What’s the Purpose of Your Life? Considering the Call of God

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What is your life calling? To what are you giving your life? On Sunday, we looked at God’s call in the Apostle Paul’s life from Colossians 1:24-29. From this passage, we saw that by God’s power, we are to fulfill the call that God has given us. We saw three elements of God’s call in the lives of believers.

First, God calls us to suffer (Col. 1:24). When we follow Christ, we will experience hardship. The Apostle Paul faced extreme agony as he served the Lord. Jesus said that believers should expect difficulty (John 16:33). Suffering is part of the Christian experience; enduring hardship is one element of God’s call in our lives.

Second, God calls us to share the gospel widely (Col. 1:25-28). God had called Paul to make known the beautiful reality of Christ in you to the Gentiles. In other words, the Gentiles could come to know Christ and be a part of the people of God. Paul sought to proclaim the gospel widely to all people.

Third, God calls us to labor to make disciples (Col. 1:28-29). Paul said that he worked tirelessly to present everyone mature in Christ. In other words, Paul sought to teach new Christians how to walk with Christ and how to mature in their faith.

As we look at this passage, we get an understanding of the call of God for every believer. We are meant to fulfill God’s call in His power. But how? We suffer while trusting God. We share the gospel with others. We make disciples. This is the heart of God’s call for every Christian– the preacher, the banker, the mechanic, the professor, the farmer. We are meant to share Jesus and make disciples even in hardship. Are you telling others about Jesus? Are you making disciples? Are you living out God’s purpose for your life?

Prayers and Possibilities in the New Year

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On Sunday, we looked at Colossians 1:1-8 and saw the Apostle Paul’s prayer for the church at Colossae. In Paul’s prayer, it is clear that the gospel had transformed the Colossian believers. Not only that, the gospel was spreading in their city.

In many ways, this gives us a vision of what we hope to occur in our church and city. We want to see people changed by the gospel, and we want to witness the gospel’s impact in our town and beyond.

In this passage, prayer is vital. Paul prays regularly for these brothers and sisters. Paul’s example reminds us of the necessity of praying for the Lord to move in our church and our city.

Not only is prayer central, but deep relationships within the church are essential. God uses fellow believers to help us grow in Him. However, forming these relationships takes time and effort. It is crucial for believers to gather weekly for worship and to meet regularly with a small group for Bible study and prayer. In these contexts, we challenge and strengthen one another in our faith. Imagine a plant without water for an extended period. It won’t grow and eventually withers. Similarly, we stunt our growth in Christ when we don’t prioritize worship and fellowship with each other.

Remember, the power of the gospel! Jesus doesn’t remodel us. He remakes us. He doesn’t do a renovation but a total transformation. We want to see changed lives! How should we respond to this passage? First, commit to pray for God to move in our church. Second, build worship and fellowship with your brothers and sisters in Christ into your family’s weekly rhythms.

I’m looking forward to an incredible 2019. Let’s pray for God to move in our church and city!

Living with Joy and Peace in a Broken World

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Fear. Anxiety. Depression. These are words of which we wish we never had to think or speak. Unfortunately, these heartaches are often a reality in our lives. How do we face the hardships of life without living in a deep pit of fear, anxiety, and depression?

Paul’s counsel to the Philippians helps us amidst the stresses and difficulties of life. Consider these insights from Philippians 4:4-9.

First, have the right attitude. In verse 4, Paul reminds the Philippians to rejoice in the Lord. It isn’t that the Philippians would rejoice over bad things that were happening. No, they should rejoice in the Lord. They reflect on the fact that in Christ, they have forgiveness, a new identity, a certain future, and countless more blessings. For this reason, the Philippians are commanded to rejoice, and this reminds us that we must strive for a right attitude.

Second, have a merciful spirit toward others. In verse 5, Paul urges the Philippians to be gracious toward others. They should strive to show mercy to people in weakness instead of having a critical spirit. A person who continually focuses on the failings of others isn’t going to be filled with God’s peace or joy.

Third, do not worry. In verse 6, Paul commands the Philippians not to be anxious. This means that believers shouldn’t be weighted down by angst and fear. How can Paul say something like this since life is filled with difficulty and suffering? Paul tells the Philippians not to worry because he recognizes that God is sovereign. God is the ruler of the universe, and He works through the hardships of life for the good of His people (Romans 8:28).

