Sunday, December 20, 2009

How Do We Know When God is Talking To Us?

For all of us, "Home for Christmas" means something different. For some of us, it means joy, but for others it means "setting our hair on fire and putting it out with a sledgehammer". For his current series, Perry Noble is starting each message with Isaiah 9:6.

The first message in this series, "Wonderful Counselor" begs the question, "How do we know when God is talking to us?" Everyone of us wants to make good decisions in our lives. Most of the time, we go to others for counsel. What we learn pretty quickly,though, is that there are many people who have an opinion about how we should live our lives. There is always good advice, but the trick is distinguishing good advice from bad advice. Here's the good news about God; He really does have an opinion about how we should live our lives, but His way is always right. The most common word in the Bible used to describe our Savior is "Holy". So, when God commands or suggests that we do something, we should do it because He is holy and it is best for us.

Isaiah 9:6 says, "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." God wants us to get life right. Why is it that God wants to talk to us more than we want to listen? If only we would know that he is our Wonderful Counselor. He speaks to us through many ways.

1) The Bible - Let's look at some scripture to talk about how God communicates. Hebrews 4:12 says, "For the word of God is living and acting". The bible is the most exciting book ever written. People get bored with the Bible because they've never read it! If Hollywood ever got hold of the Bible and decided to make it a full blown movie, it would be rated R at best. The Bible is life! Why have we made the Bible pretty? Why are all the animals on the ark smiling? It is such a nice story right? But what about everyone else who was outside of the Ark? It was horrible! The Bible is definitely not a boring book.

Let's read in Hebrews some. The Word is "sharper than any two edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and the attitudes of the heart." The reason many of us don't enjoy reading the scriptures is because we see it judges us. It is conflicting. Today there are too many people seeking out wisdom in the Bible but they are unwilling to live it out.

2 Timothy 3:16 says "all scripture is God breathed". Sometimes people will actually ask Perry what his stand is on the Bible is. He was in a coffee shop one day and heard a guy talking about how he thought the Bible was full of fairy tales. Yet, he heard this guy then talk about how he thought vampires were real!! "The Bible is the inerrant infallible word of God. Perry kids that even the maps are god-breathed. The Bible is useful for teaching, correcting, rebuking and training up in righteousness.

Perry studies politics a lot. In fact, if he had not begun a career in preaching, he might have entered politics. Many people talk about separation of church and state, but the constitution never said this. Thomas Jefferson did pen this, but it was written to a Baptist organization and yet people cling to these words. It's amazing how people will do the same to the Bible and how they will quote scripture that isn't there! An example of this is "The Bible helps those who help themselves", but it's not in the Bible! Perry then says, "turn to the book of Hezekiah...Stop!!! It's not in there either...There IS NO BOOK of Hezekiah." Read the Bible! Another quote often mistaken is "cleanliness is next to godliness". That was actually said by Benjamin Franklin. Often misquoted is "money is the root of all evil". This isn't true. It's actually "the love of money is the root of all evil". "God loves the sinner and hates the sin." Do you know who initially said that? Gandhi- and FYI, Gandhi didn't play for team Jesus. The Bible didn't say any of these things.

Rebuking. "There are many times during my quiet times when God will rebuke me in my attitude towards my wife, towards my kids and even my job."

Correcting. In every service, when he had a Q&A service with his wife, Lucretia, there were multiple questions asking things like "is it okay if I sin sexually but then bring my boyfriend to church?" What kind of question is that? People in these scenarios are not seeking church, they're seeking Oprah. Just a footnote from Perry; How many kids did Oprah raise?!?!

When people ask questions like this it is because they need correcting and the Bible corrects. Training up in righteousness. In Luke 4 and Matthew 4, you'll find the story of the temptation of Jesus; of how Satan came in and tempted Jesus 3 times. How did Jesus resist Satan? He quoted scripture! Satan can't hang around when we quote scripture. Last year, 500,000 Bibles were purchased in America, so we definitely have access to it, but we need to realize it's power.

2) His Spirit. "I'm a mutt, spiritually." Perry points out that he is not loyal to any one Protestant faith. How many Methodists do we have in the house?" Perry goes on to take a poll of the different denominations; Presbyterians? Episcopalians? Catholics? Baptists (the back-slidden Baptists)? Pentecostal? The reaction here is funny. Pentecostal's were waiting and responded as Perry expects; with cheers. "I'm gonna show the catholics how to praise!...Did y'all bring your tambourines?" "I come from a Wesleyan background and later a Baptist background. The Baptists and Wesley ans, in my church, never talked about the Holy Spirit. You had to acknowledge Him because He's in the family, but He's crazy and sits in the corner." If you come from a Pentecostal background, it's different... "I remember going to a Pentecostal church and a woman stood up in the middle of the service and starting speaking in tongues. The guy next to him said 'Shh...there's going to be an interpretation'. Then, another lady stood up beside the first and started , 'I am the Lord....'" That was Perry's first experience with the Holy Spirit. Generally speaking, there are churches that either ignore the Holy Spirit altogether or you have churches that focus on the Holy Spirit and then never talk about God and Jesus.

Jesus said in John 14,15 and 16 that he would not leave his Disciples as 'orphans", but he would send the Holy Spirit. John 14:25-27 says, "All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid."

The Holy Spirit provides peace to us even when all hell is breaking loose . When the spirit of truth appears, He will guide us. Some people have come to Perry and said the Holy spirit said it was okay to sleep with their boyfriend, but Perry stresses that the Holy Spirit will never guide us contrary to the Bible. In fact, the Holy Spirit will not speak on His own, He will only speak what he hears from the Father. Do not underestimate the role of the Holy Spirit in your life. There was a friend of Perry's who told him a story that really rocked his world. This friend was up late one night and, upon the prompting of the Holy Spirit, he felt a very strong urge that he should call a close friend. Even as late as it was, the Holy Spirit kept urging him. Finally, he called his friend, who kept asking, "Why did you call me now? Why did you choose to call in the middle of the night?" The friend later told him that the night he had received the call, he was sitting on the edge of his bed with a pistol in his hand, ready to take his life. Never underestimate the Holy Spirit. He is not a myth. He is real.

3) Others. I'm not talking about others who walk around saying, "I have a word from God for you." Early on, there was a guy who came to Perry and said he was addicted to porn, but the bigger problem according to this guy was he couldn't hear the Holy Spirit! "Well, I think I know what your problem is..." thought Perry. Then the guy said, "Wait, I'm getting something..." as if a word from God was coming through. That weirded Perry out. There was another call from a lady who said Perry needed to walk around his church 7 times backward!

Perry says, do you have friends in your life who love Jesus and love you? If they don't love Jesus more than they love you, they will tell you what you want to hear. Proverbs 15:22 says, "Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed". God often speaks through other people. One time, Perry was considering a job in Orange burg which was as a youth pastor. Wrestling with the idea, he asked his friend, Dale, what he thought. Dale simply said, "I don't think God is through with you in Anderson yet". How true that proved to be. But, it was no "word from God" from Dale, it was simply a love for Jesus and intuition.

4) Being still. In Psalm 23 we find, "The Lord is my Shepard. I shall not want...." (As Perry continues the passage, his video team starts turning his mike down and turning up news, texts, noises and distractions so you can't hear a single thing Perry is saying. It's quite clever. Then the distractions are removed and Perry's mike is turned back on.) Psalm 46:10 says, "Be still and know that I am God." Perry heard a speaker say one time, "If I were Satan, I would invent a device that would never allow you to escape your phone or your calendar." When is the last time you rode to work with your cellphone off and your radio off with no noise? Try it. Perry recently went to a christian counselor. After hearing much of what was going on with Perry, the counselor suggested that Perry go for a walk alone in the mountains. He also suggested Perry take a pen and paper to focus on listening for God. Even Jesus did this. In the book of Mark, Jesus went for a walk to a solitary place and prayed.

