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 Now we know that Jesus doesnt want us to really hate our family, but rather our devotion and love for him should so superseded that which we have for our families that in comparison it looks like hate.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.
Little girls love fairy tales. They love the stories of the beautiful princess who falls in love with prince charming that ends with happily ever after. And so from a young age, girls will dream about this type of relationship. It starts with any Walt Disney movie with a princess (literally take your pick), then goes to the Barbie and Ken phase. From there the teenage years begin and young girls are bombarded by secular media and its spin on how to find your “prince charming.” Magazines and movies target teen girls telling them the secret to finding Mr. Right. And that secret is most of the time centered around improving appearance, sexual technique, or promoting non committal relationships. Sadly, young women still have that inner little girl in them that yearns for their prince charming. So they follow the example of our world when it comes to courtship.
In the same manner, little boys grow up wanting to be the hero. They want to be valiant and strong like comic book heroes. Ive yet to meet the little boy why will claim they want to be the villain when they grow up. So boys look to super heroes, and then to sports figures, and as they enter adolescence, secular media becomes the predominant influence as is the case with girls. How do you become a real man? Our worlds definition of a real man paints more of a villainous picture than heroic. To be a real man according to the world today, you have to have the biggest muscles. To be a real man, you must be a “player” in the sence that you never commit to a woman. You simply lead her along with the goal of seeing how many women you can bed down. A real man today is defined by secular media as a ladies man, not a one woman man.
This sets up our backdrop for where this lesson is going. It prompts the stage for the all to common scene that we see in 21st century relationships today. Holding standards high and keeping pure so that a man can be that hero and a woman can be that princess has been prostituted and watered down to cheap and fleeting intimacy. My heart breaks when I look at the state of relationships in our world. Particularly in the lives of people I know. Never before in the history of our world have we had more of an open window to the lives of each and every person alive today. Social media such as Facebook and Twitter have made it the norm to just air facts about life that only ten years ago would have been shameful to tell to the closest of friends.
A little over a year ago, I was scrolling through the updates portion of Facebook where everyone who is a friend of yours just posts what they are up to. To my surprise and delight, I saw that two friends from my youth had just gotten married. I had no idea that they were even dating, but their status read “married.” Over the next year, it was always a joy to see their status updates. She was always posting how she had the best husband and he always had tons of pictures of them happily together. They even had a child together. But not long after, I began to see a decrease in the posts coming from this couple. Pretty soon they stopped all together. And then I realized why. I had failed to pay attention to a minor detail on their page. Their status had changed indicating that they were no longer together.
What happened? From the looks of their Facebook posts, it looked as if Prince Charming had married the fair princess and happily ever after had become a reality! Being in ministry, I see this far too often. Even within the internal workings of ministry itself. I cannot tell you of how many pastors that I have heard of that had to leave the ministry because their marriage completely crumbled. More times than not due to infidelity. If Godly men who are leaders in church are falling prey to this, it makes you wonder just where in the world are we going wrong?
Why is marriage today view as more of an agreement between to people rather than a covenant? I believe the answer is because we are blind to our own spiritual blindness. You see, in warfare, when an enemy sets a trap, and you see good men being deceived or killed by that trap, you reevaluate things. You recognize the enemies strategy and make plans to avoid it all together. In football, if the opposing team is running the same trick play to score against you, if you are smart, you recognize the other teams plan of attack and build a defense against it. In other words, you learn from past mistakes and make corrections as to avoid them in the future.
What is ironic to me is that this is how we have grown as a society. We always learn from past failures in order to keep improving. Thats the American way. When something goes wrong in our world, we set out to fix it. We have scientist working on finding a cure for every disease known to man, and progressing daily. We are building bigger and more efficient automobiles and ports of communication. Every aspect of our culture is one of correcting the past for improving the future. But when it comes to the state of marriage, it is rapidly dying and growing weaker by the second. And instead of pin pointing the areas where we are failing, our society promotes these failures as almost a good thing!
If you dont believe me, just flip on your television set! Its a scary thing and a sign of the times when you go from watching television shows like Father Knows Best, which centered around a functional family unit, to show like today conveniently titled, “The New Norm”, which is a show about people in dysfunctional and broken relationships yet made out to be hilarious and normal! We are actually embracing the snares of Satan which are aimed at destroying families and making them stapes in our world! As the tv show says, broken relationships are the new normal in our world. Satan has not had to change his tactics, because we as a people have not wised up enough to learn from our mistakes.
His plan started in the beginning in the Garden. The first lie Satan ever convinced us to believe was that we can be like God.
“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. 5 “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Genesis 3:4.
Basically, Satan appealed to Eve’s selfish nature. That she should think of herself and her wants and desires as utmost important. And if she is not happy, she should do what makes her happy. Because goodness knows, the grass is always going to be greener on the other side….right? I mean isnt that why so many people so easily cheat on their spouses? Because he or she is not living up to expectations and the field begins to look much greener in other places. But wasnt there a time in which the husband or wife in question was the green grass? Is the grass always going to be greener on the other side? Here is a bit of truth for us that would believe that lie….
If you think that the grass is truly greener on the other side as it pertains to relationships….it is only because you havent jumped the fence and ruined that greener grass yet. The common denominator in every failed relationship is you.
In the book of Ecclesiastes, King Solomon ran into this, “The grass is greener”, mentality. He got married not once or twice, but seven hundred times. Solomon had seven hundred wives. And when Solomon had found no satisfaction in marriage, he just started accumulating women to be at his beck and call to fulfill his desires. So in addition to seven hundred wives, Solomon had three hundred concubines, which were basically glorified prostitutes. One Thousand Women. One Thousand different relationships. King Solomon did not want for hair color, shape, personality, or bedroom fantasy. He experienced relationships on every level with all kinds of different women. And in the end, Solomon says of his pursuit of happiness in relationships……its all vanity…..meaningless. Because total fulfillment in a persons life can never be found under the sun. For that eternal satisfaction is found over the sun with our hope place in Christ.
King Solomon says, “The grass isnt greener on the other side, because I jumped to one thousand different lush fields….and ruined every one of them. Because the problem was never them, but it was me.”
The grass will never be greener with someone other than your spouse.
And if it is, it wont be green long after you get there.
Its almost comical people who end up having multiple marriages after multiple divorces. People who keep trading in one spouse for someone new that catches their eye. What is the one constant in all of their failed relationships……the only constant is them. Which should be a red flag that maybe the problem isnt that a woman cannot satisfy, but that you are looking for satisfaction in the wrong place. Marriage, biblically speaking, was meant to be for life! It is a mirror image of Christ and the church. The husband represents Christ in marriage and the bride represents the church.
So if ever someone says….
“Well, you just dont understand my spouse.”
“If you knew my spouse, then you’d understand why it can never work.”
Yet if marriage is the image of Christ and the church, I see one in that image that is unbelievably disobedient. I see one partner that is constantly falling short and disappointing. And I see the other partner, through disappointment and heartache, being unbelievably faithful and demonstrating unconditional love. The exact image of the relationship Jesus has with us. We stray. We disobey. But he is always there. Jesus never walks away from us. We walk away from him. The problem with marriage today is that we model our relationships more by the blueprint of pop culture rather than those found in scripture.
God is after our ultimate joy!! God doesnt tell us to save ourselves for marriage, avoid lusting after others, and to continually seek him to be a kill joy!! God tells us to do relationships a certain way because he designed marriage!! He knows how it is suppose to work!! And he knows the pitfalls of cheap intimacy! Satan on the other hand is against your joy!! So naturally, he is going to promote everything contrary to scripture and try to make it as appealing as that piece of fruit was to Eve in the garden. Just one bite. Just think of your desires and nothing else. Satan preaches the same deceptive message that he used with Eve thousands of years earlier. Satan still preaches. For proof, look no further than television, movies, music lyrics, and pop culture of today. Look at what the world tells a woman and what it tells a man. Because as long as our eyes are set on chasing our own momentary, fleeting desires, like a dog chasing its tail, we will never be satisfied. And our eyes will constantly be jumping from meaningless things and never setting our hope on the source of real love and joy, Jesus Christ.
I dont know who is reading this post. And I dont know the state of your marriage. Maybe someone is thinking about marriage. But I can be quite sure, given the statistics of our world, that someone reading this may have their sights set on a very unbiblical and Satanic view of how relationships should work. And it really doesnt appear as Satanic at first glance, because its become our new normal.
Little boys who dreamed of once becoming the hero who persevered by strength through the hard times to emerge victorious have proved that they are just weak and pathetic men. Although the world would praise their lack of commitment and bed hopping as commendable, the God who made them points out that they are but selfish little children who throw their hands up in selfishness at the first sign of distress. Marriage isnt for little boys or little girls. Marriage is for men and women of God. Its for men and women who love Jesus, and want to experience just a taste of that unconditional love that is so foregin to our world this side of Heaven. There are no problems so large that cannot be overshadowed by the cross of Christ. The strong ones are not those who will stand with puffed up chests and noses in the air. The strong ones are those found on their knees daily.
To the couple who may be seperated…..Jesus can mend the wound. To the spouse who was betrayed…..Jesus can teach you forgiveness. To the marriage that may be dissolving…..Jesus can make all things new. Where is your hope? If its in your spouse, sooner or later you will fall. But if its in Jesus, there isnt a storm you cant weather. Remember the parable of the two houses in the Bible?
“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” Matthew 7:24.
Every Sunday school teacher always points out the obvious. That the rock represents Jesus and the man built on the rock didnt lose his house. But they never point out one practical truth…..although the man on the rock had the house that remained intact, he still had to go through the same storm as the man who build his house on the sand. They faced the same exact storm. The only difference was the man on the rock of Christ had the strength to weather the storm.
Have you gone through a storm? Are you currently in the midst of one right now? If so, ask yourself where your house is built. Where is your hope? If its in anything other than Christ, it may as well be on sinking sand. It is my hope that the words of Christ will become a rock in the lives of many who are sinking in their lives right now.
Ive never ran into the couple who had weathered a hard time in their marriage and regretted sticking it out and making it work. But I have know many people who ended their marriages with the thought that their life would be better, only to realise years later that they gave up far to early and scarred not only their lives, but the lives of their children in the process. The greatest testimony and witness any parent can give to a child is the example of unconditional love and to teach them that when the going gets rough, thats when you love that much harder. Arent you glad Jesus doesnt treat relationships with us like we treat them with one another?
I will never pretend marriage is easy. But I will always preach that it is God’s gift to us that is to be treasured and protected. And if more people would pour their hearts into it, who knows how deep and beautiful it could get.
The one thing I could not stand when I as a child was when people corrected my grammar. I can still hear my fifth grade teacher say, “Pay attention to your choice of words and their meaning before you speak.” I could have understood if I was just butchering the English language, but she would draw attention to words that I was using that meant the same thing as the words she said I should have used. And she challenged my choice of words almost every time I asked to do something. She always got me on one word…..the word “can”.
I would ask, “Can I go get some water?”
To which my teacher would reply, “I dont know, CAN you? And yes you MAY!”
To my little mind, without paying attention to the meaning behind those words, they meant the same thing. But my teacher was merely pointing out that there was indeed a big difference between the word ‘can’ and ‘may’. The word may has to do with having permission. “May I have a glass of tea?” “May I leave the table?” And so forth.
The word ‘can’ has to do with ability. “I can run fast.” “I can drive a car.” The words ‘can’ and ‘may’ are often misused, and they do not mean the same thing. This leads me into the third blog in a series I have written this week on the topic of how God saves.
Jesus said, ” No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” John 6:44.
