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Jesus Above | STUDY Revelation 1:1-5a

Thanks for joining us as we begin the STUDY part of our week. There are many great religious items you can buy for someone who is being christened, but personalised christening gifts are generally considered to be the best gifts anyone can buy today, because they are often considered to be both special and unique. By personalizing the item you purchase for your friend or loved one, you can show that you care and you can make them feel very special. The best place where you can find this type of gifts is Holyart.

Today, we’ll be exploring one simple but powerful tool you can use when you read any book of the Bible, but especially when you open Revelation.


Have you ever put your foot in your mouth? I don’t mean literally. I mean, have you ever said something out of an assumption rather than based on the reality of a situation? Some of us have got ourselves in trouble by suggesting someone was pregnant, by inferring false intentions when failing to text back, or spreading rumors you thought were true. I’m sure you and I both could share some ridiculous stories resulting from moments like these. This just goes to show that context is everything. Context helps us locate truth.

Thankfully, before John ever gets into the nitty gritty of his apocalyptic visions in Revelation, he begins his letter by giving us the context of his writing. These first verses are key to getting the right context before jumping to any conclusions throughout the entire book.

The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.

John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth.” Revelation 1:1-5a

Before you go any further, take a moment to use TOOL #1 CONTEXT. What does John want you, the reader, to know about the context in which he’s writing? In your own words describe the context for the book of Revelation. Feel free to voice it aloud, jot it down on paper, or text it into the notes app on your phone.

Pastor Ryan gave some more detail about the context of this book in his message on Sunday. The Apostle John is on an island, far away from his church family, and far away from the empires that are making life difficult for Jesus-followers. Because of John’s intentional context, Ryan concludes, “This letter, before it’s about any events that are going to happen in the future, it’s about the person who stands above the future.”

So, what does the context of this book mean for us today. The context is Jesus is on his throne, and this is our context too. No matter what circumstances we face. Today, we can praise Jesus for being: “the one who is and who was and who is to come”, the one who sits on “his throne”, the “faithful witness”, the “firstborn of the dead”, and the “ruler of kings on earth”. Amen.


If you missed the weekend message, I’d encourage you to watch it online before continuing the Revelation study with us.

Jesus Above | STUDY Revelation 1:1-5a2019-07-30T17:16:58-06:00

The Good News of Judgment

“The word judgment carries negative overtones for a good many people in our liberal and postliberal world. We need to remind ourselves that throughout the Bible God’s coming judgment is a good thing, something to be celebrated, longed for, yearned over. It causes people to shout for joy and the trees of the field to clap their hands. In a world of systematic injustice, bullying, violence, arrogance, and oppression, the thought that there might come a day when the wicked are firmly put in their place and the poor and weak are given their due is the best news there can be. Faced with a world in rebellion, a world full of exploitation and wickedness, a good God must be a God of judgment.”

—N. T. Wright

The Good News of Judgment2017-05-24T00:00:00-06:00

Running on Empty

I hate running on the treadmill, but I do it. I do it because I live in Colorado and would rather run on the treadmill than in the snow. I wasn’t expecting to still be running inside on May 19, but so it goes.

I was all dressed for my run. I grabbed my iPad – because nothing is worse than running on a treadmill with nothing to occupy your mind. It makes a 4 mile run feel like a marathon. The occupied mind makes for energized (or distracted) legs. I opened my iPad and found out that the battery was drained. It wouldn’t even turn on. So, I grabbed my cord, plugged it in, and started to run.

A few mins later, my iPad turned on.

I thought I was good to go, but after a few minutes, it shut off – even though it was still plugged in. It turns out, the energy being used to run the iPad is greater than the energy going into the iPad through the charger.

So, I stared at the wall in my basement and I ran. And I thought. I thought about the way that my life feels a lot like that iPad. I operate under the assumption that I can refuel on the run. Some planes can do that. They’re met in the air by another plane bringing fuel and they don’t even have to stop, they just refuel while they’re flying. But my life doesn’t work that way. I’m guessing yours doesn’t either. We are more like my iPad than the plane.

We must stop to refuel.
Pause.
Cease.
Breathe.
Sabbath.

We all know experientially that we can’t refuel on the run – because the output is always greater than the input. That’s why Jesus was often seen early in the morning sneaking away to spend time his father. He knows that in order to love the people around him, he must first hear the overtures of love that flow from his father. It’s the same reason the Israelites practiced Sabbath. They took one day each week to stop. They stopped producing. They ceased from their work. They simply sat in the reality that the world continued to spin even when they stopped working. They stepped under the truth that they were loved even when they weren’t busy, or useful, or productive.

What a novel concept.

It’s not surprising that Jesus refers to the Sabbath as a a gift to be received, not command to be followed. “The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath.” (Mk 2:27) Because we need to recharge and it doesn’t happen when we’re in production mode. It doesn’t happen while we’re on the move. The output always eclipses the input. We need to stop.

I run for physical well-being, stress management, and personal sanity. But, I’m usually listening something or watching something while I run. Maybe my iPad’s lack of charge was a gift. Maybe today I needed to think. Maybe today I needed to be reminded that plugging in to recharge needs to be a priority in my life. It’s a priority that I’ve certainly neglected lately. How crazy; I’m too busy to fill my life up so that I have something to spill into the lives of those I love – my family, friends, and my faith community.

I’ve been running on empty. I’m grateful that the black screen reminded me today that my soul needs fuel – and I need to stop in order to give it.

Running on Empty2017-05-19T00:00:00-06:00

Easter. Who Cares?

Every year followers of Jesus gather to celebrate the resurrection. Churches circle this day on their calendar as “the day.” They hold it as one of the most important and significant days of the entire year. Some go so far as to say that Easter is the most important holiday on the Christian calendar.

Why?

I think that’s a fair question. Let’s assume that we believe that Jesus did rise from the dead over 2,000 years ago. I wrote here arguing that I believe the best evidence does point to a literal bodily resurrection. However, that in and of itself doesn’t make it important. There are a number of other people who claimed to have been risen from the dead – in fact, there are at least 10 resurrections recorded in the Bible. There are others who have written books about dying and coming back to life. But we don’t celebrate their resurrection with liturgy and pageantry on an annual basis. What makes the resurrection of Jesus different? Why should we care about this Galilean man walking out of the grave on that first Easter morning?

The Scriptures give several reasons Jesus’ resurrection changed everything:

1. Faith

While there have been a number of others who have been raised from the dead, there haven’t been any other people who have predicted that they would be crucified and then raised – and actually pulled it off (Mt. 16:21). The fact that Jesus was able to predict his own death and come through on his promise, puts his resurrection in a different category. The resurrection declares that Jesus is validated as the Son of God that he claimed to be. Now, we must accept his teaching as authoritative and binding.

The Apostle Paul reasoned about the implications of the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15:14, 19 writing, “14And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain… 19If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” If the resurrection didn’t happen, then our faith is in vain and we are to be pitied. On the contrary, if the resurrection did happen, our faith should be anchored in Jesus.

The resurrection makes the clear claim that it’s God’s design for us to have faith in Jesus. His teaching is validated. His way is vindicated. His life is victorious.

2. Firstfruits

The Scriptures use an interesting term when they discuss the Jesus’ bodily resurrection – ‘firstfruits.’ “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” (1 Corinthians 15:20) Firstfruits were the earliest crop of the year. It was the grain or wheat that sprouted and came to fruition before the rest. But, here’s the important part – it was the same type of that which was coming after it. The firstfruits weren’t a different kind of crop, they were simply the first of the type. After the rest of the crop had ripened, there would be a flood of the same kind of ‘fruit’ that followed.

When the Scriptures state that Jesus is the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep (died), they are claiming that those who are dead will one day be resurrected in the same way that Jesus was resurrected. He is the prototype or the first of a kind, but there are many to follow. And we will be just like him. With a body. On this (renewed) earth. Immortal.

The fact that Jesus is the firstfruits of resurrection reality and destiny, should breathe hope into the collective soul of humanity. John, one of Jesus’ disciples and good friends, drives the hope home for the early followers of Jesus by writing, “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.” (1 John 3:2-3) Notice what John was arguing. First, we shall be like him. Secondly, this should give us a renewed sense of hope. Because his resurrection changes everything.

3. Forgiveness

The anthem of the early church was not simply that Jesus rose from the dead accomplishing some crazy, other-worldly stunt. They believed that Jesus’ resurrection had done something for them. Once again, the Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:17, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.” If the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth never happened, then forgiveness is an unrealized hope. One of the most fundament human needs would remain unmet and unattainable.

However, if Christ has been raised, he has done so with forgiveness in his hand! Forgiveness is the deepest, truest, most life-altering reality. The great author, Ronald Rolheiser, accurately states, “The world contains only one thing that is truly novel, forgiveness. Everything else is an old tape repeating itself endlessly over and over again.” This forgiveness, the slate being wiped clean, is new… and it changes the way we live and move and have our being. John the Baptizer claimed that Jesus was the “lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Jesus was the God-man who, instead of killing his enemies, laid down his life for him. He walked out of the grave and into a new world. A world where sin had lost its grip on humanity. A world where death was no longer king. A world where guilt and shame no longer got the finally word.

A world swimming in forgiveness.

Jesus walked out of the grave only after purchasing forgiveness through the shedding of his blood. It is one of the central reasons Christians celebrate his resurrection. Unlike any other rising, he did so for us, and his resurrection was effective in securing forgiveness for all of humanity (1 Tim. 4:10).

Who cares about Jesus’ resurrection?

I do.

You should too. It changed everything. Your faith is not futile. Your destiny is sealed. Your sins are forgiven. All because Jesus went into the ground on Friday, and walked out of the grave on Sunday. That’s why we celebrate.

I invite you, join the anthem of the redeemed.

Easter. Who Cares?2017-04-14T00:00:00-06:00

John Wesley’s Self-Examination Quiz

JOHN WESLEY’S SELF-EXAMINATION QUIZ

John Wesley is one of the founders of the Methodist movement that began in the 18th century. Before Methodism was a denomination, it was a method. Imagine that. Wesley had a method he wanted his followers to embrace – a way for them to connect with God and follow Him. The questions below have their origin in the spiritual accountability group started by Wesley when he was a student at Oxford — a group that detractors called “The Holy Club.”

  1. Am I creating the impression that I am better than I realy am? In other words, am I a hypocrite?
  2. Do I confidentially pass on to others what has been said to me in confidence?
  3. Can I be trusted?
  4. Am I a slave to dress, friends, work or habits?
  5. Am I self-conscious, self-pitying, or self-justifying?
  6. Did the Bible live in me today?
  7. Do I give the Bible time to speak to me every day?
  8. Am I enjoying prayer?
  9. When did I last speak to someone else of my faith?
  10. Do I pray about the money I spend?
  11. Do I get to bed on time and get up on time?
  12. Do I disobey God in anything?
  13. Do I insist upon doing something about which my conscience is uneasy?
  14. Am I defeated in any part of my life?
  15. Am I jealous, impure, critical, irritable, touchy or distrustful?
  16. How do I spend my spare time?
  17. Am I proud?
  18. Do I thank God that I am not as other people, especially as the Pharisees who despised the tax collector?
  19. Is there anyone whom I fear, dislike, disown, criticize, hold resentment toward or disregard? What am I doing about it?
  20. Do I grumble or complain constantly?
  21. Is Christ real to me?

I’ve found that these questions are helpful as we seek to become disciples of Jesus. As you engage them, I pray your heart is stirred for him.

John Wesley’s Self-Examination Quiz2017-02-23T00:00:00-07:00

Year End Giving – 2016

December, 2016

Dear South Fellowship Church,

Merry Christmas to you and your family! It’s hard to believe another year is coming to a close. I find times of transition are a good chance to step back and reflect on the past year. As with any year, there were ups and downs; but we saw God’s good and gracious hand at work in it all. He has sustained us, he has grown us, and we give him all the glory and praise for the good things he has done. His mercy continues to be displayed in and through this church on a daily basis. I’m thankful for another year of living out gospel transformation, life giving community, and visible faith!

One of the words that epitomizes this past year for our church is ‘change.’ We’ve added three new staff members to our team in the past year and we promoted one person to a new position. Josh Billings came on board as Executive Pastor, Josh Suddath took over as Youth Pastor, Amy Palma joined our team as the Director of Kids Ministry, and Yvonne Biel took over as the director of Young Adult Ministry. God has brought us passionate, gifted, Jesus-loving people and it is a joy to work alongside them for the sake of the gospel!

In addition to the many roles that we have filled over the past year, we have continued to see God move in mighty ways – changing lives and drawing people to Jesus! Among other things, we have seen many people take the step of faith to be baptized, we have seen our Sunday attendance continue to increase, God has breathed new energy and passion into our kid’s ministry, and we hosted Perspectives and saw 42 South Fellowship attendees complete the course. In 2016 we began writing a daily devotional (The Daily) that follows along with our sermon series. We’ve seen hundreds of people engage with the content and use it as a way and we continue to see many people engaging our gospel-centered content online. Praise the Lord, for it is he who causes the growth!

This past year, South Fellowship continued its long tradition of being a blessing to the community. The Food Bank continues to operate at torrid pace, feeding 70-100 families in the community every week. The Early Learning Center and Solid Grounds are not only contributing financially to South Fellowship, they are also doing significant ministry. In addition, we continue to open our facility to over 70 outside groups and organizations on an annual basis. Our facility is truly viewed as a community center and we love it! The fact the building is used so much does mean there is regular maintenance and upgrades that need to take place. In the past year we were able to make facility upgrades to the kids wing; bringing it into the 21st century. We also are in the beginning stages of making some much needed improvements to the Student Center. Additionally, we just finished a sound system renovation in the sanctuary. We love having a space that is so usable for our church family and to those around us who need to hear the good news of Jesus.

If you’re a part of South Fellowship, I want to thank you for the ways you have given generously of yourself and your finances over this past year. As you consider organizations and ministries to contribute to at the end of this year, I would ask that you prayerfully consider a gift to South Fellowship Church. Your above-and-beyond gifts allow us to continue making improvements to our facilities as well as expanding the impact of our ministries. For your convenience we have included a response form highlighting different ways to give. Your year-end gifts need to be postmarked by December 31st in order to be counted on your 2016 taxes. In addition to partnering together financially, I’d like to encourage you to use the postcard included to invite someone to come to a Christmas Eve service with you. We are going to have a great night remembering the Christmas story and worshiping our God – who hears and comes to our rescue!

It is an absolute joy to be one of your pastors! Shepherding this church alongside our staff and elders is one of the great privileges of my life. If there is any way I can serve you, please don’t hesitate to reach out. I hope you and your family have a wonderful time celebrating the coming of The King – Jesus Christ!

Grace + Peace,

Pastor Ryan Paulson

Year End Giving – 20162019-02-09T12:20:46-07:00

Beyond Information to Encounter

Never has there been a time in history when so much Bible knowledge was available at our fingertips. The YouVersion app recently hit the 1,000 mark in terms of number of Bible translations, with over 700 languages available. Additionally, there are more commentaries accessible to the general population than ever before. If you want to understand something and are resourceful, you can find a way to learn it. As someone who has a hunger for knowledge, I’m grateful to live in the iPhone age. However, I think there are a number of dangers for us to be aware of as we navigate the every-expanding sea of information.

For those who follow the way of Jesus, one of the greatest threats that imposes itself against us is the temptation to substitute knowing about Jesus for actually knowing Jesus. We all know there is a difference between knowing someone and knowing about someone. In a day and age where we’re bombarded with information, we must be diligent about pursuing relationship and transformation rather than settling for information. Jesus addressed this same temptation in his interaction with the Pharisees. In John 5:39-40 he stated, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” The Scriptures have never been an end in and of themselves, they’ve always been an invitation to know Jesus intimately and to receive life from him in abundance.

How do we know Jesus intimately? There are three ways that as followers of Jesus that we can pursue relationship rather than settling for mere information.

  • Embrace obedience fully! It is impossible to know Jesus intimately without being obedient to his commands. Jesus made this point clear in John 14 when he said, “[21] Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” [22] Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, “Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?” [23] Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. [24] Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me.”There are a number of things to note in this passage. First, Jesus promised to ‘manifest himself’ to those who are obedient to his commandments. The word manifest carries with it the idea of making oneself known. Jesus claims that if we are obedient, he will make himself known to us. The implications of lack of obedience are evident as well. If we are unwilling to follow Jesus, we shouldn’t expect to know or see him.

    The second thing to note from the above passage is the fact that Jesus claims, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” There is a three-fold promise given. As we obey, we know the love of God, he comes to us, and he abides in us. These are all very intimate ways of knowing the Messiah and they all flow directly from being obedient.

  • Abide with Jesus intentionally. In John 15:4, Jesus commands his followers of abide in him. The word abide could easily be translated, “make your home in.” This is something that does not happen by accident. It happens as we cultivate a life that is constantly aware of the presence of God and in dialogue with him continually.Much of our ability to abide in Jesus has to do with our intentions. It has to do with our outlook on life. It has to do with the practices we embrace as part of our pursuit of Jesus. The Puritans used to talk about the things that ‘stirred their affections for Jesus.’  They wanted to pay attention what helped them remember the presence of God and what helped them fall more in love with their savior. They wanted become students of their own heart.For some people abiding means engaging the Daily Office and taking multiple times each day to read the scriptures and pray. For others it means going on a walk with the awareness that Jesus is present. For some, your affections for Jesus are stirred when you gather with good friends around a good meal. For others, you need daily time in silence and solitude. What helps you abide? Have you ever thought about that before? Maybe today you spend some time asking the question, “What helps me fall more in love with Jesus?” Then, make a plan to do it.
  • Encounter the Spirit personally. The Scriptures are clear, the Spirit of God dwells in you. Paul made this point in 1 Corinthaisn6:19 Paul wrote, “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own…” What a truth; the creator God who spoke everything into existence lives in YOU.If we are going to encounter God personally, we must be aware that he dwells by His Spirit inside of us. We must also become more aware of what he promises to do within us. This week, read through John 16 and make a note of the things Jesus promises Holy Spirit will do. Jesus claimed that it was better for him to go away so that Holy Spirit would come (John 16:3)! That’s pretty high praise from Jesus, do you know why Jesus felt this way? John 16 will help you see the reason for Jesus’ reasoning.

In the end, the difference between pursing information and encounter comes down to an approach. Certainly, these two approaches are not mutually exclusive, nor are they entirely separable. However, only one of them will be our driving motivation. Paul’s motivation was, ‘knowing Jesus!’ Let’s make it ours as well.

 

Beyond Information to Encounter2016-11-06T00:00:00-06:00

Don’t Grumble | Philippians 2:14-15

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we shine as lights in a wicked world … by not grumbling

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Do all things without grumbling or questions, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world. 