5) Circumstances. How often did Jesus communicate with his Disciples through a storm? Quite often. The storm in our lives is often the voice of God screaming to us saying, "you think this is bad? Listen, because you don't see what is yet to come". God is going to be speaking every where we go. We just need to watch for Him.

Recently, Perry went to a conference at a nice hotel. Perry was trying to relax and fall asleep, but he then he heard something start to bark. There was a dog in the room next door! "I didn't know dogs could go to nice hotels!" He thought to himself, "If I lay here long enough, he'll eventually be quiet." But Perry had to finally call security. The more he tried to ignore the dog, the louder it got. YOU CANNOT IGNORE GOD. You can run from God, but you can't outrun Him.

Ezekiel 36:26-27 promises, "I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws."

God will not be silent if we are truly His. Perry was recently arguing (friendly argument) with a pastor friend of his. The argument was, "God can't speak to people who aren't Christians." Perry says, "first of all, I don't like that because God can do anything". Secondly, Perry is convinced that God prompted him into the ministry even before he knew he was saved. He knew he was to speak the gospel since he was 5 years old, but in March of 1990, a monumental moment for Perry, he was sitting in the office of his spiritual mentor. "Let me ask you a question, Perry. Are you saved?" This stumped Perry, but he made up some garbled things to answer. His mentor went on to say, "many times, people say they are called to the ministry, but they are really being called to salvation. Are you saved?"

"How many of you watch the biggest loser? I watch it for myself. I watch it to make myself feel better. Really." The show usually gets intense is when the participants step on the scale at the end of each episode. This is because the scale doesn't lie. It is consistent and it measures them accurately. We don't like to step on the scale sometimes. A guy in Perry's gym was punching the scale and shouting that the scale was wrong. Well, in the same way, sometimes we don't like the scriptures because it measures us, so we doubt it or question it. Satan did this in the Garden of Eden. He began questioning God's real intent before Adam and Eve? "Did God really say this, Eve?"

But we can't doubt God in the scriptures. It hinders our growth. Jeremiah 29:13 tells us, "You will seek me and you will find me when you seek me with all your heart." Could you seek God for just one week? For those of you who are not spending regular time with God, start to pursue Him with just 10 minutes a day.

Obey it God's counsel. "I love Christmas...but I don't like Christmas music until after Thanksgiving...the thing I love most about Christmas is the food I get to eat....from Thanksgiving to Christmas, it is pure gluttony... here in the South, we eat solid for a month, anything that's not nailed down...and we think January 1...I'm getting in shape...but when we get there, we think "you can't diet on January 1! That's the middle of the week. So January 4,...but that's week then... week is Bowl week..." So, we put it off until April!!

Perry tells a story about a Tibo video that a friend's parents bought one time. His friend was telling him how he got home and heard the Tibo video playing and thought it would be gross to interrupt his parents especially if they had Spandex on to exercise. But when he looked to see how it was going, both of his parents were lying on the couch eating popcorn and watching!! He said, "You cant just watch the video! You have to do it.."

"Sometimes," Perry says, "I fear, as a pastor, that I am just a Tibo video. I'm entertaining, but many of you have no intention of following anything that the Lord has said." James 1:22 says, "Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says."

Going back to the lesson of his mentor and the question that was asked of Perry regarding whether or not he was really saved, this bothered Perry for weeks. For days on end afterwards, all that Perry heard in his pastor's messages was about salvation, all he seemed to see in scriptures was salvation. One night when he was singing with a group, God whispered to him, "you do not trust me because you do not know me". Perry obeyed the prompting of God and today he is so glad he did.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Does God Really Love Me?

"I heart love because its the one thing that the Bible says God is...I think we forget that sometimes...He loves already and there's nothing we can do to take that away...If we can only understand who God is and what He is, we can comprehend love... He is everything that we are not...He's not a passive love, but a love that passes all understanding and is eternal.

Todd McVicker is a guest speaker at Fusion in the "I Heart" series to talk about his love for love. "I love turkey!" This Thanksgiving, Todd and his family had Cajun Fried Turkey. Yum. Every year, Todd and his wife go to Columbia, SC, to his wife's parents' house to do absolutely nothing. They just rest and relax. This year, there were some extra people who joined them and Todd was talking about the conversation and the fun. There was this one guy, about 30 years old, at the table and Todd asked him what he did for a living. The guy worked at Lowe's as a stock person. Well, in the conversation, Todd's wife asked the guy what he was passionate about and his answer was, "my passion was taken away a long, long time ago." It was almost painful to here those words coming from a young and capable guy.

"I'm passionate about music, my wife about Fusion. I think I'm passionate about a lot of things. But as I thought about what I really "Hearted", I realized that what I really love is "Love"." There are so many horrible headlines out there. There is war and grief and depression. There is such depression that love can be so refreshing. The world needs love. "I'm the guy that cries at the Disney movies. It's me...I'm the guy that listens to the one song that repeats for an hour because something's going on..." Todd then starts talking about a video he saw that caused him to "bawl like a little girl". When he first saw it, it was fun, but by the third time he watched it, he physically broke down wondering what it was that touched him so much about a random viral video. God seemed to whisper to him that, at that moment in the video, war didn't matter, divorce didn't matter and depression didn't matter because someone thought to put together a stupid dance and get as many people together to do it. It was people celebrating life through dance. Somebody cared enough to give these people and anyone watching a wonderful experience. Here is that video:

"There's a story in the Bible that absolutely fascinates me" says Todd. It's the story of Hosea, a prophet of God. This guy would tell his people anything God would instruct him to, whether good or bad news. Unfortunately, back then there was a lot of bad news. Hosea was minding his own business one day and God gives him a unique message, but its not a message that God wanted him to tell the people, rather it was a message God wanted Hosea to live out. It was a story about how Hosea is instructed to marry a prostitute named Gomer and how God wants him to unconditionally love this woman. It seemed like, for a while Gomer was going to turn her life around. They married and had children, but then she got bored. She decided to go back to her old ways. Time and time again, though, God told Hosea to pursue her and love her despite her betrayals. God wanted to demonstrate through Hosea how he loves his people despite their constant betrayal of Him as the one true God. God could through his hands up in the air and abandon us, but God isn't that way. He is the true meaning of love.

Hosea 2:13-16 - "I will punish her for the days she burned incense to the Baals; she decked herself with rings and jewelry, and went after her lovers, but me she forgot," declares the LORD.
Therefore I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her. There I will give her back her vineyards, and will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope. There she will sing as in the days of her youth, as in the day she came up out of Egypt. 'In that day,' declares the LORD, 'you will call me 'my husband. You will no longer call me 'my master.'

"I don't know about being a master, but I do know about being a husband. I remember watching my wife come down the aisle and thinking I would do anything for her." A master will tell you what to do but a husband is an image of love for his bride. God being a "husband" to us was a strange concept to Todd when he first became a Christian because he, like many Christians, saw God as the boss and as the master. But a master is someone who can be disappointed and someone who can fire you.

The relationship God seems to be describing is a relationship like what Adam and Eve experienced with God. They walked in the cool of the day in the garden and they got to speak with God face to face. It was Paradise. Yet, even in Paradise, mankind betrayed God.

