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.

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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!”

Does it really make you stronger [if it doesn’t kill you]?

stronger

When I was a child and a teenager, I had a concept of adulthood that assumed everyone who was a grown up physically was mature and responsible.  Children were characterized by their levels of youth-li-ness (terrible two’s, irresponsible adolescents, etc), and often times I would hear testimonies and accounts of people who had “finally grown up” or who, through a series of terrible circumstances, “had to grow up too soon”.  Being “grown up” meant, to me, being mature, responsible, having polished social skills, and good interpersonal relationship skills.  Somewhere along my path of maturation, however, I realized that not everyone is guaranteed to grow in every aspect.  Sometimes obnoxious children turn into obnoxious adults.  Sometimes irresponsible teens turn into irresponsible middle-aged people.  And sometimes the burden of life and mid-life crises turn what appeared to be responsible adults into fools or senile old people.

But while all of these things are glaringly true, we as a culture live by the motto,

“What doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger.”

In essence we cheer ourselves through hardships and struggles by chanting the mantra that we will grow and be stronger because of our current life situation.  Have you found this to be true in your life?  If you step back and make an honest assessment of your most difficult moments, did you grow?  Or did you become hardened?  Did you mature?  Or did you set up walls to protect yourself from the world?  Did you press into God and the Church?  Or did you learn how to make it on your own because “people will always let you down”?

It has been said that the same boiling water that hardens an egg softens potatoes.  And we, as Christians, should be the potato.

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

God has sovereignly and purposefully given us lives full of trials and tribulation so that our faith can be tested and through perseverance we can obtain good character and ultimately hope. We do not by nature enjoy and rejoice in trials, we want life to be smooth, easy and comfortable.  But God desires to make us people of deep and solid faith, and He does that by causing us to be more holy through the purification fire of suffering (James 1.2-4).

God also uses suffering and persecution to weed out false believers:

“The sower went out to sow his seed; and as he sowed, some fell beside the road, and it was trampled under foot and the birds of the air ate it up.  Other seed fell on rocky soil, and as soon as it grew up, it withered away, because it had no moisture.  Other seed fell among the thorns; and the thorns grew up with it and choked it out.  Other seed fell into the good soil, and grew up, and produced a crop a hundred times as great.” As He said these things, He would call out, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

 – Luke 8.5-8

The Gospel falls on all kinds of ears.  Some people do not respond at all – the birds eat the seed away before it can take any root.  Some people respond quickly and with joy, but as soon as persecution arises they die and wither away because they have no depth, no conviction, no hope.  Some people respond quickly and spring up, but when the temptations and pleasures of the world come around, they take over and their faith withers away.  They choose the world instead of God.  And the others hear the Gospel, believe it, and when trials come they persevere and die to themselves.  When the pleasures of sin tempt them, they turn away and choose the pleasures of God.  These are those who persevere and develop character and hope.  These are those who are softened by the boiling water.  These are those who are saved.

“To this end also we pray for you always, that our God will count you worthy of your calling, and fulfill every desire for goodness and the work of faith with power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus will be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

 – 2 Thess 1.11-12

It is God who is at work in us, both to will and to work for His good pleasure (Phil 2.13).  Trials and suffering will make us stronger in a worldly sense if we do not have the Holy Spirit at work within us:  we will rely less on people, be more independent, we will be hardened and calloused.  Strong like a rock.  But if the Holy Spirit is at work within us, we will gradually be softened by trials.  We will be humbled and die to ourselves.  We will put one another first and seek to serve one another and God.  When the Spirit is in us, He is doing the mighty work of making us worthy of our calling.  Not that we would deserve our calling of salvation, but that He is continually making us more holy and Christlike.  He is making us into what our calling demands of us.  He helps us set resolves for holiness and then empowers us to fulfill those desires, and that all to the glory of Jesus Christ.

Our trials do not develop perseverance, character and hope so that we can have a better reputation.  They do all of things to make much of and to glorify God.  If Jesus has paid the penalty for your sin, He will also fight your sinful nature within you and make you more like Him in the process.  He will not pay the penalty for your sins and leave you to act like the world.  He will transform us to be representative of the glorious calling to righteousness and holiness.

