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Observations from South Asia

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Cardboard houses all in a row. Yet in the middle of it a church was there, serving and preaching the beautifully good news of heaven in what seemed like a hellhole of human existence. God’s church, alive and well, had come to the slums.

A small, cinderblock room tucked invisibly between two street shops. The open-air sales stands were two of literally hundreds along dirt roads so noisily crowded with bikes, rickshaws, people, and cars that finding the believers meeting there was close to risking your life. But there they were, packed inside and seated on the floor. God’s church, alive and well, had come to those streets.

A back patio of sorts behind the two-room house. Strung from the roof was a clothesline that hug lowly, weighed down by clothes, distracting your attention from the toys, open fire pit, and garbage all around the edges. In the middle? A pastor shepherding God’s people with the Word and by the Spirit, graciously leading them towards obedience to all that Jesus commanded. God’s church, alive and well, had come to that village.

A closet-sized space lit only by a small window and a cracked door that led to a roof-top overhang. And this was after five dark flights of stairs. Yet, the light of Life was seen immediately as the faith family gathered there in God’s name greeted us like we were their long lost family returning from a journey. God’s church, alive and well, was in the building.

Those are just a few of the snapshots I experienced in my recent visit to south Asia. I was beyond humbled, past amazed, and miles deeper than blessed. I’m left prostrate before a God so lovingly gracious and powerfully mighty that I’m appropriately fearful, more than ever, to speak on his behalf. I think the best word for this is “awe.” Yeah, that’s where I’m at. In awe of Yahweh, the eternal Three in One.

Yet, speak is what I feel compelled to do. And, oddly, more than ever. I desire to tell of his impeccable character, his incredible works, and his unstoppable plan. Not because he needs me to; heaven knows God doesn’t need anything. If only those on earth knew that.

Or because I need to. Using my service to God as some sort of self-medication designed to make me feel worthwhile is wicked idolatry and evil blasphemy. God will not be served up as a self-esteem fix. No, he will be worshipped, not worked. If you want to sense value, look at the cross. Stare at what God did for you, not what you can do for him.

But I know I—we—must speak because God’s glory leaves no other option. Declaring his marvelous praises becomes what we do, not because God needs it or we need it, but simply because we can’t not speak. Knowing who he is, as well as seeing all that he has done, is doing, and will do to accomplish his redemptive plan across the ages of the past, present and future demands our voice. So although we’re acutely aware we’re uttering words that represent the Risen and Ascended King, we venture out to speak. In awe, yes. But silent? No, that’s not an option.

With that in mind, I want to share three observations regarding God’s unstoppable plan to make his name great among the nations and spread his glory over all the earth that we, especially as Americans, need to ponder. Yes, this most recent trip brought these realizations to the surface. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. God’s current work of sanctification in my life revolves around adjustments he is making in me concerning the Great Commission, and much of it started last summer in my sabbatical. I truly look forward to sharing more in time. But for now, here are three observations for you to consider as you think about the indescribable greatness of our God and the life-generating power of his glorious gospel.

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To read more of Todd's visit to South Asia, visit his personal blog.

Posted by Todd Stiles with 0 Comments

The Origins of Valentine's Day

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Every February 14, across the United States and around the world, flowers, boxes of chocolates, and gifts are exchanged between loved ones, all in the name of St. Valentine.

But who is this interesting fella, and where did these traditions come from? Let's find out about the history of this holiday, from ancient Roman rituals. 

The association between mid-February and romance goes back to the pagan holiday in Rome called "Lupercalia." They were honoring the idol Lupa or she-wolf of Rome. This was dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture, as well as to the Roman founders Romulus and Remus.

The festivities began with animal sacrifice. They would strip the goat’s hide into strips, dip them into the sacrificial blood and take to the streets, gently slapping both young women and crop fields with the goat hide. In the 5th century, in perhaps an effort to "Christianize" a pagan holiday, the pope Gelasius appointed February 14th St. Valentine’s Day.

