Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Just Listen to Yourself

How often do you listen to what you’re saying? When you speak to others in conversation or instruction, do you take note of your tone of voice or the way you are talking to the other person? Often we are so busy trying to convey our own message that we don’t think about what we are saying and how we are saying whatever it is. I wonder if you would want to be talked to in the way you talk to others? Perhaps that’s a good place to start in this self-examination.

Would You Talk to Yourself Like That?
In Ephesians 4:31-32, the Apostle Paul says, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” Think about each of those words for a moment. Bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, slander and malice. We would not want to be on the receiving end of comments or actions featuring those attributes. So, in the same way we ought to be careful to avoid speaking to others in that way. It will take intentionally listening to our words if change is going to come.

We are, though, supposed to fill our language with kindness, tenderheartedness, and forgiveness. Those are words we long to hear. Those are the tones we need to hear. When someone speaks to us in these ways, we are usually listening closely. Words spoken to us in kindness and tenderheartedness express love, concern and care. The earsplitting words previously mentioned express no love, only harshness. Who wants to be rubbed by words that are as coarse as sand paper? Not me. And probably not you either.

How Would Christ Speak?
There’s more to this story though. Paul says that we should treat one another this way because Christ treats us this way. To the disobedient and rebellious Christ offers forgiveness. To the wayward and down trodden He offers mercy and kindness. To the broken and hurting He offers tenderheartedness. We should express this love to one another because we have received it from Christ. I wonder if you have received it. Your words can only reflect His love when you have received it. If you have received the love and forgiveness of Jesus Christ, I wonder if you are extending it to others through your conversation. It will take paying attention. Are you listening to what you’re saying?

Friday, January 22, 2010

Want to be Free from Guilt?

Guilt is heavy. It is a great weight around our necks. Many of us carry guilt for things we have said, done or even wanted to do. We battle these accusations in our mind and wonder if we can ever be free from the shame and the embarrassment that seems to be ever near. Whether anyone else knows of these offenses or not, the guilt is heavy and wants to derail our lives.

Guilt Does Not Surprise God
God knows this. He is not surprised by the affect of our sinful living or thinking. Likewise, it should not be a great surprise to us either, but often it is and we don't know how to deal with it. What brings lasting joy in your life? What brings satisfaction? Isn't that what you want to replace this guilt and shame? Followers of Jesus know that joy comes when we walk with Him. When we are consistently obedient to what Jesus teaches us, and how He directs us to live we are able to be satisfied. Why would we be surprised, then, to find that there is great pain and separation when we try to make our own way. Yet, usually we are surprised. We don't think about the consequences of our actions. We either refuse to follow Jesus or we simply forget. Then, we are grieved and held in the bondage of our guilt and shame. We don't have to live this way.

God Desires for You to Live Blamelessly
In Ephesians 1 we hear that Jesus has come to create for Himself a people that are holy and blameless. They are a people set apart to love God, follow Him and have this liberty and confidence in Christ in their lives. They are a people who are freely forgiven by Jesus and are called to hold this truth dear and apply this freedom to their thinking and living. Jesus knows this freedom because of His obedience to the Father. He knew it when He walked the Earth and He knows it now. He desires to bring you this relief from shame and guilt. He wants to deliver healing and restoration to your heart.

Have you wondered how David carried on after his scandalous sins of adultery and conspiracy to murder? How was David able to move forward and live victoriously for God's glory? Many of us would consider our lives ruined. We would be convinced that God was going to put us on a shelf until we die. Yet, David didn't live this way. Why not? He understood the power and scope of God's forgiveness. He knew he would bear the scars of his sin, but he also knew God would free him from the weight of the shame of his sin. Listen to what he said in Psalm 32,

Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven,
whose sin is covered.
 2 Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity,
and in whose spirit there is no deceit.

3 For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
 4 For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah

5 I acknowledged my sin to you,
and I did not cover my iniquity;
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,”
and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah

6 Therefore let everyone who is godly 
offer prayer to you at a time when you may be found;
surely in the rush of great waters,
they shall not reach him. 
7 You are a hiding place for me;
you preserve me from trouble;
you surround me with shouts of deliverance. Selah

8 I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
I will counsel you with my eye upon you.
 9 Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding,
which must be curbed with bit and bridle,
or it will not stay near you.

