When you don’t feel like praying.

Image result for prayer

How are your personal, daily, invigorating quiet times going?  Are you a spiritual rock star who prays without ceasing, who rises before the sun every morning to pray and meditate, who memorizes large passages of Scripture and takes notice of the Holy Spirit in every situation?  If so, I want to be more like you and you can stop reading.

The rest of us, however, seem to go through seasons of feast and seasons of famine.  Times when we are excited and eager to read the Bible and pray and talk to everyone we meet about Jesus and times when we get caught up in going to school, buying houses, raising kids, and the day-to-day.

I am a FTM (First Time Mom, for those who do not frequent the motherhood websites).  My precious baby girl just turned six months old and I have a confession to make:  she has rocked my schedule and routine.  Before she came along I was a machine.  I love change and adventure but wherever I find myself I dream big and develop daily habits.  I need routines to be successful so my morning coffee, quiet time and exercise get drafted into my day whether I am living in the middle of the tropical rain forest or working a 9-5 in Denver.

However I was not prepared for this life-change they call motherhood.  My pregnancy was a difficult one that left me on bed rest, sick and delivering a month early.  You can read more about that here.  And after a week in the NICU when we brought home our five pound baby who needed to eat every two hours to thrive, I had no dream or plan of a schedule.  I existed in a fog, trying to keep both of us alive.  I have a confession:  I did not want to read the Bible.

I know, you are shocked.  How can a person call herself a Christian and say that she does not want to read the Bible or have a quiet time?  I’ll tell you how:  I had grown so accustomed to my hour-long routine of study, prayer and sermon listening which was concluded in another hour of blog writing that I thought anything less was not worthy of my effort.  Quite honestly it sounded exhausting.  A well meaning friend asked me how I was adjusting Spiritually after a month or so and I confessed to her that I had been neglecting my routine.  She spoke some beautifully comforting words to me:  give yourself some grace.

You see, I am an academic at heart.  I love to study.  And as such I have always struggled with prayer.  I trust the sovereign plan of God and prayer often feels like lip service because He already knows every hair on my head and every intention of my heart.  But the moment I found out I was sick and that my baby was in danger, my prayer life radically changed.  I prayed.  And I cried.  And I prayed.  And I cried some more.  Then we watched our little baby in the NICU and we prayed some more.  We prayed.  My husband and I have tried (and failed) for two years to develop a prayer routine in our marriage, but the minute she was born we locked into a beautiful habit of regular prayer together.

Our Spirituality and our relationship with God must grow and develop.  It is not static, and God is not interested in providing us salvation from Hell apart from a relationship with Him whereby He changes and refines us.

I was growing in my prayer life.  And I knew that I wanted to develop good habits and set a good example for my daughter.  Have you heard that routines are good for babies too?  So what did we do?  For the next few months, my daily quiet times were made up of reading Bible story picture books with my daughter who seemed to enjoy looking at the colors and pictures.  But God was faithful and spoke just as dynamically to me through “Noah and the Big Boat” as the study on Hebrews I did last year.

We need to be coming to and relying on God for our joy, for our strength, and for our comfort.  We need to be confessing our sins to Him and rejoicing in His forgiveness.  We need to be changing.

“I rise before dawn and cry for help;
I wait for Your words.”

– Ps 119.147

We will only find true peace and ability to persevere if we remain in and abide in Christ:

Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me.”

– John 15.4

But remember to consider your circumstances and seasons.  There will be times when you have an abundance of energy and time to spend hours in deep study.  There will also be times when you have to wake up every two hours to feed an infant and cannot think beyond putting on a house coat.  God is gracious and wants to meet with us and encourage us in all of those circumstances.  He might even get as bored with our normal routines as we do!  He will sustain us differently in these different seasons and in the ways we approach Him.

So instead of beating yourself up for missing a quiet time or intensive study one day, let’s consider today.  Let’s forget what is behind and press on to what is ahead (Phil 3.13)!  Let’s see where God is at work around us and meet Him there.  Let’s allow Him to develop our Spirituality by adjusting to our circumstances and let’s give ourselves grace for those occasions when we are not Spiritual rock stars.  We are all still a work in progress, and it is God Himself who is at work within us:

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

– Phil 2.13

Let’s get real.

I am a new mom.  My little bundle of joy is now 9 weeks old, and she came three and a half weeks early.  I have two sisters who have both had two children, I am involved in a small group and there have been three babies born in that group in the last 10 months.  I have a mom and a mother in law and a mentor.  And I am from the midwest, so almost all of my friends are married and have a few children.  You would think that with that type of community I would have had all of the support and insight needed to go through pregnancy – on top of my doctor’s input.

But yet, I got sick.  I try to take care of myself as best I can.  I run four to five days a week (I made it up to week 34 running) and I try to eat well.  But yet as I went through pregnancy I was terribly worn out.  I could not understand how I was such a wimp!  Everyone talked about the second trimester energy bump and how fun pregnancy was, but I was just sick and tired all of the time.

As I entered into the third trimester we found out that I had preeclampsia.  The doctor ultimately put me on bedrest and planned induction at 37 weeks, but I ended up delivering at 36 1/2.  My body was shutting down, the placenta was dying and the baby was at risk – she was not getting nutrients and had not grown in a few weeks.  No wonder I was exhausted.  The  closest anyone came to noticing was my parents.  They came into town to visit around 25 weeks and said that I looked bad.  Exactly what every pregnant woman wants to hear!  I told them that I was just pregnant and thought little of it.  I had never been pregnant before, I thought it was normal and that I was the weakest of my friends.

God has given us community for our Spiritual well-being and growth.  He has provided us with the local body of believers known as the Church to reach the world with the Gospel, but also to push one another on to maturity and to work together to glorify God and to fight sin.  We are all given different gifts and strength and they are given specifically to serve God by serving the Church (1 Cor 12).

“But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”

– 1 Cor 12.7

We are commanded to look out for one another and to push one another on to holiness.

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

– Heb 10.23-25

And then we are given some really practical, yet strange sounding applications:

Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good, so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children

Titus 2.3-4

Have you not heard that every woman (and man), the moment they lay eyes on their newborn child immediately is overwhelmed by a love they never knew possible?  While this may not be the case for every parent who ever lived, it does seem funny that the blanket instruction for women in the church is that we need to be taught how to love our husbands and children.

Or is it?

Our culture is teaching us that love is essentially spoiling and unconditional affirmation, awarding effort instead of achievement and overall narcissism.  It takes very little mental effort to realize that we do, indeed, need to be taught how to love.  No marriage will survive if two individuals think that the other exists for their pleasure and service.  We must all learn how to put others before ourselves and die to ourselves.  We also must learn how to discipline when we want to spoil, encourage when we want to excuse and truly love our children by teaching them how to love God and love others.

But these things are not natural.  No one naturally dies to himself.  Therefore, the wise among us must know how to ask the right questions and diagnose the heart.  We need to develop Spiritual doctors among us, and we need to become them ourselves.  Only the doctor recognized and diagnosed my preeclampsia because she took my blood pressure, measured the baby, found unhealthy levels of protein in my urine and saw my face.  She knew the signs of the illness, she knew the potential consequences of the illness, and she knew how to give both me and the baby the best chance for survival.  My parents knew that I looked unwell but were unable to recognize the source of the problem and those who were closest to me who saw me get sicker little by little every day never noticed the problem.  Why?  Because it was gradual and they did not know the signs to look for or the questions to ask.  They are not doctors.  We actually do have one doctor in our small group Bible study, but he is not an ob-gyn and and he is not my doctor, so he never ran any tests on me, he never diagnosed the problem.

If we have never learned how to recognize, identify and fight sin in our own lives we are completely unable to help others fight sin.  If we have never learned how to die to ourselves and love one another Biblically, we will never be aware when our friends are selfish in their marriages or fail to love others well.  We must learn Spiritual maturity from those who have gone before us, apply it in our own lives, and pass it on to our community and others.  Paul shows such an example:

“The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”

– 2 Tim 2.2

Our goal in learning is to apply truth to our own lives, and to teach it to others in such a way that they will be able to apply and also teach the truth.  We must have a multi-generational worldview in our Spiritual maturity and accountability.  We must recognize the signs of the sin, ask the right diagnostic questions and then set up a treatment plan to fight it and eradicate it from our lives.

This requires vulnerability.  It requires true community.  It requires transparency.  And it requires a varied level of maturity.  Unfortunately, many of our churches are creating pockets of like-minded and Spiritual peers.  Small groups are popping up all around the country that are full of really solid and mature Christians, or young and immature Christians.  We like people who are like us, and therefore the young adults have their own thing going while the seniors have theirs.  The youth are led by those adults who want to relive their glory years of High School or even worse – we train the youth to lead the youth.  Yes, there are spiritually adept 16 year olds, but a baby Christian will learn infinitely more from an adult who was successfully fought sin and developed a relationship with God after navigating High School than someone who is in the throws of the same temptations and struggles.  This is why older women who have already raised their children are commanded to speak into the lives of women with children.  Men who are addicted to porn will find more help with a man who has overcome the same sin than a man who is struggling with the same sin.

So let’s get real.  Let’s find those who are further down the path than we and learn from them.  Let’s also find those who are just starting down the path and utilize the skills we are learning to teach them.  Let’s learn to diagnose our own sin, teach others how to diagnose their sin as well, and walk in community in a way that recognizes the subtle signs of it – because we understand the consequences of it.

“Be killing sin or it will be killing you.”

– John Owen

You will do greater works than Jesus.

street preacher

Sometimes Jesus said things that just rock my world.  If we are honest with ourselves, we probably tend to live with a semi-comfortable understanding of His teaching, going about our day-to-day and turning to Him when we feel as though we need Him – occasionally feeling challenged by those more dynamic or radical statements.  We justify ourselves – Jesus didn’t really mean that we are supposed to love our enemies, make disciples of all nations, and hate our mothers/fathers for His sake, right?  We can be functional pacifists and turn the other cheek and talk about our faith when someone else brings up the topic.  Surely that’s good enough.

But then Jesus makes crazy statements that throw us for a loop when we read them.  Like this:

“Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me?  The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works.  Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me; otherwise believe because of the works themselves.  Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do; because I go to the Father.  Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.  If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it.”

– John 14.10-14

Everyone who believes in Jesus will do the same works as Jesus
and greater works as well.  

Wait, what?!  This is not written only about the apostles.  This is not written in the abstract.  This is not written about just those super-Christians who become pastors, missionaries and the extra-spiritual.  Jesus says everyone who believes in Him will do greater works than Him.

What, however, are those works about which Jesus is speaking?  Up until this point in the book of John Jesus has turned water into wine, healed a man who has been lame for thirty-eight years, walked on water, given sight to a man who was born blind, and even raised Lazarus after being dead for four days – just to name a few.  Is Jesus saying that everyone who believes in Him will do these kinds of miracles?  Because if so, probably none of us believes in Him.  I’ve never raised a dead man or walked on water.

It is extremely important to remember that Scripture will never contradict Scripture.  Jesus will never contradict Himself, God, or other Biblical writers.  And we see very clearly in the book of 1 Corinthians that not everyone will be given the gift of healing and miracles:

And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues.  All are not apostles, are they?  All are not prophets, are they?  All are not teachers, are they?  All are not workers of miracles, are they?  All do not have gifts of healings, do they?  All do not speak with tongues, do they?  All do not interpret, do they?

– 1 Cor 12.28-30

So not everyone will be an apostle, not everyone will be a teacher, not everyone will preform miracles and not everyone will have the gift of healing, let alone helps or administration!  Jesus perfectly and fully did all of those things.  What, then, are the works about which Jesus is speaking?

The verses leading up to this unfathomable statement help give us a little clarity.  Jesus claims that the words He speaks and the things He does are actually the Father working in and through Him – and they are all done/said to the end that people would believe.  “Otherwise believe because of the works themselves” (John 10.11).  The works are those things that are leading people to faith in Jesus – giving them grounds on which to believe in Him.

So if we cannot define the works of Jesus – the type of which we will do “greater” – we know at least it is those things that lead people to faith in Jesus.  How, then, can the words we say and the things we do be greater in leading people to faith in Jesus than what He Himself said and did?  We get a clue in the second half of the sentence:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do; because I go to the Father.”

Jesus was the transition point of history.  From the fall of mankind with Adam and Eve in the Garden, humanity was enslaved in sin and looking forward to a savior who would free humanity from sin, break the curse and crush the serpent’s head (Gen 3.15).  The entire Old Testament and Old Covenant between God and Israel was built upon a sacrifice system that looked forward to one final and perfect sacrifice:  Jesus Christ Himself.

Jesus’ ministry was extremely unique, thus, because He was the embodiment of that transition and was teaching truth that would applied in the New Covenant, the new era and the new relationship of God to His people but yet He was still living under the Law.  It was His death and resurrection that caused the transition from one to the other.  This is why Jesus said that everyone who believes in Him will do greater works because He is going to the Father.  Once Jesus’ work was completed on the Earth, the Father sent the Holy Spirit to empower every single believer to do the work of the ministry based on the new hope that we have of purification from sins.  Up until this point, people were awaiting the purification from their sins, but with His return to the Father we can now be pardoned while still in our flesh.  We are not yet perfect, and we are continually confessing our sins and repenting, but we have been justified and can therefore enter into God’s presence personally.

We are not preforming greater works than Jesus because of any merit of our own.  We are not preforming greater works than Jesus because His works were lacking.  In fact, most of the works and deeds He preformed far outweigh any that we will preform in magnitude, in the miraculous or in dependence on God, but they will be greater by nature of having the transformative power of the Holy Spirit in them to bring about new birth and eternal life.  Jesus was not giving people new birth because He had not yet died to pay the punishment for their sins, and thus people were not yet offered eternal life through confession and repentance.  They were still exemplifying faith by looking forward to salvation.

None of us is greater than Jesus.  In fact, it is by His power alone that we can do these works of which He spoke.  But we have been given the unique gift of proclaiming the Gospel – of preaching the forgiveness of sins by the work of Jesus – which brings about new life through faith.  Any work preformed and any word proclaimed that leads to faith and new life is the greatest work possible, and distinct from even the ministry that Jesus had.

Let us not take for granted this blessing and honor.  Let us get busy about living lives that proclaim the Gospel and lead people to faith in Jesus.  That is the reason He has left us here on the Earth, and that is all that will matter in eternity.

Wiping Your Feet

shoes

For four years I lived and worked on an island which is famous for its tropical rain forests.  My job was to take groups of tourists and anthropologists out into the jungle to see orangutan, meed tribal people and see the amazing sites.  Being in the rain forest, there was always an abundance of water present – rivers, streams, springs, rain – but when you are hiking and carrying supplies, there is a very distinct aroma one develops after a few days.  Even if you go for a swim (or bath) in the river.  It is indescribably beautiful, but it is also muddy, it is wet, it is hot, and by the end of a few days in the jungle, everyone is filthy.  Arriving in a major city was always greeted by the pleasure of a cleansing shower.  Dirty clothes were sealed in air-tight bags to be washed, shoes were left in the sun to dry out, and every adventurist could not wait to be clean.

Because of the natural habitat and the worldview of the nationals, it is also cultural to take at least two baths a day.  They are exceptionally clean people.  One habit that they have, to maintain their cleanliness is to always remove shoes at the front door.  Americans take great pride in their shoes which help to “make the outfit”, but there shoes are always left outside or right at the front door in a rack so as to keep the house clean.

There was a similar habit in Jesus’ day.  Shoes were left at the door and a servant would actually wash people’s feet as they entered into the household.  The dust which gathered on people’s feet from outside was washed away so that they could still be clean and keep the house clean as well.  Jesus Himself used this as a powerful image to teach us about our personal Spiritual state in relationship to Him.

“Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come forth from God and was going back to God, got up from supper, and laid aside His garments; and taking a towel, He girded Himself.  Then He poured water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded.  So He came to Simon Peter. He said to Him, ‘Lord, do You wash my feet?’  Jesus answered and said to him, ‘What I do you do not realize now, but you will understand hereafter.’  Peter said to Him, ‘Never shall You wash my feet!’ Jesus answered him, ‘If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.’  Simon Peter said to Him, ‘Lord, then wash not only my feet, but also my hands and my head.’  Jesus said to him, ‘He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you.’  For He knew the one who was betraying Him; for this reason He said, ‘Not all of you are clean’.”