So what does that mean, practically?  Step back and look at your current trial or hardship.  How are you responding?  Are you pressing into God?  Or are you ignoring Him?  Are you putting your desires and emotions to the side and considering the other person involved?  Or are you harboring bitterness and anger?  Are you training yourself in “street smarts” for how to not be taken advantage of again?  Or are you asking God to show you how to bring Him glory by your loss?  Are you content in whatever life situation you are currently residing, giving glory to God and finding every opportunity to praise Him?

“Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.  I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.  I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”

 – Phil 4.11-13

Let us be aware that trials and difficulty to not produce strength by their very nature.  Many people revert, become hardened, or simply choose to play the victim and never mature.  You must be an active participant and choose to grow through trials, and we do that by relying on the power of the Holy Spirit to obey the Scriptures and to become more Christlike.  Be purposeful and intentional in your self-awareness and Spiritual growth.  Growing up physically does not mean that you will mature Spiritually.

When life gets messy.

High speed image of splashing milk

When God calls us to salvation, He places us perfectly within His body:  the Church.  We are all given strengths and abilities to help the church thrive, to maintain health, to reach the world and to make disciples.  The Church needs every member and every member needs the Church.

“But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills.  For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ.  For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.  For the body is not one member, but many.  If the foot says, “Because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body.  And if the ear says, “Because I am not an eye, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body.  If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?  But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired.  If they were all one member, where would the body be?  But now there are many members, but one body.”

– 1 Cor 12.12-20

This is the beautiful and unique form of community with which God has blessed the Church.  In short, we get in each other’s lives and we “do life” together.  But do you know what happens when you get in other people’s lives?  It gets messy.  No Christian has attained perfection and the fullest maturity until he is freed from his earthly body, and that means that people are going to be misunderstood, people are going to be offended, and there will be conflict.  Even within the Church.  ::gasp::  If you’re not getting messy, you are not doing it right.

But let us not despair about this fact.  This is actually our opportunity to first of all glorify God in how we respond.  If Jesus is our example, let us remember that He was the only person to walk the face of this Earth without sin, and He was despised, mocked, tortured and murdered.  He endured all of this without lashing out, but with forgiveness and grace, even praying for God to show forgiveness to those who were in the act of murdering Him.  Can you imagine?  We often times need space and time to cool our emotions, but Jesus, in the midst of His own murder, was able to show selflessness and mercy.  In the same way that He loved and forgave us, we must love and forgive one another.  Otherwise we elevate ourselves and our offense above what Jesus endured on the cross.

Secondly, this gives us an opportunity to grow in maturity.

“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.”

– James 1.2-3

I particularly love this passage out of James because he speaks directly to “various trials”, not simply persecution for the Gospel’s sake.  Various trials can be our cars breaking down, a difficult child, a tension at the church or persevering through an illness.  All of these various trials are tests of our faith.  How do we respond?  Do we get angry and selfish?  Or do we turn to God and die to ourselves?  Are we humble or are we proud?  When we persevere through the testing of our faith we achieve endurance.  And Romans tells us that,

“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

We will not have proven character until we persevere through the mess of relationships and come out victorious on the other side.  We will not have true, Biblical hope until we persevere through trials that test our faith.  If we do not persevere and glorify God by dying to ourselves and following Christ’s example in day-to-day trials, we will be tossed around like the waves of the sea and depend on our circumstances for happiness (James 1.6).

Thirdly, these situations give us an opportunity to express the Gospel to others in the Church and to a lost world.  We will all have conflict.  But consider this:  we are all familiar with the terrible and ongoing “worship war” that is present in many churches.  Everyone wants his own style of music.  For some the music is too loud, for some it is too soft, for some it is not played skillfully enough, and for some the style is just unbearable.  Consider a person who has never come to the church before and who has never heard hymns, contemporary praise, quartet or even Christian rock music.  Everything, to him, is new.  He can have two polar opposite experiences determined by the church-goer by whom he sits.  The church goer can have a bad attitude, choose not to sing, choose to be grumpy – or even wait in the foyer until the music is over before coming in.  The unsaved man will see nothing different from the world here.  What he knows and expects.  Nothing attractive.  And he will probably examine the music with the same mindset.  Now, imagine he sits next to someone who does not necessarily care for the style of music being played, but this person says in his heart, “I want God to be glorified by the music and in my heart.  I am going to sing whatever they choose to sing and praise God!”  He considers his neighbor who loves this music and can best express his heart to God through this style, and he prays, “God help my neighbor meet with you today, and I praise you that these songs are fostering his heart to praise you!”  The lost person will see this as a selfless and humble person who loves God and loves his neighbor, and will see something different.