Fourth, pray expectantly with a thankful heart. In verses 6-7, Paul encourages the Philippians to pray instead of worry. When your mind is filled with thoughts of fear and anxiety, pray for God’s help. Paul says that God will send His supernatural peace to guard your heart and mind. Paul emphasizes having a grateful heart in prayer. Focus on all of the ways that God has blessed and helped, and be thankful for His kindness. Through prayer and thanksgiving, God sends peace and joy.

Fifth, have a disciplined mind. In verse 8, Paul admonishes the Philippians to focus on that which is good, true, and honorable. In other words, we should dwell on the truths of God and the blessings of God. We should avoid filling our minds with what is dishonorable, false, and impure. Paul says dwell on what is right and good.

Sixth, have a submissive will. In verse 9, Paul tells the Philippians to obey God’s instruction. God’s truth isn’t meant to sit on a shelf. It is meant to be lived out. When we disobey God, we set ourselves up for fear, anxiety, and depression. Our sin has terrible consequences.

How do you live a life of peace and joy? Consider what Paul says in Philippians 4:4-9. By God’s grace, make changes where changes are needed. You’ll discover God’s presence and His peace. If you find yourself in a bottomless pit of anxiety and depression, get some help. Talk with a pastor, another mature believer, or a solid Christian counselor. May God’s peace and joy be yours in the midst of this broken world.

Growing Deeper in Christ: Essentials for 2018

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In the craziness of life, as we rush from one activity to the next, it is easy to let spiritual priorities fade. We have good intentions and plan to grow in our relationship with Jesus, but our busy schedules overwhelm us. As the new year approaches, here are a few essentials to help you refocus on growing closer to Christ.

First, make your relationship with God a priority. You must carve out a regular time in your schedule. When can you set aside some time on a daily basis to read the Bible and pray? Maybe you’ll set your alarm earlier or take some time after the rest of your family has gone to bed or use your lunch break to read God’s Word.
BOTTOM LINE: Find a specific time to read the Bible and pray daily.

Second, have a Bible reading plan. Find or develop a plan to read through the Bible or the New Testament or selected books of the Bible over the course of the year. There are a lot of great Bible Bible Reading Plans. At FBC, we are encouraging members to read through the Foundations reading plan during 2018. This plan will take you through highlights of the entire Bible over the course of the year. Also, there is a version available for children and teenagers that corresponds with the adult version. In this way, your whole family can study the Bible together
BOTTOM LINE: Follow a Bible reading plan.

Third, don’t give up. If you miss a day of prayer and Bible study, jump back into God’s Word the next day. If you’ve missed a few days, don’t surrender. Instead, pick up the Bible and take time to develop your walk with the Lord.
BOTTOM LINE: Keep going!

Growing deep in our love for Christ certainly takes more than spending time in Bible reading and prayer, but surely not less. A daily time alone with God is essential for growth in Christ. Let’s make this discipline a part of our daily schedules. What a great way to start the new year!

FBCU Folks: If you are interested, we are making the Foundations Study Guide available in the church office for $5 (children and teen versions are available as well).

A Legacy that Lasts: Investing in the Next Generation

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If you went to church as a child, do you remember going to Sunday School or Awana? You learned about God and His plan. If you were blessed enough to grow up in church, I’d bet you remember Mr. Salazar or Mrs. Pollard. Of course, their names were different, but you remember men and women who taught you about Jesus and who modeled a deep love for Him and you and other kids. His impact or her impact runs deep in your faith formation. If this is your story, you know the importance firsthand of passing on the faith to the next generation.

In fact, the Bible is the amazing story of a great and awesome God who redeems a broken and sinful people for Himself. He rescues us from our sin, gives us life, and will one day take us to be with Him forever. David reflects on God’s incredible plan of redemption in Psalm 22 as he envisions the message of redemption being shared with generations not yet born, “… the next generation will be told about the Lord. They will come and declare his righteousness; to a people yet to be born they will declare what he has done” (Ps 22:30-31).

As a church, God calls us to pass the truth of the gospel faithfully to the next generation. This calling is undoubtedly among the most urgent given to the church. What an awesome charge! Of course, the Bible is clear that parents bear ultimate responsibility for their children’s faith training. However, the church comes alongside parents in this critical mission and ministers to children who come from homes whose parents aren’t believers.

