Homeless

“Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress,and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”

– James 1.27

Beggars.  The world has known of the poor and needy in many manners and forms, and begging has been the sole source of income for many people throughout the ages.  In many developing countries around the world, children are disfigured and mutilated so that they can earn more money as a beggar child, and often people pretend to be sick to make themselves look more pitiful to the passers by.  Here in the United States, we have welfare and shelters for the poor, but people often stand on street corners with signs, asking for help for a variety of reasons.

While living overseas, watching children be trained to beg from infancy, but seeing them report back to an adult overseeing beggar, I began carrying water and instant noodles in my car to give away.  I was wary that money would go to the overseer, and is not truly a help to those in need, but if they were hungry I could at least feed them a meal.  This by no means solved hunger in that country or city, but it was one small way I could help.

beggar

When I moved to Denver last year, I was struck by the number of beggars in this city too.  There is no way I can know the heart of every beggar whose path I cross.  Will the money buy drugs or alcohol?  Or will it buy food?  Or a new pair of shoes?  Not wanting to be the person to whom Christ says, “I was hungry, and you gave Me nothing to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not invite Me in; naked, and you did not clothe Me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me”, I began in like fashion carrying bottles of water and granola bars in my car to give to people who are hungry (Matt 25.42-43).

Recently, I was pulling off the highway and there was a man standing at the intersection at the exit ramp with a sign that said, “Hungry.  Anything helps.”  So I reached into my back seat and grabbed two granola bars and a bottle of water.  As I rolled down my window, this dirty man wearing a tattered jacket with grime under his fingernails reached out to receive my money.  When I handed him the food, he turned his hand up and said, “I don’t want that” and walked away.

I have chewed on that and mulled over that time and time again.  The applications are endless and the questions as numerous.  Was he afraid I had poisoned the food?  Did he want money for other purposes?  Was he not truly hungry but lying?  Do I consider all beggars to be crooks and on the street because they choose to be there?  Do they not truly want help?

There was a time in my life less than two years ago, where were it not for the love of my parents, I could have feasibly been on the street.  I lost my place to live and my job in one day.  While there were friends in the church willing to help out by letting me stay for a night or two, it was said to me that it was the church’s role to care for me Spiritually, not physically.  I am a capable young woman, with a Master’s Degree and no hole in my work history who immediately started looking for work the day that I found out I had lost my job.  But we all know that jobs are not immediate.  I worked for a temp agency as they could place me while I looked for something permanent, but had it not been for my parents telling me I could come home, I would have been homeless.

Homeless.

Therefore, I can without hesitation say that not everyone on the street is there by choice.  I can also say that not everyone is there for lack of trying.  Lastly, I can say that some people who have been successful right in our Church communities can and do fall into serious need.

The church most certainly does not have a limited role to Spiritual needs.  Yes, each of our greatest need is Spiritual: forgiveness from God for our sins.  But we are commanded to love our neighbor as ourselves.  If you were in a place of need such that you had nowhere to stay, you would not rest until you found a place.  So if I am supposed to love my neighbor as myself, how can I rest when he has no place to stay?  There are many homeless shelters and food kitchens in our cities, and there are also many halfway homes and ministries to help people get on their feet.  But why are we, as a church, not networking to help professionals find jobs in their fields?  Why are we, as a church, not offering our homes to those who need a place to stay, work for those who want to work, and assistance in all of these very real needs?

I work for a non-profit organization that sends supplies to those in need overseas.  We function with a “basic human dignity” standard, whereby we do not send anything to the field that we would not give to our own families.  This clearly does not mean in style or preference, but in quality.  We send brand new product.  Why?  Because we value human life.  And people know the difference of a used and worn pair of shoes to a new pair.  We communicate our care to another by giving something nice, something new.  Not our dirty leftovers or worn out hand-me-downs.

There are times when a person qualified for many things might have to work in food service.  There are times when a father might have to work two jobs to provide for his family.  There are times when one who is truly trying and wanting to provide simply cannot.  There are times when children have no one to care for them and when the elderly have depleted all of their savings on cancer or a new roof or an unexpected bill.  These are the times that we should step in.

“If anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either.”

– 2 Thess 3.10

In our times of distress, we may not be picky.  Yes, I have a master’s degree, but when I was completely without, I worked for a temp agency, sitting in whatever role they could place me, just to earn whatever I could.  We should not coddle one another and encourage laziness.  We must be willing to work in whatever way that we can.  But if you are stable and established, why not pull some strings to help that new college grad get an internship?  Help that new small-business owner make contacts?  Teach that man on the street basic carpentry skills?

