A Prayer for Authenticity

We are preaching through our core values at Coastal Community Church right now. it’s a good reminder to me of what really drives us in our ministries and even our general decision making. Watchfulness, Authenticity, Love, Accountability. As it pertains to an upcoming message on Authenticity, I’m reminded of the following prayer written in 1969, by a man named Joseph Baylyl.  It challenges me as I think about how easy it is to seem sincere when, in fact, we are not.  It is more easy to play church than we want to admit.  The biggest problem is that we always think it is the other person that is playing at it while we are the ones serving the Lord with sincerity.  See if these words don’t speak to you as they did to me.

Lord of reality, make me real, not plastic, synthetic—pretend—phony; an actor playing out his part—hypocrite.I don’t want to keep a prayer list, but to pray; nor to agonize to find your will, but to obey what I already know; to argue theories of inspiration, but to submit to your Word.

I don’t want to think another needs me, but I need him else I’m not complete. I don’t want to tell others how to do it, but to do it; to have to always be right, but to admit when I’m wrong.

I don’t want to be a census taker, but an obstetrician; nor an involved person—a professional, but a friend.

I don’t want to be insensitive, but to hurt where other people hurt; nor to say I know how you feel, but to say God knows, and I’ll try if you’ll be patient with me, and meanwhile, I’ll be quiet.

I don’t want to scorn the clichés of others, but to mean everything I say…including this.”

Let’s be sure to be authentic and avoid insincerity at all costs.  The world around us is filled with artificial substitutes for their deepest needs.  Let’s be part of the army that proves to them that the church of Jesus Christ is the place to find the real answers from real people with a very real and powerful God.

A Calm and Quiet Soul

It’s been a busy couple of weeks, and it’s almost ready to settle down…almost. You have seasons like that, don’t you? Seasons when you seem to have little “down time” and perhaps even little sleep. It seems that when you are busiest, your mind is most active and you have the most difficulty getting the rest you need. Let me give you some encouragement from Psalm 131.

O Lord, my heart is not lifted up; My eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul. Like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me. Oh Israel, hope in the Lord from this time forth and forevermore.” (ESV)

I wonder how many times I have waited for “things to calm down.”  I find it interesting (and encouraging) that, according to this text, I can calm and quiet my own soul.  I don’t have to wait for external things to settle down.  If I’m honest; I’m usually “occupying myself” with things that I really can’t control anyway; “things too great for me.”

That doesn’t give us another reason to beat ourselves up because of something we should be doing, but aren’t.  It gives us another reason to have hope and confidence.  Just because things are stressful or even apparently out of control, doesn’t mean we can’t calm our spirit.

The picture of a “weaned child” is full of meaning.  The child doesn’t come to its mother to receive anything in this picture.  The child comes simply to enjoy the comfort and presence of the mother.

The Psalmist then helps us connect the dots.  When we quiet our soul; we find that we are able to simply enjoy the presence of the Lord.  Our hope is then reinvigorated and we have the strength and courage to return to the circumstances of our life.  The challenge is to hope starting right now (from this time) and permanently.

Maybe today we need to come and snuggle closely to our Heavenly Father and enjoy his peace.  A calm, quiet soul will be the result and a hopeful courage to continue on the path will be the extended benefit.

Not surprised

I know some folks who are going through a season of trial and difficulty right now. As I pray for them and offer encouragement where I can, I have been reminded of James 1:2. It may be an odd thought at first but I want to pick out one word in the sentence that doesn’t normally get a lot of focus.

James says “count it all joy my brothers when you face trials of various kinds.”  For the purpose of this post, would you look at the word in bold text here?  Why didn’t James say “if” you face trials?  The obvious reality is because facing trials is a part of life.  Whether they are a trial that is the result of decisions we have made (good or bad), the result of living for Christ in an increasingly secular society, or for some reason we can’t make heads or tails of, the reality is that we will regularly face trials.  They will vary in intensity.  They will vary in duration.  They will come unexpectedly.  But they will come.  Peter has a similar thought: “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.” (1 Peter 4:12)

Since we, as followers of Christ say we want to be “fully devoted followers of Jesus,” and since becoming mature in our walk with him happens most effectively as we grow through trials and learn to endure them (the primary point of James 1:2-4), why would it surprise us that we face trials?