We saw the same thing with the Israelites. God showed up with Moses, miracles and might to pull His people out of Egypt. But not even months later, some of the Israelites were already building idols in defiance of God. All throughout the Bible, in fact, we watch people get pulled towards God, but then they push him away.

Today, we hear John 3:16, "For God so loved the world..." Blah, blah, blah. We think to ourselves, "Yeah, yeah, I know... He loves me. We got that. These days, we've been so desensitized to even the word "love". We hear "All you need is love", "Love lifts us up where we belong", "Love is a battle field". Love has become a catch phrase; a slogan. We take this huge concept of love and then say we love McDonald's and use the same word when we say we love our spouse!

But the truth of love can be found in the Bible, which is written in 3 languages. Hebrew, Aramaic and then in the New Testament, the primary language is Greek. What Greek does is it takes this huge concept of love and assigns three words to it. Each word is unique. "Eros" is the root word where we get "erotic". It is a deeply intense sexual love and a passionate love. "Phileo" is where we get the name "Philadelphia". It means brotherly love and deep friendship love. Then there is another love. But this kind of love not in the same league as the others. This love is "Agape". God is "agape". It's a selective, unconditional love with no strings attached. God so "agaped" us, He gave his son. This is the kind of love we don't understand so much. The only kind of love like this that we can relate to might be our parents, but what happens when they are mad or when they act harshly? We associate their reactions with what we think is what God would do and He often responds very differently.

We see the love of our parents and that is what we come to understand love to be. But then we experience new love in school and we quickly learn that this love is not the same as our parents. The "love" in the real world can be very painful and it can drive people away. No wonder, when we experience God's "love", we think we better be on our best behavior. We are afraid that He will hurt us like the world has. Because we know very well what conditional love is, it's then hard to relate to God's unconditional love.

Romans 8:38-39 says, "For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord."

It's hard to figure this thing out. Let's look at this. Think of what a healthy heart looks like. It absorbs everything; the good, the bad and the ugly. It's like a sponge. But, then there's an unhealthy heart. God takes His awesome agape love and pours it into this heart, but years of rejection and hurt and pain lined this person's heart and it cannot easily receive God's love. It can be extremely difficult. But God continues to pour out His unconditional love, even to the heart that can't receive.

If we have a healthy heart, it is able to receive the abundant love of Christ. Unfortunately, most of us do not have healthy hearts. Our hearts are wounded, broken and in need of love. God takes His love and pours it in, but there is nothing to keep it there. It is a broken heart. So, tonight we have to focus on how we see God. How do we fill our hearts when they are broken?

I) We need to understand what God thinks about us.

The only way we can do this is we have to read His Word. Ephesians 3:17-19 says, "so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God."

1 John 4:16-18, "And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love." Somehow, we need to get His meaning of love down in here; down in our hearts.

II). Let God love you.

There isn't anything that can take the place of God. One of Todd s favorite stories is the story about Samuel. His mother had begged God for a son and when God finally blessed her, she literally gave her son back to God and gave him to the faith. One night, years later, when Samuel drifted off to sleep, he heard a whisper. Samuel got up to ask one of the priests what they wanted, but the priest said he had not called. Samuel goes back to bed, but then hears another whisper, so he goes back to the priest and asks what he wants again. It strikes the priest that this might be God whispering to Samuel. So, the next time there is a whisper, Samuel stays still and says, "Yes, Lord. I am here." God then pours his heart out to Samuel and Samuel goes on to spend more and more time with God and ends up living an incredible life.

We need to let go of many of the things that distract us from God and we need to focus on Him so that He can give us His amazing love and we can receive it and live amazing lives in it.

III) Respond to God.

Todd gets to get up on stage at Fusion every Wednesday. He has led worship 10 years. There is nothing like it to be able to worship openly with God. But sometimes, even in worship, there is a struggle with people, sound, mikes and the stage. Without all that, worship is a response to God. There is nothing more encouraging than seeing people who are truly in a response to God in worship. We worship because it gives us a glimpse of Him and a faint idea of how much He loves us.

A few years ago at Fusion, they did a series that was called "How Far We've Come". It looked at the church as a whole and each ministry. It was about where they had been, where they were and where they were going. One of the coolest things about the series was they got to do a lot of special video projects. They drove around the country capturing memorials and memories of the country.

One day, they drove to Charlotte NC and they were looking at a library built by or for Billy Graham which was amazing. It was mind blowing. In his tour Todd was drawn to a tiny TV showing Billy preaching at this stadium. Billy Graham's signature was how he would boldly speak the Word of God. What he "hearted" was Evangelism. Now, as Todd was watching, Billy was a little more subdued and he was about to give his altar call. As he was speaking, he stops and looks up and says "He loves you". Todd's first thought, which surprised him, was "no He doesn't, not really. Why did he say that to himself? It was like he was betraying his beliefs and his career. Here he was on staff and still not believing that God could love him. It was like time stood still. His heart was waging this war inside. Did he really believe God loved him?

He loves you. He loves you. He loves you. He loves you. These were the words of Billy as people in the stadium begin to HEAR it, believe it and come forward to receive it. Almost in response to his own doubt, Todd was broken inside.

The message is the same to us here. He loves you. He loves you. He loves you. He loves you. He loves you. He loves you. He loves you. He loves you. He loves you.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Why Would Matthew Point Out King David's Faults?

All of us have extended family members that we're not exactly proud of. We love them but we're glad that they might live a couple of states away. We enjoy the holidays, but all of us have dysfunctional characters in our clans. "I'm sure somewhere they're talking about my dysfunctions too." says Andy Stanley as he opens "Promise Keeper", the fourth of his "Unexpected Christmas" series.

Jesus had dysfunctional characters in his family line too. What Andy has done in this series is study the genealogy found in Matthew, one of only two gospels that tells the Christmas story. Interestingly, Matthew begins the Christmas Story with the genealogy of Jesus. What Andy points out to us is that Matthew takes the time to pause each time he mentions the "colorful" (and not in a good way) characters along the way. These are strange, R-rated and unusual characters. Matthew draws our attention quite pointedly to them. But why would he do this? Well, as is the theme of the "Unexpected Christmas" series, these individuals are all part of and even the point of Christmas.

Matthew seeks to help us understand that God invites us, not based on what we have done, but what He has done for us. So, to prepare the people for this kind of message, Matthew talks about how Jesus is related to Moses and David, but he also points out all the other people who needed God's forgiveness. What's more, Matthew points out the faults of the men closest to Jesus. In fact, in this message, you will know this person as a great man of God. But when Matthew gets to this person's name, he slams on the breaks and forces everyone who's reading his gospel to see this man's flaws. This was a man who was most closely related to Jesus in terms of character and ethics, but he was, at least at one point, an incredibly dismal failure. Out of insecurity, this man told a lie that caused 82 to 85 priests to be put to death. This guy put to death a friend to cover up something he himself had done. This was a guy who ran around on his wife and this was a guy whose children even went to war against him.

The man we are talking about is King David. Matthew says, this is the genealogy of the Messiah, the son of David. Jesus was actually the great, great...great grandson of David, but prophetically, he was the son of David. Listen to how Matthew introduces David in the genealogy. Matthew 1:6 "...and Jesse the father of King David. David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah's wife." Why not introduce David as the builder, as the psalmist, as the warrior or even as the little shepherd boy? He is a man that Jews most closely associated with Jesus. Why focus on a chapter of David's life that he wishes he could undo? Why would he focus on David's biggest failure? Andy suggests that Matthew is reminding his Gentile audience that even David was a sinner and a failure as a leader, as a friend, as a father and as a husband.