 

Jesus tells his followers to shine brightly like a light on a hill and a lamp on a stand so others can see the light of our good works and end up glorifying God (Matthew 5:14-16). Peter describes our new identity in Jesus as called us out of darkness and put into God’s marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9-10). In Philippians, Paul tells us we shine as lights in a wicked world, and one of the ways he urges us to do that is by not grumbling or questioning.

Oh dear. Does this mean we all fail?  After all, who doesn’t grumble or question once in a while? Does this mean those who are in Christ may never grumble? And what about Moses who often complained to God, or Psalmists or prophets who wrote detailed laments? Weren’t they grumbling or questioning? It sure seems that way but as with any passage we need to read it in context.

Paul’s language reflects the Old Testament. Like Israel, the Philippians were taken out of the old world and placed into the new. Like Israel, they were called to live in righteousness as lights to the world in order to display the radiant beauty of the one true God. However, there were times when Israel was reprimanded for having a rebellious heart. These were times Israel did not fear and tremble before God. Instead, they grumbled and questioned him. Unlike the complaints to the Lord from Moses, David, the prophets, and others, the rebels in Israel grumbled in defiance and questioned what God was doing (Ex. 15:24, 16:7-9; 1 Cor. 10:10). Their words and actions were of rebellion, not one of crying out to the Lord for help or wondering what he was doing. Their questioning was essentially a demand for God to do things their way.

Take a few moments today to reflect on your heart. When you grumble and ask God questions, do you end in a prayer of trust or do you end with clenched fists asking God to do things your way? Talk to God about why you answered the way you did.[/vc_column_text][us_separator height=”25px” size=”custom”][vc_column_text]

By Don Owsley

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Don’t Grumble | Philippians 2:14-152016-10-18T00:00:00-06:00

Joy is Happiness

sf-happy-final-instaYesterday I started a new teaching series on the book of Philippians. We are calling the series Happy: Embracing the Unshakable Joy of the Kingdom. I knew that I was going to see a few eyebrows raised when I told people the name of the series was Happy ­– and people didn’t disappoint! I grew up in the same Christian sub-culture that made the statement, “God doesn’t want you to be happy, he wants you to be holy.” That never seemed quite right to me. It seemed to be an unnecessary distinction. Why can’t we be both happy and holy… and shouldn’t getting closer to God (who is the happiest being in the universe) also make us happy? It didn’t seem like the heart of our Father to create us with such an innate desire that he didn’t intend to satisfy. Much of the rhetoric I heard suggested that we were supposed to ignore one of the main controlling desires of our life; the pursuit of happiness.

I know, I know… there’s a difference between joy and happiness. That’s another thing I was told and something I believed for a long time. The reasoning went something like this: God wants us to have joy, and he doesn’t care if we are happy. Joy is a conviction we can choose to have in the midst of any circumstance. Happiness, however, is a trite feeling that is completely dependent on your circumstances – it’s cheap. In essence, happiness is something we can feel that we aren’t supposed to want (even though we know we want it), and joy is something we’re supposed to have, but something we can’t feel and that may or may not actually impact our daily life.

There are two huge problems with that line of reasoning. First, if we claim that God doesn’t care if we are happy because happiness is dependent on our circumstances, we are essentially saying that salvation isn’t a circumstance. (Hint, here in lies one of the huge problems!) What lies subtly beneath the surface is the reality that we don’t believe the work of Jesus actually changes our lives. If we believed the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus actually did what the Scriptures say it does, we would view that as a circumstance! The reality that we have been born again, moved from death to life, transferred from the Kingdom of Darkness and placed into the Kingdom of Jesus IS A CIRCUMSTANCE! The Bible never suggests that it’s anything other than that. When we say, “Well, happiness is dependent on our circumstances, but joy is transcendent of our circumstances and God only wants us to have joy,” we are relaying our belief that we don’t really trust what the Scriptures say about our salvation.

The second issue is equally as troubling. The Scriptures never make the distinction between happiness and joy. It’s easiest to look at this in the New Testament. In the English Standard Version (ESV) of the Bible (which is a good word-for-word translation), the word joy is used 61 times. Most of the time it is a translation of the Greek word χαρᾶ (chara). In contrast, the ESV uses the word ‘happy’ or ‘happiness’ 0 times.

That’s right ZERO times.

We are left with two options. First, the New Testament never talks about happiness. If that’s the case, we would have to draw the conclusion that Jesus and his followers were either unhappy or unconcerned with happiness. I take issue with both. I’d argue that Jesus was the happiest person to ever walk the face of the earth. I would also assert that God is the happiest being in the universe. That being the case, it seems unlikely that happiness wouldn’t have been mentioned. The second option is that the Scriptures don’t see a difference between joy and happiness. Based on the evidence, I think this is far more likely!

