When You Get Laid Off

Image result for patience

I was recently laid off.  For the past four years I have worked for a non-profit that relied on the generosity of a major donor for our office and warehouse, and the donor could no longer afford to give the space so we had to close down.  This coincided either perfectly or terribly with my first pregnancy – such that our closing day was just days before my due date.  So now I find myself in a brand new life circumstance:  unemployed and a first time mom.  This is extremely unnerving for me.  I have always been a motivated go-getter with a relatively clear “career path” of missions and vision for my life.  But it is exceptionally difficult to job hunt when you are very pregnant and will be in immediate need of maternity leave upon starting a new job, so my maternity leave is unpaid and for the indefinite future.

Did you know that God has a plan, even in seasons of unemployment?  Three fighter verses are good to keep close during such a time:

“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

“In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls.”

– 1 Peter 1.6-9

“For from days of old they have not heard or perceived by ear,
Nor has the eye seen a God besides You,
Who acts in behalf of the one who waits for Him.”

– Is 64.4

We will be tempted to sin during seasons of unemployment in a variety of ways – namely to the unbelief of impatience and doubt, mingled with envy and bitterness.  These sins are sneaky and can be subtle at times, not showing themselves as gross sins which our friends and accountability partners will quickly notice and point out, but growing slowly in our hearts.  We must be aware of them and count them as dangerous sins which will threaten our joy and peace with God:

Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

– Gal 5.19-21

“But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth.”

– Col 3.8

“But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”

– Rev 21.8

God has promised to meet all of our needs.  These needs are the ones He has defined that will sharpen our faith, cause us to rely and depend on Him, bringing Himself the most glory and honor through our refinement (Phil 4.19, Rom 8.28, 1 Peter 1.6-9).  He loves us as His children and He will give us every good and perfect gift (James 1.17).  He will meet our needs as the good Father (Luke 7.11).  He will bless and work for those who wait on Him (Is 64.4).  To not believe these promises is to not know God, and to be headed for an eternity separated from Him in Hell (Rev 21.8).

Therefore, we must be patient and wait on the Lord.  Those who wait on the Lord will gain new strength (Is 40.31).  They will not be put to shame (Is 49.23).  And the very quietness and trust will give us strength (Is 30.15).  We must neither give up nor act out ahead of God’s timing.  We must consult God for every decision and wait on His timing and direction.  We must embrace the circumstances in which He has us and we must move at the pace in which He directs us.  We will thus learn the lessons He is aiming to teach us and will receive the blessings He is aiming to give us.

That may mean He is teaching us to surrender our self-sufficiency and rely on Him.  That may mean He is teaching us to embrace a new role in our lives [like motherhood].  That may mean He is teaching us faith and submission [by depending on a husband to provide while we care for a child].  That may mean He is teaching us to die to our pride by working a job that might not align with our career goals but will provide for our families.  That may mean He is teaching us patience, perseverance and selflessness which are not optional Christian characteristics!

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”

– Gal 5.22-23

As we cultivate faith – or as God cultivates faith in us – we will exemplify these attributes.  We will have peace, patience and faithfulness while we wait on God.  We will work and be responsible to care for our families and we will look to Him for direction for our next steps.  We will live well, and we will ultimately be able to die well.  We will know God’s faithfulness.

“Infinite wisdom has arranged the whole with infinite love; and infinite power enables me—to rest upon that love. I am in a dear Father’s hands—all is secure. When I look to Him, I see nothing but faithfulness—and immutability—and truth; and I have the sweetest peace—I cannot have more peace.”

– Charles Simeon

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When your numbers plummit.

empty seats

We live in a world that is governed by numbers.  Statistics, revenue, attendance and bottom dollar are how we discern our success in most areas of life.  It is normal and right in most situations to evaluate our business practices, spending habits and effectiveness by response and budgets.  If we do not keep our spending in check, we will run out of money.  If we do not tailor our businesses to the market, we will never make a profit and fail.  We can learn much about culture, history, trends and predictions from statistics and make informed decisions for our every day lives and also for our nations.  Numbers can be extremely helpful.

