Do not Do

“To do or not to do.”  That is often the question in life.  Sometimes we are asking that question as we about to do some silly prank or take some ridiculous risk in the name of fun and entertainment.

“Do Not” is not incorrect; it is incomplete.

Many people who claim to follow Christ define their faith by the actions their lives are void of not the actions their life is filled with.  They can tell you all the things they do not do but they have very short lists of the things they do because they are following Christ.

Jesus taught about the switch from “do not” to “do” in Matthew 6.  He said do not store up treasures on earth.  He said do store up treasures in Heaven.  It is not simply wrong to store up for yourselves earthly treasure; it is right to store up Heavenly treasure.  Next he told us to not be anxious but to seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness.

Anxiety or worry is the byproduct of disproportionate concern for proper cares.

Jesus speaks of clothing and food and simple life issues in this passage.  These things are proper Biblical cares.  Proverbs 31 and 1 Timothy 5:8 teach both men and women the call to provide such items for their families in honoring the Lord.  So if these things are proper, what is the issue?  The issue is anxiety.  “Oh you of little faith” is what Jesus goes onto say.  The issue is a lack of faith in the Lord to provide such things.

The question we must ask ourselves in dealing with such cares and concerns is, “Do I believe God truly cares about me in all things?”  Worry is the byproduct of disproportionate concern.  When we are overly concerned and consumed with the things of this world, we worry.

When we focus on the temporary the result is worry.  When we focus on the eternal the result is rest. How, then, would we not worry.  Is it as simple as, “Don’t worry.  Be Happy?”  No, it is not.  The answer is not simply found in the “do not;” it is found in the “do.”  It is found in the instruction to seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness.

We care less about lesser things only when we care more about greater things. The answer is not to stop caring about food for your family.  The answer is not to stop wearing clothes.  The answer is what you start.  Start seeking the Lord and His will in all things.  Seek God’s Kingdom and not your own.  Allow the priority of the Kingdom of God to be the filter through which all decisions are made.  The more you focus on the greater things the less you will focus on lesser ones.

We must seek the reign of Christ to experience the righteousness of Christ. You will never experience the goodness of God without the governance of God.  If you desire to know the greatness of his glory and grace in your life, you must actively seek out his governance over your life…his Lordship.

The answer to so many of life’s deep struggles is not found in the things we “do not,” but in the things we “do.”

Pray this prayer daily, maybe even moment by moment or decision by decision to help you learn this truth in a practical faith. God, I believe you truly care about me in all things. Say it over and over again.  Say it until you mean it.  This prayer is not asking God to change a thing.  It is asking God to change you.

The Waiting Room

Waiting stinks.  No one enjoys waiting yet we know from Scripture that those who “wait upon the Lord will renew their strength.”  People who are willing to wait will soar like eagles, run without wearying, and walk without fainting.  These truths, however, do not make the experience of waiting more enjoyable.

We have great company when we are waiting.  People like Hannah, David, Joseph, and Abraham.  The company of people who have waited upon the Lord is not always good company.  In certain seasons of life, even the most faithful become impatient and tread on what God has in store.

Perhaps you find yourself in a season of waiting right now.  What can you do when you are not sure what to do?  Faithfulness is doing what you know to do now until you know what to do next.  I want to share a few stories and points with you from the Old Testament that I hope will encourage you in your waiting.  (There will be another blog or two in the coming weeks…but you must wait.)

Fight for faith in the in-between.  Faith is easier in beginnings and endings.  It is much easier to run hard and push yourself at the beginning of a race and at the end of a race than in the middle of it.  Abraham and Sarah struggled with this.  God promised them a child and they did not wait.  Sarah gave her maidservant to be Abraham’s wife so they could be blessed with a child.  This led to generation upon generation of strife between their descendants.  Abraham believed upfront and was faithful in the end, but he did not fight for faith in the in-between.  Sometimes giving in is giving up.  Don’t give in.

