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Battle Ready

September 22, 2014

Life is filled with battles.  One of three things is true about you: you are coming out of a battle, you are headed into a battle, or you are right in the middle of a battle.  In Joshua 5, Joshua has an encounter with God where God prepares Joshua for the battle of his life.  If we are going to be ready for the battles, three things must be true of us.

1. We Must Be Courageous When Facing Conflict. Why is it that we are not fully following Jesus Christ? Why are we not sold out for Christ in our schools, our ball teams, our workplace, or in our conversations?  If we were honest I think we would say, “I am honestly afraid.  I am afraid of what it might cost me.”

Did you know that when God calls Joshua to follow Him in Joshua 1 that fear was a real possibility in the heart of Joshua.  The most repeated phrase in Joshua 1 is this: “Be strong and courageous.”  If you are a follower of Christ, you have the same three promises that Joshua had.  You have the promises of God’s Word, the principles of God’s Word, and you have the presence of God living inside you.

In Joshua 5 we see Joshua taking God at His word and showing some courage.  I think that is what we need in the body of Christ today, courage.  If we are going to be battle ready in our homes, our churches and our communities, we must be courageous when facing conflict.

2. We Must Be Devoted To Following Christ. Joshua 5:13 says, “Now it came about when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man was standing opposite him with his sword drawn in his hand.”  The idea in the text is that there is a surprise or an unexpected guest as Joshua is surveying Jericho. Joshua looks up and here is this guy standing with his sword drawn.

Joshua goes up to him and says, “Are you for us or for our adversaries?”

Joshua says, “Whose side are you on?” Joshua immediately draws a line in the sand and says, “Are you on Israel’s side or Jericho’s side?” In Joshua’s mind there are only two sides to the battle, Israel’s side and Jericho’s side.  He is right in this, there were only two sides to the battle but it was not Israel’s side and Jericho’s side, it was God’s side and the enemy’s side.

The man responds this way, “No, rather I indeed come now as captain of the host of the Lord.”

Joshua is in the presence of God. And because he is in the presence of God the question is not whose side is God on, the question is Joshua, whose side are you on?

By Joshua’s actions he will immediately answer the allegiance question and he will fall to his face and worship and by his actions he declares his allegiance and says, “God, I’m on your side.”  If we are going to be battle ready we must be courageous when facing conflict and we must be devoted to following Christ.

3. We Must Be Committed To Faithful Obedience. Joshua 5:14 says, “And Joshua fell on his face to the earth, and bowed down, and said to him, “What has my lord to say to his servant? The captain of the Lord’s host said to Joshua, “Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy.”

If we were to get some soldiers overseas right now and say, “Are your shoes important during battle?” They would say, “You better believe they are.” God tells Joshua to take off his shoes.

Do you know what the sandals represent in scripture? They represent a lot of what our shoes represent today. As we live life the shoes pick up the dirt and the junk as you live.  In Scripture the sandals symbolize any ungodliness, uncleanliness, sin, and filthiness that we pick up as we live life.

The Bible says, “And Joshua did so.”

When Joshua took off his sandals he was doing two things:  Joshua was acknowledging the holiness and perfection of the God in whose presence he was in and Joshua was acknowledging his own unholiness and uncleanliness and his need for the God in whose presence he was in.

For some of us today, if we are going to be battle ready, the most significant thing that will take place will be for us to lay some dirty sandals on the ground, to turn from our sin and acknowledge our need and dependence upon God.

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From Rubble To Revival

September 15, 2014

God has made us to be a singing people.

Martin Luther made this statement, “Next after theology, I give to music the highest place and the greatest honor.  I would not change what little I know of music for something great.”

In Ezra 3, the Children of God have come back to Jerusalem. It is a time of rebuilding the temple. Not only is it a time of physical rebuilding, it is a time of spiritual revival.  God is reviving His people and doing a rebuilding work in the life of His people and they are singing about it.  So what should be our attitude when God begins to do this rebuilding work in our lives?