But there are also times that numbers are extremely detrimental.  Sometimes for the sake of data collection businesses will dishearten customers by requiring registration.  Sometimes people will double or triple register for benefits, and thus the numbers are inaccurate.  But for us in the church, we regularly evaluate our effectiveness by numbers – either intentionally or unintentionally.  We might count our attendance, or our new baptisms, or tithes and offerings and consider that a direct reflection of our success and/or Spiritual impact.

To evaluate the work of God by numbers is extremely dangerous.

Western 21st century culture is that of the entitled consumer.  We want to be successful, beautiful and comfortable.  We buy more than we can afford and we expect the world to recognize how wonderful we are.  Thus the extremely successful people are entrepreneurs at heart:  they figure out what people want and they sell it to them, convincing them that they will have a better life in the process.

We are consequently seeing churches follow the same pattern.  There is an entire movement of so-called churches that are drawing a crowd by preaching the health and wealth gospel:  God wants you to be successful and healthy, and all you need to achieve it is faith.  These churches draw huge crowds of people hoping to find a quick fix to a better life.

We are also seeing churches that might have started strong but find that people are “changed” and stick around in response to self-help style messages and books.  Every sermon is another three-step guide to happiness, contentment or self betterment.

Most tragically, however, we are observing the culture at large make peace with sin and continue to alter the moral compass of our country as a whole.  For the sake of not wanting to offend, to be seeker-friendly, and to allow people to define right and wrong on their own, churches are taking no position on sin or the concrete doctrines of the Bible like Hell, depravity, our need for a savior, or grace.  We just preach a secular love and make people feel good.  The old adage rings true:

Even a circus draws a crowd.

We are making ourselves a circus.  And a pretty bad one, most of the time, to be honest.

Let us once again consider Jesus:  our perfect example.  Early in His earthly ministry, Jesus drew extremely large crowds.  People came to Him to hear Him speak and for healing.  One day Jesus was out with His 12 disciples and a large crowd was following Him because He had been healing people.  Scripture says that there were 5,000 men – plus women and children.  This was a huge crowd – at least 10,000 people.  Just watching and waiting to hear what Jesus had to say.  Jesus felt compassion for them and proceeded to take five loaves of bread and 2 fish and multiply that food to feed the entire crowd – to the extent that there were twelve baskets full of leftover food.

Jesus saw a need in the people, He met that need, and worked a mighty miracle.  The crowd was amazed and wanted to continue to receive the benefit of being near Him.  They were following Him.  In everyone’s eyes then – and by all methods of modern evaluation, Jesus was extremely successful at that moment in His ministry.

That night, Jesus left the crowd and went to a town without telling them where He was going.  The crowd figured it out, however, and followed Him.  The very next day He began teaching the same crowd about eternal life, true bread and following Him.  His teaching was so difficult to hear and in vocabulary so offensive that the entire crowd left.  Jesus turned to His twelve disciples and asked if they were going to leave as well, and they said that they had no where to go, and Jesus simply observed:

“Jesus answered them, ‘Did I Myself not choose you, the twelve, and yet one of you is a devil?’  Now He meant Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the twelve, was going to betray Him.”

 – John 6.70-71

In twenty four hours or less, Jesus went from having well over 5,000 people follow Him to 11.  All of the peripheral followers left, and even one of those who appeared to be devoted was deemed worse than all the rest.  The 5,000+ could not bear His teaching and one of His hand-chosen twelve was wicked to the core, such that Jesus called him a devil.

Have you ever been a part of a church that is dwindling?  Do you wonder if it is dying?  Have people started joking, or worse yet – believing – that “Ichabod” has been written over the door?  Are your loyal congregants and even leaders pouring out of the door to find other churches or to just stop going altogether?  It is definitely a good and right thing to evaluate the tendencies of our congregation.  First of all we need to pray.  We need to remember that our churches are not our churches.  The only person who can truly call the church “my church” is Jesus.  He is the head.  He directs, He guides, He is sovereign over them.  And we must submit to His leadership.  We also need to find out why people are leaving.  Is something sinful or heretical being taught?  Is there a faction within the church?  Is there a predator working with our children?  Or are people just bored, or convicted, or looking for more friends?  In short:  are they being driven by the Holy Spirit or by their flesh?

