Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Unexplainable Connection.

By Allen White

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things! Galatians 5:22-23 (NLT)

From Unexplainable by Don Cousins:

“I cried out to God with a voice of exasperation: ‘God, what do You want me to do?’ His silence had been deafening, and I was running out of time.

“What I then heard was this: ‘I don’t really care what you do. I care about who you are – and who you are is failing.’ It wasn’t an audible voice, but it was unmistakably clear. I received these words not as condemnation, but as an expression of mercy.

“I returned to where I was staying and turned in my Bible to Galatians 5:22-23, verses I’d read countless times before. In fact, I had them memorized. This time, I read them more carefully and slowly than before.

“Then I did something I’d never done before with these words. I began to evaluate myself in light of those nine characteristics on the list.
“Love. How am I doing? I didn’t score well, so I moved on.

“Joy. How’s that going for me? I didn’t score well here, either, so I kept going…

“In reflection, I summed up my little self-evaluation with this thought: I’m two for nine. Though I had to admit that my two “hits” (faithfulness and self-control) had little to do with the influence of the Holy Spirit…It was the other seven characteristics that pleaded for the influence of the Holy Spirit. In those areas, I was failing. And I knew it.

“While the world cares almost exclusively about what you do and accomplish, God cares first and foremost about who you are. He wants His presence to so fill your life that you experience the blessings that come from being a loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle and self-controlled person” (excerpted from p. 113-117)

The fruit of the Spirit is not a measuring stick to judge our performance. It’s not an incentive to try harder. God’s fruit comes as we are connected to Him. Jesus said, “Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me” (John 15:4, NLT).

As you read this list of characteristics: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, how do you score? The solution is not to “try harder.” The fix is to check your connection to God. The better the connection, the more plentiful the fruit.

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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Promises. Promises.

By Allen White

For your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom. You rule throughout all generations. The Lord always keeps his promises; he is gracious in all he does. Psalm 145:13 (NLT)

Abraham was faithful because God is faithful. Abraham was able to step forward in faith, not hoping that God might do something, but trusting that God would keep His promises. God certainly did.

What has God promised you? Think about some of the promises from God’s Word:

God will supply our needs (Philippians 4:19).
God’s grace is sufficient (2 Corinthians 12:9).
Believers will not be overtaken by temptation (1 Corinthians 10:13).
God has promised victory over death (1 Corinthians 15:42-44).
God has promised that all things will work together for our ultimate good (Romans 8:28).
God has promised salvation (Acts 2:38Ephesians 2:8-9).
God has promised eternal life (John 10:27-28).
God has promised that He will always be with us (Hebrews 13:5).

And, this is just a start. We can be faithful because God is faithful to us. Even when we are faithless, God is faithful (2 Timothy 2:11-13).

Our fear, apprehension, worry and doubt can be resolved as we point our minds back to God’s promises. As we continue to remind and assure ourselves of God’s faithfulness, we become more faithful in the process.

Which promise stands out to you today? Put the verse somewhere that you will see it over and over again. Carry it in your pocket. Every time you begin to worry or doubt, read the verse. Remind yourself that God is faithful.

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Sunday, August 26, 2012

Seeing God’s Power

By Allen White

It was by faith that even Sarah was able to have a child, though she was barren and was too old. She believed that God would keep his promise. And so a whole nation came from this one man who was as good as dead—a nation with so many people that, like the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore, there is no way to count them. Hebrews 11:11-12 (NLT)

Good as dead. That’s quite a title. A pastor asked the staff, “How would it feel if that’s what you were called in the Bible: Good as dead?” Faithful, obedient or blessed are much better adjectives to go alongside one’s name in Scripture. But, good as dead? Not so much.

Good as dead, however does not mean impossible. Nothing is impossible with God. God produced a nation with a countless number of people from a couple who couldn’t possibly have children. There is no question that this was a God thing. As God said to Paul, “My power works best in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9, NLT).

What seems impossible for you today? Where do you feel worthless, helpless or good as dead? This is a great place for God to demonstrate His power. There will be no doubt that He is at work.

