Thursday, November 29, 2012

Preparing for Christmas

There are probably hundreds of articles and blogs being written on the subject of preparing for Christmas.  Obviously it is something that is on people's minds right now, and a lot of us are probably feeling pretty overwhelmed by all that needs to get done.

When we talk about preparing for Christmas our thoughts probably rush to the idea of gifts that have to be bought and wrapped, food that needs to be prepared, cards that need to be written and sent and parties that need to be planned or attended.  But I want to encourage you to take your foot off the accelerator and if necessary leave some of those things undone.  That's right, I did just say that, Christmas will still come even if the cards don't all get written, and it is still possible to love your children without buying that one extra gift.  In fact why not take what you were planning on spending on gifts for everyone this year and cut that number in half, and then as a family use that money and take a gift card for groceries and deliver it to a family that you know of who may be struggling this Christmas time.

Tragically, our preparations for Christmas can involved that we actually forget to prepare for Christmas.  That is, we forget the reason why we celebrate.  I know the the sayings "Keep Christ in Christmas" and "Jesus is the reason for the season" are plastered in peoples yards and on bumper stickers, but the message is a good one.

Perhaps the best way to rightly prepare for Christmas is the way that generations of believers who have gone before us have used.  Observing the season of Advent.  Advent this year begins on Sunday, December 2 and runs through Christmas Eve.

Advent (def.) The coming of Jesus, either in the Incarnation of Biblical times or in the Second Coming at the end of the world.  Also, a time of reflection observed in many Christian churches to focus and prepare for Christmas.

Why not plan to observe Advent this year, here are a few simple ideas of how you can begin:

  • Use an Advent Devotional (Click here to get a free one from the Billy Graham Association)
  • Read through the words of some of your favorite Christmas Carols and use them to prompt you in prayer and thanksgiving (as well as in personal worship).
  • Make your own Advent Wreath with 5 candles.  The candles represent Hope, Peace, Joy, Love and Christ come into the world.  Then set aside a meal time once a week to and invite members of your family to read some passages of Scripture on that subject and light the candle.
  • Set aside a daily time to reflect on Jesus as God's Ultimate gift of love, and ask God to help you to put the other preparations for Christmas in their proper perspective.
  • Send out Advent Cards to friends or those in need of encouragement.  Simply write out a verse about God's great love or a word of encouragement about the difference that a life lived with Christ makes.

You can probably come up with plenty of other great ideas - but whatever you do, this year, prepare for Christmas in a different way and celebrate with meaning this year.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Obstacles to a Heart of Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is here again, but where does it go the rest of the year?  Why is it that we can come up with something to tell people we are thankful for while sit around the dining room table on the 4th Thursday in November, but have such a hard time with genuine thankfulness the rest of the time?

At the root of the problem lies 3 obstacles to true thankfulness:

1. "I deserve it!"  Whether it is clearly stated or just implied, just about every commercial that you see aims to tell us that we "deserve" to have this product.  It is hardly surprising that this is such a widely used marketing ploy, because it is one that we so eagerly believe.  We have been taught that we deserve food, we deserve a home, we deserve an education - what about the child in Bangladesh, don't they deserve these things?  I'm not making a political statement here, but our notion of being deserving is utterly warped.  The truth is, we are phenomenally blessed.  What we deserve is the wrath of God because we have rebelled against Him, what we get instead is His patient mercy, and through Jesus Christ, His righteousness.
Next time you are tempted to say or to think, "I deserve this," remember: no you don't, but thanks be to God you have been blessed beyond measure.

2. "I earned it!"  This is often an extension of the "I deserve it" obstacle.  Most of us work hard at what we do and have been led to believe that what we have is entirely because of our own effort.  We are able to make a living, only because God has granted us the strength and the abilities to do so, and only because He has given us favor with an employer and seen fit to allow our employer to prosper, and so on.  At the heart of thanksgiving is the realization that we can only be truly thankful when we recognize the one to whom we are thankful.  When we recognize God as the source of all we have, any notion that we are deserving or have earned something for ourselves falls by the way side and we are left simply declaring, "Give Thanks to the Lord for He is good, His steadfast love endures for ever."

3. "I need more!" The third obstacle is all about contentment.  Most of us wrestle with truly being thankful for what we have because deep down we have come to believe that it is not enough.  "Maybe when I have just a little more," we reason, "I will be content."  But even when we get more, there is still more that we want.  This obstacle takes us full circle back to the first one, "I deserve more."  But the problem with a lack of contentment is that it will keep us from truly enjoying the blessings that we do have, it will poison our ability to be thankful, it will cause us to call into question God's goodness (if He was truly good, He would give me more).  What's more without contentment, our desire for more will never ever be satisfied.

When we turn our focus to God and remember that every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights and that "Your heavenly Father knows how to give good gifts to His children," then we begin to move to a heart of thankfulness.  This thanksgiving, remember that God is your source and your provider.  Remember that everything that you have ultimately belongs to Him, but He graciously allows you to enjoy His blessings, and entrust your needs and desires to Him, asking that He will give you a heart of contentment and will meet every need in His way and His time.  Declare your thanksgiving, declare your dependence and declare your trust, because He is good!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Pathway to over coming deeply rooted sin in our lives

The following is taken from a message I gave.  It provides some of the practical and necessary steps to overcoming besetting (deeply rooted) sin in the life of the believer.

Sin is serious business and when we deal with it seriously we can overcome even besetting sins in the power of Christ.
I want to give you some specific and practical steps to overcoming besetting sin, that stuff that is deeply rooted and seems so impossible to be free from:

1.     Stop Making Excuses!
We all do it.  One of the reasons why sin is so difficult to dislodge is because it is so deceptive, and we each become masters of deceiving ourselves.
·    It’s no big deal.
·   It’s not hurting anyone.
·   I deserve it.
·   It’s just who I am, I’ve got to stay real.
·   If God wants me to stop… He can just take this desire from me.
·   I can just confess it afterwards and be forgiven.
·   Everyone else does it.
·  That’s an impossible standard.  Nobody can do that, so why try?
·  It’s not my fault if it offends you (you’re the one with the problem not me).
·  That’s not sin, it’s just your opinion and I don’t agree with it.
·  I’m just really tired and vulnerable right now – so cut me some slack.
·  I can’t help myself.
·  It’s what I grew up with.
None of these, or any other that you might care to throw into the mix are legitimate – sin is serious business, quit making excuses.

          2.    Call it what it is!
We tend to soften sin not just by making excuses for it but by watering it down.
·  I messed up.
·  I’ve made a mistake.

Give the sin it’s proper name:
·  Pornography, masturbation, lustful thoughts isn’t just watching stuff or thinking about stuff that I shouldn’t it is adultery in my heart and mind.
·  Cussing someone out or getting mad and calling names isn’t just speaking to someone inappropriately - it is hatred and devaluing and even murderous thoughts toward someone who God loves and who is created in His image.
·  Taking office supplies for your own use isn’t just – retasking – it is stealing.
·  Ignoring God’s commands isn’t just “doing my own thing” it is rebellion.

We will never take sin seriously while we make excuses for it or try to water it down.  It’s like dressing up the prize pig.

3.   Ask God to give you a holy-hatred for your sin.
Ask God to help you to see your sin as He sees it, to hate it, to weep over it and to desire it no more.
The truth is that we love our sin, we wouldn’t do it if we didn’t so we ask God to turn the deceiving love for our sin into a holy-hatred of it.

4.   Make your sin a subject of a devoted time of prayer and fasting.
John Owen the great puritan in his book the Mortification of Sin says, “Assure thyself, unless thou longest for deliverance, thou shalt not have it.” (p125.)
Set aside a day, several days, a week or if the Lord leads even longer and pray and fast and confess and beseech the Lord.  Get serious about sin and deal with it seriously.
“But that sounds like hard work, that’s not easy for me to do.”  Yeah, and your point is?
Nobody ever said that the Christian life is supposed to be easy – in fact if you’re not breaking a sweat in your walk with Christ you aren’t growing!

5.   Equip yourself with Scripture with which to confront temptation.
When Jesus was tempted by Satan in the wilderness, at each point of temptation he responded with the Word of God.  The Apostle Paul in Ephesians 6 tells us to daily put on the full armor of God so that we can take our stand against the fiery darts of the enemy – because we are in a very real battle.  I encourage you to go away and read Ephesians 6 and look at and think on the armor that it speaks of, but one thing you will notice is that the only offensive weapon in our arsenal is the Sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God.  It’s called the Sword of the Spirit because when we plant the Word of God in our heart the Spirit of God brings it to mind and wields it masterfully in the fact of attack and temptation.  So memorize Scripture…
A lot of Bibles have section in them either in the front or the back with a list which says something like, When You are feeling… discouraged, tempted, afraid etc. and then it will list a couple of verses that you could go to in order to find encouragement.  If your Bible doesn’t have that then grab a concordance or ask a friend or just get reading and jot down passages that speak to your temptation or trial.

6. Confess your sin to 1 or 2 trusted friends in repentance and for accountability.
This may sound pretty daunting, and I stress that you ought to choose another believer that you can trust.  If you are a guy, choose another man, if you are a woman make sure it is another woman.  You may think, but I don’t want anyone knowing about this sin.  Yes, this does take some courage, but you’ll be amazed, first of all you’re not the only one who struggles with sin and your stepping into this may well be powerfully used of God to not only help you but the other person too.

Also, James 5:16 says, Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another that you may be healed.

When we confess our sin to another person, we begin to cut at the root of the hold that it has over us, we solicit their prayers, accountability and challenge and their help, and what’s more, God honors it.
You cannot overcome sin in your own resources, but one of the resources that Christ gives to His people, are His people!

