Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Power of Prayer

Acts 1:12-14; 4:23-31               December 27, 2015              Link for audio/video/manuscript 

The church exists as a consequence of the passion and boldness those in the first church had for the risen Christ. While we may not know when Jesus will return, we do know some things. We know that God answers prayer. We know that God powerfully answers the obedient, constant, unified prayers of His people. We do know that when we pray, God changes people and things. We do know that when God changes people and things – that He will do new and unexpected things. We do know that when we pray, God will change us and He will do new and unexpected things in our hearts and lives. And we also know that when God answers obedient, constant and unified prayer – He will do so in a way that will “shake the places we are gathered.” May we pray bold prayers to God that He might give us the power of His Spirit to be a bold people for Jesus!

Monday, December 21, 2015

The River - Tim Neufeld and the Glory Boys

Prayers of Praise for Salvation

Luke 2:22-40                   December 20, 2015           Link for audio/video/manuscript

Knowing Jesus as your Lord and Savior is more important than anything else in all of life. But God never intended that Jesus would be a comfortable, easy choice. Following Jesus means sacrificing the lesser treasures and contentedness of this world for the greatest treasures and contentedness of knowing Jesus and living our lives for Jesus. The only thing that really matters in life - is Jesus. He is answer and the response to the prayer of praise for salvation, the fulfillment of God’s promises to send a redeemer to rescue His people of the nation of Israel - and His people from all nations of the world - from their sins and restore them back into the relationship with God they were created for through Jesus Christ.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Teach Us to Pray - John Piper

Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” Luke 11:1

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Follow You - Ben Rector

"Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." Jesus, in Matthew 11:28-30

If I Only Knew Why - Vaneetha Rendall

I contracted polio long after it was supposedly eradicated. The doctor misdiagnosed my symptoms because she had never seen polio before. And the wrong diagnosis led to widespread paralysis. With a childhood spent largely in hospitals, marked by painful surgeries.
Over thirty years later, my infant son died because the substitute doctor was unfamiliar with his heart condition. The doctor took him off his life-saving medicine. Within two days, my son was gone.
How could I possibly reconcile these losses? They were unspeakable. Preventable. Unexpected. And in the face of such catastrophes, my natural question was, “Why?” Why did this happen? If God was in control, why did he allow it? Why didn’t he stop it? Why? Why? Why?
That question haunted me for years.
That Elusive Explanation
I was certain that if I had an explanation for my trials, if I could understand God’s purposes in them, if I just had a reason, then I could have accepted my losses with more grace. And I’ve heard countless others say the same thing: If they only knew why, they would be able to move on.
Knowing why seems to be the elusive key that will somehow unlock all our pain. The key that will bring clarity and peace. Freedom.
Not knowing why, having to trust God in a senseless situation — when the world feels like it has exploded and we are left picking up the splintered fragments of our life — seems impossible.
Trust Him in the Dark
God is asking the unthinkable. To trust him in the dark. To accept his will when we don’t understand. To submit to his sovereignty in the midst of uncertainty. To believe he has a purpose when nothing makes sense. Unthinkable as it is, God keeps asking me to trust him.
This invitation is not what I want. I want to understand. I want to see. I want to agree. Accepting God’s invitation takes faith, which I possess in great measure when I’m not in the furnace. But that faith wavers when the flames envelop me and my dreams fall apart.
My son’s death, my failing health, my shattered marriage — each brought inexpressible agonies. After each loss, I resolved to trust God implicitly, but fresh losses inevitably brought in new pain and brought back old questions. Are you good? Do you love me? Why is this happening?
Each time it took time to come to the place of release and trust. But as I saw how my questions only fueled my agitation, I eventually surrendered my demand to understand. And paradoxically, it was this surrender that held the elusive key for which I had been searching. This trusting, accepting, submitting, and believing is what transformed me in my grief.
True Freedom Is Trusting God
The process of relinquishing my demand to understand is what freed me.
While I thought that freedom would be found in answers, true freedom was actually found in surrender. I didn’t need to figure it out. It didn’t need to make sense to me. I didn’t need to understand the details. I just needed to trust God. Trust him because he is infinitely wiser, more loving, and more purposeful than I am.
He has a reason for my pain. Many reasons. Even when I am at a complete loss to name even one. John Piper says, “God is always doing 10,000 things in your life, and you may be aware of three of them.” We may see a few things God is doing, one or two ways he is redeeming our pain, but we will never see the full picture on earth. Often all we can see is our loss.
But if we could see what God sees, we would be stunned. There is much more taking place in the heavenly realms than we can fathom.
Encountering God in the Grief
The book of Job gives us a unique glimpse into this unseen world. We, the readers, are taken backstage to the throne room of God. We are privy to much of what Job cannot understand about his tragedy.
Job’s initial response to his unimaginable trials was acceptance and worship. But as the days and weeks wore on with no relief, Job began arguing with God, lamenting his situation, questioning why his life had been torn apart despite his faithfulness.
Then Job encountered God personally. And once again, his response was acceptance and worship. Now Job no longer needed to know. He repented in dust and ashes for questioning God. For accusing God of injustice. For demanding an answer.
Job learned that the Lord had a purpose. God had unequivocally demonstrated that all of his actions were intentional. From determining how far the ocean could go, to commanding the morning, everything God oversaw was perfectly orchestrated. Nothing in all of creation was random, or escaped his watchful eye.
After God revealed his incredible power to Job, Job declared, “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2). But remarkably, Job had no idea what that purpose was. God never gave Job any explanation for his suffering. Instead the Lord demonstrated his absolute wisdom and power. And that was sufficient for Job.
“God doesn’t defend himself,” says Ron Deal about Job, “he just defines himself. And somehow, in this response, Job’s faith is transformed.” Deal goes on to say, “Suffering had invited Job to ‘see’ God in a way he never had before. . . . Job learned that he could trust God with the things in this life he would never have the privilege of understanding.”
And so it is with us.
The Answer Is God
As we trust God with the things in life that we may never understand, we are transformed. We may never know why we are going through trials. But we can take comfort in knowing there is always a reason for our suffering — 10,000 reasons. Reasons that are bigger and more magnificent than anything we can imagine.
One day our faith will be as sight, and we will see all of God’s glorious purposes in our trials. But for now, as we wait, we must trust him.
There is always a “why” to our pain. We may never understand it in this life, but this we can know: As we surrender our questions to him, God will answer us with nothing less than himself.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Prayer for Restoration

Nehemiah 1:1-11                   December 6, 2015               Link for audio/video/manuscript

It has been said that prayer is not getting man’s will done in heaven but rather prayer is man getting God’s will done on earth. But in order for God’s will to be done on earth, God needs broken people who are surrendered to God to be used by Him. While Nehemiah was praying, his burden for Jerusalem became greater and his vision of what needed to be done became clearer. In following the pattern of prayer for restoration, Nehemiah came to understand God was calling him to be the instrument of God’s mercy and grace to rescue God’s people and rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. This is what happens when we pray out of a deep intimate relationship with God. When we pray to God for restoration, He will answer our prayers when we put ourselves under the burden that God for those we are praying for!

