Resting in God

Resting in God

There remains therefore a rest to the people of God. For he that hath entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from His.  Let us labor therefore to enter into this rest.  – Hebrews 4:9-11

I have always been fascinated with the idea of resting in God.  When I normally think of rest, it requires lots of sleeping and lots of doing as little as possible.  The thing is, when I do these things, I don’t necessarily feel rested, at least in the sense of being recharged and ready to take on the world.  I believe there is something in these verses that the vast majority of Christians do not understand.  I believe I am just beginning to scratch the surface of what they mean.

Monday, I will be 44 years old.  As little as 10 years ago, I thought of the 40’s as old.  Well, now that I am here, I have these strange feelings for it.  On one hand, I don’t think I’m that old.  On the other, I feel like if these 44 years have flown by like they have, my life really is a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away (James 4:14).  I will be out of here before I know it.  All I want is to be prepared for the day I stand before Him.  There is a strange transition taking place in my life right now that I’m not sure if it is temporary or long lasting.  “Let us labor to enter into rest” is a paradox that is puzzling me, and yet, I’m experiencing it at the same time.

These last few months have been labor intensive for me.  I don’t just mean job related, I mean kingdom related.  I have poured myself out like never before.  It involved me using the knowledge of God and the Bible that I have developed over the years.  I didn’t spend a lot of time acquiring new knowledge, which I missed greatly.  It all came to a grand finale the last time I preached at Lifeline.  I didn’t labor for the sermon at all.  I just stepped up and poured myself out.  At the end of that sermon, I literally collapsed to the floor and wept like I don’t think I’ve ever wept before.  Never, not even one other time, has that ever happened to me.  It was so strange and so wonderful.  Two men of God came up, put their hands on me, prayed for me, and I was immediately restored.  It was the coolest, craziest thing I have ever experienced.

Having said that, I am still so out of my Bible reading/studying routines right now. Somehow, I think I put too much trust in my routines.  In fact, I know I do.  I feel like when I’m not studying and praying that I’m just a goner that deserves something bad to happen to me.  It’s like I wait for it.  That is not the God presented in the Bible.  There is a time for labor.  Yes, God’s Word must be read.  God’s Word must be understood.  God’s Word must be applied.  A prayer life must be developed.   One must know what God feels like and sounds like.  One must learn His ways.  Not that we can learn these completely, but we can labor for these things and get closer and closer.  Being saved is not the end of spiritual matters.  Being saved is analogous to simply signing up and paying your dues at the gym.  You’ve got to learn to use all that equipment if you want to benefit from it.  Within three to six months, it is so obvious if you use it or not.  In Christianity, people have been signed up at the gym for years, yet most are still spiritually weak.

As usual, I have no idea why I’m writing this.  I am in such an unusual place right now.  I’m doing as little spiritual “working out” as I’ve ever done.  I do miss it like crazy and, after asking God to make me hunger and thirst for His Word and His righteousness, He is certainly responding. I just don’t want to ever forget these last few months where I studied very little, but reaped unbelievably great rewards by pouring myself out.  I don’t even know if that makes any sense.

It’s like a story I heard a long time ago.  God asked this new Christian to push a big rock every day with all of his strength. So, every morning the guy did.  He got totally ripped doing this over the years. His muscles were spectacular.  In time, Satan came along and discouraged the man, “Why keep doing this to yourself?  The rock isn’t moving and you are just wasting your energy.”  The guy listened and got weak.  When the day of battle came, he wasn’t ready.

It seems like American churches are like that.  We are really convinced that spiritual disciplines are useless.  Yet, those disciplines make us spiritually ripped to go out and fight and be victorious.  We have strength that He developed in us as well as His strength. We fight from victory, not for victory.

I remember telling a college friend about Jesus.  He straight up told me that I didn’t get to tell him about Jesus.  He basically called me spiritually weak.  He was right.  I hadn’t been pushing the rock at all.  I wasn’t prepared for that battle.  I always think about that when I don’t feel like pushing the rock.  I got to fight these last few months using the spiritual muscles that I have developed.  I went further in my own strength than I ever thought that I could. When I was spent, God stepped in and backed me up with His strength.  There was obviously no comparison, but I was sure thankful that He let me play as big of a part as He did.

Lord, teach me how to labor so that I may enter into your rest.

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Making Disciples

Go and make disciples. – Matthew 28:19

 

Disciples of Jesus Christ are made.  Somehow, especially in the American version of Christianity, we have come to believe that if a sinner prays a prayer to receive forgiveness, they will magically become disciples.  The parable of the sower plainly refutes this notion.  There was nothing wrong with the seed, it was perfect, but the ground that it fell on determined what happened to it.  The majority of Americans are so used to having everything handed to them that the notion of any effort being made on their part is foreign.  “Go and make disciples” requires effort.

 

Everyone reading this needs to think about this question: 

What is my process for making disciples?  Really think about it before you move on.  I would venture to say that inviting people to church is most people’s plan.  Back in 2001, the Sunday after the 9/11 attacks, the churches were filled.  I can’t prove it, but I think that Sunday had the highest American church attendance on record. More people came looking for hope and looking for answers than at any point in my lifetime.  It did not produce disciples.  After a couple of weeks, things just went right back to normal.

 

Normal in America is just not good.

 

I’m going to offer up a plan for you to try out.  It is certainly not the plan, but I believe it is a plan that works.  Before you even attempt this plan, you have to answer a very serious question of yourself:  Am I a disciple?  I did not ask if you go to church, call yourself a Christian, play on a church sports team, or anything else nominal American Christians do.  I am asking you if you follow Christ regardless of the cost to yourself?  When you fail to follow Him, does it absolutely eat you alive inside until you make it as right as possible?  If you answer yes to these questions, you are a good candidate to make other disciples, if you answer no, then you are pretty much useless in this endeavor.  You need to humble yourself, find a real deal follower of Christ, and ask them to disciple you.  Only disciples can make disciples.

 

Here is the plan:  find at least one other person willing to meet with you on a regular basis for a fixed number of days.  I like the number 60 for some reason.  I imagine that a seed planted in the ground where the ground is regularly being checked on, watered, fertilized, and weeded will have a good chance of making it after 60 days of growth.  The meetings don’t have to be long at all, 10-20 minutes works just fine.  Longer periods of time work well, too.  The main thing is that you make the meetings doable.

 

After the time has been set, be it before work, after work, during lunch break, morning, evening, whenever y’all decide, here is the grand plan . . . are you ready for this?  It is only three simple steps.

 

  1. Read the Bible
  2. Talk about it
  3. Pray

Might I suggest a starting point?  Romans 3:23.  Talk to the person about how “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  Put yourself in the same boat as the person or people you are trying to disciple.  Let them know that unless your name is Jesus Christ, you need Jesus Christ. Tell them that you are not even close to where you need to be yourself, but God has changed you, is changing you, and you want them to really know the same God you know.  Make it clear that you don’t want anything from them, but simply want something for them.  Pray for God to make your time together fruitful.

 

After that, it is up to you and God.  Pray for the person or group of people daily.  Ask God what verses you should read.  Ask the Holy Spirit to take over your words as you talk about the scriptures.  Bind the powers of evil.  Believe it or not, you are capable of doing this stuff if you are in Christ.  How do I know?  Because of the last verse of the Great Commission:

 

Teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. – Matthew 28:20

 

He’s with us.  He’s with you.  There is no excuse.  Go make a disciple.

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Casting Out Unclean Spirits

 

Now there was a man in their synagogue with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, saying, “Let us alone! What have we to do with You, Jesus of Nazareth?  Did you come to destroy us?  I know who You are – the Holy One of God!” – Mark 1:23-24

 

I would imagine that many of you reading this are like me and you deal with some evil, unclean spirits. Notice where this particular unclean spirit lived:  it was a man who went to the synagogue.  When that spirit got around Jesus, it had to cry out.  Now, notice what it cried out:  “Let us alone!”

