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A Deeply Satisfying Life

To enjoy your work and accept your lot in life–this is indeed a gift from God. God keeps such people so busy enjoying life that they take no time to brood over the past – Ecclesiastes 5:19-20

Wow. That’s a paradigm-shifting passage of scripture.

How often do we mourn over what we’ve lost so much that we miss all we still have?

Don’t get me wrong, it’s quite appropriate to mourn over painful things in our past–it’s healthy even.

But at what point do we brood over the past too long? And miss the joy of today?

The prophet Samuel found himself in a similar situation. He had anointed the first king of Israel, Saul, and it was a complete disaster.

King Saul was disobedient, so much so, that the scripture tells us “the Lord was grieved that he had made Saul king over Israel” (1 Samuel 15:35).

Samuel was grieved also. In 1 Samuel 16:1, it says:

The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king.”

Samuel had grieved long enough. God was on the move, doing something new! Something exciting! It was time for Samuel to be on his way. It was time for him to quit brooding over Saul and start enjoying the new thing God was doing.

I’ve spent plenty of time brooding over the past. So much so that I’ve missed the exciting things God is doing right now.

And it’s not necessarily HUGE things. But small, wonderful gifts.

Work is a gift from God. So are relationships. A walk in the park or the anticipation of Fall. Sharing a laugh with a friend. Enjoying a nice warm cup of tea. Eating a home-cooked meal.

These are the things that make for a deeply satisfying life. Enjoying God in the little everyday gifts we’re given. Seeing them as gifts worth celebrating.

It’s when we allow our paradigm to shift that we become so busy enjoying life that we don’t have time to brood over the past.

God is on the move! God is doing something new!

Will you join me in learning to live a deeply satisfying life?

-Dustin

Lift Up Your Hands and Celebrate

Think about all of the sounds. All of the countless sounds our Earth makes: twigs cracking beneath your tennis shoes, waves rhythmically hitting the sand and receding again, wind rushing through a corridor, cicadas singing on a summer night. So many sounds that don’t include human voices or movements. Nature itself is enough to create a mighty chorus that reaches heaven.

Psalm 148 calls all of creation to praise God, from the heavens to us on earth. The psalm begins in the broad expanse we know very little about: the universe. “Praise the Lord from the heavens; praise him in the heights above” (Ps. 148:1). Then the angels are called on to worship, then the sun, moon, stars, earth, sea creatures, lightning, wind, mountains, animals and, finally, kings, princes, women, men and children. It takes 11 verses for us to be mentioned. Do you ever think about all of the beings and things besides us that are praising God? Could it be that all of those sounds—waves, whales, cracking twigs—combined create a giant chorus all for God’s glory?

It is all for his glory, after all. As verse 13 of the psalm says, “Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted.” And the symphony is much more than our alto, tenor and soprano voices; it is all of creation, even the stars. Scientists have listened to the sounds giant stars make as they spin. Why else would these balls of light that are light years away make a sound if not for God to hear?

Considering our small voices in comparison with the sound of a super nova spinning in space, it makes you wonder why we are included in nature’s symphony at all. Surely God is receiving enough praise and not missing our squeaky songs. However, the Bible is very clear that we are set apart from the rest of creation. Genesis 5:1 explains, “When God created mankind, he made them in the likeness of God.”

We, unlike everything else, look like God. We are his children and our bodies are made for worshiping him (Rom. 12:1). That is enough reason to spend the rest of our lives in constant praise and gratitude for being included in the chorus. Yet, many of us turn our worship to other things. We so quickly forget the one who actually deserves it.

The prophet Isaiah warned that God’s people were becoming worshipers of false gods: “Their land is full of idols; they bow down to the work of their hands, to what their fingers have made” (Is. 2:8). So if we are not lifting our hands in worship to our savior, we are lifting them in worship to something else. Imagine a baseball game, a Coldplay concert, good news about a promotion. The natural reaction to these events is to raise your hands in celebration. How much more should we raise our hands to the one that created the entire universe? A universe too vast for comprehension in which stars succumb to his glory.

We raise our hands in celebration and in awe of God, but we also raise them when crying out in pain. Consider what David wrote in Psalm 63: “You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water.”

Our body reaches for him in our pain, when we thirst for his goodness but do not see it in the world around us. Then we lift our hands in desperate hope. We lift them for help to get out of the pit in which we find ourselves.

