Saturday, May 23, 2009

What is Too Small for God?

"Unexplainable" is a series by Erwin McManus that explores the gospel of John and the seven wonders of Jesus that John says provokes our faith and shows us a new reality of our relationship with Christ.

Of course, the most fascinating miracle of Jesus was how He conquered death and rose from the grave. However, if we were a marketing group, we might not have suggested that the Messiah come the way He did. We would've instead suggested that God make a huge appearance on earth that would leave little question that He was the King of Kings.

In John 2:1-11, there's a story about how Jesus turned water into wine and "His glory was shown". It sounds like He did a magic trick and gained disciples. But, Erwin suggests that there are a lot of fill-in-the-blanks here.
We know that Mary, Jesus and the disciples were there in Galilee at a party. Mary comes to Jesus telling Him that they have no more wine. "How in the world could you think to involve God in this?" says Erwin. Jesus is almost indifferent in His response to Mary, basically saying "How does this involve me?" Have you ever experienced someone who involves you in their problems? They just pull you in. After asking the question, Jesus even says, "My time has not yet come." He was there to save the world, not to provide after-dinner drinks.
Sometimes, though, Jesus starts a conversation to press us into uncomfortable situations. Mary doesn't argue with Jesus, she just asks the servants around Him to do whatever He asks.
"I flew in from my trip to Europe...Kim was telling me some things I needed to do...we were going to have dinner with this couple...oh and by the way, they are bringing 48 people with them...I'm not a social party guy...cause it's a little exhausting for me...but Kim gave me the 'you don't have to be there' I knew I was going to be there because I have..I want to...because I have to be there." Mary, in a woman's way, involved Jesus.

It's an interesting point in this story that Mary never commands Jesus. In all of scriptures, the only command Mary gives is "do whatever He asks". It, then, is almost an honor to Mary to do whatever Jesus asks. Many times in our life, we don't even know what to ask God. There seem to be many things in our life that seem like we shouldn't even bother to ask God. But God created us to have a relationship with Him. The idea of Him creating the Universe or parting the Red Sea is mind-boggling. But turning water into wine is just "God play".

Why would Jesus produce the wine when most people at the party were probably already too far gone to notice? Many of us act like we have just so many "God chips" or just so many "Yes chips". "God, I know I blew it, but let them hire me..." We feel like we are risking chips if we ask more questions. If we ask God for something, we might not want to waste a God chip on an incidental, like running out of wine.

The unexplainable in Erwin's message is the notion that God will pay attention to the small trite things that are well beneath Him. "You know what stretches my faith but blows my mind?....God actually cares about the details....the little things of my life."

What's more, in this passage, Jesus doesn't just respond with a wave of His hand. Jesus gives instructions to fill up an estimated 120 to 180 gallon jars with water. Jesus is about to create! Not only does Jesus make the wine, but He makes it a premium wine and they have an abundance of it.

There are such things as the prosperity gospels that many people focus on saying that if you become a Christian, you will life a life of prosperity. But what is phenomenal about this story is that Jesus would perform a miracle that only concerned those around Him. Jesus took these people to the place of celebrating life. Symbolically, this was thought to be Jesus taking religious vessels and turning the cleansing element (water) to that of celebration (wine). The master of the banquet was overwhelmed with the quality of the wine!

Each of us loves certain kinds of foods. There is so much detail in what we enjoy and what brings us pleasure. Recently, Erwin went to Europe with a group of guys for seven days. "We had the most amazing time...It was a group of guys, all from all parts of the world." One guy Erwin had never met before came and someone else came from a chance meeting. So, eight strangers came to know each other over this time and God seemed interested in the details of hooking these men up to build bonds with each other. Erwin noticed that. "Have you ever noticed that when people truly love each other, they become very interested in the details that mean the most to that person?" One of the guys was a real physically conscious guy, but as this guy was traveling with them, he went on a chocolate binge. He loaded up on more chocolate that Erwin had ever seen. "It became chocolate mania and soon, all the guys became aware of all the chocolate places to go." Then, when each guy received a piece of chocolate at a restaurant, they would all pass it to this guy. It was a chance for the others to contribute to what seemed important or desirable to him.

Erwin remembers having a conversation with his daughter while she was telling him about what she liked. Sunflowers and carnations. This is what Erwin locked in his mind because he cared for his little girl.

Religious leaders might have tried to shut the party down and to condemn Jesus for his actions. But Jesus chose to honor his friends and to love them through the gift of a miracle. Erwin's daughter, Mariah, has a body language that tells Erwin that she is about to hug him. One evening, she came in front of Erwin and asked him to hug her. He did, but she needed a stronger hug. She then told him that he had been absent from her all week and she really needed him to stop and be present with her.

The unexplainable moment for many of us can be the fact that the Creator of the Universe can be present with all of us and can care for each of us and can even care about the details that would be minuscule to the person right next to us. For whatever reason, God decided to demonstrate His love through wine.
"I was watching a special with Kobe Bryant...Spike Lee was the interviewer...Spike asked, 'Why do you call the plays out loud?'... 'Everyone knows the plays, but it's in the details and the execution that makes the play work even when the opposing team knows the play'" When you listen to truly great music, you hear great care to the details, the spaces and the harmonies. It is actually the details that makes a composition work.