– John 13.3-11

Apart from Jesus, we are filthy.  We are stinky and muddy, and even if we try to clean up in the jungle river, all of our belongings still reek of sweat, rain and filth.  This Spiritual state is described in various ways throughout Scripture:  we are Spiritually dead (Eph 2.1-3), we are of the devil (John 8.44), we are enemies of God (Rom 8.7).  Dead bodies stink.  However, once we come to Jesus, He takes away our guilt of sin by placing it on Himself and washes us clean:

“’Come now, and let us reason together,’
Says the Lord,
‘Though your sins are as scarlet,
They will be as white as snow;
Though they are red like crimson,
They will be like wool’.”

– Is 1.18

“The next day [John] saw Jesus coming to him and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!'”

– John 1.29

However.  Since we are still in the world and since we still have our flesh, we will continue to sin.  We will still get dirty.  When we come to Jesus, He washes us clean and makes us a new creation.  But when we go about life and when we give into temptation and when we choose to sin, we get mud or dust on our feet.  This dust needs to be washed off occasionally, as we enter into the house and presence of God.  This is what we call confession and repentance, and this is what is known as the ongoing process of sanctification.  We are not perfect, and will never be perfect until we shed our flesh and are in the presence of God.

This is why Jesus rebuked Peter, who simply did not understand what Jesus was doing.  “He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you.”  If we have already been washed in the blood, we only need Jesus to deal with the present dirt, we do not need to be saved anew.  However, if we refuse to let Jesus wash away the dirt then we prove ourselves to be filthy and have no part of Him:

‘If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.’

Sin is filthy and wicked and it is that which separates us from God.  If we do not allow Jesus to handle our sin problem, if we do not confess our sins, repent of them and submit to God’s definition of sin in all of our lives and worldview, then we have no part of Him.  We must continually work out our salvation by confessing sin, hating it, and allowing Jesus to wash us clean and change us so that we stop sinning (Phil 2.12, 1 John 1.9).

“And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.  Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness.  You know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin.  No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him.”

– 1 John 3.3-6

Are you in the habit of letting Jesus wash your feet?  Or did you take a bath after a long trek in the jungle and now assume that you are clean for the rest of your life?  Yes, that hot, revitalizing bath did wash you spotless, but Jesus says that we must allow Him to continually wash the dust from our feet in order to remain clean and prove ourselves to have had that initial washing.  If we do not allow Him to wash our feet, then we were never clean to begin with – just like Judas – whose feet Jesus did wash, but who himself was never cleansed from his sins.  Let us confess our sins, submit to Jesus and be washed anew daily.

God and Social Justice: As We Mourn Another Shooting.

harmony

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.

What exactly is “Done”?

service

It is a glorious truth that the Old Covenant, the Law which God commanded to Moses and by which the Hebrew people sought to maintain their favor with God was a list of commandments and expectations.  It’s sole purpose, we learn in the New Testament, was to point forward to Jesus and prove the depravity of man.  There is no man who can keep the Law – the holy expectations of God – and make himself acceptable to God (Rom 7).  The New Covenant, the provision which God has offered us through the perfect life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the relief from that bondage.  It had been said that the Old Covenant proclaims, “Do” while the New Covenant proclaims “Done”.

There is no greater gift than grace, the fact that we are incapable of earning God’s favor and yet He loved us enough to punish our sin in Jesus and offer us His righteousness.  Since we are incapable of being good enough, He gave us a substitute.  Jesus took our punishment and paid our debt.  We can be made pure in the eyes of God by being hidden in the blood of Jesus.

When we recognize, however, that Jesus died because of our sin, and when we recognize the weight of the price He paid to free us from the bondage of effort, we learn to love the things that God loves and hate the things that God hates.  We hate our sin.  We hate our sin because it cost Jesus His life, because it displeases God and because it dishonors God.  If there is any sin in our lives that we love or over which we are not broken, it is very possible that we are not saved.

