Let not your hearts be troubled.

comfort

Does your heart ever grow troubled?  What types of things lead to those troubles?  The future?  Decisions?  Children?  Security?  Jesus spoke on fear, anxiety and discouragement quite frequently.  His basic logic was:  God is sovereign and in control, so do not worry.  It sounds so simple, yet the vast majority of us still get worried (or concerned) when we find ourselves in transition or need (or want).

Perhaps the most dynamic command to not fear or worry is this command and promise:

“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.”

– John 14.1-4

Fighting sin always begins in the mind.  We have to understand what God defines as sin and submit to His Truth.  Once we recognize what sin is and see it in our lives, we have to confess our sin and begin the process of repenting from it – by the power of the Holy Spirit.  When we are tempted or long to engage in whatever sin is before us, we can and must make a conscious decision to not sin.  Our emotions will be torn, but our minds are our strength.  After we successfully refuse the sin or temptation a few times, our emotions will catch up to the decision that we are making.  Thus we always begin by the “renewing of our minds” (Rom 12.1-2).

It is good discipline to intentionally claim promises of Scripture and to replace sin with a God-honoring activity when we are feeling tempted.  This keeps us from dwelling on the pleasures of sin or the immediate gratification we might seek.  Jesus regularly offered promises and hope along with His instruction to help us along this path.  For instance, “Do not let your heart be troubled” – don’t worry, don’t fret, don’t be anxious.  Instead, remember that we have an eternal home in God’s house and Jesus has prepared the way for us to get there.  He is, indeed, the way.  He utilized the same tactic when confronting fears and anxieties about our daily needs:

“For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on.  Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?  Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not worth much more than they?  And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life?  And why are you worried about clothing?  Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these.  But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you?  You of little faith!”

– Matt 6.25-30

Jesus uses logic to confront fear and anxiety.  Have you ever been concerned about what you will eat?  Or not having clothing?  And I don’t mean having that dream where you are giving a speech naked.  We truly want for very little, but Jesus promises that God – who feeds the birds and clothes the fields with flowers will feed and clothe us as well.  He loves us and will provide for us in the ways He deems best.

 

What is so interesting about the first command and promise, however, is the fact that Jesus gave this command to not fear during the last supper.  He had already washed the disciples’ feet, He has already sent Judas out to betray Him, He has already predicted Peter’s betrayal and yet while explaining His death and departure He seeks to comfort the disciples.  This command/promise is actually a continual flow of thought from Jesus’ prediction of Peter’s betrayal:

Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for Me?  Truly, truly, I say to you, a rooster will not crow until you deny Me three times.  Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me…”

There is no break here.  Jesus is saying, I’m getting ready to die.  Peter says, I want to go wherever you go – I would die for you, and Jesus responds, you won’t even make it through tonight without denying me.  But don’t worry about it, I’ve got your eternity secure with God, just keep believing in God and in Me.

Jesus is just hours away from betrayal and the cross.  In fact, twenty four hours from this very conversation Jesus will be dead – and He knows it – and He is busy comforting the disciples about what is to come.  We see earlier in the chapter that Jesus’ heart was already troubled and in distress because of the coming events, not that He was stressed or worried in the way we get worried, but because He was dreading what was to come (John 13.21).  We can walk in faith and not desire to have to walk through what we are experiencing, as long as we claim the promises and obey throughout the trial.  Jesus obeyed and submitted to the plan of the cross even though He did not want to die on the cross and be separated from God.  He Himself claimed the promises and looked to the end goal when His heart was tempted and hurting.

We must do the same.  Look to the promises.  Are you worrying about the future or eternity?  Jesus has prepared the way for us to spend eternity with God through His death and resurrection.  He has prepared a place for us to live in eternity with God.  Are you worrying about what you will eat or wear?  God knows our needs and will provide for us, in the manner He deems best.  This may mean that we go hungry at times, or that we do not get designer clothing, but it will all work out to our best and to God’s glory (Rom 8.28).  But let us fight those fleshly worries in our minds, and let us also follow the example of Jesus who, even though His own heart was troubled, comforted those around Him.

Here is a great fighter verse for those moments when you are afraid, worried or hurting.  Use this, along with any others you already have to continually transform your mind while you walk in obedience and give our hearts time to catch up.

