Archive | January, 2015

How to defeat temptation and discontentment – Luke 4:1-14

28 Jan

temptationIs there a certain area of your life where you regularly feel discontent?

Consider doing what Jesus did. Create a game plan to attack the temptation of discontent when it arises:

  • Step 1 – Choose a small portion that addresses the temptation.
  • Step 2 – Memorize it.
  • Step 3 – Review it over and over. Have it at the ready.
  • Step 4 – When you feel tempted or discontent, recite the verse.

This is exactly what Jesus did when he was tempted!

Let me give you a couple examples about how this might work in life:

Have a struggle with speaking out of attacking anger? Hurt others with your words? What are some scripture verses you could memorize that specifically address anger? When you are feeling that desire, that temptation within you to be angry, you can go back to that Scripture, quote it, and fight temptation! How about 1 Peter 3:8?: “Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble.”

Maybe your struggle is lust? Pornography? You could memorize Philippians 4:8: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

Do you gossip? Slander? Talking about other people makes us feel better about ourselves…temporarily maybe, but it is so damaging to relationships. Proverbs has a bunch of verses that might strengthen you. Take a look at Proverbs 11:13: “A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy person keeps a secret.”

How about jealousy? Or discontentment that manifests itself with overspending? Hebrews 13:5 is a great one: “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you’.”

But know this, quoting Scripture like Jesus did is not a Harry Potter magic spell that wipes out the temptation and makes life easy.

It can take practice. You might fail. The temptation could feel strong. The temptation might be within you, (as John reminds us: the flesh, pride of life, lust of eyes). You may be fighting yourself. It could be a tough battle that may go on and on multiple times over multiple days, months and years.

But keep fighting.

At the end of How Much Land Does a Man Need, Pahom, like I said, has made it back to his start post by sundown. But he had gone so far out, though, that after a long day of walking many miles, he needed to run the last few miles to make it back in time. He had to overexert himself.

As he made it back to the starting stake, with the sun going down, he reached his hand out, touched the stake, and fell on ground. Not just from exhaustion. He fell on the ground not in joy, not in relief, not in excitement. He fell dead of a heart attack.

In the end the only land he received was that space needed to bury him.

But Pahom’s fate does not have to be our fate.  Jesus shows us his way.  We can fight temptation with the Word of God, and we can fight it by depending on the Spirit to fill that emptiness. Unlike Pahom, we can learn to be content in the Spirit.

Though he is the son of God, Jesus is content to depend on the Spirit. Jesus is knowing and employing the Word of God. He could have used his own power, but instead he is an example for us. If we defeat temptation, it will not be on our own power. Depend on Spirit, employ the Bible.

How much land does a man need? and other temptations and discontentment

23 Jan

Is there a certain area of your life where you are constantly tempted?

I am listening to an audio book this week. It is called How Much Land Does a Man Need? by famed Russian author Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910). Tolstoy is famous for his mammoth works like Anna Karenina or War and Peace, as well as for his desire to live out Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. But How Much Land Does a Man Need is a very short story. James Joyce called it the greatest short story of all time.

how much land does a man needIn it Tolstoy tells the tale of a peasant, Pahom, who progressively desires and gets more and more land. Each time he is excited about the new land thinking it will give him the kind of life he yearns for. But as time goes by, even as he does well for himself, each time he gets more land he soon grows discontent with it. He wants more. He finds out about some well-landed people who are willing to sell land cheap. One ruble per acre! So he travels to them, bearing gifts to impress them.  They love the gifts, and he says he is interested in purchasing land.  They like him and are willing to sell at the very cheap price he heard about, but they offer to sell the land in a most unusual deal.

They give him the opportunity to purchase a parcel of land for a very low price, but the parcel size is based on how far he can walk in one day. It is very simple. He has from sunup to walk as far as he wants, stake out the land, but he has to return to his starting point by sundown. Sounds great, right?

There’s a catch. If he does not return to the spot of departure within a day’s time, he loses his money and the land.  Pahom is delighted!  So off he goes excited thinking he is going to get a steal. It should be very easy to get more land than he ever dreamed of.

I think about when I have run marathons around the city of Baltimore. I took me about four hours. You can cover a lot of ground in four hours.  You’re totally exhausted, but you’ve covered a lot of ground.  How broad an area do you think you could cover from sunup to sundown?  Ten square miles?  More? Less?

How do you think Pahom did? Think he went out too far didn’t make it back? Good guess, close, but you’re wrong. He actually made it back. In time. But that is not the end of the story.

