We Must Be a Broken People

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Our Church has been finishing up a five-part series. The last of which was on the

 

“perseverance of the saints”. This biblical idea basically means that though our salvation is secure, we as Christians will persevere in our faith until the end. We won’t throw our love for Christ aside, we won’t give Him up. Ultimately though, we recognize that God is the one at work within us, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.

Contemplating this concept is difficult for me. God clearly calls us to turn from our sins and always be repenting and turning back to Christ. This being the fruit and proof of salvation. And then there’s the other side: it’s ultimately God who’s doing the perseverance in and through us. It’s crazy to think about!

However mind-boggling God’s sovereignty is, He is teaching us much through our Wednesday night home-groups through our church. We talk in a group of 12-18 and

 

discuss the sermon from Sunday. We read through selected scriptures and open the floor for discussion. We eventually got on the topic of “how to recognize those who are persevering and those who are not”. Because, what sets good-works-salvation-bob apart from by-grace-through-faith-alone-Nolan? We externally do the same things, don’t we?

God led me back to a verse in Luke 18:10-14.

 

“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

This account is always a humbling reminder of what a broken heart before God looks like. It’s not flashy, it’s not proud or arrogant. It’s not perfect, It’s just broken.

We look at the pharisee and think he looks pretty good, by cultural standards. And the tax collector is pretty much the scum of the earth. At face value we could make a judgement call and say the Pharisee is “persevering”, but is he?

Jesus is getting deep here. The pharisee is pompous and arrogant before God, flaunting his spiritual “goodness” (aka filthy rags). He thanks God he’s not like other people. He thanks God He’s not like “those” people. He’s literally placing his good works on a false scale. This made up scale places the Pharisee as creator, the “other people” as the measured standard, and rigs it to go in his favor. He tries to “trick” God into thinking he’s good.

The contrast is this lowly tax collector. By societal standards, a thief, a swindler. The scum of the earth. But his prayer sounds much different. “be merciful to me, a sinner!” He recognized his sinfulness before God. He realized that he deserved nothing other than condemnation. And he physically expressed it by beating his chest is anguish over his separation from God. Naturally from the outside you’d think “this guys screwed up!” and he certainly was. But there’s a difference between these two screw-ups.

One was broken. One was not.

We have this idea in the Church that if we show our brokenness we will be shunned. And this should never be the case. This ‘scum of the earth’ Jesus was referring to was not scum to Him. But rather this man was the one who was saved in the end. Not the one who “looked good”.

“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” – Psalm 51:17

An arrogant, thinks-they’re-put-together-person is not persevering in Christ. They are persevering by themselves.

A broken, contrite heart recognizes their own flaws. They turn to Christ for forgiveness and reveal themselves to be the truly persevering. And what does the latter example have that the former doesn’t? The Holy Spirit himself.

As a Church we must be a broken people. We must. Without brokenness and vulnerability what do we have? White-washed tombs and people not getting the spiritual nourishment they desperately need. We must be broken before we can be healed.

When God Becomes our Satisfaction

My heart hasn’t had much of a desire for God and His word for a while now. Many days I would only pray that God would help me to want Him at all.

It’s a strange type of faith when you wake up in the morning, hoping that your spark of joy in Christ will be ignited. It’s almost like the joy is laying dormant, not necessarily gone altogether.

I don’t know if anyone has experienced this in their walk with Jesus, but it can be very discouraging. Wondering if there’s something wrong with you, wondering if God has abandoned you, wondering if your different sin struggles could have caused this.

As I wrestled with drawing near to God, i knew already that I was the one who moved. I’m the sinner, I’m the law-breaker, God didn’t become less amazing in the past few months, my own fallen self just wasn’t appreciating his Glory.

Something has changed in the last few weeks though. As I wrestled with some personal struggles, God used a combination of a music artist, a preacher, and His Word to grab hold of my heart.

He read from Jeremiah 2:13:

 

“for my people have committed two evils:
they have forsaken me,
    the fountain of living waters,
and hewed out cisterns for themselves,
    broken cisterns that can hold no water.”

We expect Jeremiah to give a laundry list of all the things they didn’t do right, all the things they need to work on, but instead we see something different. God says they have only committed two evils, they forsook God, and made cisterns of water that couldn’t hold any water.

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God’s using this powerful imagery to show them who the ultimate satisfaction is. The cisterns of false gods, food, money, power, sex, recognition, etc. were all cisterns that didn’t hold any water. In essence, even in the Old Testament we see God’s leading us to the heart of the issue: God and God alone can satisfy the deepest longings in our hearts. We can try to make relationships, money, and anything into a pseudo “cistern” but when we pour our satisfaction into it, it goes right through the bottom onto the floor. Left emptier than before.

And this has been my problem. As I’ve started my business, Iv’e felt a deep longing for financial stability, for recognition as a “business owner”, to have more freedom in my life. Though these can be good things, they’d slowly evolved into things I’d become obsessed with.