Jesus’ teaching and the Gospel in and of itself is offensive and difficult to hear.  Jesus was charismatic enough and preformed so many miracles that the crowds continually grew and were even oppressive by their vast numbers, but they regularly receded back – even to just the disciples – when Jesus began to preach the Truth.  People do not naturally want to hear the truth.  They want to have their ears tickled, their bellies filled, and their backs patted:

“For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.”

 – 2 Tim 4.3-4

Jesus appeared to be unaffected by the crowds.  In fact, when the crowds grew to be certain sizes, He often left them to go off to pray by Himself or to go somewhere else to teach and heal.  This is the exact opposite of our goal in western Christianity.  We want to be successful, we want to draw in the masses and be a big dynamic church.  We will start multiple campuses and use videos to broadcast our pastors, we will make our mark on this city.

Churches in persecuted areas understand much more clearly the heart of Jesus for His church on many levels:  they are wary of big numbers, they facilitate strong discipleship, the stick to the truth, and they launch small groups of believers all around the cities rather than establishing themselves in a big, worldly, and visible way.  You would expect to hear that they are slower to evangelize, but quite the opposite is true in most circumstances.  We are complacent and expect “the church” to reach the lost, so we rarely share the Gospel and only on occasion invite people to join us at church hoping they will get saved inside the walls of the church.  The persecuted church has experienced Jesus changing their world, and they seek to protect the church by only bringing in other believers, but yet they are excited to share what God has done in their lives so they get out and talk about the Gospel on their own.  We have much we can learn from them.

But while we live in our “bigger is better” society, we are given clear instructions of how we are to respond to a difficult culture that does not want to hear the truth:

“But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.”

 – 2 Tim 4.5

We should approach every decision, including our church devotion, by prayer.  Where is God leading you to serve?  There are certainly times that churches die.  It could be because of false teaching, it could be because of sin within the congregation that is not being addressed, it could be because the members are complacent and God is scattering them to get them out of their comfort zones and making the useful again, God could allow a church to die for any number of reasons.  But if He has called you to a body, then you must be faithful and follow His leadership even if it is difficult and if other people are leaving.

We must also fight the temptation to evaluate our success by numbers.  If we follow the example of Jesus, we will find that people might be intrigued by the good deeds that we do, but the vast majority of them will not stick around.  We will even find that within our “core” and faithful few, there will be devils who are there for the wrong reasons and will fall into gross sin.

We must be sober, and we must endure hardship.  We must share the Gospel boldly and we must fulfill our ministry, even when it appears unsuccessful to the world.  God is our judge, not man.  And in the end it is only His opinion that matters.  You will always do right if you obey God and do what He teaches.  And if we look like Jesus, chances are we will not have a crowd the size of the one the circus draws.

“But to me it is a very small thing that I may be examined by you, or by any human court; in fact, I do not even examine myself.  For I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord.”

 – 1 Cor 4.3-4

Jesus is Lord.

sheldon cooper

Last week my husband and I were watching the Big Bang Theory.  Sheldon, one of the main characters, is the son of a “good baptist woman” from Texas, but as a scientist rejects the existence of God.  When he and his friends almost miss the opportunity to buy tickets to see the new Star Wars movie, however, Sheldon dropped to his knees and began praying.  He said,

“Lord! This is Sheldon Cooper. You’re good friends with my mom. I know I’ve spent my life denying that you exist [then the guys announce they got through and got the tickets]…and I will continue to do so!”

This near prayer is poignantly accurate on many levels, spiritually.  He verbalizes what many of us unknowingly and/or unintentionally do.  We know that Jesus is Lord, but we do not submit to Him in our daily lives and we consider Him our cosmic genie who helps us out in our moments of distress and need.  Sheldon needed tickets to see Star Wars, so he turned to Jesus to make it happen, but as soon as he got what he wanted he walked away.

