Sunday, August 21, 2016

Who Completes You?

In a climactic scene in the movie Jerry Maguire, Jerry had just closed a big deal for his client without his wife by his side. He makes his way to the living room, where she is hosting a group therapy session with a group of women, and tells her that his successful experience with his client did not feel like it was complete because she was not there to share it with him. He tells her that he loves her and delivers the slam-dunk: “You complete me.” With tears in her eyes, she responds by telling him to shut-up. He looks puzzled and she says, “You had me at hello.” The ladies in the room sit mesmerized as the couple embraces, and then one declares, “This is the best discussion group!”

The idea is certainly romantic, and makes for a great movie scene. But did Jerry Maguire get it right? Could he find completeness in the woman he loved? I love my wife dearly, and after 32 years of marriage, I can’t imagine what my life would be like without her. She loves me, trusts me, believes in me, cares for me, and I am privileged to share my life with her. I wouldn't want it any other way. But she does not complete me, and I do not complete her. It would be extremely unfair for either of us to place that burden on one another. Her identify as a complete person is not found in me, nor mine in her.

We all tend to search for our completeness in places where it cannot be found. As we long to find our complete identity, we often turn to our spouses or other relationships, our careers, homes, status, affluence, and many other things; but all of these things are temporal. If we must find our identity in temporal things, what happens when those things disappear? Many fall into deep depression and make horrible choices when their identify is lost or cannot be found in temporal things.

God created us to have our identity in him. Scripture tells us that man and woman was created in the image of God; as we all have descended from the first man and woman created by God, we all bear the image of God. Genesis 2:7 says that “God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.”  The very breath of human life is from God, and he is where we find our significance. When we seek our identity from anyone or anything else, that is called idolatry.

Our identity as God’s image bearers has been corrupted by sin. But because of his great love for us, he has provided a way to restore his image in us. When we come to the place of faith, believing in our hearts that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and we confess him as our Lord and Savior (Rom 10:9-10), he cleanses us from our sin, and begins to restore the image of God in us. We have new life through Christ, a new identity “which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth” (Eph 4:24).

Christ is where we find our true, complete identity. This is great news for everyone, whether you are married or single, and it is of great importance. You cannot find completeness in another human being. Look only to Jesus to complete you. Your identity is secure in him.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Pray for our President

The RNC has dominated the news this week, and the DNC will begin in just a few days. We are facing an important election in November with significant issues at stake, regardless of whether you are a Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, or Independent.  It seems our country is largely dissatisfied with the political landscape and we are ready for a change.  The two major parties have chosen their candidates and both will be official by next week.  Even so, there is dissatisfaction in both major parties over the chosen candidates.

My Twitter and Facebook feeds are full of political rants, insults of candidates, insults of those who oppose our candidates, and expressions of concern over the state of our nation.  I’ve had conversations with many friends who are so disgusted with the choice of candidates, they are contemplating not even voting in November.  I admit, I have been a participant in some of the posts and conversations.

This afternoon, I was watching a class lecture on 1 Timothy (yes, Mr. Trump, you can say it that way) by Dr. Mark Yarbrough, one of my professors at DTS, and he made a comment that resonated in my mind and heart.  At the beginning of chapter 2, Paul writes, “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people --- for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all goodness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior.” (NIV) Dr. Yarbrough then observed, and I paraphrase, “What would our nation be like if the church were to pray for our president instead of making fun of him when he does something we disagree with?”

That landed hard in my heart. I have not prayed for President Obama, Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton; at least not in the way Paul urges the church to pray in 1 Timothy. My natural inclination is to criticize, complain and worry over what our government is doing.  We can disagree with our leaders, and I believe we have a responsibility to hold them accountable for the good of our nation. But what would it look like if we prayed for our leaders to seek after God and to act in accordance with his guidance?