A couple of months ago, a group wanted to create a short film around an experience Erwin had. Erwin began writing, on their request, some of the script to help with the details. But Erwin was having a hard time, because the experience was by far much easier to live through than trying to duplicate it. Storyboarding, writing, directing, angle shots and editing were all required. Attention to the details eventually created the masterpiece of the short film. But it could have easily missed its mark without them.
This is what makes God great in how He works in our lives. His willingness to write the story of humanity is beautiful, He has to be involved in the details for its full creation. He waits for us to each invite Him to be a part of our own personal lives with full integration of His handiwork.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Elijah's Demonstration of the One True God

1 Kings 18 is the opening for this message by Craig Groeschel of Above anything else, God wants to have our hearts, our focus and our love. "You shall have no other Gods before me." "Above all else we are to love God with our heart soul, mind and strength." Satan, throughout history has been putting false gods in front of God's people to distract them from Him and His blessings. But false gods promise what only the true God can provide. Money is a good example. Many of us believe that if we have enough money, we'll be happy and secure.

In the life of Elijah, many people were living idolatrous lives; worshipping false gods. Elijah was called to confront the evil king Ahab and his wife Jezebel. Even though he warned them, the people continued to worship the god of prosperity, Baal. So, Elijah tells the king that it would only rain if Elijah spoke the words. Immediately after this, however, God takes Elijah to the Kerith Ravine to work on his heart. God shows Elijah that He provides by bringing food via ravens and water via a brook. Eventually, the brook dries up and God guides Elijah to the home of a woman, who feeds him with food that is multiplied by God. Then the woman's son dies and God shows Elijah the power of His healing by raising the son from the dead through Elijah.

We next see Elijah back before King Ahab in 1 King 18:17-18 - "When (Ahab) saw Elijah, he said to him, 'Is that you, you troubler of Israel?' 'I have not made trouble for Israel,' Elijah replied. 'But you and your father's family have. You have abandoned the LORD's commands and have followed the Baals.'"

Elijah was confronting the popular idea that there were many gods. As Christians, we are monotheistic. Elijah was in a time of polytheistic beliefs. But even with our belief in one God, in today's society, many people still worship false gods. People worship the false gods of money, materialism, sports, careers, hobbies, children and our image. But we don't recognize our false gods because we, in our minds, are just "living".

Craig admits that there are false gods even in his own ministry. He is leery about his tendency to idolize the ministry itself and its growth. Sometimes, his family can move to the top of his list and he can care more about them than God. He is honest with the audience and says future security is a common god of his which takes away his reliance on God.

Continuing, Elijah, in front of Ahab says with all the authority of God, "People, it is time to quit wavering between the gods." Then, Elijah says they are going to have a good old fashioned showdown. "Now, summon the people from all over Israel to meet me on Mount Carmel. And bring the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal and the four hundred prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel's table." So Ahab sent word throughout all Israel and assembled the prophets on Mount Carmel. Elijah went before the people and said, "How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him." But the people said nothing.

If Elijah were alive today, would he not say the same things to us? Would he not tell us to quit wavering? He would say to either sell out to God or to sell out to a false god. If your false god (little g) is your god, then sell out to it. If money is your false god, get into massive debt, steal if you have to and don't ever give again because that would diminish your own

If image is your idol, then get into your image 3 hours a day. "Tan it, tweak it, puff it, tuck it, lift it, twist it, curl it, color it or whatever it is you do, do it. Ignore the fact that you're going to die."

If sexual sin is your thing, then don't let a marriage stop you, go for it. Find whoever you can and live for the sex. Find out what it can do for you.

If your house is your idol, take on debt, hire a landscaper, hire a house cleaner and hire a pool guy. Do all that is in your power to immaculate your home.

BUT....if God is your one true God, then serve Him with all of your heart. Can you feel the power of Elijah's words? It was a true show down. He tells the people to decide firmly who they will serve. For those wavering, he challenges them to watch the power of their gods.

"Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the LORD. The god who answers by fire—he is God." Then all the people said, "What you say is good." Baal was the sun god. If anyone could bring fire, it would have been Baal.
At noon, Elijah began taunting the people about their false god. "Shout louder!" he said. "Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened." So they shouted louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom, until their blood flowed. Midday passed, and they continued their frantic prophesying until the time for the evening sacrifice. But there was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention. The people continued dancing throughout the day

Some of us don't dance before false gods all day long. We do it for a lifetime.

Elijah didn't dance to get God to bring down fire, he prayed. "At the time of sacrifice, the prophet Elijah stepped forward and prayed: 'O LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. Answer me, O LORD, answer me, so these people will know that you, O LORD, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.'"

When it was Elijah's turn to demonstrate the power of God, Elijah had instructed the people to douse the altars with water three times. Amazingly, the moment Elijah prayed to god, a fire came down and consumed the wood, the stones and even the soil! Can you imagine the shock and awe of the people when they saw this? No wonder the prophets of Baal were then ordered to be put to death! They were misleading the people.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Why Is God Allowing This In My Life?

