Feed your soul

Monday, September 29, 2014

Jesus died so that I....

A few days ago, I was listening to one of the more popular woman teachers on the scene today. She's been around for a while and has a fairly huge following. I listen occasionally, almost always with a fair degree of unease and have found that I have to listen very carefully and analytically, with my Bible open, to figure out why. 

Her message, like the message of so many others that have risen in popularity, is subtle and smoothly intoxicating, drawing you in to a theme that, while attractive and sensible on the surface, puts those who accept it without careful, prayerful consideration, on a dangerous path. 

Her primary proposition on this particular morning was "Your identity in Christ", a safe and sound enough sounding idea. But, therein lies the problem. We'll get to that in a moment. 

She built her case, expounded Scripture (much of it taken out of context) and came to her conclusion, "Christ died so that you could find your true identity." 

An explosion went off in my mind and heart. 

The whole message was based on the idea that the only Son
of God took on flesh, suffered, died an indescribably horrible death, was resurrected and ascended into heaven, all so that...I could embark on a voyage of self discovery??

This is not a message peculiar to one off-the-path teacher in the church today. It is everywhere around us. We are repeatedly told that the reason Christ died is so that we can get, become or realize that we already are something we really want to be, which has enough truth in it that it becomes easy to grasp, but also easy to get wrong. 

When we do get it wrong, the craziness begins. It happens when a very subtle shift is made, when the reason for all this becomes centered on us and not on Christ Himself. 

"Jesus died so that you..."

We need to be extremely careful here. Although our identity in Christ is a vital part of our salvation, nowhere in the Bible does it say Christ died so that we could find it. 

But, the deception doesn't stop at our identities. Just fill in the blank at the end of "Jesus died so that you_______" and you're on your way down the wrong path. 

There are plenty of similar propositions to be cautious of, all of them finding their attraction in a "me-centered" theology, a theology largely focused on "me" and what I get out of God's plan of redemption. 

This is not really theology, which is the study of God, but "meology", the study of...well...me

We hear   these propositions frequently. There's the familair "Jesus died so that you...." There's also "God wants you to have...", "Jesus came to give you....", "You can have....", "You already have...", "You'll get....", "You command....", etc. If you listen carefully, you'll hear them in a lot of different forms.

Fill in those blanks with anything that does not point directly back to God and His glory, and you're probably listening to questionable teaching.

Here's what the Bible says about why Jesus came...

Isaiah 43:25

25 “I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.

Isaiah 48:10–11
10 Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction.
11 For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another.

Matthew 10:39

39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

Mark 10:29–31
29 Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel,
30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.
31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

We miss so much of the richness of our salvation and so
many of the blessings of our sanctification when we reduce the work of the cross to what we get out of it. God sent His Son to glorify the Father in the redemption of His precious children. The story of the Bible is not our story, it is the story of Christ and God's self- revelation through the work of the Trinity. When we begin to embrace the truth, 

"Jesus died so that He could bring glory to the Father."

rather than the deception...we'll see that being caught up in God bringing glory to Himself is a far better place to be than being caught up in...me.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Have You Fed Your Soul Today?

If you're reading this posting, you probably have fed your soul today. You have, most likely, gone to church or are planning on going to church. I pray that the church you attend feeds you well, with the word of God. I pray that you enjoy a feast that will nourish and energize your spirit, keeping it vibrant and vital, challenging you and causing you to grow in your knowledge and awareness of Christ and His saving, sanctifying presence in your life. 

It's important to nourish our souls, feed them a healthy diet to help them to strengthen and grow. It's important, and far too easy to neglect, far too easy to relegate to the bottom of our to-do list, far too easy to "get a shot" on Sunday morning and think we're doing OK in that area of our lives. It's far too easy to feed our bodies and starve our souls. 

We live in a culture that places a heavy emphasis on health. Those who exercise know the value of regular work outs.

Those who don't, know they should. Nutrition is  a hot topic, even among those that struggle to maintain healthy diets. 

Most of us feed our bodies something a number of times a day. The evidence of how we eat and what we eat is put on display in how we look, in how our clothes fit and how we interact with our environment. 

But, being human beings, we are more than just our bodies. We are body and spirit. There is a non-physical element to our being, one we can't readily see, but one that makes us who we are, makes us human. Our bodies are vital to our existence, our spirits are too (James 2:26).  Both need to be cared for and fed.

Yet a lot of folks believe things are different when it comes to nourishing our souls. Many would like to think our spirits

reflect our good intentions rather than what we feed them. Many believe their spiritual food, in very small, infrequent doses, can sustain them. Many think they can have a healthy spirit that's feeds only on junk food or no food at all. Many think their spirits will flourish on anything but the food their creator has given them to feed their souls, the Bible. 

If you are one who struggles in this area and find it hard to open your Bible on a daily basis, try this, just for the fun of it. Eat physical food only on the days you read your Bible. Have a meal only on the days when you immerse yourself in the word of God. Feed your body the same way you feed your spirit. Try this for a month or two or three...then go look in the mirror. 

