When I was younger, I never understood why my grandfather got emotional when it came to patriotic services. My grandaddy would always take his old army uniform out of the closet when I visited and begin to share stories of his time in the service. His eyes would always light up as he recounted his memories among his fellow soldiers, and sadness filled his voice when he explained how some of those men lost their lives. As my grandfather would grieve at the memory of his fallen comrades, I too felt a sorrow for these heroes who had given their lives for the freedom of our great nation. But I was not nearly as heart broken as my grandaddy was. Even though decades had passed since his time in the military, his heart was still pierced at the thought of the brave men and women who had given their lives so that others may live. Grandaddy’s heart never became used to the reality of the price that had been paid for our country.
The reason I didnt grieve at the sacrifice of soldiers in World War II like my grandfather had nothing to do with a lack of patriotism. I fully support our men and women of the armed forces and am so proud and thankful for the sacrifices they make to secure the freedoms we have. And I am equally as thankful for the soldiers who have served in years past. But the magnitude of what was actually done for us loses its impact on our hearts over time. Our hearts become dulled by the world to the blood that has been shed for us.
I believe with all my heart that this is the very same core problem with American Christianity today. I am haunted daily in my own life with this. And I am fearful of my own accountability before the Lord. You see, my grandaddy was a true soldier of the United States Army. He believed in the causes that they fought for. Even today, we see brave men and women returning from the battle fields that get very emotional when asked about their time in the service. And it is because any true soldier never truly leaves the battle front. A true soldier mourns at the thought of having to leave fighting for the mission. And I have to ask myself at times, why arent we as a professing body of believers as passionate and emotional about our mission?
I become overwhelmed each time I read the word of God, and fearful of doing church like a person that never knew Christ. We falsely think our churches today are Christ centered because we do not know our Bibles. Or perhaps maybe we are hearing Gods word on a regular basis, but we are not truly hearing it. Let me explain with one of my favorite ‘preacher’ jokes.
One Sunday morning at church, preacher Morrison was giving his usual Gospel centered message to the congregation. And as always, heads were nodding in agreement and you would hear the occasional “AMEN”, being shouted from the pews. At the back of the church were many coat racks where upon entering, church members would hang their jackets before finding their seats in the sanctuary. In the middle of the preachers message, he looked to the back of the room to see a man stealing all the coats. With an urgent cry, preacher Morrision screamed passionately at his congregation, “Run to the back of the room, a man is back there stealing all of your coats.”
Immediately, heads began to nod and moved by the passion in the pastor’s voice, people began to shout, “AMEN”! Again, the pastor pleaded with his congregation to take action and stop the man behind them from stealing all the coats. And again, moved by the excitement in the pastor’s voice, people began to shout, “GLORY!! HALLELUAH!!!” Shortly after the service ended and the congregation began to file out of the sanctuary as they always did. When they saw that their coats were missing, they began to grumble asking the pastor where the coats were. Frustrated and out of breath from screaming warnings to them, the pastor explained to them what had happened and how he had been trying to tell them the whole time.
“Why didnt you heed my warnings before the thief had gotten all of your coats!” asked Pastor Morrision. One of the deacons came forward with the answer. He said, “Golly pastor Morrision, we thought you were just preaching!”
This is more of a tale of truth than it is a joke. They had heard the pastor’s warnings. But they didnt HEAR it with their hearts. We have the word of God. And there are Godly men who genuinely love the Lord and are soldiers for his cause preaching the word faithfully. But preaching today holds no power for many church member because its more of a concept in their lives and not a reality. The word of God just becomes something we hear Sunday in and Sunday out. Even the most immature person in his faith has the knowledge that Jesus died on the cross to save sinners. We know the story of the cross. And so church because sort of a club we come to weekly to give a mental nod to the creator of the universe for dying for our sins. We live like we are spectators instead of like we are soldiers. Although we win the war against Satan in the end, right now the devil is winning the battle. Even in the church. And its because we dont look to the bible to model our ministries, we look to other churches.
If you want to really see how God intended his churches to look and operate, look no further than the book of Acts. One of my favorite accounts in Acts is in chapter 2, where Peter is preaching to the Israelites. Read below and picture in your mind Peter, standing and preaching before a group of people who would say they were religious, but had not yet be affected by the truth of who Jesus truly was….
“Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.” Acts 2:22-24.
Peter is preaching the Gospel to these people. But see how Peter ends his sermon to these religious people.
“Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.” Acts 2:36.
Read it again. I can almost picture Peter, standing on a platform in the midst of a sea of people preaching Christ passionately. And then at the climax of his sermon, he bravely points his finger at the crowd and says what we see in the verse above. “This Jesus whom YOU”VE crucified is now both GOD and LORD!! Wow! Can you get this picture in your mind? Peter basically just told the Israelites that they are responsible for killing God in the flesh! Now keep this in mind. This message is no different than one that you would hear being preached on a typical Sunday morning from a good Bible believing Pastor in our world today. Yet more people, even professing believers, seem all but indifferent to the message. How did the Israelites in Acts that were listening to Peter’s message react?
“When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Acts 2:37.
Upon hearing this message of the Gospel, it says they were ‘cut to the heart.’ Some translations say it this way, “their hearts were PIERCED.” (my emphasis added on the word pierced.) They were broken over the realization of what Christ had done to save them from their own sins. Their hearts were pierced and they were devastated at sacrifice that Christ paid. This moved these believers to ask in brokenness what they must do? And Peter answers them. Lets continue reading in this passage.
“Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call. With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.”Acts 2:38-41.
Peter preached repentance to them. To turn from their old ways of following self and to begin to live for Christ. And it goes on to say that about three thousand believers were added upon hearing the gospel that day. The passage doesnt say three thousand “professions of faith.” A profession of faith is simply what it says, professing that you are a follower of Christ. But many people profess Jesus as Lord, yet do not live for him. A profession of faith is not the same thing as being a true believer. Jesus says in Matthew 7 that many people will stand before him who professed him as Lord of their lives, only to hear our Lord say to them, “I NEVER KNEW YOU.”
Jesus explicitly says in Luke 6:46, “Why do you call me Lord if you do not do as I say?”
The implication is, professing Jesus Christ as Lord doesnt mean that he is truly the Lord of your life! Jesus says in the gospel of John that those that love him, those that are real believers and followers are the ones that obey his commands. They are the ones that are pierced to the heart. And as we see in Acts, three thousand believers were added to their number that day. Why? Because their hearts were pierced. One of the scariest things that can happen to a Christian is to realize that his heart is no longer broken over the atonement for sin paid for with the blood of Christ. Many of us today need to fall to our knees broken over the slaughter of God’s only Son, that we caused over two thousand years ago.
Nehemiah was the cup bearer to the king of Persia. The position of cup bearer basically meant that you had it made. The cup bearers main duty was to taste the kings food and drink to ensure that there was no poison in it. He was a man who held prestige inside of the kings court. Nehemiah lived a lavish, luxurious lifestyle. And in the opening passage of Nehemiah, we see that he is questioning some men who were coming from Judah about the people who had survived the exile. Listen to their response.
“They said to me, “Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.”
“When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.”Nehemiah 1:4.
At the news that Nehemiah’s blood people were in great distress brought him to brokeness. His people were in distress because their city walls had been broken down. Seems like a normal response, except for one tiny historical fact. The news that Nehemiah was receiving of Jerusalem’s broken walls was an event that had happened over one hundred years earlier. Was Nehemiah just ignorant to the things going on in the world? I doubt it. Again, he was a high rank in the kings court. I dont think Nehemiah was broken over an event that he knew nothing about. Rather, I think that Nehemiah experienced new brokenness to old knowledge.
I experienced the same things five years ago. I had heard Matthew 7:21 regarding those who say they know God but do not a thousand times. But for the first time, I really HEARD it! And it pierced my heart at the realization that I was that man. Nehemiah was moved at the retelling of the broken walls that lead to his people’s distress. And if you continue reading the story of Nehemiah, he goes to rebuild those walls. His heart had been pierced. What is interesting is what Proverbs says about a city with broken walls.
“A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.” Proverbs 25:28.
The people in Jerusalem were Nehemiah’s people. And they were in danger because they had no walls to protect them. Nehemiah, through brokenness, went to them to help rebuild their walls. Proverbs says that a man living outside of God’s will with no self control is like a city with broken walls. Unable to defend itself against the fiery arrows of Satan.
Are we pierced to the heart daily over what Jesus did for us on the cross? Is Jesus a reality to us or just a concept. Because when he is a concept, how you treat your family doesnt change. When is a concept, how you treat your children doesnt change. When Jesus is a concept, how we operate as the body of Christ doesnt change. But when Jesus and the atonement became a reality…..Everything changes!
And are we broken at the breaking of walls in the lives of others in our church? When you see a brother of sister living outside of the will of God, do you praise God you are not like them and vow to “pray” for them? Or does it break your heart to see brothers and sisters in Christ living like they dont know him? So much to the point where you are so broken you make it your mission to help them rebuild in love? When you see others around you with crumbling walls, are you driven, as Nehemiah was, to help them rebuild?
Are you a true soldier of Jesus Christ? Have you just meditated on the price that was paid for you at Calvary lately and let it penetrate your soul? Because when we become broken, we become radically missional for Christ! There is a beauty in brokeness. We become awake. Being a Christ follower is no longer viewed as a boring Sunday morning religion but an all consuming identity that we are passionate about! May it be our prayer that our hearts never grow dull to the reality of Jesus Christ. Dont just hear the gospel….HEAR it. And begin to live it with Christ’s burden for glorifying his name to the ends of the earth daily! Thats Christianity. That is our sovereign and powerful God!
How do you know if you are saved? I mean how do you truly know that you have been forgiven of your sins and have eternal life? Over and over in scripture, the Lord tells us that just two things are required for eternal life. To believe that Jesus Christ died, has risen, and is now ruling as Lord of all in Heaven, and to turn and repent from our former sinful ways.
“The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” Mark 1:15.
John 3:16 says it this way…..
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that who so ever would believe in Him would not Perish, but have everlasting life!” John 3:16.
At a quick glance in viewing these verses, it would seem that if we say that we believe in Jesus, and try not to be a bad person, that we’re in! You may think that professing belief in Jesus is not hard. Some believe its as easy as saying, “I believe in Jesus.” But if salvation is that simple, then why would Jesus say to his disciples that more people will actually go to Hell and few will enter the kingdom of Heaven?
“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”Matthew 7:13-14.
In the above verse, Jesus repeated talks about entering through a narrow gate or door. He says in Matthew 7 that the narrow, small gate is the one that will lead to life. He also mentions a broad and wide gate that is much easier to go through, but it will lead to destruction.
“Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.” Luke 13:22.
Jesus stresses in Luke that we should be making every effort to seek that narrow gate that leads to life. Because many will try to enter this gate, and will not be able to do so. But more specifically, what is this ‘gate’ that Jesus keeps mentioning. If we are to seek this narrow gate, then we must know what the gate actually is. Jesus answers this question for us in the book of John.
Jesus said, “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture.” John 10:9.
So we can safely conclude that Jesus Christ is this narrow gate. And according to the passage in Luke, many will seek Jesus, but will not be able to enter. (Luke 13:22). But how could this be? Is it possible to claim to be a follower of Jesus, yet not actually be one of His, and instead be walking on that broad road of destruction? What does it look like to be one of these people who will seek Christ, but never find him? The Lord describes these people who will claim to know Christ, but never find him in Revelation.
“So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” Revelation 3:16.
These people are not on fire for God, yet they would claim to believe in Him. He goes on in the verse to describe them as being wretched, poor, pitiful, and blind. Another conclusion we can ascertain from this verse is that if we are not living passionately for God and instead living a lukewarm Christianity, then our salvation may be in question. Another example of who these people are who will seek Christ, but not find him is found in Matthew 7:21-24.
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ Matthew 7:21-24.
Not everyone who will say that they are a follower of Jesus will enter the kingdom of Heaven. These are the people who would hang their salvation on saying they believe in Jesus, but do not live their earthly lives for him. Rather, they put worldly things above Christ such as ungodly entertainment, self vanity, and trying to act more like Hollywood and their lost friends instead of Christ. Yet they will say they are Christians. They will justify not being on fire for God and defend their right to watching or listening to ungodly movies and music, as well as living a life where they make Jesus just a ‘Sunday morning thing in their lives. They will say, “Well other Christians are doing these things and they love God.” Proverbs 14:12 says this…..
“There is a way that seems right to man, that in the end, leads to death.” Proverbs 14:12.
Just because others who call themselves Christians are doing certain things doesn’t mean that God approves. What does God say? Those who are on the path to the narrow Gate seek to know what the Lord says in every aspect of their lives, regardless of what may seem popular at the time. There are ways that seem right and normal to man, that is evil in the sight of God.
Above in Matthew 7:21, the verse said that only those who did the will of God the father would enter the kingdom of Heaven. So to make sure we are walking that narrow road, we must make sure we know the will of God. We must seek out in scripture to find God’s will for our lives. Jesus often spoke of doing the will of His father in obedience. There are an abundance of verses in the Bible speaking of Gods will. And each one of them is centered around loving him wholeheartedly, and being obedient to living for him and following his commands.
“We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands. 4 Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. 5 But if anyone obeys his word, love for Godis truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: 6 Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.” 1 John 2:3-6.
We can know we are in Christ with confidence if we are walking as Jesus did through life. This makes our studies in scripture very important. The old “What Would Jesus Do” bracelets were a great reminder. To be in God’s will, we should seek to know God’s opinion of everything we do in life.
“So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”1 Corinthians 10:31.
What would be the priorities of Christ if he were among us. For starters, Id say he would be passionate about church! And he wouldn’t be satisfied with just coming twice a week and helping out with church fundraisers. Jesus would be about the mission of his Heavenly Father! He would be concern and burdened with seeking daily those who were lost and proclaiming the good news of salvation in Himself to them! This would be top priority.
Jesus says in John 14:15, “If you love me, you keep my commands.”
He also says in Luke 6:46…….
“Why do you call me Lord, yet not do as I say?” Luke 6:46.
However, there is still one question that remains unanswered. If we say we believe in Jesus, how can we be sure that we have salvation. We’ve determined that those who will find the narrow gate and truly inherit eternal life are few, and those who will seek and not find are many. So how can we be sure that we are following that narrow path to Christ?
The key word is “believe”. To believe in something is more than to just give a mental nod towards or to simple say we believe in something. My kids can tell me that they believe me when I tell them, “If you don’t pick up the toys in your room, someone will trip, fall, and get hurt.” And they will say they know this. But if they don’t pick up those toys, they really don’t believe that they will trip and fall. Not until it happens. But then its too late. I warned them of what could happen, but they chose to acknowledge my commands with their lips and not their actions.
Isaiah 29:13, the Lord says, ““Because this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men.”
So much truth is in that scripture. So many professing so called Christians will honor Jesus with lip service and claim to believe in him, yet they live their lives with more of a love for this world. They love the music of this world. They love the entertainment of this world. They idolize the celebrities of this world. They hunger for self glorification. Yet they claim to be Christian because they go to a church or have been baptized. And the Isaiah verse points out that their only fear or knowledge of God comes from man.
“My buddy gets drunk and he’s a Christian so it must be ok.”
“A deacon in my church cusses and says he loves Jesus so I can too.”
“My Sunday School teacher watches rated R movies and Jesus knows its just entertainment.”
All real to life examples I have heard from people who claim to know Christ. Sadly, these are the same people that the scriptures repeatedly warn us against patterning our lives after. Because they are the ones that claim to be seeking Christ, but will never really know him. They really don’t want to know him, because truly knowing Jesus requires us to take our fleshly wants and desires and replace them with the desires of Christ.
If I truly believe something, then action follows. If someone told me a terrible tornado was headed towards my home, and I told them I believed them but went home and ignored their warnings, then I really didn’t believe I was in danger. Not until my home was ravaged by the storm. But then it would be too late. How do you know that you are a true believer in Jesus?
“And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments.” 1 John 2:3.
If we truly believe the gospel, then we know for sure that those who keep his commands and seek to live their lives His glory in all that they do will have eternal life. We also know that if we claim to love him but do not obey him, then the truth is not in us, and we are not in Christ.
“Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person.” 1 John 2:4.
This is not to say that we are to be spotless and sinless, because we all fall short due to our depravity. But sinning for a believer is much like how an infant grows to be an adult. Before submitting your life to Christ, you were totally lost in your sins and could not walk in the ways of righteousness. Much the same as an infant cannot stand on his own. But in the beginning stages of your walk with Christ, you begin to try to walk in righteousness.
Like a baby attempting to walk, you stumble and fall along the way, but the more you walk with you earthly fathers help, your stumbles become less and less. In the same vein, the closer we walk with God, the less we’ll stumble into sin. Pretty soon a baby grows into an adult who is walking way more than falling. And when that adult does happen to trip and fall, he is embarrassed and ashamed of his stumble. He takes a look at the which made him fall, and vows to avoid the obstacle at all costs. As a Christian matures, they want to walk as Christ and are shamed by sin. And if they do stumble, the true believer learns from the mistake and repents, which is to completely turn from it and avoid it at all costs.
Can you imagine a person who would make a practice of falling down over and over? Of course not! If you were at the mall and saw a person deliberately making themselves fall on their face over and over, you would think they were crazy. No one deliberately tries to fall because people know how foolish it makes them look. Adults want to walk upright and don’t want to stumble. In the same manner, a mature believer in Christ wants to walk in righteousness and seeks to avoid sinning at all costs.
“No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God.”1 John 3:9.
No one that truly knows Jesus and has salvation makes a practice of sinning. They don’t do the same thing over and over knowing that it is breaking Gods commands. Rather, they seek to follow his commands. They even seek them out to make sure they are in Him. If we can walk deliberately into sinning knowing that it is wrong and with full knowledge that we are breaking Gods commands, then we prove that we mock the sacrifice Jesus paid on the cross for our sins, and we do not know him.
“For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.” Hebrews 10:26-27.
This text is so terrifying to the professing believer that would say they are a Christian but thinks of Jesus as more of a concept rather than the living Lord of all! The verse states that a life of deliberately sinning while claiming to know Christ proves them a liar, and it goes on to say that the sacrifice Christ paid on the cross for sin no longer applies to them. But look in verse 27 what the verse says will apply, “a fearful expectation of judgment and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.”
God warns us that if we live a life ignoring his commands and choosing to follow our own sinful way then the blood of Christ does not cover us, and the wrath of God is all the remains in our future. If we truly believe in Jesus, we know this to be true with all of our hearts. Living a lifestyle of habitual sin is impossible for the true believer, because the true believer has the fear of the Lord in him. If we say we know Christ yet live in a constant state of sin, our actions betray our lips proving we truly do not believe.
But here is the really great thing about truly following after Jesus. The more you chase after his righteousness, the more you want to be like Jesus, and the more you begin to despise the very sins you once loved. You begin to take on the heart of Christ. Your desires begin to change as well as your passions. You begin to literally become a new creation as your old sinful desires fall away and you strive to live as Christ.
“If anyone be in Christ, he has become a new creation. The old has passed away, behold the new has come. “2 Corinthians 5:17.
In Christ, you begin to see the world around through an eternal mindset. You begin to view people differently. Not as just flesh and bones, but as souls. It begins to burden you when you see those traveling the broad road to eternal destruction. You see walking in righteousness is not always easy, but for a believer who genuinely yearns to be like Jesus, it is never burdensome. That’s why when a believer does stumble in sin it grieves his or her heart greatly.
“For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.” 1 John 5:3.
Just as a child who wants to be like his earthly father would grow frustrated at falling short of dad’s expectations, such is the same for Christians following their Heavenly father. It’s not a burden to follow his commands, because our greatest goal in life is to bring glory to God and walk closer in His ways. And the closer we walk to Jesus, the more we become conformed to his image through our everyday lives.
“For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.” Romans 8:29.
This process of beginning to desire to live more as Christ and avoid sin is called sanctification. A true follower of Jesus will continue to grow in his or her sanctification throughout their life.
1 Thessalonians 4:3, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification…”
So what is the test to know that you are a believer in Jesus? It’s not pointing back to a date of baptism and it’s not found in church attendance. Here is what the apostle Paul told the church in Corinth regarding this very question.
“Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?” 2 Corinthians 13:5.
Are you growing in your need for repentance, daily seeking to rid yourself more of the things that are offensive to Christ? Are you growing constantly in your sanctification as you begin to walk more in His ways? Examine yourself! Look at the shows and movies you watch. Do they make light of the things that break God’s heart and contain things such as profanity, sensuality, or glorified evil? Examine the music you listen to by those same standards! Look at the things you like to do and the people you like to do them with! Is your life glorifying to God, or is it more of a rebellion against his commands?
“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Philippians 1:6.
The true mark of a Christian is that he or she will continue growing in sanctification and maturity in Christ all the days of their lives. Yes, we will go through ups and downs in our walks with Christ, but those in Him He will carry that good work that he began in them on to the very day of completion. A true believer cannot fall away from Christ. I hope this has drawn a clearer picture of the salvation process of a true believer. May you grow in your faith and always trust in the sovereignty of God’s perfect plan for your life. God Bless.
34 “Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? 35 It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out.” Luke 14:25-35.
When the large crowds followed Jesus, He didnt say to them, “If you want to follow me, all you have to do is walk down the aisle, say a prayer, and try to go to church. Try to be good, but if you fall short, just say your sorry and try not to do it again. ”
How easy that would be to follow Jesus if those were the only requirements. Say a prayer, go to church when I feel like it, and an invitation to the “All You Can Eat Sin Buffet”, just as long as I ask forgiveness when Im done. How easy it would be to follow Jesus. Why would I count the cost…because a Christianity like this would cost me nothing!
But Jesus paints a different picture. Jesus says (paraphrased), “Oh you want to follow me? Then its going to cost you everything.” The first job requirement Jesus lists for being His disciple is to hate your family! And to be willing to bear persecution (bear your cross.) Now we know that Jesus doesnt want us to really hate our family, but rather our devotion and love for him should so superseded that which we have for our families that in comparison it looks like hate.
And I love the example Jesus gives of counting the costs. Who would build a house before first estimating the costs of supplies it would take to build it? If you didnt first count the cost, you would eventually quit building. If you were going to war, who first wouldnt count the cost to see if you had the resources to win the battle? In your Christian life, have you really counted those same costs? Are you striving to become a leader for Christ, or are you content to stay an adult still stuck on drinking milk from a bottle? A disciple is not only a follower, but is required to be a leader. The disciple follows after Christ, but leads others to him. If you are not leading, then you are not following.
Jesus says in Luke 14:34 that salt is good, but if it loses its flavor, then its no good. If your walk with Christ is one where you are not going to raise up others, then you are not growing. And if you are not growing, many of us should be embarrassed that we are still in the nursing stage of our spiritual walks despite that we have been going to church for years. What example do we see in scripture? Men who from the outside would never be qualified as leaders by the world.
Look at Peter and John in acts. Two of the twelve disciples of Christ. These men were ordinary men. Fishermen. No formal schooling. They may not have even been able to read very well. Yet they stood in front of the religious leaders and amazed them with their confidence in proclaiming Jesus as messiah.
“The members of the council were amazed when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, for they could see that they were ordinary men with no special training in the Scriptures.” Acts 4:13.
Isnt it funny how in our world today, Christians will use every excuse as to why they cant lead for Christ. We tend to have this idea that in order for us to be leaders for Jesus, that we have to be theological experts. Yet the scriptures paint a different picture. We see men who had no theological training in the scriptures, but knew Jesus as Lord. And based on that, they spoke the truth boldly in the face or constant rejection.
I cant count the number of times Ive challenged men to become leaders and teachers for Jesus, and they’ve told me that they were not eloquent with words and couldnt talk in front of people. Moses gave this very excuse to God when the Lord told him to lead the people out of Egypt.
“Moses said to the Lord, “Pardon your servant, Lord. I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.”
If you have ever used this rebuttal so that you could justify living a Christianity that doesnt speak out for Jesus, God totally takes that excuse away from you. Look how God responds to Moses….
11 The Lord said to him, “Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the Lord? 12 Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.” Exodus 4:10–11.
Basically, ‘Close your mouth and quit your crying Moses.”Imagine if Moses had just lived his faith and never begun to lead? Imagine if Paul had quietly believed in Jesus but never preached. Imagine if the disciples had said they were not knowledgeable to be used of God. Our society has watered down scriptures so much that we’ve made Christianity into Bible studies and church events. Real Christianity will always cost us! Real men and women who are not brave need not apply! Ive yet to find the example in scripture of someone who met Jesus and then lived just lived out their faith! Quite the opposite! Those who met Jesus were so excited that they couldnt contain themselves!! They had to speak out, even in the face of rejection. The promise of eternal life is very enticing. Who wouldnt want that? But we exchange our earthly comforts for our Heavenly home. A disciple of Jesus Christ leads, because leading is for making disciples.
Imagine for a moment that you had lived your life being stranded on an island. You and your family had been on this remote island, separated from all civilization for your entire life. All you have is a tiny transistor radio where you can hear discussions about what civilization is like, but you cannot experience it for yourself. miraculously, a passing ship sees you and your family, and you are saved and brought back to the United States of America. There is a huge party thrown for your arrival with people bringing you food that you’ve only heard about on your little radio.
Someone brings you a huge plate of chocolate cake. But you decline the offer of cake. You tell the person that you had heard about cake on your radio and you tried to make it. You added coconut shells, a little salt water, banana’s, and a bit of coco leaves that were growing nearby, and it was horrible. You tell the person offering you this cake, “Thanks but no thanks. I’ve had chocolate cake before, and its awful!” It would be plainly obvious by your description that what you thought was chocolate cake wasnt cake at all! You thought you had tasted real chocolate cake, but only vaguely went by the ingredients and instead, added in your own ingredients. The result was anything but real chocolate cake!
This may seem like a far fetched story, but Id venture to say that it is no different from how we are with how we view a life of following Christ. We follow some of the ingredients for the Christians life such as going to church, saying our prayers, and avoiding sin, but we throw in a few ingredients of our own. And the most damaging ingredient to the recipe can be summed up in one word….routine. Bake sales, church committee meetings, Monday night visitation, Wednesday night bible study, redemption groups, community groups, church book clubs and church fund raisers….all good things in their own right. But too often, these calendaring events become what the church is about. They become what drives the church. And pretty soon, the routine Christian life we’ve created taste nothing like the recipe Jesus has given us in scripture.
Sadly, because of this perversion of true Christianity, many view the Christian life as boring. Many picture living for Christ as sitting in a pew listening to sermons and wearing suits and dresses. But to say that this is what Jesus had in mind for his followers is like saying coconut shells and banana’s belong in a chocolate cake. We as a culture have strayed from the original recipe, and in turn have made the finished product of Christianity boring and tasteless. But I believe if more people….if more churches even followed more closely to Jesus recipe for Christianity, then we’d be seeing more lives transformed.
So what is the mission? What is the goal? What did Jesus intend for the Christian life? In all the verses we take to heart on prayer, and repentance, and confession, we tend to neglect the most important ingredient of the christian life….
“Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the father, the son, and the Holy Spirit.” Matthew 28:19.
In all of the business of our church routines, how is it that we so often forget the very last command Jesus gave before ascending into Heaven? The command to Go! And one of the biggest reasons we live such a powerless Christianity at times is because we let our fleshly desires get in the way at the very detriment of our own spiritual joy! Let me further explain.
In our society, a heavy emphasis is placed on the so-called “American Dream.” We want to be successful. And this usually begins with a very well-intentioned desire to take care of our families. We seek to get a job that will give us that big house, nice cars, and the ability to buy the comforts of life. Pretty soon a regular cell phone is not good enough, we have to have the latest one that costs $400. To be satisfied, we must have cable television, so that we can watch shows portraying people who break the commandments of God (The Batchelor, soap opera’s, almost all sitcoms) all for the sake of our entertainment. We must live in a certain place that or area that can give us all of these earthly desires of our hearts.
Yet at the same time, we claim to love Jesus and be followers of Him. Ask yourself these questions….
“Would you follow Jesus to a place where you couldn’t have cell phones?
“Would you follow Jesus to a place that had no televisions?”
“Would you follow Jesus if it required you to get out of your comfort zone?”
Here is the scary part….those are the places Jesus is going. Are you following him? Or following the American Dream as your first priority with Sunday morning church sprinkled in on the side? The point is, if you are not GOING and making disciples, then you are not following Jesus! Look at the men of scripture and the examples we are given. The apostle Paul was constantly persecuted and always going and sharing the gospel even if he knew that people didnt want to hear it! Before coming to Jesus, he was rubbing shoulders with the religious leaders in the land. He was well respected among them. He could have easily gone to Synogauge to worship once a week and lived an easy, lavish lifestyle. But something happened. He met Jesus on the road to Damascus. And he could not seek that worldly comfort. Because he wanted to follow Jesus, and that wasnt the direction Jesus was going.
Look at the lives of the disciples in scripture. I challenge someone to find anyone of the twelve disciples who were followers of Christ that in their older years retired with a nice beach front condo in front of the sea. Instead you will find they were all constantly doing one thing…..going. They never stopped going and sharing the gospel, even when it cost them living a life of comfort.
Im not saying to be a true follower of Christ, we all need to go live in a cardboard box behind the gas station. Im not saying that we all need to become foreign missionaries. But I am saying that I think we need to let go of the things of this world a lot more than many of us currently are doing. One day all of us are going to stand in front of the king of kings and Lord of Lords, King Jesus! And we are going to have to give an account for what we did with the breath that we were given. And we will have no excuses on that day for not going and making the proclamation of the gospel our life’s most top priority!
Jesus said in John 10:10 that he came to bring us life! The implication is that in living for him, there’s life! When God called my family to the mission field of Panama, the Lord opened my eyes to this reality. The people we were ministering to in Panama had no televisions and no shopping malls. They were living in the jungle in huts made of bamboo and tin and dirt floors. Yet they always lit up at the mention of one word….Dios…God. It wasnt a burden in Panama to share the gospel….it was an adventure! We had no comforts of our current American society. But honestly, living the adventure of serving Jesus was far more of a prize! I wasnt bound by the lust for materialism. Instead I found true life in serving Christ!
In the community you live in, there are people with great needs. And there are many idols and material things in our society that will fight for your attention and draw you away from serving Jesus. Jesus never meant the Christian life to be only sitting in a pew. He never told the disciples to be sure to calendar all kinds of events to occupy the churches time and to make it more appealing. Jesus gave one simple order….GO. If you view living for Christ as routine or boring, then you are not following the Jesus of the Bible. Maybe its time we stopped living vicariously through action and adventure movies or playing video games. You see God made us with this innate sence of adventure. This desire to find life in going. But we settle for cheap imitations of the real thing in materialism and entertainment. A very wise and deceptive tactic used by Satan to give Christians a total misconception of what it looks like to follow Jesus. Maybe its time we concentrated a little less on the routine of Church, and began seeking to follow in the footsteps of the savior.
For my own children, nothing would make me happier than for my four boys one day to grow up and to tell me that they were leaving on an adventure. For them to tell me that they were following Jesus to live as missionaries in Panama, or China, or some other part of the world where people are in need of hearing the gospel. My flesh would miss them, but my heart would be leaping with excitement for the coming joy and adventure that stood before them in chasing after Christ. Are we currently going to the nations? Closer to home…are we currently more focused on our church calendar or on reaching the lost people in our very own communities?
Are we focused on weekly bible studies for people who are already coming to church, or are we constantly designing new strategies for reaching the lost, even if it is different from what the church has always done? Living for Jesus is not a routine, it’s a journey that was meant to go. We can read and study all about Jesus. But to truly experience Him, we have to walk as he walked. The power of Christ isnt found simply in the hearing of the word, its found in the application of his commands. So how does your personal walk with Christ look? Is it a daily adventure to live for him or is it ordinary and constantly predictable? If the latter holds true, you might want to check and make sure you have all the proper ingredients. You may have heard others tell you the recipe for Christianity, but you may want to check His word for yourself. Following Christ was never meant to taste boring and bland. Its a rich and vibrant life. Go and follow his example. Forsake your material desires…and go make disciples.
Growing up, there were a couple of constants that I could count on each time I went to my grandparents house. For starters, I could always be sure upon entering their house that the aroma of some sort of pie and or cake would fill the air. I could count on the fact that I would have my grandmothers lip stick smudged on my cheek within 5.1 seconds of walking in the front door. I could count on being spoiled rotten with frequent trips to the toy store. And I could always count on sipping one of grandmothers delicious homemade chocolate milkshakes each night as we curled up on the couch with her and watched movies. But we didn’t just watch any movie. Usually it was a very specific genre of movies. As grandaddy would call them, “Good old western flicks.”
