Better than Ponchos!

What is the best meal you’ve ever had? Nope, not Ponchos where you can eat an endless amount of questionable tacos. Not even the Brazilian Steakhouse where they carry swords of delicious assorted meats.

For every Christian…it’s Communion.

“What you must solemnly realize is that every time you eat this bread and every time you drink this cup, you reenact in your words and actions the death of the Master. You will be drawn back to this meal again and again until the Master returns. You must never let familiarity breed contempt. Anyone who eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Master irreverently is like part of the crowd that jeered and spit on him at his death. Is that the kind of ‘remembrance’ you want to be part of? Examine your motives, test your heart, come to this meal in holy awe.” [Eugene Peterson on 1 Corithians 11:23-26]

We all have those days, that no matter what, we can’t shake them from our memory. We remember them often.

Think about 9/11. Many of you can tell me exactly what you were doing that day. From what you were wearing, to what you ate for breakfast, to the anguish and pain you felt, to the fear, to the overwhelming desire to be with your loved ones. And the more news I hear today of the tragedy and depravity happening in our world, I can’t shake that memory from back in 2001. I remember.

How about the joyous moments? I will never forget when Jessica walked down that aisle on our wedding day. I have a weird stretchy face, but I didn’t even know I could smile so big. I remember the nervous feeling. Many of you have the same memory of your wedding day. And that is what brings me back to that phrase…NEVER LET FAMILIARITY BREED CONTEMPT.

After 10 years, Jessica and I are pretty familiar with one another. One might say, TOO familiar. So we have to work hard to not breed contempt. We have reminder. This ring on my left hand (the 4th one I have bought I might add…I have a habit of losing them). Every time I see that the dishes need to be done, I get up and help because I am reminded she said YES and walked down the aisle to me. Every time I can untangle the kids from her hair and pay a stranger $25 to make sure they stay alive so I can take her on a date, I remember. I can’t shake June 12, 2004.

Too many people shake that day from their heads. They forget that day they said I DO. And familiarity breeds contempt. And it goes bad.

It can’t happen. And that is what Communion is for the church!
It is an intentional reminder to focus on what Jesus did. Do not forget it. Don’t let it escape your memory. Remember what you were like when you were dead inside and what it felt like when He made you alive. The consistent reminders carry you to the next time you turn on your computer and face temptation. This consistent reminder will carry you next time you want to lash out at your spouse in anger. Or whatever your struggle is, Communion needs to bring you back to a reminder. Jesus was broken and His blood spilled for me, in this very moment. Greater is He than anything or anyone.

Expressionless

“Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness, when your fathers put me to the test, and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work”- Psalm 95:7b-9 (ESV)

We are smack dab in the middle of a three week series called Express, in which we’re exploring God’s call and command on us to express ourselves in worship to Him. Yesterday, as we dove headfirst into Psalm 95, we discovered that the range of worshipful expression to which God calls us is incredibly broad and varied, from “singing and shouting” with joy to “bowing and kneeling” in humility.

The first two thirds of this Psalm are pretty standard fare based on what we read throughout Scripture regarding worship. But in the second half of 95:7, this song takes a very different turn, a turn that features a very important reference from Old Testament history, and leads us to an uncomfortable but critical question- If you find yourself unwilling to express yourself in worship to God, why is that? If you can’t “sing and shout” or “bow and kneel”- and truthfully, you don’t even really want to- what does that indicate?

The historical reference to “Meribah…and Massah” clues us in to the answer to that question. We find this account in Exodus 17, immediately on the heels of the single greatest act of God’s deliverance in all of Israel’s history- their exodus for 400+ years of brutal Egyptian slavery. Despite the reality that God had led their entire nation to walk out of the most powerful kingdom in the world without so much as a single soldier or weapon, capping it off by literally parting a body of water and allowing them to walk through on dry ground, the Israelite people weren’t happy. In fact, they were spitting mad- at God, at His man Moses, and at the circumstances in which they now found themselves.