Fight the temptation to demand control of what is God’s and deny control of what is yours.  Abraham and Sarah could not control the womb but they had control of Hagar.  They decided to do God’s job instead of their own.  Often when we are in seasons of waiting or struggle we deny that we have control over things like character and conduct and try to control things like people and circumstances.  Be faithful with what is yours…even in the waiting room.

Don’t forget – God sees you where you are.  Hagar ran away because she was mistreated, but God saw her where she was.  Do not think that the tough place you find yourself in life is out of God’s sight.  He sees you even when you are struggling to see Him.

Work on why you want not just what you want.  Hannah wanted a child.  That is a reasonable desire…even a God-given desire.  She wanted a child to serve the Lord, not to satisfy herself.  The commitments she made to give her child in service to God were not manipulative nor dishonest.  Her promises were of a true and faithful heart.  She had a right desire for a right reason – even in the midst of her pain.

Grieve with God, not against God.  Hannah was in grief over her barren womb, but she brought that pain to a God she believed cared, not one she though was callous.  Allow your griefs and burdens to be his grief and his burdens.  Cast your cares upon Him not against Him.

Never try to find nor become a substitute for someone’s pain.  Hannah’s husband insensitively asked her if he was “better than 10 sons.”  NO!  You might be one great husband but you will never be one great husband and 10 sons to anyone.  You can only be the one thing you are.  Dysfunction is trying to be who you are in someone’s life and who you are not in their life.  Substitutes will eventually rob you of the joy for the real thing.

Be faithful with the life you have to be faithful in asking for what you do not have in life.  You will not be rewarded with much by being unfaithful with little.  We often reject what provision we have so we can show we deserve the provision we lack.  Hannah was faithful to the Lord and her husband with or without a son.  Be faithful.

Waiting is not a game, it is a reality.  It is often difficult, frustrating, and discouraging.  Being faithful in seasons of waiting says much about what you believe about the nature and character of God.  Our faithfulness is a response to God’s faithfulness.  We love him because he has already loved us.  Do not forget that just because you are waiting.

#liveitup

Hashtags are an interesting way to view the human psyche.  In a moment of life what would a person consider worth saying #liveitup about?  I researched this question via twitter last week and found some interesting posts.

The most common post was about birthdays which makes sense.  However, another common post to #liveitup, was about someone’s death.  Remembering people in birth and death remind us of the same thing it seems…#liveitup.  Other posts were about food and vacations.  The last common post were life quotes.  I found these interesting because I found them to be terrible life quotes that made no sense.  “Time Move Fast Life Don’t” or “Things do not happen because of change.  Change happens because of things.”  #liveitup.  Not sure these are going to help you #liveitup, but it is a view into the human psyche about what it means to #liveitup.

I did find it interesting that I was at least 100 tweets into my research before I found one that had anything to do with God or forgiveness or grace.  Nothing of any spiritual depth in the #liveitup discussion.  Even when I did find God in the discussion, the thoughts were not that deep or accurate.

All of this to ask you, what do you think about when you consider what it means to #liveitup?  What does that mean to you?  Would it be about birthdays and restaurants or would it be deeper than that?

I challenge you to consider the prophecy concerning Jesus from Isaiah 61.  Jesus reads the prophecy in Nazareth and declares it fulfilled in their hearing.  Jesus claims to be the fulfillment of the prophecy that he is the one that will bind up the brokenhearted, give liberty to the captive, bring good news to the poor, and open the prison of those in bondage.  These truths found in Isaiah 61:1-4 are rich in truth.

A person who will #liveitup does more than know the promises they haveThey have the promises they know.  There is a big difference between knowing a promise and having it.  The difference is well articulated in Isaiah 61:10-11 as the prophecy turns to the words of the brokenhearted whose hearts are mended, the captive who is liberated, and poor that have heard the good news.  These people greatly rejoice in the Lord and their souls exult in their God.  They are clothed in garments of salvation and they gladly wear the robe of his righteousness.  They know the promises of God and they have them in their life.

Being freed is a gift.  Living free is a choice.

