When God is Silent

when God is silent

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

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

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

– 1 Thess 4.3

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

– 1 Peter 1.6-7

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

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

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

– Ps 83.1-2

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

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

– Ps 44.23-24

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

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

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

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

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

Spiritual Ambulance Chasers

ambulance

It has been said by some that our salvation experiences are the result of a crisis.  Some even say [heretically] that there are two crises required to achieve a higher, second experience with God.  What does that mean, however?  If by crisis we mean a turning point, then yes.  Absolutely.  Our salvation is the moment of Spiritual birth, when we begin walking in obedience to the Lord and abiding in the Holy Spirit.  A major change happens the moment that we are saved.

If, however, by crisis we mean that something major or tragic must happen in order to turn us to God, then I fear we gravely misunderstand salvation, God and the nature of man, and we turn well meaning evangelists into Spiritual ambulance chasers.

Jesus is not a Spiritual band-aid or medicine to fix our problems.

When Jesus came to the Earth and began His ministry, He met the people’s physical needs.  In fact, we are told regularly that He healed all who came to Him (Matt 4.24).  He gave sight to blind people, He healed sick people and He even raised people from the dead.  He was concerned about people’s situational maladies.  He also preached to the crowds who came to Him for healing!  And while He promised to meet all of our needs to the end of our Spiritual maturity and God’s glory, He never promised that the Christian life would be easy, or would relieve us from worldly suffering.  Quite the opposite, in fact.  He promised that in the same way people hated Him, they will hate us (John 15.18-20), and we should consider ourselves blessed when we are persecuted for His name’s sake (Matt 5.12).  Jesus never intended to remove believers from the world, but to empower them to live righteously in  the world:

“I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one.”

 – John 17.15

Jesus is also not a supplement, He demands our entire life.  If we wish to find our lives in Him, we must lose them to ourselves (Matt 16.25).  He is not a Spiritual genie that we call upon when the going gets tough, He is our Lord, our boss, our authority as we wade through the trials and temptations of this life.  Life will get more complicated and hairy for those who turn their lives to Jesus, not easier.

“Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.  For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household.”

 – Matt 10.34-36

Mankind is Spiritually dead apart from Jesus.

People regularly say that “there is a God-sized hole in each of us”, and that “we are all searching for something”.  Now, considering the fact that God is infinite and everywhere, to have a void of that size would mean we are, in fact, infinite black holes.  If we understood the magnitude of God we would never make such a claim.  We are not beings which God must complete, we are nothing which God must create.  We are Spiritually dead, needing God’s life-breath.

“And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.”

 – Eph 2.1-2

Nothing can help dead people.  Only a supernatural miracle can give life to the dust.  Salvation is not Jesus coming in and healing a disease, or filling in a hole, salvation is Jesus giving us life, breathing air into dry, dead bones.  Making something out of nothing.  He takes our hearts of stone away and gives us a heart of flesh, completely making us new, Spiritual, God-inclined creatures:

“Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.”

 – Ez 36.26

Such a worldview implies that we are fundamentally good and we just need a boost to get us through this crisis and into eternity.  It implies that we are all on a Spiritual journey and we just need direction, we are searching for the light and Jesus is that light.  We are doing it.  However Scripture teaches us that not only are we Spiritually dead, there are none who seek after God, there are none who are righteous, and we are all naturally born enemies of God.

“There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God; all have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one.”

 – Rom 3.10-12

“For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.”

 – Rom 5.10

Spiritual Ambulance Chasers

People have observed that it is often in a moment of crisis that people come to faith.  A child is terminally ill and the parents are desperate to find an answer and a cure.  A man has lost his job and is unable to provide for his wife and family.  A woman is so overwhelmed by depression that she cannot even get herself out of bed in the mornings.  These weak and hurting people are prime for the picking, because they need an answer.

Unfortunately, it is often the reality that this type of conversion is not genuine.  Why?  Because us ambulance chasers are looking for the quick fix.  We promise that God has the answer – a perfect plan for their lives – and once the crisis is over, there is no longer a need for God.  Sure, they might continue to go to Church, they might fix up their behavior so they can call out on God during the next crisis, but they have not understood the promise of salvation.

