What then shall I do with this Jesus?

It has become fairly common to say, “There are two types of people in the world” and follow it up with the group who loves, does, looks like or forbids something.  The other type of people are those who hate, do not, or accepts that same thing.  There are givers and takers.  There are those who love frogs and those who hate frogs.  There are those who read the email messages on their phones and those who do not.

email

We can make the same assessment about faith, and pointedly about Christians:  There are Christians and there are non-Christians.  We all know that there are five major world religions, and countless sects and traditional/tribal belief systems, and the generalization can be made about any belief system.  Muslims would say that you are not headed to paradise unless you confess the prophet, Jews would say that you are damned if you are not a Jew.  Some of the inclusivist or reincarnation-centered religions would not make as black and white a distinction, but would consider some further along in their enlightenment than others.

But we as Christians believe that the sinful nature of humanity has separated us from God and the only way for that relationship to be established is by His grace through the work of Jesus Christ.  Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.  No man comes unto the Father but through me.”  We believe that Jesus is the way, He is the gate and the final judge who will welcome or refuse people into eternity with God.  Therefore, while we could flippantly say “There are Christians and there are non-Christians”, we recognize the fact that everyone must ultimately answer the single most important question in all of the world, “What do I believe about Jesus?”

When Jesus was on trial, the religious leaders took Him before Pontius Pilate, the governor.  He was a Roman official, and the Jews brought Jesus to him so that Jesus could be put to death.  We see Pilate in all four Gospel accounts of Jesus’ trial, and his efforts to not find Jesus guilty.  In Matthew Pilate washes his hands of Jesus’ blood, in Mark he finds Jesus innocent of plotting against the Roman Empire, in Luke we see him declaring Jesus as innocent for the conspiracy, as well as Herod Antipas, and in John he states, “I find no guilt in Him.”  Pilate did not want to execute Jesus, and his wife had a dream about Jesus and warned him not to harm Jesus.  Seeking to manipulate the crowds, Pilate brought forward Barabbas, a notorious thief, and asked the crowd which man should be released.  By direction of the priests, the crowd chose Barabbas.

When this plan was foiled, he asked the crowd,

“Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?”

 – Matt 22.27

Here we see the governmental authority asking this most important of questions, the one which we must all answer.  What shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?  Pilate’s response was inadequate.  He sought to keep the guilt from himself, the crowd called the condemnation of guilt upon themselves, but Pilate still handed Jesus over to be crucified – even after acknowledging the fact that He had no guilt and after being warned by his wife.

It is tempting to try to take this middle road.  Most of us are not interested in ruffling feathers and causing division or problems.  So we try to say that Jesus was a good man, a great teacher, an example for us all.  But we want to leave all of His claims and instructions at the door.  Was Jesus really God?  Did He really imply that we should love our neighbor in the same way that we love ourselves?  That is impossible!  Do we really have to put aside all of our sinful pleasures and live unto God?  Do we really have to go into all the world – even the dangerous parts – and make disciples?  Do we really have to love our enemies and forgive people?

It is easy to give Jesus a blanket approval when we do not know what He actually said.  But the moment we start reading His commandments and expectations of people, we realize that we will never be able to do the things that He expects of us without the empowering of the Holy Spirit.  The rich young man had kept all of the laws of the Old Covenant, tithing, caring for his family, giving to the poor, but Jesus knew that he loved money and to test the man’s surrender to God, He commanded him to sell everything he owned, give it to the poor and follow Jesus.  This man could not do it and went away sad.  Jesus wants our everything, and if there is nothing that we cannot surrender for the sake of following Him, then we are not saved.  This is not simply a “good idea” or example, this is a radical teaching.

C. S. Lewis argued the point beautifully:

“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him:  I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.  That is the one thing we must not say.  A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher.  He would either be a lunatic – on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the Devil of Hell.  You must make your choice.  Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse.  You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher.  He has not left that open to us.  He did not intend to.”

The difficulty for us today is, however, that while we often acknowledge Jesus as God and Lord, we easily walk away from Church or Bible study and forget.  If Jesus is supposed to be “lord” of our lives, if He is in charge, has final say, and determines our actions, then we should be consulting him hundreds of times each day about our attitudes, our decisions, our actions… simply:  our everything.  But how often do we go to church and sing our praise songs and walk out to enjoy our hobbies, have lunch with our friends, and keep working towards the American Dream?

We all must answer the question at least once, “What then shall I do with this Jesus”, but once we have come to faith and are seeking to live the Christian life, we must still answer this question every. single. day.

So let us ask ourselves anew.  What will I do with Jesus today?  Will I submit to Him?  Obey His commands?  Die to myself and live unto Him?  Or will I just play the game, longing for Heaven without any effect on my life here and now?

Pressing on when life sucks.

running in the rain

Have you ever been discouraged?  Frustrated?  Felt as though your work was all in vain?  Have you ever walked away from a season of life, project or commitment and wondered what was even accomplished?  Have you ever been burned out?

They say burnout is pretty normal, especially for driven, goal oriented people who invest greatly in whatever it is they are doing.  We hear of pastors, missionaries and even lay people in the Church getting burned out at times.  Sometimes it comes in the wake of great tragedy and turmoil, and sometimes it comes after a season of revival and bountiful blessings from God.  It can be the culmination of trials, or the vacuum left when the hubbub of an active season is completed.

It has been said that Spiritual burnout is the result of working in our own strength and not God’s.  But Scripture never says that “if you abide in me you will never get tired, frustrated or discouraged”.  Isaiah does say,

“He gives strength to the weary,
And to him who lacks might He increases power.
Though youths grow weary and tired,
And vigorous young men stumble badly,
Yet those who wait for the Lord
Will gain new strength;
They will mount up with wings like eagles,
They will run and not get tired,
They will walk and not become weary.”

