Genie in the Lamp

Ancient Oil Lamp

How do you know if you’re treating God like the Genie in the Lamp?

One way is your prayer life. 1 John 5:14-15 reads:

This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.

What do you pray for? Whatever it is that we really want usually winds up in our prayers. It says here that if it according to his will- he hears us. Does that mean there are prayers of mine that he doesn’t hear? No- the word hears is better translated as heeds. If its part of God’s will for our lives he heeds us- its automatic.

God’s will is no big secret. Too many of our prayers are like rubbing the lamp to get our three wishes.

God’s will is in His Word: love, joy, peace, patience, or other principles like justice or mercy or loving your neighbor better. How many of our prayers are about that stuff?

Don’t pray to God just so He can help you get the stuff you really want besides Him. Pray to God so you can get more God. Anything else and you’ve turned God into the Genie in the Lamp- in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Two Kinds of Laughing

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We have a choice in how we laugh. In Genesis, Sarah models two kinds of laughter for us. The laughter of Ishmael or the laughter of Isaac? The laughter of Ishmael is either proud and mocking of others because of our imagined self-success, or its bitter as we mock ourselves or blame life for our failure. But the laughter of Isaac happens when we see that God has been patient and he’s blessed us, and even transformed us, despite our failures- It’s the laughter of relief, “how could I have been so stupid.”

Ishmael or Isaac? Ishmael is the way of ‘works’, of getting a son in a way they had a human ability to achieve. It’s a way of unbelief. Isaac: represents the way of grace and the way of Christ, of getting a son by simply waiting in faith for what only God could do. If you’ve never fully trusted Jesus Christ to be your promise- you are stuck in the dry, hot desert of reality without hope.

And for those here who have believed, watch out: don’t have the heart of Isaac but live the life of Ishmael. The place between the pieces, that place of unbelief, Jesus has already passed through for you. So you are free to believe and even free to fail- because the outcome is not up to you. Admitting there’s a space between your belief and unbelief.

Mark 9:24 is one of the most contradictory but accurate verses in the Bible about belief. “Lord I believe, help me overcome my unbelief!” This is the space where the Holy Spirit does his best work. Say it, pray it. And He will come. Both Isaac and Jesus are miraculous births that are acts of God’s saving grace. But Jesus is by far the greater one- because Isaac only points us to Christ, and its only in Jesus that we finally hear the laughter of God’s grace.

Big God- small god

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A small god can manage the list of dos and don’ts that we have posted on the fridge.  But only an infinitely big God can dole out grace in the huge amounts that we need every day.  We make him small when we limit him to being the genie for our prayer requests.

Compared to what God expects of us as beings created specifically to love, worship and obey him- the most on fired up Christian only taps a minuscule fraction of their potential to live for god. And though I wound him daily with my self serving attitude, my lack of awe of his greatness and grace- he still comes back to me and says, you can do better, I know it because I made you.  I know it because I love you like my own Son.  We will never understand the depth of what he has done for us through the gospel.  If we spent every waking minute of our lives pondering the peaks of gospel off in the distance, we would still never make it past the foothills.

Don’t be paralyzed by shame, but do continue daily repentance. Your salvation isn’t finished with the sinners prayer. But it moves toward the finish line as our hearts melt and change over God’s grace and response to our sin.

Integrity in Prayer

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Have you ever gone through a time of change or difficult time in your life (job, relationship, move, financial, etc.) when you wanted it to come out a certain way and were praying with all your heart that God would make it so?

We spend a lot of times praying for things in our lives. In “With Christ in the School of Prayer,” Andrew Murray writes that we “allow” God to keep His integrity by adding terminology like “if it’s God’s will.”

So, how do we reconcile unanswered prayers with verses like John 14:13, “And I will do whatever you ask in my name.” Well, we need to do a better job of looking at not only this verse but some of the surrounding verses in 14 and 15. Jesus’ promise is conditional.

Here are some of them:

In my name: ask yourself, “is this something Jesus would have prayed for?”

Abides in me: how much does your life depend on Jesus?

Believes in: you know what I mean here, Christian:)

So that the Father may be glorified: does your request bring glory to God?

The works I have been doing: do we spend our time and prayer energy on the things that really interest God?

Injustice and Suffering

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How do we handle injustice and suffering?

1.   Mourn for the sins that are in the world. In Ezek. 9. When God gave Ezekiel a vision of men slaying idolaters throughout Jerusalem- he only spared the ones that  mourned what was going on. So don’t ever become numb to it. Think about it, lament it, pray about it, do something in your community about it.

2.  Sanctify God through it: By mourning- we are sanctifying God. When we are being sanctified- we are becoming more holy- when we sanctify God however- we are simply recognizing his holiness- in every circumstance- as in mankind means something for evil- while God will use it for good somehow and will also come to the aid of the oppressed.

3.   It prepares us: mourning prepares us for when suffering comes upon us. If we can sanctify God when others suffer injustice, it will be easier to sanctify Him when we suffer as well.

If we’re not ready when it comes, if we’re not sanctifying God and thinking of his supreme magisterial knowledge- if all we know is to say trite things to people- like oh it’ll be OK- then when suffering comes to us, its going to go badly.

  • Ultimately, its a low view of humanity that causes the injustice and oppression that leads to the suffering we experience.

