When You Get Laid Off

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I was recently laid off.  For the past four years I have worked for a non-profit that relied on the generosity of a major donor for our office and warehouse, and the donor could no longer afford to give the space so we had to close down.  This coincided either perfectly or terribly with my first pregnancy – such that our closing day was just days before my due date.  So now I find myself in a brand new life circumstance:  unemployed and a first time mom.  This is extremely unnerving for me.  I have always been a motivated go-getter with a relatively clear “career path” of missions and vision for my life.  But it is exceptionally difficult to job hunt when you are very pregnant and will be in immediate need of maternity leave upon starting a new job, so my maternity leave is unpaid and for the indefinite future.

Did you know that God has a plan, even in seasons of unemployment?  Three fighter verses are good to keep close during such a time:

“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”

– Rom 8.28

“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; and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls.”

– 1 Peter 1.6-9

“For from days of old they have not heard or perceived by ear,
Nor has the eye seen a God besides You,
Who acts in behalf of the one who waits for Him.”

– Is 64.4

We will be tempted to sin during seasons of unemployment in a variety of ways – namely to the unbelief of impatience and doubt, mingled with envy and bitterness.  These sins are sneaky and can be subtle at times, not showing themselves as gross sins which our friends and accountability partners will quickly notice and point out, but growing slowly in our hearts.  We must be aware of them and count them as dangerous sins which will threaten our joy and peace with God:

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 5.19-21

“But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth.”

– Col 3.8

“But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”

– Rev 21.8

God has promised to meet all of our needs.  These needs are the ones He has defined that will sharpen our faith, cause us to rely and depend on Him, bringing Himself the most glory and honor through our refinement (Phil 4.19, Rom 8.28, 1 Peter 1.6-9).  He loves us as His children and He will give us every good and perfect gift (James 1.17).  He will meet our needs as the good Father (Luke 7.11).  He will bless and work for those who wait on Him (Is 64.4).  To not believe these promises is to not know God, and to be headed for an eternity separated from Him in Hell (Rev 21.8).

Therefore, we must be patient and wait on the Lord.  Those who wait on the Lord will gain new strength (Is 40.31).  They will not be put to shame (Is 49.23).  And the very quietness and trust will give us strength (Is 30.15).  We must neither give up nor act out ahead of God’s timing.  We must consult God for every decision and wait on His timing and direction.  We must embrace the circumstances in which He has us and we must move at the pace in which He directs us.  We will thus learn the lessons He is aiming to teach us and will receive the blessings He is aiming to give us.

That may mean He is teaching us to surrender our self-sufficiency and rely on Him.  That may mean He is teaching us to embrace a new role in our lives [like motherhood].  That may mean He is teaching us faith and submission [by depending on a husband to provide while we care for a child].  That may mean He is teaching us to die to our pride by working a job that might not align with our career goals but will provide for our families.  That may mean He is teaching us patience, perseverance and selflessness which are not optional Christian characteristics!

“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

As we cultivate faith – or as God cultivates faith in us – we will exemplify these attributes.  We will have peace, patience and faithfulness while we wait on God.  We will work and be responsible to care for our families and we will look to Him for direction for our next steps.  We will live well, and we will ultimately be able to die well.  We will know God’s faithfulness.

“Infinite wisdom has arranged the whole with infinite love; and infinite power enables me—to rest upon that love. I am in a dear Father’s hands—all is secure. When I look to Him, I see nothing but faithfulness—and immutability—and truth; and I have the sweetest peace—I cannot have more peace.”

– Charles Simeon

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She is not mine.

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I am a new mom.  A “FTM” (First Time Mom) as all the bloggers and texters say.  Most of my friends back home in the midwest are years ahead of me, sending their kids to preschool and gradeschool, but here in Denver we do things a little more slowly and I am 33 with a baby two weeks old today.  These last two weeks have been a whirlwind, including unexpected medical diagnoses, hospital stays, and a three week early adjustment to parenthood – but some of the most amazing moments in my and my husband’s life.  One thing, however, that is rocking my world Spiritually is the new “opportunity” to die to myself.

There are many truths out there that circulate so rapidly that they sound cliche.  “Marriage is a mirror” and such, but in two short weeks I am beginning to learn anew what it means to die to myself and to surrender my selfishness.

The Christian life, the path of salvation, is often called the fight of faith.  We are engaged in a Spiritual battle for holiness.  We are killing our sin so that it will not kill us.  We are pressing on towards the goal, we are dying to ourselves, we are fighting for sanctification.  This is Biblical.  This is right.  This is honoring to God.  And it is indeed God’s plan to sanctify us:

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

– 1 Thess 4.3

Our sanctification is a process, and God reveals our sin and our depravity in bite-sized pieces.  He asks/commands/enables us to fight our sin one day at a time.  If God were to reveal the depths of our selfishness and pride as well as confronting our sinful habits all at the moment of conversion, we would become overwhelmed and give up.  But graciously He gives us the Holy Spirit to convict us of our sin, empower us to fight it and when we begin to live by His strength and overcome it, He takes us to the next battle front.