As for the real Valentine, he was a Roman priest who lived during the 3rd century AD under the rule of Claudius II. Claudius' army required a vast number of men to leave their wives and children for extended periods of time. These soldiers were hard-hearted and homesick because of the emperor's harshness to them. Eventually, he didn't even allow for young soldiers to get married at all.

St. Valentine saw this rule as unjust, and he decided to help young lovers to get married secretly. Eventually, Claudius caught Valentine, arrested him, and sentenced him to death. Some believe that the young couple that Valentine helped marry last came to visit him in a cell, giving him flowers and notes through the bars as a symbol of their thankfulness.

The story continues that Valentine fell in love with the jailor's daughter. On February 14th, the day when he was executed, it is said that he passed the girl a note where he signed, "from your Valentine." From this, the tradition came to history.

Our modern Valentine's Day, removed from its religious and pagan past, has evolved to one of the most celebrated holidays of the year. Almost every American showers their loved ones with 100 plus million roses—red ones, naturallyand almost 40 million heart-shaped boxes of chocolate or candy. Not to mention the cards, dinners and precious stones that are given. Some believe that this holiday brings almost 15–20 billion dollars annually.

But if you worry that you cannot afford to treat your loved ones this Valentine's Day, take heart, because Valentine once said, "Love is really all you need." 

Happy St. Valentine's Day to you all!

Timur

Posted by Timur Nesbitt with 0 Comments

Sermon Questions | February 14th

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What advice do you give to those who struggle with doubt of their salvation?

If you struggle with doubting your salvation I would suggest reading 1 John. It is a small but powerful letter that discusses in many ways how you can know if you are saved. Simply putting your confidence (faith) in the finished work of Christ is how you receive the gift of salvation. It is your responsive obedience that confirms that you have done this. However, your obedience will never be perfect, but it will mature and grow. Lastly, if your sin bothers you that is a good sign. Just don’t let it overburden you. Let it cause you to be thankful that Jesus paid for it and that He paid for your ability to overcome it!

 

This text kinda sounds like it's saved by grace, but confirmed and sanctified by my own hard work. Won't true saving faith always be followed by obedience, not perfectly, but increasingly?

I would say that we are saved by grace and that we also obey by grace not only our hard work. We are responsible to confirm our faith by our obedience, however it is God who enables us to obey (Philippians 2:12-13). In other words we cooperate with the Holy Spirit by submitting to Him. Our responsibility is to yield the Holy Spirit, His “role” is to enable us to obey (Galatians 5:16-26). It is not perfect obedience because we still wrestle with sin, but your right it will increase and mature as you do.

 

Is it possible for someone who is dead in their sins to "respond" to their faith without being truly saved and their heart regenerated?

It is possible for someone to respond to the Gospel incorrectly. What I mean is that it is possible to be deceived into thinking that our works or our profession of faith are what make us acceptable to God. A good example of this is Jesus words about the many who will think they are saved by their own effort on the day of judgment, but really have never trusted in Jesus as their Savior (Matthew 7:21-23). Our faith must be in Jesus alone and not “our faith.” He alone can save because He is the One who paid for our sins in full on the cross (Isaiah 53:11-12; 1 Corinthians 15:3). The only way receive salvation is by faith (Ephesians 2:8-9).

 

We know that we are not saved by works, but by faith (Eph 2) and that our works demonstrate our faith (James 2). We believe this, but many times we live and act like our works is what saves us. How do we put this faith in practical use when we are tempted to live by a false faith while professing true faith?

My advice is to constantly look to the cross so that you remember that Jesus alone saves. This will help remind you that it is not your obedience that makes you acceptable or even more lovable to God. He has already loved you to the fullest by giving you His Son as your Lord and Savior. This is one of the reasons why we remember Him in our weekly services through communion. Doing so constantly reminds of the cross and that we have been saved by grace!

 

In context of this passage, what about the thief on the cross next to Christ who only professed faith in Christ?

The thief on the cross was saved because he placed his faith in Jesus as the Messiah. In other words, his confidence was in Jesus and he was therefore saved since Jesus said that he would be with Him in paradise (Luke 23:43). Jesus, who is able to know if someone has genuine faith because He is God (Luke 18:42), was able to discern that he had true saving faith. I have no doubt that if the thief lived longer he would have continually confirmed his faith with obedience. I can say that with confidence because even Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him take up his cross daily and follow me” [this is obedience] (Luke 9:23). Remember our works do not save us, they confirm that we are saved.

 

In our culture today and even in some churches, people believe without obedience. What do we do about that?

Those who “believe” without obeying have a false faith as James instructs (James 2:14-26). They must be warned out of love and concern for their souls that they do not have saving faith. We must pray that God would compel these church leaders to repent and preach the Gospel according to the Scriptures. Furthermore, if you attend a church that teaches this I would recommend joining a church that does not “cheapen” the Gospel this way. I don’t say this lightly, but it is the Gospel we are talking about and souls are at stake.

  

If it's not enough to just pray for the needy, and with so many parachurch organizations asking for help, or local needs in our community, is it disobedience to not give to those causes and only support our local church?=

I would never say that it is not enough to pray. Prayer is the best thing we can do for we are asking God to intervene. However, if we have the means to meet a need and ignore it because we are selfish, then it would be disobedience. We might be the ones whom God intends to use to meet the need. When it comes to para-church ministries, we should give to the local church first. It is the church that is the house of the living God, which has been given the stewardship of the truth (1 Timothy 3:14-15; Acts 5:34-35; 1 Timothy 5:17-18). If you are able to also give to para-church ministries I would recommend that you give to ministries who support or work with the local church. Other worthy options would be those ministries who help support human life (pro-life, human trafficking, etc).

Posted by FFC Leadership with 0 Comments

Competing for Christ

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We’ve all seen athletes thanking God in post game interviews.

But if you pay close attention, you’ll see that almost all of these interviews have one thing in common: the athlete was the winner of the game. 

Rarely do you see an athlete that just lost a competition thank God. 

There are a couple of things you should know about me. I love basketball, and I hate to lose. 

I started playing when I was 6, and I still play at the age of 41. I enjoy every aspect of the game, I coach several teams every year, and I watch hundreds of games from 4th graders all the way to the NBA every season. My biggest enjoyment in the game is to be able to show my skills, or my player’s skills, in a competitive game. 

I say I hate to lose. 

That is probably not too different than many of you. After all, who enjoys failing? 

That was me. Losing would eat me up inside. I was not very pleasant to be around after a loss. It didn’t matter if I played well or poorly; it didn’t even matter if I played at all. That’s right, when my favorite team would lose, it would ruin my day. 

Why do we forget who we are when we compete?

I think of Galatians 2:20: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”

Read that again: “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” Knowing this, how can the outcome of a game have such an impact on our lives? 

After college, I took a long break from playing any competitive sports. When FFC purchased our current facility, it seemed like a great opportunity for me to get back to playing basketball. Unfortunately, the “hate to lose” attitude also resurfaced. 

I was okay with this at the time, because we had a number of unchurched guys who played with us. I told myself that when they see a Christian competing hard and being upset after a loss, they will see I am no different than any other competitor. 

Boy, was I wrong!

One night after we played, a guy asked me where I worked. He was floored that I worked for the very church we were playing in. He didn’t see me as the same as him, he saw me as a fraud. A Christian man behaving like a toddler when he didn’t win a meaningless game. 

That hit me hard. 

It made me think about how I was representing Christ in my actions. I had a choice to make: compete for Christ or stop playing basketball. I chose to compete. But what does that look like? 

I decided to coach my teams to compete, and not be concerned with the outcome. 

I decided that when I compete, I will do so with one thing in mind: to glorify God. 

I read about the core values of my favorite coach, and I decided that I wanted to coach the same way. 

I took his five values: unity, passion, appreciation, integrity, and diligence, and dove into the Bible to see what I could learn about these values and how they relate to competing as a Christian. 

In the FLASH program at FFC, we attempt to instill these values in our players. We have a simple sentence for each value as well as a verse that speaks to each:

Unity
Team first. Lead by giving. Make teammates better. 
Philippians 2:3- “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves. “

Passion
Commit to excellence with positive energy and relentless persistence.
Colossians 3:23- “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for man.”

Appreciation
An attitude of gratitude. Grow in both victory and defeat.
1 Thessalonians 5:18- “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

Integrity
Do what is right, simply because it’s the right thing to do.
Proverbs 10:9- “Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but whoever takes crooked paths will be found out.”

Diligence
Pursue excellence with 100% effort and efficiency every day.
Proverbs 4:23- “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” 

An acronym we use for these values is UPAID. Christ paid the ultimate price on the cross for our sins. As Christians, when we compete, we must ask ourselves “what are we representing?” I tell the boys that if they represent these values on and off the court, they will have paid the price to be great for Christ. 

I would love to say that I always get this right, but I don’t. Sometimes I stew a little too long over a loss; sometimes I get upset when I don’t think we played our best and we came up short.  

Let me give you an example of an 8th grade player that gets it. We were playing a game earlier this season, we had lost our last three games and were starting to feel the effects of a losing streak. We really could have used a win. In the 4th quarter, there was a play right in front of our bench where the ref made the wrong call, giving us the ball even though it was tipped out by Brandon on our team. As the coach of the other team started going crazy over the bad call, Brandon walked right to the ref and let him know that he touched it last, and it was the other team’s ball. 

He wasn’t thinking of winning and losing at all, he was thinking of doing the right thing. 

We all compete at something, sports, work, the classroom, etc. Take a look at how you compete. Are you a living example of how God wants us to compete? 

 

Sermon Questions | February 7th

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Historically, how did God pull the Jewish people through this trial?

When it comes to God’s people and the topic of persecution, it is good to keep Isaiah 55:8-9 in mind:

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord.
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways,
And My thoughts than your thoughts. 

James is writing to the Jews in the diaspora, and many commentators believe his epistle is one of the earliest New Testament writings dated between AD 45-48. This would place James’ epistle within the context of Acts 8, which tells us, “And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles” (v. 1).

As we see throughout the New Testament, the Lord was to use the instrument of persecution to drive the church into all parts of the known world during that first century. Most of the apostles, including James, were martyred at the hands of the Roman officials, and the tension between Jews, Christians, and the Romans continued to increase with each passing year. 

In AD 64 Rome itself burned and the emperor at that time, Nero, blamed the Christians for the devastating fire. Persecution of historic proportions followed. Both the apostles Peter and Paul were executed in the persecution following the burning of Rome.

This tumultuous decade culminated with the siege and ultimate destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 by the Romans. The destruction of Jerusalem was not in response to Christian agitation, but was instead a response to an open rebellion by the Jews. With the destruction of Jerusalem, the Temple, commonly known as Herod’s Temple, was also destroyed, thus bringing to an end almost 500 years of temple worship in Jerusalem.

How did God pull the Jewish people through this trial? Clearly, God has his purposes and plans for our lives that are many times beyond our understanding. As we learned in our recent study of the Book of Job, while God allows the existence of evil in the world, He is not the author of evil. In fact, as we saw in Job, God is in fact restraining the natural evil intentions of mankind and of the Devil who is the author of evil.

The fact that there are representatives of all 12 tribes living today, and that God has restored Israel to the promised land, with Jerusalem as its capital is evidence of God’s ability to maintain a remnant for Himself and restore the Jews to the Land. Many theologians, including me, believe that God has set aside Israel as the focus of His presence on the earth today during this time when the earth is ruled by the gentile nations. There is coming a day, however, when God will rapture the Church and His focus will again be the people of Israel, not the church. The last days, referenced as the “time of Jacob’s trouble,” or “the day of the Lord,” are a uniquely Jewish experience in which Israel and the Jews are at the very center of the world’s attention, not the church.

 

How do you reconcile the issue of increasing immigration and movement of refugees during this time of Islamic terrorist aggression with this passage? Some say this is a matter of discrimination or partiality.

The issues surrounding refugees and immigration are complex with many factors and motivations to consider. We live in an age where global terrorism is a sad reality and, unfortunately, anxiety drives a great many people. We must pray for our elected leaders to have wisdom in these matters. 

However, while we must take great care before evaluating the hearts of others, it does appear that some commit partiality when they subtly minimize the value God places upon each human being, including those who are hurting and in flight from oppression. Similar to the situation in James 2, Christians today can become comfortable with those who seemingly have it all together while fearing and neglecting those who have less to offer, such as impoverished immigrants. Believers must remember that refugees are also made in the image of God and many are brothers and sisters in Christ. We should see them and care from them as God sees and cares. 

 

How do you feel we are oppressing people in today's time?

James speaks of the financial oppression in 2:6. I think the best contemporary example of this is when Christians either lose their job, their business or pay a fine because of their unwillingness to embrace same sex marriage. The bible clearly teaches that this type of sexual perversion is sin. There had been a lot of money spent to pass laws to make the biblical view on marriage and sexuality illegal and its only going to get worse unless the law is changed.

Posted by FFC Leadership with 0 Comments
in Gifts

Gallbladders, Bad Backs and Spiritual Gifts

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It was my senior year of high school, and I was playing on a volleyball team at the Iowa Games in Ames. I was playing at the net, went up for a hit, came down wrong, and suddenly, my back failed to do its job of supporting my body. I was on the floor, had to be carried off the court, and went to the hospital to make sure there wasn’t something extremely wrong.

I literally had no strength in my legs, and it took several hours before I was able to support myself safely. I was out for the rest of the tournament.

Even today, I struggle with the reality of having a bad back. If I push myself too hard, like move my furniture all over the house, I’ll pay for it for days with a sore back and limited range of movement.

Unfortunately, the lesson of slowing down isn’t a pill I’ve been too eager to swallow.

Once again, in the busy month of December, I found myself without the effective service of my back. I can’t even honestly pinpoint what I “did” to put my back out, but I found myself, in the weeks leading up to Christmas, hobbling around like I had an extreme interest on what I was seeing on the floor.

I was out of commission.

Unable to do the simple tasks I was accustomed to doing in order to care for my family.

Carrying laundry baskets was out.

Bringing in groceries...nope.

Emptying the dishwasher...nada.

After days of misery, I acknowledged the fact that I needed to seek help for the condition of my back. It wasn’t getting better, I was getting more and more frustrated, and I needed improvement if I was to have any hope of pulling off my Christmas “to do’s.”

So, I headed to the chiropractor for treatment and very very slowly, things began to improve.

Shortly after my back went out, a friend of mine offered (demanded) to come over and said, “You better have something for me to do when I get there.” And, because she knew my mental state was in just as much disarray as my physical body, she brought me a fancy coffee to drink while I watched her clean (mom clean) my kitchen. She left me with lifted spirits and scoured sinks.

It was relief.

About one week later, my mom and grandmother showed up for a weekend of Christmas cookie decorating. While they were at my house, my 86-year-old grandmother caught our family up on at least five baskets of clean, but unfolded, clothing. She sat in our basement for hours folding our unmentionables.

‘Acts of service’ is her spiritual gift, one of which I’ve been a recipient for decades. She often laments the fact that she doesn’t have any “talent.” She wishes she could decorate like my mom, play instruments like my husband, be clever like my oldest son, or more humorous like me.

She sighs and often remarks, “I’ve just always been good at cleaning and ironing. How boring.”

I adamantly disagree.

I simply cannot count the number of times my grandmother has blessed me and my family through her acts of service. When she visits, my kitchen is always tidy. Something a mom of three boys is always thankful for. She constantly asks what she can be doing to help me.

She’s scrubbed, cleaned, ironed, folded, vacuumed, dusted, swept and scoured while at my house. On her last visit, she even bought me a bottle of glass cooktop cleaner to try out. She’s perpetually making sure she’s meeting my needs in terms of housework while she’s here. It’s always a gift I can’t thank her for enough.

Although I’m sure hours of folding laundry in my basement with my excessively loud boys doesn’t exactly rank high on her “Top Ten Ways to Spend My Christmas Vacation”, it has blessed me more than words can express.

Isn’t that the way it goes most of the time? Our “regular,” acts of service and the hum drum outpourings of our meager talents can literally mean the world to someone else. In my misery, I wasn’t looking for a new Lamborghini or diamond broach, just someone to put a little bleach in my toilets and elbow grease on my kitchen counters.

My friend came at the perfect time to both lift my spirits and clean my kitchen. My grandma didn’t shy away from asking me repeatedly how she could most help me during her visit. Receiving the blessings they bestowed upon me through their spiritual gifts is exactly how God designed this thing to work.

As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. (1 Peter 4:10)

I struggled for years with the fact that my husband can rip a funky riff on stage, and I could only sniff a funky rip from my kids’ pants. My spiritual gifts do not require me to employ a nice voice or guitar, but rather a pen and teaching tools, a sponge and soft scrub and a mixing bowl and measuring cups. But, like the the gifts my husband uses on stage, my gifts have been administered to me for the exact same purpose: to serve others.

But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired. And if they were all one member, where would the body be? But now there are many members, but one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; or again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary; and those members of the body, which we deem less honorable, on these we bestow more abundant honor, and our unseemly members come to have more abundant seemliness, whereas our seemly members have no need of it. But God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked, that there should be no division in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another. (1 Corinthians 12:18–25)

This December, as I laid around my house pouting about the uselessness of my body, Christ’s body came to serve me. If it weren’t for people willing to employ their “less honorable” gifts on my behalf, I could still be wallowing in unfolded laundry and grimy dishes.

Friends, God has so creatively designed each and every one of us for the express purpose of glorifying Himself and serving one another. For some of us, it looks fancy and glitzy and full of glamour. For others of us, it looks dirty, smelly, tedious and full of gaseous emissions.

But, for all of us, it looks like an outpouring of grace bestowed upon us by our Creator to bless one another.

As the digits on the calendar have rolled over yet again to this new year, I encourage each of you to jump in and start using your gifts to serve the body. You might think of yourself as the gallbladder of the body of Christ, but trust me, someone is in desperate need of a functioning gallbladder right now!

By withholding your spiritual gifts from the rest of the body, you are doing a disservice to the healthy function of the Church. We need each other, gallbladders and all.

So make this your year. Purpose to figure out just exactly how God has gifted you to increase the effectiveness of the church. Whether it’s trying out for the worship team or throwing out the garbage after nursery school, you have been promised it will bless others in a way no one else can.

For more information on how to serve at FFC, visit:

firstfamily.church/next-steps/serve

For information about our next spiritual gifts class visit:

firstfamily.church/ministries/adultclasses

  

 

in Joy

The Journey into Joy

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If you're a believer who, like me, is grieving the death of a loved one, James' exhortation to "Count it all joy my brothers, when you face trials of many kinds" can feel both inspirational and impossible.

On one hand, his promise of spiritual purpose and meaning in the midst of heartache and loss is hopeful. On the other, the chasm between the pain of a loved one’s death and joy feels insurmountable.

Grief is a unique trial, in that there is no resolution this side of heaven. From the moment we lose a loved one—a child, a parent, a best friendlife is pervasively, fundamentally altered. Like the optical illusion that relies on positive and negative space to form either a vase or two silhouetted faces, life is suddenly defined by both what's happening and by what's not.

When the empty space left by our loved ones looms large, the ache is soul deep and penetrating.

Yet, it isn't that we as grieving believers don’t want to shift our focus away from pain to joy—the challenge is how.

On this journey into joy, Christ's prayer in Gethsemane offers guidance: "My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will" (Matthew 26:39). In that moment, Christ surrendered. Not just to a gruesome death but to the redemptive plan of a sovereign God.

So we also surrender.

Not to our pain and sorrow, but to the truths we know about who God is and His redemptive work in our lives.

And in surrender, we open the door to joy.

Dear friends, this is not an easy task, because it requires that we first feel and then put words to our pain. It is this process of putting words to our struggles, and then offering them up in surrender, that keeps "count it all joy" from becoming a superficial platitude.

In other words, it is as we place our sorrows within the context of God's character and promises for us as believers that our focus can shift to the spiritual reality that fuels joy.

Biblical joy is more than just happiness here on earth.

It is an emotion born not out of understanding, but out of our celebration that Christ loves us enough to strip our souls of sin and transform us to be more like Himself.

As we take these steps of both surrender and celebration, Christ Himself will lead us into joy.

 

 

Posted by Heidi Warner with 0 Comments

New Year's Resolutions from an Old Dead Guy

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It's the second week of January; how are your New Year's resolutions going?

Is this year truly going to be the year you turn over that new leaf, or will 2016 be similar to last year? I hope and pray that 2016 will be one marked by growth and accomplishments for you. 

A website called statisticbrain.com predicts the following top 10 New Years resolutions for 2016:

10. Spend more time with family 
9. Fall in love
8. Help others in their dreams
7. Quit smoking 
6. Learn something exciting
5. Stay fit and healthy 
4. Enjoy life to the fullest
3. Spend less. Save more.
2. Get organized.
1. Lose weight.

Is your resolution for 2016 on this list? These resolutions are honorable, but I can’t help thinking that the majority of them are still pretty selfish and shortsighted, aren’t they?

Can I challenge you to compare this list to the Puritan preacher and reformed theologian, Jonathan Edwards? He created a list of 70 resolutions, beginning with this foreword: "Being sensible that I am unable to do anything without God’s help, I do humbly entreat him by his grace to enable me to keep these Resolutions, so far as they are agreeable to his will, for Christ’s sake."

If you read through his 70 resolutions, you'll find that, in true Puritan practice, most of his statements beginning with the word "Resolved" have to do with reflecting on his spiritual life, refining his character, or readying himself for earthly death/meeting Christ.

It is as if Edwards was answering the question, “How can I please God more this year?”, instead of “How can I be happier?”

I find this amazing. 

Here are a few that strike me as good examples for us in 2016:

5. Not just to lose weight, but to never lose (or waste) one moment of time honoring his heavenly Father.

37. Not to go to bed earlier, but to go to bed every night and confess the sins of the day.

65. Edwards resolves to exercise more, not for physical gain, but to exercise himself in spiritual habits. E.g. Bible reading, prayer, memorization, etc. 

Please don’t hear this as guilt ridden or judgmental.

I'm realizing that the older I get and the more in love with the Gospel I become, the more I desire to please the One who saved my wretched soul. These thoughts are just encouragements to help you in this regard, and not steps to help you earn God’s favor.

Let’s not forget that 2000 years ago, Christ fully earned the favor of God and imputed that favor to us the day that we believed. 

Would you consider, right now, making a few “eternally focused” New Year’s resolutions?

Here are a few of mine. Please, sometime this year, ask me how I am doing on these:
- Read 1 book a month that is for my spiritual growth.
- Share the Gospel with those on my “white harvest” card.
- Read a book of the Bible for my quiet time often, instead of small chunks.

What would our church look like if all of us committed to honoring and pleasing God more with our lives in 2016?

Let’s commit to making resolutions this year that have eternal, rather than simply earthly, value. We have a choice whether we lay up treasures on earth or in heaven, for where our treasure is, there will our hearts be also!

 
Posted by Travis Walker with 0 Comments

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