Forgetting momentarily that they are en route to the land that God had promised their forefathers centuries earlier- not to mention free from slavery for the first time in their lifetime- they can’t seem to stop complaining. They are hungry. They are thirsty. They are hot. On and on the grumbling goes. They even had the audacity to ask if God had outright abandoned them to “die in the desert.” Never mind that they just had a front row seat to the one of the greatest miracles in all of history!

The reality is, the Israelites should have been undone in worship at this moment. They had beheld the mercy and power of their God in an undeniable way, and yet they couldn’t seem to see it. This would, by the way, be a pattern that they repeated throughout their history. They couldn’t and wouldn’t express themselves in worship to God because they were too fixated on themselves. In short, as the Psalmist says, they had “hardened hearts that had gone astray.”

Now, fast forward thousands of years to today. With the benefit of historical hindsight, it is quite easy to point a finger of judgment at the Israelites and say, “How dare they?” That is, until we look in the mirror and recognize that each of us has, at some point, done the exact same thing to God. We have beheld His greatness and goodness, and yet refused the invitation to express ourselves in worship. We have doubted His heart and intentions toward us, despite the fact that He has offered us eternal life in His Son, Jesus, and has blessed us in many other ways as well. This tendency in us is rooted in the exact same place as it was for our Israelite counterparts- a heart “hardened” by sin and selfishness.

Next time you have an opportunity to worship God personally or corporately, and you find yourself starkly disinterested or disengaged, I implore you to cut through the clutter of your excuses and honestly examine your heart. Ask yourself, Is it hardened toward God? Has it been led astray from truth into lies? What is going on inside you that is influencing what is- or isn’t– going on outside of you? These are not easy or comfortable questions to ask, but I submit to you that you can’t afford not to engage them. The danger of living with a hard heart is far too grave.

So let’s say you do that, and realize that your heart is indeed hardened and gone astray from our great God. What do you do? You ask God to change it, to soften it in surrender toward Him. I believe that if that desire is genuine, then God will answer that prayer. He isn’t playing some cosmic game of hide and seek with you. He desires that your heart would be right more than you do. So ask Him, and allow Him full access to your heart to strip away what needs to be removed and begin to build in you new desires that reflect and honor Him. Here are a few practical steps you can take as you seek to do the “heart work” necessary to express yourself authentically in worship…

  • Expose yourself to the truth of God’s Word. I know, I know- “Read your Bible” seems like such pat advice. But seriously, it is the pinnacle of God’s revelation of who He is and what He has done, and if you’re ever going to worship Him, you need to meditate on that revelation.
  • Write down your prayers. Writing things down has a way of helping us to focus and process at a deeper level than merely thinking or saying them. Additionally, it provides us with a record of our journey with God- one that we can revisit further down the road, to be reminded of what has done in us and through us before.
  • Ask others for help. Are there people in your life who have hearts that are soft and responsive to God- people who evidently love Him and are living to please Him? Tell them what’s going on with you, and ask them to pray for you and with you, and to walk alongside you as you seek to reengage in your own relationship with God. That kind of encouragement and accountability is irreplaceable.

Examining Worry

“Don’t worry!” How often have you heard these two words spoken to you when it seems the external circumstances are crowding your mind and determining your actions? “Don’t worry” seems like it’s an easy way to for someone to move past conversing about the issue right? Or maybe that is the only advice someone can give because of intimidation or fearing of saying the hard or wrong thing. How do you take that statement? I’ll be real, these are the two words I have heard more than any two words in my life. I start getting offended because it cuts at me, and makes me ask myself “Do I just wear all of my emotions on my sleeves?” Or “Am I overly transparent about what I am going through?” But as I ponder those thoughts, the reality hits me that I am beating around the bush and I am assessing the wrong issue. I shouldn’t be trying to discover why people tell me to not worry or why I am responding to them the way I am responding. The question is really what or who is the object of my worship? Where is my anxiety rooted? Let’s break it down further with scripture and then application.

