Monday, March 31, 2014

More Than Moved

Our revival theme was (is?) to be more than moved. The music group, "No Other Name" sings a song with this title (originally written by Michael Boggs (originally of FFH). The song challenges us to basically live out the idea that James, the brother of Jesus, espouses - to be doers of the Word, not hearers only (James 1.22).

We often hear things but don't act on them. Many times that can be good, but when God speaks (through His Word), we are not to be passive in our response - but rather are to be active in living out what God intends for our lives. Imagine James...He often heard Jesus talk (certainly while growing up, but likely as an adult too), but he didn't believe - and therefore, He didn't act. But something touched Him (perhaps the resurrection of His dead brother!) and his life changed. Now, James was the one telling others that if God says something it is worthy of paying attention.

The book of James is so rich in how to live our lives. Some have called it the Proverbs of the New Testament. Five short chapters do pack a lot of wisdom - and a lot of memorable verses, even if used out of context. But a book so full of wisdom should indeed be worthy of our attention. And in order to act on any of the principles in James (or any other book) must start with being doers, not hearers.

Very simply, a critical component of James message is that we should not be deceived. We should not think our faith is authentic if we do not have works ( James 2 - from salvation, nor for salvation). We should not be deceived that God tempts us (James 1). We should not be deceived about the importance of our life (James 2 and James 4). But we should not be deceived that hearing is enough...we must also do. 

So, briefly,

Be doers of the Word... (James 1.22)

In the verse just before this, James wrote that we should receive the implanted word. In fact, v. 22 begins with the word BUT.

James is saying that the Word has been given. It has been implanted. What will you do? Receive it? Reject it? And if you receive it, will you act upon it.

This reminds me a bit of the parable of the four soils. The seed (the Word) was scattered among all types of soils, but only where it was absorbed into the ground (implanted) did anything get produced.

Yet, some of what grew did not take root. It grew quickly, but without rooting itself b/c of the rocks.

Other seeds grew, but eventually were choked off by weeds (the concerns of the world).

Only the seeds that took root, and were properly maintained bore fruit long term.

And bearing fruit is a part of what James is saying we are to do by being doers of the Word. Faith w/o works is dead. Maybe it didn't take root. Maybe the world choked out the faith. Either way, deception came into play, which is what v. 22 guards against.

...not hearers only,...

It is so interesting here that James talks about hearing and immediately shifts the focus to the eyes. Honestly, I have no idea why he does this (maybe there is some hidden meaning that we will never know), but after mentioning hearing, he talks about sight (and remains here awhile).

James mention of mirrors here is more than about the outer appearance. In this context, and often in the ancient world, mirrors were used to represent the idea of character. Peering into a mirror wasn't just a reflection of what is on the outside, but what is on the inside. (God looks at the heart!) That is what James refers to here. He compares someone looking at the mirror to someone who reads, or hears the Word of God, realizes what it is working towards, and then walks away from it, forgetting the promise it holds. Forgetting the promise of wisdom, of hope, of joy.

Go back to v. 19. - Being quick to hear. The word picture James is painting here is not just about sound waves passing across your eardrums. It is the incorporation into your life that God is looking at here. And notice the promise. Acting on what He reveals to us in His Word means we will be blessed, which I believe takes us back to 1.12 and the blessing of the Crown of Life.

Think of it this way. God does what He says. His promises to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob. His promise to Moses. Etc. And if God does what He says, He wants us to do what He says too.

When we don't, we deceive not only others, but we also deceive ourselves.

...deceiving yourselves.

Again, look at the verses just before v. 22. In v. 16, James has just told his readers not to be deceived – DO NOT BE DECEIVED.

He went on to say that every good and perfect gift is from above.

Then, in v. 21 he stated, that because the Word has been implanted, we should not be deceived by thinking God doesn't want fruit.

So, logically, it would go like this... Do not be deceived BY OTHERS that God is tempting you.

God gives good and perfect gifts.
One perfect gift God has given you is His Word – implanted in you.

Do not be deceived – He wants fruit from this implanting.
And just for good measure: If you think you are religious, but can't tame your tongue (slow to speak), you are deceived.

The point of this is not just to show what true religion is, but to show what true religion isn't. True religion isn't about deception – by others or by ourselves. Jesus said, I am the Way, the TRUTH, and the Life. John 17.17 says to sanctify them by your Word. Your Word is TRUTH.

Well, the truth of our faith (or true religion in the parlance of James) requires us to do something. God has invested in us. We have heard truth, now we must act on it.

Being fruitful requires us to do something. Be not hearers only. DO SOMETHING!

Again, this is not to earn salvation, but because of it. It is because we have received the word, and wisdom, and every gift God has given us (all from earlier in Chap 1).

