Are You Desperate pt. 2

In my article last month, I posed the question to you, “Are you desperate?” We examined how a lack of desperation had led to the downfall of Adam and Eve and as a result all those who followed Adam. This month I want to continue our journey through the biblical storyline. We come then to God’s dealings with Noah in the time when the world was destroyed by the flood. 

The Bible describes this as a wicked time. People had abandoned God. It did not take many generations. We read the words of God, My spirit shall not abide in man forever (Gn6:3). The evil of mankind was awful. Sin has permeated every inch of man’s soul and society.  Genesis records that The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually (Gn 6:5). Imagine that. Things had digressed to the point where man could not even conceive of doing good. The entirety of his focus was on doing evil in the sight of the Lord. 

We are told that things were so bad that God regrets His decision to create mankind. How far they had fallen that the pinnacle of His creation is now the object of His regret! His anger toward their disobedience is such that His plan involves blotting out man whom I have created from the face of the ground, man and beast and creeping things and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them (Gn 6:7). Noah, and Noah alone, walked with God. We are not even given the assurance that sons were righteous. He stands as the one who was righteous and the object of the Lord’s salvation. Our focus is most appropriately on this one man whom God saves. However, we should not miss the reason that God pours out His judgement on the whole of the earth. 

Why had these people who were not so far removed from the Lord’s Garden meet their terrible fate because of such wickedness? Could they not recall to mind all that the Lord had said and created? Let me propose to you their problem: They were no longer desperate for the One who had made them. 

These people who fall under the tidal wave of God’s wrath had decided to use their mind for evil instead of a pursuit of the One they needed most. We are told that their wickedness was great in the earth (Gn 6:5). It was widespread. It was the thing loved and revered among the inhabitants of God’s creation. Wickedness was lauded and admired. It was the aspiration of humanity. 

They had also set their imagination to evil. They were being creative in how they sinned. This does not sound so different from our present age. In all corners of the earth, people are, at this very moment, thinking of new ways to sin. Humanity spends every moment conceive ways to be more reliant on our own understanding and less dependent on the God that has created us. 

We have become desperate to be wicked. Our desire is for things that do not save and have no power. We place our faith and trust in wickedness which is great in the earth. Our hope is found in our money. Our love is placed in those things that satisfy our flesh. 

We must become desperate to find favor in the eyes of the LORD. He must be the object of our affection and desire. We must use every imagination of the thoughts of our heart to please and glorify our creator. He, and He alone, is worthy of our praise. He has given us everything we need and more. He has offered us salvation through the precious gift of His Son, Jesus Christ, so that we need not be desperate for sin and self any longer. Now is the time of the people of God to be desperate—desperate for the Savior.

Pride and the Resurrection

It is easy to think too highly of one’s self. I am always humored by this in some people. One of my best friends will always say about someone who believes himself better than is that he, “Thinks more highly of himself than he ought.” Pride is paralyzing and the antithesis of the Gospel message. When we believe ourselves better than we are—better than nothing—we miss the need that we have for a saving touch from our powerful Savior.

This time of the year we remember and celebrate the resurrection of our King, we should remember it was a lack of pride that provided our redemption. If anyone should thinking highly about Himself it would be the King of Kings. However, the Son of God humbled Himself to the point of death, even death on the cross. Therefore we should check our pride. Remove it. Kill it. Destroy it. It has no place in the life of the believer. Pride is the delighted statement that we know better than God and have no need for His ways. This must be vanquished from our thinking. Pastor Jonathan Dodson writes these words:

There is an antidote to pride, and it is not to think less of ourselves. Instead, we ought to dwell upon the God who did become one of us, who gracefully withstood our scorn and self-adulation. Jesus is the God who, in the face of pride, calls us to the cross. How can we be proud there, where our evil pins our God to a tree? In the midst of rejection, Jesus embraces our smugness and extends an accepting embrace. But we must look upon him. We must give up our self-made authority, and sense of accomplishment, if we are to receive his forgiving, awe-inspiring embrace.

Towering above the authority of Self, Jesus comes low — so low that his face is pressed to mortal bandages, to ensure the rescue of his persecutors. On Easter morning, he burst his grave clothes to give us a way out of our pride, to recover awe. The resurrection restores astonishment. It eats up our pride in soul-thrilling glory. The way out of pride is worship, to look upon a God who is greater than ourselves. We recover awe when we acknowledge the greatness of his sacrifice, the depth of our sin, and the height of his love — all in the person of Christ.