Opening his "Elijah" series, Craig Groeschel opens with "The Making of a Man of God". It is the story of one of the greatest men in all of history. When Elijah was alive, the Northern Kingdom had experienced some 19 consecutive evil kings spanning over 200 years. In fact, there was one ruler named Ahab who was married to one of the most wicked women in recorded history, Jezebel. Under his reign, Ahab did more evil in the sight of God than any other king before him. Often when a king would turn away from God, they would begin their own religion which was often the worship of Baal. This cult would call for the sacrifice of children and ritualistic sex with prostitutes. This was clearly a time of corruption, scandal and idol worship.
But God didn't raise up an army to defeat this king, he brought one man, Elijah. What does the name Elijah mean? It comes from three root words El, i and Jah. "El" comes from "Elohim" meaning God. "I" comes from the personal pronoun meaning "my" or "mine". "Jah" means "Jehovah". So, the name "Elijah" literally means "My God is Jehovah". So, when God raises up this prophet to defeat the king, the name of the prophet himself stands down the king. When we meet Elijah, we don't know much about him other than where his is from, but we can find his introduction in 1 Kings 17:

"Now Elijah the Tishbite, from Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, 'As the LORD, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word.'" This turned out to be one of the most prophetic statements of the land. This would mean an economic shutdown today. It would be an utter disaster. But where you might expect Elijah to stick around after his bold prediction, God chose instead to take Elijah into hiding so that He could do much more in Elijah so that He could do more through Elijah. It seems that God had a lot of work to do in this long season, of Elijah's life. As Craig sees it, Elijah goes through 3 seasons.

1) God takes Elijah through a season of isolated pain.

The word of the Lord came to Elijah right after his confrontation with King Ahab. "Leave here, turn eastward and hide in the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan." "Kerith" means "cut off" or "cut down". You could almost sense what God is saying here. He was going to break down Elijah and make him totally dependent on Him. He was going to humble him privately so that He could use him publicly. This may be a place familiar to some of us.
"It's like the little birdie who flew south for the winter," muses Craig. The story of the birdie is one where he got a late start and was caught in a winter storm where all the sleet and snow began to gather on his wings. He was freezing and couldn't move, let alone fly. Yet at his lowest point, a cow comes and dumps on him. The bird, who thought it couldn't get worse is now covered in manure. But then the bird realizes that the manure is warming him up and thawing out his wings. With happiness bubbling up in him, the bird begins to sing. But then a cat comes along and hears the chirping of the bird. Immediately, the cat kills and eats the bird. "Okay, so you're wondering...three lessons for the story!" What are they?

1) Everyone who dumps manure on you is not your enemy.
2) Everyone who digs you out is not necessarily your friend.
3) When you're in your manure, keep your big mouth shut.

Some of us would say that we are currently in the Kerith Ravine ourselves, but we need to know that God is teaching us something that we couldn't learn otherwise. "I'll never forget when I was starting Life Church years ago, I was sitting across from the table from my mentor and friend, Gary Walter...Gary said, 'I've one promise when you start this church. God is going to break you.'" It was a sobering moment for Craig, but sure enough, God did. Yet each time Craig would talk to Gary and say God was breaking him, Gary would say, "No, He hasn't broken you yet." There was finally a season where Craig had lost many things. He'd even lost 25 pounds. But as a result, when people today ask how Craig can handle certain things, Craig says it is because he went through the Kerith Ravine. Elijah went through this ravine for months. There was no one to talk to and he was isolated.
It is doubtful that God can bless a man greatly until he has hurt him deeply. A.W. Tosier

2) The second season God takes Elijah through is a season of total dependence.

"The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning and bread and meat in the evening, and he drank from the brook."

Here we see Elijah by himself. In the middle of a national drought, God delivered Elijah a brook. Every day, God's catering service, ravens, would fly in food for Elijah. Many of us are now learning how to have faith and dependence on God.
A single mom knew this well. She would pray every day for God to provide for her. There was an atheist next door who would be irritated in hearing her constant begging to her God for what he thought would never take place. Fed up one day, the atheist went to the store, bought several bags of groceries and delivered them to the door of the single mother. He knocked on her door and then hid in his apartment. When the lady answered the door and saw the groceries, she began praising God. But the atheist opened his door and screamed, "You fool! I delivered those groceries, not God! I did it to prove that there is no God." But the woman kept praising God all the more. Not only did you provide for me, but you made the devil pay the bill!!!

When you can't depend on what you used to depend on, God will provide. God didn't give Elijah several months of food or even several days of food. God brought what Elijah needed for the day, only. This may also be what God is teaching us. God will provide.

3) God takes Elijah through a time of "unconditional obedience".

Some time later the brook dried up because there had been no rain in the land. Then the word of the LORD came to him: 'Go at once to Zarephath of Sidon and stay there. I have commanded a widow in that place to supply you with food.'" Imagine being in Elijah's place. He's going where God has told him to and now the brook has dried up. The same God who gave him water has now taken it away. But the question we have to ask is "Does God now want me to move?" God guides by what He provides. God may also guide by what He does not provide. This might be to get us to respond by total faith.

The dried up brook gave Elijah the courage to move. Did anyone ever see "Karate Kid"? Remember when the kid goes to Mr Miyagi and wants him to teach him karate? There were several scenes where the kid is told to work instead of to train. He washes and waxes the cars and paints the fence. It is only when he is told to block his attacks that the kid realizes that he was, all along, being taught karate techniques throughout his work.

So Elijah went to Zarephath. When he came to the town gate, a widow was there gathering sticks. He called to her and asked, "Would you bring me a little water in a jar so I may have a drink?" As she was going to get it, he called, "And bring me, please, a piece of bread." "As surely as the LORD your God lives," she replied, "I don't have any bread—only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug. I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it—and die." Elijah said to her, "Don't be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small cake of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son. For this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: 'The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the LORD gives rain on the land.' "She went away and did as Elijah had told her. So there was food every day for Elijah and for the woman and her family. For the jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run dry, in keeping with the word of the LORD spoken by Elijah.

