Thursday, April 30, 2009

Anger at God

Someone asked me recently if I had ever preached a sermon on being angry at God. Regretfully I have not. However, I do have some thoughts on this important topic. Please read with a prayerful spirit.

1. Anger with God is normal.

Most of us at various points in our life will get angry with God. Circumstances, health, relationships, and just life will cause us to feel as if God has let us down. Just this week I was talking to a woman who had lost her mother at 12 years of age. After this occurred, she felt abandoned by God and didn’t want to have anything to do with the Lord or church. Just recently she has been able to work through this disappointment and anger and return to a healthy relationship with the Lord. I heard someone once say, “You cannot be angry with someone you don’t really care about; therefore, if you are angry with God, at least it says your relationship with Him is important to you.” You would not be reading this if your relationship with God was not important to you. Hats off to you for that!

2. Some of the greatest God-followers in history have been angry at God.

If you are angry with God, take heart, because some of the greatest saints in history have experienced anger at God. Throughout the book of Psalms, King David and others pour out their heart in frustration at their circumstances and the God who is sovereign over circumstances. Consider the following passages and see if you can relate to these feelings:

“How long, O LORD? Will You forget me forever? How long will you hide Your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?” Psalms 13:1-2

“My soul is in anguish. How long, O LORD, how long?” Psalms 6:3

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are You so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry out by day, but You do not answer, by night, and am not silent.” Psalms 22:1-2

"Only grant me these two things, O God, and then I will not hide from You: Withdraw Your hand far from me, and stop frightening me with Your terrors.” Job 13:20-21

“Why do You hide Your face and consider me Your enemy? Will you torment a windblown leaf? Will you chase after dry chaff?” Job 13:24-25

“We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life.” 2 Cor. 1:8-9

3. Anger is due to blocked goals, so you need to discover what goal is being blocked and then ask, “Is it a Godly goal?”

Often our anger at God is due to selfishness on our part. We want something, do not get it, and then we blame God. However, there are other times when our anger can feel somewhat justified. Perhaps we were dealt a difficult blow in life, and we had nothing to do with it. For example, when the tragic death of a loved one occurs, we can feel quite abandoned by the Lord – “Where were you, God? Why did you allow this to happen? Don’t you care about me and the others affected by this?”

It is helpful to know that anger is due to a blocked goal. Therefore, we need to analyze the reason for our anger at God. If I am angry due to an ungodly goal (i.e. making a bad shot in golf), then I need to change my goal (i.e. enjoy the game of golf vs. make a low score). If the goal being blocked is indeed godly, then we need to make sure we pursue the godly goal in a godly manner – Jesus being angry in the Temple and overturning tables instead of physically hurting people. I may be angry with God that someone is not responding to the Gospel. In this situation, I need to release that person to God and trust that God is at work even if I don’t see evidence of His work in their heart.

4. You need to actively work through your anger with God.

It is not healthy to neither ignore the anger nor feed the anger. Instead, we must work through the anger in a godly and biblical manner. If we do work through our anger, it can actually serve to lead us to greater intimacy with God. Here are some suggestions in working through our anger toward God:

a. Pour out your heart to God in prayer.

God already knows that you are angry, so instead of sweeping it under the rug or pretending it isn’t there, just be honest with God in prayer about your anger. Tell him exactly how you feel. He won’t be surprised because He knows every detail of your life anyway. As you pour out your heart to God, you might discover some things about your heart that you need to see. Often when I get gut level honest with God in prayer, I end up confessing sin to God. As I am honest in prayer, I realize sinful things about my heart that I needed to get in touch with.

b. Read the Psalms.

The book of Psalms is the best book to read when you are angry with God. This holy book of God is filled with all kinds of emotion. At the same time, most all Psalms end in praise. We must ultimately praise God for who He is, despite how we feel. That is what faith is all about – holding fast to God regardless of our circumstances or feelings.

c. Ask God for help.

This may sound elementary, but it is so important. We need to acknowledge our weakness before the Lord, and humbly ask for His help in working through our anger. As our Father, God awaits us to ask for His help. “You have not because you ask not” (James 4;2).

d. Talk to a Godly person.

We need each other in our journey with God. One of the best things about the church is that in the body of Christ we have many Godly resources. Go to someone you trust and share with them your anger with God. Humbly get their counsel and prayers. You will be better for doing so.

e. Submit to God no matter what.