It Takes Work to Stay Warm - Jon Bloom

I live at latitude 44.9778° north, longitude 93.2650° west. If you’re not a geography or cartography geek (I’m not either), those are the coordinates for Minneapolis, Minnesota. Perhaps all “Minneapolis” means to you is cold. Some think Minneapolis is a suburb of the North Pole. Not quite true, but it feels like it sometimes.
With the return of December, winter is now bearing down on us. We Minnesotans will spend a considerable amount of the next four months managing snow, ice, and frigid temperatures. Our furnaces have fired up and we’ve dug out our sweaters, coats, hats, gloves, scarves, boots, shovels, and (for those fortunate ones) snow blowers. Once again we’re allowing extra time to brush snow and scrape ice off our cars before driving anywhere. We veterans of the tundra understand this very well: It takes a lot of work to stay warm.
Fire: Key to Surviving the Cold
But 150 years ago it took a lot more work to stay warm during a Minnesota winter. I have great respect for the native peoples and settlers who endured the Lord’s cold (Psalm 147:17) before the days when natural gas was piped directly into homes equipped with automatic, thermostat-regulated heating systems. A sesquicentenary ago, most people had only one way to keep a house or teepee warm: Tend a fire.
Life during winter revolved around tending fire, because fire was key to surviving the cold.
And tending a winter fire was a lot of work. It began during the warm seasons, because you had to think and plan ahead for the winter fire. You knew unpredictable snowstorms and severe cold were coming. You’d still have to do nearly everything you had to do in the summer, but everything would take longer in the winter, and you would have less daylight in which to do it. If you ran out of fire fuel in the bitter cold, you would be in trouble. So you were cutting down trees long before the first flurries, chopping them into logs, and figuring out ways to keep them secure and dry.
When winter hit, the fire was always on your mind, no matter what else you were doing. If you didn’t fuel the fire, it went out. If the fire went out, the temperature dropped quickly and it took a lot more — more wood, more work, and more time — to reheat a cold room and cold furniture than to keep them warm in the first place. So every day, besides the rest of life’s demands, you split wood, restocked the fireside, kept the fire fed, and cleaned out ashes. The fire was the first thing you tended in the morning and the last thing you tended at night.
Tending the fire was a lot of work, but it was necessary work because fire was key to survival.
Cold Is a Stealthy Killer
If you wonder why some of us live up here where it gets cold (sometimes we wonder too), one answer is that we are given the privilege of living a parable of a spiritual reality.
The constant spiritual climate of this world in which our souls inhabit is much more like Minneapolis in December in 1865 than it is San Diego — whenever. The spiritual temperature is dangerously low and if we are not careful, our love, like many, will grow cold (Matthew 24:12).
And the thing about severe cold, which we Minnesotans know well, is that it damages us before we realize it. The effects of frostbite are typically not felt when it’s happening. Only later do we realize the seriousness of our injury. Every year people lose digits and limbs to the cold. And some freeze to death. Cold is a stealthy killer, for a heavy drowsiness descends on its victims and they lose consciousness, drifting off to death.
You Must Tend Your Fire
The key to surviving the spiritual polar climate we live in is fire. We’ve got to stay warm. If we don’t, it can result in injury or even death. And it takes a lot of work to stay warm. You don’t just wing it in the winter. You’ve got to dress for the weather and keep your fire burning, which requires preparation and maintenance.
The fire is your faith-filled love for, your desire for, your hedonistic delight in the Triune God. And this fire is fed with the Holy Spirit fuel of the kindling of the word and fervent prayer.
But I don’t mean a passive Bible reading and cool praying. Simply passing your eyes over words of Scripture won’t keep your fire going, and neither will minimal, distracted, disengaged praying. This is like going out to the woods of Minnesota and thinking that if you looked at the trees and said, “God, I need some logs to burn,” you would magically have logs for your fire.
No. You need to chop at the trees, you need to split logs, you need to protect them from the elements, praying earnestly all the while for the grace to keep the fire burning. Yes, the fire is God’s grace, and the work it requires is God’s means to obtaining the grace. Making firewood is hard work, but its reward is a warm, abundant life. The alternative is the damaging numbness of the cold.
The fire needs to always be on our minds, no matter what else we are doing. If we don’t fuel the fire, it will go out. If the fire goes out, the temperature in our souls drops quickly and it takes a lot more work to reheat them than to keep them warm in the first place. If you need some fresh help for Bible reading and prayer, take advantage of what’s available.
Spiritual cold is a stealthy killer. It lulls people to sleep and they lose consciousness not realizing their peril. That’s why our lives must revolve around tending the fire, because the fire is key to surviving the cold. And the fire should be the first thing we tend in the morning and the last we tend at night.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Seven Sentimental Lies You Might Believe - Matt Reagan

The Princess Bride (1987) spans the spectrum of film-lovers’ delights. It boasts one of the cleverest movie scripts of all time, and includes a great deal of refreshing honesty about life. In particular, one line from the grandfather and narrator has remained with me since my first watching — and has sunk deeper in my many re-watchings.

The young boy, sick in bed, stops his grandfather’s reading of The Princess Bride during a description of an especially unjust sequence where the princess is being forced to marry the evil prince. He indignantly declares, “It wouldn’t be fair.” His grandfather’s response drips with wisdom from above:

Well, who says life is fair? Where is that written?
Simple and brilliant. And much needed today. The underlying challenge is clear: Examine your assumptions. Our society carries hundreds of unquestioned assumptions, and we Christians ought to ask, astutely and often, “Who says? Does God say that? Is it biblical?”

The following is a list of seven of the most egregiously assumed truth-claims in popular culture today, with a biblical check for each one.

1) “Things will work out.”

Who says? Unless the speaker means that “all things work for the good of those who love God and have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28), which is specifically to see them “conformed to the image of his Son” (Romans 8:29) while they are “waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13), then it is simply wishful thinking.

“Things will work out” is not the mantra of the people of Swaziland, where the AIDS epidemic is out of control, or in Syria, where the terror of ISIS is ever-present. Only the Bible offers a fixed, specific hope that roots such a sweeping statement in the firm soil of reality.

2) “The most important thing is your health.”

Who says? God clearly states, “You are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes” (James 4:14). When you are sick, Paul is there to remind you that your “outer nature is wasting away,” while your “inner nature is being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16).

Is it really most important, given this brief mist of a life, to maintain pristine health? God thinks not. He is committed to the display of his glory (Isaiah 43:7) and invites you to embrace that mission as one of utmost importance (1 Corinthians 10:31). God did not think the most important thing about his incarnate Son was his health.

3) “They’re in a better place.”

Who says? Funerals are painful for many reasons, but one of the more subtle ones is this ostrich-like burying of the head that happens so rampantly. Sadly, people whose lives have been characterized by self-centeredness and the denial of Christ are brazenly declared to be in heaven at most any funeral.

But the Son of God says, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:36). It is far better to make a statement founded on the objective work of Christ through faith than to wish that statement into existence simply by saying it.

4) “You can do anything you set your mind to.”

Who says? This statement makes for a great Nike commercial or after-school special, but it is based in the fiction of autonomous self-determination. Autonomy (literally “self-rule”) may be the source of our sickness, but it is not the avenue for our cure. We hate the idea of our limitations, but we are made to be limited. God enumerates those limitations in his breath-taking, four-chapter revelation of Job’s lack of power and understanding (Job 38–41). And perhaps he was even more explicit in displaying our limitations when he shut up sinful humanity under his law (Romans 3:19), leaving us helpless and needy for a Savior (Romans 3:20; Galatians 3:22).

We certainly bear God’s image and have amazing creative capabilities, but when it comes to anything we set our minds to, we desperately need the truth, “The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8:7–8).

5) “He’s a good guy.”

Who says? On the one hand, the sentiment here is understood. There is God-imaging nobility in the world, and beyond that, Christians have hearts that have been renewed by the Holy Spirit.