More importantly, since we know that God’s desire for us is conformity to the image of His Son, and trials accomplish that best, why would we think that God’s desire for us is to help us avoid trials?

It isn’t that God is sadistic and likes to see us suffer.  Rather, it is that God’s greatest desire for us is to be in a position of maturity that will allow us to endure trials with greater effectiveness in the future.  This is best for us (since they will continue to come), and it is best for the glory of God when others see us enduring trials with grace.

Let’s not go out looking for trouble.  Let’s not get a cavalier attitude toward life and live in a way that invites trials and difficulties.  But let’s stop being so surprised when they come.

How do you negotiate trials in your life?  What are some of the tips you would have for other readers here about how to handle trials as they come?  We’re in this together; let’s learn from each other.

I’m not the main point

When I re-started my blog a couple of months ago, I promised I’d write once or twice a week. I’ve already broken that promise, but I won’t make excuses. I’m sorry for not keeping at the discipline of writing.

Anyway; I’ve been doing some preparatory work for a couple of messages that I’ll be presenting in September at our Gloucester campus. The first is challenging me again to realize that I am not the main point of what God does. That’s a hard pill to swallow. I’m used to seeing myself as the center of at least a few things. At least…I’m an important part, right?

Before you react, let me share my reason for saying this. The 25th Psalm is a plea for King David to be delivered from his enemies and for God to teach David His ways. He wanted to know how to follow the Lord in righteousness.

I’ve often expressed this desire. It is a good desire and one that I hope is yours as well. I noticed something today that helps keep my perspective right, though. David’s desire is not for deliverance or knowledge or pardon of his sins for his own sake. It is for the sake of God’s glory and His reputation. God is a covenant keeping God. This has been true from the earliest days of His interaction with mankind. It was true with Adam and Eve as well as their kids; Cain and Abel. It was true with Noah and it was true with Abraham.

There is a phrase repeated throughout the Old Testament that emphasizes this truth. In the ESV it is translated “steadfast love.” It means simply this: when God makes a promise or enters into a covenant with someone, He does so without the possibility of failure on His part. He is loyal to His promises.

Here’s the point. God entered into a covenant with me the day He made me His own through Christ. From that very day until today, God continues to demonstrate His loyal, steadfast love to me. This is not, however because I’m so important, but because God is true to Himself. I’m not the main point of what God is doing in my life; He is. It is for the sake of God’s reputation as a covenant keeping God that I enjoy His favor. It is because God never wavers on His promise that I continue to enjoy the forgiveness of my sin.

Think about it. If it was about you at all; God would be aiming at a lesser target. The point is God’s glory. The point is God’s reputation. In saving me, in teaching me, in directing my steps and in His ongoing forgiveness for the sinful expressions of my heart, God acts for my benefit with the ultimate goal of His own glory.

Spend a little time reading through Psalm 25 today. I hope it will encourage your heart and help you focus your attention on the main point…God’s glory.

The Illusion of Self-Sufficiency

I read this quote a couple of years ago. It still challenges me.  “One of the greatest hindrances to true worship is a lack of thankfulness, and the greatest hindrance to thankfulness is the illusion of self-sufficiency.”  I’m headed out with 38 other people in about a week for a mission trip to Puerto Rico. Those words help me as I make my plans to shepherd those 3 dozen people for a week. Those words help me as I shepherd the Gloucester campus of Coastal Community Church.

But really, this applies to any situation in life.  Whether it is a ministry situation or a “secular” vocation. Raising kids, being a good spouse or working hard at my job. We must come to the place where we recognize that we simply don’t have it in us to do it well as it ought to be done.

