Right or Righteous?

Thursday February 26, 2015

Today’s Topic: Who Will Carry Our Sin?

Today’s Scripture:  Genesis 4: 13-14 Cain said to the LORD, “My punishment is more than I can bear.  Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.”

We have a weight problem. We may be carrying around far too much weight: much more than are supposed to be carrying. You’ve probably not noticed mine, but it is a big problem for me. I’m not talking about my large belly. You’ve seen that, and it is a problem I am addressing in my new fitness program. But I’m talking about another weight problem we have – a much more serious one. I’m talking about the weight of sin and unforgiveness we carry.

This morning in my daily chronological reading of the Bible, the schedule called for reading several chapters in the book of Numbers. I came across an interesting principle based on the holy nature of God.

Moses is being given some of the laws for community life as the chosen people of Israel. He is specifically addressing the requirements of the Nazarite vow, a vow that could be taken to declare oneself completely separated unto God.

One of the requirements of the separation was that the person making the vow was never allowed to be in the presence of a dead person, not even if his wife, children, or parents died. This would make him unclean and the vow would be broken.

Then, in Numbers 6:9 we read an additional requirement concerning the dead. “And if any man dies very suddenly beside him and he defiles his consecrated head, then he shall shave his head on the day of his cleansing; on the seventh day he shall shave it. Even if the Nazarite accidentally came in contact with a dead person, he was declared unclean.

Well that seems harsh. It wasn’t the Nazarite’s fault that someone near him died. He couldn’t help it. But the eternal principle at work here isn’t about whether or not we think we are right, but whether or not we highly respect the righteousness of God.

The point is this: God’s holiness is not to be taken lightly. We who claim to be in Christ have been called to be separated unto Christ. Therefore, absolutely anything that we do that is contrary to the righteousness of God is sin and places a huge weight on our lives.

Over the next few days or weeks, I am compelled to update a series a devotionals I wrote in 2007 on the subject of forgiveness. The Hebrew word translated forgive is used some 650 times in its root form in the Old Testament. The word means to lift, to carry, and to take away.  The first time the word is used in the Bible is in Genesis 4:13, where following the murder of his brother Abel, Cain is punished by God and responds to Him by saying, My punishment is more than I can bear.” 

The weight of sin in our lives is more than we can lift or carry. Our attempts to be free from the burden are varied. We may deny that the sin really exists, as Cain did when God rejected his offering and he became angry at God. God gave Cain a chance to do the right thing, but Cain rejected God’s offer of acceptance. We sometimes do the same. We choose to believe that our way is right even when God calls it wrong. We try to convince ourselves and others that what we are doing is not sin. We try to earn our acceptance by making ourselves right, even if it means eliminating from our lives those that make us feel guilty for what we are doing.

Sometimes we lie in an attempt to cover our guilt and personal responsibility for our choices. When God asked Cain where his brother was, Cain responded, “I don’t know. Am I my brother’s keeper?”  He lied about what he had done. Denial is of the Devil. Satan is the father of lies. Lying begins in the heart of a self-centered person who requires approval and acceptance from people. Lying is the product of pride. Lies are designed by a deceived person in an attempt to avoid rejection and protect image. We fail to understand that the lie is yet another sin which adds to the weight of the burden we cannot lift. We quickly fall into the humanly inescapable quicksand of sin. The more we try to struggle against it, the deeper we sink.

Sometimes we seek the comfort of the world to relieve the pain of our sin. When Cain was expelled from the presence of the Lord because of his choice to protect his position rather than repent, he began to build a city. He put all of his energy into finding satisfaction from what the world had to offer. He even named the city after his son. He did not include God in any of his plans. The world became his opiate. The world offers many empty promises of relief from sin: promises we quickly and easily accept as truth. Financial success, social status, sex, alcohol, drugs, and on goes the list. Each promise proves itself addictive to the process of pursuing more promises. The temporary relief we may experience ultimately compounds the burden of our sin because we have failed to realize that each promise is itself another sin.

But in the middle of all of this was a promise from God to Cain that is made to all of us as well – “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted?” 

There is a solution to our weight problem. God will carry the total weight of our sin if we will release it to Him and do what is right. It is in that moment of repentance that we find forgiveness. In the days ahead we will dig out many nuggets of treasured truth from the mine of forgiveness, but the first and foundational lesson we must learn is this – the weight of our sin is more than we can carry. We cannot take it away by ourselves. We must give it to the One who can carry it, and once we do, we NEVER have to carry it again. That means surrendering our rights, telling the truth, and living according to God’s purpose and not the world’s pursuits.

Isn’t it time to have the weight of sin lifted off of your life? God wants to do it, and He can. Turn to Jesus today and sincerely ask for forgiveness. Then accept His forgiveness as a done deal. Then offer the same forgiveness to others.

Pastor John

 

How Delightful!

LifeLink Today’s Topic: How Delightful!

Today’s Scripture: Psalm 1:1-3  Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; 2  but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. 3  He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.

As I drove along one of the main avenues through Eau Claire this morning, I was suddenly overwhelmed with a sense of joy. It started with a simple glance at a restaurant. Now before you jump to conclusions about my dysfunctional relationship with food, the joy I was feeling was the product of memories of many experiences with my wife at that restaurant years ago. I haven’t been in that eating establishment for a long time, but the memories of times spent with my wife brought a huge sense of delight to my heart.

Try something right now. Say the word DELIGHT out loud. Now say it again…and again. Great word isn’t it? It just rolls off the tongue and produces a smile as you say it. As you say it you there are memories and feelings being generated in your mind and heart. You are leaning into those thoughts right now, aren’t you? They feel good. They are a breath of fresh air in the midst of a polluted set of circumstances surrounding you. Enjoy them!

The word delight is of Latin origin, and means to charm. In the Bible, as in Psalm 1:2, the Hebrew word means to incline towards. In other words, to take delight in something means to be so charmed by it that you lean into it.

That’s what happened to me this morning. I was so charmed by the memories of time spent with my wife that I leaned into them. I actually called her and thanked her for making my life so delightful.

After my phone conversation ended, I began to wonder why I didn’t experience more delight in my life. The answer was instantly clear. It’s because I am looking for delight in the wrong place. Maybe you are too.

One place we look for delight is in relationships, hoping we can surround ourselves with people who are delightful so it will rub off on us and ease our pain. Trouble is, they tend to only be delightful when they agree with us, so we avoid people who challenge us.

Maybe we look for delight in our work. When think that if we get recognized as successful we can finally have some delight.

It’s possible that we search for delight in possessions. If we can look around at all the stuff we own, and the quality of our home, we can feel delighted.

Or is it the reality that we want the circumstances of our lives to be charming, and if they aren’t, we have no reason lean into them.

All of the above things can produce a sense of delight, albeit short-lived and unsatisfying. But the Psalmist knew the secret to living a delightful life. Blessed is the man who…delights in the law of the Lord, and on His law he meditates day and night.

Imagine this. Something unexpected happens to you. It’s outside the box of your control. It’s painful. It hurts. Would you dare to think that you could respond with a statement like this?

How delightful is God, who knows my way and what I need. I am a tree planted by streams of water, yielding the fruit of righteousness, and my leaves will not wither in this drought of emotional distress.

If your delight is in what flows* from the heart of God, then you can take delight in Him regardless of what is happening. You can be delightful even when everything around you isn’t. Now that’s good news!

*Flows – this is the root meaning of the Hebrew word for law. The law, or precepts of God (Hebrew is torah), flow from His heart and are pointed at us for our delight.

We Are Being Remodeled

LifeLinkTuesday, February 24, 2015

 Today’s Topic:  What Do You Look Like?

Today’s Text:  2 Corinthians 3:18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

Proverbs 27:19 As in water face reflects face, so the heart of man reflects the man.

Well the remodeling job on my bathroom is proceeding slowly. It seems I can’t find enough time or energy to put in the work necessary to get it done. Every night, when I go to bed, the closed door to that room stares at me. I know that on the other side of that door is a room that is a mess. I know there’s a plan for that room, and I have all the materials available to complete the room. But unless I actually do the work, it will not get done. I just need to keep my eyes fixed on the finished look, and apply myself every day to making it happen.

For many of us, the remodeling of life proceeds slowly as well. We know there is a plan designed by the Owner of our lives to remodel us into the image of Christ. He has provided all the materials necessary to complete the job through the ministry of the Holy Spirit in us. But it is hard and slow work. The demolition of years of previous construction is painful, but it must be torn out. The replacement of all the new material takes time, but it takes even longer when we don’t invest the time to work on it. It’s easier to shut the door to that room and not look at it. If only we would fix our eyes on the finished look the Master has designed.

The question then that must be asked and answered by each of us is this – “What does the Master’s design look like?”

The answer is easy to find, but hard to do; it’s more difficult than we are willing to admit. Over and over the Scriptures teach us one thing and one thing only that sets us apart as having been remodeled by the Master Designer – LOVE.

The fundamental principle of life in the kingdom of God is LOVE. The kingdom is not founded on one’s ability to interpret Scripture, or counsel people, or accomplish great things in the church. It is not founded on the power to heal or cast out demons or take authority over nature or even know and obey the law. The Kingdom of God is founded on the love of God for people who in turn love God and love others. This alone is the foundation of the Kingdom and is to be the focus of our every choice.

When we fail to keep our eyes fixed on the Designer’s intended “look of love”, the remodeling work stops.  That’s when we choose to shut the door to avoid looking at the unfinished mess.

So what do you look like? Is everything about your life reflecting the Designer’s love? Are you being daily remodeled into the image of Jesus Christ?

Here’s a poem I found in one of my devotionals from 10 years ago. It really speaks to the remodeling project of our lives. Make it the prayer of your heart today.

When we marvel at the grace

that has given us a place

where we will see His face,

we will by that grace

remember our place

and reflect His face

and not our own.

Power To Do It ALL

Monday, February 23, 2015

 Today’s Topic:  The Source of True Power

Today’s Text:  Acts 1:6-8 So when they met together, they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Yesterday when I got up to share my ten minutes during our church’s Jubilee Celebration, I was suddenly overpowered by the Holy Spirit. I opened my mouth to speak and words came out from a place in my heart that erased and replaced what had been prepared in my mind. It was so overwhelming that I almost broke down in tearful speechlessness.

But the Holy Spirit had a message for me, and chose that moment to also deliver it through me to others. The message could be condensed into one statement – As followers of Christ we are empowered to accomplish every aspect of the commission of Christ.

 As I reflect on my own life and the life of the church I have concluded that we have participated in a disabling dialogue that goes like this – Some are called and gifted to go; some are called and gifted to witness; and others are called and gifted to disciple.

 We have adopted this dialogue as truth, maybe because it’s more comfortable for us. We all prefer to work within the boundaries of our comfort zones. But there’s a problem with that – a HUGE problem. All the power and provisions for working with comfort zones come from within us, according to our own strength and knowledge. Comfort zones are the product of sight. Comfort zones don’t require faith. Comfort zones eliminate the need for the Holy Spirit.

The disciples of Jesus were looking to pad their comfort zones after the resurrection of Jesus when they asked Him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” But Jesus refused to give them the knowledge they thought they needed, and instead told them that they were about to receive enough power to live by faith and fulfill an eternal purpose. He told them to live by the Spirit and not according to the knowledge found in the flesh.

Jesus simply tells us “You don’t have a need to know, you only need the power to be my witnesses.”  We don’t need to know what we are naturally good at – we will become great at what God does in us. We don’t need to live within the confines of our conditional comfort zones – we have the Power to go and make disciples and teach them to observe all things that Jesus has taught us. The Power is promised to do it all, not just part of it.

In the REAL church, knowledge does not produce power; the presence of God produces power. As individuals and as a church we are the temple of the Holy Spirit, and the fullness of God abides in us. We experience the presence of God, and we are equipped with the power of God to accomplish His eternal purpose of being witnesses to the resurrected Christ. We do not know the answer to how long we have to wait for His return, but we do have the power to do His work until He does. By faith, let’s step out boldly to accomplish God’s purpose. Not just part of it – but ALL of it.

Pastor John

Open Carry

Thursday, February 19, 2015

 Today’s Topic:  Open Carry

Today’s Text:  Acts 4:13 (ESV) Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.

I had only been in my office for a short time when I heard a voice. I recognized the southern style of mornin’ and responded with the northern version of good morning. Pastor JAH entered my office.

He proceeded to tell me about a dream he had last night that made me seriously think about something. I haven’t had a lot of time to process it, but after I tell you about the dream, I will share my initial thought.

In his dream, James Alan said he was the pastor of the church. He laughed lightly as he assured me this was a dream. The dream took place during a morning worship service in which he was off-stage preparing to preach and the worship team was leading the congregation in a song.

Suddenly there was a very loud commotion. So loud in fact that the music was drowned out by the noise. He stepped out of the room he was in and immediately saw two rival gangs engaged in a big fight. He immediately asked the ushers to clear out the room of everyone except the gang members and get them to safety. Then they locked the doors, so he was alone in the room with the combatants.

As pastor he proceeded to the pulpit with his large hard-covered Bible. He raised it over his head and slammed it down on the pulpit so hard that it made the sound of a gunshot and almost broke the pulpit. Silence came over the room as the gang members’ attention was drawn to the stage.

Then the pastor said, “This thing is loaded, and I’m not afraid to aim it at your hearts.”

——————————————————————————————————————–

Immediately after hearing that line in the story, the Holy Spirit spoke to my heart with two words: CONCEALED CARRY. Here’s what I’m processing:

Why do so many of us believe that the Sword of the Spirit, the Word of God, is to be carried in concealment when Jesus Christ has given us an open carry permit?

I am going to spend some more time today thinking about that. I will do some reflection on my attitudes when I am out in public to see if I am intentionally trying to conceal Christ. I will evaluate the fears that keep me from openly carrying the character of Christ and openly sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ with anyone I meet.

I’m sure the difference between how I live and how the early Apostles lived in boldness and courage and never backed down from any opposition is this – THEY HAD BEEN WITH JESUS.

Let’s remember that the constitutional right to carry weapons in America is not the most treasured right we have. The most cherished right we have as followers of Christ is to openly carry a Sword, and use it to save people from their sin.

——————————————————————————————————————–

By the way, there was a tagline to the dream. After stating, “This thing is loaded,” Pastor James Alan Hall told the gangs to sit down, and gave them the Gospel that death precedes life, and that until you die in Christ you will never live. At the conclusion of the dream, both gangs got saved.

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. (Romans 1:16) That includes gangs at war.

Pastor John

Try Modeling Love

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

 Today’s Topic:  Model Love

Today’s Text:  1 Thessalonians 3:12 (ESV) May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you.

I am surrounded with princesses. (Or is it princi. I get confused over the plural spelling of some words.) Either way, I am surrounded with several young girls who all believe they are a princess. One of them is my granddaughter, one has captured my heart as if she were a granddaughter, and one is a friend of theirs from the church.

As often as possible, these three girls dress up in princess dresses. They twirl and leap and parade around with such joy as they put form to their fantasies. But their favorite thing to do is to model their dresses for us. Their little lives are not complete until grandpa or someone else comments on the beauty of their dress and the perfection of their princessness. (I know, I made up another word, but it fits the mental picture)

Prior to last Christmas, my wife spent hours making two dresses for our youngest granddaughter. They were the perfect replicas of the dresses worn in a now-famous movie called Frozen. She opened the first one and immediately had to model it for us.

Ari Dress 2Then she opened the second one, and it had to be modeled as well.

Modeling comes naturally to a princess. Actually, we are all models of something or other whether we are aware of it or not. Moms model what it means to be a woman. Dads model what it means to be a man.  Children are molded by our modeling, and what they see in us is what they will grow up to believe is “normal and right.”

Modeling is God’s preferred method of motivating people to get fit spiritually. Of course there are other things that motivate, like teaching, correction, discipline, encouragement, and even gentle rebuke. But let me draw your attention to one verse that captured my heart on this subject. It happened as I was preparing for a pastoral leadership class I teach.

In our class study we are evaluating the Book of Acts and how the Apostles and the early church were directed by the Holy Spirit to fulfill Christ’s commission to go and make disciples. To see it the principles in practice we are studying the books of First and Second Thessalonians. As the Apostle Paul writes to them, he spends some quality time affirming them and encouraging them. Then he writes this in chapter 3 verse 12 – May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you.

I asked the class to list some ways that the Lord makes people increase and abound in love. After some discussion, I directed them to the one answer provided in this verse – as we do for you.

Modeling motivates growth.

Paul said to this local church in Thessalonica, The Lord wants you to increase and abound in love for each other. Use us as the model of how to do that.

Here’s how Eugene Peterson puts it in The Messasge: And may the Master pour on the love so it fills your lives and splashes over on everyone around you, just as it does from us to you.

Here’s my point – What are you modeling to others?

Are you so thrilled with the gift of God’s grace that you can’t wait to put it on and show it off to everyone around you?

Is God able to use your life right now as a model of His love so that He can accomplish His work of making others increase and abound in love for others?

Think on these things.

Pastor John

PUSH YOURSELF

Monday, February 16, 2015

 Today’s Topic:  Character Evaluation

Today’s Text:  1 Timothy 3:14-15 (ESV)  I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you mayu know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of truth.

I really pushed myself this morning. I am determined that I will stretch myself beyond my normal stopping point. I will no longer be done first.

You see, normally, I get done before others do. When I was a student in elementary school, I got my work done faster than anyone. It may not have been the best work, but it was fast. That carried over into my work habits, and my sports participation. Fast was always my goal: endurance never was.

Well, I’m going to work harder than ever to be done with that, and today I started. I could have quit after 7 reps in my third set, but the goal was 10. Everyone in my group would have cheered me if I had stopped at 5. When I hit 7 my legs were burning and shaking and the thought of quitting was powerful. But I took deeper breaths, set my heart on the finish line, and persevered through the pain and made it to 10.

