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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If you love Me, you will love the Church

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Roughly fifteen years ago, Derek Webb wrote an exceptionally convicting song for the Gen X-ers and early hipsters:  “If you love Me you will love the Church.”  Our cultural independence and belief in personal autonomy to define absolute truth has left many unwilling to discuss their faith.  Faith is a private matter, and no one can tell me how to believe or act, after all.  And for the past few generations we have watched children who were raised in the Church leave at an alarming rate.  Perhaps in response to to this phenomenon, we are now seeing a new wave of Church interest in the form of “Church Planting”.  Our mindset is now, “There are no churches out there that are exactly what I want, so I am going to start my own, with my four best friends”.  Instead of plugging in, seeing Churches revived, and loving one another, we spiritualize our selfishness by launching out to “reach the lost” and “start a new church”.

But Jesus came to seek and to save that which was lost:  His Church.  He loves His Church.  He calls us His bride.  He gave up His life for us.  And if Jesus loves us, then we must love one another.  It is, after all, the second greatest commandment:

“You shall love your neighbor as yourself”

– Matt 22.39

After Jesus had died and resurrected, He had a pointed conversation with Peter.  Peter, the apostle, was a bold and outspoken man.  He was the one who got out of the boat to walk on the water with Jesus.  He was the one who cut off the ear of one of the men who was seizing Jesus.  But he was also the one who denied Jesus three times during Jesus’ mockery of a trial.  Jesus, in affirming Peter’s forgiveness for denying Him, asked Peter three times if he loved Him.  But in response to Peter’s affirmation of love, Jesus gave three interesting responses and commands:

So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Tend My lambs.”  He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Shepherd My sheep.”  He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” Jesus said to him, “Tend My sheep.

– John 21.15-17

Much has been studied and taught on the various terms of loved used, the meaning of the three questions and other aspects of this interaction, but I simply want to point out that every time Jesus asked Peter if he loved Him, Jesus’ response was a form of instruction about caring for the Church.  In essence, Jesus was saying, “If you love me, then love and take care of my Church”.

We also see throughout the New Testament that God created us to each be apart of the body which is the Church.  He gave us each abilities, talents, blessings and abilities to serve one another, and He also gives us one another to hold us accountable and press into us when we would stray from the Truth and into sin.

“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.”

– 1 Cor 12.12

It is a very sick body in which the hand hates the foot.  It is a body incapable of function in which the eye will not tell the mouth what is perceives.  We must work together, and we must function in our roles to accomplish what God has for us!

In order to love the Church, we must remember that we are all on the path of sanctification.  None of us is perfect, none of us has reached full potential of maturity.  All of us are in a battle against sin by the power of the Holy Spirit within us.  Therefore, we must understand, we must offer grace as we have been given grace, we must prefer one another above ourselves, and we must love.

If you are a Christian, and if you love Jesus, this is not an option.  You must love and serve the Church.  God has created you as part of the Church and He loves the Church.  We must love what Jesus loves, we must serve what Jesus serves. Follow His example today, and pour into that local body where God has placed you!

So simple, yet so hard.

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The story of the Gospel is the most beautiful, glorious, precious truth in all of history and all of creation.  God has created us with a conscience, He has revealed Himself through creation, and humanity has enough understanding of God’s righteous and moral law to condemn ourselves (Rom 1).  People have sought a variety of methods to alleviate the guilt, the fear, the shame and the burden of sin, and it is because of this ultimate reality that all world religions have been developed.  Every single major world religion attempts to alleviate the conscience by action.  Islam teaches that the believer must pray, give alms, recite the creed, go to Mecca and fast during Ramadan.  Each of these actions will pay off a bit of the sin debt to God.  Catholicism teaches penance, prayer and recitation of “Hail Mary’s”, purchasing of indulgences and the like to buy good credit with God.  If enough credit has not been earned, then the believer will go to purgatory to pay off the remainder of the sin debt.  Judaism still espouses the animal sacrifice system.  Hinduism seeks to appease an angry consortium of gods through offerings, prayers and rituals, and Buddhism worships and offers prayers to ancestors for help and guidance.