My new battlefront is selfishness and possessiveness of this tiny baby girl.  Children are indeed a treasure from the Lord (Ps 123.7).  They are a blessing, a gift, and a joy.  They also provide heartache, pain and uncertainty.  But fundamentally, they are not ours.  They are God’s and He has entrusted parents as stewards of them.

We learn quite quickly, at least on a superficial level, that everything we have is God’s and that lesson is usually focused on finances:

“What do you have that you did not receive?  And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?”

– 1 Cor 4.7

The church at Corinth was caught up in an internal battle arguing over which teacher was the greatest and factions were forming accordingly.  Paul spoke out against this sin, encouraging even those who claimed to follow him to be humble and remember the Gospel.  Nothing that they had, no Spiritual insight or wisdom was of themselves – he said – but only a gift from God.  This reality is true about everything.  Everything in the world is God’s, and He has given of His abundance to us as stewards to care for and utilize everything unto His glory and honor.

“The earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains,
The world, and those who dwell in it.”

– Ps 24.1

This includes not only our physical possessions, our faith, and our Spiritual gifts and abilities – but children.  My daughter is God’s.  He has given me the remarkable privilege and responsibility to function in the role as her mother, but she is not mine, she is God’s.  He knew her before He formed her in my womb.  He has a perfect plan for her entire life.  He knit her together and He loves her more than I ever can or will.  He knows the hairs on her head, and He knows every single thing she will ever think, feel and experience.  She is His.

That is a difficult thing for a FTM to remember.  Yes, it is good and wise to set up relational and emotional boundaries.  Just because I am a steward and not an “owner” does not mean that everyone has equal say and equal access to my daughter.  I have been charged to protect and care for her, to teach her the truths of God, to love her.  But it also means I die to myself and get up in the middle of the night to feed her – even when I am exhausted – and I allow friends and family to enjoy her and be part of her life.  It means we partner with the Church to commit to raising her up in the ways of the Lord.  It means my husband has parenting rights and together we bring her before God and surrender her to Him and to His plan.  It means we trust God for today and for her future.

Fighting the battle of selfishness and control means fighting the fight of faith.  It means dying to self in order to trust God.  Martin Luther said it well:

“Faith honors him whom it trusts with the most reverent and highest regard since it considers him truthful and trustworthy. There is no other honor equal to the estimate of truthfulness and righteousness with which we honor him whom we trust . . . When the soul firmly trusts God’s promises, it regards him as truthful and righteous, and whatever else should be ascribed to God. The very highest worship of God is this, that we ascribe to him truthfulness, righteousness, and whatever else should be ascribed to one who is trusted.”

– Martin Luther

What do you have today over which you boast, or on which you base your confidence?  What do you have today that you claim as your own, that you seek to control, that you hold too tightly?  Let us remember that nothing we have – no financial success, no skill or ability, no wisdom or social status, no relationship and no child – nothing we have was not given to us.  Everything is God’s, and He has given us access and ability to utilize all of those things to glorify Him and to make much of Him.  Let us therefore seek to surrender all of those things to Him.  Let us remember that He is sovereign over all of them.  Let us trust Him and His plan, and fight the fight of faith – thus laying hold of eternal life.

“Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called, and you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.”

– 1 Tim 6.12

When you do sin…

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Christians are those holy people who live perfect lives and never do anything wrong.  Right?  Either that or they are a bunch of hypocrites who live just like the world and yet claim to have God “on their side”, or in support of whatever whacked-out thing they choose to do.  We tend to not really make room for a middle ground, recognizing the simple fact that Christians are people who should be interacting with God on a regular basis and dying to sin, yet still bound to their flesh and making mistakes and giving in to temptation from time to time.

Because of this fact – even within the Christian community – we tend to put up walls and be minimally vulnerable with one another.  Christ has given us the most beautiful community in which we should depend on one another for accountability and Spiritual sharpening, but yet we think that those around us are not falling into sin and we are too afraid of damaging our reputation to confess our struggles to one another.

But there is hope!

As long as we are in our earthly bodies, we will wrestle with our own personal sin, temptation and failure.  There are times that we will have no one to blame but ourselves.

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

– Gal 5.17

Notice here that the flesh and the Spirit are directly opposed to one another, and by giving in to one you are suffocating the things that the other desires.  When we submit to and follow the Spirit, we are not doing the things that we would please in our flesh.  When we submit to the flesh, we are not doing the things that we would please in our Spirit.

We might be tempted to blame the enemy or Satan when we sin, but the simple reality is that our flesh wants things that are sinful, and sometimes we give in.  Yes, there may be times that we are lured by an outside force, but by-in-large we lead ourselves into those situations.

“Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone.  But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust.  Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.”

– James 1.13-15

The simple reality is that sin looks attractive.  It feels good, at least for the moment.  And often times it starts small and snowballs or grows over time as we become immune to the conviction of the Spirit.  And sometimes we have been so inoculated by the world and our culture that we neglect to evaluate an action, word or deed against Scripture to even determine if it is sinful, and we sin unintentionally.

