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Satisfying God

And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. (Hebrews 11:6 ESV)

Yesterday I talked about faith being one of our 3 greatest needs for 2015. But what does this faith look like? The writer of Hebrews makes it clear that faith is necessary to please God. Again I am making an assumption: if you’re reading this blog you want to please God. I do too.

Let me illustrate. Last night I grilled burgers and we watched football. We didn’t eat until 7 pm and Trent was hungry. As a matter of fact he was so hungry that he didn’t want me to take the time to heat the charcoal. “Use the George Forman,” he pleaded. Here is the reality. I could have walked into the kitchen with a brand new PS4 console and Trent would have been thrilled, but he would not have been pleased. Whatever I brought through the back door, it had better be edible.

So it is with God. He is only satisfied when we approach him with faith. Good works are good–but not good enough. Faith is necessary. Knowledge of God is good but incomplete. Faith is necessary. A good attitude goes a long way–but not far enough. Faith is necessary.

If faith is so important, then what does it look like? The writer of Hebrews clearly answers this question:

Believe that God exists. Faith, at its core, believes in the existence of God. If you don’t believe that God exists you don’t have faith. Faith believes in an unseen God who made everything that we see.   By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible. (Hebrews 11:3 ESV)

Believe that God rewards. Faith trusts.  Faith trusts that, when you seek God, you discover He was already seeking you. Faith believes God will save you when you call on him, will answer when you pray, and one day will come and get you and take you to be with him.

Do you believe? Do you trust the God of the universe not only with your eternity (He exists) but also with your daily life (He rewards)? What bold request do you need to make of Him in 2015? Seek Him.

What a Day that Will Be

Once God has spoken; twice have I heard this: that power belongs to God, and that to you, O Lord, belongs steadfast love. For you will render to a man according to his work. (Psalm 62:11-12 ESV)

Once. Twice. This is a play on words. David is saying, “God is speaking loud and clear but we easily miss his voice.” Elihu, the young man who gave Job good advice (compared to the bad advice from his three friends) said this, “For God speaks in one way, and in two, though man does not perceive it.” (Job 33:14)

Here’s my question for you: What is God saying to you? How many ways has he said it to you? How many times has he repeated himself? When are you going to listen?

Here is his resounding message in Psalm 62: power belongs to God. In other words He can do anything. Your problem doesn’t catch him by surprise. Your worries don’t trip him up. Your fears don’t frighten him. Power belongs to God. Do you get it? Will you hear it this time?

And that to you, O Lord, belongs steadfast love. What if God were powerful but not loving. He would be a despot, a tyrant. We would run in fear of Him. An omnipotent God who isn’t love would be a terrorist. Power is his.  But also steadfast love is his.  And this makes him just. For you will render to a man according to his work.

God can do anything.

God loves you no matter what.

God sees your faithfulness…and will render to you according to your work.

Perhaps you feel unnoticed. Like a nobody. A failure. A mistake. You don’t see any good coming from your work. You’ve prayed and seemingly heard nothing. You’ve taught your son or daughter and they haven’t listened.  Take heart. The God who has power and steadfast love is just. One day…keep waiting…He will make all things right.

Advent is a reminder that the world waited for the loving, powerful God to invade their space. And He will again invade our space. If you are his, one day He will return in power and love for you.  Then He will sweep you off your feet and into His arms. The groom will embrace His bride.

What a day that will be.

5 Reasons I am Thankful for You

Grace Community Church family,

I am so thankful for you.  Here’s why:

  • I am thankful for your passion for the Gospel.  More than 150 of you volunteered many hours to share the Gospel with kids during Kids Camp. Together we trekked into 5 different communities in our county, played with their kids, fed them and taught them about Jesus. We hosted sports and arts camps for 180 kids!  In just a couple of weeks, we’ll head to 200 homes Christmas caroling with an invitation for them to join us for Christmas worship.
  • I am thankful for your compassionate hearts.  You’ve given away 25,000 pounds of food this year. You’ve risen to the occasion to help families in crisis. You’ve given thousands of dollars to help people keep their power on and heat their homes. You’ve provided backpacks for local kids and provided more than 2,000 desserts for McDowell County’s senior citizens.
  • I am thankful for your hunger for God’s Word.  Each week you show up hungry to hear from God’s Word. This year’s sermons (by all of our preachers at Grace) have been downloaded thousands of times. Your appetite for God’s Word causes us to get “in the kitchen” every week and work hard to prepare fresh recipes from God’s Word.
  • I am thankful for your generosity.  You’ve given so much time. Volunteers work in the Food Pantry every week, equip young moms every month, park cars every Sunday, build a phenomenal set for Kids Camp, teach preschoolers and children 52 weeks a year, and tutor children at CHAMPS each week.  You’ve given so much money…to people in need, to people on mission and to Grace’s First2000 Days building project.
  • I am thankful for your empathy.  You have rejoiced with those who rejoice and wept with those who weep. Never in the life of Grace have we cried so many tears for so many people. Every diagnosis and death has been met with open arms and praying knees.

