On Discipline 11-13-17

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I gathered with a group of friends this morning for prayer. We come together monthly for this purpose. As we got ready to pray, we got on the subject of exercise. Each of us admitted that we don’t get excited to go workout, but feel the benefit when we do. It is worth the effort, but it takes discipline. Discipline is not a popular word, but necessary for us to flourish in almost every area of our life.

Paul writes, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil 2:12-13).

What does it mean to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling?” Some mistakenly think it means to work for your salvation. In other words, work each day to earn your salvation. This is clearly not the purpose of Paul’s writing. We couldn’t do anything to earn our salvation before coming to Christ and aren’t required or capable of doing anything today that earns us the right to remain in Him. We, who believe, live in a saving relationship with God solely by placing our faith in Christ who died for our sins and resurrected for our salvation. Therefore, Paul is not writing about living in fear of whether or not we are accepted by God in Christ.

What then is Paul writing for us to do? Paul is writing to encourage us to keep in step with God. We are to live in union with Him. The “fear and trembling” is directly related to taking great care that we live a surrendered life in Christ. For our salvation to bear fruit, in the here and now, we need to obey the Lord in all things. The good news is that we don’t do this alone. God is working in us. God lovingly empowers and guides us in working out what we know to be true in our daily living.

This is where the spiritual disciplines fit into our walk with Christ. They are called spiritual disciplines because they take discipline. Time and energy are necessary to participate in these soul exercises. Richard Foster identifies twelve crucial disciplines divided into three categories: inward, outward, and corporate practices.

Disciplines of Personal Development (Inward)

  • Prayer – communicating with God (Matt. 6:9)
  • Meditation – focusing on God and his will  (Phil. 4:8)
  • Fasting – a reminder of the source of all nourishment (Luke 5:35)
  • Study – careful attention to the reality that God reveals to us, especially through Holy Scripture (Luke 2:46)

Disciplines of Service to the Body of Christ (Outward)

  • Simplicity – seeking God’s Kingdom first (Matt. 6:33)
  • Submission – placing God’s will above one’s own (Luke 22:42)
  • Solitude – withdrawing from the world to spend time with God (Matt. 14:23)
  • Service – supportive action toward others (Mark 10:45)

Disciplines of Service with the Body of Christ (Corporate)

  • Confession – acknowledging one’s sin with and to others in the community of faith (James 5:16)
  • Guidance – giving and receiving direction from others along the journey with Jesus (Acts 15:8)
  • Celebration – taking joy is what God has done (1 Cor 5:8)
  • Worship – giving God glory through attitudes and actions (1 Cor. 14:26)

These disciplines help us move our perspective from a naturalistic point of view to one in alignment with the Lord. However, they do take time and energy. There may be times when we don’t want to do what is necessary to grow in Christ and keep in step with Him. But, let me remind you that it is worth the effort so that we can flourish in Christ. We know that physical exercise is worth the effort. Similarly, soul exercises are worth the effort.

Let us encourage one another to “work out our own salvation with fear and trembling,” while being mindful that we don’t do it alone. God is at work within us. We participate in these soul exercises so that we will be prepared to live in union with God and flourish in Him. It is such a blessing to be on this great journey with the Lord as well as with each of you.

The Plumb Line 11-6-17

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I am amazed by skilled carpenters. My father-in-law is one. He has often stated that you can do anything with the right tools. I am not sure I could, but I am confident he could. Over the years I have received many tools from him. Usually, it is a gift given when he realizes I don’t have what he needs to complete a particular job he is doing for me at my house. Most of my tools look as good as new.

In the Bible we find many types of imagery such as agricultural and yes construction. There are a couple places in Scripture where a plumb line is mentioned. Builders use a plumb line consisting of a cord that has at one end a weight acting as a plumb bob to determine if something is straight and square.

The prophet Isaiah proclaimed:

“Behold, I am the one who has laid as a foundation in Zion, a stone, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone, of a sure foundation: ‘Whoever believes will not be in haste.’ And I will make justice the line, and righteousness the plumb line; and hail will sweep away the refuge of lies, and waters will overwhelm the shelter” (Isa 28:16-17).

Here the plumb line is defined as justice and righteousness. Another word is upright, a synonym of vertical. God judges what is upright by his standards, a divine plumb line.