But on the other hand, Jesus sings a very different tune. “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone” (Mark 10:18). Paul echoes that judgment when he declares himself the foremost of all sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). There is never a point when we leave behind the identity of saved sinners, in need of God’s grace, even into eternity.

6) “Follow your heart.”

Who says? For decades, Disney has warmed the hearts of millions with this sometimes overt, sometimes covert theme. But the following of our hearts is not a biblical recommendation. Paul agonizes over his divided heart in Romans 7:24, “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from this body of death?” That’s no ringing endorsement for trusting oneself.

It is death to self, rather than the embracing of self, that saves your life (Luke 9:23; Matthew 16:25). So when unfettered heart-following tempts you, remember the words of Jesus to Peter: “What is that to you? You follow me!” (John 21:22).

7) “All good things must come to an end.”

Who says? This widely accepted axiom is a blatant coping mechanism. Since the broken world hurts — and that without fail — we must invent a verbal anesthetic to keep ourselves from being crushed.

But it is a lie. God has a different end in mind. “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4). In God’s economy, all bad things will come to an end, but the best of things will endure for all eternity.

Renew Your Mind

Beware the spirit of the age. Its lips drip with honey. It will tickle your ears, but following its adages leads to death.

So when a sweet-sounding, seemingly obvious statement hits your ears, “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).

 http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/seven-sentimental-lies-you-might-believe  @ Desiring God

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Lay It Down - Sanctus Real

"Lay It Down"

I know you have your problems
‘Cause everybody's got ‘em
If you get lost in your sorrows
Then you could hit rock bottom
But if you smile in face of trivial things
And you learn to pray when you wanna complain
Stand up straight when the Earth is shaking
And just breathing when you feel afraid
Oh, don't you know

Those problems you're worried about
They can't keep you from living now
When you shake ‘em off and lay ‘em down, down, down
At the cross where your freedom's found
Oh You can stand up no matter what
March on when times are tough
Be strong and don't give up
All you need now
Is to shake ‘em off and lay ‘em down
At the cross where your freedom's found

We all have our seasons
When we get caught up in our feelings
And I know there's a time for laughter and a time for pain
A time for doubt and a time for faith
But when you believe you can find the strength
So get back up on your feet

Lay it down, lay it down
Why you holding on so tight
Oh, the freedom you will find
When you let go God will take over the fight
Oh, just surrender
And feel what it's like to be free again

The Greatest Thing You Could Do Today - Francis Chan

Imagine walking up a mountain alone. But it’s no ordinary mountain. The ground beneath you is shaking, and the entire mountain is covered in smoke. At its peak is a thick cloud with lightning and thunder. God descends onto the mountain in fire, and each time you speak to him, he responds in thunder. This is what Moses experienced in Exodus 19.
Now compare that experience to your last time in prayer.
Distracted, obligatory, ordinary — I doubt any such words came across Moses’s mind as he ascended the mountain. But some three thousand years later, we rarely marvel that God permits imperfect humans into his presence.
How did the shocking become so ordinary to us? Is it even possible for our experiences with God to be that fascinating?
Going Up the Mountain
A mentor of mine lives in India. Last year, he called me on the phone crying, distraught over the state of the church in America. “It seems like the people in America would be content to take a selfie with Moses. Don’t they know they can go up the mountain themselves? Why don’t they want to go up the mountain?”
When was the last time you enjoyed meaningful time alone with God? Time so good that you didn’t want to leave. It was just you, reading God’s words, in his holy presence.
I was fifteen years old when my youth pastor taught me how to pray and read the Bible alone. Now, more than thirty years later, I still can’t find a better way to start my days. I can’t imagine what my life would be like if I didn’t refocus daily by going up the mountain.
It is alone with him that I empty myself of pride, lies, and stress.
Pride: standing before a Person clothed in unapproachable light has a way of humbling you (1 Timothy 6:16).
Lies: speaking to an All-Knowing Judge tends to induce honesty (Hebrews 4:13).
Stress: kneeling before the God who causes men to fail or succeed replaces our anxiety with peace (Psalm 127:1).
Professional Gatherers
We often spend a lot of time and effort gathering believers together. We’ve become experts at gathering Christians around great bands, speakers, and events. Where we have failed is in teaching believers how to be alone with God. When is the last time you heard someone rave about their time alone with Jesus in his word? Gathering believers who don’t spend time alone with God can be a dangerous thing.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes in Life Together:
Whoever cannot be alone should be aware of community. Such people will only do harm to themselves and to the community. Alone you stood before God when God called you. Alone you had to obey God’s voice. Alone you had to take up your cross, struggle, and pray, and alone you will die and give an account to God. You cannot avoid yourself, for it is precisely God who has called you out. If you do not want to be alone, you are rejecting Christ’s call to you, and you can have no part in the community of those who are called.
The word community is thrown around quite a bit in Christian circles today. But our gatherings can be toxic if we do not spend time alone with God. I’ve been in many groups where people share their insights. The problem is not only that our insights are not as profound as we think they are, but that we’re so eager to share thoughts originating in our own minds, when we have a God who says,
          My thoughts are not your thoughts,
               neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
          For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
               so are my ways higher than your ways
               and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8–9)
I want to know the thoughts of God. I want to gather with people who have been reading God’s words, people who have prayed and interacted with him. I want to fellowship with those who fellowship with God. I couldn’t care less if you have a doctorate in theology or sixty years of life experience. I would rather talk with a fifteen-year-old who has been in the presence of God.
Can You Love Sermons Too Much?
There is so much discussion around books, sermons, and conferences. I’m not against those. After all, I’ve given a significant portion of my life to preaching sermons and writing books and going to conferences. But sometimes I wonder if it’s time to shift our focus.
We have to look at the facts. American Christians consume more sermons and books than any other group in the history of the world, but consider the state of the church. Has the increase in resources led to greater holiness? Greater intimacy with Jesus?
You could argue that the state of our churches would be even worse without the resources. Maybe that’s the case. Or could it be that these resources (and even this article) has the potential of distracting people from the Source itself? Maybe all of these books and sermons about Jesus have actually kept people from directly interacting with him. It may sound blasphemous to suggest our prayer lives may be weakened by all of the consumption of Christian material. Nonetheless, I want to throw it out there.
We live in a time when most people have a difficult time concentrating on anything. We are constantly looking for the quick fix and for faster solutions. So the thought of sitting quietly to meditate on Scripture and praying deeply in silence can be eagerly replaced by listening to a sermon while driving to work. While it’s definitely better than nothing (considering all of the other messages we are bombarded with daily), the point of this article is to say that there is no substitute for being alone with God.
We must learn to be still again.
Something Has to Go
It was simple for Paul. He loved being with Jesus. “To live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).
Knowing Christ deeply consumed him (Philippians 3:8). There is no substitute for being alone with God. If you don’t have time, you need to quit something to make room. Skip a meal. Cancel a meeting. End some regular commitment. There is literally nothing more important you could do today.
God literally determines whether or not you take another breath. “He himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything” (Acts 17:25). Could anything be more important than meeting with the One who decides if you live through this day? Could anything be better? How can we not make time to be with the Maker of time?
What plans do you have today that you think so important that you would race past the Creator to get to them?

