Wednesday, April 27, 2011

It's a Marshmallow World 4/27/2011

This will be a bit of a diversion from the normal random discussion.  Tonight I looked to my left and noticed a marshmallow on the floor behind a fake tree that’s in the room.  Before pointing it out I just asked if the Sunday School class has done anything with marshmallows.  It turns out they had some sort of lesson that had them shooting marshmallows around the room.  That was back in December.  So one of the students reached down behind the tree and rescued the marshmallow to find that it was hard as a rock.  This caused me to think.  I challenged them to come up with some kind of lesson or illustration that we can learn from the marshmallow.  The following is what we came up with:

1.  The marshmallow represents the person who sits in church and hears the word of God, but never let it get into them and change them.  Their heart becomes hard and they just sit and do nothing forever.  (Luke 8:4-5, 12)

2.  The marshmallow represents how hard our hearts can be until God breaks through and finds a soft heart on the inside that can be receptive to the word of God.  (oh yeah, Cody bit the marshmallow after a dare and cracked it open.  He said it was soft and gooey on the inside.)  (Ezekiel 36:25-27)

3.  From a good standpoint the marshmallow could represent one who spends time in the house of God and studies His word.  The hard shell could represent God’s protection in our lives.  (Ps 18:2; 61:3; Pr 18:10)

4.  Some students who were playing with the marshmallow noticed that the smell stayed on their hands.  It’s kind of like when we mess around with the things of this world and let sin get into our lives.  Those things tend to stay with us and have a lasting effect on us.  Sometimes even after we’ve been forgiven and the spiritual consequence of sin is lifted there are some physical consequences that remain.  For example, drug abuse could cause lasting brain damage or a sexually transmitted disease could stay with you for life.  This is not to say that God’s forgiveness doesn’t overcome these things.  God’s forgiveness is greater than anything you’ve done.  It’s just that sometimes there are lasting consequences to our sin that still remain even though we are forgiven.  (2 Sam 12:13-23)

5.  Or it could be a gift or talent that God has given us.  If we use it properly it is sweet and it blesses others.  If we just let it sit and never use it then it becomes hard and useless.  No one is ever blessed by it.  (Mt 25:14-30)

6.  Also there is the representation that the marshmallow is a lost soul.  It was hidden away behind that tree for four months and no one knew it was there.  It was lost until someone reached out to it and brought it out to a place where it could be found.  We need to reach out to the lost and bring the gospel to a lost and dying world.  Only God’s love can break through the hardness to rescue a lost soul. (Luke 15)

Friday, April 22, 2011

Christian Graffiti and Why I Go to Church 4/20/2011

Christian Graffiti:

Tonight a student asked a question about something that was drawn on the bathroom wall at school.  Someone else had drawn a picture of Jesus on the cross with the caption, “He died for you.”  She asked if that was a sin or not.  So the ultimate question is when is it ok to break the law in order to follow Christ?  God has called us to preach the gospel to everyone we come in contact with (Mt 28:19; Mk 16:15-16)  I’m guessing that was the student’s motive in drawing the picture.  However, we are also called to obey the authorities that God puts over us (Ro 13:1-7).  In the case of this student I’m guessing there are other ways they could have fulfilled the great commission to share the gospel without breaking the school’s rules and defacing the bathroom wall.  There may be times where you don’t have an option like the apostles in Acts 4:19-20.  The bottom line is this.  We are to obey God, and we are to obey authority that is over us here on Earth.  We should do all that we can to accomplish both.  However, if we have to choose we should choose to follow God no matter what the consequence.

Why I Go to Church?

What if I go to church because I know I’m supposed to, but I’m bored and don’t like it while I’m there.  That’s the question that was raised in tonight’s discussion.  A follow up question was emailed to me and I’d like address both at once.  What if I like going to church, but I only like it cause it’s something to do that gets me out of the house?  I think both of these questions can be addressed with a look back at our relationship with Christ.  Going to church, spending time with other believers (Ac 2:42; Heb 10:25) and worshipping God (1 Cor 12) are all things that we are supposed to do.  The question here is our motivation.  We should take an honest look at our relationship with Christ.  The desire to be with Him and with His people should stem from an honest and sincere relationship with Him.  We can’t look to the church to entertain us or be really exciting or play the right music or preach the right sermons in order to make us “feel” like being there.  Our attitude toward church starts when we are all alone and it’s just us and God.  If we don’t have a living growing relationship with God then we are not going to enjoy meeting with His people and spending time worshipping Him or studying His Word.  The depth of our church experience begins in our own personal relationship with God.