The Apostle Paul experienced a lot of heartache in various forms of trials during his life serving The Lord. In his letter to the Philippians he addresses this issue of anxiety and how to approach it. He says in Philippians 4:6-7 “..Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Paul is writing this letter while stuck in a prison in Rome, and it baffles me as to how he is able to write this love letter to the church of Philippi with joy and affection. If you’re like me, you’re questioning Paul. “You’re in prison bro! Maybe you should worry about getting out! How are you going to plant more churches by just sitting there!” But I think Paul would respond with a quick witted response of “My brother, my God is bigger than any other god and He controls my complete affection, and worship.” I think Paul was on to something here when he wrote this part of the letter. He starts off saying to not be anxious about anything, and then he continues in how to handle and fight it off. But until we discover the root of our anxiety, how can we just pray away the object we have no clue about? Reach deep in your heart and soul for this and ask God to reveal what Im about to say in this next section.

The root of your anxiety is whatever controls your time, steals your affections, keeps you awake at night, is the root of your anxiety. Whatever you value most in this life, the amount of value you place on those things, the more anxiety and fear will rule over those things if God is not the highest thing. Whether you like it or not, you must admit and just be bold in saying that those things may just be your god, or your idol. Let’s be real, God has created great things for us to enjoy. God has blessed us with money, food, clothes, spouses, and etc. Hear me, these things are not the root of all evil. No, money is not the root of all evil. As simple as this is, if you set a hundred dollar bill on the table, you are not going see a demon spring forth from the green paper, or see it walk and reap havoc on anything around it. But the moment you pick that hundred dollar bill up, you have the power to do with it as you please and will. Here’s the real issue in our anxiety: the human heart. It has always been the human heart. Your heart will express love, gratitude and worship towards whatever it values most. When these things own you, you need the Lord and Savior Jesus to wreck-shop on your heart like the hero he is.

So how do we fight this root of anxiety? Let’s continue in Philippians.

“But in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).
Prayer: One of the reasons we give into these desires is because we aren’t in constant communion with The Lord. I once heard that “a prayer-less life is a powerless life.” Nothing can be further from that truth. God wants our attention and he wants to be the ultimate center of your life. Prayer is essential in not only growing closer to The Lord, but fighting off fleshly desires.
Supplication: This is a humble request for help from God to provide. In this adoration, we affirm to God, that whatever he provides, and whatever he chooses not to provide, God is enough. And in this supplication we are thankful for him ultimately for the blessings he’s already given us, through His son Jesus Christ.

Ultimately our weapon in fighting against the root of anxiety is our faith that God is ultimately the ruler and He reigns over our lives. He is good, and trusting him with all of our needs and putting full value in the richness of his glorious grace are how we combat our desire to give into the things of this life. The next time you hear “Don’t worry!” examine the root of that worry in your life. I’ll leave you with this from Ben Stuart, president of Breakaway Ministries once said “What you think about, you care about, and what you care about, you’ll chase.” Whatever rules your mind, will rule your life. My question is: Is it Jesus?

The Worship Choice

In 1999, a movie came out that captured the imaginations of millions worldwide through innovative special effects and an intriguing plot. The premise of the movie, The Matrix, is that all of humanity is living a lie; everything around us is a program designed to keep our minds occupied while our physical bodies are maintained in a sleeping state and tapped for energy. Many efforts have been undertaken to either recognize the Christian themes or, perhaps, construct Christian themes from the movie. I will not attempt a similar effort today.

However, one scene from the movie is on my mind this morning. At one point, the lead character, Mr. Anderson, is faced with a choice of two pills. If he takes the blue pill, his choice is to remain apathetic of the real state of things – to embrace the lie. If, however, he takes the red pill, his choice is to awaken to real existence.

The passage for corporate worship this week at Fellowship was Romans 12:1-2. The second verse of this passage seems to present a similar choice between apathy and true life.

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:2 (ESV)

Up to this point in Romans, Paul makes a case for the sufficiency and impact of God’s salvation on man. He says in chapter five that those who trust in Christ have peace with God. He says in chapter eight that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ. But then he states in 12:1 that our response to these mercies of God should be a laying down of our bodies as living sacrifices. So how, in gratitude for what God has done, do we offer our bodies as living sacrifices? This may be accomplished by choosing between conforming or transforming.