 

“Leave me alone,” I believe is the major cry of the demons.  When you try to intervene with your son or daughter, a coworker, a friend, or another family member, the first thing they may say is, “I don’t want to hear about Jesus.”  Of course they don’t, the unclean spirits have a vice grip on their hearts, their minds, and their lives.  They wormed their way in; of course they want to be left alone.

 

But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be quiet, and come out of him!” And when the unclean spirit had convulsed him and cried out with a loud voice, he came out of him. – Mark 1:25-26

 

I know this stinks, this is hard, and this is scary, but evil and unclean spirits are not just naturally going to disappear.  They have found their home and they don’t leave just because you tack an eviction notice to the door.  You have to cast them out with an audible voice of authority.  Before you attempt anything like this, you pray until you feel like Jesus Himself is praying inside of you.  Then, and only then, do you have His authority to speak to the unclean spirit.  Read Acts 19:11-20 if you want to see how badly and embarrassing this can turn out.

 

I have no idea why I am writing something so hardcore this morning.  I’m going to assume that someone needs to hear it.  If you believe in God, have trusted in Jesus for salvation, and have the Holy Spirit flowing through you at this very moment, you have the Holy trifecta.  You have power beyond measure.  Use it to set people free.  There are a lot of demons crying, “Leave me alone.”  There are a lot of people who want nothing to do with the Holy Son of God. I don’t believe it is those actual people thinking this.  It is an unclean spirit who has found a home.

 

Pray, power up, and invade that home in the Name above all Names.

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Wrong

 

But when Cephas (Peter) came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly wrong. – Galatians 2:11

 

I sometimes wonder if I didn’t know a thing about religion right now and I spent a few months just studying them, which one I would choose?  All seem to offer some sort of promising afterlife for obedience and some sort of diminished existence for disobedience.  Most people believe that our lives go on past this existence in some form or fashion.  The most convenient thing to believe is that I will simply cease to exist once I draw my last breath, for then it doesn’t really matter how I live my life . . . I can do what I want without any eternal accountability.  I don’t really have enough faith to believe that.  So which god, gods, or philosophy is right?

 

There is this scene in Steve Groll’s book, “Beyond the Dead Forest,” where a witch forces two children to pick from a thousand different gods.  The “gods” are really scarecrows with different names.  All the kids have to do is take a knife, cut themselves, and offer a few drops of blood on the ground of the one they choose.  Had they chosen, it was really a trick so the witch’s wolves could easily track down the children later on.  Fortunately, they didn’t choose any of the gods and ended up setting them on fire and destroying them all.  They knew that those scarecrows weren’t real gods.  They weren’t even good scarecrows because thousands of crows rested upon them.  All of them were false gods.

 

For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. – John 3:16

 

When Jesus came on the scene, there were plenty of religions.  Scarecrows abounded, if you will.  The Romans considered Caesar God.  Even the Jewish people had begun to worship a set of manmade rules in place of the true God that they claimed to know.  Everyone on the planet, just like today, had a belief in either something or nothing.

 

Yet, here comes Jesus on the scene giving His life as a ransom for many.  Here’s the thing:  If every religion is right and everyone is going to be okay in the end, why in the world would He do this?  Is He basically saying, “There were a thousand ways to a better afterlife, now I have made it one thousand and one”?  In John 14:6, Jesus doesn’t claim to be a way, but claims to be the way.  He is either right or wrong.  He is either lying to us, or He is telling us the truth. I don’t think there is any middle ground, and there certainly isn’t room to believe that salvation can come through any other means.  At least, not if you believe His words.

 

Paul and Peter were possibly the two greatest preachers at the same time in the early church.  They both spread the gospel that salvation came to all people only through Jesus.  Yet, Peter got sidetracked a little bit when a group of people who followed Jesus also wanted to add some of the old rules back into the mix.  Peter didn’t confront or condemn these additions; therefore Paul confronted Peter “to his face. Because clearly he was wrong.”