The distinction between joy and happiness is actually fairly new. It’s an invention of the 20th Century and would have been foreign to followers of Jesus before the early 1900’s. Here’s the good news, GOD WANTS YOU TO BE HAPPY IN HIM! He designed you with the longing for happiness, every person who walks the face of the planet wants it, and he has made every provision for our happiness through the redemption and life that he offers!

That’s great news… you might even call it gospel!

An excellent resource on this topic is the book Happiness by Randy Alcorn.

 

 

Joy is Happiness2016-09-13T00:00:00-06:00

Will I Be Changed? My Voice In the Silence Day 28

I’ve been writing over the past few weeks about the lessons God is teaching me as I am silent (I have more to write in this area). The big question is, will these lessons stick? Will I be transformed when I can speak again? The answer is probably, no. Why do I feel that way? The answer to that and a proposition about what might change me is what I intend to ponder here.

Habits, Mind And Body

One thought comes back to me over and over again these three weeks. We are intensely physical creatures. Yes, we are more than that, but most of what makes or brakes us is that part of us that is inextricably physical. One of the signs of maturity is when a person learns this lesson and tends to their bodies with wisdom. Admittedly, this is NOT something I am good at. God has blessed me with a healthy body. As a result, I tend to neglect it and forget the significance it plays in my spiritual journey. Even as I write, I am emotionally saddened that this is the case. How much farther could I have advanced in my love of God if I had not neglected my body as a part of my journey?

Does this sound strange to you, this talk of the bodies role in the spiritual life? It would have sounded strange to me only a few years ago, and it would have seemed less crucial even four weeks ago. I’ve long known that the body played a part in my relationship with God from texts like 1 Corinthians 6:19. It says, “or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?” I’ve read passages like that and thought, don’t do drugs kids. I joke, but that is about how lightly I took the passage. The context of that passage is talking about sexual sin, so I guess I included that as a bad thing for the body too. Now I believe that how we train our bodies can be incredibly transformative, and I’ll explain why later but first I need to lay a stronger foundation.

My First Attempt

It may help, in a blog about transformation, for me to tell you my story of seeking transformation. I’ve gone through several stages with varying success. When I first started to try to grow as a Christian, I thought the way one did that was to be a good boy. Maybe I just hadn’t tried hard enough to stop sinning, and if I did, I would grow. I tried that theory for several years, but it only drove me to despair. It almost turned me away from God. I found myself over and over again at the side of my bed confessing my many sins, weeping over my weakness, and begging God for another chance. I made bold statements to God like, “I’ll never do that again.” Usually, I found myself praying that same prayer the next day.

The trouble with an effort to eliminate sin is that you tend to find more crimes than you know you were committing before you started trying. The pattern of commitment, failure, confession, and recommitment almost broke my spirit towards Christianity forever. If you have a picture of God getting disappointed in your performance as you struggle with sin, eventually you will begin to hide from him. That is what Adam and Eve did when they sinned in the garden, and that is what you will ultimately do if you choose this method of transformation. My consistent failure made it harder and harder to go to God and confess. I just knew he had to be getting disappointed in my weakness. I would even try to do a few good things before returning to prayer hoping that my good deeds would make it a bit easier for God to stomach the confession I had to make. If this is your view of God and the Christian life, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE know that you have missed the message of Jesus as I had. Even though I felt like this season almost broke me I now believe that the struggle was part of God’s gentle leading. The lyrics to one of my favorite songs tell this story beautifully.

I asked the Lord that I might grow
In faith, and love, and every grace;
Might more of His salvation know,
And seek, more earnestly, His face.

’Twas He who taught me thus to pray,
And He, I trust, has answered prayer!
But it has been in such a way,
As almost drove me to despair.

I hoped that in some favored hour,
At once He’d answer my request;
And by His love’s constraining pow’r,
Subdue my sins, and give me rest.

Instead of this, He made me feel
The hidden evils of my heart;
And let the angry pow’rs of hell
Assault my soul in every part.

Yea more, with His own hand He seemed
Intent to aggravate my woe;
Crossed all the fair designs I schemed,
Blasted my gourds, and laid me low.

Lord, why is this, I trembling cried,
Wilt thou pursue thy worm to death?
“’Tis in this way, the Lord replied,
I answer prayer for grace and faith.

These inward trials I employ,
From self, and pride, to set thee free;
And break thy schemes of earthly joy,
That thou may’st find thy all in Me.”

– John Newten

I remember a moment when my, “self and pride” was broken. I lay in my bed as a high school senior broken. I resolved that I would stop trying to fight for personal holiness. I remember the moment vividly. I told God, “I am not going to start trying to sin but I can’t do this fight anymore. I guess I’ll just be a failure, and you will have to deal with it.” I didn’t know it at the time, but I think that is what God wanted to hear from me. I now believe God’s response to me would have been something like, “finally! I’ve been trying to get you to understand that you can’t do this without me. I love you NOT because of how good you are; I love you because you are my son.”