That’s when the thankfulness wells up within us.  If we don’t have the ability to do “it” as we ought, and “it” is being done well, it is because God has made us sufficient to the task.  Paul said it this way:  “Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God.  Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us competent…”

Additionally; if we are facing a task that is beyond us and we are convinced that it is necessary for us to accomplish the task, we are no longer hopeless.   We have the confidence that God will enable us to do what he has assigned us to do.

It all comes back to perspective, doesn’t it?  When we are humble (having a correct viewpoint of ourselves in relationship to God), we are more effective in living the life God has mapped out for us.  When we acknowledge that we do not have self-sufficiency but only sufficiency that comes from God, we grow in our thankfulness and ultimately in our ability to worship.  When we face seemingly impossible situations, we acknowledge that God is the only one who can accomplish them through us and we magnify him by being used by him.  In every respect; it is God who gets the glory.

That lowers my stress level a little bit today.  My particular situation is well within God’s grasp and He is more than capable of taking care of everything that needs to be done.  Amazingly; He will use me to accomplish some of it through the power that he gives to me.  What a relief!  All I have to worry about is diligence and faithfulness to the best of my ability.  I know it’s not enough, but I also know He has all the resources I need to enable me in my inability.

Welcome to the Nobody Team

“Moses spent his first forty years thinking he was somebody. He spent his second forty years learning he was a nobody. He spent his third forty years discovering what God can do with a nobody.”

When I read about the great heroes of the faith, I am impressed to see that all of them thought themselves to be “nobodies.”  In fact, in some cases, they spend a good deal of time learning how little they are before they are used of God in any significant way.  I think of the example in the quote above, but also of David, tending those sheep in the wilderness.  Abraham lived in the desert when God called him and travelled a great distance before he came to the place of God’s blessing.  The entire nation of Israel (after they left Egyptian slavery) spent 40 years in the desert learning the lesson that God was the one who was in charge and who had everything figured out.  Over and over again, we see people spending time learning they are nothing.

Should we be surprised that the New Testament rings with the same theme?  As Paul (who spent several years in the desert of Arabia before his public ministry) talks to the Corinthians in his first letter to them, he makes the statement that neither he nor Apollos are anything but a planter and a waterer.  “God is the one who gives the increase.”  His second letter to them is the one where we get the familiar picture of clay pots (4:7).  We have an amazing treasure in us (the gospel of God’s love), but we are just there to transport this treasure.  We are the earthenware vessel in which the treasure is carried. 

The reason for all of this is emphasized in 1 Corinthians 1.  God chooses people who are nobodies for two reasons: First, so that nobody will boast in the presence of God (we won’t take credit), and second, so that people have something more than our wisdom to depend on when things get tough…they have the power of God.

On days that you feel like you are a nobody…take a few minutes to be thankful.  God uses people like that in the best way possible.  It’s not because we are skilled or capable or diligent or creative or whatever other trait people like to see in us.  It’s because God is gracious and powerful that He uses us to do great things for His glory.

I hope that encourages your heart.  You don’t have to be somebody…you have to be faithful to the one who uses nobodies for His glory!

Really Free

As I’m writing this, we are a couple of days away from the celebration of the birth of our nation in America with great fanfare and loud, beautiful displays of fireworks. It all reminds us that we are free. Free to pursue what we feel is best for our lives and our families. Free to exercise our “religion” even if it’s different from our neighbor’s. Free to earn a living and spend or save as we see fit. Free. I’m an American citizen and I love my freedoms as much as the next person.

The freedoms we enjoy are the reason so many people are clamoring to get into our country. Regardless of our varying opinions on how we should view that and handle it; the fact remains that lots of people, in many places in the world, want to enjoy the freedoms we do in the USA.