7.   Set-up safeguards.
An accountability partner can be a part of this, either by suggesting practical ideas or by simply being available saying, “hey if you are feeling really tempted pick up the phone right there and then and call me and we’ll be pray.”
A safeguard might be moving the computer into a public room in the house or installing filters which you don’t have the password to, or it might be getting rid of the computer or cable tv altogether and ditching the data plan on your phone.
The safeguards are probably going to be different depending on the besetting sin, but deal radically with your sin, take it seriously.  John Owen says, be killing sin or sin will be killing you.  He goes on to say:
“Rise mightily against the first actings of thy distemper, its first conceptions…If it have allowance for onestep it will take another.” (p129).
In other words deal with temptation before it starts, don’t allow yourself to even entertain the thought of the sin.

8.   Renounce sin, turn from it and seek God for daily strength to walk by the Spirit.
Galatians 5 tells us that if we walk by the Spirit we will not gratify the desires of the flesh.  So begin each day by reporting for duty, asking that God will lead and guide and direct your every moment and interact with Him in prayer throughout the day.

9.      “Think greatly of the greatness of God” (Owen)
Ponder, worship, give thanks, fill your mind with thoughts of God and of His greatness and His mercy.  As the Psalmist says, What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him. 
When we think rightly about God and allow His truth to fill our minds, so we will experience the renewing of our minds that Romans 12 talks about and we will be led to hope even in our battle with sin, because when we think on the greatness of God, when we think on the power and the work of Christ we will confidently and with full expectation discover He is able and willing to grant us freedom and victory when we entrust ourselves to Him.

What’s more when we think greatly of the greatness of God, the deceptive and empty pleasures of this world will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Spiritual Health Check - Part 2: Governed by His Word?

Last month I began to post about a book that I have been revisiting, Ten Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health by Donald Whitney.  As the name suggests it poses 10 sobering questions for us as believers to reflect on to see whether we are growing Spiritually in a healthy way.  The first question which I addressed in a previous posting was Do you thirst for God? 

Question 2 is Are you governed increasingly by God's Word?
This question is filled with all kinds of challenges, for one, most of us, if we're honest don't really want to be governed by anything.  But to be governed by God's Word is to allow it have full authority over the way that we live our lives. It requires that we bring our whole selves in submission to this authority.  Whitney quotes Thomas Chalmers saying, "The sum and substance of the preparation for a  coming eternity is that you believe what the Bible tells you and do what the Bible bids you."

Because the Bible is not simply another book, but is in fact the very word of Almighty God, it is utterly unparalleled in its truth, its reliability, its power and its authority.  As 2 Timothy 3:16-17 reminds us, All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. 

Psalm 19 likewise tells us that the Word of God is perfect, sure, right, pure, true and righteous, sweeter than honey and more to be desired than fine gold.

In God's Word we find His revelation of Himself to us.  We learn who God is and what He is like, and we learn who we really are and what we are really like, and accordingly how much we desperately need Him!  When we have a right understanding of who God is, who we are, and what He requires of us, then we find ourselves joyfully compelled to live entirely surrendered to Him.

Whitney explains, "No Christian, of course, always and perfectly lives in accordance with Scripture.  Only Jesus has done that.  So we speak of being governed by Scripture as 1) a general characteristic of a true follower of Jesus, and yet 2) something that increasingly characterizes the growing Christian."

Do we increasingly desire to know God, and to live in such a way that honors Him and brings glory to Him.  If so we must, Whitney continues:

  • Seek to be growing in our desire for God's Word (this can only happen by reading it, and asking the Lord to birth in you a passion to know Him better)
  •  Diligently make time to spend in His Word
  • Read it daily and do not close it until we know how we ought to respond to what we are reading
  • Train ourselves to ask the question - "how does the Bible speak to this situation that I find myself facing?"

Sadly, there is in much of the evangelical church a focus on knowing about the Bible, but often a little energy is given to living out the Word.  But, we do not truly know God's Word until we allow it to take a hold of us, and when we do, we will discover as the Psalmist said, Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. (Psalm 119:105)

May you know the joy, the freedom and the confidence that comes from walking according to His Word!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

How Should You Vote?

OK so we’re only a month out from the elections.  Maybe you are already decided, maybe you still don’t have a clue.  Well, I have some good news for you and some bad news.  Bad news first – I’m not going to tell you who you should vote for (actually, that’s good news too), but the (other) good news is that I want to share with you 4 ways in which you should vote on November 6.

1. Vote Prayerfully
We enjoy tremendous freedoms here in the United States, freedoms for which we ought to regularly give thanks to God.  The problem is that many of us have grown so accustomed to our freedom that we take it for granted.  When we take things for granted we are prone to forget that everything in our lives is a Spiritual issue.  The work that we do is a Spiritual issue, our relationship with our husband or wife is a Spiritual issue, how we use our time, talents and treasure – Spiritual issue… and yes, how we vote – Spiritual issue.
Take time to pray and seek God about how you should vote, and while you are at it pray for our nation and for our local, state and national leaders too.

