Wednesday, March 27, 2013

God's Goodness

An empty tomb is a great gift from God! Remind someone today!
Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. ~James 1:16,17

As James writes about trials, sufferings, temptation leading to sin and death, there is a danger the reader may ascribe evil to God’s nature. James corrects this wrong thinking by earlier reminding his readers that temptation to sin comes from our own lustful hearts. He then goes on to point out that God is only good and from Him comes every good and perfect gift. As Pastor pointed out last Sunday “God is gracious and His gifts are good.”

The Lord is merciful and gracious; slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. ~Psalm 103:8

While it is true that people question God’s goodness when trials come their way, the reality is God’s goodness never wavers or falters. In fact, God’s goodness never changes according to James because God Himself never changes. There are innumerable ways in which God expresses His goodness to us. In the 103 Psalm, King David expresses a few, but important ways God’s goodness gives us reason to praise and bless Him! Pastor listed for us seven in his message and we would do well to meditate on them and bless the Lord for them. They are the gift of:
  1. Common Grace 
  2. Jesus Christ 
  3. Faith 
  4. Eternal Life 
  5. The Holy Spirit 
  6. Spiritual Abilities 
  7. Confident Assurance 
The danger for us as Christians is, we have received so many blessings and gifts from God that we may begin taking them for granted. Our lives are filled and overflowing with good and perfect gifts so much so that they may become commonplace to us and we soon expect them rather than seeing them for what they are. Let us join with David as he commands his own soul to remember the good and perfect gifts from God and praise Him for them!

Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name! Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits ~Psalm 103:1,2

Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Devil Made Me Do It

Sin and temptation?!? I don't think God said that anyway, how about you?
Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.  ~James 1:13

That’s a good thing to remember... when we are tempted to do evil, it is not God who is tempting us. God does not and will not tempt anyone because that would be sin. It’s a good thing to remember because when we give in to temptation and commit sin, we always like to have someone we can blame for it all instead of taking responsibility. I like how Pastor pointed out this historic “blame game” has been going on since the Garden of Eden. I like that he pointed it out because it did a great job of bringing to light a part of our nature we like to ignore or hide altogether...

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?  ~Jeremiah 17:9

The answer to that question is God! God knows our hearts, He knows our nature, He knows everything there is to know about us because... He is God. The Lord has been dealing with the blame shifting and lack of responsibility for sin since time began. This is what sin does; it corrupts everything it comes into contact with and it corrupts completely. There are none of us who have not had their entire being corrupted by its filthy influence. When we do sin we immediately begin to look for someone or something in which to blame the sin which is so manifestly ours.

But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.  ~James 1:14,15

So many good things have come from this sermons series from the book of James already and we are only in the first chapter. Pastor gave us eight practical things we can do, as part of our ongoing warfare with sin in our lives. They were:

  1. Turn to Christ!
  2. Take personal responsibility for sin and stop blame shifting – repent.
  3. Meditate and memorize God’s Word.
  4. Remember where sin leads to; in other words, begin with the end in mind.
  5. Avoid temptation danger zones.
  6. Fight temptation at its source be fleeing.
  7. Oppose temptation with God’s Word.
  8. Pursue godly accountability.

Perhaps the most helpful thing is to at least understand the working of your own heart. Saturate yourself with the Word of God and what it says about who you are as a human being corrupted by a sinful nature. Remember what Jeremiah said about your heart’s own deceitfulness. The truth is we lie to ourselves and have become very good at selling ourselves the idea our own sin is not really our fault. James had one more thing to say about this...

Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers.  ~James 1:16

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

God's Perspective on Poverty and Prosperity

Prosperity preachers and those who follow them just don't get the Gospel.
Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. ~James 1:9,10

It would seem that no matter our situation, rather it be poverty or prosperity, there is a test for us. Pastor showed us how poverty tempts us to curse God and envy others, while prosperity tempts us to forget God and degrade others. In this sin cursed world there will always be the temptation to disregard the greatest of God’s commands and the second one which is like it. A lawyer once asked Jesus what is the greatest commandment…

And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” ~Matthew 22:35,36

To which Jesus replied…

And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. ” ~Matthew 22:37-39

The test for us then is will we love God and others over that of having… well… stuff. With our sin nature and the “me centered” attitude which comes with it, this can be a difficult position for us to be in. Here are a few practical questions Pastor wanted us to ask ourselves:

  • Do my possessions and position posses me? 
  • Am I known as a grateful and thankful person? 
  • Am I constantly striving for more? 
  • Am I prone to flaunt what I have? 
  • Have I considered sinning to get stuff? 
  • Do I resent giving or feel better than others? 

Pointed and well placed questions like these can help to reveal sin in our lives that still needs to be put to death. For the believer, satisfaction is not to be found in the desire of things, but in the “Desire of All Nations” (Haggai 2:7), our Messiah. When our greatest desire is Jesus, not just what He has or brings, we can find contentment in all situations. Whether we live in poverty or prosperity, with our eyes on Him we can find contentment.