If we are all born without Spiritual life, if we are all separated from God, and if we all deserve an eternity of damnation because of our sin (Rom 3.23, 6.23,) then our greatest need is not someone to walk us through trials:  heal a sick child, provide a job, or cure depression.  Our greatest need is a savior who can intervene and change the entire course of our lives.  We need Spiritual life.  And when we find Spiritual life, we find our joy and pleasure in Jesus Christ.

Yes, when we are walking with and abiding in Jesus Christ, He will give us the wisdom and strength to walk through unimaginable trials, but if all we want out of Jesus is to get through trials, then we are not saved.  Do you want Jesus?  Or do you just want His benefits and help?

The irony of being a Spiritual ambulance chaser is that we have come to believe that people need to be searching for help because of a trial in order to come to faith.  But then, when we encounter someone walking through great difficulty, we are afraid to tell them about Jesus because we might sound insensitive, or we think that they may be hurting too badly.  This is an ingenious tactic of the enemy to keep us silent.

There are no Biblical examples of people being called to salvation in the midst of or because of a great tragedy in their lives.  Yes, countless people came to Jesus for help, but they turned on Him continually throughout His ministry.  They received help and got through their tragedy, but then could not handle the requirement of His calling.  All of the apostles were busy about their jobs and Jesus simply called them.  Paul was zealously persecuting the Church and Jesus knocked him off his feet.  Literally.  Peter was sent to Cornelius – the first non-Jewish believer – because the Holy Spirit was already working in His life and He was ready to hear the Truth of the Gospel.  God calls people when He is ready.  God breathes Spiritual life into dead bones at His perfect timing.  We cannot generate or predict a conversion based on someone’s life circumstances.

So what?  What does this all mean?  Jesus promised us that the harvest is plentiful.  There are many people out there in whom He is already working (like Cornelius), and they need only to hear the Gospel.  Some of them might be in the midst of suffering.  Most of them are simply going about their daily lives like the apostles were.  And there may even be some who are out trying to kill us – like Paul.  Our fundamental need, and their fundamental need is not a crutch to get through life, it is a savior to redeem us from our sins.  Salvation has to start with a recognition of our sins.  The wrath of God is and will be poured out from Heaven against all ungodliness and sin, and if we have not settled our repentance with God, we have no hope.

We must make sure that our Spirituality is not crisis-based, that we do not only turn to God in our moment of need, and that we do not only desire God’s benefits, but that we desire God.  When we preach the Gospel, we must make sure that we do not promise God’s benefits without explaining God’s expectations.  We must explain new, Spiritual life – not just an answer to a felt need.

And the beauty of all of this is that it is only our responsibility to share.  God breathes the life.  God causes the growth.  If you have shared the true Gospel, then you have done your part!  And we can leave the rest up to God.  If the hearer rejects this salvation, they are rejecting God and not us!

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

 – 1 Cor 3.7

How long would you wait?

waiting

There once was a man named Abram.  God hand picked him out of a bunch of nobodies when he was seventy five years old, and told him to set out away from family on a journey without a plan and destination and promised to show him the way and bless him with children, a lot of land, a great reputation and Spiritual protection.  Abram semi-obeyed and took his nephew Lot along for the ride.  As both Abram and Lot grew in wealth and numbers, they got to the point that the land could not sustain them both, thus they parted ways.  After Lot left, God revisited Abram and renewed His promise of blessing and revealed the land which would belong to Abram and his descendants.

Ten years into their journey, Abram and his wife Sarai still had no children.  God had promised a few times that they would have a natural-born child, but with Abram now at 85 years and Sarai at 75, they decided to take matters into their own hands.  Sarai gave her maid to Abram as a wife, to have a child.  It sounded like a good idea up front, but once the child was conceived, Sarai was bitter and treated her maid harshly.  The child was born and received a blessing from God, but was still not the child God had promised.

