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If You Go, They Will Come

November 26, 2012 1 comment

My wife and I recently made a commitment to be more intentional and proactive in ministry. We decided to make a weekly commitment to go somewhere – so far it’s been a local park – and try to find at least one person with whom to share Christ.

The first week, we met Junior. He grew up as a Jehovah’s Witness, but hadn’t been to church in years. We invited him to our church and to our Life Group and encouraged him to seek the Lord for himself, and told him that God had an awesome plan for him. Though I believe he was encouraged, and though I know I planted a seed, he has not come to church or our Life Group.

The next week we went back to the same park, this time with an infant and a two-year-old in tow. This made things more challenging. We didn’t get a chance to share Jesus specifically with anyone, but we met a lady and her granddaughter who come to the park often, and we felt we may have made a connection that would pay off in the future.

This last week, we weren’t able to make it out to the park, but we met someone at church who had come for the first time, so we decided to invite him out to lunch. He never showed.

I chronicle all of this to show that, quite frankly, I don’t feel our efforts have been particularly fruitful. Honestly, its been a bit discouraging. Of course, as an  optimistic young preacher, I assumed that the second I opened my mouth, the heavens would open and the audible voice of God would boom out, “This is my servant! Hear him!” None of that happened.

Then there was this morning. As I am leaving my house to go to work, my next door neighbor was rolling out her trash to the curb (kinda weird because trash day is tomorrow). Anyway, I say hello and start getting into my car. All of a sudden, she’s knocking on my window. She proceeds to tell me that her husband is in the hospital having problems with his heart, and since she knows we are Christians (they are Catholic), she asks us to remember him in our prayers. I say, “Let’s pray right now!” So we grab hands, and I pray the prayer of faith for her husband. When I look up there are tears in her eyes, and she thanks me profusely. Tomorrow, Lauren and I will knock on her door and follow up. Maybe she’ll even come to Life Group.

Here’s my point in all of this – and it’s something I’ve experienced in the past, but somehow forgot. When we begin to step out in faith, when we leave the comforts of our couches and homes to try and advance the Kingdom of God, God sees. Even though it seemed that I was not having much of an effect, I was out there, trying my best, doing my part. Then, lo and behold, God brings someone to me!

There’s a reality that the more willing we are, the more we will be used. I remember the story of Philip. He started a city-wide revival in Samaria. Then, for some strange reason, the Holy Spirit led him away from the revival out into the wilderness to minister to one man. That man turned to Christ and believed, and Philip baptized him. Then, something weird happened. Philip vanished and appeared a few miles away in the city of Azotus preaching the Gospel.

As freaky as this incident may be, I think it tells us something about Philip, and about God’s attitude toward us when we are obedient. Think about this man. First, he is a faithful member of the Jerusalem church, which lands him a position serving tables for widows. Then, when persecution hits, he flees the city, preaching Jesus as he goes. Then he gets to Samaria, and God moves powerfully, and many in the city turn to Jesus. Then when God tells him to leave and go preach to one man, Philip obeys without question. Here’s a story of a faithful and committed Christian, determined to advance the Kingdom wherever he goes, even willing to leave the revival he started, to preach to a single man who needed Jesus. I think God saw the faithfulness of Philip and said, “Now here’s a man I can use! No need for him to waste time walking to the next town, I’ll just beam him up!”

Similarly, I think that when God sees our faithfulness, He will give us opportunities we would never have otherwise had. How often do we have people literally knocking on our door asking for our ministry? I know it doesn’t happen too often to me – maybe its because I am only now gathering up the courage to step outside of myself and make a difference for Jesus.

What are you doing for the Kingdom of God these days?

 

The Work and the Glory

So I read a good chunk of Exodus today as part of my “Through the Bible in 90 Days” plan. I am about a week behind where I should be, but that’s neither here nor there.

Anyway, today I found myself slogging through the section in which the precise instructions for the construction of the Tabernacle were laid out. That was a little tough to get through. Measurements of gold, silver, bronze and acacia wood; purple, scarlet, goat’s hair, grating, poles, rings, curtains, “fine-twined linen” and the like. And just when I thought it was over, then comes the section in which the skilled workers come in and construct everything “according to the pattern.” To my dismay, the whole list is repeated – every blessed detail gone over a second time! I hate to admit that I was bored by the Bible, but in this particular instance, I was.

Then came chapter 40. In verse 34 it starts:

Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.

I was reminded of my first experience serving in full time ministry as a Youth Pastor. You come in fired up and ready to take on the world. You are expecting glory and excitement around every corner. They don’t tell you that much of your time in ministry is spent in an office, or on the phone, or in meetings, or planning events, or desperately trying to figure out why your painstaking efforts time and again seem to yield so little fruit.

I was also reminded of a discussion we had last night at Life Group about the importance of faithfulness. Matthew 25:23 says, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much.” Promotion in the Kingdom comes through our faithfulness. That is, when we are consistent and content with the task to which we have been entrusted, we are counted worthy of greater responsibility and a wider sphere of influence.

