Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Change Is Possible in 2016

You're not stuck.  You're not encased in concrete.  Your life is not a dead end.  The possibility of change has not slipped through your fingers.  Change is possible for you and me even in the places where changes seems most hopeless.  Why?  Because the Giver of transformative grace has made you and me the place where He dwells!  

If you were to ask what God is doing, what He is working on between the "already" of your justification and the "not yet" of your sanctification, the answer could be given in one word:  change.  

First, there is that work of personal growth and change the theologians call "progressive sanctification."  It is God's lifelong commitment to actually make me what He declared me to be in justification - righteous.  In every situation, location, and relationship of my life, God is implying people, places, and things as His tools of transformative grace.  He is not resting.  He does not leave the work of His hands.  He takes no breaks; He is relentlessly working to change me into all that His grace makes it possible for me to be.  He will not be content for me to be a little bit better.  He will work by grace until I am finally and totally free of sin, that is, molded into the image of His perfectly righteous Son.

This zealous Savior is also a dissatisfied Creator.  He is not content to leave this world in its present sin-scarred condition.  So there will come a day when He will make all things new.  He will return His world to the condition it was in before sin left it so damaged.  Change really is the zeal of your Redeemer.  Personal change (Titus 2:11 - 14) and environmental change (Revelation 2:1 - 5) are His holy zeal.  When you are disappointed in yourself, grieved at the sin in your relationships, or upset with the condition of your world and you cry out for change, you are crying for something that hits right at the center of the zeal of your Savior's grace.

Change doesn't mean that you'll get your wish list of things that you think will give you the good life.  Change doesn't mean that God will turn the people around you into the people you'd like them to be. And change surely doesn't mean that God will exercise His power to make life easier and more pleasurable according to your definition.  But you can rest assured that where real change is needed, there is a God of grace who knows just where that change needs to take place and offers you everything you need so that it can happen.

By Paul Tripp

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Jesus Is Not Afraid of Your Mess

We hosted our small group Christmas party this past weekend. Because my wife and I consider ourselves to be reasonably “festive” we decided to pull out our special Christmas dishes for this Yuletide occasion.  These dishes have been packed away since our move to Maryland 18 months ago.  As we allowed them to see the light of day once again, my wife and I quickly discovered that the move was not kind to them.  Stored in a box, wrapped in newspaper, put on a moving truck, taken off a moving truck, stored in a pole barn, taken out of the pole barn, put on another moving truck, and moved into our current storage closet let’s just say all the action did not treat them well.  Even though we did our best to wrap them and protect them, plates were cracked, handles were broken off of cups, bowls were shattered what started out as merry excitement soon turned in to a merry mess.

As joyful and happy as this time of year can be for many of us, I know that joy and happiness is not a reality for everyone.  For some, dreams have been shattered and life has become a mess. I know people struggling with their health.  I know people who have lost their husbands or wives through divorce or separation.  I know families that have been torn apart.  I know parents who have lost children and children who have lost parents.  I know men and women who have lost their jobs.  As merry as this time of year is for some, for others it is lonely and it’s painful and it hurts. 

If that is where you find yourself this Christmas season, can I simply offer you these words:  God is willing to step in to your mess. I know those 9 words won’t necessarily take away the pain, but my prayer is that they will offer you hope. 

One thing I know that is true of Jesus is that He’s not afraid of a mess.  If He were, Christmas would never have happened.  Spending eternity in the non-violence and tranquility of heaven did not make Him soft.  If anything it reinforced His resolve to step in to a world to rescue people full of broken dreams and shattered lives. That fact alone reveals so much about God.  It shows me that God is not afraid of stepping in to a mess.  It shows me that I can show Him the worst of my life, the worst of what I’ve done, the worst of who I am, the worst of what’s been done to me, the worst of what is happening to me and it doesn’t scare Him away.  It doesn’t push Him away.  It doesn’t drive Him away.  If anything, what Christmas reveals is that Jesus is willing to run toward the mess and He is willing to sit there in the excrement of our life, see all the ugly parts and still say, “I’m not going anywhere.  Let’s work on this together.”

God is not afraid of your mess.  Your mess does not intimidate God.  God is willing to step in to your mess.  It’s what Christmas is all about.  What greater mess could Jesus have come in to than this world we’re living in? Some messes in our life are created because of our choices.  Some messes in our life are created because of the choices of others.  Some messes are created simply because our world is a broken mess.  Whatever the reason, whatever the cause, Jesus sees it all and says, “I’m willing to step right in the middle of it and the reason I’m willing to do that is because you are there.” 