 

Now, if Peter was wrong . . . he was wrong.  If Peter can be wrong in his beliefs, then we certainly can, too.  I believe there is nothing more important on this planet than what we believe.  It is appointed unto man once to die, and afterwards to face judgment (Hebrews 9:27).  Are you ready?  How confident are you in what you believe?

 

Praise God my salvation is not based on my performance.  My performance absolutely stinks sometimes.  In fact, I would hardly give myself a passing grade as I type this.  I don’t even live up to my own standards, much less God’s.  Therefore, I will place my trust in Christ alone.  Salvation is free and cannot be earned.  The only rule with God is don’t make it about rules.  Make it about knowing Jesus.  If you know Him, you will fall in love with Him.  If you fall in love with Him, you will want to keep His commands.

 

Do not be wrong about this! Salvation comes by putting your faith in Christ alone.  Nobody will talk his or her way into heaven.  Salvation will never be earned through good deeds.  It can only be received by faith.

 

Don’t waste another moment. This life is a vapor that appears for a moment and then vanishes away.  Pray!  Make sure your life is in His hands.  There is nothing on earth more important.  He doesn’t say at the end of our lives, “Depart from me, you didn’t behave!”  He says, “Depart from me, I never knew you.”  Please, please, please get to know Him.  Introduce yourself today.

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The Simplicity of Christianity

 

Love is patient, love is kind, it does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud, it does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no records of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails.  – 1 Corinthians 13:4-8

 

So here lately, it is like I have been just this beginner Christian.  God is humbling me greatly right now.  I know God’s Word says that we should humble ourselves . . . I guess when we don’t do what is asked of us; He steps in and does the job for us.  For some reason, I am predisposed to think that if God intervenes and has to do something for me, it is always going to be painful and difficult . . . the “hard way” if you will.  I guess these misconceptions just got planted in me when I was younger.  God is using this season to teach me just how kind, loving, and merciful He is.  I think it is slowly circling me back around to childlike faith.

 

Anyway, I was watching this preacher teach a group of about 10 kids this week.  He did the simplest message that spoke to my own heart. First, he went through 1 Corinthians 13:4-8.  Then, he said God is love.  Since that is true, we can put God’s name in there:  God is patient, God is kind, God does not envy, etc.  It is crazy how quickly I can see God as none of those things. Even in this season of feeling like I’m not finishing the school year strong, or just feeling like I am not doing Christianity well, I feel like God stands ready to punish me.  I feel like I deserve to be punished.  Yet, God in His great mercy is teaching me the opposite. He is teaching me that He really is all that 1 Corinthians 13 says He is.  He is protecting me, still trusting me, still persevering with me, still not easily angered with me, still loving me, and still pouring His truth into me. What a great God!!!

 

Then, the preacher put my name in there and asked some questions.  Is Adam patient?  Is Adam kind? Does Adam envy?  He went through the whole list.  I want you to read the verses at the top of this devotional and put your name in the place of love.  I found out really quickly that I am not consistently any of those things. Even when I thought of the times I felt like I got one or two of them right, it was still God who prompted me to do right.  Left on my own, I am none of them.

 

Herein lies the simplicity of Christianity.  Since I cannot be any of these things on my own, I need God.  He sent His Son to die for me so that I could be forgiven. After I asked Him to forgive me, He placed His Holy Spirit inside of me so that He could begin to teach me how to love, be kind, be patient, etc.  On this side of eternity, I don’t think I will ever get these virtues down pat, but I do feel like I am growing in the right direction.

 

It took Him just a week to make the moon and the stars

The Sun and the Earth and Jupiter and Mars

How loving and patient He must be

He’s still working on me.