As we come to the cross, the place where our shame and sin were destroyed, we must come on our knees, humble before our God. We go to the cross remembering that the one who went there first, went there with a humble heart.

Jonathan Dodson is pastor of City Life Church in Austin, Texas, and author of the new book The Unbelievable Gospel: Say Something Worth Believing.

Are you Desperate?

I want to ask you a question: Are you desperate? I realize there are several different ways you may go about answering the question. You may think there is a wrong or right answer; a particular answer that I am looking for by asking the question.

You may feel that you are not desperate, that you have all you need. Maybe that is because you are a Christian and believe Christ is all you need. That is a solid answer. Maybe you are not a Christian but know you are not desperate because you have great material wealth and status. That, too, is an answer.

You could, however, be on the opposite end of the possible answers. You know you are desperate. You do not have all you need. Hunger is a real threat to your survival. You struggle to pay your bills. You find yourself sinking deeper into debt. When you see the question you know that you are desperate and your needs are great.

Think with me about this question: Are you desperate for God? That changes things entirely. Many of you reading this have a relationship with God and therefore do not believe it necessary to find Him. You have found Him or, more appropriately, He has found you. This is where I want to direct the flow of this article and caution my fellow believers.

I believe the Bible shows a clear pattern of the necessity of being desperate for God. The pattern goes something like this: God calls someone to Himself who is desperate, they follow for a while, they slowly become less desperate for God, their relationship is ultimately ruined, they are separated from God, they become desperate once again, God calls them…

I think this pattern is present throughout the biblical storyline and that is where I want to take us over these next several articles. I want to dissuade us from getting to a place where we are no long desperate for God. I want to caution us against the comforts of easy Christian living and remind us that those people who were called by God in the Bible found their relationship with Him in shambles when they stopped being desperate. Let’s look this month at the beginning of the biblical storyline with the pinnacle of God’s creation, Adam.

You might think that Adam was not desperate for God. He lived in perfection as the manager of the Lord’s garden. However, he was desperate for God. All his hope was in God. He knew nothing but full dependence on the Lord. The Lord had breathed into Adam’s nostrils the breath of life and Adam lived in perfect relationship with the Lord. However, that desperation is questioned.  “Did God actually say, “You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” the serpent says to Eve, Adam’s wife. “Do you have to be truly desperate for the Lord?” he is saying. “Must you be fully dependent upon Him?” This provided Adam an opportunity to rebuff the serpent, lead his wife, and declare his dependence on God.

Adam’s answer has had repercussions throughout the rest of human history. Adam does not speak, but rather takes the very fruit that he has been commanded not to eat and consumes it. His actions state boldly to his wife and the serpent, “I am not desperate for God, there is another place I can find my hope!”  This answer destroys His relationship with His Creator.

Our God does not want us desperate for anyone or anything else. Ultimately Adam blames his failing on Eve who in turn blames the serpent. However, blame is inconsequential. The damage is done and the relationship is broken because Adam ceased to be desperate for God—his hope was elsewhere. Adam and Eve are removed from the garden, forced to toil, feel pain, and eventually die. Adam’s curse is passed down from generation to generation. Because he stopped being desperate for God, he fell into sin’s trapped and condemned the world.

God does not abandon Adam. We read the encouraging words of Genesis 4:26: To Seth (Adam’s son) also a son was born, and he called his name Enosh. At that time people began to call upon the name of the Lord. After murder and pain, people began to call upon the Lord. People once again realized that they were desperate for Him.

Observations for the Day After an Election

As I peck away at the keyboard, millions of Americans will go vote today. Sadly, only about 1 in 3 Americans who are of voting age will actually vote in this election and many do not even take thie privilege seriously. I recently overheard a man at a fast food restaurant proudly proclaim he had written in his dog for the U.S. Senate. I am not sure that our soldiers and patriots intended to die for that vote.

A lot will be made depending on how things shakeout today. If the GOP wins the Senate, it will be seen as a death knell to the President’s legislative agenda. If the Democrats maintain control, it will be thought that there is glimmer of hope for the President’s second term. No matter the election, the President is always on the ballot.

As a former political hack and junkie, I want to share some thoughts that are always helpful for me on the day after the election.

1. You will probably not like the people you voted for as much after they are elected. If the person you have hitched your horse to is elected today, you probably will not like them as much tomorrow. They are, in the end, a politician and they represent a large number of people. If their goal is to affect change, they will probably have to do some things you do not like. If they want to get ahead and advance themselves, they will have to do some things you do not like. If they never do anything you do not like, they will probably not represent you very long.