If the world sees conflict between two believers, if the believers act like the world, then our witness is lost.  But if the believers humble themselves, put one another’s desires and needs above themselves, respect one another and forgive lavishly, then we demonstrate the love and forgiveness that we have been showed in Jesus.  Scripture teaches us that we only love because He loved us first (1 John 4.19).  And Scripture teaches us that we should love and forgive in the same degree by which we are loved and forgiven.

“So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.”

– Col 3.12-13

Paul teaches us that our attitude towards one another should be, at the foundation, one of humility.  And based on that humility we bear with one another and forgive in the same manner that we have been forgiven.  What does that mean?  If you have come to Jesus for salvation, He has forgiven you of every offense you have ever committed and will ever commit.  In short, there is nothing that another person can do to you that would be worse than your offense against a holy God.  Therefore, if Jesus has forgiven you of everything, then we, by His example, must forgive every offense confessed towards us.

Paul knows, however, that this is not easy and that it goes against our sinful nature.  That is why every single letter that He wrote addressed the topic to some extent.

Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good.  Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.  Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.  Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.  Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation.  Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men.  If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.  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.  “BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD.”  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

– Rom 12.9-21

So much as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.  This does not mean that you have to be buddy-buddy with everyone in the Church.  This also does not mean that you excuse and overlook sin.  Jesus gave us very clear instructions for how to handle a church member who is sinning (Matt 18.15-17), and Paul teaches us that when someone is in sin, we should lovingly restore him and help him fight the sin (Gal 6.1).  We should never overlook sin, but bring it to light and squash it before it takes a foothold in anyone’s life.  This is the truly loving thing to do, to push one another on to maturity and hope.

But humility follows the example of Christ and dies to one’s self.  Humility seeks to glorify God and His gospel by forgiving in the way that He forgave.  Humility serves the body and individuals in the likeness and manner of Christ (Phil 2.3-8).

Life will get messy.  It is in these moments that we must choose to put away our pride, we must choose to seek to glorify God by loving and forgiving as He has loved and forgiven.  We must long for the unity of the body by lifting one another up and resolving conflict, and this will show the world that we are Christians:  by our love (John 13.35).  It is easy to do service projects and humanitarian aid.  It is easy to look happy on Sunday mornings, but a dynamic witness to the world is Christians loving one another when they do not necessarily want to.

“For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a person bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly.  For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God.  For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, WHO COMMITTED NO SIN, NOR WAS ANY DECEIT FOUND IN HIS MOUTH; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.”

– 1 Peter 2.19-24

So let us approach community with a realist mindset, knowing that pouring into one another’s lives will bring conflict eventually.  People are people, they will let you down.  But let us embrace those opportunities to press into God, to press into one another, to grow in maturity, and to be a dynamic witness to a lost world.  Let us die to ourselves, put one another first, help one another fight sin in our lives, and thus sharpen one another and be what God intended the church to be:  a body.

Humility

humility

I was listening to the radio on my way to work this morning, and a popular song came on the radio.  I started singing along as it is quite catchy and the theme of the song is strong, but I stumbled over one of the lines of the pre-chorus, and was quickly appalled at what I had just sung:

We are Your church.
We are the hope on earth.

Rend Collective’s “Build Your Kingdom Here” spends the entire song asking God to change the world, to bring the Kingdom on Earth, to do a mighty work, and then it throws in that strange phrase that is unfathomably out of place in the song.

Is it just nuance?  Does the author mean that we are the instruments that God uses to make a difference and bring hope to the world?  I truly hope so.  But the problem is quite simply the fact that that is not what it says.

There is a large, Christian non-profit organization known around the world that has adopted the mission statement, “we want to answer the prayers of children”.  Again, we can argue nuance and the heart behind the statement (perhaps more easily in this case), but let us consider what we are actually saying.

God has established the Church on Earth as His body.  Jesus Christ is the head, and each of us has a unique gifting and role to fulfill within the local body.  Some of us are mouths, some of us are feet, some of us are hands, and some of us – as Paul says – are parts less honorable and less presentable (1 Cor 12)!  God chooses to use the Church to be His mouthpiece for taking the Gospel to the world, for pushing believers on to maturity and to worship Him.