For weeks and months, God provided for the two because of Elijah's obedience. But then tragedy struck. The woman's son dies! Some time later, the son of the woman who owned the house became ill. He grew worse and worse, and finally stopped breathing. She said to Elijah, "What do you have against me, man of God? Did you come to remind me of my sin and kill my son?" "Give me your son," Elijah replied. He took him from her arms, carried him to the upper room where he was staying, and laid him on his bed. Then he cried out to the LORD, "O LORD my God, have you brought tragedy also upon this widow I am staying with, by causing her son to die?" Then he stretched himself out on the boy three times and cried to the LORD, "O LORD my God, let this boy's life return to him!" The LORD heard Elijah's cry, and the boy's life returned to him, and he lived.

God used horrible things to strengthen the faith of Elijah as well as those around him. In verse one, we saw Elijah as the man from Tishbe, but now, after his many trials and seasons, (verse 24) the woman said to Elijah, "Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the LORD from your mouth is the truth."

God may allow us to go through our Kerith Ravine so that, in time, we may become men and women of God.

Monday, May 11, 2009

How Do I Start My Calling?

Continuing his "The Call" series with "Going", Johnson Bowie opens with an experience he had 2 years ago. He went to Discover Mills by himself to have lunch. When he walked into the food court, he had this sense that he had to talk to someone. "There goes Satan again...trying to trick me into being like Jesus and sharing my faith" (funny line he often uses). He sat down trying to eat his food while God continued to bug him. So, he started wandering around the food court and he spotted someone who was also by himself. As he walked up, he noticed the guy had a uniform on. He was approaching the "runway" but then he realized the landing wasn't going to be perfect, he pulled away at the last minute and rounded for landing number 3 (he'd already made 2 passes). "I had the conversation all planned out in my mind." But as he approached again, he then saw the guy's nametag and his name was Mike. "Crap, it just blew my whole first line and I had to pull away for landing number 4!" So he once again approached and, this time, Johnson was able to say "Hey" and sit down with Mike. "This is going to sound weird, but can I pray for you?" Mike answered "Sure", so Johnson began to pray for him. He laid out a basic prayer for Mike and his life, his friends and prayed that he would come to know Jesus. "That was it... I just walked away... and that was the perfect example of how NOT to evangelize"

Reminding us that our calling is to become a disciple of Jesus Christ, who then goes out to make other disciples of Jesus, Johnson points out that Paul says we have a "high calling" in Jesus. Matthew 28:16-20 states our "Great Commission" which tells us to GO and make disciples of men. At the core of this commission, Johnson reviews from his first message, is dying to ourselves every day. When temptation pops up, we have to root ourselves in trying to make our lives look more like His.

"We're going to be focused this week on the first word of the Great Commission; GO." We can't actually produce disciples if we don't GO. There's the Matthew 28 verse , but in addition, we also have 4 secondary Great Commission texts in the Bible.

Mark 16:15 - (Jesus) said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation."

Luke 24:46-48 - (Jesus) told them, "This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things."

John 20:21 - Again Jesus said, "Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you."

Acts 1:8 - But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."

Jesus is saying "Go" and tell people what you hear, what you experience, what you see and what you feel. There was a whole expectation thing that was expected from the original disciples. Their Great Commission was to share about Jesus.

"I just want to identify with you for a minute...we're really good at taking really simple things and making them complex...but here's our (simple) message:

Jesus Christ was crucified for our sins. He died and was buried. He rose again.

That's it! But we get all hung up on all the stuff in between.

There's another misperception that we often have as Christians. Here's how we read Matthew 28; "Invite people to church so they can hear a preacher talk about how to make disciples on the earth." That's not us going out into the world! It's just us huddling up. "I think Jesus probably took the disciples up on a mountain and told the them it's not just about their local communities." Jesus knows that we don't like getting out of our comfort zones. He knows we like to stay where it's safe. But we've gotten so lazy that our highest fulfillment of the Great Commission is inviting someone to church. A church was never meant to be a creator of disciples. Ephesians 4:12 explains the church's purposed, "to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up". Matthew 28 is OUR calling, NOT the church's.

"This isn't like some sleezy pyramid scheme." I'll make two disciples and then they'll each make two more disciples and then they'll make disciples and then maybe we can try to get them all to tythe. "That'd be awesome if it was! No, I'm just kidding." (I enjoy Johnson's humor.) It doesn't work like this where we're pushing product. This isn't something we have to be ashamed of. "I gave up the cool thing a long time ago. I gave it up when I bought a home and started the gardening thing." If we can share about our family, why can't we share about the King of the universe? What's really important in this life?

What we believe is that Adam and Eve came into the world and sinned. It got worse and then Jesus was God who came down to earth. He lived with us and experienced life with us and then He died for us. In doing so, He gave us the Good News by preparing a way that we could be connected to Him through eternity in heaven. Every other religion talks about ways to earn our way into heaven, but Jesus brought the good news that He saves us.

In a dark world we hold the light! Johnson asks for all the lights in the room to be turned off and then, in a funny way, demonstrates the different ways that we see light in the dark. Our calling is to shine bright, but many of us hide our light. "Let your light shine before men that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven." Now, has that ever really happened? People see us and really do think "Praise Jesus"? What happens is that we decide to be followers of Jesus but then we shy away from our purpose outside of our church community.

"Lower the drawbridge!...We let the drawbridge down and then three people from our community group charge out, grab somebody and then rush back in..Whooo, almost got polluted by the world... so glad I have my bible study group to keep me clean."

Matthew 9:36 says,

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, "The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field."

The reason we don't spread the Word is because we don't really care. If we really believed what we hear, we would run to our call! If this is a problem, we have to pray that God would give us His compassion and His heart.