No matter the motive for lifting our hands toward God, we are worshiping him. We worship through pain as we would through celebration. Psalm 77:6 says, “I remembered my songs in the night.” This is a critical perspective we as Christians are asked to have. Night is dark. You cannot see what’s ahead of you. Another mountain to climb? Deliverance? More stillness and quiet and waiting on the Lord? But think again about all of the sounds. The singing does not stop when the sun sets: crickets are just waking up, mist settles on the grass, rain falls on the pavement. There is just as much praise at night from creation as there is at dawn—it’s just a different type.

As nature does, we also can sing through the night. We can lift our hands through the darkness and above the pain. We join all of creation in singing no matter the hour or circumstance, and we let faith arise in our midst. For as we know from experience and as we’ve been promised in scripture, joy comes with the morning (Ps. 30:5).

Here is a favorite song of mine that deals with this. It is titled “I Lift My Hands,” by Chris Tomlin. I encourage you to listen to this song. Celebrate God. Worship Him. Sing this song at the top of your lungs. Pray these lyrics. Lift up your hands and celebrate Him. He is worthy!

Be still there is a healer

His love is deeper than the sea

His mercy is unfailing

His arms a fortress for the weak

Let faith arise

Let faith arise

I lift my hands to believe again

You are my refuge

You are my strength

As I pour out my heart

These things I remember

You are faithful God forever

Be still there is a river

That flows from Calvary’s tree

A fountain for the thirsty

Your grace that washes over me

Let faith arise

Let faith arise

I lift my hands to believe again

You are my refuge

You are my strength

As I pour out my heart

These things I remember

You are faithful God

You’re faithful God forever

For an amazing message on this topic to take you a little deeper, please check this link out.

It will take about an hour. Make some time, it is well worth it. For real!!! It is a message from Louie Giglio. Louie is one of the most gifted teachers on planet Earth, and one of my favorites.

Be blessed.

-Pastor Tim

Toys then Trinity

I find it interesting that there are no one-man birthday parties.

When I was a small chap, the highlight of my birthday was the presents. I could have cared less about the cake, the songs, the festive plates and cutlery…I wanted to tear into wrapping paper. I wanted the GI Joe Snake Eyes action figure with working retractable belt. I wanted the Lego Mack truck that Snake Eyes had to evade by help of his working retractable belt. I wanted the platoon of army men who would set up an impenetrable ambush…that Snake Eyes had to evade by help of his working retractable belt.

Candy?  OK, I’ll eat some while I peruse the front of this Ninja Turtle book. Cake? A few bites, but then I must retire to quieter, less-hectic GI Joe/Lego/Ninja Turtle battlegrounds, (i.e. my room). Family?  Friends? Thanks for coming but, as you can see, an EPIC war is about to catch fire and I kind of need to be there…Snake Eyes is out numbered and he’s gonna need backup.

My party was about me. First and foremost. My GI Joe. My fun. My enjoyment. And the party didn’t really start until people were gone and I was alone with my toys.

Years passed, and I found myself discontent with never-ending plastic skirmishes stuck on repeat. I discovered I had to talk for Snake Eyes. Snake Eyes wasn’t able to talk for himself. My community was me.

Scripture shows us a God who IS community. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit glorify each other. They CELEBRATE each other. They always have, always do, and always will. I’ve discussed this in a previous blog post, but it’s an imperative truth we need to pay attention to: the triune God created us in his own image TO BE IN COMMUNITY.

I recently celebrated my birthday by having dinner with a handful of close, dear friends.  And I was bummed when it had to end.

I didn’t receive any Legos, action figures, or little plastic army men…nothing to appease the desires of a selfish, bored hermit.

I spent several hours dining, breaking bread with people I loved, laughing with them, celebrating with them.

My delight wasn’t in myself.

After several years I’ve come to understand that self can’t fill a trinity-sized hole.

-Nate

Pause

I love that celebration is a discipline.

I think so often we get caught up in ‘going, going, going’, ‘working, working, working’ that we forget to pause and celebrate. Take joy in what the Lord has done and is doing.

This discipline forces you to stop and spend time with your community. With your family. With your friends.

I think that sometimes we convince ourselves that we are “just too busy.” And that we can’t participate. We can’t stop and celebrate.

And then we miss out.

But in reality, if we start to see celebration as a discipline, it makes us take time. It makes us stop and enjoy what’s happening in our lives.

Don’t skip over the little things. Don’t look past the opportunities to celebrate. Don’t hide away and think ‘someday’ you’ll have time.

Rejoice. Celebrate.

-Jen

Practice Celebration

The spiritual discipline of celebration leads us to joy. When we fail to celebrate regularly, there is a slow leak in our joy tank. We keep that tank full through practicing celebration.

My blog is going to be short and to the point. What can you do this week to practice celebration?

