When God does not save the day

thedayDo you trust God even when he does not “save the day?” My favorite verse in the Bible is Daniel 3 when Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are about to be thrown into a fiery furnace for not worshiping a false idol. They tell the king, “we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand.  But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”

I love this quote. These 3 young men trust God, whether he saves the day or not. Now, God, in this situation, does save the day and deliver them. However, these 3 men trusted God whatever happened. It is easy to say we trust God when he saves the day. But God does not always save the day. Ask the friends of Stephen, the first Christian martyr. Ask the followers of John the Baptist.

Today I want you to consider two very different points of one story. It is the story of Jesus’ journey through Jerusalem during the week leading up to his death. On Sunday, he rides into town and the crowds worship him and cry, “Hosanna, blessed is He that comes in the name of the Lord.” On Friday, the crowds yell out “Crucify him, Crucify him!”

Jesus walked the Narrow Road before us. He travelled the road that is small before he invited us to follow him down it. He had to face the tough realities of life firs. We learn a great principle from Jesus in his handling of these issues. Keep Walking! On the road to Jerusalem, Jesus received what he deserved (when people praised him.) On the road to Calvary, Jesus received what we deserve (when people mocked t killed him).

God is at work in every situation. God is at work in the good, but God often does his greatest work in the bad. It is when we go through the days God does not save that he works mightily within our lives. God did not save the day for Jesus on Good Friday. Jesus was not spared the brutality and hatred. Jesus trusted the Father. He trusted him so much that the night before he prayed so hard he sweat blood and asked “If there be any other way, take this cup from me, but not my will your will be done.” He trusted God. Do not stop when it all seems right, because staying still will cause it to begin to go wrong. Do not stop when it all seems wrong, because you miss out what God will do next.

Jesus knew the truth of what he was doing. Jesus could save himself or us, but not both. The choice to die, to give up his life, was Jesus’ choice. It was a decision of love. God did not save that day because in it God redeemed all the days. Our road is much like Jesus’ in that we have to make a choice between our way and the Father’s will. We can serve Jesus or ourselves, but not both.

Who are you serving? Keep walking!

Well Placed Art (And the Art of Stepping)

hicks.art                                 IMG_0491

Art impresses me.  I am amazed at the talent and the creativity.  The ability of an artist to see ahead of the blank canvas to the painting is a talent I do not understand.  Every piece of art takes action, talent, and work.  Paintings do not paint themselves.

Life is not that different.  Life is full of hope and potential like a blank canvas.  People hope their life will become something greater than it is.  They hope they improve and that beauty comes out of the ugliness and chaos they experience. Yet, we also give up on that. We grow frustrated, tired, and weary of trying to paint over and smooth out the same mistakes and problems again.

These experiences can cause us to say things like, “This year will obviously be no different than the last one. I mean, it is only January 19th and I have already blown it.” Have you?

What does God want this to be THE YEAR OF for you?” Romans 12:1-2 are powerful words of challenge, encouragement, and inspiration about experiencing real change.

First, we are called to view God’s mercy.  Every pleasing sacrifice begins with God.  It is his mercy that draws us to repentance.  God initiates the action.  (He demonstrated his love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Rom. 5:8)  We are challenged to offer ourselves as living sacrifices.  Every pleasing sacrifice responds to God.  We present ourselves fully to God.  We respond to God’s action.  We are then instructed to not conform to the pattern of the world, but to be transformed by the renewing of our mind.  A sacrifice that is pleasing to God is continually given to God.  This changing, however, is not fully our work, yet we must fully participate in it.  We actively participate in a passive work.

So, if we want to change we must be about the change, yet we also must know that we cannot start it, we cannot cause it, nor can we finish it, and at the same time, accepting the truth that it will not happen if we do not participate actively in it.  So, what in the world do we do?

Live Different.  Do not conform to the world.
If you never do different, you will never be different.  The comfortable life will always be the conformed life.
Be Changed.  Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.
The frustrating part of this command is that it ends with a passive verb.  Be responsible for what you cannot be responsible for…cause to happen what you cannot cause to happen.  The work of transformation is God’s activity and our active passivity.