– Is 40.29-31

We often jump to the end of this promise, claiming that if we are in God, we will run and not get tired!  And this is a beautiful part of the promise.  But notice the entire premise:  God gives strength to the weary and He increases power to those who lack might.  If we wait on the Lord, we will gain new strength.  God is not promising that we will have continual, perfect strength.  He is saying when we do get tired, and we slow down and wait on Him, He will give us new strength which will enable us to run the section of the race before us.  He will give us strength for the day, each day.  We cannot go to Him once and get a life-time fill up that will last us forever.  We must continually return to Him and wait on Him, and He will give us new strength for the new task or new day.

Consider Paul.  The most dynamic missionary of all time: personally converted by Jesus, personally discipled by Jesus in the desert for three years, and personally sent out to the non-Jews by Jesus (Acts 9, Gal 1.12-19, Acts 22.21).  God converted thousands through him, started countless churches through him, and wrote half of the New Testament through him.  He was, of course, not without sin, but even in the strength of his conviction and calling he became so discouraged that he wanted to die.

“For we do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction which came to us in Asia, that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life…”

– 2 Cor 1.8

Paul was persecuted regularly in his missionary efforts, and while we see him respond in love and compassion often, this personal testimony reveals that he was so over it that he longed to die.  He, and his team, despaired of life.

Consider also Jesus.  Jesus was God, and Jesus was without sin.  He lived a perfect life and then spent three years in ministry, preaching repentance and coming of the Kingdom of God.  The culmination of His Earthly ministry was His death, burial and resurrection.  Jesus reveals to us early in His ministry that it was God’s plan for the hearers to not understand what Jesus was teaching (Matt 13.13).  And even though Jesus knew that He would preach and people would not understand, He still became discouraged with them.  He still was broken over the people and cried out in frustration:

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling.”

– Matt 23.37

And after proclaiming the difficult truths of the Kingdom, the masses who were following Him left.  Jesus responded in sorrow:

And He was saying, “For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father.”  As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore.  So Jesus said to the twelve, “You do not want to go away also, do you?”

– John 6.65-67

And consider his final moments before the cross.  Jesus knew the plan of God, He knew that through His death salvation would be made available.  He loved us, and He trusted God’s plan, but yet He wept bitterly in the garden and cried out three times asking God to make another way:

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.”

– Matt 26.39

The prophets throughout the Old Testament wrestled with depression, anxiety and discouragement.  Elijah, just moments after watching God consume his offering on top of Mount Carmel, mocking the 450 other prophets while they beseeched Baal to do the same, and then killing them all ran in fear of the queen Jezebel (1 Kings 18).

OK.  So we see that we are in good company when we become discouraged, frustrated or burned out.  What then?  We must wait on the Lord.  It is by remaining in Him, by waiting on Him that our strength is renewed.  He casts a vision, He gives us perspective, He reminds us that the battle is in His hands, and He sanctifies us through the trials.

Paul, in despairing of life, was able to recognize God’s hand through the despair itself:

“For we do not want you to be unaware, brethren, of our affliction which came to us in Asia, that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life; indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead; who delivered us from so great a peril of death, and will deliver us, He on whom we have set our hope. And He will yet deliver us, you also joining in helping us through your prayers, so that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf for the favor bestowed on us through the prayers of many.

– 2 Cor 1.8-11

God walked Paul through this season of despair to teach him to rely on God and not himself.  Jesus surrendered His personal desires to the will of God.  The prophets were all encouraged in their time to see God’s greater plan – at least in part (and at times through chastisement).

We must wait on the Lord and we must persevere.  We cannot abandon our faith, we cannot abandon the work of the Gospel.  We must believe, because it is those who persevere until the end that will be saved (Matt 10.22, Rev 2.10, 26).

“But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved.”

– Matt 24.13

So when we find ourselves discouraged, frustrated, burned out or exhausted, let us return to the Lord and wait on Him.  Let us rest in Him.  Let us pray, let us surrender, let us confess, let us wait.  And He will renew our strength, He will cast a vision, He will sanctify us by growing our faith and maturity.  This is all a beautiful part of the Spiritual journey.

Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.”

– Matt 11.28

Understand the will of the Lord

two roads

“So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.”

– Eph 5.17

Do you understand what the will of the Lord is?  Much has been said about the will of God.  We kill ourselves wondering which profession we should choose, who we should marry, where we should live, and other major life decisions, asking God for a sign or a direct revelation of His will.  Since we often consider these types of decisions the main emphasis when considering the will of God, we are left to speculation and discouragement while trying to interpret dreams, circumstances and omens.

God, however, is primarily concerned with our hearts and sanctification.  In fact, Scripture plainly teaches us that the will of God is that we are sanctified – that is, made more like Christ.

“For this is the will of God, your sanctification…”

– 1 Thess 4.3

God sent Jesus to live and die in order to pay the penalty for our sin and offer us salvation.  God sent the Holy Spirit to convict us of our sin and push us on to righteousness (John 16.8).  The sanctification process, therefore, is us understanding what God defines as sin, allowing the Holy Spirit to convict and change us, dying to that sin, and living to righteousness.  Both of these passages that speak so simply about the will of God give us very clear pictures of what that sanctification looks like:

“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.  But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints; and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks…So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.  And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father; and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.”