Just as the Apostle Paul said in 1 Timothy 2:1-2 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.

2. Vote Intelligently
Get to work and do some homework.  Don’t just vote for someone because they represent a particular party, find out what they really represent.  Put some legwork into learning what each candidate really stands for.  They all have websites that you can go to and learn more about the candidates, but don’t just rely on the T.V. ads.

One helpful tool for you might be the Illinois Family Institutes voter’s guide you can reach it by clicking here.  Or you can find other guides by simply searching google or the local news affiliates sites.

3. Vote Biblically
Unfortunately no one candidate in any of the races really comes close to being a “Biblical candidate.”  But that doesn’t mean that we can’t vote Biblically.  As you look at each race do so as Billy Graham used to say with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.
What are the issues that our nation is facing?  What has God said about those issues?  Who most closely lines up with what God says? 

What are the issues in our day? They are: Life, Marriage, Spending and deficit, War, The Nation of Israel, Poverty and Health care (and plenty more).

God’s Word speaks to all these issues – check out what He has to say!
It is probably better to vote for a non-Christian who is more closely aligned to Biblical standards than it is to vote for someone who may claim to be a Christian but who has no regard for Biblical standards.

4. Vote Comprehensively
Despite what the main stream media may suggest, there are far more offices on the ballot on November 6 than just the Presidential one.

I admit, I actually think that there are way too many elected offices.  Some of you will completely disagree with me but the idea that a Coroner is an elected office is to me absurd!  Nevertheless we have the privilege and responsibility to vote prayerfully, intelligently and Biblically in every race that we possibly can.  Yes that takes some effort on our part, but what can I say, make the effort.  Know what is going on at the local level because those who are elected today at the local level are the statewide and national candidates of tomorrow.

Voting is important, but remember our hope does not lie in politics and politicians but rather in Jesus Christ who alone is the hope of the world.

On November 6, whether your candidate wins or not, let’s be sure to give thanks to God for the freedom that we enjoy and remember the words of Daniel:
Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, to whom belong wisdom and might.
He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings;
He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding;
He reveals deep and hidden things; He knows what is in the darkness, and the light dwells with him.
To you, O God of my fathers, I give thanks and praise.

Don’t forget to vote! 

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Spiritual Health Check: Thirst

A few years ago I came across the book "Ten Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health" by Donald Whitney.  While I'm often leery of such lists, I found these questions to be challenging and worthy of reflection.  What I particularly appreciated about them was that Whitney has phrased them in such a way that  demonstrates that the Christian life is a journey, and the healthy Christian journey is marked by forward momentum.  So whether you have been following Christ for one week or for 50 years these questions are equally helpful.

So here they are:

1. Do you thirst for God?
2. Are you governed increasingly by God's Word?
3. Are you more loving?
4. Are you more sensitive to God's presence?
5. Do you have a growing concern for the Spiritual and temporal needs of others?
6. Do you delight in the Bride of Christ?
7. Are the Spiritual Disciplines increasingly important to you?
8. Do you still grieve over sin?
9. Are you a quick forgiver?
10. Do you yearn for heaven and to be with Jesus?

It is probably helpful to take one of these at a time, for the temptation is to rush through them without a real and genuine searching of the soul.

So for today: Do you thirst for God?

The Psalmist wrote, As the deer pants for streams of water so my soul longs after you O God.

But, do I have that same thirst?  Often times, honestly no.  Perhaps in large part because I drink too deeply at the poisoned waters of what the world around me calls important and enticing.

Bill Thrasher a former professor of mine said, "Idolatry is that which we look to apart from God to meet the thirst and desires of our heart."  Maybe the reason why sometimes I do not thirst for God more readily is because I am foolishly trying to satisfy myself elsewhere.  Instead, may I like Paul in Philippians 3 declare that I count everything loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.  For his sake, I consider everything else as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.

Do I thirst for God? Yes, just not a deeply as I long to.  And so my prayer is that of A.W. Tozer,

O God, I have tasted Thy goodness, and it has both satisfied me and made me thirsty for more.
I am painfully conscious of my need for further grace.  I am ashamed of my lack of desire.
O God, the Triune God, I want to want Thee; I long to be filled with longing; I thirst to be made thirsty still.

I hope that you will join me in soberly reflecting on these questions, and seeking God for a greater thirst for Him.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Pray & Fast This Fall

As we move into the month of September at The Orchard Church we are ramping up for fall.  Not only is fall a time of cooler temperature, brightly colored leaves and a more settled schedule (the summer months have a way of becoming especially chaotic) - it is also a time when we see families throughout our community seriously consider adding a 'spiritual component' to their calendar and so they begin to check out our church.

There's never a bad time to seek God and to call on Him in prayer asking for Him to do great things in our lives in our community and in our world.  But as we move into this new season, it is a great time for us to gather together as His church and cry out to Him with our needs and ask Him for a great harvest of souls.  That's just what we will be doing during the week of September 16-22, and I hope that you will be a part of it.

On Sunday, September 16 we will gather together for a great potluck meal at 5pm (so start thinking of the delicious dish that you are going to bring) and then after a meal together we will kick off the week with a time of prayer and worship together.

Then during that week we are asking that everyone in the church consider committing 1, 2 or perhaps more days to pray and fast, asking God to work in incredible ways in our midst this fall.

The week will wrap up on Saturday, September 22 with a prayer break-fast at 7:30am where we will again enjoy a meal and seek God together.

Prayer guides to help direct your time of dedicated prayer during that week will be available shortly.

I know that for some this may be uncharted territory.  You may be reading this and even wonder what "fasting" actually is - so here is a really brief primer.

"Fasting is a Christian's voluntary abstinence from food for spiritual purposes." (Donald Whitney).  It is essentially setting aside food for a devoted time for prayer, using the time that you would ordinarily spend eating to be spent in prayer and allowing your physical hunger to prompt you to pray and to be satisfied as you turn in spiritual hunger to God.

We find people in the Bible fasting for many different reasons, but here are just a few:

  • ·         It prompted people to remember what God had done for them (Jer 36:6)
  • ·         It demonstrated that a person was humbling themselves before God (Psalm 35:13)
  • ·         It allowed a person an extended time of uninterrupted prayer (2 Sam 12:16)
  • ·         It was to seek God’s guidance (2 Chron 20:2-4)
  • ·         It was to express grief (1 Sam 31:11-13)
  • ·         It was to seek deliverance or protection (Ezra 8:21)
  • ·         It was to express repentance (1 Sam 7:6)
  • ·         It was to minister to the needs of others (Isa 58:6)
  • ·         It was to overcome temptation and to further dedicate themselves to God (Luke 4:1-2)
  • ·         It was to express love and worship to God (Luke 2:37)

So will you plan to be a part of this week? Mark September 16-22 on your calendar and join us for the meal and prayer time on the 16th and sign up to let us know that you will be a part of the fast too.

Still not sure - well let me challenge you with these words from Donald Whitney, "We will willingly miss meals sometimes while shopping, working, recreating, or otherwise occupied.  Whenever we believe another activity is at that moment more important, we will go without food fearlessly and without complaint.  We need to learn that there are times when it can be not only more important, but much more rewarding to feast on God than food (Matt 4:4).

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Going to the House of God

 I recently read "Faith on Trial" by D. Martin Lloyd Jones which contains his sermons through Psalm 73.  The whole book is rich and insightful but his comments on the Benefits of going to the house of God certainly bear repeating... so enjoy, be encouraged, be challenged:

"What a wonderful place God's house is.  Often you will find deliverance by merely coming into it.  Many a time have I thanked God for His house.  I thank God that He has ordained that His people should meet together in companies, and worship together.  The house of God has delivered me from 'the mumps and measles of the soul' a thousand times and more - merely to enter its doors.  How does it work?  I think it works like this.  The very fact that there is a house of God to come to at all tells us something.  How has it come into being?  It is God who planned and arranged it.  To realize that in itself puts us immediately into a more healthy condition.  Then we begin to go back through history, and remind ourselves of certain truths.  Here am I at this present time with this terrible problem, but the Christian Church has existed all these long years. (I am already beginning to think in an entirely different way.)  The house of God goes back through the centuries to the time of our Lord Himself.  What is it for?  What is its significance?  And the cure has begun.

Again, we go to the house of God, and to our amazement we find other people there before us.  We are rather surprised at that, because in our private misery and perplexity we had come to the conclusion that perhaps there was nothing in religion at all, and that it was not worth continuing with it.  But here are people who think it is worth continuing with; and we feel better.  We begin to say: Perhaps I may be wrong; all these people think there is something in it; they may be right.  The healing process is going on, the cure is being continued.

Then we go a step farther.  We look round the congregation and suddenly find ourselves looking at someone whom we know has had an infinitely worse time than we have been having.  We thought our problem was the most terrible problem in the world, and that no one had ever before suffered as we had.  Then we see a poor woman, a widow perhaps whose only child has died or has been killed.  But she is still there.  It puts our problem into a new perspective immediately.  The great apostle Paul has a word for this, as for all things.  'There has no temptation take you', he reminds us, 'but such as is common to man' (1 Corinthians 10:13).  Where the devil gets us is just here.  He persuades us that nobody has ever had this trial before: no-one has ever had a problem like mine, no-one else has been dealt with like this.  But Paul says, 'There has no temptation taken you but such as is common to man,' and the moment you remember even that much, you feel better.  All God's people know something about this; we are such strange creatures, and sin has had a strange effect upon us.  We are always helped in our suffering by hearing that somebody else is suffering too!   It is true of us physically, and it is true on the spiritual level also.  The realization that we are not alone in this helps to put the thing in right perspective.  I am one of a number; it seems to be something that happens to God's people - the house of God reminds us of all that.

