Let the Nations be Glad

psalm 67v1-2Is it wrong to ask for God’s blessings?  That was the prayer of the Psalmist,

God be gracious to us and bless us, and cause His face to shine upon us— Selah.  (Psalm 67:1)

We see that the Psalmist’s motive was not simply for his own comfort and well being.  He had a much greater purpose,

That Your way may be known on the earth, Your salvation among all nations.  (Psalm 67:2)

The Psalmist’s desire was that all the nations would praise God and that God would reign in their hearts,

Let the nations be glad and sing for joy; for You will judge the peoples with uprightness and guide the nations on the earth. Selah.   Let the peoples praise You, O God; let all the peoples praise You.  The earth has yielded its produce; God, our God, blesses us.  God blesses us, that all the ends of the earth may fear Him.   (Psalm 67:4-7)

This Psalm was written approximately 3,000 years ago.  The great commission to go into the world and proclaim the Gospel was given 2,000 years ago.  There is nothing wrong with the command – if the great commission has not been fulfilled we must look at ourselves.  The church today needs what Leonard Ravenhill describes as “. . . -agonizing, hell-robbing, earth-shaking, heaven sent intercession”  (Revival God’s Way, p. 9).

Ravenhill points out that a primary reason why the great commission has not been fulfilled is because of our anemic prayer lives,

The self-satisfied do not want to pray.
The self-sufficient do not need to pray.
The self-righteous do not know how to pray.

Jesus said to His disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few”  (Matthew 9:37).  His answer reveals our strategic response,

Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.  (Matthew 9:38)

Prayer is the strategic high ground.   The fulfillment of the great commission starts with prayer but it doesn’t end there.  We see in the next chapter that the disciples became the answer to their prayers as Jesus sent them out into the harvest field.

Too often we allow the good things to usurp the place of the best things.  You have a role to play in fulfilling the great commission.  Some are called to go cross-culturally and take the Gospel to a foreign country.  Some are called to be senders to support those on the front lines.  All of us have a role to play – some are goers and some are senders.  What’s your role?

The Psalmist reveals to us God’s will for the nations,

That Your way may be known on the earth, Your salvation among all nations.  (Psalm 67:2)

RickAssociate Pastor – Discipleship.  The Church at LifePark

Professor of Discipleship, Columbia International University

Follow me on twitter:  rickhiggins5

The Ancient Path

Ancient PathJohn Michael Talbot in The Ancient Path illustrates the teachings of the early church fathers.  He quotes George Santayana’s admonition, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” (p. 10).  Talbot reveals how the teachings of the early church fathers influenced him in his spiritual journey.

This book gives the reader an appreciation for the depth of spirituality of the early church fathers.  Talbot writes from a Roman Catholic perspective so there may be some unfamiliar theological issues for non Roman Catholics.   Such an example  may be the doctrine of deification as Talbot refers to the statement by Athanasius of Alexandria, “He was made man that we might be made God” (p. 76).  The Bible teaches that we may have union with God and that we have become partakers of the nature divine (2 Peter 1:4), but the Bible does not teach that we might be made God.  The Bible clearly teaches that there is only one God and there is no other (Isaiah 45:5).   Although Talbot explains the limitations of Athanasius’ statement, the quotation lacks theological precision.  Lorenzo Snow who served as a President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, 1898-1901, made a similar statement, “As man now is, God once was; as God is now man may be.”

My major criticism with this book is the author’s emphasis on the teachings of the early church fathers rather than the Bible; however, in fairness to the author, this is a book emphasizing the teachings of the early church fathers.  Talbot quotes, John Henry Newman, “to be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant” (p. 56).  It was the principle of being deep in history of going back to the Bible that caused me to be a Protestant.  The cry of the Reformation was sola Scriptura through experiencing the truth of the Bible and not what people say about the Bible.   Overall The Ancient Path reveals the rich legacy of the early church fathers and one man’s spiritual journey.  (I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review).

 

Rick

Associate Pastor – Discipleship.  The Church at LifePark

Professor of Discipleship, Columbia International University

Follow me on twitter:  rickhiggins5

Sincere but Simplistic

Proverbs3-5,6Have you ever made a statement or declaration  but then acted differently than you had planned?  The Apostle Peter faced that  situation.  In the upper room Jesus said to His disciples,

Little children, I am with you a little while longer.  You will seek Me; and as I said to the Jews, now I also say to you,  Where I am going, you cannot come.  (John 13:33)

Peter was confused, why would his teacher say that He would leave them?  Peter was determined to stay with Jesus regardless of the circumstances,

Peter said to Him, “Lord, why can I not follow You right now?  I will lay down my life for You.”  (John 13:37)

Peter made a bold statement, ” I will lay down my life for You.”  He was sincere but simplistic in his understanding.  You will experience situations when you don’t understand your circumstances.  Peter did not understand the situation but Jesus completely understood what would transpire.  When you encounter a situation you don’t understand you must entrust yourself to God and believe that He knows best.  He is God and you’re not so it’s to be expected that you won’t understand all that He is doing.

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord.  “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.”  (Isaiah 55:8-9)

Peter not only did not understand the situation, but Peter did not understand himself.  Peter thought his idea was better than Jesus’ plan.

My dog for example,  doesn’t understand why he needs to go to the vet, but I know that it’s for his good.  Do you know the difference between a cat and dog?  You feed a dog  and take care of the dog and the dog thinks, “Wow, this person must be God.”  You feed a cat and take care of the cat and the cat thinks, “Wow, I must be God.”  Peter needed a healthy dose of humility, he needed to realize that Jesus knew what was best.

There are times in your life when you are sincere, but your response may be simplistic.  You may not understand God’s plan and you may not understand your limitations.  You must remember:

1.  God knows what He’s doing and you can trust His leading,

Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right.  (1 Peter 4:19)

2.  You must realize your fallibility.   We need a healthy dose of humility,

Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall.  (1 Corinthians 10:12)

It’s good to be sincere in your convictions but don’t be simplistic in your response.  King Solomon sums up the attitude we need as we  keep our eyes on Him.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.  (Proverbs 3:5-6)

 

RickAssociate Pastor – Discipleship.  The Church at LifePark

Professor of Discipleship, Columbia International University

Follow me on twitter:  rickhiggins5

What is love?

love one anotherWe use the word love in a variety of ways.  We exclaim that we love ice cream or that we love going on a vacation.  Our society has many different notions of the meaning of love and there is often a blurring of distinctions between ephemeral, physical love and long-lasting committed love.

Victor Hugo wisely points out,  “The greatest happiness of life is the  conviction that we are loved – loved for ourselves, or rather, loved in spite of ourselves.”   With many different ideas about love, how do we realize the type of love that Hugo describes?

Jesus gives us the answer as He spoke to His disciples in the upper room,

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.  By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.  (John 13:34-35)

The word  in the Greek New Testament that Jesus uses do describe “love” is the word ἀγάπη (agapē).  There are several characteristics to this type of love:

1.  Agape love is volitional.  This type of love is an act of the will.  The Greek language has several words for love.  The word eros describes an intense, passionate love that captures the meaning of our concept of physical love.  The word philos describes a friendly type of love involving feelings of toward another.  Agape love is choosing to love another.

2.  Agape love is unconditional.  It is not dependent upon the actions of the other person.  Romantic love  is often characterized by a personal desire for the other person, whereas agape love wants what is best for the other person.

3. Agape love sacrificial.  This is a love that is focused on giving rather than getting.  John 3:16 teaches us that “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son . . . ”  Jesus taught and demonstrated that the supreme act of love is sacrificial,

Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.  (John 15:13)

How am I able to love like this?  The degree to which I understand God’s love toward me is the degree to which I can demonstrate God’s love toward others.  John writes,

We love, because He first loved us.  (1 John 4:19)

Have you experienced His unconditional love in your life?  May the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi encourage your heart as you show forth His love to others,

prayer of st francis

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy;

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

RickAssociate Pastor – Discipleship.  The Church at LifePark

Professor of Discipleship, Columbia International University

Follow me on twitter:  rickhiggins5

What to think of 50 Shades of Grey

50_shades_of_gray_1_440_pxlwFifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James has become a bestseller and because of its popularity a movie will be released for Valentine’s Day.  The book’s popularity reveals our interest in sexuality but it falls far short of the true meaning of love.  I have not read the book, I have only skimmed the reviews online, but I think I have an idea of the emphasis of the book.  I fail to see how sadism and masochism represents love toward one another – the story seems to describe the sexual exploitation of  women.  This is definitely not my idea of a Valentine’s day date movie.  Can you imagine the discussion after the movie, “So what did you think of the bondage scene?” – that’s an awkward conversation (your first date might be your last date with that person).