Who will teach and disciple the next generation of kids who are growing up in the church? When our little ones are adults and many in our generation have gone on to be with the Lord, who will our little ones remember as that woman or that man who showed them what it means to love Jesus and to be shaped by God’s Word? Will it be you?

As you read these words, a thousand thoughts probably flood your mind. Reasons that it can’t be you. It is so difficult to commit to teaching a class every single Sunday or Wednesday night. You have this and you have that to take care of; you need to travel for this reason or that reason. Many of these things are truly important, but might the Lord be calling you to sacrifice for something that is even greater? Could you be that man or that woman who will be remembered by the kids for the rest of their lives? What a great and lasting legacy! Is God calling you?

Standing Firm in Tumultuous Times

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American culture continues to secularize as illustrated by a recent Gallup Poll. Gallup measured the moral acceptability of a range of social issues. In comparing the last poll to previous polls, thirteen issues showed a meaningful change in a liberal direction, and no issue showed a significant shift toward a conservative position. Consider the following examples in which each of these matters related to marriage and sexuality represents the highest moral acceptability positions to date.

  • 69% believe that sexual relations between an unmarried man and woman are morally acceptable
  • 63% believe that homosexual relations are morally acceptable
  • 36% believe that pornography is morally acceptable
  • 17% believe that polygamy is morally acceptable

Next, consider issues related to the sanctity of human life.

  • 61% believe human embryo stem cell research is morally acceptable
  • 57% believe that doctor-assisted suicide is morally acceptable
  • 43 % believe that abortion is morally acceptable

What does this mean for the church and for believers?

First, it means that we need a firm grasp of God’s Word. If we aren’t reading and studying the Word of God, we’ll eventually abandon faithfulness to God.

Second, it means that the cultural pressure is going to increase for those who hold to historic Christian positions. In other words, we’re going to face more opposition for remaining faithful to biblical teaching. For example, the state of Illinois recently revised child welfare policies requiring state workers, foster families, and even relatives who might provide care to children in the state system to fully affirm LGBTQ policies. In other words, those providing care for children must respect the decisions of the child regarding the child’s gender or face termination or lose the opportunity to foster/care for a child.

In Ontario, Canada, recent legislation even permits the state to remove a child from their home if parents don’t affirm their child’s sexual orientation or gender identity. These examples illustrate the fact that Christians will face greater hostility. We must be prepared to stand individually and as a church family.

Third, parents must be intentional in discipling and training their own children in the faith. The culture isn’t going to reinforce biblical values as it has done in some ways in the past. If we aren’t serious about teaching our children God’s Word and modeling deep commitment to Christ, it is likely that our children will be overwhelmed by the tumult of cultural forces. We need to schedule intentional time for faith training in our daily routines.

While the culture rapidly unravels, we must stand faithfully by God’s grace. Consider Paul’s words in Ephesians, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this darkness, against evil, spiritual forces in the heavens. For this reason take up the full armor of God, so that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having prepared everything, to take your stand.” For His glory and by His grace, let’s stand.

How Long, O Lord? Hope in the Heartache

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This life not only offers great happiness but intense sorrow. Every person will eventually face dark days, and most people will suffer unbearable heartbreak along the way. The dreaded call in the middle of the night. The broken marriage and heart that never heals. The stillbirth and the empty crib in the barren room. The debilitating disease that takes more each day. The disability that steals dreams. The list could go on and on.

Pain is an unavoidable part of life. Faced with terrible tragedy, we wonder why. In fact, David asked a similar question in Psalm 13, “How long, O Lord?” From Psalm 13:1-2, we’ll  look at a couple of realities about suffering and seek help from additional Scriptures as well.

First, our pain almost always leaves us with unanswered questions. David asked, “How Long?” four times in just two verses. The trial he faced seemed unending and exceedingly agonizing. This kind of intense pain leaves us wondering about God. How do you pursue a God who doesn’t stop your pain? We simply can’t answer all of the questions that result from our suffering, but we do find truths in Scripture that help in the midst of our pain.

