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).  @ 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). © 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