Love flows out of our deep gratitude for His love for us, rather than out of our likes and dislikes. “We love Him because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Our fear and love for God enable us to walk willingly in obedience to God’s law.
How do you do a task in the strength of another? How do you exert your will to do something in such a way that you are relying on the will of another to make it happen?
Here are some passages from the Bible that press this question on us:
- “By the Spirit put to death the deeds of the body” (Romans 8:13). So we are to do the sin-killing, but we are to do it by the Spirit. How?
- “Work out your own salvation . . . for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12–13). We are to work. But the willing and the working is God’s willing and God’s work. How do we experience that?
- “I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me” (1 Corinthians 15:10). Paul did work hard. But his effort was in some way not his. How did he do that?
- “I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me” (Colossians 1:29). We toil. We struggle. We expend effort and energy. But there is a way to do it so that it is God’s energy and God’s doing. How do we do that?
- “Whoever serves, let him serve as one who serves by the strength that God supplies” (1 Peter 4:11). We serve. We exert strength. But there is a way that our serving is the effect of God’s gracious power. What is that way?
I have not been able to improve on these five steps summed up in the acronym, A.P.T.A.T. (rhymes with Cap That).
In 1984 J.I. Packer published Keep in Step with the Spirit, and gave the very same steps on pages 125–126. He calls it “Augustinian holiness teaching.” It calls for “intense activity” but this activity “is not in the least self-reliant in spirit.” Instead, he says, “It follows this four-stage sequence”:
First, as one who wants to do all the good you can, you observe what tasks, opportunities, and responsibilities face you. Second, you pray for help in these, acknowledging that without Christ you can do nothing—nothing fruitful, that is (John 15:5). Third, you go to work with a good will and a high heart, expecting to be helped as you asked to be. Fourth, you thank God for help given, ask pardon for your own failures en route, and request more help for the next task. Augustinian holiness is hard working holiness, based on endless repetitions of this sequence.
My five steps omit his first one (“note what tasks are in front of you”). I divide his second step into two: A. Admit (his word, “acknowledge”) that you can do nothing. P. Pray for God’s help for the task at hand. Then I break his third step into two. He says “expect to get the help you asked for.” Then with that expectation, “go to work with a good will.” I say, T. Trust a particular promise of God’s help. Then, in that faith, Act (A). Finally, we both say, T. Thank God for the help received.
Trust God’s Promises
I think the middle T is all important. Trust a promise. This is the step I think is missing in most Christians’ attempt to live the Christian life. It is certainly my most common mistake.
Most of us face a difficult task and remember to say, “Help me, God. I need you.” But then we move straight from P to A — Pray to Act. We pray and then we act. But this robs us of a very powerful step.
After we pray for God’s help, we should remind ourselves of a specific promise that God has made. And fix our minds on it. And put our faith in it. And say to God: “I believe you, help my unbelief. Increase my faith in this promise. I’m trusting you, Lord, here I go.” Then act.
Paul says we “walk by faith” (2 Corinthians 5:7) and “live by faith” (Galatians 2:20). But for most of us this remains vague. Hour by hour how do we do this? We do it by reminding ourselves of specific, concrete promises that God has made and Jesus has bought with his blood (2 Corinthians 1:20). Then we don’t just pray for help hour by hour, we trust those specific promises hour by hour.
When Peter says, “Let him who serves serve in the strength that God supplies,” we do this not only by praying for that supply, but by trusting in the promise of the supply in specific situations. Paul says that God “supplies the Spirit to you by hearing with faith” (Galatians 3:5). That is, we hear a promise and we believe it for a particular need, and the Holy Spirit comes to help us through that believed promise.
10 Promises to Memorize
So here is my suggestion for how to do this. Memorize a few promises that are so universally applicable they will serve you in almost every situation where you face a task to be done “in the strength that God supplies.” Then as those tasks come, Admit you can’t do that on your own. Pray for the help you need. Then call to mind one of your memorized promises, and trust it — put your faith in it. Thenact — believing that God is acting in your acting! Finally, when you are done,thank him.
Here are ten such promises to help you get started. Of these, the one I have used most often is 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.” (Isaiah 41:10)
- “My God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:19)
- “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.” (2 Corinthians 9:8)
- “‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?’” (Hebrews 13:5–6)
- “The Lᴏʀᴅ God is a sun and shield; the Lᴏʀᴅ bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.” (Psalms 84:11)
- “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32)
- “Surely goodness and mercy shall pursue me all the days of my life.” (Psalms 23:6)
- “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7)
- “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)
- “Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.” (Psalms 50:15)
Never cease to ponder Paul’s words: “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” (Galatians 2:20). Not I. Yet I. By faith.
Like us on https://www.facebook.com/ChesedAP
“All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake up in the day to find it was vanity, but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible.”
― T.E. Lawrence,
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.
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.”
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.”
click here to view columbian-exposition….
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If any one loves the world, love for the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world passes away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides for ever.
The text begins with a command—it’s the only command in the text and therefore probably the main point. Verse 15a: “Do not love the world or the things in the world.” Everything else in the text is an argument, or incentive, for why we should not love the world.
Love for the World Pushes Out Love for the Father
The first incentive John gives is that “if any one loves the world, love for the Father is not in him” (verse 15b). In other words the reason you shouldn’t love the world is that you can’t love the world and God at the same time. Love for the world pushes out love for God, and love for God pushes out love for the world.
As Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Matthew 6:24). So don’t love the world, because that would put you in the class with the God-haters whether you think you are or not. “If any one loves the world, love for the Father is not in him.” That’s the first reason John gives not to love the world.
Then in verse 16 comes the support and explanation of that first argument. The reason love for the world pushes out love for God is that “all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, is not of the Father but is of the world.” Leave out those three phrases in the middle of verse 16 and it would read like this: The reason love for the world excludes love for God is that all that is in the world is not of God. In other words it’s just empty talk to say that you love God if you love what is not of God.
John could have rested his case at the end of verse 16. Don’t love the world because love for the world can’t coexist with love for God. But he doesn’t rest his case here. He adds two more arguments—two more incentives not to love the world.
The World Is Passing Away and Its Lusts
First, in verse 17a he says, “And the world passes away, and the lust of it.” Nobody buys stock in a company that is sure to go bankrupt. Nobody sets up house in a sinking ship. No reasonable person would lay up treasure where moth and rust destroy and thieves break in and steal, would they? The world is passing away! To set your heart on it is only asking for heartache and misery in the end.
That’s not all: not only is the world passing away, but also the lusts of it. If you share the desires of the world, you will pass away. You will not only lose your treasure. You will lose your life. If you love the world, it will pass away and take you with it. “The world passes away and the lust of it.”
If You Do the Will of the Father, You Will Live Forever
Second, in verse 17b John says, “But he who does the will of God abides for ever.” The opposite of loving the world is not only loving the Father (verse 15), but also doing the will of the Father (verse 17). And that connection is not hard to understand. Jesus said, “If you love me you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). John said in 1 John 5:3, “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments.” So loving the Father in verse 15 and doing the will of God in verse 17 are not really separate things.
If you love God, you will love what he wills. It is empty talk to say I love God but I don’t love what God loves. So John is saying in verse 17, “If you love the world, you will perish with the world, but if you don’t love the world but love God, you will do his will and live with him for ever.”
One Commandment and Three Arguments
In summary, then, the text contains one commandment and three arguments, or incentives. The commandment is, “Don’t love the world or the things in the world.” The first incentive is that if you love the world, you don’t love God. The second incentive is that if you love the world, you will perish with the world. And the third incentive is that if you love God instead of the world, you will live with God forever.
Let’s meditate for a few moments on these final two incentives and especially how they relate to saving faith.
Saving Faith and Love for God
We have been well taught that we are saved by FAITH! “BELIEVE on the Lord Jesus and you will be saved!” (Acts 16:31). But we have not been as well taught what saving faith is. For example, how often do we discuss the relationship between trusting Christ and loving Christ. Can you trust him savingly and not love him? Evidently John doesn’t think so, because the issue in this text is whether you love God or love the world, and the result is whether you die with the world or have eternal life with God. But John knows that eternal life comes through faith.
John says in 5:13, “I write this to you who BELIEVE in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.” So eternal life does depend on believing in the Christ. But what is this “believing”? If we are courteous, and let John speak for himself, his letter fills out what he means. When he says that not loving the world but loving God so much that we do his will is what leads to eternal life, we learn that saving faith and love for God are inseparable. Both are the path to eternal life because they are the same path.
In John 5:42–44 Jesus confronts the Jewish leaders who do not believe on him with these words, “I know that you have not the love of God within you. I have come in my Father’s name and you do not receive me . . . How can you believe, who receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?” In other words the reason they do not receive or believe on Jesus is that they do not love God. They love the world—the glory of men—not the glory of God. So Jesus taught his apostles that where there is no love for God, there can be no saving faith. (See John 3:18–19.)
One Way of Salvation
That’s why John, when he comes to write his letter, can take “love for God” and “trust in Christ”, and treat them as one way of salvation. Look how he does this in 5:3–4. “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.” In other words it is our love for God that overcomes the obstacles of disobedience and makes the commandments of God a joy rather than a burden. “Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her” (Genesis 29:20). Love for God makes his service a joy and overcomes the forces of disobedience.
But then look at verse 4. Here he says the same thing but speaks of faith instead of love. “For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that overcomes the world, our faith.” It is FAITH that overcomes the world—it is faith that conquers disobedience and renders the commandments of God a joy rather than a burden.
What shall we say, then, concerning love for God and faith in Christ? The path of victory that overcomes the world and leads to eternal life is the one path of faith toward Christ and love for God. Saving faith is part of love for God and love for God is part of saving faith. There are not two ways to heaven. There is one narrow way—the way of faith which loves God and the way of love which trusts God.
Paul and James in Agreement
This is why not only John but also Paul and James hold out the promises of life only to those who love God:
- Romans 8:28, “All things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to his purpose.”
- 1 Corinthians 2:9, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived . . . God has prepared for those who love him.”
- 1 Corinthians 16:22, “If any one has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed!”
- James 2:5, “Has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which he has promised to those who love him?” (See 2 Timothy 4:8; James 1:12.)
So you can see what John is trying to do for us in verse 17 of our text. He is trying to show us that loving the Father and freeing ourselves from the love of the world is not optional. It is not icing on the cake of saving faith. It is a matter of eternal life and eternal death. It is number one on life’s agenda. Nothing in all the world is more important than experiencing love for God in your heart. This is the first and great commandment, Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Matthew 22:36–40).
Two Possibilities If You Don’t Feel Much Love for God
Perhaps even as I say this, some of you are saying, “I don’t feel very much love for God right now.” There are two possible reasons for that.
1. You Are Not Born Again
One is the possibility that you are not born again. It is possible that you are a cultural Christian or a hereditary Christian. You may have developed patterns of religious talk and behavior because it is socially advantageous or because your parents or peers talked and acted this way. But you may never have experienced a deep change in your nature by the power of the Holy Spirit which gave birth to a stream of new love for God.
Henry Martyn, the brilliant missionary and translator of the last century, looked at his conversion four years afterward and said, “The work is real. I can no more doubt it than I can my own existence. The whole current of my desires is altered, I am walking quite another way, though I am incessantly stumbling in that way.”
So it could be that this has never happened to you and that your religion is all outward form and not inner experience of love for God. Paul said in 2 Timothy 3:1–5, “In the last days there will come times of stress. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money . . . lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding the form of religion but denying the power of it.” In other words we may expect that there will be numerous religious church-goers who know nothing of the new birth and genuine heartfelt love for God.
If you are among that number you should direct your heart to Christ and seek him earnestly in his Word. Peter said that we are born again through the living and abiding Word of God. So if you want to be born again, you should pour over the Word of God. You should cry to Christ that he open your eyes to know the Father (Matthew 11:27). You should plead with God to take out your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh that you might love God with all your heart and all your soul (Deuteronomy 30:6). You should forsake all known sins and give yourself to all the means of grace until the light dawns in your heart and Christ shines so bright in his power and love that he is irresistibly attractive and you fall in worship and love before him. And do not quit the pursuit until you have been born into new life. “You will seek me and find me; when you seek me with all your heart.”
2. Your Love Has Grown Cool and Weak
The other possibility is that you have indeed been born again, but that your love for God has simply grown cool and weak. You’ve tasted what it means to have a heart for God. You can recall how once you felt that to know him was better than anything the world could offer. But this morning the wick is smoldering and the reed is bruised.
The prescription for your ailment is not much different than the prescription for seeking new birth in the first place. The same Spirit that begets life, also nourishes life. The same Word that ignites the fire of love, also rekindles love. The same Christ who once brought you out of darkness into his marvelous light, can take away the long dark night of your soul. So yield yourself to the Holy Spirit. Immerse yourself in the Word of God. Cry out to Christ for a new vision of the glory of his grace. Don’t be content with lukewarmness. Pursue a new passion for Christ.
And whichever of these groups you are in—or if you are here full of love to God this morning—let the remaining admonitions of this text stir you up to count everything as rubbish compared to the surpassing value of knowing Christ.
Love for God and Love for the World Cannot Coexist
According to verse 15 in our text, if your love for God is cool this morning it’s because love for the world has begun to take over your heart and choke your love for God. The love of the world and the love of the Father cannot coexist. And every heart loves something. The very essence of our nature is desire. There is nobody in this room who doesn’t want something. At the center of our heart is a spring of longing. But that’s an awkward image isn’t it? A longing is a craving, a desire, a want, a need. But these aren’t very well described as a spring. A spring of needs is a contradiction in terms. Springs bubble up; needs suck in. A longing is more like a drain—or a vacuum. At the center of our heart is a sucking drain—like at the bottom of a swimming pool. We are endlessly thirsty. But we can’t suck water and air at the same time.
If you try to satisfy your longing by sucking in the air of the world, you will not be able to drink the water of heaven. And eventually your motor will burn up because you were made to pump the water of God not the air of the world.
The “World” We Are Not to Love
But now what is this “world” that we are not to love? Verse 16 says it is characterized by three things: “lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.” The word for “life” does not refer to the state of being alive but rather to the things in the world that make life possible. For example, in 3:17 it is translated “goods”—”Any one who has this world’s GOODS and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” Jesus uses the word in Mark 12:44 when he says that the poor widow in the temple “put in everything that she had, her whole LIVING.”
So the phrase “pride of life” means pride in what you possess—the things you have. Now we can see how the three descriptions of the world relate to each other. The first two—lust of the flesh and lust of the eyes—refer to desires for what we don’t have. And the third—the pride of life—refers to the pride in what we do have. The world is driven by these two things: passion for pleasure and pride in possessions.
And the passion for pleasure is described in two ways because there are two large classes of pleasure—physical and aesthetic. There is the lust of the flesh—bodily pleasures; and the lust of the eyes—aesthetic and intellectual pleasures. John is not naïve. He knows that the world is not limited to Hennepin Avenue.
There is the lust of the gutter and the lust of the gourmet. There is the lust for hard rock and the lust for high Rachmaninoff. There is the lust of Penthouse and the lust of Picasso. There is the lust of the Orpheum and the lust of the Ordway. This book ends with the ringing command: “Little children, KEEP YOURSELVES FROM IDOLS!”—whether they are crude or whether they are cultured.
Anything in this world that is not God can rob your heart of the love of God. Anything that is not God can draw your heart away from God. If you don’t have it, it can fill you with passion to get it. If you get it, it can fill you with pride that you’ve got it.
But against the pride of life the apostle says, “What do you have that you did not receive? And if you received it, why do you boast as though it were not a gift . . . Let him who boasts boast in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 4:7; 1:31). So let there be no boasting in possessions. They are all gods.
And against the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes the psalmist says, “Whom have I in heaven but thee? And there is nothing upon earth that I desire besides thee.” Therefore let us desire nothing but God. Possess nothing but God; pursue nothing but God.
What Shall We Do with Our Desires?
But someone will ask, “Should I not desire dinner? Should I not desire a job? Should I not desire a spouse? Should I not desire the child in my womb? Should I not desire a healthy body or a good night’s rest or the morning sun or a great book or an evening with friends?”
And the answer is no—unless it is a desire for GOD! Do you desire dinner because you desire God? Do you want a job because in it you will discover God and love God? Do you long for a spouse because you are hungry for God and hope to see him and love him in your partner? Do you desire the child and the healthy body and the good night’s rest and the morning sun and the great book and the evening with friends for God’s sake? Do you have an eye for God in everything you desire? (See Colossians 3:17; 1 Corinthians 10:31.)
St. Augustine captured the heart of our text when he prayed to the Father and said, “He loves thee too little who loves anything together with thee which he loves not for thy sake.”
Therefore, brothers and sisters, do not love the world or the things in the world. If any one love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. But if the love of the Father is in you, if you love God with all your heart, then every room you enter will be a temple of love to God, all your work will be a sacrifice of love to God, every meal will be a banquet of love with God, every song will be an overture of love to God.
And if there is any desire of the flesh or any desire of the eyes that is not also a desire for God, then we will put it out of our lives, so that we can say with John and with the psalmist,
Whom have I in heaven but thee,
and on earth there is nothing
that I desire besides thee.
“How can I have a closer relationship with God?”
Developing a closer relationship with God is an admirable goal and reflects a heart that is truly reborn, for only those who are in Christ desire a closer relationship with God. We must also understand that in this life we will never be as close to God as we ought to be or desire to be. The reason for this is lingering sin in our lives. This is not a deficiency on God’s part, but on ours; our sin remains a barrier to the full and complete fellowship with God which will be realized once we’re in glory.
Even the apostle Paul, who had about as close a relationship as one could probably have with God in this life, still longed for a closer relationship: “Indeed, I count every thing as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ” (Philippians 3:8-9). No matter where we are in our walk with Christ, we can always have a closer walk, and, even glorified in heaven, we will have all eternity to grow in our relationship with the Lord.
There are five basic things we can do to have a closer relationship with God.
The first thing we can do to have a closer relationship with God is to make a daily habit of confessing our sin to Him. If sin is the barrier in our relationship with God, then confession removes that barrier. When we confess our sins before God, He promises to forgive us (1 John 1:9), and forgiveness is what restores a relationship that has been strained. We must keep in mind that confession is more than simply saying, “I’m sorry for my sin, God.” It is the heartfelt contrition of those who recognize that their sin is an offense to a holy God. It is the confession of one who realizes that his sin is what nailed Jesus Christ to the cross. It is the cry of the publican inLuke 18who said, “God be merciful to me a sinner!” As King David wrote, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Psalm 51:17).
The second thing we can do to have a closer relationship with God is to listen when God speaks. Many today are chasing a supernatural experience of hearing God’s voice, but the apostle Peter tells us that we “have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” (2 Peter 1:19). That “more sure prophetic word” is the Bible. In the Bible, we “hear” God’s voice to us. It is through the “God-breathed” Scriptures that we become “thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). So if we want to grow closer to God, we should read His Word regularly. In reading His Word, we are “listening” to God speak through it by his Spirit who illuminates the Word to us.
The third thing we can do to have a closer relationship with God is to speak to Him through prayer. If reading the Bible is listening to God speak to us, speaking to God is accomplished through prayer. The Gospels often record Jesus secreting Himself away to commune with His Father in prayer. Prayer is much more than simply a way to ask God for things we need or want. Consider the model prayer that Jesus gives His disciples inMatthew 6:9-13. The first three petitions in that prayer are directed toward God (may His name be hallowed, may His kingdom come, may His will be done). The last three petitions are requests we make of God after we’ve taken care of the first three (give us our daily bread, forgive us our debts, lead us not into temptation). Another thing we can do to revive our prayer lives is to read the Psalms. Many of the Psalms are heartfelt cries to God for various things. In the Psalms we see adoration, contrition, thanksgiving and supplication modeled in a divinely inspired way.
The fourth thing we can do to have a closer relationship with God is to find a body of believers with whom we can regularly worship. This is such a vital component of spiritual growth. Too often, we approach church with a “what can I get out of it?” mentality. We seldom take the time to prepare our hearts and minds for worship. Again, the Psalms show us many calls from God to His people to come and worship the Lord (for example,Psalm 95:1-2). God invites us, commands us, to come into His presence for worship. How can we, His people, fail to respond? Not only does regular church attendance give us an opportunity to come before the Lord’s presence in worship, but it also gives us an opportunity to fellowship with the Lord’s people. As we come into the house of the Lord in worship and fellowship with His people, we can’t help but grow closer to the Lord as a result.
Finally, a closer relationship with God is built upon a life of obedience. Jesus told His disciples in the upper room, “If you love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:23). James tells us that as we submit ourselves to God through obedience, resist the devil, and draw near to God, He will draw near to us (James 4:7-8). Paul tells us in Romans that our obedience is our “living sacrifice” of thanksgiving to God (Romans 12:1). We must keep in mind that all biblical exhortations to obedience are presented as our response to the grace of God we receive in salvation. We don’t earn salvation through our obedience; rather, it is the way we show our love and gratitude toward God.
So, through confession, Bible study, prayer, regular church attendance, and obedience, we can develop a closer relationship with God. It seems rather simple, if not simplistic. But consider this: how do we develop a closer relationship with other human beings? We spend time with them in conversation, opening our hearts to them and listening to them at the same time. We acknowledge when we’ve done wrong and seek forgiveness. We seek to treat them well and sacrifice our own needs to fulfill theirs. It’s not really that different with our relationship to our Heavenly Father.
in this culture, your children have three basic hungers: truth, identity, and meaning.
— Students are looking for truth, something that they can latch on to. The fact that sometimes truth is difficult to find at church shouldn’t surprise us. The Barna Group discovered that only half of today’s pastors express confidence in the truth of basic Christian doctrines. Untethered from these doctrines, Christianity stands mute in answer to life’s ultimate questions. In fact, less than 10 percent of born-again Christians possess a Christian worldview (also according to Barna).
While we’d never recommend using this logic to prove scripture’s accuracy or inspiration, we should acknowledge that Jesus declared the Word of God to be truth. The most stable foundation for any discussion about truth includes a healthy dose of scripture. But as a parent, you may likely hear questions like, “Does truth exist?”
— Most people define their identity in terms of success: income, possessions, and reputation. However, at a deeper level, as bearers of the Imago Dei, we find ourselves tempted by two idols that poison our sense of direction.
1. The first idol is persona. Today’s online world makes it possible — easy, really — to transcend our circumstances and project an image of our perfect selves. Is this projection an illusion or reality? Do we even know, and would we admit if we did?
2. Second, we are tempted by the idol of tribe. Wrapping our identities around hobbies, musical taste, athletic ability, or some other cultural preference we share with those we approve of or whose approval we hope to win. Ironically, we root ourselves in that which cannot last while uprooting that which can.
Through persona and tribe we come to believe that we are what we appear to be. But this train has only one destination: purposelessness, and it’s most acute among the young. Helping a young person find purpose is a process of cultivating rather than revealing. The best methodology we’ve discovered is asking questions.
— Layered over with strips of paper-mache optimism and the water glue of self-confidence, our outer forms become a way to hide the emptiness we feel inside. Sometimes our quest for meaning is one of the things preventing us from finding it. There is a reality we have to confront: The hunger for meaning will be met, either by truth and beauty or by their counterfeits, self-obsessions incapable of giving to others or receiving from God.
Our experience at Second Chance Alliance continues to prove out that meaning is defined through relationships. The only way to show rising generations that the Church is something you are, not something to go to, is to make it personal.
Truth, identity, and meaning aren’t fluffy subjects. When you speak from the position of biblical authority, you can speak to the heart of a young person who is seeking after truth.
Resources to guide the conversation with your child about identity in Christ.
As a matter of logic, the problem of pain is not a good rebuttal to theism in general nor to Christianity in particular. If somebody wants to say, “How can you believe in an all-powerful, all-loving God when there is so much evil and suffering in the world?” one possible answer for a theist is simply to say that your God is not all-loving nor all-powerful. After all, there are plenty of religions in the world that have their gods at war with each other, throwing, fighting, plotting, and scheming — not exactly portraits of all-loving gods. But for a Christian in particular, we simply have to acknowledge the rest of His attributes.
If we are going to say that the Christian God is all-loving and all-powerful, then we must also note that he is all-knowing. The omniscience of God dovetails with his omnibenevolence and omnipotence and says that not only does God love perfectly and work perfectly, he sees perfectly. That being the case, it is simply not reasonable to look at an all-knowing God and object to how he is running things. Rather, it is reasonable to say, “If I were as good as God is, if I were as powerful as God is, and if I knew as much as God knows, I would be doing exactly what he is doing.”
But the reality is quite different. The complication with the problem of pain is that it’s not about what’s reasonable; it’s about what’s painful. In other words, the question is not, “Why does God allow bad things to happen?” but rather, “Why does God allow bad things to happen to me? Or to people I care about? Or to people I see on the news?” Anyone who has spent any time with humans knows the depth of their sorrow and bondage of their pain. While it is important to know the apologetics and theology, it is important that we obey the command of Romans 12:15, “weep with those who weep,” while we wait to be “set free from [creation’s] slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God”(Romans 8:21).
Answering this question is not easy. Often the most theologically accurate answer feels least satisfying. This video will answer some of those tough questions.
Someone shared with me her observation about two bosses. One is loved but not feared by his subordinates. Because they love their boss but don’t respect his authority, they don’t follow his guidelines. The other boss is both feared and loved by those who serve under him, and their good behavior shows it.
The Lord desires that His people both fear and love Him too. Today’s Bible passage, Deuteronomy 10, says that keeping God’s guidelines involves both. In verse 12, we are told “to fear the Lord your God” and “to love Him.”
To “fear” the Lord God is to give Him the highest respect. For the believer, it is not a matter of feeling intimidated by Him or His character. But out of respect for His person and authority, we walk in all His ways and keep His commandments. Out of “love,” we serve Him with all our heart and with all our soul—rather than merely out of duty (v.12).
We are here most plainly directed in our duty to God, to our neighbor, and to ourselves.
1. We are here taught our duty to God, both in the dispositions and affections of our souls and in the actions of our lives, our principles and our practices. (1.) We must fear the Lord our God, v. 12, and again v. 20. We must adore his majesty, acknowledge his authority, stand in awe of his power, and dread his wrath. This is gospel duty, Rev. 14:6, 7. (2.) We must love him, be well pleased that he is, desire that he may be ours, and delight in the contemplation of him and in communion with him. Fear him as a great God, and our Lord, love him as a good God, and our Father and benefactor. (3.) We must walk in his ways, that is, the ways which he has appointed us to walk in. The whole course of our conversation must be conformable to his holy will. (4.) We must serve him (v. 20), serve him with all our heart and soul (v. 12), devote ourselves to his honour, put ourselves under his government, and lay out ourselves to advance all the interests of his kingdom among men. And we must be hearty and zealous in his service, engage and employ our inward man in his work, and what we do for him we must do cheerfully and with a good will. (5.) We must keep his commandments and his statutes, v. 13. Having given up ourselves to his service, we must make his revealed will our rule in every thing, perform all he prescribes, forbear all the forbids, firmly believing that all the statutes he commands us are for our good. Besides the reward of obedience, which will be our unspeakable gain, there are true honour and pleasure in obedience. It is really for our present good to be meek and humble, chaste and sober, just and charitable, patient and contented; these make us easy, and safe, and pleasant, and truly great. (6.) We must give honour to God, in swearing by his name (v. 20); so give him the honour of his omniscience, his sovereignty, his justice, as well as of his necessary existence. Swear by his name, and not by the name of any creature, or false god, whenever an oath for confirmation is called for. (7.) To him we must cleave, v. 20. Having chosen him for our God, we must faithfully and constantly abide with him and never forsake him. Cleave to him as one we love and delight in, trust and confide in, and from whom we have great expectations.
2. We are here taught our duty to our neighbour (v. 19): Love the stranger; and, if the stranger, much more our brethren, as ourselves. If the Israelites that were such a peculiar people, so particularly distinguished from all people, must be kind to strangers, much more must we, that are not enclosed in such a pale; we must have a tender concern for all that share with us in the human nature, and as we have opportunity; (that is, according to their necessities and our abilities) we must do good to all men. Two arguments are here urged to enforce this duty:—(1.) God’s common providence, which extends itself to all nations of men, they being all made of one blood. God loveth the stranger (v. 18), that is, he gives to all life, and breath, and all things, even to those that are Gentiles, and strangers to the commonwealth of Israel and to Israel’s God. He knows those perfectly whom we know nothing of. He gives food and raiment even to those to whom he has not shown his word and statutes. God’s common gifts to mankind oblige us to honour all men. Or the expression denotes the particular care which Providence takes of strangers in distress, which we ought to praise him for (Ps. 146:9, The Lord preserveth the strangers), and to imitate him, to serve him, and concur with him therein, being forward to make ourselves instruments in his hand of kindness to strangers. (2.) The afflicted condition which the Israelites themselves had been in, when they were strangers in Egypt. Those that have themselves been in distress, and have found mercy with God, should sympathize most feelingly with those that are in the like distress and be ready to show kindness to them. The people of the Jews, notwithstanding these repeated commands given them to be kind to strangers, conceived a rooted antipathy to the Gentiles, whom they looked upon with the utmost disdain, which made them envy the grace of God and the gospel of Christ, and this brought a final ruin upon themselves.
3. We are here taught our duty to ourselves (v. 16): Circumcise the foreskin of your hearts. that is, “Cast away from you all corrupt affections and inclinations, which hinder you from fearing and loving God. Mortify the flesh with the lusts of it. Away with all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, which obstruct the free course of the word of God to your hearts. Rest not in the circumcision of the body, which was only the sign, but be circumcised in heart, which is the thing signified.” See Rom. 2:29. The command of Christ goes further than this, and obliges us not only to cut off the foreskin of the heart, which may easily be spared, but to cut off the right hand and to pluck out the right eye that is an offence to us; the more spiritual the dispensation is the more spiritual we are obliged to be, and to go the closer in mortifying sin. And be no more stiff-necked, as they had been hitherto, ch. 9:24. “Be not any longer obstinate against divine commands and corrections, but ready to comply with the will of God in both.” The circumcision of the heart makes it ready to yield to God, and draw in his yoke.
II. We are here most pathetically persuaded to our duty. Let but reason rule us, and religion will.
1. Consider the greatness and glory of God, and therefore fear him, and from that principle serve and obey him. What is it that is thought to make a man great, but great honour, power, and possessions? Think then how great the Lord our God is, and greatly to be feared. (1.) He has great honour, a name above every name. He is God of gods, and Lord of lords, v. 17. Angels are called gods, so are magistrates, and the Gentiles had gods many, and lords many, the creatures of their own fancy; but God is infinitely above all these nominal deities. What an absurdity would it be for them to worship other gods when the God to whom they had sworn allegiance was the God of gods! (2.) He has great power. He is a mighty God and terrible (v. 17), who regardeth not persons. He has the power of a conqueror, and so he is terrible to those that resist him and rebel against him. He has the power of a judge, and so he is just to all those that appeal to him or appear before him. And it is as much the greatness and honour of a judge to be impartial in his justice, without respect to persons or bribes, as it is to a general to be terrible to the enemy. Our God is both. (3.) He has great possessions. Heaven and earth are his (v. 14), and all the hosts and stars of both. Therefore he is able to bear us out in his service, and to make up the losses we sustain in discharging our duty to him. And yet therefore he has no need of us, nor any thing we have or can do; we are undone without him, but he is happy without us, which makes the condescensions of his grace, in accepting us and our services, truly admirable. Heaven and earth are his possession, and yet the Lord’s portion is his people.
2. Consider the goodness and grace of God, and therefore love him, and from that principle serve and obey him. His goodness is his glory as much as his greatness. (1.) He is good to all. Whomsoever he finds miserable, to them he will be found merciful: He executes the judgment of the fatherless and widow, v. 18. It is his honour to help the helpless, and to succour those that most need relief and that men are apt to do injury to, or at least to put a light upon. See Ps. 68:4, 5; 146:7, 9. (2.) But truly God is good to Israel in a special obligations to him: “He is they praise, and he is thy God, v. 21. Therefore love him and serve him, because of the relation wherein he stands to thee. He is thy God, a God in covenant with thee, and as such he is thy praise,” that is [1.] “He puts honour upon thee; he is the God in whom, all the day long, thou mayest boast that thou knowest him, and art known of him. If he is thy God, he is thy glory.” [2.] “He expects honour from thee. He is thy praise,” that is “he is the God whom thou art bound to praise; if he has not praise from thee, whence may he expect it?” He inhabits the praises of Israel. Consider, First, The gracious choice he made of Israel, v. 15. “He had a delight in thy fathers, and therefore chose their seed.” Not that there was any thing in them to merit his favour, or to recommend them to it, but so it seemed good in his eyes. He would be kind to them, though he had no need of them. Secondly, The great things he had done for Israel, v. 21, 22. He reminds them not only of what they had heard with their ears, and which their fathers had told them of, but of what they had seen with their eyes, and which they must tell their children of, particularly that within a few generations seventy souls (for they were no more when Jacob went down into Egypt) increased to a great nation, as the stars of heaven for multitude. And the more they were in number the more praise and service God expected from them; yet it proved, as in the old world, that when they began to multiply they corrupted themselves.