We’ve become fascinated with the prurient aspects of our sexuality at the expense of true oneness.  Sex is not dirty and it’s not bad – God is the one who invented it!  One of the greatest treatises on sex is in the Bible –  the Song of Solomon.  We are created sexual beings; however, since the fall we have a tendency to settle for less than God’s best.  We were created for far more than the physical aspects of our sexuality.  The physical aspects of our sexuality are enjoyable, but there are feelings beyond words as you give yourself totally to the other person in a spiritual oneness and you experience what John Keats describes, “two hearts that beat as one.”

Don’t settle for less than God’s best.  Rather than simply settling for the physical aspects of sex as depicted in  Fifty Shades of Grey, read the Song of Solomon and understand sex as God meant it to be.  God’s design is that you  experience true oneness – emotionally, physically, and spiritually.   May you identify with Solomon’s words below,

I have found the one whom my soul loves . . . (Song of Solomon 3:4)

RickAssociate Pastor – Discipleship.  The Church at LifePark

Professor of Discipleship, Columbia International University

Follow me on twitter:  rickhiggins5

A Tribute to Matthew

2014-11-05 14.14.52“Although we grieve we do not grieve as those without hope. ” – the Apostle Paul

The picture you see was taken in November 2014 as Matthew and I enjoyed a delicious meal at an Ethiopian restaurant in New York City.  I was honored to go with Matthew to New York City to see a specialist.  Matthew has been on my heart since his home going on December 22nd.  Matthew was like a son to Jeanne and myself.

My first conversation of substance with Matthew occurred when he asked permission to date Elisabeth. I prayed that God would be at the center of their relationship and that God would make their relationship be all that it should be and He answered abundantly as they got married and started a family.

Matthew  and I would meet at 6:00 a.m. and we studied God’s word and memorized Scriptures together.  As we grew in our love for God we also grew in our love for one another.  Our bond continued to grow over the years as we went backpacking and camping together.  I remember one incident when we saw a bear and instinctively started chasing it so we could get some pictures – so many fun times.

Matthew loved his family, he invested in his girls ensuring each one had a regular daddy date. Our family had dogs and thanks to my son we have two dogs. The girls would come and visit and say longingly “Daddy can we get a dog?”  Matthew held his ground and said no to dogs.  But his love for his girls was greater than his antipathy toward dogs.  Suddenly I heard they got a dog – “No way,” I replied.  Those lovely girls melted his heart.

Matthew loved his God. Whenever we were together Matthew would always turn the conversation to theological matters.  He would start out, “Dad, what are your thoughts of the hypostatic union?” Matthew could discuss abstruse theological issues at the level of doctoral students in my Doctor of ministry seminars.

We had so many good times together – weekends backpacking in the mountains, sharing our hopes and dreams with one another. Planning trips when the girls got old enough to carry their own backpack. But my sweetest memory is my trip to New York City in November.  During our several days together I got to see how a man of God faces adversity – not complaining but totally trusting God.  I was privileged to be with Matthew and carry his bags. Matthew is now where each one of us hopes to be one day – as Paul said, “for me to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).

What might God say to those of us who have witnessed Matthew’s battle?  He may enjoin us to remember the words He gave to the Apostle Paul,

Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me.  And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.”  Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.  Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.  (2 Corinthians 12:8-10)

What a fresh reminder – whatever you’re going through to remember that His grace is sufficient for you!  God’s word is a tremendous comfort as we face sadness in our lives:

Matthew 11:28 – “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.”

John 14:1 – “Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me.”

