Like Dynamite

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“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father…that according to the riches of His glory He may grant you to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner being…”- Ephesians 3:14, 16 (ESV)

This weekend at Fellowship Church, we launched head first into a new initiative called Beyond. This “series” is far more than just a series, but is instead a full scale effort designed to renew and refocus us individually and corporately around what it means to steward well every aspect of the lives which God has granted to us as His people and His church.

Within this season, we’ll focus on four key stewardship of life practices of followers of Jesus- serving the church practically, sharing the Gospel intentionally, giving of our financial resources generously, and living a life of distinctive obedience to God and participation in His Kingdom mission. In each of these areas, it is our conviction that God has called us as His people to live beyond ourselves in a radical way, that God might be rightly glorified, that His church might be continually built up, and that the lives of people just like you and me might be transformed inside out by the grace of God in Jesus. The “end game” of the beyond life is nothing less than such an eternal impact.

In this way, the beyond life is a life of power.

In Ephesians 3, Paul prays a tremendous pastoral prayer for the church in the city of Ephesus. Within it, he petitions God passionately to grant his brothers and sisters “power” as they seek to know and follow Him. The Greek word that translates as “power” in this verse is dunamis, where we get our English word “dynamite.” Now if you have any experience with dynamite- or perhaps if you’ve watched an episode of Looney Tunes at some point in your life- you know that is an undeniably powerful force. When it is detonated, its surroundings are impacted- significantly, and permanently.

Do you recognize that this is the precise intensity of impact that God desires for you as His follower- and for us as His church- to have on the world around us? He desires and has designed that we would, in Him, “blow up” the prevailing power of sin and death in the lives of those around us and instead break through with the life changing light of the Gospel of grace. He wants lives changed…families changed…neighborhoods changed…nations changed…for His eternal glory. And astoundingly, He wants you and I to be an intimate part of that process.

Let’s face it, though- We can’t live the life of “dynamite” spiritual power that God intends for us if we remain content to pattern our lives practically after the status quo of this world. To someone not living the beyond life, serving, sharing, giving, and living beyond what is normal or even seemingly reasonable seems downright strange. As Craig Groeschel states in his aptly titled book, Weird- “If you want a normal life, do what normal people do. But if you want to know God intimately, walk with Him daily, and please Him in every way, you have to do what few people do.” This, of course, sounds strikingly familiar to something Jesus Himself said about finding life on the “narrow path.”

Chances are, this all sounds somewhat heady, or even intimidating, to you. You’re thinking to yourself, “But I could never…” about one or more or perhaps all of these aspects of the beyond life. That’s understandable, but in the face of that fear or doubt, I want to encourage you to look again at what Paul prays here. He does not pray that the Ephesians would “find strength within themselves,” “reach down and muster up some willpower,” or anything of the sort. In fact, he prays just the opposite- that God Himself, by His gracious and strengthening Spirit, would “grant” them all the strength needed to be and do all that He had called them to be and do.

Make no mistake- The beyond is a life of power, but it is not a power of your own making. It is, instead, the power of your Father God at work in and through you. Our power is inadequate, but His is unlimited. After all, the same power that raised Jesus Christ from the dead now lives in us. Will you?

Faith in Any Moment

Hebrews 11 begins with these words, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”  The writer of Hebrews then goes on to write what is often called the “Hall of Faith.”  He quickly recounts the stories of those who walked in faith through many different circumstances. 

Faith is not the lack of something, it is the presence of something.

Faith is not the lack of doubt, question, or struggle.
Faith is the presence of belief with substance and conviction in spite of circumstance.

Faith is often questioned because a person has questions.  Moses had questions.  So many, he finally just asked God to send someone else.  Faith is often doubted when someone has a doubt.  Abraham and Sarah had doubts.  Sarah laughed when they were told of the promise of a child to come.  Faith is often struggled with because struggles are faced in life.  David faced many struggles.  Some of David’s struggles were the result of Saul’s sin and some the result of his own.  Yet each of these is in the “hall of faith.”

Faith is belief with substance; belief that has some consistency to it.  Faith that not only causes thoughts or opinions, but faith that changes attitudes and actions.  Faith is belief in spite of the circumstances.  Belief that is consistent no matter the crowd you are with, the financial situation you are in, or the pressures you face.

Faith is more than simply believing what you know about Jesus.  Faith is belief in Jesus, Himself.  It is more than trusting in the facts as they have been told.  Faith is belief in the person that has been told of.  Faith is not something you show up to church to express.  Faith is something that is expressed with our mouths and through our lives every day, no matter what we face in life that day.

