1. The love and goodness of God - "O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever" (1 Chronicles 16:34).
2. The righteousness of God - "I will give to the Lord the thanks due to his righteousness, and sing praise to the name of the Lord, the Most High" (Psalm 7:17).
3. The deliverance of God from trouble - "Save us, O Lord our God, and gather us from among the nations, that we may give thanks to your holy name and glory in your praise" (Psalm 106:47).
4. The wonderful works of God done on our behalf - "Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to humankind" (Psalm 107:8).
5. The salvation of God - "I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation" (Psalm 118:21).
6. The righteous laws of God - "At midnight I rise to give you thanks for your righteous laws" (Psalm 119:62).
7. The provision of God - "Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke them..." (Luke 9:16).
8. The gifts of grace from Christian brothers and sisters - "...for the rendering of this ministry [of giving] not only supplies the needs of the saints but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God" (2 Corinthians 9:12).
9. The family of God - "I thank my God every time I remember you..." (Philippians 1:3).
10. The reign of God - "We give you thanks, Lord God Almighty, who are and who were, for you have taken your great power and begun to reign" (Revelation 11:17).
Due to inclement weather, all activities have been cancelled for today. (11/24/2013)
Today, my friend Rick Reed is being taken off life support.
I met Rick in college at Oklahoma Christian University and instantly liked him. He was kind, encouraging, funny, and a huge basketball fan. I always enjoyed being around Rick because he was the type of person who radiated joy. Amazingly, Rick never stopped radiating joy even as he battled serious illness through much of his adult life. That is a rare feat. Even though he had every right to complain about the hand life had dealt him, to become bitter at his circumstances, or to see himself as a victim of unjust suffering, Rick never gave in to those temptations. Instead, he courageously fought back by shining the spotlight on others and focusing his energy on serving others. And because of that he made a great impact on the lives of many people. His life mattered because he chose to live his life in a way that honored God and blessed others.
Rick and I had many deep conversations, and one of the things that drew me to Rick was his sincere love for Christ. So, while my heart is heavy, I am also filled with hope because I know that the One who conquered death will bring my friend home.
Yesterday, I went to the hospital and said goodbye to my friend.
It was hard. So hard that I couldn't return to work. I had to give myself some time to cry and reflect.
In my time of reflection, I thought about how a person says goobye to a friend or other loved one. Here's what came to mind:
1. Don't leave it to the end. Don't wait until your friends are dying to let them know how you feel. While they are living, let them know that you are grateful for their friendship and why you're grateful, that you respect them, and that they have made a lasting impact on your life.
2. Revisit memories and share stories. Talk about the fun times you have shared together. This assures your friends that you will remember them after they are gone.
3. Be an instrument of Christ's peace. We sometimes sing a song that says "make me an instrument of your peace." This is what I prayed on the elevator ride up to Rick's room at the hospital. Dying people need peace, and we can be instruments of peace to our friends in their last days by our presence, our words, and our acts of love and mercy.
4. Give them a blessing that points them to God. We are simply instruments of peace; God through Christ is the source of peace. God is the one who gives eternal comfort and assurance, so it makes sense for us to point our friends to Him. Don't be afraid to speak words of blessing to and upon your friends. Through your words of blessing, reassure them that their lives mattered, that they made a difference, that they will be remembered, and that God will reward the trust they have put in Him.
I am at peace because I know that Rick will soon be at peace. And I am even more appreciative today of Jesus Christ for making peace possible.
Once again, my friend is pointing me to Jesus.
Today is Halloween - the day when all the spooks and goblins come out to play. This "holiday" has inspired many scary movies that feature some downright scary villains. But who's the scariest villain of all-time?
My pick: Satan.
We've been studying the book of Revelation on Sunday mornings for the last two months, and while God and Christ take center stage, we've learned a great deal about Satan too. We've learned that he is a ruthless enemy who is literally hell-bent on destroying anything and everything that God has created. In fact, the imagery of war is so prevalent in Revelation because it is the only thing that can adequately conceptualize the deep divide between Satan and God. Unfortunately, we are among the many casualities of this "war" because Satan attacks all that belongs to God. One of the reasons why we suffer and experience hardship in this life is because we have a real enemy - Satan - who will do whatever it takes to separate us from our Creator.
And Satan's form of attack is diverse. Sometimes he inflicts pain, sometimes he casts doubt, and sometimes he ridicules. But, more often than not, he attempts to overtake us by getting us to compromise our beliefs and values that emanate from God. As we've seen in Revelation, Satan uses "empire", the surrounding culture, and peer pressure to entice us to put our trust in something other than God, to seek our security from someone other than God, and to receive our identity from the world rather than from the One who created us. And Satan is scary good at getting us to do exactly what he wants us to do.
So, how do we stand up to this deadly villain?
The apostle Paul tells us how in Ephesians 6:10-20. So, once you're done reading this blog get your Bible, read that passage, and then spend five minutes thinking and praying about it. Ask yourself if you are protecting yourself against Satan's schemes or if you are living in such a way that plays right into his hands. Commit to strengthening your armor. Then ask God to give you His strength to stand up against your enemy.
