Churches today are filled with people who hold to a faith that does not save. James referred to this as a “dead faith”-meaning a mere empty profession (James 2:17, 20, 26). Paul wrote to the people in the church at Corinth to test or examine themselves to see if they were truly in the faith (2 Corinthians 13:5). As important as it was in Paul’s day, how much more important it is for people in our churches today to put their faith to the test and to make sure they have not been deceived.
But where do we start? By what criteria do we determine true from empty faith? What are the distinguishing marks of genuine saving faith? Surprisingly, there are a number of popular standards or tests that really don’t prove the genuineness of one’s faith one way or the other. So before we look at the tests that prove genuine faith, let’s take a look at some popular tests that neither prove nor disprove the genuineness of one’s faith.
Here is a list of seven conditions that do not prove or disprove the genuineness of saving faith. One can be a Christian and possess these things or one may not be a Christian at all and still possess them. While they don’t prove or disprove one’s faith, they’re important to know and understand so you will not be deceived.
Seven conditions that do not prove or disprove genuine saving faith.
1. Visible Morality
There are some people who just seem to be good people. They can be religious, moral, honest, and forthright [trustworthy] in their dealings with people. They may seem to be grateful, loving, kind and tenderhearted toward others. They have visible virtues and an external morality. The Pharisees of Jesus day rested on visible morality for their hope and yet some of Christ’s harshest words were directed at them for this very thing.
Many who possess visible morality know nothing of sincere love for God. Whatever good works they appear to possess, they know nothing of serving the true God and living for His glory. Whatever the person does or leaves undone does not involve God. They’re honest in their dealings with everyone-but God. They won’t rob anyone-but God. They’re thankful and loyal to everyone-but God. They speak contemptuously and reproachfully of no one-but God. They have good relationships with everyone-but God. They are like the rich young ruler who said, “All these things [conditions] have I kept, what do I lack?” Their focus is on visible morality, but that visible morality doesn’t necessarily mean salvation. Jesus told one of the Pharisees “you must be born again” (John 3:6), not “you must put on an external morality.” People can “clean up their act” by reformation rather than regeneration-so reformation in itself is not a mark of saving faith.
2. Intellectual Knowledge
Another condition that can be misleading is intellectual knowledge. People can possess an intellectual understanding and knowledge of the truth and yet not be saved. While the knowledge of the truth is necessary for salvation, and visible morality is a fruit of salvation, neither of these conditions by themselves translate into true saving faith. People can know all about God, all about Jesus, who He was, that He came into the world, that He died on the cross, that He rose again, that He’s coming again, and even many details about the life of Christ-and still turn their backs on Him.
That’s what the writer of Hebrews was warning against in Hebrews 6:4-6. There were people in the church who knew all about God and understood gospel truths. They even had a measure of experience with gospel truth. They’d seen the ministry of the Holy Spirit at work in people’s lives-and yet knowing all of that, they stood in grave danger of turning away and rejecting Christ.
In Hebrews 10 the writer warns this kind of man that he is treading underfoot the blood of Christ by not believing what he knows to be true. There are many people who know the Scriptures but are on their way to hell! A man cannot be saved without the knowledge of the truth, but possessing that knowledge alone does not save.
3. Religious Involvement
Religious involvement is not necessarily a proof of true faith. According to Paul there are people who possess an outward form (a mere external appearance) of godliness but who have denied the power of it. They have an empty form of religion. Jesus illustrated this when He told of the virgins in Matthew 25. They waited and waited and waited for the coming of the bridegroom, who is Christ. And even though they waited a long time, when He came they didn’t go in. They had everything together except the oil in their lamps. That which was most necessary was missing. The oil is probably emblematic of the new life; the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. They weren’t regenerate. They had religious involvement but were not regenerate. A person can be visibly moral, know the truth, be religiously involved, and yet not possess genuine saving faith.
4. Active Ministry
It is possible to have an active and even a public ministry, and yet not possess genuine saving faith. Balaam was a prophet who turned out to be false (Deuteronomy 23:3-6). Saul of Tarsus (later becoming the apostle Paul) thought he was serving God by killing Christians. Judas was a public preacher and one of the twelve disciples of Christ-but he was an apostate. In Matthew 7:22-23 Jesus said, “Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!'” Those whom Jesus spoke of had been involved in active and public ministry-but Jesus said he never knew them. Sobering words indeed.
5. Conviction of Sin
By itself, even conviction of sin is not a proof of salvation. Our world is filled with guilt-ridden people. Many even feel badly about their sin. Felix trembled under conviction at the preaching of the apostle Paul, but he never left his idols or turned to God (Acts 24:24-6). The Holy Spirit works to convict men of sin, righteousness, and of judgment, but many do not respond in true repentance. Some may confess their sins and even abandon the sins they feel guilty about. They say, “I don’t like living this way. I want to change.” They may amend their ways and yet fall short of genuine saving faith. That’s external reformation, not internal regeneration. No degree of conviction of sin is conclusive evidence of saving faith. Even the demons are convicted of their sins-that’s why they tremble-but they are not saved.
6. The Feeling of Assurance
Feeling like you are saved is no guarantee you are indeed saved. Someone may say, “Well, I must be a Christian because I feel that I am. I think I am one.” But that is faulty reasoning. If thinking one is a Christian is what makes one a Christian, then no one could be deceived. And then, by definition, it would not be possible to be a deceived non-Christian, and that doesn’t square with the whole point of Satan’s deception. He wants people who are not truly saved to think they are. Satan has deceived multiplied millions of religious people into thinking they are saved even though they are not. They may say to themselves, “God won’t condemn me. I feel good about myself. I have assurance. I’m ok.” But that doesn’t necessarily mean a thing.
7. A Time of Decision
So often people say things like: “Well, I know I’m a Christian, because I remember when I signed the card,” or “I remember when I prayed a prayer,” or “I remember when I walked the aisle” or “went forward in church.” A person may remember exactly when it happened and where they were when “it” happened, but that doesn’t necessarily mean anything. Our salvation is not verified by a past moment. Many people have prayed prayers, gone forward in church services, signed cards, gone into prayer rooms, been baptized, and joined churches without ever experiencing genuine saving faith.
These are seven common conditions or tests that don’t necessarily prove or disprove the existence of saving faith. What then are the marks of genuine saving faith? Are there some reliable tests from the Word of God that enable us to know for certain whether one’s faith is real? Thankfully there are at least nine biblical criteria for examining the genuineness of saving faith.
Nine conditions that prove genuine saving faith.
1. Love for God
First of all a deep and abiding love for God is one of the supreme evidences of genuine saving faith. This gets to the heart of the issue. Romans 8:7 says “the carnal mind is enmity [hostility, hatred] against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be.” Thus, if a man’s heart is at enmity with God there is no basis for assuming the presence of saving faith. Those who are truly saved love God, but those who are not truly saved resent God and His sovereignty. Internally they are rebellious toward God and His plan for their life. But the regenerate person is set to love the Lord with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength. His delight is in the infinite excellencies of God. God is the first and highest affection of his renewed soul. God has become his chief happiness and source of satisfaction. He seeks after God and thirsts for the living God.
By the way, we must be careful to distinguish the difference between that kind of true love for God that seeks His glory from the kind of self-serving love that sees God primarily as a means of personal fulfillment and gain. True saving faith doesn’t believe in Christ so that Christ will make one happy. The heart that truly loves God desires to please God and glorify Him. Jesus taught that if someone loved their father and mother more than they loved Christ, they were not worthy of Him. In Matthew 10:37-39 Jesus put it like this: “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. “And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it” (Matthew 10:37-39).
The question then is this: Do you love God? Do you love His nature? Do you love His glory? Do you love His name? Do you love His kingdom? Do you love His holiness? Do you love His will? Is your heart lifted when you sing His praises-because you love Him? Supreme love for God is decisive evidence of true faith.
2. Repentance from Sin
A proper love for God necessarily involves a hatred for sin that leads to repentance. That should be obvious. Who wouldn’t understand that? If we truly love someone we seek their best interests. Their well being is our greatest concern. If a man says to his wife, “I love you but I could care less what happens to you,” we would rightly question his love for her. True love seeks the highest good of its object. If we say that we love God, then we will hate whatever is an offense to Him. Sin blasphemes God. Sin curses God. Sin seeks to destroy God’s work and His kingdom. Sin killed His Son. So when someone says, “I love God, but I tolerate sin,” then there is every reason to question the genuineness of his love for God. One cannot love God without hating that which is set to destroy Him. True love for God will therefore manifest itself through confession and repentance. The man who loves God will be grieved over his sin and will want to confess it to God and forsake it.
In examining our faith we should ask: “Do I have a settled conviction concerning the evil of all sin? Does sin appear to me as the evil and bitter thing that it really is? Does conviction of sin increase in me as I walk with Christ? Do I hate it not primarily because it is ruinous to my own soul or because it is an offense to the God I love? Does the sin itself grieve me or am I only grieved over the consequences of my sin. What grieves me most-my misfortune or my sin? Do my sins appear to me as many, frequent and aggravated? Do I find myself grieved over my own sin more than the sins of others?” Genuine saving faith loves God and hates what He hates, which is sin. That attitude results in real repentance.
3. Genuine Humility
Saving faith is manifested through genuine humility. Jesus said blessed are those who are poor in spirit, and those who mourn [their sin], and those who are meek, and those who hunger and thirst for righteousness (Matthew 5:3-6)-all marks of humility. In Matthew 18 Jesus said that “unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3). True saving faith comes as a little child-humble and dependent. It is not the man who is full of himself who is saved, but the man who denies himself, takes up his cross daily and follows Christ (Matthew 16:24).
In the Old Testament we see that the Lord receives those who come with a broken and contrite spirit (Psalm 34:18; 51:17; Isaiah 57:15; 66:2). James wrote: “God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6). We must come as the prodigal son, broken and humble. Remember what he said to his father-“Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son” (Luke 15:21). Those possessing genuine saving faith do not come boastfully to God with their religious achievements or spiritual accomplishments in hand. They come empty-handed in genuine humility.
4. Devotion to God’s Glory
True saving faith is manifested by a devotion to God’s glory. Whatever believers do, whether they eat or drink, their desire is to see God glorified. Christians do what they do because they want to bring glory to God.
Without question Christians fail in each of these areas, but the direction of a Christian’s life is to love God, hate sin, to live in humility and self-denial, recognizing his unworthiness and being devoted to the glory of God. It is not the perfection of one’s life but the direction of a life that provides evidence of regeneration.
5. Continual Prayer
Humble, submissive, believing prayer is mark of true faith. We cry “Abba, Father” because the Spirit within us prompts that cry. Jonathan Edwards once preached a sermon titled, “Hypocrites are Deficient in the Duty of Secret Prayer.” It’s true. Hypocrites may pray publicly, because that’s what hypocrites want to do. Their desire is to impress people-but they are deficient in the duty of secret prayer. True believers have a personal and private prayer life with God. They regularly seek communion with God through prayer.
6. Selfless Love
An important characteristic of genuine saving faith is selfless love. James wrote, “If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you do well” (James 2:8). John wrote, “Whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?” (1 John 3:17).
If you love God you will not only hate what offends Him, but you will love those whom He loves. “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love his brother abides in death” (1 John 3:14). And why do we love God and love others? Because this is the believer’s response to His love for us. “We love Him because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Jesus said we will know that we are His disciples by our love for each other (John 13:35).
7. Separation from the World
Positively, believers are marked by a love for God and for fellow believers. Negatively, the Christian is characterized by the absence of love for the world. True believers are not those who are ruled by worldly affections, but their affection and devotion is toward God and His kingdom.
In 1 Corinthians 2:12 Paul wrote that “we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God.” In 1 John 2:15 we read: “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” (1 John 2:15). True saving faith separates one from the pursuits of this world–not perfectly, as we all fail in these areas, but the direction of a believer’s life is upward. He feels the pull of heaven on his soul. Christians are those whom God has delivered from the power of darkness and conveyed into the kingdom of His Son. The believer is marked by the absence of love or enslavement to the satanically controlled world system (Ephesians 2:1-3; Colossians 1:13; James 4:4).
8. Spiritual Growth
True believers grow. When God begins a true work of salvation in a person, He finishes and perfects that work. Paul expressed that assurance when he wrote in Philippians 1:6, “being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.”
If you are a true Christian, you are going to be growing-and that means you are going to be more and more like Christ. Life produces itself. If you’re alive you are going to grow, there’s no other way. You’ll improve. You’ll increase. The Spirit will move you from one level of glory to the next. So examine your life. Do you see spiritual growth? Do you see the decreasing frequency of sin? Is there an increasing pattern of righteousness and devotion to God?
Obedient living is not one of the optional tracks given for believers to walk. All true believers are called to a life of obedience. Jesus taught that every branch that abides in Him bears fruit (John 15:1-8). Paul wrote that believers “are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). That speaks of obedience. We are saved unto the obedience of faith (see 1 Peter 1:2).
How can we know our faith is genuine? Examine your life in the light of God’s Word. Do you see these characteristics in your life? Do you have a love for God, hatred for sin, humility, devotion to God’s glory, a pattern of personal and private prayer, selfless love, separation from the world, the evidence of spiritual growth and obedience. These are the real evidences of genuine saving faith.
A Chinese proverb says, “If you want to know what water is, don’t ask the fish.” Water is the sum and substance of the world in which the fish is immersed. The fish may not reflect on its own environment until suddenly it is thrust onto dry land, where it struggles for life. Then it realizes that water provided its sustenance.
Immersed in our environment, we have failed to take seriously the ramifications of a secular worldview. Sociologist and social watchdog Daniel Yankelovich defines culture as an effort to provide a coherent set of answers to the existential situations that confront human beings in the passage of their lives. A genuine cultural shift is one that makes a decisive break with the shared meaning of the past. The break particularly affects those meanings that relate to the deepest questions of the purpose and nature of human life. What is at stake is how we understand the world in which we live.
The issues are worldview issues. Christians everywhere recognize there is a great spiritual battle raging for the hearts and minds of men and women around the globe. We now find ourselves in a cosmic struggle between Christian truth and a morally indifferent culture. Thus we need to shape a Christian worldview and lifeview that will help us learn to think Christianly and live out the truth of Christian faith.
The reality is that everyone has a worldview. Some worldviews are incoherent, being merely a smorgasbord of options from natural, supernatural, pre-modern, modern, and post-modern options. An examined and thoughtful worldview, however, is more than a private personal viewpoint; it is a comprehensive life system that seeks to answer the basic questions of life. A Christian worldview is not just one’s personal faith expression, not just a theory. It is an all-consuming way of life, applicable to all spheres of life.
Distinguishing a Christian Worldview
James Orr, in The Christian View of God and the World, maintains that there is a definite Christian view of things, which has a character, coherence, and unity of its own, and stands in sharp contrast with counter theories and speculations. A Christian worldview has the stamp of reason and reality and can stand the test of history and experience. A Christian view of the world cannot be infringed upon, accepted or rejected piecemeal, but stands or falls on its integrity. Such a holistic approach offers a stability of thought, a unity of comprehensive insight that bears not only on the religious sphere but also on the whole of thought. A Christian worldview is not built on two types of truth (religious and philosophical or scientific) but on a universal principle and all-embracing system that shapes religion, natural and social sciences, law, history, health care, the arts, the humanities, and all disciplines of study with application for all of life.
Followers of Jesus must articulate a Christian worldview for the twenty-first century, with all of its accompanying challenges and changes, and to show how such Christian thinking is applicable across all areas of life. At the heart of these challenges and changes we see that truth, morality, and interpretive frameworks are being ignored if not rejected. Such challenges are formidable indeed. Throughout culture the very existence of normative truth is being challenged.
For Christians to respond to these challenges, we must hear afresh the words of Jesus from what is called the Great Commandment (Matt. 22:36–40). Here we are told to love God not only with our hearts and souls but also with our minds. Jesus’ words refer to a wholehearted devotion to God with every aspect of our being, from whatever angle we choose to consider it—emotionally, volitionally, or cognitively. This kind of love for God results in taking every thought captive to make it obedient to Christ (2 Cor. 10:5), a wholehearted devotion to distinctively Christian thinking (or as T. S. Eliot put it, “to think in Christian categories”). This means being able to see life from a Christian vantage point; it means thinking with the mind of Christ.
The beginning point for building a Christian worldview is a confession that we believe in God the Father, maker of heaven and earth (the Apostles’ Creed). We recognize that “in him all things hold together” (Col. 1:15–18), for all true knowledge flows from the One Creator to his one creation.
We Believe in God, Maker of Heaven and Earth: A Worldview Starting Point
A worldview must offer a way to live that is consistent with reality by offering a comprehensive understanding of all areas of life and thought, every aspect of creation. As we said earlier the starting point for a Christian worldview brings us into the presence of God without delay. The central affirmation of Scripture is not only that there is a God but that God has acted and spoken in history. God is Lord and King over this world, ruling all things for his own glory, displaying his perfections in all that he does in order that humans and angels may worship and adore him. God is triune; there are within the Godhead three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
To think wrongly about God is idolatry (Ps. 50:21). Thinking rightly about God is eternal life (John 17:3) and should be the believer’s life objective (Jer. 9:23–24). We can think rightly about God because he is knowable (1 Cor. 2:11), yet we must remain mindful that he is simultaneously incomprehensible (Rom. 11:33–36). God can be known, but he cannot be known completely (Deut. 29:29).
We maintain that God is personal and is differentiated from other beings, from nature, and from the universe. This is in contrast to other worldviews that say God is in a part of the world, creating a continual process, and that the process itself is God—or becoming God. God is self-existent, dependent on nothing external to himself. God is infinite, meaning that God is not only unlimited but that nothing outside of God can limit God. God is infinite in relation to time (eternal), in relation to knowledge (omniscience), and in relation to power (omnipotent). He is sovereign and unchanging. God is infinite and personal, transcendent, and immanent. He is holy, righteous, just, good, true, faithful, loving, gracious, and merciful.
God, without the use of any preexisting material, brought into being everything that is. Both the opening verse of the Bible and the initial sentence of the Apostles’ Creed confess God as Creator. Creation is the work of the trinitarian God. Creation reveals God (Ps. 19) and brings glory to him (Isa. 43:7). All of creation was originally good but is now imperfect because of the entrance of sin and its effects on creation (Gen. 3:16–19). This is, however, only a temporary imperfection (Rom. 8:19–22), for it will be redeemed in the final work of God, the new creation.
The Creator God is not different from the God who provides redemption in Jesus Christ through his Holy Spirit. God is the source of all things. This means that God has brought the world into existence out of nothing through a purposeful act of his free will. A Christian worldview affirms that God is the sovereign and almighty Lord of all existence. Such an affirmation rejects any form of dualism, that matter has eternally existed, or that matter must, therefore, be evil since it is in principle opposed to God, the Source of all good.
A Christian worldview also contends that God is set apart from and transcends his creation. It also maintains that God is a purposeful God who creates in freedom. In creation and in God’s provision and preservation for creation, he is working out his ultimate purposes for humanity and the world. Human life is thus meaningful, significant, intelligent, and purposeful. This affirms the overall unity and intelligibility of the universe. In this we see God’s greatness, goodness, and wisdom.
General Implications of a Christian Worldview
A Christian worldview becomes a driving force in life, giving us a sense of God’s plan and purpose for this world. Our identity is shaped by this worldview. We no longer see ourselves as alienated sinners. A Christian worldview is not escapism but is an energizing motivation for godly and faithful thinking and living in the here and now. It also gives us confidence and hope for the future. In the midst of life’s challenges and struggles, a Christian worldview helps to stabilize life, anchoring us to God’s faithfulness and steadfastness.
Thus, a Christian worldview provides a framework for ethical thinking. We recognize that humans, who are made in God’s image, are essentially moral beings. We also recognize that the fullest embodiment of good, love, holiness, grace, and truth is in Jesus Christ (see John 1:14–18).
A Christian worldview has implications for understanding history. We see that history is not cyclical or random. Rather, we see history as linear, a meaningful sequence of events leading to the fulfillment of God’s purposes for humanity (see Eph. 1). Human history will climax where it began—on the earth. This truth is another distinctive of Christian thinking, for Christianity is historical at its heart. In the sense that according to its essential teaching, God has acted decisively in history, revealing himself in specific acts and events. Moreover, God will act to bring history to its providential destiny and planned conclusion.
God who has acted in history in past events will also act in history to consummate this age. So when we ask, “How will it end?” we do not simply or suddenly pass out of the realm of history into a never-never land. We pass to that which is nevertheless certain of occurring because God is behind it and is himself the One who tells us it will come to pass.
Developing a Christian worldview is an ever-advancing process for us, a process in which Christian convictions more and more shape our participation in culture. This disciplined, vigorous, and unending process will help shape how we assess culture and our place in it. Otherwise, culture will shape us and our thinking. Thus a Christian worldview offers a new way of thinking, seeing, and doing, based on a new way of being.
A Christian worldview is a coherent way of seeing life, of seeing the world distinct from deism, naturalism, and materialism, existentialism, polytheism, pantheism, mysticism, or deconstructionist postmodernism. Such a theistic perspective provides bearings and direction when confronted with New Age spirituality or secularistic and pluralistic approaches to truth and morality. Fear about the future, suffering, disease, and poverty are informed by a Christian worldview grounded in the redemptive work of Christ and the grandeur of God. Moreover, a Christian worldview offers meaning and purpose for all aspects of life.
While many examples could be offered, here are six particular applications where a Christian worldview provides a difference in perspective:
Technology—Technology can become either an instrument through which we fulfill our role as God’s stewards or an object of worship that will eventually rule us. A Christian worldview provides balance and insight for understanding this crucial aspect of twenty-first-century life.
Sexuality and marriage—Sexuality has become a major topic for those entering the third millennium. Much confusion exists among Christians and non-Christians. Sexuality is good in the covenant relationship of mutual self-giving marriage. Sexual intimacy, separated from covenant marriage, in hetero-sexual or homosexual relations is sinful and has a distorted meaning, a self-serving purpose and negative consequences.
The environment—Environmental stewardship means we have a responsibility to the nonhuman aspects of God’s creation. Since God’s plan of redemption includes his earthly creation, as well as human (see Rom. 8:18–27), we should do all we can to live in it carefully and lovingly.
The arts and recreation—The arts and recreation are understood as legitimate and important parts of human creativity and community. They express what it means to be created in the image of God. We need to develop critical skills of analysis and evaluation so that we are informed, intentional, and reflective about what we create, see, and do.
Science and faith—For almost two centuries science has been at the forefront of our modern world. We must explore how we see scientific issues from the vantage point of a Christian worldview. An understanding of God includes the knowledge we gain through scientific investigation. With the lens of faith in place, a picture of God’s world emerges that complements and harmonizes the findings of science and the teachings of Scripture.
Vocation—Important for any culture is an understanding of work. Work is a gift from God and is to be pursued with excellence for God’s glory. We recognize that all honest professions are honorable, that the gifts and abilities we have for our vocation (vocatio/calling) come from God, and that prosperity and promotions come from God.
These are only a few examples that could be cited that will help shape our thinking in other areas.
Thus Christian thinking must surely subordinate all other endeavors to the improvement of the mind in pursuit of truth, taking every thought captive to Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 10:5). At three places in the book of 2 Corinthians, Paul reminds us that we cannot presume that our thinking is Christ centered. In 2 Corinthians 3:14 we learn that the minds of the Israelites were hardened. In 4:4 Paul says that the unregenerate mind is blinded by the god of this world. In 11:3 the apostle says that Satan has ensnared the Corinthians’ thoughts. So in 10:5 he calls for all of our thinking to be liberated by coming under the lordship of Christ.
So today, as in the days of the Corinthian correspondence, our minds and our thinking are ensnared by the many challenges and opposing worldviews in today’s academy. Like Paul and Bernard of Clairveaux several centuries after him, we must combine the intellectual with the moral and spiritual expounded in Bernard’s famous statement:
Some seek knowledge for
The sake of knowledge:
That is curiosity;
Others seek knowledge so that
They themselves may be known:
That is vanity;
But there are still others
Who seek knowledge in
Order to serve and edify others;
And that is charity.
And that is the essence of serious Christian worldview thinking—bringing every thought captive to the lordship of Jesus Christ in order to serve and edify others. That is a high calling indeed as we move forward and faithfully into the twenty-first century.
The Puritans, preserving the line of faithful and orthodox Christians, have always had a passion for Truth. This pattern was established in the story of the Bereans who asked if what the Apostle Paul was saying was true (Acts 17:11). And how would they know? They searched the scriptures.
There are two sources of Truth: God’s work and his word. Psalm 148 reminds us that all creation communicates about God’s existence and his nature. Paul reiterates, in Romans 1:20, that all human beings can know that God exists and something about his nature through the things that he has made.
Reformers Martin Luther and John Calvin spoke of two books: God’s Word – the Special Revelation comprised of scripture, and His Works – the General Revelation of Creation.
Three other reformers–Campenella, Comenius, and Alsted–spoke of three books:
The book of revelation – Special Revelation – The Bible
The book of nature – General Revelation – Science (a la Aristotle)
The book of the mind – Reason or Logic – Philosophy (a la Plato)
Truth is found at the intersection of the books of Scripture, nature, and reason. Comenius writes of the tripartite revelation for truth: “the only true, genuine and plain way of Philosophy is to fetch all things from sense, reason and Scripture.” Puritan Historian Dr. David Scott says that “Comenius went on to say that the end of scholarly endeavor is not to merely add to the wood pile of human knowledge, but to grow a living tree that from its roots to its boughs and fruit reflects the image of the words and works of its divine Creator.”  (For more on this subject see Dr. Scott’s excellent paper A Vision of Veritas: What Christian Scholarship Can Learn from the Puritan’s “Technology” for Integrating Truth .)