10 Many are the sorrows of the wicked,
but steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts in the Lord.
 11 Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous,
and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!

I can think of four "r's" that will help you overcome guilt like David did. Here they are: repentance, recovery, remembering and rejoicing.

David acknowledged and confessed his sin to God in verse 5. Relief came when he stopped trying to hide it. Repentance will lead us to make good the wrongs that we have done and to seek the forgiveness we need. It is a difficult step, but it is the first step that must be taken.

We need God's forgiveness. God promises to give it. David knew that he had received. In verse 5 we hear him say directly that God had forgiven him. It was no question. It was a statement of fact. He would live in this truth from now on.

David proclaimed that God was his strength and hiding place in verse 7. We must be quick to remember that God is our help. He is able to give us the courage and hope we need. If we stop dwelling on this truth...if we forget we will be led to begin looking solely on ourselves, others or something else for strength. We must remember! We must continually remind ourselves (out loud if necessary) that God is our strength and His way of living is best. Then, we must seek His ways in His Word and by joining with His people.

The great psalmist knew of the pain of hiding his sin and feeling the accompanying guilt and shame. Now he knew forgiveness. Now he knew joy. His song returned. His heart was returned to gratefulness. God delivered him and he could sing again.

It is a process, but you can sing again. God will deliver you when you seek Him. Christ has come to set us free. He has carried our sin and shame, nailed it to the cross and defeated it by overcoming even death. Will you seek His help in throwing off this dead weight of shame and guilt in your life?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Generous Love

Would you consider yourself a loving person? Do you think others view you as loving? The Apostle Paul says that if we are followers of Christ we will follow His pattern of becoming poor for the sake of others. This state of intentional poverty is to be a display of love. Let's think about what it means.

Expressing our Poverty
Sometimes our poverty is expressed in humility as we are right in a situation and are called to respond to others in gentleness and kindness rather than pride and self-righteousness. We can show this loving poverty by serving others. Most often it is messy when we serve someone. Whether they are an elderly person needing physical assistance, an addict going through the pain of walking away from a substance or a person suffering the agony of divorce. Caring for people drives us to our knees and should give us a real sense of our spiritual poverty. And by that I mean our poverty is our great need for Christ, His strength and His help. In reality, we have nothing without Him.

There are times, though, when this poverty is financial. These are the times that Christians are to sacrifice to give money to help the poor, other Christians or those affected by disaster. Read this verse from 2 Corinthians 8:8-15 to hear Paul’s thoughts,

I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine. 9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. 10 And in this matter I give my judgment: this benefits you, who a year ago started not only to do this work but also to desire to do it. 11 So now finish doing it as well, so that your readiness in desiring it may be matched by your completing it out of what you have. 12 For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have. 13 For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness 14 your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness. 15 As it is written, “Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack.”

In Fairness to All
An interesting phrase in those verses is found in verse 14. Paul says that, “your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness.” In the economy of the Kingdom of God, we are always looking to help one another. It is not a welfare state where the rich stay rich forever and the poor stay poor forever. As we live within the Kingdom of God here on Earth we know that there will be an ebb and flow of times of abundance and times of need. Paul says that we should give when we are in a season of abundance and trust that we will receive in our time of need. The fairness is not that we all make the same income at all times. The fairness is that we are willing to share with those who are in need. We know that Paul calls Christians to work hard, so there is no precedent for anyone to be a persistent mooch. Yet, there are genuine times when people are and will be in need. Christians show their love by sharing the resources God has given them whatever those resources may be.

