Will It Last?

Last week God rocked our students’ lives. If you were here Sunday, you saw the impact. Engaged students, hands lifted, hearts open, minds changed. As one man said to me, “If you can’t worship God seeing 100 students praising our Lord and Savior, you don’t have a heartbeat! I loved every second.”

So the nagging question is, “Will it last?” It’s a legitimate question. Five weeks from now will these students still be “fired up?” I have a few thoughts.

What do we want to last? If we are looking for emotion to last, the obvious answer is “no.” Emotions come and go, they rise and fall. If we are looking for activity to last, the obvious answer is no. Involvement is an up and down venture–for all of us. So maybe we can’t answer the first question without defining what we want to last.

This morning in my quiet time I read about King Hezekiah’s reforms. I thought about what God did and wondered (and prayed) if this is what began last week at Caswell. Today I discovered that J.D. Greear, Pastor of Summit Church in Durham, blogged about the same Scripture. He talked about 5 marks of an awakening. (jdgreear.com)

  1. Awakening happens when God’s people clean out the junk from their lives (2 Chr 29:3-5).
  2. Awakening happens when God’s people re-center themselves on Scripture (2 Chr 29:25-30).
  3. Awakening happens when God’s people re-center themselves on the gospel (2 Chr 30).
  4. Awakening happens when God’s people devote themselves to intercessory prayer (2 Chr 30:18-27).
  5. Awakening happens when God’s people give extravagantly (2 Chr 31:5-10).

All week I have heard stories about students coming clean, getting up early to get into God’s Word, being gripped by God’s grace in the face of their sin, praying for one another and, in the second service Sunday a student leaned over to me and said, “Can you help me figure out how much my tithe is?”

I honestly don’t know how long this will last, but I absolutely love what God started.

One Great Video on One Great Book

I won’t bother you with words. Check out this video. It takes about 8 minutes, so watch it when you have the time to take it in. And then file it away for future reference. It gives a much needed overview of the the Psalms! (You can find more videos like this at https://www.bible.com/videos/3048-psalms-the-bible-project).

 

God’s Voice is Greater than Your Fear

Take a few moments and read this. Take it in. Don’t read it too quickly.

Ascribe to the LORD, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength. Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness. The voice of the LORD is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the LORD, over many waters. The voice of the LORD is powerful; the voice of the LORD is full of majesty. The voice of the LORD breaks the cedars; the LORD breaks the cedars of Lebanon. He makes Lebanon to skip like a calf, and Sirion like a young wild ox. The voice of the LORD flashes forth flames of fire. The voice of the LORD shakes the wilderness; the LORD shakes the wilderness of Kadesh. The voice of the LORD makes the deer give birth and strips the forests bare, and in his temple all cry, “Glory!” The LORD sits enthroned over the flood; the LORD sits enthroned as king forever. May the LORD give strength to his people! May the LORD bless his people with peace! (Psalm 29, ESV)

God’s voice is loud enough to be heard over the roar of the waters. Water was the primary source of fear for Israel. Remember that, in order to leave Egypt, they had to cross the Red Sea. In order to enter the Promised Land, they had to cross the Jordan River. And the Philistines, Israel’s bitter enemy, came to Israel across the Mediterranean Sea. This is why Revelation 21:1 says that, in the new heaven and new earth, there will be no more sea.

So what does this mean for you and me? God’s majestic voice is more powerful than your greatest fear, your darkest nightmare, your most feared diagnosis, your unexpected setback. God’s voice breaks cedars, spews fire, makes the deer give birth and strips the forest bare.

No wonder the Psalmist erupts in a prayer combined with a praise at the end: May the Lord give strength to his people! May the Lord bless his people with peace!