But greed and discontent got in the way. Discontent fueled his heart, his desire. Greed was his temptation.  You will be surprised to hear the end of the story.

We are all tempted by many things. What is it about our inner desire that gives temptation its power?

Is temptation so powerful in and of itself? No. Temptation is powerful because of something inside us. Some psychologists call this the empty self. We have an emptiness within us, and we long to fill it. We are discontent. When we are discontent, it is very, very hard to defeat temptation.

Jesus was once at the place in his life where he had every reason to be discontent. Satan knew it. As he knows when we are discontent. In that moment he can strike with a temptation that is nearly impossible to defeat.

In Luke 4:1-15 we see this work out in Jesus’ life.  And we’ll hear what happens because of the discontent in Pahom’s life.  Join us at Faith Church on Sunday!

How repentance is actually beautiful – Luke 3:1-20

14 Jan

The word “repent” conjurs up horrible images.  Awful, judgmental images.  Hellfire and brimstone preachers. They scare me. How could “repent” be anything but an ugly word?

Angry-ChristianThis past Sunday we studied John the Baptist.  You can check out the sermon here.  It was looking at Luke 1:80 briefly and then Luke 3:1-20.

Luke records John sermonizing with some pretty harsh comments. He seems to have been like those street corner doom and gloom preachers.  Check this out:

“You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”

Imagine being in the crowd that day.  How would those words make you feel?  What would you say?  Walk away?

In verse 10 the people respond. They question, “What should we do?”  As John looks at specific people in the crowd, they ask him the same question over and over.  It is a very good question.

It is a life-changing question.

It shows they are at a point to make a change.

What is John’s answer?  He said it already: “produce fruit in keeping with repentance.”  Fruit is a beautiful thing.  Repentance seems ugly.  People across the centuries have painted and photographed fruit because it is so beautiful.  What about repentance could line up with the beauty of fruit?

When you repent you change. It is not just a change of mind either. The specific word used is to change your mind so thoroughly that you also change your actions.  Change is hard, but it can lead to exquisite beauty.

Your life should show that change.  Things that do not change stagnate, wither and die.  That’s why the question “What should we do?” is so good.  It not the questions of “What should we think?” or “What should we feel?”  While our thoughts and feelings are involved, they should flow into action.  A change of heart and mind, properly placed, must lead to visible action, must lead to something that we actually do.  Or perhaps something we stop doing.  Or maybe something we do differently.  Good change, right change, leads to beauty.

To the person with two cloaks, John gave them something beautiful to do: “Give your extra cloak to a person who needs one.”

To another who had lots of food, more beauty: “Give your food to him who has none.”

To the tax collector, “stop cheating people.”

To the soldier, “stop extorting.”

All very doable and very beautiful things.  When you repent, you actually have something wonderful to do.

The aftermath of my freshman year in college left me with a need to do specific things.  I, a Bible college student, cheated on a Bible test.  Nice, huh?  I strongly disliked a gen. ed. class, and falsified my attendance record.  Eight skips were allowed.  I think I missed 15-20 times.  When a guy in the dorm rigged the hall phone to make free long distance calls (cell phones still rare in those days), I partook frequently.  That year I also allowed myself to be very selfish in a dating relationship.  All of these I needed to deal with.  I met with professors, the school finance office, and wrote a letter to the parents of the girl I dated.  It was confession time.  That’s how repentance started for me.  It wasn’t easy, but it was so good.

This business of producing fruit in keeping with repentance is practical. It’s not just in the head. It’s not just belief. It matters to our real lives. Repentance means that we stop doing the wrong things, and start doing the right and beautiful things. It means saying “I was wrong.” And it means saying “I need to change.”

Specific change.

Our lives should be a lifestyle of repentance. We should see the fruit in keeping with repentance. It means repentance might need to happen over and over again.

See repentance as a spiritual discipline. Check yourself over and over.

A symbol like baptism, such as what John was doing there in the Jordan River, can lead us to a false belief of “yeah, I’ve been baptized…I have the golden ticket.”

But that’s not a lifestyle.

Instead when we repent we do not ignore social change. Because of our hope in Christ we enact that kind of change.

It is so fascinating that John didn’t tell the people in the crowd that day that they should do what he did. He went out and lived in the desert. Instead he told them to live out their faith in their real worlds.

Bearing beautiful fruit in keeping with repentance needs to happen in our jobs, in our homes, in our schools, in our communities.

