Want More God?

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Want more God? Check your prayer.

Truth is, we spend most of our time praying that God will give us what we really want- and its not Him.

We only go to God to get:

  • the job
  • corner office
  • a spouse
  • hitting our fighting weight
  • for our to kid make the travel team
  • finally getting some money in our savings account
  • straight As
  • or my most favorite muscle car ever (yes, I got it- pictured above:)

Tune to the right channel- THEN, check your content…

  1. In order for the thing we want not to become an idol we seek after more than God, make sure you have an open channel to God.
  2. Then pray for the things HE wants us to be a part of: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Along with gospel principles such as mercy, grace and justice. Pray what’s in scripture.

Yes, really! Pray for those things by name, and things going on in your life where you can apply them. What God wants for us, what he wants us to be praying for, is right in His Word.

Every time you do this, even when you’re not feeling it, you are fighting the idolatry in your heart. The Holy Spirit will actually redirect the desires of your heart away from the whatever it is that you really want- to you really wanting more of God.

From Exclusive to Inclusive

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Here are some things we ask our small groups to consider at my church every summer break:

  • Has your group been together for several years? AND
  • Is your group too big?

Answer yes to either of these- and you may be unintentionally hanging the “closed” sign on your front door.

Your “closed” to new members for two reasons:
  1. unofficially: nobody wants to be the new kid on the block OR 
  2. officially: they are simply too big numerically, so there is no room at the inn.
The problem: exclusivity 

The solution: plant a new group

Allow the leader you have trained to lead your group. Then you and one another experienced member leave and plant a new one. It can be the same night, the same place, the same everything- just mostly new members. Then…

Exclusive becomes inclusive:

Yes, people will not want to get out of their comfort zone. But when we don’t, we exclude. And the gospel is never exclusive- in fact, exclusion is the opposite of the gospel.

Christ didn’t die to keep people out- he died to bring them in.

So we make a sacrifice of our own comfort and exclusivity to include those who have not experienced what we have experienced in community. We bring them in.

 

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.

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.

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.

More Than You Can Handle

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True or False: “God won’t give you more than you can handle.”
Answer: True (but platitudinous:), i.e.:

* If God doesn’t give us more than we can handle we’ll never be able to handle more.
* How do we grow if we are not challenged?
* Where do we learn, if not from our failures?

BUT… that conventional wisdom doesn’t go far enough. We need to keep going. Until we get to the gospel.

Because if we ARE able to handle things ourselves, outcomes become performance based. There are two problems here: failure… and success. If your a Christian, it can become gospel short circuiting self-salvation as we subtlety begin to judge our own worthiness based on our works. And guess what, even if you’re saved you can fall for the joy killer that is works based salvation.

Here’s how it works: You believe in salvation by faith. But you’re a functional self-saver. And its leading to performance anxiety. The answer is to get back to the gospel. Since we are not judged by any performance other than Christ’s, we can stop being so outcome driven.

Our job in the “more than we can handle”- is to love God, love our neighbor and to follow God’s commands. Yes, we are to do things to resolve whatever we are “handling”- but only through the lens of love. And its only the gospel that allows us to act that way.

  • When the outcome is up to God, and the pressure is off- we can afford to be be loving and caring.
  • When the outcome is up to us- we become ruthless and judgmental.

We judge ourselves and the actions of others based on whether we’ve beaten the tyranny of the “more than we can handle.” And we no longer act out of love. Sure, in our success, we may give God a cursory tip of the hat- but there is always a secret part of us that is proud that WE did it. And oppositely, when we fail- we become despondent, frustrated with others, and angry at God.

The gospel tells us that Jesus performed perfectly, so we wouldn’t have to. That we’re accepted based on His performance, not ours. So don’t let performance anxiety creep back into your life. The gospel gives you the freedom to adopt loving your neighbor as yourself as your driving principle rather than the drive to succeed at all costs. Because the cost of “success” in life (being perfect) is paid for by the cost of love at the cross- the life of Jesus. Jesus was judged for the perfect outcome, so we wouldn’t be judged by the imperfect one. So in that sense, everything is more than we can handle.

The Grace of Vengeance

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How could there be grace in vengeance? Well, first and most importantly, God sent His Son, Jesus to take the vengeance that we deserve for our sin- that’s the grace of the gospel. And secondly, if we truly believe that is God of justice, then we don’t have to take vengeance out on the people that have wronged or oppressed. The pressure is off, because we know God is going to do it. That’s grace, too- and by extension, it allows us to show grace to our enemies as well.

That doesn’t mean we sit on our hands, though. Jesus has a two fold mission: to declare freedom for the prisoners, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor… and eventually…the day of vengeance of our God (Isaiah 61). But today it is only the first part. Jesus comes today not to condemn but to save (John 3:17). How often are we condemning? We can still be “matter of fact” about our principles and morals, but we also have to love and relate and serve those around us like Christ did, while focusing on that first part of Christ’s mission- of lifting up, freeing and proclaiming. That attracts despite differences.

Vengeance has a lot in common with its cousin, revenge- but its not revenge. It’s similar in the sense that it involves cause and effect- it’s a response to something- a wrong. But the difference is in who does the judging.

For the full scoop, click below to listen in on my talk at Cedar Run Community Church last week on Numbers 31: The Grace of God’s Vengeance.

Resting at Work

The deep peace of knowing we’ve been accepted by Christ should be changing the way we work and rest… into rest at work.  There is more to rest than our past and our future.  And there is also more to rest than a day off or a vacation.

  • Think about your past.  When you accept Christ as Savior- there is rest in knowing you’ve been forgiven for all your sins.
  • Think of your future.  Because there is also the hope of the future rest we will have in heaven.

But there is also a rest today.  The author of Hebrews writes: “Now we who have believed enter that rest…” Now.  So not only do we get a physical day or two off once in a while., but as we go about our daily work, whether at our jobs or as parents, or whatever else it is that you do, you can not only occasionally rest FROM it, you can rest IN it, too.  If your truly resting in your unconditional acceptance by the God of the universe, your work should look a lot different than the harried, blowing up at co-workers, late again for the meeting, yelling at the kids, thorns and thistles that everyone around you is experiencing as work. Here’s how:

  • Because you rest in Christ, you’re going to work towards excellence, but you’re not going to worry about the outcome, because good or bad, that’s up to God.  You are not accepted based on outcomes.
  • Because you rest in Christ, your work doesn’t define you, Christ and his acceptance of you is what defines you.
  • Because you rest in Christ, you don’t overwork- because you’re not approved by taking on more than you can handle.  And you’re not lazy- because you trust God will provide the rest you need.

So now Christians have a choice: we can do our work the old way or the new way. We can strive and contend and struggle or we can “rest at work.”

Striking Christ

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Water of Contention- Numbers 20

NoVA feels like one of the most workaholic cultures in the world. As the 80s band Loverboy sang: we’re all working for the weekend. We strive and contend with God to get him to give us what we want, when we want it. What’s the one thing you have to have or do- that, like water, is your most basic and core need? That you have to stay on top of? And when things don’t stay on schedule, causes us to strive and contend- and there is no rest until you get it. So how do we get to a place of rest where we can trust in God for our most basic needs? How can God quench our thirst? Not just physically, but spiritually.

  • Check out this talk on Numbers 20 and how a quarreling, contentious and thirsty Israel tries to hold God’s feet to the fire and how when we do that we’re actually laying our rod across Christ’s back: