Fruitless Joys I Fear to Lose

How sweet all at once it was for me to be rid of those fruitless joys which I had once feared to lose! You drove them from me, you who are the true, the sovereign joy. You drove them from me and took their place, you who are sweeter than all pleasure.”
— St. Augustine

What joys do you fear to lose?

Have you traded in all other joys for the joy of Christ?

Materialism is Stupid

Temporal sacrifices will pay off in eternity and temporal indulgences will cost us in eternity. . . . Materialism is not only wrong but stupid. Conversely, trusting God, giving and caring and sharing are not only right but smart. Someday this upside-down world will be turned right side up. Nothing in all eternity will turn it back again. If we are wise, we will spend our brief lives on earth position ourselves for the turn.
— Randy Alcorn, Money, Possessions, and Eternity

Have You Misunderstood the Conditions of Following Jesus?

After Abraham had passed the test with his son Isaac, God said an amazing thing to him.

"Because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son,
I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring . . ."

Genesis 22:16-17

Did you catch that? God said he would fulfill his covenant promises to Abraham because he had obeyed. So, if Abraham had not obeyed, God would not have fulfilled his promises? Is that how our relationship with God works? What did Jesus say about it?

"Any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple."
Luke 14:33

As we continue to study the life of Abraham and observe his obedience without limits, we will understand more deeply what it means to follow Jesus in the New Covenant. Listen to Part 2 of a teaching series on Obedience Without Limits from Genesis 22.

Obedience Without Limits

God tested Abraham. He asked Abraham to sacrifice his only son, whom he loved! God knew what was most important to Abraham, what he would be tempted to withhold from the Lord.

When the rich young man asked what else he needed to do to receive eternal life, Jesus asked him to sell all he had give it to the poor (Matthew 19:16-22). God knew what was most important to this young man, what he would be tempted to withhold from the Lord.

God wants to know what the limits of our obedience are. You can be sure he knows what to ask for, what we would be tempted to withhold from him. We can also be sure that he plans to give us 100x back whatever we give him, plus eternal life!

And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life.
— Matthew 19:29

Listen to this sermon from Genesis 22 about Obedience Without Limits!

Do You Need A Break?

Of course you do. We all need a break. Our lives are moving at super high speeds and we often feel helpless to stop it.

I've got great news for you! God has a solution to your problem. He has offered this solution to us since the creation of the world. It is called the Sabbath; a day of rest.

The problem for me is that for most of my life I have not really understood or incorporated a day of rest into my weekly routine. Another problem for me (especially as a pastor) is that Sunday's usually are not very restful.

So, I am on a journey to rediscover the biblical understanding and practice of the Sabbath. I am taking my family on this journey with me. We are reading this book together as a platform for learning and discussion:  Celebrating the Sabbath: Finding Rest in a Restless World by Bruce A. Ray.

Here are a few things we are already trying to incorporate into our day of rest.

Quiet
We have a lot of people living in our house (11) and it really gets loud sometimes! Aside from trying to turn down the volume every day, our day of rest is a great opportunity to practice silence and quiet.

Time with God
Without a regular schedule, we have the opportunity to spend extra time with God. At the end of a Sabbath day, we ought to feel spiritually refreshed, refocused, and connected with the Lord.

A Break from Media and Entertainment
It is restful to play games and enjoy our time together. But we find it helpful to refrain from our normal consumption of media and entertainment. No movies, loud music (just worship and classical), gaming, or browsing the internet.

Physical Rest
This is a great day for sleeping in, long naps and leisurely walks.

I am looking forward to all that we will learn from this adventure. I can already see it bearing fruit in my family. I can already see how it will change much more than one day; it will change our mentality all week long. We need a break and God has given us one!

What Does God Want from Us?

“Will you marry me?” The young man on his knee looked up into her beautiful eyes.

She beamed and squealed, “Yes!”

“Great! Now let’s get one thing straight. I will be a faithful husband to you and love you all year long, as long as I can go out on just one date a year with another woman. Will that be alright?”

How would you guess the young lady responds? Most young ladies I know would never agree to such an arrangement! The meaning and security of marriage is that we get that person all to ourselves! This is what we call the exclusivity of marriage. Everyone else is excluded from that special relationship.

The exclusivity of marriage helps us understand what God wants in our relationship with him. God has created us to love him. That is our purpose. Now let's ask the question, “How do we love God?” The first way I want to answer this question is to explain the scope of loving God. In other words, how much of me and my life does loving God include? We can return to Jesus’ words to discover the answer:

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.
And you shall love the Lord our God
with all your heart and with all your soul
and with all your mind and with all your strength.”

