desire Posts

A New Year Revolution: One Thing

So it’s a time for new year’s resolutions, yet studies reveal four out of five of us will not stick to them and a third of us will not get out of January without breaking them. Why can we not stay true to desired changes we long to see in our lives? It’s because a resolution is an intention, a decision to do or not do something. Let’s admit it. We clearly don’t have the power within us to do what we desire to do. Something is working against us. What we need is a revolution.

“Revolution”- from the Latin, revolutio, which means, “a turnaround”- a revolution is “a fundamental change in power or organizational structures that takes place over a relatively short period of time”.

A revolution is an uprising, a mutiny, or insurrection. In spiritual terms a revolution is transformation; it’s a conversion. As you enter into 2018, you need a personal revolution. You need to revolt against all that is not allowing you to flourish, all is keeping you from pursuing God with all your heart. To revolt is to renounce allegiance, to rebel against an authority. Many of us need that attitude in our spiritual lives. In a general sense, we know that putting first things first helps put everything else in it’s place. Most of us know that prioritizing our lives is important, particularly if we want to live balanced lives. But Jesus never talked balance. Jesus talked about an all-out pursuit of one thing. He said: “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Matthew 6:33 If you don’t have one thing that you’re all about, you will be distracted by a million other things. And what constantly distracts you will eventually define you. You must realize the power of a singular focus in your life. The apostle Paul understood this concept, and if you do, it will revolutionize your life.

“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.  Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:12-14

A New Year Revolution

1. A holy discontent (v. 12) “not that I have already obtained all this.” You must have a desire for more, a desire to change, and not stay where you are. This is the first and most critical piece of the equation. Many of will not move beyond this first point, because you do not have a holy discontent. Are you satisfied with where you are? Is your singular passion an all-out pursuit of Jesus? And if not, are you okay with that? This is why you don’t have a holy discontent- you need to rediscover who God is and His amazing grace toward you in Christ! I hope I never get over being saved. Have you lost the awe and wonder of being rescued by God? Is your entire life a response to that? We should all be longing for more of Him. No one would trade a bottle of water for gold if they were dying of thirst in the desert. Are you dying of thirst, for more of Jesus? Brethren theologian, J.N. Darby wrote, “necessity finds Him out.” He noted that apart from need, we don’t pursue anything in life. Do you truly sense a need to know more of Jesus? To be drawn closer to Him? Do you have a deep discontent, a dissatisfaction, a restless desire for more of Him? That’s a good thing.

2. A singular focus (v. 13) “one thing I do”. In vs. 8 he stated, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord”. What we need is what Thomas Chalmers, the Scottish minister, called, “the explosive power of a new affection.” Our problem is what Augustine called, “love out of order”, disordered love, misplaced affections. Disordered love is when good things become God things. Misplaced affections need to be replaced by the far greater power of the affection for God, in Christ- for the Gospel- what Christ has already done for us. What you need is a greater satisfaction in Him and the explosive power of a new affection. Chalmers wrote:

“The love of God and the love of the world, are two affections, not merely in a state of rivalship, but in a state of enmity and that irreconcilable, that they cannot dwell together in the same bosom. The heart is not so constituted (made up like that); and the only way to dispossess it of an old affection, is by the expulsive power of a new one.”

Chalmers is speaking of the importance of having one, singular focus. The disciplined pursuit of less, and an all-out chase of Jesus, one magnificent obsession: Jesus Christ. The problem for many of us is not that you don’t have plenty of good things to do, you need to focus on the best thing.

What does this look like? Simply put, it looks like saying NO, and it looks like saying, YES. First saying “no” to lesser things. Some of you the story of Nehemiah. Broken over the state of God’s people during the exile, he went to rebuild the walls around the city of Jerusalem. And to call the people back to God. His rivals, Sandballot, Tobiah, and Gesham, sent for him (seeking to kill him). They wanted him to “come down from your work and meet with us.” And I sent messengers to them, saying, “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and come down to you?” Nehemiah 6:3 Nehemiah had a job to do. He was obsessed with one thing. See, the power of a new affection, means that you can say NO to other things, even good things.

If you do not prioritize your life someone else will. As a pastor, this has been my greatest challenge though the years. I am constantly asked to do good things; not always easy things, but good things. So if I am to do what I’ve been called and gifted to do, I must say NO to good things, which means saying no to good people, people I love, and people I want to help. But here’s what I’ve learned: I will never accomplish God’s greatest plans for me, if I do not say no to lesser things. Some of us need to determine that we will NOT come down. Greg McKeown, in his book, Essentialism, writes:

You cannot overestimate the unimportance of practically everything.” Greg McKeown, Essentialism You may think, “No, everything matters!” If everything matters, then nothing matters. And McKeown’s statement is only true if you have a singular priority, ONE magnificent obsession.