I love you.  It is an honor to be your pastor.

Happy Thanksgiving.

1 out of 10

On the way to Jerusalem he was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.”When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.” (Luke 17:11-19)

This isn’t intended to sound crass, but the 10 lepers were not on Jesus’ itinerary. They happened to be on his way to Jerusalem. Of course we know that no one happens to be on Jesus’ agenda–He does everything on purpose. Theirs was a desperate plight. They had no hope of healing, no promise of restoration, no chance of relationships. Ostracized, they were confined to being outside the city gates. Their calling card was “unclean.” This day they cried to Jesus for mercy…and he responded. And as they went they were cleansed.

Then one of them. Only one. Ten were set free from a life of condemnation and shame. Only one said “thank you.” Ten were liberated from social isolation. Only one fell at Jesus’ feet. Ten were healed. Only one praised God. Only one. Jesus noticed.

“Were not ten cleansed?”

Yes!

“Where are the nine?”

Who knows?

Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”

Yes, that’s right.  And he’s a Samaritan.  Samaritans were Israel’s outcasts. This leper turned worshiper was an outcast because he was a Samaritan. He was an outcast because he was a leper. Hopeless was his middle name. Rejection was his constant companion. Despair was his roommate.

And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”

1 out of 10.

Will you be among the 9 this Thanksgiving? Or will you be the one who remembers your life before Christ and returns to give him thanks?

Be the 1.

Ignorance is Deadly

My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge;
because you have rejected knowledge,
I reject you from being a priest to me.
And since you have forgotten the law of your God,
I also will forget your children.  Hosea 4:6

Israel traded the glory and grace of God for the shame and disgrace of the world.  They didn’t know God.  Their lack of knowing God resulted in their destruction.  They should have known better.  Hosea’s own life was an object lesson in the deep love of God for His people.

In Hosea 1:2, God gave Hosea a strange command: Go, take to yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the Lord.  Hosea, God’s prophet, married a prostitute.  They had three children together.  Then she left him for another man.

Then Hosea did the unthinkable.  He showed up in the red light district and found his wife, Gomer, selling her body.  He stepped into the fray of lust-filled men and bid on his own wife.  In his words: “So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and a homer and a lethech of barley.”  I wonder how she felt.  The embarrassment.  The shame.  What was the look on her face when she looked over the men who wanted her and saw her own husband?  And he wasn’t any husband…he was the prophet to the king of Israel!

Then he said to her, “You must dwell as mine for many days.  You shall not play the whore, or belong to another man; so will I also be to you.” (3:3)  In other words, Gomer, you’re coming home!  I want you to be mine.  There’s no mention that he asked her who she had been with, what she had one, or where she had gone.  He bought her back.

Then, in chapter 4, God calls Israel out for her ignorance.  Israel was ignorant of a God who would stand among the lust-filled suitors of the day and bid the highest price on his bride.  Israel was ignorant of a God who would embarrass himself by condescending to her and bringing her home.

And today most of the world is dying from ignorance:  ignorance of a God who became a human being, was tempted in every way like we are–yet without sin–and was ultimately made sin for us that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21)

Ignorance is killing people.

They can’t imagine a God who would mingle among the mess of their lives and take them home to live with Him.

He did and He does.  That’s the message of Christmas.  God became a human being, the Creator walked among the created.

Do you know Him?

But You, O Bethlehem

Micah had a resounding message: social injustice.  The rich oppressed the poor.  The haves dominated the have-nots.  I’m reading The Insanity of God by Nik Ripken.  Ripken served as a missionary to Somaliland after the country had been ravaged by civil war.  He describes unspeakable injustice:

I encountered one of the most lasting images of depravity when my Somali guides took me to see the compound that the current leaders had seized (after reportedly slaughtering the family that had previously lived there) to serve as military headquarters and personal residence.  Inside heavily armed gates, the war lord and his minions generated their own electricity, watched satellite television, and ate like kings.  Just outside was a mob of several hundred desperate children, bellies bloated by malnutrition, gathered around the walls of the compound.  The children were anxiously awaiting what was a frequent, though not daily, occurrence.  When the carcass of whatever animal had been slaughtered for the leaders’ supper was heaved over the wall, the starving children descended like locusts, tearing and ripping off chunks of bloody animal hide to chew on and find the little nutritional value that it provided them.