Let us not miss the boat.  God gave us the church for community, for encouragement and support.  We must push one another on to know and love God first and foremost.  But we also must care for one another like we care for ourselves.  If we care for that homeless man like we care for ourselves, we will help him to develop his skills, work ethic and help him become stable.  Not feed him a granola bar and water bottle – that he does not want anyway.

And He said to him, “‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’  This is the great and foremost commandment.  The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’”

– Matt 22.37-39

With what are you trusting Jesus?

affair1

 

In October I was able to go on a two week trip back to my host country of four years.  While driving through the capital city I saw the sign above.  LG is targeting people having affairs with a privacy “guest mode” on their new phone.  Our culture and values have disintegrated so far that an affair is no longer taboo or sinful, but we accept it and try to help others out who are participating in such an activity.

Last night I participated in an Advent dinner, and the leader of the discussion asked, “With what are you trusting Jesus?”

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock.  And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock.  Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell—and great was its fall.”

– Matt 7.24-25

We can talk doctrine, morality and theory until we are blue in the face.  But until we begin to actually trust Jesus with our lives, we are playing a mental game.  We are theorizing, debating, imagining and strategizing, but the rubber has yet to meet the road.  In reflecting on this passage my roommate noted that the trials will come.  The floods will rise, the wind will blow.  Life will test our houses.  Our faith.

“If you will not believe, you surely shall not last.”

– Is 7.9b

Where do you turn in your moment of need.  When a trial pops up, do you despair?  Do you get depressed?  Do you jump into overdrive to fix it yourself?  Does your house fall down?  Unless our foundation is faith in the solid rock our houses will fall.

Do you have a foundation laid?  Or are you so acculturated with the world’s values that you cannot even discern the will and heart of God?  Does it break your heart that marriages are falling apart, that people are irreverently breaking their covenants and promises?  Or do you think a privacy guest mode for phones is a good secret-keeping idea?  When our foundation is laid in the teachings and heart of God, these tragedies should break our hearts.  We hate the things that He hates and love the things that He loves.  And when our foundation is laid in His grace and law, when we build our houses out of faith in those things, when the winds blow and the floods come, we trust in Him.  We are solid.  We are firm.  He holds us together.  And He sees us through.

With what are you trusting Jesus today?

He gives a greater grace.

He giveth more grace as our burdens grow greater,
He sendeth more strength as our labors increase;
To added afflictions He addeth His mercy,
To multiplied trials He multiplies peace.

When we have exhausted our store of endurance,
When our strength has failed ere the day is half done,
When we reach the end of our hoarded resources
Our Father’s full giving is only begun.

Fear not that thy need shall exceed His provision,
Our God ever yearns His resources to share;
Lean hard on the arm everlasting, availing;
The Father both thee and thy load will upbear.

His love has no limits, His grace has no measure,
His power no boundary known unto men;
For out of His infinite riches in Jesus
He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again.

 – Annie J. Flint (1866-1932)

Life is hard.  But God’s grace is so rich, so deep, so redeeming and freeing.  He knows the plans that He has written for us.  He has every one of our days numbered, and each of our steps established.  And he pours out grace as and when we need it.

We have all experienced the dichotomy and reality of seasons of trial versus seasons of peace.  We long for peace and comfort, and that is a godly yearning which will ultimately be fulfilled in eternity.  But when we walk in peace and comfort here on the Earth, without the physical presence of God amongst us, we get comfortable.  Our prayer lives shrink back.  We forget our desperate Spiritual state and live to please our physical bodies.  But when trials come, when life falls apart, when the bottom drops out we run back into the arms of our Savior who gives us the strength and mercy to go on.  He leads us through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, He directs our faith and hearts to eternal glory and we grow.  Spiritually we grow.  And we fall more deeply in love with Him.

No one enjoys trials.  But if we look at our Spiritual walks objectively, we will all note that we were closest to God and grew the most in the midst of dark times.  And that is because:

“But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, ‘God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble’.”

 – James 4.6

He gives a greater grace.  He meets us in our times of need.  He provides the strength.  He loves us.  Rest in His grace and mercy today.

Are you hungry for righteousness?

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.  
Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.  
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.  
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.  
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.  
Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  
Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

– Matt 5.2-12

In Matthew’s account of the Gospel, Jesus preaches an extensive sermon towards the beginning of His earthly ministry, where He covers most topics of religious conversation for the day.  He begins the sermon with those eleven verses above, what has come to be known as the beatitudes.  A beatitude is literally a “supreme blessing or happiness” (thefreedictionary.com).  Not an attitude.  Jesus is listing the highest blessings possible upon a person.

