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Condemnation

Untitled design-10By David Wise

Yesterday we went through chapter 15 of The Story. What God put on my heart was a heavy message about Israel’s (and our) unfaithfulness. There are sermons that are fun to preach, and there are those that are weighty, yesterday was the latter. Comparing our actions to that of adultery was not easy and I found myself emotionally exhausted after preaching. Part of what goes into every sermon is prayer and study during the week leading up to Sunday. This last week was full of the weight of the message of Hosea and I found myself nervous to see how the message would be received.

As with most churches, we have people who are in pain, some who have cheated in relationships, and others who have been cheated on (sometimes recently). To explore the message of Hosea meant to grasp with and try to understand the pain of adultery and then to apply that in our relationship with God. All week I thought about ways that I’ve been unfaithful and I have never had a problem coming up with a list of idols and other gods that I’m guilty of worshipping, but to reframe those sins within the lens of adultery emptied me emotionally.

Yesterday I found myself wanting to block everything out and just move on to a new sermon and a new theme, as if the concept of adultery was simply too much for me to deal with. This morning I woke up and began reading the next chapter of The Story, but I couldn’t shake the reality of my unfaithfulness. All morning my heart was heavy and I felt defeated. While most sermons leave me feeling convicted, today I feel condemned.

As I was thinking and praying earlier, I was reminded that, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” (Romans 8:1). Although I am too often guilty of cheating on God, “through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set [me] free from the law of sin and death.” (Romans 8:2). The Apostle Paul goes on to say, “For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” (Romans 8:3-4)

I know that we as a people need to hear God’s message, and more than simply hearing it we need to obey the message and return to God with all of our hearts. In the midst of that message I would hate for anyone to hear that it depends on our work, because really I am powerless. It took God sending His own Son. Because of everything God has done, now I am able to live according to the Spirit, and by His power, I no longer have to commit adultery on God. I can’t restate this enough; this is only possible because of the Holy Spirit’s work in me.

When I think about my unfaithfulness, the tendency can be to try harder and often that leaves me in a place of hopelessness because my best effort is simply not good enough. When I put the focus back on God and what He has done through Jesus, then (and only then) I am left with hope. While God wants us, desperately, to return to Him, He does not manipulate us with feelings of condemnation. God may convict us through His Holy Spirit, which will not leave us feeling hopeless, but rather empowered by His very Spirit.

Although each of us may struggle with adultery in different shapes and forms, do not allow the enemy to make you feel condemned. Christ has taken our condemnation so that we can live according to the Spirit. As we strive to live according to the Holy Spirit then we no longer focus on our adultery, we focus on our good and loving God who sent His very Son to set us free and give us life.

As we begin this year and continue through The Story, may we be a people who return to God with all of our hearts. May we be a people who strive to live according to the Spirit and not according to the flesh. Although we’re each guilty of adultery against our God, may we constantly remember that there is no condemnation because of Christ Jesus.

Cling to that truth and move toward God constantly, listen to the convictions the Holy Spirit gives you, but do not allow condemnation to cripple you. We have an enemy who wants to disable us from following our Lord, and he is cunning and will use whatever works against us. Too often I have allowed my own mistakes to take the focus when I should have simply been focusing on life in the Spirit. May this message bring comfort, peace, and freedom from condemnation as we get rid of the flesh and follow the Holy Spirit.

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Personal Weakness

Personal Weakness

By David Wise

Personal weakness is not something we like to admit or talk about. As we talked about obedience in weakness yesterday it was necessary to think through my past and process weakness in my life, but as soon as the sermon was done then it was time to move on to the next chapter and a new theme or concept. Except that isn’t happening. As we’ll discover this week in chapter 8 of The Story, obedience in weakness is a continuing theme and will run throughout the Bible as a whole.

Weakness is not bad, it’s just uncomfortable and difficult to be open and vulnerable about. I’ve talked about it before, but weakness is one of those things that we’re willing to admit after the fact. We share a weakness that we used to have (even I was guilty of that in yesterday’s sermon), but sharing weakness as we’re struggling against it is not often bridged as a topic. The truth is though, I am currently weak.

Whether it’s self-induced stress, worrying about everything, discouragement, frustration, or bitterness, I am struggling constantly in my weakness. Even today I have felt discouraged and I can’t figure out why. Usually I would sink into a mild depression and hide that fact from everyone around me, but today I decided to reach out to some friends and simply ask for prayer. I don’t know why it’s so difficult to ask for prayer about discouragement and depression, but even that simply task is hard for me. I think that as a pastor sometimes I’m supposed to have it all together, but I don’t and the sooner I can share that with those around me the sooner God can work through my weakness.