As my insecurity grew, and my idolatry turned to other things, I found myself medicating my idolatry with more idolatry, a broken cistern smashed into another. Many of us understand this vicious cycle, whether struggles with lust medicated with more lust, or desire for money medicated with visions of future financial success, or even personal insecurity turning to athletic races to gain self-worth.

All these things are worthless. They don’t satisfy. There are many more sins that I struggle with, but they’re all born of these two sins found in Jeremiah 2.

We forsake God. Whenever I want something more than Jesus, it’s an idol. Whenever I place my whole life into something other than Jesus, I become an idolater.

And God designed us this way, we were created for Him, we were created to enjoy Him above all things, and when we realize that nothing else satisfies our souls like pursuing and loving Jesus, we then find balance in the rest of our lives.

I’m slowly learning this on an upward climb to joy. I’m beginning to grasp it in little ways: being freed from worrying about clients because Jesus has purchased my eternal security on the cross, being freed of lust because God is far more beautiful than anything else in this created world, being freed of self-doubt, because God has my steps in His hands and has created me in His perfect purpose to accomplish His ultimate will.

These are only a few examples, and i haven’t lived them out perfectly, but God is working on my heart!

 

Writing a More Effective Blog

I’m finding that as I write more, the more I realize how easy it is to just write about anything and everything and forget the purpose of this blog. Namely to help people pursue Jesus better, to have better theology, and to have better marriages as a result.

So I’ve finally figured out some general categories that i will be starting to post in:

      1. Life’s Pursuit

Life’s Pursuit will be a retelling of the past week (or month) of my life and what God has been teaching me through it. It will be filled with struggles, great times, ministry updates, work updates, etc. Why call it “Life’s Pursuit”? Well, because the Christian life isn’t just lived two hours on Sunday. It’s pursuing Jesus in the midst of all of life.

    2. Marriage

There’s no catchy name for this category of post. Just like it sounds, marriage! It could be what I’m learning in marriage, or something iv’e learned and want to pass to my two readers. Whether how to handle money together, or how not to say things, it will be a fun time writing!

3. Theology 

Having good Theology is something I’m very passionate about. As the great Dr. James White has coined “Theology matters”. And this is why I love writing about it, it effects every area of our lives. Our marriages, how we view God, how we view nature, how we view ethics, etc. Theology touches every single person on this planet because like Romans 1 says, they suppress the truth in unrighteousness. So theology tells us about literally everything.


Anyhow, this is how I’m going to segment each post each week. Keep a lookout!

The Plan For a New Beginning

I mentioned in my last post that I had a business idea in the making. One week in and it’s very much on it’s way!

I decided to pursue landscaping as a startup business idea. The whole purpose is to give me something physical to do, while also creating some better income and freedom to do more things that i love. I’m hoping this will help to enable us to be more flexible in serving at our church, doing more of what we love together (music, serving, etc) and it will (if it goes as planned) replace and provide a greater income than present.field-175959_1920.jpg

I’ve always loved the idea of entrepreneurship but never had the guts to cast off my fear and pursue a career “on my own”. But now, it’s pretty official. My bosses know, my church knows, my friends know, and I’ve posted publicly on  Facebook. So essentially I’ve given myself no wiggle room for not doing this. It’s gonna happen.

So, you say, what’s the plan?

My first goal is complete. Be open with my intentions and start moving forward. Done.

My second goal is to create a one-page business plan of what I will offer, how much to charge, and what investments need to be made. That is finished.

My third goal is to purchase the equipment and launch my internet presence. Also, I’m doing some free work to provide me with some positive feedback for the online presence. There’s virtually no landscape company in my area that’s capitalizing on this. This is what I’m doing right now. I’m purchasing the mower today and many of the hand tools needed. I will also hopefully have a job on Monday for some leaf blowing and hedge trimming!

The fourth and final goal is to get the physical name out. I’ll purchase shirts, business cards, flyers, lawn signs, car magnets and start hustling like a mad man to get quotes and get working on mondays, saturday mornings, and evenings.

Iv’e calculated i need 15 hours of work per week to replace my current income. I’m hoping and praying that God will provide the work quickly so it’s not a long dragged out ordeal. But I’m trying to trust in His timing.

Anyways, i have to go get that mower and a whole lot of other stuff!

Subduing My Little Piece of Ground

This past Monday (my day off) was spent by myself for the first half of the day. My wife was at work so I decided to finally mow my front yard and clean up some of the landscaping.

As someone who tries to see the spiritual aspects of all of life (something that Adventures in Odyssey taught me!) working to make my yard and flower beds look nice kind of reminded me of God’s command to subdue the earth in Genesis.

I think this is where many people (both men and women) get their drive to build, create, restore and rebuild. We have it wired into our very beings. Ultimately we will never restore our little piece of dirt to it’s former pre-sin glory, but we desire to try to subdue it as best we can.

And that was what I did last Monday.

Pictured, I have some before and after photos.