1. Have A Heart Of Thankfulness.

The Bible says in Ezra 3:10, “Now when the builders had laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, the priests stood in their apparel with trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of Asap, with cymbals, to praise the Lord according to the directions of King David of Israel.”

The message of Ezra is the faithfulness of God even when we are unfaithful.  The Bible says in Ezra 3:11, “They sang, praising and giving thanks to the Lord.” When God does a rebuilding work in your life and in my life there should be an overwhelming sense of thankfulness where we realize this second chance in life is only because of the goodness of God. We don’t deserve it! God does not owe it to us.  It is only because of His goodness. Have a heart of Thankfulness.

2. Have A Heart Of Praise.

Ezra 3:11, “And all the people shouted with a great shout when they praised the Lord.”

As you study scripture and the history of the nation of Israel before they go into exile, God says through the prophet Isaiah, “These people do honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” 

They had a worship issue before they go into exile. Their issue was not that they did not show up for church on Sunday. The issue wasn’t even that they didn’t know the words of the song. They knew the words, they just did not mean the words.  There was a lack of sincerity in their words.  God says, “They are saying the right stuff, but I don’t have their hearts.” When God sends revival a sincerity returns to our songs of praise and I mean the words I say and the songs I sing.  Have a heart of Praise.

3. Have A Heart Of Remembrance.

Ezra 3:12, “Yet many of the priests and Levites and heads of fathers’ households, the old men who had seen the first temple, wept with a loud voice when the foundation of this house was laid before their eyes, while many shouted aloud for joy.”

Scholars disagree as to why these old men weep.  Keep in mind, at this point they are about fifty years removed from when the first temple is burned down.   There were some old folks there who had been there and they saw King Solomon’s temple.

Why do they weep? Some say they weep because “You always have a handful of folks around who say, “We ain’t never done it that way before and it just ain’t as good as it used to be.” There are always a handful of complainers and everybody has some.

But I imagine these old men, as they make their way to this new foundation and as they walk past the old ruins and the old ashes, their mind goes back to how it used to be. I imagine them beginning to ask this question, “How did we ever get so perverted in our worship and in our living that God had to do this to get our attention?  How did I ever get so far from him in my walk with Him and my love for Him and my relationship with Him that in order for Him to get our attention He had to do this?”

When God sends revival there are tears because sometimes it reminds us of just how far we have come and that we are not where we should be. Have a heart of remembrance.

4. Have A Heart of Change.

Imagine the setting. You have some people who are shouting and then you have some people who are weeping!  That should be the way it is in every church.  If there is any place in all of Louisville that I ought to be able to come and to be real when I hurt or real when I have blown it or real when I have been disappointed or real when I have experienced loss, it ought to be with the people of God.  If there is any place where I ought to be able to come and shout, it ought to be with the people of God.

When God does His rebuilding work in our lives, may we have hearts of thankfulness, hearts of praise, hearts of remembrance, and hearts of change.

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Revive

September 8, 2014

Is your Christian life a blazing fire or is it a dull routine?  If the average Christ-follower lived their Christian life in such a way that it was a blazing fire rather than a dull routine, I think the church would look different than it does today.  I honestly don’t think we would have to beg people to give money to their church.  I don’t think we would have to beg people to share the Gospel with other people.  I don’t think we would have to beg people to be engaged in missions.  I don’t think we would have to beg people to serve.  I believe we really would look a lot different. My prayer is that we will be on fire for Christ.  My prayer is that God will revive and wake up His people in such a way that we will have an eternal impact on our city and our world for His glory.

G. Campbell Morgan said, “Revival cannot be organized, but we can set our sails to catch the wind from heaven when God chooses to blow upon His people once again.”

2 Chronicles 7:14 is perhaps one of the greatest texts we use for talking about “revival.”  The Bible says, And My people who are called by My name.” 

Revival is for the people of God.  Revival is for those who claim the name of Christ.  Revival is not for the lost world.  Revival is for believers.  It is for Christ-followers.

“And My people who are called by My name humble themselves…”

There must be brokenness.  All over this passage you see images of humility before God and getting on your face before God.  Revival only comes when we are humble.  It is not a sense of pride.  It is when people get honest about their need for God and are humble before God.  It happens when God’s people are broken.

“And My people who are called by My name will humble themselves and pray.”

Revival comes when there is prayer.  This is not a friendly conversation.  This praying is a pleading.  It is a begging for mercy.  It is a crying out for mercy.  God says, “I am only going to send revival when My people pray, when they cry out to me.”

“seek My face.”

Revival only comes when there is seeking.  It is the idea of longing for God.  Do you long for Him? 

“and turn from their wicked ways.”

Revival comes when there is repentance. 

“And My people who are called by My name will humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

In the New Testament revival is perhaps best described by the phrase, “awaken from sleep.”  It is the idea that a Christian has fallen asleep in his devotion and commitment to the Lord and God intervenes in his life and wakes him up.  Have you fallen asleep?  Have you lost your passion?  Have you lost your hunger?  Have you lost your gratitude for the greatness and mercy of God?  The message of the Gospel is that we serve a gracious God, a merciful God and today His streams of mercy want to flow into your heart and into your life and bring healing to your school, your marriage, and to your church.

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Protecting The Unity

June 10, 2014

It is your job to protect the unity of your church.  Unity in the church is so important that the New Testament gives more attention to it than it does to heaven or hell.  God earnestly desires that we experience oneness and harmony with each other. 

If you are a part of the family of God, it is your responsibility to protect the unity of your church. Ephesians 4:3 says, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”

But the question arises, “How do we do this?”  Below are 6 suggestions for protecting the unity in your church:

1. Focus On Our Commonalities. Romans 14:19 says, “Let us concentrate on the things which make for harmony, and on the growth of one another’s character.” 

2. Avoid Unrealistic Expectations.  People are going to disappoint you and let you down.  But remember, they are your family even when they don’t act like it.  Ephesians 4:2 says, “Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love.” 

3. Be Encouraging.  Romans 14:10 says, “But why do you judge your brother?  Or why do you show contempt for your brother?  For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.” Replace criticism with encouragement.  Even the worst critics respond to encouragement. 

4. Stay Away From Gossip.  People who gossip to you will also gossip about you.  They cannot be trusted.  Proverbs 20:19 says, “A gossip reveals secrets; therefore do not associate with a babbler.”

5. Make Reconciliation A Priority. Often when conflict arises we complain to a third party rather than courageously speaking to the person we are upset with. Go directly to them.  Matthew 18:15-17.

6. Support Your Church Staff and Leaders. Hebrews 13:17 says, “Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account.  Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.” Pastors will one day stand before God and give an account of how well they watched over you.  But you will also give an account of how well you followed your leaders.

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My Place In The Body

May 21, 2014

If you are a follower of Christ, God has called you to serve Him and God has equipped you to serve Him.  The way that God has equipped you to serve Him is this: God has given to you a spiritual gift.  You are to take it, discover it, develop it, and deploy it for Christ. 

If we are going to be a healthy body growing, maturing, functioning and witnessing, then every member has a ministry that lends itself to the health of that body.  Your ministry is vital to the health of the church.  Your failure to serve, your unfaithfulness, carnality, selfishness, divisive spirit, and laziness spiritually are all non-functions.  Non-functions make the body sick, crippled, and stop our growth and maturity.  Three things to keep in mind when you think about your place in the body of Christ:

1. Spiritual Gift – You Have One. 

“Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware.”(1 Corinthians 12:1)

These gifts are “gifts of grace” which means you do not earn them.  They are grace gifts. 

“I do not want you to be unaware.  You know that when you were pagans, you were led astray to the mute idols, however you were led.  Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus is accursed”; and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.”(1 Corinthians 12:1-3)

Evidently there was a lot of craziness going on in Corinth.  Corinth was a very carnal church.  As a result, Paul says, “Look, let’s get rid of this ignorance.  There are all kinds of strange things happening here.  Spiritual gifts are being distorted.” 