By sharing the need for prayer in the midst of my current weakness, I was forced to take down my own walls and admit where I’m at right now and I had to acknowledge that I can’t do this on my own. That was a small example of what needs to happen more often and on a larger scale. I realized that I don’t admit my weaknesses very often, and even if I admit them I don’t allow God to work on them.

To work through weakness, the first step seems to be acknowledging those weaknesses. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it is the most constant weaknesses that I’m faced against. I struggle with discontentment constantly: there were distractions during the morning or things didn’t go as smoothly as I hoped and the sermon didn’t turn out the way I hoped it would, the church hasn’t grown enough and I wonder if I’m the reason new people aren’t coming or staying, I still snap at the kids over little things and feel defeated as a father, I don’t support Natalye like I want to and make her feel devalued, I don’t feel like a good enough friend, a caring enough pastor, and the list goes on and on.

Those are not past weakness, they are current ones and they are difficult to admit, but trying to hide from them (or simply hiding them from others) does not solve anything. I’m learning that as I acknowledge my weaknesses (both to God and to others) that the Lord comes alongside me and provides His power to cover my weakness. God also uses those around me to help me work through those things. This isn’t just a theory but something I’ve seen recently as I’m learning to bring my power to an end and to rest in my weakness.

Over the past few weeks as I’ve opened up about weaknesses I’ve seen God bring people alongside me to help with my shortcomings. At times it’s been the elders who are constantly helping me be a better pastor, the staff who have stepped up to take responsibilities in areas where they are stronger and more proficient, my friends who are faithful to listen and pray through things with me, and the congregation who is much more graceful and loving than I deserve. I’m learning that when I acknowledge my weaknesses that people don’t lose respect and trust for me but they seem to find comfort in knowing that I’m human but also it becomes an incredible opportunity for different people to minister in their strengths and above all God is glorified through the process.

Whatever it is about our society that devalues weakness needs to change and allow people to acknowledge their weaknesses. Until we’re able to be vulnerable and open, we’ll walk around thinking we’re the only ones who don’t have it all together and we’ll continually fail while trying to make things happen in our own power. God is capable of working through the weak and when we allow Him to work in us and through us in our weakness then God is able to receive all glory, honor, and praise. Thank God that I am weak and praise God that He is strong.

Discontentment

you will not get what you truly deserve if you’re too attached to the things you’re supposedto let go of.

By David Wise

As we’ve been going through The Story each week, I’ve found myself overwhelmed with the amount of content to cover. Different chapters in the story can cover dozens of chapters from the Bible. This has left a lot of weeks where there were side veins I would have loved to explore but because of the focus of the series, we’ve stayed on the major storyline of the Bible.

Going through the story of the Israelites wandering through the wilderness (Chapter 6 in The Story), I was struck by the Israelites’ attitude toward God. The Lord delivered them from Egypt, led them through the Red Sea, guided them by pillars of clouds and fire, and even dwelt among them in the Tabernacle. God has given them manna every single day, enough for 2 million people on top of that, and yet the Israelites want to go back to Egypt for melons, cucumbers, leaks, onion, and garlic (seriously who was craving that combination… I would have been missing steak, sweet potatoes, and ice cream). As we read about the grumbling and complaining that spread amongst the Israelites I was convicted by the Holy Spirit.

So often I look at the Israelites and condemn their lack of faith and trust. I criticize their disobedience and thick-headedness. I scoff and am shocked at their attitude toward the Great Provider, and yet if I’m honest I am continually reminded of how similar I am to them.

God has provided for all of my needs: beautiful wife, incredible kids, healthy family, dream job, home that we own, two cars, and money for necessities and non-necessities. We have more than we need and yet in recent weeks I’ve felt my heart pulled toward discontentment just like the Israelites.

We’ve lived in the same house for 6 years and it’s starting to feel small. There are 3 bedrooms and a small living room for 5 of us to live life in. During the past during the past few weeks I have been longing for a larger home, more bedrooms, maybe a game room for the kids. While it’s not wrong to think about a dream home or look at what might be out there, I can tell you that I was beginning to grumble and complain. God, we could do more ministry in our home if it was larger. God, I would be less stressed if I had an office at home to read in each morning where I wouldn’t wake the kids up early. It became more than just the house.