One of Johnson's first exposures to evangelism was in college at UGA. "It was down in the Student Center...there was this street preacher...think of a street preacher; this guy was's the first words I hear coming out of his mouth...if random girls walked by, he would say "Whhhooorrrressss"...this was his evagelism!!...he'd mash them into the dirt and then try to tell them that Jesus loved them...trying to artificially create conviction in them....we only see this in the bible from the Pharisees." But isn't that what we do in our hearts? Sometimes we sit back like sportscasters and judge the action of others.

We love John 3:16, but many times there's a disconnect because we think that this is just a verse for Christians. But John 3:17 says, "For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him." That's why so many people flocked to Jesus; because He didn't come to condemn the world like the religious leaders, He came to offer people hope. He didn't just stand at a distance. Aren't you glad Jesus didn't do that with you? Are we willing to do the same thing with others?

"I'm a pastor, Okay? If you ever want to go to an unevangelistic work environment, work in the church!... I live in the Christian bubble". Every once in a while Johnson will go into a bar and watch UFC. "I love UFC." But this is one of the places where Johnson says he feels like he needs to pray for a heart of compassion; to reach those in the bar who may need to know about Christ.
When you're on a mission, it's not hard to talk about our mission. "I'm going to give you a list of questions that you should ask people if you want to talk to others about Christ".

1) Do you have any kind of spiritual beliefs?

2) Who is Jesus to you?
3) Do you think there's a heaven and a hell?
4) If you died tonight, would you go to heaven or hell and why?
5) If what you believe were not true would you wat to know?

Another way people sometimes share the gospel is by using the "Romans Road" key verses, whish is basically salvation in a nutshell.

Romans 3:23 - for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
Romans 6:23 - For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 10:9 - That if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

An often overlooked and underestimated way of sharing the love of Christ is through service. In Acts, the Jewish widows are being served food while the Greek widows are not. The apostles had this epiphany that they should serve the Greek widows as well. As it turned out, Acts 6:7 happened right after this. Whatever the disciples demonstrated by serving the women, it triggered the growth of the church by nearly 3,000 people! Never underestimate the impact of service. Johnson learned about a couple of other things that people have done to further the Kingdom.

1. Some have taken food to the hospital knowing there are a lot of lonely people in the hospital.
2. Some just handed Cokes out on the sidewalk.

Johnson stops here and explains how a family responded when Cokes were handed out. This led to them coming to the church and then eventually the father making a decision to follow Christ. This man made the decision of spending eternity in heaven because of a can of coke! In summary, Johnson encourages each to think about how we can create disciples from right where we are.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

How Can Two People Stay In Love for 62 Years?

Beginning his series "Staying in Love", Andy Stanley's first message, "the Juno Dilemma", opens with him saying, "I'm always hesitant to mention movies...but how many of you have seen the movie, 'Juno'?" It's about a teenage girl who gets pregnant and has to decide what to do. She lives with her father and stepmother and she eventually decides to give the unborn baby to another couple as an adoption. But as the story progresses, Juno begins to learn that this other couple has problems to. About 2/3's of the way through the movie, there is this tender conversation between Juno and her father where Juno asks a profoundly important question that sits atop our modern society. "Dad, I just need to know that it's possible for two people to stay happy together forever." Don't we all ask this to ourselves?

The reason this is such an important question is because, despite all that we've seen, the state of our current or previous marriage, what we've seen in our parent's marriage and what we generally see in society, there's something in all of us that thinks this is STILL POSSIBLE. There is a glimmer of hope in us that we can be in a life long love story. "I think that is a little bit of the image of God in you... and in me." We know the world out there and we know that it isn't probable that we will have this kind of a lasting marriage, but we have the hope that we will. We have the hope that, by some miracle, our lives will reflect the love story.

We would all like to know that there is that one special person who we sense is out there that we could live happily with all of our lives. Early on, we begin looking for the person to whom we'll fall in love. "We need to spend about 10 seconds talking about 'falling in love' because that's all it really takes...if we have a pulse" There's people out there that make our hearts flutter. "It's so easy to fall in love with all the new forms of communication and ways of meeting people, but it's never been more difficult to stay in love." Few people have ever been around a couple that remains romantic and maintains a healthy "staying in love".

The laws of relationships in our society are so wrong, but yet we've adopted them making it impossible for us to stay in love:

Do unto others as they deserve to be done unto,
Do unto others as they do unto you
Do unto others as your mood would have it
Do unto others so as to get them to see things your way
Do unto others until you wear them down and get your way
Do unto others until you are ready to leave

Sometimes we see that people stay together, but we usually also see that they aren't happy. We, as a society, are completely ill-equipped to know HOW to live happily ever after. The other thing that makes it so hard is what we felt growing up. "A bunch of smart people got together and found out what it takes for a child to grow up in a nurturing environment to be emotionally equipped to engage in long term relationship." Here is that it takes; massive doses of respect, encouragement, comfort, security, support, acceptance, approval, appreciation, attention and affection. Sounds like the family we all grew up in, right? So, if that's what is required for us as adults to have a long term relationship, how difficult is it then to meet someone else who has had the same experience? "When we get married, are you going to constantly demonstrate to me respect, encouragement, comfort, security, support, acceptance, approval, appreciation, attention and affection or are you just cute?....or do you just have a good job?" Over time, our relationships turn into strangleholds trying to squeeze these attributes out of each other.

The disturbing statistic is that 40% of the children in our society today are born without a dad. We can argue all day long about supportive single mothers, but if it takes all of these characteristics for a healthy long term relationship, these children are really going to struggle!