Second Samuel 7:8 begins a story which takes place 1,000 years before Jesus. There is a prophet named Samuel and God wants him to go anoint a new king of Israel, out of Bethlehem at the home of Jesse and his sons. Samuel tells Jesse to call in his sons. Samuel sees the first strapping young son and he says to himself, "this must be the new king", but God says "No". Samuel then looks at the second son and thinks to himself the same, but God again says "No". Samuel goes to the third, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh sons, but each time, God will not confirm a king. "Do you have any more sons?", asks Samuel. Jesse says, "Yes, but it is only my youngest son, David. Samuel beckons for David, sees him, receives God's confirmation and anoints David as Israel's next king. David then blows his nose and runs out to take care of the sheep.

Years later, David is in his palace. He looks out and sees this tabernacle, which represented where God was believed to reside and David decides to build a temple for His Lord. God sends Nathan the prophet to David with good news and not so good news. Nathan says God took David from the pastures and made him a ruler over nations. God says He will make David a name great like the greatest names on earth. To make a point, Andy asks, "How many of you already knew about King David before you got here today?" Virtually everyone knows of King David, so essentially this promise from God came true and it was predicted 3,000 years ago. David is now remembered as one of greatest men to ever live. Nathan also tells David that when his days are over, his offspring will also have their kingdoms established. But Nathan then tells David that David won't build a temple for God, but rather his son (later Solomon) would. God says through Nathan, "I will be his father and he will be my son" which basically means that God would be the loving disciplinary of his lineage. His love would never be taken away from David as it was from King Saul. God promises David that his house would forever endure with Him. This was an unconditional promise.

Four chapters later, we see the story of David and Bathsheba. David sees his general Uriah's wife, Bathsheba, on a rooftop bathing, becomes interested in her and invites her to come be with him in the palace. Bathsheba becomes pregnant with David's child. So, David, to cover up his wrongdoing, invites Uriah home from a war. But no matter how hard David tries to get Uriah to sleep with his wife, each time Uriah sleeps outside of his chambers because he says he can't sleep with Bathsheba in the comfort of his home while his men are fighting and dying in battle. Frustrated and angry, David calls Uriah's superior Joab to tell him to send Uriah to the front of the battle lines and then to withdraw his troops, which will basically give Uriah a death sentence. After Uriah dies courageously fighting, David brings Bathsheba into his home as his wife.

What David had done was evil in the sight of the Lord. God had to decide whether or not He would retract his promises made long ago to David. So, God sends Nathan to confront David. David falls to his knees saying he had sinned against God. God forgives him, but he punishes David through his children. His sons war against each other and several betray David. Even Bathsheba's child dies in all this. BUT God never withdraws His promise because it was an eternal promise. In fact, 990 years later, a man named Joseph and his wife Mary made their way to Bethlehem, even then referred to as the "City of David". God kept his promise. All that David suffered was simply the consequences of his own actions.

If you are Matthew and ex tax collector who knew what it was like to have his sins forgiven, you would know the meaning of grace. Here, Matthew is trying to tell the story of how Jesus came into this world to forgive the entire world of sin. How could he tell this story without telling the story about David and God's eternal promise to him? Matthew made the point that there was a promise made by God to ALL people. It was a promise and an unconditional covenant. How could Matthew not focus on the most revered Jewish man in all of history? Just as God kept His promise to David, He will keep his promise to all of us. Matthew felt this was a perfect example!

In the book of Luke (2:10), the angel says (listen to this now through a new filter) " I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people..." This is for all people, not just people of God, or Jews or good people or bad people it is for ALL PEOPLE. I hope that when you hear "city of David", that from now on you will think of the promise that God made and kept with David. A Savior was born in this town . He was to be the Messiah and Lord.
God promises us peace. The only way He can give us peace is to remove that which is between us and Him. We might negotiate and justify our sin, but God says it separates us. We might think that we have done too much to even deserve what God has done. But we have to see that we have forgiveness through Him. We just have to embrace it and believe the covenant of God with us, not based on what we have done or promised to do, but on what God has promised to do for us. Now through Christ, the final penalty has been paid, but it is not a covenant of two parties, but just one: God. We can all have the peace of God in spite of ourselves.

As long as we keep sinning and as long as we keep negotiating our sins, we will never have peace. It just doesn't work. The promise of Christmas is peace, which is the price of our Savior's life, not through what we are doing but through our Lord, Christ Jesus.

Friday, December 11, 2009

What is the Doctrine of Regeneration?

Ed Young opens "Raised Up" by reading Ephesians 2:1-10, "As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do."

Twenty years ago, a group of people kicked off the new church of Fellowship Church. They had no idea it would become what it has today. They rode on the coattails of the Lord Himself. During his time as pastor, one of his top 2 mentors has been Bill Hybils, the pastor of Willow Creek Church. Ted was listening to a message recently from Willow Creek and thought it was so compelling, he wanted his church to hear it. So, Ed decided to broadcast Bill's message to Fellowship directly. Here is that message.

Bill's message opens with an experience several years back. He was jogging in Southern California and came upon a scene that was developing. An older man was biking towards him and didn't see a bus coming up behind him. The biker veered a little too much into the road and the bus hit him, causing the man to flip over his handle bars and to hit a curb. Bill rushed to the man's aid to do what he could. The man was terribly injured. Bill tried to untangle the him and tried to make him feel more comfortable. But while Bill was attending to this man, he watched him die. Only moments before, this was a man who had life in his eyes and who could converse with Bill and then he was dead. What now sticks out in Bill's mind is how absolutely non-responsive the man became. It was truly the embodiment of death.

The first versus of Ephesians 2 talks about a time in every one's life when they are dead to God. A person goes through a stage when they are not listening, not heeding warnings of and not experiencing God's wisdom. For those of us who have children, we have all experienced times when our children have "blown off God". But let's assume that a child doesn't have Christian parents. As he grows up, he starts following the ways of the world. It's not that he's a bad kid, but he will follow the values, the habits and the goals of the world around him. When this happens, what comes next, according to Ephesians, this child (Bill uses "Mikey") will start gratifying his own cravings and desires. If this happens, Mikey will gratify so many pleasures that he will have a nightmare moment. Most of us have experienced this to some degree. When it happened to us, we likely said to ourselves that we had no idea we were capable of acting as we did. we never intended to drift so far from God . We just gratified a little here and a little there. But tens of millions of people go down this same path. Hopefully, all of us will have this "nightmare moment" before we die and we won't spend an eternity in a nightmare.

Ephesians 2:4 goes on to talk about God's reaction to our gratifying ourselves. "But... (Bill says this is the biggest BUT in the Bible) God, who is fully loaded with mercy, mercy to burn, made us alive even when we were dead in our transgressions. This idea of God making people who were dead to him alive again is the whole doctrine of regeneration. "If we lined up 100 creatures and asked them what impact the doctrine of regeneration has had on them...most of them would have to get back to me on that." But this doctrine is beautiful and powerful. Our Christian faith has many doctrines like the Doctrine of the Trinity; the idea of God the Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit all in one. The Doctrine of Atonement; the notion that somebody else paid for our debts. The Doctrine of justification; God declaring that everyone is righteous based on the righteousness received from Jesus. The Doctrine of Sanctification; How God sets us apart to use us for His kingdom and how He is refining us.

Regeneration is the act of God where He imparts divine life into the dead hearts of human beings. This is truly a rich thought. a thought that will cause us to worship God in a different way. God uses the same power that he used to raised Christ from the grave to raise us up from our deadness to be drawn to God and to do our daily lives with God. To us, it is an actual relationship. "Has this happened to you?" Bill asks. How would we know?