What would Micah say to these warlords?  In Micah 2:1-3 he says,

Woe to those who devise wickedness and work evil on their beds! When the morning dawns, they perform it, because it is in the power of their hand. They covet fields and seize them, and houses, and take them away; they oppress a man and his house, a man and his inheritance.  Therefore thus says the LORD: behold, against this family I am devising disaster, from which you cannot remove your necks, and you shall not walk haughtily, for it will be a time of disaster.”

And then Micah gives the unexpected prediction in 5:2,

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.

Through Micah God essentially said:  I’ll call the Messiah from an unknown town.  He won’t come from the rich, but from the poor.  My ultimate answer for oppression isn’t political reform, but an unlikely reformer who will come out of Bethlehem.  And how fitting.  Bethlehem means “house of bread.” Where else should the bread of life come from!

This Christmas don’t be surprised at how God brings justice to an unjust world.  And be reminded: God’s ultimate answer for all injustice is His one and only Son, born in an unknown town to an unknown couple, in an unknown cave to make known a great God.

3 Shibboleths for Modern-Day Saints

shib·bo·leth

ˈSHibəliTH,-ˌleTH/

noun

noun: shibboleth; plural noun: shibboleths

  1. a custom, principle, or belief distinguishing a particular class or group of people, especially a long-standing one regarded as outmoded or no longer important.

I stumbled across this word. In Judges 12, the Ephraimites fought with Jephthah, God’s appointed judge. They tried to disguise themselves and Jephthah had one test for them: pronounce “shibboleth.” The Ephraimites couldn’t pronounce the word! They couldn’t make the “sh” sound and pronounced it “sibboleth.” It’s a simple word meaning corn, but it’s hard to pronounce. Talk about a spelling bee with a price–when they couldn’t pronounce it they were killed for trying to infiltrate God’s people!

Today would be impostors still try to infiltrate God’s people. I call them the “If-thens.” If God is good, then why…? If God is loving, then why…? If God is just, then why…?

Let me provide you with 3 modern-day shibboleths.

  • God will do whatever you need for as long as you need because He loves you. In Deuteronomy 31:6 Moses is encouraging his protege Joshua: Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the LORD your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you. Whatever or whoever is assailing you, God is with you.  He promises His presence and provision always.
  • God will only ask of you what is good for you and what is glorious for himOr which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! (Jesus, Matthew 6:9-11) God knows what we need better than we do and will only give us what is ultimately good for us. I confess that I struggle at times to see the goodness in the path carved out for me. But it is a shibboleth I hold onto.
  • God will make all things right. When I struggle with the injustice and unfairness in the world, I cling to this. In Psalm 58 David is crying out to God against evildoers. His last words ring loud: Mankind will say, “Surely there is a reward for the righteous; surely there is a God who judges on earth.” In a sentence David is saying that God rewards the righteous and punishes the wicked. This life cannot serve as a measure of fairness or justice. The wicked sometimes prosper and the righteous sometimes suffer. One day it will all be made right.

I carry these three statements in my planner. Every week I pull them out and read them.  I need to be reminded.  I’m writing to remind you today.

High Places in Low Times

Circumstances happen to everyone. Life is filled with ups and downs, with mountains and valleys, with heavenly times and hellish times.

Habakkuk faced his own set of problems. The country he loved was devastated by the invading Chaldeans. Because of their sin God raised up a people who ransacked the nation, destroyed the landscape, and carried them off into exile. Habakkuk was a righteous man suffering with the unrighteous.

You would expect him to be angry, frustrated, perhaps even bitter. But he wrote a song and here is the refrain:

Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. GOD, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places. To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments.
Habakkuk 3:17-19

Continue reading → High Places in Low Times

Why I Still Trust God

When I got the call Saturday morning that Eleck had died I was shaken. Surely it couldn’t be. I asked the State Trooper to spell his name to me just to be sure I was hearing correctly. “Not Eleck,” I thought. I wanted answers, explanations, reasons. The nagging question that grips many is this: If God is good and powerful, how could he allow Eleck to die? Why?

It’s a legitimate question. I don’t fault you for asking. At times like these I sometimes have more questions than answers. But I still trust God and I want you to know why.