I was intimately familiar with all the major players due to my grandparents love of Western shows. One night we would cheer as sherif John Wayne cleaned up Silar City from the bandits trying to over throw the town. Another night we would watch Clint Eastwood as he dished out justice to the wicked men who killed his family. And I could never forget watching Gunsmoke and Marshall Matt Dillon with his trusty sidekick Chester, as they stood to uphold law and order in Dodge City. If the television was on at Grandmothers house in the evening, you could be sure that we were watching a show about the good guys upholding law and order and dishing out punishment to the wicked, in defense of the land, woman, or family they loved. Law, order, and justice were the themes of our favorite shows. The bad guys always got the punishment that was coming to them, and the good guy always got the girl or the reward. In the end, justice was always served.
Westerns were popular and well loved to those in my grandparents generation. And today, although television show concepts may have changed, our society gravitates towards entertainment with the same major theme as the old time Westerns….
We want the good guys to always win and the bad guys to receive what is coming to them. Case in point, how many different spin offs of the television shows CSI and Law and Order will it take before we get tired of those shows? The answer remains unknown. Because television producers keep repackaging the same show over and over. They only change the location and the actors. CSI Atlanta. CSI Miami. CSI Houston. CSI New York…and the list continues to build. Why do tv executives keep basically making the same show again and again? Because the American public continues to tune in every night! Even in the movies we watch, we want justice extracted on the bad guys and we want the good guys to be the ones to do it. At our very core, we love to see justice served and the evil punished for their crimes.
But when it becomes personal, our society has double standards. Particularly, when it comes to breaking God’s law. The quickest way to make many Christian evangelicals nervous and to infuriate a lost person is to start talking about God’s justice and wrath against sinners. One of the worst thing many lost people and even some Christians will do is disregard the second commandment.
“You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.” Exodus 20:4.
We want to serve a God, we just want him to be made in an image that makes us comfortable. If you ever confront a lost person about their sin and point them towards verses about Gods wrath, here is an argument that you might hear….
“Well I dont believe in a wrathful God, I believe God is love .”
I can personally recall trying to witness to a family member who was living a very sinful lifestyle. I pointed out that God calls all men to repent, and turn from their sins. This family member’s argument was that God is love and a loving God would never have wrath on his creation. Unfortunately, its not only the lost who will use this argument, but also many professing Christians. Many church goers will continue to justify their sins by claiming we are all sinners and that God is loving and he forgives.
To be sure, God most definitely is a loving God and he does forgive. But the problem in these arguments is that we take these two words, love and forgiveness, and we bend them so that they mesh with our sinful lifestyles. Let me point out a very key component that we dont like to hear.
If God is love, then he MUST be wrathful.
Imagine a criminal had murdered one of your family members. The criminal goes before a supposed, “just judge.” This judge was said to have the reputation of upholding the law and being fair. Would that judge be considered righteous and fair if he said to the criminal, “Im not going to punish you, just try not to do it again.” Of course not. That judge would be evil and unjust if he let evil go unpunished. Even in our own personal relationship, we grow wrathful against the ones who hurt our families. And the reason we want justice carried out against those who wrong our families is because we love our families. If we didnt love our families, then we wouldnt care if someone trespasses against them. We love the idea of justice, we just dont want it to apply to our relationship with God.
Even in the case of a parent with a child, a loving parent will always discipline their kids. Remember the movie, “Charlie and The chocolate Factory”? There was a little girl in the movie named Veruca Salt. Her daddy was very wealthy, and she constantly demanded things from her father. Candy, money, and large expensive gifts. To which her father always gave her exactly what she wanted. She didnt ask her father for things, she demanded them. And her father begrudging gave her anything she wanted, regardless of how bad it may be for her.
We can draw the conclusion that Veruca Salt’s father hated her. Because a loving parent will at times, tell the child no, and even discipline them when their behavior proves harmful to them. A loving father will always discipline their children. And the degree of punishment always fits the crime. If my son draws with a crayon on the wall, his punishment may be an early bed time. However, if he strikes another child or is disrespectful to me or his mom, he’ll get a spanking and an early bed time. In Hebrews, God tells us of his love through discipline……
“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, 6 because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? 8 If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. 9 Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! 10 They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. 11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” Hebrews 12:5-11.
Lets also look at the concept of forgiveness. A righteous forgiveness can only exist if it is balanced with wrath. Once again, imagine that someone has deeply hurt you. This person comes before and you and asks your forgiveness, only to turn around and hurt you in the same way again. Over and over the person comes to you and asks forgiveness, only to turn around and betray you again. Would you think this person had any love for you? Now think of that same situation. A person hurts you deeply. Only now, this person comes before you truly broken, weeping over their sin. They are disgusted by how they have wronged you and vow to never do this again. All they ask is your forgiveness. Forgiveness would be possible. Because forgiveness requires a true change of heart in the actions of the transgressor.
God is a just God. And because God is loving, he must also be wrathful against those who break his commands. At times, the justice of God is a point of contention and defense for unbelief in God. Atheist use the concept of God’s wrath for building their case against the existence of God. Who hasnt heard these arguments against God……
“Well if the God of the Bible is loving, why would a loving God allow something like 9/11 to happen?”
“If God is loving, then why are their so many violent deaths?”
And one question that many Christians have been known to ask recently is this……
“If God is loving, why would he allow a government to be put in place that condones abortion and homosexuality?”
Scripture gives us the answer to all of these questions through a book of the Bible called Habakkuk. It is a book that is so relevant to our culture today but so often overlooked, and rarely preached on. But Habakkuk asked God these same questions, and God answered him. To make a long story short, Habakkuk was a prophet of God and he loved the Lord. He was a good man. Recently his land of Judah had gone through a great time of revival. God was turning the land back towards Him and people were following the ways of the Lord. But just when things were looking great, people in the land began to fall away from God. Massive idol worship took place, and Gods people chose to gratify the lusts of their flesh instead of being obedient to God. In short, sin was rampant and immorality ruled in the day of Habakkuk. And this Godly man Habakkuk looks out over the moral decline of Judah and this is what he says…..
“O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save? Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. So the law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted.” Habakkuk 1:2-4.
Habakkuk is crying out for justice! He can’t imagine a loving God allowing such atrocities to take place! And he is basically asking God…..
“What in the world are you doing?
Why do you sit back passively and do nothing about this immorality!”
Habakkuk is asking how a loving God can just stand by and watch as these horrible things take place. But you see, Habakkuk had fallen prey to the same ideology that we today find ourselves in. He had tried to separate the love of God and the wrath of God, not realizing that both are inseparably linked together. God’s response to Habakkuk reveals this great truth.
“Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told. For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation, who march through the breadth of the earth, to seize dwellings not their own. They are dreaded and fearsome; their justice and dignity go forth from themselves. Their horses are swifter than leopards, more fierce than the evening wolves; their horsemen press proudly on. Their horsemen come from afar; they fly like an eagle swift to devour. They all come for violence, all their faces forward. They gather captives like sand. At kings they scoff, and at rulers they laugh. They laugh at every fortress, for they pile up earth and take it. Then they sweep by like the wind and go on, guilty men, whose own might is their god!” Habakkuk 1:5-11.
God’s response to Habakkuk’s cries…..
“Oh, Im not passive about immorality, and here is what Im doing about it…”
“Im going to allow the Godless and blood thirsty nation of Babylon with their evil people, the Chaldeans, to come into the land of Judah where the people are sinning against me….and kill all of them”.
But on to that in a bit. I want to point out two things. First, the idolatrous people of the land abide under the passive wrath of God. In which God gives them over to their lusts. It’s basically Gods way of saying, Oh, you want sin more than you do me…..have at it!” God gives them over to their sinful desires. This is describe in Romans 1:24-27.
“Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25 They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen. Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.”
Letting the people chase after their own lusts is the passive wrath of God because disobedience to God always ends bad. Its Gods way of saying, “If you want sin, you can also take the consequences that come with them.” Case in point, sexual immorality leads to diseases and heartache. Idol worship leads to wars and strife. And God gives them over to face the consequences of their sin. And Habakkuk is asking the question of God, “How can you let such immorality go rampant in our land. And look back to the verse in Habakkuk at Gods answer. God told Habakkuk that he was about to do something that would leave him speechless.
God said he was raising up the Chaldeans. Look back at the verse to how God describes them. They were a bitter and Godless nation. They had no respect for anyone and loved violence. They were a ruthless people who conquered anyone that stood in their path with great bloodshed. And God was going to allow them to attack and dominate this land of immoral people as an act of judgement.
Our nation currently, despite waving a Christian flag, is one of the most Godless nation on the earth. We promote homosexuality and condone the killing of babies in the womb and have instilled these evil rights into our law. Marriage is seen as a contract to be broken, and the God of the Bible is distorted into a deity that puts up with sin because he is loving. We worship money and comfort, while we shudder at the thought of actually sharing the gospel. We entertain ourselves with the things that God hates and avoid the things that God loves. And then we tragedies such as terrorist attacks or murders take place, we want to question God as to how he can allow such a thing. But you see, God has only given us what we wanted. We wanted rebellion and a life apart from the laws of God. We wanted God out of schools, so God gave us a society where depraved people will committ horrible crimes. When the Chaldeans attacked Habakkuk’s land, it was Gods punishment on the land for breaking Gods law. It was Gods righteous justice in action.
Our nation as a whole, chooses sin over God…..just like in Habakkuk’s day. And God is still the same as he was then. How scary is it to see the similarities of sinful rebellion in our nation and in the story of Habakkuk. Gods judgement in Habakkuk was to send a ruthless army to invade the land and terrorize the people. There is the strong possibility, that in cases such as 9/11 or atrocities that invade our nation, that God is not sitting back passively. In examining the story of Habakkuk, we see that to a Godless nation, the destruction of that nation is actually Gods justice in action. The question is not, “Why has God abandon us?” Rather, the statement should be, “Woe to us who have abandoned God!”
To the unbeliever, God doesn’t exist. Because how could a loving God allow criminals to go unpunished. But sometimes, we are the criminal. Judah was the land in which Habakkuk lived, and was part of the nation of Israel, which we know that Israel is God’s chosen people. God executed judgement on His own people for their sins in much the same way a parent would do a child. When a child becomes an adult, there comes a time when he or she must stand on their own two feet. Good or bad, they make their own decision. And at times, those decisions may not be good ones. Sometimes life’s best lessons come out of the most painful moments that stem from disobedience. Habakkuk did no wrong against God. But he stood witness to the destruction of his homeland of Judah because of the sins of his people.
It’s ironic that a nation that presumably loves the idea of law breakers being punished, doesn’t want that same justice to apply to God’s law We use excuses to justify our sins as acceptable. We say things like”Everyone else is doing it.” And, “I’m not as bad as that guy.” We judge our standard of good by comparing ourselves to other people. But the problem with that is that one judgement day, God wont judge us using our next door neighbor as a measuring stick. The measuring rod will be His Holy law. The Bible says that no man is good….not one. Thats why we so desperately need to daily throw ourselves at the mercy of the cross. Jesus Christ paid the penalty and absorbed the eternal wrath that was in store for you and me. He offers forgiveness, to those who would be broken over and turn from their sins in repentance. A judge is not viewed as evil for sentencing a murderer to death. The murderer is receiving justice for his disobedience against the law of man. God is a righteous and just God, and because he is loving, his wrath must be executed against the wicked. Was was murdered for the sins of mankind, so we all stand guilty before God. We murdered his only son. But there is hope………
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” John 3:16-21.
