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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Weekend Quote

For those of you who hang around East Hills, you may know that this weekend we launched a new sermon series called, "Detours." We want to look at how God uses the unexpected roads in our lives to shape us for our good and His glory.

At the conclusion of this weekend's message, I read a quote without attributing a source. Here is the full quote (with a few extra paragraphs) by Simon Tugwell in his work Prayer.

"Another picture that our Lord loves to us is that of the shepherd who goes out to look for the sheep that is lost. So long as we imagine that it is we who have to look for God, then we must often lost heart But it is the other way about: He is looking for us. And so we can afford to recognize that very often we are not looking for God; far from it, we are in full flight from Him, in high rebellion against Him. And He knows that and has taken it into account He has followed us into our own darkness; there where we thought finally to escape Him, we run straight into His arms. 

So we do not have to erect a false piety for ourselves, to give us hope of salvation. Our hope is in His determination to save us. And He will not give in!

This should free us from that crippling anxiety which prevents any real growth, giving us room to do whatever we can do, to accept the small but genuine responsibilities that we do have. Our part is not to shoulder the whole burden of our salvation, the initiative and the program are not in our hands: our part is to consent, to learn how to love Him in return whose love came to us so freely while we were quite uninterested in Him.

We can let ourselves off that desperate question, Am I in the right place? Have I done the right thing? Of course, we must sometimes acknowledge sins and mistakes and we must try to learn from them; but we should not foster the kind of worry that leads to despair. God’s providence means that wherever we have got to, whatever we have done, that is precisely where the road to heaven begins. However many cues we have missed, however many wrong turnings we have taken, however unnecessarily we may have complicated our journey, the road still beckons, and the Lord still waits to be gracious to us.”

May you journey with the knowledge that God pursues you even when you run from Him...


Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Five Vows

This past weekend at our Men's Retreat, I gave a little talk I called "Five Vows Real Men Make." This talk was a total rip-off from a sermon A.W. Tozer first gave called "Five Vows for Spiritual Power." I think it applies well to men because these five declarations stand in direct defiance of what our culture teaches about manliness.

I thought you all might appreciate them, as they have universal application, and not just for men. These are "forgotten ideas" anymore in a culture obsessed with self, luxury, and pleasure. May you be challenged and reminded today of what real life in Christ looks like. (All of these words are Tozer's. If you want a longer version which also ran in the magazine aLife, let me know!)

"Some people object to taking vows, but in the Bible you will find many great men of God directed by covenants, promises, vows, and pledges. The psalmist was not averse to the taking of vows. He said, “Thy vows are upon me, O God, I will render my praises unto thee” (Psalm 56:12).
My counsel in this matter is that if you are really concerned about spiritual improvement—the gaining of new power, new life, new joy, and new personal revival within your heart—you will do well to make certain vows and proceed to keep them. If you should fail, go down in humility and repent and start over. But always keep these vows before you. They will help harmonize your heart with the vast powers that flow out and down from the throne where Christ sits at the right hand of God.
There are five vows I have in mind which we do well to make and to keep.
1. Deal Thoroughly with Sin
Sin has been driven underground these days and has come up with a new name and face. You may be subjected to this phenomenon in the schools. Sin is being called by various fancy names – anything but what it really is.
The whole thing is ridiculous, because sin is still the ancient enemy of the soul. it has never changed. We’ve got to deal firmly with sin in our lives. Let’s remember that “the kingdom of God is not meat and drink, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost.” Righteousness lies at the door of the kingdom of God.
2. Never Own Anything
I do not mean by this that you cannot have things. I mean that you ought to get delivered from the sense of possessing them. This sense of possessing is what hinders us. All babies are born with their fists clenched, and it seems to me it means, “This is mine!” One of the first things they say when they begin to speak is “mine” in an angry voice. That sense of “This is mine” ‘is a very injurious thing to the spirit. If you can get rid of it so that you have no feeling of possessing anything, there will come a great sense of freedom and liberty into your life.
3. Never Defend Yourself
We are all born with a desire to defend ourselves. And if you insist upon defending yourself, God will let you do it. But if on turn the defense of yourself over to God, He will defend you. He told Moses in Exodus 23: “I will be an enemy unto your enemies and an adversary to your adversaries.”
4. Guard Your Words about Others
Never pass anything on—about anybody else that will hurt him. “Love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8). The talebearer has no place in God’s favor. if you know something that would hinder or hurt the reputation of one of God’s children, bury it forever. Find a little garden out back – a little spot somewhere – and when somebody comes around with an evil story, take it out and bury it and say, “Here lies in peace the story about my brother.” God will take care of it. “With what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged.” If you want God to be good to you, you are going to have to be good to His children.
5. Never Accept Any Glory
God is jealous of His glory and He will not give His glory to another. He will not even share His glory with another. It is quite natural, I should say, for people to hope that maybe their Christian service will give them a chance to display their talents. True, they want to serve the Lord. But they also want other people to know they are serving the Lord. They want to have a reputation among the saints. That is very dangerous ground – seeking a reputation among the saints. It’s bad enough to seek a reputation in the world, but it’s worse to seek a reputation among the people of God. Our Lord gave up His reputation, and so must we.
These vows cut against the old human nature. They introduce the cross into your life, and nobody ever walks back from carrying his cross. When you make these vows, remember they strike at the heart of your self-life and there is never a place to go back to. Turn everything over to Him, and you’ll find your life begin to lift. You’ll blossom in a wonderful way.
From Five Vows for Spiritual Power, published by Christian Publications, December 1990.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Back from Sabbatical