We, as the Church, however – apart from God – are nothing.  Paul says that if Jesus was not the Savior, we are the most pitiable people in the world (1 Cor 15.19).  Apart from God we are all spiritually dead (Eph 2.1).  We are not righteous, we do not seek after God, and we do no good on our own (Rom 3.10-11).  And when God brings us to Spiritual life, we are servants or slaves of God.  We are made into new creatures, we are set to walk in His ways, to His service, unto His glory.  In-and-of ourselves we are nothing, but we are made alive in Christ by virtue of His nature.

Jesus Himself was the epitome of humility and He taught us to be humble.  That is why Paul teaches,

For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.

 – Rom 12.3

Jesus Himself said that we should always sit at the seat of least honor, lest we embarrass ourselves when someone of higher honor comes.

“For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

 – Luke 14.11

The point is simple.  We are most assuredly not the hope on Earth.  Jesus Christ and His Gospel is.  We are blessed to be the ones to proclaim the hope, but we are merely people pointing the way to the hope.  We most assuredly do not answer people’s prayers.  God may use us to answer prayers, we may the tool that He chooses to use in His sovereign ways, but we are not the sovereign, the benefactor, the provider.  In fact, we might screw things up if we “answer” someone’s prayers in the way we think it should be resolved, because often times God has a greater plan than we could ever imagine in the works!  For example, the Bible says,

For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either.

 – 2 Thess 3.10

If someone is “praying” for food, but it lazy and unwilling to work, and we go in and feed him without the leadership of the Holy Spirit, we enable his habit and do not allow God to work a life-changing miracle in his life, convicting him of responsibility and work ethic.

The heart and intention might be pure behind these two thoughts.  But danger lies in the un-thoughtfulness of using such a motto.  First of all, the person may come to believe what they are saying.  It might start out with the right heart, but in attempting to be what they are saying, people will err.  Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, it teaches error at best and heresy at worst.  If a young Christian is in your presence and you teach him these false truths and he does not have the foundation of Biblical knowledge and understanding, he will go astray from the beginning.

Humility is the key.  Praise God, there is no greater honor than being used by Him to preach His Gospel and His truth to another.  But we are no one’s hope.  We answer no one’s prayer.  God alone is the hope, God alone answers prayers.  Consider your words today, and your efforts.  Are you watching to see what God is doing around you, and joining Him in His work?  Or are you busy being about your own efforts and asking God to bless them?

Have you ever been abandoned?

abandonment

Have you ever been abandoned?  Has someone who had a role of responsibility or commitment in your life just walked away?  Said that you were not worth the effort, or simply found someone else to love or chose to live life without you?  Perhaps it was your father when you were a child.  Or a spouse after a few (or many) years of marriage.  Maybe your partner left you in the line of fire.

Not everyone has gone through the heartbreak of being thrown away.  Praise God for that.  If God has placed people of integrity in your life who fulfill their commitments, love God and love you well, then praise God for that blessing!  If God has placed people in your life who have thrown you away or abandoned you, may I offer this simple, yet profoundly deep promise:

“I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you.”

 – Heb 13.5

This promise that the author claims for believers in their daily walk with God is a direct quote from the Old Testament,

“Be strong and courageous, do not be afraid or tremble at them, for the Lord your God is the one who goes with you. He will not fail you or forsake you.”

– Deut 31.6

When we read the Old Testament, we must be careful to investigate the context and not over apply promises that were made to the people of Israel as promises guaranteed to us.  Sometimes those promises are not for us.  But this promise, one of the most glorious of promises in Scripture, we see taught to the church as a whole in the book of Hebrews, and we see that it is the character of God to care for His own, so we can boldly claim with confidence and rest in His promise that He will never leave us.

Ever.

You cannot hurt God’s feelings too badly.  You cannot be too ugly or too undesirable.  You cannot alienate yourself from Him, if you have come to Him for salvation and are repenting of your sins.  When you keep stumbling into the same sin, even though you hate it and are trying to die to it, if you confess it He will forgive it.  He will not bring it up in the next fight.

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

– 1 John 1.9

We have a tendency to allow our life circumstances to shape our personalities, dispositions and psyches.  Some people have erroneously allowed themselves or others to distrust God or rebuke Biblical pictures of God because of their experiences.  For example, some people say, “I do not want God to be my father because my own father abandoned me when I was 2.”  Or, “I do not understand the father relationship because I never had a father.”  Others revile the imagery of Christ as the bridegroom of the Church because of an abusive husband, or one who has an affair and is unfaithful.