Jesus offers forgiveness for those who would step out of the darkness and into a life of following Him in the light. Sadly, many want to hold on to the pleasures of sin and continue living in the darkness while at the same time expecting God to just accept our transgresses. And although at times we as Christians will stand witness to God’s wrath on a disobedient world, we are not to stand passively. He has given us a great commission. To go and tell the world about Jesus. Maybe the cure for the immoral society we live in is for the word of God to penetrate the hearts of those living in darkness.
I once heard a preacher say this…..”If Jesus comes back before I die, I hope all I can see is the back of his head.” The book of Revelation says that in the end times, Jesus will return on a white stallion with his enemies in front of Him.
” I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war. 12 His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. 13 He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. 14 The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. 15 Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written:
King of Kings, and Lord of Lord’s.” Revelation 19:6-21.
Notice that Jesus will wage war on the evil, those who rejected Him, with justice! His eyes will be like fire, and his robe will be dipped in the blood of his enemies. Behind Him are those who are His…the armies of Heaven. Only the enemies of God lie in front! Why would this preacher say he hoped to only see the back of Christ’s head? Because if you find yourself staring into His eyes of fire, that wrath of God is now unescapable, and the time for repentance has past. This new year, make a resolution to proclaim Christ to the nations. There is not a new sheriff in town. He’s been in control since the very beginning. Jesus Christ is Just and righteous. And contrary to what many want to hear, he is also wrathful. But his wrath is what best displays his affection for us. This is the character and nature of the God we serve. And through seeing His wrath, we see that his love is much greater than we could have ever imagined.
My goal was firmly set. I had assessed the situation, and was excited about the notion of doing this on my own. It was Christmas Eve night of 2010. My new years resolution had come early. Id resolved to put together my five year old sons monster of a train table by myself. This was a monumental task, because for starters, putting things together is not one of my God given talents. But I had a point to prove, more to myself than anyone else. I could do this. I kept repeating this to myself, psyching myself up the same as an athlete would do before a major competition. I had the instructions, and I had the parts to the train table, which came to a grand total of one hundred and fifty parts crammed into an oversized box. No doubt this endevor would take me well into the early morning hours. But I was not to be swayed from the mission at hand. With instructions laid out in front of me, and tools that I knew nothing about in my pocket, I opened the box, and ventured into the unknown world of product assembly.
Its not that I didnt read the directions, because I had the common sense to know that without them I would be lost. My folly wasnt due to a lack of obedience to the instructions I read, but rather, my failure was accredited to the order in which I did things. Simply put, I didnt have my priorities in the correct order. Here I had one hundred and fifty pieces, mostly small, laid out before me. The job seemed overwhelming. “Where do I even begin”, I thought to myself. Most of the pieces and work went into assembling the larger portion of the train table. But the simplest part of the whole job was putting together a single drawer that was basically the centerpiece to the table. It would literally take me five minutes or so to put the small drawer together. The hardest part of the night was going to be the construction of the massive table. I followed the directions to a T…I just rearranged the order a bit. I decided to skip step one, which was putting together the small drawer, and get the large table put together first. In my mind, I would get the hard work out of the way and save the easiest job for last.
I labored for the better part of the night and into the early morning, following the instructions just as I read them. Finally, after hours of tedious work, I had completed the assembly of the large train table. It was beautiful. All that was missing was the draw that was to be placed in the front center of the table. It only took a short time to put the draw together. What transpired next I can vaguely recall, as my consciousness gave way to a title wave of anger and sorrow, very similar to Dr. David Banner morphing into the Incredible Hulk.
After hours of construction, I had finally reached the end of my journey in train table construction. It was time to complete the process and call it a night. I proudly picked up the drawer and began to place it in the hole in the center of the train table. But there was an unexpected problem. The drawer, for a reason that was unknown to me, would not fit in the hole. I push and twisted and did everything I could think of, but to no avail. “How could this be happening?” I thought. I had followed the directions perfectly. I quickly retraced my steps reading over the directions and seeing that I had indeed done thing correctly with one exception. I hadn’t assembled the draw first. Upon further examination, I came to the conclusion that I had made a monumental mistake. The draw would not fit in the hole for one very important reason…..
The drawer was to be assembled first…because the train table was to be build AROUND the drawer. Putting together the drawer in the beginning was of first importance in the process. Therefore, even though I followed the directions down to the letter, since I didnt make the center piece a first priority, the beautiful table would never work properly. In order to finish the table and make sure the drawer fit, I would now have to disassemble the whole table and start from scratch. I could argue all day long that Id worked so hard and that the table was beautiful but it wouldnt change the fact that the drawer wasnt going to fit because I had rearranged the order in which things were to be done. As frustrated as I was, I had no one to blame but myself. Nothing was going to work without the drawer being put together first.
This new year many goals have been assessed. Many resolutions have been made. More times than not, the focus of these resolutions is centered around self improvement. We want better relationships, better finances, and an all around better life. So we draw up blueprints of sorts to achieve these goals. Instructions on how to accomplish this. In Christian evangelical circles, some pastors will even begin the new year off by preaching topical sermons like, “Ten Ways to Be a Better Husband”, or “Forgetting Past Transgressions.” And step by step points are laid out on how to build your better life in the coming year. And while Jesus is a part of the plan, many times He becomes more like the drawer in my train table illustration. We tend to focus on treating our spouse better or working through past issues with Jesus occasionally sprinkled in via a Bible verse that pertains to our situation.
“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,” 1 Corinthians 5:3.
Our relationship with Jesus Christ is to be of first importance as the apostle Paul so plainly points out in this scripture. He is the center piece to making every aspect of our lives work.
“Jesus is, ““‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.’” Acts 4:11.
Jesus is described over and over in the old and new testament as being the cornerstone of our lives. The story goes that builders over looked a small irrelevant piece of stone in building their temple. However, as their project neared completion, the builders realized that their foundation wasnt going to work. The only stone that would fit to hold up the structure would be the cornerstone that in the beginning they had disregarded. The stone that the builders originally rejected had proved to be the most important part of the whole structure. Without the cornerstone, the structure would surely collapse.
Our lives cannot work properly unless we have first set our foundation as the cornerstone which is Christ Jesus. We can set new years resolutions, but the improvements we resolve to strive towards in 2013 will collapse unless our priorities are in check. Because our lives were never meant to work without Christ. As king Solomon repeatedly points out in Ecclesiastes, we were all created with a God shaped void in us that we try to fill with all sorts of frivolous things. Look at every magazine cover in the supermarket. They tout headlines like, “A Better Body Will Lead to Better Relationships”, or “More Money Will Bring Greater Happiness.” And while working towards these goals, you may be able to step back in the process and marvel and the beauty of it seemingly coming together. But in the end, you will be left with an empty table with a missing drawer, rendering all of your hard work as useless and a waste of time. Because the center piece was not of first importance, leaving you with sorrow and regret.
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” Matthew 7:21-23.
To be sure, this is a verse that will no doubt haunt many people on the day of their judgement before God almighty. In a sense, it would be like me calling the manufacture of the train table and telling them, “Hey I deserve for this train table to work! I put in long hours and I followed the instructions!! This isnt fair!!” To which the makers of the table would respond, “Yes but you obviously thought you could make it work by adding the center piece last. Without first focusing on the center piece, nothing else will work.”
On that day many will stand before God claiming many good things they have done. But if they have neglected the gospel of Jesus Christ and knowing him personal as of FIRST importance, they will have missed the whole point. What a waste it would be to follow all the rules but neglect the most important relationship in life. And after living a life by the rules hear the Lord say, “You may have done some good things, but you never made me a priority….depart from my presence.”
This new year, I want to challenge you to reevaluate your new years resolution list. And although your goals may be honorable and good, ask yourself…”Where does my relationship with Christ fit into all of this?” Because when Jesus is first in your life, then your relationships will be better. When Christ is first, then money can just be money and it doesn’t own you. The good in your life becomes just an overflow of Christ in your heart. In our humanity, not matter how hard we persevere towards a goal, we will eventually fall short. But in Christ, everything works. Because Jesus is the cornerstone to your life. It’s not you trying to be the God of your life, but you letting Jesus be God of your life. And he is very good at God. What is at the top of you new years resolution list? Dont make something more important than that which Paul deemed “of first importance.” That which the world would say is of no importance, is actually the center piece to the train table of our lives!
This used to be my favorite time of year. Four years ago, my wife and I owned a gym. And January 1 is a gym owners bread and butter. Each new year, people treat the 1st of January as sort of a reboot in their lives. The ever popular new years resolutions begin to make their way into every conversation. In the gym business, people would get motivated to lose weight and get in shape. They would passionately sign up for one year agreements in hopes of shedding that bodyweight. They would come into the club for the first time and view all of our new equipment and declare how much they loved our gym!
The first of the year was packed every day. Everyone seemed to be committed to their individual goals of losing weight or shaping up. But as the weeks progressed, the smiles on our new members faces began to deteriorate. Pretty soon the numbers of the committed began to fall. One by one, day by day, people began to sink back into their old ways of life. The same gym they initially loved had become a point of frustration for them. Because they were not seeing the results they expected immediately. And they were not patient enough to stay committed long enough to see those results come to fruition.
Our failure to commit stems from a misunderstanding of the word love. This is why so many people fail in their resolutions, no matter what they may be. We love the idea of bettering ourselves, but when things seem harder than expected, we grow frustrated and even angry. Here is a perfect example. Have you ever watched a rabid college football fan on game day? Before the big game, you will hear them say something like this….
“I love my team and all the players on my team are awesome!!!
And after a loss, its common to hear this…..
“Man I can’t stand those turkey’s! They always let me down!!!”
Or how about this one……….
“I’m in love with my new car!!!!””
Forty thousand miles and a few engine problems later……
“This is an old clunker and Im so ready to trade it in!!!”
Do you see what Im getting at? Our worlds definition of love is…”As long as you are making me happy, Ill love you.” This is most seen in relationships today. The same couples who are hateful and bitter towards one another at one time loved each other very much. But in marriage, just the same as it is with cars….forty thousand miles and a few engine problems into the relationship, and people begin to look for a newer model. From gym memberships, to our sports team alliance, to relationships, we are at our core, non-committal people. We throw the word love around so easily, but when the going gets tough, we decide to love something else that better suits our selfish needs.
Many people this new year will make the best resolution they could possibly make. And that is to begin following the Lord Jesus Christ in a personal relationship. But sadly, many of these professions of faith end very similarly to what happens in the gym resolutions. These new believers start off strong, claiming that they are so in love with Jesus and that he is their savior. Pretty soon their daily Bible reading begins to waver. Problems arise in their lives. Sometimes tragedies. They turn on the news and see evil on every channel. And in their confusion, the same God they had professed to love they now begin to resent. You see, they loved God as long as God seemed to be blessing them. We ask God why he seems to say no to our prayers so often. But God actually says yes more than you may be aware. Our selfish nature just blinds us from seeing it.