Donald Grey Barnhouse, a famous bible teacher from the 1950”s, lost his wife to cancer when she was in her thirties. On the way to the funeral his oldest daughter asked him, “If Jesus died for our sins why do we still die?”

At that moment a large truck roared past them. Barnhouse turned to his daughter and asked, “Tell me, sweetheart, would you rather be run over by that truck or its shadow?”

“By the shadow,” she replied, “it can’t hurt you.”

Barnhouse nodded and said, “Did you know that the truck of death ran over the Lord Jesus in order that only its shadow might run over us? Your mother has not been overrun by death, but by the shadow of death. That is nothing to fear.”

Jesus exclaimed, “I am the resurrection and the life, He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live” (John 11:24).  That’s a promise that gives us great hope.

That’s why everyone who calls Christ their Savior, can say, “O Death, where is your sting?  O Hades, where is your victory?  The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:55-57).

The loss is real but it has been supplanted by hope.  I sense God’s new assignment for me is to help care for his family and come alongside Elisabeth in raising their precious daughters as he would have done.   Thank you Matthew for being a friend, a son, and a brother in Christ.

 

RickAssociate Pastor – Discipleship.  The Church at LifePark

Professor of Discipleship, Columbia International University

Follow me on twitter:  rickhiggins5

How is your serve?

Tennis serveWhat do you think may have been on Jesus’ mind the night before His crucifixion?  No doubt He was thinking about the pain and agony that He would face as “the lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world”.  His focus however, was on preparing His disciples and preparing for His upcoming departure.  These were the men that Jesus had invested three years of training them to carry on His mission.

As they were gathered together in the upper room it seemed that no one had made arrangements for cleaning their feet.  It was customary to have water pots by the door and someone would wash the feet of the guests.  Jesus however took the role of a servant and began to wash the disciples feet.  Jesus’ followers learned that the true mark of a disciple is humble self-surrender to Jesus – even when it doesn’t make sense.  Peter’s reluctance to have his feet cleaned by Jesus may have revealed his reluctance to wash the feet of those whom He considered to be beneath him.  Did Peter really know better than Jesus?  Rather than demonstrating humility, Peter revealed pride in his heart.

Jesus reinforced the lesson to His disciples as He asked them, “Do you know what I have done to you?”  

If I then,the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.  (John 13:14)

Jesus gave them an illustration,  of true servant hood.

For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you.   Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master, nor is one who is sent greater than the one who sent him.  (John 13:15-16)

What is an act of service that God may be asking of you?  Many people want to be considered a servant but it seems that few people want to act like a servant.  The blessing comes in the doing.

If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.  (John 13:17).

 Greatness is not measured by how many servants you have but by how many people you serve.  Teresa of Avila sums up our role in her poem, Christ Has No Body,

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

May you be an example of servant hood to others as you follow Jesus.

 

RickAssociate Pastor – Discipleship.  The Church at LifePark

Professor of Discipleship, Columbia International University

Follow me on twitter:  rickhiggins5

If God is Good

If God is GoodIf God is Good  by Randy Alcorn presents a biblical approach to maintaining faith and hope in the midst of suffering and adversity.

When people face adversity they often wonder,  “If God is all good, then he would want to prevent evil and suffering.  If he is all knowing, then he would know how to prevent it.  If God is all powerful, then he is able to prevent it.   And yet . . .  a great deal of evil and suffering exists.  Why?” (p. 18).

This book addresses the thoughts and questions that people have asked throughout the ages as they have encountered the problem of suffering and evil.  Alcorn provides a biblical response to this dilemma as he challenges the reader to adopt a biblical worldview.  “If we come to see the purpose of the universe as God’s long-term glory rather than our short-term happiness, then we will undergo a critical paradigm shift in tackling the problem of evil and suffering” (p. 60).

Alcorn writes with a pastor’s heart seeking to prepare the reader before the storm of adversity arrives.  “If we learn now the meaning of God’s sovereignty and goodness, a biblical theology of suffering will sustain us when suffering comes” (p. 366).  Throughout the book there are testimonies of men and women who have faced adversity as well as wisdom from the ages, “Puritan Thomas Manton said, ‘While all things are quiet and comfortable, we live by sense rather than faith.  But the worth of a soldier is never known in times of peace'”  (p. 420).