It should be noted at this point that both of these are forces presented to the Christian – neither originate within the person. “This world” is perpetually assaulting the Christian with influence contrary to the standard and goodness of God’s Word. A Christian will, at times, attempt to resist the world by withdrawal from various activities, recreations, or even entire lifestyles. While these withdrawals may be wise and consistent with a flight from sin, withdrawal alone is not worship. Worship is both the willful working and result of transformation. The outer force that acts upon the Christian in the work of transformation is none other than God Himself, in the Holy Spirit. The daily testing of all things against the standard of God’s will – whatever is good and acceptable and perfect – is both an act of worship in itself and enables right worship through a trained heart and mind. It is a daily sacrifice of the desires of our flesh in favor of trust in the goodness of God and His ways.

We must choose between being conformed to the world or transformed by renewal of our minds. One leads to the apathetic life of living a lie. The other awakens us, ever increasingly, to true life. Which pill will you take for each of the tests you face today?

The Long And Winding Road

“I am doing a great work, and I cannot come down”- Nehemiah 6:3a (ESV)

Most nights in the Blount household, we attempt- strong emphasis on attempt– to lead our kids in a just-before-bedtime routine of “Bible story and activity” and prayer. Lest you are tempted to be impressed, you need to know that this time regularly descends into utter toddler delirium; we feel like we’re winning if we get one kid praying and less than two in bed without injury or severe discipline.

That said, we’re learning…and one thing we’ve learned recently is that if we find a story that really connect with our crew, it’s a good idea to repeat that story over and over again until they are ready to move on. And if we can employ an interactive way to visualize and “act out” the story, that’s an added bonus. Quality over quantity, right?

Recently, the story of choice has been that of Nehemiah, our resident Old Testament wall builder. Our middle son, Jude, gets a real kick out of building walls of blocks “with Jesus’ help” in the face of the “mocking” of the “bad guys” (usually a role filled by Mom or Dad). We’re at least four weeks removed from his first exposure to this story (in the FC Depot Kids Ministry, by the way…love our incredible volunteers!), and he isn’t slowing down with it.

Cards on the table, I love this story. I love Nehemiah’s vision for his city. I love his boldness in approaching the king of Persia. I love his apt leadership of the Israelite workforce. And most of all, I love his unmoving perseverance in the face of many obstacles to the completion of his mission.

This perseverance is most brilliantly expressed in Nehemiah 6, when the book’s namesake is approached by his opponents with an invitation to come down and meet with them. Recognize that this invite is not an innocent, casual “let’s-get-together-for-coffee” request; it was instead borne in conspiracy, and presented on the heels of several chapters’ worth of insults and threats. Though Nehemiah’s enemies had changed their tone here, their intent remained the same- to derail the Israelites’ efforts, and put an end to Nehemiah altogether.

Nehemiah’s response to these guys is strikingly simple, but absolutely brilliant- “I am doing a great work, and I cannot come down.” That’s it. He doesn’t get huffy; he doesn’t argue with them; he doesn’t even really make much of a case for why he can’t come down. He simply says to them, “I believe in what I’m doing here, and I won’t be convinced to stop.” And in the chapters that follow, we see Nehemiah do just that- persevere in his work, seeing it through to completion.

As we wrap up our Decisional series this week, we talked about not just making decisions, but maintaining those decisions over the long haul of life; in short, we explored the “why” and “how” of perseverance. The reason we chose to land the series here is pretty straightforward- decision maintenance is difficult, and every day we are tempted to abandon our biblical convictions in the face of the many varied “curves” that life throws at us. But if we believe that God has led us to a certain decision, we can’t jump ship on that direction the moment playing it out becomes inconvenient. In Nehemiah’s words, we can’t “come down from the wall.”

I don’t know what it is for you today, but I know that all of us, at some point, wrestle with this tension in our decision making and maintenance. We get anxious. We grow fearful. We struggle with doubt. We long for an easier, less “curvy” path in following Jesus. Nehemiah’s example teaches us that when we face these very real struggles, we must do two things- remember that the work we are doing is great, and draw on God’s grace and strength to enable us to persevere.