Finally as we were about to close someone asked about Mormon beliefs.  I said I would put some resources here for them to look at.  Here are a couple of articles that deal with this topic:

Saturday, April 16, 2011

What Matters? 4/13/2011

OK, so I’m a little late with this one.  Had a few other things take priority this week.  For those of you that missed it we had an awesome time last night at the From and To Event.  Now on to the Random Blog.  Last Wednesday night we had some really good discussion that focused mostly on what really matters to us.  There were a few other introductory questions that we’ll deal with first.

Satan and Sin:
We had three questions in this category:  1.  Can you sin in hell?  2.  Could Satan be forgiven?  3.  Could Satan ever defeat God?

Can you sin in hell?
We discussed this for a bit and came to the conclusion that the Bible really doesn’t address this issue.  We talked about the fact that part of the torment of hell is an isolation factor, so you probably can’t commit a sin against someone else.  However, you could still sin in your mind through a sinful thought process.  Bottom line on this one, though, is that it really doesn’t matter.  If you’ve already found yourself in hell you’re there for eternity.  There is no time off for good behavior.  The decision has already been made to reject Christ and whatever happens from there won’t change anything.

Could Satan be forgiven?
I’ll just cut to the chase on this one.  NO he can’t.  Satan is originally an angel.  Therefore he has all the limitations of the angels.  So the question to look at is whether or not forgiveness is offered to fallen angels.  Sin is part of our human nature.  It started with Adam and then passed on to everyone since.  Then Jesus stepped in and became fully God and fully man at the same time to pay the penalty for sin (death).  He rose again and conquered sin and offers life and forgiveness to all men.  You can see a whole theological discussion about this in Romans 5.  Jesus’ sacrifice is for all men.  He did not die for the angels (Hebrews 2:16).  Therefore angels, and more specifically Satan, cannot be forgiven.

Could Satan ever defeat God?
NO he can’t.  He’s been trying forever.  It started in heaven (Is. 14:12-14).  Then he shows up again in the garden of Eden (Gen 3).  He tries to tempt Jesus to sin (Mt 4 and Lk 4).  Don’t worry the end of the book says that Satan loses.  He’ll be cast into the lake of fire and tormented forever (Rev 20:7-10).

What Matters:
I asked the group the question, “What matters?”  We got several answers.  Some said family and friends.  Some mentioned their relationship with God.  Some mentioned sports and other things.  I wasn’t really looking for a right answer on this one.  I just wanted us to think about what really matters and how we determine that in our lives.  One of our youth leaders commented that you can tell what matters to people by where they spend their time and their money.  This really is a great litmus test.  So take a minute and recall the last week or the last month.  Where was most of your time spent?  What did you spend most of your money on?  It’s easy to say God and family are what really matters.  It’s a completely different thing to live it out and really mean it.  The things that matter to us should be the things that matter to God.  So next time you pull out a twenty ask yourself:  does this matter to God?  I’m not saying all your money has to be spent on God stuff.  But check your percentages.  If things are off you might want to check your heart and see what really matters.

In the process of our conversation someone asked about tithing.  They asked if you could give your tithe to missions.  So I said I would put some scriptures in this blog about tithing.  So here it is.  Malachi 3 has a great discourse on tithing.  The tithe is 1/10 of our income and it belongs to God.  It is not an option.  It’s not an offering.  It is our responsibility to give it.  Some say it’s an Old Testament principle that we don’t have to do anymore.  Jesus said to the Pharisees that they should be doing more important things that they are leaving out, but He didn’t tell them not to tithe.  He said they should tithe, but also pay attention to the more important things (Mt 23:23; Lk 11:42).  I think Jesus saw tithing as a basic principle that should be a given for the Christian life.  It’s one of the elementary principles.

So here’s the quick definition.  The tithe is 1/10 of your income.  You give it to God because it belongs to Him.  He let’s us keep 90% of His money and asks us to be a wise steward of it.  Notice I said it’s His.  We need to operate with the principle in mind that everything we have is God’s.  He just let’s us use it for a while.  The tithe needs to be given to your local church to take care of the ministries God has called that church to do.  It should not be designated to a certain fund or ministry.  Then it would no longer be a tithe.  So, no you can’t give your tithe to missions.  At that point it would not be a tithe.  It would be an offering, and you would be in disobedience for not tithing. 