I want to come back to art for a moment.  Imagine you are the blank canvas, what must be true of your connection with the artist for change to happen.
Live in humble relation toward God.  You must be willing for God to paint what he wills and wants.  The Holy Spirit convicts of worldly conformity and calls us out of it.  Are you willing to hear what He says or have you learned to ignore his still, small voice?
Live in available position to God.  You must be willing for God to do what he desires with the work he creates.  The Holy Spirit renews right thinking in us.  He convicts, not only of what is wrong – sin, he convicts of that which should be right – righteousness.

Then you will be able to know God’s will and how good it is, how pleasing it is, and how perfect it is.  That road might seem like one you could never walk, but here is the key.

Start with a step and don’t stop stepping.
When my children learned to walk they fell often.  Over and over again.  You know what I never did.  I never yelled at them, belittled them, or gave up on them.  Why do you think your Heavenly Father is any different?  I helped them up.  I held their hands.  I showed them how.  I set them up in close enough relationship to the table so they could make it successfully.  God is at work doing the same thing.

So you already stumbled and fell in 2015?  Good.  Now Get up.  Take hold of your Father’s out-streched hands.  Tell him, “paint what you will and do with me what you want.”  And keep on stepping.  You might feel like it is already done, but graciously, God has just begun.

(The two paintings above are by Mark Hicks and Danny Moore as they helped us illustrate humble relation and available position at our 2 campuses.  Thank you men for sharing your passion and talent with us.)

Can I really change?

change

In my last blog, I shared a quote from Brad Paisley that stated that New Year’s Day “is the first blank page of a 365 page book. Write a good one.” Blank pages, however, glorious they are full of hope and opportunity, are not the beginning of the story.

What does God want this to be THE YEAR OF for you?
God usually does not have the same answer to such questions that we do.

Romans 6:1-14 is a great passage. It begins with “What shall we say then? Shall we keep on sinning so that grace may increase?” Now for the majority of us, this is a wild question. I want God’s grace more, so should I sin more? The answer is an emphatic no, but the question has more weight than you might think. Romans 5 ends with where “sin abounds, grace abounds more.” More sin means more grace. The truth missed when one sees grace as something our sin increase is that grace works. Grace changes us.

Paul continues on and writes that if we are united with Jesus in his death then we are united with him in his life. People love to talk about the life Jesus gives, but less about the death of self that comes before it.

Change (healing) will not happen until we die to self. We must desire the death of old as much as we desire the life of new. We know that the old self was “crucified” so that it might be “brought to nothing.” Yet later in the chapter we are reminded to not ”let sin reign in our mortal bodies.” So the old self dies yet we must still be vigilant about it.

The death of self is both instantaneous and continuous.
We typically believe people change incrementally OR drastically.
In reality people change BOTH incrementally and drastically. The old self dies yet it is still dying. We are saved, yet we still work out (not work for) our salvation. Never begrudge incremental change. Accept and allow the dramatic and drastic change God brings through grace, but realize that the drastic change is the beginning of the journey, not the end of it.

Paul ends this passage with “sin will have no dominion over you.” What a glorious truth. Be careful, however, not to misunderstand what is being said. You do not have dominion over sin, but if you are in Christ, sin also does not have dominion over you. So who or what does have dominion? Jesus does.

Jesus Christ, who was raised from the dead, “will never die again” because “death no longer has dominion over him.” “The death he died to sin he died, once for all, and the life he lives he lives to God.” Jesus has dominion over us. If Jesus has dominion over me (is Jesus the Lord of your life?) and Jesus has dominion over sin, then sin does not have dominion over me…Jesus does.

Healing (change) is not under our control. It is not a process we own. It is a process God owns. We, however, have the choice to participate actively in this work he does.

Death is necessary for new life.
Do you want to die?

I realize that is a strange question, but do you want the “old you” to die?

Here are 2 practical ways to experience the dying of the old you desire.
1. Identify your obvious offerings. (do not “offer your body to sin”)
Start with the obvious. Stop treating the symptom with spiritual Nyquil and get real.
2. Actively avoid your temptation triggers. (“Let not sin reign…”)
I need to eat better, badly. I better not go to an all- you-can-eat buffet because I am not going to the salad bar there.

Life is necessary for new death.
Do you want to live?

