Testing Your Purity

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Purity is a hot topic in youth groups and at men’s retreats.  We often associate purity with the conversation about sexuality.  “How far is too far“, the youth ask, and we set up accountability to stay off pornography and faithful to our wives at men’s retreats.  Sexual purity is indeed an important topic and God cares about it greatly.  It is the only sin, in fact, by which a person sins “against his own body”:

“Flee immorality.  Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body.”

– 1 Cor 6.18

Being free from sexual sin, however, is not the standard by which God measures our purity.  It is only one small facet, in fact, and we do ourselves a great disservice to not consider the full picture.  Paul gives us a much broader consideration:

“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.  But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints; and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks.  For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.”

– Eph 5.1-5

In short, we are commanded to be imitators of God.  We do that by walking in love the same way that Jesus walked in love.  How did Jesus walk in love?  By dying for sinners and giving Himself as a sacrifice to God.  The application of that example is difficult.  How do I love sinners and offer myself fully to God in my daily grind?  Going to work, cooking meals, meeting with friends and colleagues, serving Church or enjoying my hobbies?  Thankfully he boils it down a bit more for us.

“But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints; and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks.”

The word Paul uses for immorality here is the same word he uses elsewhere to refer to premarital sex and fornication (fooling around and/or causing sexual desires to be engaged).  Impurity is the same word that he uses elsewhere to refer to other types of sexual sin like homosexuality (Rom 1.24) and adultery.  So here Paul does draw in sexuality to refer to our overall purity, but he goes much further to bring up greed and also filthiness, silly talk and course jesting.  Do you consider your greed to tainting of your purity?  Because in the next verse Paul lumps the one who utilizes “filthiness, silly talk and course jesting” as impure.  And how often do we consider those innocent jokes (and dirty ones) to be things by which we are disqualified from eternity in Heaven?

“For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.”

Striking, isn’t it?  No silly talk.  But what does Paul say to do or be instead?  We should replace our sexual sin, our greed and our joking around with thanksgiving.  Say what?  It seems pretty natural to recognize the opposite of greed as thankfulness for what we already have, but sexual sin and flippancy?  Consider this:  sexual sin is lust at the core – longing for something that we should not have sexually.  Sexual drive for our spouse is God-given and good, but to lust after someone to whom we are not married or to partake in perverse or forbidden sexual acts is to give in to ungodly desires that replace God on the throne.  So yes, if we are thankful for our spouse and partake in Godly sexuality then we are pure.  If we are unmarried and are thankful for our sexual drive and pursue purity in chastity then we are pure.  So thankfulness is the appropriate replacement.

Silly talk, jesting and filthiness are also removing God from His throne and placing worldly entertainment (either overtly wicked or not) above God.  It is a form of idolatry, a form of self-pleasure that can be dethroned with thankfulness.  When we turn our attention to God and praise Him for our salvation, for the mighty works He is doing in the world and in our lives, when we focus on Him instead of frivolity and silliness, then those jokes just fade away.  That silliness and worldliness never enters our mind.  When was the last time you sought meaningless pleasure when you were overwhelmed with gratitude?

Notice also that Paul does not bring up commandments to push us on, but he does bring up eternity.  Our primary method of fighting these sins should be to focus on God and replacing them with thankfulness, not duty.  God wants our hearts.  He wants us to love Him and to be driven to love Him by thankfulness, not duty.  He does, however, allow us to be warned by future consequences – like any good father does.

So today, let us remember to be “of sober spirit” and turning to God in thankfulness for everything He is and everything He has done (1 Peter 5.8).  Let us put off the big sins of sexual misconduct – fornication, pornography, adultery – but let us also put off those creeping sins of greed, filthiness, silliness and distraction.  Let us remember that our purity is not simply sexual but of our whole mind and body.  And it is not simply refraining from sin but turning to God.  And most importantly, let us remember that our eternity is at stake!

God and Social Justice: As We Mourn Another Shooting.

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This week has been emotionally charged with two African American lives lost at the hands of law enforcement and the retaliatory taking of five police lives by snipers and seven more wounded during a protest.  The nation is once again being polarized by race.  The actions of a few – on both sides of the battle – are causing the greater public to demand change, but all the while growing less and less hopeful of true change.  We are truly on the brink of an historical event whereby interracial relations will necessarily change.  As with any tension, it cannot remain in its current state.  We will either retreat into racist bigotry and continue to build walls and foster hatred towards one another or we will choose to accept, empower and respect our differences.