It all boils down to what really matters.  If pleasing God really matters to you, you won’t give out of an obligation or a law you will cheerfully give (2 Cor 9:7).  Tithing won’t be an issue because that will be the base and you’ll go above and beyond to support the cause of Christ all over the world.

Friday, April 8, 2011

How Do I Know God's Will 4/6/2011

This week I'm doing something a little different.  The following is an article from Christianity Today.  It answers the questions we discussed so perfectly.  It does a much better job than I could.  Next week we'll return with a normal post.  Thanks for checking it out.

How Do I Know God's Will?
Four big questions we all ask.
Interviews by Liberty Lay

How do I make good decisions? What does God really want from me? Does God care about every little choice I make? The big question behind all of these questions, of course, is this: What's God's will for my life?  We decided to explore the sometimes confusing issue of God's will with four spiritual leaders from Christian college campuses.

Do my decisions really matter to God?
God cares about what's going on in our hearts. In any decision we have the opportunity to choose who we will worship. Will we worship God or will we worship ourselves? God desires to be the highest priority in every part of our lives.
In some areas of life it's clear that there are right decisions and wrong decisions—like the choice of whether to cheat on an exam. In other areas, we need to make choices between two good things—like making a decision between two great colleges. It's quite possible God would be present in and honored by either decision. Other times the choice may have to do with a gray area—something that's not necessarily right or wrong. These are opportunities to practice wisdom. For example, spending a lot of time talking on the phone or texting friends may be a good thing. But if there's never any time when we are just quiet and still, it can be harder for us to be aware of God's presence. Being wise might mean turning the phone off from time to time to quiet your heart so you can be more attentive to the presence of God in everyday life.
Sometimes when we make decisions, it can seem like we're trying to work God into our life story. But really, we are part of God's story and God is delighted by our desire to live with that focus in mind.
—Dr. Jamie Noling Associate Campus Pastor at Azusa Pacific University (California)
How do I discover God's will?
First, you have to make sure you're seeking to obey what God has already revealed in Scripture. This includes things like obeying your parents. That's a clear instruction from God. It doesn't really work to ignore God's revealed will but yet expect God to answer specific questions like where you should go to college.
As you study God's Word and spend time in prayer, your relationship with God grows and you begin to understand God's character. You will then be in the right place to hear God's instruction for other areas of your life. In addition to Bible study and prayer, be willing to seek godly counsel from a mentor, pastor, or your parents.
If we're serious about following God's will, we have to recognize that it's not about getting what we want, but doing what God asks. We must trust that he is faithful and good, and that his will is what's best for us.
—Dr. Jeff Gangel Director of Spiritual Formation at Toccoa Falls College (Georgia)
Will God ask me to do stuff I don't want to do?
God may call us to do things that don't feel natural to us at first. But as we listen and respond to the call of God, we get connected to our deeper desires. After all, the things God calls us to do are things that he created us to do.  Many of us have habits that we find comfortable or that we enjoy. In the long run, though, those things may not meet our deeper spiritual needs. For example, we may have a habit of seeking acceptance by conforming, following the crowd. This is easy and can make us feel like we are accepted, but actually this habit can prevent us from being who we really are meant to be. It's scary to take the risk of letting your true self be known, but God calls us to do that.
This process makes me think of a cross-country runner. Getting to the point where it's enjoyable to run requires the runner to work and do things that may not be easy. But when the runner is in great shape, it is a true joy to run. Likewise, once we start down the path of doing the work God calls us to do, we find great joy in doing it.
—Dr. Greg Carmer Dean of Chapel at Gordon College (Massachusetts)
What if I miss God's will?
Making a poor decision doesn't mean we're forever out of God's will. That's part of the beauty of Scripture: It has story after story of people who make bad decisions, but God still uses them mightily. Just look at Abraham and David. They both did some things that were clearly wrong, but God worked through them to accomplish great things. God can use all of our decisions, whether they're right, wrong, or neutral.
Also, we need to remember God is our Father. God is not here to condemn us, but to help us become more like Christ. If we are focused on Jesus, and on holiness, some of those other things will fall into place. God is not a cosmic trickster who only gives us one shot to get things right.
—Dr. Shawn Holtgren Dean of Leadership and Spiritual Development at Bethel College (Indiana)