Fourteen years later, God again appeared to Abram and promised once again a child, this time stating that the baby would be born one year from the appearance.  Both Abram and Sarai laughed when they heard the promise, as Abram was now ninety-nine and Sarai eight-nine.  They were beyond child-bearing years and had clearly given up on trusting the promise of God.

However, by the power of Almighty God, the child was born the following year.  Twenty-five years after the promise was initially given.

Twenty five years.

What is the longest you have waited for something?  How quickly does your patience wear out?  Do you ever try to take matters into your own hands?

This story of Abram and Sarai is helpful in many ways.  Firstly, it reminds us that the onus is squarely on God to make His plans come to fruition.  If He said it, He will do it.  He does not always tell us His time frame or big picture plan in how all of the pieces will work out, but He is good to His word.  We can trust Him.

Secondly, God chose Abram because of His own pleasure, not because of anything Abram had done.  Not only this, but God was faithful to His promise even when Abram and Sarai tried to fulfill the promise their own way.

Thirdly, Abram believed God every time they spoke.  In fact, it is noted that Abram’s righteousness was because of the fact that he believed God:

“Then he believed in the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.”

– Gen 15.6

Abram was righteous because of his faith.  He was counted righteous for having faith, even though he started out his journey in disobedience – taking his nephew with his family along (Gen 12.4).  He was counted righteous for having faith, even though he and his wife gave up on the promise.  He was counted righteous for having faith, even though they tried to fulfill the promise themselves (Gen 16).  He was counted righteous for having faith, even though He blamed God for having no children (Gen 15.2-3) and He laughed at God (Gen 17.17).

Have you ever grown weary in the waiting?  Have you ever doubted God’s promise?  Tried to fulfill it by your own efforts?  Grown so cynical that you laughed at the promise?  Or blamed God for your circumstances?  It is indeed sin to disrespect the God of the universe in these ways.  But praise God that it does not disqualify us from receiving the promises He has made.  His glory and honor exist completely outside of our actions, and He will bring us to faith and righteousness by His timing and plan.

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

– Phil 2.13

If you are in a season of waiting, if you are looking forward to the promises God has given us through the Scripture, then let us renew again our hearts.  Let us not despair for our failings of Spirit along the way, God will forgive us if we confess those sins, and our righteousness is not lost as long as we return to faith.  Sometimes things seem slow in their fulfillment to our eyes, but God is using that time for His purpose and His glory.  Let us remain in Him, let us trust Him, let us persevere by the strength He provides, and the day of fulfillment will be all the more sweeter for the wait.  Even if it is twenty five years.

God wants what is best for His children.

perseverance

Are you a Christian?  Have you confessed your sins and repented of them, and asked God’s forgiveness by the power of the blood of Jesus Christ?  If you have been saved, then you can rest confidently that God wants what is best for you.  God wants what is best for you even more than you want what is best for you.  The thing that we must learn – sometimes painfully – is that often times we do not know what is best for us.  Thankfully, God does.

Scripture teaches us the primary desire of God for our lives, His will for our lives:

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

– 1 Thess 4.3

Sanctification is a big, theological and heady word which is not typically on the forefront of our minds when we consider our life choices and decision making.  Sanctification is the ongoing process of salvation by which we are being made more like Jesus and less like the world.  It is getting to know God more fully, and in response putting to death the deeds of the flesh.  It is becoming Heaven-minded and not worldly minded.  It is our Spiritual maturation process.  So, in short, it is God’s will that we mature and grow Spiritually.  Paul explains what sanctification looks like for the Church at Thessalonica and for us, at least in part:

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

– 1 Thess 4.3-7

The Thessalonians needed instruction and discipline in their sexuality and relationship with one another.  Throughout Scripture we see more exhaustive lists of the sins and deeds that God hates, i.e. Gal 5.19-20.  But Paul summarizes His teaching simply, “God has not called us for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification”.  This is God’s will for us.  And if we have begun the walk of the Christian life, if we have recognized and begun to confess our sins, then we also should be growing in our hatred for and conviction of sin and desiring to become more like Christ.  Our will should also be our sanctification.