Living by the Spirit: The Fruit of Self Control

Galatians 5:16-25; Proverbs 25:28; Titus 2:11-14                 November 22, 2015

God’s grace redeems us and God’s grace reforms us and God’s grace reforms when we give up the control of the self to the Spirit of God for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We have been created by God with a multitude of moods, passions, and desires – and because we are saints who still sin as we still live in the shadow of the fall, all of our moods, passions and desires must be under control or they will end up controlling us. Our appetites and longings have their proper place only when they are first focused on God. It is by the grace of God that God offers us the Holy Spirit to take control of our hearts and lives!        Link for audio/video/manuscript

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Vineyard - Strahan

"I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine dresser."  John 15:1
I will wait to see the day
Of your vine
Of your vine
Will you take to the hands of thine
This heart of mine
This heart of mine

There is a vineyard of the Lord
There is a vineyard for us all
With all our troubles left behind the door
We drink first light until the dawn

There is love
There is love
In the Lord

There is a forest built without the thorns
There is a vineyard of the Lord
We are all pillars in the store rooms of
His love and his mercy

There is love
There is love
In the Lord

Oh my soul oh my soul
Will drink you in will drink you in
So tell me Lord tell me Lord

Will you let me drink you in?

There is a vineyard of the Lord
There is a vineyard for us all
Well he's burning up the clouds without remorse
Yeh they burn with his coming

Monday, November 9, 2015

Greater - Mercy Me

"He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world." 1 John 4:4

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Satan Hunts Among the Hurting - Marshall Segal

Mountain lions detect vulnerabilities in their prey and attack the weakest — the young, the sick, the injured. Studies have confirmed this instinctive cruelty. It’s how the mountain lion lives, following the scent of suffering and feasting on whatever he finds.
The enemy of your hope and happiness hunts with that same instinct, with a cold-hearted and ruthless hunger for the weak or hurting. Satan prowls like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). And because he’s clever, he spends a lot of his time among the suffering. He lies in wait with lies, wanting to consume the fragile and vulnerable.
A School for Suffering
Peter knew what it felt like for Satan to pounce on him in difficult circumstances, to find himself suddenly gasping and drowning in temptation, to lack the strength to fight and to be overcome. He abandoned and denied Jesus on the night he died — not once, but three times (Luke 22:60). Like a wounded or sick infant deer pitifully trying to escape a mountain lion, the once confident and strong Peter became the defenseless prey.
But before Jesus hung on the cross, he had prayed for Peter, that his faith would not fail, and that his ministry would rise again from the ashes of fear and defeat.
“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:31–32)
And the same Peter that cowered in fear before the little servant girl, denying he ever knew Jesus (Luke 22:56), was later crucified for his Christian faith. And before he boldly died to tell his love for Jesus, he wrote a letter to suffering Christians everywhere and for all of time, even today.
Peter had learned that Satan loved to hunt among the hurting, but he also learned that God arms us to fight well, even in pain and weakness. God plants invincible truths in our vulnerable hearts, and then guards our faith with his infinite power (1 Peter 1:4–5). Here are five truths to believe in the valley against all of the lies Satan hides in the shadows.
1. All of your suffering will end one day.
Peter writes as one who has suffered, to brothers and sisters who will suffer for their faith in Jesus (1 Peter 4:12–13). The painful moments in life — however those pains come — are the ones in which we’re most likely to question God and go our own way. Satan says,
God doesn’t care about the pain you’re going through.
God isn’t able to do anything about it, anyway.
The distress, the misery, the adversity will never end.
But Peter says, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you” (1 Peter 5:6). Your present suffering will only be for a little while (1 Peter 1:6), even if it’s for the rest of your earthly life. And soon, God will lift (“exalt”) you out of these difficult circumstances and into his safe and satisfying presence forever, away from everything you feared and suffered in this age (see also Romans 8:16–18 and James 4:10). He will heal every wound, make up for every loss, and wipe away every tear (Revelation 21:4).
Instead of responding to our suffering with proud indignation, we shock the world with patient, even joyful, humility. We follow Jesus, “who for the joy set before him endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2) — “he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death” (Philippians 2:8). He suffered everything knowing the happiness of being held by and for heaven.
2. God is not only able to guard you, but he also cares for you.
What does humility look like in the midst of hardship and heartbreak? “Humble yourselves . . . casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:6–7). Instead of defiantly hurling your affliction back at God, humility hands every anxiety back to him with affection and confidence. Humility refuses to treat God like an incompetent or unsympathetic boss, but comes to him, even in suffering, as a compassionate and invested Father.
Jesus says, “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (Matthew 6:26). If we truly believed that the God who created all things, having absolutely everything at his disposal, cared for us like a Father, then we would not resist him and his will like we do, even when life gets hard.
3. Our suffering in this life reminds us we’re at war.
Peter goes on to say, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). All the things that might tempt us to doubt God and his goodness are meant to lead us to him, and to prove that he’s engaged in a massive spiritual battle for our lives. A powerful, compelling, and creative enemy wants to kill you.
As a weathered veteran of the war of life, Peter wrote earlier, “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul” (1 Peter 2:11). When we are disappointed or afflicted, God is shaking us out of our complacency and entitlement to awaken us to the realities of life deeper and more important than our circumstances.
4. However lonely your suffering feels, you are not alone.
You are at war, but you are not alone. God is with you, and he cares for you (1 Peter 5:7) — and Peter says more: “Resist [the devil], firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world” (1 Peter 5:9). Fight Satan’s onslaught of lies knowing that you are shoulder to shoulder with an army of other believers.
You may not know someone suffering the same thing as you in your immediate context, but you are not alone among Christians in the world and in history. God has cared for them, and he wants you to know he will care for you, too. And while the needs around you may not be identical, they are real, and often intense and overwhelming. The military strategy for a needy, hurting, and embattled Christian community reads, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).
God’s infinite wealth and power will meet and provide for God’s weak and suffering people with God’s relentless compassion and care when they are gathered together around and clinging to God’s word, especially his promises.
5. God will not only take away your suffering, but he will heal every wound and restore everything good forever.
Suffering will not be the last note of your life. If you joyfully humble yourself in God’s hands and plan, he will exalt you soon enough. On that day, “after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you” (1 Peter 5:10).
We will suffer for a moment (when compared with eternity), and then be restored from all our brokenness, confirmed against all our uncertainty, strengthened from all our weakness, and established in all our glory by our God. In the place of our broken and painful existence on earth will be a never-ending experience of the greatest Joy you’ve ever known or tasted (Psalm 16:11).
http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/satan-hunts-among-the-hurting © 2015 Desiring God

Living by the Spirit: The Fruit of Faithfulness

Galatians 5:16-25; Hebrews 11:1-6; Mark 4:26-29          November 1, 2015

Faithfulness is the steadfast patient waiting and the constant working out of the trust we have in God. We are called to live out our faith through the faithfulness of sacrifice for God and intimacy with God. Faithfulness is a fruit of the Spirit; it is the result of the working of the Spirit within us. But the Spirit is also our seal of God’s faithfulness. Jesus is the faithfulness of God towards us. He has saved us and sealed us! Link for audio/video/manuscript

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Living by the Spirit: The Fruit of Goodness

Galatians 5:16-25; 2 Thessalonians 1:11; James 1:17            October 25, 2015

Goodness is a generous character in uprightness of the heart that is so powerfully energized in expressing itself in active good towards others that it will not spare sharpness and rebuke in order to produce good in others. But we are not good before God because we do good. If it were truly possible for us to earn eternal life by being good, it would require a perfect willingness to do whatever Jesus asked us to do without question. Any, every and all goodness that we do in the world is not from within us. We do good only because our good God is the source of all that can truly be called good. Link for audio/video/manuscript