By the choices you make, the people in your life, such as your neighbors, your classmates, the other kids on your sports team, your co-workers should be able to say “That is a person who is living a repented lifestyle.” They might not use the words “repented lifestyle”! But they will think of you something like this that you are beautiful, lovely, and they will know that you love Jesus and are actually trying to do what he wants you to do.

So do you need to repent today?

Are there things that are a part of your life that do not honor God?

What could it look like for you to live a repented lifestyle?

Do you see the fruit of repentance in your life? Do others see it?

When a lost child can you teach about being on a mission – Luke 2:21-42

7 Jan

Last week I told you the story of how I lost my son at the water park. Jared was missing for about five minutes in a huge crowd. I was very scared. Michelle and I had gone opposite directions to try to find him. I had looked at a couple pools, and he was nowhere to be found, so I doubled back to find Michelle. Maybe it was time to contact the authorities.

As I headed back, I saw Michelle’s cousin’s wife, Ang, and amazingly there was Jared standing with her!

I had a huge feeling of relief! But how did they find him???

Ang explained, “I told the girls to keep an eye for Jared. And instantly Kelia, (their youngest who was about 2 years old at the time), said ‘mom, he’s right there.’”!!! And sure enough, there he was.

He was walking from one pool to another, and Kelia spotted him.

Like Mary and Joseph’s amazed reaction upon finding 12 year old Jesus in the temple, I turned to Jared, so glad he was found, but also freaked out wondering what he was thinking and doing. You know what Jared said, “Dad, I found an awesome pool! You gotta come check it out!!!”

jm_200_NT1.pd-P6.tiffLike nothing had happened….

He had a mission. To find another great swimming pool. He was focused on that mission. And in his mind, he had totally succeeded! We, on the other hand, were staring at him in amazement.

We disciples of Jesus need to be so engrossed with the mission of God in our lives, that the people around us, the people who know us best, stare at us in amazement. Jesus’ response to Mary and Joseph was “I must be about my Father’s business.”  Our lives should be so wrapped up in the mission of God, in obedience and honor and worship and love for him, that people say of us “This is not like you! What is going on with you?”

When you follow the mission of God, it just might surprise some people in your life! People who actually stick with New Year’s Resolutions is surprising enough.

The gym I work out at is mostly empty at 5:30am or 6am in the morning. But now after New Years it is a lot more crowded! How long, though, will it stay that way? The crowd always thins out. Resolutions sound good, but inwardly we’re all thinking…yeah, I wonder how long that will last? But when it does, when a person drops 50 pounds, WOW! It’s astonishing. The same goes with the mission of God. When you make a change, take a mission trip, change a spending habit, drop a bad habit, speak more about God, live more simply, people take notice. They think, hmmm…let’s see how long this will last. But if you are engrossed with the mission, focused on the mission, making the mission your life’s purpose, as it was for Jesus, people will look at you with amazement! And some of them might not like it.

Maybe we all need to be like 12 year old Jesus this year. How can God’s mission become your mission more than ever this year?

That time my son got lost in the water park…

2 Jan

Kings Island in Cincinnati, Ohio, is an amusement park that also has an awesome water park. Tons of water slides, a huge wave pool, a bunch of specialty pools, and other cool water rides. I know because I was there about five years ago, with our family and what seemed like one hundred thousand other people.

kings island water parkWe were visiting Michelle’s cousin, Don, and his family who, at the time, lived near Cincinnati, and we all went to Kings Island. I was with our two families’ older kids in the wave pool. The bigger boys went way out to where the waves were strongest. I was in the shallow end with Jared, our youngest son, and Faith, my niece, who is Jared’s age. Michelle and her cousin’s wife, Ang, had taken the youngest two girls to find a baby pool or to the bathroom. No problem, me and five kids in the wave pool.

Soon enough, Jared came up to me asking for help with his life jacket. He wanted it off. We were in the shallow end, so I thought, Okay, he’ll be alright without it.  I got him unbuckled, and he ran off to put the jacket back in the bin where the lifeguards keep all the others. Faith and I went back to splashing in the water.

After a minute or so, I thought, Hmmm, Jared didn’t come back. And there’s no sign of him by the life jacket station. Did he go out further into the deep water with the big boys who were loving the waves?

I scanned the pool and spotted the three big boys.

Nope…he was nowhere in wave pool.

He was gone!

Being a hot summer day, the place was a madhouse. I felt it was like Where’s Waldo trying to find Jared. Could I have missed him?

If you’ve ever had a moment like this, you know that your ask yourself, is this a time to panic? I thought, No, Jared must have gone to find Michelle.