So, don't deceive yourselves by thinking that I am good because I come to church. Because I sing. Because I give money (although all those things requires us to do something). But in the context of James words, will you do something with what you have heard today? Or last week? Or during the revival services? Etc.

Notice the bold and underlined words above: Be Not Deceiving (or Deceived). 

In helping each of us to not be deceived and to be a doer of the Word this week (but do it every week), consider the following:

  • Do one thing for God this week – using a skill or talent He has given you.
  • Do one thing for God this week – because of a passion/interest He has given you.
  • Do one thing for God this week – relying on the Spirit and the gift He has given you.

But whatever you do, be a DOER, not a hearer only. And whatever you do, do it in love!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Tasting Death

Continuing our JOURNEY through the books of the Bible brings us to Hebrews. There is so many possibilities to discuss the glory of God in Hebrews, but Chapter 2 is the choice today. In this chapter, we are told that Jesus tasted death. What does this mean? If we consider the idea of tasting food, there could be two primary thoughts:

  • Jesus took a small (brief) bite (and maybe spit it out)
  • Jesus ate it all

Often when we talk of taking a taste of something, we mean putting a very small amount of something in our mouths to test if we may, or may not like a certain bit of food or drink. But the word used in Hebrews 2.9 (& John 8.52) is the Greek word geusetai which means to fully taste. In other words, Jesus fully tasted we could avoid it.

In tasting death for us, the text (Hebrews 2.9-17), gives us a few specific things Jesus accomplished.

  • Jesus shared in our suffering (v9)
  • Jesus served as our high priest (v17) 
  • Jesus satisfied God's wrath. (v10-17)

In sharing in our suffering, Jesus, as a human, was tempted in every way (Hebrews 4.15).

In becoming our high priest, Jesus became like us, became merciful, and became faithful (Hebrews 2.17).

In satisfying God's wrath, our sins were not only removed (expiation), but full satisfaction (propitiation) was realized. (vv. 10-17).

Consider what Jesus truly did! Jesus, as our King took our place. He tasted death - so we wouldn't have to.

Throughout history, many people have served as an assayer. An assayer is someone who serves a king (or leader) by tasting any food for poison. If the assayer eats it and dies, then the king will not eat it.

But our King, because of His love for us, tasted death so we wouldn't have to.

An assayer tasted so a King might not die. Our King died so we wouldn't have to.

What a King! What a Savior! Thank you, Lord!

Friday, March 21, 2014

Revival - Part 3

On Wednesday (Revival - Part 2), I began to question the lasting impact of last weekends revival. Personally, it is going strong. I sincerely asked that God would "Let it Start With Me" many times in the weeks leading to revival and He certainly got my attention during it, and He has continued to show Himself to me in some amazing ways throughout the week.

Yet, is this happening back home. I am removed from normalcy this week as I am teaching a college class about discipleship to a group of undergraduate students. They are challenging me in my faith as I challenge them to grow in theirs. But the reality is, being in this environment has helped keep the revival fires burning in me all week.

Is that true for those back in Fairfax? Many people were "touched" by the messages and/or the music last weekend. Many people were "moved" to do something because of what they had seen or heard. But the problem with Christianity today is that people are often "moved" but never actually move. They hear something good. They even have a good idea. But they don't act. James 1.22 says we are to "be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves." True faith, true belief leads to action. In other words, we are to be "More Than Moved", which just happens to be another song sung by No Other Name.

We need to be more than moved. We need to determine what needs to be done and then choose not to simply wait for others, but to begin to do it because we are willing to "Let it Start With Me". To me, these two songs have a lot of overlap in the intent of their message. While the style of music and the lyrics may be different, the general message is the same - "We must live out our faith."

So, how's your revival going? If it is not "going" (a term for movement), maybe it is time to say, "OK, God, I am ready to do more than simply listen to you, I am ready to be moved into action. God, let it start with me!"

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Revival - Part 2

In Revival - Part 1, it was noted that this past weekend's revival was for the church, not the lost. Many people did comment that the Spirit of the Lord was present. But now we find out if revival has begun.

At first glance, that may sound wrong. The "revival" was last weekend. Technically, the revival services were last weekend, but whether or not revival happens is up to each person. And in a very real sense, revival began the Sunday before as God showed up in a way which was quite unexpected, and completely altered the service.

So a revival started, but will it last? Again, that is up to each individual. No Other Name wrote a song a couple of years ago entitled, "Let It Start With Me". That is what we must do. I cannot worry if others sensed God moving in their lives (again, the comments suggest He did). Rather I need to focus on how God moved in my life. As a pastor, of course, I am interested in how God moved in the lives of others in the congregation, but it does start with me. And what I know without a doubt is that I was convicted. I was challenged. I was exhorted. And now I must choose to respond. If I don't respond, then the revival really had no effect on me at all.

