Searching For God Knows What

“Life is not primarily a quest for pleasure, as Freud believed, or a quest for power as Alfred Adler taught, but a quest for meaning.” – Victor Frankl

Have you ever longed for satisfaction in your life? Maybe you have felt like your life is nothing more than a continuous cycle of searching. You search for meaning, peace, truth or even love. You work for success and wealth but all roads lead you right back to the feelings of dissatisfaction and a lack of fulfillment. No matter how hard or how far you search you end up at the same place of nothingness?

It’s so elusive– this happiness we seek in life. It’s easy to begin to question if there is anything of lasting value. You can often find yourself asking, “can I be happy or is everything just meaningless?”

I have read the book of Ecclesiastes several times but it hasn’t been on my list of favorites until recently.  This is mostly because it seems to be nihilistic and dark on a first read but after a careful reading, it’s tones of despair and darkness are actually the beauty of its message.

Ecclesiastes is in a category of its own. There is no other book in the Bible or any religious literature like it. The words of Solomon read like a seasoned philosophy professor lecturing his students with more than academic passion but with personal experiences and discoveries. He shares the ugly realities of injustice and our lack of power to do anything about it. He teaches about the cruel and worldly view of money and materialism.  The Teacher proclaims that life is like fighting the wind, you can’t win and it is meaningless.  Solomon takes a look at life without God and concludes it’s pointless. A life without God is insignificant; you’re born and you die. So go ahead and live it up, but you will never find meaning or satisfaction in this life.

As I have been studying, reading and rereading Ecclesiastes I think it may be the most relevant biblical book for our day. I have waited for sometime to preach through this book because it is difficult, but I am excited to teach this amazing book for our next series starting August 20th .

 

 


Hope for Anxiety

I have received quite a lot of positive feedback from last Sunday’s message on anxiety. I, myself, have dealt with anxiety, and the greatest and most hopeful thing to know is that God says, “Cast all your cares upon me” (1 Peter 5:7).

Have you ever felt as if you were being pulled in opposite directions at the same time? If so, you have experienced an internal terrorist known as anxiety. If you have, you’re among the many. 18.1% of American adults, or 40 million, suffer the effects of anxiety disorders. Living in our world can be uncertain, messy, and complicated to say the least. Decisions can be hard to make in our present environments. We fear we will make the wrong call and the negative outcomes begin to flood our minds. When anxiety strikes, our thinking is irrational and often follows a confusing back and forth. The conversations we have with ourselves go something like this, what do I say, or do? Do I go there or should I stay here; how do I know which path to take? It is the unknown outcomes of our decisions that we try to predict. Should I take this job offer? What if I do take it will it really be better? It is this inward war of thinking that holds us in a mental tension as if we were about to be quartered. This is the tension of anxiety. It’s the fear of the unknown or   the worry of what if.

The narratives of our lives are laden with past fears, present fears, and the fear of the future. Ed Welch has said, the future is the preferred time zone of anxiety. The reality of ultimately not knowing the future has debilitating power over us. So how do we cope with anxiety from a biblical perspective?

Be Wise: To be clear, I am not saying there is never a time for professional psychiatric treatment for anxiety. Many Christians resist the use of professional treatment or medications when dealing with depression or anxiety. These well-meaning Christians often make a moral case for not using professional treatment or medications. I would rather make this a question of wisdom; not a right or wrong issue.  Wisdom would seek and gather information to make appropriate decisions based in the facts of biblical, medical and psychological information available.  I don’t think we should quickly run to medication for a fast fix. I also don’t think we should use the Bible as a magic pill. The decision is not a moral matter: is it right or is it wrong to take medication? It’s a matter of wisdom. But as Christians we always start searching for answers in Scripture.

Go To God First: As I have stated above are search for healing is to seek it from the Lord and his word. The scripture says, “God is our present help in times of trouble” (Psalm 46). “If we lack wisdom he will freely give it to us” (James 1:5). We have a tendency to run to the nearest quick fix, a friend, drug, or a self-help book. It’s not that I do not recommend these, but we should first seek out the source that has a real solution. Every place we look outside of God has the same limitations as we have; they lack knowledge of the future. God knows all things, nothing is hidden from him and he is willing to lead you through the mess and chaos of life. He is the friend that sticks closer than a brother (Proverbs 18:24).