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Living by the Spirit: The Fruit of Kindness

Galatians 5:16-25; Romans 11:22; 2 Cor. 1-6               October 18, 2015

The fruit if the Spirit of “kindness” is not about being nice to others, because niceness is foundationally built on pleasing people rather than pleasing God – and it is not about “goodness” either because “goodness” is foundationally built on what people see us doing rather than who we are in Christ. The fruit of the Spirit of “kindness” is the living out the gentle character of God’s heart expressing generosity towards others just as the gentle character of God’s heart has been expressing generosity towards us in the sacrificial love of God through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ towards sinners who deserve the harsh decisiveness of God ‘s punishment. Link for audio/video/manuscript

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Living by the Spirit: The Fruit of Peace

Galatians 5:16-25; John 20:19-23; Philippians 4:4-7              October 4, 2015

Just as God’s breath made the first creation, so the soul transforming breath of Jesus makes us a new creation. When we are forgiven we are not only made new, we also empowered by the Holy Spirit to bear the fruit of peace of the risen Christ. We were saved to be sent. The peace we have with God through Jesus is to be the peace we share with others. Once freed of the deadly consequences of sin, our spirits should rise up and be filled with a peace that only comes by the power of the risen Christ! Link for audio/video/manuscript

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Living by the Spirit: The Fruit of Joy

Galatians 5:22-25; Nehemiah 8:10; Hebrews 12:1-2         September 27, 2015

As Jesus endured the cross for the joy set before him, we also are able by the power of the Holy Spirit to endure the hardships that we face in life through our faith in him. We are able because even though we are sinful creatures who live in a fallen world, we are surrounded by a joy-saturated cloud of all the faithful saints who will someday be raised and glorified with us in one great consummation of the Kingdom of God. Though we live in the midst of sin and evil and death - the joy of the Lord is our strength!      Link for audio/video/manuscript

Monday, September 21, 2015

Living by the Spirit: The Fruit of Love

Galatians 5:16-26; 1 John 4:16      September 20, 2015     Link for audio/video/manuscript

“The fruit of the Spirit” in the life of a born-again Christian is the emotional, intellectual, and physical manifestation of that Christian’s transformed spiritual life. God is love and we were created for a love relationship with God. Love is to be the goal of our lives. Loving God and each other is the central purpose of our existence. God’s intention for us is to offer the truth of the gospel on the silver platter of relational excellence. The loving way we are to behave toward each other is designed by God to catch the world’s attention and create an entry point the good news of the gospel to penetrate the hearts of those who don’t know Jesus Christ. May God use the truth of His Word today to empower us as His people to humbly glorify God by bearing “the fruit of the Spirit” of love together!

Friday, September 18, 2015

There Is Hope in Your Struggle for Light - Jon Bloom

A Parable of Three Trees

In the tiny front yard of our little inner-city plot in Minneapolis live two crabapple trees. My wife and I bought them from the same nursery and planted them on the same day fourteen years ago. But if you were enjoying a late summer stroll down our street today and noticed them, you would wonder why these two trees look so different.

The tree just off the north corner of the house is the picture of a fine-looking young crab. It stands about fifteen feet high with branches spreading in pleasing proportion in all directions. It is just beginning to develop the familiar gnarled beauty of a mature crab tree. As summer gives way to autumn, almost every branch is hanging heavy with its beautiful, deep red fruit — so much fruit, in fact, that most of its leaves have dropped just to make room.

But the tree just off the south corner is much different. At first you might not think it a crab tree at all. It is nearly thirty feet tall and oddly slender. Its branches are full of leaves, and though it’s producing fruit in similar quantity to its north-side sister, the berries are growing almost entirely in the top third of the tree.

So why are these two crab trees so different?

The Altering Influence of Struggle

Actually, for their first seven years of life they weren’t much different at all. Both trees grew at similar rates and proportions. Then something happened that changed the life of the south-side crab. A mulberry tree began to grow in the hedge just a few feet away.

Our neighbors to the south had always carefully maintained the hedge. Then they moved, leaving me with hedge-trimming duty — and a problem. An embankment put the front end of the hedge out of my reach, even with my ladder. As I put off buying another ladder, the hedge front grew and in it the unforeseen mulberry.

This mulberry tree grew with amazing speed. But it began to look nice, drew lots of birds, and people even made mulberry jam from it. So I let it be. But the larger the mulberry became, the more it blocked sunlight from the young south-side crab tree. This forced the crab to struggle for nourishing sunrays. For years the mulberry adversity pushed the crab to grow oddly tall while its north-side sister grew “normally,” basking in unimpeded sun.

The Lord of the Mulberries

Perhaps you’ve had a mulberry in your past. It may be gone now, but its effects linger. And it has shaped you in ways you wouldn’t have chosen. You feel different, abnormal.

Or perhaps right now you’re living in the shadow of a mulberry, struggling for light. Jesus invites you to ask what you wish (John 15:7). He will give you what you ask in faith, for he is the Great Remover of mulberries (Luke 17:6), though do not be surprised if it feels like he’s taking too long.

But whether your mulberry is removed or you’re waiting for its removal, the Lord of the Mulberries is your gardener. Unlike me, he knows where the mulberries grow. He foresaw your mulberry, and therefore your unique growth is not an accident.

Your dimensions as a tree in the garden of God may look different from other trees, perhaps conspicuously so. But there are purposes in your dimensions (Romans 8:28). They will have unforeseen benefits, and you will still bear fruit as you trust your gardener (John 15:1, 5). You also will have a unique ability to comfort those who are struggling against their mulberries (2 Corinthians 1:3–4).

Remember the Mulberries and Be Patient

Those who pass our yard and observe the south-side crab tree may wonder why it is the way it is. So it is with us. Others who observe us, but don’t know our history of struggle, may misunderstand why we are the way we are.

Perhaps they have not dealt with a mulberry. Or more likely, their mulberry experience was different. They may not understand how our mulberry’s shadow affected our growth and so misunderstand our different dimensions. They might judge with wrong judgments and reach erroneous conclusions. We might do the same to them.

Past mulberries can result in painful present misinterpretations, so be careful. Remember the mulberry and the crab tree, and let love be patient (1 Corinthians 13:4). And rather than see each other’s atypical dimensions as defects, look for the gardener’s grace in them. Likely they have benefits we haven’t yet seen.

In the care of the Lord Gardener, all our mulberry struggles change us for good.

http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/there-is-hope-in-your-struggle-for-light © 2015 Desiring God

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

To God Be The Glory Forever!

Romans 16:1-27                      August 30, 2015            Link for audio/video/manuscript

“To the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen.” After connecting the gospel of Jesus Christ with the mystery of God to reach all the nations when followers of Jesus Christ obediently live out the righteousness of God we receive when they truly embrace Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior - the apostle Paul focuses his praises on the author of it all who is the “only wise God.” All of the glory that will rebound to God through the ages of eternity, from the salvation of sinners to the return of Christ to the end of the age proceeds through Jesus Christ!

Monday, August 24, 2015

Holy Ambition and the Church’s Mission

Romans 15:14-33                 August 23, 2015                 Link for audio/video/manuscript

Great ambition is the passion of a great character when our character is forged in the furnace of God’s will for our lives that we would live out and share the good news that God sent his only begotten Son into the world to die for the sins of those who receive him as Lord and Savior - so we might be forgiven, rescued, redeemed and restored back into the relationship with God we were all created for at the beginning of creation. Yes, we will face opposition and rejection when we pursue the holy ambition of the church’s mission to love God and love each other and make disciples and be witnesses and glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ with one unified voice together, but God still miraculously answers prayer, and He will do so when God, rather than ourselves, is the goal. May the God of peace be with us all. Amen!

