For Crying Out Loud

I just learned this week the euphemism for “For Christ’s Sake!” is “For Crying Out Loud!”  I have said “for crying out loud” many times in my desperation and exasperation, but had no idea I was invoking the name, power, and expectations of my Lord and Savior.  It caused me to think about those who consciously called on the Name of the Lord and were saved.  My first thought was of David the shepherd boy who would be King of Israel.
 
As a tender of sheep, David cried unto God to save him and his family’s welfare from marauding lions.  David, the young warrior, would invoke his Savior’s name to defeat giants.  As the spiritual, military, and political leader of Israel, he cried out loud the name of the Most High to overcome evil enemy kings. (Pause for Thought:  “I cry out to God Most High, To God, who vindicates me.  He sends from Heaven and saves me, rebuking those who hotly pursue me—God sends forth His love and His faithfulness.”  Psalms 57:2-3.  David wrote this as King Saul pursued his life into a cave.  David had this sung to a tune called, “Do Not Destroy”.  Have you ever cried out loud to God, “Lord Save Me!”?  If so what was the result?  Why don’t people call on the name of the Lord in their initial distress?)
 
Based on the many times David cried out to God for salvation, and based on the different Hebrew words used for “cry out”, David was vocal in his pleas—some were murmurs and some were shrieks from terror. (Pause for Thought:  “In my distress, I called upon the Lord, and cried out (shava=high pitched shout for help) to my God; He heard my voice from His temple, and my cry (shava) came before Him, even to His ears.”  Psalm 18:6; “The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their cry (shava).”  Psalm 34:15.  Why does a vocal response to our danger invoke such power from God?  Have you been vocal in your distress in front of your children?  Who or what have you called upon to save you?)
 
I’ve read and heard how the name of Jesus has stopped gunmen in their tracks, stalled the motors of machinery poised to do damage, and even thwarted kidnappers and carjackers.  David is proof of how a life lived consciously in the presence of our Lord and Savior can manifest that presence by crying out loud for rescue.  Unfortunately for David, he did not pass this beautiful truth and skill on to his daughter, Tamar.  (Pause for Thought:  Read II Samuel 13:1-22.  During her pleading with Amnon, why, do you suppose, Tamar didn’t voice out a cry for help to God?  Based on what we know concerning David’s crying out, what could have been the results of Tamar’s crying out to God?)
 
As parents, we tell our children, “I’ll always be there for you” and, “I’ll never let anything happen to you” all in front of a backdrop of Stranger-Danger, ALICE training, and JUST SAY NO.  Are the promises we’re making true? (Pause for Thought:  As it concerns the privilege of voicing our cry to ABBA FATHER, what can you tell and teach your children about danger and alertness?  Are you willing to practice crying out to the Lord with them this week?  What fear is stopping you from crying out or teaching your children to do so?)
 

Read more...

People of Purpose

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Eph 2:10)

 

While the first portion of this verse from Philippians focuses on state of our identity, the second instead speaks to implications of that identity, namely, that we are created for good works. The God who shapes us and knits us together in our mother’s womb has preveniently assembled deeds for us to participate in.

 

Throughout the early Church as chronicled in the book of Acts, there is one actor who features prominently— the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is consistently described as the motivator for action, evangelism, and conversion. The text assumes the Spirit’s role so strongly in fact that there are times in which it almost de-emphasizes the actual actions of people, such as when it states that, “the Lord added to their number daily those that were being saved.” The Spirit was seen as the impetus for action.

 

One encounter illustrates this trend particularly well. Philip, chosen by the apostles to continue the ministry, was making his way from Jerusalem to Gaza at the instruction of an angel. As he walked along the road through a desert area, unbeknownst to him, an Ethiopian official was also passing through reading the scroll of Isaiah.

 

Philip is again prompted by the Spirit to run and join the official. He complies and finds that this official just happened to be reading a passage specifically about the Christ and proceeds to tell the man about Jesus, salvation, and the man responds by getting baptized before the Spirit speaks again and Philip is led away to preach the gospel elsewhere.

 

What we see vividly in this story is the Holy Spirit orchestrating events and leading Philip into positions to exercise his obedience; a divine conspiracy into which Philip is invited to participate.

 

The inescapable conclusion drawn from the history of the early Church is that the Holy Spirit leads believers into ministry. The book of Acts assumes this involvement. If we are truly God’s workmanship and our identity rests in being created in the image of God, then we must also come to fully accept the second half of Ephesians 2:10. We believe that the God who draws us to salvation also prepares good works for us to complete. We must learn to believe this and live in constant expectation of the Spirit’s leading. I think this is part of why the early Christians experienced so vividly the movement of the Spirit: they were expecting it. We can never realize the potential that God has prepared for us if we don’t understand that we have been given a directive. While our specific directives will vary circumstantially, our overarching purpose is the same one given by Christ to His disciples before His ascension: to be His witnesses. Intentionality is key however for without it the Christian life becomes mere passive assent. That is not the example lived out in the lives of the early Christians who lived and often died by the prompting of the Spirit. 