The prophet Amos also used this imagery of a plumb line:

“This is what he showed me: behold, the Lord was standing beside a wall built with a plumb line, with a plumb line in his hand. And the Lord said to me, ‘Amos, what do you see?’ And I said, ‘A plumb line.’ Then the Lord said, ‘Behold, I am setting a plumb line in the midst of my people Israel; I will never again pass by them’” (Amos 7:7-8).

Here God is speaking about the false religion found in Israel. God uses His divine plumb line to measure if the people of Israel are upright. God is testing the spirituality, morality, and genuineness of the people against His standard.

The idea of a spiritual standard of measure is also found in the New Testament. God uses similar imagery such as a measuring rod (Rev 11:1). To the Laodicean church, God uses fire to refer to a test instead of a plumb line (Rev 3:14-22).

God’s Word is the primary vehicle the Lord provides for us to test whether or not we are upright or plumb. James writes:

“For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing” (James 1:23-25).

For believers, the Word of God is a looking glass revealing the true nature of their heart and works. God’s Word is not meant to enslave us to work for righteousness. The Bible is our mirror, not our master. But, it does help us determine if we are upright or if there is something in our life that is not plumb or square. The Bible does not condemn a believer but may bring conviction of a particular action that needs to be taken to align self with the Lord. As we partner with the Spirit, exploring God’s Word, we provided an excellent opportunity to see areas in our life that need work as well as be equipped and empowered to have these adjustments made to more clearly reflect Christ.

One thing I have discovered over the years is that the more you use a tool, the better you get at using it. God’s Word is the same. I pray as each of us will allow God’s divine plumb line to reveal where we are in our spiritual journey with Him and let Him lead us in the mission of reflecting Him as His beautiful workmanship.

It is a joy serving alongside each of you. Let’s encourage one another to engage God’s divine plumb line, the Bible. Let’s support one another to take the next step the Lord is calling us to make by His power and grace.

When God Smiles 10-30-17

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There is a phenomenon that occurs with a newborn baby where they look up and notice for the first time someone looking at them. They often respond to the smiling onlooker with a smile in return. Psychologists call this attunement. The baby has become aware or socially attuned to others.

This phenomenon reminds me of a great blessing in the Old Testament I have always enjoyed:

“The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace” (Num 6:24-26).

A shining face is a smiling face. This blessing speaks of God focusing on you with a brilliant smile. Our heavenly Father notices us.

There is an account recorded in Luke’s gospel of Christ noticing a woman in need. The story describes a lady who had suffered from a disability for eighteen years. If there were ever a good excuse to miss church, I would guess that this woman’s disability would have been it. However, she went to the synagogue on a particular day when Jesus just happened to be teaching. Luke records:

“When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said to her, “Woman, you are freed from your disability.” And he laid his hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and she glorified God” (Lk 13:12-13).

This miraculous healing easily overshadows the fact that Luke thought it important to note “Jesus saw her.” The wording in the Greek (the original language of Luke’s gospel) carries the idea of paying attention or noticing. Jesus noticed this woman. God incarnate looked upon this woman, noticed her and her need and blessed her by infusing her body with His healing power.

I have to admit I often go through life so focused on the next thing that I forget that God is graciously looking upon me. I also can be in such a hurry to accomplish the next thing that I can be blinded to those around me. I can walk right past someone without noticing him.

As I look at the Gospels much of what is recorded of Christ is found in His interaction with individuals. He makes himself available to a man seeking wisdom by the name of Nicodemus and Jesus patiently brought clarity. There was a woman ready to be executed for her sin, and Jesus intervened and lovingly released her as He gave her the secret to living in freedom. There was a woman at a well that any respectable Jew would have avoided, but he noticed her and introduced her to the path to salvation and abundant living.

God notices us. Jesus exemplified this time and time again as recorded in the Gospels. I want to follow His example. I want to be His hands and feet to the world around me.

I am reminded that intention precedes attention. I need to slow down and walk intentionally so I can notice those the Lord brings into my path each day. I want them to know that there is a God in heaven who desires to bring salvation and partnership in life to those who will notice and respond to Him. I ask the Lord to make me aware of others and respond accordingly with His love ad message.

It is a privilege to do life with each of you at Crosswinds. I ask the Lord to make His face shine upon you as well as give you the ability and pause to receive His smile and reflect it to others. I ask God to continue to make us a people who notice others and respond accordingly by sharing His love and message.