Another thing that makes this extremely difficult is that our society has a really low threshold of pain relationally. It doesn't take much before we decide to get out. The message we get every day is that, if we are unhappy in a relationship, it's because we haven't met "the right person". "You chose poorly and you need to re-choose." But if you ask someone whose been happily married for 20 years plus, they will tell you that there were many times when they asked themselves the question, "had they married right person?". Choosing the right person is certainly a part of it, but becoming the right person is the hard part and that's the part where we get little or no help in our culture. The odds are against us in our society. It is possible, but not probable.

But into all of this chaos, Jesus speaks to us the foundation for enduring relationships. What he says to us is so counter intuitive but it works. "Don't take my word for it, just ask someone who has a long term relationship....Here is what you are going to find..." In John 13:34, Jesus says, "a new command I give you." In this passage, the Greek word for "new" means extraordinary, hidden and discovered, remarkable. He says, "love one another." But listen to what Jesus does in this sentence. He takes a word that we normally use as a noun and uses it as a verb. It's an imperative. It's a command. People say they are in love, but Jesus might say, "no, no, no. You used to noun. Now I want you to verb." We can't feel it. We have to do it.

Jesus says if we want to foster love and help it grow, we have to choose to do so. The foundation for staying in love is to make love.... (it's funny when Andy pauses here) a verb. The feeling is like the caboose of the train, that is no longer what it used to be, the engine. "The more you make love a verb, the more you will make love". Love is something you do. When you actively love one another, it will enrich the relationship. But Jesus doesn't stop there. He says, "As I have loved you, so you must love one another." In other words, Jesus was saying He doesn't want us to take our queue from society or even from our parents. He tells us that He will teach us to love.
Years later, the apostle Paul put it another way, but he uses a word that is offensive. It just sticks a little harder. But it is a powerful word that helps us understand HOW to love. In Ephesians 5:21, it reads, "Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ". Paul says the foundation of marriage is mutual submission. We should make each other the priority. If we have ever seen this in a relationship, we can see love is alive and well. This is a choice we have to make. We might think it doesn't make sense, but it is the key to staying in love.

"One of the greatest things about being a pastor is...we get to see a man or woman who both grow up in a dysfunctional home...they come to know Christ...they choose to accept the principles that Jesus gives us...and they choose to incorporate these things in their home...and then these two meet...they then marry...but their marriage is reflective of not of what they experienced growing up, but of the way they understand Christ loves us." They take the cue from their Heavenly Father. In learning to submit, they take their queues from Jesus who submitted to us. "It is a privilege to see these people genuinely in love after years of marriage."

(Fran & Marlo Cowan (married 62 years) playing impromptu recital together in the atrium of the Mayo Clinic. He turned 90 in February.)

That thing that is so wonderful about falling in love can actually be maintained and can even get better! But it's not because you chose or picked the right one. It's because you did the right thing. You chose EVERY DAY to make your love a verb. That's a lot different from saying, "You are so good for me. I need you. You have what it takes." Do you know why most romantic comedies are so short? It's because not long after the funny ending, it gets serious and problems start arising. They have to end the movie before it gets bad.

What does it mean to truly live in a marriage of submission? Andy saves much of this for his next message, but he encourages us to practice focusing on what it would look like in our current relationships to regularly submit to one another.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Is It OK for a Christian to Drink Alcohol?

Addressing the controversial subject, "Alcohol", Perry Noble continues his series; "You Asked for It". "Alcohol, in the South, is highly controversial." Before he goes there, he wants us each to establish our position on the subject. He gives 3 choices; 1) It's wrong for Christians to drink. 2) It's okay for Christians as long as they don't get drunk. 3) Unsure. Perry also asks the audience to "own our faith". He doesn't want us believing something just because Perry said it. In Romans 14:5, it says, "Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind."

After this, Perry talks about how he, personally, has an "open hand" and a "closed hand" in his beliefs. His point in saying this is that there are some things that he is firm about in his position because the Bible clearly states the issues as fact. In this "closed" hand are issues like Christ as the only way to heaven, the Virgin birth and sex before marriage. In the "open" hand, or the hand where there are no clear delineations in the Bible are issues like alcohol and speaking in tongues. Perry respects the opinions of others and he states his belief in these areas as being positions that he has developed as a Christian.

Perry's personal struggle with alcohol started when he first drank at 15 and then continued at parties to be "cool". One night, he went to a friend's house and drank up a whole bottle of Bacardi with wine coolers and woke up to one of the worst mornings he ever remembers. Perry's position, here, is that Christians have freedom in Christ to drink, but they sin when they cross the line and get drunk.

Perry talks about why some Christians preach against drinking:

I) There is a misunderstanding about the Bible's reference to wine. Sometimes, people question whether or not "wine" in the Bible is the same wine we know today. We know in Genesis 9 that Noah knew how to make grapes into wine. He drank its ferment! Some people say the wine of that time was watered down wine. But John 2:1 talks about how Jesus' first miracle; turning water into wine. As you read further here, you see that the wine of Jesus was better than what the servants had been serving!

In 1 Timothy, Paul gives instructions to leaders, saying they should "not indulge in too much wine." He knew it could impair judgement. Titus 2:3, it says that the older women are not to be given too much wine. In Psalms 104, it talks about how wine "makes glad the heart of man". In Ecclesiastes, it says, "drink they wine with a merry heart, for God now accepteth thy works." The toughest thing for some Christians to accept is that Jesus drank wine. But He probably didn't get drunk. The accusing manner of the religious leaders actually proves that wine was as strong in that time as it is today.