But this is an immature response, and one that looks inward instead of outward.  Even if you have not been abandoned on such an extreme level, we have all been sinned against.  And playing the victim, expecting people and God to fail you is fundamentally a lack of faith.  If you are always the victim and the world is out to get you, you need to take a reality check.  Look at the suffering around you, and better yet, consider the suffering of Christ.  You have not suffered in His likeness.  Count your blessings.  If you expect people to fail you, and are a bitter cynic, then you need to turn your focus on Jesus.  Yes, people are going to fail you.  Everyone will fail you.  But we have failed God infinitely worse than any human being will fail us, and if we embrace His forgiveness and redemption, then the onus lays squarely on our shoulders to offer the same grace and forgiveness to others.  He who has been forgiven much loves much (Luke 7.47).  If you expect God to fail you, then you have never encountered God.

Trust issues are real.  I am not trying to convey that they are not or that they are easily conquered.  If you have been abandoned, the scars run deeply and the hurt and pain will resurface at unexpected times throughout your life.  But the way to heal, to fight the fear, and to grow with God is to fight the emotions with truth.  God has promised us that He will never abandon us.  He is by your side every moment of every day.  The Holy Spirit permanently indwells you upon the moment of coming to faith.  He will empower you to trust and obey.

So go ahead.  Fight the fear.  Feel the depths of the pain and let it remind you of the vast love that the Savior has for you.  And that which no one here on Earth can even come close to matching.  In fact, God’s love for us is so perfect and pure that compared to Him and His love, the unfaithful abandoning father is not that dissimilar from the faithful earthly father.  God is that infinitely good.

Thank Him for your blessings, and let your trials and hurts remind you of His infinite goodness.  Cling to the promise, He will never leave you, and trust Him.

Wicked Morality

white washed tombs

Did you know that there is no term for legalism in Scripture? The idea is present, and Paul struggles to define it with terms like, “deeds of the flesh”, but if you flip open your concordance, there will be no reference for legalism (if you have a literal translation, anyway).

But we all know about legalism, don’t we? We hear Jesus’ stinging rebuke of the Pharisees calling them white washed tombs: dead on the inside, but beautiful and clean on the outside (Matt 23.27). We rebel against authority because we know that our hearts are not in our obedience, and we are so disgusted by religion that we would prefer to break the rules than look like a fake.

Is morality good?

This is a difficult question. Scripture tells us clearly that anything apart from faith is sin (Rom 14.23). Anything. Feeding the poor, obeying the rules, being morally upstanding people is sin if it is apart from faith. But what does that mean? If we are in a situation where we are tempted to sin and we do not feel like obeying, is it therefore sinful to obey if our hearts are not in it?

The bottom line here is, “what is faith”? Scripture tells us that faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb 11.1). So we are left to understand that any action we preform without the assurance of our future hope is sin. There is no emotion described here. Faith is not the warm fuzzy feeling that salvation can bring at times. Faith is not the feeling of butterflies or great excitement. Faith is not happiness. Faith is assurance. Confidence.

So if faith is not a feeling, how do we know if our obedience, when we begrudge it, is legalism or genuine reverence? How do we know if our morality is wicked or righteous?

It has to do with our mindset. Emotions are fleeting and generally uncontrollable. But if we have right, biblical, and holy thinking about our circumstances then we can determine our driving force. When you encounter a dilemma, do you think about the relational, legal or situational ramifications? Or do you think about what God has to say about the decision? When you consider sin, do you remember that your sin is primarily and foremost a sin against God? Or do you think of it as against another person or authority in your life?

If we keep rules for the sake of keeping rules, these are acts of self righteousness and therefore apart from faith, and ultimately sinful and damnable. This is legalism. If we keep rules because we know Gods expectations and we think we can earn favor or merit with God, we have no faith in the atoning death of Jesus, and therefore are performing sinful deeds. We must have the mindset of trust in the righteousness of Jesus Christ, and preform acts of obedience out of love and thankfulness. This is not a feeling, but a response.

Vain morality is every bit as much an outpouring of our sinful nature as blatant acts of sin. God is primarily concerned with our hearts and motivation. If we act out of honor, reverence, love and thankfulness for our forgiveness and future salvation, then we are acting in faith and not sinning. We do not have to emotionally enjoy or even engage in every act, as long as our motivation and hearts are pure. There will be emotional responses and we will feel His presence, but the emotion is not necessary allthe time.

So let’s check ourselves.

“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