Here are a few suggestions:

1. Take my challenge this week and find someone who is under-celebrated and bring them a cake or cupcake and celebrate them as a child of God, even if they aren’t a follower of Christ.

2. As a family, take a night this week and play Monopoly. Make sure you pray before you start and invite God into your time. Enjoy yourself and laugh out loud!

3. Invite a few people over for a nice meal. During the meal, spend time reflecting on how God has been faithful and good in your lives.

4. Unplugged from the TV for a week. This will allow more time for things like spending time with those you love: your kids, your wife or husband, a close friend, or simply resting and reflecting.

5. I have talked about this one before. Find a joy-mentor. I first heard this idea from John Ortberg in his book “The Life You Have Always Wanted.” He suggests finding someone who seems to have a ton of joy and meeting with them and asking them to teach you how to gain more joy.

6. Write someone a nice note celebrating their impact in your life.

7. Make a list of all the things/people in your life you are thankful for and take time to reflect on them in prayer. Thank God for all of this blessings. Start with a list of 10, then go to 25, then go to 50.  See how far you get, then keep this list close and when you feel the joy slipping, pull this list out and be reminded of God’s goodness and faithfulness.

I hope these help you in your journey.

Blessings,

Pastor Daniel

The Shadows Betray You

Often, the thing that holds me back from confession is fear.

Fear of bringing things into the light; fear of how someone might respond; fear of losing respect, or worse, losing relationship.

The light can seem a little intimidating when you’re hanging out in the dark.

But in Proverbs 28:13, it says, “He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy.”

According to the writer, it doesn’t pay to stay in the dark. In fact, slimy things tend to grow there.

Perhaps we feel safe in the darkness; but in reality, the shadows betray us.

Hiding in the shadows leaves us in a lonely spot, dealing with a lot of difficult stuff all by ourselves.

BUT, if we’ll be courageous enough to step out and take a risk, maybe we’ll find that we’re not so alone after all.

Maybe instead of finding rejection, we’ll find mercy, along with friends that can help us find freedom.

So how about it?

Will you risk confessing to a friend? Will you face your fears and take a chance on mercy?

-Dustin

Places Without Pride

I recently came across a quote: “Pride is an excessive desire for others to see us as impressive and admirable. Insecurity is the fear that they won’t…”

By nature we want people to think we’re the bees’ knees. “Check me out, I’ve got this all together. I’m the bomb. Consult the dictionary. No need to worry. Bask in my glorious, glorious glory.“

Confessing, however, makes us realize we’re naturally more like the bees’ wing pits—not nearly as endearing as knees.

Admitting we’ve wronged someone shatters that ever-so-present “impressive and admirable” quality we want to paint ourselves with. It brings to light those broken parts of ourselves we’ve darkened by forced seclusion and constant illusion. When it comes out, reality gets uncomfortable.

While God was wooing me back to Himself, he demanded that I make a bunch of hidden ugliness known. I didn’t want to touch it. For years I knew it needed attention, but attention would hurt. People would know my “glory” was a thin candy shell encasing heaps of rusty cans and rotten banana peels.

But my need for restoration outweighed this fear of the truth. I attended a church’s healing group where I aired all my junk to a community of Christ-followers. I got vulnerable…which was not fun…but it was out of this place, this anxious, uncomfortable, pride-less place where I met Jesus. And it was out of this place I began to heal.

Confession requires ownership of the wrong. The gospel is mind-blowing in that Christ voluntarily takes that sin from us, owns it himself, pays for it with his own spotless life, and gives us what his innocence deserves…life, freedom from sin, and TRUE glory.

He breaks your pride.
He obliterates darkness.
He brings freedom and life.

“But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light.  Therefore it says, ‘Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.’”  – Ephesians 5.

-Nate

These are my confessions…

Since I can’t get that Usher song out of my head, I figured I would have all of you get it stuck in your heads and then we could all be constantly singing it together…

You’re welcome.

I think confessing your ‘junk’ and letting people in on what’s really going on in your life is one of the most difficult things to do. It requires you to be completely vulnerable.

We don’t want people to know about all of the crumby stuff.

But once we let people in. Once we get all of that junk out there…there comes this freedom.

This beautiful freedom where you aren’t holding on to things, and you aren’t hiding anything, but you’re being completely honest and open.

The Lord brings this freedom. He is a loving God, who knows all. He knows about the junk. And there is something freeing about coming to Him and confessing. Coming to Him and saying, “Lord, I’m sorry. Forgive me for ___________.”

And then letting go. Because He forgives.