Maturity involves submission to God in the midst of difficult emotions. I am most impressed with how the godliest of persons have chosen to submit to God amidst very trying circumstances. The bottom line here is believing that God has done no wrong because He is incapable of wrongdoing. All His works are right and just. “He is the Rock, His works are perfect, and all His ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is He” (Dt. 32:4).

We often do not perceive His works as being perfect, but they are. Ultimately we must come to the point of standing on the truth of who He is. This is one of the keys to becoming a spiritual father as discussed in 1 John 2:12-14. A spiritual father is someone who “believes in Him who has been from the beginning.”

In conclusion, don’t beat yourself up for being angry with God. But do face it and work through it with the above suggestions and others the Lord might give you. Let me hear from you about this blog. I would love your input on what the Lord had taught you on this important topic! God is good and His mercies endure forever! He loves you and wants to help you with any need you have.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Coming Full Circle

Two weeks ago I started my new job – Pastor of Discipleship and Spiritual Growth at Watkinsville First Baptist Church. It is hard to believe I am now one of the pastors at the very church that has meant so much to my wife, Dede, and me over the years. You could say “I have come full circle.”

This week I went into the old sanctuary at Watkinsville First Baptist Church to work on a talk I was giving at a Men and Boy’s Retreat. As I sat in the sanctuary I reflected on how special this very sanctuary had been to my wife and me – memories of a pew, a baptistery, an aisle, and an altar. Let’s start with the pew.

In the fall of 1979 I arrived at the University of Georgia as a college freshman. I was a brand new Christian with an intense hunger to grow. Through the influence of my brother, I got involved with Campus Crusade for Christ and Watkinsville First Baptist Church. Sunday after Sunday I sat in the same pew soaking in the Word of God as Brother Charles Stewart preached.

This week I walk over to the very pew I used to sit in and had tons of memories – memories of great worship, Charles’ anointed series on Romans, the college Sunday School class, and special speakers like Leonard Ravenhill and Jack Taylor who came to minister. I grew so much sitting (and kneeling) in that pew!

Now, let’s go to the baptistery.

Being raised Lutheran, I had only known about infant baptism … until I got to Watkinsville First Baptist. I don’t remember who it was, but someone challenged me to look up every verse in the Bible on baptism. I love challenges like this – to get into the Word and not just believe something based on tradition or upbringing. So, I did look up every verse on baptism, and I concluded that baptism should take place after (and not before) a person receives Christ. Even though it went against my upbringing and tradition, I had to be obedient to Jesus. Therefore, I was baptized in the baptistery at the front of the sanctuary at Watkinsville First Baptist Church in 1981.

I can distinctly remember the week after I was baptized. The presence of God was so strong on my life. I walked across campus at the University of Georgia and experienced abhorrence for sin. This had not been true before my baptism. The sense of God’s activity in my life was so strong that I wondered if I had been saved before my baptism. I felt God say, “Oh no, you were saved; I am just honoring your obedience.”

The next special place in the sanctuary is the aisle.

During my sophomore year I began dating a girl named Laura. She had five roommates. Each of these roommates was saved … except one – Dede. You probably know where this is going, don’t you? The Christian girls were often praying for and sharing the Gospel with Dede. But she was a pretty hard nut to crack. However, God’s Spirit got through to her.

One weekend I went home to see my parents. I remember Laura calling me with excitement on Sunday afternoon to tell me that Dede had “walked the aisle” that morning at Watkinsville First Baptist Church. Walking the aisle is a southern expression for coming forward to indicate a decision to receive Christ. Dede had indeed gotten saved that day! To make a long story short, Dede began to grow in her faith and we eventually started dating. That leads us to the final part of that sanctuary that is special to me: the altar, or front platform.

Soon after Dede and I started dating, God called me to be the College Pastor at a church in Minnesota. Therefore, our dating relationship had to survive a 1000 mile separation. And survive it did, because in the fall of 1985, at the altar of Watkinsville First Baptist Church, we were joined in holy matrimony.

Now you see why I say I have come full circle in being one of the pastors at this special church? It’s pretty cool to think that 30 years ago God knew full well the college freshman sitting in that pew would one day be an associate pastor at this church. “God determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us” (Acts 17:26-27).

As one of the pastors at Watkinsville First Baptist Church, it is now my sincere desire and prayer to be used by God to help others experience some of what I have experienced in this special place, whether that be in a pew, a baptistery, an aisle, an altar, a coffee shop, a living room, or somewhere else.

