A PRAYER FOR WHEN LIFE COMES UNDONE

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. Colossians 1:15-17

Lord, this morning I am reminded of who you are and how you hold all things together. In my life I often forget this. I quickly become a spiritual chicken little; thinking the sky is falling and there’s no way out. Fortunately my weakness and lack of faith has no affect on your strength and faithfulness.

Jesus, you are the Son of God. You were before all things, you made all that is made, and only you can completely unmake anything. In you is the source and power of life. In you is eternal hope; even in the worst of situations. There is no power greater, no mind wiser, no leader more capable and no god greater. In you we see the beauty, love, power and ability of God.

I confess that I too often believe I can (and have to) hold all things together. And when that falls apart I am quick to look to someone or something else to protect and pull it all back together. I put too many things before the One who is before all things, to my detriment and disgrace. Forgive me lack of faith. My unbelief only images my idols and unravels my world. Fear, worry and despair display the domain of darkness not the kingdom of his beloved Son.

Holy Spirit, thank you for pointing me back to His deliverance; for speaking truth into my doubts through your enduring Word. Give me eyes to marvel at the strength of Christ anew. Grant me faith to trust that He alone holds all things together by his word. That He alone, by his blood, covers over all my failures and fears with outstretched, unmatched arms of grace. Continue to transfer my thinking into trusting. Let me view every circumstance in light of his power not mine and every opposition as under His throne.

Thank you Lord, that nothing about my day, my week or my life has surprised you. I am confident that nothing behind or before me can overtake or unravel You. You hold all things together. You are preeminent and premiere and because of this, I can trust that even my shortcomings and inadequacies are being used by You to create in me something beautiful and beneficial here on earth as it will one day be in heaven.

Thank for Father for Jesus. Thank you Christ for your cross. Thank you Spirit for your eye opening, heart illuminating truth. Amen.

CHRIST AND SINGLENESS

Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned him, and to which God has called him. 1 Cor 7:17a

 A couple of weeks ago, as part of our current sermon series, I spoke on being Single and Christian. Over the last couple of years, God’s been stirring my heart for the single people in our churches. There can be a pretty big stigma in terms of singleness among the Christian community. Culturally we’re taught to pursue and glorify singleness, worshiping the idol of individual independence. Likewise though, Christian culture can tend to view marriage as most glorious and end up making it an idol.

The bible teaches us that it’s God who’s most glorious and that making most of him is the goal of all our life. Both marriage and singleness are uniquely designed by God to help us do just that. Sin distorts anything; thankfully the gospel redeems everything. In Christ, singleness finds a home. It’s made beautiful and beneficial in light of Him; uniquely displaying our love for and trust in our all-sufficient and sovereign Lord.

If you’d like more on the Gift and Calling of Singleness that Paul outlines in 1 Cor 7, you can listen to the podcast. For this post though I wanted to touch on some of the practical things I’ve mentioned in regards to singleness over the last couple weeks. I compiled a list of eight principles for living a life of Singleness to God’s glory and for your good. It’s by no means comprehensive, nor do I have a verse for every one. They come from biblical principles, human experience and pastoral observations. My hope is they’ll be seen as simple, practical and helpful.

SINGLENESS AND YOU

Jesus First – Prioritize your relationship with Jesus above every other relationship. Cultivate your heart for him, find your identity in him and keep your focus on he and his kingdom first. The quality of all our relationships are rooted in our relationship with Christ.

Be Content – Scripture teaches, songs remind and life confirms we’re prone to wonder. We all want bigger, better and faster and chasing the world easily temps us to leave the Lord. Where you are and what you have are all a perfectly, purposefully timed gift from God. Practice gratitude.

Be Holy – Image scripture not the world. Walk in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Yes, potentially you’re saving yourself for someone to come, but primarily you are sanctifying yourself for the One who’s already arrived; the One who sanctified himself for us through his life and death to make us his. Commit your body and mind to him while single and don’t act married until you are.

Be Humble – I’ll let the life-long single theologian John Stott speak to this:

 Apart from sexual temptation, the greatest danger which I think we face as singles is self-centeredness. We may live alone and have total freedom to plan our own schedule with nobody else to modify it or even give us advice. If we are not careful, we may find the whole world revolving around ourselves.

Be Intentional – The time is very short, make the best use of it. Single or married our mission is gospel proclamation and kingdom extension. There are no greater gifts outside the gospel itself like youthful zeal and the freedom of singleness when it comes to undivided devotion to Christ and his commission. Maximize it without regret.