History is replete with the stories of heroes from many countries of the world who have fought for freedom. I’m thinking about Scotland’s fight for independence and almost feel like I can hear the cry of William Wallace as he was portrayed by Mel Gibson; “Freedom!” We all want to be free. Being controlled by anything or anyone else is contrary to our nature as humans.

But I’m also glad for another freedom that I enjoy today. It’s the freedom I have in Christ. As Jesus talked with the Pharisees in John 8, He spoke of the possibility of them being set free by the truth. When they heard that, they were offended and told Jesus they had never been enslaved to anyone. This was, of course a misunderstanding of history, but Jesus didn’t take time to correct them; He simply referred them to a different kind of slavery. Not a slavery to people or systems, but a slavery to sin. They had no ability to overcome the sin that was in their hearts. I know that feeling; don’t you?

Then he said this amazing sentence: “if the Son (speaking of Himself) sets you free, you will be free indeed.” Simple, but profound. If you are in Christ, you are free from sin. But I don’t always feel like I’m free from sin, do you? I still struggle with actions and thoughts that I know I shouldn’t. So how are we free in Christ? We are free from sin’s principle and its power. As far as God is concerned, once I trust in Christ as my only hope of salvation, I am no longer “under” sin. He considers me righteous in His sight. That alone is amazing. But I am also free from the power of sin. Prior to coming to Jesus, sin controlled me. I couldn’t break its power in my life. Now I can gain victory over sin by the power of the Holy Spirit who lives in me.

That’s real freedom. The war is won. The skirmishes continue. I still sometimes give in to the enemy and get off the path of righteousness. But this isn’t because I can’t help myself; its because I have allowed my self to think that my happiness…my freedom is found in something other than my relationship with Jesus.

I’m going to try to use this year’s Independence Day celebration of freedom to get my attention focused on my real freedom. A freedom that Jesus secured for me and that will be fully realized when I am finally home in Heaven with Him someday.

Down is Up

“For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (ESV).  It’s about servanthood.  It’s about giving up my life for the sake of others.

Simple enough, right?  The way up is the way down.  The way to the penthouse is through the basement.  It preaches very easily.  But is it really easy?  

The reality is that it comes down to motivation.  If I am trying to get to the “top,” then I am on the wrong path.  But even if I am trying to be a servant of others with the desire that it will eventually get me to the “top,” then I’m still on the wrong path; it’s still about me getting to the top.

So the real challenge is that I’m suppose to do what is best for other people.  I read elsewhere that if you want to test your leadership motivation, you can ask yourself a simple question.  Whose best interest am I seeking to serve?

That comes out in Matthews’ record of Jesus’ words: “…whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant.” (20:26)  According to Skip Moen, that word “servant” originally mean to wait on tables.  

I like that illustration.  The best waiters are the ones who are practically invisible, but always show up at just the right moment to do just what you need to enjoy your meal the most.  They don’t hover over you trying to earn a tip; they don’t try to persuade you to get what they like best on the menu.  They do everything they can to make your visit to their area of the restaurant one that will result in you returning again.

That’s my job.  It is my task to serve the needs of those God puts in my path.  I am to anticipate needs (which requires focused attention).  I am to go out of my way to be useful to them. It’s simple.  But it’s not easy.  I’d rather be the one at the table than the one waiting on the table.  Today I’m going to work on looking for some tables to wait on.  I’m going to look for someone else whose best interest I can seek after.  After all; if Jesus didn’t come to be served, but to serve (Matthew 20:28); why would I expect to do any differently.

It turns out that the bottom isn’t the WAY to the top.  The bottom IS the top.  The whole view is radically reversed when I take a kingdom perspective.

God doesn’t lose track

Have you ever lost track of something valuable to you? Just this morning, I opened my computer to complete work on a sermon I started late last week. I pulled up Microsoft Word and got ready to write out the message from my notes I had taken. Only…I couldn’t find the most recent version of my notes. I had about a third of them from a previous version of the document, but I could not find the rest. I fiddled and fussed and fumed a bit until I finally was able to recover them. It wouldn’t have been the end of the world or anything, but it would have meant a good bit of extra work on my part.