Often faith is a struggle or is questioned or doubted because we find ourselves in a particularly difficult season spiritually.  These types of seasons are typically experienced for two reasons:  testing and tempting.

James 1:1-15 is a great passage about testing and temptation.  The two words have very different meanings in their original language, yet we often confuse them in our spiritual lives.

God tests us.  He does not tempt us.

Test means to put to trial.  Something is put to trial to see that it works; not to see it fail.  A new product is put to trial with great expectation and hope of success.  The interesting thing about this test is that the test giver does not need to see the results of the test, the test taker does.

God doesn’t test you so He can know if you have faith.  He already knows.  He does it so YOU can know you have faith. 

Tempt means to put out to trap.  James tells us temptation is the result of our own evil desires.  The source of temptation is within, yet, there is also an adversary who uses these evil desires to persuade us away from God.

We all face struggles, doubts, and questions.   The source of these circumstances can be God testing us or ourselves tempting us.  Faith is the substance of belief that pervades both and prevails through them all.

A Smokey Mountain Parable on Quitting

A couple of summers ago, our family went to the mountains in Tennessee.  We visited a well-known peak called Clingmans Dome.  At 6,643-feet tall, it is the highest point in the Great Smokey Mountain Park and in Tennessee. Views expand more than a 100 miles on clear days. I thought it would be a good idea to take my boys up the trail all the way to the top.  My wife may have had a better idea. Stay in the parking lot and wait.

My father in law, brother in law and I took the challenge. We started hiking while pushing my two older boys up in a double stroller. (Again, my wife’s idea was better). What you need to know, the angle up the trail was about 45 degrees. (Did I say my wife’s idea was better yet?)

People coming down the mountain were looking at us like we had no idea what we were attempting. They were right. We took turns pushing up and up and up. If only we could get to the top, we knew the beauty of God’s creation would be worth it. Problem is, after 30 minutes, we reached a point where we could barely move. My Father in Law was convinced we were only half way there.  We sat on a bench and decided it was time to turn back.  No way could we go on. It was time to give up.

Step after step. Push after push. Yet, nothing to show for it.

Anybody get tired of doing the same thing over and over, hoping to get a different result than what actually happens?  I do.
Have you ever told your children 1.6 million times a day to not hit each other?  Next thing you know? Bat to forehead.  I have.
Have you ever spent hours helping someone through some personal baggage, only to see them turn their back on your advice and jump head first back into their issues? I have.
Have you ever shared your faith with someone over and over and over, for years…and yet nothing?  I have.
Have you ever started a ministry, a group, a job with great initial support only to feel like everyone has left your side a few months later?  I have.

It hurts. It’s hard.

What is the point of it all? Why should you keep investing yourself in a person (ministry, career) when you are seeing zero fruit? Why should you keep working on a relationship that just doesn’t seem to be working?

1 Corinthians 15:58 says:  Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

The temptation will always be that you are wasting your time.  You’ll believe you aren’t qualified.  You will believe you are a failure. But hear this. You are not a failure.  NOTHING IS WASTED and you aren’t qualified.  But JESUS is and He lives in you.

Apparent must not be the measure of the real result…There may be solid work advancing underground, without any sensible excitement; as we observe the seed that produces the heaviest grain lies the longest in the earth. We are not always the best judges of the results of our Ministry. [Charles Bridges]

God is working. Sometimes you can’t see it. Just keep throwing the seed.

We must be steadfast, immovable, and always abounding in the work God has called us to. Be steadfast in raising, instructing, and training your children, even when it seems like you’re on a wash, rinse, and repeat cycle. Be faithful in helping your baggage-carrying friend, even if it seems like the baggage is actually accumulating! Be abounding in the work of serving others, even when there is no thanks in return.

Now, back to my story.  We were about to give up on our mountain hike adventure.  Then suddenly, out of nowhere an angel appeared.  Actually, it was just a lady coming down the trail that poured courage into us as she saw us about to turn back. “Don’t quit now! The peak is literally right around the curve.  You only have a more steps.” Wait, what? That close, and we almost missed it. We were now encouraged. We pressed on and it was worth every step. Breathtaking view created by a breathtaking Father!

You may be one bend in the road from the prize, don’t quit!

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Last (Wo)man Standing

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Recently, in a moment of courage- or foolishness, depending on you see it- I set out to complete a seemingly minor home improvement project.  (Note- It is important to mention here that for someone as chronically un-handy as I am, there really are no “minor home improvement projects.”)  I had a clear objective, a sound plan, all the necessary tools, and in an extreme rarity, the house to myself.  On every level, I was primed for success.