Heres an example of what I mean. When I was around twelve years old, I went to the doctor for a physical. The doctor was amazed at how tall I was to be so young. He drew some blood and sent it off to the lab. When the tests came back, he said that judging from the how fast my body was growing, it looked like I had a symptom called Marfan’s Syndrome. Its basically when your body grows to fast and the connective tissues get weak in the joints and can cause major health problems. I remember my parents being so upset and worried, even though they tried to hide it. My family prayed and my church prayed. A week later we went to another doctor who did a follow up. After his exam, he concluded that my body had no sign of Marfan’s, and said that I was just a tall kid.
I remember talking to a friend in our church about the ordeal. I said, “Those doctors were just plain dumb to misdiagnose me and scare the whole family.” And my friend looked back at me in surprise and said, “Charlie…God answered our prayers for you to be alright!”
I had a similar situation happen this morning. For a long time, Lacy and I have always prayed for God to give us enough to take care of our family and to do ministry. We never pray for great wealth, we just want God to take care of our needs and allow us to honor Him. Over Christmas, we received a considerable amount of Christmas fun money from family and friends. We put all of these monetary gifts into a savings account. Earlier this week Lacy had some engine trouble with her car. So she took it in the the dealership. They called this morning and said that there were repairs that needed to be made. The bill for these repairs took almost every bit of that money we put in savings. At first I was pretty sick to my stomach. I thought to myself, “Why God, did you give us that financial boost and then take it away? Don’t you love me?”
But I realized almost immediately that God didnt take that money away. He had provided it specifically for our car troubles. We prayed for just enough to take care of our family, and God provided….just enough.
Instead of focusing on the negative and the parts of life that are not going your way, seek out what God is blessing you with. Have you ever thought about the fact that the people in our world who curse God are doing so with the breath that he has provided for them and a heart that is beating only because he wills it to do so? This is one of the greatest blasphemies in the universe. God owes us nothing! Yet he give gifts constantly that we are ungrateful for!
One of the most popular religious sayings in our world today is “God is love.”
We put this on Christian T shirts and coffee cups and quote it like an anthem. But many people only know a perverted definition of love, not the real thing. The perfect example of love was that of our savior Jesus Christ dying for our sins on the cross. He was the perfect son of God. He didnt have to give his life, and he certainly didnt need us. He could have easily looked at all of humanity and said, “I dont love them, because they are not making me happy.” But as Jesus has taught us, love and happiness are not the same thing.
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-8.
In other words, true love has nothing to do with how you feel or you not getting what you want. Does true love fail?
In marital conflict….NEVER.
In financial difficulties….NEVER.
When others disappoint us…NEVER.
Can I keep a track record of the things my spouse has done that have hurt me? According to verse five, true love keeps no record of wrongs. Love always protects, even if the object of affection disappoints. And love always perseveres though the toughest of times. It never fails. And if it does, then it was never love to begin with. It was a perversion of the truth. Realize that the way 1 Corinthians defines love is the exact same way Christ loves us. We disappoint. He loves. We run. He pursues.
Before you make you first new years resolution, maybe you need to redefine your definition of what love is. If you love something or someone, you trust them even when the chips are down. Love is not envious and always wanting more. Love is satisfied with the portion that is currently in your path. Do you love Jesus? Even when you cant see His big picture? Are you thankful for the gifts he has given, or constantly resentful for what you dont have? Christ never said he would give you a perfect life. But he did say that he offered eternal life. For those who would trust in Him, believe in Him, and love Him with the same kind of love the he first loved us. If you properly define love the way God defines it, you’re new years resolutions will be fail proof.
Christmas morning has come and gone. All of the presents that were once so neatly wrapped and displayed so picture perfectly under the tree have now been opened and scattered all around the house. And at least in our household, the toys that were greatly anticipated only two weeks ago, have now become just another addition to the growing number of items in our childrens, “must have” lists.
Not two weeks ago, my oldest son Andy appeared bored out of his mind. Lying around the house, watching cartoon reruns, he said that there was nothing to do except watch television. I tried to remedy his bordem with offers of playing outside or wrestling with his brother, but failed to spark any interest. Then we asked the question, “What if you had a brand new playground in our backyard to play on?” His little eyes seemed to come alive and the frown quickly turned into a teethy smile. From this moment on, all our kids could talk about was a brand new backyard playset. As if this playset would be the cure for a lifetime of bordem.
Every parent wants their child to be happy. And judging from the excitement that stemmed from the mere mention of this playset, Lacy and I thought this would be a great idea for their Christmas present. The playset arrived a short time before Christmas, so with the help of a close friend from church, we assembled it in the backyard while the boys were at school. When we picked up the boys from school, we had told them that they had an early Christmas present waiting in the backyard. They didnt even bother going in the house to put up their backpacks. Instead, Andy and Lincoln ran around our house to the backyard. And immediately, I was the recipient of praise and glory. You would have thought I was father of the year by the accolades I was receiving from our boys. Andy emphatically declared, “This is the best day EVER!!!” And as Phil from the television show Duck Dynasty would say, everyone was “Happy, Happy, Happy!”
Now let me take you one week removed from this happy day of play set bliss in the Parish backyard. The newly erected playset stands as the new center piece to our backyard, and our boys sit inside the house watching cartoon reruns as Andy declares on a Saturday afternoon, “Im bored and theres nothing to do.” Nothing had really changed, except that the newness of his playset had worn off. The smile returned to his little face when he saw a commercial for a new Lego Superhero toy. His eyes brightened and his smile returned as he shouted, “We need that, it would be so much fun!!”
The scene doesnt change much as we grow older. In fact, this is human nature in its most organic and basic form. We seek relief from bordem. We seek relief from an unhappy life. And so whatever catches our eye also captivates our emotions. And what tantilizes our emotions invades our hearts. As we once did in our youth, in order to fill this void in our lives, we follow our hearts. Thats the American way of life. The world will tell us that happiness can be attained if we only had a bigger house, newer car, more money, a different spouse, or someone elses life. And the world describes this with a phrase that seems sweet and innocent.
“Follow your heart, and it will lead you to happiness!”
The world tells us that following the desires of ones heart will lead to our happiness. In matters of money, relationships, marital status, sexual orientation, even in the termination of pregnancies, if its something that doesnt make you happy, then its not your hearts desire, so follow your heart no matter the cost. Because the world has conditioned us to believe that our hearts are the best indicators of what will make us happy. But here are some things I know for a fact that prove this worldly theory wrong.
Ive never met the married couple who endured trials in their relationships, stayed together and worked through them, and then regretted persevering in tough times. But I have met plenty of divorced people who have regretfully admitted that they gave up too soon. Ive also never met the child who was angry that his parents loved each other through difficulties and stayed together.
Ive also never met the woman who had aborted a baby who could look back and say it lead to her ultimate happiness. I have known women who as a result of their decision to abort, were mentally scarred for the rest of their lives knowing that they not only committed murder, but did this to their own child.
Ive never met the man or woman who got that new house or new car and their hearts were satisfied eternally. Quite the opposite, a hunger for newer and bigger things will never satisfy, only lead to more expensive wants and desires.
And Ive never met the person who followed their hearts into a lifestyle of homosexuality because it held the key to happiness. I knew a homosexual man who would claim to love his life on the outside. But he would drink himself into a stupor daily to mask the pain he was in, and it eventually cost him his life. He was my uncle. And along with his homosexual lifestyle, he was constantly on a quest for the finer things in life. But he didnt find satisfaction in his relationships, nor his worldly possessions. In fact, the more he followed his heart, the more depressed he became. And the more depressed he became, the more he drank. This continued until one morning, after he had been drinking all night, he drove to the store intoxicated and drove right in front of an on coming train that took his life instantly. He followed the worlds advice! He chased after his heart in all things! This is the propaganda we are sold! So why did it end so badly?
“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” James 17:9.
How can this be? The world tells us that the heart is the epicenter for all human happiness and satisfaction, but the word of God tells us that the heart is wicked and not to be trusted? Its the American way to pursue the accumulation of great wealth and happiness of the soul! We are conditioned to believe this from a young age. From instilling Santa Claus in our childhood (who is nothing more than a man made idol that society has given the attributes of God, therefore breaking the second commandment in Exodus 20:4), to defining the American dream as the accumulation of materialistic things, we normalize things in our society that God strongly cautioned us against.
“There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end leads to death.”
Maybe the reason we seem to be on this constant quest for happiness and only finding temporarily is because the Bible is true. Is it possible that Satan has made the word of God today seem strange and radical while at the same time making the things that will lead us away from satisfaction normal? Think about this. The enemy wants nothing more than for you and I to be separated from God, here in this life and eternally. He also is unapologetically against your joy! So what better way to make us miserable than to lead us away from joy by enticing us with a false and fleeting happiness! As long as Satan can keep our eyes focused on chasing after our hearts, we will be distracted from focusing on God. The one our world will curse and run from who is Jesus Christ is ironically the only source of the satisfaction our world so desperately seeks after.
John Piper has coined one of my favorite quotes, but to hear it requires biblical examination to extract the point he is trying to make.
“God is most glorified in us, when we are most satisfied in Him” -John Piper
There are two desires are contained in this one quote. The desire of all mankind is ultimate satisfaction. And the desire of God is to be glorified in all the earth. The world would look at this quote and say that the desires of God and man are contradictory. The world would conclude that man could never be satisfied in the things of God and God would never find glory in the worldly things in which we seek satisfaction. And so among people with this mindset, God remains unglorified, and man remains unsatisfied, hopping from one fleeting pleasure to the next. But the truth is that Gods glory and mans eternal joy are inseparably linked. And the reason we are never satisfied is because God is not glorified in our lives.
In short, no one is more responsible for unhappiness in your life than you are.
God wants us to be satisfied and joyful, and he wants to be glorified. But neither of these can happen separately. To begin to understand this mystery, we must first understand something that is quite offensive to most worldly believers. That God is not first and foremost for your joy! Our joy and satisfaction cannot exist without God being gloried in. Look at Psalm 23 to see this.
“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness” Psalm 23:1-3
If you read just these verses we can come to a false conclusion that God is all about our joy! He is shepherding us, watching over us, leading us into peaceful still waters and green pastures, restoring our soul, and leading us in righteousness. I mean it sounds like God is pretty into us! But why does he do this! Is it because he loves us so much and we are just so awesome! The next four words in this passage give us the reason why God seeks our joy.
“….for his name’s sake.” (Verse 3).
God is first and foremost after his glory in which joy results from our obediance. Therefore God is not after our begrudging, grumbling submission to him. He recieves glory from our delight in his commands. And we have joy in following his commands because our obedience leads our lives into greater joy! God being about God is what we want, because Gods glory always results in our abundant joy!