William Ames (1576-1633), the French Huguenot Educational Reformer, wrote of the three books,
Thus, let us not become the slaves of anyone, but performing military service under the banner of free truth, let us freely and courageously follow the truth …. Testing all things, retaining that which is good, let Plato be a friend, let Aristotle be a friend, but even more let truth (veritas) be a friend.
When, eight years after landing in New England, the Puritan fathers established Harvard College (now Harvard University) to educate pastors and civic leaders, they enshrined VERITAS with the three books in the college’s shield.
Harvard’s first mission statement was explicitly Christ centered:
Let every student be plainly instructed, and earnestly pressed to consider well, the main end of his life and studies is, to know God and Jesus Christ which is eternal life, John 17.3 and therefore to lay Christ in the bottom, as the only foundation of all sound knowledge and learning.
Christ is the focus of all of life and vocation. It was this that laid the groundwork for their Christian culture and self government.
Sadly, the Western world today is no longer founded on a Biblical worldview. And only the Biblical Worldview provides a foundation for free, just, prosperous, and compassionate nations. The four dominating worldviews today are Biblical Theism, Secularism, Evangelical Gnosticism, and Monism.
Is suffering for Christ always going to be a part of being a follower of Christ?
The Bible talks a lot about suffering for the sake of Christ. In the era in which the New Testament was written, followers of Jesus were often ostracized by their own families and communities. Some of the worst persecution came from the religious leaders (Acts 4:1–3). Jesus told His followers, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:10). He reminded His disciples, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first” (John 15:18).
Second Timothy 3:12 says, “Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” As in biblical times, many Christians today have found that making a public declaration of faith in Christ can result in imprisonment, beatings, torture, or death (Hebrews 11:32–38; 2 Corinthians 12:10; Philippians 3:8; Acts 5:40). Often those of us in free nations shudder at the thought, but we feel relatively safe. We understand that there are thousands who suffer daily for the sake of Christ and are thankful we don’t have to. But is there only one kind of persecution?
Jesus stated clearly what it means to follow Him: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?” (Luke 9:23–25). Our modern understanding of the phrase “take up their cross and follow me” is often inadequate. In Jesus’ day the cross always symbolized death. When a man carried a cross, he had already been condemned to die on it. Jesus said that, in order to follow Him, one must be willing to die. We will not all die martyrs’ deaths. We will not all be imprisoned, beaten, or tortured for our faith. So what kind of death did Jesus mean?
Paul explains in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” To follow Christ means we die to our own way of doing things. We consider our will, our rights, our passions, and our goals to be crucified on the cross with Him. Our right to direct our own lives is dead to us (Philippians 3:7–8). Death involves suffering. The flesh does not want to die. Dying to self is painful and goes against our natural inclination to seek our own pleasure. But we cannot follow both Christ and the flesh (Luke 16:13;Matthew 6:24; Romans 8:8). Jesus said, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62).
Paul suffered more than most for Jesus’ sake. He said this to the Christians at Phillipi: “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him” (Philippians 1:2). The wordgranted here means “shown favor, given freely as a gift.” Paul does not present suffering as a curse, but as a benefit.
Suffering can take many forms. By choosing to obey the Lord Jesus Christ, we are setting ourselves at odds with the world. Galatians 1:10 says, “For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ” (NASB). By closely adhering to the teachings of the Bible, we set ourselves up for rejection, mockery, loneliness, or betrayal. Often, the cruelest persecution comes from those who consider themselves spiritual but have defined God according to their own ideas. If we choose to take a stand for righteousness and biblical truth, we ensure that we will be misunderstood, mocked, or worse. We need to keep in mind that no threat of suffering deterred the apostles from preaching Christ. In fact, Paul said that losing everything was worth it “that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death” (Philippians 3:10, NASB). Acts 5:40–41 describes the reaction of the apostles after they received another beating for preaching about Jesus: “The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.”
Suffering in some form is always going to be a part of being a true follower of Christ. Jesus said the path that leads to life is difficult (Matthew 7:14). Our hardship is also a way of identifying with His suffering in a small way.
Jesus said if we deny him before men, He will deny us before His Father in heaven (Matthew 10:33; Luke 12:9). There are many subtle ways to deny Christ. If our actions, words, lifestyle, or entertainment choices do not reflect His will, we are denying Christ. If we claim to know Him but live as though we didn’t, we are denying Christ (1 John 3:6–10). Many people choose those forms of denying Christ because they do not want to suffer for Him.
Often our greatest suffering comes from within as we battle for control over a heart that must die to its own will and surrender to Christ’s lordship (Romans 7:15–25). In whatever form suffering comes, we should embrace it as a badge of honor and a privilege that we, like the apostles, have “been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.”
Hence I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of timidity but a spirit of power and love and self-control. Do not be ashamed then of testifying to our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel in the power of God, who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not in virtue of our works but in virtue of his own purpose and the grace which he gave us in Christ Jesus ages ago, and now has manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. For this gospel I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, and therefore I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me.
The Definition and Causes of Shame
Let’s start with a dictionary definition of shame. Shame is the painful emotion caused by a consciousness of guilt or shortcoming or impropriety.
Let me illustrate each of those causes.
First, the cause of guilt. Suppose you act against your conscience and withhold information on your tax returns. For a couple years you feel nothing because it has been put out of your mind, and you weren’t caught. Then you are called to account by the IRS and it becomes public knowledge that you lied and you stole. Your guilt is known. Now in the light of public censure you feel the pain of shame.
Or take the cause of shortcoming. In the Olympics suppose you come from a little country where you are quite good in the 3,000-meter race. Then you compete before thousands of people in Seoul, and the competition is so tough that by the time the last lap comes up, you are a whole lap behind everyone else, and you must keep running all by yourself while everyone watches. There’s no guilt here. But the humiliation and shame could be intense.
Or take the cause of impropriety. You are invited to a party and you find out when you get there that you dressed all wrong. Again, no evil or guilt. Just a social blunder, an impropriety that makes you feel foolish and embarrassed.
Well-Placed Vs. Misplaced Shame
One of the things that jumps right out at you from this definition of shame is that there is some shame that is justified and some that isn’t. There are some situations where shame is exactly what we should feel. And there are some situations where we shouldn’t. Most people would say that the liar ought to be ashamed. And most people would probably say that the long distance runner who gave it his best shot ought not to feel ashamed. Disappointment would be healthy, but not shame.
Let me illustrate from Scripture these two kinds of shame. The Bible makes very clear that there is a shame we ought to have and a shame we ought not to have. I’m going to call the one kind, “misplaced shame” and the other kind “well-placed shame.”
Misplaced shame (the kind we ought not to have) is the shame you feel when there is no good reason to feel it. Biblically that means the thing you feel ashamed of is not dishonoring to God; or that it IS dishonoring to God, but you didn’t have a hand in it. In other words, misplaced shame is shame for something that’s good—something that doesn’t dishonor God. Or it’s shame for something bad but which you didn’t have any sinful hand in. That’s the kind of shame we ought not have.
Well-placed shame (the kind you ought to have) is the shame you feel when there is good reason to feel it. Biblically that means we feel ashamed of something because our involvement in it was dishonoring to God. We ought to feel shame when we have a hand in bringing dishonor upon God by our attitudes or actions.
I want to be sure you see how important God is in this distinction between misplaced shame and well-placed shame. Whether we have a hand in honoring God or dishonoring God makes all the difference. If we want to battle shame at the root, we have to know how it relates to God. And we DO need to battle shame at the root—all shame. Because both misplaced shame and well-placed shame can cripple us if we don’t know how to deal with them at the root.
So let’s look at some Scriptures that illustrate misplaced shame and some that illustrate well-placed shame.
Do not be ashamed then of testifying to our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but take your share of suffering for the gospel in the power of God.
What this text says is that if you feel shame for testifying about Jesus, you have a misplaced shame. We ought not to feel shame for this. Christ is honored when we speak well of him. And he is dishonored by fearful silence. So it is not a shameful thing to testify, but a shameful thing not to.
Secondly the text says that if you feel shame that a friend of yours is in trouble (in this case: prison) for Jesus’ sake, then your shame is misplaced. The world may see this as a sign of weakness and defeat. But Christians know better. God is honored by the courage of his servants to go to prison for his name. We ought not to feel shame that we are associated with something that honors God in this way, no matter how much scorn the world heaps on.
Whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed, when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.
Shame is misplaced when we feel it because of the person or the words of Jesus. If Jesus says, “Love your enemies,” and others laugh and call it unrealistic, we should not feel ashamed. If Jesus says, “Fornication is evil,” and liberated yuppies label it out of date, we should not feel shame to stand with Jesus. That would be misplaced shame because the words of Jesus are true and God-honoring, no matter how foolish the world may try to make them look.
If one suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but under that name let him glorify God.
Suffering and being reproached and made fun of as a Christian is not an occasion for shame, because it is an occasion for glorifying God. In other words in the Bible the criterion for what is well-placed shame and what is misplaced shame is not how foolish or how bad you look to men, but whether you in fact bring honor to God.
This is so important to grasp! Because much of what makes us feel shame is not that we have brought dishonor on God by our actions, but that we have failed to give the appearance that other people admire. Much of our shame is not God-centered but self-centered. Until we get a good handle on this, we will not be able to battle the problem of shame at its root.
I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.
The reason shame in the gospel would be a misplaced shame is that the gospel is the very power of God unto salvation. The gospel magnifies God and humbles man. And so to the world the gospel doesn’t look like power at all. It looks like weakness (asking people to be like children and depend on Jesus, instead of standing on their own two feet). But for those who believe it is the power of almighty God to save sinners.
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” I will all the more gladly exult in my weakness, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities; for when I am weak, then I am strong.
Now ordinarily weaknesses and insults are occasions for shame. But for Paul they are occasions for exultation. Paul thinks that shame in his weaknesses and shame at insults and persecutions would be misplaced shame. Why? Because the power of Christ is perfected in Paul’s weakness.
I conclude from all these texts that the biblical criterion for misplaced shame is radically God-centered. The biblical criterion says, don’t feel shame for something that honors God no matter how weak or foolish it makes you look in the eyes of unbelievers.
The same God-centeredness will be seen if we look at some texts that illustrate well-placed shame.
Come to your right mind, and sin no more. For some have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame.
Here Paul says that these people ought to feel shame. “I say this to your shame.” Their shame would be well-placed if they saw their deplorable ignorance of God and how it was leading to false doctrine (no resurrection) and sin in the church. In other words well-placed shame is shame for what dishonors God—ignorance of God, sin against God, false beliefs about God.
The Christians were going to secular courts to settle disputes among themselves. Paul rebukes them.
I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no man among you wise enough to decide between members of the brotherhood?
Again he says they should feel shame: “I say this to your shame.” Their shame would be well-placed because their behavior is bringing such disrepute upon their God as they fight one another and seek help from the godless to settle their disputes. A well-placed shame is the shame you feel because you are involved in dishonoring God.
And let’s not miss this implication: these people were trying their best to appear strong and right. They wanted to be vindicated by men. They wanted to be winners in court. They didn’t want anyone to run over them as though they had no rights. That would look weak and shameful. So in the very act of wanting to avoid shame as the world sees it, they fell into the very behavior that God counts shameful.
The point is: when you are dishonoring God, you ought to feel shame, no matter how strong or wise or right you are in the eyes of men.
We can conclude from all these texts that the biblical criterion for misplaced shame and for well-placed shame is radically God-centered.
The biblical criterion for misplaced shame says, don’t feel shame for something that honors God, no matter how weak or foolish or wrong it makes you look in the eyes of men. And don’t feel shame for bad circumstances where you don’t share in dishonoring God.
The biblical criterion for well-placed shame says, DO feel shame for having a hand in anything that dishonors God, no matter how strong or wise or right it makes you look in the eyes of men.
Now how do you battle this painful emotion called shame? The answer is that we battle it by battling the unbelief that feeds its life. And we fight for faith in the promises of God that overcome shame and relieve us from its pain.
Three Instances of Battling Misplaced Shame
Let me illustrate with three instances.
1. When Well-Placed Shame Lingers Too Long
In the case of well-placed shame for sin the pain ought to be there but it ought not to stay there. If it does, it’s owing to unbelief in the promises of God.
For example, a woman comes to Jesus in a Pharisee’s house weeping and washing his feet. No doubt she felt shame as the eyes of Simon communicated to everyone present that this woman was a sinner and that Jesus had no business letting her touch him. Indeed she was a sinner. There was a place for true shame. But not for too long. Jesus said, “Your sins are forgiven” (Luke 7:48). And when the guests murmured about this, he helped her faith again by saying, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace” (v. 50).
How did Jesus help her battle the crippling effects of shame? He gave her a promise: “Your sins are forgiven! Your faith has saved you. Your future will be one of peace.” So the issue for her was belief. Would she believe the glowering condemnation of the guests? Or would she believe the reassuring words of Jesus that her shame was enough? She’s forgiven. She’s saved. She may go in peace.
And that is the way every one of us must battle the effects of a well-placed shame that threatens to linger too long and cripple us. We must battle unbelief by taking hold of promises like,
There is forgiveness with thee that thou mayest be feared. (Psalm 130:4)
Seek the Lord while he may be found. Call upon him while he is near. Let the wicked man forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts. Let him return to the Lord that he may have mercy on him and to our God for he will abundantly pardon. (Isaiah 55:6)
If we confess our sins he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)
Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners of whom I am chief. (1 Timothy 1:15)
Every one who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name. (Acts 10:43; 13:39)
2. Feeling Shame for Something That Glorifies God
The second instance of battling shame is the instance of feeling shame for something that is not even bad but in fact glorifies God—like Jesus or the gospel.
Our text shows how Paul battled against this misplaced shame. In verse 12 he says, “Therefore I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, I am sure that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me.”
Paul makes very clear here that the battle against misplaced shame is a battle against unbelief. “I am not ashamed FOR I KNOW WHOM I HAVE BELIEVED AND I AM SURE OF HIS KEEPING POWER.” We fight against feelings of shame in Christ and the gospel and the Christian ethic by battling unbelief in the promises of God. Do we believe that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation? Do we believe that Christ’s power is made perfect in our weakness? The battle against misplaced shame is the battle against unbelief in the promises of God.
3. Feeling Shame for Something We Didn’t Do
Finally, the last instance of battling shame is the instance where others try to load us with shame for evil circumstances when in fact we had no part in dishonoring God.
It happened to Jesus. They called him a winebibber and a glutton. They called him a temple destroyer. They called him a hypocrite: He healed others, but he can’t heal himself. In all this the goal was to load Jesus with a shame that was not his to bear.
The same with Paul. They called him mad when he defended himself in court. They called him an enemy of the Jewish customs and a breaker of the Mosaic law. They said he taught that you should sin that grace may abound. All this to load him with a shame that it was not his to bear.
And it has happened to you. And will happen again. How do you battle this misplaced shame? By believing the promises of God that in the end all the efforts to put us to shame will fail. We may struggle now to know what is our shame to bear and what is not. But God has a promise for us in either case:
Israel is saved by the Lord with everlasting salvation; you shall not be put to shame or confounded to all eternity. (Isaiah 45:17; 49:23)
In other words, for all the evil and deceit judgment and criticism that others may use to heap on us a shame that is not ours to bear, and for all the distress and spiritual warfare it brings, the promise stands sure that they will not succeed in the end. All the children of God will be vindicated. The truth will be known. And no one who banks his hope on the promises of God will be put to shame.
As a person who enjoys writing, admittedly, I’ve been somewhat distracted lately. I scroll through the feeds of my social media and it is filled with a plethora of “hot topics.” Every day, there is a new onslaught of blog posts, rants, and editorialized articles. It’s enough to make me want to write an open letter to all of the people that write open letters.
Much has been written about the distraction that social media can cause in our lives, and I can feel the distraction in my heart and the pervasive lure to choose sides and start arguing on whichever controversial social topic is trending at the moment.
Social media has instilled in so many Christians a false belief that we must form, share, declare and argue an opinion about everything– from leggings to secular fiction and just about everything in between.
We buy into it hook, line and sinker. We share and inevitably, overshare to the point that our arguing, our stances, our opinions begin to overshadow our calling in Christ… and we don’t even realize it.
We are called to speak the truth in love, yes. But we are not called to take part in every controversy or argument. In fact, Paul explained it to Timothy this way: “Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness.” (2 Timothy 3:23-25)
I’ve always been reluctant to take part in the slippery slopes of controversy for that reason alone – it invariably breeds quarrels. Regardless of the intent, the one sharing the truth in love is somehow perceived as a Pharisee or a Persecutor with a fistful of stones. Criticism is misconstrued as judgment. Arguments erupt. Feelings are hurt. Tempers flare.
I’m not saying that we should shy away from sharing the truth in love. I’m not saying that we should in any way shrink from our faith on the important, relevant social issues of our day, but I am saying that we need to ask the Lord to grant us much wisdom and discernment before we speak – and before we type, comment, or click to share.
Because people need to see our Jesus more than the need to hear our opinions; and ultimately, they need His word more than they need ours.
To a lost and dying world, we are called to be the light of the world and while culture and our social media feeds try to pull us in a thousand directions, we cling to the words of Paul who said, “I focus on this one thing,” which was forgetting what was behind and straining ahead for the goal, which is Christ (Philippians 3:13).
The one good thing that controversy stirs us is self-reflection. We have to ask ourselves the tough questions. Questions like, “Is what I am saying/doing/watching/thinking about and yes – even reading – is it working with Christ to bring about His glory or is it working against Him; because there is no in-between in His economy.
As much as we’d like to rest in our own shades of gray (pun intended), our comfort zones, our lukewarm tubs of complacency, sisters, He is calling us out of the shadows of controversy and into His glorious light. We are called to live in the light of His presence where He “turns our eyes from worthless things and gives us light through His word” (Psalm 119:37).
His word, oh, I believe His word is more relevant and more thrilling, today, in this moment than any other words we can take our time to read or write. His mercy is miraculous and His grace is scandalous and His word says it better than any of us ever could. Paul said it best when he said, “Everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus. For His sake, I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage” (Philippians 3:8).
I read those words and I know, for the sake of my own distracted and divided heart, there are some things I need to discard and count as rubbish.
The church at Philippi was dealing with their own controversies and quarrelling women. We know this because Paul calls them out, by name. If Paul were writing an open letter to us, sisters in the faith today, I believe it would read much the same. We don’t know what Euodia and Synteche are arguing about, we just know that they’re getting called out and Paul is pleading with them to “agree in Christ” because Paul knows that their disagreement can affect more than just the two of them; it can affect their witness and the church as a whole. He urges to the church to help remind them of who they are and of the work they have done together. He wants to remind them that, despite the quarrels and controversies, they are of one mind in Christ, co-laborers together for His kingdom.
I want to remind us that despite the quarrels and controversies, we are one mind in Christ and we are co-laborers together for His kingdom. We need this reminder because social media can distract and divide our hearts to the point we forget that our goal is not to win arguments but to win the lost.
Paul goes on to write that we are to rejoice in all things, to let our gentleness be evident to all and to pray about everything. He brings it home for the church at Philippi, for me and for you when he says:
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:8).
In the same letter, Paul writes about the peace that transcends all understanding. As believers, we have access to the gift of that peace, and we also have the privilege of sharing it with the world. In a fragmented and broken world, let’s fill those broken places – and our social media feeds – with the fruit of the Spirit in which He has given us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control.
Teach us your ways, Lord, that we may rely on your faithfulness; give us undivided hearts (Psalm 86:11).
As we know, there is no shortage of boldness in our world. When you think of our political leaders, they are quite bold, often in an arrogant way, to impose their societal vision, values, and beliefs on others. If you’re a teacher, or state worker, you know how boldly Bureaucrats can regulate every manner of living, speaking, teaching, and thinking. Secularists self-righteously applaud their own tolerance even as they openly, flagrantly, boldly, suppress the slightest expression of Christian faith in the public sphere. Entertainers boldly flaunting their hyper-immorality—shoving their perversity into our faces, indoctrinating our children with their crass lyrics, all the while denouncing everything that’s good, decent, and holy.
But there are other kinds of boldness. What about the boldness of the adulterer or the fornicator? What about the gossip who stirs up dissension? The thief or robber who enters another’s home? The sluggard who feels entitled to the fruits of their parents labor, or worse, their neighbor? What about greedy lendors who brazenly prey, and financially exploit, the weak. Or the greedy debtors who boldly charge up their credit card with no intention of repayment. The son who rebels against his father can be quite bold! Or the man who abandons responsibility to his family while pursuing relations to another woman. What about the woman who boldly aborts her unborn child? Or, the homosexual or lesbian who ensnares another man or woman in their sin?
There is an abundance of boldness in our culture. But it’s boldness about all the wrong things! We’re bold about evil, about sin, and about our rights, freedoms, and entitlements. But where is the boldness for what’s “excellent and praiseworthy?” For “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable.”
People are unapologetically bold about all that is evil; meanwhile Christians are apologetically timid about all that is holy and good.
What’s needed isn’t “fleshly” boldness. When boldness is driven by the flesh, it is enormously destructive. Look at the trail of destruction that exists in your family alone, or our community, or state, or nation. We don’t need more fleshly boldness.
What’s needed (now, more than ever) is “spiritual boldness”—a boldness that’s born out of vital relationship with the Spirit of the Living God. Spiritual boldness does not derive its confidence from the flesh, or from the world, but from the mind of God. In your outline, let me share some things that are distinct about Christian boldness. . .
Our Boldness Reflects Confidence in the Inspired Word.
What convictions do you hold about the word of God? 1 Peter 1:23 describes how the word is “imperishable”, “living and abiding” and is like a seed. Whereas the flowers and grass fade away, and the flesh/ glory of man withers… The word of God cannot be destroyed, nor will it ever pass away. We don’t have to understand how the word works, we just need to be faithful to plant it.
2 Timothy 3:15-16 says the Bible is able to “make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”
Hebrews 4:12-13 says, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”
In 2 Peter 1:20-21 were told, “no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”
In Isaiah 55:11 God says, “So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”
A couple of thoughts. First, to the degree that our boldness is tuned to the Word of God, it’s redemptive. To the degree that our boldness is of the flesh, it kills and destroys. Understand that boldness with the Word of God—preaching, teaching—has revived nations. Where has boldness in the flesh done anything good except corrupt, kill, and destroy. Our boldness needs to be trained by the Word of God.
Second, greater boldness is needed by all of us to inject God’s word into conversations. In John 6:63 Jesus told his disciples, “My words are spirit and life.” When timid Christian withhold the word, it’s like a farmer withholding seed. You cannot reap a harvest of righteousness if you never plant anything.
Parents often ask, “why are my kids so disrespectful, crass, self-centered…” Well, you reap what you sow. If you plant the word deeply you won’t ask those questions of your kids, family, or culture. God’s word doesn’t return void, God’s word is spiritual and alive, it accomplishes the purpose for which God sent it.
Our Boldness Reflects Confidence in the Spirit’s Activity
Another basis for boldness is the Spirit’s ongoing activity. In John 16:8 Jesus promised the Spirit would convict the world in regard to “sin, righteousness, and the coming judgment.” This is great news! We don’t have to be fanatics, or extremists about this stuff. If there is sin, the Spirit will show it to a person. We don’t have to scream, and yell, and shout, and hold demonstrations.
If there is something holy, righteous, good, the Spirit will show it for what it is. And the Spirit daily reminds people they are accountable before God for their life. Why else do you think people justify themselves, and plead their case, and boast, “But I’m a good person?” It’s because deep down people know they’re accountable to God.
This is why Paul tells the Corinthians, in 1 Corinthians 2:1-5, “. . . When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.” (NIV)
We don’t have to convict people, that’s the Spirit’s work. Our job is to faithfully and boldly plant seeds. We are to hold out the Words of Life. The gospel does not advance in the power of self, by intimidation or bullying, by shaming and giving guilt trips. Let the Spirit do what He does… and you and I can do the planting just as God’s asked us to do. The Spirit wins hearts and minds.
Our Boldness Reflects Confidence in the Spirit’s Power
Like the Apostle Paul, I sometimes find myself in places of “weakness, fear, and trembling.” Every week our pastoral staff encounters situations for which there is no human wisdom or human answers or human remedy… or financial resources. If you’re a spiritual person, you have great advantage. Like the early in Acts 1:8, its mostly a matter of waiting for God to clothe us with power. But if you’re an unspiritual person, what power is available to you, beyond your own strength?
When we help unspiritual people, they keep returning with the same problems. A person comes needing gas money, or food, or some help. We encourage them to trust God, we teach them how to pray, but most do not. They get relief and continue on their godless path until they again hit rock bottom. And then they’re back at our door. Apart from faith in Jesus, there is no power for the godless. There is just the rough, godless, hard, lifeless, joyless, impoverished road you’ve always walked.
But with faith in Jesus Christ, there is real hope, there is real power! Romans 1:16 Paul says, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, of it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. . .” Ephesians 3:16 speaks of how God has granted that those in Christ to “be strengthened with power through His Spirit.”