– Eph 5.1-11, 17-21

For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God; and that no man transgress and defraud his brother in the matter because the Lord is the avenger in all these things, just as we also told you before and solemnly warned you.  For God has not called us for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification.

– 1 Thess 4.3-7

Scripture clearly teaches us that everything we do can and should be done to the glory and honor of God.  Eating, drinking, talking, working, etc.  Anything you will do throughout your day should be done to God’s glory.

“Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”

– 1 Cor 10.31

“Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.”

– Col 3.17

“Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.”

– Col 3.23-24

Therefore, we should be primarily concerned about our hearts and sin in relationship to the will of God.  Then, as we are making decisions about work, moves, dating, marriage, child rearing, we have a clear standard by which to judge our decisions:  Are we making these decisions to the glory and honor of God?  Are we sinning or going against any of God’s commandments to make this decision?

There are also some big picture commandments that we are given, which we often neglect in making some of our major life decisions.  The final commandment Jesus gave us, for example, was to go and make disciples of all the nations (Matt 28.18-20).  Is your job, relationships, family, everything doing that?  Is it enabling you to do that?

Perhaps we should reconsider how we pursue the “will of God”.  We should remember that God is primarily concerned about our holiness, and therefore we should also be concerned about dying to our flesh, repenting of sin and living our daily lives every day to His glory and honor.  Above that, as we are making our life decisions, we can simply ask the examining questions:  Is it sin?  Does it glorify God?  Is it obeying scripture?  Is it making disciples or enabling me to make disciples?  It is possible that there will come a time when there are two equally God-glorifying options before us and in those (very rare) situations, we can be confident to do what we want.  However, more often, we will clearly recognize that one decision will prove to be more effective at facilitating our holiness and obedience.

It is God’s will that we become more like Jesus.  He is, at fact, at work within us to produce this outcome.  Let’s join Him and understand His will.

“…for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”

– Phil 2.13

When God is Silent

when God is silent

Have you ever gone through a difficult season in your life, a time during which you prayed and cried out to God asking for an answer, direction, or a change in circumstance…and it felt as though He was silent?  Have you ever longed for someone’s salvation, repentance or a change in situation whereby you knew the testimony of grace and restoration would be so marvelous, but yet it did not happen?

Even though extremely difficult, this is a normal experience of the Christian walk.  If you have not yet experienced such a tragic difficulty or testing of your faith, it will happen.  God’s intention for our Spiritual lives is to grow and mature us, making us more like Christ, and that comes through the testing and proving of our faith through fire.  There will be times that we will not understand our circumstances but we must chose to trust God through them.

“For this is the will of God, your sanctification…”

– 1 Thess 4.3

“In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ…”

– 1 Peter 1.6-7

David is perhaps our best example of this inner turmoil because while we have the historical books documenting his life from the time he was a young shepherd in the fields throughout his service to Saul, his reign as king, and his successes and failures, we also have the psalms which he wrote throughout all of these experiences which document his heart’s reactions and passions.  We have the cold, hard facts of the various situations, but we also have his prayers and cries while trying to process these facts.

God had continually given David success in battle against his enemies.  But yet, when the battle lines were drawn, David felt as though God was silent:

“O God, do not remain quiet;
Do not be silent and, O God, do not be still.
For behold, Your enemies make an uproar,
And those who hate You have exalted themselves.”

– Ps 83.1-2

He was so passionate once that he accused God of sleeping:

“Arouse Yourself, why do You sleep, O Lord?
Awake, do not reject us forever.
Why do You hide Your face
And forget our affliction and our oppression?”

– Ps 44.23-24

We know that David sinned, and suffered many consequences because of his sins.  We know that David called out to God to beg Him to relieve the consequences from him, and we see David accepting the consequences as they came.  He was still God’s chosen leader and king, he was still called “a man after God’s own heart”, even though at times he suffered consequences for his sin.  There will be times that our suffering and circumstances are a result of our sinful choices.

But there are also times that we suffer and struggle just for the sake of developing our faith, like Job.  Job was a righteous man whom God had blessed, and God decided to prove his faith by testing him.  Job lost everything he had, his children, his wealth, his possessions and his health.  And through it all, Job never sinned.  But he had some friends who offered him poor advice for a season, telling him that it must be because of sin that he was suffering.  Finally Job cried out against his friends and demanding an answer from God, and God rebuked him – claiming his sovereignty and freedom over the situation.  Job repented, and God restored everything to him:  wealth, health, children and possessions.  There are times that God is silent and allows us to suffer for the sake of our maturity.

To what level has your faith been tested?  The reality is that those who are the most peaceful and confident in their faith are those who have walked through the darkest situations and have come out faithful on the other side.  If things have always gone your way, if God is your cosmic genie, and if you have lived a “blessed” or sugar-coated life, then you have never had to empty yourself of yourself and cling to God for the strength to persevere.  This poem was etched into the wall of a cellar in Germany during the Holocaust:

“I believe in the sun
even when it is not shining.
I believe in love
even when I cannot feel it.
I believe in God
even when He is silent.”

Do you believe in God even when He is silent?  Would you persevere through a trial as great as the Holocaust?  Do you trust God when you are not seeing the results or changes that you desire?  When you think that it would glorify God more to do it your way?

What is your life verse?

life verse

Do you have a “life verse”?  I have met people along the way who have a variety of Spiritual journeys and life experiences, and I find it extremely interesting and encouraging to hear how God speaks through different passages of Scripture at different times to impact our lives.  The Bible is “living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword”, and God speaks through it to teach us “everything that we need for life and godliness” (Heb 4.12, 2 Peter 1.3).  We see this exemplified as we walk through life, experience trials and difficulties, turn to God and are strengthened and purified by His Word.  Some people have been so marked by one experience – typically the salvation experience – that they have a verse that marks their life.  Some of us cling to promises for a season, and thus a particular passage is forever etched in our mind and reminds us of God’s work during that time.