Many of us need to follow Nehemiah’s example: “I’m doing a good work; I will not come down.” Remember this, say it often! Prioritizing your life is not as much, “What do I need to give up?” but “What do I need to go BIG on?” What is my focus? What is that for you? As you think about the great things that God has called you to in these days- what are you up on your ladder doing? Parents: “I’m doing a good work, I will not come down.” Dads: “I’m going to spend more time with my family. I will not come down.” Or perhaps, “I need to care for an elderly parent or friend in this season. I will not come down.” “I need to spend every morning in prayer. I will not come down.” For many of us: “I need to finish something. I will not come down.” “I need to finish my degree, I need to finish this job, finish my commitment. I need to pay off this debt. “I will not come down!” “I need to stay the course in my marriage. I will not quit. I will not come down. “I’ll continue to disciple this person or group.” What is for you? What do you need to finish in this season of your life, in the year ahead? What are you doing on your ladder? If it is God’s call on your life, do not come down.

3. A dedicated plan (vs. 13) – Paul’s one thing involved two things- because you cannot move into a preferred future without leaving the past behind. You can’t say, “I want things to be different in the future, but I’m not going to change anything in the present.” No, you must leave behind whatever doesn’t help you get to your goal. What was Paul’s goal? His ultimate goal was Christ Himself. In order to pursue Christ with all we have, we must rid ourselves of all that is not Him. Following Christ includes repentance and pursuit. Simply put, in a general sense, we must love God and hate sin. Reject your past and embrace the new.

O you who love the LORD, hate evil! He preserves the lives of His saints; He delivers them from the hand of the wicked. Psalm 97:10

The most common resolutions include: stop eating so much, drinking less, spending less money, exercising more, sleeping more, and volunteering. For the Christ follower, resolutions should include naming SIN in our lives. Martin Luther noted, the entire Christian life is one of repentance. Confess sin and repent. Determine to be more like Jesus- be more loving, forgiving, less judgmental, stop gossiping, quit thinking the world revolves around you, and be more generous. Name a sinful habit. But first you need to stop focusing on your sin, and focus on the one thing- the One Person- who can actually deliver you from that sin. A new year revolution involves overcoming sin in your life.

But here’s what happens. We approach sin by thinking: “I need to work harder to overcome this sin! I will pray more. I will even be accountable. I will tell others about my sin and desire to overcome it. I will read books on it, and I’ll find verses in the Bible to help me. I’ll even memorize Scripture so I can quote it when I’m tempted.” Okay, so just work harder and seek to get better. How’s that working out for you? How’s that going? You must learn this: Moralism says that we can become better people by keeping rules and striving to be good people. But Scripture rejects this idea. Instead, the Bible reveals that character development happens only in the context of freedom. Change comes not from striving in our own strength to be like Jesus, but by developing a habit of being with Jesus, abiding in Him.

Moralism calls for change from the outside-in through cosmetic, behavior modification and sin management. Grace produces change from the inside-out as our hearts are renewed and motivations are transformed. Change happens only as our motivations and desires change. Only the Spirit can do that. I don’t know exactly what this looks like for you but I know where it begins for all of us. I know exactly what this looks like on a daily basis. The picture is found in Luke 10:38-42 where we see Martha “distracted” (by good things, by the way), “much serving”. Jesus said to her, “you’re anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” Time with Jesus reaps temporary and eternal reward. In 2018 goal-setting and resolutions starts with TIME WITH JESUS.

ONE THING will set everything else in your life in its place. Set your heart on knowing Christ, pursuing Him, and serving Him above all else. This is the essence of the Christian life.

As you decide to pursue Christ above all else, then I challenge you to bring your focus down to one word for the year. Pray, think on it, and then write it down. Share it with a friend or family member. Let it guide you daily as you seek to live out this new year revolution.

Questions to ask at the beginning of a new year:

Are you in a rut? Are you slow to think about resolutions because you’ve made them (and tossed them) before? If you’re not intentional, momentary ruts can cost you greatly and you’ll end up squandering days, months, even years of this one and only life you’ve been given. The following diagnostic questions will help you dream again and, with God’s help, allow you to be all you can be in 2013.