At the beginning of a new project or ministry endeavor, motivation is easy and excitement is high. It usually only takes a couple of weeks before that’s gone, and all you’re left with is the work. I would have to imagine that’s how it felt in the construction of the tabernacle. First of all, all the gold and silver came in the form of earrings and bracelets. It had to be melted down and fashioned. Everything was from scratch. There was no Lowe’s or Home Depot. Add to that the probability that Moses was walking around all day going, “No! Not like that! This has to be PERFECT! God said so!” Yeah, I’ve had bosses like that…

But after all the work was done, after the countless painstaking hours, after a million mistakes, bruises, scrapes and cuts – the glory came. After frustration upon frustration, and failure upon failure – the glory came. After many long days and sleepless nights – the glory came. This is the reality of ministry. Nothing just happens. My Pastor once said, “It takes about 15 years to become an overnight success.” We can be assured that our work in the Lord is never in vain, we can know that after all the work is done, the glory will come. It’s interesting that when God’s glory came, Moses’ couldn’t do anything. I believe that’s the goal of ministry. To toil to make sure our ministry is a place where the presence and glory of God is welcomed, and then, when He shows up, we just sit back and watch God work.

The moral of the story. If you want the glory, you’ll have to do the work.

“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:9

Categories: Bible, Life, Ministry

Why Calvinism is Wrong, pt. 2 – Assurance of Salvation

November 8, 2011 2 comments

Calvinists hold to a concept which they call “Assurance of Salvation,” which is often derogatorily termed (by others) “Once saved, always saved” (though Calvinists appear to be accepting of this appellation). This particular doctrine is often a point of pride for many Calvinists. Many claim that non-Calvinists go through life with a bashful hope or wish of salvation, never really knowing what the outcome of their faith will be. They (falsely) claim that if one believes it is possible to lose their salvation, then they can have no assurance of salvation whatsoever. But that’s not really my point…

The point I ultimately want to make, is that Calvinists claim that they have an assurance of salvation, but in fact, when we dig deeper into what they truly believe about “assurance” we find they stand on very shaky and unstable ground – their “assurance” is significantly less sure than the non-Calvinists, whom they claim have no assurance.

Below are links to writings from Charles Spurgeon and John Piper (both are heroes of the Reformed/Calvinistic tradition) regarding the issue of Assurance of Salvation:

Charles Spurgeon

John Piper

In both, one can easily see a common theme. On the one hand, they want to assure those who are saved of their salvation, while on the other, they are clear in their desire to avoid giving false assurance for those who are not. This in itself is strange, and is a tendency I simply do not see in non-Calvinist circles. This tendency, no doubt, arises from their belief that salvation is for only a part of humanity. In order to do this, Calvinists like Spurgeon and Piper, insist that there is a clear distinction between “saving faith” and “non-saving faith.” In other words, a person may believe in Christ, but not unto salvation. In an attempt to delineate between these two disparate “faiths,” both Spurgeon and Piper offer some indicators or evidences of genuine, saving faith. Spurgeon gives the following:

  1. We will not habitually sin.
  2. We will seek to live a holy life by obeying God’s word.
  3. We will love others regardless of who they are or what they have done.
  4. Our affections will not  be upon the things of the world.

Piper’s indicators are much more abstract and subjective. Piper basically states that the person with genuine, saving faith will have a deep sense of the beauty and glory of the work of Jesus on the cross, and will, with it, have a deep trust in that work for their salvation. A person may “believe,” according to Piper, but not unto salvation, if that belief is more about trying to escape punishment than a love and gratefulness for the cross.

The insistence of both men to warn against the possibility of false belief and false assurance is itself a concern. In their attempt to identify a distinction between saving faith and non-saving faith, they have already started out on the wrong path. Whether the indicators mentioned are external (Spurgeon) or internal (Piper) they go beyond the revelation of scripture in their attempt.

The Bible says the following in Romans 10:9-10:

because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.

This passage is no doubt familiar to you. I quote it because Paul does not seem reticent in his eagerness to give assurance that those who believe and confess are, in fact, saved. There are no external indicators beyond confession (sorry Spurgeon), and no internal indicators beyond faith (sorry Piper).

This need for evidence of “saving faith” arises from one of the 5 Points of Calvinism: namely, Perseverence of the Saints. This teaches that those who are truly saved will inevitably persevere. That is, they will always follow after God, always be growing in holiness and never turn away. It is in this idea that they feel they have their “assurance.” For those who are truly saved, they will be saved forever and have no danger of walking away – those who do walk away, never had genuine saving faith (according to them).