2. Washington changes people. This is a best guess on my part, but it comes from some pretty good observations. One of two things is normally true about people who go to Washington. They are either hardened politicians who are keenly aware of the political game, or they are idealist in for a rude awakening. Washington is a place of backrooms deals and political maneuvering. While I want a leader who is above such things, the people who do not play the game are normally not in a position to bring home the bacon. If we are honest, that is why most people vote for a certain person or party; they believe they or their district will get something in return.

3. Local elections are important. I imagine a lot of voters do not know anything about names on the ballot past the first couple. How much time did you spend researching the judges or county commissioners? Those people may affect more change on you than the ones who ran non-stop television ads. Not a lot of money to run television ads for the soil and water conservation district positions. Are they important? That is a matter of opinion, but they are on your ballot and surely you do not want to be the type of person that plays a guessing game with your vote. Local officials plan your tax rates and oversee your child’s education. Do not neglect to know who you are voting for locally. That decision may haunt you more than the people you ship off to Washington.

God willing, the sun will come up tomorrow, new public servants will take office in December and January, and we will move forward. If tomorrow is disappointing, remember, the Iowa Caucuses are less than 430 days away!

Time to vote…does it really matter who you vote for?

If you don’t think it matters who you vote for, consider this:

Residents of North Carolina had 19,818 abortions in 2013.

To put the abortion total in context by way of comparison, consider that 14.2% of resident pregnancies ended in abortion in 2013. For every six North Carolina mothers who gave birth to live babies in 2013, one child lost his or her life to abortion.

Among North Carolinians having abortions in 2013:

-26.5 years was the average age
-33.9% had repeat abortions;
-12.8% already had two or more previous abortions
-60% were already mothers of living children.
-Minorities continue to be disproportionately represented, with 45% occurring among African-American mothers.

When you vote for a pro-choice candidate, any pro-choice candidate, you are supporting someone who is okay with murdering 20,000 children in our state and will not do anything in their elected capacity to help stop it.

If you don’t think it matters who you vote for, you are wrong.

*data from the NC State Center for Health Statistics

From the Depths

Several months ago I began leading us through Psalm 107. We have seen examples of the greatness of our God’s salvation and how far His reach can be. The final example he gives begins in verse twenty-three. It is different. Honestly, I thought at first it was bit strange because these people were not really doing anything bad, but trouble comes upon them.

23Some went down to the sea in ships,
    doing business on the great waters;
24 they saw the deeds of the Lord,
    his wondrous works in the deep.
25 For he commanded and raised the stormy wind,
    which lifted up the waves of the sea.
26 They mounted up to heaven; they went down to the depths;
    their courage melted away in their evil plight;
27 they reeled and staggered like drunken men
    and were at their wits’ end.
28 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
    and he delivered them from their distress.
29 He made the storm be still,
    and the waves of the sea were hushed.
30 Then they were glad that the waters were quiet,
    and he brought them to their desired haven.
31 Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
    for his wondrous works to the children of man!
32 Let them extol him in the congregation of the people,
    and praise him in the assembly of the elders. (Psalm 107:23-32, ESV)

 

These men did nothing wrong. These people simply went out on the ocean. They are fishermen or merchants or in some other nautical profession. They have their business on the sea and are working. In fact, we are told they were looking at the beauty of God’s creation. They are witness to His wondrous works, but a storm hits. We are painted the picture that their ship is tossed about. Verse twenty-six says, They mounted up to heaven; they went down to the depths. Their ship goes up and then falls far down. Their courage melted away. They are scared. They stagger about the boat like a drunk.

Think about how many times we see this image of a dangerous sea in the Bible. We see it with Jonah. We see when Jesus calms the storm. The sea must have been a terrifying place to be. There was no radio communication. There was no one you could call for help. There was no Coast Guard. You were simply out there on your own. If the ship was destroyed, you were going to the bottom of the ocean and no one would see you again. Your family would not know where you sank nor would they know how you died. So to go on a ship, and make these types of voyages, you had to be a person of great courage.  This storm makes even that melt away.

Sometimes, we come to God when we go through a storm and we have nothing left. These people, however, are not pictured as having nothing. They, most likely, had whatever they needed. They are doing business. They are doing well and yet, God sends the storm so that they will see their need for Him. That may have been your situation in life when you came to Christ. That is when some of you gave up doing your own thing—going in your own way—and followed after Him. You realized your inability when the storm hit and you knew without Him you were not going to make it. The waves were crashing to and fro and you finally realized that you could not do it on your own.

