Monthly Archives: November 2011

How to Redeem Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and the Shopping Beyond

Black Friday is not evil.  But it can be dangerous (I’m thinking spiritually, but many have found out it can be physically threatening as well. Yikes!).  Therefore we must be aware about how to redeem the days, the season and really shopping in general for the glory of God.

It all begins with what is the point of Christmas. Of course, like every day, Christmas is about Jesus.  So we redeem Christmas by remembering Christ. That seems like a “duh” but it is amazing how quickly TV’s, Computers, iPads, smartphones, movies, clothing, cars, home décor, food, sales, meeting families’ expectations, bad past holiday memories, etc. can lead our minds to forget Christ regularly.  The subtlety of it all is that the material things aren’t philosophically bad either. However, we must be aware that our hearts can make good things ultimate things and that is dangerous.  We spot the danger and begin to identify when Jesus has slipped from the center of life when we:

  • neglect God for things. Time in the word becomes more inconsistent. Your prayer life weakens. Going days without acknowledging him while consumed with buying things or searching for the right deals exposes idolatry.
  • neglect people for things. Other people’s needs grow really faint in our mind.  Our needs become supreme.
  • serve others less. That explains itself.
  • begin to think more about what we can get for ourselves (or even worse what we can sneak around to acquire) than what we can give to others.
  • find ourselves getting angrier easier, especially when something stands in the way of getting what we want or impedes our shopping time at the store or on the internet.
  • find our anxiety increases over gifts, getting that certain item. Trust God’s providence more than you do your abilities to secure what you think you need.
  • begin to place the external over the internal.  Even if we are generous with our things toward others let’s not make getting gifts more important than cultivating a heart for Christ at Christmas.

Christmas is about Jesus, but as we buy gifts we must remember why we buy them?  Christmas is also about giving generously to others and not just to those in your immediate family.  This will free you from the anxiety of what you will get and what your family can amass on these major sale weekends.  View these sales as opportunities to bless those you love.  View these sales as opportunities to be generous to others.  Spend some time in the month of December and ask yourself what or to whom you can give this Christmas.  As a church we not only have the general giving to the budget, but around Christmas time we always do a Hope 4 All Nations Offering so people can be generous in the task of reaching the nations.  But alongside that offering we need to be aware of the needs within our church. Understand that there are needs in your community group.  There are needs across your street we can discover as we get to know our neighbors. Remember Christmas is about experiencing the glorious truth – “it is more blessed to give than it is to receive” Acts 20:32.   Everyone needs to experience that joy at Christmas time.

Redeem Black Friday by enjoying God’s gifts, the sales, the friendships you can cultivate during the shoppingMake shopping as much about enjoying and loving people as getting and giving gifts.  We must view God’s gifts as just that, gifts to be thoroughly enjoyed, but be alert. Prepare your minds for action and be sober-minded not allowing God’s gifts to eclipse him in importance or primacy in your life.

One really practical help the Cordell family has found during these holidays is to guard against your weaknesses. This begins with letting another person into your weakness.  Dana knows my weakness is gadgets.  I know her weakness is clothing and getting things for her kids.  As a couple we are tempted to overspend (more me than her) or to buy more on impulse when things are so cheap (it’s a tie between us).  So going into these sales days we set a dollar amount that we can spend this Christmas and then make a list for those gifts we want to give inside the family, those we want to give to people in the church and/or others that are need.  We take that list and get only those things on the list.  This will sometimes keep us from overextending ourselves financially and guards against impulse buying.  Any impulse purchases we usually discuss as a couple and if we can’t agree we don’t get it.

In summary, 1) redeem these days of sales by not forgetting Jesus and being aware of when he is slipping from the center of your affections.  2) Redeem these days by remembering shopping is more about generosity and the joy of giving than it is the joy of acquiring.  3) Redeem these days by enjoying God’s gifts and the people you get to be with in the process. Don’t let it overtake Christ in your life.  Although getting things and enjoying them are good, that isn’t meant to be the only thing you think about as the sales papers and ads flash past your eyes.  Finally 4) be wise! Set up some helps that guard you from your areas of greatest temptation. So enjoy Christ and enjoy acting like Christ this Christmas who enjoyed things richly and gave sacrificially – even his own life – all for the glory of His Father.