On Humility 10-23-17

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I have heard it said of humility that once you believe you’ve gotten it you’ve lost it. That thought has always amused me. Years ago I read a small book written by Andrew Murray simply titled Humility. Although it is one of the shortest books I have read since grade school, it is a storehouse of knowledge on the subject. Murray writes,

“If humility be the secret of His atonement, then the health and strength of our spiritual life will entirely depend on putting this grace first too.”

Jesus describing Himself stated that He was, “gentle and humble in heart” (Matt 11:29). It would be inconsistent to have a Savior who is the model of humility and claim to be followers of His who seek to be any less.

I remember an encounter with such a reflection of Christ’s humility. I was only a couple of years into my first pastorate when I met up with a friend at a leadership conference. He was an acquaintance of a well-known leader I had always wanted to meet. My friend pointed at a row and asked me to choose which one of the individuals sitting in a  particular row I believed him to be. I had never seen him before. I had only heard about him and read some of his writings. Confidently, I pointed at a person, and my friend said I was incorrect. I guessed a couple more times until finally I gave up and asked him to point out the leader to me. The person, my friend, pointed out to me seemed to be one of the most unassuming individuals in the row. He did not have the face of the most determined. He was not expounding leadership wisdom while others listened. He was sitting, quietly listening to the others in his group. I understood a bit what the prophet must have gone through when he was instructed by God to anoint one of Jesse’s sons king of Israel. Samuel had thought it would be the oldest or the strongest and on and on, but discovered how God chooses a man or woman. The Lord looks for a person after His own heart (see: Acts 13:22). Many years later I had the opportunity to get to know this particular leader and discovered him to be as humble as he appeared to be years earlier. The world needs to see more leaders who reflect Christ’s humility.

Lance Witt in his book Replenish suggests four practical means by which we can embrace humility.

  • Make much of Jesus.

“He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30)

  • Work hard at praising others and not yourself.
  • Be interested in others more and interested in yourself less.
  • Stay in touch with grace. Witt explains, “Never get over what it means that God loves you and saved you and adopted you into His family.”

I have to admit that I have not mastered humility, but I am committed to continuing to grow in this grace. I want to reflect Christ in every way. The Lord’s decision to leave the splendors of heaven, take upon Himself humanity, with the purpose of stretching out His hands on the cross for my salvation humbles me. I pray, Lord, make me “gentle and humble in heart.”

It is my honor to serve with each of you. I pray that each of us is both confident in Christ and humble in spirit. I pray the evidence of such a life is our generous living and extravagant love towards God and other. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

Be blessed and bless others

Biblically Rooted 10-16-17

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Almost daily I am amazed at how words written thousands of years ago in Scripture are relevant today. In particular, I was reading through the book of First Corinthians; this is a letter Paul wrote in the late 50’s AD to a church that claimed to have a deep love for Christ but had allowed wrong attitudes about what it means to be the church take root. Paul tackles sin problems in the church at Corinth. Look at the great challenge  Paul makes at the close of the letter: “Be on guard. Stand firm in the faith. Be courageous. Be strong. And do everything with love” (1 Cor 16:13-14).

The church had apparently succumbed to a worldly way of thinking about ministry, so Paul writes, “Be on guard.” The word picture this statement presents is that of a soldier standing guard and needing to stay awake, to be alert, so that those who wish to bring harm are identified and dealt with appropriately. The church in Corinth had fallen asleep at the wheel, so to speak, and allowed their thinking and therefore their actions to be negatively affected. We, the church, need to stay awake, stand guard, and not allow our thinking and practices to wander from God’s intent.

For the purity of Christ’s church as well as the gospel message Paul declares, “Stand firm in the faith.” The church at Corinth had proven to be susceptible to false teachers and was led astray. Paul challenges them to know the true gospel and walk in it. It is a common temptation for believers to try to alter the truth of the Bible into something that pleases their palate. But, God’s Word’s transforming power is only experienced when believers submit themselves to the Spirit and conform to the parameter of safety spelled out in God’s Word

The challenge to “Be courageous and be strong” involves resisting pressure to merely mold ministry methods into the image of the prevalent culture. This is not a statement against cultural relevance, but cultural conformity. Indeed, we need to present the gospel message and ministry in a way that connects to others, but we must do so by being strong and courageously refusing to be a mere reflection of the culture in what we say and do. The world needs to hear and see the real gospel. Effectiveness necessities cultural relevance but becomes ineffective when it is merely cultural conformity. Here is a key question I believe can help us navigate these waters correctly: Is the desire to connect people to Christ driving the method or is the method driving or even changing the gospel truth? The former ought to always be our goal.