 

If we are to realize and accomplish the good works the Lord assures He has for us we must train ourselves to live in expectation. Have you ever bought a new car, driven it off the lot, and only then realized how many other people are driving the same model? This is what our lives can become once we make ourselves alert for the Spirit’s prompting. If we watch and listen for it, we will hear it. When we take the additional step and act on it, we will truly be living out our identity as God’s workmanship.


Read more...

People of Joy

There are few exhortations more challenging than Paul’s call in 1 Thessalonians to “rejoice always”. It seems often that we as believers are defined less by our identity as people of joy than we are by our pessimism. If we are honest, many of our decisions are born not out of a joyful spirit but out of fear or the anticipation of despair. Part of this is the result of a mindset that is too world-centered and part of it is the practical ramifications of a 24 hour news cycle and social media. There is always some potential sorrow lurking out in the darkness. Many of our actions are rooted not in godly confidence but in a tempered fear of failure. This temptation away from joy and towards fear is as historical as it is contemporary though. Believers have always struggled to be defined by joy. 

 

The first step towards remedying this is realizing that joy is not the same thing as happiness. A day in which everything goes our way at work, our spouse greets us at the door, the children behave, and the sun sets in a glorious display may bring us happiness but it is shallow compared to the joyful confidence found in Christ.

 

Secondly, joy is not defined by the absence of sorrow. Joy is the exercise of faith and the rejection of despair. Sorrows and adversities are the refining fire by which our faith is tested. It is in these moments that joy is most required.

 

As believers, we can have joy independent of troublesome circumstances for we know that the Lord is powerful, sovereign, and good. In His power we know that he is capable of accomplishing that which He sets His mind to. In His sovereignty, we learn that His dominion is over all things. There is no corner of the universe where God’s will is absent. The knowledge of the Lord’s goodness and faithfulness teaches us the He loves His children and seeks their good in all circumstances. These attributes allow the believer to rise above the sorrows and affairs of the day and rest securely in trust in the Lord. 

 

A.W. Tozer writes that, “Christianity at any given time is strong or weak depending upon her concept of God.” When our understanding of the Lord is lacking or we place preconceived limitations on God’s ability to have victory over difficulties we can find no joy. A god who is small cannot be trusted to conquer over the trials of the day let alone the forces of evil. We cannot find joy in a small god. We can only realize our identity as people of joy when we are able to trust that the Lord has the power and will to bring us through trouble. 


Read more...

Follow Christ Together

Follow Christ Together

 

There is going to be a day (or many days) when you are going to ask yourself why you even bother to be part of a church at all. It’s going to happen. No matter how mature the community of believers or how orthodox the theology, there are going to be moments when you’re just want to run off and head for a solitary cabin in the woods. It’s inevitable. It’s inevitable because every single person in your church is just like you, flawed, imperfect, and often unintentionally hurtful.

So even with all of our eccentricities and failings, why keep at it? Why continue to follow Christ together instead of on our own?

 

We were designed to GATHER together in community.

The short and definitive answer is that we were designed by God to meet together and experience Christ together. Based on their understanding of corporate worship and communal spiritual life in the nation of Israel, the earliest believers implicitly understood that gathering together was critical to their realized faith in Christ. So to it is for us.

In fact, the writers of the New Testament seemed to take involvement with a larger group of believers as a given and spent little time exhorting believers to be part of a church. What they do spend a considerable amount of ink on, is encouraging believers to live together in unity. The church is the first place that we demonstrate our love for each other. It is not enough to love in theory. The church is where we are able to love in practice and deed. The church is that opportunity.

 

We GROW best in the context of community.

Beyond being an outlet for the love we have been given in Christ, the church is our opportunity to be encouraged and encourage others to follow Christ more closely. Through experiences such as worship, preaching, discussions, and prayer (among many) we grow and are stirred towards obedience by the words AND witness of fellow believers. The church is not simply a location for believers of Jesus to congregate but rather an entity in which the Spirit of God ministers to the individual and the corporate.

 

We are sent to GO out in mission from a place of community.

In addition, the church serves as a jumping off point for ministry and missions; a place for believers to be equipped for ministry as we fulfill our individual and corporate command to go into the world and make disciples.

We follow Christ together because it is the way we were made. We follow Christ together because it is how we best grow. We follow Christ together because in doing so, we honor Christ by loving each other.


Read more...