Admit God Is In Control: We constantly live under the illusion that that we are in sole control of our circumstances, but this does not line up with the teaching of scripture. Both the Old and New Testaments reveal a God who is in control over all things, God is sovereign. “For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45).  Again in (Matthew 6: 25-27) “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?”

We often feel anxiety because we feel God is not concerned about our life.  We may feel unworthy of his help or hopeless and alone.

Young businesswoman drawing the word sucess, isolated on white background

Young businesswoman drawing the word sucess, isolated on white background

Realize You Are Not Alone: When we feel anxiety and fear we often feel we are alone and most likely will stay this way. As humans we need relationships to feel whole, it’s the way we are wired. Anxiety not only confuses our thinking but also distorts it as well. In our stressed and worried moments we often feel God is silent or too busy for us and our need. This is the furthest thing from truth.  God has plenty to say to us through his word. The Bible is filled with communication from God to give us hope, guidance, courage, and wisdom to escape the paralyzing effects of anxiety.


Know Thyself: Learning to Lead Me part 1

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Contrary to popular belief the Christian leader must have more than a compelling vision. This may sound strange to some, but I believe it to be true. Believing vision is the most important aspect of leading the church is often a mistake leaders make. We tend to think vision is the apex in leadership because we have been told this by numerous leadership gurus. Their mantra, if we have a compelling vision people will follow. The problem with this thinking is people follow a compelling leader, not the vision first. This is often an area of frustration for the pastor-leader because he just can’t figure out why people are not on board with his awesome vision. Vision is important for leading people in any organization, but it is not the leader’s first leadership responsibility.

The ancient Greek aphorism, “know thyself” is an appropriate place to start in leadership development. Leadership starts with you. It does not start with them. John Maxwell teaches the principle of the mirror. The first person you must examine is you. In other words if you can’t lead yourself well you will never lead others well. An honest evaluation of self is the beginning of leading well. This is not an easy process because it requires seeing you for who you really are. We like seeing ourselves as we want others to see us, not as we really are. Honest self evaluation is a never ending process for every Christian leader. Every morning we get up, look in the mirror and clean up. Every day the Christian leader should get up look in the mirror of God’s word and align their life with its teaching. The leader’s relationship with God is the foundation to leading others well. As a leader if you are out of alignment spiritually, your followers will constantly be fighting against the steering wheel. Why, because you are fighting against the steering wheel of your life.

Have you ever driven a vehicle out of alignment? It’s not fun. You struggle to stay straight; you’re constantly pulled left or right. You keep going forward, but it’s a frustrating and tiring thing to do. If this problem is not corrected it will prematurely cause serious damage to the vehicle’s tires and possibly mechanical damage.

What happens if leaders lead out of spiritual misalignment? The same thing will happen; we will struggle and wear out. And tragically if we do not remedy this, more serious spiritual damage will occur. Leadership is a privilege of trust and we must fix ourselves before others are required to. Learning to lead you is where spiritual leadership starts. So, “know thyself.”

5 Things you need to know about yourself

1.Your strengths
2.Your weaknesses
3.Your behavior tendencies
4.Your motivators
5.Your spiritual gifts

9 Things you need to do for yourself

1.Read the Bible devotionally, first
2.Love your wife. Go out, have fun, enjoy each other weekly.
3.Pray about everything
4.Confess continually
5.Stay a follower at heart
6.Have an accountability partner or team
7.Listen to honest feedback
8.Take some assessments to discover your skills, personality, and behavior tendencies
9.Commit to develop an action plan to be your best for the Lord


Don’t Let Misplaced Shame Ruin Your Life

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No one likes to reveal the wounds of their heart, personal failure, or the skeletons in their closet. Many tell themselves lies everyday to hide from these things. They lie to themselves by saying they are fine when in reality they are not. They tell themselves they are at peace when frustration rules their mind. They say I am healthy, but still limp along in life. Why do we do this?