I encourage everyone to exercise your right to vote in November.  Ask God for wisdom in casting your vote, and don’t sit this one out just because you don’t like the candidates.  Choose which you think is the better candidate, even though they might not align with your ideals.  And pray for our president, and for those who are in position to take his place next January.  Pray that God will work mightily in their hearts that they will seek his face. This is good, and is pleasing to God.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

God's Gift of Faithfulness

Tis the season for Christmas carols, gift giving, baking, family, and nativity scenes.  It’s a happy, joyful time that stirs memories of childhood innocence and excitement.  Even with the stress of Christmas shopping and hectic holiday activities, we love the Christmas season!  We draw hope and encouragement through the outpouring of love and charity.

It’s that time of year when we reflect on the birth of Jesus, our Savior and King.  The coming of Christ to earth as our Messiah to deliver us from the power of sin is God’s fulfillment of his promise that he made after Adam brought sin into the world.  Generations throughout the Old Testament relied on the faithfulness of God’s promise of redemption through the coming of the Messiah.  God has faithfully delivered on his promise of redemption by coming to earth in the form of man, living a life without sin, allowing himself to be crucified for our sake, and defeating death by his resurrection.  God is faithful to save anyone who believes with the heart and confesses Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior!

This morning as I reflected on God’s faithfulness in sending his Son to us, I was compelled to pray the following words of this great hymn:

“Great is Thy faithfulness,” O God my Father,
There is no shadow of turning with Thee,
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided –
“Great is Thy faithfulness,” Lord, unto me!

Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth,
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!

May God bless you as you celebrate his faithfulness this Christmas season!

Monday, June 22, 2015

Confession is Good for the Soul

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9 ESV)

1 John is a letter that was written to Christians.  If you have received Christ as your Savior, you are forever forgiven, counted as righteous by God and have been adopted into his family.  Have you ever wondered why, then, if your sin has been forgiven at the cross, John says to continue to confess your sin to receive forgiveness and be cleansed from unrighteousness?

Before you received Christ, your sin condemned you to eternal separation from God.  The only way to redemption was through the blood of Christ which he gave as payment in full for your sin.  Now that you belong to Christ, you are no longer condemned because of sin.  The penalty of sin has been removed.  But you still sin.  As much as you wish you didn’t, the fact is that you do.  And I do.  We all continue to sin because we are still imperfect in our flesh.

When we walk in darkness (sin) we cannot fellowship with God because there is no darkness in him (1 John 1:5-6).  It is important to understand that God does not break his fellowship with us when we sin.  He also does not require sinless perfection of us because he knows we are not perfect.  We break our own fellowship with him when we choose to walk away from him in the darkness of sin.  To restore our fellowship with him, we must confess our sin.  But what does this mean?  We often view confession as something other than what it truly is.

Comedian “Larry the Cable Guy” provides a demonstration of what we sometimes view as confession.  He will say something offensive, then immediately “confess” it to God and pray for the missionaries and the Pygmies in Africa.   Then he launches right back into another offensive comment.  Has your confession ever looked this way?  I know mine has, but this is not what John had in mind.  Confession is more than saying “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have done that, please forgive me.”

When we walk in sin, the Spirit convicts us of our sin and brings it front and center so we can deal with it.  If we merely acknowledge our sin, ask for forgiveness and continue in the path of sin, we have not confessed it.  When John speaks of confession it is in the context of repentance.  When the Spirit convicts us of our sin, we must confess it by turning away from the darkness and returning to the light of God’s righteousness.  

When we turn away from the path of sin, God is faithful to forgive.  He will not turn us away from walking in his light.  As a parent would forgive and accept a wayward child, he will cleanse us of the stench and stain of sin and restore us to fellowship with him.  We are not restored to fellowship because we ask for forgiveness.  Many ask for forgiveness and continue to walk in sin.  You cannot have fellowship with God this way.  We are only restored when we confess in true repentance and return to walking in the light.

If you belong to Christ but have allowed sin to break your fellowship with God, take comfort in his promise to restore you.  Confess your sin to God by turning away from it and walking in his light.  You don’t have to earn your way back into his fellowship.  His forgiveness and acceptance are there waiting for you.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Walking Through the Valley

You never imagine it will happen to you.  Life is going well.  You enjoy your job, you and your family are healthy, and you're finally managing to put some money away in savings.  You are faithfully attending church, serving in some capacity, and you've increased your giving beyond your tithe.  Then BAM!  All of a sudden something happens.  You find that your job has been eliminated, or you or someone you love is diagnosed with cancer.  Life turns in a moment from an easy stroll to a terrifying ride on a roller coaster, and you have no idea how this ride will end.