And that is my prayer for you today. The Lord, whose very voice is more powerful than anything we can do, is able to give you strength and speak peace into your fear. Now take a few minutes and listen to this powerful song, sung by a local church choir from Arkansas:

Living on Empty

I enjoy sushi. Recently a friend called asking where to eat the best sushi. Without hesitation I described the Godzilla roll at Sake in Black Mountain and the seaweed salad at the sushi and atmosphere at Wasabi in Asheville. Why? IT’S GOOD! We are all, by nature, glory declarers. We declare the glory of great ball players, great musicians, great restaurants and great experiences. We can’t help ourselves.

Again and again Scripture instructs us to declare the glory of God. Why? If we are not declaring God’s glory we are declaring the glory of our functional saviors. Jerry Bridges defines these as “any object of dependence we embrace that isn’t God. They become the sources of our identity, security, and significance because we hold an idolatrous affection for them in our hearts.”

So how can we know if we’re bowing at the altar of our functional saviors? He suggests honestly filling in these blanks:

  • I am preoccupied with ___________________.
  • If only _________________, then I would be happy.
  • I get my sense of significance from _____________.
  • I would protect and preserve ____________________ at any cost.
  • I fear losing ____________________.
  • The thing that gives me the greatest pleasure is _________________.
  • When I lose _________________ I get angry, resentful, frustrated, anxious, or depressed.
  • For me, life depends on ________________.
  • The thing I value more than anything in the world is _____________________.
  • When I daydream, my mind goes to __________________.
  • The best thing I can think of is _________________.
  • That thing that makes me want to get out of the bed in the morning is ____________________.

Evaluate yourself. Ask an important person in your life for their opinion. (Don’t get mad when they’re real with you!) According to Jeremiah the stakes are high!

“My people have changed their glory for that which does not profit. Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the Lord, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.” (Jeremiah 2:11-13)

Functional saviors won’t hold water. Quit living on empty!

You Have No Rival

Peter sat in jail, guarded by four squads of soldiers. Herod wanted to make sure he couldn’t escape. Herod had just had James executed and, for all Peter knew, he was next. What Herod underestimated was Peter’s God. And what Peter didn’t know was that, across town, believers gathered to pray. You can read the story in Acts 12:

Now when Herod was about to bring him out, on that very night, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries before the door were guarding the prison. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood next to him, and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him, saying, “Get up quickly.” And the chains fell off his hands. And the angel said to him, “Dress yourself and put on your sandals.” And he did so. And he said to him, “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me.” And he went out and followed him. He did not know that what was being done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision. When they had passed the first and the second guard, they came to the iron gate leading into the city. It opened for them of its own accord, and they went out and went along one street, and immediately the angel left him. When Peter came to himself, he said, “Now I am sure that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting.” (Acts 12:6-11; ESV)

I love the fact that Peter is sleeping! In this passage we see the two ways God works. Jerry Bridges in his work, The Bookends of the Christian Life, says that God works synergistically, combing our effort with his enabling power. In Peter’s predicament, the people prayed and God answered. The people sought God and God broke Peter out of jail!

So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church (Acts 12:5, ESV)

Peter thought he was sleepwalking! Peter’s apparent passivity in his release reveals the other way God works: monergistically. God’s monergistic work is when “he works alone in us and for us but completely independent of us.” (Bridges, 88) Bridges adds:

We must understand both ways the power of the Holy Spirit is applied to our lives so we can discern how to contribute effort. The writer of Hebrews provides helpful insight:

Now may the God of peace…equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen. (Hebrews 13:20-21)

The two prayer requests here seem redundant at first, but upon closer inspection, we see that they aren’t. The first is that God will equip us with everything good we need to do his will. This is his synergistic work. Do we need understanding of God’s will? He’ll supply it. Do we need the power to perform it? He’ll provide it. Do we need providential circumstances, materials, people, or other resources? He equips us. But the writer’s second request is that God will work in us whatever is pleasing in his sight. This is his monergistic work. He performs it without our effort, and sometimes in spite of our effort.

God has no rival.

He Will Hold Me Fast

For a long time I have been fascinated with and moved by, the language in the Bible that speaks of God’s right hand.