As Christians, we must remember that Jesus and His Gospel are the answer to this problem.  Our immediate response must be one of love and compassion – regardless of your ethnic background.  Black people and white people are mourning across our nation today.  Black people and white people are more suspicious of one another today.  Black people are feeling more targeted and discriminated today.  Police officers are feeling more hated and scrutinized by the general public, and also more anxious to go to work today.  Each additional negative interaction – each murder – is only building into the distrust and fear associated with these unavoidable encounters and creating suspicious, fearful, entitled individuals who carry weapons , and who react poorly when cornered:  black and white.  The problem is the same for both races.

How then should we respond?  What should we do?  We can all write blogs, we can all get on facebook and post videos, we can all voice our opinions, or we can get out there and actually start making a difference.  The simple fact is that interracial relations have been amplified the last few years and the conversation is on the table.  If you are uneducated on the problem, it is not for lack of information.  We must address the issue.  Thankfully, Scripture teaches us much on the topic.

Firstly, we must all turn to Jesus.  Jesus understands our sufferings.  Jesus was a Jew who was born during the captivity of the Jewish nation.  The Jews were hated as a race, and He Himself was murdered.  He personally suffered more than any of us ever have and ever will both physically and Spiritually (Heb 2.18, Heb 4.15, 1 Peter 3.18).   He is the “man of sorrows” – acquainted with the grief and weight of the sin of the world, and despised by the world:  both His own race and other races (Is 53.3).  Jesus exemplifies how we can endure suffering and persecution without sin:  by not retaliating, by enduring, and by being a faithful witness who always spoke truth.

Jesus was also compassionate to those whom the Jewish people discriminated and hated, namely the Samaritans.  We see His first interaction with a Samaritan woman who was of ill repute, even amongst her own people, because she had been married five times and was then living in adultery with another man.  He spoke to her – which was a cultural taboo because of her race, her gender, and her social status.  He reasoned with her – caring for her soul.  He pushed her to the point of action – demanding that she respond to Him as the Messiah.  He loved her as the Savior and utilized her and her witness to bring His testimony to her entire town (John 4).

How beautiful that we can see Jesus as part of the persecuted race and as part of the persecuting race.  He gives us the example by which which we should live when in both situations – and all of us will find ourselves in both situations throughout our lives:  hated and hater.

Secondly, we must mourn with those who mourn.  Different people and different cultural pockets will respond in a variety of ways to the events of this week.  Our natural response is to pick a side, get angry at the other side, and justify our personal bias.  The reality is simply that the African American community is mourning the loss, but also is rooted in generations of social injustice.  Police officers and Caucasian Americans are also mourning the loss, and allowing the Dallas retaliation to deepen their racism and distrust.  In the immediate aftermath of any tragedy we must take time to simply mourn with those who mourn.

“Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.”

– Rom 12.15

The loss of any and all life is a sorrowful event and regardless of the circumstances surrounding it, people need to mourn.  Whether Alton Sterling and Philando Castile were murdered in cold blood or whether the policemen had good reason to shoot is irrelevant on this point.  Whether the police officers shot in Dallas were bigoted racists or men fighting for social justice is also irrelevant on this point.  Their families, their communities and their ethnic races have lost loved ones and the pain and sorrow is very real.  Let us be broken over the loss of life and the tragedies that have occurred.  Let us lend a listening ear to our friends, family members, neighbors and fellow church members as they process the events and grieve.  It is good and right to grieve, and we as Christians must be empathetic, always pointing to the hope that we have in Jesus and an eternity where there will cease to be sorrow and grief.

Thirdly, we must remember that God is just.  God Himself wrote the moral law, His perfect Law, and will be the judge of all humanity at the end of time based on the deeds we committed in our flesh (Rom 14.12, 2 Cor 5.10).  And He is perfectly just.  He will never punish someone unjustly, and He will never overlook a sin (Prov 11.21, Ex 34.7).  He is also concerned about the oppressed and intentionally cares for the hated (Prov 14.31, Ps 9.7-10).  He is broken over our suffering and grieves with us, and He will judge all accordingly.

Because God is just, fourthly we must remember that retaliation is a sin – for both sides.

Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay,” says the Lord.

– Rom 12.9

We are currently caught in a cycle of hatred and retaliation.  These cycles are normal, and much has been examined and written about them in the marriage relationship.  One spouse feels unloved, therefore he retaliates and disrespects the other spouse.  Then the other spouse feels disrespected so he withdraws and intentionally shows no love or care.  It is a vicious, downward spiral that can only be stopped one, or both parties intentionally choosing to love and care for the other spouse – even if the sentiment is not reciprocated.  Sometimes the cycle is set in motion by an intentional act of hatred and sometimes it is simply a miscommunication.  Either way, once we are in the cycle it becomes exceedingly difficult to end it.