Now, I would venture to guess that none of us are so aware of our pettiness and if we call ourselves Christians we would never verbalize (or even realize) that we live most of our lives as though Jesus does not exist.  If we honestly look at our day-to-day lives, however, how true would we find it to be?  There are a few key points that we need to recognize here:

First of all, Jesus is Lord.  When we turn to prayer, or when we start to explain Jesus to someone else, often times the term we use is “Lord”.  Unfortunately, lord is an old-english word that we rarely use today, mostly because there is no one who functions in the office of lord in our daily lives.  Lord, generically defined, is someone who has power or authority, but the office of lord in the feudal system was one to whom a vassal owed complete sworn allegiance.  The lord had authority, as a ruler and influencer, but there was a greater bond than boss/employee, it was overarching all of life.  The vassal was dependent upon and loyal to the lord.

This is the implication of Jesus as Lord we must understand.  As a Christian, we depend upon Christ for life and sustenance, and we are loyal to Him in our daily activities and lifestyles.  He has written the moral law, the expectations and outlines of life, and we submit to and obey them, while depending on Him for the ability to do so.  Jesus is both authority and life giver.

Thus, the second point is clear:  we do not make Him Lord.  My father has a pet peeve in Christian-isms, and that is the exhortation to “Make Jesus your Lord”.  The sentiment is right, but the wording is wrong.  Jesus is Lord.  When He arose from the dead and ascended back to Heaven, He sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Mark 16.19).  He has been given all authority over Heaven and Earth (Matt 22.18).  He holds the keys to Hell (Rev 1.18).  He is the judge who will welcome some to eternal life and send others to Hell (Rev 20.11-15).  He is Lord.  He is in charge.  We do not have any authority or power to make Him Lord, we only choose to submit or rebel against Him.

Our salvation depends on our submission, however.  Sheldon was right.  Jesus is Lord, however he is sadly living as though He does not exist.  Paul teaches us clearly about salvation:

“…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…”

– Rom 10.9

Salvation is our recognition of our sin guilt, belief that Jesus paid that debt, and submission to Him as our Lord.  We cannot ask Him to forgive us and continue on in life doing our own thing.  When we confess our sins, the Holy Spirit begins the work of changing us and enabling us to kill our sinful passions and live a life to the glory and honor of God.  He actually changes our passions so that we desire to live holy and righteous lives, and we hate those things that God hates.  If you do not hate your sin, chances are that the Holy Spirit is not indwelling you, Jesus is not your Lord, and you are not saved.

In summary, Jesus is the Lord.  He has been exalted above all of creation and given all authority and power.

“Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

– Phil 2.9-11

We do not make Him Lord, rather we choose to submit to Him or choose to rebel against Him.  And our eternity depends on that critical daily decision.

“For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries.

– Heb 10.26-27

The authority and power is not in our hands.  We cannot make Jesus our Lord.  He already is.  So let’s humble ourselves today, confess Him as Lord anew, and walk by the power of the Holy Spirit in submission to Him.  Recognize sin as how He defines sin.  Hate the things that He hates.  Love the things that He loves.  Obey the commandments He has given, to love God, love our neighbors, bless our enemies and make disciples of all nations.

Let’s get you saved.

u turn

We, as a society (and as Christians), are becoming more and more timid and fearful to discuss sin.  We do not want to sound judgmental, we do not want to be labeled a bigot, we think we will be hypocrites for defining sin if we ourselves do not live a perfect life, and we are afraid that we will push people away.  Political correctness, in all of its glory, is making us into a people with soft sin who think that we can ignore reality by burying our heads in the sand and pretending nothing exists.  And in church-ese, we have become very comfortable to invite people “as you are”, we want everyone to feel comfortable and welcome to be a part of our weekly gatherings and worship services, because we just want to “get you saved”.

But what does being saved actually mean?