Any time you find worship that draws away from the Lord Jesus Christ, even worship that magnifies the Holy Spirit rather than the Lordship of Jesus Christ, that worship is false. 

“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord.  There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons.  But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”(1 Corinthians 12:4)

In verse 4 you find the word “gifts.”  In verse 5 the word “ministries.”  And in verse 6 the word “effects.” The “gifts” speak of God’s provision.  God has given you a gift.  “Ministries” speak of God’s purpose.  He gave you a gift for a purpose. “Effects” speak of God’s power. He empowers 

God makes a provision.  He has a purpose for that provision.  God gives you power so that you might fulfill the purpose of that provision that God has given you.  If you are a child of God, you are gifted.

2. Spiritual Gifts – God Gives And Empowers.

“But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills.”(1 Corinthians 12:11)

A spiritual gift is a Spirit-given ability which acts as a channel through which the Holy Spirit ministers to the body. In other words, through those gifts, the Holy Spirit wants to minister through you to the body. We are plugged in to Him.  He gives and empowers.

3. Spiritual Gifts – You Must Discover and Deploy.

“For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, and to another effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues.” (1 Corinthians 12:8-10)

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God Transforms Our Past

May 7, 2014

The Bible says in Isaiah 61:3, “To grant those who mourn in Zion, giving them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a spirit of fainting.”

In the Old Testament, if someone were to fall into sin or let God down or feel like they are letting other people down or letting themselves down, there was intense mourning and seriousness with God.  One of the ways they would show their shame and their repentance, they would take ashes and put those ashes over their head as a physical sign of mourning and grief. It was a physical sign that they have been hurt and they have made mistakes.

But God says, “I give you beauty for those ashes.” So many people live lives that are covered with ashes and covered with shame.  The Bible tells us, “Jesus Christ will give you a crown of beauty for those ashes.”

You may not be the one covered in ashes, but maybe you live with or work with or live next door to people, who every single day need to hear the message, “I can exchange the shame of my life for the crown of beauty that Jesus Christ gives.” He gives us beauty for ashes. 

He gives us the oil of gladness.” 

That oil symbolizes the spirit of God, the joy of the Lord Jesus Christ. I believe the closer and closer you and I get to the heart of God and living for God, the more joy will be evident in your life and in my life. 

And then he says this, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.” 

Picture it this way.  It’s like you have this backpack, big huge sack and it is loaded down with guilt. It is loaded down with shame. And it is heavy. He says, “God will take that guilt, and He will take that backpack of shame and He will give you a garment of praise.”

In the bible there is only one time where we get a full description of a female who would cover her head in ashes. That female was one of David’s daughters and her name was Tamar. Tamar had a half-brother by the name of Amnon.  Amnon would lust for his half-sister. He would trick her and manipulate her into his room and then he would rape his half-sister. And then out of guilt, I believe, the bible says, “He would hate her.”  He would have her thrown out.  And the Bible tells us that Tamar would forever live in desolation. 

After this occurs in the life of Tamar, the Bible tells us that Tamar covers her head with ashes and she rends her garment.” 

That is her royal robe. That royal robe was a testimony. It demonstrated her virginity or her purity. She would take those ashes and she would cover her head and her shame and her embarrassment and her desolation.  And that garment would be torn.

And you know what?  She lived with those ashes. She lived with that shame because it was something that was not her fault. She was a victim. But even in that victimization she still lived with this overwhelming sense of shame and embarrassment.  Tamar never experienced the truth of this passage.

Perhaps there’s something like that in your past. Were you the victim of something that wasn’t even your fault?  But along with that experience you carry around, not on the outside, but on the insides, a sense of shame and guilt and unworthiness for something that’s not your fault.

The Good News of the Gospel is this: Jesus Christ will give you a crown of beauty for those ashes. He will give you a garment of praise in exchange for that load of guilt that you have carried for something that’s not even your fault.  I think there is probably a whole bunch of people right where you live who need to hear that. God transforms our past.  I believe the same thing can be true in your life. And that is the Good News.