If we truly want to know God, we have to pay attention to the wording he uses, not just blindly skim over the scriptures. Take the word “can” for example. If I say, “No one can run thirty miles an hour,” that means no one has the ability to run thirty miles an hour. If I tell you I can’t fly, that means no one has the ability to fly. So as my fifth grade teacher would say, lets pay attention to the words and the meaning behind them. What is it that Jesus is saying in this verse. Jesus is saying, “No one….has the ability….to come to me.” Now according to Jesus, does man have the ability to come to Jesus whenever he wishes? No. The text says no man has the ability to come to Christ.
But going back to my grade school English class, looking at the verse above, we have an exception clause that closes out the sentence. The word ‘unless’. This word introduces an exception and points towards a necessary condition or prerequisite that must be met before anyone can come to Christ. No man has the ability to come to Christ UNLESS the father draws him. Another translation reads, “…unless the Father enables him.” In other words, God has to do something to give us the ability to come to Christ.
So if we claim to believe scripture, we can all agree that no one has the ability to come to Jesus Christ unless they are first drawn by the Father. That is exactly what the text says. Now this verse is widely debated when it comes to the topic of predestination. Those who believe in mans free will, or Arminianist, is that no one can come to Jesus unless the Father woo’s or entices, or attracts him. They believe that the drawing that God does is still resistable. In other words, man can choose to deny the drawing of the Father. Therefore, the arminianist believe that those who respond to the drawing of God are redeemed and those who deny are lost.
Those who believe that God is the one who chooses whom will be saved and that man doesnt do the choosing are labeled Calvinist. The Calvinist believe the word DRAW means more than to simply entice or attract. To settle or answer this question, we must look at how this word draw is used elsewhere in the new testament.
James 2:6 says, “But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court?”
The word ‘Draw’ as seen in John 6:44 and the word from the verse you just read in James, ‘drag’, both come from the exact same Greek word “hel-KU-oh”. We could argue English translations all day long, but this is the original language that the New Testament was written in. In Greek, the word ‘draw’ and ‘drag’ are the same. Now going off of the interpretation that the arminianist would hold that draw means God entices us, lets plug that word entice into James 2:6 in place of the word ‘drag’……
“But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who…’ENTICE’…you into court?”
Lets look at another example.
“When her owners realized that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to face the authorities.”Acts 16:19.
Lets replace the word ‘dragged’ in the verse with the word ‘enticed….
“When her owners realized that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and….ENTICED….them into the marketplace to face the authorities.”
This text clearly indicates an act of force in dragging Paul and Silas into the market place. Paul and Silas were not enticed. They were being persecuted for preaching the gospel. They were dragged. Under an arrest of sorts to go and stand before the authorities. Liddell’s Lexicon is one of the most respected interpretations used to examine the true meaning of Greek language as it pertains to scripture. Liddell’s defines the word Draw, “To compel by IRRESISTABLE superiority.” The writers of the Liddell’s Lexicon were very much arminianist, yet they still agree that this was the true meaning of the word. So if this is true, why would English translators use the word ‘draw’ when they use the word ‘drag’elsewhere in the Bible? RC Sproul humorously joked that the reason might have been that English translators were afraid verse like John 6:44 would be offensive to people if they read, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me DRAGS them.”
But if we read it as God drags them, its really not that far from the truth. The Bible clearly points out that we are dead in our sins unless that Father chooses to bring us to life through regeneration. Pastor Mark Driscoll was asked once about what he thought about the concept of a man coming to God on his own free will. He simply responded, “Dead men dont make choices.”
Driscoll went on to give an example to mirror the biblical image of how God saves. He said his three year old daughter took off running towards the highway of on coming traffic. Driscoll had told her to stay beside him, but she rebelled. Pastor Driscoll ran after her, screaming repentance at her as he put it. “Stop Ashley!” “Come Back!!”