So I told to the older kids to hang out in the wave pool, stay put, and that I was looking for Jared. I then took Faith with me to look. (No more losing any other kids!)

At this point, though I told myself not to panic, my heart was pounding. I double-checked the wave pool. He was nowhere in or around the wave pool. He was nowhere around the next pool closest to us. But as I scanned, I heaved a sigh of relief. Just 100 yards away, I saw Michelle and Ang walking with the younger girls.  They must have seen him.

Nope…they didn’t! Now I’m feeling more embarrassed and scared than before. I gave Faith to Ang, Michelle gave Meagan to Ang, and we went in different directions, searching for a little boy in a place that was a sea teeming with a thousand little kids.

I walked to yet another pool…no sign of him.   So I doubled-back to find Michelle again.

As I walked back toward where we left Ang, I realized that Jared has now been missing for at least five minutes.  This is not good. He could be snagged and off the property by now.  My anxiety level is huge.

On Sunday we’re going to read about parents that likewise got freaked out about a missing child. This time it was Jesus’ parents, Mary and Joseph. To prepare, check out Luke 2:41-52.

We’ll find out what happens in that story, and why it can and should matter to us!  I’ll also tell you how things turned out that day at King’s Island!  So join us at Faith Church for worship!

Simeon (the Bucket List guy) and why Evangelicals need to focus a whole lot more on Mary – Luke 1:46-55; 2:21-40

1 Jan

So what do you think about Mary, the mother of Jesus?

With this past Sunday’s sermon we concluded the story of the birth of Jesus. Luke shows us clearly through the words of his mother, Mary, and through Anna and Simeon, the amazing significance of Jesus.

simeon-in-the-temple1-658x368Mary, Simeon and Anna had a passionate focus on the Lord.

They all understood, at least in part, the significance of Jesus and it caused great joy!

As we begin a new year, we’re going to be spending a lot of time doing what Mary and Simeon and Anna did, focusing on Jesus.

As we think about bucket lists, they are simply questions of what do I want to do with the rest of my life. Unlike many places around the world, we Americans have the distinct privilege to ask a question like that. We can dream.

For Mary, she is a teenager whom God broke into her world in a major way. If you’re a teenager, what are your dreams? Mary is an example to follow because she saw herself as a servant of God. No matter what this “mother of the Messiah” business meant, she was all in. She heard some glorious things, and from Simeon she heard some downright scary things, about what being the mother of the Messiah could mean. But at a young age, she accepted her role, come what may. Her beautiful song is a description of her amazing commitment to the Lord.

Joseph is a man expecting to lead a normal carpenter’s life and God showed up quite unexpectedly. If you’re in your working years, you know that life sometimes throws your curveballs like it did for Joseph. Just about all of us have had things work out very differently than we planned on. Oftentimes plans go wrong and life can be harder than we want. What could it mean for us to follow the Lord in the midst of disappointment?

Anna was an elderly lady, widowed for a long time, passionate about the Lord. Some of you know a thing or two about being in your elderly years, being widowed, for a long time.   You have experienced a lot in life. Joy and sadness. Let Anna be an example for you, of a person who is passionate about the Lord as the years go by. One of our homebound members, every single time I visit with her and just about every time I talk with her on the phone says “I wonder why the Lord doesn’t just take me home?” Next time I visit her I’m going to talk about Anna.

In closing there is the Bucket List guy, Simeon. A man, middle age, maybe older, whose one bucket list item had the God guarantee, that he would see Jesus. What is on your bucket list? What should be on your bucket list?

Simeon wanted to lay eyes on the Messiah. As we think about Advent, the entire idea of Advent is that Jesus has come. And when we celebrate Advent we also remember that he said he is coming again. Simeon had the Bucket List guarantee about the first coming of the Messiah. I don’t know if God is giving out any more Bucket List guarantees, but I think it would be pretty cool to have Simeon’s, to see the second coming of the King.

While we might not get that guarantee, what the characters in the story all point to is the answer to the question: what should we have on our Bucket Lists.

These four characters are in very different stages of life, but their heart’s desire is identical. They are passionate about Jesus.

What could it look like to be passionate about Jesus at your stage in life? In each of these characters we have examples of people to follow.

Their focus, all of them, were on Jesus, the Savior of the World. If we are imitate them, our focus should be on Jesus too. Do you need to spend more time with him? Do you need to get to know him better? Do you feel distant?

What will it look like in 2015 for you to focus more on Jesus?