We can be empowered, therefore, to end the cycle, turn the other cheek and begin the long road of healing and change by remembering that no sin and no injustice will go unpunished.  Paul does not teach us to simply not seek vengeance, He encourages us that God will do it for us!  God will judge everyone according to their works and He will punish every sin.  We must leave it in God’s hands, however, because God punishes some sin in the person of Jesus on the cross, and He punishes other sin on the guilty individual who does not repent in eternity.  You will be avenged.  And God will do it purely and rightly.  Thus we should never seek our own revenge but leave it to God.

Our current racial tensions are rooted in generations of hatred, misunderstanding, apathy and difficulty.  Slavery was a tragedy whereby thousands of people were kidnapped from their homes and forced into submission to others.  Thankfully, the practice was abolished in our nation in 1863 under the leadership of Abraham Lincoln.  In the 150 years since, American laws and culture has changed and adapted dramatically, so much so that interracial marriage is fairly common, and we are seeing blending of cultures between African and Caucasian Americans.

Racism, however, is present in every culture and will take an act of God to fully be eradicated.  SouthEast Asian tribes who live only miles from each other in the same jungle often despise one another for no other reason than they are from a different tribe, even though it would take years of anthropological study to be able to distinguish them physically.  In those situations, the difference of language or a few cultural traditions is enough to permanently divide them.  In the middle east we daily hear of very close-cultured Arabs killing one another because of nothing more than a religious difference.  We even develop “friendly” rivalries between states, universities and sports teams because it is fundamentally human to have a cause and an enemy.  We must all intentionally submit ourselves to God and recognize the fact that He created all peoples and all cultures, and loves people from all cultures.

Thus, fifthly, we must know and understand that God is in the business of redeeming cultures.  God chose the Hebrew people to be His people from the time of Abraham until Jesus came to the Earth.  It was always His plan to draw people from all nations, and that is why He promised Abraham that through His lineage (namely, Jesus) He would bless the entire world:

“In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.”

– Gen 22.18

After Jesus came to the world, paying the punishment for sin for all who would believe, the offer of salvation was blown wide open to every tribe, tongue and nation.  We see, in fact, that there will be people from every nation – every culture – represented in eternity:

“After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands; and they cry out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb’.”

– Rev 7.9-10

What is beautiful here is that all of the nations will not be molded into one people, but God draws us each from our unique backgrounds.  God speaks every language, He understands perfectly every culture, and He receives much glory by people praising and worshiping Him in their own unique ways.  Missionaries and missiologists have spent much time studying this fact and reality, and when they set out to the field it is their goal to introduce people to Jesus and allow Jesus to redeem their culture and plant indigenous churches.  This means, simply, that the sinful tendencies of the culture must be repented of and abandoned, but the beautiful and individual characteristics of their culture are to be utilized in worship and in praise of God.  We help new believers put verses to music with pentatonic or twelve tone scales, we help new believers incorporate dancing and community into a worship service, we set free the religiously devoted to hours and hours of prayer and mediation, we watch God redeem cultures.

What is interesting and quite difficult, however, is that while we understand this reality on the mission field, the American church is attempting to do the opposite – by in large.  Instead of empowering and encouraging people to worship God by the fullest outflowing of their heart, passion and culture, we are trying to force everyone into a mold and have a “multi-ethnic congregation”.  The United States is so vast and so diverse that there are micro cultures all around us, and it is good and healthy to allow these different worship styles to exist on their own.  A church is no more godly just because it has equal parts white, black, Hispanic and Asian peoples.  In fact, it often times squashes the unique cultural dispositions of each one, leaving very few worshiping God by the fullest expression of their joy in the way God has created them.  Yes, as a country we are a melting pot of cultures from around the world.  And brand new immigrants might culturally never adapt to American culture, but their children will have varying levels of both cultures in their hearts.  An African American whose heritage is a few hundred years in the United States and infinitely more in common with his white neighbor than Somalian refugees.  But he still might have a unique enough culture that he would choose to worship God with other African Americans instead of his white neighbor.  This is a beautiful exemplification of God being glorified by all peoples, and not a problem.

It becomes a problem when one church considers their worship better than another.  It becomes a problem when ethnocentricity creeps in.  It becomes a problem when the white church does not support, encourage and love the black church and vise versa.  It becomes a problem when we do not love.

