Come Let Us Adore Him

December 12th, 2013

One of the great defenses we have against the holiday pressures is our worship of Jesus. In worshipping Christ at Christmas we push back against the materialistic and cultural Grinches that attempt to steal the true celebration of the Advent. We must hear and heed the invitation of the carol: “O come all ye faithful … O come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord.”

Last Sunday a treacherously thick layer of ice virtually paralyzed our city.  As a result most churches were forced to cancel their Sunday worship services and other church activities.  In the twenty-two years I have been in Fort Worth I don’t recall ever having to do that before.  While many of us took advantage of the day to worship quietly in our homes, I think many of us felt an ache in our souls that we were not able to gather with our brothers and sisters to worship Christ the Lord, particularly at this season.  Perhaps it served to remind us of how much we need the strength and encouragement that comes from gathering with other believers for worship and edification.

In light of that I have an idea!

Let’s determine to do our very best to be in church this Sunday. What if we set an attendance record in the middle of December! Like the shepherds around Bethlehem, let’s come with our hearts hungry to worship Christ the Lord. Like the Wise Men of old, let’s come with our hands bearing gifts for Christ through His church. Like the angels let’s be ready to lift our voices to say and sing, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests.”

And let’s make it our goal to make this Christmas special for others by helping them to see the glory and the beauty of Christ. There are two great events in the next two weeks that are prime opportunities to bring others with us to worship Christ. The Katinas Christmas Concert featuring our own Choir and Orchestra will help you adore Christ this Christmas. Our Christmas Eve service will have a special Cowtown flavor to it. Don’t miss it. There’s no more beautiful and worshipful time and place in Fort Worth than reading the Christmas story and singing the carols of Christmas by candlelight.

How Will You be Remembered?

October 4th, 2013

The book of Acts records the untimely death of a woman named Dorcas who had distinguished herself among the disciples by her life of service.

“(Dorcas) was always doing good and helping the poor … All the widows stood around him (Peter), crying and showing him the robes and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was still with them” (Acts 9:36,39).

Standing there around Dorcas’ lifeless body were the people whom she had touched by her many acts of extraordinary kindness.  They held in their hands the tangible evidence of a life lived in practical service to others.  Dorcas was missed and remembered for the special things she did to help others feel the love of God in their lives.

Swedish inventor and chemist Alfred Nobel was the inventor of dynamite, an explosive mostly used by the military, and mostly for destructive purposes.  As a result Alfred Nobel became an extremely wealthy man. Things were going along just fine in Alfred’s life until one day in 1888.  He opened the newspaper and saw his own obituary.  As it turned out, Alfred’s brother had died, but the press had written an obituary for Alfred instead.

That mistake changed Alfred’s life.  In the obituary the writer summed up Alfred’s life and work by giving him the name “Merchant of Death.”  This shook Alfred to the core of his very being.  He was forced to look at his life and what he would be remembered for.  So Alfred decided to refocus his life and to do something that would make the world a safer place.  He immediately drew up his will in which he directed that over 90% of his net worth would go to establish what would be called the Nobel prizes … monetary prizes that would be awarded to people who, in the preceding year, had brought the greatest benefit to mankind.  It goes on even to this day in the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize, and other important awards to people who have done something extraordinary for mankind.

Nobel received an unlikely gift by getting a preview of how he would be remembered, at least if he didn’t change the course of his life.

Seldom do I attend a funeral these days without wondering how those who gather for my funeral will remember me.  My first goal is to have at least six friends who will agree to carry my casket!  Still working on that, but hopefully I’m getting close.  I know it seems a bit morbid, but I can’t help but think about how I will be remembered by my family, my friends and those whom I have served as their pastor.

In the words of the old Steve Green song, will those who come behind me find me faithful.  Will I be remember, not just in a sentimental way, but because I’ve served them in some way that has made Jesus more real in their lives … in some way that has made them feel the amazing love God has for them … in some way that has caused them to experience grace from God?

I know this kind of introspection often stems from the raw human desire to know that we did not pass from this life in insignificance … that we were “somebody.”  O, I pray that’s not what this is about for me.  Rather I trust that my motivation is that of the Apostle Paul when he announced in Philippians 1:20: “ I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death” (italics mine).

Maybe as you look back on your life you realize that the way you’ve lived your life hasn’t really done much toward creating a Christ-exalting obituary or eulogy.  But it’s not too late to start.

Back to the account of Dorcas’ death, the Bible goes on to explain that God worked a miracle through the Apostle Peter.  He came, got down on his knees and prayed for Dorcas to be raised from the dead … and she was!  It was a remarkable miracle that attested to the power of the Gospel.

So Dorcas lived to serve another day … and so can you.  Why not start today to live like you want to be remembered?  Set aside your own selfish, materialistic, proud agenda in life and start living for the glory of God by serving others in His strength and in His love.

Undercover Boss

September 9th, 2013

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’  The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’”(Matthew 25:37-40).

One of the hottest reality TV series today is “Undercover Boss.” Here’s the deal: Each episode follows high-level corporate executives as they slip anonymously into the everyday, inner workings of their own companies. Each week the show features a different executive who leaves their corporate office in total disguise to go on an undercover mission to examine the inner workings of their company.

Disguised as a common employee the top executive gets to observe how other employees do their work, treat their customers and their fellow workers, as well as what they think of the company they work for.  And little do the employees know that when they think they are serving a fellow employee they are really serving the undercover boss.  And when they mistreat their fellow employee they are really mistreating the undercover boss.

What a great thing to remember!  Jesus comes disguised among our brothers and sisters in need.  When we serve them, we serve Him.  When we bless them, we bless Him.  When we shun them, we shun Him.

Jesus said that the greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, mind and strength.  But there is a second command that is like the first … love your neighbor as yourself.  You cannot separate the two.  To love our God will inevitably mean that we will love our neighbor.  To fail to love our neighbor means we don’t fully love our God.

And who is my neighbor? One day a Jewish leader asked Jesus that very question.  Jesus went on to answer him by telling the famous Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).  The hero in the parable is the Samaritan (whom Jews typically despised) who was merciful to his “neighbor” … an abused, wounded stranger along the road.

So as you go about your life every day remember that as you have opportunities to love and serve the needy and the hurting you are facing an opportunity to serve our Undercover Boss … our precious Savior Jesus Christ.

Envision

August 30th, 2013

In the movie Bobby Jones: Stroke of Genius, actor Jim Caviezel plays the role of the legendary golfer Bobby Jones, who dominated the world of golf through most of the1920s.  The closing scene of the film has Jones, along with his friend and golf writer O.B. Keeler, driving into an open field overlooking rolling hills and beautiful trees just outside of Augusta, Georgia.  Bobby gets out of the car and stands in the knee deep grass.  He looks at Keeler and says, “We’re standing on the first tee.  I’m going to call it Augusta National.”  Bobby Jones saw more than grass and trees and hills.  He envisioned a golf course, and not just any golf course.  Jones envisioned the Augusta National Golf Club becoming one of the great golf courses of the world.  In 1933 his vision became a reality and to this day each year Augusta National hosts the Masters Tournament, one of the four major championships of professional golf.

History is filled with stories of humanity’s fulfilled visions, but it also reveals even more of humanity’s failed visions.  Adolph Hitler envisioned an entire world dominated by a “super race” of human beings who, through an evolutionary process, had rid themselves of any weak traits. To fulfill his vision Hitler began exterminating those groups that he considered “weak.”  Of course, this resulted in the horrific Holocaust that led to the deaths of more than six million Jews.  For the first few years Hitler’s vision of a world dominated by Nazism appeared to be succeeding.  But other nations of the world saw the evil in Hitler’s vision and rose up to resist and ultimately defeat it.  As powerful as Hitler had become, he was not able to sustain his quest and achieve his vision … and we’re all grateful he didn’t.

In fact, no human being will ever accomplish all they dream of accomplishing.  Many of our hopes and plans remain just dreams that never come true.  This remains one of the exasperating parts of being human … many of our dreams hover out there just beyond our grasp.  The old adage “if you can dream it you can achieve it” isn’t always true.  For a variety of reasons, what we envision for ourselves and for the ones we love often proves very illusive.

But what if your dreams and aspirations are not just your own? What if your life’s vision is linked to the vision of One whose dreams always come true … whose vision always comes to pass … whose purposes are always achieved?

The Bible reveals God as the One whose plans “stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations” (Psalm 33:11).  The Lord Himself declares:  “My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please” (Isaiah 46:10).

The glorious truth of the Gospel is that what God lovingly purposes for us in His Son Jesus Christ will be fulfilled.  The Apostle Paul describes what God envisioned for us in salvation:

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified” (Romans 8:28-30).

So God has in mind a glorious purpose for our lives.  He predestined or predetermined that the ultimate outcome of our salvation would be that we would conform to the likeness of Jesus Christ.  God’s purposes will be achieved; this is the destiny of all followers of Christ.  His vision will become reality.  To that end God is working to bring to completion that glorious finished product of our salvation.

To affect this magnificent destiny for us God did three things.  First, He called us (v.30).  This means more than just being invited.  When God calls us He summons us and enables us to come to Him.  Second, God justified us (v.30).  This is the great work of God where the righteousness of Jesus is credited to us, not based upon our good works, but upon the work of Christ on the Cross.  Third, God glorified us (v.30). In other words, our destiny is to stand before God completely perfected into the likeness of Christ in body, soul and spirit.  Interestingly it is so certain that God’s vision for us will be achieved that Paul speaks of it in the past tense, as though it had already occurred!

God has in mind this entire process when He calls us into a relationship with Himself through Jesus Christ, with the final product being human lives transformed into the likeness of Jesus.  For some reason there’s part of this process that God intends to happen in this life, otherwise He would take us straight to heaven when we are saved.  And this gives meaning to everything that happens to us in our earthly life.  God is working them all together for good (v.28) … the heartaches, the failures, the trials, the suffering, the adversity, all of it.  And again, the “good” toward which God is working is shaping us into the likeness of His Son.  In this lifelong process God is forming us and fitting us for heaven.

And God envisions all of this from the beginning.  It is not wistful dream for Him; it is His resolute purpose to bring many sons and daughters to glory.  And it shall be so!

Lost in Translation

August 22nd, 2013

If you’ve tried lately to talk to your friends or family about the Christian faith, you may have discovered that people have a harder time today grasping the concepts than they may have in earlier generations. Terms that once were commonly understood by most people are now like a foreign language to nonbelievers (and even to some believers) in our culture. We cannot even assume the word “Christian” means what it once meant to people. Some understand it as anyone who isn’t another religion like Muslim or Hindu. Some understand it as someone who attends church, or who believes in the teachings of the Bible. To some the name “Christian” may be synonymous with a political persuasion. Through the years something has been lost in the translation.

I recently downloaded a fun new app for my iPhone. It enables me to type or speak a phrase and it will translate the phrase into whatever language I choose. It’s a pretty sophisticated app, which means it has trouble understanding my Texas accent. But other than that, it does a great job of translating … I guess. After all, how do you really know what the app is coming up with since you don’t know the language it is translating to.

I’m reminded of a story I heard about a man who had the same concern.  He decided to play a little game with his translation app.  He sang the song “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” into his phone and had it translated into German.  Then he had the app translate the German version back into English to see if anything got lost in the translation.

Most of us are very familiar with the lyrics of the song, “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”:

Take me out to the ballgame.
Take me out to the crowd.
Buy me some peanuts and Crackerjack.
I don’t care if I ever get back.

Let me root, root, root for the home team.
If they don’t win, it’s a shame.
For it’s one, two, three strikes you’re out at the old ballgame.

Well when the guy had the app translate the song into German and then back into English it didn’t turn out at all like he expected.  Something got lost in the translation.  It sounded a little like Arnold Schwarzenegger had been asked to sing.  And the words?  Well, you be the judge:

Execute me to the ball play.
Execute me with the masses.
Buy me certain groundnuts and crackerstackfusig (huh?).
I’m not interested if I never receive back.

Let me root, root, root for the main team.
If they do not win, it is dishonor.
For there are one, two, three impacts on you at the old ball play.

Something got lost in the translation.

And the same thing is true as we try to discuss the Christian faith with others.  We cannot simply ask the question, “Are you a Christian?” without making sure they properly understand the word.

In New Testament times the word “Christian” was first coined by the enemies of the Christianity as a derisive term … “little Christs.”  Of course, those first followers of Jesus were happy to bear that name.  Names like “believer” and “disciple” are much more frequently used in the New Testament to describe followers of Jesus Christ.

In our faith conversations with others it is crucial that we make sure they understand the biblical definition of one who would be considered a “Christian.”  When most believers speak of a Christian they have in mind someone who has experienced the gift of eternal life.  Don’t just assume people know that.  A biblical “Christian” is one who has anchored their life in the truth of John 3:16:  “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

Only through faith in Jesus Christ may one assume that they are a “Christian,” and that their sins are forgiven, they have new life and are going to heaven when they die.  This faith is not mere intellectual assent, as if one knows that Jesus lived, died and rose again.  Saving faith means that one has put their full confidence in the death and resurrection of Jesus for the gift of eternal life.  And it is a gift.  Jesus accomplished everything necessary for my salvation when He died on the Cross and rose again.  I can never earn this amazingly gracious gift of everlasting life.

So make sure nothing is lost in the translation as you talk to others about being a “Christian.”

Trust and Obey

August 12th, 2013

A vivid memory from my childhood comes from an experience where I learned one of my first lessons in faith.  My buddies and I were playing baseball in the front yard of my house when someone hit the ball up on the roof of our garage.  Because the roof was flat the ball didn’t roll back to the ground, so someone had to go up after it.  Since it was my house it became my duty to go up on the roof.  We had no ladder so one of my taller friends boosted me up on his shoulders and I scrambled up the nine or ten feet on to the garage roof, retrieved the ball, went back to the edge expecting to be helped down by my “friends.”  There was no one in sight.  They thought it would be funny to leave me on the roof with no way to get down.  I began to yell for help, but to no avail.  Soon my dad heard all the noise and came outside to see what was up.  When he saw my predicament he chuckled, then just held up his arms and said, “Jump.”  Immediately I was confronted with a dilemma.  Do I trust my dad and jump into his arms, or do I stay on the roof for the rest of my life?  It really was not a big decision.  I obeyed … and jumped!  Why?  Because I had absolute confidence in my dad.  I knew that he loved me and wanted to catch me when I jumped into his arms.  Furthermore I knew that he was strong and that he could catch me when I jumped into his arms.

That was a traumatic experience for a little guy, and I guess that’s why I’ve never forgotten it.  But it has served as a repeated reminder to me of what it means to trust and obey.

Has it occurred to you that every command in the Bible is also an invitation to trust God?  When we obey a command of God we are demonstrating trust in at least three ways.

First, when we obey we trust that God’s ways are always right.  Of the many examples I could use from Scripture, I will just focus on two with which many believers struggle in trusting God: sexual purity and financial generosity.   God commands that we should avoid sexual immorality (I Thessalonians 4:3).  When we obey that command we are trusting that God is right in demanding that of us.  The world says otherwise.  The world says that it is perfectly acceptable to do the opposite … to engage in sexual immorality.  Which view do I believe is right?  When I obey the command of the Lord I am trusting that His Word is true and His ways are right.

Or consider the matter of financial stewardship. God, in His Word, repeatedly commands us to be sacrificial and generous in giving financially to His Kingdom’s work.  In the Old Testament this was typically spoken of in terms of giving a tenth (tithe) of one’s income to God’s work.  “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty…” (Malachi 3:10).  In the New Testament the Lord moves beyond a rigid percentage to an unlimited surrender of all our resources into the hands of God in faith.  Still our giving is to be in proportion the blessings of God in our lives.  The Apostle Paul gave  instructions to the Corinthian church about this matter of proportional giving: “On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made” (1 Corinthians 16:2).

When we obey these commands of Scripture related to the use of our finances we do so trusting that God is right in demanding this of us.  To disobey in this matter reveals our doubts about the rightness of God.

Second, when we obey we trust that God loves us.  Again, using the example of sexual immorality, it would be easy for us to think that God simply wants to make life miserable for us when he tells us not to go out and enjoy sex outside of marriage.  But when we obey His command we are saying to Him that we trust that He has our best interest in mind when He prohibited that behavior.  Obedience in this regard reveals our confidence that every restriction God puts upon our lives is part of His loving protection.

Again, think about the matter of financial stewardship in this regard.  When we give generously, sacrificially and proportionally to the Lord and His work we do so out of obedience.  But that obedience is rooted in the faith that God, by putting these limits on our lives, reveals His love for us.  Faithful giving breaks the grip of greed and covetousness in our lives.  “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.  So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?’” (Hebrews 13:5-6).  As we give we trust that God, in His fatherly love, will care for His own.

Third, when we obey we trust that God will reward us for obedience.  Sometimes the reward is immediate.  In Deuteronomy Moses restates the Lord’s commands for His people as they prepare to enter the Promised Land.  These commands included how they were to behave in sexual purity.  At the conclusion of this the Lord through Moses promises this: “All these blessings will come upon you and accompany you if you obey the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 28:2).  When we obey the Lord we are trusting in the goodness of God to reward and bless those have faith to obey.

In the matter of financial stewardship the Lord promises to provide for our needs as we give to His work.  After commanding the Israelites to give the tithe, the Lord promised: “‘Test me in this,’ says the Lord Almighty, ‘and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it’” (Malachi 3:10b).  In terms of New Testament giving the Lord promises: “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously” (2 Corinthians 9:6).

Granted, God’s rewards for obedience may not come immediately.  But sooner or later we will reap the benefits of doing things God’s way.  At the very least we know that one day all right will be rewarded:  “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10).

I love the words of that great hymn of the faith, “Trust and Obey”:

“But we never can prove
The delights of His love
Until all on the altar we lay.
For the favor He shows
And the joy He bestows
Are for all who will trust and obey”

Behaving in Church

August 5th, 2013

It’s been years ago, but I still remember it like it was yesterday.  When our girls reached the age of four or five they started attending “big church.”  Parents of preschoolers know that during those years it’s awfully hard for a child of that age to sit still in a typically grown-up atmosphere like a church worship service.  Since I am a pastor and don’t usually get to sit with my family in worship services, my wife Nan had the unenviable task of orienting our girls to how they should behave in a worship service.  Perhaps in another blog I’ll tell some of the struggles she had in helping our kids learn to act properly in church.

Nan and I just returned from some time away in the mountains of New Mexico, where we spend most of our vacations.  Whenever possible we enjoy attending a local church in the mountain village.  As a pastor I always strive to be a worshipper even when I am leading worship in our church.  On a few occasions each year I get to worship without the weight of the responsibility of worship leadership on my mind. I love pastoral ministry, but I also cherish those occasional opportunities to worship from the pew rather than the platform.  It gives me an opportunity to practice what I preach and teach … to be reminded of how adults should behave in church.

The New Testament prescribes great importance to corporate worship for the Christ-follower.  “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:25).  Rick Warren puts it this way:  “In corporate worship, we worship in ways we are unable to by ourselves.  As we sing and celebrate together, pray and confess together, share and meditate together, give offerings and commit together, our faith is reaffirmed, our hope is reinforced, and our life is renewed. That can only happen in community.” [1]

For my purposes here I intend to focus not so much on what happens on the platform or stage in public worship, but what happens in seats where the congregation sits.  Worship leaders are responsible for assisting God’s people to engage in authentic corporate worship.  To do that requires prayerful and deliberate preparation and planning.  But the same thing is true for all worshippers who gather with God’s people on the Lord’s Day and on other occasions to exalt Almighty God.

On that particular Sunday during our vacation as I worshipped with a local church away from my home church I tried to consciously focus on these aspects of corporate worship among the community of believers … how we’re supposed to behave in church.

I tried to stay mentally engaged every moment of the experience.  It’s so easy to let my mind drift to things that do not relate to the worship of God and the edification of others.  I resisted the urge to look at my watch, even though I was beginning to feel hungry and ready for lunch. I’m coming to focus on the Lord, not on anything or anyone else.  I want to come wholeheartedly into God’s presence.

I tried to respond with the spirit of each song.  A conscientious worship leader will blend songs that reflect the various moods of the human spirit (quiet, upbeat, etc.).  In the case of our worship on this day we sang a celebration song at the beginning of the service; I deliberately rejoiced in the Lord.  Later when we moved into a more contemplative song, I let my heart be moved in that direction.

I tried to stay focused on the lyrics of each song.  One of the songs we sang that day was new to me.  I struggled a bit with the melody at times, but with my mind I could still reflect upon and rejoice in the truth contained in the lyrics.

I tried to silently pray along with those who prayed aloud.   If we are not careful in times of corporate prayer, when another person is praying aloud, our minds can easily drift.  We must resist that tendency.  As another is voicing prayer to the Lord the rest of us should listen carefully to their words and, with our lips or in our spirit, voice “Amen,” or “Yes, Lord.”  This is the meaning of agreement in prayer.

I tried to allow myself to be emotionally moved by the Lord.  Worship is not a funeral; it’s a festival.  In many circles it is acceptable to show emotion about anything but God.  If I truly mean what I am saying when I sing, how can my heart not be moved at times either to rejoicing or to brokenness.

I tried to remember that I was coming into worship primarily to give, not receive.  I have no agenda except to minister to the Lord and His people.  If I get a blessing from it, fine.  But that’s not the point of my coming to worship.  Actually there is only one in the audience of worship … God.  All that really matters is whether or not He is pleased with what we offer to Him.

I tried not to focus on human errors or personal differences in worship.  No worship service goes off without a hitch.  Sometimes the glitches can be distracting, but we must persevere with our focus on the Lord.  I choose not to think critically of others in the worship service today who expressed their worship in a different way than I’m comfortable with.  My focus is not on them but on God.

I tried to listen for the voice of God in the pastor’s message.  God was speaking to everyone in the worship service that morning, including me.  I tried to rejoice in the truth of God’s Word. I tried to think, “Lord, what are you saying to me today through your servant?”

I tried to be responsive at the conclusion of the message.  Like many pastors the Lord’s messenger that day called people to various kinds of commitment.  His particular message had a strong evangelistic appeal to it. I prayed for any non-believers who were present and who needed to put their trust in Christ. I prayed for the man on the row in front of me who remained seated with his headed in his hands.

In each of these instances I deliberately stated that I “tried” to worship in this way.  I fully understand that as human beings it isn’t always easy to behave properly in church.  When each of our girls began to attend worship services Nan carried a little bag of things to help them learn how to behave in worship.  One of the most important items in the bag was a wooden spoon (and it wasn’t for eating purposes!)  I don’t know if Nan ever had to use the spoon to swat the either of the girls.  If ever one of the girls started misbehaving in church, all Nan had to do was pull the wooden spoon part of the way out of the bag.  They got the message pretty quickly.

As you come for worship at your church this coming Sunday perhaps you will see parents trying to help their children learn to worship.  That’s not a bad time to think about how we as adults should behave in church as we come each Lord’s Day to worship.  In the words of the psalmist:  “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).


[1]  Better Together, Rick Warren, p.153

Certainties for Uncertain Times

July 14th, 2013

The Old Testament book of Job is one of the most mysterious, yet comforting books in all of the Bible. It is mysterious because we see a horrific series of catastrophes happen to a godly man and his family. It is comforting because we get to listen in on conversations between Job and four of his friends as they try to make sense out of what happens. As they struggle with some of life’s ultimate questions, we don’t feel so alone as we wrestle with the same questions thousands of years later.

Reading Job is a challenge; studying and interpreting it is even tougher. But for the steadfast student of the Bible who takes time to dig into this fascinating book, there are a number of certainties that we can cling to in uncertain times.

Certainty #1 – God is absolutely in control, even when it feels like our lives are swirling out of control.

I start with this certainty because it is the most certain of all certainties. We see this at the beginning and the end of the book. God is the One who presides over the counsel of angels, including Satan, at the beginning of the book. After Job and his friends banter back and forth throughout the book about the meaning of life and suffering, in the end God speaks again. He says, “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?” (Job 38:4). In that simple question the Lord establishes that He existed before the earth, and all the troubles of this earthly life, came into existence. It is only when God speaks from his eternal vantage point that all the confusing mess of Job’s life finally comes to make sense. That is why in uncertain times we need to seek to listen to God as He speaks in His Word.

Certainty #2 – Satan desires our harm, but he ultimately answers to God.

As we face the question of why suffering and evil exist, the answer includes the presence of a malevolent, personal force known as Satan or the Devil. We are not told of Satan’s origin in Job, only of his evil existence. In Job 1-2 we see that Satan’s desire is to inflict great suffering on Job, but he can only do so after having been given permission by God. Satan does not have the freedom to do just anything he wants to do. His power is limited by the providence of God. Satan is allowed to inflict only such pain upon Job as the Lord knows He will use for redemptive purposes. All other actions of the evil one are banned. God is able to work all things together for good (Romans 8:28), even the hideous devises of Satan.

Certainty #3 – Bad things happen to good people.

The book of Job opens by introducing Job as “blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil” (Job 1:1). Of course Job was not sinlessly perfect, but he was a good man. In the course of the book Job comes to understand that whatever goodness he possesses doesn’t earn the grace and mercy of God. We should not marvel that bad things happen to us; we should marvel that God in His grace and goodness allows good things to happen to us.