The famous preacher Martyn Lloyd-Jones, in a sermon on Philippians, said, quote, “False doctrine makes joy in the Lord impossible.” How would you articulate this connection between orthodoxy and joy? How does false doctrine make joy in the Lord impossible?
The key in that phrase, I think, is “in the Lord,” “joy in the Lord.” False doctrine can make you very happy. If you don’t believe in hell you might feel happier. If you don’t believe that you have to not sleep around on the weekend and cheat on your wife and you might have some brief surges of pleasure. But when he says false doctrine makes joy in the Lord impossible, he is articulating something really important, namely that the only joy that glorifies God is joy that is based on a true view of God. If you have happiness because you see God a way he is not, you might have happiness based on your doctrine. But your doctrine will be false and therefore God would not be honored by your happiness. You are like a person who is just thrilled. He is watching his favorite football team and he just crossed the goal line. Yea. Yea. He is cheering his lungs out and he realizes he ran the wrong way. He crossed the wrong goal line. He didn’t make six points, he lost. So that cheering isn’t honoring to the team, it is making a fool out of the team. False doctrine presents God or his ways as they are not, and if we are happy by what God is not then he is not honored by our happiness. Right doctrine is a way of showing God as He is so that our joy can be in what is. Then our joy is an honor to God.
When I say that God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him, it presumes that the God in whom we are satisfied is the true God, and that false views of God will prevent joy in the true God. I don’t know whether he had it in mind or whether you have it in mind when you asked the question, but clearly if you have a wrong view of salvation you lose your joy forever. That is what was happening in the book of Galatians. The Galatians and the Pharisees knew God, and Jesus says, “You are children of hell and you are going there because your view of how to relate to God is upside down. You think that God is impressed by your works for him and that you can put him in your debt.” And you can’t. That is a hellish doctrine and Paul says that those who bring a gospel like that are cursed.. So all happiness vanishes, and that is probably what ultimately Marty Lloyd-Jones meant.
So it seems that built into this is some level of distrust toward our own affections.
That is a very good point. I have been criticized sometimes for being a Christian hedonist because historic hedonism has often meant that pleasure becomes the criterion of what is right. That has never, ever been what I have meant by Hedonism. All I mean by Christian Hedonism is that you are living to maximize your pleasure forever. That is biblically why it is right to pursue your happiness. But, yes, we must be suspicious of making our pleasures the criteria of what is right, holy, good or true. Rather, it’s the other way around. The Bible decides what is true and then we labor to submit our heart to that so that we can find happiness in the truth, not determine what is true by what makes us happy.
I remember very vividly, some years ago, that the question which perplexed me as a younger Christian (and some of my friends as well) was this: what is God’s purpose for His people? Granted that we have been converted, granted that we have been saved and received new life in Jesus Christ, what comes next? Of course, we knew the famous statement of the Westminster Shorter Catechism: that man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever: we knew that, and we believed it. We also toyed with some briefer statements, like one of only five words— love God, love your neighbor. But somehow neither of these, nor some others that we could mention, seemed wholly satisfactory. So I want to share with you where my mind has come to rest as I approach the end of my pilgrimage on earth, and it is—God wants His people to become like Christ. Christlikeness is the will of God for the people of God.
So if that is true, I am proposing the following: first to lay down the biblical basis for the call to Christlikeness; secondly, to give some New Testament examples of this; thirdly, to draw some practical conclusions. And it all relates to becoming like Chris
So first is the biblical basis for the call to Christlikeness. This basis is not a single text: the basis is more substantial than can be encapsulated in a single text. The basis consists rather of three texts which we would do well to hold together in our Christian thinking and living: Romans 8:29, 2 Corinthians 3:18, and 1 John 3:2. Let’s look at these three briefly.
Romans 8:29 reads that God has predestined His people to be conformed to the image of His Son: that is, to become like Jesus. We all know that when Adam fell he lost much—though not all—of the divine image in which he had been created. But God has restored it in Christ. Conformity to the image of God means to become like Jesus: Christlikeness is the eternal predestinating purpose of God.
My second text is 2 Corinthians 3:18: “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness, from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” So it is by the indwelling Spirit Himself that we are being changed from glory to glory—it is a magnificent vision. In this second stage of becoming like Christ, you will notice that the perspective has changed from the past to the present, from God’s eternal predestination to His present transformation of us by the Holy Spirit. It has changed from God’s eternal purpose to make us like Christ, to His historical work by His Holy Spirit to transform us into the image of Jesus.
That brings me to my third text: 1 John 3:2. “Beloved, we are God’s children now and it does not yet appear what we shall be but we know that when he appears, we will be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” We don’t know in any detail what we shall be in the last day, but we do know that we will be like Christ. There is really no need for us to know any more than this. We are content with the glorious truth that we will be with Christ, like Christ, forever.
Here are three perspectives—past, present, and future. All of them are pointing in the same direction: there is God’s eternal purpose, we have been predestined; there is God’s historical purpose, we are being changed, transformed by the Holy Spirit; and there is God’s final or eschatological purpose, we will be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. All three, the eternal, the historical, and the eschatological, combine towards the same end of Christlikeness. This, I suggest, is the purpose of God for the people of God. That is the biblical basis for becoming like Christ: it is the purpose of God for the people of God.
I want to move on to illustrate this truth with a number of New Testament examples. First, I think it is important for us to make a general statement, as the apostle John does in 1 John 2:6: “he who says he abides in Christ ought to walk in the same way as he walked.” In other words, if we claim to be a Christian, we must be Christlike. Here is the first New Testament example: we are to be like Christ in his Incarnation.
Some of you may immediately recoil in horror from such an idea. Surely, you will say to me, the Incarnation was an altogether unique event and cannot possibly be imitated in any way? My answer to that question is yes and no. Yes, it was unique, in the sense that the Son of God took our humanity to Himself in Jesus of Nazareth, once and for all and forever, never to be repeated. That is true. But there is another sense in which the Incarnation was not unique: the amazing grace of God in the Incarnation of Christ is to be followed by all of us. The Incarnation, in that sense, was not unique but universal. We are all called to follow the example of His great humility in coming down from heaven to earth. So Paul could write in Philippians 2:5-8: “Have this mind among yourselves, which was in Christ, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God something to be grasped for his own selfish enjoyment, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.” We are to be like Christ in his Incarnation in the amazing self-humbling which lies behind the Incarnation.
Secondly, we are to be like Christ in His service. We move on now from his Incarnation to His life of service; from His birth to His life, from the beginning to the end. Let me invite you to come with me to the upper room where Jesus spent his last evening with His disciples, recorded in John’s gospel, chapter 13: “He took off his outer garments, he tied a towel round him, he poured water into a basin and washed his disciples’ feet. When he had finished, he resumed his place and said, ‘If then I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet, for I have given you an example”—notice the word— “that you should do as I have done to you.”
Some Christians take Jesus’ command literally and have a foot-washing ceremony in their Lord’s Supper once a month or on Maundy Thursday—and they may be right to do it. But I think most of us transpose Jesus’ command culturally: that is, just as Jesus performed what in His culture was the work of a slave, so we in our cultures must regard no task too menial or degrading to undertake for each other.
Thirdly, we are to be like Christ in His love. I think particularly now of Ephesians 5:2—“walk in love as Christ loved us and gave himself up as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Notice that the text is in two parts. The first part is walk in love, an injunction that all our behavior should be characterized by love, but the second part of the verse says that He gave Himself for us, which is not a continuous thing but an aorist, a past tense, a clear reference to the cross. Paul is urging us to be like Christ in his death, to love with self-giving Calvary love. Notice what is developing: Paul is urging us to be like the Christ of the Incarnation, to be like the Christ of the foot washing, and to be like the Christ of the cross. These three events of the life of Christ indicate clearly what Christlikeness means in practice.
Fourthly, we are to be like Christ in His patient endurance. In this next example we consider not the teaching of Paul but of Peter. Every chapter of the first letter of Peter contains an allusion to our suffering like Christ, for the background to the letter is the beginnings of persecution. In chapter 2 of 1 Peter in particular, Peter urges Christian slaves, if punished unjustly, to bear it and not to repay evil for evil. For, Peter goes on, you and we have been called to this because Christ also suffered, leaving us an example—there is that word again—so that we may follow in His steps. This call to Christlikeness in suffering unjustly may well become increasingly relevant as persecution increases in many cultures in the world today.
My fifth and last example from the New Testament is that we are to be like Christ in His mission. Having looked at the teaching of Paul and Peter, we come now to the teaching of Jesus recorded by John. In John 20:21, in prayer, Jesus said, “As you, Father, have sent me into the world, so I send them into the world”—that is us. And in His commissioning in John 17 He says, “As the Father sent me into the world, so I send you.” These words are immensely significant. This is not just the Johannine version of the Great Commission but also an instruction that their mission in the world was to resemble Christ’s mission. In what respect? The key words in these texts are “sent into the world.” As Christ had entered our world, so we are to enter other people’s worlds. It was eloquently explained by Archbishop Michael Ramsey some years ago: “We state and commend the faith only in so far as we go out and put ourselves with loving sympathy inside the doubts of the doubters, the questions of the questioners, and the loneliness of those who have lost the way.”
This entering into other people’s worlds is exactly what we mean by incarnational evangelism. All authentic mission is incarnational mission. We are to be like Christ in His mission. These are the five main ways in which we are to be Christlike: in His Incarnation, in His service, in His love, in His endurance, and in His mission.
Very briefly, I want to give you three practical consequences of Christlikeness.
Firstly, Christlikeness and the mystery of suffering. Suffering is a huge subject in itself and there are many ways in which Christians try to understand it. One way stands out: that suffering is part of God’s process of making us like Christ. Whether we suffer from a disappointment, a frustration, or some other painful tragedy, we need to try to see this in the light of Romans 8:28-29. According to Romans 8:28, God is always working for the good of His people, and according to Romans 8:29, this good purpose is to make us like Christ.