“When I am afraid,
I will put my trust in You.
In God, whose word I praise,
In God I have put my trust;
I shall not be afraid.
What can mere man do to me?”

– Ps 56.3-4

 

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To Grow Wide, We Must Grow Deep

crowd

Church growth.  The topic is a healthy topic that all church leaders discuss, pray over and evaluate regularly.  There are two major ways to evaluate it, and churches tend to fall into one of two errors:  (1) evaluating church growth by numbers or (2) evaluating church growth by maturity of the members.  These are two sides of the same coin which a healthy, Biblical church must exemplify.  Mature believers will be reaching out to the lost and bringing in new believers, and in order for a church to reach out to a lost world the believers must be mature and capable of witness.  Finding the balance is extremely difficult, however, and without intentional prayer and planning, one or both of these __ will be overlooked and neglected.

Growth by Maturity.

Jesus came to the Earth and spent three intentional years with eleven guys who would spearhead the entire movement we now know as Christianity.  He taught them truths, He shaped their worldviews, He exemplified love, servanthood, righteousness, and every fruit of the Spirit.  He taught them, He prayed for them, and He bore with them when they just didn’t get it.  He invested Himself and loved them, teaching them the deep things of God and helping them learn how to walk obediently.  In short, He made disciples out of them.  He made “Christians” or mini-Christs.  He replicated Himself in them.  His final words as He was leaving the world and commissioning them were,

And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.  Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

 – Matt 28.18-20

Jesus sent the eleven (plus Paul) out to do exactly what He had done for the past three years:  make disciples.  He told them to go to every single people group, to baptize new believers, and to teach those new believers everything that He Himself had taught them.  How were they supposed to do that?  They were supposed to go about it just like He had.  Live life together, teach them, preach boldly, allow the Holy Spirit to preform signs, instruct, rebuke, discipline, pray over them.  Jesus showed them how to do what to do by doing it Himself.

It took Jesus about three years to make disciples who were trained, well versed in the Scriptures and capable to go out in the power of the Holy Spirit and to make their own disciples.  He utilized those three years to send them out practicing and utilized their successes and failures as teaching points, such that they were fully equipped and prepared to do the work of the ministry by the power of the Holy Spirit and without the physical presence of Jesus.

They were mature.  They were trained.  They were prepared.  They knew what to do.

Growth by Numbers.

We would be remiss to neglect the fact that after Jesus returned to Heaven, we are regularly given account of the actual numbers by which the young church was growing.

“So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls.”

 – Acts 2.41

“But many of those who had heard the message believed; and the number of the men came to be about five thousand.”

 – Acts 4.4

Should we measure our success by numbers?  Yes and no.  There is no target range; there is no magic number by which we should be growing.  It is healthy and wise, however, to keep track of our members and what is happening in our congregations.  Are people coming and leaving after a short while?  Are people stagnant?  Are we bringing in believers who are just transferring from other churches?  Or are we actually reaching the lost, seeing them baptized and discipled?

We are commanded to preach the Gospel.  To plant seeds.  To sow broadly.  To tell everyone.  Beyond that, it is God’s responsibility to cause the growth.  We should be ready, willing and excited to jump in and be a part of the disciple-making process whenever possible, but it is God alone who changes hearts and we cannot force someone to submit to, know and love God.  Only He can do that.  We plant, God causes the growth.

“So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth.”

 – 1 Cor 3.7

We see from example and from the teaching of Jesus, however, that it is God’s plan to make disciples of all nations and when we share the Gospel, He will cause growth in some.  Yes, some of the Gospel seed will fall on bad soil and produce nothing or false growth, but there will always be some who respond.  God has already prepared the hearts of many.  He has promised us that the harvest is plentiful and ready, all we need to do is get out there and join Him in the reaping.

And [Jesus] was saying to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.”

 – Luke 10.2

In short, if we are not reaping a harvest it is because we are not sharing.

