28 September 2006

Thirsty Thursday, Sept. 28, 2006

Fueling Your Passion to Treasure Christ by Providing Grace-saturated Audio Sermons

"As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?" (Psalm 42:1-2 ESV)

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27 September 2006

Individual Perseverance is a Community Project, Part Three

How do we exhort one another?

Hebrews 3.13But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.

Unlike the spiritual life of an post-modern America, the life of the Christian isn’t a castaway, recluse experience. The writer tells us not only to “take care” that we might fall away, but to also exhort one another to keep them from falling away. That entails being in spiritual ear-shot of another person. And for the Christian this is crucial. What is needed to keep you from being hardened by the deceitfulness of sin is someone exhorting you. And not just “another” person but someone from among you. The text literally means exhort “yourselves”. These are people that are like-minded with the same goals. I don't at all mean people that will tell you what you want a hear. But I do mean people that will hold you accountable to finding the Treasure of the universe.

Here is how I see the situation. I picture sin whispering in your ear, “Money…money is more important than God. God doesn’t care about you. If He did, he'd support you better financially. Money can make you happy. You could take care of your family.” nd try as you might, you can’t shake the notion that it would feel so good to be financially padded, comfortable, safe and secure. Then someone comes up beside you and says, “Don’t you believe that. Money can lead you away from the living God. You were not made to fall away from the living God. There’s a promise today. Believe that promise today."

We could exhort the believer to remember God's covenants to his people. For today God has fulfilled his covenant. “He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since [Jesus] always lives to make intercession for them." (Hebrews 7:25 ESV). Draw near to him. He won’t turn you away. He has always helped his people make it to the end. Remember Abraham. He lived in tents. He never had a permanent place to live. Remember Moses. He forsook the wealth and comfort of all the riches of Egypt to go and suffer with Israel. Remember those that “conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. 35Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. 36Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— 38of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth" (Hebrews 11:33-38 ESV). And they didn’t get all that God promised them. God has promised that apart from you, they would not be made perfect. Don’t dishonor them for their faith, by making little of the God after whom they went hard.

They are surrounding you, so look to Jesus, not to money! He endured the cross because of the joy set before him. He despised the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God having completed His work so that you might receive eternal joy in God and all things as a sharer in Christ. And Jesus has said that He “will never leave your nor forsake you.” So you can “confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” (13.5-6). Therefore, don’t turn away after money, and don’t let your heart lead you away from God. Turn back to God!

And what is the believer to do if he has no voice of exhortation? Without a community grounding him in the Bible and pressing on him to finish the race, he could drop out. He could buy into the lie that a few dollars here are more rewarding than a universe and a God purchased through the blood of Christ. So we have a crowd in heaven eagerly awaiting and cheering for our arrival for their share in Christ, and we have a community on earth eagerly exhorting and calling us to lay aside everything that might keep us away from the upward calling of God in Christ Jesus. Don't let your heart disqualify you from the race by tempting you to run alone.

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26 September 2006

Individual Perseverance is a Community Project, Part Two

Why should we take care?

"12Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called "today," that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 14For we share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end." (Hebrews 3:12-14 ESV).

"12Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.

Although we should exhort our spiritual Americans "to take care lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God," notice that this is not to whom he is addressing this.  I believe this is essentially important.  To whom is the addressing this exhortation to "take care"?  The verse is addressed, as in casual observer can see, to the "brothers."  Or, it might be more helpful to just say that he is writing this to believers, to Christians, to the Church.  That's a massive thing to warn the Church of Jesus Christ to take care. 

Can you recall any text in Hebrews which seems to imply this text is for believers?  Hebrews chapter 6 comes to my mind, "4For it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6if they then fall away, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt." (Hebrews 6:4-6 ESV).  So let's be jarred when we read, "Take care, brothers.  Take care, sisters.  Take care, Christians."  Because, the writer is absolutely serious when he warns us to take care.

The care is toward "an evil, unbelieving heart."  And the caution is not just for right now, but he says "lest there be."  There's an even more startling idea than there might be in me an evil and unbelieving heart that leads me to fall away.  In Greek, the verb translated "there be" is in the future tense, "lest there will be."  There could be in the future, an evil, unbelieving heart in you that is leading and will lead you away from God.  It could be dormant, biding its time.  It could be influencing your choices, the thoughts that you think, the words that you speak, the actions you produce all for the purpose of leading you away from God.

The author warns, "Take care!"  And, he spends all of the book of Hebrews trying to get you to take care.  He paints the picture of our sin in separating us from God.  He warns of the wrath of the living God bearing down on us.  He exults in the Son of God, God of very God, coming down into a man and bearing the wrath of that sin as our Great High Priest.  He pleads with these believers to rest, not in their works, but in the perfection of Jesus Christ downloaded to us to become our right standing before God.  He encourages us, since God is a God of forgiveness toward sinners, to approach the throne of grace boldly clothed in that alien perfection.  And he tells us that Christ suffered just like we did.  He knows what we're going through, and is able to keep us from falling.  There's no more wrath of God for you, he satisfied it all.  Take care not to let your heart lead you away from this Great High Priest at a throne of grace offering you rest.