It gets worse when the lost “thing” is something valuable to you like a pet or worse; your child. Have you ever been separated from one of your kids in a very public place? I have a recollection, as a child, of being separated from my parents in a mall. I don’t suspect that I was actually out of sight very long but the reunion was tearful as I again sensed the security of being with my mom and dad.

This “being lost and then found” thing has me thinking about our heavenly Father and the fact that He never loses track of us. My mind turned to Hagar’s experience with God. It’s a long and involved story. If you are familiar with it, you don’t need me to repeat it for the details, but in case you are not, let me summarize:

Abraham and Sarah had been promised a son. When God didn’t follow through on his promise right away, they took matters into their own hands and decided that Abraham would would have a child with Sarah’s servant instead. Sarah would adopt it. It was the way their culture did things…what could possibly go wrong?

Hagar (Sarah’s servant) bore a son to Abraham and realized that she had given to Abraham what Sarah never could, so she treated her mistress with contempt. After all; she never asked to be removed from her country of origin and then to become a surrogate for the childless couple who owned her. Eventually things got bad between Sarah and Hagar and Hagar took her son and ran away.

Here’s the part that encourages me. She ran off into the wilderness. That’s where God came to her. He ministered to her, told her about the future of her son and encouraged her to back and be cared for in the home of Abraham and Sarah. Then (Genesis 16:13) “…she called the name of the LORD who spoke to her, “You are a God of seeing,” for she said, “Truly here I have seen him who looks after me.”

I love that. She thought she was out of sight; out of mind. She didn’t realize that God knew exactly where she was and had not lost track of her. There are plenty of other places in the Scripture that talk about this truth but I thought perhaps you might want to be reminded today that God has not lost track of you. You may feel put out, shut out, locked out, like you’ve lost out, or maybe you just feel forgotten. Like you are simply out of God’s mind. I can assure you, dear believer in Jesus; this is the furthest thing from the truth. God sees. God will bring glory to His name in your life and use you to accomplish all that He intends. You are in plain sight to Him.

Reconciled

How about a little theology for your encouragement today? Yesterday, I finished working on a sermon that I’ll be preaching in a couple of weeks. Our church is studying through 2 Corinthians this summer and the sermon is from the end of chapter 5. There are several incredible truths in there but I want to stick with 5:21 for right now. “For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”

That’s a sentence out of the middle of a paragraph that is talking about the biblical doctrine of reconciliation. Murray Harris defines reconciliation as “the divine act by which, on the basis of the death of Christ, God’s holy displeasure against sinful man was appeased, the enmity between God and man was removed, and man was restored to proper relations with God. Reconciliation is not some polite ignoring or reduction of hostility but rather its total and objective removal.” It’s an amazing concept. The holy God of the universe, from whom I was estranged because of my sin, brought me back into a right relationship with Himself, not because He had anything to change or any need in Himself to do so but because of His grace. That’s the “what.” That’s what reconciliation accomplishes for me.

The word reconciliation is taken from the marketplace and was originally used of the exchanging of coins. That’s where 2 Corinthians 5:21 comes in. It’s the “how” of reconciliation. God treated Jesus AS IF He was a sinner by charging to His account the sins of everyone who would ever believe. Then, when I believe the gospel, God treats me AS IF I am completely righteous so I can have a relationship with Him. It’s an exchange. My sin was on the account of Jesus as He hung on the cross. Jesus’ righteousness is now on my account once I have trusted in His finished work of redemption. Jesus didn’t become a sinner…He took my sin into to His account and paid that debt so I wouldn’t have to (because I never could).

So there you go…what could be more encouraging than that? Jesus paid a debt He didn’t owe because you owed a debt you couldn’t pay. If you’ve trusted in Christ and believed in the gospel message, you are right with God…because He wanted it that way.