SINGLE AND SEARCHING

Start with a Friendship, Not Romance – I learned this from Tim Keller and from looking back over the years spent with my best friend and spouse. What you need in this life, and want going into eternity, is a good friend, because that’s what lasts. Find and be a friend first. Walk with them as friends toward Jesus, helping the other become the person God designed them to be in him. You usually figure the physical stuff out just fine.

Clarify Your Beliefs Together in the Beginning – We over look a lot of things about people when we’re attracted to them. Let me just say, don’t let hotness supersede holiness. I’ve yet to sit with a couple after recently getting married who were having problems with each others physical appearance, but I have wept with many who realized they assumed someone’s salvation. What do you both believe? Who do you believe in? What does that mean? Where do you go to church? What are you learning from Christ? What is the gospel and how does it apply to life? These aren’t secondary matters. They are of marriage shaping, life changing and joy thriving importance.

Make Courtship Communal – Whatever you label your pursuit of a spouse; courtship or dating, let me ask you: Does your church family know the person you’re after? Why not? Do they have authority to speak into your relationship? They should. Lots of mistakes could be avoided if we simply invited and involved others in our courtship/dating. Do more together with others than on your own. There is no better help for you (and them) when it comes to keeping the first five points. Don’t limit your community to people just like you. Singles be around married, marrieds included singles. Ask questions, seek wisdom, invite accountability and have fun together. That’s what being the church is all about and this is a time when it’s biblically beneficial for both.

My prayer for your today is that in whatever season of singleness or solitude you currently find yourself in, contentment in and enjoyment of Christ will rule your hearts.

Enjoy

 

THE SPIRITUAL COST OF SMART PHONES

This week I’m easing back into my regular work week after a little vacation time. I hope you’re able to find some rest and recreation this summer as well. We all need it, and if your like me, struggle to take full advantage of it when it does avail itself.

One of the things I find myself needing to take a break from most is my phone. The internet, social media, entertaining videos, all vi for my attention on a regular basis, but my phone…that square headed little gremlin scheming in my pocket, is constantly crying out for attention, and if I’m honest, I kind of like it.

As I sat down to write this today, I realized I’d left my phone at home and in a moment of great irony and sad reality, I found myself feeling a sense of loss, fear and even panic thinking about what it’d mean for my day not have it by my side. Fortunately a browser was close at hand and I avoided getting the shakes.

My smart phone can be a great tool to help keep me connected, but it also came with a ton of hidden fees that cost me dearly and can disconnect me from things that matter most like family, friends and God.

What I need most when I disconnect from my work life is to reconnect deeply with my worship life. Genuine rest is better with genuine worship. We need daily time with God for sure; time in the word, in prayer and meditation. It’s a fight to keep the cares and concerns of the world from choking the breathe of the gospel from our lungs. But lets face it, life happens, things get busy and our relationship with God and our enjoyment of grace suffers for it. And when it’s been weeks, months…years of that, what we need is not just a week at the beach or a month in the mountains but sustain, thoughtful, reconnecting time with Jesus. I can leave work at the office and I can usually stay away from email…but my phone; it stows away unconsciously into my times of quiet worship. That phantom buzz seems to scream into my leg at the very moment I sense I’m reconnecting with my Maker.

There are a ton of available apps to help us worship God, but there several million more that keep us from it.

Tim Chester, one of the authors who’s been most helpful in my life, when it comes to teaching me practical gospel application, shared the following insightful questions from an audio interview with Tony Reinke on Desiring God. I think we would do well to consider them personally and answer them honestly ourselves and with others:

  1. Am I becoming like what I behold in my iPhone? Are my face-to-face relationships conforming to modes of communication that are shaped by my online habits?
  2. Am I overlooking my finiteness? I am finite. I am a man severely limited in what I can know and what I can read and what I engage and what I can care about. So do I want to know everything? Do I fear being left behind on what’s trending online right now?
  3. Am I multitasking priorities that should be uni-tasked. Specifically is my time with God in the word and I prayer being distracted and even being replaced by digital interruptions?
  4. I am deleting my embodiment? Do I truly value the personal, face-to-face relationships in my life over the disembodied relationships I maintain online? Are my face-to-face relationships with my neighbour, my wife and my kids suffering as a result?
  5. I am losing interest in the gathered church on Sunday? Baptisms, the Lord’s Supper, corporate worship, the laying on of hands – do I truly value the embodied reality that is my local church? Do I fiddle through it on my phone looking for something more entertaining?
  6. Am I careless with my words? It’s easy for my words to be published online. So what self-imposed limitations do I have to filter what I say and do I have any accountability in my life for what I say online?

