Wednesday, February 23, 2011

God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him

Yay for Wednesday! I love Wednesdays because it’s the middle of the work week and we meet with our small group from church for bible study. Patrick and I started to attend The Church at Brook Hills in the fall of 2009. We’d been visiting different churches together trying to find one that both of us liked and wanted join permanently. I was finishing my senior year at Ole Miss while Patrick was finishing his second degree at Auburn. Therefore, we could only visit a couple weekends per month throughout 2009. The pastor, David Platt, is an amazing teacher and gifted speaker! He’s smart, driven, incredibly knowledgeable of the Bible, and has the greatest, deepest passion for God than anyone I’ve ever seen or heard preach.

If you want to check out the church and what we’re learning go here If you want to know more about David, including his recent book called “Radical” you can check here

Once we both graduated and got settled here, we felt it was time to become members of Brook Hills and join its faith family. We got engaged in August while we were going through the membership process. Shortly after that, we started going to a small group that met on Wednesday nights at the church intended for engaged and newlywed couples. Its topic was on marriage and led by a sweet older couple who could teach all of us what was in the Word using real-life experiences as examples. It was great! Patrick and I felt, once again, that’d we had found a place and group that we wanted to be a part of. It was also helpful in preparing us for marriage, in addition to the pre-marital counseling we were doing at the church where we were to be married. We had been longing to meet other couples who were in their twenties and going through the same season of life we were- to be able to support and encourage each other, study God’s Word together, have fun and hangout with each other, find areas of service to volunteer together. The marriage study ended after the holidays, but we all decided to keep meeting and start our own study. It was wonderful to have all of them attend our wedding in November! Two of the couples were newlyweds when we started meeting, now we’re married, and the other two couples are engaged! So we’ve recently started going through The Blazing Center study by John Piper based on his book “Desiring God.” I’ve only read a few chapters of the book, but I’d like to eventually read all of it. It was recommended to me by my discipler in college.

You can check out his website here

The Blazing Center is a 10-week dvd series and study guide. Its primary message is that God should be the center of our lives. When He’s not, then every other aspect of our life is out of balance. If He is our first priority- at the center of our day, the center of our marriage, the center of our heart, soul, and mind- then everything else will fall into place. Also, he teaches that God is most glorified when we are most satisfied in Him. These two things don’t have to be at odds the way most of us assume that they are. My happiness doesn’t have to be sacrificed in order to obey and glorify God. My joy and God’s glory don’t have to be at odds if God is my greatest joy and source of satisfaction in life (he calls this Christian Hedonism). 

Besides the study, what I also love about our weekly Wednesday meeting is that we rotate whose house it’s held at and the host couple cooks dinner for everyone. We both love food and love to cook so we enjoy it! It’s nice to get off work, share a meal with friends, then spend a couple of hours discussing the material, and finally end the night with 45 min or so (depending on what’s going on in our lives that week) discussing our struggles and praying for one another. The guys and girls separate into different rooms and talk about the hardships, blessings, tough decisions, desires and temptations, just about anything you can think of, with each other then we all pray for each other and lift the requests up to God. This is where it gets really good! The fellowship before is nice, but this is where the concept of the church gets put into action. The church is meant to be a body of believers coming together to worship God and love one another, spurring each other on to do good and be a source of support (Unfortunately, this isn't always what the church looks like, especially today. But it's not perfect because people aren't perfect and the church is made up of people). We are able to share our burdens and blessings with each other- the good and bad news- then offer advice, support and encouragement. We are able to confess our sins and temptations to each other so that we’re not overwhelmed by them or hiding in secrecy. By sharing them, we’re able to feel like we’re not alone in these struggles and we have a sense of accountability to keep fighting against them. There’s no judgment for our weaknesses, for we all have them and know the forgiveness of God washes us clean as snow. Then, we pray for one another. (Every person picks another person and prays for them specifically. This is a great strategy actually because everyone gets the chance to pray and we're not always praying for the same person. At first this made me nervous because I'm not a good speaker. Don't get me wrong, i'm always thinking something and can seem to put it into words through writing pretty well, but it doesn't come so easy to me to speak it. But over the past few weeks, i'm thankful i've gotten to practice praying out loud in front of others. I'm improving! That, and I get practice with my husband who has been encouraging me to pray half of the time over our meals ever since we got married.)