Thus, the “assurance” the Calvinists preach is a bit fickle, since you have to believe in the right way. It is possible to have faith that does not lead to salvation, so, let’s hope you’ve got the right kind of faith! From my perspective, this kind of teaching would give me paranoia – a constant questioning of my faith as to whether or not I believed in the right way. Every time I sinned, or every time I didn’t love my brother, I would wonder if maybe I wasn’t really a part of the elect. But the simple fact of the matter is that the bible does not ever distinguish between “saving faith” and “non-saving faith.” Faith is faith in the Bible.

Piper says that people who believe only out of a hope of escape of punishment are not genuine in their faith, and thus not saved. I say that people come to faith in a multitude of ways. I know people who have been “reasoned with” into salvation. I know others who have known Christ from a young age, still others who came to Christ at their lowest moment of despair, and others still who, though seemingly happy and successful, found in Christ the truer life (cf. Jude 1:22-23). None of these have illegitimate faith. Faith is faith, for “Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.”

I’ve gone on too long already, but I will make this final point. Both Piper and Spurgeon seem obsessed with the need for appropriate evidence of “saving faith.” The Bible requires no such evidence (aside from confession). If you believe in your heart, and confess with your mouth (implying that others hear you), you are saved. Period. That faith is sufficient. That faith is the “right kind.” That faith will carry you to eternal life.

Categories: Bible, Life

Why Calvinism is Wrong, pt. 1

October 25, 2011 3 comments

This title alone is likely to attract all sorts of criticism and angry comments. I’ve written a few blogs on Calvinism before, and I always end up with comments from strangers who are either angry, or who pity me for not being as enlightened as them (my apologies for the sarcasm). However, I think I have some things that need to be said, even if they will inevitably (attempt to) be refuted in the comments.

My beef with Calvinism today is the following:

Calvinists believe in a cruel and unjust God.

Perhaps you feel this is too harsh. Maybe I ought to have chosen a less controversial statement to begin with. But perhaps it is all the politeness that has allowed this false doctrine (maybe heresy) to become so popularized in America lately.

I say that the Calvinists believe in a cruel God, not because it is how they speak of Him, or even believe Him to be. I say this because their claims inevitably lead to this conclusion. Allow me to quote Jean Calvin:

“God preordained, for his own glory and the display of His attributes of mercy and justice, a part of the human race, without any merit of their own, to eternal salvation, and another part, in just punishment of their sin, to eternal damnation.”

Find quote here.

In an attempt to be fair, let me quote him yet again:

“No man is excluded from calling upon God, the gate of salvation is set open unto all men: neither is there any other thing which keepeth us back from entering in, save only our own unbelief”

I can agree with the second statement, but not the first. In fact, the two are mutually exclusive and contradictory and cannot both be true. How Calvin is able to say both, should be of concern to all Calvinists.

How are they contradictory? In the first, Calvin states that “a part” of the human race has been preordained to eternal salvation, whereas in the second he states “the gate of salvation is set open unto all men.” So is salvation for a “part” of the human race, or for “all?” It cannot be both.

Indeed it is clear that Calvinism, as a theological system, is set upon the idea that only a part are predestined “by God’s grace” to salvation, and the rest are excluded. Some will say that God does not predestine the rest to damnation, only He has not predestined them to salvation. Either way, the result is the same – the rest go to hell for eternity.

Predicated upon this fundamental belief, all of the 5 Points grow outward. The first, Total Depravity, states that because man is totally/entirely depraved, he cannot ever desire or choose God. Thus God must choose him. Unfortunately, God hasn’t chosen everyone – even though He could have. Calvinists acknowledge that faith is essential to salvation, but since we cannot ever come to faith on our own, God has to give faith to us (cf. Total Depravity). Again, unfortunately God has not chosen to give faith to everyone.

Here’s  the issue: if man cannot believe, then he cannot rightly be held responsible for believing or not. Yet Calvinists say that God is just in sending such people to hell because they don’t believe. Such a scenario is akin to a father insisting his children clean their rooms or else be punished, only then to lock one of those rooms, thus preventing his child from cleaning it, but still proceeding to punish that child for failing to clean his room.

I hear their arguments already…”The issue is not that the child could clean his room, but is prevented from doing so. The issue is that the child is not capable of cleaning the room! If the room is to be cleaned at all, the father will have to clean it for him!” Unfortunately, this scenario is worse. If the child is incapable, then the child is inculpable (like what I did there?). If the room must be cleaned (i.e., a person must believe in Jesus), but only the father can clean the room (i.e., only God can grant that faith), and the father chooses not to clean the room (i.e. God does not grant faith), and then the father punishes his child (i.e. the person goes to hell), that father has become the cruelest and most unjust father on the planet! Yet somehow, Calvinists believe just that about God, and say that He is just because man is sinful.

“If you being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to you.”

The God portrayed by the Calvinists is cold and cruel. Under his regime, children are born without any hope of ever knowing Jesus, without ever having the joy of sins forgiven or hope of heaven. Babies are born to burn in hell for eternity.