Debates have arisen over the history of the church as to the truest and best interpretation of this passage.  Saint Augustine believed it to be allegorical, while many others take it literally.  Is is speaking directly to the religious, Christian experience or day-to-day life?  Is it progressive?  Must you have the first before you can have the second and third?  Regardless of the questions that arise, the overall theme is clear and undebated:  “The way to heavenly blessedness is antithetical to the worldly path normally followed in pursuit of happiness…The beatitudes give Jesus’ description of the character of true faith” (John MacArthur).

“Poor in spirit” is the first beatitude listed.  Such a one is blessed and his is the Kingdom of God.  He will get to spend eternity with God.  What is poor in spirit?  The opposite of rich in spirit.  The realization of one’s inability to save himself.  He who is not self-sufficient but relies on God Almighty for salvation, life and happiness.

Those who mourn are blessed.  Those who mourn over sin in their own lives.  Mourning is a temporary sorrow that can also be experienced because of death, loss or a melancholy spirit, but those who are blessed are those who mourn over sin.  Paul defines this as a Godly sorrow – the sorrow that leads to repentance (2 Cor 7.10).  This mourning is essential for salvation.  Until we hate our sin we do not realize our need for a savior.

Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be satisfied.  If we try to achieve righteousness on our own, we will fail.  But if we realize that God alone can and will sanctify us, and turn to Him and wait on Him, He will give us the strength to live holy lives.  He will satisfy us.

The merciful will receive mercy.  Jesus regularly speaks to the retributive nature of our judgment and mercy.  In the way that we judge, we will be judged (Matt 7.2), and if you do not forgive your brother, God will not forgive you (Matt 6.15).  So we will be shown mercy if we show mercy, and the opposite is also true.  Thus Jesus’ commandment to do unto others as we would have done to ourselves takes on a substantially weighty application.  It is not just good discipline, it is for our own benefit that we show mercy, forgive and love.

Blessed are those who have been persecuted.  I have been thinking much this week on the reality that all who desire to live Godly lives will be persecuted (2 Tim 3.12).  And Jesus words it in this passage that to such as these belongs the Kingdom of Heaven.  Because persecution is a predecessor to inheriting the Kingdom, we should “rejoice and be glad, for your reward in Heaven is great” (Matt 5.12).

Are you self sufficient?  Or are you aware of your inability to please God and keep His law?  Are you broken over your sin?  Or are you floating through life making fleshly and impulsive decisions without considering God or His mandates?  Are you merciful?  Are you living in such a way that Jesus shines through you and those who hate Jesus hate you?

Those who hate Jesus and the claims of Scripture should hate us for being committed to Him and His ways.  But their problem must never be with us, it must always be with Scripture.  Do not add a stone of offense over which some might stumble – because the Gospel is radical enough.  And Jesus laments over those who would stand in the way of the Gospel, “But woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes” (Matt 18.7).

Do you want to be blessed?  Do you want to receive the Kingdom of God?  Eternal life?  Pray that God would cultivate these dispositions and blessings in your life.  Be humble.  Be merciful.  Be broken over sin (because it is your sin that put Jesus on the cross).  Be fully and utterly dependent on God.  Because He loves you and paid the penalty for your sin so that you could be blessed.

There must be factions among you.

“But in giving this instruction, I do not praise you, because you come together not for the better but for the worse.  For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that divisions exist among you; and in part I believe it.  For there must also be factions among you, so that those who are approved may become evident among you.”

– 1 Cor 11.17-19

We talk so much these days about unity that the up-and-coming generation (and probably most of generations Gen X and younger) are beginning to value tolerance and acceptance over Truth.  We would not dare to be so arrogant as to claim that what I believe the Scripture to say is Truth, this is just “my interpretation” and you are entitled to your own opinion.  We are going to start and build churches that avoid those things which cause denominations to split, because “all that matters is Jesus”.  The Bible, after all, means different things to different people, right?

There are some tertiary and even secondary doctrines over which we should not fight.  Do you believe that Jesus will return before, after or halfway through the tribulation?  I have my belief, but if you disagree with me, that is all right because there is no salvific significance to the discussion.  I am no more or less a Christian or in love with Jesus because I believe one thing and you another.  We both believe in the resurrection of the dead, in which our hope is founded, and we both are trusting Jesus for salvation and for redemption at the end of the age.

Paul, in this passage, opens the discussion with a debate which should be non-divisive, and closes with one that should be.  The church was arguing over the mandate of women covering their heads for prayer.  Paul argues that her long hair is a woman’s covering and glory, however he says “judge for yourselves” (1 Cor 11.13).  It’s not a big deal.  God gave her a natural covering, but if one desires to wear a scarf, too, then her submission is honorable.