Particularly noteworthy are Paul’s words in Ephesians 6:10-20 (see NIV). This weekend we honor the soldier. Our country has the most powerful military of any nation that’s every inhabited the earth. We also have the finest trained men and women. But there is a limit to what fleshly warfare can achieve—as we’re well aware!
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.”
The Spirit’s power is unleashed through prayer and proclamation of the Word. Our first priority when someone comes to the church in crisis is to first listen, but then pray with people and share the word with them. That is the greatest help/resource we can provide.
R.A. Torrey observes how the Spirit is like the wind. The wind is invisible, and mysterious. We don’t see from where it comes or where it goes. It turns the windmill (not at Southwind Park, but other windmills). It fills our sails, drives the vessel out to sea, churns up the dust, shakes foundations, and affects everything material and physical. The wind is indispensable—it strengthens, fortifies, anchors, roots, tests. In the same way, the Spirit is invisible, we don’t see him but we feel his power.
Trust God’s word! Pray!
Our Boldness Reflects Confidence in our Eternal Hope
I want to end with this final idea. If we’re led by the Spirit, we could very well pay a great price with our life. Every sign points to an ever increasing hostility toward churches, and toward Christians. Around the world, this hostility is in full season. I think of the many soldiers, who have lost their lives, confronting evil around the world. There is a price that is to be paid for boldness—one that involves flesh and blood.
In Ephesians 1:3 Paul reminds us that “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.”
In Ephesians 4:30 Paul urges us then, not to grieve the Holy Spirit “by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” In 2 Corinthians 1:21-22 says, “For all the promises of God find their YES in Jesus. That is why it is through him that we utter our AMEN to God for his glory. And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.”
After they had destroyed Jesus’ body, God raised Jesus from the grave by the power of the Spirit. There are those who can destroy the flesh, but cannot destroy soul. God can destroy both. But if you’re in Christ God promises to preserve both body and soul. God promises to give us a new resurrection body (1 Corinthians 15), and he promises that our Spirit will dwell with him for all eternity (2 Corinthians 5).
We don’t have to be afraid. We can have boldness and courage about the things that matter for eternity. This was the hallmark of the early church.
Be bold. We have the Inspired Word of God… the Spirit is actively at work, all around us in the world… The Spirit by virtue of our faith, is powerful to save us… Finally the Spirit seals us, so that death can never lay claim on us, so that we can never be separated from God… but ushered into presence where we’ll dwell with him forever.
Question: “Is it possible to sell your soul to the devil?”
Answer: In the fanciful tale of Dr. Faustus, a man makes a deal with the devil: in exchange for his body and soul, the man is to receive supernatural power and pleasures for 24 years. The devil agrees to the trade, and Dr. Faustus enjoys the pleasures of sin for a season, but his doom is sealed. At the end of 24 years, Faustus attempts to thwart the devil’s plans, but he meets a frightful demise, nonetheless. This legend works well as a morality tale and as a metaphor for the wages of sin, but the details of its plot are not biblical.
The Bible has no instance of a person “selling his soul” to Satan, and it never implies that making a bargain with the devil is possible. Here is some of what Scripture does reveal about Satan:
5) As “the god of this world,” Satan has dominion over those who live without Christ in the world (2 Corinthians 4:4).
Surely, there are those who suffer under direct satanic control, such as the young medium of Philippi (Acts 16:16-19). And there are those who have devoted themselves to the devil’s work, such as the sorcerers Simon (Acts 8:9-11) and Elymas (Acts 13:8). However, in each of these three examples, the power of God prevails over Satan’s slavery. In fact, Simon is offered a chance to repent (Acts 8:22). Obviously, there had been no irrevocable “selling” of Simon’s soul.
Without Christ, we are all under condemnation of death (Romans 3:23). Before we are saved, we are all in bondage to the devil, as 1 John 5:19 says, “The whole world lies in the power of the evil one.” Praise the Lord, we have a new Master, One who can break the chains of any sin and set us free (1 Corinthians 6:9-11; Mark 5:1-15).
Christian Lifestyle – Unchanged
What’s the purpose of living a Christian lifestyle? Choosing to make Jesus Christ the Lord of our life changes our lifestyle dramatically. Friendships, activities, and even health issues receive careful evaluation. While we formulate reasons for the way we live our Christian lives, God’s purpose for our lives never changes.
To remain connected to God through Jesus Christ (John 15:4–8). A life that’s cut off from God withers and dies — physically as well as spiritually. God desires to reproduce His Son’s life through our fruitfulness.
To remain faithful through persecution and to resist false doctrine (2 Timothy 3:12–17). The apostle Paul expected situations to become worse as worldly pressures increased. Our testimony and knowledge of the Scriptures arm us against any deceivers or deceptive ideals.
To present the Good News to a lost world (Mark 16:15-16; 1 Timothy 6:12) Like an athlete or soldier, we present our best efforts to further the faith. Our transformed lives compel us to share the Gospel’s impact not just for our “today,” but for our eternity.
Christian Lifestyle – Rules
Are there specific guidelines that constitute a Christian lifestyle? From theologian to theologian, any “lifestyle” list would differ. Drinking, movies, music, dancing, politics, fashion, education . . . to what degree do we shape our choices so we maintain a Christian lifestyle? “Do not copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will know what God wants you to do…” (Romans 12:2). For one year A.J. Jacobs attempted to obey more than 700 rules and prohibitions found in the Bible. At the end of one year he confessed, “I started the year as an agnostic, and now I am a reverent agnostic.” A Christian lifestyle should never become a list of rules. We must take our attention off mandates and focus on the Man. To paraphrase, “What did Jesus do?”
Christian Lifestyle – Inside Out
What are the outward and inward evidence of a Christian lifestyle? You can present an outward appearance of holiness daily and still serve as a poor Christian witness (Matthew 23:27-28). To live as a Christian requires having the character of Christ. A transformation must occur, as a result of the Holy Spirit’s indwelling (Galatians 5:24-25).
When we truly practice a Christian lifestyle, the inward evidence becomes obvious. God’s glory and power pours out upon all those around us. Our faith in the midst of turmoil flows from a heart given to a loving Father. Every breath carries words of compassion and affirmation to a hurting world. Those who live the Christian lifestyle live a confident life on the inside and outside.
“This High Priest [Jesus Christ] of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same temptations we do, yet he did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it” (Hebrews 4:15-16).
WHAT DO YOU THINK? – We have all sinned and deserve God’s judgment. God, the Father, sent His only Son to satisfy that judgment for those who believe in Him. Jesus, the creator and eternal Son of God, who lived a sinless life, loves us so much that He died for our sins, taking the punishment that we deserve, was buried, and rose from the dead according to theBible. If you truly believe and trust this in your heart, receiving Jesus alone as your Savior, declaring, “Jesus is Lord,” you will be saved from judgment and spend eternity with God in heaven.
C.S. Lewis halted a generation of would-be converts in their tracks when he famously said, “I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.”
Lewis’ candor is certainly a strange sales pitch today, when Christianity is more often presented as good medicine for life’s ills than a costly call to faith. Today, Jesus is more often equated with the cure-all to felt needs—happiness, inner peace, life purpose and more— than the objective truth of the gospel. “Jesus will make your life better” is the gist of it.
But how does this pitch line up with the gospel? It hardly squares away with Jesus; words: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 6:24.) If this is Jesus’ invitation, then we need to drastically change the current call to faith. Instead of making cheap promises, we need to ask the harder question: “Will you follow Jesus even if your life doesn’t get better?” If we’re not careful, we inadvertently imply that if one only focuses enough on Jesus, one’s circumstances will get better, and better, and oh-so infinitely better. Too often evangelistic zeal truncates the gospel to be more accessible, more compelling, and more applicable to the felt needs of an audience. Are you sad? Jesus is your joy. Are you depressed? Jesus is your comfort. Are you confused? Jesus is your guidance. Surely, these are all important truths that are part of real faith. But they are not the whole package. If we’re not careful, we inadvertently imply that if one only focuses enough on Jesus, one’s circumstances will get better, and better, and oh-so infinitely better.
The False Promise Gospel
But the trend becomes even more disturbing as we observe the fallout of our Jesus-will-fix-all-my-problems kind of faith.
This gospel presentation misleads people to become more focused on their problems than on Jesus Himself. While they step into faith, they stay center stage. And unfortunately, when circumstances do head south, they are ill-equipped to deal with them. When something bad happens, all is lost. Many of us have had tear-filled conversations with friends who are questioning why God would let bad things happen to people, let alone to good people, and even more so to His people. When these questions go unanswered, many people leave faith behind because they are tired of waiting, or they do not trust God to actually show up. Instead they go off in search of their own, more immediate solution. They want comfort and happiness. They’d prefer the port. Ultimately, they are still the center of their lives, not God.
The sincerity of such struggles should not be undermined, nor the biblical precedent for lamenting overlooked. The Bible shows many of God’s people questioning His inactivity or perceived absence. However, it seems that people want to follow Jesus—even enthusiastically for a season—but then jump ship when their lives don’t get better, easier, brighter—you name it.
Perhaps we need to stop and examine if we have set them up for this by portraying a circumstantial spirituality that stops short of the robust faith of the Bible.
Jesus does make your life better. Jesus certainly is the ultimate problem-solver, and it is true that we will find our deepest purpose satisfied only in the life He offered on two crooked beams. But Jesus by no means promises a better life in the sense of all your circumstances. In other words, following Jesus doesn’t mean that everything will go smoothly, that every aspiration of your heart will be achieved, and that all your loved ones will live to see 100. Yes, Jesus’ yoke is easy and his burden is light but so is the gate wide that leads to destruction, and narrow the one that leads to life (Matthew 7:13-14; 11:30.)
Somehow people get the notion that when God blesses, it means that He will give us great things and perfect circumstances—and right now. Or, if God’s blessing is upon us we can expect to have better lives than those who do not believe in Jesus. Blessing equals easier and better. Conversely, sometimes people believe that extended discomfort means there is something they have done wrong, or a lack of faith which inhibits God’s blessing. But what if this is a misconstrued concept of blessing? Can’t the blessing of God involve pain, suffering, waiting and holding on to a truth in spite of our circumstances? Isn’t it a blessing to be disciplined by our loving Father even if it causes discomfort?
In his classic The Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan writes a beautiful hymn about the difficulties of the Christian journey: “This Hill, though high, I covet to ascend, The Difficulty will not me offend. For I perceive the Way to life lies here: Come pluck up Heart, let’s neither faint nor fear; Better, though difficult, the Right Way to go, Than Wrong, though easy, where the End is Wo.”
I can imagine Paul joining in the singing of this song. In his second letter to the Corinthians, after recounting all the challenges he faced following Jesus faithfully—in being mistreated, punished, sorrowful, poor—he concludes that in having nothing, he possessed everything (2 Corinthians 6:1-10.) When Paul’s life and circumstances were destitute, and when he could have been reasonably despondent, he experienced joy. How? He practiced an objective, God-focused Christianity rather than a subjective, me-focused Christianity. He was marked by a spirituality that takes the focus off oneself.
A Fresh Start to Faith
Our circumstances, as important as they may be, are not the primary guidelines for our faith. When we make personal benefits and rewards the starting point of our faith instead of praise that we owe our Savior, we start a walk of faith that is backward in its priorities. Yes, a great truth about God is that He is for us, with us, and even acts on our behalf. But it is His Truth that impacts our circumstances, and not the other way around. Our circumstances, as important as they may be, are not the primary guidelines for our faith. What is supposed to be our hope, our trust, despite whatever may come is that God is true, good, eternal and persistently consistent. Our trust is in God’s character, revealed ultimately in the gospel, and not in how congruent our circumstances are with what we know of God.
Often, circumstances will not be as easy or comfortable as we would prefer. The Bible paints an honest picture of reality: You will sin, you will have challenges in relationships, people will hurt you and you will hurt them, the world is set against you and evil is actively working against you. So, what do we do? The one consistent action of the people of God is a recognition of who God is, what he has done in the past and what He promises to accomplish at the end of time. We can rest our faith on the permanence of this truth.
Question: “How can demonic strongholds be overcome?”
Answer: Before demonic strongholds can be overcome, it must be understood exactly what demonic strongholds are. The word stronghold appears only once in the New Testament (2 Corinthians 10:4), and the Greek word translated “stronghold” means “a fortification such as a castle.” In this passage, the apostle Paul is instructing the church at Corinth on how to fight against and “destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God” (v. 5). They do this, not by using the weapons of the world, but by “divine power.” Lofty arguments and opinions are the result of pride and evil and vain imaginations, the very strongholds in which demons reside. This, then, is the essence of demonic warfare—the power of God to overcome the strongholds of demons.
In Ephesians 6:10-18, Paul describes the resources that God makes available to His followers—the armor of God. Here we are told how, in an attitude of humility and dependence, we are to avail ourselves of God’s resources. Note that we are to be strong “in the Lord” and “in the power of His might.” We do not take on demonic strongholds in our own strength. We protect ourselves with the first five pieces of defensive armor and wield the one offensive weapon—the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God. In verses 12 and 13 ofEphesians 6, Paul continues, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.”
One of the habits that every believer needs to develop is to focus on Ephesians 6:10-18 and commit himself to “get dressed” spiritually every day. It would go a long way to giving victory over the devil and his schemes. Here Paul states that, while we walk in the flesh (we are living and breathing in this human body), we do not war according to the flesh (we can’t fight spiritual battles with fleshly weapons). Instead, as we focus on the resources and weapons of spiritual strength, we can see God give us specific and real victory. No demonic stronghold can withstand Christians wearing the full armor of God, battling with the Word of God, and empowered by His Spirit.
I’ve always been intrigued by the idea presented in The Arabian Nights, when Aladdin finds the lamp and a genie permits him a wish. It makes me wonder what I would choose if given such a choice. Since I’ve never been wildly wealthy, the first things that come to mind are endless riches, a dream house, or luxury travel. But as soon as I think of those things, I wonder if that’s really what I want. I think of some of the names we see constantly in the tabloids and wonder if they would trade all their fame and fortune for some inner peace and a sense that what they’re doing matters.
Of course, if I read my Bible with the intent of obeying what it says, I’ll find it difficult to wish for wealth and luxury. Jesus said things such as, “the Son of Man has no place to lay his head” (Matthew 8:20), and “those who are last now will be first then, and those who are first will be last” (Matthew 20:16, NLT), and “When someone has been given much, much will be required in return” (Luke 12:48, NLT), and “These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs” (Matthew 6:32, NLT).
What was Jesus’ purpose in saying such things? Was it just to be a killjoy? Did he want to make sure we were miserable while here on Earth so we would long for heaven? Or was it because he knew what would really make us happy?
To Be Blessed Means …
One of my favorite Scripture passages is the Beatitudes in Matthew 5:1-12, where Jesus lists what it means to be blessed. It’s certainly not what comes to my mind when I think of being blessed or when I pray for others to be blessed. Remember all those childhood prayers, “Bless Mommy, Daddy, and Auntie Sue”? We had no idea what we were saying! We were actually saying, “Let them be poor in spirit, mourning, meek, hungering and thirsting for righteousness, merciful, pure, peacemakers, and persecuted.”
So how could such things lead to happiness? It seems like they lead more to the opposite of happiness. But the Beatitudes tell us one thing clearly. We can never be happy when we live self-centered lives. We may be fooled into thinking we’re happy for a while, but eventually it will fold in on us because true happiness can be found only in a relationship with our Creator. Only the One who made us knows what will truly make us happy and give us satisfaction in life. We have to get to the end of ourselves and the beginning of God to gain any lasting contentment in life. And that can happen only through divine revelation and transformation through God’s Word and the Holy Spirit dwelling in us. It’s the “pearl of great value” (Matthew 13:46), worth selling everything to gain it. And ultimately, it’s the secret to true satisfaction.
If you found a genie in a lamp, what would you wish for? Quick, name the first thing that comes to your mind. After you’ve named it, take time to think about it. Would that really make you happy? Why or why not?
Have you ever been physically hungry or thirsty to the extreme—perhaps after an illness, an intense workout, or during a hot spell? If so, think back to that experience. Read Psalm 63:1, Matthew 5:6, and John 6:35. What do you think it means to hunger and thirst after God? Why is this essential to being satisfied about life?
Do Something about It
Spend time reading the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12) and asking God to give you insight into what they mean in your life. Pray that God will give you a desire for him that is all-consuming. Ask for victory over anything that keeps you from desiring him in such a way. And ask that God give you a real sense of what it means to be satisfied.
The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit (Psalms 34:18). It is encouraging to read what King David wrote in the previously quoted psalm. We can be healed and delivered from a broken heart.
A broken heart can happen when we lose a loved one such as a spouse or a child or even a beloved Friend or stranger. Metaphorically, it is that emotional aching in your chest that happens when you are deeply disappointed or grieved over a life circumstance.
The Lord is Strong; Do not Fear
Psalms 73:26 My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
Isaiah 41:10 fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
I would also like to answer the question why? Why this Sandra Bland, Michael Brown and this list since 2015 click the link to view how many black lives since 2015 http://killedbypolice.net/? Why these many black people? I cannot tell you, and I encourage you to resist anyone who offers a confident answer. God himself did not answer that question for Job, nor did Jesus answer why questions. We have hints, but no one knows the full answer. What we do know, with full confidence, is how God feels. We know how God looks on this nation called ‘America” right now because God gave us a face, a face that was streaked with tears. Where misery is, there is the Messiah.
Not everyone will find that answer sufficient. When we hurt, sometimes we want revenge. We want a more decisive answer. Frederick Buechner said, “I am not the Almighty God, but if I were, maybe I would in mercy either heal the unutterable pain of the world or in mercy kick the world to pieces in its pain.” God did neither. He sent Jesus. God joined our world in all its unutterable pain in order to set in motion a slower, less dramatic solution, one that involves us.
One of our neighbors said to me, have you ever read a book ” book called Where Is God When It Hurts,?” Yes. “Well, I don’t have much time to read. Can you just answer that question for me in a sentence or two?” I thought for a second and said, “I guess I’d have to answer that with another question: ‘Where is the church when it hurts?'”
The eyes of the world are trained on this predicament. You’ve seen satellite trucks parked around town, reporters prowling the grounds of your schools. Last week we visited Los Angeles , We were invited to the Ezell Ford wrongful death hearing. As happened here, reporters from every major country swarmed the streets of LA county, looking for an angle. They came to report on evil and instead ended up reporting on the church. The advocates and church leaders were not asking, “Where is God when it hurts?” They knew where God was. With our long history of persecution, the black leaders weren’t for a minute surprised by an outbreak of evil. They rallied together, embraced the killer’s family, ministered to each other, and healed wounds by relying on a sense of community strengthened over centuries.
Something similar has taken place here in Hemet Ca. and abroad. You have shown outrage against the evil deed, yes, but you’ve also shown sympathy and sadness for the family of the one who committed all of these atrocities on black life. Every one of the police involved in these since-less deaths , too, has a memorial on our hearts and in our ministry.
The future lies ahead, and you’re just awakening to the fact that you are an independent moral being. I speak to our youths now, Until now, other people have been running your life. Your parents told you what to do and made decisions for you. Teachers ordered you around in grammar school, and the pattern continued in high school and even into college. You now inhabit a kind of halfway house on the way to adulthood, waiting for the real life of career and perhaps marriage and children to begin.
What happened in Harris County, Texas demonstrates beyond all doubt that your life—the decisions you make, the kind of person you are—matters now. There are countless students and member families who have no future in this world due to the illness called hatred.
That reality has hit home more than ever since we have attempted to pursue our vision of Second Chance Alliance. So many doors have shut just because we want to help those who have been hit with the mass incarceration epidemic. Watching human life be denied employment they are truly qualified for because they’ve done the same work in Prison for several years and now that they are free no one wants to believe in them. We watch and record the devastation this draconian practice has on a human being.
Samuel Johnson said when a man is about to be hanged, “it concentrates his mind wonderfully.” When you’re homeless and broke without a community to return to that will assist you in the necessities of life, it concentrates the mind. When you survive another day of brutality and separation due to stigma’s, it concentrates the mind. I realized how much of my life focused on trivial things. During my seven months of captivity in Lybia and prison terms severed , I didn’t think about how many books I could write about these issues or what kind of car I drove (it was being confiscated by the feds ). All that mattered boiled down to four questions. Whom do I love? Whom will I miss? What have I done with my life? And am I ready for what’s next? Ever since that day, I’ve tried to live with those questions at the forefront.
You know, too, that the world has fallen. Here in America, you know that as acutely as anyone on this planet.
I ask you also to trust that the world, your world, will be redeemed. This is not the world God wants or is satisfied with. God has promised a time when evil will be defeated, when events like the shootings Thursday’s movie theater shooting in Lafayette, Louisiana and every black life will come to an end. More, God has promised that even the scars we accumulate on this fallen planet will be redeemed, as Jesus demonstrated to Thomas.
I once was part of a small group with a Christian leader whose name you would likely recognize. He went through a hard time as his adult children got into trouble, bringing him sleepless nights and expensive attorney fees. Worse, my friend was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. Nothing in his life seemed to work out. “I have no problem believing in a good God,” he said to us one night. “My question is, ‘What is God good for?'” We listened to his complaints and tried various responses, but he batted them all away.
A few weeks later, I came across a little phrase by Dallas Willard: “For those who love God, nothing irredeemable can happen to you.” I went back to my friend. “What about that?” I asked. “Is God good for that promise?”
I would like to promise you an end to pain and grief, a guarantee that you will never again hurt as you hurt now. I cannot. I can, however, stand behind the promise that the apostle Paul made in Romans 8, that all things can be redeemed, can work together for your good. In another passage, Paul spells out some of the things he encountered, which included beatings, imprisonment, and shipwreck. As he looked back, he could see that somehow God had redeemed even those crisis events in his life.
“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us,” Paul concluded. “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:37-39). God’s love is the foundational truth of the universe.
Clinging to Hope
Trust a God who can redeem what now seems unredeemable. Ten days before the shootings on this Virginia Tech, Christians around the world remembered the darkest day of human history, the day in which evil human beings violently rose up against God’s Son and murdered the only truly innocent human being who has ever lived. We remember that day not as Dark Friday, Tragic Friday, or Disaster Friday—but rather as Good Friday. That awful day led to the salvation of the world and to Resurrection Sunday, an echo in advance of God’s bright promise to make all things new.
Honor the grief you feel. The pain is a way of honoring those who died, your friends and classmates and professors and prisoners. It represents life and love. The pain will fade over time, but it will never fully disappear.
Do not attempt healing alone. The real healing, of deep connective tissue, takes place in community. Where is God when it hurts? Where God’s people are. Where misery is, there is the Messiah, and on this earth, the Messiah takes form in the shape of his church. That’s what the body of Christ means. Remember each of you reading this post is a (CHURCH).
Finally, cling to the hope that nothing that happens, not even this terrible tragedy, is irredeemable. We serve a God who has vowed to make all things new. J. R. R. Tolkien once spoke of “joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief.” You know well the poignancy of grief. As healing progresses, may you know, too, that joy, a foretaste of the world redeemed.
“As I have said, the Bible consistently changes the questions we bring to the problem of pain. It rarely, or ambiguously, answers the backward-looking question “Why?” Instead, it raises the very different, forward-looking question, “To what end?”We are not put on earth merely to satisfy our desires, to pursue life, liberty, and happiness.We are here to be changed, to be made more like God in order to prepare us for a lifetime with him. And that process may be served by the mysterious pattern of all creation: pleasure sometimes emerges against a background of pain, evil may be transformed into good, and suffering may produce something of value.”
I have never seen a statue erected depicting Jesus as a man of sorrow, but still we worship
Halfway through the year… and it is time to evaluate which direction we all are heading.
I wanted to remind each of you that our pursuit of God should be about progress and not perfection. When we strive for perfection in our walk for God it often times leads us to disappointment and then we oftentimes will become more distant with God and those in our lives who are encouraging us to grow in our walk with God.
My prayer is for each of you to evaluate your life and ask yourself, “Are you loving God and others more now than you were a year ago?”
If you answer yes, then keep seeking God with passion and continue to be that encouragement to others in your life around you.
If you answered, probably not. Well, don’t get discouraged and pull away from God and those trying to encourage you. Instead, realize that you now can move forward toward what God has planned for you.Don’t forget that there is nothing better in our life than being exactly where God has us. Right now, where you are you can be someone who impacts others for Christ.
Seek that eternal mindset and focus on things that matter for an eternity.
This week take some time to pray and ask God to help you grow in Christ and that He would enable you to Love Him and Love others more this year than last year.
Live with Eternity in Mind!
Our days are eternal.
Yes, you and I will live forever in heaven, but have we ever reflected upon the fact that not only are our heavenly days eternal, but that the moments we are living here and now will live forever in the mind of God, and therefore live on in eternity? “Our days pass quickly and are over like a sigh” reads the Psalms.
Yet, not so fast. Do my actions truly pass away? Or am I called to give an account for them before the throne of God? Often I find it easier to forget the days past, to look only to the future. I don’t think God wants me to live in the past, but instead, He frees me from my guilt and calls me to continual reconciliation.
What I often forget, sometimes conveniently, is that my actions nevertheless remain eternal in the mind of God. The love which I pour out in my daily duties is a love that lasts – something eternal which will either bring sorrow or consolation to the heart of Jesus throughout time and eternity.