The last thing that American spirituality does is take care.  There is no concern of the danger.  There is no impending sense of doom that there might be a God out there whom we may have offended.  More than that, we must take care that we receive this God.  He is the supreme good of our souls.  And any spirituality, religion, or path that leads away from Him is not only damning to our souls, but it is robbing of our potential happiness.  Happiness is in the right hand of the Father of Jesus Christ, and our hearts would lead us any where but to Him.  So take care!

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21 September 2006

Individual Perseverance is a Community Project, Part One

Introduction: The Loneliness of Spirituality

Every era throughout history has had its societal manure processed and sold in different bows, ribbons, and labels. Sin and half-hearted hedonism 2000 years ago manifests itself in the same type of unbelief as it did then, but with all new enticements marketed to appeal to the 21st century materialist. Though we have new terms, new bows and ribbons, the same problems and stumbling blocks that kept men from God then are keeping them from God now. The enemy never changes, the war still rages, but the nuances of the battle always seem to be recycled. The frontline encounter may be at different places, but the fight for the faith is all the same. To be faithful believers, we must know where the major battle is, what is at stake, and how to fight so as to win.

In America, the battle is one that rages for religion and for the individual. For all of the blasting that organized religion has received with negative criticism, it may be interesting to note that there has developed a rise of spirituality in America. We see that this spirituality in America is greatly separated from Christendom and Christian doctrine. Gone is the spirituality that allowed Jonathan Edwards to refer to “religion” and mean simply Christianity. This rejection of Christian Truth has led to a tension between culture and Christianity. There is a lack of common ground with individuals because there is no longer the idea of a common “religion,” or a pool of Biblical truth to fish from. A pump of pluralism has been unleashed into the pure streams of our culture and Christians are struggling to stay afloat.

And with Christianity no longer influencing culture through God’s merciful common-grace restraints, the bonds that bound the individual’s relationships have been blasted. The individual is “free” to explore areas that were at one time deemed “off limits or wrong” by society’s common laws. So, the person begins a private, internalized pursuit of a higher power, or a pursuit to find and trust in one’s self. This spirituality may produce a pursuit of the sacred, and it may mean a search for a god. Wells quotes the story of the Liveranis who

began to build their own church, salvaging bits of the old [Catholic] religion they liked and chucking the rest. The first to go were an angry, vengeful God and hell—‘That’s just something they say to scare you,’ Ed said. They kept Jesus, ‘because Jesus is big on love.’

From the local bookstore, in a bulging section called ‘Private Spirituality,’ they found wisdom in places they had never before searched, or even heard of: In Zen masters, in New Age chestnuts such as A Course in Miracles, in their latest find, Conversations with God.

Now they commune with a new God, a gentle twin of the one they grew up with. He is wise but soft-spoken, cheers them up when they’re sad, laughs at their quirks. he is, most essentially, validating, like the greatest of friends.

And best of all, he had been there all along. ‘We discovered the God within,’ said Joanne. ‘That’s why we need God. Because we are God. God gives me the ability to create my own godliness’ (Hanna Rosin, Beyond 2000: A Self-Made Deity qtd. in David Wells, Above All Earthly Pow’rs, 113).

You can imagine that with God out of the way, and self as the new God, there is no objective morality. There is no standard to follow. And if there was a standard, this type of God would never expect perfection or righteousness. What is most distressing is that the person refuses any guidance from community. By ensuring that all their relationships are shallow, the individual guarantees that no one can judge their spirituality. Their journey is a private one, and like the superficial relationships that are forged along the way, the journey is as equally superficial as the dead relationships. Wells points this out be quoting Mark Greene’s “Tourists”:

Tourists; that’s what we are becoming…
Tourists, we move through life, flitting from idea to idea, from
novelty to novelty, from new person to new person,
Never settling, always moving…
Selecting the best sights, the highlights, the choice cuts,
avoiding the mess on the edge of town, the slums, all the
uncomfortable things, the struggle of really knowing people,
Never settling, always moving lest we hear the hollow clang
of our own emptiness…
Tourists; that’s what we are becoming…
Inquisitive, curious, picking up the tidbits of other
people’s depth…
Tourists, flicking through our snapshots, the paper thin
trophies of our click and run existence, filing them away,
loading the next roll of film,
Never settling, always moving,
Tourists; that’s what we are becoming,
Tourists; that’s what we are becoming….(qtd. in, 134).

