Bear One Another’s Burdens

bear burdens

The community of faith is one of the greatest blessings God has given us in the local Church.  We meet for weekly worship, we gather for Bible study and community, and we rally around one another in the midst of a crisis or life change.  Meal trains are established after surgeries and babies, and those most intimate communities pull together finances for one another when a sudden need or trauma arises.

We bear one another’s burdens.  
Or at least we should.

But have you ever stopped to consider the context of that commandment in Scripture?  Where Paul teaches us to bear one another’s burdens?

“Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.  Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.  For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.  But each one must examine his own work, and then he will have reason for boasting in regard to himself alone, and not in regard to another.  For each one will bear his own load.”

– Gal 6.1-5

It is good and right that we know one another well enough and that we care for each other enough to help meet needs and comfort one another during times of difficulty and suffering.  God is a God of comfort, and He gives us one another to help ease some of our momentary suffering (2 Cor 1.3).  He loves His Church, we are His bride, and we are commanded to look out for the needs of those within our local body first.  Before we seek to meet the needs of those outside of our body and the unsaved:

Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.  So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.

– Gal 6.9-10

This is not permission to overlook anyone, we are indeed commanded to take go the extra mile for anyone who would take advantage of us, to love our enemies, to meet the needs of the poor (within and without of the Church), but just as Christ’s first priority is the Church, so should our’s be.

The context of this specific command, which we so regularly quote, however, is to bear one another’s burdens of sin.  John Piper eloquently teaches us,

“A sinful act is vastly more harmful that any…other burden, and if [we] love them, [we] will not only comfort them in their troubles, but confront them in their sin.”

For most of us it is easy to go visit someone in the hospital and take meals to a family who is struggling or expending their energy taking care of a sick family member.  For many of us it is easy to listen, offer a hug, and to console someone who is suffering a loss of some sort.  But not everyone in the Church who is bearing a burden is a victim.  Some people are bearing the consequences of their sin.  Some people are stuck in an habitual sin.  And sin is the most dangerous burden, and that from which we should be most intensely seeking to help one another escape.

Scripture is clear that if we continue in sin after confessing Jesus as our Lord, there is no hope for us.  This is a terrifying situation:

“For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries.”

– Heb 10.26-27

Therefore, if we have been commanded to do good and to take care of the body of the Church first, and if the greatest threat to our well being is sin, then we must be diligent about confronting our own sin and holding one another accountable.  It is the greatest act of love – from a fellow Christian – to help me in my sanctification process and to conquer a sin.  We should never just write a brother off, we should never simply react to one another’s sin, we should never refrain from saying anything out of fear, or because “it’s just not my business”.  It is your business.  It is my business.

Is someone in your community stuck in a sin, or blind to a sin in his life?  It is your responsibility to humbly, in love, help bear that burden.  And when someone approaches you to confront a sin to which you are blind or needing help to conquer, remember that this is the greatest act of love a fellow Christian can give you.  He is looking out for your soul and eternal well being.  Let us embrace accountability and community.  Let us press one another on to good works and maturity.

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds…”

– Heb 10.23-24

 

What really matters?

treasure

How do you make your decisions?  How do you spend your time?  We find ourselves often fretting and stressing over things that either we cannot change, or in a few moments, days, weeks, or years we will have completely forgotten.  This is one of the reasons that Jesus commands us,

“So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

– Matt 6.34

Every day has its own tensions, stresses and frustrations.  Each day also has its own joys, pleasures and comforts.  But how much of what we have done yesterday will last through eternity?

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

– Matt 6.19-21

This is an interesting command.  Jesus wants us to build up treasures, just not ones that are earthly.  Everything that exists here on Earth, and those fleeting pleasures of affirmation, adoration and approval will pass away.  They will rust, they will break down, they will pass.  And Jesus, desiring us to have eternal joy and pleasure in God, teaches us that if we store up treasures in eternity, in Heaven, they will give true joy and never pass away.

What does that mean?  How do we store up treasures in Heaven?  Scripture teaches us that when Christians are judged at the end of time, our deeds will be weighed.  Sin and wickedness will be burned up like weeds, but those things we have done to the glory and honor of God will be purified through the fire and come out as gold and precious stones (1 Cor 3.10-15).

What is the most eternal treasure?  Other souls in Heaven.  The Great Commission was given to us as Jesus final parting words:  Go make disciples of all nations (Matt 28.18-20).  God desires to use us as a part of His plan to bring other souls to salvation.  When we get to Heaven, our works will be judged and there will be actual rewards, but no greater reward than a fellow soul in eternal joy with us.

We will also receive a variety of rewards, like the “crown of life”, the “crown of righteousness” and the “crown of glory” (Rev 2.10, 2 Tim 4.8, 1 Peter 5.4).  Some people interpret these verses to be literal crowns, like those awarded to athletes who won at the ancient olympics.  I believe the term crown to be figurative of the gift it represents:  eternal life, godly righteousness, and our final glorification.  We learn elsewhere in Scripture that these are the eternal goals of salvation, and it will be our “crowning glory” to ultimately receive them after the final judgment.