If that is the case you should say so. If that was the case and you cried to the Lord, He listened, He saved you, He calmed the storm, and He brought you to the place that you were needing to go, shout it from the roof tops.

The Psalmist even tells us who should be the audience of our thanks. He is very specific and I think there is a point to this.  First, he says the congregation of the people. That was the gathering of the religious people. He says you should talk about it when you get to the worship gathering. You should talk about the fact that God has brought you out of this storm. You should allow other people to celebrate with you. It should be exciting when God does something. It gives us hope. It gives us courage for the future. What encouragement it gives me when I get to share in the joy that God is providing someone else. How helpful it is for me as a pastor when I get to hear what God is doing in the lives of the people under my care. Sometimes I am privileged to hear this on a day when I do not feel like He is doing something in mine. In the same way, I want to share with others when God does something in my life because it can encourage us. It pushes us along. It helps us to get through our own dark times and our own storms. We should share in the congregation of the people.

Next he says, And praise him in the assembly of the elders. This would be the public gathering. He says do not simply go to the religious gathering, share it in public. Elders here are not referring to elders as we would think of in the New Testament.  In the Old Testament world, cities would have elders as leaders of the city. Many times they would be religious, but this is a public gathering. It is not enough for us to share with each other what God is doing but rather we must commit ourselves to sharing it outside the walls of our church. He is working in our lives. Share it to the religious and share it to those who are lost. Share the blessings that God has given.

Book Review: The People of God: Empowering the Church to Make Disciples

The People of God: Empowering the Church to Make Disciples by Trevor Joy and Spence Shelton, B&H, 2014

If you are numbered among those who believe that the church in the United States has problems, you have probably spent at least some time contemplating what is at the root of those problems.  We might tracpeople-of-god-covere it to theological impurities brought about by the abandonment of orthodox Christianity in many realms of Christendom.  Others may claim that we simply live in the most secular age of history and therefore the task of pointing people toward our Savior is harder than ever.  Still another group may say we have left our old time religion and replaced it with contemporary notions that look little better than the unregenerate world around us.  These and countless others can be offered up as the reason for the decline of growth and the lack of influence the church has in our context.  However, they are not the root cause.  They are merely symptoms of a nearly systemic problem found in the vast majority of our churches: we have ignored the Great Commission’s call to make disciples.

The People of God provides us with an encouraging and practical call to take seriously the way God has ordained for people to come into a relationship with Him and grow in their knowledge of His Kingdom.  The authors build on the premise that human beings have been created for community, both with God and with one another.  The Church has been created by Christ to be a community and the growth of Christ’s followers through the disciple-making process is done within this context.  For Joy and Shelton this is an intentional, theologically driven process.

Our authors explore the distinctives of a gospel community while also presenting us with the common hindrances to that same biblical community.  Within any context of discipleship, the Gospel must be at the forefront.  The Gospel provides us the pattern of discipleship as we are constantly reminded of our need to turn from our sin and our desperate reliance on Christ.

For me, the most helpful chapter in the book is the authors’ discussion of alignment.  The book calls on churches to align their teaching/preaching/discipleship/small group activities together.  While in no way new or revolutionary, it is a seemingly radical idea.  For most churches, there is very little connection between the focus of the sermon and the teaching that takes place during Sunday school.  Small groups are not connected to the spiritual emphasis of the worship service.  Children have lessons that are completely different from their parents.  There is no alignment of the things that are taught.  This method of conducting the teaching ministry of the church provides very little opportunity for depth and growth.  However, when discipleship is intentional and the ideas of the worship gathering are reinforced in Sunday school or small groups the people in our churches have a chance to understand more deeply the things of God.  When we are intentional about aligning our sermon, Bible studies, small group lessons, and discipleship efforts, we will find that the mission and vision of the church will be constantly reinforced and remain abundantly clear to those who participate in the life of the community of faith.

I was thoroughly impressed by the relevance of this book for churches of all sizes.  While both authors serve on staff at churches at are among the largest in the country, their ideas are relevant and useful for my church which is small and in a rural context.  We are all aware that this is often not the case with books produce in mega churches.  Because these concepts are so biblically based, they are functional within a myriad of church contexts.

Many of us stand concerned about the state of the church and the work of the Kingdom.  We are weary from trying to make things work the way we want and convincing people they need to do better.  The heart of our problem is often a lack of discipleship.  It is not a cure-all secret formula.  It is however, Christ’s pattern for growing His Church and expanding His Kingdom.