Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Dug Down Deep

Though I didn’t get to hear Sunday’s message God’s sovereignty surprised me again. As I was traveling to S.Fla I was listening to a message by Josh Harris from the NEXT Conference. His text was from Luke 6, about the wise and foolish builders. I was also meditating on this text last week as well. Here’s some insights for review:

1. Everybody gets the rising river. The wise builder was not exempt from the storms of life. God-beloved believers get cancer. Solid Christians get into car accidents. Hurricanes wipe out churches as well as crack houses. Everybody gets the flood.

2. Both houses “looked” secure . Both houses probably looked pretty solid. The foolish builder’s house maybe looked better, because he didn’t “waste” his money on the site work. It’s easy to spruce up and have a good looking house.

3. Your foundation makes you stand. The wise builder “dug down deep”. There was rock under the sand. But the foolish builder ignored his foundations.

4. Digging down deep is hard. It’s not glamorous. You sweat and dig and sweat and dig. That’s why many people don’t do it. You have to come to Jesus. You have to listen to his words. And you have to do what he says.

But then you get to be wise. And your house stands.

The well wisher of your soul’s happiness,
Pastor Tom

p.s. New Message Series: “Askitallogy” (Ask-it-all-ogy!). Beginning the second week in July I will be (attempting) to answer your questions about life, the Bible, practical issues, theological struggles, really – anything! No question too easy or too hostile. So “ask it all”! Email me your questions or post them on our Southwest Church Facebook page.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Evidences of Grace

This week I am going to invite a “guest pastor” to share some powerful thoughts on battling a judgmental spirit by looking for evidences of grace. C.J. Mahaney is a true gift to the body of Christ and encourages my soul every time I hear him. I would encourage you to read and/or listen to everything you can get your hands on by C.J. Enjoy…

Most people are more aware of the absence of God than the presence of God. Most people are more aware of the presence of sin than evidences of grace. What a privilege and joy it is in pastoral ministry and small-group ministry to turn one’s attention to ways in which God is at work, because so often people are unaware of God’s work. And much of God’s work in our lives is quiet; it’s not “spectacular.” It’s rarely obvious to the individual, and normally it’s incremental and takes place over a lengthy period of time.

So, informed by Paul’s leadership I want to interact with everybody by identifying an evidence of grace, because if they are Christian I know God is at work in their lives. What a joy it is to discern where and how God is at work, draw people’s attention to it, and celebrate God’s grace in their lives! The fact that we get to do this—how cool is this?

And I also know this is critical preparation for any correction that genuinely needs to take place in their lives. Because identifying God’s work in their lives gives them faith for the correction they might be in need of, and they can consider that correction without collapsing under that correction being unaware that God is at work in their life.

See, Paul’s correction of the Corinthian church is effective because he has faith for this church. When we correct people, they can tell whether we have affection for them and faith for them. I sadly know what it’s like to correct somebody where I neither had affection for nor faith for—as if the correction alone was sufficient and most important. That is not true. This is not an expression of the character of God and that is not biblical leadership.

I would encourage all of us to restrain ourselves from correcting someone until we have developed, to some degree, affection for them and faith for them.

So how do we identify evidences of grace?

Here is the “starter’s kit” I recommend for recognizing evidences of grace. (It’s a “starter’s kit” but you will never outgrow or exhaust it.) Just take two categories, the fruit of the Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit. Work from those two categories and lists, study those lists in the Bible, look up from studying those lists, and look at Christians around you. You will see God at work everywhere you look.

God is working. God is very busy. God, give us the eyes to see how you are at work so we can identify that, draw people’s attention to it, celebrate it, and assign all glory to God for that work!

-C.J. Mahaney, addressing the small-group leaders of KingsWay Community Church in Midlothian, VA (January 27, 2008).

Saturday, June 12, 2010

“We had to celebrate and be glad” – Luke 15:32

The parables in Luke 15 follow a similar pattern: Something is lost. That something is found. So somebody throws a party. Pretty simple.

But how do we wrap our minds around the idea that God likes to celebrate? We are used to thinking of God sitting austere, disinterested, and disconnected from our emotions. A God that parties is not in our mental filing cabinet.

Yet it is clear from Luke 15 (and a bunch of other scriptures) that God truly celebrates. But what does God celebrate? What makes him throw parties?

We celebrate victories (championships, setting records), occasions (birthdays, weddings), and achievements (retirements, graduations). We want to celebrate, we feel the need to celebrate, I suppose you could say we have to celebrate!

So does God celebrate our victories, occasions, and achievements?

Nope. He celebrates our repentance. That’s right, repentance. He celebrates when a sinner (like me and you) first comes to Christ in repentance. But who’s to say he doesn’t celebrate every time we repent? Every time we turn from sin and believe his superior promises. Every time we choose faithfulness to Christ over compromise and ease. Every time we kill the selfish flesh and lay our lives down for Christ’s sake. Every day we live repentance as a way of life.

So, let make heaven happy. Not by offering our victories and achievements, but by offering our repentance. And then listen for the party!

The well wisher of your soul’s happiness,

Pastor Tom

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Deal or No Deal?

Okay, a name for a TV show (anybody remember Howie Mandel with big hair?), but also a way of describing ways we try to reconcile with God.

Deal: I bring a bargaining chip to offer God in return for his acceptance of me: a life devoid of “big sins” (bank robbing, murder, etc…), regular religious practices, being a “nice person”, promising to try harder, playing the sympathy card with my abusive past, tearful repentance, etc…

The younger brother in Luke 15 tried to bring his father a “deal”; “Treat me as one of your hired servants”, he said. Even after Plan A had failed (“party boy”), and Plan B had failed (“Swineherd”), he still wanted to bring something in his hand to offer his father. He was trying to make a deal.

Yes, he was truly repentant. But be careful here. Some view repentance as a meritorious act that unlocks God’s favor, something we bring to offer God.

But the father will have none of this.

No Deal: Before the son has a chance to say anything the father runs to him, embraces him, and covers him with kisses. And before the son has a chance to bring his “chip” to the table, the father says; “Bring the best robe, the ring, and sandals too!” Why?

Because the Father will allow nothing but His free grace at the table. Our reconciliation with God must cost us nothing, but must cost Him everything. At the cross all our “chips” fall to the ground in light of our overwhelming sin and His overwhelming grace. The Father will not “deal”! He will only freely love.

So, what are you trying to bring to the table? What deals are you making with God?*

Take the words of the hymn writer to heart”

“Nothing in my hands I bring
Only to the cross I cling”

The Father’s “No Deal” is better than any “Deal” you can imagine!

The well wisher of your soul’s happiness,
Pastor Tom

*you can find out by what you get mad about when the deal doesn’t go your way!