When we talk about Jesus, forgiveness and salvation with children, we often use terminology like, “ask Jesus into your heart”.  Not only is this concept unbiblical, it is extremely dangerous.  It is superstitious.  It will damage many people for a long time.  Why?  Because salvation the culmination of a person understanding his position before God, grasping the weight of his sin and consequences thereof, confessing his sin and repenting from it, asking God for forgiveness based on the sacrifice of Jesus, being covered by His blood and clothed in His righteousness, and living a lifestyle that is continually dying to self, obeying God and persevering through trials.  Yes, there is a mutual abiding that occurs – us in Jesus and Jesus in us (John 15.4-9).  Yes, God does also place the Holy Spirit within us to convict us of righteousness, sin and judgment (John 16.8).  And yes, we are a temple for the Holy Spirit to indwell (1 Cor 6.9).  But Jesus never commanded anyone to ask Him to come live in his heart.  Paul never preached the Gospel as thus.  Rather, it focused on repentance and making Jesus the Lord over everything.

What this all means is that the salvation experience beings with understanding of sin.  We cannot “get you saved” until you understand that every single human being who has walked the face of this Earth (besides Jesus) is utterly wicked (Rom 3.23), is an enemy of God (James 4.4), is dead Spiritually (Eph 2.1), and deserves an eternity in Hell as just punishment.  And since this is true of every single human being, this is true of me and this is true of you.  I am, by nature, wicked.  You are, by nature, wicked.  We are, because of our nature, separated from God and bound towards Hell.

God hates sin.

God hates all sin.

And because God hates sin,
God will not overlook any sin.

God will, at the end of time, judge every human being by the deeds they preformed in the flesh.

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.

– 2 Cor 5.10

 Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor.

– 1 Cor 3.8

“Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done.”

– Rev 22.12

“I am He who searches the minds and hearts; and I will give to each one of you according to your deeds.”

– Rev 2.23

And God, being perfect, will not sweep any sin under the rug.  He is just, He is righteous, and He does not show leniency towards any sin that is preformed.  This is a terrifying reality.  Because while it is true that murderers deserve to go to Hell for killing another human being, we also deserve to go to Hell for eating a cookie that our moms told us not to eat when we were six years old.  Think about it: that is exactly why God kicked Adam and Eve out of the Garden, damned to Hell, and the entire world put under the curse:  eating a piece of fruit that God said, “Do not eat”.

Would you have cursed all of creation over that?

Probably not, because we are comfortable with a level of sin.  We know, in our hearts, that we are all sinners and we show grace to the little sins and pretend like they are nothing.  But God will repay everyone accordingly, and His standard is perfection:  the Law.

“Vengeance is Mine, and retribution,
In due time their foot will slip;
For the day of their calamity is near,
And the impending things are hastening upon them.”

– Deut 32.35

We cannot find salvation until we understand from what we need saving.  We are not simply trying to introduce people to Jesus so that they can have a relationship with Him, we are trying to help people understand the dire situation in which they are living and flee from it.  Jesus will not enter into relationship with you until you recognize, confess and repent from your sin.

Now, hear me.  This does not mean that we have to get all of our sin in order before we come to Jesus for salvation.  Only Jesus can empower and enable us to fight and conquer sin.  We cannot clean ourselves up enough to make ourselves acceptable to Him.  But the salvation process and experience begins with us recognizing our wicked nature, its consequence, and our turning from sin to Jesus.

Jesus came to the world and lived a perfect life – one not deserving of death – but yet He died in our place.  We have been sentenced to death – physically and Spiritually – and Jesus stepped in and paid our debt.  God does not, by our asking for forgiveness, overlook our sin, He pays our penalty in Jesus.  He does not just say, “It’s ok, I forgive you”, He says, “I have poured out all of my wrath for your sin on Jesus.  He suffered so that you do not have to.”

When we grasp the weight of our sin and fate, and when we then grasp the weight of our forgiveness – that it is not flippant but cost Jesus His life – then we begin the life of getting to know Jesus, learning what God has to say about how we are supposed to live and how we are supposed to act, and changing.