Finally, Paul writes that the church is to “do everything with love.” The church in Corinth had allowed preferences to cause division and jealousy selfishly. Such wrongful behavior by God’s people is in direct opposition to Christ’s words, “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples” (John 13:35). We don’t drift toward commitment. Or as Zig Ziglar put it: “People don’t tend to wander around and suddenly find themselves at the top of Mount Everest.” Believers have to be focused on Christ to reflect His love. Preferences about music styles and volume, sermon length and style, carpet, color, and coffee is a natural part of who we are, but when we allow our preferences to take our eyes off the main thing selfishly, it is sin. We are to know God and make Him known. This is the main thing and always trumps personal preferences for the greater good of advancing God’s kingdom.

I am so thankful Crosswinds is committed to being biblically rooted. We today, stand on the shoulders of thousands of believers who for generations have shared the love and message of Christ to our region. I trust we will honor them and most importantly Christ by studying and applying His Word to our lives. Paul encourages us: “Be on guard. Stand firm in the faith. Be courageous. Be strong. And do everything with love.” Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

Be blessed and bless others,

Confronted With Truth 10-10-17

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When confronted with the truth we have two options. We can either determine to change and conform to the truth or try to modify the truth to fit us. The former shows wisdom, while the latter is pure foolishness. God graciously shares His truth with us and we ought to desire to immerse ourselves in it.

The ancient songwriter proclaims in Psalm 119:32: “I will run in the way of your commandments when you enlarge my heart!

To adhere to God’s Word, we must seek deliverance from temptations and victory over sin. In other words, we need to desire to live above the trappings of this world and our selfish desires. We also need to have hopelessness replaced with hope in the Lord. We need to determine to trust Him in all things and go all-in with partnering with His Spirit to keep in step with God and His Word.

The psalmist asks God to “enlarge his heart.” This request is asking the Lord for an increased understanding of the steps involved in godly living. God’s law provides a sense of security as well as changed lives.

God has provided the opportunity to live the life of freedom, fullness and faithfulness found only in Christ and given by Him through His finished work on the cross. The Lord has provided us His Word, the Bible, to serve as a light guiding our steps along a godly path. He has even provided His Spirit to empower and lead us. But, the simple truth is that we must position ourselves to perceive God’s truth. God has done all the heavy lifting; we are called to embrace His truth and be willing to partner with Him by walking in alignment to His truth.

Jesus put it this way:

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it” (Matthew 7:24-27)

Here Jesus speaks of two builders. There are only two ways and two endings to human life. These are the only two responses to Jesus. Either we accept and follow Him, or we reject Him. What we do with Jesus and His teaching determines our destiny.

I pray that God will expand my heart and mind so that I will be able to perceive His truth. I desire to run in the path of His truth. I ask Him to deliver me from temptation and provide victory over sin. I am thankful for His promise found in 1 John 1:9 (“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”), while desiring to demonstrate the promise of 1 Corinthians 10:13 (“No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”).  I ask Him to replace hopelessness in my life with hope in Him. I am thankful He has done this and so much more in Christ. I desire to rest in this truth. I ask Him to help me position myself to partner with the Spirit. I pray this prayer for each of you as well. When confronted with the truth let’s choose Him. Let’s walk in His truth.

It is a privilege to serve with each of you. I ask God to enlarge each of our hearts that we would run in His godly path. I ask God to lead us on our life journey as we help others do the same? Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

The Logic of God’s Grace 10-2-17

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I don’t know about you, but I often seek to understand the logic of something. I am wired to believe that things ought to make sense. Now don’t get me wrong. I know that I don’t always act logically. The things I do don’t always make sense. But, I do desire for there to be a reason behind how I live as well as the world where I find myself living. I would guess this is true for most of us.

Let me share a recent journey I had in attempting to understand the logic of grace, God’s unmerited favor and love He has for each of us. I came across this verse from Isaiah:

“Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him” (Isa 30:18).