My Second Attempt

(I didn’t intend this to become a testimony blog, but it all relates)

My first effort for transformation and subsequent failure was a crucial step in making the next step possible. Not long after that sense of giving up, I went to Bible College. Even after my sense of failure and my giving up I wanted to serve God. I had started to lead worship in my youth group a year before and found out I was pretty good at it. I was going to bible college so that I could check the, “I know my Bible” box off and become a worship leader/pastor. When I arrived at Bible college, I promptly forgot how to play guitar and how to sing. I am not joking. I can’t explain it to this day but all of the sudden it was as if I had lost any ability to play and sing. This left me with a new existential crisis. What would I do with my life? If I wasn’t going to be a worship leader, what would I do? I decided I would continue my studies as I figured it out.

One day I was studying the subject of grace for an assignment. I read a little note about grace that changed my life. I learned that the word grace meant favor. I then read in the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia this section in its entry on Grace: “But God’s favor differs from man’s in that it cannot be conceived of as inactive. A favorable “thought” of God’s about a man involves of necessity the reception of some blessing by that man, and “to look with favor” is one of the commonest Biblical paraphrases for “bestow a blessing.”

It may take a moment to consume that fully but take that moment. Grace is God’s favor but God’s favor demands that he act favorably towards those he has grace for. As I continued to study, I learned that grace was the power of God and the source of strength that God gives to his children to be transformed. Given my last attempt at transformation and the collapse of that attempt, I decided I needed this “grace” stuff. I then began to research how a person could get grace. That search led me to several texts, but I’ll highlight two. First was, “But he gives more grace. Therefore, it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6).” I quickly decided I couldn’t fabricate humility, so I kept searching. I then found Ephesians 2:8 which says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith.” This meant that grace came somehow through faith. Charles Spurgeon helped me greatly in his book All Of Grace. He says about the Ephesians passage that, “Grace is the powerful engine, and faith is the chain by which the carriage of the soul is attached to the great motive power.”

So now I knew that faith gave me access to this powerful grace that I so needed. The next question was how do I grow in faith so that I can get more grace? As a side note, I strongly recommend asking these kinds of questions and fighting for answers from God. I then started hunting for how I might find more faith. I was growing frustration that grace needed humility, humility needed faith, faith would need something else and the circle would go on forever. I then stumbled upon a text that is still exceedingly dear to me. Romans 5:1-2 says this, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.”

I remember to this day the feeling that swelled over me when I realized I was standing in grace. This powerful, most desirable substance of grace that I so longed for was something I was standing in all this time. Even as I write I am moved to tears of joy and gratitude. I can remember where I was sitting when this realization came over me. I pictured a little boy (me) standing in an ocean of grace looking to heaven asking God how I might get some grace. This realization was probably the most significant and “transformative” events of my life. I now realized that I had access to God’s grace at any given time NOT because of what I had or had not done but because I had been justified but Jesus. I don’t think this is when I was saved but it is when I learned that transformation was by grace through faith as well as salvation.

My Third Attempt

After that story, you may be wondering why I even have a 3rd attempt. The answer to that is I didn’t. After discovering grace, every other leap forward in transformation has been only a deeper plunge into that ocean of grace that I had found. I’ll shorten this section simply because I don’t have time to tell this entire story.

It was several (maybe 4) years later that I had another surprising discovery of about grace. I was then at Moody Bible Institute studying to become a preacher (remember I had given up on being a worship leader during my previous experience). I was serving at the Great Lakes Nave Base on the weekends with Campus Crusade Military Ministry (now CRU). The leader of the Bible study I was serving in there was named Nick. As I served alongside him spoke of the “gospel” regularly. The thing that made his voice significant to me was the way he lived. I had never seen someone (similar in age to me) live such God-glorifying life. He and his family were exemplary to me and as a result, I listened. What I couldn’t understand was why he spoke so much of the “gospel” and didn’t mention “grace” nearly as often. Over the course of 3 years in that ministry, he began to explain how grace was only one facet of the full good news (gospel) if Jesus. His pastor, Mike Bullmore described it well when he said the word “gospel” was like juice concentrate. Inside the word gospel was a thesaurus of other biblical ideas that included; grace, faith, adoption, sonship, justification, and on.

What I had discovered was that grace was just one of the terms that the Bible used to describe/articulate the gospel. The gospel is the life and work of Jesus Christ. Everything that Jesus taught lived, and accomplished for us = the gospel.