Then it reminds us of things that go still farther back.  We begin to study the history of the Church throughout the ages, and we remember what we read years ago, perhaps something in the lives of some of the saints.  And we begin to understand that some of the greatest saints that have ever adorned the life of the Church have experienced trials and troubles and tribulations which cause our little problem to pale into insignificance.  The house of God, the sanctuary of God, reminds us of all that.  And immediately we begin to climb, we are going upwards, we have our problem now in its right setting.  The house of God, the sanctuary of the Lord, teaches us all these lessons.  People who neglect attendance at the house of God are not only being unscriptural - let me put it bluntly - they are fools.  My experience in ministry has taught me that those who are least regular in their attendance are the ones who are most troubled by problems and perplexities.  There is something in the atmosphere of God's house.  It is ordained that we should come to God's house to meet His people.  It is His ordinance, not ours.  He has ordained it not only so that we may meet each other but also that we might come to know Him better.  Moreover, those who do not attend God's house will be disappointed some day, because on some favored occasion the Lord will descend in revival and they will not be there.  It is a very foolish Christian who does not attend the sanctuary of God as often as he possibly can, and who does not grieve when he cannot."

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

It's time to grow up!

Peter Pan, the classic children's story character is described by his author, J. M. Barrie, as "the boy who wouldn't grow up."  That makes good reading for an adventure fairy tale, but sadly it also describes many who profess the name of Christ.

Mark Dever in his book "What makes a healthy church" laments, "Some today think that a person can be a 'baby Christian' for a whole lifetime. Growth is treated as an optional extra for zealous disciples.  But growth is a sign of life.  If a tree is alive, it grows.  If an animal is alive, it grows.  Being alive means growing, and growing means increasing and advancing, at least until death intercedes."

At The Orchard Church, "Intentional Growth" is one of our core values because we take seriously the admonition of Ephesians 4 for every believer to grow to maturity in the fullness of Christ.  Intentional growth is deliberate, disciplined and determined.  It takes us seriously examining where we are and where we need to be and prayerfully walking that journey.  But, it's not an easy journey for many.  The reason why many professing believers try to go through life as "baby Christians" is that little is required of a baby, babies have everything done for them, babies are focused squarely on themselves, life revolves around their needs, their wants and their desires.  To live as a baby Christian is to live a life with very little distinction from the life that we lived before we knew Christ.  It is vital that we understand that just as a baby must grow if he or she is to be healthy and to experience the full joy of life, so the Christian must grow is he or she is to be healthy and experience the full joy of life in Christ.

So what does a mature Christian look like?  What is a fully functioning follower?  What marks the life of one who is growing in Christ and allowing the knowledge of God and His word to mold and shape his life?

A growing Christian is:
1. Being Transformed.  We are made new according to 2 Corinthians 5:17 the very moment that we come to faith in Christ, but the growing Christian recognizes that the Holy Spirit is at work in them each day to transform us in increasing measure into the image of Christ and this transformation takes both our effort and our yielding to His work (Phil 2:12-13).
2. Connecting.  When we come to faith we are not left in isolation but are joined together with Christ and placed in the family of God.  The growing Christian is one who learns to experience a deep and genuine relationship with Christ and with others (John 15:1-17).
3. Witnessing. Out of an understanding of the depths of God's grace to us in Christ the growing believer seeks to make Jesus known in word and action throughout every part of their life.  The probably over used analogy that someone who had the cure for cancer wouldn't keep it to themselves, is a good one, because the growing Christian is increasingly aware of the desperation of their condition without Christ and the magnificence of His salvation.
4. Learning. The growing Christian exhibits a teachable spirit and takes time to daily meditate on the character of God and to study His Word.  Doing so strengthens, teaches, corrects and equips us (2 Tim 3:16-17).
5. Serving. Every true Christian has been gifted by God for the purpose of serving and building up the body of Christ.  The growing Christian humbly and patiently serves others, not for status or because of what they get out of it, but in obedience to Christ.  The result however is that they will get far more out of it than they ever put in!
6. Giving.  The baby is all about receiving, the growing Christian joyfully and obediently gives, generously sharing his or her God given resources of time, talent and finances for the glory of God.
7. Going. The growing Christian actively engages the local community and obediently follows the lead of Christ moment by moment and day by day.  He looks to Jesus as the commanding officer for his mission each day.
8. Teaching. As we grow in Christ we also have the honor of investing ourselves in the lives of others through discipleship and mentoring as well as simply by sharing with others how God is at work in our lives (Col 3:16).

Does this describe you?  It is far from an exhaustive list, but each of these 8 characteristics are present in increasing measure in the follower of Christ who is growing toward maturity.  Prayerfully ask God to examine your heart and show you what the next step for you is and ask Him to give you the grace and courage to walk the path that the Holy Spirit leads you on toward maturity.  It's time to grow up!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Worshiping Together

Our Pastoral Team enjoyed a great time together at The Moody Pastor's Conference last week.  We were challenged, encouraged and inspired from God's Word and led in wonderful and inspiring worship.