The Scriptures portray a different God; a God whose promise of salvation is universal:

“For everyone who calls upon the name of Lord will be saved.” Rom. 10:13 (cf. Joel 2:32, Acts 2:21)

“Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth!” Isa. 45:22

“…God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” 1 Tim. 2:3-4

“For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.” 1 Tim. 4:10

“The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” 2 Pet. 3:9

There are more scriptures. Many more. This truth – that God desires ALL MEN to be saved, and NONE to perish – is so clear in the scriptures that the attempt to teach anything only reveals a deep blindness. Those who purport that God has preordained only a few, that Jesus died only for a few, cling desperately to the teachings of a man, and not the clear teaching of scripture.

Therefore, I am bold to say that God is calling you, whoever you are, and that God will save you if you will call upon Him. Choose Him today. He already sent His Son to die for you, placing upon you the highest possible value. You are loved beyond words by the same God who put the stars in the sky. He’ll take you in, embrace you, forgive you, give you purpose and direction and you will become part of a family that you will know for eternity. You are not excluded. Come to Christ today and be saved.

Categories: Bible, Life, Ministry

The Presence of God

I have a confession to make…I’m a bad Pentecostal. I say this because most Pentecostals are enamored (maybe obsessed) with the idea of God’s presence. They seek for it everywhere. They believe it is the surest indicator that God is doing something – when they feel His presence. However, based on the many misconceptions, abuses and flat-out silliness I’ve seen within the Pentecostal ranks as it pertains to this subject of God’s presence, I long ago decided that I wasn’t going to care too much about it. Let me explain myself, or rather, my train of thought…

The term “presence of God” is never used in scripture in the sense that we use it – to describe a feeling, or sense, or awareness of God in the room. In fact “presence of God” is used primarily to refer to the actual presence of God in heaven. Angels stand in the presence of God. Jesus now stands in the presence of God.

Another similar term, “presence of the Lord,” is used, strangely, in mostly a negative context. That is, the presence of the Lord is fearful. Typically people are seen fleeing or hiding from the presence of the Lord. The idea is that God’s presence is so intense, so overpowering, that it is unbearable for humans.

Another term I hear frequently used to describe the same idea is “the anointing.” This is very Pentecostal. But again, not actually biblical. The term “anointing” almost exclusively refers to the application of literal oil – usually to the head. Of the times that it is used more symbolically, the vast majority are referring to the “Anointed One,” Jesus Christ. A very few times “anointing” is used in reference to followers of Christ. However, it is never used to indicate some sort of feeling or experience. The spiritual “anointing” mentioned is an indication of spiritual position. That is, just as kings and priests were anointed in the OT as part of their inauguration, so those in Christ are anointed into the “royal priesthood” of all believers. Again, it is positional, not experiential. Thus the anointing for believers is not something that comes and goes, but is a completed act. John says, “the anointing you have received abides in you…”

I say all of this to explain where I have been for a few years on the issue of God’s presence. I am concerned that the church is constantly running after the next experience, the next “encounter,” the next feeling. Where are the solid, steadfast Christians who are just as happy, just as blessed, just as content and just as consistent when they feel nothing?

But God’s been talking to me a little bit. Though I think the terminology is important, the idea behind the term is even more important. I know what people mean when they talk about the presence of God, and what they mean is that they want to feel close to God, and even more, they want to be full of God – full of His Spirit. Honestly, I believe that is the most biblical term – “filled with the Spirit.” If you read through the book of Acts, you will see that apostles had frequent experiences of being “filled with the Spirit.” Paul even commands us in Ephesians to “be filled with the Spirit.” When we are filled with God, our minds think His thoughts, our walk is straighter, our love is more pure and liberal. When we are filled, we forgive easier, our perspective on life changes – the small stuff doesn’t seem so big and the insignificant doesn’t steal our attention away from what is truly important. Not to mention that with those fillings come an abundance of joy, peace, love and contentment.

Here’s where I screwed up. The church was using unbiblical terminology to describe a biblical concept. I decided to reject the biblical concept because of the unbiblical terminology. Stupid. God has been showing me how much I truly need His “presence” in my life. I need Him to be near, to be close. I need to be filled with His Spirit. The “feelings” are not what I am after – but Him. The experience is not my goal – closeness with Christ is. These often come attached to feelings and experiences, but we must learn to distinguish between the two. I have had so many experiences which were wonderful at the moment, but which failed to secure any lasting change in me. And I have had seemingly mundane and unexciting times with God that transformed my life completely. Feelings come and go. Experiences are a dime a dozen. But did you draw nearer to God? When we get both – an amazing experience AND increased nearness to God – it’s awesome and in those times we rejoice all the more. But I’m going to encourage you as James did: “Submit yourselves to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” You see, God is always there, always waiting for us with outstretched arms. When we make the effort to draw near to God, we realize He has been near all along. His “drawing near” is metaphorical. He is already near, for “in Him we live and move and have our being.” But we experience His nearness when we draw near. When we reach out, we inevitably find his hands waiting for ours.