A Satisfying Road?
What a thought, that my actions today have more of a everlasing lasting meaning than I can fathom. That each day, each sacrifice, builds one upon another, and forms a path to heaven. Sometimes I am tempted to believe that the endless repetition of days, each following in similar succession, only serve to cover and erase the previous ones. I forget the beautiful truth that my daily walk of life can instead define a path to God, a road which I can look back upon with satisfaction.
Perhaps the path that I now cultivate may one day guide another wandering soul to God. Perhaps the thorns which I attempt to clear along the road will make the traveling smoother for those who come behind me. Most importantly, I think of my children and the road which they will walk. Are my actions in traveling the road ahead of them, or even alongside of them, leading them on a straight and narrow way? Will they look ahead to my guiding figure, or will they struggle to know which turns to make?
Ultimately, I can never find my way alone. The generations before me, following the Church throughout the ages, with Christ and His disciples leading the way, serve as my compass. Thank goodness for the shining example of the saints, and for the living saints in our midst, who exhibit daily a testimony to love.
How often do I thank those around me for their positive example, which inspires and calls me on to stay the course, and to finish the race?
Do I reflect upon their examples and consider how to serve as an inspiration to others in my own actions?
SERMONS should have real teaching in them, and their doctrine should be solid, substantial, and abundant. We do not enter the pulpit to talk for talk’s sake; we have instructions to convey important to the last degree, and we cannot afford to utter pretty nothings. Our range of subjects is all but boundless, and we cannot, therefore, be excused if our discourses are threadbare and devoid of substance. If we speak as ambassadors for God, we need never complain of want of matter, for our message is full to overflowing. The entire gospel must be presented from the pulpit; the whole faith once delivered to the saints must be proclaimed by us. The truth as it is in Jesus must be instructively declared, so that the people may not merely hear, but know, the joyful sound. We serve not at the altar of “the unknown God,” but we speak to the worshippers of him of whom it is written, “they that know thy name will put their trust in thee.” To divide a sermon well may be a very useful art, but how if there is nothing to divide? A mere division maker is like an excellent carver with an empty dish before him. To be able to deliver an exordium which shall be appropriate and attractive, to be at ease in speaking with propriety during the time allotted for the discourse, and to wind up with a respectable peroration, may appear to mere religious performers to be all that is requisite; but the true minister of Christ knows that the true value of a sermon must lie, not in its fashion and manner, but in the truth which it contains. Nothing can compensate for the absence of teaching; all the rhetoric in the world is but as chaff to the wheat in contrast to the gospel of our salvation. However beautiful the sower’s basket it is a miserable mockery if it be without seed. The grandest discourse ever delivered is an ostentatious failure if the doctrine of the grace of God be absent from it; it sweeps over men’s heads like a cloud, but it distributes no rain upon the thirsty earth; and therefore the remembrance of it to souls taught wisdom by an experience of pressing need is one of disappointment, or worse. A man’s style may be as fascinating as that of the authoress of whom one said, “that she should write with a crystal pen dipped in dew upon silver paper, and use for pounce the dust of a butterfly’s wing”; but to an audience whose souls are in instant jeopardy, what will mere elegance be but “altogether lighter than vanity”?
Is there any harm in Christian charismatic leadership? Most everyone will agree that having some charisma in one’s personality is desirable. This same thought tends to prevail among many Christian leaders and their followers in matters of the gospel which are often pushed back in favor of charismatic leadership.
Christian preachers, teachers, and ministers, famous and unknown, often seek to entertain their audience as they deliver their sermons and Bible lessons. Jokes are told, statements are made to incite laughter and tantalizing, attention-getting keywords are employed to shock listeners in order to have their full attention. Facial expressions, body posture, and movements along with the often unnecessary raising of the voice all play a part in the performances of many who are considered Christian leaders. Such people include pastors, Sunday school teachers, television evangelists, and many others with positions of leadership within the church. Sensationalism is also seen among Christian writers.
Is there any harm in one’s sermon, Bible lesson or Christian article containing sensationalism? Is there anything wrong with a Christian preacher, teacher, or author taking a charismatic approach in the delivery of the gospel message to others? According to biblical scripture, there’s plenty of harm that can be done in the life of not only the Christian leader but also of his audience.
Each side would do well to ask himself a few questions to evaluate his real intentions. This is biblical instruction from the scripture of 1 Corinthians 11:28 which reads, “…let a man examine himself….”
The apostle Paul said that he was given a messenger of Satan, known as his “thorn in the flesh”, to buffet him so that he wouldn’t be lifted up in pride (2 Corinthians 12:7). Paul received many revelations directly from God. It is his writings that teach the Christian more about the meaning of the work of Jesus than those of the other apostles. God knew the danger of self-pride taking root in Paul which would have surely been his downfall.
There’s a joke that speaks of the irony of the fact that there are many Christian leaders who are very proud of how humble they are. In the examination of oneself, the Christian leader may ask himself if his true intent is to give glory to God in the delivery of his sermon or lesson, or glory to himself. Each member of the audience of that same charismatic and sensational leader may ask himself if his true intent is to learn the word of God or to be entertained.
There’s always spiritual harm to be done when one is in opposition to the will of God. To use the gospel to entertain or to be entertained is not in agreement with the scriptures. Every true preacher of the gospel should be able to declare in sincerity the same that the apostle Paul and those who accompanied him declared. In 1 Thessalonians 2:4-6, Paul wrote, “but as we were allowed of God to be put in trust with the gospel, even so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God which trieth our hearts. For neither at any time used we flattering words, as ye know, nor a cloke of covetousness. God is our witness. Nor of men sought we glory, neither of you, nor yet of others….”
This blessed Sabbath weekend was a very powerful enlightening one. I had to change my sermon to address some foolishness taking place amongst the ranks of teachers and preachers and for the most part I was fine, but when God took over it felt like I was getting a whipping also.
Thanks Lord for the opportunity to stretch our legs and enjoy your creation this weekend. We appreciate home, but what a time it was to gaze upon Your beauty while worshiping You O’Lord and You alone. May the word spoken today at Bishop Rally’s render a breakthrough to leaders and alike….#Third Baptist Church San Francisco- His best for our life weekend-Please click to view the beginning….
Everything about me is a contradiction, and so is everything about everybody else. We are made out of oppositions; we live between two poles. There’s a philistine and an aesthete (a person who has or affects to have a special appreciation of art and beauty) in all of us, and a murderer and a saint. You don’t reconcile the poles. You just recognize them.
Almost without exception, people and anxiety go hand-in-hand. Though we should know better, we continue to manufacture worries and nurse fears. Yet anxiety is nothing more than wasting today’s time and resources to clutter up tomorrow’s possibilities with yesterday’s struggles. In spite of that, it remains for some a continual preoccupation. This post will takes a straight look at this energy-draining reality. By seeing it at work in another’s life, we may gain sufficient perspective to get through the tough stuff of anxiety. Stands the reason of my joy about my wife success thus far. She has suffered anxiety of life in wanting to complete school, she has suffered turmoil due to wanting to feel the sensationalism of operating as a substance abuse counselor and Psychology clinician within her own company “Second Chance Alliance”. She experiences anxiety from going to class under adverse challenges all the while wanting to cross the finish line of graduation. I am so proud of her holding her position in Christ as a mom and wife and grandmother that is a full time student trying to breakthrough the stigma’s of a unforgiving society and create change for her family and others.
I am Innocent until proven guilty… Maymie Chandler-Pratt Bio 7/9/2015 2:46:23 PM
Hello Instructor Dougherty,
My name is Maymie Chandler-Pratt and I am 53 years young. I currently reside in Southern California where it never rains, it is always sunny, and the crime rate is high and our court systems are overrun with all types of cases, mostly drug cases. I have been married for many years to the same man, my husband Aaron who is an ex Navy Seal with many issues stemming from his 13 years of service and nine campaigns and 7 months as a POW in Libya and has been diagnosed with PTSD and Schizo-affective Disorder. I too was in the Army and even though I saw no war, because of my husband’s issues I too have been diagnosed with PTSD and Schizo-affective disorder by association, Together we share a total of 10 children, 2 are deceased, two are in prison; our daughter Parris for life with no possibility of ever getting out and our son Lee who was sentenced to 15 years with an L. The other 6 are working, and attending college. Our youngest son is 19 and 6′ 6″ tall.
I started attending Argosy in 2011 and in January 2016 I will graduate with my BA in psychology with and emphasis on Substance Abuse Counseling. I chose this career because of my 20 plus years of being addicted to crack cocaine and my own stint in prison for 7 years due to my addictive behaviors. After being released from prison I was placed in a 1453 state mandated drug program where I met up with my counselor who had also been in prison with me. While there she told me that I too should become a substance abuse counselor. My belief after witnessing the healing power of “My higher power” in which I choose to call God, I was convinced that if I could do it then I could help others like me to do it too.
I feel that with my extensive criminal background, I have a lot of experience with the criminal court systems, but I am no expert and I want to be even more enlightened now as a professional as I was as a criminal. I look forward to working with you over the next five weeks.
See you on the boards…May Pratt
Five months until this temptation to sin by having anxiety will be a hurdle we both are excited to jump..Thanks to all who have been apart of this journey.
Several years ago the National Anxiety Center in Maplewood, New Jersey, released the “Top Ten Anxieties for the 1990s.” The list included AIDS, drug abuse, nuclear waste, famine, and the federal deficit. Since then, in the light of September 11, 2001, the center has revised its list to put “global terrorism” as the leading source of anxiety. Today, we could add the worries of a full-scale war, the threat of nuclear attack from North Korea or China, the risk of losing a good job, and maybe the disquieting thoughts of growing old alone and unwanted.
We all have different lists, but our deep, relentless worries carry a similar effect. They make us uneasy. They steal smiles from our faces. They cast dark shadows on our futures by spotlighting our shameful pasts. They pickpocket our peace and kidnap our joy.
What is anxiety?
Throughout my more than 40 years of christian ministry, whenever I’ve taught or spoken on the topic of anxiety, I’ve always highlighted the relevant counsel of the apostle Paul in his letter to the Philippians. Type the words worry or anxiety into the search engine of my heart, and Philippians 4 quickly flashes on my mind:
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus (Phil. 4:4-7).
Reading this passage, we immediately discover a four-word command that could be rendered, literally, “Stop worrying about anything!” The word translated “anxious” comes from the Greek verb merimnao, meaning “to be divided or distracted.” In Latin the same word is translated anxius, which carries the added nuance of choking or strangling. The word also appears in German as wurgen, from which we derive our English word worry. The tough stuff of anxiety threatens to strangle the life out of us, leaving us asphyxiated by fear and gasping for hope.
Jesus used similar terms when He referred to worry in His parable of the sower inMark 4. The Master Illustrator painted a picture in the minds of His listeners of a farmer sowing seed in four types of soil. In that parable He mentions a seed being sown among thorns. While doing so He underscores both the real nature and the destructive power of anxiety. Jesus said, “Other seed fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked it, and it yielded no crop” (v. 7; emphasis added). Later, when the disciples asked Jesus about the meaning of the parable, He interpreted His own words. Regarding the seed sown among thorns, He explained, “These are the ones who have heard the word, but the worries of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful” (vv. 18-19).
!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!WORK IT OUT “JESUS”!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
According to the gospel accounts, here are the miracles Jesus performed. Though this is an incomplete list according to John 21:25
: “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.”
Answer:The doctrine of common grace pertains to the sovereign grace of God bestowed upon all of mankind regardless of theirelection. In other words, God has always bestowed His graciousness on all people in all parts of the earth at all time. Although the doctrine of common grace has always been clear in Scripture, in 1924, the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) adopted the doctrine of common grace at the Synod of Kalamazoo (Michigan) and formulated what is known as the “three points of common grace.”
The first point pertains to the favorable attitude of God toward all His creatures, not only toward the elect. “The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made” (Psalm 145:9). Jesus said God causes “his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45) and God “is kind to the ungrateful and wicked” (Luke 6:35). Barnabas and Paul would later say the same thing: “He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy” (Acts 14:17). In addition to His compassion, goodness, and kindness, God also sheds His patience upon both the elect and the non-elect. While God’s patience for His own is undoubtedly different from His patience with those whom He has not chosen, God still exercises “longsuffering” toward those whom He has not chosen (Nahum 1:3). Every breath that the wicked man takes is an example of the mercy of our holy God.
The second point of common grace is the restraint of sin in the life of the individual and in society. Scripture records God directly intervening and restraining individuals from sinning. InGenesis 20, God restrained Abimelech from touching Sarah, Abraham’s wife, and affirmed it to him in a dream by saying, “Yes, I know you did this with a clear conscience, and so I have kept you from sinning against me. That is why I did not let you touch her” (Genesis 20:6). Another example of God restraining the wicked hearts of evil men is seen in God’s protection of the land of Israel from being invaded by the pagan nations on their border. God commanded the men of Israel that three times a year they would leave their plot of land to go and appear before Him (Exodus 34:23). To ensure the protection of God’s people from invasion during these times, even though the pagan nations surrounding them desired their land year-round, God promised that “no one will covet your land when you go up three times each year to appear before the Lord your God” (Exodus 34:24). God also restrained David from taking revenge on Nabal for scorning the messengers that David sent to greet Nabal (1 Samuel 25:14). Abigail, Nabal’s wife, recognized God’s grace when she pleaded with David not to seek vengeance against her husband, “since the Lord has kept you, my master, from bloodshed and from avenging yourself with your own hands…” (1 Samuel 25:26). David acknowledged this truth by responding, “As surely as the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, who has kept me from harming you…” (1 Samuel 25:34).
This second point of common grace not only includes God’s restraining of evil, but also His sovereignly releasing it for His purposes. When God hardens the hearts of individuals (Exodus 4:21;Joshua 11:20;Isaiah 63:17), He does so by releasing His restraint on their hearts, thereby giving them over to the sin that resides there. In His punishment of Israel for their rebellion, God gave “them over to their stubborn hearts to follow their own devices” (Psalm 81:11-12). The passage of Scripture best known for speaking of God’s releasing of restraint is found inRomans 1where Paul describes those who suppress the truth by their wickedness. God “gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another” (Romans 1:28).
The third point of common grace as adopted by the CRC pertains to “civic righteousness by the unregenerate.” This means that God, without renewing the heart, exercises such influence that even the unsaved man is enabled to perform good deeds toward his fellow man. As Paul said of a group of unregenerate Gentiles, they “do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law” (Romans 2:14). The necessity of God restraining the hearts of the unredeemed becomes clear when we understand the biblical doctrine oftotal depravity. If God did not restrain the evil that resides in the hearts of all men, hearts which are “deceitful and desperately wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9), humanity would have destroyed itself centuries ago. But because He works through common grace given to all men, God’s sovereign plan for history is not thwarted by their evil hearts. In the doctrine of common grace, we see God’s purposes stand, His people blessed, and His glory magnified.
Question: “What is the significance of a red heifer in the Bible? Is a red heifer a sign of the end times?”
Answer:According to the Bible, the red heifer—a reddish-brown cow, probably no more than two years old which had never had a yoke on it—was to be sacrificed as part of the purification rites of the Mosaic Law. The slaughtering of a red heifer was a ceremonial ritual in the Old Testament sacrificial system, as described inNumbers 19:1-10. The purpose of the red heifer sacrifice was to provide for the water of cleansing (Numbers 19:9), another term for purification from sin. After the red heifer was sacrificed, her blood was sprinkled at the door of the tabernacle.
The imagery of the blood of the heifer without blemish being sacrificed and its blood cleansing from sin is a foreshadowing of the blood of Christ shed on the cross for believers’ sin. He was “without blemish” just as the red heifer was to be. As the heifer was sacrificed “outside the camp” (Numbers 19:3), in the same way Jesus was crucified outside of Jerusalem: “And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood” (Hebrews 13:11-12).
The Bible does teach that one day there will be again be a temple of God in Jerusalem (Ezekiel chapters 41-45). Jesus prophesied that the antichrist would desecrate the temple (Matthew 24:15), and for that to occur, there obviously would have to be a temple in Jerusalem once again. Many anticipate the birth of a red heifer because in order for a new temple to function according to the Old Testament law, a red heifer would have to be sacrificed for the water of cleansing used in the temple. So, when a red heifer is born (which is quite unusual) it might be a sign that the temple will soon be rebuilt.
Rarely seen, never heard is how many churches prefer to treat teenagers, confined to separate ministries. But I also know of a traditional church where teenagers sat front and center each week. It’s no coincidence the senior pastor had been a youth minister and often addressed those teens specifically.
If we’re serious about passing the gospel to the next generation, what do we need to learn from youth about how we preach? Here are six suggestions youth would offer to their pastors.
1. We don’t know what sanctification means, but we know about the process of growing in grace.
I’m a word person. I majored in Latin and English and enjoyed SAT prep vocabulary flashcards. (Yes, I was a really cool kid.) I like big words, especially in the realm of theology. A mentor listened to a talk I gave to students and had a list of about seven theological terms the kids probably did not know. Kids mentally check out when they hear abundant, arcane jargon and the presumption that everyone knows what it means. Students need to learn how to define terms like justification, sanctification, imputation, and substitutionary atonement.Preachers should not shy away from using Christian terminology, but they should make sure to explain the terms in a way that is not condescending toward those who do not know it.
2. If you are personally vulnerable, we will listen to what you have to say.
In homiletics, many debate the level of vulnerability pastors should exercise. If you share too much, you risk sounding self-absorbed. If you never share any personal stories, you may appear aloof. Regardless, I can say with confidence that teenagers of this generation embrace people with a willingness to share their story, particularly those parts that reveal the preacher is an imperfect person with whom students can identify.
3. We can’t hear you when you’re yelling.
One week in Sunday school we discussed how we relate and minister to those of other religions. I showed video from a cable news network debate about whether Christians should participate in a certain exercise. The program featured a conservative pastor, with a penchant for yelling, and a somewhat liberal pastor with a mellow demeanor. Before showing the video I asked students about their view on the topic. For the most part, they sided with the the conservative preacher. However, after showing the video, most said they agreed with the liberal preacher. Upon further cross-examination, the students admitted that they generally would reject what the yelling preacher had to say because of his tone and volume. Meanwhile, they would be inclined to agree with and embrace a person with a calm, gentle, controlled tone.
Keep in mind that we get yelled at more as teenagers than any other season in life. Whether it is their parents, their football coach, or the store-owner at the mall, teenagers receive much static from adults (and sometimes provoke it). They naturally reject a strident voice without even considering the validity of the statements, while they give a “nice” tone the benefit of the doubt.
4. Sometimes you talk as if we are not in the room.
Kids often say they feel as if the sermon exclusively addresses the adults in sanctuary. But the truth of God’s Word and the gospel have universal relevance and applications, regardless of the age or context of the audience. Rarely, though, when listening to sermons online or in person do I hear a preacher make life-application examples that appeal to adolescents. Usually, pastors evoke examples related to adult matters, such as financial insecurity, marital conflict, job loss, anxiety over children, and so on. A pastor can win serious rapport with his teenage audience by using a life-application example that relates to teenage experience, such as the stress of exams, conflict with parents, or fear about seating arrangements on the first day of school.
5. We are all postmodern, unlike many of our pastors.
The greatest disconnect I see between older pastors and the teens in their pews relates to the massive difference in cultural worldview under which they have been socialized. Many pastors (including me) were raised with a modernist mindset. We moderns think in terms of evidence, logic, and proofs. The evidences of the resurrection along with some Josh McDowell sold me on Christianity.
The teenagers to whom I minister do not think like most of my preacher friends. While volumes can (and have) been written about the difference between postmodern teens and their modernist neighbors, I would say simply that pastors must engage the postmodern kid in heart and mind. Biblical exegesis and doctrine alone edify and feed me. For postmodern teens, they need stories and questions that appeal to experience and emotions and that illustrate the biblical truth being proclaimed.
6. Tell me how this affects me right now.
Instant gratification may be the worst trend in this generation of teenagers. They evaluate everything on how it immediately affects them. By contrast, most pastors grew up in a world where we had to wait for mom and dad to take us to the movies (or the movie store) to watch a flick. We had to wait our turn to use the phone. Not these kids. They can watch a movie . . . on their phone. They can dial up whatever they want on demand. While this trend has deleterious effects on teens, we cannot ignore their context. Insane it may sound, but offering teenagers salvation and eternal life when they die does not hardly resonate with them. To connect to their teenage constituency, pastors also must explain the realized benefits we enjoy in this life from following Jesus in addition to the deferred ones we enjoy upon death.
Answer:Spiritual adultery is unfaithfulness to God. It is having an undue fondness for the things of the world. Spiritually adultery is analogous to the unfaithfulness of one’s spouse: “‘But like a woman faithless to her lover, even so have you been faithless to me, O house of Israel,’ says the LORD” (Jeremiah 3:20; see alsoIsaiah 1:21;57:8;Ezekiel 16:30).
The Bible tells us that people who choose to be friends with the world are an “adulterous people” having “enmity against God” (James 4:4–5). The “world” here is the system of evil under Satan’s control (John 12:31;Ephesians 2:2;1 John 5:19). The world system, with its contrived and deceitful scheme of phony values, worthless pursuits, and unnatural affections, is designed to lure us away from a pure relationship with God. Spiritual adultery, then, is the forsaking of God’s love and the embracing of the world’s values and desires (Romans 8:7–8;2 Timothy 4:10;1 John 2:15–17).
Spiritual adultery includes any form of idolatry. In the Old Testament, the children of Israel tried to mix the worship of other gods such as Baal with that of God (Judges 3:7;1 Kings 16:31–33;Jeremiah 19:5). In doing so, Israel became like an adulterous wife who wanted both a husband and another lover (Jeremiah 9:2;Ezekiel 6:9;16:32). In the New Testament, James defines spiritual adultery as claiming to love God while cultivating friendship with the world (James 4:4–5). The person who commits spiritual adultery is one who professes to be a Christian yet finds his real love and pleasure in the things that Satan offers. For believers, the love of the world and the love of God are direct opposites. Believers committing spiritual adultery may claim to love the Lord, but, in reality, they are captivated by the pleasures of this world, its influence, comforts, financial security, and so-called freedoms.
The concept of spiritual adultery against God is a major theme throughout the Old Testament (Isaiah 54:5;Jeremiah 3:20;Ezekiel 16:15–19). This theme is illustrated especially well in the book ofHosea. The prophet’s wife, Gomer, symbolizes the infidelity of the children of Israel (Hosea 2:2–5;3:1–5;9:1). Hosea’s commitment to Gomer symbolizes God’s faithful, patient love with His erring people.
Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other” (Matthew 6:24). The Bible exhorts us, “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world” (1 John 2:15–16). Believers must echo the words of the old hymn: “The world behind me, the cross before me; no turning back.”
“As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as He who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy’” (1 Peter 1:14–16). Spiritual adultery is like trying to straddle the fence with one foot in the world and the other heaven. We cannot have both. As Jesus warned the church inLaodicea, “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth” (Revelation 3:15–16).
The love of the world is primarily an attitude of one’s heart, and we can cast away worldliness by cultivating a new affection. To avoid spiritual adultery, “set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth” (Colossians 3:2, KJV).
Trials have a way of killing smugness. I suppose some little wave crashes upon a boulder and he doesn’t feel it much. But there are waves that beat upon a stone without relent, and sometimes he thinks “I’m surely going to crash into this sea like so many tiny pebbles do.”
It’s the long relentless trials, often repeated, in which desperate men cry out for deliverance with parched throats and eyes that dim of scanning the horizon (Psalm 69:3)- these are the trials which put a knife to smugness.
To be smug is to “be contentedly confident of one’s ability, superiority, or correctness; complacent.” You can see it in the life of people who store up their treasures and say to themselves “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry (Luke 12:20).” We see it in those who simply live without acknowledging God or His ways, fill up their measure of sin, and tell themselves “He will do nothing; no disaster will come upon us (Jeremiah 5:12).”
It’s easy to identify smugness in unbelievers isn’t it? And we might have some patience for that, since after all, they don’t know God. But there are some sins, or struggles the smug believer thinks he or she would never be tried with. The things “good” and “real” Christians just don’t do, or even think of doing. Good Christians don’t get divorced. They don’t curse, or hit things, or hit others. They don’t hurt themselves or have “mental breakdowns.” Good Christians aren’t tempted to use alcohol or drugs to dampen the pain and difficulties of life. They don’t get bitter. They don’t experience large scale moral failures. The “true” Christian doesn’t question God’s purposes and never thinks- “perhaps a different path would have led to a happier, easier life.” That “real” Christian never has doubts about His God or His faith.
The smug believer thinks he doesn’t do those thing because he simply couldn’t do those things. He is too good a Christian in fact. It would be impossible for him because he has climbed too high for such a heinous, ignorant, and disgraceful stoop. He knows too much truth and has too pure of motives. His reasons for coming to Jesus were right; he follows Christ for Christ alone, and nothing else that might be gained. Take the world but give him Jesus, and he will be just fine. He is sure.
The problem is not that he despises the thought of ever sinning or struggling in such ways, but rather that his trust is in himself, and his attitude towards failing believers is one of quick readiness to judge and deem them cut off. But trials are not so easy and glamorous a tool of refining believers as sometimes they are made to sound. People talk about their victories but we often don’t hear how trials will prove you ugly before they start to make you pure. Consider this excerpt from a poem I have written reflecting on this topic:
“Did you think
To put you in a furnace
Would not scorch your skin?