Yes, Jesus wants to have a relationship with you.  But that relationship is fundamentally Him as Lord and you as servant, follower and lastly friend.  Jesus is not your homeboy, He is God.  He is king.  On a throne.  And He will be respected.  He will be worshiped.  On the day that we meet Him, every knee will bow (Phil 2.10).  We will not even be able to stand up in His presence.

And Jesus takes the sin matter extremely seriously.  So seriously, in fact, that Scripture teaches us that if we come to Jesus for salvation, but then continue sinning, we are not saved.  There is very little hope for us, in fact:

“For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries.”

– Heb 10.26-27

This does not mean that will not sin.  Scripture offers us great comfort and peace when we stumble in a moment of weakness:

“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.”

– 1 John 2.1-2

What this means, then, is that we cannot make peace with sin.  We cannot go on sinning willfully and assuming that Jesus will forgive us.  Jesus wants us to love Him and obey Him out of that love.  If we are striving to honor Him in our daily lives, but falter in a moment of weakness, He will forgive us.  It is covered by His blood.  But if we think that we are buddy-buddy with Jesus and that we can live however we want and assume His forgiveness, then we are not saved.  True love for Jesus is rooted in a sober understanding of our sinful nature and overwhelming gratefulness for His sacrifice – paying our debt – and is exemplified in our complete surrender to His will and desire.  In short, because of what He did for us, we do everything that we can to honor Him and to make Him proud of us.

This is what abiding in Him means.  Not that we just ask Jesus into our hearts and obtain some eternal fire insurance.  It means that the Holy Spirit takes up residence within us and convicts us of sin and helps us to change.

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

– John 16.8

In summary, God wants to have a relationship with us.  And that relationship is based on love – God is love, and we only know love if we know God.  But that relationship also is built on our submission and obedience to Him.  And the outpouring of our love and appreciation for the gift of salvation is getting to know Him by reading the Bible, applying His truths to our lives, turning away from sin and glorifying Him in everything that we do.

Valentinian Love

better than yourself

Did you know that St. Valentine was a priest in the 3rd century who was killed for his Christian faith on February 14th?  Little else is known about him, other than that he was killed under the rule of Emporer Claudius II, who came to be known as Claudius the Cruel.  Is that strange that we would widely celebrate the date of his murder as the day to venerate love?

Maybe.  Maybe not.

Jesus said,

Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.”

– John 15.13

According to Jesus, the greatest act of love is to give up one’s life for another.  Thus St. Valentine committed the greatest act of love towards Jesus on Feb 14th, 278 AD (approximately).  Roses and chocolates probably do not scream that level of devotion to one’s significant other, but hopefully we stop to consider the teachings of Scripture on marital love on this day!

“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her…”

– Eph 5.25

Husbands are commanded to love their wives in the same way that Jesus loves us.  And He loved us according to his own definition of greatest love:  dying for us.  Husbands, do you daily die to yourself, putting your wife’s desires, needs, heart and life above your own?  We might be quick to romanticize an event where our spouse’s well being is at risk and imagine how we would step in to protect her, but those situations never happen in most relationships.  The call of Christ is to die to our own desires daily, and to put our spouses before ourselves.  Seek to know and meet their desires, needs and interests.

“Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord…”

– Eph 5.22

As wives – women – thrive on love and nurture, husbands – men – thrive on respect.  Women are thus commanded to die to themselves by respecting the role of husband, and the man.  Women, do you daily die to yourself, put your husbands desires, needs and masculinity above yourself?  Do you respect the role of husband?  Do you respect your husband in his job and personhood?  Do you serve Him as you serve the Lord?

Scripture intentionally teaches us, by our gender and disposition, how to die to ourselves and serve our spouses.  Men (in general) do not naturally nurture and love, they like to work, accomplish goals and fix things.  Women (in general) desire to be loved and cherished, so God commands men to purposefully be sensitive, to love, to serve their wives in the way that they want and need to be served.  Women naturally tend to love, nurture and mother men – they think that their respect has to be earned and they criticize and teach.  But men desire to be respected and honored, so God commands women to purposefully die to ourselves by serving and honoring our husbands.