Alcorn may challenge your view of facing adversity.  Our initial response is often to pray that the suffering will be taken away – rather our response should be to learn what God is teaching us in this situation.   If you or someone you know is facing suffering or adversity then you will find this a helpful resource.  (I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review).

 

Rick

Associate Pastor – Discipleship.  The Church at LifePark

Professor of Discipleship, Columbia International University

Follow me on twitter:  rickhiggins5

Do You Know Your Destiny?

Future-Bright-Promises-of-GodWhat enables you to face challenges without becoming overwhelmed?  Consider Jesus Christ the night before His crucifixion.  Knowing the pain and anguish that He would face the next day, He patiently prepared His disciples for His forthcoming departure.  Jesus was able to effectively minister to His disciples because He knew who He was and He knew where He was going,

Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come forth from God and was going back to God,  (John 13:3)

Jesus knew He came from God and was returning to God.  When you understand your true identity and God’s destiny for your life then you are filled with a God-given confidence that can free you from stress and anxiety.

If you’re not sure of your identity as a child of God, then you may try to prove your worth through your performance.  It’s easy to fall for the trap that Robert McGee calls Satan’s lie:

My self-worth = My performance + the opinions of others

When your identity is wrapped up in your performance it can seem like you’re on a roller coaster.  Rather than trusting in yourself, you need to have a healthy confidence in the  sufficiency of the indwelling Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit in your life.  The Apostle John records the assurance that results from knowing what you believe and the destiny that awaits you,

These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.  (1 John 5:13)

John continues,

This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.  (1 John 5:14)

You can have confidence as you follow Jesus knowing that your destiny is secure.  Don’t let your past determine your destiny – keep your eyes on Him.

Are you living in the truth of your God-given destiny?  The decisions you make now enable you to experience the fullness of life in Christ.  For the believer, heaven is your destiny and becoming like Jesus is your goal.

What is a challenge you’re facing?  Remember that your future is as bright as the promises of God (William Carey).

Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.  (Romans 15:13)

 

RickAssociate Pastor – Discipleship.  The Church at LifePark

Professor of Discipleship, Columbia International University

Follow me on twitter:  rickhiggins5

It takes time

PatienceCharacter takes time to develop.  God took a forty year old somebody, spent forty years revealing that he was a nobody, and forty more years demonstrating what He can do with anybody.

How does a microwave society with instant mashed potatoes and frozen TV dinners teach patience to our  young people?  The law of the harvest teaches that we reap in a different season than when we sow.  Kudzu seems to spring up over night but it doesn’t endure through the winter.  In contrast, there are beautiful oaks where I live that are hundreds of years old, they have endured droughts and hurricanes.  Do you want your life to be characterized as ephemeral kudzu or a mighty oak?

You must realize that there is a cumulative effect to investing small amounts of effort in certain activities over a period of time.  This can be a deceptive concept because there are rarely any immediate consequences for neglecting single installments of time in any area of life.  Patience is  a virtue that is a willingness to become what we can be, not a readiness to accept what we are.  Are you willing to become all that God wants you to be?

Friedrich von Schiller wisely observed, “Only those who have the patience to do simple things perfectly will acquire the skill to do difficult things easily.”  God’s desire is that we would be transformed into the image of Jesus Christ,

But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.  (2 Corinthians 3:18)

Notice that we are being transformed, that indicates a process.  Saint Frances de Sales wrote, “Have patience with all things but first with yourself. Never confuse your mistakes with your value as a human being. You are perfectly valuable, creative, worthwhile person simply because you exist. And no amount of triumphs or tribulations can ever change that.”  God knows what He’s doing – His desire is that you would be like a mighty oak.  The person who delights in God’s word, “. . . will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does, he prospers”  (Psalm 1:3).  May you trust in Him, having patience with yourself, knowing that He is growing you in His time.

Lead me in Your truth and teach me, for You are the God of my salvation; for You I wait all the day.  (Psalm 25:5)

 

RickAssociate Pastor – Discipleship.  The Church at LifePark

Professor of Discipleship, Columbia International University

Follow me on twitter:  rickhiggins5

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