I love that! It shows me that no matter how great the mess it’s never greater than the message of Jesus!  And, that message is that you have no mess in your life past, present, or future that has more power than Jesus Christ. None.  It means that Jesus doesn’t just save us from a past mess.  It means that Jesus is continuing to save you from any mess you may find yourself in past, present, or future. Jesus doesn’t just offer grace to clean up an old mess and then leave you to clean up the new one or the future ones on your own.  No!  Jesus is willing to sit with you, talk with you, and walk all the way through the mess to the other side offering you grace that will enable you to come out stronger and made more in the image of Him.

So, let me end just by saying this. If you’re in a mess, whatever your situation, whatever is going on, whatever is happening your mess is never too messy for Jesus.   You will never go unnoticed by Him.  I believe that Jesus longs for us to hold out what is empty and ask Him to fill it to hold out what is messy and ask Him to cleanse it to hold out what is wounded and ask Him to heal it to hold out what is sinful and ask Him to redeem it. God’s supply of grace will always rise to meet our demand and His power will rest on us in our weakness.  Two thousand years ago Jesus came and turned the worst mess in to the greatest message of all time.  He’s willing to do the same for you wherever you may find yourself right now.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Fear vs. Faith

Fear panics.  Faith trusts.
Fear sells.  Faith provides.
Fear retreats.  Faith stands.
Fear rejects.  Faith endures.
Fear accuses.  Faith defends.
Fear deceives.  Faith believes.
Fear enslaves.  Faith liberates.
Fear worries.  Faith anticipates.
Fear condemns.  Faith pardons.
Fear sees mountains.  Faith moves mountains.
Fear says, “Not me.”  Faith says, “Why not me?”
Fear motivates with guilt.  Faith motivates with grace.
Fear shouts, “Look at me!”  Faith shouts, “Look at God!”
Fear believes in the size of faith.  Faith believes in the size of God.
Fear believes my own eyes and ears.  Faith believes the Word of God.
Fear works for God’s acceptance.  Faith rests in God’s acceptance through Jesus.

A circumstance or a situation that requires faith will always be opposed by a feeling other than faith.  There will always be a doubt or a fear that tries to make God appear smaller than He really is or less capable than He is or not who He is. Always.  In that moment, what you choose to believe will make all the difference in the world.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Tonight I'm Tired of Waiting

All day long I’ve had the word “waiting” in my mind.  I wasn’t exactly sure why, but it’s been a word I haven’t been able to shake throughout the day.  When things like this happen for me, I typically begin to write and let the words go where they may.  I’m an internal processor and words are a good way for me to bring what’s inside to the outside.  So, I’ve been well waiting to do this all day in hopes to explore and discover.

Then the news of another mass shooting came across my screen.  My heart broke for the victims and the families impacted by the tragedy in San Bernardino.  I was so angry at the gunmen involved and I prayed they would be brought to justice.  After hearing the news of yet another mass killing, I found myself asking the question David asked in Psalm 35:17 “How long, oh Lord, will You look on?”  I found myself asking the question the prophet Habakkuk asked in Habakkuk 1:2 “How long, O LORD, must I call for help? But you do not listen! "Violence is everywhere!" I cry, but you do not come to save.” 

Tonight I find myself angry over the brokenness in our world.  I find myself longing for peace and restoration.  I hunger for the perfect peace of heaven yet I’m force-fed a diet of this war zone called earth. In other words I find myself waiting waiting for what God said will happen to finally happen freedom from the brokenness of this world and for all that’s wrong to be made right.  Romans 8:21 reminds us that all “creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay.”   Tonight I find myself longing for that day to come, but until it does, I wait.

We live our lives in wait between our human circumstances and the promises of God.  And, in the famous words of Tom Petty “the waiting is the hardest part.” In this broken world, there is always something looking to shake my faith.  And, the more painful a situation is, the more difficult it can be to wait and believe.   There are some painfully large circumstances we will face in this life and the more difficult the circumstance, the more painful the hurt, the more difficult it can be to trust God is still at work.