Let's say after the service you go out to the parking lot, put your key in the car ignition, but nothing happens. No windows open, the car won't turn over and no lights come on. Everything confirms a dead battery. Then a friend comes by with a good battery and some cables willing to give you a jump-start. How do we know when the battery is ready? The lights come on , the windows work and the car starts. There would be multiple confirmations. Well, the same is true in our lives and in our hearts. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says that when God enters our hearts, we become new creatures and all thing s become new.

The next part of the message may be painful for some people because Bill says it will be a time when some people realize they are still dead to God. There are logically two groups of people: those dead to God and those alive to God. How do we know how each group will interact? In either group, mind you, there are Christians.

I. If a Bible is brought into the group:
The Dead, or those who haven't experienced divine regeneration (again, they might be very religious), might say they don't read it much or make it a part of their daily life. There isn't a real hunger for the Word and it doesn't compel them to dig out its wisdom. It's just a nice book that doesn't have an effect on them.
The Alive, or someone who has been regenerated has an unexplainable hunger. There is a curiosity as to how God might speak through His Word. It is a living relationship with God. They want to hear his voice and know his thoughts. The Bible is the primary voice of God.

II. In worship of God:
The Dead don't worship very much. Most of the time, these people spend their time calling foul on God. If there is a job conflict, it is a foul on God. There is no notice of the sunset made by their God. Problems are always a conflict with Him rather than a loving discipline.

The Alive have a high degree of thankfulness and an awareness of the surrounding of the actions of God. When people of regeneration hear of a worship, they are eager to go and experience it. They yearn to take part and not miss out.

III. Baptism:
The Dead might say that this was something they took care of when they were a child. They don't want to go to a church that has a lot of baptisms.
The Alive see baptism as a question. Is this a way to identify with Christ or a way to honor God? Is this a way to give witness to God? These people wish they could be baptized many times!!

IV. Church:
The Dead see church as something to check off on a long list of to-dos.
The Alive see it is a way to come into God's presence and to experience rest and fellowship.

V. Prayer:
The Dead see prayer as somewhat mechanical. One night, when Bill when to a party, he met a guy who had talked about believing in God, but who was with a girl who did not. The guy was saying a light prayer over his meal, sort of sheepishly and shyly, not wanting to make a big scene. When he did this, the girl was wondering what he was doing. He told her, and her reaction was that her family prayed too, every Thanksgiving! She related to his lack of boldness to her family's once in a while prayers. Many people are very dead to prayer. Even with the subject of prayer, it is often a list of to-dos or traditions.

The Alive in God see prayer as a constant relationship and conversation with God. They hear promptings from God. They hear God's whisper. Think of that! Six billion people on the earth and He whispers in our individual ears!!

VI. Regarding the poor:
The Dead get so heavy and worn down about thoughts on the poor. They get tired of hearing about the hungry on TV. It brings them "down."
The Alive see that God plants in them a desire to help. God gives that person an awareness of how He thinks. The things that break the heart of God break the heart of the Alive.

Bill was with a guy a while back who was "fasting for the poor". The guy just got up the morning he was to meet with Bill and decided to make it a day of just being aware of the poor through his fasting. This is the miracle of regeneration! "Do you see the differences? Both could be religious...Both could be educated or uneducated."

To press further on examples, Bill goes on.

VII. Sin:
The Dead justify their actions and says "boys will be boys" (or "girls will be girls") and move on. The Alive see sin as very personal. It strikes them down spiritually because their question becomes, "How could I do that to the God I love." It is a violation of a relationship, not of rules!!

VIII. Money:
The Dead see money as personal ownership. "I make my money and I spend it because its mine."
The Alive in Christ are thankful for the money and there becomes a real sense of stewardship and responsibility. They want to use the money wisely.

IX. Relationships
The Dead discover that they only have a certain capacity for relationships with people and it doesn't get any greater than that.
The Alive see their own capacity, but then see God's capacity. God's capacity fills them and becomes overflowing. The Alive then see that they have the capacity to then love even people that are very hard to love.

At dinner, not too long ago, one of Bill's friends said that he would like to go to prison and experience what those who are locked up are experiencing. God says that those who are Christians will have so much capacity to love that they will go to visit even those who have been shunned.

X. TV Evangelists:
The Dead see evangelists as weird.
The Alive see evangelists as weird. Bill gets a laugh, but he does point out that the evangelists bring to mind for the Alive those people who are dead to God; those people who God may bring in front of them to engage. The Alive see work as painful sometimes because they see how many people are dead. It brings the alive in God to their knees. It creates a desire to bring this world with them to Heaven.

The divine life that pulses through us is alive if we allow it and it creates a desire to spread new life to others. One of the great nightmares of Bill's life is getting to the end of it and envisioning some great reunion of Willow Creek, but finding that many members were never regenerated .

Ephesians 2:8-9 says that it is not from us that we could ever be regenerated. We have to stop thinking that we can do anything without the prompting of God. God, if we will let Him, will change our hearts. It will be His lessons to us going forward. It is not an overnight process. It is just a person who becomes alive to the Spirit ready to work in their life.

One of Bill's favorite New Testament stories is about a man who was very religious: churchgoing, alms giving, dutiful etc. This man risks his career and slides in to the shadow of Jesus saying the religious life is not working for him. Jesus responds by saying its because he is dead. He says the man is not alive to the father. The guy asks "What should I do?" Jesus tells the man he has to be born again like a child. The guy says he wants that. Apparently , he got it, because at the end of Jesus' life, two guys come to collect the body of Christ and one of the guys is Nicodemus. He risked his life to give Jesus a proper burial.

Regeneration is the process of God working inside of us. Bill's final question is, "Have you been regenerated? Are there multiple confirmations in your life that you have been regenerated?"

Monday, July 20, 2009

What Does the Bible Say About Racism?

Marcus "Goody" Goodloe is an excellent stand-in for Erwin McManus when Erwin isn't speaking. Goody continues Mosaic's series entitled "Diversity".

A couple of months ago, the President of USC gave a talk saying that LA is the capital of the Pacific Rim and there was no other city like it. Creativity, according to the president, is the backbone of the "City of Angels". "If creativity is the number one export of LA, then diversity has to be number 2" says Goody. Los Angeles is diverse is every aspect It is the 18th largest economy in the world. It has 10.5 million people with a third of them born outside of the city. There are 600 different religious groups, 120 different cultures, 96 different cradle languages and 49 press and media outlets. Outside of their own homeland, more people from Seoul, Korea and from Mexico live as citizens in LA than any other city in the world.

Normally when we hear about diversity, our thoughts go to the issue race and some people fear the subject because of racism. Diversity can lead to tensions of race. Most of us were not born during the 1965 riots that took place in LA, but many were here in 1992 when the Rodney King verdict came out and riots erupted. Only 2 years ago, we saw an epic riot between Latinos and African Americans in the public schools. There are tension even in the LA prisons between races. It is a sort of burden in the city. So, if La is the hub of the Pacific Rim, isn't there a big opportunity to have an impact in this area?

Goody went to a golf club recently for a pickup game. There was a 74 yr. old Korean, 2 Anglos and then a Polynesian kind of guy. You can pick up a game pretty easily in golf, but there are rules of etiquette. "Have you ever been in a conversation where someone is violating social educate so much that you feel embarrassed for them?" Well, Goody bumped into one on the course. "My man (was)in full conversation Def Com 5 mode... There are people in the other fairway hitting the ball ... and one man shouts, 'will you keep it down?'" Then his new friend started telling him a story about the issue of keeping it down. He was at the Chester Washington golf course where he was playing golf with Jim Brown, a retired 60's activist and football player. "He was telling the story in a loud voice. Jim looked up and said keep it down and his buddies were talking and said "Edward, ________, just hit the ball." Goody pauses during his story like something was very wrong. "Hold on...I want to do this right...Violation - Illegal use of the 'N' word by a white man. We don't roll like that. You'll get your nose busted up like that."