If you are going to #liveitup you must accept the reality of God’s great gift of love and grace and gladly #liveitup.  The gift has been given.  He has paid the price for your soul so that it will exult him.  He has paid the price of your unrighteousness so that you might wear that robe of righteousness.

The question is, “will you?”  You must choose it.  Each of us must choose this great hope on our first day.  Our first day of faith.  The day where we come to grips with what Jesus has done for us (if you want to consider this read Isaiah 53).  The day we confess that Jesus is Lord.  The day we choose Christ Himself.  We choose it the first day but then we must choose it every day.  Every day we must choose to live God’s grace fresh and new.  We must choose to exult him with our soul and to greatly rejoice in the Lord.  We must choose to gratefully wear the garment of salvation and robe of righteousness.

I challenge you to #liveitup.  Live this grace of God boldly and proudly.  Live it gratefully and graciously.  But live it.  And #liveitup!

I got memed!

push

Or at least I think I got memed. Something I said got put on a picture and posted on the world wide web! I think that is a meme. I know I should not care. I know. I know. I know pastors are to have no ego whatsoever. I know I should not care about my quotes being status updates and tweeted and retweeted. I know.

But, I got memed! Ego aside, meaning when it is for pure purposes and not just about feeling better about myself as a man and preacher, I love seeing something I said shared. It means it hit home and helped someone. It means that the truth sunk in at such a level they thought it worth sharing with others.

Here is the meme. A day pushing with Jesus is better than any day coasting without him. This meme-worthy quote was a last minute thought describing a quote that illustrated a point I was making. No one memed the point. It did not make any status updates or tweets. It went unrepeated. And there is the point.

Faith is both personal and practical.
That was the point.

Tommy Nelson says this about romance, “Early on it was instinct to be romantic. Later it must become discipline.” Even romance is personal and practical. It has all types of feelings and emotions, but some times it is a discipline. You know when life piles up and kids push the pile. Romance is something you do practically. You plan it. You put reminders in your phone calendar to remind yourself that you went on your first date with your wife 17 years ago. Why? Because at this point I need the discipline to remember, but that does not make it not worth celebrating. I am so glad that was my last first date…even if I need an alert from my phone to remember. It is not what you thought would be meme-worthy but who cares…it was.

 Faith, love, grace, hope…these wonderful realities of life are personal and practical. They are from our deepest emotions and are at the same time our most practical decisions.

You love Jesus so you obey Jesus. Why? Jesus said so. “If you love me you will obey my commands.” It is not always uber-personal. Sometimes it is practical. You do the right thing because it is the right thing. But, at the same time it is personal. You do the right thing because you love God…who you love because he first loved you.

One such command comes in Philippians 4 when we are told to “Rejoice in the Lord always! Rejoice!” It is a command. Be Joyful! Right now. Do it! Sounds odd, but joy is a choice. It is personal and practical we choose it but we also feel it. We choose to feel it even when we do not feel like choosing it.

I want to give you some practical points to push forward toward the life God wants you to have. These practices are found in Philippians 4:4-9. These are personal and practical. So go do them. Go feel them. Do them when you feel them and when you don’t.