But to whom is rewarded this gifts?  Those who persevere until the end.  Those who feed the hungry and clothe the naked.  Those who make disciples.  Those who abide in Jesus.  Those who glorify God in everything that they do.  Those who are faithful.

These are the things that will matter forever.  Not the house you buy, the car you drive or the clothes you wear – unless of course all of these decisions are made with an eternal goal.  Perhaps you buy a house to house homeless or that is ready for missionaries as they come through.  Perhaps you drive an economic car in which you offer people rides and share the Gospel with them along the way.  Perhaps you wear respectable clothes that honor God in the way you present yourself.

Figure out what things will last forever.  And focus on doing them.  A lot.  Nothing else matters.

We are all bandwagon activists.

Hey.  Did you notice that we are one week removed from the attack on Paris, one day removed from the governmental leaders declaring their position on refugees, and even though IS had 170 hostages this morning at a Radisson Hotel in Mali, society has, by-in-large, already moved on?  The house has suspended Obama’s refugee placement program, so we can all rest comfortably again, so please enjoy this picture of my cat.  (Yes, I do have the two cutest cats around).

image

I am impressed that we, as a nation, focused on the Syrian Civil War for nearly a week.  Did you hear that Charlie Sheen announced that he is HIV+?  The press, by in large, did not even let that bombshell outweigh our focus on the war, refugees and IS believing itself a major world power.  Well done, America.

Refugee placement services felt an influx of support nationwide.  I read that the Kentucky Refugee Ministries has received more support in the last week than they have in the last twenty five years of service, even as they welcome Syrians.  Did you know, however, that the Civil War started four and a half years ago?  Did you know that Syrians have been fleeing for their lives, by the masses, since that time?  Did you know that we have received Syrian refugees here in the US?  Not many, but already over 1,800.

Did you care two days ago?
Will you care tomorrow?
Probably not.  But we all sure cared yesterday.

Why?  Because we are all bandwagon activists.  The age of the internet allows us to hear the headlines of the news, read a few opinion articles and form a thirty-second opinion, and anyone who disagrees with us is uninformed and a irrational.  Forget the fact that many have given their lives to the study and development of international relations and foreign policies, and there are a very few who have devoted their lives to helping refugees learn a new life in a foreign country.

Sadly, this is characteristic of our culture and we, as Christians, prove ourselves to be just as guilty as the rest.  We cite Scriptures about loving our enemies, praying for the world, espousing devoutly how it is our Christian duty to care for the widow and the orphan.  But when was the last time you visited a widow or took care of an orphan?  You might nobly disagree with our nation at large and declare that we should help refugees, but did you donate money to those organizations who have a plan in place?  Did you go to the airport and pick up a family, help set up their new apartment, start teaching them English or help them in any way?

We have not progressed very far on the spectrum of sanctification.

We are chronically immature, selfish Christians who can get on the bandwagon vocally, but do not sacrifice our money, our comfort, our time or our energy to actually do something.

“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

“But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…”

– Matt 5.44

“Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men.  If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.  Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.  “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

– Rom 12.17-21

These are steep commands.  These are steep commands against which our culture is squarely opposed.  No, not necessarily in value, but in action.  The elderly are considered irrelevant and we send them off to nursing homes because they get in our way and are a nuisance.  We confine orphans to foster care and group homes because we want to have our own babies and are not interested in the baggage that comes along with a child who has been through serious trauma.  We consider it honorable to turn the other cheek and practice patience, but cannot control our reactions well enough do so.  Our comfort and our security come first.  Justice – our own perception of it anyway – is rarely sacrificed for the sake of serving someone who just took advantage of us.  No, I [intentionally] don’t carry cash, so stop begging me for it at every intersection.

Our American Dream worldview has stunted our Spiritual growth.  Our expectation of and desire for immediate gratification has made us a bunch of pansies who cannot invest long term for a goal or persevere through trials.  We get depressed.  We take medicine to feel better.  We give up and find something easier.  We should enjoy our jobs, we should get paid that outrageous salary because I deserve it.  My life should be comfortable.

Scripture teaches us that Spiritual maturity comes through trials and tribulations.  We will not grow unless our faith is systematically tested by God:

“And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”

– Rom 5.3-5

God orchestrates situations in our lives to develop our faith into maturity.  The walk of the Christian is the process of becoming more like Jesus:  dying to our sin and our flesh, and taking on the persona of the Holy Spirit.  A person who is being led by the Holy Spirit is exemplified by the fruit of the Spirit:

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”

– Gal 5.22-23

So let us stop and consider our hearts and actions over the last few days.  How many conversations did you have about the Syrian Civil War, which is now going on five years?  How many conversations did you have about permitting Syrian refugees into our nation, and/or into your community?  How many times did you pray about it?  Did you actually do something, or did you just convey your wisdom to anyone who would listen?

This is a test, folks.  And we, as a church, are headed down the path of failure, if we do not seek God, ask Him how we should respond, and invest.  God many not be calling your church or your community to respond specifically to Syrian refugees.  You might live in Indiana where that family was diverted, mid-travel, to Connecticut because your governor refused them entrance.  But there is another widow or orphan that God wants you to care for.  She might even be your own grandmother.  There is another enemy to which you need to offer grace and love.  It might even be your own brother when you go home for Thanksgiving next week.

Let’s not be bandwagon Christians.  Let’s grow in perseverance and fight the good fight of faith.  Let’s do something, and not just talk about it.

“But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.”

– James 1.22

The Refugee Crisis is Complicated.

complication

Six days ago, Paris was attacked by IS terrorists and the world took notice.  The day before, Beirut Lebanon was similarly attacked, and two weeks before a Russian jet was bombed down killing 224, but the world did not take notice.  The Civil War in Syria started on March 15, 2011 and has continued to ransack the Middle East, causing millions of people to flee for their lives, created the biggest refugee crisis since World War II, some seventy years ago.  Refugee camps have been established, many countries are accommodating refugees as they can, people are suffering, and terrorists are using the mass exodus as an opportunity to infiltrate countries they desire to terrorize and attack.

Some are citing the Jewish persecution to exemplify our human nature of resisting refugees and the terrible consequences that resulted, while others discuss the underlying reasons for their flight – namely, racial persecution vs. refuge from a Civil War.  Some are drawing on the heart strings of compassion while others are responding in fear for personal and familial safety from terrorists.  Some are personalizing the tragedy because of experience and exposure to Paris, Muslims, and loss, while others are systematically examining the situation and making logical arguments for how best we, as a country should respond.

I do not have the answers.  I am not an academic skilled in the study of foreign policy and military strategy.  I do not work with our government (or any government) on the intricacies of helping to settle those who are fleeing for their lives.  I have no answers on how to best screen those who need our help to assure that they will not come in and bomb marathons or shoot hundreds at a concert or football game.

I do know that these refugees are coming from a country that has been ransacked by war, their worldview is not one based on security and comfort, but on survival.  They know the power of a demonstration that turns into a revolt, that kills innocent people and leads to a battle for power.  Can we easily assimilate them into a culture that by-in-large adheres to laws and regulations and submits to the government (except in speech, of course)?  Can we house them, feed them, and educate them to a level where they can support themselves and become a part of our cultural system and way of life?

These questions are much bigger than all of us, and very few of us will be a part of the actual decision making.  If you do happen to find yourself in a position of authority and policy establishment on the topic, I pray for you and do not envy your position in any way.  But for the rest of us, we need to ask a simple question:  What does the Bible say?

None of the New Testament was written from a situation of political and religious safety and comfort.  We do not live in a Biblical culture.  Jesus was born into an oppressed Jewish culture that was functioning under the Roman Empire.  After His ascension back to Heaven, the Church exploded and immediately suffered persecution and the believers were dispersed across the known world, fleeing for their lives.  The New Testament was written to these believers, encouraging them to love their enemies, seek the salvation and well being of those who would persecute them, submit to the authorities – even though they were opposed to Christ, and to love.

It is difficult to apply the worldview of Scripture to our current cultural setting.  We are not the persecuted few, we are not running for our lives, we are not living in a situation where our livelihood, our houses, our families and even our lives could be taken from us simply because of our belief system.  Sure, we will reference the bakeries being forced to bake a cake for those with different beliefs and the rare church shooting, but our government and society protects us from discrimination in any way, and the moment we feel a twinge of intolerance, we lash out.

The early Christians, and Jesus Himself were hated and persecuted daily, for a variety of reasons.  And He taught us to love, even our enemy, lavishly.  The persecuted was to respond in love.  Not crying out for his rights, not pushing back against oppression, not using his voice to change policies, but to love.

Remember the Good Samaritan?  This story is so prevalent in our culture that we actually have a law written in his example.

“Jesus replied and said, ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among robbers, and they stripped him and beat him, and went away leaving him half dead.  And by chance a priest was going down on that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.  Likewise a Levite also, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.  But a Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion, and came to him and bandaged up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them; and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn and took care of him.  On the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper and said, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I return I will repay you’'”

– Luke 10.30-35

The Jews and the Samaritans hated each other.  We, as Americans, do not have a similar enemy whereby it is a given that every American hates and avoids every [given nation].  The two nations would not interact, they would not mix, they would not inter marry or eat at the same restaurants or do business.  This hatred was deeply rooted and irreconcilable.  Imagine the shock, then, when Jesus said that a Samaritan – one so hated – took care of the Jewish man who had been beaten and robbed when the most religious Jews ignored him.  He cared for him, bandaged his wounds, and paid for his care.

That is the level to which we are to love.

So my challenge today is simple.  Firstly, are loving our fellow Americans for their knee jerk reactions to the situation?  The United States is being polarized by response:  welcome refugees or refuse them.  The vast majority of people who are speaking out have no influence in the decision, and we are bitterly condemning those who respond differently than us.  Can you not understand their emotion?  Be it compassion or fear?  We must love our neighbor – our fellow American – as the Good Samaritan did.

Secondly, are we loving the refugees in their peril?  Again, most of us will have no say in the official decision.  But let’s say a refugee does show up in your community.  He has lost everything he knows and loves, including friends and family.  Are you ready to love him in the manner of the Good Samaritan?  Are you contributing to agencies that are seeking humanitarian relief for those who are stuck in the limbo of running – left in refugee camps, sleeping on the ground or starving?  Many organizations are on the ground trying to help refugees where they are.  If you have so much compassion, are you investing in this?  If you have fear of bringing them home, are you helping them from a distance to establish them, feed them, clothe them where they are?

Thirdly, are we loving our enemies?  Christian response to war has varied dramatically throughout the centuries, some espousing pacifism and others seeking the greater good by neutralizing a threat.  Just and unjust war is another massive topic that I will not seek to define here.  But whatever your position on warfare, we can evaluate our hearts and intentions by our love.  Are you loving your enemy like the Good Samaritan?  Or are you seeking vengeance, justice and retribution?  Do you hate him?  The Samaritan should have hated the Jew.  Culturally, it was not only accepted by expected.  But the Samaritan cared for and sought the good of the Jew.  Do you care for and seek the good of the IS terrorists?

Love is not easily definable, as often times genuine love must intervene and correct wrong doing and wrong thinking.  Love does not tolerate and accept unconditionally.  If it did, Jesus would not have had to die to pay the ransom for our sins.  God does not overlook sin and accept us in our sinful state, we must be covered in the blood of Jesus.  But love always seeks the best for the other person or nation.  So examine your response to the crisis today:  Are you responding in love?  Or are you simply reacting?  Turn to Jesus, and let Him transform your heart.  And be ready and willing to love your fellow American, the refugee and even the terrorist.  Because that is what Jesus would do.

The Mark of a Believer.

battle

There are many attributes that Christians [should] have in common.  Scripture paints pictures for us about the love we have and are known by, but perhaps one of the more overlooked attributes of the believer is the internal struggle against sin.

“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.  For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.”

– Gal 5.16-17

When we come to God for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ by grace, we are born Spiritually.  Jesus called this the “second birth”, and it is the moment when our eternal, Spiritual life begins.  This life will not taste death, even though our physical bodies will.  And this Spiritual life is the result of the Holy Spirit taking up residence within us and empowering us to grow in Holiness.

The entire purpose of the Law and the Old Covenant (Old Testament) is to reveal to us that we are incapable of keeping God’s commandments and honoring Him with our lives.  Thus He offers us forgiveness and salvation, and gives us the Holy Spirit to enable us to obey and be holy.

But since we remain in our bodies and have not yet been freed completely from our sinful nature, our spirit and flesh are battling one another.  Paul says that the desire of the flesh are things that we please.  Sin feels good, it is alluring, it is pleasurable; at least in the moment.  And the only way we can refrain from doing those things – those very things we please, is to walk by the Spirit.

John Owen puts it simply:

“Be killing sin or it will be killing you.”

As long as we remain in our bodies, they will have temptations and desires that are sinful.  Unfortunately, that is just the way it is.  And Scripture tells us plainly that our flesh and Spirit will be at war with one another.  That means that we can simply test ourselves by examining the battle going on within ourselves.  Is the Spirit convicting you?  Does your heart feel like a battle ground sometimes?  Take heart!  This is perhaps the most affirming attribute of your Spiritual health possible.

If you have not felt the conviction of the Spirit, then it means He does not reside within you – because none of us is perfect in our own nature.  If you have not felt the conviction of the Spirit, then get on your face and ask God to forgive you for your sins and send you the Spirit.  If you have been quenching the Spirit for so long that you did at one point feel His conviction, but now no longer do, then get on your face and ask Him to reveal the sin in your life and those things that are distancing you from Him.  He will respond.  He will reveal it to you – if you are not already aware of the sin.

Many times we can grow frustrated with ourselves, for struggling with the same sin repeatedly, or for finding victory over one sin and suddenly finding ourselves in a new one.  But we should rather find this as an encouragement.  The Holy Spirit’s role is to convict us and sanctify us:

“And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment…”

– John 16.8

So let us take comfort in the conviction of the Spirit.  Let us live by the Spirit and therefore not give in to the desires of the flesh.  Let us lay ourselves continually on the altar and ask God to refine us, and then we can say with David that God’s correcting staff comforts us – because we know His presence by His chastising work in our lives, He is not leaving us to our own devices.

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil, for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.”

– Ps 23.4

Keep fervent in your love

community1

“Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.”

– 1 Peter 4.8

Perhaps the most direct and difficult commandments of the Bible have to do with love.  The Old Testament Law is written on the foundation of loving God with all of our hearts, minds and strength (Deut 6.5, Matt 22.37).  And beyond that, Jesus commands us to love one another in the same way we love ourselves.

“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

– Matt 22.39

Scripture gives us a wide array of teachings on love, to help us understand how exactly we can (and should) love one another as ourselves.  Most of us give ourselves a lot of leeway and grace.  Did you overreact in that situation, did you indulge that pesky sin?  Have you allowed an aspect of your personality to get overgrown or annoying?  Are you so far down the path of rebellion, pride or ego that you cannot even see it anymore?

Insomuch as we feed our own indulgences and make allowances for putting our feet in our mouths, or “slipping up”, we should give grace to one another when our friends, neighbors or acquaintances when they put their feet in their mouths, slip up, or engage in that particularly annoying habit.  We must be fervent in our love for one another and let love cover a multitude of sins.

There are times when we must confront ourselves in our own sin and when we must confront one another.  The most loving thing we can do for ourselves and others is to seek Spiritual well being, and if I have a blind spot in my life, I need others to point it out.  If you have a blind spot in your life, it is necessary for your friends to point it out to you.  If someone in your life is continually practicing a sin, it is your God-given responsibility hold them accountable and help them grown and mature.

“Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.  Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.”

– Gal 6.1-2

When we confront sin in someone else, we must also be mindful of ourselves and our own sin.  None of us will ever be perfect and without sin, therefore it will always be sinful people confronting other sinful people.  We often shy away from that confrontation asking ourselves, “Who am I to call him out?” considering our own tendencies and sinfulness to be grounds of disqualification for holding others accountable.  But Scripture is clear:  we must hold one another accountable and all the while considering our own tendencies so that we will not be tempted too.  We are gentle, understanding and compassionate in our efforts because we, too, fall into temptation so easily.

Love.  This is the outworking and the fruit of love, to push one another on to holiness.

“If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.  And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.”

– 1 Cor 13.1-3

Without love we are nothing.  We can preform great acts and accomplish much, but unless we are rooted in and driven by the love of God, we are nothing.

Do you love God today?  Do you love your neighbor?  No one has to teach us how to love ourselves; we are constantly seeking our own best and our own interests.  But let us consider that measure by which we love ourselves and examine if that is the same measure by which we love one another.  Cover a multitude of sins.  Seek one another’s best interests.  Hold one another accountable.  Be humble.  And make allowance for one another.

Are you praying for France?

paris

Last night the world watched in horror as the terrorist attacks unfolded in Paris.  As the hostage situation developed, as news slowly emerged from the crowds, all of us good Christians in America started the hashtag trend #prayforParis.  But did you stop and pray for Paris?  Did you stop to pray for our enemies who promised to taste American blood soon?  Did you stop and pray for those people who are suffering, who have lost loved ones, or who are still processing what happened?  Or did you simply watch the news unfold and share the meme on your facebook?

Jesus promised us that in the end, things would get worse and not better.

“For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will mislead many.  You will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end.  For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes.  But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs.  Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name.  At that time many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another.  Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many.  Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold.  But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved.  This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come.”

– Matt 24.5-14

As we draw near to the end, we must understand and cling to the teachings and prophecies of Scripture.  The world will continue to decline in war and turmoil, and there will even be an increase of natural disasters.  Christians will be hated, persecuted and killed.  And the greatest tragedy and threat of that time is that some Christians will fall away – they will prove themselves to not be true believers by abandoning the faith in the midst of suffering.  They will follow after false prophets and false teachings, they will turn on each other and betray one another.  But in the midst of all of this turmoil, the Gospel will continue to go forth into every nation, and only after there are believers in every people group around the world will the end come.

Understanding this reality, how then should we respond?

Firstly, we must pray.  We have outwardly responded with a call to prayer for Paris.  But we must not only change our facebook status to demarcate our support, but we must actually stop what we are doing, get on our faces before God and pray.  But for what should we be praying?  Should we be praying for peace?  For the end of terrorism?  Yes!  We should absolutely let God know the cry of our hearts (Phil 4.6).  We desire to see peace and for people to stop murdering one another.  But we must also understand that God has told us that things will get worse and wars, tribulation and suffering will increase and not decrease.  Therefore, we must also pray for the faith of the persecuted and that those who are doing the persecuting would come to faith in Jesus.

We must pray for our enemies.  Jesus commanded us to pray for our enemies, to bless those who persecute us, and to give more to those who would demand of us and take from us (Matt 5.44, Rom 12.14, Matt 5.39).  We pray for them primarily for their salvation.  They need Jesus, they need salvation, and everything else is secondary.

We must pray for the persecuted.  Jesus said that those who persevere until the end are those who will be saved.  Therefore, we should pray for our own faith and for the faith of those who are actively being persecuted.  The temptation will be to throw it all away, to lash out in response, to turn on one another in order to save our own skin.  Thus we should pray for our faith and the faith of those around us, that we would persevere and stand firm.

Secondly, we must love.  When we pray for our enemies and for those who are persecuting us, it becomes easier to have a heart of compassion for them.  Jesus took upon Himself the sin of the world and He perfectly loved those who murdered Him until the very last moment.  In the same way, He commanded us to love our enemies.  This is not an easy task.  We should be intentionally seeking out their best, and their best is first and foremost their Spiritual welfare.