There was something immensely gratifying about getting my hands dirty while listening to great music. It really is such a beautiful metaphor of God’s work in us.Daily Re-dedication.jpg

The Holy Spirit’s work in us isn’t a one time thing. We can’t just mow the lawn of our souls once. It’s a constant trimming back, revitalizing, and convicting of our hearts. And it takes work.

Grass starts looking like weeds when it sits stagnant for a time. Flower beds get overrun, leaves pile up. The sin in our lives is the same way. When you’re not fighting it, it’s growing back.

Fighting sin is messy. Your hands will get dirty and your soul will grow tired, but we must go back to God’s word and to prayer to reconnect with our Lord to regain our strength again every morning.

And it’s not an easy task. God calls us to die to ourselves. Take up our crosses. Go make disciples of all nations. The only way we can do this is by the simple daily act of committing ourselves to God’s will as shown in the Bible. And though cutting grass and putting down brown bedding may be trivial in of itself, God can still use something simple to show us a small glimpse into one way He works in our lives.

Because, just like up-keeping a home, cutting grass, and washing dishes, keeping our souls requires daily re-dedication. Daily reviving. Daily dying.

 

A Radical Response To the Gospel

As I was studying to teach the 7th and 8th grade lesson on Acts 19, I was struck with the Ephesian people’s response to a horrifying discovery: Their pagan magicians could not contend with the power of Jesus.

The sons of Sceva (the pagan magicians) were meddling in places they shouldn’t have been meddling. They saw all the wonders that Paul was saying and doing in Ephesus, and thought that all they needed to do was invoke the name of Jesus, and maybe they too would be able to command demons and heal the sick.

In verse 13 they try to command a demon, but what happened to them would horrify anyone who found their hope in pagan worship. The demon literally said “Jesus I know, Paul I recognize, but who are you?” and proceeded to beat them and strip them and send them running.

So now the high and mighty sons of sceva were brought low by the power of satan. And all the people finally understood – these men do NOT have the answers.

Though i’m taking some liberty, i can imagine the people were comparing the two people – Paul and the disciples vs. the sons of Sceva. The two don’t even compare! One can command demons and heal the sick in Jesus’ name, and the other? Well, they get beat to a pulp for even trying. Based on the response of the Ephesians, I can imagine they listened to what Paul was preaching and many of them believed.

The power of the gospel is greater than we realize. The transformative power in the hearts of people as a result of the gospel is apparent in this passage. They ended up burning 50,000 pieces of silver’s worth of pagan books! That’s right around $5,000,000 worth of idolatry.

That’s the equivalent to:

  • 185 Ford 2018 F-150 Trucks
  • 12,500 GoPro Hero 5 Blacks
  • or, 6,501 iPhone 7 Plus’s

As Christ said, “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”. I think the Ephesian people who believed the Gospel were beginning an act of repentance in burning this paganism out of their lives.

This echoed in the ears of the silversmiths, who crafted the idols. They would lose their livelihood, so what did they do? Well, they were going to lose their pride and money, so they rioted and chanted godless things. Sound familiar?

All this to say, a radical gospel changes people radically. You can’t have one foot in the world and one foot in holiness. You’re either being swept away in sin’s current, or your swimming against it in the Spirit’s power.

Do I have that ‘crazy’, ‘foolish’, ‘radicalized’ faith that the world looks down upon? Am i friends with the world? Or have i renounced my pagan practices (or maybe, addiction to money, entertainment, etc.) and allowed God to burn them out of my life?

The Bible makes clear that true disciples of Jesus make disciples, and look radically different from the world. Is this true of us?

I Don’t Have The Right to Say Who I Am

The scariest question sometimes is “Who are you?”.

The reason this scares me is that my mind immediately leaps to what I do. I like ministry, I like fixing cars, i like being a husband (not necessarily in that order!).

But that doesn’t answer the question. It only shines light on what i like doing in my life, not who I am as a person.

The world seems to further this way of thinking. cadiz-189297_1920.jpgColleges tell us that we need to pick a career and then we inadvertently align our life’s meaning with that work. This creates a connection between who we are and what we do that doesn’t seem to get challenged much by the culture, even in the Church.

It becomes, “Nolan the Mechanic” rather than “Nolan, who does automotive side work”. One defines me as my vocation, the other separates the two.

This has been a challenging new way of thinking because I’ve always subconsciously aligned my identity with my day-to-day activities. If work goes rough, I feel down, if speaking at youth group went rough, I beat myself up.

But this isn’t how God wants us to live. He wants us to find our identity only in Him!

The only way to break the mold is to recognize that the only person or thing that has the jurisdiction to tell me what meaning i have is God Himself. A job can’t ascribe meaning, it didn’t create us! A family can’t ascribe meaning, they’re fallen sinners! Only the one who created us can tell us who we are.

And if we’re in Christ, we are “New creations” , “transferred into the kingdom of his
beloved son”
, “children of God”, “chosen, royal, holy”.

And as much as my heart argues and tries to find my identity in my job or my life circumstances, God reminds me that only He has the right to tell me who I am. I don’t have that right.

Just a little something God reminded me of today.