But it is all sin, it must all be confessed and we must repent from it as the Spirit leads and convicts.

So where is the hope?

“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.”

– 1 John 2.1-2

The book of 1 John is a gut wrencher and convictor.  It makes statements that sound extremely black and white, cut and dry, such as:

“By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments.  The one who says, ‘I have come to know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him:  the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.”

– 1 John 2.3-6

John even goes so far as to say that if you hate someone you are not saved (v 2.9).  Have you ever struggled to forgive someone?  Do you have any grudges in your life?  Or are you living perfectly at peace with everyone in your world?  The risk of that is our very salvation.

But yet John gives us this beautiful hope that when we do sin we have an advocate.  There is a heavenly court room in which the enemy approaches God to accuse us of our sin.  When we have confessed our sins and repented of them, however, Jesus stands as the defense lawyer to simply say, “Punishment paid”.  Jesus intercedes for us continually before the Father, taking the penalty of our sin upon Himself and presenting us as washed clean in His blood.

“Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns?  Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us.”

– Rom 8.33-34

“Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.”

– Heb 7.25

Jesus has already paid the punishment and appeased the wrath of God for our sins.  When we confess them and lay them at His feet, he covers them in His blood and deems us clean before God.  We will continue to sin, as long as we are in our bodies, and He will continue to wash us clean and empower us to die to that sin throughout the Christian life.

He has also given us community to help and push us on to holiness.  We are commanded to confess our sins to one another, to pray over one another, and to push one another on to holiness:

“Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.”

– James 5.16

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”

– Heb 10.23-25

Repenting is two fold:  turning away from sin and turning to God.  When you are convicted or when you give in to sin, confess it to God and turn away from it in His strength.  He continues to forgive us and sanctify us.  He forgave David for rape and murder.  Salvation was offered to those who murdered Jesus Himself.  There is nothing too great for Him.  Turn to Him, find your peace and comfort in Him, confess your sins to those who will push you on to righteousness, and rely on His mercy and grace.  You will sin, let’s be prepared for how to respond.

Sometimes betrayal is the plan.

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There are few worse experiences in life than being betrayed by someone you trusted and loved.  All amicable relationships inherently hold some level of trust, and for many of us trust is extremely difficult to extend after it has been broken.  This tendency leaves our Churches and Spiritual circles vulnerable to rapid disintegration.  All it takes is one leader to be caught in any form of deception or sin and the masses flee – because our trust is primarily in a man and not in God.  If two dynamic church members can be pitted against one another for any reason, then the congregation becomes divided and they lose their effectiveness in the kingdom by wasting all of their energy fighting, reasoning, rebuilding internally.

Any breach of trust is a terrible sin.  However, God sovereignly and beautifully orchestrates it to accomplish His will on occasion.  Let us consider what is perhaps the most tragic and also the most purposeful betrayal of all time:  Judas.

During Jesus’ earthly ministry, He chose twelve men to walk with Him daily.  These twelve men were bonded to Jesus as their mentor or “rabbi” who had special insight into Scripture and the ways of God and they would soak up everything He taught.  Jesus intentionally chose each of them and called them by name.  For three years Jesus walked with them, explained Scripture and grace to them, gave them supernatural powers to cast out demons and represent Him in cities and towns, and lived life with them.  They were His friends, they were His comrades, they were His family.

Included in this number was Judas.  He was given the role as the keeper of the money, and was included in every activity that the rest of the disciples did (John 12.6).

Imagine your group of college friends – those ones who were thick as thieves, who did everything together, who stayed up late, went on adventures, talked about the meaning of life and discovered themselves together – after all of those years of trust, fun, experience and interaction turning out to be a participant of a sleeper cell and you “closest friends” were his mark.  You did not simply lose touch after graduation, he actually sought your harm.  This would be a similar level of relationships, except the twelve disciples did everything together – every day – for at least three years.

Judas, however, was the subject of a predestined plan from the beginning.  His betrayal of Jesus was foretold hundreds of years beforehand and was an integral part of the Gospel story (Zech 11.12-13, Ps 41.9).

Jesus also, being God, knew that Judas was the one who would betray Him all along.  Jesus knew, as He called Judas to come and walk with Him, as He empowered him to cast out demons, as He explained prophecy and scripture and as He loved him, that Judas would turn Him over unto death.

“For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who it was that would betray Him.”

– John 6.64

Interestingly, however, we see no evidence of condemnation or premature revelation of Judas’ role.  He was allowed to experience everything that the other eleven experienced and then, at the appropriate time, God allowed “Satan to enter into him” and he betrayed Jesus (John 13.27).

It was God’s plan from the beginning of time to send Jesus as the Savior and redeemer.  It was prophesied in the Garden of Eden and we see the prophecies and promises throughout the whole Old Testament.  In the New Testament, we learn that those who are saved have been written in the book of life since before the world was created, and it is by this book that God allows people into eternal rest at the end of time (Rev 17.8).  Part of the Gospel story was Judas’ betrayal.