Getting fit isn’t about being comfortable with our current status. We can only be satisfied with our present condition when we have previously decided that we have the right to self-define our fitness level. At some point we must admit there is someone much more qualified to define what fitness is, and it is only when we listen to them that we will start to make progress.

But that progress requires two things:

  1. An honest evaluation of our current status; and
  2. A determination to endure any pain to accomplish the Trainer’s goals.

This morning I stood on a machine that electronically measured my BMI, my muscle mass, and my body fat percentage. It wasn’t terrible, but it was humbling. Now, I have two choices. To be thankful that I am not all that messed up, or to be motivated to make what is messed up better. I choose the latter.

Yesterday I was really pushed as well. The message God gave me really stretched me. If I follow through on it I will go beyond my normal stopping point. But I am determined to face up to an honest evaluation of my personal and spiritual character, and endure whatever pain I may feel to strive for the standard of Godliness set forth in Scripture.

In case you don’t have any context for what I am writing, please take some time and go to www.calvaryeauclaire.org and watch yesterday’s sermon on Exercising God’s Character.

At the end of the sermon I handed out a character evaluation form to everyone. I hope people actually use it. I am going to ask my wife to evaluate me. Married couples should do this together. Single people should choose a trusted spiritual mentor to fill out the evaluation form.

It will be painful. It will make us defensive and self-protective. But if we push ourselves past the normal stopping point, we will grow. It is a necessary step in becoming spiritually fit.

Here is the evaluation form. Character evaluation sheet

Exercise God’s Image

Determining Our Character Fitness

Please ask a spouse or close friend to evaluate your character fitness according to Paul’s training of Timothy and Titus, and then discuss their responses.

Overall Spiritual Fitness

  1. How do you evaluate my overall fitness as a Christian?

Out of Shape   1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10    Very Fit

Above Reproach

  1. What is my reputation as a Christian both among fellow believers and in the world?

Out of Shape   1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10    Very Fit

Marriage

  1. What is the status of my marriage?

Out of Shape   1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10    Very Fit

Sober-minded

  1. How well do I maintain balance in my life?

Out of Shape   1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10    Very Fit

Self-Controlled

  1. How well do I maintain self-control in my daily habits and my responses to circumstances?

Out of Shape   1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10    Very Fit

Respectable

  1. How well does my life consistently reflect the image of Jesus Christ to others?

Out of Shape   1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10    Very Fit

Hospitable

  1. How well do I show compassion and give help to others in need?

Out of Shape   1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10    Very Fit

Able to Teach

  1. How well am I able to communicate what I believe to others even though they may disagree?

Out of Shape   1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10    Very Fit

Not a drunkard

  1. How well am I able to control various kinds of compulsions and addictions?

Out of Shape   1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10    Very Fit

Not a lover of money

  1. How well do I show that I am not materialistic and greedy for material gain but have a generous spirit?

Out of Shape   1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10    Very Fit

Manages household well

  1. How well do I fulfill my role in my home as defined in the Bible, not by culture?

Out of Shape   1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10    Very Fit

Dignified

  1. How honorable and under control am I when I deal with difficult situations or people?

Out of Shape   1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10    Very Fit

Humility

  1. How well do I draw attention to others rather than myself?

Out of Shape   1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10    Very Fit

Integrity

  1. How well thought of am I by people who are outside the faith?

Out of Shape   1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10    Very Fit

Faithful

  1. How well do I stay true to the fundamental doctrines of the faith without wavering?

Out of Shape   1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10    Very Fit

Commendable Speech (not slanderous)

  1. How well does my communication about others build them up rather than tear them down?

Out of Shape   1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10    Very Fit

Wisdom

  1. How well do I apply Biblical principles when making decisions or dealing with people?

Out of Shape   1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10    Very Fit

Not Quick-tempered

  1. How well do I handle my anger so that it does not result in sinful behavior or speech?

Out of Shape   1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10    Very Fit

Lover of good

  1. How do my attitudes show that I consistently look for the good in people and circumstances?

Out of Shape   1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10    Very Fit

Not Argumentative

  1. How well do I avoid controversies and arguments and consistently speak with grace?

Out of Shape   1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10    Very Fit

Gentle

  1. How well do I deal with people according to their best interests and not my own?

Out of Shape   1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10    Very Fit

Upright

  1. How fair and just am I in dealing with other people, upholding God’s righteousness?

Out of Shape   1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10    Very Fit

Holy

  1. How well do I live a life of no contradictions and double-standards?

Out of Shape   1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10    Very Fit

Disciplined

  1. How consistent am I in my service to Christ?

Out of Shape   1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10    Very Fit

NOW, ALLOW YOURSELF TO BE PUSHED!