And do it now!
So, I'm a little overweight right now because I haven't been exercising consistently or watching what I eat. And while I'm tempted to blame my stressful job (yes, I'm a stress eater!) for my recent health woes, I am fully aware that nobody is to blame but me. I'm the one who made the choices that have caused me to be fat and out of shape, and I'm the only one who can take the actions necessary to get healthier. Others can offer me advice and support but they cannot do the work for me.
You may be wondering why I'm telling you this. It's so that you will understand that I know what it is to make excuses in order to avoid a certain reality, to be lazy in order to avoid dealing with a problem, and to waste good resources that will help me because I didn't use them. And the reason I want you to know that I can relate to you is because of what I am about to say to you.
I can't help you if you are not willing to help yourself.
I have people who come to me all the time for guidance, advice, encouragement, and support. They want me to help them with a struggle in their life, and when they come to me they are in great pain and distress. But many, it seems, aren't broken enough because, after an investment of considerable time and energy, I see them doing nothing to change themselves or their circumstances. And it breaks my heart. I sincerely want to help people and I genuinely want to see people living happy, purpose-filled lives, but too often I see the people I have tried to help engaging in the same old habits that have wreaked havoc in their lives.
I am here to help you. But I can't help you if you don't take ownership of your faith. I can't help you if you don't take ownership of the problems in your life that you have had a hand in creating. I can't help you if you are intent on continuing to make excuses. I can't help you if you refuse to see yourself as anything but a victim. I can't help you if you persist in blaming God for your lot in life instead of owning the choices you have made. I can't help you if you are coming to the preacher just to ease your conscience. I can't help you if you don't want to get better.
I want to help you. And the best way that I help people is by pointing them to the ultimate healer - Jesus Christ. But for many, it seems like it's easier for them to continue to suffer than to accept Christ.
But, do you know what? I know what that's like. I am not respecting the body that God gave me and says is the Spirit's temple because it's easier for me to deal with my stress by eating than by exercising. So, I'm preaching to myself in this post.
But I have a deal for you.
I need to change some unhealthy habits in my life and I need to do it now. I bet you do too. So, let's do it together.
Let's quit making excuses. Let's stop griping and start doing the things that lead to a better quality of life. Let's quit "kicking the can down the road" and finally address the problems in our lives. Let's step into the "abundant life" that Christ holds out for us.
Will it be easy? No. But can working to improve our lives really be worse than the rut we're stuck in right now?
Yesterday in my sermon I referred to the idea of Satan being a good angel turned bad who was kicked out of Heaven before Creation as a myth, and this sparked some discussion among some of you. So, I thought I would clarify my thoughts with this blog post.
The reason I refer to the aforementioned scenario as a "myth" is because it does not have direct biblical support behind it. The biblical scholars who wrote the book Hard Sayings of the Bible say it best: "When we think of the fall of Satan, we tend to be more influenced by John Milton than by the Bible. In Paradise Lost Milton describes Satan and his angels being ejected from heaven and falling down to hell back in the primeval past, before the creation of the human race. It would be difficult to find biblical authority for this picture, however."
Here are some reasons why:
1. The biblical texts used to support the idea of Satan as a fallen angel actually don't speak of that at all. Isaiah 14:12 is speaking about the King of Bablyon not Satan. In Luke 10:18 Jesus says he saw Satan fall like lightning from the sky but never refers to him as an angel, nor is there any indication that this is a reference to some sort of "origin story" for Satan. And Revelation 12 never refers to Satan as an angel, and if that passage is taken literally all sorts of problems arise, in particular the chronology of events. In Revelation 12 the movement from heaven to earth is an indication of a spiritual battle now being manifested on earth, impacting the inhabitants of the earth. In other words, that text shows no interest in explaining the origins of Satan.
2. The term "fallen angel" is not found in the Hebrew Bible or the New Testament.
3. The Bible never represents Satan as an angel or a fallen angel.
4. Historically, the "fall of Lucifer" first appears in the writings of Origen, not the Bible.
5. In literature, John Milton referred to Satan as being "brighter once amidst the host of Angels, than the sun amidst the stars." But where did he get that idea? It did not come from the Bible, yet that's the story that many Christians promote about Satan.
6. While Satan is "seen" several times in the heavenly courts of God in the pages of Scripture, we are not told how he got there, how he originated, or that he was once among the angels and on "God's team."
7. While the Bible tells us many things about Satan, it does not directly address his origins. And what we "know" about his origins actually come from other sources than the Bible. It is part of lore rather than Biblical truth/fact. This is why I used the word "myth" in my sermon.
So, where did Satan come from?
To be honest, I'm not sure. It could very well be that Satan was an angel who rejected God and was kicked out of Heaven, and the Bible just doesn't bother to state it that clearly. My point of calling this a "myth" was to simply say that, in our efforts to explain the existence of things, we need to be careful about our sources and intellectually honest about our influences.
Speaking of being intellectually honest, does the fact that I can't say for sure how Satan came to be invalidate my belief that he exists? No. I believe that the Bible is true for reasons that are intellectually honest, and the Bible speaks clearly about the existence, characteristics, goals and workings of Satan. I know that Satan exists, not because I can tell you exactly how he got to the Garden of Eden, but because God, through His Word, says that he is real.