Have you ever had someone pray for you or over you out loud? It’s unlike any other feeling.. I don’t know what to compare it to. Someone may say they’re going to pray for you and that offers you some comfort, but you don’t know if and when they really do or what they say. But to be in person and hear another praying for your struggles and bringing a request to God on your behalf is so comforting. It’s like receiving a big, warm hug from your mom or dad when you’re a little kid and they say “It’s going to be alright.” It’s also a wonderful feeling to pray for someone else. It takes your mind and focus off of just you and what you’re going through. You’re reminded of how big the world is and how other people are going through similar or greater struggles. It’s also been amazing to see over the weeks how many prayers are answered! When you’ve participated in someone else’s prayer request unfolding, you feel like you really did something truly helpful and meaningful. As it says in the Bible, when two or more people come together in prayer and worship, God’s presence is there. I've definitely felt God's presence in the room with us and the time with these girls has become something I look forward to every week. We’ve seen many prayers already answered and it’s so cool to see God working in other peoples’ lives, not just our own (or when you feel like He isn’t and you need to see the evidence that He’s still there and in control and cares about all of us).

Anyway, if you want to find out more about The Blazing Center study, you can here Happy Wednesday everyone!

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Gospel

The gospel is simply this- That just as one man, Adam, brought sin into the world, also one man, Jesus Christ, saved the world from sin and opened the door for all people to be reconciled to God- the father of man- through his death and resurrection. God loved the world and people so much that he sacrificed the life of his only Son for us. He did this so that we could be saved from a life separated from him for forever. Because we are born into sin, we are deserving of death. For the penalty of sin is death. As our creator and the Lord of all things, God would be justified in allowing us to die for our sins that we commit throughout our lifetime and leave us separated from him for eternity. Yet because of his strong, deep love for us, he doesn't want us to suffer that fate and pay that penalty. Thus, he decided to put his Son in our place. He sent his Son- who was made in his image- to the earth to live the perfect, sinless life that we cannot. By Christ's life and death, our sins are atoned for. On the cross, Christ bore all of our sins- the ones we've committed and every one we will commit- of all people who accept him and believe in him. He paid the penalty for our every sin, which is death, so that we are rescued and pardoned from having to pay it ourselves. God looked on his son, who was innocent and blameless, and accepted his death- his sacrifice of life in our place- so that his judgement on evil and wrongdoing might be justified, yet we might also be reconciled to him for forever. Now, for those who believe that God did this and accept Jesus Christ as their savior, there is no more condemnation for their sin and they are saved from an eternity without a relationship with God- which is hell. Now, when God looks at us, he sees the righteousness of Christ because it was he who took our place and now we are a new creation.

When we confess that we are a sinner and that Jesus is our savior, God sends his Spirit- the Holy Spirit- to live inside us. Now we can have a relationship with him that includes the ability to converse with him (through prayer) and feel his presence and experience his blessings (undeserved gifts). As a new creation, we don't have to feel guilt anymore for our sin or fear of death. Because we're still living in the flesh, we will sin. But if we confess our sins to God then he forgives us and will help us stop. For he wants us to become more like Christ- a better person who doesn't do wrong. And we will start to desire this, for the Spirit living in us will convict us when we sin and are doing something that displeases God. He will give us the desire and ability to overcome the temptation to sin. Once God has started this good work in you, he will carry it on until it's complete. We don't have to try to follow the law (God's terms of how you should live) in order to be saved (this would be legalism). Because we can't follow it and achieve his standard despite our best efforts and good intentions. We all fall short of his standard of how we should live. Not one person is perfect. Only Jesus was.