“For the Son of Man is to go just as it is written of Him; but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed!  It would have been good for that man if he had not been born.”

– Mark 14.21

Judas was created as a vessel of wrath (Rom 9.22).  He served a very specific role by which God was glorified, the Gospel was written and Jesus made atonement for sin.  It had to happen.  Judas is also responsible for his choice of betraying Jesus, and thus we see that there is a mutual responsibility for the betrayal.  And Jesus said simply, it would have been better for him if he had never been born.  Even after all of those years of walking with Jesus.

Jesus gives us a small insight into the reality of Judas and his situation:

“It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life.  But there are some of you who do not believe.”  For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who it was that would betray Him.  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.”

– John 6.63-65

Judas was welcomed and even empowered with the disciples, but Jesus knew all along that Judas did not believe.  Yes, Judas believed the signs and sought the benefits of being around Jesus just like the crowds who would form for healing, for food, for teaching…but he did not have the belief that led to salvation.  Jesus, after feeding the 5,000, rebuked the crowd because many only believed for the sake of the food that perishes and not for the “food that leads to eternal life” (John 6.26-27), and he lumped Judas into that group.  He knew who had true faith, true belief, and who did not – and consequently who would betray Him.

But Judas had to be a part of the inner circle and group of friends to fulfill his role as inside betrayer.  And in like manner, the faith of the Church will be chastened by the role of inside betrayers and false prophets.  It is devastating indeed when a pastor, a leader, or a mentor falls but we see from the example of Judas that there is always an intentional plan for failure and sin.  Thus we can claim the promise of Rom 8.28 in a new way:  God is indeed working all things together for good for those who love God.  And sometimes that good is learning to never put our faith or hope in a man but only in God.

Studies have been preformed and statistics analyzed about the flow of people in congregations when a pastor leaves a Church and when a pastor falls.  It is a notable and consistent percentage that leaves when a pastor leaves, and a notable consistent percentage that leaves when the new pastor comes.  God certainly can call people to serve and be involved in different churches during interim periods, but we can also expect that many come and go because their belief is only to their own, temporal benefit and not unto salvation.

We also see that Judas fulfilled his role by being a part of the group.  Jesus taught a parable on such a situation.  He stated that for the sake of those who do believe he allows those false believers to remain in the body – at least for a season:

“Jesus presented another parable to them, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field.  But while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went away.  But when the wheat sprouted and bore grain, then the tares became evident also.  The slaves of the landowner came and said to him, “Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?”  And he said to them, “An enemy has done this!”  The slaves said to him, “Do you want us, then, to go and gather them up?”  But he said, “No; for while you are gathering up the tares, you may uproot the wheat with them.  Allow both to grow together until the harvest; and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, ‘First gather up the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them up; but gather the wheat into my barn’.”’”

– Matt 13.24-30

So we see that the uprooting of false believers and false prophets at times may cause more harm than good to the local body of believers.  But we are also sternly warned to keep an eye out for false prophets and false believers and to keep our distance from them (even removing them from the Church), when they are evident (Matt 18, 1 Cor 5, Matt 7.15).

It is also important to remember that there are betrayals and failures that are not rooted in a lack of salvation.  Peter denied Jesus three times within twenty-four hours of Judas’ betrayal, and he went on to be one of the most dynamic leaders in the Church.  How do we tell the difference?  By the response of the guilty party:  repentance.  Peter repented and turned back to Jesus.  Judas knew he was guilty, but instead of repenting he went out and killed himself, he never repented.

God utilizes sin and even betrayal to grow and develop the faith of the Church and of individual believers.  There will be times that the betrayer is a believer, and there will be times that he is not.  It will all develop in us the discipline to keep our eyes and faith in Jesus alone and not in a man.  It will also develop in us humility to remember that we are not above falling ourselves.  It will teach us to forgive when the offender repents and it will teach us to stand firm on truth when the offender does not repent.  It all serves a beautiful purpose to glorify God.  So let us not shy away from the confrontation.  Let us not be surprised when it happens.  Let us press on in the faith and remember that Jesus was betrayed much more deeply than most of us will ever experience, and it was all to the glory of God.

 

When Jesus doesn’t fix it.

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How is your faith?  Is it strong?  Is it weak?  Do you doubt or question often?  Or are you rock solid, like a tree planted by a stream?  If you are a normal human being, chances are that you vacillate in between the two extremes regularly!  When Jesus was walking the Earth, He preformed many miracles.  And when the disciples were amazed at his to speak death over a fig tree, Jesus said to them:

“Truly I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says is going to happen, it will be granted him.”

– Mark 11.23

This is truly a phenomenal statement.  Jesus, as God of the universe, promises that whoever has faith without doubting can literally cast a mountain into the sea.  Have you ever seen that happen?  Such an occurrence has never been documented…  When Jesus had sent the disciples out to proclaim His coming, they encountered a demon that they were unable to cast out.  To this, Jesus said,

“And He said to them, ‘Because of the littleness of your faith; for truly I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, “Move from here to there,” and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you’.”