  1. Choose joy in Jesus.
    Joy in Jesus not from Jesus. When you want joy from someone and not in that someone you are dysfunctional. Jesus, himself, is the source of joy. Love him.
    2. Extend Grace to others.
    You cannot extend what you have not received. I have heard that food is for energy, not entertainment, but I prefer things that cause a party in my mouth. Entertainment food, however, never inspires feelings of a coming marathon but of an arriving coma. They do not provide the needed energy. Take in God’s grace and then you can give it.
    3. Pray about everything.
    Pray for general wisdom in life. Read a Proverb a day. Pray about things particularly and practically, that is how you pray personally. It might not sound romantic, but it is. I went on my first date with Wendy 17 years ago this past week. On that date I did not ask her if I had any clean underwear. I might ask her that tomorrow if I don’t see any. (Truth be told, I always have plenty because she rocks.) But I would ask her that without hesitation now. Why? Our relationship is way more personal than that, therefore, it is also particular and practical. Get real with God today in your prayers. If you need some underwear, ask.
    Little side note – this verse also says to be “anxious for nothing.” I know that verse makes some of you very anxious, but choose prayer as how you care instead of fear. Anxiety is nothing more than being afraid about what you cannot control. Prayer is better care than fear.
    4. Give thanks in everything.
    Give thanks in everything not for everything. You can be thankful in every season because you know what…you are here and so is God. Be thankful. Being thankful in a tough situation is not the same as being thankful for the situation. Thankfulness is never a fake shiny plastic people smile.
    5. Train your thinking.
    The renewing of the mind is a process. Train your thoughts. We not only have to tune into the right things we need to tune out the wrong things. Listen to truth and learn to reject the jargon this world is selling. Tuning into the right station includes turning the dial away from the wrong one.
    6. Do the good you know to do.
    Quit focusing on what you do not know and focus on what you do know. You will be amazed how much you will learn by doing what you already know. You know that relationship is sinful. Change it or end it…right now. You will be amazed what is on the other side of obedience. If we would simply do the good we know we would know more good to do, so get started.

Progress is a process we pursue from our position in Christ.

We must always remember salvation is not the destination push toward, but the foundation you push upon.  Do not confuse God’s grace for growth with God’s grace in salvation

Progress is, however, a process. When you give up on the process you give up on the progress. If you are dieting and want to quit, start weighing every day. You will give up on the progress because you are disrespecting the process.

If I want to be a better husband tomorrow than I was today, you know how I do that? I do the good I know to do today and I will be ready for more good tomorrow. It is how it works. It is personal and practical.

Life is not always romantic, but sometimes that is exactly what makes it romantic.

P.S. I got memed!

Faith, Failures, and Faithfulness

Does faith exist where there is no faithfulness?

In Genesis 12 we meet the Abraham. He is an important part of the progressing story of God’s restorative work in the world. Abram is the beginning of a great nation, the nation of Israel. God chooses this person so he might choose for himself a people. God chose for himself a people so that he might send a person, his son Jesus Christ, into the world to redeem the world.

The Big Picture of the Bible that focuses on Jesus. Learning the Big Picture allows us to better understand the small pictures along the way. This part of the picture is an introduction to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob….the first, second, and third generation of the nation of Israel. This father, son, and grandson set such a powerful foundation of faith for their descendants that generations to come would speak of God as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.   What an amazing legacy.

In Genesis 12 God promises Abram that he will give him a land that he will show him and that he will make a great nation from him that all of the nations of the earth will be blessed through. Abram, in response, to this great promise and this open-ended set of instructions takes off toward a land he does not know

Go is the first step to great. No one has ever experienced greatness without taking some risk. Greatness follows obedience. The desire to make great of our great God requires obedience to go.

The blessings of God never have their complete purpose in the one who receives them.Abram is blessed by God in many ways, but the purpose of these blessings was so that the all the nations of the earth would be blessed through him. We, however, miss the greatest blessings of God in our lives because we desire to be a container for them instead of a conduit of them.

In the following chapters we see how Abram and Sarai, his wife, struggle with the promises of God as they age yet have no children. Eventually Sarai gives Abraham a servant to bear children by and Ishmael is born. This does not fulfill God’s promise to Abram because this was not God’s plan, nor his promise. Instead it causes generations of hatred and war as the descendants of Ishmael (the Muslim world) and the descendants of Isaac (the Jewish people) are still enemies with one another. Patience is necessary to live and live out the promises of God.

 

We learn a great truth through the failings of Abram and his family (like when Abram lies about Sarai being his sister because he is afraid for his life). We learn that God purposefully uses imperfect people to do his perfect work.

