Awakening

Look, you mockers be amazed and die! For I am doing something in your own day, something you wouldn’t believe even if someone told you about it. – Acts 13:41

With all that is going on in the news these days, between the attacks around the world to the politics here in the US, I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard people say, “Where is God?” or “Why would God let something like this happen?” or “God must have abandoned us because of our falling away from him.” But, my friends, I fully believe that God is as active as he was yesterday and as he was the day before that.

But these questions still abound. Where is God and why isn’t he doing something. The verse above from Acts was something Paul said in response to those people who mocked and persecuted him and the other early Christians. Here he quoted the book of Habakkuk;

The Lord replied, “Look at the nations and be amazed! Watch and be astounded at what I will do! For I am doing something in your own day, something you wouldn’t believe even if someone told you about it.” – Habakkuk 1:5

Habakkuk is an amazing book that I’ve not studied much before and honestly I can’t recall being talked much about, but in my initial reading this morning, I would think it was written about the world today. Here we have a prophet asking questions of God of “Why is there such violence?” God gives him an answer! I plan on doing a deeper study and probably blogging about my findings in the near future as I see so much wisdom in this book and the answers God provides. But that’s for another time.

Awakening

What do I mean by awakening? Well, I think that once we think God is not moving or active in our world, we tend to fall back within ourselves and become resigned that we live in a fallen world. However discouraging the world may seem or how absent God may feel, John Piper said it best,

God is always doing 10,000 things in your life, and you may be aware of 3 of them.

I’ve just began reading Awakening by Matt Brown which gives us insight and reminders of how God is working each and every day in this world, despite our not seeing it. We find ourselves in situations each day that we don’t understand why God allowed it or how God will use it for his Glory, yet we don’t see the big picture like God does. Remember Paul spent time in prison unjustly, yet God was advancing the gospel among the guards and making Paul’s brothers in Christ bold in their freedom and in Paul’s strength.

Be awakened by how God is moving in the seen and unseen. As Matt Brown says on his site, “…open our spiritual eyes to what God is doing, which will in turn catapult your faith to all God has purposed for you.”

Am I an Exceptional Christian?

gummibarchen-fruit-gums-bear-sweetness-54633The title of this blog is Exceptional Christian, but what do I really mean by that?  Does it mean I’m a great Christian?  Nope not at all!  I’m far from it in fact.  I need a savior, if I was truly great I wouldn’t need one (nor would I be a Christian I suppose).

In that sense, will I ever become one?  Very unlikely.  I find that for every step forward I take, it seems I’ve taken a step or two backwards.  I learn and work on one aspect of my faith, only to falter in another.  Thankfully, I have a God that forgives and sent me a savior to lift me up.

So why the name Exceptional Christian?  Well I think we are looking at the word exceptional wrong.  My first inclination when I hear the word exceptional is just one of the definitions of the word.

Exceptional:  unusually good; outstanding

If we use that definition, then my answers above hold true.  But looking further at the definitions of the word I find this:

Exceptional: unusual; not typical.

I think this definition holds more to what my vision for this blog and for my Christian life is.  One that exemplifies what I mean by the title of Exceptional Christian.

We live in exceptional times.  Here in 2016, we see people around the world slaughtered almost daily, not because of some political war between nations,  no it’s really just a hatred of people who are not like them.  The innocents are killed, just to spread fear.  Just the other day, I read about a video that surfaced showing terrorists beheading a 12 year old boy.

Here in the US, we struggle with an economy that is less than exceptional (using the first definition).  People are out of work or working at jobs below their qualifications.   People live off of handouts because it’s easier to do so than to fight the day to day struggle of working and living paycheck to paycheck (and in some cases they do better with the handouts than they would working).

See every day we live in a world that is less that exceptional (1st definition), so we as Christians should strive to be exceptional (2nd definition).   Lets not be typical Christians (and by no means am I meaning to judge anyone as their relationship between God and themselves is known to God, not to me.)   So how can we do that?