This truth opened the scriptures wider to me because I was then discovering my precious grace in more terms than just “grace.” This was also transformative. As a side note, the last section combined with this section of this post are why we believe in GOSPEL TRANSFORMATION at South Fellowship Church. 2 Corinthians 3:18 says it so well, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” In Ryan Paulson’s words, “as we see Jesus we are changed.”

My Fourth Attempt (why I won’t be changed)

(I’ll stop here)

Again, is there any reason to go beyond grace, the gospel, and Jesus in a conversation about transformation? The short answer is, no there isn’t. All other discussions about christian formation and growth must terminate with Jesus if they are valuable at all. With that said, Scripture is intensely practical when it comes to spiritual growth and transformation. If we are free from the burdens of Attempt 1 we are then also free to leverage more practical tools to grow in grace and therefore be changed. Up to this point, much of what I’ve talked about is very mental. I have spoken about several stages of my understanding of God, grace, faith, and the gospel. When will the beginning of this post come to play? I opened this blog with the statement, “we are intensely physical creatures.”

The fact of the matter is, I had strongly underestimated the role of the body in my spiritual journey. In God’s providence, I’ve found myself reading a series of books that have served as kindling for God to teach me more. God was giving me puzzle pieces as I read. He began to assemble the pieces during my silence. First let me just list some of the books that I am drawing thought from: Soul Keeping (John Ortberg), Change your Brain Change your life (Daniel G. Amen), Renovation Of The Heart and Spirit of the Disciplines (Dallas Willard), Eat This Book (Eugene Peterson)The Power of Habit (Charles Duhigg)Blink and Tipping Point (Malcolm Gladwell).

I was reading a book about spiritual formation and a book that addressed brain science right next to each other. It was unbelievable how well they lined up. Recollection of these books served me so well as I have processed my vocal situation. First of all, one notices the significance of the body more pointedly when their body gives out in one way or another. The body is a very significant part of who we are, and we must not neglect that knowledge. Dallas Willard describes the body as your power pack. “Imagine for a moment you had a will and a mind but no body (Dallas Willard in Soul keeping).” Your body is the means by which you enact our will. When one part of my body was limited, I felt limited.

Many of the lessons I am learning are about my misuse of my tongue. Many of my sins manifest themselves through my words. As I opened the blog I asked the question, “Will I be transformed when I can speak again?” I then said no. Why did I say that? I have been changed some but not as much as you might think. The fact is, many of the sins I commit with my words are habits of mind and body. As I’ve spoken a few words over the past few days, I’ve already caught myself saying things that were not helpful and sometimes even hurtful.

I broke my complete silence the day after the three-week mark. That first set of words I spoke were like a gateway drug for me. As soon as I spoke a little, I wanted to talk more. By the second day, I was speaking way too much without an official clear from the doctor. It was an old habit that I slid comfortably back in to. I also wanted to defend myself, make myself look good, seek praise, offer my opinion, and all the other things I’ve written about already. Those are habits of mind and body as much as they are reflections of my real heart. I have learned to associate the feeling of speech with a feeling of power and control. It is like a reflex now.

So is it hopeless? No, not at all. In fact, I think this season has given me tools to fight my sins of speech. You see, silence can be a spiritual discipline. Three weeks of intense silence, is far from a transformed life, but it can be a stepping stone. I intend to practice periods of silence again. Sometimes actual silence and other times the discipline of not defending myself for a day. Sometimes I may practice other creative methods to remind both my thinking and my body that I won’t explode if I don’t speak. You see, bringing the body into submission to the reality of grace and the gospel is the name of the game here. New patterns of life don’t come from a short burst of energy; they originate from a Long Obedience In the Same Direction (another great book by Eugene Peterson).

First, I learned that I didn’t need to work to earn favor from God. Now I free to work or train myself with no burdens of guilt. Again a Dallas Willard quote is fitting, “grace is not opposed to effort, it is opposed to earning.” Spiritual formation involves intentional training of the body to respond not from the will but habits of righteousness. A great book to flesh this out is Soul Keeping by John Ortberg. I wish I had time to keep writing, but this has gotten way to long.

Conclusion

Will this change me? I hope it already has to some degree, but if I am not intentional about retraining my body and mind to set aside sins of the lounge, I will not be changed much at all. Just like an athlete disciplines their body, so Christians are called to discipline their bodies. This is not at all a foreign concept to scripture. In fact, if you look closely, scripture is far more concrete than we often think it is.

Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. (Romans 6:12-14)

This kind of language is all over the bible. Paul often speaks of deep gospel truths but then anchors the implications of those facts right down to our physical world.

This is my attempt four at the spiritual transformation. I want to learn how to train my body to respond in obedience more naturally than it does today. Seriously, you must read up on this idea! I can’t do it justice here. With that, I’ll force myself to stop.

Will I Be Changed? My Voice In the Silence Day 282016-06-01T00:00:00-06:00
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