Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Gracious Host: Pt 2

By: Adam McClendon

Last week, I posted about the graciousness of God and the heart of thanks that should flow from recognizing all that he has done for us based on Psalm 23. 

In thinking on those ideas, some questions naturally arose.  What practically can we do?  What can we do to help focus on him?  What can we do to be more thankful and less “Captain Grumpy-Pants”? 

In light of those questions, here are four tips to help us shift our focus off of the distractions of this world that try and rob us from seeing the blessings of God in our midst.
1. We need to remember that God is good and be thankful in (not necessarily for) all circumstances.

2. We need to remember that God does not exist for our comfort, but his glory and his purpose in bringing the gospel to the nations.

3. We need to remember that we are never forsaken by God regardless of how anything may feel.

4. We need to reflect on the blessings that are all around us and not take them for granted.  Below are a few blessings upon which I’ve recently reflected:
* God has given me great shelter. 
* God has given me a heart for him.
* God has given me his word. 
* God has given me the ability to work and a job.
* God has given me friends.
* God has given me gracious reminders of his presence in creation.
* God has given me Christian music where his truth is wonderfully and creatively put to music. 
* God has given me the ability to speak.
* God has given me the opportunity to learn more about the things of God through books and education.
* God has given me the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit who will never leave me. 
* God has given me food and water. 
* God never lets me fall too far.
* God has given me a godly, gospel-centered church.
* God has given me a life of laughter and fun. 
* God has given me a new identity, whereby, I am a child of God and my past no longer determines who I am.
* God has placed me in a time with great technological advances where I can stay connected with my family even when I am away.
* God has placed me in a country where I am not physically persecuted for my faith.

God has been so good to us.

Let’s stop looking at the difficulties, and focus on the blessing because gazing upon grace should bring gratitude.

Let’s stop looking at things that rob us from seeing God’s glorious graciousness in our life.


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Gracious Host: Pt. 1

By: Adam McClendon

Psalm 23:5: You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

Even in the midst of hostile territory when danger lurks all around, God’s people are a blessed people.  We often think of our blessing in heaven, but we are blessed even in this world.  Let’s not miss it.

These blessings are both physical and spiritual and we should acknowledge them.

First, every physical provision we have in our lives is a gift from God and should invoke gratitude.

A pastor from the 1500’s wrote, “All men, it is true, are not treated with the same liberality with which David was treated; but there is not an individual who is not under obligation to God by the benefits which God has conferred upon him so that we are constrained to acknowledge that he is a kind and liberal Father to all his people. … If he is ungrateful who, having only a coarse loaf, does not acknowledge in that the fatherly providence of God, how much less can the stupidity of those be tolerated, who glut themselves with the great abundance of the good things of God which they possess, without having any sense or taste of his goodness towards them” (Calvin Commentary, Psalms, 397)?

What a great quote.  In other words, if we would acknowledge that someone who only has one meal needs to be thankful for that one meal, how much more ought we to be thankful for all that we have.

Secondly, God has provided significant and sufficient spiritual blessing.
God has provided his children with victory and blessing in front of the enemy.
Ephesians 1:3–4, 7-8: 3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. 4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. … 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8 that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.

These blessings are ours now.  We have been blessed now while living in an enemy occupied territory.

These two ways we have been blessed should foster within us a great sense of gratitude; unfortunately, all too often we ignore the blessings in front of us while longing for that which we don’t have.  Three forces which foster a thankless heart.
1. Comparison: A compulsion exists to compare ourselves to others.  We always think everyone else has it better.  It’s a lie!
2. Culture: Commercials are one example.  They are simply designed to entice discontentment.
3. Circumstances: Specifically, when we experience bad or hard circumstances, we tend to miss the blessings we do have.

Since these three forces tend to foster a thankless heart, here are three brief warnings.  We need to:
1. Beware of the “What if?”  The reality is that it could always be worse. 
2. Beware of the “Why me?”  No one is exempt from tragedy.  The reality is that we live in a fallen world.  We sometimes experience the consequences of bad decisions, whether ours or someone else’s.
3. Beware of the “I’m mad at God.”  We don’t know how God may have intervened to keep circumstances from being worse than they were.  The reality is that we are not God and there is a lot about life and how circumstances are interrelated that we simply don’t know.  The reality is we are called to be God’s servant; he is not called to be ours.  My life is to be his and he is good.