As a Christian, you've been taught that you shouldn't worry.  Have faith in God and it will all work out.  You try not to worry, and you feel guilty when you do.  You ask your friends to pray but you wonder if God is listening.  Days turn into weeks, weeks turn into months, and perhaps months turn into years.  It seems as though the journey through the valley will never end.  

If you haven't experienced an extended trip through the valley, you probably know someone who has.  Trials in life can shake your faith in God down to its very foundation.   Some choose to walk away from God out of anger and frustration.  Those who choose to move toward God find refuge and strength.

If you are in the midst of a journey through the valley, I encourage you to move toward God.  Do this especially when you are tired and discouraged.  Here are a few ways that you can draw near to God during difficult times:

Pray for others.

I know how tiring it can be to pray for deliverance and restoration day after day.  Change the focus of your prayer.  In the midst of your trial it's easy to become consumed with yourself.  Pray for your family and friends and ask for God's blessing on them.

Give thanks to God.

One of the most effective ways to draw near to God is to remember times that you have seen him work in your life.  In your conversation with God, recall as many of those times as you can and thank him for what he has done for you.

Spend time in the Psalms.

The book of Psalms is filled with prayers of worship, repentance, requests for deliverance and rejoicing in the greatness of God.  Read through the Psalms and when you feel compelled, pray them to God.  You will be amazed that some of these ancient prayers will apply to your circumstances today.

Humble yourself before God.

I can recall times when I have complained to God and made demands that he change my circumstances.  God does not reward the proud and arrogant with deliverance.  Humble yourself before God and ask him to use your circumstances for his glory.  He may choose to restore you or he may have other plans.  Surrender your circumstances to him and trust him.  Romans 8:28 tells us that all things work together for good for those who love God.

A long journey through the valley is never easy.  Press into God and trust him through the process.  He will not forsake you.  He will carry you through.

"Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you." - James 4:8 ESV

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Trusting God to Forgive

Several years ago a friend of mine was diagnosed with cancer, and the deadly disease spread rapidly through his body.  He had trusted in Jesus as his Savior and never doubted that he would spend eternity in heaven.  But during a visit with friends in his last days, he confessed that he believed God was punishing him for sins he had committed after his salvation.  Even after confessing his sins, he continued to struggle with some.  He felt as though God had grown tired of his struggle and had decided to inflict punishment on him rather than continue to forgive him.

I think this dilemma is something many Christians experience at some point in life.  It’s hard to believe that one can continue to ask forgiveness time after time for sins with which we struggle.  We do not doubt the sufficiency of God’s grace to forgive the eternal penalty for sin.  But can we trust God to forgive us over and over for sin we have confessed after we have been saved?

In his book, Surprised by the Voice of God, Jack Deere writes, “Many people mistake the condemnation and accusation of the devil (Rev. 12:10) for the conviction of the Holy Spirit.  When the devil speaks to us about our sins, he makes us feel worthless and condemned.  He nags and whines.  His impressions make us feel we have always been this way and will never change.  When we confess our sins, he tells us that we are not sincere, that we have done these things before and confessed them, and that we will simply end up doing them again.  When the Holy Spirit convicts us, he confronts us with the reality of our sin, but he brings hope through the blood of Jesus.”

God’s desire for us is that we do not sin.  He knows that sin drives a wedge between us and God, and as long as we harbor sin in our hearts, we cannot walk in fellowship with him.  He has given us instruction in the Scriptures as to how to live, and he has given us the Holy Spirit to guide us and to convict us of our sin.  But he knows that we still have a sinful nature, and because of that, we will sin.  As we learn to yield to the influence of the Spirit, the struggle will not be as great, but there is no one on earth who is able to live completely free of sin.

