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?"