Considering the origin of suffering is critical. God created a perfect world without pain, evil, and suffering. The beauty and benevolence of this perfect paradise ended when Adam and Eve rejected the rule of God. With this sinful choice, the consequences of sin came crashing down into creation, ultimately infecting every human heart and all of creation. Now, we struggle with our own sinfulness and brokenness. Not only that, creation itself is good but broken by the terror of tornados and tsunamis and so much more.  From a biblical perspective, all suffering is ultimately the result of this rebellion against God. In this rebellion, we too are active participants as each one of us have rejected God and done as we pleased. So the ultimate origin of suffering is sin. Sin brought pain and death into an otherwise perfect world. Now, let’s consider some of the ways that God works for the good in the midst of suffering.

The Bible reveals that God uses suffering redemptively in many ways. For example, He uses suffering to test and deepen our faith (1). He uses suffering to help us find our joy in Christ (2). God works through suffering to further the gospel (3). Suffering can purify and strengthen the church (4). Heaven will be even more glorious for the sufferer (5). The reality that God works in the midst of the suffering of His people doesn’t answer all of our questions, but it does give us some reason for hope. Our suffering isn’t random and out of God’s hands. No, He is in control, even in our suffering. And He works for the good of His children.

We recognize that God can bring good even out of suffering and pain, but this does not answer all of our questions, especially when our pain is fierce and a constant companion. In these situations, we admit that suffering often remains a mystery. We just cannot grasp God’s ways or what He is doing. What Old Testament character faced greater pain than Job? Yet Job never saw what God was accomplishing behind the scenes (Job 1). Often, we won’t be able to make sense of the pain in our lives either.

We’ve seen that God works for the good of His children in the face of suffering. We’ve also seen that God’s purposes are frequently mysterious. This leaves us with the real question of where to find help and hope in the midst of misery?

Second, God is the ultimate answer in the face of our pain. David recognizes this in Psalm 13. Though he is struggling, David goes to the Lord for help in His hurt. In our grief, we must do the same. We cannot allow our agony to trap us in the dungeons of despair, keeping us from the only true hope, the only one who really heals broken hearts.

As we walk through heartache, reflecting on the incarnation of the Lord Jesus helps (Philippians 2:5-8). He left the wondrous perfection of Heaven and became flesh for our rescue. He suffered a miserable death.  In this brokenness, God did what God does so well. He took the sinful and wicked works of men and accomplished the greatest rescue of all times! So dwell on the incarnation of Jesus. We have a God who loves His children like crazy and who took the worst event of human history and accomplished the most wondrous feat of eternity. There’s  solace and hope here. He’s working in your life too if you belong to Him.

Not only do we dwell on the incarnation of Jesus, we meditate on the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. Why the resurrection? Because the resurrection reminds us that Jesus conquered death! His resurrection means that God’s children will be rescued one day from all of the torturous trials of this life. We’ll know a new paradise, but this paradise will have no serpent slithering around creating havoc. No, in this paradise, all of the horrors of sin and suffering are undone. There will be only joy and happiness! The tears. They’re gone. The pain. Not anymore. Eternal joy and sweet delight! While this doesn’t make our pain go away now, it reminds us that our sorrow is not eternal, but our joy and happiness will be. This life is often much more like a puzzle than a painting, but we can trust the One who holds the pieces. When your heart screams out, “How long, O Lord,” keep holding on. There is hope in the heartache.

(1) Psalm 66:10; Rom 5:3-4; 2 Cor 1:8-9; James 1:3-4, 12; Hebr 5:8; 11:17; 1 Peter 1:6-7; 4:12.

(2) Acts 5:41, 2 Cor 12:9-10, Phil 3:7-8, 1 Peter 4:13.

(3) Acts 11:19, 2 For 1:5-6, Phil 1:14, 2 Tim 2:10.

(4) Col 1:24, 1 Peter 4:17, Rev 2:8-10.

(5) Matt 5:11-12, Rom 8:18, 2 Cor 4:17-18, 1 Peter 4:13.

 

The Rich Rewards of Reading the Word: A Plan for 2017

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With 2017 right around the corner, consider setting aside a daily time to meet with God in prayer and Bible reading. Here are some keys to consistency in this critical discipline.

Pick a time and place. Take a look at your schedule and pick a time and location that will enable you to be most consistent. Maybe you can get up a few minutes earlier or take some time during a lunch break or if you are a night owl, spend some time with God just before bed. The key is to set aside a particular time and place to meet with God.