How to Avoid Legalism While Pursuing Holiness?

These are some thoughts stirred up from Sunday’s sermon entitled “Freed to Holiness”

Legalism is a matter of the heart.  Pursuing holiness, especially obeying God’s commands, is not legalism. It is being an obedient child.  However it is doing the commands of God for the acceptance of God or to avoid the wrath of God, which turns a pursuit of holiness into legalism.

To pursue holiness is 1) to be separate from sin and 2) to pursue God’s glory above your own.  A pursuit of holiness can turn into legalism when obedience is done for your own glory or when your obedience is a boast in your deeds rather than God’s power.  Look at the Pharisees in Matthew 6:1-4 or Luke 18:9-14.

A pursuit of holiness becomes legalism when we major on amounts rather than on the heart. For example, we read our Bibles to savor the Savior not to earn favor before God. And we come to the Bible because our heart desperately needs God’s word day after day, moment after moment.  That is different than saying I must read for 30 minutes because any less time is not enough.  “Not enough for what?” is the question. When we talk in terms of time as a measure of holiness then we are usually seeking to avoid guilt derived from comparing ourselves to others or from a standard of holiness established by amounts rather than the intention of the heart.  The word “enough” is a dead give away for legalism as we seek to pursue the freedom of holiness.

We can also pursue holiness by praying to our Father in heaven. This is not to gain acceptance or to avoid wrath. I am accepted in Christ and Jesus is my only shelter from the fatal wrath of God.  I pray in order to commune with my Father, to petition him for needs, and to call out for his power to be exerted on behalf of others.  The legalist would be tempted to find obedience measured in the amount of time he/she prays or the amount of people you pray for (unless you gave your word you would pray for all 15 people in your community group…then you pray for 15 people). Holiness is not about amounts it is about the intention of the heart.

In your mind, the question might arise, “What if I don’t feel like reading my Bible, praying to God, or giving cheerfully? What if I don’t feel like loving my enemy or my neighbor?”  The answer is not, as I have heard before, to avoid “legalism” and disobey clear commands of Scripture. A pursuit of holiness is total surrender to Christ as your Lord and a desire to obey everything he has commanded that we might stay separate from sin.  Therefore the answer is to repent- repent of your lack of desire, confess your feelings of indifference, ask for God to meet you as you seek to obey, and then….Act.  Obey the commands of your good Master.  1 John 5:3 says, “ For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.”  They aren’t burdensome because he will give you everything you need-  the faith, the energy, the wisdom, and the way of escape- so that you can obey your Father.

Finally we avoid legalism when we remember pursuing holiness is more about walking by the Spirit than about externally obeying rules. As Christians we are not against rules. We have a loving Lord a good Father who commands us for our good and pursuing holiness is seeking ot obey him.  However as we fully submit our lives to God, we are said to be walking by the Spirit. Not everything in life has a rule attached to it.  And that is by design.  The law as commands was shown to not be able to change the heart of the Israelites. That is why when Jesus came we have been set free from the law of Moses to obey the law of Christ. Christ’s law has fewer commands, and is a stronger call to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit as  you seek God’s wisdom. You don’t have a law that says share the gospel with 2 people every day. You don’t have a law that says work for 45.35 hours and that is obedience and that 45.36 is disobedience.  You don’t have a law that says 5 kids is the obedient number of kids and that you should spank them 4 times for hitting and 2 times for talking back.  So how do we pursue holiness in the every day when there isn’t a specific command from God?  Briefly I call it worship and wisdom.  This is walking by the Spirit of God. We worship by cultivating a relationship with God through his word, prayer, deepening church community, giving generously of time and money, etc.  We read his word to know his explicit commands and we read his word to grow in our relationship with God. This cultivates a sensitivity to the Holy Spirit who gives us wisdom as we live life and make decisions regarding things where there are no laws. The Holy Spirit guides us into wisdom and growth in holiness through calling the word to our mind, through impressions, internal conviction and encouragement, and through circumstances. The Psalmist says, “Delight yourself in the Lord (worship), and he will give you the desires of your heart (wisdom is cultivate: your desires growing to line up with God’s desires).  So as we take our thoughts captive to Christ (2 Cor.10:5), prepare our minds for action and fight for sober-mindedness (1Peter 1:13-16) through daily discipline, the Holy Spirit guides us to know what wisdom looks like in certain situations.  I pray not only as individuals but as a community of faith we stir one another up to love and good works, that is we enjoy the freedom of pursuing holiness.