It is as James said, we are to be hearers, and not just doers of the Word. Being moved by a message is good. But obedience is better. And our obedience is a testimony of our love for Jesus (John 14.15). More on this on Friday in Part 3 (and final post) of this short series on the revival.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Revival - Part 1

This week, my plans are to post three entries - today, Wednesday, and Friday - all related to this past weekends revival.

When we first started talking about a revival I didn't realize how long it had been since our church had held one. Given the way some talked it had been several years, but I found out later that the last one was 1998. Of course, revivals are not a necessary practice for any church. Yet, some churches could seriously use a revival!

But what is a revival? A lot of church's have revivals to "share the gospel", "win the lost", etc. And that is fine, we NEED to be sharing the gospel with as many as possible. But the idea of revival means some form of restoration. This could be in the form of rest as in the regaining of strength or energy after a period of work. Most churches I know don't hold revivals because they have been working so hard for the gospel - although that would be a good reason for revival. Another outlook on revival is to restore to life. Now, honestly, this one hurts because that means the revival is needed because something is dead, and we don't want to admit that the church is dead.

Well, I won't suggest Fairfax Baptist Church is dead. No, maybe sluggish would be accurate. It isn't because many of the people who make up the church don't love God. They do. But sometimes a change of pace, a change of expectancy, a change of style, a change of times, etc can provide the necessary components to revive a sluggish, or even a dead, church. But, many (most?) churches are against change - and I just used it 4 times in one sentence! Uh oh!

So this revival was not for the lost. No, it was to revive the church. It was to allow God to speak to our hearts in order that we might be revived, and challenged, and strengthen, and renewed to share God's love with others even as we have learned to share in fellowship with one another. I can't speak for most, but I heard several - SEVERAL - comments from people who said the message was well received. I know God spoke directly to my heart this weekend - both convicting and challenging me in the way I serve Him. I am grateful for those that came to lead in music and in message, and for the snacks and meal that provided opportunities for extended fellowship.

But, now that the services are over, it is time to see if revival happened. My prayer is that it continues. And my prayer is that God will Let It Start With Me (see Part 2 on Wed, 3/19).

Monday, March 10, 2014

When God Shows Up

Yesterday, the our worship service was expected to be busy. Due to weather issues, the beginning of the NAMB Annie Armstrong offering had been delayed. Thus, extra time was allotted to promoting that yesterday. Then the usual song(s), Scripture reading (Psalm 34), and special music. But in the midst of that a testimony by a long time member of the church touched many. This individual has been going through some severe pain and is now undergoing some new treatments which should bring relief in the coming weeks. But, as much as the testimony was about her, it wasn't. It was about those who had been supporting her, and most importantly that God was helping her through this. And although her testimony was planned, what happened next was not.

The sermon yesterday was intended to be on Hebrews 2. But the message God wanted yesterday was different. Honestly, the main points of the message could have fit well with everything else - very well, in fact. But during the testimony a couple of words and phrases were used which turned the tables on the message. A statement was made about the "trials and struggles" of others. Later, her prayer mentioned "heavy hearts". And while that is likely always true of many churches in any given week, several issues in the area lately have been especially trying on some families in our church - relationships, health matters, etc.

The Scripture reading was from Psalm 34 as noted above. But because of the length (all 22 verses) and everything else that was planned, the readings had been broken into three mostly equal passages. It was in the last of the readings that the promise of the Lord being near to the brokenhearted was read (Ps 34.18). It was at this point, God said, the message you have is the right message, but it is not the right day.

Then, the song He Is Able was sung. Amidst all that was happening and all the emotion in the room, as people were crying, in response to the testimony, but in response to their own situations, it was certainly the perfect song at the appropriate time. Then, the song Blessings, by Laura Story, was sang by one of the teenagers in the church. Her mother later told me that she had changed her choice of song (to sing this particular song) on Friday. If you aren't familiar with the lyrics, the premise is basically that God can (and does) use the pain in our life to bring about blessings as well.

I truly believe God had the attention of nearly everyone in the room. It was time for the message. And yet the message had been going on for 20-30 minutes. I mentioned to the congregation that it was time to call an audible. And instead of preaching, the time was turned over to a time of people pouring out their hearts to God over the "trials and struggles" in their release the burden of their "heavy hearts" seek to understand the "blessings" that God may be providing through the pain.

Below is a very short commentary on 8 verses of Psalm 34 (vv. 15-22), which I did very briefly before the time of prayer.