So, let’s be thankful.  Let’s fix our eyes on Jesus the author, perfecter, and shepherd of our faith.  We’ll talk more on this topic next week.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Supreme Shepherd

By: Adam McClendon

Psalm 23:3b: He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

What is God’s goal in shepherding his sheep down the right path?  According to the last part of Psalm 23:6, it’s for the glory of his name.

God’s ultimate goal is not the comfort of our lives but the glory of his name proclaimed in our lives and to the nations, so that others might come to worship him rightly and experience the contentment and joy that comes from being in a right relationship with him.

The reason so many of us live life in constant tension is because we live life from a false center.  All too often, our goal is not “for his name’s sake” but for “my name’s sake”.  Disagree?

* Why do our churches have to offer plaques and memorials for everything to get donations?  I would love to walk into a church one day and see a plaque that says, “Donated in memory of Jesus.  Because He’s awesome and I’d have nothing without him anyway.”

* Why do we spend considerably more time wondering what other people think about us, rather than, wondering what God thinks about us?  For example, when we are fixing our hair in the morning or choosing our outfits for the day, are we seeking to honor Christ in those moments or wondering what people will think of us when they see us and worrying too much about how we will look in front of others? What if our question in the most basic function in life was “God, what do you want from me in this situation?”  What if our genuine deepest desire was to glorify his name through our lives each day by simply living in obedience to his leadership?

We were born with a factory setting focused on self and this world.  As a result, a reprogramming of the mind is required to truly get to the place where we understand that our path in this life is to be lived for “his name’s sake” alone.  His glory is to be the central focus and motivator in every venue in life.

Here are a few other verses for us:

Psalm 25:11: For the sake of your name, O Lord, forgive my iniquity, though it is great.

Psalm 31:3–5: 3 Since you are my rock and my fortress, for the sake of your name lead and guide me.  4 Free me from the trap that is set for me, for you are my refuge.  5 Into your hands I commit my spirit; redeem me, O Lord, the God of truth.

Psalm 79:9–10: 9 Help us, O God our Savior, for the glory of your name; deliver us and forgive our sins for your name’s sake.  10 Why should the nations say, “Where is their God?”  Before our eyes, make known among the nations that you avenge the outpoured blood of your servants.

Psalm 106:8: Yet he saved them for his name’s sake, to make his mighty power known.

Psalm 143:11: For your name’s sake, O Lord, preserve my life; in your righteousness, bring me out of trouble.

When we understand that our lives are a means through which God can manifest his glory to the nations, it changes everything.  The Supreme Shepherd is working in our lives for “his name’s sake.”  The path down which God is Shepherding us is a purpose that far exceeds any one of us individually.  We are part of a divine collage.

When we understand that our lives are guided for “his name’s sake,” we understand that we are part of something much bigger than ourselves.

Such a perspective should challenge and change us in dramatic ways.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Sovereign Shepherd

By: Adam McClendon

Psalm 23:4: Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

Sometimes the right path leads through dark places.  But, why? 
Why does God guide us through the valley of the shadow of death?  Why does God at times allow darkness to press upon our lives like an un-tethered anchor?  Why do we experience the dangers, pain, and pressures of life?  Several possible reasons:
* Sometimes it’s to take us to a more excellent spiritual place, a place that we could not appreciate without having experienced some of the darkness and depression of this life.
* Sometimes it’s to purge us from sin.
* Sometimes it’s to keep us close to him and keep us from sin.
* Sometimes it’s to be an example for others, to better sympathize with others, and to better encourage others.
* Sometimes it’s to help us identify with, and appreciate a Savior named Jesus who suffered the hell of this world so that we could experience heaven.

Sometimes we can go through a dark time and then we see how that difficulty proved to be a blessing.  Other times, we can’t.  We often want to know why, yet, ultimately, we may never know why we went through the dark valley.  We often want to know the pain we experience will go away and life will get better; however, that is not the promise we have. 

We do not follow for the temporal pleasure of this life, but for the glory of his name.  In the end, we may never know why darkness is allowed to press in, but our confidence is that we are led for his name’s sake and that he will use the horrors of this life for his glorious and redemptive purpose.  Yet, it seems that in every dark valley two forces are at work.  The enemy wants to use the dark circumstances of life to create fear and destroy our faith, while the Lord wants to use these circumstances to grow our faith and work his beautiful plan through our lives.  To which force will we give in to?