The answer here is not forcing everyone to believe, act and be the same.  The answer here is loving and respecting one another in our differences and standing up for social justice.  Last month Brock Turner – a white swimmer from Stanford – was sentenced to six months in jail for raping an unconscious girl.  He was caught in the act.  Cory Batey – a black football player from Vanderbilt – was sentenced to fifteen years in jail for raping an unconscious girl.  He was also caught in the act.  This is wrong.  Yes, it is true that every situation is unique and there are no absolute comparisons, but statistically we do see that there are still levels of social injustice in varying degrees around the country, and we must fight against that.

We must all submit to authority (Eph 6.5, Col 3.22).  We must all respect the law (1 Peter 2.17, Rom 12.10).  We must all turn the other cheek when we are wrongfully accused or assaulted (Matt 5.39).  We must all follow Jesus’ example in suffering and in trials (Is 53.7).  And until one or both sides of the cycle choose to alter their actions and response, we will remain in the vicious cycle.  Therefore, let us intentionally mourn with those who are mourning this weekend.  Let us listen and love our neighbors.  Let us be purposeful to end the cycle of hatred and anger in our own circles and encourage those around us to do the same.  And let us fight for social justice on the larger scale, remembering that individual cultures and good, beautiful and redeemable by God. Let us not try to force everyone to look, act and smell the same, but set one another free to glorify God in the unique ways He has gifted and created us.

Excellence

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I work for a Christian NGO.  My full time job is managing volunteers who come in to help us sort, inventory and package donated product that we ship around the world for community development and disaster response.  We are big enough and offer enough volunteering opportunities that many non-Christian groups will come to volunteer, many having heard of us but unaware that we are in fact Christians.  The most beautiful part about my job is that I get to share the Gospel with these volunteers before we get to work!  I have had a variety of responses – believers are regularly excited and encouraged, I have led a few people to faith, and I have had some bawk at our faith.  The normal responses, all in all.  Last week I had a group of people in, and at the end of the shift a man in his mid to late forties caught me to chat.  He asked if we were always open for volunteers and I told him our schedule.  Then he stated,

“This is good.  Even though you are Christians, you are doing a good thing and I will come back!”

Of course I giggled to myself and quickly told my friends from small group what he said, but then I began contemplating and wondering what could his life experiences have been that this was his first positive exposure to Christians?  How could it be that he expected Christians to be doing not good things?

This reflection is cause for conviction on all levels.  Am I personally impacting my immediate world by serving them for Christ?  Is my Church actively involved in serving the community?  Or do we just host a private party every week?  Am I, are we, impacting the world?  Are we behaving in such a way that people expect us to be wicked, unloving, or confrontational – just like the world?

We have been commanded to glorify God in everything that we do (1 Cor 10.31).  Our primary drive and concern should be to do what pleases Him because we love Him.  When we spend time with Him, our hearts become aligned with his and we enjoy to do the things which He commanded.  We will not function in perfect love all the time, however.  Thus God gives us other incentives to obey.

“Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.  Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right.  For such is the will of God that by doing right you may silence the ignorance of foolish men.  Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God.  Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.”

– 1 Peter 2.12-17

Out of love we obey God, and our obedience looks like excellence among non believers.  This is an easy test:  does our behavior look excellent to those around us?  Or is it just normal?  Acceptable?  We should go above and beyond – and part of our motivation will be so that they will glorify God, and part of the motivation will be so that we can “silence the ignorance of foolish men”.  Have you ever had someone lash out at you or watch you from a distance, expecting you to react like the world – and you shocked them by responding in love?  Have you ever had someone lash out at you or watch you from a distance expecting you to react like the world and you did exactly that – tainting your witness?

We are free.  God has forgiven us of our sins so that there is no longer any condemnation.  But this is not validation to act however we want, it is freedom from the bondage of sin to obey God and glorify Him.  We do not use our freedom as an opportunity for evil, rather we exemplify the love and grace that we have been shown to all around us, and in doing so we silence those who expect us to be wicked like the rest of the world.

Do you honor all people?  Love the Church?  Fear God?  Honor the president/government?  As we continue through this election season, particularly, let us be thoughtful and intentional with our words and actions.  Let us honor all people, love the Church, fear God and honor the president.  There are times that we honor the office and not the actions of the man or woman, but we must keep our behavior excellent among the world so that they will know God and glorify Him!

Understand the will of the Lord

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

– Eph 5.17

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

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

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

– 1 Thess 4.3

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

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

– Eph 5.1-11, 17-21

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

– 1 Thess 4.3-7

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

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

– 1 Cor 10.31

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

– Col 3.17

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

– Col 3.23-24

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

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

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

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

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

– Phil 2.13

What is your life verse?

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

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

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

 – John 17.4

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

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

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

 – Heb 1.3-4

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

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

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

 – Gal 2.20

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

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

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

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

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

Choose Today.