We've made some progress on the issue of race, but we have a long way to go. It can be argued in the new testament that 2/3rds of Paul's writings are conversations about tensions between people of different cultures. In Numbers, Miriam and Aaron got upset with Moses because of the wife he married who was of a different race. Jesus engages with a Samaritan woman where the conversation immediately goes to how Samaritans have no dealings with Jews. In Galatians, the Apostle Paul confronts Peter because he was acting one way in front of his Jewish friends and then acting another way in front of Gentiles. "It was all about a clash of cultures and race."

"But I want to call your attention to another passage of scripture that, up until recently, I had never viewed from the lens of diversity, but it is appropriate for tonight" In the book of Jonah, Jonah is a spokesperson for God and he has been called to speak on God's behalf in Nineveh. The people there do not honor God. They are a violent people. God gives the people and opportunity to turn from their ways by sending Jonah.

The word of the LORD came to Jonah son of Amittai: "Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me." But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord. Then the Lord sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up. All the sailors were afraid and each cried out to his own god. And they threw the cargo into the sea to lighten the ship. But Jonah had gone below deck, where he lay down and fell into a deep sleep. The captain went to him and said, "How can you sleep? Get up and call on your god! Maybe he will take notice of us, and we will not perish." Then the sailors said to each other, "Come, let us cast lots to find out who is responsible for this calamity." They cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah. So they asked him, "Tell us, who is responsible for making all this trouble for us? What do you do? Where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you?" He answered, "I am a Hebrew and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land."

The story goes on from there, but like Jonah, we often run when the issue of race arises. If L.A. is to be the city that embraces diversity, "we have to be willing to have the tough conversations." We can have these conversations for a greater reason. The men on the boat found that Jonah had moved in the opposite direction of God when God had directed Jonah to Nineveh. "We are gong to have to be courageous. Courage is not the absence of fear, but the absence of self."

"Often when I was growng up I would hear the story of Jonah and hear the story as a story of Judgement. The scripture gives Jonah a do-over. The Lord came to Jonah for a second time.

On the very first day, Jonah went before the people and, right away, they believed. The people had been given an ultimatum by God to change or their city would be destroyed and they listened! This was why it was so important for Jonah to go in the first place. But Jonah was actually displeased when the people listened! He became angry and prayed to the Lord. He knew that God was slow to anger and that God would exercise grace, so he tells God that he basically doesn't want God to bless these people. The Ninevites where dark complected and their noses were wide. They were from a different culture.

We have to be honest in our own views of different cultures and of our own perceptions. I've been married for 12 years and I was in San Francisco when I met my wife. Goody booked a flight to approach her father for a traditional request of him to have the hand of his daughter. Goody waited an hour and a half, but it was a no-show. A voicemail was on his future wife's cellphone which was her father refusing to meet Goody. So Goody was really down about the whole thing. Trying to honor her parents, he just says that the relationship has been difficult to accept. One time, Goody went by the house upon his wife's request. "I just had the inability to walk in...It was hard to step into a place where I knew I wasn't welcome." He and her father went out on the back deck that overlooked his estate. Her father, in so many words, said he thought races should be kept separate. Goody could accept the fact that this man didn't care for him, but what Goody found hard to accept was his lack of authenticity; his lack of owning up to who he was. Goody had paid $180 to fly out to see this man and there was virtually no resolve at all.

"So we need to have courage. We need to have authenticity and we need to have grace Whether you are the oppressor or the oppressed...we have to have grace." In verse 4, the Lord asks if Jonah has any right to be angry. In Psalms 139, "Should not my grace extend to them as well?"

"In life, as in a dance, grace guides our blistered feet. Our worst is never so bad that we are beyond God's grace even if it's racism or sexism. And neither is our best so good that we are beyond the need of grace." Author unnamed

"Up until now, diversity has been a noun...I want to make it a verb..I need twenty people up on stage right now...If you identify yourself as Anglo, Caucasian or White, come over here. If you are an African American or Black, stand over here. If you are Latino, Mexican, over here...Alright, this is how we try to engage the conversation of diversity. We begin to define by race, so already we are at a deficit. But what if...diversity hinged on pendulums; our passions and our pains. If you've lost someone recently, come to the center here. If you are addicted to a behavior, come over here. If you are passionate about ending human slavery, come over here....At the very essence, we are all human. This is where Jesus continued the conversation. In fact, Jesus' inaugural message from Luke 4 begin with pain and passions.

"The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

Maybe the world is looking to us in LA to teach the world about diversity.

Monday, July 6, 2009

What Were the Disciple's Darkest Hours?

In the "One Prayer" series sponsored by some of the largest churches in the nation, Andy Stanly talks about our darkest hours and God's presence during these times. One of the most dramatic moments in all of human history took place in an environment... we've come to know as "Upper room" The disciples and Jesus were coming to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. This was a time when the Jewish people would come and celebrate the memory of the time when their people were finally delivered from Egypt after 400 years of slavery. Their ancestors were told by Moses to paint the blood of a lamb over their doorways which would mark their homes to be "passed over" by the angel of death when all the first born children of Egypt were to die because the Egyptian Pharaoh refused to let the Israelites go despite warnings from Moses.

The disciples and Jesus had been through so much and they had had Passover several times together. But at this moment in the Upper Room, things seemed to have spiraled downward. People were trying to get Jesus alone so they could arrest Him. More and more, they were experiencing rejection and persecution. Jesus was, even now, talking about His own death. "Things are going to be bad in Jerusalem." He would say, which left the disciples wondering why He wanted to go to Jerusalem in the first place. Not only was it dangerous, but they had to sneak into the city under the cover of darkness to avoid being seen. It was a time when there were no shouts of joy or shouts saying, "Hosanna!" No one could even know they were in the Upper Room.

Mark 14:17 talks about this event; "When evening came, Jesus arrived with the Twelve. While they were reclining at the table eating, he said, "I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me—one who is eating with me." So, here they are in one of the most intimate settings of their culture, at a dinner table, and even as the disciples were in their darkest hours, Jesus now is telling them that one of them will betray Him! What's worse, they knew who this person would betray Jesus to because things had gotten so bad and they now knew His enemies.

"They were saddened, and one by one they said to him, "Surely not I?" "It is one of the Twelve," he replied, "one who dips bread into the bowl with me. The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born."

As we look at our Bible, it is not a book about great times and wonderful living. It is a book about the troubled times from the lives of people who discovered that in the midst of uncertainty, God was still trustworthy. This is a book where we read about Joseph, who was hated by and sold into slavery by his brothers. But we go on to know that God was with Joseph all along. We read about King David, who found out his son had raised up an army to kill him, but we later find out that God was with David throughout his ordeal. We read about the first-born children, in Egypt, who were ordered to be killed, but we found the God was there! We read about the how the all the babies in Bethlehem were killed, an entire generation, but we know know that God had the world in His hands through the birth of Jesus. We read about the times when it seemed like evil had won and the bad guys were successful, but then we see that God was there.

Now, in the Upper Room, Jesus begins breaking bread and pouring the wine, saying that the bread is His Body and the wine is His Blood. It was more death talk to an already somber group. What's worse, in the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus tells the disciples that all of them would fall away. He tells Peter that he would deny Jesus.