Now, do you consider yourself a loving person? Do you have room to love others more? May your love be proven by your generosity…in whatever form it may flow.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Relief May Not Look Like What You Think

I was listening to radio news recently as I drove home from one of our Worship Services. It was the most intense radio report I had ever heard. The reporter was deeply concerned about a group of babies that were in an orphanage. He believed they would die if aid didn’t come to them immediately. In anger he declared that there were several aid agencies and government forces that knew their specific location, but had not shown up to deliver any supplies that were desperately needed. As he talked his intensity increased and he finally said plainly, “If aid doesn’t arrive these children are going to die.” Needless to say there were numerous thoughts rushing through my mind.

What Can I Do?

In an instant I began wondering if there was anything I could do. The disaster area was thousands of miles away from me and I couldn’t get there any time soon in my car. I began to think of anyone that I might know that could do something. I couldn’t think of anyone except God that could direct aid to them. Then I had a thought that many of you might find strange. What if they die? Is that the worst thing that could happen to them? For a number of reasons I believe that infants go to Heaven when they die. I’m not going to write a theological treatise on that here, but I do believe the Bible supports the idea. What if they die? If what I believe the Bible teaches is correct, they would take their next breath in Heaven. They would have escaped the disaster and God would have provided relief to them. No, it’s not what we would think of as relief. It’s probably not what the reporter had in mind. He was begging for baby formula, clean water and diapers. Those are necessary supplies, but there is more than one type of relief that God can offer.

Raised in Power
Make sure you understand that I don’t believe that everyone instantly goes to Heaven when they die. The Bible is very clear. Jesus says in John 14:6 that no one comes to Father except he places his faith in Jesus. People of account who don’t repent of their sins, seek Jesus’ forgiveness and follow Him will have no access to God according to the Bible. But for those that will trust and love Jesus there is great hope. In fact, there is no greater hope. The Bible says, “So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power.” (1 Corinthians 15:42-43, ESV) That sounds like relief to me.

So Live Generously
In addition to the relief of resurrection, I believe a person’s love for Christ ought to drive them to be even more charitable. The cited passage plainly tells us of our weakness. Therefore, we ought to aid our fellow citizens of Earth with the greatest of effort. So, I hope you will give and serve generously when others are in need, but don’t forget relief comes in many ways.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Helping the Churches of Haiti

This evening I have become aware of two pastors that I respect that are working to help the Christian church in Haiti. Mark Driscoll and James MacDonald are on the way to Haiti to gather information and establish ways churches around the world can help the churches of Haiti. I am excited about how God will use them. I hope you will join me in praying for these men and the team they are taking with them. In addition, I hope you will continue to pray for the people of Haiti. I've spent a bit of time looking at pictures of the devastation and the make-shift morgues. It's so overwhelming. I can't imagine what it must be like to be there. I hope you'll do all you can to help these people find hope in Christ.

Here's a link to the Churches Helping Churches website.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Mercy and Faithfulness

This Psalm seems very fitting for the events of this week. We are people in desperate need of God’s mercy. I hope we realize it.

Let Your Glory Be over All the Earth
Psalm 57

1 Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me,
for in you my soul takes refuge;
in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge,
till the storms of destruction pass by.
2 I cry out to God Most High,
to God who fulfills his purpose for me.
3 He will send from heaven and save me;
he will put to shame him who tramples on me. Selah
God will send out his steadfast love and his faithfulness!
4 My soul is in the midst of lions;
I lie down amid fiery beasts—
the children of man, whose teeth are spears and arrows,
whose tongues are sharp swords.
5 Be exalted, O God, above the heavens!
Let your glory be over all the earth!
6 They set a net for my steps;
my soul was bowed down.
They dug a pit in my way,
but they have fallen into it themselves. Selah
7 My heart is steadfast, O God,
my heart is steadfast!
I will sing and make melody!
8 Awake, my glory!
Awake, O harp and lyre!
I will awake the dawn!
9 I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples;
I will sing praises to you among the nations.
10 For your steadfast love is great to the heavens,
your faithfulness to the clouds.
11 Be exalted, O God, above the heavens!
Let your glory be over all the earth!

Monday, January 11, 2010

What Influences You?

Here's the video featuring some thoughts from Ephesians 2. Hope they are helpful to you!

Ephesians Two Overview, Part 1 from Brandon Porter on Vimeo.