Eventually grumbling and complaining can spread to other areas. Car, paycheck, family, relational dynamics, and before you know it discontent has been spread just like it was with the Israelites. To combat this mindset and attitude, I put into practice a habit that some friends from LifeGroup have told me about. The idea is to make a list of blessings God has given and to give thanks for what He’s already provided. I’m not much of a list maker, but the idea has been priceless. Instead of wanting more and grumbling and complaining I’m able to reflect on God’s provision and praise Him in the midst of it.

This week my heart has been changed to see the benefits of the house we live in: the mortgage is small enough that we’ve been able to be more and more generous, the size brings our family physically closer and forces us to spend more time together, we live in the middle of our community and are close to the church building and the kids’ school. Although the house is just one example of what can happen with a little grumbling and complaining, for me it’s been an important one.

It begins as a little discontent and potentially ends as a great deal of dissatisfaction. The opposite is also true, what begins as a little thanksgiving can build into a life of praise. The God of the universe has provided over and above what I deserve and more than what we need and it’s time to be thankful and put his provision to good use.

 

Familiarity

Untitled design-3“Familiarity breeds contempt.” I first heard those words when I sat across a table from a newly divorced man. Although he was sharing about the negative downfall of a marriage, I remember that short sentence sticking in my mind. There is truth in the statement for more than marriage relationships. As we’ve been making our way through The Story, the first few chapters are familiar to those who have grown up in church and read their Bible continually: the creation account, Abraham and Isaac, Joseph, and Moses. They are familiar to so many people, and unfortunately just like the man sitting across the table, people can allow the familiarity to breed contempt.

As someone who was dedicated in a church as a baby, attended Sunday school, youth group, small groups, sermons, summer camps, and even Christian college, and now seminary, there are times where familiar stories can seem redundant. I’ve talked to friends who have heard a pastor merely mention the name of a familiar Bible character and their eyes glaze over and they’ve tuned out. As a pastor I would like to tell you that something like this has never happened to me, but I would be lying. I know all too well what can happen when there’s a familiar story, idea, or theme. The first reaction is, “I already know all of this.” Then a variety of emotions flood over me: apathy, frustration, arrogance, disappointment, and pride (just to name a few). This is not how it should be though.

The Bible is not some virus that our bodies should become inoculated toward. The stories that make the mosaic of Scripture are not one-hit wonders where we hear them and then discard any future worth or value from them. The Bible is living and active, which means that God can bring fresh meaning even from stories we’ve heard our whole lives. It doesn’t matter if we’ve seen the story in Sunday school, read it in our study Bible, and heard 20 sermons about it over the years, there is still something fresh that God can reveal to us because the Word of God is alive.

This was the case for me on Sunday during LifeGroup. As I was leading the discussion questions based on the life of Joseph, we were talking about his relationship with his brothers. While preaching the sermon I was already familiar with the story, but there in the discussion I felt like God was revealing something personal that I hadn’t dealt with or connected to His goodness. As Joseph was talking to his brothers (the ones who had sold him into slavery), he was saying how he would provide for them and in our LifeGroup discussion we started talking about forgiveness.

Even though I had read, studied, written, preached, and started leading the discussion, this story that I’ve heard dozens of times came alive in a new sense. God used that portion of the story to convict me about a person that I had thought I had forgiven. The truth is that I haven’t forgiven the person, it’s just that they’ve been out of my life for 20 years. I asked the group to be praying for me to know how to forgive someone who is no longer a part of my life.

It would have been really easy to glance over the story of Joseph and to blaze through the discussion questions because I was familiar with the story and ideas, but by being open to God’s revelation I have a new area of my life to allow the Holy Spirit to work on. I would have never thought about this if it weren’t for that LifeGroup discussion and being willing to approach a familiar story with fresh eyes.

I know that some in our congregation have heard these stories for decades. Please don’t allow your familiarity to breed contempt toward what God can do through engaging the Scripture with fresh eyes. We have other people in the church who have never read the Bible as a whole, people who are experiencing these stories for the first time. Ask God to use you in their lives, but also to show you things that He wants to do in your life. The story of the Bible is for all of us, no matter how many times we’ve heard these smaller stories, they continue to point us toward our living God who wants to be with us. This week pray for eyes to see something fresh in the stories you may be familiar with. God wants to reveal Himself through every story in Scripture, don’t let familiarity breed contempt.