Click below to hear the “rest of the story”-

https://www.cedarrun.net/sermons/injustice-and-suffering/

 

Control Freak

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What makes you angry when your not in control of it? Your work, your kids, your job, your finances, what people think of you? Answer that question and you may have just found your idol.

Yes, even you, Christian. And its actually worse for us. Because we’ve tasted the gospel. We’ve at a minimum given up on trying to control our eternal destiny- given up on the idea that we can ever commit enough good deeds to make up for our sin. We know we can’t do it. We’ve given up control of that to Christ.

But then, we default back to control in every other area of our lives and it becomes where we find our worth other than God. Its almost better to have never tasted the peace and comfort and stability, the ability to trust God, then to have tasted it and gone back to white knuckling everything. Because we know its futile- but we do it anyway.

Beren and Luthien, are the star crossed lovers of Tokien’s prequel to the prequel of the LTR trilogy called the Simarilion. Luthien, the elven princess could never truly be with Beren the man unless she gave her heritage up, her immortality, being with her people, her elven magic. She had to lay it all down to be with Beren. And she did.

God was so desperate to be with us that, in Jesus he gave up all his control as God, his immortality, his supernatural powers and omnipotence, and became a human. If he’s that desperate for us- to give up all the control of God- can’t we be a little desperate for him- and give up just a little control to Him?

Jesus gives up control on the cross, to show us its OK to give it up ourselves.

Click to listen:

https://www.cedarrun.net/sermons/the-power-of-powerlessness/

The Politics of the City

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So we have this biblical wisdom- Christian beliefs, theology- based on scripture. And we have a mandate to live them out. Biblical wisdom teaches us what is desirable- and politics is a way we implement it. Biblical wisdom teaches us what ends are desirable. While politics teaches what means are effective. Wisdom is the end- politics are a means to that end.

Now the means doesn’t always justify the end- so biblical wisdom also tells us what means are permissible- not all laws are lawful…scripturally. You can find a clear example in the sanctity of life issue, i.e. abortion and euthanasia. But what about the poor? There are different and perfectly acceptable political means that we can disagree on as ways to try to remedy that.

  • Biblical wisdom is the heart changing, lifelong growing and maturing guidance that comes from scripture and the gospel. It’s bottomless.
  • While politics has a very limited scope. There are only so many ways to apply government, laws and regulations.

But when we take God out of the equation, we’re left with politics alone- and that’s pretty limiting. Trying to use politics alone to make the world a better place is like using an ice pick to sculpt a glacier.

Listen to the whole talk here:
Or here: https://www.cedarrun.net/sermons/the-politics-of-the-city/

Performance Anxiety

Performance Anxiety

Sometimes, we get nervous about whether or not to get involved in something.

  • Because there is always the risk of failure.
  • We expect a lot from ourselves.
  • And we live by the mantra: risk versus reward.

But what if there really wasn’t a risk? What if we’ve been dreaming risk up as an excuse not to try something? Or to put pressure on ourselves to ensure high performance?

In the ministry that I’m involved in, I always worry that people won’t join, that the ministry will be a failure. But guess what: even if they don’t, its not on me.  It’s hard to break the performance based model we are accustomed to- but the gospel says Christ performed for us already and our acceptance is based on that- so whether or not what your involved with performs well or feels like failure when it doesn’t perform well- is no longer the issue.

  • So what that does is frees us up to take base-jumping level risks.
  • Since the outcome really isn’t on you, you’re free to be faithful.
  • Now I’m free to risk spectacular failure for the Kingdom- because worldly performance benchmarks (i.e. how good a pastor I am) are no longer the basis for my acceptance.
So just take a chance and be a faithful servant.

The Toil of Pleasure

The Toil of PleasureIf the author of Ecclesiastes sounds so modern, it’s only because he has captured the utter despair of life without meaning, and how death brings it all to an end. At least he believes in God though. And because Qoheleth believed in God, but questioned him, he’d be a good modern day believer as well. We believe in God and Jesus and that he died for us- but we struggle with what it means in the everyday- for wisdom, for our work, for pleasure- and how we live it all out. Click to listen to last weeks talk…

 

Or click to download: https://www.cedarrun.net/sermons/the-toil-of-pleasure/

Staying Off The Rollercoaster

Staying Off The Rollercoaster- Forgive

How do you do the best for someone who has wronged or betrayed you? Especially when they still need your help?

The only way you can truly help them is to forgive them unconditionally.

Forgiveness with conditions, i.e. the offender doing what I think is right- whether its some practical decision to fix things or a simple apology- is really just a way we want them to earn our forgiveness.

  • But unconditional forgiveness keeps me from the emotional rollercoaster of the both the best and the worst outcome.

Because only when I forgive unconditionally, not based on them doing what I want, does it allows me to act truly in their best interest. Because I’m not manipulated by the sometimes irrational hope that everything is going to be all right; or the despondency of “its never going to get better.”

  • My action for their benefit is not tied to an irrational hope that everything is going to be alright.
  • And my action is also not triggered only by their failure to do want I want.

So in both cases, I am able to stay off the rollercoaster and act independently of their actions, or my demands, and do what’s best.

The only way we can respond to people in a way that is truly helpful to them (loving them)- is to forgive them.