You see I can read the owners manual of my car and read where it tells me to use regular gasoline in order for my car to run well. And if I choose to put diesel fuel in the car instead of regular gas, it will run on that diesel fuel, but it wont be long until it breaks down. The designer of the car would tell me that he designed the car to be in its best condition when I follow the rules in the manual. It doesnt matter if I THINK that the car will run better on diesel fuel. The reality is that the designer of the car knows best because he made the car. Therefore, he actually knows what will keep the car running its best.
Did you ever think of the Bible in this way? That God designed marriage and said its a covenant between man and woman, and he commands us to be faithful to our spouses even in hard times, not because he is trying to take us from joy, but because he wants to lead us into joy!! Did you ever ponder that the reason God warns so often about the love of money is because a lust for money only will lead to more unsatisfaction? If you and I were stranded in the desert and in the distance we could see a water well full of cold spring water, and I told you we didnt need that water because we could get our satisfaction in building a well ourselves that looked the same but had no water, you would tell me I was crazy! Because a fake well, although it is built in the image of a real one, has no water, and therefore cannot satisfy.
“You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.” Exodus 20:4.
Our society places money, sex, relationships, and so many other vices as the goal of our satisfaction in life. These things become of the utmost importance to people. They become Gods in our lives. We worship sex and money and in the end both only leave us wanting more. God doesnt command us not to build idols in our lives to harm us. He does this because in chasing after worldly pleasures, we seek to satisfy our thirst for happiness in empty wells.
Jeremiah describes it this way…..
“declares the Lord,
for my people have committed two evils:
they have forsaken me,
the fountain of living waters,
and hewed out cisterns for themselves,
broken cisterns that can hold no water.” Jeremiah 2:13.
Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, whoever believes in me will never thirst.” John 6:35.
If we would subject our marriages, our relationships, our finances, and our pursuits to the Lordship of Christ and construct them by the blueprint God has laid out in scripture, we would find not fleeting happiness, but eternal joy. Even in the hardest of times, God has shown us through scripture that he is the deliverer, the mighty one, and the savior. If we follow Gods ways they lead to life. In John 10:10, Jesus declares that He came so that we might have life!! The implication is that without Christ, we have no life, only desperation! Why do we continually keep running to these broken cisterns over and over that yield the same disappointing results! Instead, Christ remains…to some untried and as a result they find his promises as untrue.
When we operate our lives according to the word of God, we find ultimate joy. Because that’s how we were designed….to find our greatest joy in obedience to Gods commands. If I tell my child not to touch a hot stove, Im not trying to hinder his joy, as exciting as his little eyes may think it would be. Im trying to keep him from getting hurt. And when my kids are obedient to me, others see that obedience. And when a child is obedient to his parents and others see this, the onlookers will say what a good parent the father is to have a child that obedient. The father receives praise for leading his child in ways of righteousness. The child doesn’t receive the praise for being good on his own, because the child is showing honor to the parent through his obedience.
God recieves glory when we live lives in obedience to him. And not only does he receive glory, but we come into the fullness of joy and satisfaction. Because in obedience to Christ, our lives work. A marriage, though trials may come, will never break apart when done to the glory of God. In fact, in trials, it will grow stronger. And this is true for every aspect of our lives. When we realize that Gods way is better than ours it brings us joy and satisfaction in Him. And in our satisfaction in following his commands, God is glorified to the world through us! God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him! Amen.
When my kids hear the word, “Walmart” mentioned in our house, its like this really weird chemical reaction happens in their little bodies. They can be in the worst of moods, arguing with each other, and complaining because they don’t want to do homework. But upon hearing the word “Walmart” a miracle occurs. All of the sudden, Andy and Lincoln go from pulling each other’s hair out, to sharing toys and actually wanting to do their homework without being asked.
They think I am not wise to their little scheme. In their minds, if they do good, then Im going to give them things….like new toys at Walmart. Even on the car ride to the store, you can almost literally see the blue birds chirping over their heads as they give their best performance of true brotherly love in the backseat.
Im serenaded with songs of praise as we walk the isles….
“Did I ever tell you that you are the best daddy in the world?”
“Daddy how did you get so strong?”
“I love you daddy with all my heart!”
And don’t get me wrong, I love hearing this from my children. But I know its not true adoration at that moment. At that moment, their eyes are glued to the back of the store where the toy department holds all the desires of their hearts. I had to stop the madness right there. I squatted down to both boys, and told them how much I loved them. But I let them know that they were not getting what they thought they were getting. They were not getting a new toy.
Immediately, the blue birds over their heads dispersed as the eye brows lowered and their smiles faded. “That’s not fair!” “You’re a meany!” What happened to me being the greatest dad that ever lived? The fact that I loved them was not enough to satisfy them. Their sour attitudes continued and I informed them that if they kept it up, they would lose play time with their toys at home. My oldest responded, “But those are our toys!” To which I had to point out that it was I who bought the toys and gave to them. So technically, the toys were on loan from mommy and daddy.
When we read the story of Job in the Bible, we see a man who possessed unwavering faith in God in the harshest of circumstances. If you recall, Satan was allowed by God to do his very worst to Job. Note that God did not cause any of the problems, but allowed Satan to wreak havoc upon the life of Job. Satan basically said to God, “You have so blessed your boy Job with health, and wealth, and a nice family….but let me take that away from him and I swear he will curse your name.” You see, Satan was trying to make a point to God that the only reason humanity loves God is because of the good things he gives.
Satan took Jobs health, his wealth, even his marriage was in shambles. Even Job’s seven children were tragically taken from him. Job literally lost everything. And at his lowest point, this is what Job said….
“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
and naked I will depart.
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away;
may the name of the Lord be praised.” Job 1:21.
In the worst of circumstances, when all of life seemed hopeless and darkness seemed to be all around, it wasn’t doubt or anger towards God that resided in Jobs heart….it was praise. Jobs love for God was genuine. Its wasn’t based on God giving job anything. Because Job realized that everything he had, his marriage, his health, his blessings, even his children…they were never his to begin with. All good things in our lives come from God. And one of the major morals of the story is that when the most awful of tragedies befalls us, God is enough to sustain us. And if we curse him and doubt him, we only prove how selfish we are. Why would people do this?
“…because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever!” Romans 1:24.
They begin to put more worth in the things God gives rather in the God who gives.
When we as outsiders looking back at the story of Job read about his life, we smile and say a hearty, “Amen.” I’ve never met the person that has read the book of Job and walked away thinking God was unjust. Just the opposite, we read the story and pray that we should have Job like faith and marvel at the sovereignty of God in all situations.
However, many times we live contrary to the lessons we learn from scripture. In our world today, if we have money, good health, a good marriage, and great kids, we tend to use the term, “blessed” to describe our life. But what happens when we get a terminal illness, or we lose our job, or our marriage is deteriorating, or God forbid we lose a loved one in death? What happens when we witness the news of a national tragedy like the one we experienced as a nation in Connecticut last week?
More times than not, we abandon what we learned from the life of Job and fall into despair. We question where God was, and how can he be loving to let bad things happen. You see we are quick to use terms like blessed and sing praises to the Lord when life is good. But when we tragedy strikes, we behave much like a little child not getting what he wanted from Walmart when we resent God.
We basically say with our lack of faith, “I never really loved God, I just loved the stuff he gives.”
There is one thing I want to get across to you through examining pieces of the story of Job. And that is that God doesn’t change. Do you see that? There are parents in Connecticut that lost children to that disgusting act of violence last week. And as a father, I look at my kids and in my heart mourn with them. But what happened does not diminish in the least the fact that God is still on his throne. And there are those who will justify anger in their hearts towards God for the cards that life has dealt.
How quickly we forget, in addition to Job’s losing his health, wealth, and the adoration of his wife….job lost not one…not two…but all of his seven kids to a tragic, unexpected death. And Job mourned. And Job wept. And job hurt. But through it all, in the midst of his pain….Job praised God for the gifts that he had been given. And he acknowledged that even though it was painful to have those gifts taken away, they had only been on temporary loan to him. Because God is enough.
Do you think it’s a mere coincidence that God saw fit to have the story of Job recorded in scripture to be passed down through the generations? We don’t read our Bibles as some legalistic check mark or some badge of honor that we can tell others we read the Bible. The Bible was given to us so that we may know the character of God. And through that, we learn how to draw near to our creator in the best of times, and in the darkest of nights.
God doesn’t change. He is still the same as he was in Genesis, and in Job. Job could have easily started to curse God. He could have fallen back in unbelief and doubted his existence because life hadn’t turned out like he wanted. He could have clung to all that gifts God had given him and said, “MINE!!” But he didn’t. Job could have just laid down in depression and hurt as he waited for death. But he chose to trust in God.
In the final chapter of Job, he says this of his experience and what he learned from all of the loss he encountered….
“I know that you can do all things,
and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
3 ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
4 ‘Hear, and I will speak;
I will question you, and you make it known to me.’
5 I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
but now my eye sees you;
6 therefore I despise myself,
and repent in dust and ashes.” Job 42: 1-6
Notice verse 5. Job says he had heard of God from the beginning, but only now after he has walked through such dark periods of life does he really see him. Sometimes God allows Satan to do his worst so that we may see what a savior he really is. You see, faith doesn’t grow in the good times. Faith in God grows in the trials of life. And Job goes on to say in verse 6 that he despises himself. Job realized how self centered in thinking he had been, and how little faith he had in God. Satan’s plan to pull Job away from God backfired. Instead, it drove Job further into knowing God. And the key part is to notice Job says he repents of his old ways.
After walking through the fires of life, Job knows something now that couldn’t have been learned by reading a book. Sometimes life experience is the best teacher. Job learned that God is enough. Trials will happen. Tragedies will occur. And life will never turn out like we expect.
In fact, nowhere in scripture do we see the example of a Christ follower who had a life of ease and comfort. The disciples and apostles lives were marked with persecution and suffering. They lost loved ones, and faced the atrocities of evil men constantly. Yet the example they set was one of a stead fast faith in the sovereign plan of God. How is it that modern Christianity thinks in some way that its followers deserve better than the very men who walked with God throughout the scriptures!
Job never forgot the loss he experienced in his life. But at the same time, Job didn’t cling to that which God took from him forever. He let it go, and realized that holding on to his pain only kept him from experiencing the good he might experience through a faith walk with God in the future. Again, Job lost seven children, his wealth, and everything else you could imagine. But through the pain, he came to know God not as the giver of gifts but the creator and sustainer of all that is good. And though there was pain and confusion at one point in Jobs life, be sure to read the end of the story….
“And the Lord restored the fortunes of Job, when he had prayed for his friends. And the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before. 11 Then came to him all his brothers and sisters and all who had known him before, and ate bread with him in his house. And they showed him sympathy and comforted him for all the evil[ that the Lord had brought upon him. And each of them gave him a piece of moneyand a ring of gold.