How can we know that?  Simply put, the moment we come to Jesus for salvation – when we recognize our guilt, confess our sins and ask Jesus to cover us by His redemption, we are made Spiritually alive by being given the Holy Spirit to indwell us.  The role of the Holy Spirit is to convict us of sin and push us on to righteousness:

“And [the Holy Spirit], when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment…”

– John 16.8

Therefore, if we are not recognizing our sin, if we are not being convicted of it, and if we are not repenting of it, then we can understand that the Holy Spirit is not at work in our lives.  What should we do if we are in such a state?  Confess our sins and ask Jesus for the gift of the Holy Spirit!  As we develop the Spiritual disciplines of prayer, reading the Scripture and spending time with God, we will know His heart and the Holy Spirit will convict us.  We must be on guard against sin – sin is what condemns us before God.  We cannot drift and expect to grow Spiritually.  We cannot be passive agents in our Spiritual life.  We must press into God and the allow the Holy Spirit to transform us.

“Prayer will make a man cease from sin, or sin will entice a man to cease from prayer.”

– John Bunyan

Does that mean that the New Covenant does not really mean, “Done”?  This oversimplification of the two covenants can be extremely helpful and at the same time extremely dangerous.  There are different aspects to our salvation, and perhaps the most glorious is justification.  Justification is a legal term by which one is declared redeemed.  It does not mean “Just as if I had never sinned”, because we are not restored to a place of innocence and our sinful nature removed.  It means “punishment paid”.  We all deserve the eternal death sentence for our sin, and Jesus paid that for us.  This is our legal standing before the Heavenly courtroom in which God is the judge, Jesus is our advocate or lawyer and Satan is the prosecutor.  Jesus does not respond to God and try to disprove our guilt when Satan accuses us, He stands there and simply says “time served” for every offense.

In this sense, the New Covenant proclaims “done”.  Once we have been justified, all of our sins past, present and future have been covered.  We are not declared welcome into eternity because our punishment has been served.  However, the ongoing process of sanctification – that change by which we die to our sins and are made more like Jesus – is not completed, and we must be active participants in it.  John Owen paraphrased 1 John thus:

“Be killing sin or it will be killing you.”

Jesus said that we will be known by our fruit.  Paul teach us to work our our salvation with fear and trembling, being diligent to fight against sin.  We are not passive in sanctification, we are killing our flesh and pressing on to holiness.  In this sense, our salvation is not “done”, but is in process.  It does not mean that our justification is capable of being lost, rather we prove our justification by pressing on in our sanctification.  We prove that we have confessed our sins and turned to Jesus by hating our sin and ceasing from it.  When we are saved, when we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, we love God and we want to honor God, and we understand that our sanctification glorifies God.

“My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples.”

– John 15.8

How then do we balance law and grace?  Do we do what we want, and hope that it is not sinful?  Do we despair when we have to choose to do the right thing even though our hearts are not in it?  C.S. Lewis offers us this beautiful help:

“A perfect man would never act from a sense of duty; he’d always want the right thing more than the wrong one. Duty is only a substitute for love (of God and of other people) like a crutch which is a substitute for a leg. Most of us need the crutch at times; but of course it is idiotic to use the crutch when our own legs (our own loves, tastes, habits, etc.) can do the journey on their own.”

There will be times when our hearts long for revenge, for sinful pleasure, for indulgence or any other worldly sin.  Even after we have been saved (justified), and even after we have walked for years down the path of sanctification.  Only a perfect man would always long to do what God commands, and we know that we will only be perfected when we shed our Earthly bodies.  Until then, we will be left with the dichotomy of flesh and Spirit.  We are saved and yet still have our sinful nature.  We enjoy the pleasures of sin and the world and yet long for the pleasures of Jesus and eternity.  Thus we utilize the commandments of Jesus as a crutch by which we choose to do the right thing, even when we do not desire to do the right thing.

We continue to “Do” even though our salvation has been secured by what Jesus has “Done”.  We act out of love for God and thankfulness for His salvation, and at times out of discipline – not to earn God’s favor, but to please the one who gave everything so that we might be saved.

Understand the will of the Lord

two roads

“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