Meals are More Than Food, Just Ask Jesus

As we prepared our hearts for a meal with over 300 people from our immediate community after church, we were able to walk through Luke 5:27-32 on Sunday morning in the sermon entitled, “Meals are More than Food, just ask Jesus.”  The main idea was that meals are not just symbols of God’s provision and his creativity in the diversity of food we can consume, but a meal is a place to put our faith into action. Meals are in themselves 1) a context for community, 2) a platform for mission, and 3) a place to express and receive grace.  So following that outline we will take the next several posts to prepare our hearts for this meal-filled holiday season and more importantly begin to see Christianity not as something lived out only in the formal context of Sunday mornings but a faith that permeates all of life, especially our time together around food.  May our meals make much of Jesus who “came eating and drinking” on his way to “giving his life as a ransom for many” (cf. Luke 7:34, Mark 10:45).

Here are some excerpts from Sunday’s sermon:

When you sit down to eat a meal? What is most important?  Salad, main course, dessert, drinks? OR is it something else?  Is it the presentation- the glassware, the plates, the house decorations, etc.?  OR is there something more fundamental?  Are the meals as much about the people and the relationships as it is about food?

 “Our relationship to food is ambiguous. Television chefs have become celebrities, and cookbooks regularly appear on bestseller lists. Yet we cook less than ever before. Americans spend over $50 billion on dieting each year—$50 billion to solve the problem of food gone wrong. At any given moment 25 percent of American men and 45 percent of women are dieting. Only 9 percent of college-aged women have never tried to control their weight through dieting. American Christians spend more on dieting than on world missions.  We spend more curing our overconsumption than we do feeding the physically and spiritually hungry of the world. (A Meal with Jesus, Tim Chester, p12)

Something is wrong with this picture.

We have made an idol out of food and forgotten its purpose- to enjoy and to share.  The aim of life is to love God and love others. So we must look at Jesus’ life to understand the beauty of eating meals for those ends.

The Son of man came eating and drinking as a primary means for seeking and saving the lost.  When we begin to look at the role of meals in the life of Jesus we will see how important meals were for community, mission, and extending grace. (Luke 5:27-32; 7:33-50; Luke 9:10-17; Luke 10:38-42; Luke 11:37-54; Luke 14:7-24; Luke 19:1-10; Luke 22:7-23; Luke 24:36-49 are a sampling of their prominence in the life of Jesus.

Meals are places of community

Many of the “one anothers” in the Bible can be done well around a meal.

Meals are places to honor one another (cf. Luke 14:7-11)

Birthdays, fixing someone’s favorite meal, making meal for a family with a newborn, are not only ways for providing for needs but also for honoring people in your life.

Meals are places to serve one another

Making a meal for someone is an expression of love.  Those who make the meals in your home, do you see the meal you make as an opportunity to provide for your family, to bless others, and create a context for community? In preparing meals with the right heart, we are able to growing to be more like Jesus.

Meals are also place to train up your kids to be servants.  As your kids get older train them at the dinner table. Train them to listen to others, to ask about others, to respect their authority by only getting down from the table when they ask to be excused, to be thankful by expressing thanks to the cook, to delight in order by setting the table, to serve others by getting drinks for them, etc.  There are so many ways the dinner table serves as a training ground not for mere law but for shaping us into Christ’s likeness.

Meals are places to enjoy one another

When I asked my kids what do you think most characterizes our dinner time?  Their answer was…laughter!  Meals are a place to enjoy one another.  We tell funny stories about Dana and I growing up; we talk about what gave them joy during their day; we have a question jar at our table with questions that can solicit funny answers (like, “If you could make up your own ice cream flavor what would it be and why?”).  Make meals memorable by simple being all there (cell phones away) and seeing the holiness of enjoying fellowship with one another.

However we don’t just laugh. We enjoy one another by hearing each others hurts, by praying for each other and for missionaries or friends in the church. When there is tension, especially with siblings, we use the meal time for pursuing peace and reconciliation, confession, and forgiveness.  We even do dinner and devotions sometimes bringing the Bible time, about 10 minutes or so, into our after food discussions.

