Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Proverbs 15:15

"All the days of the oppressed are wretched, but the cheerful heart has a continual feast." (Proverbs 15:15).
Last November I preached a couple of messages on "thankfulness"...both on God's desire for us to be thankful, and the power of focusing and choosing thankfulness in all circumstances.  This Proverb is a potent reminder of the power that can be found in being thankful.  Quite simply, those who have chosen thankfulness have a heart that is continually "feasting."  Does this mean we'll always be happy?  Of course not.  Does it mean there won't be pain?  No.  Let me explain...

Philippians 4:4 says to "Rejoice in the Lord, always.  I will say it again, rejoice" and in this verse we find the source of our thankfulness - the Lord.  1 Thessalonians 5:18 says "Give thanks in all circumstances..." 
What these verses DON'T say: they don't say to be thankful "for" all circumstances...nor do they say to rejoice for all things.  Note the word "in" found in both of these verses...we are instead to be thankful "in" all circumstances.  Thankful for what?  At the very base level, we can always be thankful and rejoice "in" the Lord.

In a recent post I talked about grief and worship.  How can you worship when you're grieving?  It's not easy...but again, no matter what circumstance we face, we can choose to rejoice "in" the Lord and to be thankful "in" that circumstance.  The life and heart that learns to have a "default mind-set of thankfulness" is indeed the one who enjoys a continual feast.

Start today; no, start each day by practicing thankfulness.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Is Your God Big Enough?

1 That night all the people of the community raised their voices and wept aloud. 2 All the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron, and the whole assembly said to them, "If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this desert! 3 Why is the LORD bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be taken as plunder. Wouldn't it be better for us to go back to Egypt?" 4 And they said to each other, "We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt."
 5 Then Moses and Aaron fell facedown in front of the whole Israelite assembly gathered there. 6Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh, who were among those who had explored the land, tore their clothes 7 and said to the entire Israelite assembly, "The land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good. 8 If the LORD is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us. 9 Only do not rebel against the LORD. And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will swallow them up. Their protection is gone, but the LORD is with us. Do not be afraid of them."

Question: when you are faced with a seemingly insurmountable problem, where do you turn, and is the God you worship, big enough?  This is a short post, but not a whole lot needs to be said.

Here the Israelites are right on the door-step of the promised land.  They send out 12 spies and all 12 come back with a report of a "land flowing with milk and honey."  However there's a problem.  The land is occupied and its occupants are both numerous and large.  What happens?  10 of the spies focus on the size of the problem, and only 2 of the spies focus on the size of their God.

Now before I get too judgmental about the 10, I must ask myself, "when I face similar difficult or even 'impossible' circumstances, do I more closely represent the 10, or the 2?"  Do you and I believer that God is truly bigger then any situation, illness, trial or obstacle we could ever face?  The 10 focused on their problem being "bigger" than they were; the 2 focused on their God being bigger than their problem.

The key: whenever you're faced with something that seems insurmountable, don't waste your time focusing on how impossible the situation is.  Instead, remember Jesus' words; "with God, all things are possible" and keep your eyes fixed on Him.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Grief and Worship

My past few days...
- Talked with a woman who's family is being torn apart after the death of her grandmother
- Talked with a couple who have just had a mis-carriage; this on top of a number of other disappointments and trials they've had to endure
- Talked with a man who's wife has left him after 30 years of marriage
- Talked with another woman who's husband is dealing with an addiction issue that is threatening their marriage and family
- Dealt with a tearful night of my own; looking at my son, Brennan, and realizing he won't know my mother or my grand-mother.

All these circumstances and conversations I've had in the past week have caused me to pause and consider the role that worship plays in all of this.  How do we worship through our grief and our pain?

First of all, the caveat is this - part of my role as Associate Pastor at Northlake includes leading worship.  What this means is this; as I dealt with my grief over the past two years at the loss of my Mom, my Grandmother, and our own mis-carriage, I did not really have much of a choice in worship.  Whether I felt like it or not, I had to open my lips and sing songs of worship.  I confess to you that many Sundays I didn't feel like singing or worshiping at all.  I hurt too much and wanted little to do with singing.  But then here lies the ironic thing; as I worshiped God, through my grief, my mind and heart would be lifted...sometimes momentarily, but lifted nonetheless...and my focus would move back to Him.  Often tears would come, or I'd have to choke back emotion.  This is a part of worship, though.  Tears, pain, grief, our Lord is familiar with all our suffering and pain.

Is worship a cure-all?  No.  A pain-eraser?  Definitely not.  But still, there's a depth to worship that only those who've worshiped through their pain and grief can understand.  A few points on this;

1) Is your worship of God a result of your circumstances, or do you worship Him regardless of your circumstances?  It's easy to sing and praise in times of blessing...but what about in times of want and deep pain?

2) Inch-wide or mile-deep?  I fear that much of our worship of God is "surface" worship.  Of course, nobody knows the answer to that except God, who lays bear all the motives of man.  But I know for myself, oftentimes I feel like I'm simply "going through motions" in worship.  Grief has a way of removing every pretension and exposing our bear heart's before a Holy God.

3) And when we do this...worship through our pain, our anger, and our hurt?  We find the greatest thing we could ever hope to find...GRACE.  Not condemnation, but grace.