Except one.

You see, the project at hand required that I move a significantly heavy piece of furniture out of its place.  It didn’t need to go far, but even getting it to budge on my own was going to be a feat.  I considered my options, and after a quick and strategic evaluation, determined that the best choice in this situation was, of course, to attempt to move the furniture by myself anyway.  Apparently, though my handiness is in short supply, my stubbornness is not. 

I’m still not certain what I thought was going to happen, but needless to say, nothing happened.  I managed to shimmy the furniture approximately three inches off of the wall before giving up in frustration.  Over one month later, this “minor” project still hasn’t been touched. 

Why not?  Because a) its initial difficulty in accomplishing it myself discouraged and deterred me, and b) I haven’t, at least up to this point, been willing to ask for help.  And while the damage caused by my “throw in the towel” mentality on this particular project is relatively minor, there are many others areas in life when such an attitude is anything but.  This is perhaps nowhere truer than in the monumental task of parenting.

I don’t think you need me to tell you that the simple task of parenting- just getting your kids from the womb to the world with some semblance of readiness and minimal emotional (or literal!) scarring- is a challenging one.  Add to that the high calling of Christian parents to “bring their children up in the training and instruction of the Lord,” and it’s not difficult to see why so many parents- even well intentioned ones- feel so desperately inadequate and ineffective.  And this challenge is multiplied exponentially when there is only one parent engaged in the process, either literally or functionally.

Nearing a decade now in pastoral ministry, I’ve become increasingly convinced that parents in such a situation, feeling desperate and alone, often approach their kids much like I approached my failed home project.  They can see clearly just how heavy, just how weighty, the task of “bringing them up” to know and follow Jesus is, and they are discouraged and deterred by their own inability to effectively accomplish it.  Sure, they may try to give things a shove or a shimmy here or there, but the effort is ill planned and haphazard at best.  Eventually, “survival thinking” sets in, and in many cases, they barely do even that.  Instead, they simply sit back and watch helplessly as the “project” goes undone, hoping against hope that somehow, some way, their kids will find their way.

If this describes the situation in your home and family, I want to implore you today- Reengage in your God given mission as a parent…but don’t go it alone this time.  “Throwing in the towel” on our kids simply isn’t an option, but even if you haven’t done that yet, attempting to “push” them in a direction you can’t move them on your own will ultimately prove futile and frustrating as well.  You can try it for awhile, perhaps with some limited short term success, but eventually, you’ll find yourself exhausted and defeated, on the brink of deeming it no longer worth your effort. 

So, practically speaking, what can you do?  A few suggestions…

  • Pray passionately and persistently.  God is able to do what you can’t.  I know you know this intellectually, but you also need to know it experientially.  And the best way to do that is through pouring out your heart regularly and honestly in prayer.  Beg God for His grace to be real and evident in your life, and in the lives of your kids.
  • Create consistent spiritual rhythms at home.  There is no substitute for consistency in the Christian parenting.  You may not be able to do everything you’d like to do to cultivate faith in your kids, but find what you can do- and do it, over and over again.  Read the Bible with your kids.  Pray for them- and let them hear it.  Teach them to pray.  Serve together in the church and the community as you are able.  Normalize the principles and practices of biblical Christianity for your kids by leading the way with your initiative and example.
  • Fight for godly community for yourself.  Often this can be seen as selfish for literal or functional single parents, but in my estimation, it is anything but. Certainly there are some practical realities that must be considered, but whenever and however it is possible, surround yourself with godly friends who can speak truth in love to your heart.  God did not create us to walk through this life in isolation.  Be intentional about the encouragement and accountability that comes through authentic relationships.
  • Forge meaningful connections between your kids and godly adults.  There is a tradition in the African American church of “spiritual fatherhood,” wherein young men- often from fatherless homes- will be taken in and mentored toward manhood by godly older men.  I think this is fantastic- and absolutely critical in homes and families where one parent is absent or disengaged.  If you’re a single mom with sons, invite godly men into their lives.  If you’re a single dad with daughters, invite godly women into their lives.  Be discerning about these choices, but do make them.  It won’t be exactly the same as having Dad (or Mom) fully engaged, but it can be incredibly impactful.

I recognize full well that this is much easier written on a page (or screen, in this case) than lived out in the ups and downs of real life.  But I’m not saying it’s easy; I’m only saying it is possible, by God’s grace and strength at work in and through you.  As you go at this thing today and beyond, focus less on everything you can’t do and more on everything He can do.  He is able, and if you know Him by faith in Jesus, He is with you.  It is true that the “lifting” can be heavy on this journey, but in Him, you don’t have to “lift” a thing on your own.  I’m praying and believing that miracles will be accomplished in your home and family as you trust and follow Him, and stay engaged every step along this way.

A Pool of Putrid Filth and Other Helpful Remedies

ImageI’m not a bath guy. Even writing about baths is making me want to take a shower. I don’t know if I heard this from a comedian at some point in my life or if it’s original to me, but I’ve always regarded a bath as the act of soaking in a pool of one’s own putrid filth. We have a garden tub in our house, complete with a water jet system. My wife, who never uses the jets, is fond of reading or just relaxing in the bath for… well, we won’t talk about how long. This is really the only time that she can rest from her duties as mother of four, so I don’t begrudge her time in the tub. Still, I can’t fathom the motivation. If she is tired, she should use that time to sleep, right? Or if she wants to read a book, she should sit in a chair, with a light, sans raisin fingers.

So, I’m not a big fan. But I took a bath last week. This was my first bath in this house which we bought in July of last year. The reason for the bath was simple, I had decided to show my son’s baseball team what hustle looked like. I apparently also showed them what incapacitation looked like. My back was so sore I could barely walk. As such, I decided to take a nice hot bath. I would, of course, follow this with a shower to actually get clean.

I noticed, however, some benefits of this bath. By the end of the bath, my fingernails were as clean as I had seen them in quite some time. I usually have to clean them with an appropriate device, but in this case the dirt seemingly surrendered without resistance (and entered the water in which I was “cleaning myself”, but I digress). My skin, in general, also seemed pretty happy, to the degree to which I can assess skin happiness. It was as though it had become tired of the monotony of interacting with air and was happy for the change of state. The evidence of this happiness was observed primarily in a tingling sensation upon my emergence; a sort of welcome back to the world of air with a renewed appreciation. Finally, the muscles in my back had relaxed a bit due to the extreme heat and sheer velocity of water massaging them into their proper positions once again.

Even with these benefits, I’m not a bath guy. Who has time for a bath? And, who wants to actually see the dirt that could otherwise escape quickly down a shower drain?

You’re wondering how I’m going to go spiritual on you with this, aren’t you?

I believe that I have too often showered in the word of God, content to knock off obvious areas of sin but unwilling to let His word saturate deep within, convicting in ways that bring my most putrid thoughts and desires floating to the surface. I know that God has forgiven me because of Jesus’ faithfulness and his enabling of my trust in him. As such, there is no need for me to heap condemnation on myself for sin that I have already confessed. But the truth is that I deceive myself on a regular basis in two ways: pretending to understand the holiness of God and pretending to have confessed all of my sin.

This first deceit has to do with my view of God. It is a matter of time or, better, priority. Because I tend to prioritize so many things above my time in God’s word and prayer, I carry a shallow, experiential version of God informed by sparse knowledge of Scripture and subjective feelings about the goodness or badness of certain thoughts, actions or emotions. As such, God’s grace seems relatively cheap because I don’t ponder how repulsive even the most innocent of sins is to God. The fact that I even maintain a category called “the most innocent of sins” demonstrates the degree to which I do not yet perceive the fullness of God’s holiness and faithfulness.

 I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your wonders of old.I will ponder all your work,and meditate on your mighty deeds.Your way, O God, is holy. What god is great like our God? You are the God who works wonders; you have made known your might among the peoples.You with your arm redeemed your people, the children of Jacob and Joseph. Selah

(Psalm 77:11-15, ESV)

In order to truly understand the sacrifice of Jesus and the severity of my slightest sin, I must meditate and stare upon the holiness of God as revealed in His word. Truly, when I have better understood the holiness and faithfulness of God, then my self-reliance will fall victim to His brilliance.

The second deceit has to do with God’s view of me. As a Christian, I enjoy certain positional truths with regard to my status in Christ. I am a son and an heir. There is no condemnation for me because Christ has set me free (Romans 8). But if I take these truths for granted, then I am a glutton of grace – taking all that I can get as fast as I can get it without any real appreciation for its cost or flavor. Instead, a thankful soul will be in perpetual inspection of his own heart, looking for that rebellion that hides deep within the crevices. Even more, the thankful soul will petition God for examination. Listen to the passion of the psalmist:

 Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting!