I paid enough for my phone a few years ago. I’d like to keep it from costing me even more today. It’s tremendously helpful in our age, but like with everything else I have to be mindful of how and when I use it. I need to develop discipline with it or it will get more of my attention that it deserves.

It’s already a fight to have authentic relationships these days. False community is everywhere and idols are as shiny as ever and there’s an even bigger better one around the corner to keep us glued. The subject is worth a conversation and at the very least as Christians we should add it to our talking points with others we’re accountable to.

Listen the whole audio interview with Tony Reinke here.

STAYING CLOSE TO CHRIST

Abide in me, and I in you. – John 15:4

Are you currently close to Jesus? Is his presence and impact evidenced in your life? In John 15 Jesus teaches us that it’s vitally important that his disciples actively remain in relationship with him. He explains that our fruitfulness in mission, growth in grace and fullness of joy is at stake.

You might say, “I agree, but what does a life lived close to Jesus look like? Are there visible affects of disciples dwelling daily in relationship with God?” Good questions, let’s look.

Humility

When we are abiding in Jesus our lives begin to take the shape of his. We begin to love what he loves; seeing and caring for people as he does. Christians are grace saved sinners. That means, we’ve felt the weight of our guilt before God and experienced, through faith, the liberating freedom of Christ’s redeeming work in our lives. The cross humbles us. It rescues us from selfish pride into humble rejoicing. The more we think of God’s loving sacrifice, at the expense of himself, to save unloving sinners the more our souls melt for him in worship and service to others. The reality that God laid his life down for me, moves my heart to lay my life down for others.

Are your attitudes and actions marked by gospel abiding humility?

Holiness

There has been a tremendous resurgence in the doctrines of grace over the past several years. I am profoundly grateful for this in my own life and have seen first hand the powerful affects of it in countless others who lived under the joy crushing weight of rule driven religion. Sadly I’ve also noticed a disturbing trend. Many folks, under a banner of “grace”, begin cherry picking the commands of scripture, taking “free in Christ” to mean free from obedience and free to sin. Paul addresses this misappropriation of grace at length in Romans 6-7 so I’ll encourage us to read his words not mine.

Christians are not set free by grace to ignore the law but to enjoy it. Before salvation the law condemned us in chains us as slaves. In Christ God’s good commands guide us into liberty and love. We are saved by grace from from a self saving life of “got to” into a mercy pardoned life of “get to”. God’s standard of holiness for his people has not changed, our desire for it has been redeemed. We have become “obedient form the heart”. It’s now our delight to honor God through holiness. When we are clinging closely to Jesus we will find ourselves less tolerant of our sin, giving fewer excuses for disobedience and joyously willing to fulfill his commands.

Are your exploits abounding in grace abiding holiness?

Happiness

Finally, when we are remaining in the presence of Jesus love, joy is plentiful. “I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”

There is nothing so heavy pressing upon my soul that time spent marveling at the love of God for me in Christ Jesus cannot lift. Is the Christian never sad? Surely not. Does the Follower never find himself in darkness and despair? Impossible in this world. We cannot; however, abide in Christ and constantly wear a frown. A heart not warmed by time sitting by the fires of grace is one that has yet to beat with eternal life.

Are you overwhelmed and saddened by circumstance? Withered from lack of abiding and worried by the things of this world? Open his word and listen. Lay yourself before him in prayer. Reach for his scar marked hands and linger in the loving radiance of his glory. Ponder anew what it cost him to rescue you from sin, Satan and death. Rehearse once more what was lost for your gain and what it cost to call you friend. Tears of repentance will once again bring about a harvest of joy.

Are your troubles accompanied by grace abiding happiness?

Now you might be saying to yourself, “that’s not me…well at least not all three”. Let me just say, that’s ok. The point is for us to hold our lives up to his light and see what shadows we cast; allowing the truth and grace of the gospel to form us into greater reflections of him.

Conviction is not condemnation, it’s an invitation. Go to him. Spend time with him in the word and on your knees in worship. Confess where there is less of him in your life. Repent of the things grab your attention and keep you from enjoying his presence. Share your convictions with others in your church and ask them to walk with you in encouragement and accountability. God has promised to finish the work he began in you and he is always faithful to his word. Ask, act, abide and expect. Revival and renewal awaits.

YOU ARE THE CHURCH

You are the church. Think about that for a minute…no make that two minutes. The implications are tremendous.