"Here's my question for we continue to experience extraordinary uncertainty in our families, in our jobs, with our children, with our culture, with our leadership, with our Congress, with our Senate...with our economy...with our scholarships. Can you trust God...when there's absolutely no evidence of His activity in your life, in your culture, in our country and seemingly at times, in our world? Our answer to that question will determine our response to the uncertainty in our lives right now." The dilemma right now is that we sometimes equate God and God's presence with physical blessings.

But, if you had gone to the disciples back in time and asked them, "When were the darkest moments in your ministry?" They would probably say it all began in the Upper Room. These were likely the darkest because it probably seemed like they had wasted all this time with Jesus. But then, if you asked the disciples, when did God do His greatest work in each of them, they would likely say that it was during those darkest hours!

"That's a difficult message for American Christians...But this is not only our story because it is reflected in the Gospel...but this is our own experience....The greatest things begin in the biggest messes...This is what God does...Will we maintain faith when we cannot see His hand? As our faith begins to waiver as we look to the left and the right, now more than ever, (the Bible) is the place we need to go." We might hear this message and say this is all fine, but this won't change our circumstances. It won't get us a job or put our kids back in school or heal our land. But although this doesn't promise a cure for the storms, it allows us to embrace our circumstances with the knowledge that God is still in charge.

"When Sandra and I were in the Washington for the Inauguration...they took us to this giant hall to wait for President Obama...we weren't standing in line, we were just spread out...the President was going to be coming out...I was standing behind...Reverend Otis Moss. He was born in middle Georgia in 1835...he was an a 16 year old, he saw the worst that this country had to 19, he decided to be a preacher...he became a part of the core group of friends with Martin Luther King...He experienced racism and hatred that many of us never will...but he kept his faith...As he shared with Coretta Scott King right in front of me, he drifted off and said, "And we know that in all things, God works for the good of those who love Him...Now, (Rev Otis Moss's) "all things" were so different from the "all things" that many of us have experienced..."But Pastor Stanley, sometimes it takes him a while"...I was about to meet the President, but I realized I had just met a saint...God will not stop working. He still has your world and your family in His hands. I just met a man who maintained faith through horrible circumstances.." The end of the verse, Pastor Moss did not quote is "and for all who are called according to His purposes."

Our faith often rests in our knowing that God still has our whole world in His hands.

Friday, July 3, 2009

How Can I Experience God's Joy?

One of my favorite (if not my favorite) online messages was one delivered by Johnson Bowie at Victory World Church. In fact, his being a guest speaker was how I actually discovered Johnson. Although I have listened to this message several times already, I chose to listen again so that I might share its richness with others.

"As you can tell, I am not Pastor Dennis Rouse. He did not magically and incredibly grow younger and better looking and become me..." is how Johnson opens, but he notes that Pastor Dennis and his wife, Colleen, (were) in China at the world's largest revival.

Johnson moves on to talk about the continuation of the "Inside Out" series. The focus of the series is to dive into what it would look like if the outside of us actually reflected what was going on in the inside of us. Hopefully, it would be a good thing. Maybe we could get to the place where we take off the "love mask" and actually learn to love people. Maybe we could get to a place where we don't pretend to be happy but we actually have Joy inside of us. What would it look like if God came inside of us to actually live through us? As Christians, our bodies become a temple for the Holy Spirit if we allow God to live inside us.

But as Christians, we are in this process of slowly dying to ourselves. John the Baptist said, "I must decrease so that he might increase." So, if we are taking up 99% of ourselves, that only leaves God with 1%. In Galatians 5, God gives us a picture of what this does and doesn't look like:
"The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like." Define "like" and we have to put our natural selves there. In other words, when we live apart from God, this is the stuff that happens. All of these things become the fruit of our life. We have this warning from God. Not only that, but we then even risk not going to heaven.

But if we invite God to engage us and if we invite Him to come and live inside of us, "then we would have nine earth-shaking, amazing characteristics that would absolutely define our lives if we would let it." These characteristics are summarized in verse 22. "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control." Wouldn't it be awesome if these things defined our lives? It looks a lot better than the first list! If this was on our tombstone, it would be incredible.

The first fruit of the Spirit is love. Not the love we typically think about, but supernatural love, like "love your enemies". This is so hard for us. "I feel like a two year old when I read that...pray for 'em..God, bless them...Lord, let their brakes fail...let them get a ticket. Bless them reeeaaal good." But we have to let the Spirit work through us, so God helps us by showing us how to die to ourselves.

The second fruit of the Spirit is...Johnson sings "If You're Happy and You Know It, Clap Your Hands..." We're talking about the supernatural Joy of God in our lives. "How many of you are really happy? C'mon, how many? You're all lying!! I tricked you into it...You're not happy all the time...If you are, you're weird and I would like to meet you...People don't just walk around happy...Life is not happiness, but life can be Joy."

"Look at the news! Iraq is imploding. You're probably going to get the bird flu on the way home. Don't open your mail because there's probably anthrax in there. If you haven't been fired first, a Recession is going to hit. You probably got into a fight with your wife this morning and make sure you check your tires for nails when you leave!" There's just bad things surrounding us and it makes it hard for us to be happy! We're being controlled by our circumstances and it hinders the Spirit of God from working in us.

See, here's our problem. We confuse happiness with Joy.

Philippians 4:4 says, "Always be full of the Joy in the Lord. I say it again, rejoice." Some of us read that and say, "That is impossible. Have you seen my life? God has obviously not seen my life and Paul probably had it made." "Well," responds Johnson, "Paul did have it made. Paul had one of the best lives of anyone who's ever lived. It is actually documented that when he wrote this, he was on the beach at Fiji...He was a big scuba diver...He had it made...How he got there was on his chariot Escalade with the spinners, you know?...Paul had some nice camels! I mean, Paul had it made!! Kind of..."

"I don't know if you know about Paul's life, but before this time...He had been shipwrecked 3 times...I've never been shipwrecked, but once would be enough! He's been left for dead. He's been bitten by snakes. He's been cold and naked. He's been flogged. He's been beaten with rods 3 times. He's had humongous rocks thrown at him until he was dead, was dragged outside the city and left for dead. Then God said He wasn't done with him yet, He raised him from the dead and sent him on...but man, always be filled with that Joy!...It doesn't make sense! But at this point, it had to have gotten better for him, right?...But we find out that Paul wrote this...while he's literally chained to a prison guard. I've never been wrongfully in prison, but I don't know if I'd be 'guys, I've got some crazy Joy for Jesus'...The guard would be like, 'Bro, that's the whole reason you're in here'...Paul is completely wrongfully imprisoned, but he is singing!...How could he be so happy?...Paul wasn't happy. He was filled with Joy."

That is what we are trying to explore in this message. What is the difference between happiness and the "Joy that passes all understanding"? The Latin root for happiness is "hap" which means circumstance or luck. When everything is going great, we're happy. When it is not, we're unhappy. It's like we ride on this roller coaster of circumstances and it controls us! We might as we be playing the lottery. Whatever we get in that morning, we decide to be happy or sad.

"I made my first million. Yeah!...get a new Escalade...It gets repoed...Phsstt...Everyone is talking good about me...yeah!...then they start spreading rumors....You know how it is on a Saturday morning...the comforter is pulled up and it is glory-filled...The pillow is fluffy...and it just doesn't get any better than this...and then "Momma! Daddy!! Come get me!! (Deflates)...I know what it looks like when we look at our bank account...Honey, we're eating grass for the next month. If the cows can do it, we can too!..Being controlled by our circumstances just doesn't work...C'mon, you know these people. They are like Tigger one moment and then Eeyore the next...'Hey, hey, hey..I just closed a big girlfriend is really good looking...and I just saved a whole bunch of money by switching to Geiko!'...And then you see them the next day...'I got fired, so I'm cleaning out my office. My girlfriend is not good looking anymore. I got dropped by Geiko...'"