Our fears may be real, or they may be imaginary, but the Psalmist explains that fear is unnecessary.  Why is fear unnecessary even in the “Valley of the Shadow of Death”?  Because God, the Sovereign Shepherd, is with us.  When we understand the presence of the Sovereign Shepherd, we have peace.  
It’s not just about us changing our perspective concerning our circumstances, it’s about us understanding the presence of the Sovereign Shepherd.

See, this passage isn’t just about overcoming fear with the right perspective, this passage is about walking in peace because at the end of the day, we know that the Sovereign Shepherd is with us.  It’s about the presence of the Sovereign Shepherd bringing peace to our lives when evil, whether real or imagined, seems all around us.

If we are panicking in the midst of our trials, at the end of the day, is it because we are not confident that God is there, that God cares, that God is good, or that God is even able to do anything about it.

In other words, when we allow fear to settle in, we are questioning his presence, compassion, character, or power.

Peace comes from understanding God’s providential protection.  It’s not just that someone is with me, it’s that God the sovereign, powerful, and good God of the universe is my Shepherd. It’s not that we will not be attacked, it’s that nothing happens apart for the will of our Master.  Nothing slides under his careful watch. 

In darkness I do not despair
For Your presence is everywhere
In chaos and danger, I need not be fraught
For by Christ’s blood I have been bought
You are my ever present king
And so I need to fear nothing
For though through life’s clefts I go
I will not fear the fiercest foe

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Who Was the One that Invented Summer Vacation from Church?

By: Dr. Monte Shanks. 
Dr. Shanks is a professor with Liberty Seminary online.

An interesting thing has been happening at churches in America, it seems as if Memorial Day signals the official day when summer vacation from church begins.  I know of several churches where once Memorial Day has passed all “regular” mid-week ministries and activities go on a “break” until late August or early September (presumably after Labor Day).  And I should confess that I am using the term “ministry” for these mid-week ministries rather loosely, since I can’t be certain that any real training for cultural engagement with the gospel is occurring, or that anyone is growing in their theological maturity, or that changed lives are actually occurring at these events.  But this “break” from church doesn’t only affect the mid-week ministries it also has an effect on the summer Sunday’s attendance.  I know of several families that routinely go camping or to their lake house every weekend during the summer months.  And when they return from their summer away I never hear them talk about the exciting things that happened at their adopted churches where they spent their weekends.  Nor do I ever hear them share about how they saw several family members make decisions for Christ, or who is discipling them, or the mission trips they went upon in adopted vacation area.  Instead, all I see are their suntans, and all I hear about is how much better they are at water skiing.

I have to be honest and say I find it very strange that people would think it perfectly acceptable to return to their “home church” in early September and begin to  worshiping one who said “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it” (Matthew 16.25).  I’m not sure the apostle Paul would understand such behavior either.  Some of you may remember Paul, he’s the guy who wrote “Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier” (2 Timothy 2.3-4).  Nor do I remember the apostle Peter teaching anywhere about summer vacation from church.  But I do remember he writing “Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose, because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God” (1 Peter 4.1-1).  The apostle John wrote something very similar, which was “Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever” (1 John 2.15-17).  And what about James’s thoughts on summer vacation from church?  I can’t think of any, but he did write “You adulterous people don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us?” That is very interesting, God himself “jealously desires” our spirits that he created and put within us.  He vehemently wants us to participate in serving him as we separate ourselves from the world and join with other likeminded believers in corporate worship.  But hey, during the months of June, July, and August some people think they get a “hall pass” from that whole church thingy.  Interestingly enough, I even know of others who use this same mentality of “a break from church” during the football season as well.  During the fall you can’t find them in church simply because they have made tailgating into an art form.  So, if the team’s in town, they’re not at church, and for those who have RVs, well then wherever the team is so are they. 

I think the author of Hebrews said it best when he wrote “let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near” (Hebrews 10.22-25).   It seems the overwhelming exhortation of the biblical writers is that authentic Christians look forward to worshipping together rather than finding reasons to avoid it.  The scriptures indicate that true Christians would think it unimaginable to take a couple months out of the year to get away from the very endeavor that Jesus is most passionate about—which is building his church (Matt 16.18).  How odd it is that people think it acceptable to take a break for weeks at a time and leave their Lord behind to work alone.  Jesus himself said “Then Jesus said to His disciples, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me” (Matt 16.24).  If you really want to know how serious you are about what you believe about the Lordship of Jesus Christ, then you only need to ask “who is looking at whose back”?  If you are looking at the back of Jesus, then you are a true follower, but if Jesus is looking at your back, then you are the one walking in the wrong direction.