Here are 3 practical ways to experience the living of the new you desire.
1. Purposefully present yourself to righteousness. (present yourselves to God)
Choose to read the Word, pray, gather with believers in Bible study and worship.
2. Give yourself toward healthy drastic or dramatic change.
Go for it, in Christ. Be willing to experience quick change…just know it is not the end of the journey, but the beginning. Losing 10 pounds fast should motivate you to keep going through the slower pounds. Experiencing fresh romance in your marriage should motivate you to work through the issues that still exist. Go for it…now!
3. Be accountable with the incremental.
Get together with some other believers and be honest and real. Allow them the space in your life to hold accountable to the change you desire. You need people who love you when you fail, but call it sin and call it wrong…and love the sinner and the wrongdoer all the same.

If you desire 2015 to be the year of__________________________. First and Foremost, you must decide it is the YEAR OF the LORD, for him to do this or that.<a

Generosity: It’s easy, but it’s not.

givinghands

There are many things most people would like to be true of them. Some are so obvious to us in times of introspection the question we must ask ourselves is, “Why am I not more                           ?” We do not even need to consider “Why would I be                                        ?” We know why. The issue is why not.

My current series is titled “Just Give Up.”  We are discussing four character traits I believe all of us would love to be true of us. Hospitality. Generosity. Thankfulness. Appreciation. The question we are seeking a Biblical answer to is, “What must I give up to be who I want to be?”

1 Timothy 6:17-19 teaches great truths about generosity. Read it here.

Grateful generosity is in an authentic and automatic response to God’s grace. There is no greater way to take grace for granted than to fail to give it. Generosity always exists where gratefulness exists. Grateful people are generous people. If you have not seen the videos that show how homeless people are willing to share what food they have compared to those who can purchase it for themselves, you should take a moment to watch one. It is a reminder that gratefulness is necessary for generosity.

So what must I give up to be more grateful and generous? The number one of enemy of generosity is greed. Greed is the assumption that everything I have is for my consumption. (Thank you, Andy Stanley, for wording things so clearly.) Why do you have what you have? Do you have it to have it? Do you have it to live for Christ with it?

Greed is easily tested with these two questions.
1. When do you decide what you have to give?
2. Do you decide what you have to give before or after you decide what you have to have?

Greed is not something we simply displace. It is something we must replace. Life is not lived well through an “out with the old” mentality alone. We need an “in with the new” mindset.

We must give up greed by taking up gratitude.
You must fight for an attitude of gratitude.
You have to fight for it. Once you have it you must maintain it. It is not easily maintained. My family’s situation with a house fire this year has caused us to live with the necessity to replace many material things. The simple constant chore of looking at the material has caused me to have less gratitude for what I have. (I have committed to read Crazy Love by Francis Chan for a fresh reminder.)

We must give up false security to take up true trust.
What is your hope in? The security of our lives must be in God, Himself. Generosity is impossible when that which we believe makes life have deep and rich value is also that which we would be called to give.

We must give up inaction by taking up good in action.
You will never become an activist for the cause of the Gospel (or any good cause for the record) through the inactivity of posting on social media your opinions. It is through getting involved and serving and giving that we become rich in good works. This requires each of us to intentionally live on less so that we might give more. You will never have anything to give unless you plan for it. Your “right hand not knowing what your left hand is doing” does not mean to give up accounting. People, who do not account for giving, typically give less than 2% of their annual income to good causes, charity, or others. Jesus never told us to stop accounting what we are giving. He said stop counting it up. If you do not account for it, there will be nothing to give.   I am personally committing to getting back in the practice of having a “generosity budget.” Set aside money in your regular budget so that you might be prepared when the opportunity for generosity presents itself. (Jesus taught of a man generous towards those he hired late in the day. That type of generosity requires preparation.)

We must give up value in having to take up value in living.
Why do you have what you have? Do you have it to have it? Or do you have it to live for Christ in and with it.

We must give up false limits to take up the freedom to give.The wording ready to share is the idea of giving liberally. This is probably the only time I will ever teach you to be liberal, but liberal in giving. People who give liberally ask a different question than those who have set up false limits for their generosity. Stop saying “I cannot do that” and ask, “What can I do?”