Physical Theology

promise_remembered,_a_std_cbTwo weeks ago, we began our series of The Story: The Bible as One Continuing Story of God and His People. To prepare for this series, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to take a biblical history tour through Israel. For ten days we walked, hiked, and drove through the lands of the stories from the Bible. We made our way through over fifty biblical sites and studied archeological ruins, read Bible stories in the locations where they took place, and gained an invaluable experience.

Early in the trip, our leader explained a phrase and concept that would shape my time in Israel, as well as my time spent in reflection on the trip: physical theology. So many of us have been exposed to the stories of the Bible. Whatever knowledge of them we may have, often our understanding is devoid of a physical awareness of where these stories took place: the geography, topography (valleys were important for the use of chariots in wars and cities were stationed on high ground for defense), and history surrounding these places. Justin Taylor writes about a lecture given on physical theology on thegospelcoalition.org and says,

“God has revealed Himself in time, space, and culture. People of faith from biblical times through today seek to live according to His purposes as reflected in the Bible. [T]he original context of Scripture—the land, culture, and language—is valuable for understanding both the message of the Bible and its contemporary relevance. The ancient Israelites and Jews in later periods lived off the land and lived out their response to God through the law, the feasts, and the challenges of life in the land. The land was God’s testing ground of faith, and as we encounter the “physical theology” expressed in Scripture, we are better equipped to grasp the lessons it has for us today.”

Although there were so many things I learned and experienced throughout the trip, the physical theology that I gained was by far the most precious. My hope and goal has been to integrate this experience into the sermons for our new series, but I didn’t realize how difficult it would be to incorporate the physical theology into the sermons.

Yesterday we talked about Chapter 2 and the story of Abraham. Something I just didn’t have time to cover was the side-story of Abraham allowing Hagar and Ishmael to be sent away. He gives them some food and water and sends them off to wander in the Desert of Beersheba. When the water ran out, Hagar put Ishmael under a bush and went away because she couldn’t watch her son die. As she sits there sobbing, God hears the boy crying and the angel of God calls to Hagar asking what’s the matter. He tells her not to be afraid, that God has heard the boy crying. Then the angel of God tells her to lift the boy and take him by the hand for he will make Him into a great nation. In Genesis 21:19 we read the final verse of the story,
Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. So she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink.

It’s a beautiful story about God hearing the downtrodden and distressed. There’s a personal element but also God’s promise being fulfilled; in Genesis 16, God told her that Ishmael would father a nation, just not His promised nation. This story isn’t just beautiful though, it’s true and a part of history. Here’s a picture of the well at Beer Sheva (called Beersheba in the English translations of the Bible).

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Although there has been some reconstruction to the trough (known as a cup in those days, which brings more meaning when the Psalmists write about the cup overflowing), the well beneath ground has been around for thousands of years and is likely the very place Hagar experienced God’s goodness and provision. In addition to the well, the remains of the village that would have been there can still be seen to this day

Our God is incredible, the one who hears the cry of a boy and answers with provision. The God who has revealed Himself over and over throughout history in visible ways that continue to be seen thousands of years later. Our God is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and His hand has been at work throughout history; not just in the lives of those people we’re familiar with like Abraham, but also those like Hagar, the Egyptian servant who saw God’s promises fulfilled at the well at Beer Sheva.2

As we read The Story and hear the names of places, look them up and study the location, archeology, and geography. Understand that the Bible is not made up or make-believe, but it’s history telling one story about God wanting to be reunited with His people.

Anticipating the Destination

Anticipating the DestinationBy David Wise

As I sit on the first leg of my journey to Israel, the anticipation is beginning to build as the trip finally feels real. Up to this point there has been so much going on that I haven’t had time to focus fully on what I’m going to do. I’ve spent the last few months looking over the brochure, reading the books provided by the tour company, outlining ideas for videos with our staff, and talking about the trip to whoever was interested; but I haven’t thought much about the personal impact this opportunity will have.

In just over 24 hours I will be driving through areas where the Son of God walked, performed miracles, talked with friends, shared meals with acquaintances, and prayed to His Father on our behalf. Although I don’t believe that some areas are more holy than others, to be present where God took on flesh and walked among His creation, to feel the weight of this reality, is an experience of a lifetime. Although I should have been living with greater anticipation for the trip up to this point, I found myself weighed down by the worries, struggles, distractions, and frustrations of the day.