Secondly, Christlikeness and the challenge of evangelism. Why is it, you must have asked, as I have, that in many situations our evangelistic efforts are often fraught with failure? Several reasons may be given and I do not want to over-simplify, but one main reason is that we don’t look like the Christ we are proclaiming. John Poulton, who has written about this in a perceptive little book entitled, A Today Sort of Evangelism, wrote this:
The most effective preaching comes from those who embody the things they are saying. They are their message. Christians need to look like what they are talking about. It is people who communicate primarily, not words or ideas. Authenticity gets across. Deep down inside people, what communicates now is basically personal authenticity.
That is Christlikeness. Let me give you another example. There was a Hindu professor in India who once identified one of his students as a Christian and said to him: “If you Christians lived like Jesus Christ, India would be at your feet tomorrow.” I think India would be at their feet today if we Christians lived like Christ. From the Islamic world, the Reverend Iskandar Jadeed, a former Arab Muslim, has said “If all Christians were Christians—that is, Christlike—there would be no more Islam today.”
That brings me to my third point—Christlikeness and the indwelling of the Spirit. I have spoken much tonight about Christlikeness, but is it attainable? In our own strength it is clearly not attainable, but God has given us his Holy Spirit to dwell within us, to change us from within. William Temple, Archbishop in the 1940s, used to illustrate this point from Shakespeare:
It is no good giving me a play like Hamlet or King Lear and telling me to write a play like that. Shakespeare could do it—I can’t. And it is no good showing me a life like the life of Jesus and telling me to live a life like that. Jesus could do it—I can’t. But if the genius of Shakespeare could come and live in me, then I could write plays like this. And if the Spirit could come into me, then I could live a life like His.
So I conclude, as a brief summary of what we have tried to say to one another: God’s purpose is to make us like Christ. God’s way to make us like Christ is to fill us with his Spirit. In other words, it is a Trinitarian conclusion, concerning the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Forming partners is key to performing ministry of any sought.We were blessed in getting some leverage with this organization to help us to be a blessing in a backpack to 3202 inmates getting out of prison or county jails in December and January. I was really blessed to get a close-up of how this blessing helps families and kids and communities.
We Provide Weekend Nourishment to School Children on the Federal Free and Reduced Meal Program
The Blessings in a Backpack program is simple. A passionate parent, teacher, nurse, counselor, community advocate or corporate supporter elects to start the Blessings in a Backpack program in a local school Once a school is adopted, Blessings in a Backpack will provide the program framework for implementation.
The next step is to fundraise to support the number of children your program will feed. You will also need to gather volunteers to manage the weekly logistics of getting the food from the grocer to the school or facility where the backpacks will be loaded with food for distribution. Blessings in a Backpack donates all program backpacks raised through national partnerships and funding. We also connect adopters across the country so they can share ideas and successes and so that you can learn how to run your new program. 100% of all monies raised for a new or existing school program go directly to food purchased for the backpacks.
Typical Backpack Food Items
The backpacks include ready-to-eat food items such as granola bars, peanut butter, tuna, crackers, mac & cheese, cereal, juice boxes, etc. Blessings in a Backpack reviews its standard menu with a nutritionist annually to make sure the food is kid-friendly, nutritious, non-perishable and easy-to-prepare. Please be aware, most of these kids live in a world where some food is better than no food.
The Results: Nourished Kids Ready to Learn
Students who participate in the Blessings in a Backpack program show marked improvement in school attendance, test scores, behavior, and health. Food is an essential building block, and in this case truly is a blessing, especially to a hungry child! Visit the Get Involved section of our site to find out the various ways in which you can help Blessings in a Backpack feed more children.
Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were. But without it we go nowhere.
Fostering an individual’s successful transition from prison life to mainstream society can be a real challenge, and requires the development of mutually beneficial relationships with local government, community organizations, employers, and more. When building the capacity to operate a reentry program, the five organizational components that require particular attention are model, structure, services, staffing, and leadership.
Being out and about today rather than in church was truly a shot of faith and obedience for May & I. We look forward to getting our vision complete and housing and educating the many people out here who are suffering from sin and self will run riot behavior.
Having a dream that is bigger than ones self only comes from God. The video testimony of this gospel rapper is very similar to mines. I have been delivered from the hustle and lifestyle of a liar. God has infused me with a desire to serve Him and not mammon. As bad as I desire to shut my naysayers up and begin building a building that will accommodate our God given vision of “Second Chance Alliance” I refuse to compromise. I have had several opportunities to pursue financing my dream by means other than having faith. I have learned in the past three years of going through destitution and captivity how to abide and wait while working my faith by being sensitive to the sweet spirit of Jesus Christ. I am watching the enemy with new vision without activity to his sinful impulses that will nullify my testimony and His purpose for so many ex-offenders.
As pressures on Second Chance Alliance and Faith-Based community organizations increase and the issues we face become more complex, the idea of partnerships can hold much promise. Through partnerships we can contribute our small part and reap the benefits of everyone’s effort; we can accelerate learning and distribute skills and knowledge; and we can add depth and breadth to our community impact. To make real the promise of partnerships, however, we must be prepared to build, sustain, and evaluate them in a thoughtful way.
This outline will help start-ups and organizations answer several key questions:
Why are effective partnerships important?
What are the different forms that partnerships can take?
What are key steps to establishing effective partnerships?
What are key steps to managing effective partnerships in order to achieve mutually agreed-upon outcomes?
Why Form Partnerships?
While there are many nationally recognized benefits and advantages to partnership development, the answer to why one seeks to establish partnerships is relatively simple. There is added value in working with other organizations. The benefits of effective partnerships do not appear overnight. Establishing effective and inclusive partnerships takes time, and it is important for you to create the right framework from the start and review the structure and process of the partnership on an ongoing basis to measure its success or failure. What Is a Partnership?
A working definition of a partnership is “a collaborative relationship between entities to work toward shared objectives through a mutually agreed division of labor.”
While this working definition is not very precise, it does help distinguish partnerships from other forms of aid relationships. Partnerships are inherently complex vehicles for the delivery of practical solutions on the ground and at the strategic level. Several studies of how partnerships operate indicate that practitioners manage the complexity by adopting a long-term, flexible, and organic approach. Why organic? During the
course of these partnerships, organizations often evolve as they learn more about effective management, build capacity, and gain valuable experiences. In that sense, partnerships act as learning mechanisms that teach you to be better at what you do and enable you to achieve your goals.If you are considering a potential partnership, you should become familiar with several key components of the most common approaches to partnerships: Leadership Partnerships imply a shared leadership among respected individuals who are recognized and empowered by their own organizations and trusted by partners to build consensus and resolve conflicts.
BARRIERS TO SUCCESSFUL PARTNERSHIPS:
- Limited vision/failure to inspire one partner manipulates or dominates, or partners compete for the lead
- Lack of clear purpose and inconsistent level of understanding purpose
- Lack of understanding roles/responsibilities
- Lack of support from partner organizations with ultimate decision-making power
- Differences of philosophies and manners of working
- Lack of commitment; unwilling participants
- Unequal and/or unacceptable balance of power and control
- Key interests and/or people missing from the partnership
- Hidden agendas
- Failure to communicate
- Lack of evaluation or monitoring systems
- Failure to learnFinancial and time commitments outweigh potential benefits
- Too little time for effective consultation
We making major strides at implementation of our philosophy as a entity and we are networking daily with perspective partners from Safety Alignment of Riverside County to Living Spaces furniture as well as Sams and Costco. Forging partnerships and establishing boundaries for our partnerships are essential as we move towards our goal to be successful and prepared to break ground or move into a building/house that we believe God to be moving us towards.
A common understanding of the framework, culture, values, and approach of partner organizations needs to exist. Also important is a clear understanding of individual members’ roles and responsibilities regarding the division of labor.
A shared common vision and purpose that builds trust and openness and recognizes the value and contribution of all members also needs to exist. Additionally, shared and transparent decision-making processes—extending the scope of influence over and involvement with other services and activities—will prove essential to your partnership. Shared goals and aims, understood and accepted as being important by
each partner, lead to improved coordination of policies, programs, and service delivery, and, ultimately, better outcomes.
Culture and Values
Shared can-do values, understanding, and an acceptance of differences (e.g., values, ways of working) are all key components of a successful partnership. Having respect for the contributions of all partners, combined with an absence of status barriers, will lead to the active involvement of members who are identified as being effective, representative, and capable of playing a valued role in the partnership.
Learning and Development
A healthy partnership promotes an atmosphere of learning. This may involve monitoring and evaluation aimed at improving members’ performance. Investing in partner skills, knowledge, and competence needs to be highly valued within the partnership. This open mindset and spirit of facilitation creates opportunities to shape each other’s work and learn together. In this environment, members can more effectively reflect on both developmental successes and failures.
If a partnership is going to succeed in the area of communication, strong feedback loops are required.
Effective communication at all levels within the partnership and within partner organizations,
sharing and accessing all knowledge and information, needs to exist.
Management practices and resources are required to achieve the partnership goals and complement the intended purpose of the partnership. Specifically, members must demonstrate accountability for the actions they take and ownership of delivery of the objectives and targets for which they are responsible.You must remain equally aware of key barriers to a working relationship with a potential partner. Furthermore, as relationships evolve, partners must work to resolve any barriers. Below is a list of potential barriers to successful partnerships for you
Lately, there has been a passage of scripture that has been echoing in my mind. I can’t think of any reason at all for this except to say that perhaps God is wanting me to focus on it. The passage of scripture is Phil. 1:1-6 which says, “Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons: 2Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ. 3I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, 4Always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy, 5For your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now; 6Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” (KJV). I am drawn to the final verse; and as I think about it, I am encouraged.
We need the confidence of knowing that the Lord is working in us, that He has not left us alone, and that He is very concerned about us. Sometimes we experience that stale and dry season where we seem to have reached a stone wall in our spiritual development. Of course, this could be true for many due to sin or rebellion of some sort. But, for those who simply seek God and desire to experience Him more and more and yet find themselves wondering and waiting, this verse is for you. It has three main parts:
First, the work that was begun in you was regeneration. When you trusted in Christ and were born again, you were changed. This is the beginning of the work of God in your hearts. God saves us as we are, but He does not leave us as we are. He changes us. Initially, when we are saved, we are justified; that is, we are declared righteous in God’s eyes. That is the easy part because it is all done by the Lord. The hard part is the changing part. It is called sanctification and is the process God puts us through to conform us more and more into the image of His Son, Jesus. It is this second part, this sanctification, that is hidden in the phrase of Phil. 1:6 where it says, ” . . . will perform it . . . ” In other words, the Lord is “performing” (KJV), “perfecting” (NASB) us. This perfecting will proceed until ” . . . the day of Jesus Christ.” This is a reference to the return of Christ. By design, the Bible leaves us with the impression that the return of Jesus can be accomplished at any time. This work will continue in all Christians in all places and in all times until the return of Jesus. Once He has been revealed, we will all be with Him (1 Thess. 4:16-5:2); and we will no longer as a whole church or as individuals need to be perfected since the full manifestation of our salvation has been realized in the resurrection and/or change of our bodies to the incorruptible state.