That is the best for us.

We also can claim the promise of Scripture that if we have begun that walk with the Lord, He will complete it in us:

“For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.”

– Phil 1.6

When we come to God for salvation through Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit takes up residence within our lives and begins the process of Sanctification from within.  We then get to practice dying to the flesh and letting Him live through us.  He is at work within us, and He will complete the work of sanctification.

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

– Phil 2.13

So if we know that Scripture teaches us clearly that God’s will is for our sanctification, for us to become more like Jesus, and that He promises to complete that work in our lives, we can know fully that all things will work out for our best:

“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

Our best, however, is rarely what we desire in our hearts.  Consider the things you long for, work for, and pray for.  Do you desire a nice house?  A new car?  Nice clothes?  Fancy food?  Do you desire to have a consistent life that is not interrupted?  A schedule that makes sense and allows for the right amount of sleep, exercise and socializing?  Do you pray for good health?  For people around you to live forever?  For your children to be perfectly behaved?  Do you pray for those things that are making you uncomfortable to be taken away?

These things are not bad in and of themselves.  Jesus, in fact, promises rest and peace to those who come to Him (Matt 11.28-29).  He desires to give us peace and rest.  But have you ever reflected on a season of peace and rest and said, “I grew so much during that time”, or “My faith is at a place it has never been before”.  No, you have not.  And do you know why?  Because God knows that our faith only grows and is refined through testing – through the fire.

“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.  And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

– James 1.2-4

“Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God.  And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”

– Rom 5.1-5

We grow in sanctification, we mature, and we develop perseverance, character and hope through suffering and trials.  It is after a season of tremendous difficulty and suffering that believers look back and are amazed at the faithfulness of God and the development of their faith.  Faith is not developed by comfortable lives, it is developed by relying on God through the storm.

Think about it this way:  If sanctification is becoming more like Jesus, should we not expect to live the kind of life that Jesus did?  Jesus had no house, no earthly possessions and treasures.  He lived a life fully devoted to God, and He suffered hatred, persecution and death on a cross because of it.  Jesus Himself said,

“Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also.”

– John 15.20

Non believers hated and persecuted Jesus.  If we are becoming more like Jesus, non believers will hate and persecute us as well.  We also know that Jesus, in His greatest hour of suffering, asked God to take away the suffering, but God did not:

“Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.”

– Luke 22.42

Have you ever been in the midst of suffering and begged God to take it from you?  And He chose not to?  What was the result?  Did you ultimately grow and mature in your faith?  Or did you become embittered and resent God for the trial?  If you are a servant of Jesus, you can expect great suffering.  And you can expect that God will bring about your sanctification – your best – through it.

For four years I lived a life that many thought was one that required great faith.  I loved the opportunity to serve, and relished every moment of it.  It was indeed a life the required much sacrifice and conviction, but because of the desires God had placed in my heart it required minimal faith in the sense of perseverance through trial and testing.  Then God rocked my world and completely changed my life’s trajectory.  I then was forced to live a life that few would consider a life that requires much faith, but for me – because of those convictions and desires I have – it requires a daily submission and new step of faith.  And I can honestly look back on the last three years and see immensely more faith, trust and hope developed than in the four years before.

God is testing my faith.  And I am thankful that I can see growth through it.  I am also thankful that I know it means He is working in me, for my best, and for my sanctification.

We naturally want what is easiest and what feels the best.  But God has promised to develop faith and Spiritual maturity in His children.  And the way He does that is by testing and refining our faith through the fire of tribulation and suffering.  He wants what is best for you more than you want it for yourself, and He knows what is best for you – much more clearly than you know.  Are you in a season of peace and comfort right now?  Or is your faith being refined?  Can you look back over your life and see those seasons of testing and purification?  Or have you lived a relatively comfortable life that required little faith?  Trust God.  Know that He tested Jesus and even asked Jesus to surrender His desires and will.  Know that we, as Jesus’ servants, are not greater than our master and that we will be hated, persecuted, and tested by God.  And if you have not, then I would go back to the foundation and see if you have surrendered your life to God and asked for salvation.

He will work the best out for you.  And it will be through discipline and testing.  Trust Him through it, and you will be amazed at how you grow.

Keep on keeping on.

keep on

“And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: He who is holy, who is true, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, and who shuts and no one opens, says this:  ‘I know your deeds. Behold, I have put before you an open door which no one can shut, because you have a little power, and have kept My word, and have not denied My name.  Behold, I will cause those of the synagogue of Satan, who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie—I will make them come and bow down at your feet, and make them know that I have loved you.  Because you have kept the word of My perseverance, I also will keep you from the hour of testing, that hour which is about to come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth.  I am coming quickly; hold fast what you have, so that no one will take your crown.  He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he will not go out from it anymore; and I will write on him the name of My God, and the name of the city of My God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God, and My new name.  He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches’.”

– Rev 3.7-13

In His address to the seven churches in His revelation to John, there is only one church which Jesus does not chastise and warn of coming judgment – and that is the Church at Philadelphia.  Jesus does not have something “against” them.  He still identifies Himself, and it is still relevant to the exhortation He makes, as in His message to the first five churches.  Jesus is self-declared as “He who is holy, who is true, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, and who shuts and no one opens.”  We know that Jesus is Holy: He is God, He never sinned, and He is set aside with a special role and purpose as Savior.  He is also true:  He created everything, He wrote the moral law, He defines truth and gave us truth by which we can be saved.  He also has the key of David:  this is a bit more obscure, a reference from Isaiah:

“Then I will set the key of the house of David on his shoulder,
When he opens no one will shut,
When he shuts no one will open.”

– Is 22.22

A key, throughout Scripture, represents authority.  We see it in reference to Hades, Hell, and death and also the house of David.  David was the second and arguably the greatest king of Israel, and thus for one to have the key to David’s house would be the key to David’s domain:  Jerusalem and Israel.  He is the fulfillment of the Old Covenant and the ruler over the New Jerusalem and the Earth.  He is sovereign, and thus what He opens no one can shut and what he shuts no one can open.  This is important because we must understand Jesus as the one who controls and guards entrance into eternity – either into eternal rest in the presence of Jesus on the New Earth, or in Hell.

But the Church at Philadelphia has an open door in front of them leading to eternal rest, and Jesus has opened it.  No one can close it.  Why?  Why is Philadelphia set to meet Jesus and the others are not?  Because they have kept Jesus’ word and they have not denied His name.  There are many who claim to follow Jesus, but truly do not.  They have either deceived themselves or they are deceiving others intentionally, and Jesus calls them of the “synagogue of Satan”.  Jesus will humble them before true believers.  He also promises the church to keep them from the hour of testing.  This is a tricky promise, as some have interpreted it to mean that the Church will be kept from the final tribulation.  In light of the full teaching of the New Testament, however, I believe it to mean the hour of judgment.  We will go through two judgments as believers, and the first is the separation of the sheep and goats – the believers and non believers.  At that moment, those who did not repent of their sins and turn to Jesus for salvation will be cast into Hell.

Regardless of your interpretation of that Scripture, the point is simple and true that Jesus will save us.  We know that our deeds will be judged and we will be rewarded according to what we have done while on the Earth, and ultimately Jesus has opened a door into eternity for those who trust Him and obey Him, and He will protect us until we enter through that door.

Jesus them promises to come quickly and exhorts the Church to hold fast to their beliefs and their disciplines.  He paints a beautiful picture of the reward awaiting them, provided they continue in the faith:  they will be forever in the presence of God, they will be branded as His, and rewarded with life in the New Jerusalem.  Why does Jesus put in that small caveat?  Reward and consequence greatly affects everyone’s behavior.  If we had no judicial system and no police, people would be much more quick to do those things that we have forbidden by the law.  Our motivation should not only be the consequence, but we must also be aware of the consequence as we go about our decision making.