– Matt 17.20

Jesus rebuked the disciples for having to little faith to cast out a demon.  They had enough faith to try, but the demon itself was more powerful than their faith.  Jesus’ answer was that even the smallest amount of faith – the size of  a mustard seed – would not only cast out demons but move entire mountains.  Exorcisms have been documented and noted around the world, but again – no mountains relocating.

This teaching of Jesus has been greatly distorted and abused.  There is no an entire sect of Christianity that essentially worships faith and chastises people for their situations – declaring it to be a result of nothing other than their lack of faith.  Are you sick?  You have too little faith.  Did you lose your job?  You do not believe enough!  Is your child straying form the Church?  You have to believe it for it to be fixed!

This teaching is not only dangerous, but heretical.  Why?  Firstly, because it idolizes faith and not the object of the faith.  Instead of pointing people to Scripture to claim the actual promises of God like Rom 8.28 – “All things work together for good for those who love God” – it points to the individual’s heart.  If you are in crisis, the onus is on you to muster up faith bigger than a mustard seed so that it will be made right.  Faith in what?  Faith that it will be fixed, of course!  Instead of glorifying God, instead of teaching people to depend on God, this worldview focuses on the individual, the problem, and neatly forces people into a corner.  You have no one to blame but yourself for your situation, and the only hope you have to is press in harder and force faith.  Bland, pointless, self-gratifying faith.

Secondly, this teaching is heretical because it is simply not the intention of Jesus.  When we take this teaching to its logical end, it necessarily fall apart.  Why?  Because everyone is going to die.  Scripture promises that not only will we all die, we will all subsequently stand judgment:

“And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment…”

– Heb 9.27

Everyone is going to die, regardless of the amount of faith that we have.  Even if your life is posh, comfortable and without major crisis, you are going to die and then be judged for your actions while you were alive.  No amount of faith can alter this destiny because it is ordained by God as the result of sin.

What does this one single truth consequently teach us?  Blind faith and object-less faith is meaningless.  You might truly believe that you can fly.  But if you jump out of an airplane without a parachute, you will not fly.  You might concoct a suit that allows you to soar or float, but you do not have the innate ability to fly within your body.  You might truly believe and have faith that your bank account will suddenly be multiplied to millions of dollars overnight.  But unless you work hard, win the lottery or somehow have the money added to your name, your faith alone in a bigger bank account will not generate that money.

But more importantly, it is not “faith alone” that saves us.  Our souls are not saved simply because we have faith.  Scripture says,

“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

– Eph 2.8-9

It is by faith alone that we are saved.  What is the difference?  We are saved by faith in something, and that something is the grace of God.  We cannot will our salvation by believing that we are good enough, that we have done enough, that we are simply OK.  Our faith must be in the promise and provision of God alone.

And do you know what else?  God never promises to heal all of our pains or satisfy all of our desires.  In fact, eleven of the twelve disciples were killed for their faith.  The early Church was scattered by the Roman Emperors persecuting and murdering them.  Christians throughout all generations have suffered great and terrible persecution, had their land plundered, their families killed and jobs lost.

I wrote earlier this week on Jesus’ miracle at the pool of Bethesda.  You can read that here.   When Jesus approached the pool of Bethesda, there was a multitude – a huge crowd – of people who were sick, paralyzed, physically handicapped and waiting for a miracle.  Jesus went in and chose to heal one man.  Just one, out of a huge crowd.  He healed that man and then slipped out so no one saw Him.

Why?

Did Jesus not come to heal everyone?  We do see in some stories that Jesus occasionally invested much time to heal everyone who was around (Matt 4.23, 9.35), however that is not why Jesus came to the Earth the first time.  He declared that His purpose was to “seek and to save that which was lost” (Matt 18.10).  If you survey every time Jesus declared His purpose in coming, without fail He references salvation and/or dealing with sin.  He did not come to end suffering or bring about the New Earth.  He did not come to take everyone to Heaven, and when people believe in Him He leaves them on the Earth to continue to tell other people and does not sweep them away to Heaven.  Why?  Because He is giving us time to get to know Him and to tell others about Him.  While we suffer.  While we struggle.  While we are persecuted.  While things go badly.

He will come to take away suffering!  He is coming back, and when He comes the second time, it will be to free us from disease, sin, sickness, and pain.  But that was not His intention in His first appearance, and it is not His intention for us now.  Our faith in God is unto salvation, not unto pleasure or health.  This is why Paul consistently talks about his personal suffering and why he encourages the early church as they persevere through tribulations and trials.

Thus we cannot simply have blind faith in a mountain moving, or a sickness being healed, or a physical need being met.  Jesus promises acts of God when we have faith in God, and faith that aligns with His will.  We cannot have faith in God that we will be healed if the sickness we currently have is that sickness which will lead unto our death – because God has appointed a time for each of us to die.  We cannot thwart His will or decree by believing the opposite.  What we believe must be grounded in the promises of Scripture and consequently the will of God.  Jesus left many people unhealed, hungry and desolate.  Why?  Because His purpose was to bring salvation, not comfort.  Therefore if we believe that God will do mighty works to bring about salvation and Spiritual growth, then and only then are we guaranteed the mighty works of God.  Faith the size of a mustard seed in the promises and provision of God will save our souls eternally and move unimaginable mountains for the furthering of the Gospel.