That's what your spirit looks like.

See? The evidence of what we feed our spirit is put on

display just the same as the evidence of what we feed our
bodies is put on display. It's a little harder to see but it
shows up in our hearts and in how we live our lives. If we starve our bodies, we become emaciated and weak. We get the same result if we starve our spirits. We need sustenance in order for our bodies to be healthy. It's the same thing for our spirits. If we neglect to nourish our spirits, they become weak, leaving us with no motivation in life other than what our bodies crave.

We all know where that leads. 

We begin to struggle. We loose our spiritual strength and the capability to control our flesh. Our bodies begin to dictate what we do and how we do it. We become the embodiment of Paul's struggle in Romans 7...  

Rom 7:22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being,23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.

Feed your body...but feed your spirit too...daily and well....strengthen it, nourish it, grow it, make it healthy. 

Jer 15:16 Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O Lord, God of hosts.

Psalm 119:103 How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!

May you dine on sweetness for your soul today.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Fully God, fully man. So what?

In John 1, we hear that the word became flesh. Later on, in John 5, we see this idea expressed a little bit differently when Jesus speaks of Himself as the Son of Man while claiming the same authority as the Father. The concept of God coming down to earth, taking on flesh while not abandoning any of His godly attributes is a difficult one to grasp, yet it is vital to understanding why Christianity is totally unique among world religions.

It's also vital to our understanding of how we relate to God. 

Every other faith depicts a god(s) that is elevated above and set apart from humanity. He, she, it is superior, powerful, sometimes demanding, frequently fearsome, always distant, capricious, difficult to access or approach and, quite often, dangerous.

In Christ, God, rather than being set apart from man, becomes man. He dwells among us, even dwells in us (John 14:17). He is a God who relates to His people, experiences the things they experience (Heb 4:15), walks where they walk, feels their pain and knows their joy. He is a God who delights in His children (Psalm 41:11).

He suffered (Heb 2:18). Try to find a god in any other religion that lives among His people and suffers, not just as  a martyr, but in the place of  His children, providing a way for them to come to Him, not by their efforts...but by His, ensuring their salvation by the works of His own hand.

In Christ, we have a God that comes to us rather than a God that must be aspired to, worked for, searched for, always apart from and never attainable, at least not in this world. In Jesus, God
becomes a God that relates to us and we to Him. He is flesh and blood, accessible, loving, self sacrificing and drawing His children to Him by His grace and mercy, not by His demands. Jesus comes to us with open arms, ready to embrace us, becoming our advocate to the Father, not as prosecutor. 

Our Savior is unique, personal and loving, bestowing honor and blessing upon those who come to Him, believe in Him and obey Him. Even our obedience to Him rises up, not out of fear...but out of our love for Him. 

What an awesome, amazing, singular, one true God we serve!

Monday, June 2, 2014

Such A Rich Tapestry

One of the fascinating aspects of the story about the woman

at the well (John 4:4-32) is how delicately orchestrated, by the hand of God, everything had to be in order for that meeting between the Samaritan woman and Jesus to occur. You could say that every event, every twist and turn, in the lives of all involved led them to that particular spot on that particular moment. 

Consider the things that might have happened to cause the woman to get to the well a few minutes early or a few minutes late...and miss Jesus.

If we could see an overview of our lives, I think it would reveal a rich and beautiful tapestry of decisions, influences, surprises, successes and failures, times of elation, boredom and drudgery,  all of it orchestrated and/or used by God to bring us down a carefully laid path to where He wants us to be.

We may not always like where we are. But, if we truly believe God is sovereign, we are always where He wants us to be. God uses the mountain top, the valley, the wilderness and the land of plenty to draw us nearer. The tapestry is always woven by His hand, always revealing His presence in our lives.

We caught a peek at the tapestry yesterday at church. 

Right after the service, folks were welcoming our new Pastor, Seth and his wife, Beka. Kelly was chatting with Beka's mom,
Terry Kubik. Terry and Alan made the trip from Orlando with Seth, Beka. We're all excited and eager to see what God does in and through Seth and Beka in the life of our church family. The Kubiks are excited about this new chapter in Seth and Beka's life. But the moment is bittersweet for them as they move their loved ones 900 miles up the coast. Still, Alan, a godly man, has been confident that this was all God's plan from the moment we contacted Seth and asked to interview him. 

Yesterday, Alan's confidence got a boost. 

Kelly spent her high school years in Orlando, where we met. She was chatting with Terry about their common hometown and found more things in common than they thought. They lived on the same side of town, in roughly the same neighborhood, at approximately the same and attended the same local college. 

Do you see the weaving beginning to appear?

From there, they discovered they went to the same high school. Then they found they were in the same graduating class! Not only that, but they had actually been in a few classes together! They had common friends, teachers, classroom, experiences...God was unfolding a plan that was at least 35 years, if not two generations, in the making, right before their eyes. 

The tapestry was amazingly intricate and wondrous.