Pick a plan. Don’t just open your Bible and read here or there each day. Instead, have a plan to read through the New Testament this year or through the whole Bible. Here are some possibilities to help you systematically read the Bible.

Don’t give up. If you miss a day, then get back on track the next day. Don’t say to yourself, “I’ll never spend time with God consistently. I’m giving up.” Don’t let the craziness of life keep you from knowing Jesus closely.

When you spend time in God’s Word and prayer with a desire to really know Him, He changes you. Usually, these changes aren’t overnight, but as time passes, make no mistake, God will shape you. There is no greater joy than knowing Jesus more and being changed by Him! As Psalm 1 says…

Blessed is the man
    who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
    nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
    and on his law he meditates day and night.

He is like a tree
    planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
    and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.

During this new year, read the Word and reap the rich reward of a closer relationship with Jesus.

Busyness, Apathy, and Indifference: A Call to Actually Care

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On Sunday, we began a new series called Rebuild, a study through the book of Nehemiah. In the opening verses of the first chapter of Nehemiah, we saw the heart of a man who cared deeply for others. His example is challenging for us.

Nehemiah had a prominent position in the Persian government. He had a life of luxury and privilege. In fact, he was miles and miles away from Jerusalem and the Jewish exiles who had returned to Judah. But Nehemiah was interested in what was going on with his people, the Jews in Jerusalem. When a group from Judah came to visit, Nehemiah asked how the Jews were doing. He cared.

When he heard the report that the city was in shambles and the people were in trouble, Nehemiah wept. He prayed. He fasted. He was devastated over the condition of the Jews and Jerusalem. He had a broken heart.

In today’s fast-paced world, we’re tempted to ignore the needs of others. After all, we’re planning our activities, trips, and hobbies. We’ve got this to do and that to do. We just don’t have time to care. Not only that, we face a constant barrage of bad news from all over the world. Often, we grow apathetic and numb to the needs of others. Is this the way we are meant to live as believers?

Nehemiah’s concern for others speaks to twenty-first-century Christians in a powerful way. We are called to be a people who care. When people are hurting, it should matter to us, especially when fellow brothers and sisters in the family of God are struggling (Galatians 6:10). Of course, none of us can fix the problems of the entire world, but we can certainly help people within our circle of relationships and within our faith family.

If we’re going to care and get involved when others are facing difficulty, we will likely have to give some things up. We’ll probably have to lay aside some of the things that we enjoy or that take a lot of our time. Once again, Nehemiah’s example challenges us. He was willing to leave the comfort and luxury of a Persian palace for a difficult and dangerous mission. What about you? Will your life be about building your kingdom or about a driving concern for the good of others?

Let’s ask God to break our hearts over the pain in the lives of people. Let’s ask Him to help us care, to help us focus not on the furtherance of our own kingdom but of the Kingdom that endures.

Me or We? The Challenge of Looking Beyond Ourselves

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Water. We have no trouble explaining or describing water. We buy it, drink it, swim in it, and the list goes on. What about a fish? How would a fish explain water? It seems evident that fish take water for granted. For water defines a fish’s very existence like air in our environment. Why am I writing about fish and water? Because, as water is taken for granted by fish, we often take the values of our culture for granted. It just happens.

In fact, social psychologists who study sales and marketing strategies differentiate between cultures classified as individualistic or collectivist. Marketing strategies for an individualistic culture like America focus on benefits to the individual while collectivist cultures emphasize the collective good or the good of the whole community.

Clearly, America is driven by an individualistic mindset. In everything, we are so often concerned for ourselves. What impact does this have on me? What benefit do I get? It is strange in our culture to ask the kinds of questions that a collectivist culture might ask. How does this impact others? What effect will my decision have on the community or the group as a whole? These are the very questions that Christians are called to ask; just consider the example of the early church as seen in the book of Acts.

Like a fish doesn’t recognize water or think much about it, we simply don’t realize how much our culture influences our perspectives. While we live in this individualistic culture, as believers we must allow God’s Word to change our thinking and attitudes. Instead of thinking primarily of ourselves, we must think of others. We must be concerned for the good of the church family.

What about you? Will your attitudes be shaped by our culture or by God’s Word? Will you give your time and energy to contribute to the good of the whole or will you be dominated by this individualistic “what’s in it for me” mindset? May we be a community of believers who sacrifices for the good of others, the whole church, and ultimately for the glory of God!