The pursuit of happiness is this dead end. In Will Smith's movie, "The Pursuit of Happiness", Will's character says the writers of the Declaration of Independence probably put "the pursuit of happiness" in there on purpose because they knew it was never really achievable and it would always keep people moving and chasing. It becomes a constant pursuit.

But Jesus never told us that the Christian life would be happy. In fact, Jesus wept a lot! He wept over Israel and He wept over the death of Lazarus. He told us to weep with those who weep. That's not happy! Johnson is tired of meeting people who know nothing about the Bible, but quote things that aren't even in the Bible. Like they want to get a divorce because "God wants me to be happy." "Chapter and verse, please!?!...let's think about that...God wants you to be happy, right?...What about your wife and your kids that you're leaving? God doesn't want them to be happy, just you?"

See, the thing is God doesn't offer us happiness. He offers us Joy. The Hebrew word for Joy means "to leap or to spin around with pleasure." When Johnson dances, he stays in one place "Q-Tip, throw it away. Q-Tip, throw it away." But, when Johnson thinks about Jesus, he just starts going nuts because he is filled with Joy over what Jesus has done for him!

David was on to this in Psalms 16:11. "You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand." We don't even know what "fullness of Joy" means, but the more we lean into God, the more we will experience His Joy. We don't have to live a life of worldly riches to experience Joy! We can live it right where we are with Him and the Spirit! "It makes me not want to sin, because when we sin we are separated from God." But it is in His presence where we find Joy. Joy transcends disasters. It's not that God doesn't care about our troubles. He wants to heal us!

Nehemiah 8:10 says "the joy of our Lord is your strength." We've been there when we don't want to get up, but then there is this whisper where the Lord says, "You're mine" and it gives us the strength to get up and conquer the day.

Johnson was on a mission trip not too long ago where his team went to this little, itty bitty town in the middle of nowhere. They woke up in the morning and they were going to spend time in a bus for a couple hours that day. But after the buses, they were put in two pickup trucks. "I don't know if you've ever shared a pickup truck with 15 other people, but it's not my definition of happiness...So, do the math...there were 2 people in front and about 13 other people in the bed of the pickup...But they know we're Americans, so there is no way they will make us ride that long like this...We're too good for this...but then...30 hour...2 hours...3 1/2 hours in the back of a pickup!...and we are supposed to go spread the gospel...but we did it!...and it was like walking on chalk dust...but guess what happened when we were about to leave?...It rained!...We get stuck in the mud and have to push the truck out...the ride is 3 1/2 more hours through a mountain pass...Then we get there and there is this horrible party music playing that keeps us up until 6am in the we all wake up...and everyone was joyful..because the Joy of the Lord was their strength!"

Johnson met this lady in Nicaragua whose son was Marvin. Marvin is in his late 50's with horrible Muscular Dystrophy. His mother and he live in this stick hut with two rooms. Her job is to get up every day and cook for him and help him around. She is in her late 70's! This is something that some Americans would kill themselves over. So, when Johnson and his team showed up, they were thinking, "Okay, guys, here she comes, we're Americans, let's get ready to pray." But this 70 year old lady comes up saying through her tears, "Other followers of Jesus!" and she is praying over them. It totally took them by surprise and it touched everyone. "She had joy that we didn't even know about!" We complain over air conditioning and plumbing. But this lady had Joy despite all her troubles. "We got rocked!" Sometimes we have to remind ourselves why we should have joy.

Paul says, "I want to stir you up by way of remembrance." We have to remember what God has done for us. When we are feeling down, let's remind ourselves how God has been faithful to us. We are a new person in Him. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" God says we are saints! We are wholly and dearly loved. All the guilt and the shame are gone. What did Jesus call what He was doing? THE GOOD NEWS! We've had a spiritual blood transfusion! Jesus died so we wouldn't have to go to Hell. In His presence is Joy! We've been saved! We can stir ourselves up in the Joy! Keep our eyes on the author and perfecter of faith!

Paul also, says, that we are the "adopted sons and daughters of the Living God." We've seen the stories where the adopted children are playing second fiddle. But this verse was written in an environment when the Romans would adopt citizens into the empire despite their past as the Empire spread. We are defined by God, not by our past, but by His grace.

Johnson found this new definition of Joy,

Joy is "the emotion evoked by the prospect of possessing what one desires."

Zephaniah 3:17 says, "The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing."

God is delightfully looking down on us. "I get this mental image of Jesus being like a dad at a tee ball high 5's to all the other dads...He has to be giving high 5's to all the angels...but the angels must be like, have you seen their life?...They suck!...But God doesn't look at what we've screwed up in our lives. He looks at us as His children!"

1 Peter 1 says, "Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls." Not even death can take this away from us.

2 Corinthians 2 says that wherever we go we carry the aroma of Jesus Christ with us. Our joy is what this world does not have. Nothing can take it away. The old is gone and the new has come. We have joy because we know that, while we were still sinners, God died for us. We have to start stirring ourselves up.

"You have not seen anything yet...Start thinking about the eternal...I think we have our misconceptions about what Heaven is...It's gonna be this really long church service...Hopefully the speaking will be better...hopefully the worship might be as good...hopefully they'll play the song everyone likes."

C.S. Lewis wrote the "Chronicles of Narnia" which is symbolic of God and His relationship to us. Aslan, the lion, represents God in the story. In one of His conversations with one of the children, Lucy, Aslan talks about Heaven.

Aslan turned to them and said, "You do not look so happy as I mean you to be." And Lucy said, "Aslan, we are so afraid of being sent away and in your presence is fullness of Joy. You have sent us back to our world so often." "No fear of that," said Aslan, "Have you not guessed?" And their hearts leaped and a wild hope rose within them. "See, there was a real railway accident", said Aslan softy. "Your father and mother and all of you are, as you used call in the Shadowlands, dead. But the term has ended and the holidays have begun. The dream has ended. This is the morning. And as He spoke, He no longer looked to them like a Lion. But the things that began to happen after that were so great and so beautiful I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories and we can most truly say we live happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page. Now, at last, they were beginning chapter one of the great story which no one on earth has ever read, which goes on forever and in which every chapter is better than the one before.

This is what lies ahead for us! It is only the title and the cover page! This is where the really good stuff is. Revelation 21 tells it another way.

"Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. And there was no longer any sea. And I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem coming down out of Heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for a husband. And a wedding ceremony began and I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men and He will live with them and they will be His people and God Himself will be with them and God will be their God. And he will wipe away every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things is passed away. And He who is seated on the throne said, 'Behold, I am making everything new.'...I did not see a temple in the city because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it for the Glory of God gives it light and the Lamb is its lamp. The nations will walk by its light and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. On no day will its gates ever be shut for there will be no night there. The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it. Nothing impure will ever enter it. Nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful. Only those who's names are written in the Lamb's book of Life.

A real God is writing your real name in a real Lamb's Book of Life. That is our Joy. Death has no hold over us. Death is only Paradise in disguise. There's no fear in death. Circumstances have no hold on us because we know what's on the other side. Easter wasn't somber, it was an endzone dance. Death was defeated. Stir yourself up. You are a lover of God and you are known by God. Take joy in that. We have to start thinking about that. We've been rescued. Always, we must rejoice. Our eternity will be with Him.