So, Phil. 1:6 carries with it the past, present, and future work of God in us and for us because of what Jesus has done on the cross. Remember, it is because of Jesus and only because of Jesus that the Lord will and is working in us. If you are having problems of some sort, doubting your salvation, unsure about your growth, let the Lord speak to your heart by spending time in prayer and reading His word. He uses these things to “perfect” the work that He has begun in you. Remember that the Lord will never forsake you or leave you. He cannot be unfaithful, and His love for you cannot fail. To the Lord be the glory.
True grace delights in solitude
American Christians in particular are prone to understanding many of the New Testament teachings relating to the local church as passages addressed to individual believers. In doing so we “individualize” many texts intended for an entire local church.
But it is nonetheless true that the gospel first addresses us as individuals. While each Christian becomes part of the body of Christ – a body that collectively is the bride of Christ – God knows us by name and relates to us one by one.
So while believers are members of God’s family and the New Testament prioritizes the congregational aspects of faith in Christ, biblical Christianity also normalizes meeting with God alone. As Jonathan Edwards put it, “True religion disposes persons to be much alone in solitary places for holy meditation and prayer . . . True grace delights in secret converse with God.” Bombarded with thoughts of having to be successful and financial responsibility I have felt no growth or increase spiritually and need to run to Jesus and my Father to get revived. If you are reading this please pray for May & Aaron to find God’s ultimate peace and direction.
He went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when evening was come, he was there alone (Matthew 14:23).
The man Christ Jesus felt the need of perfect solitude–Himself alone, entirely by Himself, alone with Himself. We know how much intercourse with men draws us away from ourselves and exhausts our powers. The man Christ Jesus knew this, too, and felt the need of being by Himself again, of gathering all His powers, of realizing fully His high destiny, His human weakness, His entire dependence on the Father.
How much more does the child of God need this–himself alone with spiritual realities, himself alone with God the Father. If ever there were one who could dispense with special seasons for solitude and fellowship, it was our Lord. But He could not do His work or maintain His fellowship in full power, without His quiet time. Would God that every servant of His understood and practiced this blessed art, and that the Church knew how to train its children into some sense of this high and holy privilege, that every believer may and must have his time when he is indeed himself alone with God.
Oh, the thought to have God all alone to myself, and to know that God has me all alone to Himself!
Lamertine speaks in one of his books of a secluded walk in his garden where his mother always spent a certain hour of the day, upon which nobody ever dreamed for a moment of intruding. It was the holy garden of the Lord to her.
Poor souls that have no such Beulah land! Seek thy private chamber, Jesus says. It is in the solitude that we catch the mystic notes that issue from the soul of things.
My soul, practice being alone with Christ! It is written that when they were alone He expounded all things to His disciples. Do not wonder at the saying; it is true to thine experience. If thou wouldst understand thyself send the multitude away. Let them go out one by one till thou art left alone with Jesus… Has thou ever pictured thyself the one remaining creature in the earth, the one remaining creature in all the starry worlds?
In such a universe thine every thought would be “God and I! God and I!” And yet He is as near to thee as that – as near as if in the boundless spaces there throbbed no heart but His and thine.
Practice that solitude, O my soul! Practice the expulsion of the crowd! Practice the stillness of thine own heart! Practice the solemn refrain “God and I! God and I!” Let none interpose between thee and thy wrestling angel! Thou shalt be both condemned and pardoned when thou shalt meet Jesus alone!
Summary of Biblical Monotheism and the Trinity
Christian monotheistic belief is summarized by the following seven points:
1. The Father is God.
2. The Son is God.
3. The Holy Spirit is God.
4. The Father is not the Son.
5. The Son is not the Holy Spirit.
6. The Holy Spirit is not the Father.
7. There is only one God.
When Christians say: (1) The Father is God; (2) The Son is God; and (3) The Holy Spirit is God we are identifying Who God is.
When we say: (4) The Father is not the Son; (5) The Son is not the Holy Spirit; and (6) The Holy Spirit is not the Father we are distinguishing the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
The seventh and the final statement is the most challenging, “There is only one God”. The Greeks would say, “Zeus is god, “Apollos is god, and Dionysius is god” and there are three gods. Christianity says, the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God and there is only one God.
To help clarify the above seven points, please consider the following diagram:
The Christian Doctrine of the Trinity, and Belief in One God Involves Mystery
Now, the question boils down to this: Is this what the Bible teaches? Since the Bible teaches this but we can’t fully comprehend it – that is OK. We must leave room for mystery in our theology.
In church history Saint Augustine (354-430) probably thought more about the doctrine of the Trinity than any other uninspired writer, with the possible exception of John Calvin. There is a story about Augustine walking upon the ocean’s shore, greatly perplexed about the doctrine of the Trinity. As he meditated, he observed a little boy with a sea shell, running to the water, filling his shell, and then pouring it into a hole which he had made in the sand.
“What are you doing, my little man?” asked Augustine.
“Oh,” replied the boy, “I am trying to put the ocean in this hole.”
Augustine had learned his lesson, and as he passed on, exclaimed, “That is what I am trying to do; I see it now. Standing on the shores of time I am trying to get into this little finite mind things which are infinite.”
It should come as no surprise that the Christian belief in the Triune God involves mysteries that transcend the human mind.
Read: 1 Corinthians 2:6-16
No one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. —1 Corinthians 2:11
When we quote The Apostles’ Creed, we say, “I believe in the Holy Spirit.” Author J. B. Phillips said, “Every time we say [this] we mean that we believe that [the Spirit] is a living God able and willing to enter human personality and change it.”
Sometimes we forget that the Holy Spirit is not an impersonal force. The Bible describes Him as God. He possesses the attributes of God: He is present everywhere (Ps. 139:7-8), He knows all things (1 Cor. 2:10-11), and He has infinite power (Luke 1:35). He also does things that only God can do: create (Gen. 1:2) and give life (Rom. 8:2). He is equal in every way with the other Persons of the Trinity—the Father and the Son.
The Holy Spirit is a Person who engages in personal ways with us. He grieves when we sin (Eph. 4:30). He teaches us (1 Cor. 2:13), prays for us (Rom. 8:26), guides us (John 16:13), gives us spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12:11), and assures us of salvation (Rom. 8:16).
The Holy Spirit indwells us if we have received forgiveness of sin through Jesus. He desires to transform us so that we become more and more like Jesus. Let’s cooperate with the Spirit by reading God’s Word and relying on His power to obey what we learn.
It is said that a flippant young man once remarked to a preacher in mocking fashion, “You say that unsaved people carry a great weight of sin. Frankly, I feel nothing. How heavy is sin? Ten pounds? Fifty pounds? Eighty pounds? A hundred pounds?”
The preacher thought for a moment, then replied, “If you laid a four-hundred-pound weight on a corpse, would it feel the load?”
The young man was quick to say, “Of course not; it’s dead”
Driving home his point, the preacher said, “The person who doesn’t know Christ is equally dead. And though the load is great, he feels none of it”
The Christian, unlike the average non-Christian, is not indifferent to the weight of sin. He is actually hypersensitive to it. Having come to Jesus Christ, his senses are awakened to the reality of sin. His sensitivity to sin intensifies as he matures spiritually. Such sensitivity prompted a saint as great as Chrysostom, the fourth-century church Father, to say he feared nothing but sin (Second Homily on Eutropius).
The apostle Paul would heartily agree. In Romans 7:14-25 he says,
For we know that the Law is spiritual; but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin.For that which I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. But if I do the very thing I do not wish to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that it is good. So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which indwells me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the wishing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I wish, I do not do; but I practice the very evil that I do not wish. But if I am doing the very thing I do not wish, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wishes to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind, and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.
That passage is a poignant description of someone in conflict with himself-someone who loves God’s moral law and wants to obey it, but is pulled away from doing so by the sin that is in him. It is the personal experience of a soul in conflict.
There has always been debate whether Paul was describing a Christian or a non-Christian in this passage. Some people say there is too much bondage to sin in view for this passage to refer to a Christian. Others say there is too much desire to do good for a non-Christian. You can’t be a Christian and be bound to sin, and you can’t be a non-Christian and wholeheartedly desire to keep the law of God. Therein is the conflict of interpreting the passage.
The Non-Christian View
Those who believe Romans 7:14-25 is speaking of a non-Christian say verse 14 is the key: “I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. ” Then they point to verse 18, which says, ” I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the wishing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. ” They conclude that has to be a non-Christian because a Christian knows how to do what’s good. There seems to be an obvious lack of the Holy Spirit’s power here.
The despair of verse 24–“Wretched man that I am!”–seems far removed from the promise ofRomans 5:1-2: “Having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God.”
Romans 6 has many examples of the believer’s freedom from sins power. Verse 2 says, “How shall we who died to sin still live in it?” Verses 6-7 say, “Our old self was crucified with [Christ], that our body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin. ” Verses 11-12 say, “Consider yourselves to be dead to sin…Therefore, do not let sin reign in your mortal body.” Verses 17-18 say, ” But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.” How can the person who said all that turn around and say, “I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin” (7:14)?
Chapter 6 emphasizes the new creation, the new nature, the new identity, the new person in Christ, and the holiness of the believer. In his new redeemed self, the believer has broken sin’s dominion. However, chapter 7 gives the other side.
Every Christian knows from experience that though he is a new creature in Christ, sin is still a problem. In fact, that conflict is pointed out even in chapter 6: ” Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body that you should obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness ” (vv. 12-13). Because it’s still possible for Christians to yield to sin, we are commanded not to.
Arguing that chapter 7 cannot refer to a Christian because of statements in chapter 6 is to misunderstand the intention of chapter 6.
The Christian View
Paul says, “I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man” (Romans 7:22). That certainly isn’t something a non-Christian could accurately claim. Romans 8:7 says that the unregenerate person is not subject to the law of God.
In verse 25 Paul says, ” Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God .” That sounds likea Christian.
The following verses describe Paul’s thwarted desire to do what is right: ” For that which I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate … For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the wishing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I wish, I do not do; but I practice the very evil that I do not wish … I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wishes to do good ” (vv. 15, 18-19, 21).
Romans 3 tells us that the unsaved person has no such longing to do the will of God: ” There is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God … There is none who does good, there is not even one …There is no fear of God before their eyes” (vv. 11-12, 18). Therefore the conflict described in Romans 7 can be true of a redeemed person only.
Another question comes up at this point that has sparked an equally furious debate: What kind of Christian is Romans 7 talking about?
Some believe he’s a carnal Christian–one with a low level of spirituality who is trying in his own strength to keep the law. However Romans 7:14-25 describes a believer who clearly sees the inability of his flesh to uphold the divine standard. The more spiritual or mature a believer is, the greater his sensitivity to his shortcomings will be. An immature Christian doesn’t have such an honest self perception. The legalist is under the illusion that he is very spiritual. I believe Paul is describing himself in this chapter, judging from the extensive use of the personal pronoun “I.”
Some say Romans 7:14-25 describes Paul’s struggle before he was saved or right after he became saved and was still spiritually immature. But again, it is the mature Christian who possesses an honest self-evaluation. And Paul exhibited that in passages other than Romans 7.