This is the Church we should seek to emulate.  It is balanced, they know and love Jesus and they apply that knowledge and love of Him into their daily lives by obedience to Him.  They are functioning well as a Church and they are standing up against the false prophets who would infiltrate them and lead others astray.  And they are fighting the good fight of faith which Jesus promises to reward.  Jesus Himself has no critique.  Let us seek to obey to the point that Jesus has no critique other than, “keep on what you are doing!”

On Church Leaders and Affairs, Part II

judas

Yesterday I reflected on the reality that pastors, church leaders and missionaries are human, are elevated to a position of authority and are thus tempted and tested more intensely than lay Christians, and I encouraged Christians to remember that our faith is not in our leaders but in Christ.  I suggested that if someone else’s (anyone else’s) failure or apostasy causes us to doubt or abandon the faith then our faith is in the wrong person.  It is on this point that I want to reflect more deeply today.

What if you happen to be married to the pastor, church leader or missionary who is unfaithful?  Or what if someone in the church hurts you personally and deeply?  How do doubt and faith balance out when it is in our own homes?

First of all, there are two types of people who will fall into these life-altering sins:  those who are saved and will repent, and those who are not saved and will not repent.  Since it is impossible for us to truly see the heart of another human being, sometimes there will be people in the Church who say they are Christians – who may even think they are Christians, but they have never been pushed to the point of true testing and true conviction.  A person can sin – and can sin greatly – when he is a believer, but when He does sin the Holy Spirit will convict him, he will confess his sin, he will repent of it (stop doing it and change), and he will seek the help of the Lord and other believers to help him walk in holiness.  But those who are not truly saved will cherish a sin more than they love God or desire salvation.  When they are pushed to the point of decision to obey God or embrace their sin, they will choose the sin.

There are pastors who have affairs and will repent, will seek the help of accountability partners and friends to root out all temptation from their hearts, who will confess to their spouses and churches and who will grow.  There are also pastors who have affairs and choose the affair, the pornography, the new lifestyle over their faith.  They might appear repentant, they might say the right words – but that is often only because they have been caught.  Usually, however, they choose the sin and throw everything else away.  When the rubber hits the road, they love their sin more than they love God and/or their spouses.

God’s response and our response to these two types is very different.  Consider Peter – one of the greatest evangelists and church planters in history – and Judas – the disciple who was damned for his betrayal.  They both walked with Jesus for three years.  They both preformed miracles in his name.  They both learned from Jesus intimately, and at the end, they both denied Jesus.

Judas:

Then one of the twelve, named Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “What are you willing to give me to betray Him to you?” And they weighed out thirty pieces of silver to him.  From then on he began looking for a good opportunity to betray Jesus.

– Matt 26.14-16

Peter:

Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard, and a servant-girl came to him and said, “You too were with Jesus the Galilean.”  But he denied it before them all, saying, “I do not know what you are talking about.”  When he had gone out to the gateway, another servant-girl saw him and *said to those who were there, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.”  And again he denied it with an oath, “I do not know the man.”  A little later the bystanders came up and said to Peter, “Surely you too are one of them; for even the way you talk gives you away.”  Then he began to curse and swear, “I do not know the man!” And immediately a rooster crowed.

– Matt 26.69-74

Both Judas and Peter regretted what they had done:

Judas:

Then when Judas, who had betrayed Him, saw that He had been condemned, he felt remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” But they said, “What is that to us? See to that yourself!”  And he threw the pieces of silver into the temple sanctuary and departed; and he went away and hanged himself.

– Matt 27.3-5

Peter:

And Peter remembered the word which Jesus had said, “Before a rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.

– Matt 26.75

And lest we pick on these two too critically, let us remember that all of the disciples were scattered and fell away on that night:

Then Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away because of Me this night, for it is written, ‘I WILL STRIKE DOWN THE SHEPHERD, AND THE SHEEP OF THE FLOCK SHALL BE SCATTERED.’

– Matt 26.31

What was the response of God and the result of these two failures?  Judas was damned, and Peter – just a few months later – began the very first Church planting movement.

Judas:

“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.”

– Matt 26.24

Peter:

“I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.”