We just finished up our latest round of membership classes at our church. We do these throughout the year to help people learn about Jesus, lay foundations for following him as a disciple and also for people curious about our church and considering becoming members. I thoroughly enjoying these weeks. It reinvigorates me in the gospel and into loving our church and his mission anew. One of the big concepts we unpack is understanding what it means to be the church and not simply attend one.

If you are a Follower of Jesus Christ scripture teaches that you are not longer your own and no longer alone. You were bought with a price and became his bride. You were redeemed from the smallness of living for yourself into freely running through the vast eternal expanse of his kingdom. You were rescued from the isolation of sin and welcomed into the family to live in the peace and joy of being a son or daughter of God.

You are the church in Christ.

God himself said it was not good for Adam to be alone. Part of Israel’s discipline for ignoring God’s law and love was that they were exiled from living as one in Him to live by themselves in other lands. In the New Testament the sentence upon pervasive sin was the casting out of someone from biblical community in hopes that they might think about the effects of their actions on the body and its witness – a sort of spiritual time out from the Father that kept them from playing with others in grace.  The Lord takes being part of a redemptive community seriously. It reflects his glory and it benefits our good.

You are the church for Christ.

Is your church’s vision your vision? Are the church’s hopes and dreams your’s as well? Is the gospel preached on Sunday transforming your life throughout the week? Is the transformation you’re experiencing being passed on and shared with others around you? Churches thrive when they are all going in the same direction. Talking to one another. Spending time with one another. Traveling together toward the same destination – Him.  Encouraging each other toward holiness. Disciplining one another away from sin. Strengthening side by side with grace. Is it any wonder God compares the church to a marriage?

As members of one body we all play a part. Each with responsibilities to God and toward one another. Our walk and the walk of others is directly dependent on each of us doing our part to see the body take steps to move forward together.

You are your church and your church is you.

Before you think this is impossible, remember that we are not our own, and we are not on our own. God is in us, with us and for us because it reflects him. All that he asks of us he is equipping us to do. He is at work in each person that makes us each part of his body.

You are the church and He is in you.

 

I’d also recommend a short article Tom Rainer wrote a while back about some of the responsibilities and habits we should pursue to be and live as Jesus’ church, especially as it pertains to being members in a local congregation. You can read it here.

COURAGE

In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.

John 16:33

COURAGE

This morning I was reading through the end of the book of Revelation. Not because I hang out there often, nurturing unhealthy codes and conspiracies, but because I was longing for what lies ahead for those in Christ. As I read I was again comforted by John’s vision of the coming Kingdom of God. It excites me to think about it; and in light of the suffering and death all around, I long for it to come quickly – today in fact would be nice.

As I pondered the thought of Jesus making “all things new” in Rev 21, I was additionally struck by another idea, a word actually, among the list of those John mentions will miss out on experiencing this amazing final, hope filled, reality. It wasn’t the entirety of his list (thats the subject of countless other debates currently raging), but the first group of folks mentioned, “the cowardly”, those too fearful to follow Jesus; too timid to take a stand for his truth when push comes to shove.

FEAR

I don’t at all believe the bible is dismissive of the very real emotion of fear. The world is full of scary things. I know God gave us the ability to feel afraid to protected us from evil as well as the stupid things I spent my younger years engaging in anyway. Caution can be good and godly. I do believe, however, that there’s a fear that God is apposed to; a fear that makes us cowards toward the things of God and that can keep us from his Kingdom. A dread that comes as a result of allowing worldly cares around us to loom larger than he who is over us; faithlessness that gives rise to inaction as a result of disbelief in his great love. A fear of man, over and above a fear of God.

“The Cowardly”, are those who in the face of hardship and opposition choose to walk away from the power, promises and person of Jesus Christ. Those who for the sake of  themselves, forsake him. And before anyone, including myself, think they have never been or would ever act cowardly towards God, lets remember a similar list from 1 Cor 6 that soberly reminds us, “such were some of you.” On any given day, in any given moment depending on the given situation, I forget the gospel and become cowardly toward Christ.

Life is scary and our hearts are easily scared. The reality is it’s not going to get easier to follow Jesus. In the next 5-10 years many will abandon the God and gospel they claim today; no longer able to hide behind the name “Christian”, we will be left with only Christ. Unable to remain ambiguous about our beliefs, we will be made to deny or die on the Word of God. We will have to choose sides – courage or cowardice.

So that got me thinking about some simple ways we can help ourselves, our children and each other as a church, grow in courage walking with and awaiting our King and Kingdom.