The law is there (given from God through Moses for all to know in his Word- the Bible) to make us aware of our sin and how much we need Christ. We can't do anything to earn our salvation from God. Only through faith in Christ can we be saved. And it is by grace, for we don't deserve the sacrifice that God made. It is a gift that we have a choice to receive or not. We can't be saved because of anything good we have done, nor can we lose our salvation because of anything bad we have done. God wants us all- every person from every tribe, nation and background- to know him and receive this gift. It's not limited to anyone for we are all equal in his sight. He loves everyone- believers and unbelievers- because we are all his creation. There's nothing so wrong we could've done that will change or decrease his love for us. Even in our past, in sin, in turning away from him, He still always loves us and wants to know us. He wants to have a relationship with you and be part of your daily life- every aspect of it. He has compassion for you and wants to bring you comfort, joy, and peace. For he knows everything about you. Everything that you've done and that's been done to you. He knew you before you were born and he knows you better than you know yourself for he created you. He loves you more than sometimes you even love yourself. He has watched you and loved you even when you didn't know him. Your sadness causes him sadness, like a child hurting hurts the parent. He knows that all of our sins hurt each other and He wants to heal us from that hurt and restore those wounds. He wants to free us from the bondage that sins imprisons us in. For he has good plans for you- he wants to give you hope and a good future. He doesn't want you to live in misery, fear, loneliness or hopelessness.

He alone knows what you need and what is best for you. He can fill the emptiness in your heart that's been there since you were born. We try our whole life to fill this emptiness with other things or love from other people, when it's there because he created it and only he can fill it. He can calm you in times of trouble, give you guidance when you're lost and confused, satisfy your deepest and strongest desire which is to be loved unconditionally and unfailingly. And he's already proved his love for you through the sacrifice of his Son. He has bought you at a price- a high price. Not because of anything you did- good or bad- but because of his loving kindness and mercy, for his glory. His glory is to be made known among all people. Therefore, we must turn away from every sin and wrong thing. We should live a life that's worthy of this love and forgiveness. Through his Spirit, he'll show you what is right and wrong and help you do differently. He'll transform how you think and feel and act to be more in accordance with his will for you. When you fail- as we all continue to do- don't be overcome by grief and guilt. For there's now no condemnation for those who believe in Christ. Once you've been saved, you can't be unsaved. These thoughts are lies from the enemy. He doesn't want you to know God or surrender your life to him. He wants you to keep doing wrong and certainly not share with others the knowledge of and love of God. He loves evil and is the father of lies. Guilt and doubt are his weapons against believers. For he wants everyone to choose to deny God and not receive his gracious gift of salvation.

The enemy knows that he can't steal your salvation from you, so he'll try to keep you from acting on it and living the life God wants you to have- that Christ died for you to have. He'll rob you of joy and peace and satisfaction. He'll deceive you with lies, trying to keep you trapped in the habit of sin by telling you that they will bring you happiness. Yet sin offers only temporary happiness, but ultimately it results in lasting destruction. Then he'll make you feel guilty and miserable for this sin that he led you to commit. He'll tell you that you're not good enough for God or worthy of his love and that you'll never change. But God knows the truth, which can be found in his word, and the truth will set you free from the weight of this sin and the enemy's attacks. Instead of running or hiding from God in your sin, run to him and confess what you've done, admitting it's wrong, and thank him for the forgiveness then turn from that sin. Then you can keep going in the joy and peace that God's grace brings you.