I John 1:9 tells us that if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  God is faithful.  He is reliable and can be trusted to do what he says he will do.  God is just.  As the creator of all that is, God is right in all that he does.  God has the right to forgive us and he has promised his forgiveness whenever we confess our sins to him.  By confessing our sins to God, we are admitting that we have done wrong and that his way is right.  When we do this, he does not stand over us in judgement, waiting to levy some sort of punishment for what we have done.  He welcomes us back into his fellowship and washes away the filth that covers us.  There is no limit to God’s willingness to forgive us when we come to him in confession.

If you have trusted Christ as your Savior, but are struggling with sin, do not let Satan defeat you with accusations and thoughts of hopelessness.  Get on your knees and confess your sins to God.  He will forgive you, he will wash away the filth, and will restore you into a right relationship with him.  You’ve trusted him with your salvation.  Trust God to forgive you of your sin.

Friday, January 2, 2015

One New Year's Resolution You'll Want to Keep

I've never been a big fan of New Year's resolutions. I've made a few resolutions over the years, but by the end of February, they were only distant memories. I'll head to the gym this morning where I expect to find a large crowd of people who have made a renewed commitment to fitness. Most of that crowd will drop out shortly after they go back to work next week. By the end of January, the gym crowd will return to normal. It happens every year.

It's not easy to remain committed to resolutions for an entire year. I think that can largely be attributed to the type of resolutions we make. Weight loss and fitness are worthy goals, but those require giving up foods we crave and actually exercising on a regular basis. Most people know they should do it, but don't really want to commit to doing what it takes.  I've been there before.

Reading through the entire Bible in a year is a common New Year's resolution among Christians, and has been on my list a number of times. There are reading schedules that will take you through the Bible in a year, but if you miss a few days, good luck trying to catch up. It quickly becomes a seemingly insurmountable task. At least, it has been for me.

There is one resolution you can make this year that you can actually keep. It's not task oriented, and it's not a goal that you will fully reach. It's not measurable quantitatively. It is not a resolution that will defeat you if you stumble during the process. It is a goal that will motivate you to keep going as you continue to pursue it. This year, why not resolve to get to know God?  I'm not talking about an academic knowledge. Dedicate youself this year to get to know God on a personal level. Here are three suggestions to help you in your pursuit of a deeper relationship with God:

Spend time with God in prayer.

Prayer is more than submitting a list of requests to God each day and asking for His blessing over meals. Take the time to acknowledge God as the one true God. See Him in the splendor of His holiness, His righteousness, His mercy, His loving kindness and His grace. Take time to pause and wait for God to meet you in your prayer. Listen for Him to speak to your heart. Ask Him teach you His ways so you may walk with Him.

Read the Bible expressly for the purpose of discovering who God is.

While there is value in following a schedule to read through the Bible over the course of the year, or reading a chapter in Proverbs each day, don't limit your reading to just those things. We often read the Bible to look for ways we can apply it to our lives. Make a new habit of looking for what the Scriptures reveal about God. If you come to a passage you don't understand, don't just skim over it and leave it there. Mark it and come back to it. Do some additional digging to learn what the passage means and what it may reveal about God. There is no reward in heaven for speed reading through the Bible. God has given us the scriptures so we can know Him. The more you know Him, the more you will fall in love with Him.

Exercise your faith in following God's leading.

Have you ever felt the prompting of the Holy Spirit to do something, but didn't follow through with it for one reason or another?  Maybe you felt the urge to start a Bible study group in your neighborhood, but you just didn't feel like you knew enough about the Bible to do it. Perhaps you know of a family with a financial need but you've been hesitant to offer your assistance. One way to get to know God personally is to respond to His prompting in faith. You will learn that He will give you the ability and resources to do whatever He has called you to do.  As you learn to trust God, your relationship with Him will grow deeper and deeper.

Whatever resolutions you have made for 2015, I hope you will succeed in keeping them. Making the effort to know God on a more personal level will bring joy to your heart as you grow in an intimate relationship with Him.

Happy 2015 to all!