II) Alcohol controls people and destroys lives. If we have to have it and it is controlling us, we are depending on it and not Jesus. Here, it becomes and idol. Can we walk away from it? In this context, Martin Luther said once that we can't eliminate sin by eliminating the objects, otherwise we would have to eliminate women! A fire in the fireplace is warm and cozy. Outside of the fireplace it is dangerous. This is like sex inside and outside of marriage. It is also like alcohol in modesty and in abuse. It IS ALSO applicable to obesity and gluttony, or eating past modesty. Proverbs 23:2 addresses gluttony.

III) It is a stumbling block. Perry's question here, is "what is the real stumbling block?" In Romans 14:21, it talks about how drinking can cause some people to stumble. This is certainly true for people who drink around alcoholics or who drink around people that are under age. We should definitely be aware of who we are drinking around. BUT, what is the bigger stumbling block; a man who walks into a restaurant, has a beer, and tips the waitress well or the man who goes into a restaurant, talks about spiritual things and leaves a weak tip?

What are the sins associated with alcohol?

1) Getting drunk IS a sin. Ephesians 5:18 talks about not getting drunk. Drunk men get violent and highly emotional. Perry actually ran into a drunk at a bar who was highly emotional and was telling Perry he went to his church and said he loved Perry. It's funny to hear him talk about this. In Proverbs 23, it talks about the life of a drunk. This is not the life Christ desired us to live.

2) It is a sin to drink under age and to defy authority. It's a sin when the rules of a home are not honored. Honor thy father and mother. It doesn't matter if opinions are opposed. It is a sin to buy alcohol for under age kids, even if it is in our own homes, because it trains children to break the law under conditions where it is okay. Perry covers a good stretch here of irresponsible parents as it relates to alcohol. Perry said he almost got in trouble because he was going to beat up a guy who bought alcohol for a group of underage teenagers. "But don't be afraid of me and what I will bring, be afraid of Jesus." Jesus is very protective of the children as it is said in Matthew 18:6.

At the end of his sermon, Perry says that he has this relatively positive position on alcohol, but he, personally, doesn't drink because it is not right for him. In Colossians 2, it tells us that we aren't to judge anyone and that, if we take the context away from Jesus, we sin. This is a great message and one which I will use as a reference in the future. Very good!

Monday, May 4, 2009

What Is My Calling in This Life?

Beginning the first part of his series, "The Call", Johnson Bowie at opens with "Becoming".

Two of the most awkward periods of time in our life is 1) Trying to pick our major in college and 2) Trying to pick a long term career. "If I choose the wrong major, I will be the 14th year senior." It can really mess us up if we don't make the right decision. Right? What in the world are we supposed to do with our life, especially if we want our lives to count for something? If we can figure out what our calling is, it could make a huge difference.

"I walked 30 miles in those shoes..." For Johnson, becoming a speaker at Fusion didn't happen over night. It happened over time. But he asks us to wake up to a bigger calling than our jobs. "This is a calling that no uncertainty is attached to." God has a calling for each of us that is very clear. It's not boring. Our call is huge and exciting!

Jesus had just risen from the dead and he gathered his disciples together on a mountain top. He tells them in Matthew 28 that all authority in Heaven has been given to Him and with that authority, He charges each one of us to go out into the world and make disciples of men.

"These days, it isn't the Great Commission to us, it's our Great Omission." We say we don't have money or we say we don't have time. We say we don't want to convert people. In Matthew, Jesus didn't say, "Super Christians, Go!! Missionaries, Go!! Pastors, Go!! People who are out of debt, Go!! People who are out of college, Go!!....No, there were no qualifiers." Jesus just said "Go". Nor did Jesus say to convince people to put a fish on their car or a cross around their neck. No, Jesus just said to make disciples of men.

As a child, Johnson remembers things like people being brought to the front of the church and it being announced that they were going to fulfill the "Great Commission" by becoming missionaries in China. It was like the rest of the congregation could not fulfill the commission, so they had to pay these people to do it for them. Those memories incorrectly taught Johnson that this commission was reserved for "those" people.

"It's very simple." If we would go to the source of life, the Word, we would learn our call. But we can't make disciples if we, ourselves, aren't disciples of the Living God. It doesn't work like that. Becoming a disciple isn't easy. We're used to Jesus saying happy things, but He didn't always say those things. Our #1 calling is to be disciples making disciples.

In Biblical times, Stephen and Paul didn't constantly ask what they should do, it just happened. They were carpenters who became disciples, who then went to make other disciples of Jesus. But somewhere in this thing, it became about us. Yet we were called to glorify God, not ourselves. Remove whatever excuses or doubts we have and put God first. All we have to do is become a disciple of Jesus who then makes other disciples. This is the ONE calling for us wherever we are.

What is a disciple and how can we become one? Do we really want to be one? You know, the word "disciple" has these horrible connotations, right? A "disciple" probably enters scripture memorization contests. He probably goes to "fasting parties" and reads scriptures. Also, he probably takes vacations so he can pray. Isn't this what we think?

But in the time of Christ, being a disciple was a huge honor that few had the opportunity to have. In Luke 6:40 it says, "Everyone who is fully trained will be just like his teacher". These disciples would follow around a rabbi, like a "disciple posse". 24/7, the disciples were there with the rabbi. What's interesting is that, when someone wanted to bless a disciple, they would say, "May you be covered in the dust of your rabbi." Remember when Peter walked on water? He went on the water because he wanted to be like Jesus. He wanted to do what he did and experience what Jesus experienced.