I’ve begun to realize again how desperately I need the presence of God in my life. I need to draw near to God every day, and so do you. If you feel distant from God, it is not because God has withdrawn from you, but because you have withdrawn from God. I say this not to condemn you, but to encourage you. I was reminded just this morning of how I have failed to truly draw near to God every day. I get caught up with stuff, with busyness, with engagements and appointments and responsibilities and I don’t find time to “draw near.” And sometimes, I sin. That’ll do it too. When we choose to disobey, we withdraw. When we say, “You know what God, I think my way is better,” we leave God behind and strike off on a new path. If that’s you, turn around, get back to God and keep walking.

Let’s draw near to  God today, and let’s stay near.

Categories: Life

One Thing

April 27, 2011 Leave a comment

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Phil. 3:12-15

There is so much that could be said here, especially since I consider this my “life verse” and have spent so many long hours pondering the meaning and application of this passage. Yet of late, the portion of this passage that seems to stand out to me is Paul’s words in verse 12: “…but this one thing I do…

This statement follows Paul’s declaration that he has yet to attain to perfection in Christ – that is, even the great Apostle Paul still had to grow, still needed to “work out [his] own salvation.” Amen! So, too, we are instructed to take up our crosses daily, to present our bodies as living sacrifices, and to put off the old man. In this life we will never be rid of our need to grow and to mature in Christ. Never. Only in the resurrection will we truly be perfected.

It is in this very idea – that Paul has yet to attain to all things in Christ – that Paul is able to say, “but one thing I do.” That is, despite his areas of weakness, Paul can confidently say that there is “one thing” in his relationship with Christ to which he has fully attained. Apparently there was only one thing he could think of! What he identifies as that “one thing” is so profound. He says…

“Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

Paul’s “one thing” is his determination to pursue God with all of his heart. Paul’s “one thing” just happens to be the one thing that will attain to everything! Paul’s “one thing” will completely revolutionize your life if you will let it. Paul’s “one thing” needs to become your “one thing.”

Are you seeking God with all of your heart? Notice, I’m not asking whether you have attained to sinless perfection, I am simply asking if you are on the way. Are you progressing, or are you stagnant? Can you confidently say that you are closer to God now than you were a year ago? Have you entered into a hot pursuit of God, or did you sit down somewhere along the way. “Perfection” here is not the issue. Growth is the issue. You should be more “perfect” tomorrow than you are today. You should be more in love with Jesus tomorrow than you are today. If this is the case in your life, God expects nor desires anything more of you.

Seek Him today with all of your heart.

Categories: Bible, Life

My Food

Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, saying, “Rabbi, eat.” But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” So the disciples said to one another, “Has anyone brought him something to eat?” Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work. Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest. John 4:31-35

This passage is just teeming with excellent preaching material. First, we need to recognize that Jesus just ministered to a woman who “got saved” (as much as this was possible before the cross and the resurrection). Without question this woman had an encounter with the Son of God that changed her. Jesus confronted her deepest need, a thirst for love, which she had attempted to slake through relationship after relationship after relationship. Jesus drew her by saying, “whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again.” And so the woman responded by leaving her water pots and returning to the city, only to tell everyone she could find about the amazing Savior who changed her life.

It’s cool to think that Jesus was on a spiritual high from this. We experience it too when we know we’ve been used by God to touch someone’s life. There is nothing more fulfilling, or more satisfying, than knowing that you were able to effect someone on a deep, spiritual and eternal level. And so it was with Jesus. His disciples returned offering Jesus food, but He declined it saying, “I have food to eat that you don’t know about.” What was Jesus communicating here? You see, food meets our most basic and primal need – survival. Without sustenance, our body quickly begins to break down and will eventually die. As it is in the natural, so it is in the spiritual. There is a spiritual sustenance that we need. So many of us spiritually weak and frail, emaciated from lack of spiritual nourishment. When in need of spiritual nourishment, we tend to immediately focus on our need to engage in the spiritual disciplines of prayer, worship and bible study. However, Jesus says, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me.” Spiritual sustenance comes more from giving than from receiving. As we obey God, as we pour out to those in need around us, so we are filled. Most of us have experienced this at least once. The thrill, the joy of knowing that we have been used of God can keep us on a spiritual high for days or weeks. Let me put it another way…

Have you ever noticed how your Pastor, or some other spiritual leader is constantly encouraging you to live out your faith? Why are they so intent on this? Why not just feed you the Word, and send you on your way? It is solely because they know that the day you begin to obey is the day you learn how to sustain yourself spiritually. As strange as it may sound, every good Pastor hopes and prays for the day when he is no longer needed by his people because they are all sustaining themselves.