  • v. 15 - The righteous will have need to cry out, but God will hear
  • v. 16 - The evil that we see, the pain that we experience because of evil, will be cut off someday
  • v. 17 - Not only does the Lord hear the cry of the righteous, but He delivers us from our troubles
  • v. 18 - It does not say we will not have broken fact, we will, and will be crush, but God is near
  • v. 19 - see v. 17
  • v. 20 - God did not spare Jesus from dying, but God did protect His Son in the process!
  • v. 21 - the opposite of v. 17, 19
  • v. 22 - the fullness of redemption will be realized by those who believe, but destruction awaits all others.

The response was overwhelming. Many did not move - choosing to pray in their seats. Others came forward. Several filled out prayer cards to ask for continued prayer on some matters. But nearly everyone responded to God's leading in the midst of this service.

Ironically, yesterday was to be the end of a weekend revival. Because of calendar issues, it was not to be. Instead, I believe yesterday was the beginning of one. God used our time with Him yesterday to personally minister to many in the midst of their pain and hurting to prepare them for whatever He is planning on doing this coming week.

I believe God is often quite present in the midst of our time of corporate worship. Yet, certainly, some days are more special than others. Yesterday was one of those days. Yes, there was a lot of emotion, and sometimes that can be deceptive. But the emotion yesterday was different. It was private. It wasn't even directed at others. It was directed at God. And I believe His Spirit (the Comforter) was interceding and also interpreting in the lives of many (Romans 8.26-27), because God IS able to take whatever comes our way, and make us what He wants us to be (Romans 8.28-30).

Monday, March 3, 2014

Philemon - Uselessful

Paul's letter to Philemon is short, but has a great message about relationships. The letter centers around three individuals:

  • Paul (a prisoner for Christ)
  • Philemon (a slave owner)
  • Onesimus (a slave)

Onesimus may have once had value to his owner, but verse 11 says that Philemon now considered Onesimus worthless. The irony is that Onesimus means useless or beneficial. So Paul was writing to his friend (and one whom he had led to Christ - v. 19) that Onesimus was now useful.

Another key aspect from this letter is the number of financial terms used. Obviously, Philemon was someone who had some financial savvy, and Paul wrote with that insight in mind. There are about twenty financial terms used in this short letter. Again, the word Onesimus means useful (i.e. profitable), but just looking at vv. 17-20 we find several terms such as receive, wronged (cheated/stolen), owes, charge, account, repay, owing, owe, benefit (profit).

Again, this goes back to the nature of relationships. There are three relationships that need a bit of focus here. The relationship with ourselves, with others, with God.

The reality is you are not worthy any more or any less than you were yesterday, or than you will be tomorrow. Every human has worth. Everyone human has value. Thankfully, God knew that and sent His Son to die for you and me. Nothing we have done or could do can change the fact that Jesus needed to die for us. He did so because we have value - regardless of whether we see it or others realize it.

Others often cast us aside as useless (like Philemon did to Onesimus) for any number of reasons. Because of this we often devalue ourselves as well. Too many people today derive their value based upon what others think or say about them. It is easy to do. Yet, ultimately it doesn't matter what others think, it only matters what God thinks. Don't misunderstand. This does not provide us freedom to ignore others or rudely interact with others. On the contrary, because what God thinks matters, and because we are told to love our neighbor as ourselves, we must treat others with dignity and respect - valuing them - to fulfill God's command. However, the actions of others should not influence our personal value. Indeed, people wanted to make Jesus the king one day and five days later had him killed. But Jesus, finding His value in God (and as God), knew He would be King later.

Finally, when others project our value, the entirety of our story is not considered. No one knows our complete past, or even our present, because our present is influenced by our pasts. We do not know the details, but v. 11 clearly says that Onesimus is now useful, both to Philemon as well as to Paul. But would Philemon give him the chance? Paul said he was praying for Philemon to be effective (useful) by understanding "every good thing that is in us" (v. 6). Onesimus obviously had value, and while it may have been hidden, or repressed, Paul dug until he found it. Philemon gave up, and perhaps caused the once useful man, to now be considered useless.

The point for us is that because God has made us - and made us unique - our value is determined by Him. He did not make us the same so we are not to compare what we are (or aren't) doing compared with others - but compared with His expectations on our individual lives. And even though each of us falls woefully short of His perfect plan for ourselves, our value before our Almighty God does not change. In fact, our value to Him is proven in our failures - He died for us!

Therefore we pursue to have healthy relationships with others because God grants us the opportunity to have a healthy relationship with Him. He made the offer. It is our choice to accept, to receive, to believe, and to follow. The fact that God considers us useful even when others (or even we, ourselves) don't is truly remarkable. The question then is how do you respond?

Will you prove yourself useful, or waste the opportunity that God has provided through the blood of Jesus?

Or, if you have already made that leap of faith then,

What can you do to build up others, to mend a damaged relationship, or perhaps even receiving back someone you have cast out?

Of, if you have been the one cast out then,

What can you do to forgive those that have hurt you and begin to repair any relationships that need repair?