Monday, August 10, 2015

The Law of Love and the Disunity of Judgment

Romans 14:1-23            Sunday, August 9, 2015           Link for audio/video/manuscript

God our Father is pleased when he sees his children making sacrifices for the sake of each other. God builds His church through the sacrificial decisions of his people, as they love each other. He started his church with the greatest and most loving sacrifice of all— that of his Son. While it is true the church is God’s church and that Jesus is really the only one who builds up the church, it is possible for us to tear down the church when we value personal preferences over agape love. Personal preferences are not worthy to be compared to the value of God’s church, which Jesus purchased with his own blood. Neither old music nor new music nor short services nor long services nor personal preferences fulfills the law. Only love fulfills the law. May the Law of Love eliminate any and every kind of disunity of judgment in our midst!

Community Conquers Culture - David Mathis

True harmony among Christians is as important as it’s ever been.
Long has the church been increasingly marginalized and ignored in modern Western society, but today she is finding herself newly insulted and pressured. And as the numbers grow of those who are actively opposed to many of the truths we hold dear (or at least as the voices get louder), it becomes increasingly important that Christians provide each other the support and true community that we simply will not find anywhere outside the church.
Once upon a time, in a more Christian society, it was easy to distinguish ourselves from other believers by secondary things. Baptist, Presbyterian, Congregationalist, and Episcopalian were among the dividing lines. But in the days ahead, and already now, we will discover that the most important word in our local names is “church.” And even more important than harmony among churches is harmony within churches.
How we orient toward one another in the same congregation and engage in life together is critical in our effort to stand as lights in the world and not succumb to the darkness.
Stand Firm in One Spirit
When Paul wrote to the church in Philippi, he addressed a community deeply embedded in the pagan world of the first century. As soon as the gospel began to take root in the city, opposition emerged (Acts 16:19). Into this embattled context, the apostle writes about how important the church’s life together is for our witness in society.
Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. (Philippians 1:27–28)
There’s no dichotomy here between “outreach” and “inreach.” The two are profoundly connected, inseparable even. Our shared mission in the world strengthens our life together in the church, and harmony and depth in the church become powerful forces in our witness to the world.
We’re prone to think of our conduct in the world in largely individualistic terms. Yet here, in charging believers to “let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ,” Paul doesn’t accent individual behaviors, but focuses on the collective harmony of the community. Gospel conduct means the church “standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents.”
Note both the defensive and offensive aspects to this harmony and community. Conduct worthy of the gospel holds its ground; the church stands firm together in one spirit. The ramparts remain.
But even here — especially here — there is not just defense, but offense. The unified church not only stands firm in the face of opposition, but advances her Christ-given mission — “striving side by side for the faith of the gospel.” How does this advance happen?
Show Our Opponents Their Wrong
Paul says that such unity, stability, depth, and fearlessness in the face of the onslaught becomes “a clear sign” to the opponents that they are the ones in the wrong. Not a subtle sign, but a clear sign. Through standing unified against insult, slander, and threat — and continuing undaunted in moving forward in the mission — the church shows herself to be true. The strong bonds between saints demonstrate that they are in the sphere of salvation, which means their opponents are in the sphere of destruction.
For some of the opponents, no doubt, such a revelation will only harden and provoke them more. They are already entrenched and will dig in even deeper. But for others, perhaps many others, this revelation will serve as their wake-up call.
Perhaps they had thought they were doing good by opposing the church, but in seeing the resilient joy of this community in its suffering, they recognize the unmistakable ring of authenticity. No longer can they bring themselves to believe that a community of such love, joy, peace, patience, and kindness could be built on a lie. They have seen the life together that they have longed for, but not found elsewhere. Their insults and opposition have had the effect of separating the real from the pretenders, and the church has shown herself to be authentic.
Such harmony and joy in the midst of suffering make the church shine with a kind of peculiar glory that is oddly attractive, even to the world. It is strangely beautiful how this community truly cares for one another, and loves one another, and genuinely sacrifices for one another. The church’s opponents are awakened to their destruction not by being shouted down or finding that a clever Christian got the best of them in a Twitter fight, but by seeing true love on display in the church’s life together.
“See How They Love”
That is, after all, how Jesus himself said it would be. “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). Our final apologetic is not persuasive public rhetoric or shrewdly identifying areas of common concern with society; it is our love for one another. Even in the twenty-first century, some opponents will turn, as early-church detractors did according to Tertullian, and say, “See how they love one another.”
And not only will love and harmony in our congregations help win the lost; they will help keep the found. In a day where we are increasingly marginalized and mocked, it is even more important that we find our greatest place of belonging in the church. Mere attendance and association will no longer cut it. Maybe we could get by, when society was on our side, in thin relationships with fellow believers. But as opposition increases, the richness of our life together in the church will matter more than ever.
The social pressure against Christian morality may already seem great. And likely it will become greater. But God made the church to rise to meet that pressure together, to be a counter culture that truly is the community we so desperately long for, better than anything we can find outside.
In the days ahead, we will find that more important than culture-warring is community-creating. Because community conquers culture. It did in the first century, and it will again in the twenty-first.
http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/community-conquers-culture© 2015 Desiring God

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Obeying the Law Through Love

Romans 13:8-14              Sunday, August 2, 2015       Link for audio/video/manuscript

We need to wake up. The night has passed. The new day is dawning—the day of our Lord’s return will be soon. We need to get moving and do the things that need to be done. In these days, obedience to God, more than anything else, means love. When we are obedient to God by loving each other and loving the world, we are then caught up in His eternal purposes for humanity. This is not about getting our act together; its about humbly obeying the Law of God through love. Obedience to God and His Word and His Holy Spirit is a loving response - a loving response of gratitude in who God is and what God has done for us, and a loving response of joy in the law of God, the commandment of God, to agape love others as God agape loves us.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Submission to God’s Servants

Romans 13:1-7         July 26, 2015          Link for audio/video/manuscript 

The concept of humbly submitting in obedience to authority is pretty foreign to us in North America. But God does not allow us any wiggle room to do so as the truth of His Word tells us that “there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” God does not allow us to resist and reject authority because we disagree with or dislike the one whom He has placed in authority over us. We are to obey “all” authority God has put over us because to resist authority is to resist God, and we are to obey “all” that those in authority tell us to do unless they demands we violate a clear truth or principle of God. When it comes to humbly submitting in obedience to authority, Jesus is our example. He gave up his right to be God and “emptied himself” and became “human” and “humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death.” May God grant us all a humble submissive spirit of obedience that opens our hearts and opens the doors to the Kingdom of God!

Monday, July 20, 2015

Living Out the Love of Christ

Romans 12:9-21              July 19, 2015           Link for audio/video/manuscript

Once we begin with the sober judgment about ourselves as a starting point, we need to live out the love of God through Jesus Christ by loving righteousness and good, hating sin and abhorring evil, showing preference to each other and humbly serving others, rejoicing in the hope of Jesus, giving generously of ourselves, genuinely loving those who hurt us, loving each other and our enemies, casting off pride and rejecting any form of judgment based upon human merit or measurement, and pursuing peace by returning good for evil. This is our call together as God’s people, the church. For us love does not consist of gazing at each other, but in looking outward together in the same direction. And while living out that kind of love can change us the way a parent changes a baby - awkwardly, and often with a great deal of mess - it is the life the God calls us to through Jesus Christ which proves our love is“genuine”!