Discerning What Influences You?

Our 20-month-old son just stares at the television and says, “Elmo?” He is starting to push buttons on the front of the TV hoping it will make one of his best friends magically appear. He is our first child with an Elmo obsession as we surpassed this era with our other children. It’s interesting to watch our children as they interact with technology. Our seven-year-old boys and even our five-year-old daughter are fairly familiar with the computer already. They can navigate their favorite websites and play games with ease. I don’t really remember teaching them very much when it comes to using the computer. I don’t think their Mother did either. It’s almost as if it were just engrained in them. Amazing. I remember the first time I surfed on the web. It was following graduation from high school and the connection was so slow, but it was amazing to realize the entire world was at my fingertips.

A lot has changed since then when it comes to the Internet and technology. iPods, HDTV, hi-speed connections and on and on we could go. However, something hasn’t changed with the introduction of all of the technology. That is the need for discernment. What we watch, listen to and look at really does have an impact on us. The shows we watch on TV or the Internet will cause us to think about what we value and desire. They will certainly carry influence and they may even cause us to change our minds.

This isn’t new. Since Adam and Eve walked the Earth there has been a competition for influence. Who is right? Who is wrong? What is best? What do you desire? Those questions have been wrestled with over and over. It’s a shame that we don’t think them through when it comes to media. Whether that is from television, video games, movies or magazines we often just check-out when it comes to these influencers. We seem to have the notion that they are neutral. Do you think this column is neutral? It’s in a form of media. I am certainly not neutral and am working to make an influence on you. Movie directors, music producers, screenwriters, bloggers and all other types of artists are trying to influence you as well. Do you realize that? Are you practicing discernment?

So what do you do? If your desire is to please God then you must think of how these influencers are affecting you. Paul helps us in this thinking as he writes, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” Philippians 4:8-9 (ESV)

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Brit Hume, Tiger Woods and Jesus

Brit Hume's comments concerning Tiger Woods are a week old now, but I wonder if you have seen it. If not, take a look...

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Learning to Grieve

Grieving is hard work. If you are not prepared for this work most likely it will be even worse than you can imagine. I don’t think I’ve ever served a grieving family and heard them say, “This is much easier than we thought it was going to be.” I am convinced that if you are going to grieve well, and you should grieve, you must be as prepared as you can be.

When grief comes you will not be able to function in it with exact and meticulous detail because every situation will be different in severity, depth and intensity. However, I believe the Bible clearly lays out a foundation for us to stand on in our times of grief. One place we can learn this pattern is Psalm 102.

A Pattern for Suffering
In Psalm 102 we see David grieve deeply. We’re not exactly sure why, but whatever he is going through is intense. Along with several normal characteristics of grief it would appear that we seem him lose his appetite, suffer from sleeplessness, and even face depression. Yet, in this passage we see him deal with his grief well and God helps us learn how to deal with our own grief as we observe David.

A pattern seems to emerge that helps David move through the grief process in verses 13-22. We’re not sure how long it takes for him to move through this pattern, but it does seem to be consistent both times. The pattern seems to go something like this:
1. David cries out to God declaring His sovereignty and eternal control of life.
2. God hears David and has pity on him.
3. David remembers God’s promises to him and His people.
4. David looks forward to how God will use the current grief to bring good in the future.
Though we don’t actually see these elements lived out in this psalm, in other places we have the opportunity to see God working these things out. Know that God was faithful in keeping the promises He made to David and God did use David’s times of grief to bring about good.

Learning to Grieve Well
How can you apply this pattern? Well, every time I go to the funeral home I am reminded of how feeble I am. My life, just like every life on this planet, will end in death. God is the only one that has the power to conquer death. The redeemed of Christ only receive eternal life with God when it is given to them by Christ. Death should humble us. It should make us realize that God is everlasting and sovereign, and we are not. Not only should we realize it, but it should drive us to worship God as the Supreme Creator of all things. Facing grief should drive us to remember God’s control and to worship Him for it. In addition, focusing on God’s strength should help align true perspective. Often our problems and hurts fall out of perspective. They become bigger than us and even bigger than God. That is a distorted perspective and one that is never true. Death should remind us that we are small and God is big. When viewed correctly, this truth should bring comfort and rest.