  • What is your dream for your life?
  • What do you see as the vision/calling- or God-given picture– of your life?
  • If you had unlimited resources (of time, money, energy, people) what would you want to accomplish with the rest of your life?
  • What do you love to do more than anything else?  What makes you feel fully alive?  Why?
  • What do hate the most?  What makes you angry?  Why?
  • What do you do best?  What are your best gifts?  These are things you’ve heard others (not just mom) say mark you as being unique.
  • What is God’s unique mission for your life?
  • How will you fulfill this mission, starting TODAY?

You can begin by setting S.M.A.R.T. goals now. It’s critical that you write them down.

S pecific- Be as detailed as you can be about the goals you are stating. A specific goal has a much greater chance of being accomplished than a general goal. I heard years ago that, “If you shoot at nothing, you’ll hit it every time.” To set a specific goal you must answer the six “W” questions: Who will be involved? What do I want to accomplish? Where will it happen? When will it happen? Which requirements and constraints will place on me? Why will I do this? (What will be the specific reasons, purpose or benefits of accomplishing this goal.

M easurable- Every goal must be measured. How will you know you’ve accomplished it? What will be success? At what point will you know you’ve achieved that goal?

A ttainable- An attainable goal will stretch you to achieve it, but it will not be extreme. Attainable goals will challenge your attitudes and abilities and help you develop skills you may not have in order to reach them. Attainable goals will help you identify previously overlooked opportunities and bring you closer to the achievement of goals you once thought impossible.

R ealisitic- A realistic goal represents something that you are both willing and able to work toward. A goal can be both very challenging (perhaps seemingly beyond your reach to start) and realistic.  You are the only one who can decide just how challenging your goal should be. But be sure that every goal represents major progress. Challenging goals are more often reached than lower, easier ones because a low goal exerts a much lower motivational force.

T imely- Your goals must have target dates. If you don’t set a timeline you will not be motivated and you will not reach your goals. A deadline too far in the future is too easily put off and a goal that’s set too close is unrealistic and then discouraging. Place times/dates on a calendar that will mark where you should (will!) be when you get to that date.

PRAY, DREAM again and then set S.M.A.R.T. goals in order to accomplish your dreams. Remember: If your dreams are not God’s dreams for your life you will fail, or even worse, you will succeed at the wrong things and squander your life. Go for it!

Happy 2013!

Why Lent?

Growing up I didn’t know anything about Lent.  I only knew Lent as a strange “Catholic” practice. I’ve gained a broader picture of the Body of Christ through the study of Church history and I’ve been able to experience a deeper expression of prayer and worship as a result.  I want to help you do the same.  Most Protestants think of Ash Wednesday and the Lenten season as a “Catholic thing” while, in reality it was part of the early church’s consistent pattern of worship.  Our earliest known reference is that of Ireneus (who died in 202 A.D.).  What I’ve sought to do is strip the Lenten season of anything that is not biblical but maintain a simple and clear focus of prayer, repentance, and personal sacrifice.  I’ve heard many sermons on Christ’s instructions to pray when He says, “When you pray…” pray like this…  But He also says, “When you fast…” fast like this…  He didn’t say “if” you fast, but “when”.  Jesus expected His followers to pray, and at times, fast as a regular part of our spiritual pattern of worship.  Could it be that we (in the U.S. in particular) could learn a few things about giving up so much of what we want and dying to our selfish needs for more?  I am certain that prayer and fasting is greatly needed among believers- particularly in the affluent West.

What many have written off as “weird” (ashes on the forehead, giving up certain foods, etc.) I’ve sought to recapture in its purest biblical sense.  It is true that Ash Wednesday or “Lent” are not in the Bible (of course, neither are Christmas Eve services, Good Friday services, Advent, and so much of what others of us would call “normal”).  You don’t see “Easter Sunday” in the Bible either (because every Sunday is Easter Sunday- or better, Resurrection Sunday for the believer.

“Lent” may not be in the Bible but focused seasons of sacrifice, confession, and repentance clearly are.  In the church I grew up in we rushed to Easter Sunday without any preparation of the heart before God.  I’ve learned much from the larger Body of Christ as it relates to the spiritual disciplines solitude, prayer, and fasting. “Lent” of comes from the Middle English word “Lenten” which means “Spring”.  The Lenten or Easter Season is a focused time of confession and repentance from “Ash Wednesday” to Easter Sunday.  Forty Days from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday (minus the Sundays leading up to Easter- because the early believers would not fast on Sundays).  Later many would go from Ash Wednesday to Maundy Thursday (forty days later).  Maundy comes from “mandatum”, meaning “mandate” or “command”.  Jesus said, “A new commandment” (mandatum nuevum) I give to you.”   So the Lenten season is a period of focused prayer and fasting (with a focus on confession, sacrifice, and repentance). Why forty Days?  Forty days shows up throughout the Bible.  Moses, Elijah, and Jesus (Luke 4:1-2) all fasted for forty days.