Now, we might begin to protest:  Our culture is post-Christian, people don’t want to hear it, I don’t know how to share, I don’t know where to meet people, blah blah blah…

Here’s the deal folks.  The New Testament Church was a hated, discriminated and murdered group of people.  The Jews were against them.  The Romans were against them.  The pagans were against them.  And not just in the, “I don’t want what you are selling” type of way, but in the “I’m going to throw you in jail, rape your wife, murder you” kind of way.  It was so bad, in fact, that much of the New Testament was written to people who were chased out of their towns simply because of what they believe.  Much of the New testament was written from jail.  Much of the New Testament was written to encourage people who were in jail or taking care of other believers who were in jail.  These believers read the promises of the New Testament about persecution as literal, not just the possibility that someone might mock or laugh at them or hurt their feelings.

They had thick skin, they had experienced real persecution, and yet they continued to share the Gospel and their numbers continued to grow.  By the multitudes.  Why?  Because Jesus had truly transformed their lives and they could not help but talk about Him.  We know the reality:  when something amazing happens, we can’t help but talk about it.  Did you meet the girl of your dreams?  You let everyone know.  Did you get into your favorite college or find a job after months of searching?  You post it on facebook, instagram and call your mom.  Did you get in a car accident and yet were miraculously saved?  You take pictures of the mangled wreck and show it to strangers.  We talk about the things that rock us, shape us, and the things that we know.  If Jesus has rocked your world, you will talk about Him.  If church is just something you do, then it may or may not come up in conversation.  Like that TV show you watch when nothing else is on, or that chore your mom asked you to do.

The disciples’ world had been rocked, their lives transformed, and even though it cost 11 of the twelve their very lives, they kept on talking about it.  The New Testament Church was scattered across the known world, running for their lives, but they kept talking about Jesus because He transformed their lives and they loved Him and could not help but talk about Him.  This is maturity, folks.  Not being able to recite the entire Bible.  It is knowing, abiding in and loving Jesus.  Yes, people will be impressed if you can recite huge chunks of Scripture and they will value your knowledge if you can explain intricate doctrines and history, but the whole game changes when the focus is Jesus and what He has done in your life and on the cross.

Numerical growth must be all about Jesus.  We can draw a crowd for a while with entertaining speaking, good music, community events and lots of singles for others singles to meet, but those things will fade.  If Jesus does not come in and transform these lives, then we have done them no service.  In fact, we have probably done them a great disservice and will bring judgment upon ourselves for placating a sinful world and helping them to believe that they are eternally secure when in fact they are not.  Yes, we should engage the world, and yes at times facilitating events like sports or family outings will enable us to have those real conversations.  But let us always be purposeful to have those real conversations.  Lives are only transformed by the Gospel.

Has Jesus transformed your life?  Is He working in your life today?  Are you telling people about it?  Are you sharing the Gospel with the lost and helping younger believers grow in knowledge and obedience?  Are you growing in depth and in numbers?  We must go deep before we can go wide.  If we go deep we will naturally go wide.  If we go wide without going deep we will dry up.  If we go deep without going wide, we are disobedient and have not truly gone deep, because going wide is a natural byproduct of going deep.  Let us therefore get busy about going deep and let it pour out into our daily lives so that we naturally go wide.

Wiping Your Feet

shoes

For four years I lived and worked on an island which is famous for its tropical rain forests.  My job was to take groups of tourists and anthropologists out into the jungle to see orangutan, meed tribal people and see the amazing sites.  Being in the rain forest, there was always an abundance of water present – rivers, streams, springs, rain – but when you are hiking and carrying supplies, there is a very distinct aroma one develops after a few days.  Even if you go for a swim (or bath) in the river.  It is indescribably beautiful, but it is also muddy, it is wet, it is hot, and by the end of a few days in the jungle, everyone is filthy.  Arriving in a major city was always greeted by the pleasure of a cleansing shower.  Dirty clothes were sealed in air-tight bags to be washed, shoes were left in the sun to dry out, and every adventurist could not wait to be clean.

Because of the natural habitat and the worldview of the nationals, it is also cultural to take at least two baths a day.  They are exceptionally clean people.  One habit that they have, to maintain their cleanliness is to always remove shoes at the front door.  Americans take great pride in their shoes which help to “make the outfit”, but there shoes are always left outside or right at the front door in a rack so as to keep the house clean.

There was a similar habit in Jesus’ day.  Shoes were left at the door and a servant would actually wash people’s feet as they entered into the household.  The dust which gathered on people’s feet from outside was washed away so that they could still be clean and keep the house clean as well.  Jesus Himself used this as a powerful image to teach us about our personal Spiritual state in relationship to Him.

“Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come forth from God and was going back to God, got up from supper, and laid aside His garments; and taking a towel, He girded Himself.  Then He poured water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded.  So He came to Simon Peter. He said to Him, ‘Lord, do You wash my feet?’  Jesus answered and said to him, ‘What I do you do not realize now, but you will understand hereafter.’  Peter said to Him, ‘Never shall You wash my feet!’ Jesus answered him, ‘If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.’  Simon Peter said to Him, ‘Lord, then wash not only my feet, but also my hands and my head.’  Jesus said to him, ‘He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you.’  For He knew the one who was betraying Him; for this reason He said, ‘Not all of you are clean’.”

– John 13.3-11

Apart from Jesus, we are filthy.  We are stinky and muddy, and even if we try to clean up in the jungle river, all of our belongings still reek of sweat, rain and filth.  This Spiritual state is described in various ways throughout Scripture:  we are Spiritually dead (Eph 2.1-3), we are of the devil (John 8.44), we are enemies of God (Rom 8.7).  Dead bodies stink.  However, once we come to Jesus, He takes away our guilt of sin by placing it on Himself and washes us clean:

“’Come now, and let us reason together,’
Says the Lord,
‘Though your sins are as scarlet,
They will be as white as snow;
Though they are red like crimson,
They will be like wool’.”

– Is 1.18

“The next day [John] saw Jesus coming to him and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!'”

– John 1.29

However.  Since we are still in the world and since we still have our flesh, we will continue to sin.  We will still get dirty.  When we come to Jesus, He washes us clean and makes us a new creation.  But when we go about life and when we give into temptation and when we choose to sin, we get mud or dust on our feet.  This dust needs to be washed off occasionally, as we enter into the house and presence of God.  This is what we call confession and repentance, and this is what is known as the ongoing process of sanctification.  We are not perfect, and will never be perfect until we shed our flesh and are in the presence of God.

This is why Jesus rebuked Peter, who simply did not understand what Jesus was doing.  “He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you.”  If we have already been washed in the blood, we only need Jesus to deal with the present dirt, we do not need to be saved anew.  However, if we refuse to let Jesus wash away the dirt then we prove ourselves to be filthy and have no part of Him:

‘If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.’

Sin is filthy and wicked and it is that which separates us from God.  If we do not allow Jesus to handle our sin problem, if we do not confess our sins, repent of them and submit to God’s definition of sin in all of our lives and worldview, then we have no part of Him.  We must continually work out our salvation by confessing sin, hating it, and allowing Jesus to wash us clean and change us so that we stop sinning (Phil 2.12, 1 John 1.9).

“And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.  Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness.  You know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin.  No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him.”

– 1 John 3.3-6

Are you in the habit of letting Jesus wash your feet?  Or did you take a bath after a long trek in the jungle and now assume that you are clean for the rest of your life?  Yes, that hot, revitalizing bath did wash you spotless, but Jesus says that we must allow Him to continually wash the dust from our feet in order to remain clean and prove ourselves to have had that initial washing.  If we do not allow Him to wash our feet, then we were never clean to begin with – just like Judas – whose feet Jesus did wash, but who himself was never cleansed from his sins.  Let us confess our sins, submit to Jesus and be washed anew daily.

How do you approach God?

laziness

How do you approach the throne of God?  We have lost much general respect and honor in our casual society.  The workplace is business casual at best, we make and break plans on a whim, and we are so preoccupied with our own thoughts, rights and opinions that we never stop talking to listen to the wisdom of those who have gone before or those around us.  I work out of a warehouse and wear exercise clothes to work most days, and I am not saying all is lost in the world because we no longer wear coats and ties to the office, but I am saying that our general societal worldview of entitlement and casual approach has created a void.  We berate our teachers and professors for bad grades instead of respecting their education and wisdom.  We get angry at and disrespect the police and military instead of obeying the law and honoring their right to keep us accountable.  We sue one another for minor infractions or inconveniences just to get rich.  We seek our own best interest, often to the detriment of others.