So let us believe great things from God.  Let us attempt great things for God.  Let us continually allow God to grow, mold and strengthen our faith.  But let us remember that God’s primary concern in our faith is not our health, not our success, not our happines, but our holiness.  That one man Jesus healed at the pool of Bethesda was sternly warned by Jesus,

“Behold, you have become well; do not sin anymore, so that nothing worse happens to you.”

– John 5.14

Jesus did heal him physically – and He will heal us physically, most times, but He was primarily concerned about the man’s holiness.  This man had been paralyzed for 38 years, and Jesus warned him that if he continued sinning something worse would become of him, namely, eternal damnation.

So know the promises of God.  Claim the promises of God.  Enjoy Him and trust Him for eternal salvation.  And trust Him through the trials which He is currently allowing in your life which you do not particularly enjoy.  Because He is working those things together for your good and for His glory (Rom 8.28).

Morality Vs. Salvation

morality

Is Christianity just fancy moralism?  So many Christians today are known for what they do not do and what they oppose.  We don’t drink, we don’t party, we don’t wear skimpy clothes, etc.  And the most holy amongst us are known more for what we do do instead of what we do not do:  we go to church, we give money (or little bags with snacks and a Bible) to the homeless, we volunteer, etc.  Is that the foundation of Christianity?  Did Jesus die on the cross so that we can clean up our lives and feel better about ourselves?

Moralism is as old as creation. The very first people, Adam and Eve, had two sons – Cain and Abel.  Abel loved God and offered sacrifices from love and Cain was jealous because he wanted God to accept his sacrifices, and instead of getting his heart right he murdered his Abel.  As soon as God handed down the Law of His expectations, there were people who set out to keep it in their own strength for their own glory.  God has been exceedingly clear about His expectations of humanity:  both on the heart level and on the outward – or pragmatic level, and human pride has always lent some to the effort of self-approval through keeping the law.  Morality.

It is also true that the Old Testament is centered on the Mosaic Law of God, and the New Testament is full of commandments for Christians saved by grace.  There is no doubt throughout the entirety of Scripture that man’s problem is sin – we are all condemned to death and eternity in Hell because of our sin and when we come to God for salvation through Jesus Christ, we are still commanded and expected to stop sinning (Rom 6.23, Gal 5).

The end goal, however, is not moralism.  God is not primarily concerned with our actions, He is primarily concerned with our hearts.  This has been true since the beginning.  When Cain killed Abel and interacted with God, God was not primarily concerned about his actions of offering a poor sacrifice and killing Abel, He was concerned about his heart:

“Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen?  If you do well, [will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.”

– Gen 4.6-7

When God gave the Law to Moses for the Hebrew people to observe, the first and primary commandment was to Love God with everything and to not worship other gods or idols.  The first three of the ten commandments, in fact, deal specifically with this command.  He sums up the whole Law thus:

“Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one!  You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”

– Deut 6.4-5

And the summary of the entire Bible proclaiming the truths about the end times lists those sinners who will be condemned to Hell, even in light of salvation by grace alone through faith alone:

“But for the cowardly and [unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”

– Rev 21.8

This, of course, is not an exhaustive list, but we have similar lists throughout all of the New Testament which exhort Christians to stop sinning.

Compounding the issue of moralism is the prevalence self-acceptance and self-realization in western thinking.  Philosophy has lent us to believe that there are no true absolutes, that we all have autonomy to determine our own paths, and that there is truly no right and wrong.  Lying is acceptable in certain situations, murder in others, deceit against immoral persons or governments and even theft to care for the less fortunate.  No longer are there black and whites, but everything is a shade of grey and we are left to determine our own way.

Moralism, fundamentally, is looking to an outward standard and attempting to attain that standard in our own strength and power.  It can be based on aversion (avoiding certain activities) or action (preforming certain activities).  Either way, it is a person proving his righteousness by his actions.  Self-realization, fundamentally, is looking inward to realize who one is at the core and development of a life system based on one’s own valuation of right and wrong.

Salvation, however, is neither of these.  The Law was given to us to show that we can never keep God’s law perfectly and therefore never be moral or good enough to earn His favor.  Paul teaches us, in fact, that the entire point of the Law is to reveal our sinfulness and therefore the frivolity of trying to keep it in our own strength:

“What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be! On the contrary, I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, “You shall not covet.”  But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind; for apart from the Law sin is dead.”

– Rom 7.7-8

Scripture also teaches us that the heart is deceitful above all else, that we are Spiritually dead apart from Jesus, that there is none righteous and none who seeks after God in his own strength and that we are all fundamentally wicked (Jer 17.9, Eph 2.1, Rom 3.10-12).  Therefore, self-realization and determining our own truth leads us only down the wide path of destruction (Matt 7.13-14).