- 1 Corinthians 15:9-10–Paul said, ” For I am the least of the apostles, who am not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am. “
- Ephesians 3:8–Paul considered himself as “the very least of all saints.” That 1 Corinthians was written before Ephesians shows he became more sensitive to sin as time went on. Although in our judgment Paul is the supreme man relative to other men, he saw himself as having fallen from the position of the least of the apostles to less than the least of all believers.
The terms Paul uses in Romans 7 are so precise that we can’t miss his struggle with sin. He states that he hates committing sin (v. 15), that he loves righteousness (vv. 19, 21), that he delights in the law of God from the bottom of his heart (v. 22), and that he thanks God for the deliverance that is his in Christ (v. 25). Those are the responses of a mature Christian.
The change in verb tenses is a clue that this passage applies to a Christian. The verbs in Romans 7:7-13 are in the past tense. They refer to Paul’s life before his conversion and the process of conviction he experienced when he stood face-to-face with the law of God. However in verses 14-25, where we see the battle with sin taking place, they are in the present tense.
I believe Romans 7:14-25 is Paul’s own testimony of how it is to live as a Spirit-controlled, mature believer. He loves the holy law of God with his whole heart, but finds himself wrapped in human flesh and unable to fulfill it the way his heart wants him to.
This passage is unique in that it contains a series of laments–desperate, repetitious cries of a distressed soul in great conflict. Each lament follows the same pattern. Paul first describes his condition, then gives proof of it, and then explains the source of the problem.
Paul’s First Lament
For we know that the Law is spiritual; but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. For that which I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. But if I do the very thing I do not wish to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that it is good. So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which indwells me (Romans 7:14-17).
The “for” at the beginning tells us Paul isn’t introducing a new subject. He continues to answer the hypothetical accusation in verse 7 that his preaching salvation by grace through faith apart from the law implies that the law is evil. He states to the contrary that “the Law is spiritual,” meaning that it comes from the Spirit of God and is a reflection of His holy, just, and good nature (cf. v. 12).
Although Paul delights in God’s law, he confesses there’s a barrier that prevents him from always obeying it: his carnal or fleshly nature. He doesn’t say he was in the flesh or controlled by the flesh. Romans 8:8-9 says to its Christian audience, “Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. However, you are not in the flesh.” The phrase “in the flesh” refers to an unregenerate condition.
Although Christians are not in the flesh, the flesh is still in us. We are no longer held captive to it, but we can still act fleshly or carnal. In 1 Corinthians 3 Paul says, “I, brethren, could not speak unto you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to babes in Christ…for you are still fleshly.For since thereis jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men?” (vv. 1, 3). He reproved the Corinthian Christians for acting in a fleshly or non-Christian way.
Here in Romans 7 Paul says, ” For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh … with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin ” (vv. 18, 25). He admits that the flesh is still present. Flesh is simply a term for our humanness.
Any Christian could make the statement in verse 14. Saying you’re carnal is the same as saying you’re a sinner. For example, when I am angry, insensitive, or don’t pursue God as diligently as I desire, I see my humanness getting in the way of accomplishing all I ought to do.
Paul states in verse 14 that he is “sold into bondage to sin.” Verse 23 gives us a similar statement: ” I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind, and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members.” But how can that be since we as Christians have been delivered from sin? The phrase “sold into bondage to sin” is literally translated “having been sold under the sin.” That refers to the sin principle, the product of the Fall of man, not to individual sins committed.
Being “sold into bondage to sin” doesn’t mean Paul actively committed himself to sinning, as is said about Ahab in 1 Kings 21:20, 25; it means he recognized that in this life we as believers will constantly have to battle sin because of our human nature.
Can Paul’s lament of being sold under sin come from a true believer? In Psalm 51:5 David says, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (NIV). That sounds like a man who had never been redeemed, doesn’t it? But David was simply looking at one reality about himself. His lament is similar to that of Isaiah, who upon seeing a vision of God said, “Woe is me , for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I live among a people of unclean lips ” (Isaiah 6:5). All the prophet could see against the glorious holiness of God was his own sin.
Paul put all our experiences with sin into words in Romans 7:14-25. We all know there sin in our lives even though it shouldn’t be there. Although sin is not the product of our new self, we’re still bound to some degree by the body we dwell in. Verse 14 could be paraphrased, “The law is spiritual, but I am unspiritual, experiencing a bondage to sin at times.”
A self-righteous person deceives himself into thinking he is inherently moral, but verse 15 shows that a Christian led by the Spirit will not think that way. He sees the proof of indwelling sin. Paul’s failure to do what he desired and his doing what he hated reflects a profound inner turmoil. His will was frustrated by his sinful flesh. It’s not that evil won all the time, but that he was frustrated in his attempt to perfectly obey God.
If you’re a Christian, you can identify with that frustration. For instance, no sooner are you complimented for having done something right, and you become proud–you’ve just done something wrong. The spiritual person has a broken and contrite heart, realizing he can’t be all that God wants him to be. Sad to say, many Christians have yet to reach that point. That’s because their comprehension of God’s holy law is so shallow.
Do you know what makes a Christian want to carry out God’s law? His new nature within, which, according to 1 John 3:9, does not sin. When he goes against his new nature, it isn’t the law that is responsible, but the sin that still resides in his frail human body. A Christian will naturally pursue the moral excellence of God’s law. The more mature a Christian is–the more he loves the Lord, submits to the Spirit’s direction in his life, and grows in his understanding of God’s holiness–the greater will be his longing to fulfill the law.
Verse 17 sounds like Paul refuses to take the blame for his sin. It’s as if he’s blaming an inanimate object instead of himself. However, in verse 14 Paul acknowledges that he himself is sinful. Accepting responsibility for our failure challenges the teaching that God doesn’t hold us responsible for our sin because sin is tied to our old nature.
Yet verse 17 goes beyond Paul’s admitting that he is responsible for his sin. He specifies what part of him is responsible by making a more technical distinction: the sin that dwells in his flesh.
Paul’s reasoning in verse 17 is reminiscent of Galatians 2:20: “I [the old nature] have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me. ” After salvation, sin no longer resides in a person’s innermost self, which is recreated to be like Christ. Yet sin finds its residual dwelling in our flesh. That’s why Paul said nothing good dwelt in his flesh (v. 18).
There’s a big difference between surviving sin and reigning sin: sin no longer reigns in us, but it does survive in us. We are like an artistically unskilled person who has a beautiful picture in clear view, but has no ability to actually paint it. What we need to do is ask the Master Artist to put His hand on ours to help us paint the strokes we never could have painted independently of Him. We experience victory over sin only when we yield ourselves to the One who can overcome the flesh.
Galatians 5:17 says, ” For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. ” Galatians 5:16 tells us how to win: ” But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. ” The Holy Spirit gives us victory. But let me warn you that the more victory you experience as you mature in Christ, the more you will recognizesin in your life.
Paul’s Second Lament
For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the wishing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I wish, I do not do; but I practice the very evil that I do not wish. But if I am doing the very thing I do not wish, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me (Romans7:18-20).
In verse 18 Paul gives a more technical identification of the part of him that is actually sinning than he has previously: the sin that dwells in his flesh. The flesh isn’t necessarily evil in and of itself, but it’s where sin finds its base of operation.
In verses 18-19 Paul isn’t saying he can’t figure out how to do anything right. He’s saying he can’t obey to the extent his heart longs to. If you examine your spiritual growth, you should have a greater hatred for your sin now than you did before you understood how serious sin is and how holy God is. Although spiritual growth results in a decreasing frequency of sin, growth also involves a heightened sensitivity to it.
What Paul says in verse 20 is just like what he says in verse 17. Although he had a new nature, he still fought against sin and sometimes lost. Those losses seemed overwhelming to him compared to the perfection of God’s holy law. Nevertheless his sensitivity to sin was a normal–not morbid–result of justification by faith.
At this point you might figure Paul would give up, having adequately made his point. But he starts a third lament to emphasize his frustration and sorrow over sin.
Paul’s Third Lament
I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wishes to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind, and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members (Romans7:21-23).
In contrast to the law of God, Paul saw another law or standard that was making demands on him: the law or principle of evil. Evil battles every good thought, word, and deed. Rather than our sin nature’s being eradicated in this life, as some theologians have concluded, Paul tells us that evil is present within us and creates conflict.
Verse 22 tells us that Paul delighted in God’s law. The phrase “in the inner man” could be translated, “from the bottom of my heart.” Paul, deep down, had a great love for the law of God. That part of us “is being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16), “strengthened with power through [God’s] Spirit” (Ephesians 3:16).
In verse 23 Paul identifies the source of his problems as the sin that resides in human nature. Sometimes the battle went in favor of his unredeemed flesh and brought him into captivity. That implies Paul is speaking as a redeemed person because unredeemed people can’t be brought into captivity–they’re already there. When sin wins the victory in the spiritual struggle, the believer becomes a slave to the sin that at least temporarily masters him.
The author of Psalm 119 experienced the same conflict Paul did. His psalm reflects his deep longing for the things of God.
- My soul languishes for Your salvation; I wait for Your word. My eyes fail with longing for Your word, while I say, “When will You comfort me?” Though I have become like a wineskin in the smoke, I do not forget Your statutes (vv. 81-83).
- If Your law had not been my delight, then I would have perished in my affliction (v. 92).
- Oh, how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day (v. 97).
- I hate those who are double-minded, but I love Your law (v. 113).
- I opened my mouth wide and panted, for I longed for Your commandments (v. 131).
- Trouble and anguish have come upon me, yet Your commandments are my delight (v. 143).
- I hate and despise falsehood, but I love Your law (v. 163).
- Those who love Your law have great peace, and nothing causes them to stumble (v. 165).
- I have longed for Your salvation, O Lord, and Your law is my delight (v. 174).
The measure of spirituality that the psalmist expresses is somewhat intimidating. That is why the last verse in Psalm 119 is so surprising: “I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek Your servant, for I do not forget Your commandments” (v. 176). You might think that a person with such an intense love for God’s law would not experience the failure of going astray spiritually. But that is the conflict all believers experience.
Why do we sin? Because God didn’t do a good enough job when He saved us? Because He gave us a new nature that isn’t complete yet? Because we’re not prepared for heaven yet and still need to earn our way in? No, it’s because sin is still present in our humanness, which includes the mind, emotions, and body.
In 2 Corinthians 10:3 Paul says, “Though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh (for the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds) (KJV).” Although we still have physical bodies, we are engaged in spiritual warfare using spiritual resources.
Paul’s three laments reveal the conflict every believer experiences with sin. From that conflict the believer cries out for deliverance.
Oh,wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver mefrom the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ, our Lord. So, then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh, the law of sin.
As if three laments aren’t enough, Paul lets out a wail in verse 24 that exceeds them all in intensity. He cries out in distress and frustration with his spiritual conflict. Can this be the despair of a Christian–let alone that of the apostle Paul? But Paul wasn’t the only godly person who refused to keep silent about inner turmoil.