I still trust God because…

  • He unconditionally loves me.  In Genesis 15 God made a covenant with Abraham.  It’s a gruesome scene.  Abraham took a cow, a goat and a ram, cut them each into two pieces and lay them on the ground.  Believe it or not this wasn’t unusual in Abraham’s day.  This is how kings made agreements between one another.  The weaker king would walk between the pieces of the animals and say to the stronger king, “May it be done to me as has been done to these animals if I break this covenant.”  So you would expect Abraham to walk between the pieces of animals and declare his undying allegiance to God.  He didn’t!  He fell asleep and a boiling pot and a torch passed between the pieces, representing God!  What was God saying? “May it be done to me as has been done to these animals if I break this agreement?”  No.  God cannot lie.  He would never break this agreement.  God was saying, “May it be done to me as has been done to these animals if you break this agreement.”  Did Abraham break it?  Of course!  And God carried through with his promise.  Romans 5:6 says, “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.”  I still trust God because He kept his promise to Abraham by dying on the cross for Abraham’s sin.  I still trust God because, while I was ungodly, He died for me. He loves me.
  • He sacrificially loves me.  In his book, Reason for God, Tim Keller talks about the unique nature of Jesus’ suffering.  Many martyrs have marched valiantly to their deaths. Jesus cowered under the weight of his impending crucifixion.   “He began to be deeply distressed and troubled” saying, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.”  (Mark 14:33-34)  Why?  Jesus was not simply encountering the physical pain of suffering–he was carrying the weight of my sin.  His suffering caused him, for a period, to be separated from His Father.  His cry from the cross was, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  He not only sacrificed his life, but his good standing before His father so that I could have life. Again, Keller says, “He had to pay for our sins so that someday he can end evil and suffering without ending us.”  He loves me.
  •  He sees me as I will be, not as I am.  I’m often tricked into thinking that I’m living my best life now, that things couldn’t get any better.  On really good days I sometimes think, “It doesn’t get any better than this.”  And I’m wrong.  As beautiful as a fall day is, it pales in comparison to the unhindered beauty of heaven.  As vivid as the bright orange on the maple trees is, its color is muted by the early frost.  When I feel I’m getting it most right, I’m not even close to getting it right.  I struggle with wrong motives and thoughts that others never see.  God sees them.  And the resurrection of Jesus is proof that I won’t always be like I am now.  Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:42-43, “So it is with the resurrection of the dead.  What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable.  It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory.  It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power.” I am not who I was, but I am not who I will be.

I miss Eleck.  I love the Eleck I knew here.  However, the Eleck I knew here is a mere reflection of the Eleck I will see one day.  I saw Eleck in moments of glory…one day I’ll see Eleck in all of glory.

The reason I will be able to see Eleck is because God is good (He died) and powerful (He raised Jesus from the dead).

He loves me.  I still trust Him.

I Am Never Out of His Mind

Thus says the Lord, “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth.  For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.”     Jeremiah 9:23-24

Men like to brag.  There’s no two ways about it.  We are a bragging breed.  Jeremiah knew that and when he wrote these words, the wisdom of men had failed them.  Israel had indulged in great sin and Jeremiah announced that their sin would lead to sure and certain destruction–if they didn’t repent.  To repent is to turn from, to walk away from, to quit something.  It is a change of mind which results in a change of behavior.  Repentance is a process, but it begins with an attitude change–the realization that sin is sin and must be abandoned.

What was their sin?  Pride.  Self-centeredness.  Self sufficiency.

What was the solution to their pride?  Take pride (the right kind) in this:  that we get to know God, the Creator of the universe!  The Redeemer of humankind.  The Author of Salvation.

But we can’t stop there.  Our ability to know God is only trumped by his delight in knowing us!  J.I. Packer said it well in his classic work, “Knowing God,”

What matters supremely is not, in the last analysis, the fact that I know God, but the larger fact which underlies it — the fact that he knows me. I am graven on the palms of his hands. I am never out of his mind.

All my knowledge of him depends on his sustained initiative in knowing me. I know him because he first knew me, and continues to know me. He knows me as a friend, one who loves me; and there is not a moment when his eye is off me, or his attention distracted from me, and no moment, therefore, when his care falters.

This is momentous knowledge. There is unspeakable comfort — the sort of comfort that energizes, be it said, not enervates — in knowing that God is constantly taking knowledge of me in love and watching over me for my good. There is tremendous relief in knowing that his love to me is utterly realistic, based at every point on prior knowledge of the worst about me, so that no discovery now can disillusion him about me, in the way I am so often disillusioned about myself, and quench his determination to bless me.

Keep bragging.  But brag about this.  That you know God.  And don’t stop there.  Brag about the reality that He knows you–and knowing you for however long He has known you–He still wants to know you.