– Matt 16.18

The Church is commanded to respond in the same way to leaders and non leaders who fall into sin.  If someone is unwilling to repent, Jesus taught us that we should kick them out of the Church and declare them unbelievers (Matt 18.15-18).  If someone is willing to repent, then we restore them gently, understanding that we are all capable of sin – both small and great.

Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.

– Gal 6.1

When it is within your home, if your own spouse cheats on you, Scripture gives very clear instruction.  I have written on this extensively here:  Is Divorce A Sin?  But, can we doubt in those situations?  Doubting is natural and a part of the faith journey.  We will all walk through season of doubt and questioning.  And some of those seasons will be stirred up because of the failure of those people we value and establish in our lives as teachers, guides, friends and spouses.  John the Baptist was, according to Jesus, the greatest man to ever live (Matt 11.11), and when he was facing death at the hands of Herod, he doubted Jesus and sent his disciples to ask Jesus if He was the real deal.  Jesus responded gently, kindly and with compassion:

Jesus answered and said to them, “Go and report to John what you hear and see:  the BLIND RECEIVE SIGHT and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the POOR HAVE THE GOSPEL PREACHED TO THEM.  And blessed is he who does not take offense at Me.”

– Matt 11.4-6

Jesus will meet us in our moments of doubt and struggle when we turn to Him honestly and beg Him to reveal Himself to us.  If we try to test Him out of unbelief, He will not respond, and our wicked hearts will be revealed as unbelieving.  But when those difficult times come, when our spouses cheat on us, when our pastors fall, when someone to whom we looked for Spiritual guidance proves himself to not be a believer, Jesus will comfort us and walk us through it.  Being hurt, struggling to forgive, and doubting are a natural response to being hurt on such a deep level.  But our faith is proven by our response:  do we turn to Jesus, or do we become calloused and jaded?  Do we press into the Word, or do we throw it all away?

Can God use someone who has fallen so greatly?  Absolutely.  The greatest sin is to deny Jesus, and Peter did that three times.  And within months He was leading the first and only movement.  He was the point man, the main preacher.  1 Timothy does give us clear qualifications for church leaders, and they are mostly character assessments.  Can someone who recently had an affair be of good reputation?  That is for your church leadership to decide.  But we do see the example of Peter as God immediately forgiving and restoring Him.  King David took advantage of a married woman, got her pregnant, tried to cover it up, and when he was unable to had her husband murdered and married her.  After all of this, God called him a “man after his own heart”.  One is not forever ruined for sinning.  He must repent, however.  One can be revealed as a nonbeliever for his choice of sin over God.

So while the structures of God for such situations are outlined in Scripture to teach us how to handle them, that does not mean that our emotions and responses will not be confused.  It is a difficult thing to see someone abandon God, their families, and/or the church.  And while God will give grace to forgive, to restore, or to remove such a one from the church, it will be confusing and difficult to understand.  This is why we must turn to God, we must focus on Him, we must cling to Him, and we must put our faith fully and only in Jesus Christ and the cross.

If I had enough faith…

deliverance

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

We all know this direct quote of Jesus.  We hear it and it leads us to doubt our faith.  Why do I not have enough faith?  Do I have enough faith for this or for that?  I used to live next door to two elderly men who were twins, in their late seventies, who were both mute.  I regularly wondered if God were to ask me to pray over them for healing if I would have the faith.  Why have we never seen a physical mountain get up and move?

We do not have enough faith.

At least that’s what some people want us to believe.  There is an extremely dangerous wolf in sheep’s clothing teaching Christians that having enough faith will mean that we can escape hardships.  We will not get sick.  We will not suffer loss.  We will be happy, successful, healthy and confident.  If I am sick, it is because of my lack of faith.  If I do not succeed, it is because I do not have enough faith.  If I suffer persecution, I need more faith.