Burying one friend per year from my freshman year in High School to my junior year in college, I wanted very much to be able to say, as Jesus said,

I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do.”

 – John 17.4

As a young person experiencing so much death, I developed an eternal worldview and was highly concerned about the salvation of the lost and focusing my time and energy on things that would matter in eternity.

When gripped by an irrational fear of flying which impeded my life and kept me from serving God, I clung to His sovereignty over my life and circumstances:

“And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they.”

 – Heb 1.3-4

If Jesus is continually speaking all things into existence, that included me and the airplane on which I was flying.  Praying this truth and getting on the airplanes eventually freed me of this stronghold in my life.

But perhaps the verse that I most desire to mark my life is this well-known sentiment of Paul:

“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.”

 – Gal 2.20

This is a beautiful summary of the Christian experience.  We can argue about legalism and grace, we can debate if it is God’s sovereignty that saves people or their own free will.  But in order to know Christ, we have to have heard the Gospel, understood our sinfulness, confessed and repented, and then begin living a transformed life by His power.  Our flesh must be crucified so that we can live Spiritually.  And when Jesus gives us Spiritual life, He is the one who lives it through us.  We are mutually responsible here:  “but Christ lives in me” shows us that God is indeed the one working in and through us to bring about our sanctification and holiness, and “the life which I now live…I live by faith…” shows us that we are still aware of our lives, we are dying to ourselves and choosing to walk by faith.

It was never Jesus’ intent to die on the cross to give us “freedom” to live however we want to live.  He did not give us a license to sin or live like the world.  He set us apart to love lavishly, give until it hurts, die to our sin and our flesh, and continually grow in righteousness.  However, He remarkably gives us His Spirit to enable us to do all of these things because we are utterly incapable of any of them on our own strength.  Jesus was the perfect example and died a sacrificial death in our place.  He then teaches us that if we want to save our lives, we must lose them (Matt 16.25).  But then He promises to abide and remain in us, enabling us to obey the commands and follow the examples He gave (John 15.4).  To put it simply,

Jesus gave up his life for me
that he might take my life from me
that he might live his life through me.

Have you been crucified with Christ?  Is it no longer you who lives, but Christ living in you?  Do you thus live your life by faith in Jesus?  Let’s not stop at step one, let’s understand the full picture and allow Him to purify us by taking our sinful lives away from us and living through us.

What does that mean?  It means spending time in the Word and in prayer, every day.  It means when we are going about our days, that we listen to the conviction of the Holy Spirit.  It is His job to convict us of righteousness and of sin:  so if you hear a warning bell i your heart as you contemplate an action, stop!  If you feel a nudge to share, to love, to reach out – do it!  It means that we apply the truths of Scripture to our lives, so if the Bible says that something is a sin – even if we do not feel guilty about it – we stop, and we ask God to help us stop.  If the Bible says we should do something – even if we do not want to do it – we do it and ask God to enable us to do it!  We submit to His authority, we die to ourselves, we ask Him to change us and we stand in amazement as it happens!  You may find that a verse stands out to you in a season, helping you and enabling you to do just that.  Cling to those fighter verses and life verses!

Which Way?

Narrow-Gate

As the world continues to shrink through the internet, media and travel, we are being regularly exposed to a variety of belief systems.  Not many years ago, it was all but unheard of to meet a person who had a religious belief system that was not found under the umbrella of Christianity.  Today’s society has embraced the complete rejection of a Spiritual world, glorifies individualism such that people seek out obscure and unique religious systems, and gives us all room to “seek” whatever worldview or religion meets our needs.  Instead of assuming that Christianity is the basic framework of our society and Jesus and understood savior, we are consistently asking ourselves and others, “How do you know what you believe is right?”  We even have a category for people who choose to play the neutral card believing that it is arrogant for one belief to make an authoritative claim against another without proof, while another worldview says that all paths are leading to Heaven or enlightenment.

Some say that this has hurt our Christian nation, that there are fewer believers among us, and that our witness is being lost.  I would argue, however, that while the majority might have considered themselves Christians, there were probably comparable numbers of genuine Christians, and those who were nominal are now simply choosing to nominally align with another worldview, the most “culturally relevant” one, perhaps:  inclusivism.

But with so many competing voices out there, how can we know which path leads to Heaven?  It has been argued apologetically that all major world religions focus on the effort of man trying to reach God or enlightenment.  Christianity is the only religion that recognizes the fact that we are all wicked and incapable of appeasing the wrath of a sovereign, perfect God and therefore God Himself had to make a way for us to be forgiven.  If our goal is to earn God’s favor or work our way into Heaven, we can never do it.

Jesus taught interestingly on the subject:

“Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me.  In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you.  If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.  And you know the way where I am going.”  Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, how do we know the way?”  Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.  If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him.”

– John 14.1-7

Notice here, that Jesus does not promise to show us the way.  Jesus declares that He is the way.  We can only get to Heaven and to God through Jesus.  He does give us commands, and He does expect us to follow those commands, but our obedience to Him is not our entrance fee.  It is our response of gratitude for being in Him.  This is why Jesus says that the gate is narrow, not the path, which leads to eternal life.  Jesus is the gate.  The road to destruction, however, is a path that is wide (Matt 7.13-14).