The mutual way to state it is found in Phil 2:

“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.”

– Phil 2.3-4

We all should regard one another as more important than ourselves.  To the point that if it is required, we would die for our spouse, but on the daily level, we should honor, respect, defer to and love our spouses.  Have a wonderful Valentine’s Day, considering how to put your significant other’s desires first!

Dear Christian, You Are Not The Church.

Church-People1

There is a new phenomenon these days where people are trying to justify and prove themselves as Christians while living whatever lifestyle they so choose, and they are using the phrase, “I am the Church” and usually add on a tag something like, “just like you”.  For nearly a decade we have wrestled, as a sub culture, with the question of how literally we need to interpret and apply the Bible.  And in justifying our contra-Biblical decisions, we cry out, “I am a Christian and Jesus loves me!  I can come just as I am, it doesn’t matter what I do!”

I have written extensively on the topic of righteousness and sanctification – our dying to our flesh and sin when we come to faith – but the argument has shifted.  We no longer are trying to prove ourselves by simply stating, “I am a Christian”, but now it is said, “I am the church”.

The reason this is so disconcerting and dangerous is because it encourages the lie and error of individualism.  The Western culture of today is uniquely individualistic, and we struggle to understand the context and depths of Scripture because our little worlds only revolve around us.  The lie, “You can be whatever you want to be” leads us to fight to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps and fight for financial, social, and personal success.  We do not consider our friends or family in decision making, but make “the best decision for me and my future” when promotions, moves, and future planning come up.  We send our babies to day care for someone else to raise and we lock up our parents in retirement homes for someone else to care for.  It’s all about me.

And this worldview is carelessly applied to our faith.  We thrive on lies like, “If I were the only person on Earth, Jesus would still have come to die for me” and “Your faith is personal and between you and God”.  We then believe that Church is about me, we church hop to find the place where they do worship the way we like and we get fed.  As soon as someone looks at us funny or tries to hold us accountable, or Heaven forbid they change the style of music, we are out.  There’s always another Church.

But this worldview and concept is wrong.  Jesus came to die for all who would believe (Rom 3.21-22).  Before the beginning, redemption’s story was written.  Jesus was slain from before the foundation of the Earth (Rev 13.8).  And He chose, knew and set aside believers before He ever said, “Let there be light” (Eph 1).  God’s big picture plan is not about us individually.  And while we must make our choice to repent and follow Christ individually (my parents’ faith will not save me), our individualism does not fit in the context or teaching of Scripture.

“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 12.14-20

The body is not one member.  Period. You are not the Church.  You are a part of the Church.  Scripture teaches two levels of Church:  the local church and the church universal.  You cannot function as a one man show.  You were not made to, and God does not want you to.  When you are born again, you are born immediately into a family of faith, and at the time you are a baby.  You need mature people to teach and feed you, and as you grow you understand your strengths, weaknesses and roles.  You might be a hand, a foot or a mouth!  We need each other to function as a healthy unit.  We need Jesus as our head to guide us, and to help us die to ourselves and to sin.

And in that we come full circle.  You cannot be a part of the body and rebel against what the head says.  The head says, “Go and sin no more” (John 8.11).  The head also gave us a long and inclusive book that outlines what He defines as sin.  He is the Head and He gets to make those calls.  Just because we say we are the Church or more accurately, part of the Church, that does not make it so.  If we have not been born again, if we have not been fundamentally changed, if we are not killing our sin and living by the power of the Holy Spirit unto righteousness, we are not part of the Church.  We may go to Church, and we might even affirm the Gospel as truth, but we are just hypocrites who love our sin more than we love Jesus.

Is there anything you love more than Jesus?  You must kill that to be a part of the Church.  Surrender today.  Let Him be the head.  Be a part of the Church, and know your role.  Let’s fight our sin, kill our flesh, study what God has to say about sin, righteousness and holiness and let the Spirit work it out in us.  And let us humble ourselves.  It is not all about me and it is not all about you.  It is all about Jesus, and His corporate Church.