I also know this: God, through Christ, has defeated Satan - a defeat that will be fully manifested at Judgment Day - and allows me to participate in His victory over Satan - a victory that that empowers my present and secures my future. Praise God!
The street that I live on is buzzing with the construction of new houses. Consequently, quite of bit of debris and trash blows into my yard on a consistent basis. My most recent "visitor" was a plastic bag from 7-11 that I discovered when I was mowing my lawn. Instead of picking up the bag right away, I decided that I would retrieve it after I finished the section of the lawn I was mowing. As I circled back around to the location of the bag, a big gust of wind blew the bag across the street into my neighbor's lawn. I didn't have much more to mow, so I decided to finish the lawn before I went to get the bag from my neighbor's yard to throw it away. However, by the time I walked across the street the bag had apparently blown into someone else's yard, and I couldn't find it.
As I walked back home, I thought to myself, "There's a lesson in this." Because I didn't pick up the trash in my yard the moment I became aware of it, the bag blew into another yard and now my neighbors have to deal with my "baggage" that I didn't take care of.
In life, others are forced to deal with our baggage and our "trash" whenever we refuse to deal with it. We tell ourselves that we'll get rid of it tomorrow, next week, or after our "busy season." In the meantime, our trash has spread into someone else's "yard" and now they have to deal with it too.
Galatians 6:2 tells us to bear one another's burdens. Most of us understand what that means at a basic level. But could it be that one way to bear another's burdens is by not adding additional burdens onto his or her plate?
The moral of this little story is this: For your sake and for your neighbor's sake, deal with your baggage and pick up your trash.
I recently had a conversation with one of our members who was reflecting on our current sermon series and the "Multiply" study in LIFE groups, and he summed up his thoughts with this observation: "Something's happening here."
I was so excited to hear that from him because I am feeling the same thing. Here's what I've "overheard" at Alameda in the last week and a half:
- One LIFE group leader said that his group has been inspired by "Multiply" to make a list of people to invite to their group by throwing a dinner party for them.
- There are people attending LIFE groups who haven't been in a group in years or, in some cases, ever.
- I personally witnessed the light bulb turning on for a member who is now realizing that discipleship is more than just attending church meetings.
- I know of one married couple who is working on their marriage by working on their "follow-ship" of Jesus.
- I had one member who is dealing with a severe medical diagnosis come to me after the sermon on Sunday and say, "Thank you; I needed to be reminded that God is still on the throne."
- I have heard from people in other cities who are watching the "Revelation" series online and are inspired by it.
- I guest-taught a Bible class on Sunday, and during our discussion it dawned on us that as disciples of Jesus Christ we can be "healers" in this world through our words and actions, and by sharing the message that Jesus saves us from sin.
- I, along with everyone else in attendance on Sunday, witnessed the baptism of one of our teenagers. I love seeing young people dedicating themselves to Christ!
Yes, thanks be to God, something is happening at Alameda!
From Relevant magazine, here are seven things every man should know about relationships:
1. Winning an argument may harm your relationship.
2. What you do for her is never more important than who you are to her.
3. A date isn't a marriage proposal.
4. Digital communication should always be leading to face-to-face communication, not taking away from it.
5. Words can be everything.
6. Listening, not fixing, is often the best remedy to her problem.
7. You are worthy of respect. But don't demand it - earn it.
This coming Sunday (September 15), I will be starting a 9-week sermon series on the book of Revelation. I am so excited about preaching this series because I think it has the potential to have a huge impact on our congregation. And it's not because of anything I will do; it's because the message of Revelation is one of the most encouraging, challenging, vision-producing books in the Bible. Alameda needs to reimagine what it looks like for us to follow Jesus in our time, and Revelation will help us do just that.
I want you to be totally invested in this series of sermons so I am publishing the series outline and the resources that have been helpful to me in the development of this series. I hope you will read along in Revelation so that your heart and mind will be prepared to hear the messages in this series. (Reminder: I did a 7-week series on Revelation 2-3 called "Dear Church" earlier this year, so I won't be covering those chapters in this series. Go to the sermon link on this website to view those past sermons.)
September 15 - "What is This?" (Revelation 1:1-3)
September 22 - "The Throne Above All Thrones" (Revelation 4)
September 29 - "The Slaughtered Lamb" (Revelation 5)
October 6 - "The Ultimate Failure of Evil" (Revelation 6-11)
October 13 - "666" (Revelation 12-13)
October 20 - "The War to End All Wars" (Revelation 14-20)
October 27 - "Heaven on Earth" (Revelation 21)
November 3 - "Living in Victory" (Revelation 22)
November 10 - "A Worship Experience" (Conclusion of Series)
Helpful Resources for Further Reading & Study: "Reading Revelation Responsibly" by Michael J. Gorman; "The Theology of the Book of Revelation" by Richard Bauckham; "A Slaughtered Lamb: Revelation and the Apocalyptic Response to Evil and Suffering" by Gregory Stevenson; "Surprised by Hope" by N.T. Wright