I am not advocating that we be passive and allow ourselves to be ruthlessly attacked and murdered.  Much good and peace has come from the resolution of WWII and the defeat of Nazi Germany.  And we can learn much from the experience of WWII.  Most Germans were not radical, murderous Nazis.  But the governing party was.  The minority few were, and they successfully murdered approximately eleven million people.  Much of the world united in order to overthrow such a force and stop their murderous acts.  They sought justice and called the radicals to account.

In much the same way, most Muslims are not radical, fundamental extremists who are plotting our demise.  But the predominant face presenting itself against the West and Christian world is.  We should not seek to establish a war against Islam, therefore, but against the regime that is actively murdering people shamelessly.  We can seek justice and order through love.  We can offer compassion to those who are receiving a bad reputation because of the minority.  We can offer refuge to those who are fleeing for their own lives, while the war escalates and hopefully brings and end to the terrorism.

But most of us are not in positions of authority to make those wartime, big-picture decisions.  Most of us are average-joe Christians who watch what unfolds in the news.  Some of us are in the military and will be sent overseas to help respond.  But all of us, in whatever role we have, can establish in our hearts a mindset of love, prayer and focus on eternity.

Are there Syrian refugees in your community or city?  Most of them have fled their home and country because it is no longer safe for them.  Most of them have lost friends and family members to the conflict.  All of them have left behind the world that they knew in search for safety, now living amongst a foreign culture which speaks a language they do not know.  They are afraid, they are lonely, and they are hurting.  We should love them, welcome them, help take care of them as they are suffering more than we could ever imagine.  Is it possible that terrorists have snuck in alongside them?  Yes.  It is not only possible, but it is likely as ISIS has declared this one of their methods.  But we will probably not be able to tell who is who.  If we love them all, however, we might dissuade some temptation to do us harm.  We might, in fact, reveal to them the love of Christ and they could come to salvation.  If we hate them all, however, we will alienate those who need us and we will encourage ill will that was preconceived before they arrived.

Are you in the armed forces and being sent over to respond?  Certainly go in with a purpose and under your leadership, but also maintain a heart of compassion and love.  Remember that not everyone is seeking our demise, and those who are are a product of their culture and many have been taught to hate since they were small.  Their actions are evil, but unfortunately it is all they know.  Jesus can change them.

The issue is a complicated one, and the future of the world will undoubtedly be marked by more terrorist attacks, will involve governments, treaties and even partnerships with Muslim governments.  We can only control ourselves and how we respond personally.  We must love, we must pray, and we must seek the Spiritual well being of our neighbors.  This means that we should not be afraid of the Muslims in our community, but we should engage them, pray for them, and help those who have turned to us for help.

So let’s not just put up a hashtag on our facebook pages.  Let us examine our hearts.  Let us pray.  Let us love our enemies and let us love those who might look like our enemies, even if they are not.  Let us remember that the world most assuredly will spin into destruction as the end nears, and let us remember that the only thing that ultimately matters is the perseverance of our faith.  Pray for the persecuted to stand strong.  Pray for the persecutor to come to faith.  Pray that you will have the faith to suffer well.  And pray for Jesus to come quickly.

Whose approval do you seek?

approval

We, as human beings, like to be successful.  We like to be praised.  We like to get attention.  Even introverts and shy people find pleasure in accomplishment.  Sometimes this desire gets twisted and we seek attention in unhealthy ways, or by making ourselves stand out in irregular ways or we revel in unhealthy attention.  But our worlds naturally revolve around ourselves and since we were created for relationship, we engage one another and thrive on approval and adoration.  This is so much a part of our nature, in fact, that one of the five basic ways people give and receive love is “words of affirmation”.  Some people, in order to feel loved, need to give and/or receive praise.

As Christians, our lives are focused on praising God – as He is the one who deserves all of the glory and honor because of creation and everything in it.  But at the end of time, when He separates the believers from the non believers, there will be some to whom He says,

“Well done, good and faithful slave.  You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.”

– Matt 25.21

God Himself, the only one worthy of all praise and honor will praise and affirm His faithful servants.  The creator of the universe, the sovereign over creation, the one who has authority and will judge every human being and welcome some into Heaven and condemn others to Hell, He will praise some people.

Are you living in such a way so as to receive that welcome and praise when you meet Him face to face?

We spend much of our time and energy trying to impress other people.  We long for and even need affirmation and encouragement from our friends, spouses and coworkers.  But how much do you long for and need the affirmation of God?  On that last day, only His opinion will count, and it will be His word that determines your eternal fate.

Hear me, I am not saying that we can earn our salvation or eternal life.  But Jesus clearly stated that the way we show our love for Him is to keep His commandments:

“If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.”

– John 14.15

“If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him.”

– John 14.23

“By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments.  For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome.”