So, the evaluation we have to do is, "Who do we look like?" Who are we following or who are we seeking to become? Why is it that we follow society and begin to accept things of society like abortion or ignoring the homeless guy? This has to be a reality check. At the end of the day, if we add up all our hours of who is discipling us, we find that Jesus is not who we follow. Add up the number of hours we watch TV, screw around on the Internet, enter Facebook or talk on the phone! Who are our teachers? How often do we read scripture? Maybe today, something needs to change.

Jesus wasn't like any other teacher. We can't just "copy" the perception of Jesus. We can't just try to look like Jesus. God isn't concerned about the outside, He is concerned about the inside and what is happening with our heart. Who is our teacher? Lots of us feel like liars and hypocrites. But it doesn't end here. We START this thing by faith, but then we make the decision to be disciple.

Being a disciple really boils down to one word, "Death". Many of us might balk at this because it's about waking up every single morning and dying to who we are. Jesus' thoughts are not ours and His ways are not ours. We die every single day. 2 Corinthians 5:14 says, "Christ's love compels us." Because Christ died for us, we die for him. Jesus said in Luke 9:23, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily..."

We might feel like the bar is being set too high as a disciple. Believing in Him is one thing, right? Jesus isn't interested in numbers; He's interested in disciples. We've fallen into this "consumer Christianity" thing. We go to church and wait to be entertained. We show up for the sex talk at church, but skip out on the services on grace, right? The call of God is not to go to a church service for our self gratification. "I think that should be on the billboard, 'Come to Victory World Church and Die.'" Jesus is not interested in the number of people who just hear. He wants to see disciples who die to themselves.

Johnson reads "The difference between an admirer and a follower still remains no matter where you are. The admirer never makes any true sacrifices. He always plays it safe. Though in words, phrases and songs he is inexhaustible about how highly he prizes Christ, but he renounces nothing and he will not reconstruct his life and he will not be what he admires and he will not let his life express what it is that he supposedly admires."

We look at a church and we see people who are followers and admirers. We see people who love Jesus, but they continue life without change. "If you don't pick up your cross every day, you are not worthy to be called my disciple." Do we listen to all the words of Christ or just some of the words? We've bought into carrying this little bitty cross (the one around our neck). We "hang out" with Jesus in that sense. But for those in Christ's time, for those who had actually witnessed a crucifixion, this was a huge commitment. It was fearful!

"You can't hide the giant cross like the little cross." (Though this is an audio of Johnson, you can hear a funny presentation by him, obviously carrying around a big cross on the stage and illustrating how the cross is there when we are tempted.) Dying to ourselves every day is discipleship.

"Love is the birthplace of death and death is the birthplace of discipleship"

The only way we can truly follow ourselves is if we die to our own desires every day. It is a conscious choice. Only we can know what wars against us. If we say we are "strong" in our relationship with Jesus, then we are not in a relationship. We think we have self control, but many of us are one night from backsliding. That is how important it is to make the daily decision!

What about lust? How do we die to that? It's not easy, but it requires picking up the cross every day. The other day, Johnson was in the store buying a Coke, minding his own business when he looked over and saw someone was attractive and who caught his attention. Immediately, he had to die to it. Carrying the cross is not easy. How about pride? If you're always the first person in line, something has to change. If you are always comparing yourself to others, something has to change. We have to honor and value others before ourselves. What about tithing? We have to die to the love of money. What are we giving our heart to? What about drugs? Drinking or cigarettes are forms of putting substance before God.

What about reading the Bible? 2 Timothy 2:15 talks about "correctly handling the Word of Truth". If the Word of God isn't in us, we are warned that we will get blown away by every doctrine. We have to be rooted and grounded in the gospel or there is simply nothing in us to share. What about not praying? This is also what God calls us to do. Prayer isn't boring because God wants to get to know us. What about isolation? What if we are not in community?

John Wesley, in the 1700's listed reasons why his community group, called "the Enthusiasts", met:

1) Because we are ignorant and shortsighted and often unable to discern things that are excellent. But God reveals to one what is good for another so that in a multitude of counselors there is wisdom.

2) Because we are lovers of ourselves and we're unwilling to see our own errors and therefore unlikely to fix them whereas our friends will, with a meek and impartial spirit show us our faults.

3) Because we are weak and irresolute and let go of our integrity upon any opposition but a band of friends that are like-minded inspire us with courage and confidence.

4) Because we are lukewarm in religious duties but a holy fellowship will kindle and keep alive a holy fire.

"Please do not fool yourself in to thinking that you can truly be a disciple of Christ if you are not in a Community Group." We need accountability or the clock is just ticking and we will never see it coming. If we want to die to ourselves, we need to surround ourselves with others who are doing the same, right? We need someone who can call us up and say, "Hey dude, are you dead?" "As one man sharpens another, iron sharpens iron."

What about low self esteem? If we hate ourselves, we need to grab on to what God says about us. We have to know that God loves us. We have to know that God smiles when He thinks about us. What about unforgiveness in our hearts? Not to be insensitive about things that have happened, but if our life is about being like Christ. He died for the people who crucified Him. He asked, "Father forgive them." We have to be willing to die for the people who hurt us, abuse us, use us or betray us. We have to die to the ball and chain of unforgiveness.

Instead of asking ourselves whether we believe or not, we have to ask ourselves whether or not we are willing to answer the high calling of Christ. This is where it starts. Will we die?