To come out gold
With easy glee
And not the surfacing of sin?
Or that boiling water hot
Would like a warm bath
Scathe you not?
Like sinking in so comfortably
To fire should come easily?”
When a Christian goes into the boiling pot and stays in it for a long time, God will undoubtedly grow and refine that Christian. I look back on this long trial with chronic pain and I see a hundred idols slain. But it is not as if they crumbled down themselves. They’ve been slain through tears, constant battle, and much travail in prayer. The longer I go through the trials, the more I see that there is no temptation uncommon to men (1Corinthians 10:13), and there is no temptation or sinful thought too sinful for myself. I see those idols slain, but I know their root lies in my own heart and when my eyes go off my God how quickly they resurrect. I see that this battle isn’t won until I finally find myself safe in the arms of God. I will overcome and conquer one doubt or one sinful wish, but it will rear its head again. I’m not sure there’s such a thing as killing a sin (including smugness!) once and for all. When you’re living in a trial it is constant war and you must kill the flesh daily or quickly lurch towards destruction.
If it were not for God you’d find my faith somewhere dashed upon a rock. I’m certain of it. Trials have had their way of desolating smugness in me, but there is (thank God!) a higher rock than I (Psalm 61:2). Smugness and security are not the same thing. Eternal security- the promise of God that He who began a work of salvation in me will bring it to completion at the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6)- is my hope and joy. It is my confidence in the day of trouble.
My confidence is a person. My trust is in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I’ll echo these words from hymnist John Berridge:
“Thou poor, afflicted, tempted soul,
With fears, and doubts, and tempests tossed…
What if the billows rise and roll,
And dash the ship-
It is not lost;
The winds and waves and fiends may roar,
But Christ will bring thee safe on shore.”
About the smug heart, I have written previously:
Did you think endurance
Meant to never fall?
So with steady steps
To conquer all?
So worthily you might
Win the crown?
And say at last
“Was me who won
By never falling down”?
The valiant and strong
Shall win the prize!
All Heaven will esteem me
With their eyes!
Do you see how that attitude differs from the Christian who has seen they are a ship who left to their own will drift off in the turbulent seas and be dashed? Oh, but even if he drift for a time, even if the winds, and waves, and fiends assail him, and he approaches his shore as one almost sunk- be it certain, Christ will bring him safe on shore. He is not lost.
That is the hope I’m clinging to, and am learning to embrace with godly fear- fear that takes seriously the warnings in scripture that urge us not to fall away, while clinging to the only Savior who can sustain our hope, our faith, and our strength. Eternal security is not a doctrine that leads to sin, unless we have careless hearts which cast ourselves on a doctrine rather than a person (Christ), with an attitude of smugness. That is dangerous, and a real threat. But when shattered hearts lean into the Everlasting Arms, resting safe and secure from all alarms, that indeed, is a beautiful thing. God who sees the heart knows the difference.
I end with a portion of scripture that seems fitting:
1Corinthians 10:12-14 “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation He will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.”
16 But I say, vwalk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify wthe desires of the flesh. 17 For xthe desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, yto keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18 But if you are zled by the Spirit, ayou are not under the law.
This love is not optional. It is commanded. And it is very radical: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” In other words, we are called in our freedom to desire and seek the happiness of others with the same zeal that we seek our own. But if you take this command seriously, it is so contrary to our natural inclinations that it seems utterly impossible. That I should get up in the morning and feel as much concern for your needs as for my own seems utterly beyond my power. If this is the Christian life — caring for others as I care for myself — then it is hard, indeed, and I feel hopeless to ever live it out.
Paul’s answer to this discouragement is found in Galatians 5:16–18. The secret is in learning to “walk by the Spirit” (v. 16). If the Christian life looks too hard, we must remember that we are not called to live it by ourselves. We must live it by the Spirit of God. The command of love is not a new legalistic burden laid on our back; it is what happens freely when we walk by the Spirit. People who try to love without relying on God’s Spirit always wind up trying to fill their own emptiness rather than sharing their fullness. And so love ceases to be love. Love is not easy for us. But the good news is that it is not primarily our work but God’s. We must simply learn to “walk by the Spirit.”
So I want to build today’s message around three questions: What? Why? And, how? What is this “walking by the Spirit”? Why is it crucial to walk by the Spirit? And, how, very practically, can we walk by the Spirit?
What Is Walking by the Spirit?
First, what is this “walking by the Spirit”? There are two other images in the context which shed light on the meaning of “walk by the Spirit.” The first is in verse 18: “If you are led by the Spirit you are not under law.” If Paul had said, “If you follow the Spirit you are not under law,” it would have been true, but in using the passive voice (“If you are led”) he emphasizes the Spirit’s work, not ours. The Spirit is not a leader like the pace car in the “Daytona 500.” He is a leader like a locomotive on a train. We do not follow in our strength. We are led by his power. So “walk by the Spirit” means stay hooked up to the divine source of power and go wherever he leads.
The second image of our walk in the Spirit is in verse 22: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, etc.” If our Christian walk is to be a walk of love and joy and peace, then “walk by the Spirit” must mean “bear the fruit of the Spirit.” But again, the Spirit’s work is emphasized, not ours. He bears the fruit. Perhaps Paul got this image from Jesus. You recall John 15:4–5: “Abide in me, and I in you. As a branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit.” So “walk by the Spirit” means “abide in the vine.” Keep yourself securely united to the living Christ. Don’t cut yourself off from the flow of the Spirit.
So in answer to our first question, What is this walking by the Spirit? we answer: It is “being led by the Spirit” and it is “bearing the fruit of the Spirit.” The work of the Spirit is emphasized, yet the command is for us to do something. Our wills are deeply involved. We must want to be coupled to the locomotive. We must want to abide in the vine. And there are some things we can do to keep ourselves attached to the flow of God’s power. But before we ask how to walk by the Spirit let’s ask . . .
Why Is It Crucial to Walk by the Spirit?
Why is it crucial to walk by the Spirit? The text gives two reasons, one in verse 16 and one in verse 18. In verse 16 the incentive for walking by the Spirit is that when you do this, you will not gratify the desire of the flesh. The RSV here is wrong when it makes the second part of verse 16 a command instead of a promise and says, “Do not gratify the desires of the flesh.” All the other major versions are right to make it a promise because this particular Greek construction has that meaning everywhere else in Paul. The verse should be translated, for example with the NASB, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.” So the first reason we should walk by the Spirit is that when we do, the desires of our flesh are overcome.
In recent messages I’ve tried to define the flesh as Paul uses it. Most of the time (though not always, see below) it does not simply refer to the physical part of you. (Paul does not regard the body as evil in itself.) The flesh is the ego which feels an emptiness and uses the resources in its own power to try to fill it. Flesh is the “I” who tries to satisfy me with anything but God’s mercy. Notice Galatians 5:24, “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” Now compare with this Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ, it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.” In 2:20, “flesh” is used in its less usual meaning referring to ordinary bodily existence, which is not in itself evil (“I now live in the flesh”).
But the important thing to notice is that in 5:24 the “flesh“ is crucified and in 2:20 “I” am crucified. This is why I define the flesh in its negative usage as an expression of the “I” or the “ego.” And notice in 2:20 that since the old fleshly ego is crucified, a new “I” lives, and the peculiar thing about this new “I” is that it lives by faith. “The life I live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.” The flesh is the ego which feels an emptiness but loathes the idea of satisfying it by faith, i.e., by depending on the mercy of God in Christ. Instead, the flesh prefers to use the legalistic or licentious resources in its own power to fill its emptiness. As Romans 8:7 says, “The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law.” The basic mark of the flesh is that it is unsubmissive. It does not want to submit to God’s absolute authority or rely on God’s absolute mercy. Flesh says, like the old TV commercial, “I’d rather do it myself.”
It is not surprising, then, that in verse 17 there is a war between our flesh and God’s Spirit. It is a problem at first glance that there is a lively war between flesh and Spirit in the Christian, according to verse 17, but the flesh is crucified in the Christian, according to verse 24. We’ll talk more about the sense in which our flesh is crucified when we get to verse 24. For now, let’s give Paul the benefit of the doubt and assume that both are somehow true, and focus on this war within: our flesh versus God’s Spirit.
God’s Spirit Conquers Our Flesh
Verse 17 says, “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh; for these are opposed to each other to prevent you from doing what you would.” The main thing to learn from this verse is that Christians experience a struggle within. If you said to yourself when I was describing the flesh, “Well, I have a lot of that still left in me,” it does not necessarily mean you aren’t a Christian. A Christian is not a person who experiences no bad desires. A Christian is a person who is at war with those desires by the power of the Spirit.
Conflict in your soul is not all bad. Even though we long for the day when our flesh will be utterly defunct and only pure and loving desires will fill our hearts, yet there is something worse than the war within between flesh and Spirit; namely, no war within because the flesh controls the citadel and all the outposts. Praise God for the war within! Serenity in sin is death. The Spirit has landed to do battle with the flesh. So take heart if your soul feels like a battlefield at times. The sign of whether you are indwelt by the Spirit is not that you have no bad desires, but that you are at war with them!
But when you take verses 16 and 17 together, the main point is not war, but victory for the Spirit. Verse 16 says that when you walk by the Spirit, you will not let those bad desires come to maturity. When you walk by the Spirit, you nip the desires of the flesh in the bud. New God-centered desires crowd out old man-centered desires. Verse 16 promises victory over the desires of the flesh — not that there won’t be a war, but that the winner of that war will be the Spirit.
In fact, I think what Paul means in verse 24, when he says the flesh has been crucified, is that the decisive battle has been fought and won by the Spirit. The Spirit has captured the capital and broken the back of the resistance movement. The flesh is as good as dead. Its doom is sure. But there are outlying pockets of resistance. The guerrillas of the flesh will not lay down their arms, and must be fought back daily. The only way to do it is by the Spirit, and that’s what it means to walk by the Spirit — so live that he gives victory over the dwindling resistance movement of the flesh. So the first reason why we must walk by the Spirit is that, when we do, the flesh is conquered.
God’s Spirit Creates Law-Fulfilling Fruit
The second reason to walk by the Spirit or be led by the Spirit is found in verse 18: “If you are led by the Spirit you are not under the law.” This does not mean you don’t have to fulfill God’s law. You do. That’s what verses 13 and 14 said, “Through love be servants of one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” And Romans 8:3–4 say, “God condemned sin in the flesh in order that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”
Therefore, not being under law does not mean we don’t have to fulfill the law. It means that, when we are led by the locomotive of the Spirit, we cruise on the railroad track of the law as a joyful way of life and are not left to climb it like a ladder in our own strength from underneath. When we are led by the Spirit, we are not under the punishment or the oppression of the law because what the law requires the Spirit produces; namely, love. Notice verse 22: the first and all-encompassing fruit of the Spirit is love, which verse 14 says fulfills the whole law.
And to confirm that this is just how Paul is thinking, he ends the list of the fruit of the Spirit in verse 23 with the words, “against such there is no law.” In other words, how can you be under the oppression or punishment of the law when the very things the law requires are popping out like fruit on the branches of your life? So the second reason to walk by the Spirit is really the same as the first. Verse 16 says, do it because you get victory over the flesh when you walk by the Spirit. You nip temptation in the bud. Verse 18 says, do it because then you are free from the oppression and punishment of the law, because the fruit the Spirit produces fulfills the law. The Spirit is the fullness that overflows in love. Therefore it conquers the emptiness that drives the flesh, and it spills out in acts of love which fulfill the law.
How Do You Walk by the Spirit?
But the $60,000 question is, How do you walk by the Spirit? All of us have heard preachers say, “Let the Spirit lead you,” or, “Allow the Spirit to control you,” and have gone away puzzled as to what that means practically. How do you allow the Spirit to control you? I want to try to show you that the answer is, You allow the Spirit to control you by keeping your heart happy in God. Or to put it another way,You walk by the Spirit when your heart is resting in the promises of God. The Spirit reigns over the flesh in your life when you live by faith in the Son of God who loved you and gave himself for you and now is working everything together for your good.
Here’s the fivefold evidence from Galatians. First, Galatians 5:6, “In Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is of any avail, but faith working through love.” Genuine faith always produces love, because faith pushes out guilt, fear, and greed and gives us an appetite to enjoy God’s power. But Galatians 5:22 says love is a fruit of the Spirit. So if love is what faith necessarily produces and love is a fruit of the Spirit, then the way to walk by the Spirit is to have faith — a happy resting in the promises of God is the pipeline of the Spirit.
Second, notice Galatians 5:5, “For through the Spirit, by faith, we wait for the hope of righteousness.” How do you wait for Jesus “through the Spirit”? “By faith!” When you keep your heart happy in God and resting in his promises, you are waiting through the Spirit and walking by the Spirit.
Third, look at Galatians 3:23, “Now before faith came, we were confined under the law.” The coming of faith liberates a person from being under law. But what does 5:18 say? “If you are led by the Spirit you are not under law.” How, then, shall we seek to be led by the Spirit? By faith. By meditating on the trustworthiness and preciousness of God’s promises until our hearts are free of all fretting and guilt and greed. This is how the Holy Spirit fills and leads.
Fourth, see Galatians 3:5, the clearest of all: “Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing of faith?” The Spirit does his mighty work in us and through us only by the hearing of faith. We are sanctified by faith alone. The way to walk by the Spirit and so not fulfill the desires of the flesh is to hear the delectable promises of God and trust them, delight in them, rest in them.
Finally, consider Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.” Who is the Christ who lives in Paul? He is the Spirit. As 4:6 says: The Spirit of God’s Son has been sent into our hearts. And how, according to 2:20, does the life of the Son produce itself in Paul? How does Paul walk by the Spirit of the Son? “The life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God.”
Day by day Paul trusts the Son. Day by day he casts his cares on God, frees his life from guilt and fear and greed, and is borne along by the Spirit. How, then, do we walk by the Spirit? The answer is plain. We stop trying to fill the emptiness of our lives with a hundred pieces of the world, and put our souls at rest in God. The Spirit will work the miracle of renewal in your life when you start meditating on his unspeakable promises day and night and resting in them. (See also Romans 15:13, 2 Peter 1:4, and Isaiah 64:4.)
The Secret of Walking by the Spirit
Yesterday at 5:30 a.m. I was in Pasadena, California, standing in the kitchen of my beloved teacher Daniel Fuller talking to his wife Ruth. One of the things I will never forget about that kitchen is that over the sink are taped four tremendous promises of God typed on little pieces of paper. Ruth puts them there to meditate on while she works. That’s how you walk by the Spirit.
I keep a little scrap paper by my prayer bench, and whenever I read a promise that can lure me away from my guilt and fear and greed, I write it down. Then in dry spells I have a pile of promises to soak my soul in. The fight of faith is fought with the promises of God. And the fight of faith is the same as the fight to walk by the Spirit. He works when we are resting in his promises. George Müller wrote (Autobiography, pp. 152–4):
I saw more clearly than ever that the first great and primary business to which I ought to attend every day was to have my soul happy in the Lord. The first thing to be concerned about was not how much I might serve the Lord, or how I might glorify the Lord; but how I might get my soul into a happy state, and how my inner man might be nourished. . . . Now what is the food for the inner-man? Not prayer but, the Word of God.
George Müller learned the secret of walking by the Spirit: Meditate on the precious truths of the Word of God until your heart is happy in God, resting in his promises.
Hudson Taylor had learned it too. He received word one day of rioting near one of the inland mission stations. In a few moments George Nichol, one of his evangelists, overheard Taylor whistling his favorite hymn, “Jesus, I Am Resting, Resting in the Joy of What Thou Art.” Hudson Taylor “had learned that for him, only one life was possible — just that blessed life of resting and rejoicing in the Lord under all circumstances, while he dealt with the difficulties inward and outward, great and small” (Spiritual Secret, p. 209).
I say to you, brothers and sisters, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. You will have victory over temptation and know the guidance of the Lord if you keep your heart happy in God by resting in his promises.
All, too, will bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will to be rightful must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect, and to violate would be oppression.
THE PRESIDENT: For too long, we’ve been blind to the unique mayhem that gun violence inflicts upon this nation.
Removing the flag from this state’s capitol would not be an act of political correctness; it would not be an insult to the valor of Confederate soldiers. It would simply be an acknowledgment that the cause for which they fought — the cause of slavery — was wrong, the imposition of Jim Crow after the Civil War, the resistance to civil rights for all people was wrong. It would be one step in an honest accounting of America’s history; a modest but meaningful balm for so many unhealed wounds. It would be an expression of the amazing changes that have transformed this state and this country for the better, because of the work of so many people of goodwill, people of all races striving to form a more perfect union. By taking down that flag, we express God’s grace.
But I don’t think God wants us to stop there. For too long, we’ve been blind to the way past injustices continue to shape the present. Perhaps we see that now. Perhaps this tragedy causes us to ask some tough questions about how we can permit so many of our children to languish in poverty, or attend dilapidated schools, or grow up without prospects for a job or for a career. Perhaps it causes us to examine what we’re doing to cause some of our children to hate. Perhaps it softens hearts towards those lost young men, tens and tens of thousands caught up in the criminal justice system and leads us to make sure that that system is not infected with bias; that we embrace changes in how we train and equip our police so that the bonds of trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve make us all safer and more secure.
Maybe we now realize the way racial bias can infect us even when we don’t realize it, so that we’re guarding against not just racial slurs, but we’re also guarding against the subtle impulse to call Johnny back for a job interview but not Jamal. So that we search our hearts when we consider laws to make it harder for some of our fellow citizens to vote. By recognizing our common humanity by treating every child as important, regardless of the color of their skin or the station into which they were born, and to do what’s necessary to make opportunity real for every American — by doing that, we express God’s grace.
THE PRESIDENT: For too long, we’ve been blind to the unique mayhem that gun violence inflicts upon this nation.
Sporadically, our eyes are open: When eight of our brothers and sisters are cut down in a church basement, 12 in a movie theater, 26 in an elementary school. But I hope we also see the 30 precious lives cut short by gun violence in this country every single day; the countless more whose lives are forever changed — the survivors crippled, the children traumatized and fearful every day as they walk to school, the husband who will never feel his wife’s warm touch, the entire communities whose grief overflows every time they have to watch what happened to them happen to some other place.
The vast majority of Americans — the majority of gun owners — want to do something about this. We see that now. And I’m convinced that by acknowledging the pain and loss of others, even as we respect the traditions and ways of life that make up this beloved country — by making the moral choice to change, we express God’s grace.
We don’t earn grace. We’re all sinners. We don’t deserve it. But God gives it to us anyway and we choose how to receive it. It’s our decision how to honor it.
A Letter From Black America
Yes, we fear the police. Here’s why.
Last July 4, my family and I went to Long Island to celebrate the holiday with a friend and her family. After eating some barbecue, a group of us decided to take a walk along the ocean. The mood on the beach that day was festive. Music from a nearby party pulsed through the haze of sizzling meat. Lovers strolled hand in hand. Giggling children chased each other along the boardwalk.
Most of the foot traffic was heading in one direction, but then two teenage girls came toward us, moving stiffly against the flow, both of them looking nervously to their right. “He’s got a gun,” one of them said in a low voice.
I turned my gaze to follow theirs, and was clasping my 4-year-old daughter’s hand when a young man extended his arm and fired off multiple shots along the busy street running parallel to the boardwalk. Snatching my daughter up into my arms, I joined the throng of screaming revelers running away from the gunfire and toward the water.
The shots stopped as quickly as they had started. The man disappeared between some buildings. Chest heaving, hands shaking, I tried to calm my crying daughter, while my husband, friends and I all looked at one another in breathless disbelief. I turned to check on Hunter, a high school intern from Oregon who was staying with my family for a few weeks, but she was on the phone.
“Someone was just shooting on the beach,” she said, between gulps of air, to the person on the line.
Unable to imagine whom she would be calling at that moment, I asked her, somewhat indignantly, if she couldn’t have waited until we got to safety before calling her mom.
“No,” she said. “I am talking to the police.”
My friends and I locked eyes in stunned silence. Between the four adults, we hold six degrees. Three of us are journalists. And not one of us had thought to call the police. We had not even considered it.
We also are all black. And without realizing it, in that moment, each of us had made a set of calculations, an instantaneous weighing of the pros and cons.
As far as we could tell, no one had been hurt. The shooter was long gone, and we had seen the back of him for only a second or two. On the other hand, calling the police posed considerable risks. It carried the very real possibility of inviting disrespect, even physical harm. We had seen witnesses treated like suspects, and knew how quickly black people calling the police for help could wind up cuffed in the back of a squad car. Some of us knew of black professionals who’d had guns drawn on them for no reason.
This was before Michael Brown. Before police killed John Crawford III for carrying a BB gun in a Wal-Mart or shot down 12-year-old Tamir Rice in a Cleveland park. Before Akai Gurley was killed by an officer while walking in a dark staircase and before Eric Garner was choked to death upon suspicion of selling “loosies.” Without yet knowing those names, we all could go down a list of unarmed black people killed by law enforcement.
We feared what could happen if police came rushing into a group of people who, by virtue of our skin color, might be mistaken for suspects.
For those of you reading this who may not be black, or perhaps Latino, this is my chance to tell you that a substantial portion of your fellow citizens in the United States of America have little expectation of being treated fairly by the law or receiving justice. It’s possible this will come as a surprise to you. But to a very real extent, you have grown up in a different country than I have.
As Khalil Gibran Muhammad, author of The Condemnation of Blackness, puts it, “White people, by and large, do not know what it is like to be occupied by a police force. They don’t understand it because it is not the type of policing they experience. Because they are treated like individuals, they believe that if ‘I am not breaking the law, I will never be abused.’”We are not criminals because we are black. Nor are we somehow the only people in America who don’t want to live in safe neighborhoods. Yet many of us cannot fundamentally trust the people who are charged with keeping us and our communities safe.
As protest and revolt swept across the Missouri suburb of Ferguson and demonstrators staged die-ins and blocked highways and boulevards from Oakland to New York with chants of “Black lives matter,” many white Americans seemed shocked by the gaping divide between law enforcement and the black communities they are supposed to serve. It was no surprise to us. For black Americans, policing is “the most enduring aspect of the struggle for civil rights,” says Muhammad, a historian and director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in New York. “It has always been the mechanism for racial surveillance and control.”
In the South, police once did the dirty work of enforcing the racial caste system. The Ku Klux Klan and law enforcement were often indistinguishable. Black-and-white photographs of the era memorialize the way Southern police sicced German shepherds on civil rights protesters and peeled the skin off black children with the force of water hoses. Lawmen were also involved or implicated in untold numbers of beatings, killings and disappearances of black Southerners who forgot their place.
In the North, police worked to protect white spaces by containing and controlling the rising black population that had been propelled into the industrial belt during the Great Migration. It was not unusual for Northern police to join white mobs as they attacked black homeowners attempting to move into white neighborhoods, or black workers trying to take jobs reserved for white laborers. And yet they strictly enforced vagrancy laws, catch-alls that gave them wide discretion to stop, question and arrest black citizens at will.
Much has changed since then. Much has not.
To a very real extent, you have grown up in a different country than I have.
Last Fourth of July, in a few short minutes as we adults watched the teenager among us talking to the police, we saw Hunter become a little more like us, her faith a little shaken, her place in the world a little less stable. Hunter, who is biracial and lives with her white mother in a heavily white area, had not been exposed to the policing many black Americans face. She was about to be.
n the phone, she could offer only the most generic of suspect descriptions, which apparently made the officer on the other end of the line suspicious. By way of explanation, Hunter told the officer she was just 16. The police called her back: once, twice, then three times, asking her for more information. The interactions began to feel menacing. “I’m not from here,” Hunter said. “I’ve told you everything I know.”
The fourth time the police called, she looked frightened. Her interrogator asked her, “Are you really trying to be helpful, or were you involved in this?” She turned to us, her voice aquiver. “Are they going to come get me?”
“See,” one of us said, trying to lighten the mood. “That’s why we don’t call them.”
We all laughed, but it was hollow.
My friend Carla Murphy and I have talked about that day several times since then. We’ve turned it over in our minds and wondered whether, with the benefit of hindsight, we should have called 911.
Carla wasn’t born in the United States. She came here when she was 9, and back in her native Barbados, she didn’t give police much thought. That changed when she moved into heavily black Jamaica, Queens.
Carla said she constantly saw police, often white, stopping and harassing passersby, almost always black. “You see the cops all the time, but they do not speak to you. You see them talking to each other, but the only time you ever see them interact with someone is if they are jacking them up,” she said. “They are making a choice, and it says they don’t care about you, it tells you they are not here for your people or people who look like you.”
Discontentment is trying to penetrate my armor this morning. Trying to steal my worship and thankfulness to God and His wonderful son for delivering me from the spirit of greed and selfishness. When I acquired fame and fortune in this world I never imagined how destructive I became in my inner man. Seventeen cars, 9 houses and 3 companies grossing well over what I could have ever imagined. Time shares and plenty cognac and women. Cocaine and money and of course clothes and 600 pairs of shoes in different homes. Prison and God’s providence showed up to place me in a crucible of restoration and now I am learning what contentment is…
If you belong to Christ, like the apostle Paul you can and should learn the secret of a contented life. When Paul wrote “godliness with contentment is great gain” he wasn’t just speaking philosophically (1 Tim. 6:6). He had learned the secret to contentment in every circumstance of life (Phil 4:11-2). While that secret eludes most people, it need not elude any true believer. For those who are willing to learn, here are six steps to a contented life from the life and teaching of Paul.