 “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Genesis 3:19

The ashes are to remind you of your mortality and of the need to repent of sin in your life.  It was common for Jews and early believers to mourn the loss of a loved one with “sackcloth and ashes”.  Ashes were also a sign of brokenness and repentance of sin.  Confession of sin is a private thing between you and God.  It is not something to be paraded around and seen by everyone but a private moment between you and your Savior.

Fasting is the act of the will through which the follower of Jesus puts forth spiritual control over the flesh (through sacrifice- i.e. not eating, or some other form of self-denial) with a view to a more personal and powerful experience with God in prayer.  Fasting involves giving up but is much more about receiving.  You give up in order to receive.  You die in order to live.

 Types of fasts:

  • Total fast  (be careful and receive guidance)
  • Water only Prepare your body for it.  Hunger pangs will go away- first 2 days hardest.
  • Liquid only Juices- not milkshakes! (When you don’t eat, more time for prayer)
  • Eliminate certain foods No deserts, no caffeine, no junk food- “Daniel fast”- healthy
  • Media fast NO television, NO movies, NO paper, NO internet, NO video games, etc.
  • Multiple possibilities Be creative and specific-but a sacrifice- must cost you something.

During a fast, when your earthly desires kick in, you turn to the Lord and you are reminded that He is more than enough to meet your every need.  It is a wonderful way to be drawn to the Lord and to overcome the desires of the flesh in many areas of your life.

 “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened; but God has surely listened and heard my voice in prayer.”  Psalm 66:18-19 What is David saying here?  I cannot harbor unconfessed sin or unresolved sin in my life.  Any Christian who desires to fully serve God and follow Him must attack sin from all fronts.  We cannot hold on to sin but release it and the first step is to confess it- to God first and then, to others.

 “For me, to live is Christ and die is gain.” Philippians 1:21 

To be alive to Christ and to live for Him means I must die to myself, my needs, my wants- continually.  “In the body” is where dying of Jesus is seen through my life and revealed to others.  It is, at the same time, the place where this life (the resurrection life) of Jesus is seen.  In the same passage he says, “so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in my body.”  My life then becomes a presentation of a Story- the Story of the passion of Christ.  I die to myself in order to reveal His life in my.  You see, you are called not only to tell the story of the Passion, but to LIVE it, experience it.  How?  By dying to self.

But the language used by Paul is a continual dying- the process of dying- you are continually dying.  To remind you of your mortality- your body is dying and to get you focused and busy on the eternal that does not die.  You see, death for Jesus was not the end- He lives. So, how can we position ourselves to move to this dying of self?  How can I be touched by God to go to deeper levels?  By confessing my sin to Him, by showing Him that He is all I want- all I need.  Fasting is that spiritual discipline that helps us live that out in unique ways.  It’s why Jesus says, “When you fast…” (Matthew 6:16)- it was an expected practice of the believer.  It’s a way to deny yourself of earthly things in order to focus on heavenly things.

 “My food” Jesus said, “is to do the will of Him who sent me and to finish His work.”  John 4:34  During a fast He is your food.  The will of God becomes your sustenance.

 May you walk to the cross with the Lord Jesus this Easter season as never before.

 “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” (Psalm 51:10) 

Revolutionary Prayer

An elderly Jewish man had been praying at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem for Arabs and Jews to stop their fighting. Someone asked him, “How long have you been praying?” “50 years” “How do you feel, praying for that long and the fighting continues?” “Like I’m talking to a brick wall.”

Have you ever felt like that guy? Let’s all just get real honest- we’ve all struggled with prayer. We’ve all felt guilty for not praying enough, we’ve all doubted the reality of prayer and we’ve all wondered if God really answers prayer. We’ve all walked through seasons of prayerlessness and the truth be known many of us pray very little.

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” Matthew 7:7-8

In Matthew 7:7-8, Jesus teaches us that the main reason for unanswered prayer is prayerlessness.

In his classic work, With Christ in the School of Prayer, Andrew Murray writes, “Moses gave neither command nor regulation with regard to prayer: even the prophets say little directly of the duty of prayer. It is Christ who teaches us to pray.”

What is prayer? Prayer is communication and communion with God. Again, only in Christ do you find a relationship, a friendship, communion with God.