This is reflected in our Spirituality as well.  We no longer recognize God as the all powerful creator of the universe who will judge us for all our actions, but as our cosmic daddy who should give us whatever we ask of Him – and we get mad and pout when He fails to come through.  We proclaim that “God loves you just as you are” and tell people to run to Him without any consideration of His holiness and expectations.  Yes, it is true that God gives life to Spiritually dead people and we cannot clean ourselves up enough to become presentable to Him before salvation.  When we come to God the first time, for salvation, we have to come with open hands – just as we are – and without pretense because God alone can enable us to begin the transformation of righteous living.  However, once we are given the gift of the Holy Spirit, His love is very much conditional.  If we continue in sin, He will condemn us (Heb 6.26).  If we have a problem or irreconciled issue with our brother, God will not hear our worship (Matt 5.22-24).  If you mistreat your spouse, God will not even listen to your prayer (1 Peter 3.7).  God does not save us to leave us in our sins, He saves us to transform us and begin a new work in us (Phil 1.6).

We have tricked ourselves into believing that making God so casual and approachable will encourage people to come to Him more quickly and consistently.  Unfortunately, this is not reality.  Like anything else we get used to and devalue, the newness and shine wears off quickly and we place Him on a bookshelf while we look for the next great adventure, pleasure or distraction.  We have at our fingertips access to the sovereign, omnipotent, omnipresent creator God and we can hardly remember to pray before meals or bedtime – let alone submit ourselves to His will and direction.

“Christ went more willingly to the cross than we do to the throne of grace.”

– Thomas Watson

Christ did in fact go more willingly to the cross than we do to God’s throne.  Even though, we have been promised that there is no condemnation remaining for those who are in Christ (Rom 8.1), and granted access to the throne of grace without fear (Heb 4.16), we neglect this privilege because we have made our faith about us and what we can get out of it.  However, when we truly encounter Jesus, when He transforms us and saves us from our sins, and when we recognize the holiness of God, we cannot remain indifferent.  We cannot be left unchanged.  We cannot have a laisez faire attitude about His work in us and the world.

It would be like Lazarus – a good friend of Jesus who died and was buried for four days and then resurrected from the dead – considering Jesus just another guy he knows.  It would be like Paul – a man dedicated to the murder and destruction of the church, blinded by God and then healed and sent away to the desert to learn the truths of the Gospel for three years – continuing about his daily life, looking for a nice house, success in business and general comfort in life.  This, of course, sounds absurd because it is absurd.

We no longer long for or expect Lazarus or Paul-like encounters.  We are more like the rich man who asks Jesus what we must do to be saved and when Jesus tells us to sell what we own, give it to the poor and follow Him, we walk way sad.  We are more like the crowd who received the food from the miracle of the five loaves and two fish – wanting to get our bellies filled without having to work, but not wanting to be held responsible to do anything.

Has Jesus rocked your world?  Or are you part of the crowd?  He is in the business of raising the dead to life, not feeding our fat bellies.  When we have been raised to life, Spiritually, we cannot overlook Him.  We cannot put Him on a bookshelf.  We cannot continue about life in a normal fashion because Jesus has raised us from the dead.  He has given us sight.  He has completely altered the trajectory of our lives and put us on the that narrow path that leads to eternal life with Him.  Let’s get to know that Jesus.  Let’s live that life.  Let’s boldly, continually and without doubting approach the throne of grace and follow Jesus.

“If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also; if anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him.”

– John 12.26

Our favorite sin

gossip

Let’s be honest.  Each of us has a scale of sins and wickedness by which we gauge and evaluate our personal morality and self-worth.  There are things that we would never consider in our day-to-day lives, like murder.  We think through the ten commandments and think, “I would never rob someone, I would never kill someone, I would never…” and walk away feeling pretty good about ourselves.

Then there are those sins of temptation with which we wrestle.  Sins of disposition, if you will.  We are all born with or inclined socially to certain sins:  white lies, fudging on our taxes, exaggeration, gossip, pride, slander, etc.  Some of us might be inclined to the large-scale sins like murder and grand larceny, but for the average Joe, it is typically these sins of the heart and more personal sins that tempt us on a regular basis.