He then makes the statement that there must factions or divisions amongst Christians, so that those who are approved – those who are right – will be evident.  That which should be divisive, he explains, is that the church was irreverently and sinfully taking the Lord’s Supper, in that each one was eating and drinking – some getting drunk while some went hungry without food.  He states that “whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord” (1 Cor 11.27).  He instructs that every one must examine himself and his heart before taking the Lords supper, because if you take it in sin, you drink and eat judgment upon yourself (1 Cor 11.29).  He says, “you do not judge the body rightly”.  You must judge yourself, and you must judge the factions within the church and discern, according to Scriptures, which is right.

Moving to a new city is fun and exciting, but it is also difficult at times – in particular to find a church and build solid community.  I went to seminary of one denomination, but the new city where I have moved has very few congregations within that denomination.  In looking at churches in the area, I have noticed that many non-demoninational churches, for the sake of being inclusive, do not have a statement of beliefs available for church seekers.  They, in fact, do not even have one written.  I also learned a lot about other denominations from my background whilst on the hunt!

There are things in which we unify.  The Gospel is foundational and non-negotiable.  There are things on which we might disagree but can still stand united.  If a woman feels convicted to cover her head when she prays, or all of the time, she should cover her head in clear conscience and stand next to her sister whose hair is her covering from the Lord.  However, if there is a faction within your church who is dishonoring the Lord’s Supper by eating in excess and not feeding his poor brother who is hungry, this is a division-worthy issue.  If there is a faction who does not examine and repent of sin before coming into a worship service, this is worth breaking fellowship if and when the outlines of Church discipline have been followed, offering such a one a chance to repent.

The Scriptures were written for our instruction.  They are infallible and inerrant and with careful study of the context and intention they can be discerned – and at times the discernment is that God’s thoughts are above our thoughts and not for our understanding.  But God is not a God of confusion (1 Cor 14.33).  There are applicational issues that are not worth fighting or dividing over.  And there are minor interpretational issues – especially ones such as the prophecies for the end times – that are also not worth dividing over.  But sin is intolerable.  Paul says in 1 Corinthians that if a person says he is a believer, but is unrepentant in sinful lifestyles or choices, we are to not even eat with him (1 Cor 5.11).  And the foundational doctrines of salvation are not to be compromised.

But everybody sins.  Right?  Who am I to judge someone else?  Yes, we all fall into seasons of sin.  We all make a wrong decision here and there.  We all still are at war with our flesh (Gal 5.17).  But that is the point of the church.  To call one another to account.  To push one another on to maturity.  To know one another well enough to ask the tough questions, to open to answer the tough questions and grow in holiness.  All in love.  All to the glory of God.  We do not chastise or kick out a brother or sister for sinning.  We remove a brother or sister from our midst for being unwilling to repent for his sinning.  If he chooses to embrace sin over the will and mandates of God.  If he, when confronted for his sin, says “I don’t care what God says about this”.  Seventy times seven is the amount of times we offer forgiveness and acceptance to a brother who sins, when he repents (Matt 18.22).  And it is in our humility and repentance that we ask one another and push one another on to love and know God.

Do you know what you believe?  Do you know what your church believes?  Do you test everything that you hear against the Scripture (Acts 17.11)?  Are you growing in maturity (Heb 6.1)?  Are you growing in holiness (1 Peter 1.16)?  Do you unite when we need to unite and divide when we need to divide?  Trust God.  Obey.  So that the one who is approved might be known.

Jesus did not want to go to the cross.

“Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to His disciples, ‘Sit here while I go over there and pray.’  And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and distressed.  Then He said to them, ‘My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with Me.’  And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, ‘My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.’  And He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, ‘So, you men could not keep watch with Me for one hour?  Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.’  He went away again a second time and prayed, saying, ‘My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Your will be done.’  Again He came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy.  And He left them again, and went away and prayed a third time, saying the same thing once more.

– Matt 26.36-44

Have you ever considered the fact that Jesus did not want to go to the cross?  In reflecting on the authoritative statement of Scripture that all who desire to live godly lives will be persecuted (2 Tim 3.12), our command to be satisfied and content while actively pursing a life of eternal significance (Col 4.2-6), and the temptation to glorify suffering in an ascetic mindset, I am remembering the fact today that Jesus Christ, our Savior and greatest example of a godly lifestyle, despised the cross and asked God for another way out.

Jesus asked God for another way out.

