I chose to follow Jesus.  Like Peter, I have found myself sinking in the ocean during a storm because I have taken my eyes off Him.  Like Peter, I have found myself feeling shame from my lack of obedience and commitment to fully following Christ.

I am a sinner.  My list of sins could fill the internet.  I sin daily.  Nevertheless, like Peter, I have an unending love and passion to follow Christ.  Like Peter, I have an incredible desire to get it right. Like Peter, I have let Him down. Like Peter, I have felt shame.  However, like Peter, I have experienced the unending love, mercy and forgiveness of my Savior.  I have discovered that no sin can separate me from the love of Christ.  No sin can undo the sacrifice He made for me when He chose the cross.

I have been called many things.  I have been called a gossip, an adulterer, a liar, a cheat, a backstabber, impatient, dishonest, manipulative, judgmental, one of little faith, reckless, a thief and much more.  My list of sins consist of those I’ve committed and those that people believe I have committed but no matter what others say or think here is what God calls me…I am HIS princess, HIS daughter, and I was worth dying for.  He says I’m forgiven.  He says I’m loved.  He says He’s proud of me.  He says He has great plans for me.  God says that He wants to use me.

You see, what I have realized is that those twelve disciples did not instantly become perfect because they chose to follow Jesus.  Peter was still a fisherman.  Matthew was still labeled a wretched tax collector. Instead, as each of the twelve began to follow Jesus, their attitudes began to change.  Their hearts began to soften because their lives began to reflect the One that they followed.

For me, following Jesus is not about getting it right all the time.  It is not about living a life that makes others believe that I’m perfect.  Following Jesus is about walking with Him and allowing Him to change my life every step of the way.  It is a daily process of surrender as I begin to change into who He wants me to be.  Just like Peter, I will screw up (sin) daily because like Peter, I’m human but like Peter, I will choose to follow Jesus.  My heart belongs to Jesus.  My life is His.  People will never understand the choices we may make when we choose to totally surrender to Jesus.  I am choosing to be totally sold out to Jesus and in the end, all that matters is that Jesus knows that He alone has my heart and that He alone is the One that I follow. 

No one is perfect.  Anyone who claims to be is living a lie.  Anyone who spends their lives pointing fingers at the sins of others is missing the greatest love story ever.  I am choosing to remove my mask.  I am not perfect.  I hardly ever get it right.  My Jesus gave up His life for me.  He knew when He took His place on that cross that I would fail Him but He chose to do it anyway.  That is true love and He is the ONE that I choose to surrender my heart to for forever and I will live my life in a way that demonstrates His love and mercy to a hurting world that needs to experience His love and forgiveness!

The President, the Passengers, & the Patience of God John Piper

Sometimes we are so overwhelmed at being treated better than we deserve that we must exult in the all-sovereign God—the God of birds' flight and Obama's rise. When King David pondered how many were God's "wondrous deeds," he said, "I will proclaim and tell of them, yet they are more than can be told" (Psalm 40:5). That's the way I feel watching God's public mercies in the last few days.

Have you considered how unlikely was the crash of USAir flight 1549 in the Hudson River on January 15, 2009—not just the rescue but the crash itself? Picture this: The Airbus A320 is taking off at an angle—maybe 30 degrees. It's not flying horizontal with the earth. Not only that, it is flying fast—not full speed yet, but perhaps four times as fast as your car would go at top highway speeds.

The geese are flying horizontally with the ground, more or less. They are not flying in a cloud like a swarm of bees. They fly level with the ground, often shaped like a V. In view of all that, what are the odds that, traveling at this speed and at this angle, this airplane would intersect with the flight of those geese at that very millisecond which would put a bird not just in one of those engines, but both of them?

Two laser-guided missiles would not have been as amazingly effective as were those geese. It is incredible, statistically speaking. If God governs nature down to the fall (and the flight) of every bird, as Jesus says (Matthew 10:29), then the crash of flight 1549 was designed by God.

Which leads to the landing in the Hudson River —which is just as unlikely. The airbus now has no thrust in either engine. The flight attendants said it was as quiet as a library in the plane without the sound of engines. The plane is now a 77-ton glider with its belly full of fuel. Captain Sullenberger decides to land in the river. Anywhere else would mean one big fireball.

He banks and misses the George Washington Bridge by 900 feet and glides the plane into a perfect belly landing. A few degrees tilt to the front or back or the right or left and the plane would have done cartwheels down the river and broken up. On the water, the flight attendant does not let passengers open the rear door. That would have flooded the cabin too fast. The emergency doors and front doors provide exits for everyone and the plane floats long enough for all of them to climb out. Ferry boats are there almost instantly. The captain walks the aisle twice to make sure everyone is off. Then he leaves. Later the plane sinks.

If God guides geese so precisely, he also guides the captain's hands. God knew that when he took the plane down, he would also give a spectacular deliverance. So why would he do that? If he means for all to live, why not just skip the crash?

Because he meant to give our nation a parable of his power and mercy the week before a new President takes office. God can take down a plane any time he pleases—and if he does, he wrongs no one. Apart from Christ, none of us deserves anything from God but judgment. We have belittled him so consistently that he would be perfectly just to take any of us any time in any way he chooses.

But God is longsuffering. He is slow to anger. He withholds wrath every day. This is what we saw in the parable. The crash of Flight 1549 illustrates God's right and power to judge. The landing of the plane represents God's mercy. It was God's call to all the passengers and all their families and all who heard the story to repent and turn to God's Son, Jesus Christ, and receive forgiveness for sin.

I am writing these thoughts on the evening after the inauguration of Barack Obama, the first African-American President of the United States. I cried twice today. There were two points when I was overwhelmed by the magnitude of it all. Once was when I prayed with some brothers after Obama's speech and was overcome with the sinfulness of my own racist background. The other was in trying to express my emotion to an African-American brother about what this must mean for him.

As much as I reject Obama's stance on abortion, I am thankful to the bottom of my soul that an African-American can be President of United States. The enormity of it all is unspeakable. This is God's doing. The geese were God's doing. The landing of Flight 1549 was God's doing. And the Obama presidency is God's doing. "He removes kings and sets up kings" (Daniel 2:21).

And I pray that President Obama has eyes to see. The "miracle on the Hudson" and the "miracle in the White House" are not unrelated. God has been merciful to us as a nation. Our racial sins deserved judgment a thousand times over. God does not owe America anything. We owe him everything. And instead of destruction, he has given us another soft landing. We are not dead at the bottom of the Hudson.

O that Barack Obama would see the mercies of God and look to the One whose blood bought everlasting life for all who trust him. The parables of God's mercy are everywhere. The point of them is this: God is a just and patient Ruler, and Jesus Christ is a great Savior. Turn. Turn. Turn, O President of the United States and passengers of this planet.

Full of thanks for all God's mercies,

Pastor John

By John Piper