The reality is simple.  Either we are in Jesus or we are not.  We are not walking down a path from which we can veer, we are remaining and abiding in Him or we are not.  When we are in Him, we are in the Truth and we have life.

How then can we know we are right?  How then can we know we are headed to Heaven?  Consider firstly:  would you rather rely on your own strength and ability, or on God’s?  Every world religion will teach you to strive by service, by asceticism, by holiness, by doing, by confession, or any litany of actions.  Do you trust yourself to keep those expectations well enough?  To such a degree that you would rest your eternity on it?  Or would you rather trust God, the judge who determines eternity?  Would you like to receive the free gift of salvation through faith by grace?

When we receive salvation, Jesus’ blood covers our sins.  He paid the penalty that we deserve, and when God looks at our sins and wickedness, He sees the stamp, “Paid in full”, “Time served”.  We therefore can rest in Him, and be being in Him, covered by His blood, we are in the way, not on the way.  Jesus will take us wherever we need to be while on the Earth and ultimately in eternity.

Do you primarily love God or trust Him?

trust

We, as a people, have generally been infatuated with ourselves.  Because we are born naturally loving ourselves and seeking our own best interest (human, sinful nature), often times our perception of love is based on what we can get out of someone else.  Has someone ever asked you to do something or proposed an idea, and you ask “What’s in it for me?”  Do you ever get tired of giving in to other people’s desires and whine, “When is it my turn?”  We even unknowingly seek out a spouse by what he can do or provide for us.  Do you (did you) have a check list of non negotiables?  Must be funny (to make me laugh), must be educated (to stimulate my mind), must have a good job (to be able to take care of me), must be attractive (so I can impress my friends and enjoy looking at him), and the list goes on.

Now, I am not saying that we should choose lazy bums to marry just for the sake of being selfless, but we should intentionally examine our understanding of love.  Are we in it to give or are we in it to get?

As Christians, we can easily fall into the temptation of “loving” God because of His benefits.  Scripture even teaches us that love, fundamentally, is Jesus dying for us.  Right?

“In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”

– 1 John 4.10

The first Bible verse most of us learn is John 3.16:

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

And the first church song most of us learn is “Jesus Loves Me”,

“Jesus loves me, this I know
For the Bible tells me so.
Little ones to Him belong
They are weak but He is strong.

Yes, Jesus loves me.
Yes, Jesus loves me.
Yes, Jesus loves me.
The Bible tells me so.”

And since we have been indoctrinated that God is love, and He loves us, we continue to write similar songs!  “I am a friend of God”, “We are no longer slaves”, etc.  Yes, these things are true – but it is not a worship song to sing about who we are.  It is a worship song to praise God for who He is.  Think about it.

Campus Crusade for Christ has written an evangelistic tool called the “Four Spiritual Laws”, and the first one is, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life”.

Yes, it is the most glorious truth in the universe that God loves us and that He gave His son to die in our place so that we can be forgiven of our sins.  But often, instead of recognizing the nature of God’s love: giving of Himself to meet our needs and take care of believers, we just soak it all in.  We think we are the center of the universe and can just absorb all of the good things that He has for us.  Then we are upset, hurt, confused and cranky when things don’t work out the way we hoped, dreamed or planned.  If God loves me, then why?

We need, however, to learn what love is and practice it ourselves.  Jesus was not just a gift, He was an example.  He loved us and because of that love, He sacrificed everything He had in Heaven to live a life of poverty on Earth and died for us.  Therefore, if we love Him in response, we should sacrifice everything that we have and give up our lives for Him!  Now, Jesus may not ask us all to die the death of a martyr, but we all must be willing!  This is why Jesus said,

“For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.”

– Matt 16.25

If we are “loving” God because of His benefits and not because of who He is, then we are truly loving our lives and not Him.  We will thus lose our lives, eternally.  Does God make you feel warm and fuzzy?  Are you “claiming His promises” and enjoying His benefits without enjoying Him?  Or are you so overwhelmed by the sacrifice that He made, that you accept the gift and in return surrender your life?

Thus our love must be rooted in trust.  It is not my intention to square love and trust against one another.  When understood correctly, they coincide and compliment one another perfectly.  When we have a skewed perception of love, however, we can learn love more fully if we understand trust.

God is sovereign, and He does have a plan for all of our lives.  He does work everything together for good for those who love Him.  He does love us, and work our sanctification in our lives.  He is intentionally utilizing every life situation in which we find ourselves to mold us into the image of Christ, and that all to His glory and honor.  Because of this fact, our circumstances may often become what we did not want or expect.  God sanctifies us by burning out the impurities:  He is the consuming and purifying fire.  If we expect God to make us happy, then our understanding of love with leave us disappointed and hurt.  But if we expect God to make us holy, then we can have peace in the difficult times.

“You will keep him in perfect peace,
Whose mind is stayed on You,
Because he trusts in You.
Trust in the Lord forever,
For in God, the Lord, is everlasting strength.”

– Is 26.3-4

Trust and love both fundamentally look outward.  God’s love looked at us and broke His heart because of our sin and condemnation.  Our love must look at God in awe and wonder, praising Him for the gift of salvation and surrendering of our lives.  We can learn love more fully by learning to trust.  Trusting always looks outward, it cannot be misconstrued to be about me.  Trusting necessarily means not having control and expecting someone else to have control, and to bring about the best conclusion to a situation.  And it also recognizes that the “best” may not be our desired outcome, but the most God-glorifying outcome which will lead to our maturation and sanctification.

Why do you love God?  How do you love God?  Do you expect God to serve your wants and needs?  Or do you love God by surrendering your life to Him and trusting Him?  Let us learn to love God more by trusting Him today.