First, learn to give thanks in all things. Paul had learned to give thanks in every circumstance and he exhorted all believers to do the same. Thankfulness is first of all a matter of obedience (1 Thess. 5:18; Eph. 5:18), but it is also a characteristic of a Spirit-filled believer (Eph. 5:18-20).
Second, learn to rest in God’s providence. If we truly know God, we know that He is unfolding His agenda and purpose in our lives. He has sovereignly determined each part of His plan for us so that we’ll be benefited and He’ll be glorified (cf. Rom. 8:28). We should not be surprised or ungrateful when we experience trials because we know that God sees perfectly the end result (cf.1 Pet. 4:12-13).
Third, learn to be satisfied with little. Paul had learned to make the choice to be satisfied with little, and he knew it was important for others to learn to make that same choice. In 1 Timothy 6:6Paul exhorted a young pastor with these words: “Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content.” Paul understood that covetousness and contentment are mutually exclusive.
Fourth, learn to live above life’s circumstances. That’s how Paul lived. In 2 Cor. 12:9-10 he wrote, “Most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
Paul didn’t take pleasure in the pain itself, but in the power of Christ manifested through him in times of infirmity, reproach, persecution, and distress. We also should learn to take pleasure in the power of Christ in times of distress.
Fifth, learn to rely on God’s power and provision. The apostle Paul wrote, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”; and Jesus said He will never leave us nor forsake us (Heb. 13:5). Like Paul, we can learn to rely on Christ’s promise. He faithfully infuses every believer with His own strength and sustains them in their time of need until they receive provision from His hand (Eph. 3:16).
Finally, become preoccupied with the well-being of others. Paul summarized this mindset inPhilippians 2:3-4, where he wrote: “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.”
A self-centered man is a discontented man. But the soul of the generous man, the man who lives for the interests and benefit of others, will find blessing upon blessing in his life (see Prov. 11:24-5;19:17; Luke 6:38; 2 Cor. 9:6).
Question: “What is the key to victory when struggling with sin?”
Answer:The key to victory in our struggles with sin lies not in ourselves, but in God and His faithfulness to us: “The LORD is near to all who call on Him, to all who call on Him in truth (Psalm 145:18; see alsoPsalm 46:1).
There’s no getting around it: we all struggle with sin (Romans 3:23). Even the great apostle Paul lamented over his ongoing struggle with sin in his life: “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me” (Romans 7:18-20). Paul’s struggle with sin was real; so much so that he cried out, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?” (Romans 7:24).
Yet in the next breath, he answers his own question, as well as ours: “Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:25a). In this passage, Paul not only provides us with the very key to victory when struggling with sin, but explains the never-ending conundrum between our sinful nature and spiritual nature: “So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin” (Romans 7:25b).
Earlier, Paul said, “For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin” (Romans 7:14). Paul is comparing our sinful nature, our flesh, to a slave. Just as a slave obeys his master, so our flesh obeys sin. However, as believers in Christ, we have become spiritual beings under the law of Christ; our inner selves are under the influence and ownership of God’s grace and the life of Christ (Romans 5:21). As long as we are living in this world, our sinful nature and fleshly desire will remain with us. But we also have a new nature in Christ. This leads to a struggle between what we want to do and what we actually do, as sin continues to assault our earthly nature. This struggle is a normal part of living the Christian life.
It’s interesting to note that Paul, the greatest of the apostles, declared that, of all sinners, “I am the worst!” (1 Timothy 1:15). Paul affirms the struggles we all have as we battle with sin and temptation in our lives. The struggles are real, and they’re debilitating. We grow weary from the never-ending temptations and in falling short of God’s glory. Paul, in essence, is telling us that we need not pretend that we’re untouched by our struggles. He’s been there. He understands. Though our efforts to do right seem desperate, we do have hope “through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 7:25;Hebrews 4:15). And He, in fact, is the key to our victory over sin.
A true Christian will war with Satan and his daily efforts to undermine us. The devil is the ruler of this world, and we are living “behind enemy lines” (Ephesians 2:2;Ephesians 6:12;John 12:31). With our focus on Christ, however, we will be able to cultivate a mindset that proclaims we’d rather die than do anything to hurt God. When we give ourselves to Christ totally (Matthew 16:24), Satan will flee from us. When we draw near to God, He, in turn, will draw near to us (James 4:7-8).
Our key to victory in our struggle with sin lies in the very promise of God Himself: “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation He will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).
As true believers in Christ, even when we “face trials far beyond our ability to endure” (2 Corinthians 1:8), we can echo the reassuring words of Paul, who declares, “God has delivered us and will continue to deliver us” (2 Corinthians 1:10). Finally, the psalmist gives us these words of encouragement: “Trust in the LORD, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness. Delight yourself in the LORD, and He will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the LORD; trust in Him, and He will act” (Psalm 37:3-5).
What if, for one day, Jesus were to become you? What if, for twenty-four hours, Jesus wakes up in your bed, walks in your shoes, lives in your house, assumes your schedule? Your boss becomes His boss, your mother becomes His mother, your pains become His pains? With one exception, nothing about your life changes. Your health doesn’t change. Your circumstances don’t change. Your schedule isn’t altered. Your problems aren’t solved. Only one change occurs.
What if, for one day and one night, Jesus lives your life with His heart?
Your heart gets the day off, and your life is led by the heart of Christ. His priorities govern your actions. His passions drive your decisions. His love directs your behavior.
What would you be like? Would people notice a change? Your family – would they see something new? Your coworkers – would they sense a difference? What about the less fortunate? Would you treat them the same? And your friends? Would they detect more joy? How about your enemies? Would they receive more mercy from Christ’s heart than from yours?
And you? How would you feel? What alterations would this transplant have on your stress level? Your mood swings? Your temper? Would you sleep better? Would you see sunsets differently? Death differently? Taxes differently? Any chance you’d need fewer aspirin or sedatives? How about your reaction to traffic delays? (Ouch, that touched a nerve.) Would you still dread what you are dreading? Better yet, would you still do what you are doing?
Would you still do what you had planned to do for the next twenty-four hours?
Pause and think about your schedule. Obligations. Engagements. Outings. Appointments. With Jesus taking over your heart, would anything change?
Keep working on this for a moment. Adjust the lens of your imagination until you have a clear picture of Jesus leading your life, then snap the shutter and frame the image. What you see is what God wants. He wants you to “think and act like Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5).
God’s plan for you is nothing short of a new heart.
“You were taught to be made new in your hearts, to become a new person. That new person is made to be like God – made to be truly good and holy” (Ephesians 4:23-24).
God wants you to be just like Jesus. He wants you to have a heart like His.
I’m going to risk something here. It’s dangerous to sum up grand truths in one statement, but I’m going to try. If a sentence or two could capture God’s desire for each of us, it might read like this:
God loves you just the way you are, but he refuses to leave you that way. He wants you to be just like Jesus.
If you think His love for you would be stronger if your faith were, you are wrong. If you think His love would be deeper if your thoughts were, wrong again. Don’t confuse God’s love with the love of people. The love of people often increases with performance and decreases with mistakes. Not so with God’s love. He loves you right where you are. To quote my wife’s favorite author:
God’s love never ceases. Never. Though we spurn Him. Ignore Him. Reject Him. Despise Him. Disobey Him. He will not change.
Our evil cannot diminish His love. Our goodness cannot increase it. Our faith does not earn it any more than our stupidity jeopardizes it. God doesn’t love us less if we fail or more if we succeed.
When my daughter Parris was a toddler, I used to take her to a park not far from our home. One day as she was playing in a sandbox, an ice-cream salesman approached us. I purchased her a treat, and when I turned to give it to her, I saw her mouth was full of sand. Where I intended to put a delicacy, she had put dirt.
Did I love her with dirt in her mouth? Absolutely. Was she any less my daughter with dirt in her mouth? Of course not. Was I going to allow her to keep the dirt in her mouth? No way. I loved her right where she was, but I refused to leave her there. I carried her over to the water fountain and washed out her mouth. Why? Because I love her.
God does the same for us. He holds us over the fountain. “Spit out the dirt, honey,” our Father urges. “I’ve got something better for you.” And so He cleanses us of filth: immorality, dishonesty, prejudice, bitterness, greed. We don’t enjoy the cleansing; sometimes we even opt for the dirt over the ice cream. “I can eat dirt if I want to!” we pout and proclaim. Which is true – we can. But if we do, the loss is ours. God has a better offer. He wants us to be just like Jesus.
Isn’t that good news? You aren’t stuck with today’s personality. You aren’t condemned to “grumpydom.” You are tweakable. Even if you’ve worried each day of your life, you needn’t worry the rest of your life. So what if you were born a bigot? You don’t have to die one.
Where did we get the idea we can’t change? Jesus can change our hearts. He wants us to have a heart like his. Can you imagine a better offer?
The Heart of Christ
The heart of Jesus was pure. The Savior was adored by thousands, yet content to live a simple life. He was cared for by women (Luke 8:1-3) yet never accused of lustful thoughts, scorned by His own creation but willing to forgive them before they even requested His mercy. Peter, who traveled with Jesus for three and a half years, described Him as a “lamb unblemished and spotless” (1 Peter 1:19). After spending the same amount of time with Jesus, John concluded, “And in Him is no sin” (1 John 3:5).
Jesus’ heart was peaceful. The disciples fretted over the need to feed the thousands, but not Jesus. He thanked God for the problem. The disciples shouted for fear in the storm, but not Jesus. He slept through it. Peter drew his sword to fight the soldiers, but not Jesus. He lifted His hand to heal. His heart was at peace. When His disciples abandoned Him, did He pout and go home? When Peter denied Him, did Jesus lose His temper? When the soldiers spit in His face, did He breathe fire in theirs? Far from it. He was at peace. He forgave them. He refused to be guided by vengeance.
He also refused to be guided by anything other than His high call. His heart was purposeful. Most lives aim at nothing in particular and achieve it. Jesus aimed at one goal – to save humanity from its sin. He could summarize His life with one sentence: “The Son of man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10).
Jesus was so focused on His task that he knew when to say, “My time has not yet come” (John 2:4) and when to say, “It is finished” (John 19:30). But he was not so focused on his goal that he was unpleasant.
Quite the contrary. How pleasant were His thoughts! Children couldn’t resist Jesus. He could find beauty in lilies, joy in worship, and possibilities in problems. He would spend days with multitudes of sick people and still feel sorry for them. He spent more than three decades wading through the muck and mire of our sin yet still saw enough beauty in us to die for our mistakes.
But the crowning attribute of Christ was this: His heart was spiritual. His thoughts reflected His intimate relationship with the Father. “I am in the Father and the Father is in Me,” he stated (John 14:11). His first recorded sermon begins with the words, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me” (Luke 4:18). He was “led by the Spirit” (Matthew 4:1) and “full of the Holy Spirit” (Luke 4:1). He returned from the desert “in the power of the Spirit” (Luke 4:14).
Jesus took his instructions from God. It was His habit to go to worship (Luke 4:16). It was His practice to memorize scripture (Luke 4:4). Luke says Jesus “often slipped away to be alone so He could pray” (Luke 5:16). His times of prayer guided Him. He once returned from prayer and announced it was time to move to another city (Mark 1:38). Another time of prayer resulted in the selection of the disciples (Luke 6:12-13). Jesus was led by an unseen hand: “The Son does whatever the Father does” (John 5:19). In the same chapter He stated, “I can do nothing alone. I judge only the way I am told” (John 5:30).
The Heart of Humanity
Our hearts seem so far from His. He is pure; we are greedy. He is peaceful; we are hassled. He is purposeful; we are distracted. He is pleasant; we are cranky. He is spiritual; we are earthbound. The distance between our hearts and His seems so immense. How could we ever hope to have the heart of Jesus?
Ready for a surprise? You already do. You already have the heart of Christ. Why are you looking at me that way? Would I kid you? If you are in Christ, you already have the heart of Christ.
One of the supreme yet unrealized promises of God is simply this: if you have given your life to Jesus, Jesus has given Himself to you. He has made your heart His home. It would be hard to say it more succinctly than Paul did: “Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).
He has moved in and unpacked His bags and is ready to change you “into his likeness from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18). Paul explained it with these words: “Strange as it seems, we Christians actually do have within us a portion of the very thoughts and mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16).
If I have the mind of Jesus, why do I still think so much like me?
Part of the answer is illustrated in a story about a lady who had a small house on the seashore of Ireland at the turn of the twentieth century. She was quite wealthy but also quite frugal.
The people were surprised, then, when she decided to be among the first to have electricity in her home.
Several weeks after the installation, a meter reader appeared at her door. He asked if her electricity was working well, and she assured him it was. “I’m wondering if you can explain something to me,” he said. “Your meter shows scarcely any usage. Are you using your power?”
“Certainly,” she answered. “Each evening when the sun sets, I turn on my lights just long enough to light my candles; then I turn them off.”
She’s tapped in to the power but doesn’t use it. Her house is connected but not altered. Don’t we make the same mistake? We, too – with our souls saved but our hearts unchanged – are connected but not altered. Trusting Christ for salvation but resisting transformation. We occasionally flip the switch, but most of the time we settle for shadows.
What would happen if we left the light on? What would happen if we not only flipped the switch but lived in the light? What changes would occur if we set about the task of dwelling in the radiance of Christ?
No doubt about it: God has ambitious plans for us. The same one who saved your soul longs to remake your heart. His plan is nothing short of a total transformation:
He decided from the outset to shape the lives of those who love Him along the same lines as the life of His Son. – Romans 8:29
You have begun to live the new life, in which you are being made new and are becoming like the One who made you. This new life brings you the true knowledge of God. –Colossians 3:10
God is willing to change us into the likeness of the Savior.
Shall we accept His offer?
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What about you? Are you willing to let God have His way in changing you from the inside out into the likeness of His Son, Jesus Christ? Come join the conversation on our blog! We would love to hear from you about gaining a heart like Jesus’! ~ Devotionals Daily-Are you a tabernacle?-click to view…
Disqualified. The mere mention of the word stirs up strong emotions. No matter the situation, the word smacks of shame, humiliation, and the worst kind of failure. The Scriptures call us to be like Christ, but they also offer warnings regarding disqualification. Some of us wrongly claim immunity from such attitudes; others of us believe we are beyond help. Paul reminds us that God’s faithfulness provides a way through the temptations that lead to disqualification.
My ministry on word press is spreading more everyday, but my local facebook, twitter, google+ and tumbler ratings are not as impressive. Why does it seem like the more people know you the less receptive they are about receiving the gospel from your vessel? The flags in this picture reflect how well outsiders have responded since the inception of “Fresh Oil in 2013. God has blessed me with invitations to travel to preach and teach what He and only He has infused me with and for that I am grateful. I am also grateful to all who have or are participating in drinking from this well know as “Fresh Oil…
My own call to the ministry was greatly influenced by the prophets of the Old Testament. At a significant crisis point in my life when I was struggling to decide a direction for my life, the Lord spoke to me through Isaiah 61 and said “This is who you are.” You remember the passage: “The Spirit of the LORD God is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the afflicted.”
After one has answered the call to salvation and received Christ, God calls him to other callings which are moral in mature and affect a believers attitude and conduct. He has called believers to “fellowship with Christ” [1Cor. 1:9], to “holiness” [1Thes. 4:7], to “liberty” [Gal. 5:13], to “peace” [1Cor. 7:15], and to“virtue” [2Pet. 1:3]. Believers are to “walk worthy” of the calling they have received [Eph. 4:1].
But there is still another calling that is even more personal than the moral callings. It is God’s call to the individual believer for a specific ministry. The Lord has been calling individuals for specific ministries for millennia. He called Abram out of Ur; Moses out of Egypt; and Aaron from among the Levites [Heb. 5:4]. God had certain duties He wanted them to perform. The Lord also called many others in the Bible for certain ministries. From Isaiah [Isa. 6:9] to the twelve disciples to Paul [1Tim. 1:11], the Lord has been calling men into His ministry.
A call from God into a ministry is a high and heavenly calling [Phil. 3:14] which, unfortunately, is taken lightly by some ministers today [if they are truly called]. Paul was called to be an “apostle,” “preacher,”and “teacher” of the Gentiles [Rom. 1:1; 1Tim. 1:1; etc.], and he never lost sight of his calling. He actively engaged in his ministry until the day his head was taken. Of course, the Lord doesn’t call men to be apostles today because no minister today has the “signs of an apostle” [2Cor. 12:12]. I know there are some frauds out there who claim to be apostles [Yes, even among Fundamental Baptists] but they are deceived. Just ask one of them for some signs and they usually shut up. But the Lord still calls men to other callings or vocations such as pastoring, evangelism, and teaching. He calls and provides these men to the Church for the “perfecting of the saints” [Eph. 4:11-12].
If I were to ask, “How does a person go into the ministry?” many Christians would answer, “The person needs to go to Bible college or seminary. After he has served in a ministry position for a while, he needs to be ordained.”
All right, I admit that it was a trick question. The question itself and that answer reflect a deeply entrenched, but erroneous, mentality among God’s people, which divides people into two categories: those who are “in the ministry” (“clergy”) and those who are not (“laity”). To the extent that we buy into that mindset, the body of Christ will be crippled. Just a few will be committed to doing the work of the ministry, while the majority sit back and let them do it. But the biblical picture is that those who are gifted as pastor-teachers and evangelists are to equip the saints (all believers) for the work of the ministry (Eph. 4:11-12).
So the correct answer to the question, “How does a person go into the ministry?” is, “He or she trusts in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.” At the moment a person trusts Christ as Savior, the Holy Spirit baptizes him (or her) into the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13). As members of His body, each one has a spiritual gift which he is to exercise for the building up of the body. It is proper and usually necessary for those who are gifted as pastor-teachers and evangelists to pursue formal training. It is also proper, according to Scripture (1 Tim. 5:17-18; 1 Cor. 9:14) to support those who devote themselves to these ministries. But it still is true that every believer has a spiritual gift that he or she is to use in ministry.
I’m talking primarily about a mindset where each of you sees yourself as entrusted by God with a vital ministry for which you will give an account. In the parable of the talents, it was the one-talent man who buried rather than invested his talent. Often in the body of Christ, it is the “one-talent” person who thinks, “I’m not gifted in an important way, so I can’t do much for the Lord.” That’s a wrong mentality that I want to challenge. The lesson I want to draw from our text is that…
All of God’s people should be ministry oriented.
Nehemiah 11 & 12 is another one of those portions of Scripture that you look at and think, “Why did God put this in His inspired Word?” From 11:3-12:26 there is a lengthy register of the names of the Jewish citizens. These two chapters include:
1. The families who repopulated Jerusalem (11:3-24)
A. Lay families in Jerusalem (11:3-9)
B. Priests in Jerusalem (11:10-14)
C. Levites, gatekeepers, and temple servants in Jerusalem (11:15-24)
2. The families who lived in the cities of Judah and Benjamin (11:25-36)
3. The priests and Levites of Zerubbabel’s return (12:1-9)
4. The high priests (12:10-11)
5. The priests and Levites after Zerubbabel and Jeshua (12:12-26).
6. The dedication of the wall (12:26-43)
7. The organization of temple support (12:44-47)
Derek Kidner (Ezra & Nehemiah, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries [IVP], p. 117) aptly says,
It is not bureaucratic pedantry that has preserved these names. The point is, once more, that these people and their chronicler are conscious of their roots and of their structure as God’s company. This is no rabble of refugees, settling down anywhere: they have the dignity of order and of known relationships; above all, of their calling to be “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Ex. 19:6).
These people had willing hearts to do whatever God wanted them to do, and each functioned in their own unique capacity. As we examine the section that lists the names of the Jewish citizens, four factors emerge that help us define what ministry involves. The section dealing with the dedication of the wall reveals four requirements for the person involved in ministry (= every believer).
What does ministry involve?
1. MINISTRY INVOLVES A WILLINGNESS TO LIVE WHERE GOD WANTS YOU TO LIVE.
Nehemiah got the wall built, but there were not many people living in the city (7:4). When the people returned from the exile, the walls were torn down and there was a lot of rubble from the previous destruction. It would have required a lot of work to clear the rubble and restore the city. As the former capital, the restored city would have been a major target for enemies to attack. At first there wasn’t much economic opportunity there. It was far easier to settle out in the country and farm your own plot of ground. So most of the people had been content to live in the surrounding villages scattered across the land.
But Nehemiah knew that if the city was to be strong and prosperous and if the worship in the temple was to thrive, the city had to be well populated with citizens who could defend it in case of attack. As 11:1 notes, the leaders lived in Jerusalem, but most of the people did not. So they cast lots to pick one out of ten who would move to Jerusalem. It seems that some who were not chosen volunteered to move, either in place of or in addition to those who drew the lot (11:2). The ones who stayed in the villages blessed those who were willing to move to Jerusalem.
Those who moved had to pull up roots where they were already established, give up their acreage in the country, and move into what quickly became a somewhat crowded city. Based on the number of men who moved to the city (3,044), there were about 10,000, conservatively estimated, who moved into the city, with a total population of 100,000 Jews in the land (Howard Vos, cited by James Boice, Nehemiah: Learning to Lead [Revell], p. 175). Although it was inconvenient and less desirable in some ways to move from the country to the city, these people were willing to live where God wanted them to live in order to serve His purpose.
One of the first considerations that any servant of God should think about is, “Where does God want me to live?” That should be determined in large measure by the potential for your ministry in that locale. Is there a solid Bible-teaching church where you can grow and serve? If not, is God calling you to help start such a church? That should be a primary factor in any move that you make.
I meet many Christians who say things like, “I moved to Flagstaff because it was a small town and not too crowded. But it’s becoming too big. I’m thinking of moving to (and they name some beautiful remote setting).” They haven’t given a minute’s thought to what sort of church may be there. Their main aim is to get away from people and the city.
Has it ever occurred to you that God pictures heaven as a city? It’s not pictured as a ranch or personal retreat, where you can live in seclusion and ignore others. It’s a city, the New Jerusalem! The reason Christians think about escaping from the city is that they don’t have a ministry mindset. If you’re thinking ministry, you’re thinking people. And while people live in the country and in suburbs, it is tragic that American evangelicals have, in large part, abandoned the cities. Rather than complaining about all the people in Flagstaff, we should view them as an opportunity for ministry!
2. MINISTRY INVOLVES SERVING IN THE SPHERE IN WHICH GOD CALLS YOU TO SERVE.
Chapter 11 lists the heads of families in Jerusalem (11:3-9); the priests (11:10-14); the Levites (11:15-18); the gatekeepers and temple servants (11:19-21); various officials appointed by the king of Persia (11:22-24); and, the people who lived outside the city (11:25-36). Each served in his respective sphere for the effective operation of the city and the nation. Those who lived outside of the city had to farm the land to provide food for those in the city. Each had a different role, but each role was vital to the entire cause.
In the body of Christ, God has gifted us in different ways, but every part is vital for the overall functioning and health of the body (1 Cor. 12:12-30). We should learn to coordinate and complement each other without friction or rivalry. Problems often develop in the body because the eye looks at everyone from the perspective of the eye only, and the hand views everything from the perspective of the hand. But the eye should value the hand and the hand should value the eye.
I once heard Carl George make the astute observation that the things in the church that people usually complain about reveal the person’s area of spiritual gift. For example, if a person says, “This isn’t a caring church,” she is probably gifted in mercy. The one who says, “This church doesn’t emphasize outreach enough” is probably an evangelist. The guy who says, “This church is a disorganized mess” is probably a gifted administrator.
The solution is not for the gifted person to sit around criticizing others for not doing what probably is not their area of gift, but rather to get involved in the areas that he thinks need fixing! The merciful person should help us all become more merciful by showing mercy. The evangelist should show us how to reach the lost. The administrator should help us get organized. God has made us all differently, and we only work as a body when we work in our sphere and affirm others in their sphere. Click to view- Servant or Selfish?
Can you see yourself as a church? What does your tabernacle look like to others?
Read Exodus 25:1-9
In the Creation account, we see the creation of the stars of the universe occur in five words – “He made the stars also.” Interestingly enough, 50 chapters are given over to explain the Tabernacle and its function. This shows us something of the importance of the Tabernacle.
The great lesson of the tabernacle is that God came down to dwell with His people. From Genesis to Deuteronomy we have accounts of God visiting men. These visits culminated in God’s dwelling with men in the Tabernacle or tent. John picks up the same thought and uses the same word “tabernacled,” to describe God dwelling among men in the person of Christ. John 1:14 says, “The Word became flesh and tabernacled [or pitched His tent] among us.” The Tabernacle served as God’s dwelling place for 500 years among the children of Israel. The Temple superseded it, during the reign of Solomon.
Please note that God could not dwell among His people while they were in Egypt. They must be redeemed (1) by blood and (2) by power. They must be free from the shackles and sin of Egypt. Before God could fellowship with them in this unique way they had to be redeemed and sanctified. [Express practical truth here]
It is important to consider the symbolism of the Tabernacle. One must consider also the physical features of the Tabernacle. When considering some of these we will no doubt consider Hebrews, especially chapters 9-10. The remainder of the lesson is taken up with the materials and the measurements of the Tabernacle. These can be considered at a future reading.