But lastly there are those sins that we actually enjoy and with which we have made peace.  These are those most dangerous of sins.  Any sin with which we have made peace can potentially separate us from God.  Forever.  Again, it can be any of the listed sins from the major or tempting sins, but they are typically sins of the heart.  And what is most terrifying about these sins is that we not only accept them and allow them to continue in our own lives, but we also are keenly aware of other Christians preforming them and we give them approval in doing so.

This is a terrifying reality, of which the Bible speaks extremely harshly:

“And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.”

– Rom 1.28-32

Read through that list again slowly.  It is a depraved mind that is full of greed or envy.  It is wickedness to gossip or slander.  Pride, insolence, any strife or boasting.  Disobedient to parents!  Anyone who is unloving, untrustworthy, or without understanding.  This mention of understanding is not knowledge based, it is someone who carelessly passes by someone in need – perhaps with a disability – and just continues about their own lives without concern for the person in need.  Do you avoid that mentally handicapped person who shows up at your church every week?

Pride, slander and gossip are so detrimental and yet so much a part of our lives.  In the church world, we might have felt convicted about any of those three, but in order to continue to placate our flesh, we dress them up as prayer requests.  “Please pray for Suzie Q, you won’t believe what happened…”  Or, “We really need to remember John Doe, he is struggling with…”  Or even still, “Pray for me, I really need/deserve/am angry at…”

We, if we allow this kind of attitude and conversation within the church are just as guilty as those who do it:  We “give hearty approval” by listening to their prayer requests, throwing out a verbal hail mary, and entertaining the sin (Rom 1.32).

But the danger of this sin is eternal:

“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

John teaches us that there is grace when we sin, provided we confess it, repent from it and never make peace with it (1 John 2.1).  Where we enter into dangerous territory is when we consider these palatable sins excusable.  When they are no longer bitter in our mouths or hearts, and we choose to enjoy them or receive the momentary pleasure that comes from them.

Hear me clearly, all sin is desirable.  It is a very rare occasion that any of us would give in to a sin that we despise and hate.  Sexual sin feels good in the moment.  Stealing provides a rush and the pleasure of ownership, if even momentary.  Lying pads one’s ego and creates some sense of image or appearance that is not true.  Even murder might provide some level of pleasure for some people.  Drunkenness pleases the senses and removes the worries of the world.

But when we are given Spiritual life by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, He enters into our worlds and rocks them.  It is His purpose and job to convict us of sin and push us on to holiness – helping us and empowering us to stop sinning unto the glory of God:

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

– John 16.8

Thomas Watson teaches us well,

“Until sin be bitter, Christ will not be sweet.”

When we choose to sin in light of His prodding and conviction in our hearts, we grieve The Holy Spirit who is working to convict us and make us hate sin.  How do we keep from grieving him?  Paul tells us clearly:

“Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth each one of you with his neighbor, for we are members of one another.  Be angry and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity.  He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need.  Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.  Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.  Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.  Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.”

– Eph 4.25-32

Slander and gossip are extremely dangerous.  Jesus said that we will each give an account for every careless word that comes out of our mouths (Matt 12.36).  God promises to destroy anyone who slanders his neighbor (Ps 101.5).  So let us not take it lightly.  Let us examine our own hearts and those with whom we interact in the Church.  Let us claim with Augustine:

“Let those who like to slander the lives of the absent know their own are not worthy of this table.”

– Augustine

All sins with which we make peace are damnable and can separate us from God.  Let us press on to fight these sins in our own lives and in the lives of those whom we love.  Let us put it away, remove it from our lives, our churches and our hearts.  Let us learn to hate the taste of sin – that it would bitter – so that Christ alone tastes sweet and we can grow in maturity.

Fighting For The Prize.

fight

Yesterday I reflected on the powerful and dynamic faith of Corrie Ten Boom who steadfastly kept her eyes on Jesus while harboring Jewish refugees, being arrested and enslaved at a concentration camp and losing her sister and other family members to the atrocities of WWII.  The entirety of the New Testament promises that when we look to Jesus and remain in Him and in His words, we will have Spiritual peace.  But it also promises that we will be persecuted, hated and even killed because of our faith.  Jesus Himself stated:

“These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace.  In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”

– John 16.33

You will be hated by all because of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved.”