I wonder if that’s why more of us don’t reflect more often on eternity. Maybe it’s not that we don’t want to think about heaven and being united with God forever; perhaps it’s just that the day-to-day issues we face take precedence because they’re directly in front of us. Although the reason this happens is understandable, it seems to be an incomplete way of living. If we wait until we’re dying to reflect on the reality of heaven it seems like we’ll miss so many opportunities around us.

As we spent our time Sunday answering questions about things leading up to eternity, I found myself convicted of not living in light of eternity. I don’t ever want to focus so much on heaven that I neglect to live my life fully for God here and now, but I feel like I don’t anticipate heaven nearly enough. I wonder if part of the reason I don’t anticipate it is that I don’t think of the reality of heaven because the things happening today overshadow what’s waiting, or if I place more value on things of this world than the things of eternity.

I know that every time I hear someone use Jesus’ words about storing up treasures in heaven, I worry about a talk on money. I don’t think Jesus was speaking financially though. I believe He was directing our attention and our focus toward heaven to remember the reality of what’s waiting. If I thought more about treasures in heaven (not financially) and being united with God, walking with Jesus, seeing as many people as possible there and as a part of God’s family, then perhaps that would help me to anticipate heaven more.

I realize this isn’t a new thought. I’m not sure there are any original thoughts anymore, but it’s something I believe we need to cling to and live our lives by. We should not focus solely on the myriad of events happening in our lives and around us, but pause and ask ourselves, “Does this impact eternity?” Perhaps then it would put issues in perspective compared to what’s waiting for us. By realizing that eternity is bigger than the day-to-day distractions and frustrations we can better understand the importance of living for God here and now. Only as we’re able to look past everything directly in front of us will we be able to anticipate heaven. As we anticipate eternity with God then we’ll see the actual importance of our individual issues, frustrations, distractions, and worries. This perspective puts things into proper order and allows us to experience things here and now in light of how they affect eternity, just like looking back at everything happening before my trip is now put in a different perspective in light of what’s waiting for me.

What your life look like if you viewed everything now in light of what’s waiting?

Worship in Everything

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By David Wise

My family and I got back from vacation yesterday and came in early excited to watch the sermon from Andy and Dave. We’ve been going through questions posed by the church and their topic was worship. During the sermon they talk through a variety of aspects of worship and they also answered some practical questions about our church’s specific worship setup and practice on Sundays. They did a great job dialoging about something so important and if you missed the sermon I would highly recommend checking out the video.

The sermon reminded me of a personal experience I had while on vacation. So often we leave for San Diego (where my in-laws live) and I’m exhausted from work, school, and the drains of everyday life. While we’re on vacation I always unplug from my phone, email, and social media, and while disconnecting is good I usually don’t fill that void with God. I’m often so tired and weary from long hours that I just want to be lazy for a week. That wasn’t the case this time though. I went into the week of vacation with the mindset that I wanted to encounter and experience God however possible.

This was a great way to focus during the week and to look for opportunities to engage spiritually and not just relax all week. Although the week was full of great things, my favorite moment happened early in the week during sunset. My in-laws have a great home with a gorgeous view of sunset. Since my phone was put away for the week, I determined to soak in the sunset visually and as a form of worship. I sat on their back patio thinking about how great God is for giving us sunsets. There’s no point or purpose besides the way the earth rotates as it orbits the sun. They vary based on weather, clouds, moisture, and other scientific factors, but all of those things combine to form a visual symphony of colors splashed against clouds.

I sat on the back patio, for an unknown length of time, memorizing the colors as the sun sank lower and lower into the horizon. I thought about God creating everything the way He did in the past, but also reflecting on how loving He is to give us moments like this one. Each time I closed my eyes I made the decision to close the shutter on my mental camera and to capture those pictures in my mind for as long as I remember them. Usually I would be taking pictures with my phone and trying to find the perfect on to post on Instagram. Instead, this time I committed to keeping the images solely for myself, to make it a memory between God and me.

This was one of the most worshipful experiences I’ve had recently. The opportunity didn’t have to be forced; it was simply a change in my heart and perspective to be open to everything God was already doing around me. As Andy and Dave said in the sermon, ducks don’t have to be told to worship. They worship because it’s what they were created to do. I was also created to worship and sometimes that happens with people on a Sunday morning, but also it also happens on the back porch watching the sun set that God has arranged for that time and place.

How do you worship and what can you do to pay more attention to the opportunities all around you?