What does all of this mean?  Simply put, it means that we – in and of ourselves – are neither capable of being good enough nor able to prove ourselves by our logic and making peace with our decisions.  We need a savior.

Thankfully, salvation is the answer.  Salvation is that work of God whereby we are Spiritually awakened, we are changed at the core level and transformed into new beings.

“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.”

– 2 Cor 5.17

Once we have been Spiritually awakened and empowered by the Holy Spirit indwelling us, the Spirit begins changing us such that we keep the commandments of God because we love Him and want to please Him, rather than trying to prove ourselves or simply be good people.  We are no longer students, sitting in class learning a lesson and proving ourselves on a test, we are now children who love our father and long to please him by obeying what he says to do.  We do not fear a bad grade, we fear disappointing our father.

This reality teaches us that morality is not our internal realization – God has established a perfect standard and He expects us to obey, but He enables us and drives us to obey it by transforming our hearts to be willing to submit to His leadership and direction.  We are therefore compelled by the Spirit within us to please God, not driven by our need of approval or self-validation.

It is by this reality only that we are given commands.  And Paul clarifies for us beautifully that the works of the flesh are sinful, but our obedience is purely the works or “fruit” of the Spirit living in us:

“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.  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 5.19-23

People who practice the sinful deeds will not inherit the kingdom – because they are sinful and sin deserves damnation.  But we will only truly discontinue these sins and live in righteousness when we have been transformed at a heart level and given Spiritual life, and thus the Holy Spirit can live through us and exemplify all of those righteous attributes.

So what does this mean practically?  How do I get Spiritual life and live by the Spirit?  How do I stop trying to prove myself and live in freedom, aiming to please my Father?

Jesus teaches us that our Spiritual and eternal life begins at the moment we are born Spiritually (John 3).  When we hear the Gospel and long to be made right with God, we confess our sins, begin the process of repentance and are given the Holy Spirit.  If you have had a longing to be made right with God, have confessed your sins and are experiencing the conviction of the Holy Spirit in your life, then you have Spiritual life!  The Holy Spirit is alive within you.  It is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict us of sin and righteousness (John 16.8).  Therefore, as we are reading the Scripture, understanding God’s hearts and desires, the Holy Spirit will convict us of sin in our lives and push us on to change.  We will know at a heart level that God is displeased with our laziness, with our lying, with our selfishness and with our pride.  He will then, through promises in Scripture, enable us to change.

This will be a lifelong process.  As long as we are in our human bodies, our sinful nature and our flesh will wage war against the Spirit.  Sin is pleasurable and desirable, and we will give in to it.  But the Spirit will convict us of it and the love that we have for God will drive us long for change and obey.

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

– Gal 5.17

We will fight sin on the heart level, on the actions level, and we will need tools to help us along the way.  Replacement tactics work very well:  when we are tempted to sin, we purposefully turn to God instead.  When we are tempted to look at pornography, we stop and pray or call a trusted friend to chat.  When we are tempted to go out drinking or partying, we call our Christian friends and gather together for wholesome entertainment.  When we are tempted to have an affair or fool around with a girlfriend before marriage, we turn to our spouse or go out on group dates to hold us accountable.

We can also utilize fighter verses when the sin is mental or emotional.  Are you fighting fear?  We can claim the promises of God that we have nothing to fear – even if we should die we would be in the presence of God and the troubles of this world will be over!  Are you fighting depression?  We can claim the promises of God that we are His beloved children and He has given everything so that we can be saved.  Are you fighting doubt?  We can claim the promises of faith, provision, or whatever specific doubt we might have.  Thus it is important to be in the Scripture daily and to have accountability in wise friends and mentors who can push us on in these truths and disciplines.

God is ultimately concerned about our hearts and the drive to please Him because of our Spiritual transformation.  Our morality is worthless because we can never be good enough.  Our self-realization is also worthless, because apart from Him we are Spiritually dead.  God Himself will give us Spiritual life and when He transforms us from the inside out, we will be driven by a love for Him to please Him by obeying Him.  We cannot obey Him, however, if we do not know the Scriptures and understands what He wants from His children!  So let’s get busy about loving and knowing God.  Let’s be transformed and work on pleasing our father, not trying to earn His approval.

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

– John 14.23

If you can be talked into it, you can be talked out of it.

convince

Salvation is a mystery.  Pretty much everyone would admit that the story of Jesus, being fully God and fully man, living a perfect life and dying to save the world, then raising from the dead and returning to Heaven sounds pretty fantastical.  Like a fairy tale.  Absurd perhaps?  C.S. Lewis called it the “true myth”, because of its moral affect on our lives like myths – however having the glorious aspect of being true.  Almost too good to be true.  Most people at some point in their Spiritual journey will doubt the faith – either in light of life circumstances or because the story just sounds too story-like.