If you’re on the verge of giving up on a decision today- of going “off road” in search of a shortcut- ask God to give you vision to see and believe that you are “doing a great work, and you cannot come down.”

When your marriage or another relationship grows difficult, remember that you are “doing a great work, and you cannot come down.”

When you are tempted to give up on shepherding your kids toward Jesus, abandoning them to the winds of culture, remember that you are “doing a great work, and you cannot come down.”

When you are consumed with anxiety and tempted to quit on financial obedience, remember that you are “doing a great work, and you cannot come down.”

When you are ready to throw in the towel on praying for someone’s salvation, and on sharing the Gospel with them in relationship, remember that you are “doing a great work, and you cannot come down.”

I know this isn’t easy. If it were, I wouldn’t be writing this, and you probably wouldn’t be reading it. But in the face of the “curvy roads” of life, I implore you to recognize and respond to the reality that the destination of following Jesus- of maintaining the godly decisions to which He leads you- is more than the worth the cost of perseverance.

Remember that as you walk, step by painful step, you don’t walk alone. As Paul tells us in Philippians 4:9, “the God of peace will be with you.” Do you believe that today? If so, will you tell your anxieties, fears, and doubts that no matter how much they might tempt, you’re going to “stay on the wall” and finish what God has called you to do? It is my hope and prayer that you will, and that in the end, God will be greatly glorified in and through your life and decisions.

Where and how do you need to persevere in maintaining a decision today?
What must you do to remember that “you are doing a great work, and you cannot come down”?

Wrong Ways

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We all take them in life. In making decisions, everyone eventually goes the wrong way. The Bible explains this simply by stating, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” (Rom. 3:23) People typically say things like, “We all mess up sometimes.”

This is a fact of life. It is a truth. A reality. It is a principle of life. This whole Decisional series is about life principles. The truth that your Life Decision makes your life’s decisions is not a way one should live their life. This principle is how live works.

The Life Decision one makes about how they view life and what they believe determines the other decisions in their life. Many decisions are made because of the One Decision you make. Faith is the decisional decision, but there are others too. Marriage. Parenthood. These are directional decisions. These are decisions that make decisions.

The principle I am talking about today is that we all eventually go the wrong way. The most critical decision after a wrong decision is the next decision, not the wrong decision. In 1 John 1:5-2:6 we learn some great truths about how we should deal with our wrong decisions.

Your next decision, after a wrong decision, reveals what you truly believe about Jesus. 1 John 1 tells us that “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Do you believe that? If you do then confession is not an act of fear; it is an act of faith.

This passage uses a deep and rich word about Jesus. It states that “Jesus is the propitiation for our sins, for ours and for the sins of the whole world.” Jesus is the substitutionary sacrifice that covers over our sins. That is the best way I know to describe this rich word. He is our substitute. He died in our place. He is the sacrifice. He is the willing offering given for the penalty of our sin. He is the covering over our wrong. We have a “righteousness not our own.” It is the righteousness of Christ.

When we place our faith in Jesus Christ, we accept the truth that God has carried out his faithfulness and his justice in and through Christ on our behalf. Do you believe this? This belief is revealed in what we do after we fail.

There are 2 wrong ways people respond to going the wrong way. First, we deceive ourselves through denial. We say sin is not sin or we simply deny we did it. We have the “not me” syndrome that was humorously articulated in the Family Circus comic strip every time a child was asked who did something wrong.

The second wrong way to respond is crippling ourselves through condemnation.   If you believe is faithful and just and forgives sin, then why are you still condemning yourself for what he has forgiven you of?

The one way to rightly respond to our wrong way is repentance.   Repentance is confession with right direction. It is more than an obligatory “I am sorry.” It is a genuine expression of wrong with an intentional decision to go in the right direction. Repentance does not rewrite our past, but it does redirect our future.  Jesus does not rewrite your wrong decisions, he covers them.

Your past is covered do not live in it’s condemnation. Your future is fresh and new. Walk in the freedom he has given you. Now realize that your freedom to walk a new path does not mean you go back to where you first went wrong. You must move forward from where you confess that wrong. Trust his faithfulness and justice right there.