When someone doesn’t like you.

hatred

I am a pretty adventurous person.  I like to get out, try new things, meet new people, stretch the boundaries.  But even with an independent personality, I still want people to like me…just like everyone else.  Sometimes we build up facades or walls because of past hurt, claiming that we do not care what other people think, and we each have some non-negotiables on which we will take a social, political or relational stand, but by-in-large we try to put our best foot forward so that people will respect and like us.  Deep within this desire is an underlying pride.  We do not want people to like us simply because we want to be friends with everyone, we want affirmation.  We want praise.  We want people to admire, think well of and build us up.

As believers, is it right and good to build one another up.  Scripture regularly admonishes us to put the needs of the body before our own (James 1.27ff), to push one another on to holiness (Heb 10.24), and husbands should love their wives and wives should respect their husbands (Eph 5.22-25).  Leaders within the church should be people of good reputation and Jesus says that the world will know that we are Christians because of our love – which means we honor and respect one another (2 Tim 3, John 13.35).

However, as believers, we must remember and be convicted of the fact that there is no righteousness in and of ourselves and that we desperately need a savior (Rom 3.10ff).  When we are saved, Christ switches places with us – taking our condemnation and giving us a covering of His righteousness.  Because of this fact, we can and should glory in the victory that God grants us over sin in our lives, but we should also be the most humble of people.  When we recognize our guilt, and when we comprehend the cost of the sacrifice required to save us, we will become exceedingly humble.  We see our worthlessness and the weight of our salvation, and are left as the beneficiary of a completely undeserved gift and inheritance.

True Christians are thankful.  True Christians are humble.  True Christians know from where they came, and praise God for their priceless gift and all progress made in dying to sin.  True Christians offer abundant grace to one another, recognizing the fact that we are all in the battle against our flesh and push one another on to die to the flesh and sin.  True Christians recognize the deceit and horror of sin and do not make peace with it in their lives or in other’s lives and purposefully walk together to remove sin from our lives so that we can honor God, all with a humble attitude knowing our own weakness.

However, there are non Christians who infiltrate the Church.  There are also non Christians in our daily lives:  coworkers, family members, neighbors, people on the street, etc.  There are also Christians who have fallen into sin and harbor bitterness and resentment in their hearts.  It will happen in each of our lives that there comes a day when someone does not like us.

How should we respond?

First of all, we must examine the situation to see if we have sinned against this person and make every effort to apologize and rectify the situation.  If we are left without resolution and the other person still has a hard heart against us, then we have an intricate and beautiful situation.  Jesus teaches us to love our enemies (Matt 5.44).  He also teaches us that when someone will not receive us and the Gospel we proclaim, we should walk away and not waste our energy (Matt 10.14).  Lastly, He teaches us that if someone proclaims to be a believer and yet continues in sin (in this situation, harbors bitterness in his heart), to completely disassociate with him and remove him from the church (Matt 18.15-17).

But in all of this, our heart must remain humble.  How do we do that?  By remembering our own guilt and the weight of the unmerited gift of salvation we have received.  Charles Spurgeon said simply,

“If any man thinks ill of you, do not be angry with him, for you are worse than he thinks you to be.”

– Charles Spurgeon

If any one person thinks ill of us, it is not because he knows the depths of our depravity.  It is because he knows a small amount of it.  This nonbeliever has never come to understand forgiveness for himself, and thus still judges those around him with a human judgment and even if the offense was a misunderstanding, we remain humble by remembering God’s gift of salvation while we were His enemies (Rom 5.10).  Instead of responding in pride, we should always respond in humility.  If someone makes a character assessment, we should examine ourselves to see if it is true, ask Jesus to change us, and remember our guilt before Him – relying on Him to change us!  Once we have made every effort to rectify the situation, however, we move on and remember that God looks down and sees the blood of Jesus covering our sin and we are righteous in His eyes.

“For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.”

– Luke 7.47

He who has been forgiven much loves much.

Fruit is not optional

fruit

When Jesus calls a man, He bids him come and die.  This is how Dietrich Bonhoeffer describes the conversion experience.  Jesus calls it the new birth, where we gain Spiritual life added to our physical life.  When we meet Jesus, and are given Spiritual life, our Spiritual walk becomes an ongoing battle between our flesh and spirit:  we are dying to our sinful habits and sinful ways, while growing in Spiritual and godly ways.  Paul says that the two are always at war with one another:

“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

Paul and Jesus clarify this by defining our actions as “fruit”.  Jesus says that a tree is known by its fruit – good trees bear good fruit, and bad trees bear bad fruit.  A bad tree cannot bear good fruit and a good tree cannot bear bad fruit (Matt 7.18, Luke 6.43).  Paul goes on to explain what the different (good and bad) fruit are:

“Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are:immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

– Gal 5.20-21

The deeds of the flesh, or the bad fruit are those things that come naturally to us and are displeasing to God.  The fruit of the Spirit, however, are the exact opposite:

“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

The person who is Spiritually alive, and being made more like Christ will be marked by all of these characteristics.  We will struggle with and fight against the deeds of the flesh, but we are not marked by them.  When we are tempted to envy, to fight, to go out and get drunk or give in to any worldly pleasure, the Holy Spirit convicts us and even if we give in on occasion we will repent of those sins and fight against them.

Jesus says that He is our source and our life.  He uses the imagery that he is a vine, and Christians are branches that grow off of the vine.  We are extension of Him, and we depend on Him for our sap, structure and support.  Without Jesus Christians cannot survive.  He provides everything that we need to survive and thrive.  Interestingly enough, however, He paints a grim picture in terms of our fruit production:

“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser.  Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit.”