Do you feel un-spiritual when the trials get too intense?  Do you think, “Someone with stronger faith wouldn’t think this or feel this”?  One of the most godly and mature men I know told me a part of his story:  after over twenty years of a happy and godly marriage and working with his wife in the ministry, she walked away from everything – her faith, the family (him and two children) and their life.  There was never a reason given, she simply fell in love with the things of the world and no longer wanted the life that they shared, or the faith she proclaimed for so long.  Much like Demas in 2 Tim 4.10.  His life was rocked, his support system crumbled and living out on a farm in the country, he said “I could have hung myself in that barn and not been found for weeks or months”.  And the thought crossed his mind.  I know few people of deeper faith and conviction than this man.

Paul and Timothy suffered such hardships on their missionary journey to Asia that they despaired of life.  They “had the sentence of death within themselves” – they longed for death (2 Cor 1.9)!  And God used that to teach them to trust Him for deliverance and hope (2 Cor 1.9-10).

Suffering is not fun.  The vanity and hardships of life are a curse of God because of sin (Rom 8), and while we can rejoice that we are counted worthy to suffer for Christ when we are persecuted, it is normal to be sad, grieve and even despair at times (James 1.2).

And it is not a sign of lack of faith or spirituality if you ask God for another way out.  Jesus did that.  But it is essential that we immediately put our emotions and desires in check.  Jesus prayed for an entire evening that God would allow the cross to not happen – so intensely that he sweat drops of blood.  But He submitted to God’s will.  He knew the Scriptures, He knew His role and the fulfillment of prophecy.  He knew that the next few days of tribulation would result in the salvation of all who believe.  And even though He despised the shame, He endured the cross (Heb 12.2).

Are you in a life situation where you never expected to be?  Is there something looming on the horizon which you dread?  Are you tired?  Or despairing of life?  You are not alone.  The King of Kings walked where you are walking.  The patriarchs and forefathers of the faith wished and longed for death at times.  Many of your brothers and sisters have walked through the valley of the shadow of death and have come through with hope on the other side.  If you cannot rejoice today, you will someday.  If not here on this earth, in eternity.  Cling to your hope.  Cling to the promises God gives us in Jesus Christ.  Join in His sufferings and endure persecution.  Walk through dark valleys knowing that God has it all under control.  He loves you.

Should I stay or should I go?

“Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”

– 2 Tim 3.12

Paul, in writing to Timothy instructions for the ministry, mad this terrifying and authoritative statement that all who want to live godly lives in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.  This is a difficult concept to grasp in the western world today, were we flaunt our religious freedoms and guard each other’s rights to practice whatever religion we desire (provided it does not offend or hurt anyone else).  Few have truly suffered religious persecution within the United States, especially when compared to other countries around the world where the Christian Church is forced to meet in secret.

It is good practice, however, to examine the Scriptures and understand God’s heart on situations and circumstances before we are caught up in the middle of them so that we can make level headed and godly decisions.  This way we are not “tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming” (Eph 4.14).  Are you thinking about getting married?  Spend hours learning God’s precepts and designs for marriage.  Learn that He hates divorce, and therefore never allow your relationship to entertain that as an option (Mal 2.16).  Are you thinking of having children?  Study what God says about discipline – remember that to spare the [spanking spoon] is to hate the child (Prov 13.24), and that to not provide for your family makes you worse than all sinners (1 Tim 5.8).

Paul and Peter both say that we must join in the sufferings of Christ, and by doing so we are united to Him (2 Cor 1.5, 1 Peter 4.13).  But it is hard to know what exactly one should do in the face of persecution.  Why?  Because even though Jesus says to “turn the other cheek” and “go with him a second mile”, we also see Biblical examples of God providing a way of escape from persecution for many who ultimately died martyr deaths.  John Bunyan, one of my favorite puritans, wrote this instruction on the topic:

“Thou mayest do in this as it is in thy heart. If it is in thy heart to fly, fly: if it be in thy heart to stand, stand. Anything but a denial of the truth. He that flies, has warrant to do so; he that stands, has warrant to do so. Yea, the same man may both fly and stand, as the call and working of God with his heart may be. Moses fled (Ex. 2:15); Moses stood (Heb 11:27). David fled (1 Sam. 19:12); David stood (1 Sam. 24:8). Jeremiah fled (Jer. 37:11-12); Jeremiah stood (Jer. 38:17). Christ withdrew himself (Luke 19:10); Christ stood (John 18:1-8). Paul fled (2 Cor. 11:33); Paul stood (Act 20:22-23). . . . There are few rules in this case. The man himself is best able to judge concerning his present strength, and what weight this or that argument has upon his heart to stand or fly. . . Do not fly out of a slavish fear, but rather because flying is an ordinance of God, opening a door for the escape of some, which door is opened by God’s providence, and the escape countenanced by God’s Word (Matt. 10:23).”