The other steps of this pattern strengthen this perspective. By remembering God’s promises we remember His goodness and His holiness. We remember that He has promised His people that He will love them, be near at the time of death and deliver them through death. We find such promises from Jesus in John 14, from God Himself in Psalm 116:15 and in other places such as 1 Thessalonians 4. At the same time we hear of the separation from God that comes when the unrepentant person dies. Jesus’ teaching of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16 reinforces this idea and passages like Hebrews 9:27 remind us that just as death is appointed, judgment is as well. In grief we should focus on the promises of God.

Find Joy In a Time of Grief

The believer should find comfort and joy in these promises as they have witnessed God’s faithful work not only in Scripture, but in their own lives as well. It is from God’s faithful work in the past that we also have hope that He will repeat that work in the future. Though the believer cannot be sure how God will use their pain for good, they believe He will. This brings hope. It fuels perseverance and endurance during grief. Psalm 102 teaches us that this hope should even lead to joy as the believer knows God will not waste their pain, but will use it for good in their life and the lives of others.

Grieving is hard work. But hope can be found in it. Grieving will be different for everyone and it can be unpredictable in its effects on a person. However, we can use the basic pattern here and by applying to it our broken hearts find hope in God. What will your perspective be when it is your time to grieve?

Monday, January 4, 2010

Facing a Storm of Sorrow

When was a time you faced deep grief? Perhaps it was when you lost someone you loved. That isn’t the only time we grieve, though. Divorce brings grief. Even severe arguments that bring a deep divide cause grief. Certainly we could list many other causes of grief, but more than focusing on the grief itself or the cause of the grief let’s see how the Bible deals with grief. We’ll use Psalm 31 as a focus.

In Psalm 31, David deeply admits the sorrow of his heart. Here we learn that grief is real and is acceptable. The Bible acknowledges that there is real pain in our lives. Our hearts are broken from time to time. Sometimes the hurt is deeper than others, but it is real. Do not be surprised, then, when you face the sorrow of grief. Everyone that loves faces it at some time in life.

In this passage we see some interesting focal points. The first looks at the hurt. David not only acknowledges the hurt, but he looks to the one that caused it in his life. For him it was people that wanted to do him harm. Perhaps that is true for you, but it may not be a specific person that has brought this pain to you. It could be a circumstance or some other event that has brought pain to your life. We see another focus though. David also looks at others around him. He realizes that this hurt affects the way they look at him. He feels their gaze as they know he is in real distress. I remember the first time I went out in public after suffering the loss of a child. It felt as if everyone was looking at me and whispering, “There’s the guy who just lost a baby. We better avoid him.” Of course that probably wasn’t true of everyone around me, but I certainly felt that way.

However, even through the reality of grief we see David’s most consistent and most important focus is on God. Psalm 31 is made up of 24 verses. In these 24 verses we hear David remind himself at least 30 times of God’s strength. He remains grounded in the reality that his grief is real and strong, but God is greater and is able to deliver him and comfort him. David sees his grief and its affects, but his focus is on God. He works to direct his mind to remember the love, help and faithfulness of God. He cries to God and knows that God hears him. His deepest focus is not on the reality of grief, but on the reality of God.

Know that grief is real. And it is coming to your house. Where will you turn in your storm of sorrow?

Saturday, January 2, 2010

A Look into Ephesians

In January and February 2010 we hope to work through the book of Ephesians on Sunday mornings. Below is a video that offers from brief thoughts about the first chapter of Ephesians. Join us each week at as we offer the Sunday morning sermon for download, a Scripture memory verse for the week and a video with some thoughts about the specific chapter of Ephesians we've just covered.

Ephesians One Overview from Brandon Porter on Vimeo.

After watching the video or listening to the other resources, come back here and let's dialogue about what God is saying to us in His Word. We hope these resources will be very helpful to you as we live intentionally for the glory of God in 2010!