“It is quite apparent that the new spirituality is practicing what has become one of the norms of the postmodern world—that is, the belief that each person must be allowed one’s own private space within which one has the freedom to define reality for oneself and set one’s own rules” (Wells, 168). Truth is subjective, what is true for me may not be true for you. Your god may work for you, but he, she, it may not work for me. And it is arrogance to impose your beliefs on my beliefs. You can not tell me that my system is wrong. “Spirituality…has come to stand for what is private and internal” (Wells, 110) and “violating this private space is, socially speaking, intolerable” (Wells, 168).

So please understand the tension that is inside this culture when we read Hebrews 3.12-14. In calling for a community of people to stop moving and stay for awhile, to be willing to be transparently honest, to be eager to be exhorted in Truth, to be called to look to the God of the Bible, and to be unashamed about the exclusivity of salvation in Jesus Christ alone means swimming against the cultural current. But I think that the Bible makes it crucial for the perseverance of the believer to be provided by a community of believers. What does that look like for the individual and the community?

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13 September 2006

Verses for Difficult Trials

Here are some good verses to provide comfort and assurance during trials.
. .

Psalm 34:18. "The LORD is near to the brokenhearted And saves those who
are crushed in spirit."

Isaiah 41:10. "Fear not, for I am with you, be not dismayed, for I am your
God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my
victorious right hand."

Psalm 23:4. "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort

2 Corinthians 1:3-4. "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus
Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in
all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any
affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God."

2 Corinthians 1:8-9. "We do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our
affliction which came to us in Asia, that we were burdened excessively,
beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life; indeed, we had the
sentence of death within ourselves so that we would not trust in
ourselves, but in God who raises the dead."

It is interesting to note the 'purpose' flavor of those last two . . .

--> ". . . so that we will be able to comfort . . ."

--> ". . . so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God . . ."

God provides comfort in difficult times yet during the trail, and even
after the trial is ended, the benefits go on for our good, for the good of
others, and for His glory.

One particular benefit the Lord has in mind is for us to rediscover Him
afresh as the one we can trust and cling to through trials. And learning
to not trust in ourselves but in God is a rediscovery that goes on all
through life!

Be encouraged. God is with you through all trials. This reality has been
guaranteed through Christ our mediator. Rest in Him and take every
opportunity to rediscover His readiness to carry you through to the very
end. Our Heavenly Father is good and He loves His children through Jesus

Resting in Grace,


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07 September 2006

Fighting for Joy Through Treasuring Christ

When our hearts are captivated by the lovely Jesus we bring glory to God - naturally, joyfully.  But when we don't feel like it we seek to glorify God by good works under compulsion.  When we serve God through the force of our will power our hearts are really declaring we'd prefer to cast Him off His throne for all the hard work we have to do for Him.  In other words, if our hearts are not in our service of God, it does not bring God glory.
"These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.Matt 15:8-9
Don't get me wrong.  When a believer doesn't feel joy there is still rest in the grace of Christ who is our righteousness before God.  His perfection covers all our imperfections.  His perfect joy in service of God is presented on our behalf and forms part of that righteousness that we receive as a free gift.  So whether we feel like it or not we are loved, accepted and welcome before God!  This is always true of every believer!! 
Just knowing this gospel truth can begin to stir joy in our hearts.  That's the nature of our relationship with God through Jesus.  We bring Him the problems (joylessness, sin, weakness, failure, shame).  He lavishes us with solutions (grace, forgiveness, righteousness, love).  He gets the glory.  We get . . . . well . . . . everything!!  We get love, joy, acceptance and ultimately we get Jesus Christ.  Christ dwells within us and is formed in us.  And collectively we make up the body of Christ.  Amazing union!!
Fight for joy! Fight to see Christ as infinitely valuable and available and welcoming!!  May the Lord remove the veil to enable us to see all we have received freely in Christ.
He is good!   I've also posted a short article below from Terry Rayburn for your encouragement.  Terry's articles help me treasure Christ and enjoy Him! Be sure to visit Terry's site and enjoy his articles when you can!!

Is God Pleased With You?
Terry Rayburn
Five times in the Bible the words are recorded which the Father said regarding Jesus, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." (Matt. 3:17; 17:5; Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22; 2 Pet. 1:17)
But do you realize that your Father now has that same view of you?
"For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. " (2 Cor. 5:21) Not only have we been given the righteousness of God, we ourselves have become sons and daughters of God. Amazing!
And so now, as stunning as it may sound, we are brethren of Jesus Christ! "...for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren..." (Hebrews 2:11b)
Don't squirm uncomfortably because you don't feel worthy. He has done it all. He has made you His child. He has made you a new creation, born of Him, not of corruptible seed, but incorruptible. And He has given you a new spirit, and made you one spirit with Him. And He delights in you, the apple of His eye.
And so now, you...
are also the Father's beloved son (or daughter), in whom He is well pleased.

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01 September 2006

Thirsty Thursday

Fueling Your Passion to Treasure Christ by Providing Grace-saturated Audio Sermons

"As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?" (Psalm 42:1-2 ESV)

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