Monday, July 13, 2015

We Grossly Underestimate God - Francis Chan

Do Not Underestimate a Defeated Devil - Jon Bloom

We think we know what’s going on. But often we barely have a clue.
Scripture teaches us that what we see happening in the world is only part of the story. There’s a whole dimension to reality that wields a direct and very powerful influence in our experience and yet is largely outside of our perception. The apostle Paul describes it this way:
We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:12)
Do You Know What Hunts You?
Many times Christians have quoted the first phrase of this verse to help us remember that our fellow human beings aren’t our primary adversaries. And that’s true. But the rest of the verse is quite serious and significant, too. We are up against cosmic powers that govern the present darkness in which we live — powers for which we are no match, at least not alone. Are we taking this enemy seriously enough?
In Peter Jackson’s film adaptation of Tolkien’s “The Fellowship of the Ring,” after Frodo the Hobbit has his first encounter with the evil Nazg├╗l, he meets Strider (who turns out to be King Aragorn). Strider asks Frodo, “Are you frightened?” Frodo answers, “Yes.” Strider replies, “Not nearly frightened enough. I know what hunts you.”
Do you know what hunts you (1 Peter 5:8)?
Satan Demands to Have You
The disciples found out what was hunting them and what they were really made of on the night Jesus was betrayed. Jesus warned them it was going to come. In the Upper Room, he turned to Peter in a moment of anguished compassion and said,
“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat.” (Luke 22:31)
Ponder these five words for a moment: “Satan demanded to have you.” The Greek word for “you” in verse 31 is plural. Satan wasn’t just after Peter; he was after all of the disciples. He wanted to press them all through his sieve of terror.
The disciples had an Adversary — a ruler, an authority, a cosmic power, a spiritual force of evil — who had demanded that God let him put them through the wringer. And God was granting Satan permission. And they had no idea what was happening underneath and behind everything they could see.
I don’t know about you, but I find this stunning and unnerving. Satan, who the Bible says accuses Christians before God day and night (Revelation 12:10), can make demands, and sometimes God grants them. We also see this reality in the first and second chapters of Job. And when Satan is granted his demands, like with Job, all hell breaks out against believers. And this attack can take the form of flesh and blood enemies, natural disasters, and bodily disease.
Are you ready?
Don’t Overestimate Yourself
It is a dangerous thing to underestimate the power of spiritual evil and to overestimate our ability to withstand it. When Jesus told Peter that Satan was coming after him and the others, Peter responded,
“Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” (Luke 22:33)
Peter had a willing spirit, but he didn’t know how weak his flesh was (Matthew 26:41). However, Jesus did and he told it to Peter straight:
“I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me.” (Luke 22:34)
In human terms, Peter was no wimp. This man had left everything to follow Jesus (Mark 10:28). He had the guts to try walking on water (Matthew 14:29). He had seen Jesus transfigured (Mark 9:2). It would be wise for us not to assume that we are his equals. If Peter could be pressed by Satan to deny Jesus, there’s no doubt that we could be as well. Without the protection of Jesus, we have no hope of withstanding such an evil spiritual force.
The Protection of Jesus’s Prayers
In the face of Satan’s attack, Peter had only one hope, as he discovered. Jesus had said to him,
“I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:32)
It’s interesting that the Greek word for “you” in this verse is singular, as opposed to the plural “you” of verse 31. “I have prayed for you, Peter.” Jesus knew Peter was going to outright deny him repeatedly. Peter was going to have a major failure of faith. He was going to discover that he needed far more than self-confidence to withstand satanic sifting. But Jesus had prayed for Peter, and so Peter’s faith was not going to fail utterly. His faith would be sustained, restored, and strengthened.
Like Peter, ultimately our only hope of enduring this present oppressive darkness is with Jesus’s prayers. And we have very good ground for hope, for Jesus “is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25). That intercession ensures that by his omnipotent grace we will ultimately stand (Romans 5:2).
Wear the Armor, Wield the Word, and Pray at All Times
But Jesus does not merely intend for us to be the passive recipients of his mighty prayers. He intends for us to engage our powerful Adversary, the cosmic powers, in battle by the strength he supplies (1 Peter 4:11). Through Paul we understand how Jesus equips us. We discover that we have spiritual body armor and a sword (Ephesians 6:13–17), and that Jesus expects us to do everything possible to withstand evil (Ephesians 6:13).
In other words, we must take the reality of spiritual evil very seriously. The enemy and the war are not metaphors. They are very real. Being armed, we are called to remain alert by remaining prayerful, “praying at all times in the Spirit . . . with all perseverance . . . for all the saints” (Ephesians 6:18).
If we are not praying this way, it’s likely that we do not take the spiritual forces of evil seriously enough. We do not really know what hunts us. And like the disciples, we do not know how weak our flesh is. Jesus’s word to us, like it was to them, is, “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation” (Matthew 26:41).
But if we wear the armor, wield the Word, and pray at all times in the Spirit, we will “not be outwitted by Satan” or “ignorant of his designs” (2 Corinthians 2:11). We will be ready to wrestle well when he demands to have us.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

The Glorious Wisdom and Ways of God!

Romans 11:25-36                    July 5, 2015                  Link for audio/video/manuscript

It’s easy for us to think we are better than we really are, when we think we know more than we really know. The great paradox of our faith in God through Jesus Christ is that God created us to have a mind and heart and a will, and it is our privilege to use our minds and our hearts and our wills to the best of our ability in a way that would glorify God - which means there will be times, because we are all recovering sin-a-holics, when we will all reach the limit of minds, hearts and wills regarding who God is and the ways that God does things. And at that point there is nothing left to do but worship in wonder and bow in adoration. And the truth is those moments happen all the time, every day. Our problem is that more often than not we miss those moments because our arrogant pride gets in the way. Its then we must desperately pray God will work in spite of us. Having done his best, the apostle Paul was content to leave it all to God!