The Tabernacle: Its Immediate Purpose
Read: Exodus 25:1-9 and Exodus 29:39-46. The Word of God makes it quite plain that there is a twofold purpose for the divine conception and the human construction of the Tabernacle. There was an immediate and ultimate purpose. The immediate purpose was to wean the children of Israel away from the base idolatry of Egypt and set before them a pure and noble ideal of worship and witness. The natural tendency of these ancient pilgrims was downward and backward. We see a clear example of this with the worship of the golden calf in Exodus 32.
The worship of the unseen God was something new. All heathen religions had their visible gods. Thus, the immediate purpose of the Tabernacle was the provision of a place of worship. The Israelite came to the door of the Tabernacle to worship God. He could not see Him. He brought his offering – the visible expression of his reverence and awe.
Worship, in essence, is an inward spiritual exercise. Jesus said: “God is a Spirit: and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). True worship must originate in the Spirit. [Describe a “tripartite being”] Worship is not only to be in the spirit, but is also to be according to truth.
Consider the established relationship – Exodus 25:8 says, “Let them make me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them.” This was an entirely new relationship between God and man. God walked in the garden with Adam. He visited the patriarchs and communicated His will to them, but He never lived on earth until the Tabernacle was built among His redeemed and separated people. In a similar way we can never worship until God dwells in us by His Holy Spirit. See Ephesians 2:22. Finally, the Tabernacle was “the place of meeting” (See Exodus 29:42-43). God met with Moses, Aaron, and the people and revealed Himself to them.
A Place of Witness
Not only was the Tabernacle a “place of worship,” but it was also a “place of witness.” InNumbers 17:7-8 the “tent of meeting” is twice called “the tabernacle of witness.”
A Witness of the Presence of God
The Tabernacle witnessed to all of “the Presence of God.” Exodus 40:33-34 says, “Then a cloud covered the tent of the congregation, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. The cloud was thereafter the witness of the presence of God among His people.” Exodus 40:38 says, “The cloud of the Lord was upon the Tabernacle by day and fire was on it by night, in the sight of all Israel, throughout all their journeys.”
A Witness of the Purity of God
The Tabernacle witnessed to all of the “Purity of God.” The words “tabernacle” or “sanctuary” carry with them the thought of holiness. Over thirty times in Exodus alone the word holy occurs in relation to the Tabernacle. The plate of pure gold that was attached to the miter worn by Aaron was inscribed “Holiness to the Lord.” The court enclosed by the white linen fence was called “the holy place.” See Leviticus 6:16-26. The first compartment of the Tabernacle was called “the holy place.” See Ex. 26:33. The innermost sanctum was called “the most holy place.” See Ex. 26:34.
A Witness of the Protection of God
The Tabernacle witnessed to the “Protection of God.” While the pillar of cloud and fire stood over the Tabernacle, nothing could touch the people of God! At night they had light to see. During the day they had shade from the tropical sun. The Psalmist describes this protection perfectly in Psalm 121:5-7, “The Lord is they keeper: the Lord is they shade upon they right hand. The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil: He shall preserve they soul.”
A Witness of the Provision of God
Then finally, the Tabernacle witnessed to the “Provision of God.” God is really behind these symbols. All that the Tabernacle stood for was God’s promise of provision and protection for His people in the wilderness. We today can claim these same promises of provision and protection as we walk the pilgrim way towards heaven and home.
The Tabernacle: Its Ultimate Purpose
Read Hebrews 9:1-12. The ultimate purpose of the Tabernacle is to draw our attention to the Lord Jesus in whom all the types and shadows are fulfilled. The priests of old, as they carried out their duties, must have realized the imperfections and incompleteness of the ritual and sacrifices. Their exercises before the Lord were all so abstract and obscure; they must have felt that there was substance to the shadow somewhere. If this was their reasoning, they were right, for the ultimate purpose of the Tabernacle with its ceremonies was to prefigure Christ.
Let us consider the Tabernacle as it relates to the Person of Christ. “O fix our gaze on Thee, so wholly Lord on Thee, that with Thy beauty occupies.” The writer to the Hebrews, having touched upon the ritual of the Tabernacle, concludes His discourse by saying, “The Holy Spirit thus signifying, that the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest” (Heb. 9:8).
Hebrews 9:11-12 says, “But Christ being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building; Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us.” Christ is the perfect tabernacle. He is the fulfillment of all that the wilderness Tabernacle typified and prefigured.
The Structure of the Tabernacle
The gold speaks of our Lord’s deity. The gold was the purest that could be produced, and therefore the most precious metal known to man. The gold is described as beaten gold. It had endured the fiercest fire and had been subjected to the hammer of the refiner and sculptor. This is significant. Not only does it portray the purity of Christ’s deity and His absolute Godhead, it also portrays what Isaiah prophesied. “He was bruised for our iniquities,” in Isa. 53:5. “It pleased the Lord to bruise Him,” in Isa. 53:10.
The golden candlestick was made of pure, solid gold. Signifying the absolute perfection of His Deity. The weight of the Golden Candlestick was 90 talents (which is equal to 95 lbs). At present day prices it would cost approximately $260,000. Perhaps Peter had in mind the golden candlestick and He of whom it spoke, when he penned the significant words, “Unto you who believe He is precious.”
While the gold speaks of the Lord’s deity, the wood speaks of His humanity (think of The Holy Mount and Mount Calvary). There are several unique qualities of the shittim or acacia tree:
1. The wood was virtually indestructible and incorruptible. Think of the following: Herod, the temptation, Nazareth, the storm, and ultimately the death of the “Lord and Christ.” The Lord endured the hatred of men and the judgment of God. The wood being incorruptible typified the holy body of the Lord, which saw no corruption, even in death. [Describe] See also Psalm 16:10.
2. The acacia tree only grew in the wilderness in adverse circumstances. This reminds us of the words of Isaiah saying that the Messiah would be “as a root out of dry ground;” A tender plant, before Jehovah.
3. It was an unattractive tree outwardly – though very valuable. This reminds us of Isaiah’s comments, “He hath no form of comeliness; and when we shall see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him.” With Christ and the Tabernacle, the beauty was on the inside.
Bringing these two great thoughts of the gold and the wood together, we have a picture of the unique Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. John says it all when he writes: “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” The concept of God and man being in one body battles the intellect. Yet, uniquely and gloriously, Christ was perfect – absolute God and at the same time, the perfect man – Very God of very God. “Great is the mystery of godliness, God was manifest in the flesh,” (1 Tim 3:13).
Christ, The Perfect Priest
Christ is not only the perfect Tabernacle, but He is also the perfect Priest.
As Perfect Priest, He exercises:
– The ministry of introduction at the door of the outer court.
– The ministry of reconciliation at the brazen altar.
– The ministry of separation at the laver.
– The ministry of illumination at the golden candlestick.
– The ministry of satisfaction at the table of showbread.
– The ministry of intercession at the altar of incense.
– The ministry of communion at the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies.
In His death, He was the Priest and the Sacrifice, the One who offered and the Offering. So then, the immediate purpose of the Tabernacle was to provide a place of Worship and Witness. The ultimate purpose was that of prefiguring Christ in all the glory of His Person and the greatness of His work.
Before he became a lawyer and prolific supporter of prisoner rights, Daniel Manville spent three years and four months in the slammer for manslaughter. Manville continued to study while incarcerated and eventually earned two college degrees during his sentence. He became enamored with the legal profession and went to law school right after his parole.
He finally passed the bar exams in Michigan and Washington, DC after waiting many years to be approved by the respective boards. Afterwards, Manville worked tirelessly to improve the prison system and represented various inmates and prison guards in civil cases. Nowadays, Manville teaches law at Michigan State University, where he hopes the insights he shares with students inspire them to someday help improve the system as well.
9.The Millionaire Ex-Convict
Uchendi Nwani lived a very Jekyll/Hyde existence during his college years. On the surface, Nwani—raised by his stepfather, who was pastor in one of Nashville’s largest Baptist congregations—played the role of exemplary student to his family and friends. However, Nwani hid a very dark secret underneath that shining exterior: He was a drug dealer, and a very notorious one at that. His greed got the better of him on October 15, 1993, when police caught a million-dollar shipment of cocaine while he was in the middle of an exam during his senior year.
He later turned himself in and did six and a half months of hard labor at a federal boot camp before he returned to finish his studies. To make ends meet, he cut hair at the university salon while living in a halfway house. After he graduated, he opened his own barber shop and school which later became a huge success. Nwani now travels around the country to show that he is living proof that, no matter how low you sink, you really can turn your life around if you don’t give up.
8.The World’s Most Flexible Man
While doing time in prison can be a hardening experience for most people, Mukhtar Gusengajiev used his time there to soften himself up. Gusangajiev was just 17 years old when he fell in with the wrong crowd and was ultimately sentenced to three years for partaking in a fight. While serving his time, Gusengajiev dedicated himself wholeheartedly to practicing meditation and flexibility exercises. After he was released from prison, Gusengajiev did a series of odd jobs before finally ending up in Moscow, where he performed as an artist at a government-owned circus.
Gusengajiev got his big break in 1995 when he was noticed by Jean-Claude Van Damme, who invited him to perform for his movie. Although that movie was ultimately scrapped, that invitation did get Gusengajiev to Las Vegas, where he later became famous for his mind-bending feats of flexibility. Since then, Gusengajiev has performed in several prominent events around the world and taught countless people that discipline can help them achieve their goals in life.
7.Chess Taught Ex-Convict The Right Moves In Life
Chess aficionado Eugene Brown made a lot of questionable decisions early on in his life. Classified as a high-risk youth, Brown frequently mingled with the bad eggs in his hometown of Washington, DC, ending with his participate in a failed robbery attempt and subsequent incarceration in a New Jersey prison. During his stay, Brown met his future mentor, a man named Massey with whom he often played chess. It was during one such game that Brown realized the practical applications of chess to everyday life and how he had been making all the wrong moves up to that point.
After he left prison and went back to his hometown, Brown taught his grandson—who was also experiencing behavioral problems—to play chess, with very positive results. Before he knew it, he had established his own chess club, which became hugely successful teaching young people the right lessons in life. As for Brown, he later became a thriving real estate businessman, but has continued to mentor his young wards in the game of chess and life. A movie based on his story will come out on 2014 starring Cuban Gooding, Jr. in the lead role.
6.From Cocaine To Cuisine
Prior to cooking delicious five-star cuisine, celebrity chef Jeff Hendersoncooked something else entirely dangerous—cocaine. As a teenager, he had manufactured and sold the drug in his native Los Angeles. By the time he was 19, Henderson was earning as much as US $35,000 per week. He was later apprehended and imprisoned for 10 years after one of his men was caught carrying a big shipment. It was in prison that Henderson discovered he had a natural flair for cooking and constantly practiced his culinary skills while on kitchen duty.
After he was released early for good behavior, Henderson worked in some of LA’s top restaurants before he decided to go for broke in Las Vegas. After experiencing many rejections due to his felonious past, Henderson finally managed to land a job at Caesar’s Palace. It was only a matter of time before he finally started getting recognition and awards, including best Las Vegas Chef in 2001. All the fame and success hasn’t gotten to Henderson’s head and he has continued to share his experiences with at-risk youth to show what they can achieve in life with the right choices.
5.The Jewel Thief Who Became An Honorary Police Officer
Most parents would have second thoughts leaving their child alone with the hulking and heavily-tattooed Larry Lawton. After all, he used to be one of America’s most notorious jewel thieves. At one point, he was on top of the FBI’s most wanted list on the eastern seaboard. However, the Lawton of today has entirely focused himself on another mission—to use his own experience in educating and saving young people from a life of crime and imprisonment.
Lawton attributed this incredible turnaround to one moment during his twelve years at federal prison. One of his new-found friends committed suicide in his cell, and Lawton—who was in solitary confinement at the time—felt helpless to save him. After he got out, Lawton established his program, Lawton 911, to help at-risk youth from committing the same mistakes he did. Lawton’s sincere efforts have not gone unnoticed—he wasrecently designated an “honorary police officer” by the local police, the first such ex-convict in the US to receive the honor.
4.From Prison To Poetry
Reginald Dwayne Betts was a classic case of a genius gone awry. Although he was an especially gifted student in his youth, his sass made him difficult to teach, and it was only when teachers gave him books to read that Betts would calm down. For all his smarts, Betts made a pretty dumb error at the age of 16 when he and a friend robbed a man and made off with his car. He was caught, tried as an adult, and sentenced to nine years in prison, where he witnessed the horrors that juvenile prisoners experience mixed in with hardened adult criminals.
To keep his sanity, Betts read almost constantly. He became fixated on poetry when someone slipped him a copy of Dudley Randall’s The Black Poets. After he got out, Betts completed his studies and became an active voice in reforming the juvenile justice system. He also established a reading club for the local young men in his area, which he uses to engender in them a love for reading and poetry.
3.The Founder Of The French National Police
It may surprise some to know that, at one time, the predecessor to the modern French National Police was founded and headed by an ex-convict. Growing up in Napoleon-era France, Eugene-Francois Vidocq lived a very colorful life that saw him charged and jailed for a variety of crimes, such as theft and assuming false identities. After a while, Vidocq offered his assistance to the police and worked as a spy in the criminal underworld. He became so effective in apprehending criminals and solving complex cases that authorities soon created the Surete Brigade, which was later expanded nationwide by Napoleon and renamed Surete Nationale, to assist him.
Under Vidocq’s leadership, the police reduced crime rates significantly. During his stint, Vidocq employed surprisingly modern methods of investigation and even maintained a forensics laboratory, something few precincts did at the time. Although Vidocq would ultimately resign and clash with the police again—largely because he had formed his own private detective agency—such were his legendary exploits that he later became the basis for popular fictional detectives such as Edgar Allan Poe’s Dupin and Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes.
2.The Australian Danny Trejo
A lot of movie fans may have already heard about the criminal past life of perennial Hollywood bad guy and anti-hero Danny Trejo, but the Machetestar has a lesser-known Australian counterpart in the form of Mark “Chopper” Read. The Melbourne native grew up with a troubled childhood and started his criminal career by robbing drug dealers. He developed a reputation as a dangerous loose-cannon, accumulating tattoos all over his body and even having most of his ears cut off. He spent time in and out of prison for various offenses such as armed robbery and attempt to abduct a judge.
While in prison, Read wrote several crime novels based on his experiences which later became best-sellers. After his release, Read went on to become a notorious celebrity in the Australian scene, but it was a 2000 movie about his life starring Eric Bana that catapulted Read to worldwide fame. Even when he became clean after his prison time, Read never did let of his mad-dog image—shortly before his death from liver cancer in October 2013, he remarked that he didn’t care if he died as long as he didn’t bleed.
1.The Psychologist Who Received A Presidential Pardon
Noted forensic psychologist Paul Fauteck’s early life can be described as chaotic at best. A native of Wichita, Kansas, Fauteck was a mischievous boy in his youth. His schooling ended abruptly after he was discovered with the wallets of the other boys in the locker room. Afterwards, Fauteck continued to engage in questionable activities, including carrying a concealed weapon and smuggling his Mexican wife into the country. However, what really got Fauteck in trouble was when he joined a group of men who issued counterfeit checks. For that, he was sent to federal prison, where he frequently spent time in solitary confinement for bad behavior.
After a while Fauteck finally decided to go on the straight path, a decision galvanized by his father’s death just before he left prison. He later moved to Chicago, where he eventually ran an advertising agency while he finished his studies in psychology, having been told by his psychologist friend that he had a natural aptitude for helping people. In time, Fauteck became one of Chicago’s most respected psychotherapists. He also became a forensic psychologist for the local justice system, where he worked for more than a decade before he retired. The culmination of Fauteck’s long and arduous road to recovery came in 1992 when he received a pardon from President George H.W. Bush. Although retired at present, Fauteck continues to push for improved rehabilitation programs to give ex-convicts a better second start in life.
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We live in a day when there’s more Bible teaching than you could ever consume available through radio, television, and the Internet etc, why should it matter where and how you’re taking in God’s truth? What’s wrong with virtual, web-based congregations for the digital-age church? Why wouldn’t you want your iPod to be your worship leader, your IPAD tablet be your pastor, and your Facebook friends your fellowship and accountability?
The answer is simple: that’s not the way God designed it.
I thank God for the technology we have available to us. Yet there is no substitute for interacting with actual people. I appreciate that if you are house bound due to illness for example this technology can be a lifeline.
The New Testament repeatedly emphasizes the importance of the local church. It was the pattern of Paul’s ministry to establish local congregations in the cities where he preached the gospel. Hebrews 10:24-25 commands every believer to be a part of such a local body and reveals why this is necessary:
‘Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.’
I attended a memorial service in honor of a “Great Man Of God” yesterday and as I was being bathed in the word and soothed by the worship I looked beside me and all of a sudden I saw “A piece of Heaven” sitting next to me on that pew. My spirit was so enlighten. There are many reasons for my love of the church, but the main one is that “He” lives and we have His deposit within us that leads, comforts and reveals His love that has been shed abroad in our hearts.
Another reason from Scripture why I love the church is that it is like heaven on earth. I don’t mean that the church is perfect, or that it offers some kind of utopian escape from the realities of a sinful world. But I mean that the church is the one place where all that occurs in heaven can also occur on earth.
Christ instructed us to pray, “Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10). In what sphere is that most likely to occur? Is it likely to occur in the House of Parliament or House of Lords? Unlikely. In the Law courts? Unlikely. In the Universities? Unlikely. Town Hall – local council? Unlikely. Where is God’s will done on earth as it is in heaven? It is not that we don’t want it to happen in these places, we would dearly love for it to be so.
But surely the place it is most likely to happen is in the church.
Let me pose a question. If all the activities of heaven were to be brought to earth, what activities would dominate?
First of all, worship. In every biblical description where people of God had visions of heaven, the one thing that stands out most is worship. Praise, adoration, thanksgiving, and devotion are constantly being offered to God in heaven. We see it in Isaiah 6:1-3, and we can read more about it in Revelation 4:8-11. In other words, every creature in heaven is continually engaged in worship.
Worship is also one of the main activities of the church. In 1 Corinthians 14:26, Paul describes what took place in a typical meeting in the early church:
“When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.”
There he describes activities whose design is both to worship God and to edify the worshipers. And if an unbeliever came into the meeting, this was the desired response:
“The secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so he will fall on his face and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among you”. (v. 25)
A second activity of heaven is the adoration of Christ. Having finished His earthly work, Christ is now seated at the Father’s right in glory in pure exaltation (Acts 5:31). God Himself has exalted His Son, and given Him a name above every name (Phil. 2:9). Christ is “exalted above the heavens” (Heb. 7:27). And throughout all eternity we will be occupied exalting His name (Rev. 5:11-14). The church is the one sphere on earth where Christ’s name is truly and genuinely exalted.
A third activity that takes place in heaven is the maintenance of purity and holiness. Heaven is a holy place. Revelation 22:14-15 underscores the perfect purity of heaven’s inhabitants:
“Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter by the gates into the city. Outside are the dogs and the sorcerers and the immoral persons and the murderers and the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices lying.”
No one is admitted to heaven who is not holy (Heb. 12:14). The church on earth is charged with preserving purity within her own midst. Matthew 18:15-20 lays out a process of discipline by which the church is to keep herself pure, if necessary through putting people out of fellowship. It’s not necessary in this context to outline the whole discipline process, but take note of the promise Christ makes in verse 18:
“Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.”
Binding and loosing were rabbinical expressions that spoke of dealing with people’s guilt. An unrepentant person was said to be bound to his sin, and a repentant person was loosed. Here Jesus suggests that when a church on earth follows the proper procedure for discipline, they in effect mediate heaven’s verdict in the earthly church. Heaven is in agreement with their decision. When the church on earth puts out of fellowship an unrepentant member, the elders of that church are simply declaring what heaven has already said.
Church discipline is therefore an earthly expression of heaven’s holiness.
Another activity of heaven that occurs in the church is the fellowship of the saints. Our fellowship in the church on earth is a foretaste of the perfect communion we will enjoy in heaven. The church, then, is like an earthly expression of heaven. That might be hard for us to grasp or even except.
The church is the closest we can get to heaven on earth.
There’s a lot of talk these days about ‘user-friendly’ churches. Church growth experts counsel church leaders to try to provide an atmosphere in which ‘unchurched’ people can feel comfortable and at home. That strikes me a little odd, whilst I appreciate their approach we should want ‘unchurched’ people who come into our fellowship to leave saying to themselves, ‘I have never seen anything like this on earth!’ We want them to experience the love of God and yet dare I say be convicted of their need of Christ. When people come to our services or spend time with us it should be like they are experiencing a little bit of heaven.
I read an article about a large mega church in Texas where they invest tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of dollars each year in promoting seeker friendly services. The article reviewed their attempt and concluded that they were very successful in being seeker friendly, but that they failed dramatically in making disciples.
More than any other institution on earth, the church is where the truth of God is upheld. The church is called to proclaim the truth and hold it high. (1 Tim. 3:15). Employing the truth as a weapon, we are to smash the ideological fortresses of Satan’s lies (2 Cor. 10:3-5). And it is in the pursuit of that goal that the church will ultimately realize her greatest triumph.
What if the Church is an earthly expression of Heaven?
For I am my mother’s daughter, and the drums of Africa still beat in my heart. They will not let me rest while there is a single Negro boy or girl without a chance to prove his worth.
Mary McLeod Bethune
This painting represents the struggles and injustices of African Americans throughout slavery. The eyes in this painting shows the bondage, oppression and slayings that was given at the hands of their oppressors. The tears in this painting shows the inner hurts and pains of slavery and bloodshed. The eyes are the gateway to the soul and it magnifies what’s on the inside. God has given us a new hope which is in his Son Jesus Christ. Not only as a person and race, but also as a people united under God.
Laugh, and the world laughs with you. Cry, and you are probably reading the book of Jeremiah. This gloomy prophecy about the conquering and exile of Israel is enough to send anyone searching for some spiritual Prozac. Jeremiah is torn between two great loves. He loves God and serves God as a prophet with great passion. He loves the people of Israel and he is terribly sorry to see what they will have to go through. Questioning God, Jeremiah asks, “Is the Lord not in Zion? Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no Physician there?” – In other words: “God, aren’t you here anymore?”
It seems a good question for Jeremiah and for us as well when we look at a world at war, countries in crisis from disease, drought and oppression, religion that chooses legalism over compassion and dogma over discernment, and humanity lost in materialism and chronic self-absorption. It is not hard for us to see Iraq, AIDS, Darfur, church crisis and the latest celebrity obsession and say, “God, aren’t you here anymore?”
The Poet T.S. Eliot looked at the state of culture and society when he wrote “The Rock” in 1934 which said:
All our knowledge brings us nearer to our ignorance,
All our ignorance brings us nearer to death,
But nearness to death no nearer to God.
Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
T. S. Eliot seems to re-order Jeremiah’s question. The problem is not that God isn’t with us anymore – but that we are no longer near God. We have changed the life transforming power of Christianity to a set of rules and rituals. We have given up the wisdom of diplomacy and listening for a culture of war and force. We have traded having a knowing relationship with God and others for memorizing scripture, and relying on demographics.
Now, now – I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, – “wow – Aaron’s sure in a gloomy mood – he’s been reading that Jeremiah book a little too long! Maybe a nice psalm or some proverbs would cheer him up…” but have no fear. I have a great joy and hope today and so can you – because the New Testament reminds us we are blessed when we weep – for we shall be comforted. We need only look at history to see our future.
There is a Balm in Gilead
A balm is a healing ointment. Jeremiah is asking about the famous healing lotion made from the commiphora tree of Palestine, the resinous gum we know as Myrrh. (you know the Christmas story – Gold, Frankenstein and Myrrh…er…..Frankincense and myrrh…). Jeremiah is making a spiritual reference to the healing power of God. In the New Testament, baby Jesus will be given this balm to show healing does exist with him. That’s the good news.
Before 1865, African-American spirituals and slave-songs were sung throughout the south. These songs told the gospel and conveyed scripture to people who couldn’t read, and were used for everything from teaching English and counting to new arrivals, to keeping time in a threshing house, to communicating news about the underground railroad (“The Train is Bound for Glory”, and “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” were both underground railroad songs). One of the great old hymns to come out of that era was “There is a Balm in Gilead”. An oppressed people who, like Israel, had been captured, enslaved, and ill-used were answering Jeremiah’s question with the New Testament assurance that healing was here to stay. How can we find that assurance today? Let’s look at the song:
Sometimes I feel discouraged and think my work’s in vain,
But then the Holy Spirit revives my soul again.
There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole;
There is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin sick soul.
First – look to the Holy Spirit for revitalization and renewal. When we feel like the plans for peace we have offered bounced right off the clouds of heaven, or the life work we have given our talent toward has produced mediocre results at best – we need to pray for ourselves and the revival of our mission and our call. Every Christian is called of God. Whether you are called to be a mechanic, a teacher, or a listening friend working on an assembly line – you are called to be there (or to move). Don’t let the joy be leeched from you by those around you with bad attitudes or the determination to be self-absorbed pessimists. Allow God’s Holy Spirit to work in you and make the life you are living a worthy pursuit of hope and healing.
If you cannot preach like Peter, if you cannot pray like Paul,
You can tell the love of Jesus and say, “He died for all.”
There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole;
There is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin sick soul.