Conviction of your sin by the Spirit should simply lead you to God, drawing closer to him and reminding you of your need for Christ. On the other hand, guilt from the enemy that continues to stay with you and keep you from God leads you further from him and down a path of destruction, deeper into misery. Don't accept the lie that God wants you to deny yourself and stop doing wrong because he wants you to be bored or unhappy in this life. He only asks us to do things because he loves us and knows what's best for us, like a parent. He knows that ultimately your obedience to him will result in your happiness. And he won't ask you to do anything that you can't do, through his strength and grace. He can see the bigger picture that we can't. He is omnicient- knowing everything there is to know. His ways and thoughts are higher than our ways and thoughts. He has all-surpassing knowledge and wisdom. Therefore, we have no reason not to trust him with our very life and in everything that we do, even thought we don't understand his ways or understand him completely. We never will nor should we try to, for the creator should know more than it's creation and have authority over it. His authority over us is a good thing for he is Lord- Lord and King over our lives and all the earth and all the universe. He knows what is best and surrendering to his authority brings us safety, joy, and peace. We are fortunate that he even created us and wants to be in relationship with his creation.

Once you know of this wonderful information- this good news that is the gospel- you want to and must share it with others. For everyone is hurting in this fallen world where there is tragedy and death as the result of sin. But you know of the love that can make their life better; That gives them a reason for living and pushing on despite the bad circumstances they're in and the trouble they've been through. So many people are lost, hurt and alone. The love of Christ can change their life and make it better, as it has yours and mine. For it is constant. It can never be taken away from us no matter what else is lost. In this life, nothing is lasting. Things are always changing. Death, pain and trouble are a guarantee. People can't be trusted or always relied upon, even the ones we love most. But God, who is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow, will never change. He existed before the world did and always will exist. He loved us before we were born and always will. He will never fail or abandon us because he is God- he is perfect, unlike humans, he is without sin or the ability to do wrong. He is love.

He sees the evil in this world and it makes him weep. But he knows that he can turn any evil thing, any bad situation, into good. He can take what the enemy does and means for harm and turn it into a positive result, for he is powerful and in control of all things. He doesn't cause bad things to happen to anyone, but he can allow them to happen so that eventually something good is accomplished and he is victorious over evil. For this brings him glory (allows the opportunity for other people to know him). We, as his children, will one day get to take part in this victory over sin and death. For God has already won the ultimate battle against evil through the death and resurrection of Christ. For Jesus is with him now in Heaven and through him many people will come to know God and confess that he is Lord. When we are joined with him in heaven one day there will be no sin, no pain, no death, no disease or tears. God can use the pain that we go through on earth though to bring others to him. For we all can relate to each other in feeling pain at one point or another in our life- whether that's because of something we did and are experiencing the consequences of or because of something that someone else did that's affecting us. If we let him heal us from it, allowing him to be our strength and hope, and show mercy to one another by forgiving each other of sins, then he will be glorified. In the midst of our struggle, people will see his presence and spirit at work in our lives. This advances his kingdom which results in his glory and victory. And we will get to take part in it, triumphing over sin. So it is through our sufferings on earth that we are able to share in Christ's suffering on the cross and reveal him to others that see how we live. This is what we are all here for. Our purpose and source of joy in life is to know God, believe in Him, share him with others, and glorify Him, then be joined with him for eternity in Heaven.

See these truths in his Word:

John chapter 3: verses 3-21, 1:1-5, 1:9-14, 5:24, 6:35-40, 8:34-36, 10:7-18, 12:44-50, 13:12-17, 14:1-7, 14:15-21, 16:33
Romans 3:10-31, 5-6, 8, 12
Ephesians 1:3-14, 2:1-10, 4:1-6, 5:1-20
2 Corinthians 1:3-7, 4:16- 5:10, 5:16-21, 7:1
Galatians 2:15-21, 3:23- 29, 5:1, 5:13-25
Philippians 3:7-14, 4:4-9, 4:12-13
Colossians 1:15-23, 2:9-15, 3:1-17
2 Thessalonians 1:5-12
Hebrews 1:10-12, 2:10-18, 4:12-16, 8:12, 9:15, 9:27-28, 11:1-3, 12:4-11
James 1:2-4, 1:12-18, 2:14-17, 4:1-10
1 Peter 1:3-9, 2:1-3, 4:1-6, 4:12-19
1 John 1:5-10, 2:15-17, 3:1-10, 3:16, 4:13-21, 5:1-12
Isaiah 61