Find someone who you trust and know you can come to. Stop hiding stuff. Stop holding onto stuff.

And yeah, sometimes people don’t forget as easily as the Lord does. But maybe that’s to remind us that we don’t have it all together. That there could eventually be reconciliation, even if it takes time.

So, confess.

Finally embrace the freedom that Christ brings. Real freedom.

-Jen

The Power of Confession

If you have never read any of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s writings, you should.
Check out one of Bonhoeffer’s great thoughts on confession.

“The more isolated a person is, the more destructive will be the power of sin over him, and the more deeply he becomes involved in it, the more disastrous is his isolation. Sin wants to remain unknown. It shuns the light. . .In confession the light of the gospel breaks into the darkness and seclusion of the heart. The sin must be brought into the light. The unexpressed must be openly spoken and acknowledged. All that is secret and hidden is made manifest. It is a hard struggle until the sin is openly admitted. But God breaks gates of brass and bars of iron.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together (New York, 1954), pages 112-113.

-Pastor Tim

Confession for the Rest of Us

There are several seminal books when it comes to spiritual disciplines, growth, and training. I would suggest these three: (1) “The Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth” by Richard Foster, (2) “The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives” by Dallas Willard, and (3) “The Life You’ve Always Wanted: Spiritual Disciplines for Ordinary People” by John Ortberg. There are many more books on this subject than I have listed here, however, these three run the gamut on exhaustive and practical.

I absolutely love John Ortberg’s book, “The Life You’ve Always Wanted: Spiritual Disciplines for Ordinary People.” It has great content, it’s very practical, and probably has the best sub-title of any book on the subject.

I tend to think of myself as quite ordinary, and reading a book for people like myself is always helpful. I suspect if you are like me, you feel fairly ordinary when it comes to spiritual disciplines as well. Based on the statistics that I read, most people would consider themselves amateurs when it comes to spiritual disciplines. Perhaps it would be helpful to add these three books to your library.

On to the subject at hand. This past weekend I preached on the importance of confession as a spiritual discipline. I stressed its importance as a pathway to forgiveness, healing, and transformation. I also talked about how this spiritual disciplines builds humility, breaks pride in our life, and kicks the teeth out of self-righteousness. Toward the end of my message I shared 6 steps in the practice of confession from John Ortberg. They are as follows:

1. Preparation

“We begin by placing ourselves into the care of the Holy Spirit and asking for help.” Ask the Lord to put the cross mark in the right place.

2. Self-Examination

“This entails taking time to reflect on your thoughts, words, deeds, and acknowledging that we have sinned.” Francis de Sales wrote, “As to the examination of conscience…everyone knows how it is to be performed.” In other words, we know how to examine our conscience, we just need to do it. Some have used the seven deadly sins (pride, anger, lust, envy, greed, sloth, and gluttony). Some have used the Ten Commandments.

3. Perception

“We need a new way at look at our sin; a new understanding of it. All sin involves denial.” This is where we gain new perspective. We start to see the sin committed from the lens of the other person. Ortberg says, “We have to see our sin through new eyes. We need to see them through the eyes of those against whom we have sinned.”  

4. Two Questions: Why and What Happened?

These are two of the BEST questions ever when it comes to sin and confession. The answer I hear on a regular basis is, “I don’t know.” This is not a great answer, and many times simply lacks self-examination. No effort. I like to call this “slow motion introspection.” We slow everything down and get to the bottom of our motive and our behavior and the result.

So ask yourselves these two questions:

  • Why did I do what I did?
  • What happened as a result of my sin?

“Indeed, sin is often the attempt to meet legitimate need in an illegitimate way.”

5. A New Feeling

“After understanding comes a new way of feeling. True confession is not just an exchange of information; it also involves entering into the pain of the person we have hurt and entering into God’s pain over sin.”

“Contrition is as useful to the soul as pain is to the body.”

There are two different kinds of sorrow over our sin: (1) godly sorrow, and (2) worldly sorrow. Godly sorrow leads to a proper emotional response, grace, freedom, and is non-toxic. Worldly sorrow leads to condemnation and death.

6. A New Promise

“Confession is not just naming what you have done in the past. It involves our intentions about the future as well. It requires a kind of promise.”

“We resolve that, with God’s help we will change.”

I hope you find this helpful. As I said in my message yesterday, we can’t do it alone. It is vital that we develop spiritual friends. On September 2nd we will start small group sign-ups for the fall. I want to encourage you to get in a group so you can learn more about God and make spiritual friends. Check out www.elevationstl.com/gatherings/small-groups on September 2, 2012.

Blessings,

Pastor Daniel

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