The problem with our prayer.

I have a problem with my prayer life.  Way more often than not my prayer is,

“Lord, bless me as I  [fill in the blank] .”

or

“Lord, be with me as I  [fill in the blank] .

Help me to honor you while I  [fill in the blank] .

Am I wrong to ask God’s blessing on my endeavors?  It is the desire of my heart that those things in which I choose to invest my time and energy to be blessed of God.

However.

When was the last time you stopped before an event, activity or endeavor for which you are asking blessing and simply asked God, “Lord, is this what you want me to do?”  Or better yet, when was the last time you thought about the future and just asked, “God what do you want me to do?”

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.”  Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.  Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.”  

 – James 4.13-15

Everything that we do is only that which God permits.  He is in control and he knows our steps, our hours and every intimate detail of our lives.

The mind of man plans his way, 
But the Lord directs his steps.

 – Prov 16.9

And while it is true that God is concerned about every aspect of our lives, He has given us instructions and He has expectations of us for how we live our lives.  So, for the sake of making a point, we know that God will not bless us or condone us – even if we ask Him to – if our prayer is,

“God, bless me while I murder these people.”

or

“God, be with me while I rob this bank.”

God will not eternally bless or join with us in spirit in our sin.  Unfortunately, what we often fail to recognize is that the Bible teaches us that whatever is not done in faith is sin (Rom 14.23).  Therefore we can do morally neutral or even good deeds, but apart from faith they are sinful.  And asking God’s blessing over our plans that have been established without His input is as ludicrous as asking Him to bless us while we rob a bank!

If we attempt to share the Gospel with someone who has never heard without the leadership of God and His prompting, it will fail.  Perhaps you will convince the person in his mind, but it is only God who gives life, and it will not be a genuine conversion.  If you share the Gospel under the compulsion of the Spirit, you may see no immediate fruit, but it is under His authority that we can remember,

So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; 
It will not return to Me empty, 
Without accomplishing what I desire, 
And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.

 – Is 55.11

If we set off on a road trip and ask God to bless our travels, we might have a blast and no hitches along the way.  But if God was not sought in the preparation and if He was given no thought other than a request for safety, it was not of Him.  If we plan a trip through prayer and thoughtfulness, we might break down, have an accident or get robbed – but we know it was His plan and that He has a greater purpose in it.

God’s blessing does not necessarily mean our comfort.  God’s presence does not always mean our success.  Sometimes He blows our minds with his kindness, and sometimes He allows us to go through persecution and trials for our Spiritual growth and well being.  We know that to be like Christ, we will be hated and persecuted (2 Tim 3.12).  Why then do we not expect it?

But what we can be sure of, if we do anything apart from faith, it is sin.  And even if our activities go how we want and according to plan, God is not in them and is consequently not honored.

In much the same way we exemplify our lack of faithfulness in planning or preparation when we approach God and pray,

“We welcome you here today.”

or

“God, we invite you into this place today.”

At face value, this prayer exemplifies our lack of understanding of the nature of God.  He is everyone.  At all times.  We cannot escape His presence, power or authority (Ps 139).  We will not walk into a void church building, home or office complex and bring God with us, or invite Him to follow us.  But on a deeper and more serious level, it portrays the extent of our individualism and arrogance to assume that we have anything to offer Him.  We approach the throne of grace, we do not invite God to enter into our presence.  We get on our knees and recognize the fact that we deserve nothing, but his loving kindness reaches out and welcomes us and forgives us.  He is God.  He is perfect.  He is sovereign.  We are not.

So let’s stop making our own path.  Let’s stop writing our own plan.  Let’s ask God what He wants for our lives.  Let’s examine the Scriptures to understand what Jesus taught about how we should live our lives and then test our pleasures, our activities, our work, our free time, our everything against that infallible word!  And let’s trust Him that when we have examined His Word, when we have surrendered our desires, when we have sought His guidance and wisdom, that whatever happens is for His glory and our good (Rom 8.28).

worship leader