Well first, remember we serve an exceptional God (using the 1st definition), he is able to use our weaknesses and failures for good.  He can take our flaws and use them for His glory.  Despite ourselves and our flaws we are exceptional Christians because we live for him.

Secondly, I think we can be more than typical Christians by letting people know we are and to then live that life out.  No greater harm is done to non-believers and their view of Christianity than that done by Christians  themselves.  I’m a believer that is happy to give a reason for my faith and my belief in Christ and will shout it from the roof tops, but I’m not going to beat you over the head with it.  You’re gonna know where I stand.  Too many times, we see those that expose to be Christians while they are around other Christians or in church, but once they leave that environment, no one would know.  One of the worse things someone could say to me is “I didn’t know you were a Christian.”

Thirdly, what can we do to change the world for Christ?   But before we can change the world, are we in tune with God and his wishes?  God places opportunities in our paths every day to live our lives for him.  Are we ready and willing to obey?  Sometimes they aren’t easy things to do, it will take us out of our comfort zones.  But are we willing to obey if we get that gentle nudge from  God?  It may not be big things either.  I learned a while back, while searching for my purpose with God, that it’s often the little things that God uses for his Glory.  The smile you can give someone in need.  The small gesture of kindness to a passing stranger.  A call to a family member out of the blue, perhaps when they are feeling lonely unbeknownst to you.  It’s those little things that God often uses to make a huge impact in the world.

Are we open to God all day, every day?  Or is that just for the weekends?  God doesn’t exist just on Sundays, it’s a 7 day a week, 24 hour a day thing.   God isn’t confined to the church building.  God should come to work with us, to play with us, out with the friends with us.  Can we live for God always, everyday and everywhere?

See it’s those kinds of things that make a difference in the world, and it’s that version of Exceptional that I mean by the title of this blog.   Lets not be typical, ordinary Christians, let’s be exceptional!

Why are you staring?

man-staring-sky-320x443Reading through the first chapter of Acts I came across an interesting passage.   Jesus was asked right before he ascended to heaven on when he would free Israel.  Jesus replied that the Father sets those dates and they were not for us to know and then talks about the power of the Holy Spirit which was about to be given to us.

It was not long after he said this that he was taken up into the sky while they were watching, and he disappeared into a cloud.  As they were straining their eyes to see him, two white-robed men suddenly stood there among them.  They said, “Men of Galilee, why are you standing there staring at the sky?  Jesus has been taken away from you into heaven.  And someday, just as you saw him go, he will return!” – Acts 1:9-11

What struck me about this is that question of “Why are you staring?”  To me it seems those two men were telling the disciples, “He’s coming back this same way someday.  You don’t need to worry about when that happens or sit here waiting.  Get off your butt, get out there and tell people about Jesus before so they are ready for his return, whenever that may be.”

Complete conjecture on my part, however there are sometimes I feel like I’m just staring at the sky.  Staring and waiting.  Meanwhile, God has meaningful work he wants me to do or is putting opportunities in front of me that I’m missing, because I’m staring at the sky.

The disciples were told not too long before this;

Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you.  And be sure of this:  I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” – Matthew 28:19-20

See the beauty of it is, we don’t have to sit and stare at the sky wondering when Jesus will return.  He is with us always and everywhere.  We need to get out there, help those in need, lovingly tell people about Jesus and prepare for his return in that way.

 

The Price to Pay

4thHappy 4th of July to my fellow Americans! This is a day we celebrate our over 200 years of independence. This is a day we remember the sacrifice of those over time that have obtained our independence and have kept it in the ensuing years. See independence didn’t come free, it didn’t come without a high cost for many. See, England wasn’t so willing to free us. We didn’t send the them the Declaration of Independence and have them say “Oh, OK… no problem!” No, they weren’t too happy with us at the time. They were not going to let us get away so easily. In fact, they felt they would come in, throw their weight around a little and we would come cowering back begging for forgiveness. But that’s a story for another day.