 3 "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God." (2 Cor 1:3-4)

4) Ultimately, worshipping through our grief brings us to a deeper relationship with Christ.  It's a natural outcome of walking through a storm together.  My relationship with Julie, my wife, would not be what it is today if we had never gone through any trial or pain together.  So it is with God.  My relationship with Him would be lacking were it not for some of the pain He's led me through.  When you're in the middle of it, you don't see how it could possibly be helping; but when you get past it, you look back and see God's hand and voice of grace.

And for those of you who are in that place right now, and can't see a way out, I leave you with this;

 26 "In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. 27And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will." (Romans 8:26-27)

Friday, May 14, 2010

Do you Follow?

22 Whether the cloud stayed over the tabernacle for two days or a month or a year, the Israelites would remain in camp and not set out; but when it lifted, they would set out. 23 At the LORD's command they encamped, and at the LORD's command they set out. (Numbers 9:22-23)

I'm reading through the Bible at a 2-year pace, meaning right now I'm in the book of Numbers.  I have to admit, at times I've been "skimming" parts of Numbers...but today, this passage from chapter 9 stuck to me.  Here the Israelites are in the desert, and the cloud representing the presence of God, hung over the tabernacle.  Whenever the cloud was over the tent, they stayed put.  When the cloud lifted, they packed up and moved out.  Sometimes they stayed two days, sometimes a month, and sometimes a year.

The questions immediately flooded to me - would I, am I as obedient to God's plans for my life?  When He says "stay and wait," do I stay?  When He says "go," do I?

The model here for us to follow is simple to understand, but hard to live out.  It requires trust.  Trusting God is not always easy, as oftentimes, He asks us to follow without telling us the "why" or the "where."

For example - when my wife and I made the decision to leave Bothell and move to Bellingham and take the job at Northlake, there was no promise of success.  There were no promises of a house to live in, a church that would follow me, or even happiness; there was no promise that I'd "flourish" and no promise that things would all go well.  There was only a sense of calling - calling from God to us, to move and accept the job and trust Him for the rest.

Following God must be done in the big things AND in the little things.  You know what I mean; that small voice that says
- Talk to your neighbor and tell him about me
- Pray for that person, right now
- Accept that challenge, and I will give you the strength for it

It's in following God in the small things that gives us the courage to follow Him in the big things.  The key?  The key is living a life that is patterned by following Christ in Everything.

I wish I could say I've always followed Him like that...I haven't.  But still, at this point in the Israelites journey, they followed the cloud - when the cloud stayed, they stayed, and when the cloud moved out, they moved out.  May you and I do likewise...

Friday, May 7, 2010

Humility...

I was reading in the Psalms this morning and came across this verse; Psalm 45:4

"In your majesty ride forth victoriously
       in behalf of truth, humility and righteousness;
       let your right hand display awesome deeds."


What stood out to me was the word "humility."  It's that word "humility" that sticks out to me.  Why?  The Psalm is a picture of a King riding forth on behalf of, or as the NAS puts it, for the "cause" of truth, humility and righteousness.  I get riding on behalf of truth and justice, kind of like "Superman" (defender of truth and justice), but humility?

When you cross-reference this verse it leads you to another spot; Zephaniah 2:3

"Seek the LORD, all you humble of the land,
       you who do what he commands.
       Seek righteousness, seek humility;"


Humility.  Do you have it?  Is it something that one can "learn" or "obtain?"  Websters defines it "not proud or haughty: not arrogant or assertive."  Clearly, humility is something that God places a high value on...but where does it start?  How do you grow and foster humility?  These are big questions that I can't fully answer in a blog post, but allow me to make a few observations.

Humility starts at the cross.  Everything always comes back to the cross.  How so?  Simply put, true humility starts with an understanding of our place.  At the foot of the cross, we are all equal.  There is no class, no rich or poor, no homeless, no poverty, no celebrity, no achievements.  There is no one good, no one righteous, no one who is justified on his own.  Achievement and/or Entitlement brings pride, which is the opposite of humility.  The cross destroys ALL of man's achievements and entitlements.  God destroyed any reason for pride when he offered His gift of grace to EVERYONE.  And since that gift is available to everyone, and not just a select few, there can be no reason for pride.

A humble person "gets" all of this.  They understand that everyone they meet is a brother or sister.  The humble person knows that even though he may be the CEO of a fortune-500 company, he is no better than the janitor sweeping his floor.  In the eyes of man, maybe he's better, but in the eyes of God, the only judge that matters, they are equal.  (In fact, you could make a case that in the kingdom of God, those who have the least are actually the greatest...but that's for another blog post).

When you get all of this, not just "get it" in your head, but really, truly "get it" in your heart, it leads to actions that are humble.  It's nothing for a humble person to act in a humble way.  They have a heart that understands that in the eyes of God, there is no favoritism.


The opposite of humility is pride, and perhaps the opposite of humility acted out is un-forgiveness.  Why?  Put quite simply, when we can't forgive we forget the vast number of things that we have been forgiven of.  For this reason alone, we must forgive others, as God has forgiven us.

Perhaps I can sum things up by quoting Monica Baldwin, a niece of the then British Prime Minister, who served as a nun for 28 years.  She said of humility; "What makes humility so desirable is the marvelous thing it does to us; it creates in us a capacity for the closest possible intimacy with God."

If you struggle with pride, the answer is not to try and be more humble, but instead to spend time reflecting, remembering, meditating on all that God has done for you, and to look at everyone you meet as your equal.  And if you dare, pray to God for humility.
"For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Mark 10:45)

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