12 And the Lord blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning. And he had 14,000 sheep, 6,000 camels, 1,000 yoke of oxen, and 1,000 female donkeys. 13 He had also seven sons and three daughters. 14 And he called the name of the first daughter Jemimah, and the name of the second Keziah, and the name of the third Keren-happuch. 15 And in all the land there were no women so beautiful as Job’s daughters. And their father gave them an inheritance among their brothers. 16 And after this Job lived 140 years, and saw his sons, and his sons’ sons, four generations. 17 And Job died, an old man, and full of days.” Job 42:10-17.
That is our God. And through it all…He is enough.
There is something about the night sky that has always amazed me. On a dark night, it can almost be pitch black outside. It can be so absolutely dark that it would make no difference if your eyes were opened or shut. Because in the absence of light, there can be no sight. Have you ever experienced a night like this? Imagine being lost in a dark forest where there was no light to be found. Your surroundings are unfamiliar and you are far from home. Its just you and the darkness that surrounds.
There is a coldness that grows in total darkness. There is fear. Fear of the darkness, with no hope of day break in sight. Just black. Pitch black. And when there is no hope, the human spirit begins to deteriorate. Questions arise from the depths of our soul. “From where did such darkness come from?” “Why is their no light?” And when there is no light, we come to the only conclusion we can reach from the blackness…”All hope must be lost.”
But as broad and expansive as darkness can be, it takes but a pin prick of light to illuminate the back drop and disperse the darkness. Just one small star in the sky can provide enough light to allow you to see what lies ahead. And where once fear and depression resided, there comes something new that was birthed out of the light. Hope. Your circumstances have not changed. You are still deep in an unfamiliar forest. You are still far from home. And there is still darkness. But there is good news. The light has made clear a familiar path that will lead you home. And in the very midst of your dark night, there is good news. There is hope.
Less than a week ago, our nation endured one of the most heinous killing sprees in Newtown Connecticut, when a deranged man murdered students and teachers alike. And as despicable and tragic as this is, mass murders are not abnormal in the world we live in. Columbine, Colorado. Virginia Tech. Even a seemingly safe place such as a movie theater…all these places will forever remind us of how depraved some humans can be, and all humans have the capacity to be. Upon hearing of events such as these, our lives become filled with a melting pot of emotions and feelings.
All describe the state of mind an absence of light can bring. And out of the many questions that tragedy can bring, most of the questions are conveniently pointed at God. For where there is an absence of light, the existence of light will be questioned. If there is a light, where was it during the dark time? Sometimes there is so much darkness, we wonder if the light was ever there to begin with. Where was God in these senseless killings? And if he is loving, why would he allow this to happen?
Its alright, even expected to ask these questions in our dark times. The night sky under the sun is never eternal. Eventually, the light will send the darkness back to where it came. Because even the smallest ray of light brings sight. But sometimes we close our eyes when we’ve been in darkness for too long. And when the light finally comes, even though the darkness has vanished, we remain lost in hopelessness. Because we’ve forgotten to open our eyes. The path has been made clear. But now it is we who have created the darkness in a world full of light. We’ve become so focused on our darkness that we refuse to see the light. And so we remain captive in a prison to which we hold the key.
Sometimes darkness exists so that we can appreciate the light.
“Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place (to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:
23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel”(which means, God with us). 24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.” Matthew 1:18-24.
This is the Christmas story. Songs have been written about it, and parents tuck their children into bed, telling the story of the birth of the baby Jesus. Happy little manger scenes are set up all over towns across America. And in our own ways of sweetening up the gospel, we think of Christ’s birth a being peaceful and full of hope. And if ever hope was evident, it was here. You see, good news had arrived in the darkest of night. The four hundred years of God’s silence towards man had come to an end. And the salvation of the world was born. Its easy for us as outsiders looking back on the story to gravitate immediately towards the light. But make no mistake, the night was far from over.
Take for example Mary. Contrary to what the Catholic church would say, Mary was nothing special. Just an ordinary peasant girl. She was no doubt a Godly young woman. And by young, most scholars have said she could have been as young as twelve. We know that she loved the Lord because in Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus, we learn that the angel told Mary that she need not fear, for she had found favor with God. All throughout scripture, those who found favor with God were marked with a great love and obedience towards him. However, although she may have been Holy, she was not sinless. The book of Luke also tells us Jesus said that no man is good, except God alone. There was not a foot note that said, “No man is sinless…except Jesus and his mom.”
Mary was just an ordinary girl, with the life of every other young girl. She probably went to the synagogue weekly to pray. She was diligent with her chores. She was known through out the town as a dependable young gal who had great upbringing. All this being said, we can probably safely assume that Mary had really good parents to raise a young woman who had found favor in the Lords sight. And now she was in a joyous period of her life. Mary was betrothed to Joseph, and they were to be married.
Joseph was just an ordinary, hardworking, carpenter. Not alot is said in scripture about Joseph, but there is no doubt that he was a righteous man. For starters, no parents would betroth their daughter to a man who portrayed the qualities of a bum. The point of the betrothal period was for the family of Mary to get to know Joseph very well. To be sure that he was a man of integrity, and hard working. And for Mary to be a girl who loved the Lord, it is a safe bet that a Godly man was at the top of the checklist of Mary’s parents. We also get a glimpse into seeing Joseph as a very righteous man in the gospel of Luke when Jesus was just a boy.
“Now his (Jesus) parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover.” Luke 2:41.
Joseph never missed the Feast of Passover. In fact, Joseph would take the whole family. Although a sinful man like the rest of us, the one thing that set Joseph and Mary apart was that they loved the Lord, and were faithful to try and live in obedience. One of the misconceptions in Christianity today is that if you seek Jesus, all troubles will go away. Therefore, because of this false doctrine, when people who dont know the true gospel profess Christ, and their lives enter into dark periods, they fall away from the faith. This only proves that they never knew Christ to begin with. John said this of these kind of believers that expected God to give them a trouble free life only to fall away from the faith when times got tough…..
“They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.” John 2:19.
But this was not the example of Joseph and Mary. Contrary to popular belief, the birth of Jesus was surrounded by darkness. Imagine being a teenage girl who was about to be married having to explain that you were pregnant with child! Her parents must have been mortified. Im sure in their minds, it wasnt enough that she had seemingly sinned, but she was apparently brash enough to blame it on God! And then there was Joseph! The Bible again gives us some insight on what an upstanding man Joseph was.
Upon being told the news of his future brides unexpected pregnancy, he had options. Under the law, in the case of adultery, Joseph could have legally had Mary put to death. It was his legal right if he so chose. But here is what Joseph did when he heard the news.
“And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.” Matthew 1:19.
Notice the passage says Joseph was a “just” man. Just means fair. Its a Godly quality for a man to seek fairness and not vengeance even in the bleakest and most hurtful of circumstances. And Joseph didn’t say, “Yeah Ill just divorce her, but Im going to trash her name all over town.” He had every right. The scripture says he resolved to divorce her “quietly.” Joseph was hurt and felt ultimate betrayal. But Joseph was a good man. And as you continue on in Matthew, Joseph was visited by the angel and told to take Mary as his wife, and that it was indeed God that placed the child in Mary’s womb. Joseph asked no questions and did as the angel told him.
Do you see the darkness that is only silhouetted by the coming Savior? Mary’s reputation was ruined amongst the towns people. And in a small town, it doesnt take long to get around. The same people that once looked at Mary as a sweet, innocent flower, now saw her as a lying floozy. And hardworking, respectable Joseph was no doubt pitied as an ignorant fool for believing such a tale as Mary had told that although she was pregnant with child, she’d never been with a man.
This was not the life Joseph had dreamed of when he was a little boy. This was not the dream wedding that Mary had fancied all the days of her youth. Life had taken a majorly, unexpected turn. And suddenly before they entered into what should have been the happiest time of their lives, Joseph and Mary were thrust into darkness. But they never lost their sight, even when the road seemed darkest in their lives. Because they had received the good news from the angel. The savior was to be born. And although currently their circumstances had not changed, hope was on the horizon.
But how does this play into the tragedy that happened one week ago? Where in scripture do we go to find direction in times such as these? How can it be explained God allowing such a crime to be committed, especially resulting in the death of little, innocent children?
Look at what happened after Jesus was born…..
” Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 14 And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”
16 Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men.” Matthew 2:13-16.
The very same tragedy that took place in Connecticut last week occured in the town of Bethlehelm over two thousand years ago. The slaughter of innocent children at the hands of a mad man. King Herod was seeking out the baby who was told to be the Messiah. Herod was the only king at the time on earth, and he intended to keep it that way. So he sent soldiers to Bethlehem, where Christ was born, with orders to kill all the male children under the age of two. Innocent children were massacred senselessly. And parents must have been asking many of the same questions that we have been asking in light of the school shootings this week.
Let me point out something…God did not place the evil in Herod’s heart. Just as God didnt cause the pain that took place in Connecticut this week. Jesus came to bring salvation from the consequences of sin. God did not cause that horrible injustice. There is darkness in the absence of light. And when man lives without good news for long enough, he turns to himself and his sinful nature takes over when there appears to be no hope. There are Christians who refuse to share the good news. And there are evil men who refuse to recieve it. Even in the blackest of night, there is good news. The light of the world has come through Jesus, and our hope is no longer squashed by the sin of this world.
As it pertains to our situation today, we are so confused by the darkness we choose to live in, and its all but absurd. For example, if a child is killed outside the womb, its called an atrocity. But if a child is killed inside the womb, its called a choice. We cry out in anger that such heinous murders could take place and rightly so. But it is the norm for us to indulge in violent and Godless movies, video games, and entertainment that most likely influenced the depraved man who killed these precious children and brave teachers. We take God out of schools, but curse him when he isnt there. We neglect to spend time in prayer, yet we blame him when our lives fall apart. We avoid the light in search of sin, and are terrified when we find ourselves in darkness from the consequences of it. We question God in regards to sin in the world that we’ve made acceptable by calling it “harmless entertainment.”We want to point the finger but never take the blame.
Friends, I have seen more people flooding Facebook and the internet with political statements and anger towards God since these awful killings took place than normal. And the depravity of our world today is not a political issue, its a gospel issue. The gospel in its most basic definition means, good news. We live in an evil world with darkness all around. But as Christians, we need not navigate through life with our eyes shut. Jesus Christ has been born, and he has absorbed the wrath of God that was meant for us on the cross. The remedy for less violence in America is not changed behavior, its changed lives by spreading the good news of Jesus to a world of people lost in the hopelessness and darkness of sin.
We cannot blame God for a lack of light in this world. He came, he died, he rose, and conquered death. God did his part. And he left us with one last command in Matthew 28:19. To go and tell this good news to every one, so that they may be saved from a life void of hope. Because again, when man gets hopeless, he gets desperate. And when man gets desperate, his most evil side comes out. I wonder how things may have been different if someone would have shared the gospel with the killer, Adam Lanza. I wonder if someone had told him that no matter how black his life seemed, that it was alright to open his eyes, because there was light in the good news of Christ. People dont need more medications and mental wards. People need more good news. Maybe the reason there is so much darkness in the world, is because there are so many Christians unwilling to share the light.
“Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” matthew 5:15-16.
You want to change the world for the better America? Start spreading the gospel. Who are you sharing with today?
“How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” Romans 10:14.