Today, I want to talk about the price that was paid for something that they believed in. Full disclosure, this was the topic of our sermon this week at church. I’m bringing in the analogy of our nation’s independence, but much of the concept and topic was pulled from their sermon. Check out the Jesus Is sermon series and look for the July 3rd, 2016 sermon (it’s not linked yet as I type this). The concept is: The price you pay shows your level of belief. Are you willing to only pay a little? Then it might not hold much worth to you. Are you willing to pay a lot, perhaps give it all? Then you are all in.

See back in 1776, those 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence, knew full well, that by signing they were putting themselves and their families on a list of traitors. If caught, they could be put to death. Take the story of Richard Stockton of New Jersey. He was captured, held prisoner and tortured by the British to the point where his health never recovered after he was released and he died in 1781. Or Francis Lewis of New York, whose home was destroyed and his wife was taken prisoner by the British. Carter Braxton of Virginia, a wealthy man, lent large sums of their personal fortune to the war effort but were never repaid. These men, signed the declaration, knowing the cost, but they also knew the reward and could the even imagine 200+ years later what our great nation has become.

Let’s look at the Bible and see what cost some were willing to pay. See even Jesus said there is a cost to following him.

If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’

Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples. — Luke 14:26-33

See Jesus was saying, to become his disciple, you must be all in. You must be willing to deny yourself, your family and even your life. The cost can be high, but you must determine, is Jesus worth it all?

Look at what else Jesus says about his followers:

When the world hates you, remember that they hated me before it hated you. The world would love you if you belonged to it, but you don’t. I chose you to come out of the world, and so it hates you. – John 15: 18,19

See following Jesus comes with a cost. If you’re all in, those friends or family members that don’t understand or know the glory of our Savior, may very well walk away from you. You will lose friends and perhaps family members. It can be a high cost.

Let’s look at the contrast between Mary and some of the disciples and how they felt about paying the cost to follow Jesus.

Then Mary took a twelve-ounce jar of expensive perfume made from the essence of nard, and she anointed Jesus’ feet with it and wiped his feet with her hair. -John 12:3

This was a big deal, first that bottle of perfume was very expensive, probably a years worth of wages back then. This act came at a high cost to her. This is not a decision she would have taken lightly. Secondly, she let her down to wipe is feet with it. See back in that time and culture, respectable women never let their hair down in public, she was severly risking her reputation by doing so.

True worship however is not concerned with what others thing or with the cost.

I will celebrate before the Lord. I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes. 2 Samuel 6:21-22

Now contrast that with how the disciples acted. The disciples, seen as some of his most loyal followers, were incensed at her display. The story of John singles out Judas, but the other gospels paint a bit of a broader stroke.

Some of those at the table were indignant. ‘Why was this expensive perfume wasted?’ they asked. ‘She could have sold it for a small fortune and given the money to the poor!’ and they scolded her harshly. – Mark 14:4-5

While they seemed to be worried about the poor, but this was more about greed than anything else. In John’s account, who points out Judas, the treasurer of the group and had been seen as embezzling funds, saw this as a wasted opportunity to line his own pocket. But nevertheless, they missed out on what was really important, the true worship of God.

So sitting in this sermon, I felt moved not only by the stories of Mary and others that gave the sacrifice to follow Jesus and those that sacrificed to make this nation great, but felt humbled when I thought about my own life and reflected on at what cost have I been willing to pay to follow Jesus. What if God came to me and said, “follow me to be a missionary oversees, sell your home, quit your job, trust in me that I will provide and pack up your family and follow me.” How would I react? Would the cost be too high?

Think on a smaller scale, is the cost of sacrificing some of my “fun” money too high that I can’t fully give my tithe? Is the cost of me being able to drive the nicest cars or eat the best food or play with the nicest toys too high, that I can’t donate to those truly in need? Is the cost too high to the potential loss of friendships, that I’m failing to talk about Jesus and what he’s done for me?

A lot of food for thought, but I close this post with this. The cost you pay will show the level of belief that you have in the worth of Jesus. What is the cost you are willing to pay?