– 1 John 5.2-3

Salvation is not a static occurrence.  It is a lifetime of effect.  When God works in someone’s heart and saves him, He enables him to obey.  God, in fact, makes it a pleasure to obey.  Consider a mother who tells her children to clean up the toys before bedtime.  The children ask, “Mom, can you help us?”  If the mother barks back, “No!  I told you to clean up, now do it!”  The children will feel defeated, they will obey, but out of obligation.  They are slaves.  They have been given an order and will comply, but without joy, and often looking for a way to do it only half way.  If the mother responds, however, “Yes!  I bet I can pick up the cars before you pick up the blocks!”  Then obedience suddenly becomes a joy.  The children are engaged with their mother, they see her leadership through example, and they do it willingly.  They are not slaves to a command, but willing participants in that which needs to be done.  And not only that, they preform better.

As with any analogy, the picture fails at the level of God’s enabling us.  He gives us the command, but instead of getting down on the floor and doing half of the work, He gives us the strength, ability and conviction to obey from within.  It is Him working through us.  He is active in the obedience by enabling us to comply with joy.  When the Spirit abides within us, we find pleasure and joy in obeying and following the commands of God.  Thus we clearly understand that the love of God is keeping His commandments and they are not burdensome to us (1 John 5.3).

It is true that as long as we are in the body our flesh and sinful nature will war against the Spirit which indwells us:

“For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.”

– Gal 5.17

There will be times that our flesh pushes back against the commands of God, and we will have to fight for righteousness.  There will be times that we do not want to do what we know we should do.  But in those moments, let us consider the fact that God sees everything, He knows everything, and in the end it is only His approval that matters.  He promises that those who keep His commandments will shine like the morning sun, they will be glorified, and they will enter into His eternal and perfect rest.

“Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.”

– Matt 13.43

“The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.”

– Rom 8.16-17

So let us firstly turn to God, and embrace the Spirit that abides in us.  Let us allow the Spirit to live and work through us, and enable us to joyfully obey.  Only His opinion ultimately matters, so let us stop striving for the affirmation of man.  Let us fight the good fight of faith, such that on that last day He will welcome us and say,

“Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

The Most Successful Scheme of the Devil.

wolf

The workings of the devil and the Spiritual world are an interesting topic nowadays.  Some Christian denominations err on the side of ignoring the Spiritual world, considering it only as far as Jesus saving our souls.  Our scientific worldview keeps us from acknowledging those things we cannot understand or perceive.  We live our lives as though the Holy Spirit and the demons do not exist.  Other Christian denominations overemphasize the Spiritual world, requiring people to speak in tongues as a mark of their salvation, looking for a demon under every leaf and attributing all temptations and difficulties in the world to demonic forces.  I was raised in the former but spent four years living on an island amongst tribal people who are heavily involved in witchcraft, and thus was exposed to a spiritual realm which I had never seen before, and while I still cringe when people call someone or something demonic, I am much more aware of daily Spiritual warfare.

“Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil.  For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.”

– Eph 6.11-12

If we would claim to be Christians, we must acknowledge the Spiritual world.  Not only at the level of our souls and Jesus’ intervention for their salvation, but as to the existence of demons.  Jesus Himself not only believed in demons, but He talked to them, and exercised authority over them.  Scripture is also clear, however, that many times our temptations and trials are a direct result of our own sinful flesh – not the influence of an outside force.  We are wicked enough in our own sinful nature to preform many of the sins we do (James 1.13-16).

Satan has been around since the beginning of time.  He has had thousands of years to perfect His schemes, and He understands cultures, personalities and how to best work within and against them.  He might be more active on the supernatural level in cultures where people are driven by fear and open to believing in miracles, while he might be more active on the academic level in cultures like ours.  But all-in-all, the greatest victory he will have is to convince people that their souls are safe when indeed they are not.

Paul wrote a lamentation and instructional letter to the Church he planted at Galatia.  The Galatians were not Jews, they were Gentiles.  He preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ to them and they believed.  After he left, however, Judaizers came in and attempted to convince the Gentiles that they had to be circumcised and obey the Jewish Law on top of their faith in order to be saved, and the Gentiles fell for it.  In addressing their spiritual situation, Paul makes an astounding statement:

“However at that time, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those which by nature are no gods.  But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again?  You observe days and months and seasons and years.  I fear for you, that perhaps I have labored over you in vain.”

– Gal 4.8-11

It is no surprise that Paul would argue that the Galatians, before they heard of Jesus and salvation through Him, were slaves to demons – those spiritual beings who are not gods.  They were real beings, by which the Galatians were enslaved, but they were not real gods.  They were not God.  What is shocking, however, is that Paul would claim that they were returning to slavery to such gods.  The Galatians were not returning to witchcraft or idol worship.  The Galatians were being tempted by Jews to follow the Law of the Old Covenant.  And Paul says that that is demonic, and could possibly prove their faith to be worthless and his efforts in vain.

This is the greatest threat to the Church.  There are countless people who not only attend Church, but are the most faithful servants within the Church because they believe that their deeds, their obedience and their piety will save them.  They obey the Ten Commandments, they get up and read the Bible in the mornings, they teach Sunday School, share the Gospel with everyone and shovel the parking lot when it snows.  They look really good on the outside.  But their deeds and actions are not based out of love and desire to please God, their actions are based out of self-righteousness and desire to earn their salvation and put God in their debt.