The strange, but invariable, side-effect of actually doing the will of God, is that you will naturally seek out those times of “filling” or “receiving.” You will read your Bible more. You will pray more. You will actually enjoy and look forward to church and to times of worship with God’s people. It is precisely in those moments in which you are doing little or nothing for the Kingdom that you feel the most spiritually lethargic – those spiritual disciplines seem pointless (and frankly, they are, if you refuse to live for God).

Lastly, allow me to say something so obvious it shouldn’t need to be said – if this is how it worked for Jesus, it is how it will work for us. In fact, it is impossible that it could work any other way. If Jesus received His spiritual nourishment by doing the will of God, that is the only way you will be spiritually sustained.

So how do we ensure that we are doing God’s will? Here’s a few things to think about…

  1. Are you knowingly doing something against God’s will, or are you avoiding doing what you know you should? If this is you, then the answer is obvious. If you are knowingly disobedient, then it is foolishness to think that you are going to experience spiritual fulfillment or blessing. Start doing what you know you should.
  2. If you are experiencing that spiritual laziness, or if you are feeling apathy toward the things of God, it is likely because you have stopped truly walking out your faith. What’s the last thing God told you to do? Have you done it?
  3. If you are diligent in continuing in the spiritual disciplines (prayer, Bible reading, worship, etc.) yet you are still feeling that dryness, it may be because you are needing some sort of outlet for ministry. You need to be serving somewhere. Personal prayer and bible study are essential, but if your relationship with God is all inward, never outward, then you will soon become weak.
  4. The easiest and best thing you can do to give your spiritual life a boost, is to start sharing your faith with others. Friends, family, strangers in the mall – it doesn’t matter! It was precisely after “witnessing” that Jesus made the statement, “My food is to do the will of God.” I guarantee that if you start winning souls, you will feel completely full of the Spirit.

Blessings.

Categories: Bible, Life

Priority of Relationships

February 7, 2011 Leave a comment

“Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” Matthew 18:19-20

This is such a wonderful verse, and one that is often quoted in Christian circles. It seems perfect for prayer meetings, Bible studies and church services, for we are reminded of the special presence of Christ among us as we gather in His name. But I noticed something new, something different about this verse as I read it this morning–the context! This passage is in fact the concluding statement to another very famous passage:

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” Matthew 18:15-17

Frankly, I was surprised by the context. The verse about Christ’s presence with us always seemed to me to be a verse about prayer or corporate worship – it seems so appropriate that we should be reminded of His presence in such times. Yet the context not corporate worship, but conflict resolution! Here Jesus is giving us extremely practical instruction about maintaining our human relationships. The opening line, “If your brother sins against you,” is quite telling in itself. There are no illusions here. This was not a simple disagreement, or difference of opinion. One person clearly wronged the other. Most of us in such a situation feel wholly justified in completely writing that person off who hurt us. We feel, since we are in the right, since we have the “moral high ground,” that it is their responsibility to come to us groveling and begging for our forgiveness when they realize just how wonderful we are and how despicable were their own actions against us. We are, of course, fooling ourselves, and we have completely left off the Biblical mandate spelled out above.

Jesus, in the above scenario, is surprisingly saying nothing to the one who sinned! Instead, all of His instruction is directed toward the injured party: “If your brother sins against you…” You may have the moral high ground, but that means you also carry the responsibility for reconciliation – otherwise you lose the moral high ground. After all, in the grand scheme, wasn’t God the “injured party” and we His injurers? And wasn’t it God who took the necessary steps to reconcile that relationship? We must be imitators of God, then. We must never become offended or garner resentment, but rather we must be always forgiving, always operating in that “ministry of reconciliation” which Jesus began.

Jesus goes on to say that if your private attempt to gain back your brother fails because your brother is unwilling to listen, you should take a few trusted, but impartial, friends along with you. The obvious function of these friends is to arbitrate. They are able to support you, and encourage the offending brother to repent, or to recognize, perhaps, that both parties are in the wrong, and both in need of repentance. Assuming your brother is at fault, and still refuses to repent after such mediation, it then becomes a matter for the church. If the community is in agreement against the brother, and the brother is still unwilling to hear, all efforts at reconciliation then cease until such time as that brother can acknowledge his sin and repent. It is harsh, but necessary, that attempts at reconciliation have a point of cessation. Frankly, though, reconciliation attempts rarely go so far. In fact, in most cases, no attempt is made whatsoever. The injured party stews and seethes with anger and bitterness, and the wound is never healed. The reality is that most issues will be resolved on that personal and private level, and will require no further mediation.

Jesus said in another place:

“So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” Matthew 5:23-24

Here Jesus shows a curious priority of restoration of human relationships even over acts of worship!! Jesus speak of “offering your gift at the altar.” Jesus is not talking about putting some money in a basket at church, but rather about the Old Testament ritual of animal sacrifice. One would bring an animal sacrifice to the temple to be slaughtered in payment for their sins. It seems strange that Jesus would say, “If, while in the process of making atonement for your sins, you realize that there is a broken relationship in your life – leave your sacrifice at the altar – go make things right, then come back.” Yet this is precisely His message. I think the simple reality is that if we do not have wholeness in our relationships with others, we simply cannot have wholeness in our relationship with God. Period.