Today is my first day back in the office after seven weeks of a sabbatical. During that time, I was able to write over 77,000 words towards a book, and by God's grace I will add the finishing touches on it sometime in the next few weeks. Whether or not the book will be of any significance to others is in His hands, but it has been a significant experience for me. I found that I both enjoyed and wrestled with writing more than I expected to. At times, putting thoughts and experiences into words seemed a very natural, life-giving process. At other moments, I felt intense struggling over my own inadequacies- trying to find exactly the right words to capture a thought and never finding them exactly right.

I do hope to share more about the writing experience later, but for just a moment today I want to reflect on emotions. As I step back into the world of helping lead a local church, I find myself inundated with emotions. Here are just a few of them:

PEACE: I have a firmer sense than ever that this is God's church and these are God's people. I do not own them nor control them. I have been placed over them as a steward, under them a servant, and with them as a friend.

ANXIETY: As I read through a stack of mail and several hundred emails, I opened more mental boxes than I care to count. If you tend to think that all pastors do is sit around and write sermons for Sunday, you need to ditch that idea! The sheer variety of issues awaiting my direction creates a mild panic about my ability to handle it all. The anxiety whispers into my brain, "Hurry up and get stuff done!"

JOY: After seven-weeks of being often secluded, it is nice to be with people again. It's nice to go out for coffee with a co-worker and answer the phone when it rings. God has blessed me with great people to work with and for. I like what I do. The joy whispers into my brain, "Slow down and enjoy people!"

EXCITEMENT: God is doing good things in me and in the church. I can't wait to see what happens next. I can't wait to preach again and bring forward some ideas that have rambled about my skull for several months.

FEAR: I have no idea what's going to happen next. People make mistakes. People come. People go. Ministries start. Ministries end.

I hope this short list highlights one thing: I am a complete contradiction of emotions today. When I feel this way, I have a tendency to allow emotions to define my life. I am either up or down with each email read, each thought of work to be done, each report of past events that I missed. How can I simultaneously feel so many different things? My guess is, you have been there as well. You love your kids to death, but sometimes you feel they will be your death. Work is a joy; work is a pain. We are up, we are down. The emotional roller coaster takes us all over the place.And if we're not careful, our emotional state of mind begins to define our lives.

What I am trying to keep in perspective today is this: I am not my emotions. Emotions tell me something about my environment and my reaction to it, but emotions are not who I am. The differing emotions I feel are like warning lights on a pilots instrument panel, alerting me to something deeper going on. Rather than focusing on the warning light, a pilot traces the meaning back to the core issue to be dealt with. I find that when I do this, I am not controlled by my emotions, but rather informed and aided by them.

The key for all of us is that something greater is happening in our lives underneath the emotions we feel. When the mail arrives and we feel excitement or fear, God is asking us to trust him. When the kids won't listen yet again and our anger flares, the Spirit invites us to seek Him for patience. When that phone call or emails comes that raises our temperature, we look underneath the emotion to see what hidden fear or joy God is bringing to life. In all of this knowing of self, we learn to trust Him more completely.

So today I am walking in many opportunities, sometimes dozens in an hour, to trust God with who I am.  I suspect you are as well. May your emotions alert you to the deeper things God is doing in your soul.

Journey On!