The reason this is so important is that such a one can look identical to the one who knows and loves God.  When we come to God for salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, God takes away our old, wicked hearts and gives us new hearts that love Him, are inclined to Him, and long to serve Him because we love Him (John 14).  He give us the gift of the Holy Spirit who convicts us of sin and empowers us to die to sin (John 16.8).  He changes us from the inside.  But when someone who simply desires to be rescued from Hell reads the Bible, he thinks that if he obeys the Bible then he will be saved by nature of being a good person in His own strength.

Both people obey the Bible.  Both people serve the Church.  However, one is saved and one is not.  And Paul states undeniably that the one who is unsaved is actually enslaved to demons:  spiritual forces who are not gods.  Satan knows the Bible, he knows the commands of Jesus, and he tricks and deceives many into believing that they are spiritually secure by enslaving them to Jesus’ commands without knowing Jesus, without loving Him.

So let us stop and examine our hearts today.  On what foundation are you basing your life and eternity?  Jesus has promised that those who have been saved will be sanctified and changed – made more into His image.  Are you being changed?  Do you obey Jesus?  If not, then you need to meet Him.  If you do obey Jesus, what is your motivation?  What is your drive?  Do you find pleasure in the work?  Or is it a chore that you enact in order to be a good person and hopefully be saved ultimately?  Is the Holy Spirit dwelling within you, enabling you to change and convicting you of sin?  Or do you read the Bible and force yourself to comply, against your Spirit?  If obedience is not a pleasure, then you need to meet Jesus.  Do not let the enemy give you false assurance of your salvation.  Do not live life in your own strength, only to be disappointed at judgment day.  Examine your heart.  Guard your heart.  And love Jesus lavishly.  Eternity depends on it.

Satan disguises himself as an angel of light, as a wolf in sheep’s clothing.  He will entice us by what we desire most, he will not look like a threat.  He will look beautiful, tempting and alluring.  If you want to beat your enemy, you must know his tactics.  No one goes into battle without a battle plan.  Let’s draw ours up today.

Choose Today.

For what are you living?  We are all going to serve someone or something:  money, reputation, appearance, a mission in which we believe, a company, happiness, retirement, a spiritual entity…the list is endless.  There is a drive and reason behind the actions we take and the decisions we make.  It is possible that we are unaware of those drives.  It is possible that we were raised with a value and worldview which we have never stopped to consider or evaluate.  Few people verbalize the typical American dream:  get an education, begin your career, find a spouse, buy a house, have a few kids, take nice vacations, retire well, live out the golden years doing what you love.  And while we may not have an observed passion while we are making these life decisions, we often do them because “that’s just what you do”.  We are serving the American dream because we have no other option, or we have not considered the vastness of true opportunities.

If you have come to saving faith in Jesus Christ, however, we have professed Him as our Lord.  That means that He is in charge, He gets final say, and everything we do should be done unto His service (1 Cor 10.31).  Our education, our careers, our marriages, our houses, our child rearing, our vacations, and our retirement should all be considered in light of the fact that Jesus is Lord over our lives.  And also our daily activities.  Our hobbies, our interests, how we work, and how we play.

In our complacency and in the routine of life we often neglect this reality, unfortunately.  It is easy to bring God in the loop when we are making big decisions, but we often get into our habits and go about doing our day-to-day.  We might start out with the desire to honor God, but as we get into habits and forge to engage with Him daily, other desires sneak in and take over.  We may take a job with the intention to serve God, but once the newness wears off, or personalities begin to rub, it might just become a paycheck, a security blanket or a need.

Thus we must intentionally and purposefully wake up daily and choose our Lord.

“If it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

– Josh 24.15

There might come a time that God changes the direction for our lives, and we must be alert and aware of His leadership.  There might come a time that the big picture drives of our culture might interfere or be at odds with what God desires for our lives.  There might come a time that we have to cut ties with something in our lives because it prevents us from serving God.

But if we daily and actively choose that we will serve God, it makes those decisions easy.  It is when we get knee deep into something else, serving another dream, desire or pleasure that those decisions become difficult.  It is much easier to wipe off a spill or bandage a scraped knee than to cut out a cancer.

God is our perfect Heavenly Father, and He knows what our needs are and He has His best in plan for us.  That may not look like what we wish for our lives, but it will result in our Spiritual maturity and eternal life.  That may include persecution, that may include suffering, that may include cultural alienation or even death.  But God has promised to bring about our Spiritual good through all of these circumstances, and to supply all of our Spiritual needs throughout.

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

– Phil 4.19

So let us begin the discipline of not only having a quiet time each morning, but dedicating our day to God’s service and honor.  Let us only what we can do to His glory each and every day.  Let us set aside the idols of security, retirement, pleasure and reputation.  Let us trust God to be who He is, to do what He says He will do, and let us abandon all in light of His perfect calling.

choose