Abraham’s long awaited son, Isaac, who was born very late in Abraham’s life, had some interesting experiences in his life. One such experience is the time that he and his father set out to make a sacrifice on a mountain. They had all they needed but the sacrifice itself so he asked his dad where was the sacrifice. Abram answered him “God will provide.” Little did young Isaac know that he was to be the sacrifice because God had commanded it of Abraham

Abraham and Isaac left their servants at the foot of the mountain with the words that they would both return. Abraham obediently bound Isaac to offer him as a sacrifice, but God stopped him and provided a ram for sacrifice. He praised Abraham for his faith and faithfulness and promised to bless him beyond measure and to bless the world through him and his descendants.

This foreshadows the great sacrifice of Christ. The difference is that God the Father had no other substitute. There were no other options for the price necessary for our redemption so in spite of his son’s plea to “remove the cup from him,” God offered his one and only son as a sacrifice for our sins.

Faith is God will provide. Our faith is in the fact that God has provided salvation in His son Jesus Christ. Do you believe he will provide?

If you do, then you will live a life of risk for God. Isaac’s son’s Esau and Jacob also had a strained relationship as Esau sold his birthright and inheritance to his tricky younger brother, Jacob, for some stew. Jacob was a selfish young man that God changed through the years. Eventually Jacob wrestled with God and God made a covenant with him and renamed him Israel. God marked Israel as his own. This marking declared that Israel, and his people, were God’s own.

Israel had 12 sons that led to the 12 tribes of Israel. A great, but imperfect, nation of people was born. God chose these people for a purpose and a plan. God purposed the redemption of their souls long before Jesus walked the earth and died on the cross.

The Big Picture invites us to be prepared for the Gospel of Jesus, to present the Gospel of Jesus, and to participate in the Gospel of Jesus. How can you live more prepared to follow Jesus this week? Who needs to hear the great big picture of the redemptive work of Jesus from you this week? How can you participate in the grace and love of the Gospel personally this week?

The work of Jesus is a Big Picture. Praise God you are invited to be a small part of it.

Do you?

Jesus asked lots of questions.  Jesus asked straightforward questions.  Jesus asked the questions that matter in life.

“Do you believe this?”  Jesus asked this of Martha right after saying to her, “I am the resurrection and the life.  Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.”  Mark 11::25

Do you believe this?  This is not Jesus asking Martha.  I am asking you.  The question that matters in your life is “do you believe this?”

There are three truths I want you to learn from the death and resurrection of Lazarus.

1.  Apart from Jesus there is death.
Martha and Mary both tell Jesus that if he had been there their brother would not have died.  They knew that without Christ there was death.  Yet Jesus spoke life into that tomb.  Jesus speaks life not because he can bring resurrection but because he IS the resurrection.  He is the one who conquered sin, death, and the grave.  We must go beyond seeking what he gives and seek who he is.

2.  In Jesus there is life.
Jesus said, “I am the life.”  Jesus did not die and was not resurrected so you could have a better life.  Jesus came that you might have “life, and that life to the full.”  He is the giver of life because He Himself is life.  Life is not something we desire from him, it is what we find in him.

3.  I must die to my life to live the Jesus’ life.
There is a death that must take place.  It is my own.  “I no longer live, but it is Christ who lives in me.”  Knowing the power of the resurrection of Christ and the life found in him begins when I allow myself to die to my own ways.  There must be an end to me before there is a beginning for me in Christ.

Jesus told Lazarus to come out and then commanded those around him to unbind him and let him loose.  Jesus died and came to life so that we could die and come to life.  This life is intended to be lived and enjoyed and celebrated.  Let loose for the glory of the Lord in all the joy and peace he gives in life.

As I write these words my heart is heavy for some friends who lost their father this morning.  As I preached this truth yesterday I shared this truth.  The truth of Jesus is an eternal, yet urgent matter.  Often we put off the long-term decisions for short-term reasons.  I told Fellowship yesterday, that you you do not know you are promised today or tomorrow, but if you believe you know you are promised forever.  I praise the Lord with them that their father believed and though he died, he lives.  

He believed this.  His sons believe this.  I believe this.  But that is not the question you need to know the answer to.

Do you believe this?

 

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.