Mark 12:30

What is the scope? How much of me and my life does loving God include?

All. “All” is repeated in this verse four times. He wants us all to himself! All leaves nothing out.

When people tried to follow Jesus while he was here on earth, he wanted to make sure they understood what he expected from them. Jesus shoots straight with us. He doesn’t lure us into a deal and then reveal later in the fine print what is really required of us.

“And he said to all, ‘If anyone would come after me,
let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”

Luke 9:23

“Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them,
‘If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife
and children and brothers and sisters,
yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.

Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me
cannot be my disciple.
For which of you, desiring to build a tower,

does not first sit down and count the cost,
whether he has enough to complete it? . . .
So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has
cannot be my disciple."

Luke 14:25-33

Pretty extreme, isn’t it? As soon as we consider following him, he tells us to count the cost. Again, the deal is total. Is that what you signed up for? Were you under a different impression of what it means to follow Jesus?

Instead of this passionate, radical, fulfilling life in relationship with God, many of us got a stingy, religious version of Christianity. No wonder the world rejects religion! Christianity is a religion, of course, according to the dictionary definition. But religion in its broadest and usually negative sense is hollow. Religion allows you to focus on institutions, doctrines, dues, human leaders, ritual, and self-righteousness. Many religious people think they can give a portion of their lives to God. Many use religion to serve themselves. They use religion to make themselves feel better, trying to ease their consciences. American Christianity is often presented as a self-service program in order to appeal to the people.

What is your understanding of what it means to be a Christian? Maybe it is time for a reassessment.

I Love My Wife . . . and Ice Cream!

What does it mean to love others? This is an important question because our culture and language use the word love with such varying and casual meanings. “I love ice cream!” “I love football!” “I love fishing.” “I love my wife!” In fact, just this week I told my wife that I loved her and she asked me, “What do you mean by that?” I’m pretty sure my wife wants me to love her in a different way than I love ice cream.

Our culture talks about being “in love.” When we say we are “in love,” we are talking about how we feel or how much we like someone or something. Unfortunately, this is exactly NOT what love is according to the Bible. Love is self-sacrifice for the good of another person.

“Greater love has no one than this,
that someone lay down his life for his friends.”
John 15:13

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast;
it is not arrogant or rude.
It does not insist on its own way;
it is not irritable or resentful.”

1 Corinthians 13:4-5

Love has nothing to do with how we feel. In fact, love is what we do in spite of how we may feel. Love has nothing to do with what we get out of it. Real love is about giving, not getting. Jesus said,

“For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?
Do not even the tax collectors do the same?
And if you greet only your brothers,
what more are you doing than others?
Do not even the Gentiles do the same?”

Matthew 5:46-47

Once again, God calls us to deny ourselves and do things his way. This requires faith. The world and Satan have convinced us that if we get what we want, we will be happy. This is a lie. Selfishness actually does not lead us to fulfillment and happiness. When we deny ourselves and love God, we find that he is all we ever needed or wanted! In the same way, when we deny ourselves and love others, we find joy and satisfaction. Even unbelievers who live a life of service can tell you this!

Praying the Bible

The Bible has often been described as a letter from God to his people. One important difference between a letter and the Bible is that we usually write letters to people who are not with us. We figure that if we are with someone we don’t have to write, we can just say what we want to say. But when we read the Bible, we are reading what he has written to us and we are with him! The Bible is part of our conversation with God. As mentioned above, the Spirit of God is present, helping us understand and apply what the Bible teaches.

When we pray the Bible, we respond in prayer to what we are reading. We listen to what the Spirit is saying to us and how he leads us in prayer as we read Scripture. We are participating in a conversation with God.

Praying the Bible is an important concept to understand because we so easily make Bible reading an intellectual exercise. That is, we are only using our brains to figure out what the words are saying. Reading the Bible certainly includes using our brains, but it is much more. If we turn Bible reading into only an educational or intellectual exercise, instead of a personal conversation with God, then we have missed its fundamental purpose. This is what Jesus said to the religious Jews,

“You search the Scriptures
because you think that in them you have eternal life;
and it is they that bear witness about me,

yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.”
John 5:39-40

So, what does it mean to pray the Bible? Praying the Bible means immediately responding to the words and ideas in the Bible through prayer. Talk to God about what you are reading. Be sensitive to the ways that God is speaking to you through the Scripture and respond to what he is saying and bringing to your mind. What you read might even trigger a thought that does not seem to be directly related to the Scripture. You can pray about that too.
            You can learn more about this kind of conversation with God in the book Praying the Bible by Donald S. Whitney.