It is a reality that our human relationships will be tested, sometimes to the breaking point. As Christ-followers, however, we must be always willing to do all in our power to maintain our relationships, especially with other believers. That said, Jesus even acknowledges that some relationships cannot be mended, and there comes a point at which our efforts at reconciliation must cease. However, not trying is not an option.

With all this said, and with this context in mind, I return to our original passage:

“Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” Matthew 18:19-20

It puts a different spin on that verse, doesn’t it? I realize that in our church services, and prayer meetings, and bible studies, that there are often strained, even broken, relationships. Jesus’ promise of His special presence in our midst, is only when “two or three” are in agreement. When we are harboring unforgiveness or resentment, we are not in agreement. Furthermore, if two Christians are in a room together, but they both hate each other, can we truly say they are gathered “in His name?” Is the Spirit of Christ present where there is resentment, bitterness, and unforgiveness? I believe we can translate the “gift before the altar” scenario to the present day by saying the following:

If you arrive at church, and the music starts, and you begin to lift your hands and offer up praise to God, and in that moment remember that there are some unresolved issues between you and your friend – put your hands down, walk over to your friend and work it out – then return to your seat and continue in worship.

I guarantee that if you follow this, your time of “interrupted worship” will be far sweeter than you have grown accustomed to.

Blessings.

Categories: Bible, Life

Built on the Rock

February 4, 2011 Leave a comment

“Everyone who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and bear on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” – Matthew 7:24-27

As I read this passage, I find that it does not contain any “new revelation” for me, no new knowledge which I had not previously attained. But it contains a powerful and much needed reminder. It was a 2 Pet. 1:12 moment: “Therefore I intend always to remind you of these qualities, though you know them and are established in the truth that you have.” That is, it is something I already know, something already established in my heart and life, yet something I need to hear and be reminded of from time to time. So much of the Gospel works this way…

Here Jesus is reminding us that “he who hears these words of mine, and does them” is wise. That’s enough right there for a few day’s worth of spiritual nourishment. Wisdom is, simply, following Jesus. There’s no higher, more fulfilling, more successful life to which we may attain than the one over which Jesus has complete sway. This parable is the conclusion to the famous Sermon on the Mount, in which Jesus simply levels the false virtue of religious piety and legalism, and provides the blueprint for a life of radical, God-pleasing holiness which should be the mark of every true Christian (though it sadly isn’t). Jesus attacks our propensities toward greed, lust, anger, hatred, divorce, dishonesty, retaliation…need I go on?? He shows that righteous acts performed only “before other people in order to be seen by them” is false, hypocritical and unbecoming of the person who would be honored and rewarded by God. Rather, it is the life you live when no one is looking that truly defines your character. Jesus challenges our ideas about what is best, about which pursuits are most fruitful by saying, “seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” He reminds us of the faithfulness of God who will take care of us if we will but trust Him to do so, and encourages us to present our requests to God who gives to those who ask, and who opens to those who knock. It is at the conclusion of this powerful discourse that Jesus says, “Whoever hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man.”

Thus, if we can hear and receive and obey these commands of Jesus to live holy lives before God, to live genuine lives and to trust God above all else, our lives will be like a house founded upon a rock – unshakable, unmovable, steadfast and secure. For what can move the one has anchored himself fully in Christ? It is not to say that storms, and wind, and rains and flood will not come, but none of these things shall move the one who is committed to obeying God. Not so the one who fails to truly obey. He is like one whose house is built on the shifting sands. Perhaps his actions are determined by the opinions of others, or of his own whims and momentary desires. Perhaps he is concerned only with success in business, or with prestige and position. Perhaps the circumstances of his life, good and bad, or perhaps it is simply his own emotions, changeable as they are, which direct his steps day by day. Whichever of these may be the case, such a life is utterly devoid of stability. When the floods come (and they will) such a man has only these uncertain and fickle elements to hold him up. Such a person is doomed to fall. Only when we are founded solidly upon obedience to the unchangeable and immovable rock of the Word of God are our lives assured of success.

Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting!

Let’s live completely for Him!!

Blessings.

Categories: Bible, Life

Slaves to Sin?

January 14, 2011 Leave a comment

Today I’m sharing from Romans 6. I encourage you to take the time to read the whole chapter. It’s powerful and encouraging, and it contains vital information for every Christian!