But the little three year old kept running in rebellion to her father. Literally Pastor Mark said she stepped out onto the highway of on coming traffic with a huge semi truck headed right towards his little girl. At the last minute he caught up to her, grabbed her by the collar, and dragged her out of the way of oncoming traffic into his arms.
As Pastor Mark went on to conclude…”Thats predestination.” We run from God. We are dead to sin so we CANNOT seek or listen to God. We cant turn from our rebellion on our own. We need a savior to save us from ourselves. So in love, God the Father comes and literally drags his elect out of the path of destruction that they were headed for. And if you look closely at the language of the scriptures, thats exactly how salvation works.
RC Sproul had a great example. He was involved in a debate at an Arminianist college. RC was debating in favor of the Calvinistic view of predestination and the College professor was debating in favor of the Arminanist view. Sproul had asked the professor why he thought it was appropriate given the greek translation to use the word draw instead of its true Greek meaning which is to compel by force or drag. The college professor argued that there was an instance that the Greeks used the word hel-KU-ohord when the drew water out of a well. The professor went on to say with a smile, “You see Dr. Sproul, no one drags water out of a well…they draw water. ” RC responded, “Well how do you get water out of a well? Do you entice it to come up to you? Do you call it to come up? Do you woo water out of the well? Or must you do something to compel that water to come up?”
Jesus said, ” No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” John 6:44.
If you go back to the original text of Greek that the New Testament was written, there is no argument that the word draw doesnt mean enticed, but rather means divine compulsion. Jesus himself said no man can come, unless that Father himself compels him to come. Lets look at another passage.
Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”John 3:3.
Do you see the word “unless”? Think it through. Now what has to happen according to Jesus before they can see the Kingdom of God? He must be born again in order to see the Kingdom of God. So regeneration of the heart must precede seeing the kingdom of God. The Arminian view of salvation is that people receive Jesus Christ before they are regenerated. The Arminian view is people says people can see Christ and choose him before they actually become born again. But according to this verse, thats not possible.
Regeneration precedes faith.
“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8.
“But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.”Ephesians 2:4-9.
We didnt decide to get it right first. While we were still in sin. While we were spiritually dead, Christ had chosen his elect from the foundation of the world, made us alive in Him. Regeneration, God compelling us begins before faith takes root. And it is by his grace that we are saved, not by our own doing. It is a undeserved gift from God that we could not give ourselves. Faith is the gift of God that is the result of the regeneration process within us. God supplies the necessary condition to come to Jesus. Thats why it is Sola Gratia….by grace alone we are saved.
Jesus said to Nicodemus, “Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. 7 You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.”John 3:6-7.
In other words, Jesus was telling Nicodemus, “You’re a theologian! You shouldnt be surprised at this. The flesh is just flesh! The flesh cannot choose to make itself spirit without the supernatural word of the Father!
” It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.”John 6:63.
“None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” Romans 3:11.
Our flesh is spiritually worthless without God regenerating us. We cannot claim that we choose God or we seek God. And the reason we cant claim that is because no one would ever seek God on their own. This brings us back to John 6:44. No one can come to Christ without the regenerating work of the Father in them.
“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6 For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. “Romans 8: 5-7.
Again, the flesh cannot submit to God. Unless what….John 6:44…unless the Father chooses to draw him. So man in his fallen state is hostile to God. And he doesnt obey Gods law, neither CAN HE. So fallen man cannot obey the law of God. Unless God chooses to regenerate us. And regeneration is supernatural.
“You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you.” Romans 8:9.
So if you are regenerate you are not in the flesh. If you are in the flesh you are not regenerate. So when he speaks of in the flesh, he speaks of unregenerate people. The crucial prerequisite is a work of the Holy Spirit for faith to be present. Thats why the first step of justification is the gracious work of God and is never the fruit of choosing of the flesh. How can fallen, sinful, flesh, that according to scripture would never seek God, choose him. Something supernatural has to happen. We have to be brought from death to life in the spirit. The Father chooses to regenerate and irrisistably compel us. How gracious and loving is the sovereignty of our God!