There are many reasons why we are not always truthful to ourselves or others, but one reason is the shame we carry around in our hearts. Shame is a powerful emotion. Christians and non-christians alike attempt to run and hide from their shame. Shame is not the same as guilt. Guilt is produced by something we did whereas shame is the negative feelings about who we are. The dominate self-thought of shame is worthlessness. It’s when I have made a mistake, becomes I am a mistake. Shame is birthed into our psyche when we feel our life is not measuring up to the standards we set for ourselves or by those imposed upon us by others. We lie to ourselves and to others to hide our brokenness and defectiveness. The feelings of shame from personal guilt is a healthy emotion and motivates us to make helpful corrections in our lives. But that is not what I am writing about here. Sometimes people get stuck in unhealthy shame that hinders their personal and spiritual growth.

There is such a thing as misplaced shame. This is the shame we should not be feeling bad about. Its when the things you feel shameful about are not dishonoring to God. It can even be bad things in your life that you had no control over or no fault of your own. Misplaced shame often is experienced by Christians for sins that have already been forgiven by Christ. There are also the times when we carry shame for present sins in which we believe have crossed the line to receive the forgiveness and healing of Christ. The bottom line with misplaced shame is that we believe our failures are bigger than the Grace of God. “But as people sinned more and more, God’s wonderful grace became more abundant” (Romans 5:20 NLT). God’s grace is always bigger than our sin, our guilt, or our shame.

Once we confess our sin, God is faithful to forgive our sins. We are free to live in right standing with God. Shame for the sins we have been forgiven of or the bad things in our lives out of our control can be very destructive to our life. If we do not deal with this misplaced shame it will rob us of the joyful relationships and ministry God has intended for us to enjoy.

There are many people written about in Scripture that could have surrendered to their sin and shame and rendered their lives ineffective for God. But they did not surrender to their shame. The result, God forgave them and used them mightily for his purposes, There is Abraham who was a liar saying his wife was his sister allowing her to be put into a compromising situation. Moses who was a murderer. Jonah an ungrateful and unwilling prophet. Jacob a con artist. Rahab a prostitute and David who committed murder and adultery. Then when one looks into the New Testament we see God calling Zacchaeus a cheating tax collector. Jesus hung out with the unaccepted of society. He even called those rough around the edges to be his twelve closest friends. We read of Peter who Jesus selected and used as the church’s first organizational leader and voice.

The most amazing story of Jesus using someone who most of us would not choose because of their past is that of Paul. Paul was a religious man with a corrupted theology about God. He saw Jesus as a fraud and his followers as delusional. Paul thought Christians were the enemies of God. As a young man, he watched the execution of Stephan, an outstanding deacon- leader of the early church. From that moment Paul became hell-bent on destroying the movement of Jesus and his followers. The Bible and other historical sources tells us Paul was a persecutor, abuser, and murderer of Christians. Paul was a bad man. He even calls himself the chief of all sinners. After Jesus met him on the road to Damascus and transformed his heart, there must have been much self forgiveness to rid himself of the shame that gripped his heart for all his wrong doing. We read Paul writing about this when he penned the following.

For I am the least of all the apostles. In fact, I’m not even worthy to be called an apostle after the way I persecuted God’s church. (1 Corinthians 15:9 NLT)

You know what I was like when I followed the Jewish religion—how I violently persecuted God’s church. I did my best to destroy it. (Galatians 1:13 NLT)

I was so zealous that I harshly persecuted the church. And as for righteousness, I obeyed the law without fault. (Philippians 3:6 NLT)

I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength to do his work. He considered me trustworthy and appointed me to serve him, even though I used to blaspheme the name of Christ. In my insolence, I persecuted his people. But God had mercy on me because I did it in ignorance and unbelief. Oh, how generous and gracious our Lord was! He filled me with the faith and love that come from Christ Jesus. This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I am the worst of them all. But God had mercy on me so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life. (1 Timothy 1:12-16 NLT).

It does not matter what you have done (things forgiven) or what has been done to you, don’t let your misplaced shame defeat you. God has a plan for you and he won’t disown you. This is why he came and died on the cross, rose from the dead, and ascended to the right hand of the Father– to get glory from your life. Paul also said these word about his present in the context of his past.

I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith. . . I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us (Philippians 3:6, 9-14 NLT).