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

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

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

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

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

– Josh 24.15

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

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

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

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

– Phil 4.19

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

choose

Does God test us, without tempting us?

temptation

Sometimes we, as Christians, can over simplify the ways that God works in our lives.  Not only has God been around since before time began, He actually dreamed up all of creation, everything that exists, natural laws, moral laws, and human beings.  He intimately designed us, both in our physical characteristics and personalities, consciences and souls.  He wrote redemption’s plan before He created the world, and when He placed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, He could already see the culmination and fulfillment of time.

But yet He limited us by time.  We are bound to moments passing, to growth, to maturity, to learning and to temporal understanding.  God did this so that we could understand depravity, wickedness, our need for a Savior and His glory in saving us.  Every moment that we have on this Earth is preparation for eternity and an opportunity to get to know God more fully by dying to ourselves, learning about Him through His written word and revealed self, and growing in our faith.

“For this is the will of God, your sanctification.”
– 1 Thess 4.3

So if the will of God is our sanctification, that is, becoming more like Christ and dying to the flesh, how does He bring this about?  It is an interesting truth that we are incapable of becoming more like Christ on our own.  It is the promise of God, however, that He is the one who is working in us to make us more holy, we need only to submit and allow Him to do this work in our lives, and join Him in the efforts through the strength He provides:

“So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.

– Phil 2.12-13

We all know that the way we mature and grow is through learning and testing.  We start at five years of age being instructed and tested on intellectual comprehension.  Sports teams undergo exhausting workouts in order to train muscles and skills, and then we time ourselves and push ourselves.  When we want to refine and purify precious metals, we put them through fire to burn out all of the impurities.  We understand testing and refinement in all aspects of our lives, although we often neglect and misunderstand refinement in our spiritual lives.  We know and often quote the reality that God does not tempt us:

“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.”

– James 1.3

Since God does not tempt us, we reason to ourselves that God would not put anything in our path that would cause us to stumble; He would not allow circumstances that would cause us to doubt.  We carefully put God in His little box on the shelf which thinks that He would only allow and do things that would make us happy and successful.  Because He cannot tempt us, because He is not evil.

But yet, consider the root of temptation.  A seductress or a tempter is one who is evil and is attempting to lure another into joining a sin or practice.  It is the child on the play ground declaring, “All the cool kids are doing this”, already partaking in whatever activity it is that he would see another do – or hoping to see another preform an action that will lead to his demise.  It is the college-aged youth who tells obscene jokes or hands out his pornography for his buddies to enjoy as well.  The one who tempts has wicked intentions and desires to affirm himself by seeing others fall into the same wiles in which he already lives.

God does not do this.  God is not evil, and He cannot be tempted by evil, and thus He tempts no one.  It is not God’s heart and intention to see us fail, but rather to see us succeed, grow and mature.  And He does test us in order to bring about those results.  Unrefined gold remains of lesser value, but when put through the fire the impurities burn out and it becomes more pure.

“I, the Lord, search the heart,
I test the mind,
Even to give to each man according to his ways,
According to the results of his deeds.”

– Jer 17.10

Jesus tested Philip by putting him on the spot to see if he had faith, if he would understand the will of God to feed the people who had followed Jesus to hear His teaching:

“Therefore Jesus, lifting up His eyes and seeing that a large crowd was coming to Him, said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these may eat?”  This He was saying to test him, for He Himself knew what He was intending to do.”

– John 6.5-6

Jesus already knew the plan and knew how He was going to feed everyone.  But He wanted to test Philip in order to develop and mature him.  This was for Philip’s benefit.

“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…Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.”

– James 1.2-4, 12

“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

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

– Rom 5.3-5

From the outside, a temptation and a test might look the same.  A parent might put a child in a situation where he has to make a moral or ethical choice on his own, and to the child it might seem to be a temptation.  But the differentiation is not in the situation but the heart of the outsider.  A parent, hopefully, would have the child’s best interest at heart and would have offered training and instruction to help the child make the best decision at the point of testing.  A tempter would seek to lure the child into failure.  Jesus posed the question to Philip in order to test him, while Satan asked similar questions to Jesus in order to tempt Him.  God does test us, because He will refine us and develop of our holiness.  He is at work within us.  And with every test and temptation, He will provide a way out.  We need only to seek Him, and trust Him.

“No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.”

– 1 Cor 10.13

So let us seek Him diligently!  Let us see His hand behind our testing and trials, and let us glory in the holiness that will result from our obedience and conviction.  And when we do fail, let us return to Him confidently who paid the ransom for our souls, and let us repent and grow.