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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Drawing Closer to God

By Allen White

This was Stephen’s reply: “Brothers and fathers, listen to me. Our glorious God appeared to our ancestor Abraham in Mesopotamia before he settled in Haran. God told him, ‘Leave your native land and your relatives, and come into the land that I will show you.’ So Abraham left the land of the Chaldeans and lived in Haran until his father died. Then God brought him here to the land where you now live.

“But God gave him no inheritance here, not even one square foot of land. God did promise, however, that eventually the whole land would belong to Abraham and his descendants—even though he had no children yet. God also told him that his descendants would live in a foreign land, where they would be oppressed as slaves for 400 years. ‘But I will punish the nation that enslaves them,’ God said, ‘and in the end they will come out and worship me here in this place.’

“God also gave Abraham the covenant of circumcision at that time. So when Abraham became the father of Isaac, he circumcised him on the eighth day. And the practice was continued when Isaac became the father of Jacob, and when Jacob became the father of the twelve patriarchs of the Israelite nation.
 Acts 7:2-8 (NLT)

In his very last sermon, Stephen gives us the Reader’s Digest version of Abraham’s story. God gave Abraham a remarkable calling accompanied by quite a list of roadblocks and detours. Just the initial move from Mesopotamia (modern day Ur, Iraq) to Canaan (modern day city just north of Betel, Israel) via Haran was over 1000 miles. In Abraham’s day, travel was by foot or by beast. The trip was daunting to say the least.

Now, one might set out on a journey if they were assured of a pot of gold at the end. Abraham was just direct to go, so he did. Add to that a future 400 years of oppression and, of course, circumcision.
The rest of the story is that God gave Abraham “not even one square foot of land” (Acts 7:5). And, you were frustrated this morning. Suddenly, those reading this are having a better day already.

God fulfilled His promise to Abraham, but it wasn’t a direct route. You would think that clear direction plus courageous willingness to follow would equal smooth saying. If you take a glance at those listed in the “Hall of Faith” in Hebrews 11, you find that no one living a life of faith has ever had smooth sailing. But, neither has anyone else.

In a recent message, Richard Blackaby made the statement, “Some people say that the safest place to be is in the center of God’s will. That actually can be a very dangerous place.”

So, here’s the good news. God fulfilled ALL of His promises to Abraham. Abraham’s children were blessed. The nations were blessed. You and I are blessed because of God’s promise to Abraham.

Here’s more good news: when you follow God and face setbacks, it’s normal. God keeps His promises. God loves you. God hasn’t forgotten you. Interruptions and setbacks can certainly discourage us. Let the hard times serve as your teachers. Let them drive you to your knees. We are far closer to God in trouble than we are in peace.

What is being interrupted in your life today? God is trying to get your attention. Stop what you’re doing right now (seriously, stop) and make a quick connection with Him.

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Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Please Don’t Send Me To Africa…

By Allen White

t's in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, he had his eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose he is working out in everything and everyone. Ephesians 1:11-12 (Msg)

God has a purpose for your life. Do you believe that? The purpose is not just to survive your days or to get the kids out of your house or to finally retire. God has a work for you to do, but you must be willing.

That doesn’t mean that you will necessarily be a missionary in Africa. Isn’t that what everyone is afraid of when they surrender themselves to God? If God hasn’t put it in your heart to be a missionary, then you won’t be. You might go on a weeklong trip to drill a water well or sing in a cafĂ© though.

How do you know what God’s purpose is for you?

Let me ask you a couple of questions:

1. What are you good at?
2. Who do you like to work with?
3. What do you get excited about?
4. What do you enjoy doing (that’s not sinful)?
5. What have you done before in ministry, at work, or as a hobby?
6. What needs do you see around you?
7. What in our community gets you fired up?

Is anything coming to mind? If so, what are you going to do about it? You might have just discovered your God-given purpose in life.

Scripture quotations taken from The Message. Copyright © by Eugene H. Peterson, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group. All rights reserved.

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Sunday, August 19, 2012

Do you see people as a Thou or an It?

"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” Matthew 25:34-36 (NIV)

From Daily Office: Remembering God’s Presence Throughout the Day by Peter Scazzero:

“The great Jewish theologian Martin Buber described the most healthy or mature relationship possible between two human beings as an ‘I-Thou’ relationship. In such a relationship, I recognize that I am made in the image of God and so is every other person. This makes them a ‘Thou’ to me. They have dignity and worth, and are to be treated with respect. I affirm them as being a unique and separate human being apart from me.