(Psalm 139:23-24, ESV)

I, too often, am content to confess only my most obvious of sins in order to return quickly to the peace of God. Such was the pattern of the church in Laodicea, who was so blessed with comfort that they were unwilling to repent of their wretched, pitiable sin (Revelation 3). Comfort in the assurance of grace was, or is, actually the barrier to right relationship with God.

In order to see this deep, grievous sin, we must be willing to wait on God to reveal it. We must not simply toss out a simple confession as we dispense another claim to grace. Instead, we must wait for God to break our sinful desires before claiming peace with God. John Owen speaks to this in The Mortification of Sin:

 “If the Word of the Lord does good to your soul, He is the one who speaks it. If it humbles you and cleanses you, it is fulfilling the purpose for which it was given to you, namely to endear, to cleanse, to melt and bind to obedience, and to self-emptiness, and so on.

Without a right consideration of this, sin will have a great advantage, and tend to the hardening of the heart!”

I am called to soak in God’s word, waiting for the deepest strongholds of self-sufficiency to soften and release. My soul must, from time to time, seek retreat from the perpetual temptation of this world in order to re-enter the work field with renewed vitality. The Spirit must penetrate deep into the seized tissue of my rebellion and free this body to honor God. If I wait on the Lord, He will renew my strength.

A few questions to challenge you as I have been challenged:

  1. When is the last time that you spent extended time in prayer and meditation on God’s word?
  2. How might you adjust your schedule or responsibilities this week to make time to do so?
  3. Do you know someone who might be struggling in this area? If so, please share this post.

Square One Standards – Question 2

How do you approach people who think they are “good” – they are a Christian but don’t seem to have a real relationship that impacts how they live?

It takes a few key points of obedience.

1st – Love.  You must love this person enough to approach them about their sin.  You must love them enough to desire their restoration to Christ above all other things you desire for them or from them.  You must love them enough to examine yourself and your motives before bringing their sin before them.  Don’t deal with their “splinter” while ignoring your own “plank.”

Speak the truth in LOVE.

2nd – Patience.  You must have a long view toward relationships in Christ.  Presenting a sin issue to another follower of Christ is not a microwave ministry.  It is a slow cooker type of process.  You must allow the time for the Holy Spirit to do the work of convicting someone of sin and righteousness.  It is not your job.  You might even find out that you were not right.

Forgive 70 times 7.

3rd – Steadfastness.  As patience is to time, steadfastness is to intentionality.  Are you willing to put in the work to help another follower of Christ walk in obedience to Christ in an area they struggle in?

Bear one another’s burdens.

These are 3 key issues to dealing with sins of others.  Your heart must always be their restoration to Christ.

 

 

Square One and Standards – Question 1

Is Jesus Square One in your life?

Jesus is, not only first, he is the foundation of life.

Life is not simply better because we put him first in priorities we control, but life is changed because Jesus is the foundation of our life. Questions often about arise when, where, and how are lives should are different because of faith in Christ.

I will use several blogs this week to answer some questions the people of Fellowship asked about the Square One life.  Here is the first question.

1.  What does righteousness look like today?

Righteousness looks like Jesus.

Jesus is the Righteous One.  He is the same yesterday, today, and forever that means righteousness has never changed, nor will it.  Often people see the laws and rules of the Old Testament as inapplicable to life today.

Jesus tells us “he came not to abolish the law but to fulfill it.”  He goes on to say that not one “iota or dot should be removed from the Law.”  (Read Matthew 5:17-20 for this complete thought)  Jesus did not lower the standard of righteousness to us; he raised us to the standard of righteousness through himself.

The fulfillment of the Law is both accomplished and yet to be completed.  Some of the Law (primarily about cleanliness and worship requirements) have been completely fulfilled in Christ.  The moral laws are still to be fulfilled in the return of Christ.  The Law being fulfilled has allowed for more freedom from immediate consequence to sin, but not the eternal reality of sin.

In Philippians 3:8-11 we learn that we have a “righteousness not our own.”  We have a righteousness that comes through Christ.  Our sins have been “imputed” (or put) upon Christ and His righteousness has been “imputed” (or put) upon us.

What does that mean?  Picture it this way.  If your sins and wrongs were seen as visible stains  and tears on the nice clean “t-shirt” that you were born with, at some point in your life it would become a shirt of no value.  It would be stained, torn, and tattered beyond its intended purpose.  Now picture this, on the cross, Jesus Christ took upon himself your t-shirt and gave you his own.  His is still clean and pristine.  Future sins and failures cannot change it nor remove it from you.  His righteousness is stain-proof.  Jesus is sovereign over death, life, and the grave.

Righteousness looks like it always has.  It looks like Christ Himself.