THREE TIPS FOR BECOMING MORE COURAGEOUS
1. Know Jesus – If someone doesn’t know Jesus, it makes sense that they wouldn’t trust him. It also makes sense that if someone has an idea of Jesus, that’s not based in the true identity of Jesus they might also be a little fearful of following him. When you read the New Testament ask yourself, what truth does Jesus want me to know and trust about himself and what has he done to validate himself as trustworthy and true? We grow in confidence and courage in Christ when we know him as he has revealed and proved himself to be.

2. Spend Time in the Kings Court – That’s just my creative attempt at saying be frequently in the Word and Prayer. The more we know the truth through reading, study and memorization, the more we trust the truth. Half the promises that go untrusted are because people didn’t even know God made a promise. Spend time in the presence of the King, you’ll come to know his thoughts, ways and character along with his commands. In Scripture we listen and in prayer he looms. The purpose of both is not only to know what we are to do, but the one who asks it of us. Confidence and courage come from time in his Courts. That’s why David says in Psalm 27:4 its the best place for him to be.

3. Start with the Small Battles – This might be the one we need the most. Don’t expect to win wars if you never engage in battle. Every enemy is scarier when we dont face them. What acts of faith and obedience are you avoiding? God calls us to generosity, good works and gospel proclamation to grow us in our confidence and courage. It’s not to scare us, but to make us brave in him. If in your life you shun the small stuff, you’ll almost certainly sweat the big stuff. If you want to become confident in your finances, start by faithfully tithing. If you want to grow in certainty in regards to Gods Word begin letting it guide your prayers and start pursuing what it commands. If you want to become courageous in sharing your faith, initiate talking about it more often with those you know. Most fears are rooted in uncertainty and doubts and darkness dwindle in the light. We see it for what it is, and who he is, in faithful action. Courage is not an absence of fear, it’s a God trusting confidence in the midst of it.

As we enter an increasingly hostel world that doubts and denies the gospel; they desperately need to see and we firmly need to be confident, courageous Followers of Christ. I am praying, even now, that I will increase in my own courage for Christ in the coming days, months and years, and I’m praying that for his church as well.

Fear not little flock, for it is your Fathers good pleasure to give you the kingdom.

Luke 12:32

The Perfect Church Doesn’t Exist…Yet

“If I had never joined a church till I had found one that was perfect, I should never have joined one at all. And the moment I did join it, if I had found one, I should have spoiled it, for it would not have been a perfect church after I had become a member of it. Still, imperfect as it is, it is the dearest place on earth to us.” – Charles Spurgeon

In a day and age where narcissism reigns it makes sense that people would do life by themselves, seeing as they are already living for themselves. In a time where Christ’s church is made to seem ignorant, intolerant and unnecessary, it also stands to reason many people would choose not to associate themselves with a community of Christians.

Some; however, seeming to sound very pious and yet being very confused, simply say with Bono, “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.” The two most frequent causes of this type of thinking, that I have experienced personally and as a pastor, are: First our consumerists mindset, which grows from our narcissism, is rooted in our sinful hearts and conditioned by our culture. It say’s “its all about me” and when it comes to a church, just like my jeans and sleep number bed, it better fit me perfectly and in a way that best suits and reflects what I need and I love about myself. The second cause is misunderstanding of what the church is and the significance it is meant to play in the life of a Christ Follower. Often like myself, this is learned through years of poor teaching and even lazier learning.

Quickly, the church is Christ’s beloved bride. It is his creation, his focus and his love. So if you want to learn about the church, learn from Jesus. What he says about her is to be believed and practiced by his Followers.

That said, Christ has not yet returned to sweep away his bride to be with him in a holy , wondrous and eternal relationship. She remains in the realm of men, surrounded by sin, inside and out. She is deeply loved, deeply cared and provided for by Jesus, but she is not perfect…yet. That day will come when He returns and sets all things, including imperfect churches (and people), right.

I love Jesus, but I am not perfect. As I grow slowly more secure in the gospel this becomes more apparent as well as slightly more acceptable. I am broken, but I am loved and accepted by Jesus. So it is with the church. Her blemishes make his love all the more profound. The church is covered in beauty marks, each of us darkening her skin while simultaneously embellishing her beauty, radiating the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ.

When you look for a church don’t expect perfection from her. Just as you are looking for a place that will welcome and walk with you as you are, imperfections and all; lets extend the same grace to her, seeing her as Christ sees her, giving kindness as you have been given grace and laying down your life as he laid down his for ours. When we look to join ourselves with others on the journey, let us not look first to ourselves, but to him and remember that our commonality is found the Cross not culture and our lives are best lived for him in the service of others and not ourselves.

“Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” – Ephesians 4:15-16