– Matt 10.22

Paul even goes so far as to say,

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

– 2 Tim 3.12

There it is, in black and white.  Everyone who desires to live godly lives in Jesus will be persecuted.  We will be hated by the world, by everyone who does not know Jesus or have saving faith, because of our faith and our actions.  This is not a license for us to act in an unbecoming way.  We are commanded to love our enemies, to pray for those who persecute us and to live at peace with all men so much as it depends on us (Matt 5.44, Rom 12.18).  We are to turn the other cheek, give more to those who steal from us and return love for evil (Matt 5.39-40, 1 Peter 3.9).

These commands seem impossible at times.  Sure, we can romanticize them and have idyllic pictures in our minds of being the ever-loving victim that never holds a grudge, but it is an entirely different picture when someone intentionally seeks our harm or attacks us without cause.  We can return good for evil in our own strength once or twice, but it is impossible to make a lifestyle out of the habit without Christ.  Sometimes a soft answer does not turn away wrath.  Sometimes loving our enemies does not heap burning coals upon their heads.  Sometimes they have already made up their minds to hurt or destroy us and it is only years down the road that our loving response impacts them on any level.  All we can do is trust God for His plan in those situations.  Our obedience is driven by love for God, not a desired outcome in the other person – our enemy.

But yet we still continue to believe the lies that God will make our lives soft and comfortable if we follow Him.  Many have sold out to the health and wealth gospel, following false prophets like Joel Osteen and Benny Hinn faithfully.  Consider this:  if God pours out blessings, security and health on those whom He loves, He must have despised Paul and the apostles.  They all had no homes, no security, they were persecuted and all but one murdered simply because of their faith.

Even if we deny the traditional health and wealth gospel with our mouths, we often believe it in our hearts and exemplify it by our actions.  When we find a job, get a raise, have healthy and obedient children, and go an entire year without visiting the doctor, we proclaim “God is good!”  When tragedy strikes, when a job is lost, when a loved one dies, when radical Muslims attack our cities, we cry out “Why me?” and “Where is God?”

Have you ever been hated on account of your faith?

I am not advocating self-imposed suffering or intentionally seeking martyrdom.  Jesus told the disciples to flee to the next city when persecution arose, and it was only by the direction of the Holy Spirit that Paul was led to Rome to be murdered – and that after fleeing numerous other times.  However, it is indeed the promise of Scripture that all – not some – but all who desire to live Godly lives will be persecuted and hated because of our faith.  If you are hated for any other reason, it does not count.  Peter says,

“For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a person bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly.  For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience?  But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God.

– 1 Peter 2.19-20

When we sin, we should suffer the consequences patiently and in humility.  That is just common sense.  But it finds favor with God when we suffer unjustly, and bear it with patience and humility.  When was the last time you were wrongly accused – because of your faith – and counted it a blessing to be able to join Christ in His sufferings?  Or did you cry out “this is not fair”, and rebuke God in your heart?

Peter teaches us that we should always be prepared to give an answer or defense for the hope that we have.  Does your living, in the wake of trial and tribulation, cause people to stop and ask you about your hope?  Or do you only proclaim God’s goodness when things are good and life is rosy?  Isaac Watts bemoaned the point beautifully:

Must I be carried to the skies
on flowery beds of ease,
While others fought to win the prize
and sailed through bloody seas?
Sure I must fight if I would reign
increase my courage Lord;
I’ll bear the toil, endure the pain,
supported by Thy Word.

– Isaac Watts

So let’s step back and reconsider.  What is it that we consider a blessing and benefit from God?  What is it that leads us to proclaim God’s goodness and faithfulness?  What is it that we pray for, long for and lose sleep over?  A job?  Health?  Life itself?  Money?  Do you fight to persevere in your faith?  Do you fight for the prize rewarded to those who serve God and die to the flesh?  Does your life look like the American Dream, or like the apostles?  Have you ever had to defend the seemingly nonsensical hope that you have?  If not, we need to reconsider our faith and our priorities.  Let’s start storing up treasures in Heaven and dying to our flesh.