My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me. (Psalm 63:8, ESV)

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

Big word alert! Anthropomorphism: to give human characteristics to God. The reason we do such a thing is not to misunderstand God, but rather to understand him. God is so infinitely beyond us that we cannot understand him without thinking in human terms. Since God is a spirit, we know that he doesn’t have a right hand. Yet, when God speaks to Isaiah, he describes himself as holding us up with his right hand. God condescends to our level so that we will understand his deep love for us.

But you can’t stop there. In Psalm 73, Asaph describes our side of this sustaining relationship:

Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory. (Psalm 73:23-24, ESV)

Don’t miss this! God hold us with his right hand, but he holds our right hand. In order for this to happen, God cannot be walking alongside us. (If he was, his right hand would hold our left hand.) In order for God’s right hand to hold our right hand, God has to walk in front of us, facing us. In other words, God’s back is to our future (he already knows it anyway!) and his face is toward our face. How should we respond to such a God?

Therefore let everyone who is godly offer prayer to you at a time when you may be found; surely in the rush of great waters, they shall not reach him. You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with shouts of deliverance. Selah. I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you. (Psalm 32:6-8, ESV)

God holds your right hand, with his right hand, his back to your future, his face toward your face, with his eye on you.

Last year I joined more than 10,000 other pastors at the Together for the Gospel conference in Louisville. With them I sang the words of this song. Today, you need to join us. Sing this with faith. God has his eye on you, your hand in his.

 

 

Praying Through Anxiety

Every day I talk with someone who deals with fear or anxiety. If your personal life isn’t falling apart, 5 minutes of the news reveals a world seemingly spinning out of control. This week I discovered a resource from Biblestudytools.com.  Use this as a prayer guide when you’re afraid.

  1. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:7) God, I acknowledge my need for you today. I pray that you would breathe peace onto me through your Holy Spirit. Guard my heart. Show me how to protect my mind. I am weak on my own and so I fall back on your strength today.
  2. When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. (Psalm 56:3) Jesus, I put my trust in you today. Anxious thoughts are taking over my mind, and it’s easy to take my eyes off of you when I feel afraid. Remind me of who you are. Pour out your love on me, that I might remember you are always good and always faithful, especially when I am afraid.
  3. So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. (Isaiah 41:10)  Lord Jesus, thank you for always being with me. Your name, Immanuel, means God with us. I’m so grateful today that you are near me no matter what anxious thoughts try to creep into my mind. Thank you for being my strength when I am weak. You are faithful always. I love you, Lord, and I rely on you today and every day. Amen.
  4. For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. (2 Timothy 1:7) God, thank you for this truth. Thank you for the gifts you bestow on us–gifts that help ease our anxious spirits and remind us of who we are in Christ. Thank you for giving us power to fight the lies. Thank you for loving us even in our brokenness.
  5. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. (Joshua 1:9)  Lord Jesus, we know in you we are conquerors. Sometimes, it can feel so hard to believe that. We don’t feel strong or courageous, and we worry relentlessly about our lives and circumstances. Remind us today that we are strong in you.
  6. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. (Psalm 34:18) Lord, my heart is broken. My mind is restless and my spirit is uneasy. When I feel broken down or defeated, I want to run to you, knowing you are always present and always near. Comfort me, Jesus.
  7. An anxious heart weighs a man down, but a kind word cheers him up. (Proverbs 12:25) Jesus, my anxious heart is weighing me down today. I confess that I have become consumed by my own thoughts and I have lost sight of who you are. Speak kindly to my heart, Lord, and remind me of what is true. Thank you for your forgiveness and your endless grace for me.
  8. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. (Colossians 3:15) Dear Lord, it is my deep desire that your peace would rule in my heart. When I feel uneasy or unsettled, I want to know you are near me. Calm my fears, settle my spirit, and bring rest to my heart as I surrender myself to you today.
  9. The Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses his people with peace. (Psalm 29:11) Lord, thank you for giving me strength. On the hard days, help me to remember you are never far away. Your strength is always fighting for me–I need only to be still in your presence. Thank you for bringing peace to me. Thank you for every blessing. I want to name and remember them today, for you are always good. Amen.