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Boasting in Weakness

 

That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses.  – 2 Corinthians 12:10 (NLT)

 

This past Sunday, this past week, really, I had a unique experience. When it comes to preaching, I take it super seriously.  There is something in me that thinks if I take it lightly, or if I even try to speak on God’s behalf without being clean, I will be killed.  I know that sounds extreme, but Exodus 19:12 talks about God’s holy mountain, and how any person or any thing will die if it gets too close. Every time, right before I step in the pulpit, my mind pictures this mountain.  Just for a moment, I wonder if this will be the last time.

 

Now, this past Sunday, I didn’t take it seriously.  All last week, it was like my mind was just numb.  My regular job just drained me.  I was sleeping in a lot, and not getting up and studying.  Even when I did, it was like I was getting nothing out of reading the Word, so instead of persevering, I just set an alarm on my phone and slept some more.

 

When the weekend rolled around, it didn’t get any better.  I knew Sunday was coming, but I didn’t amp up my efforts.  Normally, I open the “Word of Promise” Bible app and let it read aloud to me while I physically read the Bible I use to preach.  Instead, I was opening Facebook, studying crypto currency, and dissecting my golf swing.  This went on all weekend.  By the time Sunday morning rolled around, I was so ill prepared.

 

When I got to church, the youth band did praise and worship.  We had so many visitors.  I was so afraid because I just didn’t feel right with Him . . . I felt so unclean.  Then, we sang:

 

I’m still in your hands

This is my confidence,

You’ve never failed me yet.

 

I knew what was going on.  God, in His sovereignty, was humbling me.  I began to think of the times I walked up confidently, not because of God, but because I had studied and practiced so much.  I saw that this was just as vile as what I had done this week. In fact, I saw my overall self as vile, but supernaturally cleaned up and empowered by a great, mighty, and living God.

 

I went to the altar as the youth band sang:

 

Oh the overwhelming

Never ending reckless love of God

It chases me down

Fights till I’m found

Leaves the 99

I couldn’t earn it

I don’t deserve it

Still you give yourself away.

 

As I prayed, I didn’t know what to say, so I prayed in tongues.  I have no idea what I was saying, but did it ever feel wonderful.  I walked to the pulpit, and once again, just like He has done for me hundreds of times now, He came through for me.  He helped me. He empowered me.  He spoke through me.

 

I don’t know why I’m typing this out as a Wednesday Morning Devotional. All of this has just increased my love for Him.  It had absolutely nothing to do with my own efforts.  It was all Him.  The love I have for Him was given to me.  He gave it to me.  I hope and pray that someone opens his or her heart and mind and understands just how great and wonderful He is.  There is and never will be anyone like Him.

 

And we get to continue this relationship forever!

 

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Original Christian

 

The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch. – Acts 11:26

 

Today, people refer to themselves as Christians.  It is a term that we use to explain what we believe. Unfortunately, to the unbelieving world around us, it has come to mean hypocrisy, bigotry, hatred, intolerance, and a lot of other negative words.  I can’t say that I completely disagree with the world’s perspective because an awful lot of the meanest people I know actually call themselves Christians.

 

Originally, it was not like this.  When Paul started making disciples at Antioch, they changed, just like Christians are supposed to.  They changed so much that the unbelieving world around them said, “These people are like little Jesus’s running around here.”  They became so much like Him that others associated them with Him.

 

Isn’t that the goal?  Shouldn’t we be so much like Him that the world at the very least recognizes Him inside of us?  Nobody ever looked at Jesus and said that He didn’t love people.  In fact, He got in most of His trouble by helping people that most religious people thought shouldn’t be helped to begin with, or, if He did help, shouldn’t have been helped when they were helped.

 

Today, let’s you and I walk as He walked.  What if we tried to simply treat people like He treated people?  How long would it take for the unbelieving world to say, “It is like having a miniature version of Jesus walking around here!”

 

Would to God that this could happen again.

 

Lord, make me like you. 

 

Make me a little version of you.

 

Make me a Christian as it was defined in the first century.

 

 

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