This mindset for life is impossible unless you remember the supreme value of the Gospel.  We have been given so much. Give because you have been given.

We all want to be generous. It is easy to do because you actually want to do it. It is hard to do because you do not want to do what is necessary to be able to do it. Yet, if you read this far, you probably do really want to. Give up the greed. Take up the challenge to budget to give. And live in the freedom to give.

Wrong Ways

family_circus_notme

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.

Really?

Stop-Sign

“Indeed the safest road to hell is the gradual one – the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.” (C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters)

The Screwtape Letters is a very unique view into life. The story is written from the perspective of one demon training another on how to deceive people and prevent them from following Christ.

This particular quote makes a Scripturally true observation. The road to destruction is wide and many choose it. The road to eternal life is narrow and few choose it. On this wide road of destruction there are no milestones reminding you of where you are actually headed or signposts to warn you about the dangers involved in the decisions you are making.

Your life decision makes your life’s decisions. This principle is the Decisional principle of life. There are decisions that, once made, make other decisions. “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” This truth reminds us that the decision to come after Christ makes many, many other decisions in life.

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick;
 who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9) It is a tough truth in life but sin, ours and others, has so damaged us that our own heart is sick and deceives even us. The worst advice you can give in life is “just follow your heart.” Follow wisdom. The heart will lead you into folly, failure, pain, and problems.

Before making a decision, stop…collaborate and listen…wait, not that is not it.

Before making a decision, stop and measure your motives. If the heart is deceitful, then we know motives are not always easily measured. Ask yourself this question. Why am I doing this, REALLY?

Trust in the Lord, and do good;
 dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness. Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord;
trust in him, and he will act. (Psalm 37:3-5)

Motives are best measured through the filter of the Eternal Decision. Are you or are you not a follower of Christ? Does this look like following Christ? Did he tell me to do this or not do this.

If you want to measure your motives, measure your trust. Who and what are you trusting in? If you want to understand your own trust, measure your direction. You are going in the direction you trust, or at least once trusted.

There is a direct relationship between delight and desire & desire and direction.

Delight in the Lord leads to your way being committed to him because you desire what he desires. This relationship, however, can be difficult and deceiving. We delight in what we desire and we head in the direction of what we desire. But we also find that the direction we headed because of what we desire is often not nearly as delightful as we thought it would be.

This leads us to three questions this passage causes. These are questions we must ask ourselves to examine our delight, our desires, and our direction?

What am I doing?

The verse says do good. Are you doing good?

What am I dwelling on?

The verse says to dwell in the land…the Promised Land. Dwell in the promises of God. What is consuming your thoughts, soul and mind?

What is delicate in my life?

The verse says befriend faithfulness. It means to tend to with care and concern. What in your life gets special attention and concern to guarantee that it happens.

If you want your delights to change, your desires must change. For your desires to change, your direction must change. Yet it is the Lord that sets himself as our delight. We must simply choose to go in the direction that delights in Him.

Let the Lord, himself, be your delight. Move in that direction and He will change your desires.

Decisional: Navigating Life’s Decisions

decisional

We kick off a new series today titled Decisional.

We all make decisions every day in many, many ways. We choose one option among many in life day in and day out.

There are certain moments in life, however, that we must make a decisional decision. A decisional decision is directional. It affects the decisions that come after it.

Jesus says in Matthew 16 “if anyone would come after me…” He then spells out what one must do. It requires denying yourself and taking up your cross. It requires us to lose our life so might find life.

The decisional decision is “if anyone would come after me.” That decision makes many other decisions for you. Following Jesus means doing certain things in life – worshipping, speaking the Gospel to others, giving sacrificially, etc. The decision to do those things is made the moment you decide to follow Jesus, whether you realize it in that moment or not.

This one decision also decides some things you will not do. Commit adultery. Murder. Hate your neighbor. Etc. Whether you realized in the moment you decided to follow Jesus or not everything you decided, in that moment, you decided to not do some things in and with your life.

This week we kick off a series about Decisional decisions. Following Jesus is THE Decisional Decision in life, but there are others, too. There are decisions you make that make other decisions.

What are some other decisional decisions people make?