Note the amazing logic of God’s grace: Earlier in the chapter we discover that God’s people forsake Him for a false salvation; therefore, He is gracious to them. But He waits, for “the Lord is a God of justice.” He knows they picked to live outside of His purpose for them. They have decided to live outside the parameter of safety spelled out in Scripture. God’s justice allows them to endure the consequences of their wrong decision. This act of justice is an act of grace. The Lord allows it so that they will have the opportunity to come to their senses so that they will return to Him. God is ready to pour out His extravagant love on them but waits for them to position themselves to receive all the goodness He has for them.

This logic of God’s grace is constant. I mean that it is as true for us as it was for those in days of old. He desires to pour out His extravagant love on us, but He waits for us to position ourselves to receive His abundant blessings. Of course, this side of heaven his blessings come amidst this world that can be harsh and cruel. God is always good even if the world is not. Further, our eyes can become blind of God’s goodness by the stuff of earth that tries to rob us of our joy. The simple truth is that this side of eternity we experience His grace as a foretaste of the fullness of His redeeming purpose when we pass from this world to the next experiencing God’s perfect grace in the midst of paradise.

There is logic to God’s grace, and it is rooted in the reality that God is both just and full of love. This side of eternity His justice graciously works to awaken us to the great need of returning to Him when we stray. He lovingly waits for us to position ourselves to receive His abundant blessings.

I desire to be ever thankful for Lord’s amazing grace. I do not want to wrongly seek salvation elsewhere, trusting in others, things or self for what only God can provide. But, I am thankful that when I do stray God graciously allows His justice to remind me to return. He waits for me to position myself back in step with Him so that He can wash over me with His abundant love.

I know the world does not always make sense. However, I find peace in knowing there is logic to God’s grace. Knowing this liberates me from the need to make sense of this world because I know my God is constant and true. The Lord is gracious in His justice and selfless with His love.

I pray each of you is encouraged by the logic of God’s grace and inspired all the more to trust Him. I ask that our confidence in His goodness to us will spur us on to share His love and message with others. It is a true privilege to serve with each of you as my Crosswinds family. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

Be Still 9-26-17

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You don’t need me to tell you that we live in a fast paced world. I am continually reminded how my calendar seems to fly by me at warp speed. The problem is that if we live life at warp speed, we will end up with a warped soul. There has got to be a better way. There is. As the psalmist powerfully proclaims, “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psa 46:10).

To “be still” is not a simple statement of pause. It means to stop going it alone and partner with God. This partnership has this caveat; He is our senior partner. We are to submit to him. Such a partnership necessitates time to pause and acknowledge God as well as listen to Him.

We discover a fascinating account in Luke’s gospel.

Luke 10:38–42 (ESV)

Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”

I get Martha position. I mean the Son of God shows up with His entourage unannounced, and she gets at it creating a meal from whatever she has in the house. I am sure she is excited to see Jesus, but there is some work that needs to get done. Hospitality is a huge deal.

You can picture Martha working hard and seeing Mary SITTING at the Lord’s feet. Martha asks Jesus to get Mary to help out. It doesn’t seem like such a bad request. This reaction makes sense to me. Jesus’ response cuts us to the quick:

“Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her” (Lk 10:41-41).

His response challenges the way I look at this account. It challenges the way I look at God.

At the core the real question is not will I take time to sit with God, but why would I not take the opportunity to sit with God who is willing to sit with me. I mean, think about it, the God who spoke the universe into existence and holds all creation together desires to sit with me.

The simple truth is that life’s demands will always exceed our capacity. The way to succeed is not merely as easy as working harder. Success comes by partnering with God. Sitting with Him and acknowledging Him as the senior partner in the relationship. Then, we walk with Him in the fullness of His strength and direction. It’s not that we are not to do, but that we must begin and continue being with Him. The work is not our focus, but He is our focus, and the fruit of such a life comes from the work He leads and empowers us to accomplish with Him.

As we serve together let us not forget we serve together with God. Let’s remind each other of this often. We are His. Our mission is His. Success is found only in Him and is to be solely attributed to Him. Life may seem to pass by at warp speed, but “be still and acknowledge God.” After all, He is the author of life. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

Be blessed and bless others,

Craig Cooper
Lead Pastor