What a privilege we have to know and serve the Lord!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Benefits of the Resurrection

It is Easter Sunday – the day we celebrate the greatest event in human history! I want to give you some truth that will greatly encourage your heart. I have listed here 6 benefits that are ours because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Be sure to read the passages that go with the benefits:

The benefits of Christ’s resurrection are as follows:

1. We have proof that Jesus is who He said He was! We can be certain He is the Son of God, the Savior of the world.

Matt 17:22-23
22 When they came together in Galilee, he said to them, "The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. 23 They will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised to life."

2. We have the forgiveness of all our sins! The penalty for sin has been paid for us by Christ.

1 Cor 15:17-18
And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.

3. We have victory over the power of sin! This means we do not have to sin. The same power that raised Christ is alive with us.

Rom 6:6-7
6 For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin- 7 because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.

Rom 8:11
And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.

4. We have authority over Satan and the demonic realm! Because of Christ in us, we can tell Satan to take a hike from our life.

Luke 10:19-20
19 I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. 20 However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven."

5. We have eternal life! This means we get to live with Jesus in heaven forever. This truth can keep someone devoted to Christ in the midst of the most difficult situations.

1 Cor 15:20-24
20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him.

6. We have hope for daily living! In addition to hope for the future (i.e. eternal life), we also have hope for every day living.

1 Peter 1:3
3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead

Perhaps you can think of other benefits from Christ's resurrection. If so, just write them in the comments section! What a privilege to serve a Risen King!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Hot Hearted For God

This weekend I spoke at a Men-Boy's retreat on "Having a Hot Heart for God." I love to use visual props in my messages, so I gave this message around a campfire. Here are the four ingredients I spoke about in having a hot heart for God:

1. An outside source must light the fire. Without an outside source starting the fire, the wood is simply dead and dry. It has no life in itself. The fire cannot start itself. In the same way, we are dead in our sins and cannot save ourselves (Eph. 2). God, by His mercy, must come to us and save us. He is the One who shows us our sin and gives us the grace to repent and believe unto salvation. When we receive Him, He gives us His Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit who works "in us both to will and to do for His good pleasure" (Phil. 2:13). Ultimately, only God can give us a passion for Him. If you do not have a hot heart for God, ask God to give you a greater desire for Him. I believe this is a prayer God would love to answer.

Does point number one mean we just passively sit back and do nothing? Of course not.

2. We must stoke the fire for it to stay hot. We stoke the fire by spending time with God in the Word and prayer. We must seek the Lord in order to keep the fire of our heart hot. Even Jesus, while on earth, would often slip away to the Wilderness and pray. If the Son of God, who had an eternity of fellowship with God built up, needed to spend time alone with His Father, how much more do we need to spend much time with God in order to keep the fire hot?! When we meditate on the Word and prayer, we stoke the fire and add logs to the flame.

Does seeking the Lord mean it is just a "Jesus and me" deal? Not at all.

3. The logs must stay together to burn brightly. If you remove one log from the fire (which I did when I gave this message), it will soon go out. For a short time it will continue to burn, but it doesn't take long for it to get cold. In the same way, we need the support and encouragement of other "hot hearted" Christians to stay hot for God. "As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another" (Prov. 27:17). I have been in a men's group of some kind my entire Christian life. I need this. I cannot do it alone. I will drift without other men holding accountable. And so will you? Are you meeting with others who help your heart to stay hot for God?

4. We must be relentless to keep water off of our fire. If you pour water on a fire, it will go out. There are many things in our life and culture that seek to pour water on our fire for God. You and I must identify those things and fight in the Spirit to keep them from our heart. We must "put on the Lord Jesus and make no provision for the flesh" (Rom. 13:14). Water on our fire can come in the form of temptations, sin, or just "good things" that become consuming - like a hobby. Hebrews 12 says to put off all sin and "everything that hinders." We know we must put off sin, but how often do we also put off things that hinder us that might not be outright sin? To keep a hot heart for God involves being relentless to keep the water off of our fire.

What I have just shared is not easy. The world, the flesh, and the Devil will all work to pull us down. It is increasingly difficult to live for Jesus in 2009. This is why we must depend on the outside Source (Holy Spirit), spend time with God, fellowship with others, and relentlessly fight against those things that can hinder our walk with God.

Do what it takes to get and maintain a hot heart for God. God is a consuming fire!