Why pray? The purpose of prayer is to develop my relationship and intimacy with Christ and align my life up to His will.
I’ve thought about my relationship with Stacy (think about anyone you love)- my relationship with her has very little to do with asking her to do things for me. It’s really all about expressing my love for her, just being with her, getting to know her, and asking, “How can I love you more?” This is the kind of intimacy our Lord Jesus seeks with us:

“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.” Revelation 3:20

Why don’t we pray? The main reason we do not pray is our own self-sufficiency. We think we do not need our Lord’s help.

Common Misconceptions of Prayer:

1. Prayer doesn’t work.
That’s another way of saying that God doesn’t answer my prayers. What happens is some of us have prayed and we think God hasn’t answered our prayers so we assume that He must not answer anyone’s prayers. We hear testimony of answered prayers and we think, “That didn’t happen. That was just a coincidence.” Well, for those who have discovered the adventure of prayer, we know that it’s sure interesting how many coincidences start happening when we pray.
“I call on you, O God, for you will answer me; give ear to me and hear my prayer.” Psalm 17:6 It’s been said, “When we work, WE work, when we pray, GOD works.”

2. Prayer is breaking down the reluctance of God.
Prayer is not getting beyond God’s reluctance; it is laying hold of His highest willingness.

“If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him!” Matthew 7:11

3. Prayer is not necessary. Again, prayer is the essence of the Christian life because the Christian life is all about a passionate pursuit of intimacy of relationship with Christ. It’s the ONE thing you’ve been called and the ONE thing you must devote your attention to.

4. Prayer is about asking God for what I want.
Johnny had been misbehaving and was sent to his room. After a while he emerged and informed his mother that he had thought it over and then said a prayer. “Fine,” said the pleased mother. “If you ask God to help you not misbehave, He will help you.” “Oh, I didn’t ask Him to help me not misbehave,” said Johnny. “I asked Him to help you to able to put up with me.” We need to move from selfish prayers. We struggle with our needs vs. our wants.

“When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” James 4:3

5. Prayer must be eloquent.
The most common prayer in the Bible is the simple prayer. A quick study of the prayers in the Bible reveals raw, heartfelt, and desperate prayers are the most common.

“And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.” Matthew 6:7
One night Will’s parents overheard this prayer. “Now I lay me down to rest, and hope to pass tomorrow’s test, if I should die before I wake, that’s one less test I have to take.” Raw, heartfelt, honest prayer is the prayer of a child of God. All of these misconceptions are hindrances to prayer but:

6. The most common hindrance to unanswered prayer: Prayerlessness.
“…you do not have, because you do not ask God.” James 4:2
When we pray, according to His will, His character, His “name”, God answers our prayers- 100% of the time.

“I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.” John 16:23-24

A Shadow of Heaven

One of the great blessings of being a pastor is that I am reminded daily of what really matters in life. Today I sat down with a precious family to plan the memorial service of their loved one. Our conversation jumped from here to there, earth to heaven, the temporary to the eternal, the already and the not yet.

I believe that every day we’re given glimpses of heaven. Whether we catch them or not is entirely up to us. It seems even the worst among us catch glimpses of the eternal: something more, something beautiful, something sacred. I’m sure I’m not the only one who hears the rumblings of something eternal among us. Milton’s question echoes across time, “What if earth be but a shadow of heaven?”4 Why does every culture in the world worship Someone or at least something? Philip Yancey notes in his book, Rumors, “Alone of all the beasts, the human animal has the power and freedom to center life in one impulse. We have not, it seems, the power to abstain from worship.”5

What is that within us? Is it simply the result of some evolutionary process that has created within us this God-consciousness, this desire to exalt Someone who is beyond us? Or could it be that God Himself really has “set eternity in the hearts of men” (Ecclesiastes 3:11)? Could it be we really do have a kind of “homing device” that calls us onward to seek, to search, to desire? In his classic book, Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis writes, “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”6 The fact that we have such longings doesn’t prove that God is the One prompting us or that eternity awaits, but I believe our longing for Heaven whispers to us in our joy and it seems to scream at us in our despair that something else is coming. And Someone else is writing this already-but-not-yet narrative.

Surely we all long for more. When Jesus prayed for the Father to set all things right by bringing His kingdom to earth (Matthew 6:10), He was calling for a present and future reality. “Thy kingdom come” should be the cry of every believer’s heart. As we join God in His restorative agenda we become the answer to the prayers of our Lord. The present life is but a shadow of heaven. You and I are not yet free from sin, but we do have the capacity within us (by the power of His Spirit) to reach our fullest redemptive potential. Live today with the end in sight. He is making everything new (Revelation 21:5).