– John 15.1-2

This teaching echoes the sentiment of the parables of the sower and the seeds.  The seed of the Gospel will be sown in four different types of soil:  the hard road which cannot receive it at all, the rocky ground where it will grow but be scorched by the sun, amongst the weeds where it will grow but be choked out, or the fertile soil where it will grow and produce fruit.  The rocks in the soil are the persecution that cause some to turn away from the faith and the weeds are the cares and pleasures of the world that cause others to turn away.  Those people who hear the Gospel and receive it, yet are either distracted by a love for the world or chased off by persecution cannot bear fruit.  They were never true believers with deep roots and productive lives.  They were branches that were seemingly connected to the vine, but proved themselves dead by not producing fruit.

Therefore Jesus says He will cut them off and throw them into the fire.

This simple fact teaches us that we can text ourselves by our fruit.  Sometimes people ask, “How do I know if I am saved?”  or  “How can I know if I was born again?”  The answer is simply, “Are you Spiritually alive?”  We can know if we are Spiritually alive by examining the fruit of our lives.  Are we marked by love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control?  The term utilized in the Scripture is the singular form of fruit.  Therefore, all of these characteristics are necessary.  We cannot have just one or two, we must have them all.  Or are we marked by the deeds of the flesh (plural, therefore any of them)?

Our cultural love affair with tolerance and acceptance has tempted the church to make peace with sin.  Gross sins that Jesus says will render us fruitless, therefore dead, therefore unsaved.  We believe that since we are better than some, that since we have trained one another to placate ourselves, that we are all “ok”.  I went on a prayer walk this weekend with some friends and we got into conversation with two men.  We told them that we were out praying over the neighborhood and asked if there was anything we could pray about for them, and they said, “No thanks, we will be fine”.  Unfortunately, apart from Christ, none of us will be fine.  The standard is not societal acceptance or creature comforts, it is Godly perfection.  We cannot attain Godly perfection, therefore we need to be covered in Jesus’ righteousness and through His enabling, produce the fruits of the Spirit.

The point is simple.  Fruit is not optional.  A healthy branch will produce fruit, and a branch that produces no fruit or bad fruit is already dead and will be cut off.  Let’s check our fruit today.  How would people characterize you?  How would God identify your heart and driving passions?  Are you at war with your flesh and dying to sin?  Or are you coasting, assuming that you will be ok?  Let’s not toy with eternity.

Am I disqualified from serving God?

shame1

What is your experience and background with the Church?  Do you believe that God is an angry sovereign ready to smite you for every mistake that you make?  Or do you believe that God is love and accepts everyone, regardless of their belief system and backgrounds?  Are you predisposed to pride and arrogance?  Or are you prone to doubt and insecurity?  It is remarkable how our personalities and worldviews affect our assumptions and expectations towards God.  And typically, having one disposition blinds us from truly comprehending the personality makeup of those on the opposite extreme.  We might understand academically that some people wrestle with depression, but having a strong personality and high self esteem we think others are exaggerating or just looking for attention through their insecurity.  Or, wrestling with depression or doubt we might think that others have it all together and never have moments of weakness.

Along those lines, if you have experience in any fundamental legalistic church, you might have been trained to believe that while grace is free and abundant and that God forgives sins, there are many sins that simply disqualify us from serving God.  You might even be condemned for a life situation over which you had no control!  If, however, you have attended a liberal, “grace” driven church, you might believe that your actions have absolutely no bearing on your service to or standing before God.  Thankfully, we have the Bible to clearly teach us about grace and our worth before God, and we can walk in confidence if someone (even ourselves) has tried to convince us we have been disqualified from serving God.

First of all, God hates sin.  There are lists of sins that God hates throughout Scripture, the entire Law from the Old Testament was written to define sin and keep people from it, and the reason Jesus came to the world was to save us from our sin by paying the due punishment we deserve for it.  There is a problem in the world, there is a problem in every single human being and that is sin.  Until mankind had sinned, he was not separated from God, and after one little sin he was damned to Hell and the entire world was cursed.  Sin is a big deal.  It is that which separates us from God and causes us to need a savior.  God hates sin, He pours out His wrath against sin, and He will not overlook even the smallest sin.  His righteousness and justice demands that every single sin be judged by the harshest punishment because His standard is perfection.

We, as sinners, cannot rectify this sin problem.  Therefore, God sent Jesus to live a perfect life so that He, though not deserving punishment for sin, could take our place and pay the punishment that we deserve by dying a horrific death on a cross, descending to Hell for three days, and raising back to life – conquering death and offering us His righteousness.  Jesus offers us the free gift of salvation which is essentially the switching of places with Him.  If we have faith in His work and repent of our sins, then He takes the punishment for our sins and we take His perfection – in the eyes of God.

This exchange is no limited to the little sins.  Pretty much any sin for which you might condemn yourself (or someone else) is exemplified by the greatest men and women of the Bible.  Murder (Moses, Paul), Adultery (David), Prostitution (Rahab), Lying (Abraham), Theft (Matthew, Zacchaeus, David), Denying Christ (Peter and ten other apostles), Idolatry (Solomon, Rachel), and even Killing off Christians and the Church! (Paul).  God chose to use people who had committed the most heinous of crimes to be some of the most monumental people in history and in the Church.  Many of these crimes were even committed while these people were known to be following God!  God is not shocked by our sins and our failure, and He is ready and willing to forgive anything.  Not only that, we see then that the sin itself does not in any way mark us with a scarlet letter as unworthy or unusable before God.  The simple fact is that none of us who have committed any sin, ever, are worthy to serve God until we switch places with Jesus and take on His righteousness.