Standing in an auditorium with over a thousand voices raised in heartfelt praise never gets old (which is good news since there will be a whole lot of worship going on for all eternity)!  It was good to add my voice to those of my many brothers most of whom I really don't know but with whom I share the experience of the many joys, challenges and sorrows of pastoral ministry.

At The Orchard Church we don't have a thousand voices, and for many reasons not all of the voices that we do have are raised every Sunday in praise to God.  Nevertheless, week after week, I love to add my voice to those of my brothers and sisters, most of who I do know, as together we proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called us out of darkness and into His marvelous light!  It is a different experience to the large conference filled auditorium, but is a true joy and privilege.

This coming Sunday evening I'm looking forward to another opportunity to worship my Savior in a different setting, a high school gym.  Specifically McHenry West High School gym at 6pm on Sunday, June 3.  As we conclude our Christ Together community food drive we have the amazing opportunity to join our voices together with our brothers and sisters in Christ from other Bible teaching churches in and around our community  to celebrate together.  I know that weekends get busy and yes, I understand that I am asking you to be here at The Orchard on Sunday morning at either 9am or 11am and then be at this combined event on Sunday evening at 6pm - but believe you have nothing to do that could possibly be any better than adding your voice to the others that are lifted high in worship.

I am truly excited about this opportunity on Sunday night, for the body of Christ throughout our community to stand together, for our community to hear of the unity and impact of God's people working together through the simple gift of food, for the mayor and other public officials to witness all that takes place... and for the opportunity for me to join my voice with yours in praise to the King of Kings!  You will be there, won't you?

Monday, April 30, 2012

Christ Together!

At The Orchard Church this year we are focusing on our call to be about our Father's Business.
As your read through the pages of Scripture it is not hard to see that love and unity are His business, and as such should be ours too.  We have recently taken an exciting step in partnering with other Bible Teaching Churches in our area to be Christ Together in our community.  Essentially it is our desire to see the whole Church take the whole Gospel to the Whole world!  It's a big mission but we serve a Big God!

This vision of Christ Together fits perfectly with our vision and calling at The Orchard and we are excited to see what God will do in our midst as we work together with other brothers and sisters in Christ to love and serve our community.

This coming month, May 2012 we are partnering with other churches throughout our area to feed McHenry county.  Simply put we are asking that each family in our church consider picking up and donating some non-perishable food items.  We'll collect them together here at The Orchard and then take them along to McHenry West High School on June 3 where we'll add what we bring in to the pile of food collected by other local partnering churches.  We'll wrap things up as we take time to celebrate together at a combined church celebration service that night.  It's going to be great and I hope you'll be a part of it!  Imagine hundred, perhaps thousands of pounds of food gathered together by God's people and given as a blessing to our local food pantries and through them to those with real needs in our community.

What can you do?  Pick up a few extra cans of food each time you are at the grocery store and bring them along with you to The Orchard this month.  Then, plan to join us for a great night of worship together on June 3 at McHenry West High School.  Oh, and we need to put together a team to help sort the food and load up the food trucks that afternoon too.  So come on, get involved!  This is a simple way to be about the Father's Business and to show our community the love and unity that are found in Jesus Christ.

Check out this video to learn a little more.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

What Wondrous Love Is This?

Easter is just around the corner. There is so much that can be said about this incredible event. The events of Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday are the very essence of the Good News! The Apostle Paul even goes as far as to say that if the resurrection didn't take place we should all just pack up and go home, there is no hope (that's my very loose paraphrase in case you were wondering)! BUT, the resurrection did happen! The tomb is empty! Christ is Risen!

I love the reminder that we find in Romans 5:8-10
But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.

If you are a follower of Jesus Christ you have much to be thankful for this Easter season, but perhaps at the root of it all stands the wondrous love of God for you and I. Such wondrous love that gave His Son. Such wondrous love shown to us not in the shape of a pretty red heart, but in the shape of an agonizing cross.

Christ has died! Christ has risen! Christ will come again!
Whatever you are facing right now, take time to rejoice in wondrous love of our Savior and to invite someone that you know to join you at Church and experience that same love this Easter.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Danger of Success

It might seem strange to say it, but success is often the most dangerous thing that a leader can face!

Every leader wants to succeed. Every leader wants to make an impact. But, success can be an unmerciful master.

Success can cause us to pursue it more and more and leave the leader unconcerned about the means by which it is achieved.

Success can cause us to become complacent, to let down our guard and to stop trying.

But worst of all, success can easily breed pride, and pride leads us to forget that we are dependent upon God for everything we are and everything we have.

King Uzziah began well. 2 Chronicles 26:1-15 relays his accomplishments, but then the text takes a tragic turn in verse 16: "But, when he was strong, he grew proud, to his destruction." The verses that close out that chapter speak of a man who was overcome by pride and who ended his days in isolation.