Interestingly enough, however, the Scripture teaches us that our faith is not the determining factor in the situations in our lives.  Rather, it is the sovereignty of God.  Consider James and Peter:

Now about that time Herod the king laid hands on some who belonged to the church in order to mistreat them.  And he had James the brother of John put to death with a sword.  When he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. Now it was during the days of Unleavened Bread.  When he had seized him, he put him in prison, delivering him to four squads of soldiers to guard him, intending after the Passover to bring him out before the people.  So Peter was kept in the prison, but prayer for him was being made fervently by the church to God.  On the very night when Herod was about to bring him forward, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and guards in front of the door were watching over the prison.  And behold, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared and a light shone in the cell; and he struck Peter’s side and woke him up, saying, “Get up quickly.” And his chains fell off his hands.  And the angel said to him, “Gird yourself and put on your sandals.” And he did so. And he said to him, “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me.”  And he went out and continued to follow, and he did not know that what was being done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision.  When they had passed the first and second guard, they came to the iron gate that leads into the city, which opened for them by itself; and they went out and went along one street, and immediately the angel departed from him.  When Peter came to himself, he said, “Now I know for sure that the Lord has sent forth His angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting.”

– Acts 12.1-11

Herod took James and had his head cut off.  Here, the second martyr for the faith, was arrested, imprisoned and killed.  Seeing that it pleased the Jews, Herod planned to do the same to Peter.  Peter was arrested, imprisoned, and God decided to miraculously intervene and save him.  Did Peter have more faith than James?  The answer is quite simply, no.  God saw fit to allow James to be put to death for the cause of Christ, and He saw fit to save Peter, this time at least.  The angel was not the fulfillment of Peter’s faith, he was the servant of God.

The faith chapter itself gives us some very clear insight into the topic.

And what more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets, who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.  Women received back their dead by resurrection;

– Heb 11.32-35a

This is the kind of faith we like, right? They conquered kingdoms, shut the mouths of lions, escaped the sword and even received the dead back to life.  That is mountain moving, folks.  Right?  Notice here, that verse 35 is only half of the verse.  What is the rest of it?

Women received back their dead by resurrection; and others were tortured, not accepting their release, so that they might obtain a better resurrection; and others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment.  They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground.  And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised, because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they would not be made perfect.

– Heb 11.35-40

Did you know that the prophet Isaiah was sawn in two, while still alive?  And this passage tells us that it was by faith that he was sawn in two.  So how can it be, that in verse 34 some were rescued from the sword by faith and yet in verse 37 some were put to death by the sword?  It is because faith is not the guarantee of an easy life.  Faith does not rescue us from torture or persecution or sickness or difficulty.  Faith is the sustaining force that carries us through the good times and the bad.  God is sovereign over the situation, whatever it is, and faith says, “I trust you God, whatever you decide to do”.

If you are in Christ, if you have faith and salvation, we can rest confidently that nothing that happens in our lives is judgment for sin.

“Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

– Rom 8.1

Jesus bore in His body the punishment for all of our sins.  Now, there may be consequences to our decisions.  There may even be ramifications.  But there is never judgment.  God does discipline us, but He is not punishing us, He is bringing about our sanctification or obedience (Heb 12.6).  When we stray He will set us straight.

And in the same light, His blessings are not directly correlated to our faith.  There may be times that we fail because of a lack of faith, just like the disciples who could not cast out a demon, but God does not bring about our success or happiness by the measure of faith we have.  God is sovereign and faithful in the good times and in the bad.  He uses peace times for His glory and He uses persecution and suffering for His glory.  We need only to trust Him.

God can give you the faith to live well and to die well.  Scripture says that we will all die.  Scripture also says that all who desire to live godly lives will suffer persecution.  There will be times that God delivers us from trials, and there will be times that God takes us through trials.  There may even be times that we die at the hands of those who hate us and who hate God (just like Jesus did), but we can endure it all through faith.

So examine your heart today.  Are you asking for God to release you from your current situation?  Or are you asking for Him to sustain you and allow you to glorify Him through it?  Are you grieving your circumstance and accusing yourself for not having enough faith?  Or are you exemplifying faith by trusting God’s hand in it?  Ask Him for faith today, ask Him to help you glorify Him through your situation, and trust Him.  No matter what, trust Him.