I love songs. This one will serve as a good backdrop to this prayer.

No Longer Slaves

This morning I lost my keys. It knocked an hour off my schedule (which, on my day off, included pulling weeds, mowing, washing the Jeep…you know the drill). As I was driving up to Montreat to get my spare Jeep key from Wendy, rather than continuing my obvious frustration, I meditated on Psalm 49. One verse stood out to me:

Why should I fear in times of trouble, when the iniquity of those who cheat me surrounds me, those who trust in their wealth and boast of the abundance of their riches? Truly no man can ransom another, or give to God the price of his life, for the ransom of their life is costly and can never suffice, that he should live on forever and never see the pit. (Psalm 49:5-9, ESV)

To be sure, no one cheated me (that’s not my point). However tucked in this Psalm is a theological gem: Truly no man can ransom another, or give to God the price of his life. I am not good enough to ransom you nor am I good enough to ransom myself. This says two things: I am very valuable therefore the value of my life is more than I can pay.  I am very sinful therefore the cost of my ransom is more than I can afford.

Having that truth sink into my otherwise frustrated heart is worth losing my keys. Let it sink into yours. Here’s a song to help. I saw it on Facebook this week and the melodies are unreal. Once you’ve watched it, go to iTunes and download it. Let the truths of this song saturate your heart and mind.

 

That’s My King!

I read this today and couldn’t resist. I had to share. Take it in.

The inscripturated word centers its attention on Jesus Christ. He is the seed of the woman who will crush the serpent’s head. He is the ark to rescue the people of God. He is the holy Angel of Yahweh. He is the seed of Abraham in whom all the families of the earth will be blessed. He is the passover lamb. He is the prophet greater than Moses. He is the pillar of fire in the wilderness. He is the rock struck by Moses. He is the heir to the Davidic throne. He is the thrice holy Lord of Isaiah 6. He is the greater shepherd of Ezekiel 34. He is Mary’s baby, Herod’s enemy, and Simeon’s joy. He is the twelve-year-old boy in the temple and the beloved Son to be baptized. He is the healer of the blind, the provider for the hungry, and the friend of the outcast. He is the new temple, the source of living water, the manna that gives life, the light of the world, the resurrection and the life, and the Father’s true vine. He is the spotless lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world and the resurrected lion from the tribe of Judah. He is the ascended Lord, the ruler of the Church, and the returning Judge of all men.

You did all that for me and I don’t care that much

I shared this in the sermon yesterday. (https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/grace-community-church/id573563553?mt=2)  It bears repeating. As I read this I remember John Newton’s apt words: “Although my memory’s fading, I remember two things very clearly: I am a great sinner and Christ is a great Savior.”

Bible scholar and pastor N.T. Wright retells the following story about an archbishop who was hearing confessions of sin from three hardened teenagers in the church. All three boys were trying to make a joke out of it so they met with the archbishop and confessed to a long list of ridiculous and grievous sins that they had not committed. It was all a joke. The archbishop, seeing through their bad practical joke, played along with the first two who ran out of the church laughing.

But then he listened carefully to the third prankster, and before he got away told the young man, “Okay, you have confessed these sins. Now I want you to do something to show your repentance. I want you to walk up to the far end of the church and I want you to look at the picture of Jesus hanging on the cross, and I want you to look at his face and say, ‘You did all that for me and I don’t care that much.’ And I want you to do that three times.”

And so the boy went up to the front, looked at the picture of Jesus and said, “You did all that for me and I don’t care that much.” And then he said it again, but then he couldn’t say it the third time because he broke down in tears. And the archbishop telling the story said, the reason I know that story is that I was that young man.

There is something about the cross. Something about Jesus dying there for us which leaps over all the theoretical discussions, all the possibilities of how we explain it this way or that way and it grasps us. And when we are grasped by it, somehow we have a sense that what is grasping us is the love of God.