Godly leaders are concerned with success because they desire to make an impact for Kingdom of God. But more than that, they passionately pursue Christ knowing that regardless of the accolades that this world may heap upon us, we have nothing, are nothing and can do nothing apart from Him.

If you are staring down success - now's the time to make sure your focus is right - take this victory and turn it to thanksgiving and praise to God.

The truly successful leader is the one who will one day hear the words, "Well done good and faithful servant!"

Monday, February 27, 2012

A Transformational Easter

It's hard to believe that Easter is less than 6 weeks away! Last week marked the beginning of the season of Lent, which has been observed by generations of believers as a time of personal reflection and examination as well as preparation for the observance of Easter. It is a time to reflect on our own sinfulness and the sufficiency of Christ's righteousness which is available to us because of the cross and the resurrection.

Traditionally Christians have observed Lent in a variety of ways, often including a
time of fasting. In fasting we refrain from eating in order to express our Spiritual hunger for God and in order to provide us with an uninterrupted time of prayer. This year at The Orchard Church (while we encourage people to fast if they would like to do so) we are challenging everyone to set aside a time daily to devote 5 friends, neighbors, family members of coworkers to the Lord in prayer. Join us by writing the names of these five people down somewhere where you will see them regularly. Then commit to spend 5 minutes each day praying for each person.

You might pray for:

  • God to protect and strength their marriage.
  • That they would prosper in their work and bring blessing to the lives of others as a result.
  • Healing from sickness.
  • Provision for physical needs, etc.

Ultimately however, this is the perfect time to specifically pray that God would capture their hearts and draw them to Himself. Pray for opportunities for you to share your testimony of how Jesus has changed your life with them, and pray for courage to invite them to join you at church on Easter Day.

Together as we commit to pray for 5 people for 5 minutes each day during this season of preparation for Easter, asking God to do what only He can do, to draw people to Himself and transform lives - we are trusting God to allow us to touch literally hundreds of lives. So will you join us! After all, transformed lives is what Easter is all about. Jesus came to seek and to save the lost.

Here at The Orchard Church, loving lost people is one of our core values. We believe that when we set ourselves to pray for those who do not yet know Christ, and make ourselves available to be used by Him to touch the lives of others, we truly are about our Father's Business!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

About the Father's Business

Here at The Orchard Church we've been talking a lot recently about our need to be about the Father's Business. That's true for us as a Church as well as for our lives individually. The great news is that knowing and doing the will of God, being about His business actually isn't as hard as we often make it out to be. Don't get me wrong - I'm not saying it is easy, because after all, the very nature of being about His business means that we are setting aside our own. But, when we understand truth and allow it to conquer our wrong thinking, then we discover that all of us can confidently be about His ways!

What we wrongly believe: God expects me to be about His business but somehow He expects me to have to figure out what that is on my own. He seems to take pleasure in seeing me confused and struggling.

The truth: God delights to make His ways known to us. For those who are in Jesus Christ, He now calls us friends (Jn 15:14-15) and guides us by His Word, prompts us by His Holy Spirit and delights to reveal His ways, if we simply ask Him. Colossians 1:9-10 shows us how the Apostle Paul boldly prayed for his readers that they would be filled with the knowledge of God's Will. Knowing God's Will begins with seeking Him, and He has promised that when we seek we will find (Mt 7:7-8).

What we wrongly believe: I've blown it so many times that what ever God's will for my life may have been, I am so far from it that its hopeless to think I could ever be about His business.

The truth: While it is true that we have all rebelled and chosen our own way instead of God's, the penalty for that is paid in Jesus Christ. Because of His death on the cross for us and His resurrection from the dead we are forgiven and made new and now we can begin to be about His "plan A" for us (Eph 2:8-10 refers to the good works that He has prepared for us to be about). The Apostle Paul reflected on his own experience in 1 Timothy 1:12-17 and how though He was undeserving Christ was now powerfully using Him.

What we wrongly believe: God could never use me, there's nothing special about me, I'm just ordinary.

The truth: If you are a follower of Jesus, God sees you as beloved and precious in His sight (1 Jn 3:1-3). He specializes in using weak and ordinary people to do great things. He is waiting to put you to work, about His business. It begins by simply reporting for duty. Start your day off by telling God that you want to be about His business not your own, and ask Him to give you eyes that are open to see the divine appointments that He has made for you in the course of your day, and the courage to respond to them!

God has a plan for you and His plan is good! He is at work doing incredible things, and He invites us to join Him in what He is doing.

At The Orchard Church, God has called us to be about His Business. He has called us to be about the Business of Making fully functioning followers of Jesus who are rooted in hope and branching out to the world. A fully functioning follower is one who is committed to be about the Father's Business 24/7/365.

Now, I pray that you may be filled with the knowledge of God's will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. (Col 1:9-10)

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