Lessons from Jonah about Going the Wrong Way

Many Christians stress the importance of knowing God’s will as it pertains to their future decisions. Should I take this job or that job? Should I buy this car or that car? Some decisions that arise border on trivial, such as, should I take Airline Hwy. or I-10? We want to know God’s will, but we may over-do it. Sometimes God just wants you to get to work – either route will be fine.

Though these life questions may be deeply emotional and unnerving, the more troubling discernment can arise when we clearly know what God requires of us. You don’t have to pray about whether God wants you to love your enemy. He does; He already told you that. You don’t have to pray about whether God wants you to care for orphans and widows. He does; He already told you that. You don’t have to pray about whether God wants you to tell others about who He is and what He has done. He does; He already told you that. But obeying these clear commands from God can be difficult – leading us to turn the wrong way on a one-way street of honoring God.

We see an example of this in Scripture through the life of Jonah. Jonah was a prophet from Israel – the northern kingdom of the divided people of God. In Jonah’s lifetime, Israel was still a sovereign nation, but the Assyrians were bearing down. Assyria was a massive nation with a very impressive city called Nineveh. Americans have few opportunities to emotionally relate to Jonah’s ill will toward Nineveh. The United States has never shared such close proximity to such a militarily dominant, aggressive neighbor. Modern Americans have never gone to sleep at night wondering when their wives and daughters might be subject to the pleasures of an invading army. As such, we might underestimate Jonah’s hesitation to obey God’s call to go to the enemy.

The book of Jonah begins with the word of God. This is significant because the word of God and the effectiveness of the word of God is the most significant theme of the book. God tells Jonah to get up and go preach against the wickedness of Nineveh. In a time when gods were generally associated with specific nations, the God of Israel was rebuking the wickedness of a physically superior nation. Jonah immediately responds by going the opposite direction, on a ship going to Tarshish.

In the course of the next two chapters, God sends a storm on the ship, Jonah identifies himself as the reason for the storm and encourages the sailors to throw him overboard, and God sends a great fish to swallow Jonah. While inside the fish, Jonah prays to God: “I will sacrifice to You with a voice of thanksgiving. I will fulfill what I have vowed. Salvation is from the Lord!” After three days and three nights, God commands the fish to vomit Jonah onto dry land.

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At this point, one might expect a repentant Jonah, who has been through an extraordinary expression of the power of God over nature and an extraordinary expression of God’s effectiveness in accomplishing His purposes, to preach with renewed vigor – trusting wholly that God knows what He’s doing. But that was not the case.

Jonah gets up and goes to Nineveh where he walks for three days, telling of the judgment that will come from God on Nineveh. Reports of Jonah’s message reach all the way to the king, who responds in a most unexpected way. The king orders everyone (man and beast) in the kingdom to fast, mourn, and call out to God in hopes that God might relent His judgment. This heart-felt repentance, a true turning from evil, was pleasing to God and He relented from the disaster He had threatened.

Jonah must have been ecstatic, right? Best preacher of all time! Brought the Assyrian Kingdom to repentance! No. Jonah wasn’t excited. Jonah 4:1 says, “But Jonah was greatly displeased and became furious.” Jonah knew that God was merciful and compassionate and that he would relent disaster from the Ninevites – that’s why he didn’t want to go in the first place. The literary style is subtly humorous in its assertion – the animals of the pagan Assyrians were more willing to humble themselves before God than the prophet of Israel.

Sometimes we want to trade obedience in what we clearly know that God has commanded for obedience in things that are less clear or even unknown. Like Jonah, we cry out to God, “I will sacrifice to you with a voice of thanksgiving,” but then show reluctance to go God’s way. Do you think that God want’s you to show hospitality through a new, large house with room for many guests? Great, but are you being hospitable now in your current accommodation? Do you think he might move you to a new community and a new job in order to be a witness? Great, but are you witnessing where you are today. God is not vague in what he requires of us. Nor is He vague in what he will accomplish – the restoration of people to Himself from every nation, tribe, people and tongue. Are you willing to go in the direction that God has clearly stated that He is going? That’s the only true, right way.