Look to Jesus and you will be at rest.

holocaust

In the last twelve days,  we have seen ISIS attack Istanbul’s major airport killing 45 and setting the world on edge because Istanbul serves as a sort of gateway between the western world and the Middle East.  Then gunmen linked to ISIS killed another twenty in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, and then ISIS pulled off their most deadly attack killing at least 121 in Baghdad.  Droves of people are being murdered around the world and here in the states we are watching racial tensions lead us to a new level of hate where people now embrace “their killers” based on race or profession.  I have seen friends on social media post about inequality because “Our murderers are dead and your murderers receive a paid vacation”.  Really?  That is where we are as a nation?  And then at least 6,000 Turkish military personnel rise up under the leadership of an Islamic minority group in an attempted Coup of the government.

The world is in a tragic state.  As Americans, we regularly look only as far as our own backyard and we are all in an uproar about Black and Blue lives that matter wile nations are quite literally falling apart and killing one another at much more alarming rates.  Yes, I believe that black lives and blue lives matter.  I also grieve for the hundreds who have been murdered this week while celebrating their version of Christmas all around the world, and the entire nation of Turkey (and Syria and many African nations) who have lost all sense of security in their worlds.  Just consider what would change if a military coup occurred in the US.  Jobs, schooling, the banks, all of our retirement plans, all of our “rights” and expectations as fat and happy citizens would be instantaneously changed or gone.  Everything.

But that is Turkey, not here.  We will keep fighting over who has to make a cake for whom and consequently bemoan the terrible injustices we encounter daily.

Corrie Ten Boom is one of those people who exemplified the most remarkable faith and has forever impacted my life and worldview.  She, along with her family, were Dutch nationals who helped hide and rescue Jews during WWII.  The family was arrested for their actions and Corrie was imprisoned alongside her sister Betsie in concentration camps.  Betsie died in the camp.  The girls led Bible studies, worship services and continually praised God throughout their imprisonment, and after the war ended Corrie returned to the Netherlands where she began a rehabilitation center for concentration camp survivors. The girls’ faith was poignant and bold – praising God for even the fleas in their barracks, which they only later learned were the reason that the guards did not come in to rape and harass the women as they did the other women.  Corrie made this simple, yet profound statement:

“If you look at the world, you will be distressed.
If you look within, you will be depressed.
If you look at Christ, you will be at rest.”

– Corrie Ten Boom

Can you imagine:  quite literally starving to death, being worked with the intention of extermination, fearing for your life with no relief in sight, living in barracks with no heat and infested by fleas, having no idea the fate of your family and loved ones, and all the while being able to say, “Look to Jesus and you will be at rest”?

How can we be at rest?  Perhaps you live in fear of the police.  Perhaps you are a police man living in fear of random assassination.  Perhaps you look at the upcoming election with fear, considering both of the candidates unfit to lead our country.  Perhaps you look at the alarming rate at which ISIS is growing, attacks are being successfully carried out and governments are failing.  Perhaps you are stuck in your own little bubble – needing a job, fretting about retirement or arguing about social injustice because someone looked at you funny.  And all of these things are things worth discussing and fighting for (or against).  But these things are not eternal, and these things – if rectified – will not bring us joy and peace.  Only Jesus can do that.

“These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”

– John 16.33

Jesus has already overcome the world.  He has defeated sin and eternal death, and is delaying the end of the Age for the salvation of many.  But the war is already over, the end has already been written and we know that He will bring all of His own into His final rest.  But He also offers rest now, while we are still living on this Earth.  How?  By assurance that our eternity is secure and promising that everything that happens on Earth is working out to His glory and our Spiritual best.  God’s best for the Ten Boom family was obedience to protect Jews, incarceration in a labor camp, murder for some of them, and unthinkable suffering.  They were given faith about which most of us can only dream.  They were sustained through trials – the likes of which would send many of us into depression and abandonment of the faith.

Our eternal life has already begun in the New Birth, and eternal life is simply knowing Him:

“This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.”

– John 17.3

Do you know God?  If you do, then you have eternal life.  If you do not, then you do not yet have eternal life.  We will have worldly suffering and trials.  We have difficulties.  Just like Jesus did.  Just like the apostles did.  Just like the early church did.  But all we have to do is look to Jesus, and we will have rest.  Let’s look to Him today – while we are fighting for justice, while we are praying for our nation and the world, while we are seeking economic stability and while we are planning for the future.  Look to Jesus and have rest.

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

– Matt 11.28