“In most of our human relationships, however, we treat people as objects, as an ‘It’. In an ‘I-It’ relationship, I treat you as a means to an end—as we might use a toothbrush or car to take us somewhere. I talk to people to get something off my chest, not to be with them as separate individuals. I talk about people in authority or in the newspapers as if they were subhuman. I get frustrated when people don’t fit into my plans or see things the way I do.

“The connection between loving well and loving God is inseparable. Take a few moments and consider the people you will encounter today. What might it look like for you to slow down and treat them as a ‘Thou’ rather than an ‘It’?” (pages 124-125).

Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.

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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

God’s Vision for Your Life

Applying the Truth

By Allen White

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does. James 1:22-25 (NIV)

Francis Chan, pastor and author of Crazy Love, says “If you tell your kids to clean their rooms, is it enough for them just to memorize your words?”

Years ago, Howard Hendricks said, “The Bible was not given for our information, but for our transformation.” Just memorizing Bible facts is sort of like watching all of those cooking shows, but never tasting the food.

I used to look into the mirror of God’s Word and feel very defeated. I just didn’t measure up. Then, one day the light turned on: as a believer God’s Word wasn’t to judge me, but to show me God’s vision for my life. The Bible didn’t just poke at what I wasn’t, it pointed to what I could be. After that, when I read verses like Ephesians 4:32, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (NIV), I didn’t walk away thinking about how bad I was. I just turned it into a prayer. “Lord, you know that I am not this kind and compassionate on my own, but this is Your vision of who you want me to be. Please do this work in my life…”

Where have you felt defeated in reading God’s Word? What has been difficult to change? Pray and ask God to bring about this transformation in your life. It probably won’t happen all at once, but He will keep working as you remain open and willing to change.

Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.

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Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Despised and Accepted

By Allen White

As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector's booth. "Follow me," he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him. While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew's house, many tax collectors and "sinners" came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and 'sinners'?"

On hearing this, Jesus said, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners."
Matthew 9:9-13 (NIV)

One of the values that I admire about Brookwood Church is that we accept people as they are. Think about it. How else would we accept them? I suppose we could put them on some sort of probation and accept them for what they might become or accept the parts we like, but not the rest. But, to be part of a place that doesn’t judge and truly loves. Now that’s something. (Cue the “Cheers” theme song in the background).

I find this passage interesting because Jesus met a despised tax collector named Matthew. Now, tax collectors of the day were often ruthless and unfair to the public. Most earned their poor reputation, not to mention a little cash out of the till.

Matthew was a tax collector. The passage doesn’t say that he was kind or fair, so we can assume that he was just like the rest. Matthew needed Jesus just like the sick need a doctor.

We should also note that this Gospel is written by Matthew, the tax collector, who became a disciple and later an apostle. Jesus looked past his tax booth and saw a life to rescue, a soul to save, and a man to empower. As Neil Cole says, “You see great growth in sinful people because there’s so much fertilizer in their lives.”

Think about the people you meet. What does Jesus think of them? Who would Jesus reject? Is there someone in your life who needs to be accepted and encouraged? What can you do to show acceptance today?

Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.

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Sunday, August 12, 2012

Transformed or Pretending to be?

What is the Church? 
By Allen White

Since, then, we do not have the excuse of ignorance, everything—and I do mean everything—connected with that old way of life has to go. It's rotten through and through. Get rid of it! And then take on an entirely new way of life—a God-fashioned life, a life renewed from the inside and working itself into your conduct as God accurately reproduces his character in you.

What this adds up to, then, is this: no more lies, no more pretense. Tell your neighbor the truth. In Christ's body we're all connected to each other, after all. When you lie to others, you end up lying to yourself.
Ephesians 4:22-25 (Msg)

Authenticity takes a great deal of courage. Inauthenticity takes a great deal of energy. The dictionary defines “authentic” as “not false or copied; genuine; real.” The issue with authenticity comes when we don’t fit in, but we pretend that we do.