Tonight I find myself tired of waiting.  I’m sure many of you do as well.  Yet, “in the waiting” is where we are all kept because it’s in the waiting that strength can be found.  “Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.” (Romans 8:26-28 The Message)  “He gives power to the faint,
 and to him who has no might He increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary,
 and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
 they shall mount up with wings like eagles; 
they shall run and not be weary; 
they shall walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:28-31)  “Even so, come quickly, Lord Jesus.”  (Revelation 22:20)

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Secret to Contentment

I know I can have enough yet still feel the need to convince myself to have more.  As long as I believe I need more, I will never be content. The dictionary defines contentment as the state of being satisfied with what you have.  Being satisfied with what you have is so much better than the alternative not being satisfied with what you have.  Not being satisfied can lead to crazy amounts of debt.  Not being satisfied can lead to an unhealthy life style.  Not being satisfied can lead to affairs.  Not being satisfied can lead to feeling entitled.  Not being satisfied can lead to addictions.  Not being satisfied can lead to greed.  Not being satisfied can lead to stealing.  Not being satisfied can lead to putting work first and family last.  Not being satisfied can lead to a demanding attitude.  Not being satisfied can lead to a lack of patience and an increase in arrogance.  Not being satisfied can lead to me putting my wants at the center of the Universe.  Not being satisfied blinds me to what I have and causes me to see only what I don’t have.  Not being satisfied quickly turns you into my competitor because I compare what you have with what I do not have.  Not being satisfied makes everything about me and my wants.  

So, do you see what’s at stake here?   “You simply cannot be in the center of your world and be your own highest authority and not be a moral danger to yourself (and others), because when you are at the center you will not say no to you.” (Tripp) This is why a lack of contentment can create colossal problems. And, this is the tension that we all feel because as long as we’re human, we will struggle with this to one degree or another because it’s human nature to be selfish and convince ourselves we need more.  It doesn’t take any work on my part to be selfish.  I am so much better at it than I would ever care to be. 

The devotion of my heart will always drift toward what I believe will provide everything.  To discover what I believe will provide everything, I simply have to finish this one sentence:  “If only I had ___________, then I’d be content.”   “If only I had more money, then I’d be content.  If only I had a better job, I’d be content.  If only I was more disciplined, I’d be content.  If only I were healthy, I’d be content.  If only I had a better marriage, I’d be content.  If only my children acted how I want them too, I’d be content.  If only I had more followers, I’d be content.  If only I didn’t have this stress in my life, I’d be content.  If only I had the acceptance I desire, I’d be content.  If only I had their abilities, I’d be content.  If only I didn’t have this relationship in my life, I’d be content.” If only, if only, if only The list of “if only’s” is endless and as long as we believe that our “if only” will provide everything we need, we’ll never believe that God will provide everything we need and we’ll never fully experience what only He can offer. 

Whatever my “if only” is will never do anything to address contentment because contentment is an issue of my heart.  Until my heart is transformed, my wants never will be.  And, this is why I am so desperate for the grace of God in my life.  God offers something even greater than your “if only” life.  He offers grace.  Grace is not circumstance dependent.  Grace is not conditional.  Grace is not received through a checklist.  Grace is not received by working harder.  Grace is not received by trying to climb higher.  Grace is not received through discipline.  Grace is not the result of my strength but rather offered because of my weakness.  Grace is not the result of an act of my will but rather offered because of something I could never do.  Grace is a Person and His name is Jesus.   When I give Him access to my heart, transformation results.  My “if only” life will never transform my heart, it will only reveal what is in it a constant hunger for something more a longing for comfort a need to prove myself worthy a constant desire to “perform” a plea for acceptance a demand for others to act how I want them to act or give me what I feel I deserve.  My “if only” will pretend to be an everything.  But, my “if only” was never meant to carry the weight of life.  It will always cave under that pressure and I will be left unsatisfied, longing for something more.

A heart that is content is free from the angst of want and free from the demand to perform.  A heart that is content is a heart at peace.  It is a heart overwhelmed by Jesus and His grace.  I can find contentment when I trust that His grace will always intersect my need.  And, truth be known, I am incredibly needy which is exactly why I NEED Jesus.  My needs are endless and His mercies are new every morning. It’s a match made in heaven literally!  The more I recognize this, the more I’m able to experience the words of the Apostle Paul: “I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything.  I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little.  For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.”  (Philippians 4:12 – 13)  The secret to contentment is Jesus and this is one secret we do not need to keep to ourselves.

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