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. ~Philippians 4:11-13

So many times we see that thirteenth verse of Philippians chapter four misused and applied to making more touchdowns, winning a race, or accomplishing some self centered effort. The intent behind what Paul was saying that it is by being in Christ we are able to overcome the otherwise overwhelming influence of our own sin nature. It is by Christ dwelling in us that when poverty or prosperity come in the form of a test or trial, we remain steadfast… we find contentment in Him… we put sin to death.

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. ~James 1:12

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Choosing Joy

Choose Joy!
“Count it all joy, my brethren. . . “ James 1:2  What is joy? How is it different from happiness? Why does it, sometimes, seem so elusive? And here’s the big question: aren't we as believers supposed to be joy-filled always? A similar question was posed by a friend of mine on Facebook the other day—

“I am curious. . . how do you define true happiness?”

Wow! I couldn't let that opportunity slip by. Here was my answer-- “Happiness is temporary, fleeting, and dependent on our circumstances. But true joy is found—separate from life’s trials and frustrations—in a personal relationship with Christ. I’m happy sometimes, but I am joy-filled always.”

It’s taken many years of God’s teaching, my failing, and prayers upon prayers to not only learn that truth but to live and to walk in it on a daily basis. I've had times when I was neither happy nor joy-filled. I’m not proud to say that. I've run way down the road of self-pity and doubt about God’s purpose for me. And always, along that road, I snatched at the things I thought I wanted; things that I thought would make me happy—nice clothes, a lovely home, beauty, attention, education, and so much more. Was I happy momentarily? Probably. But that is the agonizing thing about happiness—poof! It’s gone. The world would truly have us believe that we can achieve a constant state of happiness and contentment. Just get the perfect body. Just get the big enough paycheck. Just get the big enough house and the well-behaved children. There. There you will find a constant state of happiness. That is the lie Satan would have us believe. And the world does a great job of dangling Satan’s carrot in front of our noses. So what are we to do now that we realize that happiness is the ever-moving pot of gold at the end of the rainbow? Sit and lick our wounds? Be one of those Eyore Christians? No, instead of chasing after happiness, we choose joy! Yeah, I know. Doesn't that sound sweet and really Christian-y? But joy really is a daily choice, and the Bible has so much to say about choosing joy.

Psalm 105:3 says, “Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice.”
Seek God every day with praise and thanksgiving, and you will find joy.

Psalm 16:11 states, “You will make known to me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; In Your right hand there are pleasures forever.” God’s presence is God’s Word; it is prayer; it is thinking on His truth throughout the day—there you will find joy.

In the fellowship and encouragement of other believers, there you will find joy. John makes this point here in 2 John 1:12 ”Though I have many things to write to you, I do not want to do so with paper and ink; but I hope to come to you and speak face to face, so that our joy may be made full.”

But the deepest rooted joy can only be found at the foot of the cross in the humility of what Christ has done for us. That is the staying joy, the joy that lights the dark places of life, the joy that comforts our heart when we agonize on our knees. Romans 5:2 proclaims “through whom [Jesus Christ] we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.”

I would choose joy any day over happiness. 

Speaking of choosing joy and fellowship, here’s some info on upcoming women’s events that will offer amazing opportunities to get to know other women from Lakeside and from the other churches of the Engage Network.

Wed., April 10: Ladies Bowling Night (rescheduled), 6:30 at the Tiger Bowl in Madrid. Watch the email announcements and the church bulletin for more details later.

Friday-Saturday, April 19-20: Engage Women's Conference at Saylorville Church, Des Moines

"Choosing Joy"  Teske Drake will be speaking to us from the book of Philippians. This conference will use the Word to encourage, equip, and empower women at every stage of life to choose joy in the midst of all of life’s circumstances.  Sharing her experiences of the loss of her newborn daughter in 2006 and two miscarriages, Teske draws from her personal story to share God’s redeeming love and the promised hope in His Son, Jesus Christ.  Sharing truths from the book of Philippians, Teske will encourage women to live joyfully in light of Jesus’ love, letting go of the past, embracing the present, and pressing on for eternity.

Details and sign up will be coming in April!

June: Beginning in June, we will be offering a six-week Bible study entitled Prodigal God by Timothy Keller.

If you have any questions about women’s ministries at Lakeside Fellowship, please contact me:

Jen Subra or call 210-2007

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Truth About Trials Part 2

There is something to be joyful about!
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. ~James 1:2,3

 Three weeks ago when Pastor preached part one of this sermon, he gave us three reasons for trials:

1. Trials test the quality of our faith.
2. Trials bring us to God.
3. Trials develop enduring strength.

This Sunday he added to that four more; they are:

4. Trials produce Christ likeness.
5. Trials reveal what we truly love.
6. Trials demonstrate character.
7. Trials produce ministry opportunities

As he pointed out, there are many more and the point taken is trials, difficulties, and suffering in our lives is not pointless. God brings unexpected and purposeful trials into our lives. Pastor also pointed out God desires us to react to and face these trials in some specific ways.