When I was about 14 years old, I used a word at home that I only used at school. My dad told me about someone who was treating him unfairly. I said, “I’d be _______ at him.” (Insert the past tense of a four letter word for urinating). My sentiment was genuine. The problem was at home I was not the kind of boy that used such a word. But, at school I was. I was caught in the dilemma of being authentic and inauthentic at the same time. At the time, I think I just went to my room and died a thousand deaths.

Often when we read Paul’s words about casting off everything attached to our old way of life, we instantly reference a list of sinful behaviors forbidden by the church. But, that’s only part of it. The “old way of life” for many of us is a Pandora’s box of dysfunctional behaviors. From avoidance and rage to escape and passive-aggressive behavior, most of us are a bit of a mess. We know how to depend on ourselves. We know how to cope temporarily with the situations around us. We don’t know how to put on this new life in Christ very well.

We pour our energies into pretending to be transformed rather than actually being transformed. It’s exhausting.

We’re tempted by things we would never mention. We reject others who remind us of ourselves. We look the part and act the part, but often we’re just dying a thousand deaths inside.

In the movie, The Lion King, young Simba escaped from home bearing the shame of believing he caused his father’s death. After much time had passed Simba encounters wise old Rafiki who confronts Simba and his life of escape. Rafiki declares, “You don’t even know who you are.” This is what Paul declares in this verse: No more lies. No more pretense. No more hiding. You are God’s child. Be God’s child. Don’t just pretend. Lay claim to who you really are.

What about you is inauthentic? In what way might you be pretending to be someone that you are not? What are you dying a thousand deaths over? Right now take a moment and ask God to help you remove this old garment of inauthenticity and put on the new garment of life in Him. This will take more work than just one prayer, but it’s a start.

God made you to be who you are. With His help, you can become the best version of yourself that He intends. You can resemble Christ Himself. God will give you the courage to be authentic. 

Scripture quotations taken from The Message. Copyright © by Eugene H. Peterson, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group. All rights reserved.

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Sunday, August 5, 2012

What if Plan B is Actually God’s Plan A?

Commit to the LORD whatever you do, and your plans will succeed. Proverbs 16:3

Proverbs are not guarantees. But, a proverb does point out what typically happens the majority of the time. They’re sort of like how an investment firm reminds its investors that past performance doesn’t guarantee future results. But, for most people on most days following Proverbs is a wise choice.

I think that this proverb is great, except that there are some things that I have committed to the Lord that actually failed. For instance, every Bible college student pursues the answer to basically two questions: What is God’s Will for my life? And, Who is God’s Will for my Life? Nothing that I committed to the Lord in 1984 actually came to pass. I didn’t become a missionary, and I didn’t marry the girl I was dating. The good news is that God has used me in ways that I never imagined, and that I married someone who is way out of my league.

I found success, not in getting the answers to my specific prayers, but in the fulfillment of godly desires for ministry and marriage that far exceeded my expectations.

We really want this “commit to the Lord” thing to be like a GPS. We are at point A. We would like to arrive at point B without any detours, roadblocks, inclement weather, or for men, no potty breaks.

I’ve been reading a book called Plan B by Pete Wilson, who pastors Cross Point Church in Nashville. His premise is “What do you do when God doesn’t show up the way you thought He would?” It’s a great book, especially for those of us who have been frustrated or devastated by a Plan B.

The interesting thing is that God only has a Plan A. When His Plan A doesn’t correspond with our Plan A, then God’s plan seems like Plan B to us. Just look at next proverb in chapter 16, “The Lord works out everything for his own ends – even the wicked for a day of disaster” (Proverbs 16:4).

Rick Muchow, the Worship Pastor at Saddleback Church, wrote a simple song that has encouraged me over the years. It says,

Trust God, from the bottom of your heart,
Don't try to figure out everything on your own,
Trust God, for where your life is going,
God is in control, God is in control (repeat)

Commit to the Lord, whatever you do, and your plans will succeed,
Pray Lord, I'm available to you, Here I am, Lord use me, Trust God… 

You can listen to the song here:

How are you trusting God these days? What Plan Bs has God thrown your way? How is using these roadblocks and obstacles to build your faith and shape your character?

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