But Job is still a good man … and bad things happen to him. We who follow Christ are not exempt from the effects of living in a fallen, sinful world. It all started when Adam and Eve rebelled in the Garden of Eden, but we live in solidarity with our fallen ancestors as we are sinful as well. The existence of sickness, natural disasters, violence and death all reminds us that we live in a world that is awaiting redemption, just as we are.

Certainty #4 – God always brings good out of the bad that happens to His people.

This may be beyond belief, particularly in light of the tragic losses that Job endured. Throughout the book Job wrestles with himself, with his friends (and their attempts to comfort him) and with God. He pours out the deepest doubts and questions he has about God. But God isn’t shaken by our lack of faith. When we are faithless, He remains faithful. Slowly Job’s faith begins to emerge in places like Job 19:25-26 where he says: “I know my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God.” Job gradually begins to understand how God brings about good from such terrible circumstances. “He knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold” (Job 23:10). There you have one of the great things God does when bad things happen to His people … He purifies the gold of our faith, which is the most valuable thing we have (I Peter 1:6-7).

In the end, and on the earth, God eventually restores all of Job’s fortunes. The Lord blessed him like never before in his life. We are not always guaranteed that, but in this instance God was so gracious to let Job again see His goodness in this world.

Without question the greatest good that Job gained out of this entire ordeal was a grander vision of the glory of God. In Job 38-41 the Lord takes center stage and begins to speak. When He does, Job and his friends have to sit in awestruck silence as God takes them into the inner workings of his power and providence. God reveals His glorious power in creation. The Creator creates and controls the created. Nothing in the universe happens by accident; ultimately everything will turn out for the glory of God and the good of His people.

So when bad things happen to you – when everything is shaken in your life –cling to the certainties of God’s Word. In the end you will see the faithfulness to God.

Keeping Your Spiritual Fervor

July 3rd, 2013

“Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord” (Romans 12:11).

As a college student living in an apartment I learned how to cook for myself when I had to.  As you can well imagine my culinary presentations were not very sophisticated.  French toast was about the only think “continental” about my cuisine.  I did however develop the habit of cooking things in a hurry.  The burner controls on my little apartment stove had one setting … HIGH.  To my way of thinking, if cooking something on medium was good, cooking on high must be better.  Of course in those days I presented many burnt offerings.  I learned to scrape the burned parts off of food and eat it anyway.

Fast forward to today. On the rare occasions that I cook something in the kitchen, I regret to say that I have not kicked the habit of cooking things on high.  Splatters of bacon grease mark the ceiling of our kitchen as testimony to this fact.  Nan is extraordinarily gifted in the kitchen, and panics whenever I enter her domain for the purpose of cooking something for myself.

While bringing something to a boil quickly in the kitchen is usually not the best idea, the Bible teaches us that when it comes to our zeal in loving and serving God we should turn up the heat.  When Paul admonished the Roman believers to keep their “spiritual fervor,” the word he uses literally means “to bring to a boil.”  The present active verb means to keeping on being fervent in one’s spirit.

And the realm in which this spiritual fervor is displayed is in serving the Lord.  My service to God is the overflow (boiling over!) of my fervent spirit.

The fact that these are instructions given to believers leads us to the conclusion that we are personally responsible for the level of our own spiritual fervor.  We are to be active, not passive, in maintaining our zeal and passion for God.

From my own experience I’ve discovered several enemies that can blow out the fire under our spiritual fervor:

  • Physical exhaustion
  • Emotional disappointments
  • Satanic oppression
  • Worldly distractions
  • Personal sin

In light of these insidious enemies let me challenge you to take the following steps in keeping your spiritual zeal and fervor at the boiling point:

  1. Maintain meaningful daily time in the Word and prayer.  There can be no overstating how important this is.  I don’t know of any passionate followers of Christ who are not disciplined in their devotional habits.
  2. Get plenty of rest and exercise.  Our bodies and our spirits are connected, so that what affects one affects the other.  If I’m physically drained it can affect my spiritual vitality.
  3. Forgive others who have hurt or disappointed you.  The Bible talks about a root of bitterness that grows up and defiles us. This so easily extinguishes the Spirit’s fire in our lives.
  4. Schedule times for prayer, solitude and fasting.  Jesus did this because He knew how draining ministry to others can be, as well as the need to break the grip of satanic attacks.
  5. Feed your spiritual life with godly books and music.  Sometimes our spiritual fervor wanes because we are so absorbed in the things of the world that our spirits are starving for the things of God.  Read biographies of the great men and women of the faith who kept their hearts white hot for God.
  6. Repent of and confess any known sin.  Not much explanation needed here; sin will drain your spiritual energy.
  7. Spend time with “on-fire” believers.  When I’m around people who are zealous for God it rubs off on me.  We need to do this for one another.
  8. Inform your face!  I’m not talking about faking it.  But if I am responsible for the level of spiritual fervor in my life, then I must display it in my countenance.  I think of Stephen whose face, even in the midst of severe persecution, glowed with a passion for the glory of God (Acts 6:15).

So if the fire has gone out under your spiritual life, guess what?  You’re responsible.  Take steps today to rekindle the flame of your devotion to Christ.

Help My Unbelief

June 27th, 2013

Most of us can readily identify with the man who came to Jesus one day with a tragic, seemingly impossible situation.  The man’s son was afflicted with demonic possession.  The father’s description of the symptoms is heart-breaking:  “A spirit …has robbed him of speech. Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid,” (Mark 9:17-18). Previously the father brought his son to Jesus’ disciples, but they were powerless to help.  Now the dad stands before Jesus with the frantic plea: “If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us” (v.22).

Interestingly Jesus responds with a bit of a rebuke, “What do you mean, ‘If you can’?” Jesus must be amazed, even amused, at our doubtful “ifs.” But then Jesus issues a powerful declaration: “Everything is possible for him who believes” (v.23).

There you have the towering truth. God has all power, and Jesus was a pure conduit through which that power flowed on this earth because He lived in perfect trust (belief) in His heavenly Father.  Everything is possible for the almighty God/Man.  But Jesus’ statement is essentially an invitation to this hysterical father: If you will believe in Me it is possible for your son to be delivered.

As soon as those words fell on the man’s ears he uttered a statement that we all can relate to: “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief” (v.24).  So it is with most of us; we have this strange mixture of faith and doubt.  Perhaps it’s only an intellectual faith that we possess.  We know in our heads that Jesus has all power and can do all things.  But that intellectual faith hasn’t soaked down deep enough into our souls to where it keeps us from panicking when we are faced with a crisis.

I admire this man’s honesty and humility; and apparently Jesus did too.  Jesus rebuked the demonic spirit that had wrecked the boy’s life. The spirit departed immediately never to enter the boy again.  The son was left in a heap on the ground; the people around thought he was dead. “But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up” (v.27).  The boy’s life was changed forever … and so was his father’s faith.

“Help me overcome my unbelief.”  We all struggle with doubts that keep us from fully trusting God in the face of trials and temptations.  Just like this dad, we need to understand that grace imparts faith.  We need the help of God to believe.  And we should feel completely free, even compelled, to cry out for the grace to believe.

I find great encouragement and inspiration in the recorded prayers of the great British preacher C.H. Spurgeon.  From the pulpit of London’s Metropolitan Tabernacle on November 4, 1877 Spurgeon prayed:

“We trace therefore our faith to that same God who gave us life, and we ask now that we may have more of it. Lord, maintain the faith Thou hast created; strengthen it, let it be more and more simple. Deliver us from any sort of reliance upon ourselves, whatever shape that reliance might take, and let our faith in Thee become more childlike every day that we live; for, O dear Saviour, there is room for the greatest faith to be exercised upon Thy blessed person and work. O God, the Most High and All-sufficient, there is room for the greatest confidence in Thee. O Divine Paraclete, the Holy Ghost, there is now sufficient room for the fullest faith in Thine operations. Grant us this faith” (The Pastor in Prayer by C.H. Spurgeon, p.8).

Or in the words of the great hymn of our faith: “Jesus, Jesus, how I trust Him. How I’ve proved him o’er and o’er.  Jesus, Jesus, precious Jesus. O for grace to trust Him more.”

  • Bio & Introduction

    Dr. Michael Dean has been the senior pastor at Travis Avenue Baptist Church since 1991, having also served churches elsewhere in Texas and New Mexico. He and his wife Nan are blessed with two married children and two grandchildren. With a keen sense of calling to shepherd the flock of God entrusted to his care, Michael longs to see people become passionate followers of Jesus Christ. His hobbies include long-distance running, golf and hunting.

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