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds ~James 1:2

Choose joy. When trials or suffering enters uninvited into our lives, we could respond and react to it in any number of ways. God says through James to lead with joy. When James says “Count it all joy”, he is saying to step back from the situation, get the big picture and let the driving response be a joyful one. You may be thinking, and rightly so, this is not my first reaction to trials and suffering. You are right; joy is not naturally the first responder on the scene when our lives become a train wreck. Consider the prophet Micah…

But as for me, I will look to the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me. Rejoice not over me, O my enemy; when I fall, I shall rise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light to me. ~Micah 7:7,8

God had revealed to Micah the coming judgment and destruction of Judah. This is the message Micah took to the people, calling them to repentance and turning back to the One True God. Even as he preached, Micah knew the people would not turn and judgment was inevitable, but he could still find joy. Micah is an example of what James calls us to do, which is to count it all joy when trials come. Micah has his eyes on God and the understanding that even though he should fall and sit in darkness, God Himself would be a shining light to and for him. He looks to God and takes joy that God hears him and saves him.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. ~Philippians 4:4 

Both James, and here in this verse, Paul command us to make joy our leading and guiding response always. But, we do not always feel that way when trials come. Since “counting it all joy” is a command and “rejoice in the Lord always” is a command, what does that tell us about James and Paul’s understanding about how we respond? Two things come to mind, one is rejoicing in the midst of trials is a matter of the will not feelings. Pastor pointed out happiness is a feeling in response to outside circumstances, but joy is a choice we make and perspective we take. The second thing we should take note of is both James and Paul believe it is within our ability to do this… with God’s help.

Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength; ~Habakkuk 3:17-19a 

Habbakuk, like Micah, knew judgment and destruction (trials) were coming at the hand of the Babylonians. God’s blessing on the nation was being withdrawn and along with the coming hoards they were to face, they would experience disease and famine. Again, the prophet’s response is to look to God and count it all joy. How is he able to do this? To respond to trials with joy is not humanly possible, but a miracle of grace! Habakkuk’s joy is not based on his circumstances, but in the Almighty God he serves. God Himself is the strength the prophet has to face these trials and God Himself is our strength to face the trials that come our way.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. ~Philippians 4:4

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Big Words, Deep Truths: Election

I think this image says it all... don't you?
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. ~Ephesians 1:3,4

The doctrine, or teaching, of God’s choosing people for salvation can certainly generate some discussion. As one of the Doctrines of Grace, some people call it Unconditional Election. What does the doctrine of Unconditional Election teach? It can be defined as an act of God before creation in which He chooses some people to be saved and not others, not on account of any foreseen merit or lack of it in them, but because of His sovereign good pleasure. The New Testament teaches election as a normal occurrence.

And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed. ~Acts 13:48

When you study Acts chapter thirteen you will read how Paul was preaching the Gospel in Antioch of Pisidia. The Jews there rejected his words, so Paul preached to the Gentiles. And when you ask the text the question “What people were saved in Antioch of Pisidia?” the answer comes in verse thirty-eight…

“as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.”

The only people who repented, believed the Gospel and were saved that day were those people for whom it was appointed to believe unto eternal life. As Pastor pointed out last Sunday, “God chose by Himself, for Himself” those people for salvation before time began. The Bible clearly teaches God chooses people for salvation and then acts to bring it about. That is good news, because if God did not choose and then act to save, then no one would be saved! Pastor pointed out how some people believe God simply looks down the corridors of time to see who would choose Him then acts to save them. If that were the case, God would not save anyone because no one would choose Him without His own sovereign act of regenerating the human heart.

No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. ~John 6:44

God’s choosing of who He saves is unconditional. In other words, there is nothing in us and there is nothing we do which is the grounds or basis for God’s choosing. The reasons for God’s choice of who He saves rest solely with Him.

What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. ~Romans 9:14-16

After Pastor preached this message last Sunday, I spent some time thinking about this God glorifying teaching and could immediately see at least three blessings in it. First it should help us develop a sense of humility. Think about it, where is the grounds for our boasting about salvation if God chose us before we chose Him? Election promotes humility not pride.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. ~Ephesians 2:8,9

Second, this doctrine should give us a sense of assurance about our salvation. Note what Peter said…

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. ~1 Peter 1:3-5

Peter says it in so many ways that our salvation is secure. That security rests in the fact that God chose us and caused us to be born again. Thirdly, election promotes glory to God alone above and over man. After all, that is where all glory should go…

For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption. Therefore, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” ~1 Corinthians 1:26-31