In spite of the mystical nature of the Gospel story, the historical reliability of the Bible has been proven throughout the ages.  Nothing in Scripture has ever been disproven, and continued research such as archaeological digs and finds have regularly confirmed facts about the Bible that were doubted as truth beforehand.  Thus we have disciplines like apologetics – studying logic and fact to systematically answer questions of those who would doubt the reliability of Scripture and the truth of the Gospel.

Apologetics are extremely helpful.  They can offer logical explanations to normal doubts, they can silence critics, and then can explain truths that are interwoven.  Logic, fact and reasoning, however, are not enough to lead someone to salvation.  The simple fact is,

Anything you can be talked into, you can be talked out of.

We might bow up at the idea, thinking our scientific fact and experience will never change our perception of reality.  But philosophy, our interest in the unexplained supernatural world and experience have taught us that even those things we believed unalterable at times are disproven, i.e. the world is not flat, the smallest particle is not the atom, and the sun does not rotate around the world.

So what is it, then, that sets Christianity and salvation apart?  Is the evangelist not trying to convince people that we are all sinful, we all are condemned to Hell, but we can be saved by the grace of Jesus?

Yes.  And no.  The evangelist (all Christians) do in fact believe all of those things and [should] set out to proclaim the Gospel to all people and make disciples.  Jesus has commanded us to make disciples of all nations (Matt 128.18-20), Paul shows us by example the proclamation of the Gospel and tells us to share at all times (2 Tim 4.2), and Peter tells us to be ready in every  circumstance to talk about and explain our faith (1 Peter 3.15).  However, while we are proclaiming the Gospel to every person we meet, we recognize the fact that God alone causes growth.  He softens hearts, he awakens the dead, He gives “New Birth”.

Salvation happens fundamentally when we are born Spiritually.  Before we meet Jesus, before we recognize our sin and confess it and repent from it, we are Spiritually dead (Eph 2.1).  We, as Christians, cannot look at a dead person and tell them to come to life – try though we might.  We, as Christians, cannot breathe life into a skeleton.  We, as Christians, cannot change the nature of a being.  Spiritually dead people are physically alive, but have no Spiritual life.  Thus, Jesus teaches us that in order to be saved we must be born again (John 3):  the first birth is physical and the second birth is Spiritual.

We have no say in our birth.  It just happens.

Before we meet Jesus, and before we are born again, we are enemies of God and we hate the things of God (Rom 8.7, James 4.4).  We, as Christians, cannot convince God’s enemies to love Him.  We, as Christians, cannot convince God’s enemies to submit to Him.  We, as Christians, cannot convince God’s enemies to turn to Him.  There are none righteous, there are none who seek after God, and there are none who will turn to Him unless God breathes Spiritual life into them and transforms the desires of their hearts (Rom 3.10-12).

In order to be born Spiritually, however, we must hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  God has decided to utilize Christians in His plan to bring salvation and new life to the world.  He does not need us, but has decided to allow us the blessing and honor of serving Him.  Thus He commands us to share, and through that obedience He gives the gift of faith:

“So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.”

 – Rom 10.17

“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, [faith] is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

 – Eph 2.8-9

God gods us the gift of faith after we hear the Gospel.  We get to play a beautiful part in the salvation experience, but we neither affect someone else nor ourselves.  Thus Paul clearly says,

“I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth.  So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth.”

 – 1 Cor 3.6-7

It has been said that our role as Christians and evangelists and even apologists is to get out there and find the Corneliuses.  Cornelius was the first non-Jew that God started drawing and had Peter lead to faith.  Cornelius was a Roman who had taken on many of the Jewish teachings, and God was stirring in his heart such that he was giving alms (money) to the Jews and prayed to the Jewish God.  He was not yet saved, however, because he had not heard the Gospel – so God revealed his intention to save Cornelius and his family to both Cornelius and Peter.  Thus Peter went with Cornelius’ servants to meet him, he preached the Gospel to the entire household, and they all believed (Acts 10).

God does not always tell us who He is planning on saving, or in whom He is already working, so we must obey His command to preach the Gospel boldly and at all times, and trust Him for the Spiritual birth, transformation and growth.  We go out and look for those people in whom God is working, and we do that by sharing with everyone.

This should give us the highest of hopes.  No matter how good of an apologist we are, not matter how good a preacher, friend, evangelist, or debater, the results are ultimately no in our hands.  If the results were in our hands, a better friend, debater, or speaker would be able to talk that person right out of the faith.  Because there will always be someone smarter, someone more clever, or facts (or theories) twisted in such a way as to change someone’s mind.  But God transforms us from the very nature of our being, and once we have been born Spiritually, we cannot be UNborn.  The growth, the fruit, the results are all in God’s sovereign hand, and of those He has chosen and given birth, He will loose none.

“This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day.”

 – John 6.39

Therefore, we have no reason to fear.  God will keep secure those to whom He has given life.  If you are alive Spiritually, you cannot die Spiritually.  And when we share the Gospel with our friends, our neighbors, our coworkers or whomever, it is not our responsibility to save them and cause growth – it is only our responsibility to share and follow up with discipleship after God brings new life!