– John Bunyan,  Advice to Sufferers

We will all suffer trials in this life.  Hardships because of bad choices, discipline because of sin, and some of us – persecution because of faith.  God promises to give us the strength to glorify Him through these situations.  He does not promise to stop them from happening, nor does He promise to give us a way out or alleviate the suffering.  He promises to glorify Himself and work it to our good if we love Him (Rom 8.28).  He will give us the faith, the grace, the mental and Spiritual fortitude to maintain our hope and joy in Christ through these times.  And if we seek Him and pursue His ways, we will have peace in staying to persevere through persecution or leaving the situation.  But let us cling to God such that our flight or perseverance is not, as John Bunyan says, “out of slavish fear” or out of ascetic discipline, but to the glory and honor of God.

You may do whatever the Lord puts in your heart.

Anything, but a denial of Truth.  

Life is hard. And then you die.

“Life is hard.  And then you die.”

– My Dad

On Saturday I wrote about contentment.  The fact that “His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence” (2 Peter 1.3).  That Jesus is the bread of life and living water, and whoever comes to Him will not thirst or hunger anymore (John 6.35, John 4.10)  But those truths do not mean that we will have lives of ease.  That there will not be trials, that we will not suffer, or that we will not despair.  Paul, the author of much of the New Testament said that there were times that his suffering was so severe that he “despaired even of life” (2 Cor 1.8).

I grew up singing a song called “Sunshine and Roses”:

I used to sing a sad song filled with gray skies and rain.
I used to sing of no future sad days with only pain.
Now as I look back upon them seems to me that I find
They were days of in the valley now I’ve left them all behind.
 
And now it’s sunshine and roses, only a thorn now and then.
Cool streams warm breezes, since Jesus took my hand.
Green meadows and laughter, hope within a crumbling time.
And now it’s sunshine and roses only a thorn now and then.
 
I never miss the old ways yet think back from time to time.
To those days of no purpose, when my life had little rhyme.
Though the water drops be bitter they much sweeter make the taste
Of one drop of God’s blessing, blessing given by His grace.

In theory this is a possible experience of God in your relationship with Him and in your new nature as a child of His.  However, I have never known someone for whom this is the case.  And if is it your life story, praise God that He has saved you from the heartache that life can bring, or given you the fortitude of Spirit and faith to keep all suffering and hardships in perspective. We have all heard the stories of those who faced cancer, loss of a loved one, persecution and death with admirable strength, and if we all had that continual perspective, we could sing “Sunshine and Roses” truthfully.

But unfortunately, most of us have experienced life to not be that.  That is, in fact, the result of the fall and the curse.  God promised that life would be hard.  And then we would die.  Jesus himself was mourned and broken for the lostness around Him.  He did not want to die on the cross.  He agonized over it, in fact, praying to God that there be another way.  David, a man after God’s own heart, wrote most of the book of the Psalms, many of which are songs of despair – begging for death or relief from his suffering.  Jesus even affirmed those who are mourning:

“Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted.”

– Matt 5.4

There are many interpretations of the beatitudes and this verse, but regardless of the content of what is being mourned by the believer, the result is that he who mourns will be comforted.  Paul acknowledges that we do mourn, but not as those who do not have hope (1 Thess 4.13).

And that is the key.  There will be days of sorrow, trial and pain.  And to whatever depth the pain grips our hearts, there is always a deeper reality established in the heart of the Christian that this is all to a good end:  God’s glory and our eternal benefit.  There is always a deeper hope that this suffering will not last, but we will have everlasting life and joy in eternity with Christ.  We have confidence that God will redeem the time, He will make use out of the suffering – all suffering – and we have peace.

Therefore, do not place too high of expectation on your circumstances.  If you are mourning, then mourn.  If you know someone who is mourning, mourn with him (Rom 12.15).  God does not promise that our lives will be a walk in the park, He promises to walk with us through the valleys.  He promises the strength to endure suffering until the end.  Like Jesus did.  He comforts us in our weakness and He carries us through the trials.  Walk with Him.  Cling to Him.  He alone will get you through.  And when you are experiencing sunshine and roses, praise Him for His grace that got you through the last valley!

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

Are you satisfied?

Dreamers get a bad rap with doers.  And doers get a bad rap with dreamers.

If you are a dreamer, your friends and family might ask you, “Aren’t you ever satisfied?”  Or, “Why are you always looking for something better?”  If you are a doer, you might assume that you will settle into the first job you find out of school for the rest of your life, and be quite happy to stay put where you are – and your dreamer friends ask how you can do the same thing every single day.

Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving; praying at the same time for us as well, that God will open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ, for which I have also been imprisoned; that I may make it clear in the way I ought to speak.  Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity.  Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.

– Col 4.2-6

Paul, in this passage, is speaking to the responsibility that we, as Christians, have to doing whatever job and living out every life circumstance in which we find ourselves to the glory and honor of God.  He just finished stating that slaves should serve happily and freely, masters should rule kindly, and every member of a household should conduct himself in a God-honoring way.  The way that we do this is to primarily devote ourselves to prayer and obedience to the statutes of God, and exemplify the fruit of the Spirit.

As Christians, it is our command to love God with all of our heart, strength and mind (Matt 22.37), care for our families (1 Tim 5.8) and to make disciples of all the nations (Mat 28.18-20).  Everything else is peripheral.  Everything else is the means by which we do these things.  And God wires us differently to achieve these ends.

“His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.”

– 2 Peter 1.3

We have everything that we need for life.  We have the greatest gift of salvation.  We have knowledge and a relationship with Almighty God.  We have the bread of life, the living water – whereby we never hunger or thirst (John 6.35, John 4.10).

“And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.”

– Phil 4.19

God is on our side, He will supply all of our needs, and He has the plan of our lives established and written.  Therefore, by trusting Him, we should be content and satisfied.  There is an unfulfilled longing of eternity and being with Him, but He has given us everything that we need for life and godliness while we are still this side of eternity.  If you are lacking or hungry for more – it is all in the Scripture.

However, there is a necessity to not become complacent.  Dreamers and doers alike can fall into the trap of thinking, “This is life.  Things will never change.  I just have to get through it.”  And then we give up on life, on making an impact, on reaching the World for Christ.  While we are content, fulfilled and satisfied wherever God has us, we should never have an attitude of complacency or cynicism.  Because, like Paul said in Colossians, we are to always be alert in prayers of Thanksgiving – looking for open doors (for the Gospel), and conducting “yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity” (Col 4.5).

Make the most of the opportunity.  If you are a doer, make the most of your daily occupation, giving glory to God every chance you get.  If you are a dreamer, glorify God in your dreams and let Him lead you to new and exciting places – or let Him keep you where you are.  Be satisfied.  Be purposeful.  Be active.  Make the most of wherever you are, sharing Truth at every opportunity.  Perhaps one of the most well known and over quoted scriptures comes from Esther when she was contemplating interceding before the king for the Jews:

“And who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?

Esther 4.14

God has you where you are.  You can glorify Him where you are.  Therefore be alert!  In prayer!  And with a watchful eye as to an open door for the Gospel.  Make the most of every opportunity.  That will apply differently to different people and different personalities.  Let us love each other and encourage each other in the ways God has made us.  And push one another on to maturity, obedience, satisfaction and risk taking!  Be bold for Jesus.

Why do you do what you do?

Asceticism.  “Severe self-discipline and avoidance of all forms of indulgence, typically for religious reasons” (Google Online Dictionary).

Piety has taken a variety of forms throughout the ages.  Anytime human beings have the opportunity to take something pure and taint or ruin it, they will.  Adam and Eve, the first man and woman had two sons:  Cain and Abel.  Abel had a good heart and made sacrifices to God through the abundance of his love for God.  Cain had an evil heart and made sacrifices with bad motives.  He because jealous of Abel and killed him because God was pleased with Abel and not him (Gen 4).

God gave Moses a Law, His perfect Law, to establish Israel as His chosen people from amongst the nations.  God promised that if the Israelites kept His commandments that He would bless them and establish them.  The first and primary law was that they were to Love the Lord their God with all of their hearts and with all of their souls and with all of their might (Deut 6.5).  This morphed into religious piety where the priests kept the letter of the Law – the outward actions – without a love for God.  They wanted to look good, and they had the authority of the Torah on their side.  Jesus ultimately called them wicked.

After nearly 400 years of severe persecution, Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire.  No longer were Christians hunted down and killed for their beliefs, but the Church was established as not only a part, but an essential part of the community and kingdom.  Church offices were coveted, bought, and inhabited by non believers who wanted to look holy for their own personal pride and gain.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post on living a sold-out life for Christ:  No Earthly Good.  I discussed the misconception that someone who is completely focused on God, eternity and living a life of purpose would be “no earthly good”.  The conversation arose, then, how do we avoid religious asceticism?  Piety?  These tendencies into which we so easily fall.