We also love having people over for meals. Meals are not only great for deepening existing relationships but many times meals are the context for really forming new friendships.

 All of these ideas are not done in one meal time. But creativity and intentionality will bring opportunities for community into every meal.

I pray that we seek to honor one another, serve one another, and enjoy one another as we form community at meal times.

More to come…

Meals are places of mission (part 2)

Meals are places of grace (part 3)

The Joy of a Wrecked Life

Sunday, at the end of my sermon entitled, “Freed to Slavery: the joy of total surrender”, I said that our Master, Jesus, sets us free to love others so that people might find freedom in Christ.  As an illustration I read some excerpts from a Katie Davis’s book, Kisses From Katie.  Katie is college age woman who is has found freedom in Christ and now uses her freedom to intensely love others with her life. Here are some excerpts that describe the joy of total surrender and I hope encourage us to love faithfully, daily, liberally, for the glory of God and for others to experience the joy of a “wrecked life.”

You see, Jesus wrecked my life.  For as long as I could remember, I had everything this world says is important. In high school I was class president, homecoming queen, top of my class. I dated cute boys and wore cute shoes and drove a cute sports car. I had wonderful supportive parents who so desired my success that they would have paid for me to go to college anywhere my heart desired. But I loved Jesus.

And the fact that I loved Jesus was beginning to interfere with the plans I once had for my life and certainly with the plans others and for me.  My heart had been apprehended by a great love, a love that compelled me to live differently…. I began to delve into the truths of Scripture. As I read and learned more and more of what Jesus said I liked the lifestyle I saw around me less and less. I began to realize that God wanted more from me and I wanted more of Him…. Slowly but surely I began to realize the truth: I had loved and admired and worshiped Jesus without doing what He said.  This recognition didn’t happen overnight; in fact I believe it was happening as I explored the possibility of overseas volunteer work, it was happening as I took my first three-week trip to Uganda, it was happening as I fell in love with a beautiful country full of gracious, joyful people and immense poverty and squalor that begged me to do more. It was happening in so many ways, and I couldn’t deny it. I wanted to actually do what Jesus said to do.

So I quit my life…

She goes on to describe how this quitting of life was a surrendering of her whole life to Him and His ways.  She says,

I no longer have all the things the world says are important.  I do not have a retirement fund; I do not even have electricity some days. But I have everything I know is important.  I have a joy and peace that are unimaginable and can come only from a place better than this earth.  I cannot fathom being happier. Jesus wrecked my life, shattered it to pieces, and put it back together more beautifully.

During the first few months I lived in Uganda, in fall of 2007, I wrote, “Sometimes working in a Third World country makes me feel like I am emptying the ocean with an eyedropper.” Today, it often still feels that way. I have learned to be okay with this feeling because I have learned that I will not change the world.  Jesus will do that.  I can, however change the world for one person…. And if one person sees the love of Christ in me, it is worth every minute.  In fact, it is worth spending my life for….

People often I ask if I think my life is dangerous, if I am afraid. I am much more afraid of remaining comfortable. Matthew 10:28 tells us not to fear things that can destroy the body but things that can destroy the soul. I am surrounded by things that can destroy the body. I interact almost daily with people who have deadly diseases, and many times I am the only person who can help them.  I live in a country with one of the world’s longest-running wars taking place just a few hours away.  Uncertainty is everywhere. But I am living in the midst of the uncertainty and risk, amid things that can destroy my soul: complacency, comfort, and ignorance. I am much more terrified of living a comfortable life in a self-serving society and failing to follow Jesus than I am of any illness or tragedy.  (Kisses From Katie, pXVII-XIX)

Have we experienced the joy of a wrecked life? This life will take us to places we never dreamed. It might not be Uganda or even overseas, but the point is not as much where are you surrendered but are you surrendered wholly to Christ?  Do we want our lives, driven by His love for us, to count in the loving of others?  My prayer is that when we look back at our lives we will not only stand in awe of the grace that set us free but we will say, by that same grace at work in us, “we used our freedom to love like Jesus” (Galatians 5:13).  I pray we hear these words,  “Well done good and faithful slave enter into the joy of your Master.” (cf. Isaiah 42:1, Matthew 25:21).