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Serving Him

May 1, 2014

“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord.  There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons.  But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” (1 Corinthians 12:4)

I have found, in my short life, that there are basically 3 kinds of people in every church.  There are those who make things happen.  Then there are those who watch things happen.  And then there are those who don’t even know anything is happening.   And honestly, I think most of us are in that middle group.  We are watchers.  We are observers.  But we have never really gone to work.  And this is truly bothersome to me because the sad thing is that there is so much unconcern on the part of many of us who name the name of Christ.

We sit in our services and listen to messages, and we go out and we never, ever really get involved.    A wise man said, “The average church is like those people at a football game.  Down there on the field are 22 men desperately in need of rest.  And up in the stands are 50,000 people desperately in need of exercise.”

I think that is probably the way it is in most churches.  But God has called you to serve Him and God has equipped you to serve Him.  And the way that God has equipped you to serve Him is this:  God has given to you a spiritual gift.  And you are to take it, discover it, develop it, and deploy it for Christ.

We ought to be serving in an area that we are gifted in and passionate about.  How painful is it to watch the first few episodes of American Idol?  Don’t you feel like those people have been deceived and no one loves them?  Because we think, “Surely if someone loved them they would have said, “No way, son.  You are going to be on one of those first few shows!  For our sake, for the family name, please don’t go!”  Now, I can say that because I can’t carry a tune in a bucket.  I know that and I am ok with that!

But we see this all the time.  It is the same way in the church.  That is why we have to get everyone serving in their area of giftedness.  So ultimately you are being gifted by God.  I’m not saying that you don’t grow in your gifts.  I’m not saying that you don’t work on your gifts.

Now, some of you sit here and you say, “Well, I don’t know what my gifts are, Mark.  I have no idea where I’m gifted.  I think it may be this or that.  I think I might be the American Idol kid. Help me.”

Here is how you figure out your gifts.  Figuring out your gifts is a community project.  We find out our gifts by doing life together.  Because when we are doing life together, we can spot and say, “Hey, do you realize you are really good at this?”  As you interact with people, you’ll find yourself going, “Oh yeah, well the Bible says this about that,” and you begin to see that you might be a teacher.

The point is, you must discover your gift.  But it can’t stop there. You have to deploy your gift.  Put it to work.  Why?  Every one of the gifts that we have was complete and perfect in Christ and He gives us, as members, these various gifts that we might be built up to the fullness of Christ.  Every single gift given to the church was a characteristic of Jesus Christ.  And so, the only way you will ever be that full stature man in Christ, is when you have all those gifts being ministered to you.

That is why you must deploy your gifts.  That is why I must minister my gift to you, because as I minister my gift to you it builds you up in that area.  If I minister to you in the gift of preaching maybe you will never have the gift of preaching.  But you’ll learn just from my ministering to you how to communicate at a better level.  And so, I have built you up in that way.

And that is why 90% of my week is spent in preparation.  I don’t have all the gifts.  You don’t have all the gifts.  Maybe your gift is showing mercy and you minister that gift to me and I learn a little more how to show mercy.  And I’m built up in that area and pretty soon every member ministers to each other we’re all built up as individuals to be like Christ and show forth all his attributes and then collectively as a body we manifest a total person of Christ.

So you see that every spiritual gift was taken from the nature of Christ.  And I will be totally honest with you.  And this is why I want to take my gift very seriously and give my life to it.   Personally, I would not want the responsibility of being the crippler of the body of Christ.  No thank you.  I want to operate my gift.  And by your constant ministry to me, I will be built up in my weaker areas, my non-gift areas.

I may never have the gift that you have, but I’ll be built up in that area because of the ministry of your gift in that area to me.  So your ministry of gifts holds me up and builds me up.  And my ministry to you builds you up.  You may not have the gifts that I have, but my gifts can build you up in that area.  So we are both strong and healthy when we minister to each other. Let’s be the Body of Christ!

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