Firstly, think of the mindset of an ascetic.  It is one who deprives himself.  When we are in Christ, we are a new creature.   “The old things passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Cor 5.17).  God removes our hearts of stone and gives us a heart of flesh that is soft and tender towards Him (Ez 36.26).  When we come to Christ, it is no longer us who lives, but Jesus living through us (Gal 2.20).  As we love God, we begin to cherish the things that He cherishes and hate the things that he hates.  We hate sin.  We hate frivolity.  We hate wasting our lives and building up treasures for ourselves on Earth.

Sin is attractive.  No one chooses to sin because they do not want to.  It feels good for a season.  We want to be comfortable and look out for #1.  Paul said, “No on hates his own body” (Eph 5.29), so the way in which we care for ourselves is the way that we are to care for one another.  The commandment here, then, is not that we neglect ourselves but that we look out for others to the same degree that we look out for ourselves.

But the key is our motivation.  We do not die to sin out of obligation, duty or trying to prove ourselves.  We die to sin because as we love God, we develop a heart after His own heart, and we begin to hate the things that he hates.  We despise our sin, if for no other reason than that it breaks His heart and makes Him angry.  We also, as we love God more deeply and fully, no longer cherish the things that do not glorify Him: those things that might be morally neutral, but offer no benefit to ourselves or the Kingdom.  To put away silliness and worldly pleasures is a joy as we get to spend more time with God and purposefully honoring Him.

Therefore, our motivation is not self deprivation.  Our motivation is honoring and glorifying God.  It is Christ living through us.  When it is not Christ living through us, we work out of our own strength and we get worn out.  Burnout.  Pastors, missionaries, lay people all suffer from burnout on occasion.  And it’s sole cause is imbalance and working in our own strength.  The moment I try to do something for God, I am working in my own strength, I get frustrated when I do not see the results that I want or expect, and I lose heart.  Or perhaps great results are happening, and I invest too much time and I get exhausted and physically break.

So what does that look like practically?  I heard it taught one time that to maintain balance, we should never let ourselves get too Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired – HALT.  A good ministerial and life application could also be to never get too hungry, tired or busy.  God has created us with limited bodies.  Bodies that require that we be unconscious for 1/3 of our lives.  Bodies that require food and exercise to perform well.  And it is our responsibility to take care of those bodies (1 Cor 6.19).  It is also our responsibility to maintain balance in priorities.  God is always our first priority (Deut 6.5).  Then your spouse if you are married, then children, and then everyone/everything else.  That is why Paul says it is better to not get married, because you are free to invest all of your time in the work (1 Cor 7.32-33).  We never make good decisions if we have not spent time with the Lord and are being led by His Spirit.  We struggle to make good decisions if we are hungry, tired and busy.

It is a heart cultivation.  If you cherish God, the things you enjoy become a time to rejoice in Him.  For instance, I enjoy riding my motorcycle.  I am not necessarily in deep mediation or prayer the entire time that I’m on my bike, but I do pray a lot.  And sing.  And look at the beauty of creation.  And work the bike.  The seclusion of a helmet and loud pipes is nice for reflection.  But I enjoy the Lord while I enjoy His creation and His wonderful gifts of motorcycles.  I also play the piano.  When I was studying performance piano in college, those five hours of practicing classical music every day were not always intentional notes played directly to God, but perfecting the pieces to the best of my ability and singing praises intermittently kept Him the focus and glorified Him by doing my best to honor Him.

If your focus is self deprivation, self glorification, or doing something for God as though He needs it, your strength will fail.  We must spend daily time with the Lord.  We must bask in His presence, seek His face, and allow the Spirit to live through us.  When He is the one leading and guiding, we work in His strength that will not fail.

Do you buy your child presents on Christmas because it is your duty?  When he says, “This is exactly what I wanted, thank you!”  Do you respond, “Well I’m your parent, I had to buy it for you.”  Or do you buy your child presents because you love them and want to make them happy?  Do you bring your wife roses on your anniversary because that is what is expected and you say “Here are the roses that I am required to buy you”, or do you give her roses lovingly to make her happy and to show her how much you care?

In the same way we do not begrudgingly stop any habit or spend time reading our Bibles.  We come to God because we love Him, we stop habits that do not honor Him and we enjoy spending time with Him.  If you do not cherish Him, ask Him to give you a new heart – a heart that loves Him for who He is, not for the gifts that He gives.  Not for the benefit of salvation from Hell.  But because He is God.  John Piper says that Christians are hedonists – that loving God is truly our greatest joy and pleasure, and we should seek our greatest joy and pleasure by loving Him.  We are not ascetics, denying ourselves and suffering for the sake of piety.