There was great joy, blessing and peace, all at once (and a lot of giggling and laughter.) Further discussion revealed that Terry's parents live in the same neighborhood where Kelly's mom lives, approximately three streets away! 

God was working on bringing Seth to Warrenton for quite some time. All the while, He was working in our lives as well, forming an amazingly complex, awesomely beautiful tapestry in order to put on display His great love for His children and His absolute, sovereign, immutable and perfect plan for our lives.  

Look at the results! Alan and Terry are no longer leaving their daughter and son-in-law with aliens in an alien land. Seth and Beka can take joy and peace in a difficult decision to trust God, uproot themselves from all they are familair with and begin anew. The church family at WBF can bask in answered prayers and heartfelt desires to honor God in all we do. 

When I sat before a local ordination council, ten years ago, the moderator said this prior to recommending ordination for ministry, "John, we acknowledge your calling. If you ever face a dark hour in your ministry, remember this day when you sat before twelve men of God...and they affirmed that you are right where God wants you to be. Don't despair in that moment, know God is with you and learn from it." That had a huge impact on me as we faced the struggles of realizing there was so much to learn and so much to thank God for, every day. 

God's tapestry should be that same type of encouragement, keeping us level headed and thankful for our triumphs...and
keeping us humble and trusting in  our stumbles, always aware that God is in control and using whatever we are going through to refine us, sanctify us and bring us closer to Him. It doesn't make the hard times any easier. Painful times can still be painful. But it does, at all times, give us hope for the future and the promise of glory regardless of what we endure today. God's tapestry is His promise, His deposit, on our future in eternity with Him (Php 1:6). 

The blessings continue. When  we got home last night, Kelly looked in her yearbook. She found a note from Terry, "...let's keep in touch!"

Indeed...and Amen! The tapestry is not yet finished. It continues to be woven by the Master Craftsman. I can hardly wait to see what it reveals next.

Monday, May 26, 2014

5 Lessons We Can Learn From the Woman At the Well

I don't always get to share everything I'm thinking nor everything I've discovered in a passage when I preach through it on Sunday morning. Never has this been more true than in our current series in the Gospel of John, "Light In the Darkness". Yesterday's sermon, "The Gospel Comes to Samaria" was on the last half of chapter 4 which deals with the Samaritan woman at the well, verses 27-42. 

John's gospel is rich in theology, rich in its depiction of God's redemptive plan and rich in practical application, as well. In chapter 4 we see the sovereign, omniscient nature of God in how Jesus knew about the woman's life (John 4:17-18). We also get a glimpse of God's plan of redemption for all mankind being rolled out to the world in that Jesus was sharing His truth with people other than the Jews. We find practical application in seeing that all the events in the lives of all the players in this scenario converge on this little well in an obscure town, demonstrating that God's plans and purpose are the anchors and guides in our lives. We can trust in Him and in His promises. 

Still, there are lessons to be learned about sharing the gospel as well, at least 5 of them:

There's never a bad time to share the gospel
Jesus was in a hostile area in the presence of an undesirable person. While I would not recommend that any man witness to a woman in any inappropriate context, looking at this situation for what it is, Jesus was in a wide-open public place and maintained an attitude of respect and compassion when many would have turned up their nose. Folks need to hear the truth, whenever possible, in the most kind and loving way. 

Everyone, all people, need to hear it
Chapters 2 and 3 of John prove it. The Jews, who thought they didn't, the Samaritans who were despised by the Jews,
the woman, who was despised by the Samaritans, the lowest of the low and the highest of the high all need to hear the gospel. In our time, that means atheists, Muslims, Hindus, serial killers, even members of the opposite political party. No one is beyond redemption. No one is unworthy of the truth. 

There is no way to tell how much impact our sharing will have
We may never see it. Our call is not to see the results. It is to share the message. No doubt, the disciples were surprised to see the townspeople coming toward Jesus (John 4:35). It didn't stop with the woman (John 4:39). It didn't stop with the original group that came out to the well (John 4:41). It's still going on today. The message is eternal. That's why it's so powerful.

We all have a part in how the gospel goes forward
This is the beauty of the sower/reaper analogy (John 4:36-38). It takes teamwork with everybody pitching in. In an actual crop field (at least back in the 1st Century), there were sowers, cultivators, many who watered, many who weeded, some who watched over the field at night, some who guarded it from predators and many hands involved in the harvest right on in to storage and distribution. This is why God assembles us in church families. Every member is important. Every member has a gift and a job to do (1 Cor 12:12-26). 

Wherever you are, that's your mission field
The disciples could easily have missed the opportunity in Samaria, thinking their goal was Galilee (John 4:3). We can make this mistake of believing all the important work of evangelism is in some far-away, foreign land or in the inner-city. It's also easy for us to consider John 4:35 to be an end-times directive and miss that the harvest is right now, right here! There is much to be said for the idea that a sovereign God has placed us where He wants us to be. Our mission field is right here, right now. Look around you, what do you see?

John 4 is an important building block in John's case for establishing Jesus as Messiah for all people, and us as those who are called to proclaim that truth.