Paul and so many others in Scripture were failures, sinners, and misfits, but Christ through his atoning work, forgiveness, and grace did miraculous work in their lives. It is so unlike us, but God chooses to use the messed up and broken people to advance his kingdom. So trust Christ, He forgives. Forgive yourself, then press forward. Forget the past, and look to a bright future serving Christ.

He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12 NLT). Your shame is gone in Christ.


Lent: Focus and Growth 

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It is difficult for some to understand that their Christian heritage goes back further than their denominational history. The church has a long history of traditions in its worship of Christ. Lent is one of those traditions. Historically, Lent has not been observed by evangelicals, but in recent years it has been rediscovered as a meaningful discipline to be practiced. 

In the Baptist heritage where my theological framework has been shaped, Lent has been mostly misunderstood or a completely forgotten practice. This does not mean Lent cannot be a valuable spiritual practice for us today.

Though the Scriptures do not mention the practice of Lent, it has been a longstanding tradition practiced by Christians. The first account in church history where we see Lent mentioned was in the Second Festal letter written by Athanasius in 330 A.D. Since that time many followers of Christ from numerous denominational backgrounds have observed this season of fasting. Lent is not a spiritual tradition owned by a particular brand of the church, it belongs to all Christians who would want to volunarily participate. 

A common misunderstanding that clouds the meaning and intent of Lent in some evangelical circles is the idea in bestows or provides a saving grace to the person participating. Another way of saying this is Lent is seen as a work that provides salvation

As an orthodox Christian I do not believe salvation can be earned though any moral effort or religious ritual. The grace of salvation is a free gift provided thorough the substitutionary death of Jesus on the cross and appropriated through personal faith. So, I do not look to Lent for a sense of personal redemption, but as an act of worship celebrating the redemptive works of Christ for me. 

As worshippers of Jesus we need to disciple ourselves to stay spiritually fit. One of the most important ways we can stay fit is to take the time to fast. Fasting is an unique discipline to rid ourselves of the competing worldly influences that challenge our love for Christ. So Lent should be seen as an aid in strengthening our relationship with Jesus?

The primary purpose of lent is to prepare us spiritually for the celebration of Jesus’ death and resurrection on Easter. The better one prepares the better one celebrates in worship of the risen Savior. Historically, lent has been a 40 day season of fasting starting on Ash Wednesday and ending the Saturday before Easter. Sundays traditionally have been excluded as fast days because they are seen as celebratory mini Easters. This leaves us with the 40 days to commemorate the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness fasting and preparing for his public ministry. There are several key elements of focus associated with Lent fasting for spiritual growth. I will give you three to consider.

Self-Denial
As a follower of Jesus we are to surrender our desires and will for God’s desire and will for our lives. This is a constant struggle for most of us because our nature is self seeking. Jesus tells us, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me (Luke 9:23 NLT). And “No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money” (Luke 16:13 NLT).
Self-denial is a spiritual focus that does not come naturally. So, spending time in prayer and fasting can help us rejuvenate our devotion to Christ.

Repentance
Repentance is not a one and done kind of thing. Sin is a constant battle that demands severe measures of warfare on our part. The more we grow in the depth of God’s grace the more we see the filthiness of our hearts. When sin is revealed in our hearts we are to immediately repent and move in a new direction. Lent provides a time where we can slow down and allow God’s spirit to work in our hearts to reveal and cleanse us of any sin that may be lurking. Jeremiah the prophet said, “The human heart is the most deceitful of all things and desperately wicked. Who knows really how bad it is?” (Jeremiah 17:9).

Simplicity
Simplicity of life has become a foreign concept it todays society. We have become wealthier and healthier, more socially connected, but not less stressed. Life is fast paced and filled with to do lists to conquer and days without enough hours. Work has become more demanding and our needs greater. For most, life has become marginless. It’s ironic the most technologically advanced society in history is also the most stressed. Lent can provide you a time to retreat by fasting from the things that control you and to refocus on the one who controls all things. Jesus instructs us in the sermon on the mount to, “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. “So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today (Matthew 6:33, 34 NLT). Slowing down and simplifying our lives is a sign of maturing faith.