Second – People of faith need to stop relying on the messengers and start living the message. I know that sounds strange coming from a member of the clergy, but I find it a key issue for our times. Clergy have specific roles we fulfill, but it s not our call to be the community. That’s your job. We need to stop letting other people (leaders, theologians, popular authors) read for us, think for us, determine our beliefs and be the witness for us. We need to take responsibility in our relationship with God and learn to use resources as guides, not crutches. I heard at a ministry conference two years ago that the M.Div. will soon be the “minimum standard” for all clergy, but a doctorate is required for “adequate Christian leadership”. Why do you need a doctorate to live as Christ taught a bunch of fishermen, peasants and tax collectors? Christ didn’t come to make us a collection of sheep led by the educated elite. Christ came to make us a community, lead by a vibrant, personal relationship with our Creator. You don’t have to be Peter, M.Div or Dr. Paul (or even Dr. Phil – thank goodness!) – Be you, use your brain and the resources God places around you, and share the gospel where you are.
Don’t ever feel discouraged, for Jesus is your friend;
And if you lack for knowledge, He’ll never refuse to lend.
There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole;
There is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin sick soul.
Third – seek God’s wisdom and will. Don’t interpret point number two as meaning Christian leaders should not be college educated. There’s nothing wrong with education – it’s a worthy pursuit. However, our trust should not be in our own intelligence, experiences or credentials. Our trust should be in God’s wisdom, and God has placed that wisdom all over creation. Many Christians have cut off a plethora of God’s knowledge because it isn’t in the Bible or sold at the Christian Bookstore. There is a whole world of God out there – in the knowledge of farmers, through the power of indigenous cultures, in the arena of mathematics and physics (how better to understand how God made the world to turn?), in the mystical algorithm of language and music, and in the instinctual habits of nature. Stop discounting the steady stream of God in the world around you and start listening and learning all that God can have you know.
We need not to succumb to the gloom and doom of Jeremiah, because we know that healing of God is here. We need not reflect the cultural despair of T.S. Eliot because we know how to be near God. We can be people of Gilead with a life witness worth shining for the entire world to see. Then, the healing can begin.
Making Investments That Last
I heard about this man who bought a parrot. It was a beautiful parrot but he had a really bad mouth. He could swear for five minutes straight without repeating himself. The man was embarrassed because the bird was driving him crazy in front of people.
He tried to appeal to the bird by asking him to clean up his language. The parrot promised to change but nothing happened. In fact, his swearing increased in both volume and frequency.
It finally got to be too much, so the guy grabbed the bird by the throat and started shaking him and yelled, “Quit it!” But this just made the parrot angry and he swore more than ever.
Then the guy got really mad and locked him in a kitchen cabinet. That really aggravated the bird and he started clawing and scratching and making all kinds of racket. When the guy finally let him out, the parrot let loose with a stream of swear words that made the man blush.
At that point, the guy was so ticked off that he threw him into the freezer. For the first few seconds the bird squawked and screamed and thrashed around. And then there was silence.
At first the guy just waited, but then he started to wonder if the bird was hurt. After a couple minutes of not hearing anything, he was so worried that he opened the freezer door. The bird calmly climbed onto the man’s outstretched arm and said, “I’m really sorry about all the trouble I’ve been giving you. I make a solemn promise and vow to clean up my language from now on.”
The man was astounded. He couldn’t believe the transformation that had come over the parrot as a result of being in the freezer for only a couple minutes. The parrot then turned to the man and said, “I just have one question…what did the chicken do?”
This morning we’re going to learn about 4 vows, or promises, that the people of God made in Nehemiah 10. We’ll tackle these in Part 2 of the message a little later on. While God’s people weren’t thrown in the freezer, they did feel the sting of God’s spoken Word in chapters 8 and 9. After hearing what God wanted from them, and owning their own persistent rebellion, verse 38 of chapter 9 says that the people made a “binding agreement” to follow the Lord wholeheartedly. They put it in writing and sealed it. Putting a seal on a document is a serious matter because it meant taking a solemn oath before the Lord. Those who agreed to this covenant are listed in 10:1-27.
The law governing oaths and vows is found in Numbers 30:2: “When a man makes a vow to the Lord or takes an oath to obligate himself by a pledge, he must not break his word but must do everything he said.” Ecclesiastes 5:4 says, “When you make a vow to God, do not delay in fulfilling it. He has no pleasure in fools; fulfill your vow.” Since an oath involved the name and possible judgment of God, it was not to be taken lightly. Jesus also warned against using empty oaths in Matthew 5:33-37.
Examples of people making vows and covenants with God, only to break them later on. InExodus 24, the Israelites promise to do “everything the Lord has said.” But in less than six weeks, these same people construct a golden calf and bow down in worship before it. InMark 14:29, Peter promises Jesus, “Even if all fall away, I will not.” Hours later, Peter responds to a servant girl’s questions by swearing in verse 71: “He began to call down curses on himself, and he swore to them, ‘I don’t know this man you’re talking about.’”
That leads to a question. Are vows of any use today? I think they are for at least two reasons. First, they help us focus. When you make a vow, you are saying that you are going to do something specific. We can say, “Lord, I need to witness more” or we can say, “I’m going to invite my neighbor to the Christmas cantata and I’m going to give a book to him so that I can open up a conversation with him.”
Second, vows allow us to express our love. That’s why couples make vows during a marriage ceremony. They’re the language of love. Love is more than just a feeling, it’s a commitment or promise to be married until death do us part.
God is a covenant-keeping God, even when we don’t keep our end of the deal. You may have made some promises to God in the past that you haven’t kept. You may have broken some vows. If you have, you’re not alone. Jeremiah 31:32 says that God’s people broke the covenant on a regular basis. Verse 33 says that He will one day make a new covenant in which he says, “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.”
Jesus inaugurated this new covenant. Listen to what He said in Mark 14:24: “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.” In the Old Covenant, we are expected to live up to our end completely everything comes from us. In the New Covenant, nothing comes from us, and everything comes from Jesus. Because of His grace, we can surrender, submit and obey out of love, not fear.
While it may be helpful to make a vow or an oath to God today, remember this: We don’t succeed as Christians because we make promises to God, but because we believe the promises of God and act upon them.
Having said that, many of us never come to the point of getting serious in our walk with God simply because we never get specific with Him. We hear sermons and sense the Spirit’s tug at our heart, but until we decide to be completely committed to Him, we won’t be. As we celebrate communion this morning, I invite you to use this time to think through any decisions the Lord wants you to make. Perhaps you’ve been challenged or convicted by the Lord during this series. Listen to Him and decide right now to put into practice what you know you need to do. If you’ve broken some promises with Him or with others, confess it right now. 1 Corinthians 11:28 tells us to examine ourselves before we eat the bread and drink the cup of communion.
A tribute to the symbolic presence of dignity and strength. “One man can make a difference.” – Robert Kennedy
“The definition of success:
To laugh much; to win respect of intelligent persons and the affections of children; to earn the approbation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty
; to find the best in others; to give one’s self; to leave the world a little better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition.; to have played and laughed with enthusiasm, and sung with exultation; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived…
this is to have succeeded.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson
“Deep within us there is a flame that burns, and that flame is the spark of God. In some it burns brightly, in others it is barely distinguishable; but always it burns…and with love and acceptance the flame gets higher and brighter. We can help others to kindle this flame by seeing the good in them, even if they don’t see it themselves.”
Memories! They are powerful forces that often guide us in ways we do not often consider. Can you remember back to your first bike? Or those family vacations in the back of the car looking out the window at the night sky? Memories that send you back a few years and make you feel nostalgic, remembering a time that seems so long ago. I can see a certain picture or hear a particular song on the radio and instantly I am propelled back to a different age. Memories are powerful!
Yesterday I spent the day reflecting about Pastor Elisee Bastien who went on to his eternal reward. I have such fond memories of Pastor Elisee Bastien that came flooding back into my mind when I heard the news. May and I began to thank God for the time He allowed us to share with this wonderful man. We really experienced great growth from his marriage and ministry of compassion. This family didn’t find us insignificant within the corporate body of believers. This dynamic Man of God joined the list of great mentors and gifts that God had intended for May and I to glean from while positioning us within Kansas Ave. His lovely wife shared words of wisdom and life experience with May that I still reap the benefits of today and vice versa for May. Elisee Bastien would call out of the blue to encourage me when life was upon me to stay faithful in my investment of faith, he would reassure me that God will be faithful to return to me a eternal reward should I stay my course.
Pastor Elisee Bastien became such an integral part of our lives and made a huge impact on me as I tried to find comfort in knowing that I still had ministry responsibilities . He was a godly man of wisdom and integrity but most of all he truly cared for people. I remember when May and I finally were ready to move into our little humble sanctuary in Hemet, Pastor Bastien phoned and asked when were we going to invite him and his wife over for fellowship. I responded soon. I could hear that bright smile of eloquence through the phone and wisdom said through that smile maybe this coming weekend, I immediately agreed. I felt somewhat inadequate due to our having been to their lovely home for fellowship. WOW!!! how his wife, my sister in Christ can cook..But the food wasn’t the only thing that was good. This Man of God knew how to empower your spirit man with grace and love. We spoke about everything openly without having a condemning spirit. He explained to me that my only job in this life is to live it unto God by His design laid out in the Bible. When they graced us with visitation to our home they came with a card and a beautiful plant that we still have today. Your lovely wife inspired May all the more to continue her pursuits in higher learning because she went on to blaze a trial of how it looks to work and be a wife and a student and mother. We are so blessed to be within a ministry that empowers and lives unto loving it’s congregation. Everything in our home has significant value “Uncle David James” blessed us with needed articles to start life over, He is resting in the Lord today, Paul Arceneaux has a place in this home that has forged great memories. We are seeing that leaving a legacy of honor is to be of the highest pursuits in life due to being planted by God at this great church.
He had a hand in so many peoples ministries! I don’t think he realized what an impact he had on people! Love him so much! – Aaron Pratt
He was so kind to me… always had such a sweet spirit to him. I always think back to the many conversations with him when he not only was the pastor but another father figure to so many of us.- May Pratt
Flooded by many great memories. So thankful for the influence Pastor Bastien and family had on my life. Praying for the family during this time. – Loved ones of the church…
He was a great Pastor, leader and great man of God. he will always hold a special place in my heart. I learned a lot through his ministry and teachings and also learned through his kind, generous, and loving spirit. I will miss him greatly. –Aaron Pratt
I have never had a Pastor like Pastor Bastien, He was a Titan in my eyes. He could teach, preach, and counsel. He was the same all the time. He was genuine, down to earth, and just plain real. A high standard for sure. – Maymie Pratt
As is evident by the many tributes and memories of this great man, it caused me to think about the legacy and memories each of us leave as we go through life. What will we be remembered for? What impact are we making in the lives of those around us? Are we having a positive or negative impact on others?
I pray that each of us could take a moment on this day in the year of 2015 and look back over our lives to see the legacy we are leaving behind. I trust we can look at the example of those that have gone on before us and determine to leave such a legacy that it will last for years to come.
Thank you Pastor Bastien for being the “Man” God called you to be. Thank you for impacting so many lives. Thank you for running the race the way you did.
Our prayers are with the family during this time. You were blessed to have this great man in your life.
PS. If Pastor Bastien impacted your life or you have a special memory of him you would like to share, please leave us a comment below. Thanks!
The price one pays for pursuing any profession, or calling, is an intimate knowledge of its ugly side.
—James Baldwin, Afro-American novelist and essayist
It is not light that we need, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake.
The following is a scene from a famous movie scene, can you name the movie? “I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am.” Comes from the classic film On the Waterfront (1954) when Terry Malloy, the character played by Marlon Brando, complains to his brother over a fight he was asked to throw so the local union boss played by Lee J. Cobb could win more money. Terry had been a promising young boxer but that night ended his dream and set the course for his whole life. Nobody wants to be a nobody. We all want to feel that our lives matter, that we are important to someone, that we can make a difference. In Jesus, God expresses ultimate love and concern for us, and God’s affirmation makes life worth living. Nobody is a nobody! One way of summarizing and emphasizing the powerful, life-changing meaning and message of Jesus is just this – Nobody is a nobody! In this well-known and powerful passage in John 3 we see and hear Jesus unpacking His own selfunderstanding of what it meant and means for Jesus to be human and live among us and for us. Jesus tells us very, very clearly that His purpose, was not – repeat – was not, to scare us into compliance with the divine will. Instead, Jesus describes His coming in which all are offered the joy, the wonder, the hope within which God wants all Creation to dwell. Jesus came to say and show that God does not want us to continue to hurt each other and the rest of creation, and that when we turn from our own ways, abundant life will overflow for us. God’s goal in the coming of Jesus was not to denounce and condemn the world, not to repeat the Flood, something God promised never to repeat. God’s goal is all about God loving, and saving the world. Amidst all our imperfections and sin, even among the best of us, Jesus still speaks of God as loving the world, not hating or destroying. God came in the flesh to save us not by taking us out of our flesh, but by teaching us to live in our flesh. God came in the flesh not to make us other than human, but to teach us how to be human – bearing in our living the image of God, the image in which we are made.
The God we meet in Jesus Christ is not the disinterested, dispassionate god of Greek speculation. The God we meet in Jesus is a lover, the divine lover. This God, this Jesus-God is a passionate, committed, faithful, devoted, tireless, reckless, shameless, wanton lover, who loves and accepts even the unlovely. God’s love is freely offered and as it is freely accepted, by people like you and I, this love, this God, given and received love, starts to change us, bringing about in us, God’s new birth. Being born again, being born from above, is not something we do for ourselves. Instead, being born anew, born from above, being born again, is all about what God brings about in us as we receive God’s love, we are changed by God’s Love and forgiveness. This rebirth is not only relevant to the afterlife, it is all about changing us and bringing us hope and describing how we are to live in this life.
In some comments on this meeting between Jesus and Nicodemus, preacher and author, Will Willimon, wrote: “There are some churches, I hope not ours, that seem to be able to be with Jesus only in the light, never in the night. I tell you, sometimes, there is nothing worse than that bright, “happy church.” Do you know what I’m talking about? Some churches are just so happy, so full of praise and celebration, that they make you feel guilty if you happen to come in with a bit of shadow in your soul. To be someone who is going through a time of darkness or pain and to enter a “happy church” – with grinning clergy, and smiling ushers, and everything so positive, so upbeat, glorious, and grand – can be terribly depressing!” Yes, I think I understand what he is describing… Sure, we never want church to be boring, there is no merit in lack of beauty, joy, or interest, but neither is church only for those who have it all together. Church is not a self-help club with a special divine additive. Church is community, the community of the loved sinners, the redeemed broken ones. As such we are all involved encountering and sharing in the hard, difficult things that people and families endure. Church includes but is not limited to the cheery prospect of, “Welcome to MOES” or “Come inside the Disney Store”. Church is the community of Jesus Christ accepting each other especially in the reality of our need and pain! Church is the community of Jesus Christ stepping outside of our own needs and wishes to stand with and for others who need our support. Church is the community of Jesus Christ together praying, working, serving the least and the lost and the last! I thought the following story was fascinating, and as a story might free us to live more fully and openly: “A few years ago, a young man was discovered hiding in a large church. A maintenance worker discovered him one day. He had been lurking in the church, living in the attic, spending his day in darkness, only venturing forth during the night to prowl about the church, feeding on leftovers from church suppers, moving about in the building only at night, listening in on the daily activities of the congregation. From his secret hideaway in the attic he heard the counseling in the pastor’s office, the discussion at Bible Study, the cries from the nursery, the motions moved and seconded at the Church Board meeting, he even heard the things members were “whispering” about in the hallway!” Do you know anyone who is hiding in this church? Are you or is someone you know, hiding here amongst us? Do you know someone who is present, but not really, someone on the boundary, at the edge? Maybe some who is uninvolved, under-involved, even overinvolved, fearful that if people really knew them that they would be excluded? Someone whose pain is so great that they long to be accepted but fear being encountered? Do you feel like you are a nobody? Do you know someone else who believes or is tempted to imagine that they are a nobody? And if so, what would it take for you, what would it take for that person to come out of the dark into the light? It is my aim, to live as well as possible and to let my struggles be the proving ground that shows how well the God, and Son and Holy Spirit can help us overcome this nobody existence. You know how I know He/they are real? because I am still standing from having this emotion swell up in my inner existence from time to time and I call His name and He heals, strengthens and embraces me with His loving presence.
“I do not consecrate myself to be a missionary or a preacher. I consecrate myself to God to do His will where I am, be it in school, office, or kitchen, or wherever He may, in His wisdom, send me.” ― Watchman Nee, The Normal Christian Life
As I sit here, I see the irony of my situation. I’m supposed to be writing about how it can be difficult for us to control our thoughts, but my mind is distracted and unwilling to cooperate. I just had breakfast, and the act of digesting carbs is contributing to a foggy mind. And if I’m honest, I’m probably a little anxious about doing a good job, so that emotion is lurking somewhere in the back of my mind, regularly threatening to jump to the forefront. A group of coworkers is chatting down the hall, so I put on my headphones and turn up the volume of the rhythmic background music. Then—oh, hey, look, I just got an email…
Managing our concentration can be challenging, not only on the task level but on a spiritual level as well. It can be difficult to maintain our focus on God and His Word when there are so many other people and circumstances vying for our attention.
You might expect that, as Christians, our default setting would be tuned to “Jesus.” But it’s not that simple. Life shows up and our thoughts get cloudy from all the clamoring from the outside world. “Some were called and some were sent, and some just got up and went!” A hard-nosed, angry woman, a member of a local congregation whose long-term pastor had run off the tracks and was forcibly removed from ordained ministry, used those old lines to spout her opinion.
“… Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’” John 21:15a (NIV)
Do you ever wish God would appear in the flesh and tell you exactly what He wants you to do in a situation? I do.
Sometimes I wish He’d hand me a piece of paper with clear, step-by-step instructions written out and personalized for my specific circumstance. And then He’d stay for a little Q&A session where He’d tenderly answer all my questions with deep reassurances.
I guess some people would say that demonstrates my lack of faith. And maybe it does. Or maybe my heart just feels incredibly vulnerable with some decisions I have to make, and I desperately want to get it right.
I love the Lord so much.
I want to honor Him with my life.
But sometimes I feel Him stirring me to do something that’s terrifyingly opposite of what I want to do. Left to my own choosing, I want to take the safe, certain and comfortable route. And then Scriptures march right up to my limited perspective and challenge me to walk a path I’d never choose on my own.
This question forces my eyes to glance toward that path: More than anything else, do you want to follow God and live His message?
Or even more deeply: Do you love Jesus and want Him more than anything else?
It’s this question the resurrected Jesus asked Peter at a crucial crossroads in Peter’s life. And gracious, do I ever relate to Peter.
He’d been following Jesus for years.
Then things got hard, just like Jesus told the disciples they would. Jesus gave them the clear hope to hold onto:
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world,” (John 16:33, NIV).
But isn’t it hard when what you see with your physical eyes seems contrary to what you believe in your heart?
Problems beg us to forget God’s promises.
Peter denied Jesus because he feared the cost of following Him.
Then circumstances got really hard. Jesus was crucified and Peter took his eyes off that hard path of continuing in ministry. He went back to what felt safe, certain and comfortable … fishing.
Then Peter got one of those visits from Jesus I wish I could have. Resurrected Jesus appeared in the flesh and could not have made it any clearer what He wanted Peter to ponder. With one question, He ruined Peter’s justifications to stay safe.
“… Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’” (John 21:15).
Do you love me more than these?
We’ve all got our own “these.”
They are anything that makes us look away from the less chosen path of following God with everything we’ve got.
So, back to my decision.
Today, I am quitting ministry because of the difficulties I have encountered within the many bodies I have tried to gain alignment with. The lack of urgency I have viewed from those who are titled, LEADERS. The lack of buy-in from the people who desire to control you as a vessel because they see your financial needs as it relates to ministry and life. The attitude I witness when it comes to growth of God’s kingdom versus the desire for the individual agenda’s to grow no matter how many people have to suffer. I can’t perform ministry under this type of leadership. Suddenly I feel enormous pressure that I am not smart enough, capable enough or resourced enough to lead this ministry nor pursue my vision to be the hands of re-entry in Riverside County.
Everything seems bigger, which made me feel like everything was scarier.
The staffing needs.
The one foot in one foot out mask.
Gathering up my fears, I presented a strong case to the Lord to give this assignment to someone else and let me quietly slip away. I set my sights on what felt more comfortable and safe and certain.
But Jesus’ question ruined all my quitting plans: “Do you love me more than these … more than your fears … more than your desire to do something easier and less scary?”
So, here I stand, a man with trembling hands wearing boots dusty from that uncommon path. I stand and proclaim, “Yes, Jesus, I love You more than these. I will live out the charge presented in Your Holy Word to, “Proclaim the message; persist in it whether convenient or not; rebuke, correct, and encourage with great patience and teaching,” (2 Timothy 4:2,). I am going to take a lengthily sabbatical to get in touch with my inner man and to get clear directions from God on how to finish what He began in me 3.5 years ago with this ministry called Second Chance Alliance and the church. While in this posture, I will be looking at these issues as well.
What lies are you tempted to believe in ministry?”
Over the past several months, I’ve asked this question to dozens of pastors and Christian leaders. It’s a question that often goes unasked in religious leadership circles, but the resulting conversations have been honest, vulnerable, and revealing. Here are some of the common answers:
I have a small church, which makes me a bad and ineffective pastor.
My addiction has no effect on my congregation.
More speaking opportunities at ministry conferences mean I’m a legitimate pastor.
The size of our buildings, budget, and attendance are the only viable way ministry success can be measured.
If I pastor better, God will love me more.
I can please everyone and be faithful to my calling.
If I preach better, my church will grow.
My physical health and well-being are not spiritual matters.
I don’t need help.
I don’t have time to rest.
God’s grace is big, but it’s not big enough to cover what I’ve done.
My personal identity is directly related to my ministry performance.
These answers reveal the dark crawlspaces of the psyche of a pastor. They’re not surprising to me, though — in almost a dozen years of vocational ministry, I’ve been tempted to believe these things, too.
Why do we believe them? Because in our time, the definition of ministry “success” has been professionalized to the point that it mirrors mainstream American culture’s definition of success. We celebrate and perpetuate metrics of success borrowed from the pages of business management textbooks. And these metrics of success are chewing up and spitting out pastors at an alarming rate.
The pastoral vocation today is a sea of dead bodies. Consider these stats, which I’ve pulled from various surveys:
1,500 pastors leave the ministry for good each month, citing burnout or contention in their churches.
80 percent of pastors (and 84 percent of pastors’ spouses) are discouraged in their roles.
Almost half of all pastors have seriously considered leaving ministry for good in the past three months.
For every 20 pastors who go into ministry, only one retires from the ministry.
50 percent of pastors say they are unable to meet the demands of their job and are so discouraged that they would leave the ministry if they could, but have no other way of making a living.
When I share these statistics with pastors, they slowly, knowingly nod their heads.
Yet when I share these statistics with non-clergy, they are shocked: “How can this be? I had no idea!” A widespread Super Pastor mentality has led us to believe that pastors never struggle, never doubt, never get discouraged, and never wrestle with feelings of failure — just because they’re pastors.
But pastors are people, too. Ministry is a significant calling and it involves broken, sinful, and scandalously ordinary people God calls and uses to shepherd souls. These broken ordinaries are called pastors. Live well My Beloved and pray for my strength to return and pray for me to be very intimate and sensitive to His voice in this time of seeking His plans for my life. Thanks for the time you took to read anything on this website……
7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
“The reason why many are still troubled, still seeking, still making little forward progress is because they haven’t yet come to the end of themselves. We’re still trying to give orders, and interfering with God’s work within us. ”
― A.W. Tozer
Life shows up in many facets and arrays. Life deals us some very challenging dilemmas to fight through, but God knows all about them. He has assured me that everything I trust into His hands will be for my good if I would just repent, surrender and remember what He has brought me through as an addict , a fornicator,a greedy person and yes a prideful individual. God has seen me through death and my sinful anxiety and dark thoughts with this very scripture always burning within my spirit. I quoted this scripture behind a many prison walls and laying face up in a hospital bed not knowing if tomorrow was coming to claim my life or give me another chance to serve Him with honor.
In the annals of US advertising history, one of the most efficient slogans ever is the California milk producers’ two-word question, “Got milk?” With that phrase, the group captured almost everyone’s attention. In surveys, the slogan was recognized by more than 90 percent of the people polled.
If “Got milk?” is so good at reminding people to drink “cow juice,” perhaps we can create some two-word slogans to remind ourselves to live more godly lives. Let’s turn to James 4 and try it. This passage gives four specific guidelines.
1. Give in! Verse 7 tells us to submit to God. Our sovereign God loves us, so why not let Him run the show? Submission helps us resist the devil. 2. Get close! Verse 8 reminds us of the value of drawing near to God. It’s up to us to close the gap between us and God. 3. Clean up!Verse 8 also reminds us to make sure our hearts are clean. That happens through confessing our sins to God. 4. Get down! James says we need to be humble before God (v.10). That includes viewing our sin as something to weep over.
Give in! Get close! Clean up! Get down! These pairs of words may not look as good on a T-shirt as “Got milk?” But they sure will look good on us.
Lord, help me live a godly life Of faith and love and purity So those who watch my life will see Reflections of Your work in me. —Sper