Friday, July 3, 2015

How to Complain Without Grumbling - Jon Bloom

When we complain, it is frequently evil. But complaining is not necessarily evil. There’s a faithful (believing) way to complain and a faithless (unbelieving) way to complain.
The Bible often refers to faithless complaining as grumbling and warns us not to do that (Numbers 14:26–30; John 6:43; Philippians 2:14; James 5:9). Grumbling complaints directly or indirectly declare that God is not sufficiently good, faithful, loving, wise, powerful, or competent. Otherwise, he would treat us better or run the universe more effectively. Faithless complaining is sinful because it accuses God of doing wrong.
But faithful complaining does not impugn God with wrong. Rather, it is an honest, groaning expression of what it’s like to experience the trouble, anguish, and grief of living in this fallen, futile world (Romans 8:20–23). God does not mind this kind of complaining. In fact, he encourages it — and teaches us how to do it in the Bible.
With my voice I cry out to the Lord; with my voice I plead for mercy to the Lord. I pour out my complaint before him; I tell my trouble before him. (Psalm 142:1–2)
How God Wants Us to Complain
Most of these biblical and righteous complaints are contained in what we call the psalms of lament. The Book of Psalms contains the prayers and hymns that God chose to teach us how to express ourselves to him in worship. About one-third of these psalms are laments. And they are precious gifts from God.
In these laments, the writers pour out to God their sorrow (Psalm 137), anger (Psalm 140), fear (Psalm 69), longing (Psalm 85), confusion (Psalm 102), desolation (Psalm 22), repentance (Psalm 51), disappointment (Psalm 74), and depression (Psalm 88), either because of external evil or internal evil or darkness.
These psalms are expressions of God’s profound and deep compassion for us (James 5:11). He knows that we frequently will experience bewildering pain and therefore will frequently need to express our pain to him.
God wants us to pour out our complaints to him and tell him our troubles (Psalm 142:2). He wants us to do it privately, like David did when he wrote Psalm 142 in the cave of Adullam (1 Samuel 22). And he wants us to do it corporately, as when the people of Israel would sing Psalm 142 together.
He wants us to tell him exactly what it feels like, as when David exclaimed, “no one cares for my soul” (Psalm 142:4). And he wants us to remember that despite how things look and feel right now, because of his very great promises (2 Peter 1:4), someday these troubles will no longer afflict us, as when David expressed his hope: “You will deal bountifully with me” (Psalm 142:7).
The psalms of lament are treasures for the saints. They give inspired voice to our troubled souls. They model for us how to complain to God in a way that honors him. And they are themselves expressions of God’s merciful care for us, because in them we see that we are not as alone as we feel, and that God indeed does understand.
And if we have ears to hear, these psalms will also guard us from expecting too much in this age. God does not always intend his saints to experience prosperity. Rather, the psalms of lament remind us of the truth of Jesus’s statement, “In the world you will have tribulation,” and point us to our great hope: “Take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
So go ahead and complain to God, but don’t grumble. Learn from the lamenting psalmists how to be a faithful complainer.

Monday, June 29, 2015

The Kindness and Severity of God

Romans 11:1-24                   June 28, 2015              Link for audio/video/manuscript 

The fear of God’s severity opens the eyes of our hearts to see the depth of God’s kindness in that we have been painfully and undeservedly chosen and called and saved by God through Jesus Christ to be grafted into the eternal family tree of God – along with the chosen people of God that began with Abraham. God’s Words today should saturate us with profound humility in that the origin of our faith as a gift from God and the nature of our faith in Christ leaves no room for boasting in ourselves, but shifts all the weight of boasting over onto God who through Jesus has given us grace upon grace!

Friday, June 26, 2015

Breaking Free from the Spell of Fantasy - Jon Bloom

While listening to a sermon by Ray Ortlund, Jr., I was struck by a quote he read from Simone Weil.
Nothing is so beautiful, nothing is so continually fresh and surprising, so full of sweet and perpetual ecstasy as the good. No deserts are so dreary, monotonous and boring as evil. But with fantasy it is the other way round. Fictional good is boring and flat, while fictional evil is varied, intriguing, attractive and full of charm.
This statement is gloriously and heartbreakingly true. The real, fresh, surprising, ecstatic, good that God has made is so rich and satisfying, and yet we are so easily duped into exchanging it for charming fantasies that rob us of joy and leave us spiritually barren.
But Jesus has come to set us free from fantasy’s impoverishing enchantment.
Fantasy Turned the Garden into a Wasteland
The garden of Eden was in every way a garden of real delights. Adam and Eve enjoyed the unfiltered fullness of the presence and fellowship of the Triune God, whose radiant glory emanated from every wonderful thing he had made and given to them. And then the satanic serpent showed up and presented them with a fantasy where the ecstatic good was cast as flat and boring, and evil was cast as attractive and intriguing. Our progenitors allowed themselves to be tragically charmed, and they believed the lying fantasy. When they did, their garden of joy — and ours — became a dreary wasteland of monotonous misery.
And since that time, every fantasy that has put a charming, attractive face on evil and deceived a human being has replayed that tragedy. The fantasy markets itself as a garden of delight when it really is a desert. And it robs us of the beautiful good, alienates us from God, and leaves us desolate.
We must come to terms with this truth. Evil fantasies are perversions of the real good — the good we are designed to really enjoy. In creating them, we use our God-like imaginations in a satanic way, fantasizing a world in which we rule as God and indulge our selfish ambition, greed, anger, hatred, violence, covetousness, sexual lusts, and indolence. Their forbidden fruit is so easy to eat — as close as a thought — but their effect is devastating. They accustom our spiritual taste buds to fictional evil and addict us to the drug of titillation till we lose the taste for good and end up with nothing real.
Waking Up from the Longest Dream
“But God, being rich in mercy . . .” (Ephesians 2:4). O, the beautiful, continually fresh, surprising, sweet, perpetually ecstatic good of the gospel of God — of the gospel that is God. In mercy, he did not leave us to eternally endure the wasteland of evil’s fictional fantasies!
Jesus came to destroy the destructive thief and to give us the real good of the real abundant life that bursts out of the fullness of all that God is and wants to be for us (1 John 3:8; John 10:10). He came to set us free from evil fantasy’s bondage with the glorious truth (John 8:32).
It begins with being born again (John 3:3; 1 Peter 1:3). The late Keith Green captured this experience in a song titled “Your Love Broke Through” in which he described his life before his conversion: 
          Like a foolish dreamer trying to build a highway in the sky,
          All my hopes would come tumbling down and I never knew just why.
 But when he came to Christ, he said it was,
          Like waking up from the longest dream, 
          How real it seemed,
          Until [Christ’s] love broke through.
          I’ve been lost in a fantasy
          That blinded me,
          Until your love broke through.
When Jesus became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14) and preached the truth because he was the truth (John 14:6) and died on the cross for our sins and rose again on the third day (1 Corinthians 15:3–4) that we too might have eternal life (John 3:16), the Real Good broke into the evil fantasy world and the Garden-City invaded the wasteland. Coming to faith in Jesus is our first awakening and liberation.
Breaking the Stronghold of Evil Fantasy
But still having indwelling sin woven into our bodies (Romans 7:23), and still living in a world that lies in the power of the evil one (1 John 5:19), we are still susceptible to fantasy’s charming evil.
Having come to faith in Jesus, the way Jesus destroys the addictive stronghold of fantasy in our lives section by section is by calling us to live by faith in his promises (Galatians 2:20).
The garden of Eden was turned into a wasteland by faith, as Adam and Eve put their faith in the serpent’s promise that the fantasy of rebellion against God would make them happy and free. Now the hellish wasteland of the fantasy of sin is turned back into a better garden, the Garden-City, by faith, as we put our faith in every precious and great promise of God to make us free and happy (2 Peter 1:4).
The weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:4–5) 
Evil fantasy presents itself as a delectable delight. But it is not. It is an argument to be destroyed, not a sweet apple to be eaten. Believing this truth — really believing it — is the key to breaking free from fantasy’s enchantment.
The evil fantasy that tempts you to believe its fictional attractive charm and promises to make you happy is nothing more than an ethereal wraith with a poison apple that will deliver only dreary, monotonous, joy-stealing barrenness. Don’t listen to it. Don’t eat its apple.
Instead, look to Jesus and listen to Jesus. Only he has the words of eternal life (John 6:68) and the power to give you that life in more abundance than you have yet imagined (John 10:10; 1 Corinthians 2:9). Yes, putting your faith in him instead of the enticing, titillating fantasy will be a fight, but it will be a good fight (1 Timothy 6:12) because it will eventually bring you the true, beautiful, continually fresh, surprising good that you really desire.
And the more you cultivate the habit of looking to and listening to Jesus, the more your spiritual taste buds and eyesight for real good will be restored so that you can “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8).