If you were to read Romans from the beginning, you would find that Paul has, for the last five chapters, been building a sound argument for the doctrine of Justification. It goes something like this:

  1. All mankind is helplessly wicked and as such, fit only for judgment
  2. Jews are not exempt from this wickedness, nor from God’s judgment, simply because they are Jews
  3. Good works are not sufficient to save you, nor to cure your wickedness
  4. Faith is the means by which we are justified before God
  5. Specifically faith in Jesus Christ, and His atoning work on the cross, brings justification

Having made this argument, chapter five begins with these wonderful words: “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Paul goes in chapter five to discuss how in Christ we are completely forgiven and cleansed, and that we have become a new race of people in Christ, for “just as sin came into the world through one man…so by one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.” We are no longer “of Adam;” we are now “of Christ.”

Here is where the argument picks up in Chapter 6. Paul, having sufficiently proved the sinfulness of all mankind, and having clearly shown the way to forgiveness and justification through Christ, now begins to deal with a very practical question: “But what about when a justified person sins?” The most straightforward answer to this is given in verse 11: “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” This sentence is actually the summation of his argument so far in chapter six. Hopefully you’ve already read it, and so are familiar with its content. If not, here’s the link again – Romans 6. The basic message is this: You should stop sinning, but not because of some “Because I said so” mentality, nor because you will somehow earn God’s favor through your abstinence, but rather because you are dead to sin! The “sinner” you once were is dead and buried, and simply needs to be forgotten. The new you is “created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:24). You need to begin acting like who you truly are, and stop acting like who you were! Amen! Now to the part I really want to share with you…

“Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.” – Rom. 6:12-14

This verse hit me hard the other day. This verse is the cure for whatever sin you may be struggling with. Don’t misunderstand me here. I’m not saying it is some sort of “magic pill” that you can just read it a few times and all of a sudden sin will not be an issue for you. Many sins, especially habitual sins, take a lot of hard work and determination to overcome. But thanks be to God, victory is promised!

To me, this verse speaks more to the attitude which overcomes, rather than some super-spiritual thing that God does. Look at that first sentence: “Let not sin therefore reign…” Did you hear that? Don’t let it reign. Don’t LET IT reign. That means that YOU, if you are determined enough, have the power to stop the reign of sin in your life. Of course this power comes from God, as Phil. 2:13 says “for it is God who works in you.” (The reader should note that the immediately preceding verse in Philippians says “work out your own salvation” which is followed by, “for it is God who works in you.” When dealing with sin, we cannot take a “let go and let God” attitude. Rather, we need to approach it with determination and persistence, knowing that God stands behind all of our efforts and supplies us with the strength we need. Amen!) I digress…

Again, you must make the decision to not LET sin reign in your life. You must insist on this! You must reject sin in every form, you must determine in yourself that sin will not guide your life any longer, that you will not be a slave to sin, nor serve its desires. But how? Luckily for us, Paul answers that question…

Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness.” Why are we so bogged down with sin in our lives? Because we offer ourselves to sin at every turn. For most men, myself included, our eyes are often found fixed upon objects and images they should not be. Men are sexually stimulated through what we see. It occurred to me as I read this, all the various ways that I would “present” or offer my eyes to sin. Every time I stole a glance at a woman, or lingered on an image on a magazine, or watched a racy scene on a movie (come on guys, you know what I’m talking about), in each of those instances I was “presenting my members to sin as instruments for  unrighteousness.” That is, I was allowing sin to use my eyes as if they were meant for unrighteousness. The only way to break the reign of sin, is to refuse to give our “members” (whether our eyes, or hands, or feet, or mind) to sin. Do you see how this would take some serious determination? I believe that if you are born-again, then you have a genuine desire within you to be totally and completely pure, blameless and above reproach in every area of your life. I believe that you know the areas of sin in your life, and you hate them. The problem is, most of us have given up. We’ve resigned ourselves to the idea that this sin will always be a struggle for us, that we will just have to deal with it. If you have given in to this idea, then you are letting that sin reign in your life. The solution is simple to understand, but perhaps difficult to live out…

“…present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.” There it is. We need to not give our members to sin, but to God. We have been brought from death to life, from sin to righteousness. If we can learn to give our “members” to God instead of to sin, then we will become servants of righteousness. All of a sudden, God will be sitting on the throne of your life, and not that sin. We have become “slaves of righteousness.” We have no need to continue on in our sin. We are free!

I told you that this verse hit me hard, specifically in the area of what I allow my eyes to look at. So what did I do with it? I went through my entire movie collection and purged every movie with even the remotest sexual content. I debated over a few of them, honestly, because I really wanted to keep them. I got rid of about half of the movies I owned. I also made a commitment to God that I would not watch television beyond 8pm, knowing that many of the shows that air at that time are filled with images I shouldn’t be seeing. Is this radical? You bet. But I’m tired of letting sin reign in my life. I’m not going to let it control me.

I don’t know what your sin-area is, but I encourage you to take some time in prayer to let the Holy Spirit search you and find out where you have been giving your “members” over to sin, and allowing it to reign in your life. We are free! Amen! Let’s live like it!!

Categories: Bible, Life