Where this gets tricky, however, is the reality that the process of us switching places with Jesus and taking on His righteousness is marked by our repentance.  None of us, while in the flesh, will fully conquer sin.  We will wrestle with sin until our dying day.  We must, however, allow God to be authoritative over our lives and define sin, and we must repent of it – continually giving our hearts and efforts over to God and dying to sin.  What this means, for example, is that you cannot plan a sin and carry it out with the expectation of God’s forgiveness later.  We cannot say, “I will just cheat on this test and I will confess it later and God will forgive me.”  We cannot say, “I am going to have an affair on my wife and/or divorce her, but God will forgive me.”  We cannot say, “I hate him, and I will just keep my distance from him.  It’ll fade away and God will forgive me.”  If we hate sin, we run from it, we despise it’s pleasures and we seek to make right what was wronged by it.  God will forgive the cheating or abandoning spouse if he recognizes that he sinned by having an affair and leaving his wife if he is broken over his sin, confesses it to God and to her, and tries to make restitution.  God will forgive the cheating student if he confesses it to God and the teacher and seeks to make it right – either by retaking the test or taking a consequential fail.  If we love the benefits and pleasures of sin, then we have made peace with that sin, and we have not repented.  This is perhaps the most dangerous of situations.  Scripture says,

“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 10.6-27

If we have confessed our sins, repented of them, and are striving to honor God in our lives then there is nothing that can disqualify us from serving God!

Now, this is the point where we need to examine the Biblical outlines for church leadership.  God loves His Church.  We are His body.  The head of that body is Jesus Christ, and the rest of us make up parts of it both in our local congregations and globally.  Within this body, the Bible gives us clear instructions for two specific roles:  pastors/elders/overseers and deacons.

A pastor or overseer is one who teaches the body regularly.  You might say that he is the mouth of the body.  He is not the head, Jesus alone is the head.  But he does have a leadership and authoritative role over the body, and will be help accountable to God for how he led the flock and cared for our souls.  Thus he must meet these requirements:

“It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do.  An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money.  He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?), and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil.  And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.”

1 Tim 3.1-7

First of all, we see that he desires to serve in the office.  We should never appoint someone to be our pastor who is not called, and does not desire the office.  It was trendy in the 90’s for people to say that they fought against it and did not desire the office.  It is wise advice for one to follow that if there is anything else they would like to do, then they should do that.  The rest of the qualifications are character assessments rooted in maturity of the faith.  This is a man, who is not a new convert, and has proven himself to be above reproach, free from the love of money, able to teach, and hospitable.  Of course even pastors and overseers will sin, but is his life marked by repentance?  And is he free from being characterized as a sinner in any of these ways?  Congregations value and appreciate transparency, but being “real” does not mean Spiritual immaturity and inability to fight sin.  This also interestingly notes that the pastor should have one wife.  It has been an issue of strife amongst the church that some would disqualify anyone who had been divorced for any reason, but I argue here that culturally and because of the nature of God and grace, that it means polygamy.  God can even forgive un-Biblical divorce:  He forgave and used David.

Deacons are people who serve the church.  They are appointed as men to oversee and make sure that the needs within the church are met well.  They do not have authority as teachers (though some of them may teach), but their office is one of service.  As such, their qualifications are slightly different:

“Deacons likewise must be men of dignity, not double-tongued, or addicted to much wine or fond of sordid gain, but holding to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience.  These men must also first be tested; then let them serve as deacons if they are beyond reproach.”

– 1 Tim 3.8-10

Again we see that God is primarily concerned with character.  Deacons must have dignity, they must speak truth boldly (not double tongued), and above reproach.  They should be tested or interviewed to be found above reproach, and then should have good reputation.

All believers will serve God in a variety of ways.  No one committed sin can permanently disqualify us from any form of service.  There may be times when a person serving as a pastor or deacon sins and needs to be removed from office for a season, but he can be restored with proven repentance and regained trust.  Here is what Allistair Begg had to say on the topic:

“Much of what we regard as disqualifications for serving Christ, God in His sovereign wisdom and purpose turns them in to stepping stones rather than stumbling blocks. That as we rehearse the details of our lives and as we look back over our days and as we are confronted by our disappointments and as we are made painfully aware of our failures and as we see what a basket case in many ways we have been, we are forced to conclude that an individual such as we could never be useful in the service of Christ. That is a lie of the devil. That is one of the most clever ways that the evil one sidelines useful people from Christian service. To tell us that actually, the mess of our past disqualifies us. And I want to say to you as individuals, let us be about the business of the Phil 3:14 perspective: Forgetting those things that lie behind, once we have learned from them, whether in success or in failure, let us press on towards the goal, to win the prize for which God has called us Heavenward in Christ Jesus. God is in the business of putting people like you and me, warts and all, into the front lines of service for Him, even in our days.”

– Alistair Begg

So let’s get busy about recognizing and repenting from our sins.  Let’s get busy about joining the front lines of the battle, pushing back the enemy and engaging in the battle for people’s souls.  Let’s get busy about serving God in every way that we can.  Let’s remember that God works all things together for our good and for His glory, even our sins and failures.  Let’s allow Him to use our past as a testimony to His grace and goodness.  Let’s not believe lies and get sidelined because of something we have done, and let’s not sin boldly expecting God’s forgiveness.  Let’s revel in grace, repent of our sins, and boldly proclaim the Gospel that all who believe and repent can be saved!