Surrendering or giving up things up is the core element of fasting. Giving up meat or all food has historically been the main theme of fasting. Our thinking could and most likely should become more broad in the things we would be willing to sacrifice for our times of fasting. As stated earlier there are many things that compete against Christ for our time and heart. You can come up with your own list but here are a few suggestions.

Television
Social Media
Meat
Sex
Hobbies
Alcohol
Tobacco

The list can go on and on, but I would suggest something you view as a personal sacrifice. We can’t be flippant about such a sacred discipline. I can remember when I was younger saying and hearing such things as fasting from cleaning your room or any other responsibility we wanted to be free of. A true fast is to give up something that is of personal value, but is seen as no value at all compared to the glory of Christ. 

I also want to suggest to you its not just about what you give up. But about adding the scriptures and prayer to your daily routine during lent. Without these you are practicing dead religion. Lent is not about religion but relationship with God.


Praying For Revival

I have been praying for God to do something big not only in my life, but revolutionary. I want to see a movement of God’s spirit in our families, churches and communities. I believe this can happen, but only if the church learns to pray once again.

Its been twenty years since I was introduced the book, Why Revival Tarries, by Leonard Ravenhill, who was a passionate English evangelist with a desire to see God awaken his church in miraculous and saving ways. It’s well worth the read if you can get a copy. Here are a few of my favorite Ravenhill quotes.

As I said, there are two great reasons we don’t have revival. We’re content to live without it, It’s too costly. We don’t want God to disrupt our status quo. The Christian life can only be lived one way, and that’s God’s way. And God’s way is that I leave all and follow Him.

God does not want partnership with us, but ownership of us!

A sermon born in the head reaches the head; a sermon born in the heart reaches the heart

If the Church today had as many agonizers as she has advisers, we would have a
revival in a year!

A man may study because his brain is hungry for knowledge, even Bible knowledge. But he prays because his soul is hungry for God.

~ Leonard Ravenhill


Awakening Prayer

Praying for God to awaken our churches is a much needed activity. We need to be awakened to God’s purposes, stirred by his passion, and we need to be moved into action carrying the Gospel to our friends and neighbors. Yes, this is why the church exists—The Fathers passion to bring glory to His Son, Jesus.

You don’t hear much about it anymore but it’s needed more than ever. What’s needed? Awakening or as some call it revival. The terms are often taught as synonyms but from a technical sense there are differences between the two. Revival is when God rejuvenates his church with a passion for godly living. The cold and sin stained hearts of his people are motivated towards repentance. The result of revival is an ignited heart, passionate for God’s glory to be known. Spiritual awakening on the other hand is when the church’s passion for God’s glory impacts society as a whole with unbelievers becoming followers of Jesus.

Spiritual awakening and revival are different events but we should understand one cannot exist without the other. Society will never experience a spiritual awakening from a spiritually dead church. The Gospel will not be proclaimed to the nations by an inward focused, self-seeking church. If God’s people remain a tightfisted people and do not become people of generosity and healing, grace goes undiscovered.

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This sounds bleak to some but our existence and future are dependent upon a God initiated supernatural awakening of Gods people—the church. I am not one that promotes formulas for Christian living, but these are truths for hope as we move forward for the cause of Christ.

Faith: Believe the truth of God’s Word. His claims and promises are true.

Prayer: Is the pathway into the presence and power of God. We must recognize our need for God. The more we realize we need God in our lives the more we pray.

Repentance: A move of God starts with the broken hearts of his people.

2 Chronicles 7:14 “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and forgive their sins and heal their land.”

Psalms 85:6 says, “Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you?”

Charles Spurgeon said in his sermon, The Kind of Revival We Need, “We need a work of the Holy Spirit of a supernatural kind, putting power into the preaching of the Word, inspiring all believers with heavenly energy, and solemnly affecting the hearts of the careless, so that they turn to God and live. We would not be drunk with the wine of carnal excitement, but we would be filled with the Spirit. We would behold the fire descending from heaven in answer to the effectual fervent prayers of righteous men. Can we not entreat the Lord our God to make bare His holy arm in the eyes of all the people in this day of declension and vanity?”

Awaken us.


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