The Eastern religions, by believing in reincarnation, have a slight variation on the merit system – but at their core it is the same.  Buddhism teaches that your reincarnation within the circle of possibilities is based directly on your past life, and the goal is to get out of the circle – because it is all suffering.  Hinduism, likewise, believes that the reincarnated state is directly tied to sins of the past life, and enlightenment comes with attaining freedom from it.

Atheism, in a sense, also attempts to understand morality by simply denying it.  In claiming that there is no absolute, they seek to alleviate the weight of guilt, shame or fear of eternity and our inability to control it.

Something is broken, and we want to fix it.  And human nature thinks that we have the ability to fix it.

But here is the glory and simplicity of the Gospel.  We cannot fix it.  A person, in his flesh, can never been good enough.  Every single person who has walked the face of the Earth has committed sins and felt the weight of guilt.  Even Mother Theresa has sinned.  A disobedient child felt the guilt and fear of being caught by his parents.  A young person felt the guilt and fear of being caught and punished for cheating on his homework or a test.  And the simple fact that there is a moral law by which we have been condemned even in our own hearts means that we have fallen short of perfection.  And perfection is the standard, because God is perfect and wrote the perfect law.  And even though we all hope that we are good enough, and most would defend ourselves when cornered, we all know in our Spirits that we are not good enough.

But God.  God knows that we cannot be good enough, that we cannot alleviate our sin guilt by any action, because He has declared the punishment for any and all sin is death and damnation (Rom 3.23).  But He loves us, and because of that love, He sent His son as the only one who was able to live a perfect and sinless life on the Earth, and then offered Himself as a sacrifice and died in our place (John 3.16).  He did not deserve to die because never sinned.  But He did die, and when He died God poured on Him the sin of the world.  Not only that, but God caused Him to actually become that sin (2 Cor 5.21).

Jesus took my place.  Jesus took your place.  He the raised from the dead and conquered death, such that the simple and beautiful truth of salvation is:  Anyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (Rom 10.13).  If you confess with your mouth Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved (Rom 10.9).  There is nothing that you can do to obtain God’s forgiveness through Jesus, you only have to recognize the fact that you cannot do it on your own and believe God for salvation.

This truth is so simple that a child can understand.  But it is not easy.  It goes against everything in us to believe and admit that I am totally sinful and incapable of saving myself.  The belief and confession that is required to find salvation is the understanding that we cannot do it, and that we deserve damnation because we can not do it.  Do you truly believe that?  Do you truly surrender everything that you are to the leadership of God through the Holy Spirit because you will taint your actions by sin without Him?  Or did you ask Jesus to save you so that you can go to Heaven when you die, and have continued in life on your own strength?

Scripture says, “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved”.  Confessing Jesus as Lord does not simply mean posting that picture on Facebook that declares yourself a Christian.  Confessing Jesus as Lord means humility and submission.  It is saying, “Jesus I can’t do this, I need you, You do this through me”.  It is giving Him control, it is letting Him define right and wrong, and letting Him choose the next steps in your life.  It is abiding in Him so that the Spirit can tell you what God desires.

Scripture commands us to love one another by putting each other before ourselves.  It is fighting against the flesh and sin.  It is crucifying our earthly desires that dishonor God.  This is extremely difficult.  It is simple, but it is extremely difficult.  That is why Paul says,

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

– Gal 5.17

But when we confess and repent from our sins, the Holy Spirit takes up residence in our lives and begins living through us.

“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

The Gospel is beautiful and simple.  Children can understand Christ’s death in our place.  But the humility required to not only admit but to truly and fully believe that we cannot earn anything from God, that we truly cannot be good enough, to fully rely on and need Him is completely counter intuitive and against our nature.  Scripture tells us that we were made only a little lower than God:

“What is man that You take thought of him,
And the son of man that You care for him?
Yet You have made him a little lower than God,
And You crown him with glory and majesty!”

– Ps 8.4-5

Therefore it is natural for us to want to glorify ourselves, rely on ourselves, and make ourselves the highest authority.  But we are not God and we cannot be God.

Do you believe that today?  Are you relying on Him for sustenance, for direction, for help?  Are you letting Him live through you and put to death your sinful flesh?  Or are you still trying to do it on your own?  Only when we fully surrender and place ourselves in submission to God does He take over, and in that He gives us rest.

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

– Matt 11.28