- Psalm 6 (KJV)–David cried out, “O Lord, rebuke me not in thine anger, neither chasten me in thy hot displeasure. Have mercy upon me, O Lord; for I am weak. O Lord, heal me; for my bones are vexed. My soul is also very vexed [terrified]; but thou, O Lord, how long? Return, O Lord, deliver my soul: oh, save me for thy mercies’ sake…I am weary with my groaning; all the night make I my bed to swim; I water my couch with my tears” (vv. 1-6). David was saying, “I’m sick and tired of not being everything I ought to be!”
- Psalm 130 (KJV)–The psalmist wrote, “Out of the depths have I cried unto thee, O Lord. Lord, hear my voice; let thine ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications. If thou, Lord, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand? But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared. I wait for the Lord, my soul doth wait, and in his word do I hope (vv. 1-5).
In verse 24 Paul rhetorically asks who will rescue him from the sin that resides in his body. “The body of this death” literally refers to our physical body, which is subject to sin and death.
I remember reading that near Tarsus, where Paulwas born, lived a tribe that inflicted a most gruesome punishment upon a convicted murderer. The tribe fastened the body of the murder victim to that of the killer– tying shoulder to shoulder, back to back, arm to arm–and then drove the killer from the community. The bonds were so tight that he could not free himself, and after a few days the decay in the dead body transferred itself to the living flesh of the murderer. In expressing his desire to be free from the sin that clung to his flesh, Paul might have had that ghastly punishment in mind.
In verse 25 Paul says, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” That’s a dramatic change from his laments over sin and death. Paul always kept things in proper perspective.
- Romans 8–Paul was assured of ultimate triumph through Jesus Christ over the conflict with sin: ” For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. … For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body ” (vv. 18-19, 22-23). We Christians await the final phase of salvation. We’re still looking to that day when we are redeemed in body as well as soul. So Paul thanks God in Romans 7:25 that the end of the conflict will come through Christ when we enter into His presence and are glorified.
- 1 Corinthians 15–“For this perishable must put on imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality…but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (vv. 53, 57). That last phrase is almost the same one Paul uses in Romans 7:25 in reference to our bodily resurrection and glorification.
- 2 Corinthians 5–“For indeed while we are in this tent [body], we groan, being burdened [with our humanness]; because we do not want to be unclothed, but to be clothed, in order that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life” (v. 4).
- Philippians 3–“We eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory” (vv. 20-21). Ours is a triumphant hope!
Yet the battle goes on. We cry with the poet Tennyson, who wrote, “Ah for a new man to arise in me, that the man I am cease to be!” (Maud, x. 5). The battle won’t be over until Jesus gives us immortality. Full deliverance awaits glorification. But we can experience victory here and now in the power of the Holy Spirit.
A challenge: Dream a dream so big only God can fulfill it.
Dreams are not merely the nightly thoughts you experience as the brain sorts out the day’s events. They are the goals and visions that fire your heart and saturate your soul with joy at the very thought of them. They are those continuing visions of what you want your life to be at its highest level of fulfillment–what you want to do, how you want to do it, what kind of person you want to become in the process.
Your destiny and reason for living are wrapped up tightly in your dreams and desires, like the genetic information inside a seed. That dream in your heart contains your spiritual “DNA,” the very blueprint for who you are. Your dream is that idea, that vision for your life that burns inside of you–something you can’t ignore for long. It keeps coming back to your mind because it is part of who you are; it will never leave you alone.
A dream doesn’t drive you; it draws you. It is like a big magnet that pulls you toward itself. I don’t believe that there is a man or woman without a dream, because God designed every member of the human race to have dreams. Without a dream, a person will be frustrated in the present and will miss his or her future.
Your dream did not even originate with you. It resides within you, but God put it there. He is the source of your dream. When people dream without God, they find it hollow and unsatisfying. Every person must come to Jesus for his or her dream to make sense. In fact, without Jesus, you might follow a dream for your life that God never put in your heart.
Not every dream is from God. There is such a thing as godless dreams. But when your dream is God’s dream, it’s unstoppable.
Jesus said that apart from Him we can’t do anything and that all our dreams will be frustrated. The power, energy and creativity needed to fulfill our dreams must flow from Jesus.
The most common and most crucial question is, “How do I know which dreams in my heart are from God?” Here is the answer. You will know it’s God’s dream if:
1. It is bigger than you.
2. You can’t let it go.
3. You would be willing to give everything for it.
4. It will last forever.
5. It meets a need nobody else has met.
6. It brings glory to God.
Let’s unpack each of these. First, any dream God put in your heart will be much bigger than you. Most children start out with big dreams of being a major league baseball player or the first woman president of the United States. But people and circumstances whittle those dreams down to size. We reach adulthood, and we voluntarily trim our dreams to manageable proportions so we won’t be disappointed.
That’s the opposite of what we should do. We should set higher goals, not lower ones. God is the author of bigness, not smallness. We may not reach the highest dream, but we will go a lot farther by aiming high than aiming low.
The first test you can apply to your dream is: “Is it too big for me to fulfill without God’s help?” If you can do it without His help, you are not dreaming big enough. If it’s much bigger than you, you are on the right track. The Bible promises that all things are possible with God. Is your dream impossible enough? Does it go beyond you enough to qualify for God’s help? Your dream should be so big that it takes your breath away, makes you temporarily weak in the knees, and makes you cry out to God for help and guidance.
Next, are you able to let this dream go, or does it keep bugging you? A God-given dream is a bothersome thing: it won’t leave you alone! It keeps bobbing to the surface of your heart, clamoring for your mind’s attention. If that’s how your dream behaves, then it is probably from God. You also know it’s a God-given dream if you are willing to devote every ounce of energy and every minute of your days to it. A dream inspires devotion like the devotion a parent has for a child: you would give your very life just to see it grow and find fulfillment.
Will your dream last forever? Many people pursue dreams built on things that will fade away. They dream of fame, but fame never lasts. Others build dreams on wealth, health or power, but none of these last more than a few decades at most. A dream cannot be built on ego. It cannot be built on tradition–because the company expects it or your family expects it. None of these foundations will support your dream.
You must build your dreams on something that will last. Only two things in the entire world will last forever: truth and people. Heaven and earth will pass away, but God’s Word will never pass away. You have to build your dream on that never-changing foundation.
The second thing that lasts forever is people. God made human beings to last forever. Jesus came to seek and save that which was lost, to die for people. That’s how we should spend our lives, too. If God Himself thought people were worth dying for, shouldn’t we follow His example? In fact, the only way to minister to God is to minister to people, as He said, “When you’ve done it to the least of them, you’ve done it to Me” (see Matt. 25:40).
Your dream must be built on human need. Will it help people? Improve lives? Alleviate human suffering? Does it fill a need nobody else is filling? If so, you can be sure that dream is from God. The secret to happiness in life is pouring into other people, giving without expecting anything in return.
Finally, your dream should bring glory to God. The most horrible thing in life is to realize you have wasted months, years or decades following the wrong dream. Life is too precious to fritter away by building on a crumbling foundation. Many people lose their lives, not by dying, but by squandering their time.
So, you’ve identified your dream. If fills all the criteria of a dream from God Himself. How do you bring that dream to fruition? It’s not about brute force, mindless energy or human calculation. Here are some steps that I have noticed people take on the road to reaching their dreams:
1. Get alone with God.
One reason people never discover their dream and purpose in life is that they never stop long enough to listen. They are like the World War II pilot who became lost over the ocean and radioed back, “I have no idea where I am or where I’m heading, but I’m making record time.” Someone else said, “It’s an ironic habit of the human race that we double our speed when we’ve lost our way.”
We have to get alone with God and listen. Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still, and know that I am God.” To get a vision from God, turn off the television. Get quiet. Let God talk to you. An Indian tribe in Oregon used to send young men out, when they came of age, with the instruction, “Don’t come back until you have a vision.” Those who got discouraged came back early. Those who stayed until they had a vision became the leaders of the tribe.
Paul spent three years in the desert listening to God before he began his ministry. That was his seminary education. He said: “God, what is the overarching, all-consuming passion of my life? What will I do until I die?” Once he discovered his dream, he lived an extraordinary life.
2. Review your gifts and talents.
Romans 12:6 says we each have gifts. God gave you the gifts you have; you didn’t choose them. Fulfillment comes when you use those gifts for Him in service of your dream. Your gifts are the key to discovering God’s will in your life.
Desire points us to our dreams. God uses desire to accomplish what He wants on this earth. How did He make sure the world was populated? He gave men and women a desire for each other to produce children. How did He make sure we cared for our bodies? He made us thirsty and made two-thirds of the planet water. He made us hungry and caused food to grow all around us.
God speaks to us through desires. Many Christians have come to think that their motives and desires are corrupt and untrustworthy, but the Bible says that if any man is in Christ Jesus, he is a new creature. Old things pass away, and all things become new (see 2 Cor. 5:17). That includes our desires! The Bible says you can have the mind of Christ within you. So what does it say about your desires? It says your desires, when you become a new creature, are changed. That’s why God can say, “I want to give you the desires of your heart.”
3. Review your experience.
We pay attention not only to our desires and talents, but also to our past history. This is a powerful thing. Romans 8:28 says, ” … All things work together for good. … ” God uses all things.
God can use your desires and talents to serve your larger goals. Even if it’s a skill you don’t particularly enjoy, you may find it opens doors for you at key times. Not everything in our past is bound to be good. Some people reading this may have lingering pain in their lives. Some went through a divorce, grew up with angry parents or struggled with alcohol. Some had abortions, filed for bankruptcy or endured hurts that cannot be easily explained.
But each of these problems falls into the category of “all things.” God wants to integrate your hurts and difficulties into your life message. He never wastes circumstances, even bad ones. Before you became a believer, God was working to redeem the problems you faced. Not all things are good, but all things will work for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (see Rom. 8:28).
Second Corinthians 1:4 says God helps us in our troubles so we can help others who have troubles, using the same help we ourselves have received from God. When you grasp that, it will change the way you view your life circumstances, and it will help you discover your dream.
5. Begin to explore different avenues.
6. Journal your dream.
Once you are able to define your dream, write it down. Habakkuk 2:2 says, “Then the Lord answered me and said: ‘Write the vision and make it plain on tablets, that he may run who reads it.'” If you want to move ahead in your dream, you must write it down–inscribe it indelibly.
That shows resolve, definition and form. It is not enough to have an idea of what you want to do; you must have a plan for implementing it. Dreams do not come true by fantasizing–you have to write them down and let them become a guiding force in your life.
It has been said, “No individual has the right to come into the world and go out of it without leaving behind him distinct and legitimate reasons for having passed through it.” But most people have lost their dream.
It seems impractical in this world to believe you were born for something great. Somehow it becomes more important to have a steady job, pay the mortgage, keep things moving forward with the least amount of disruption and the highest possibility for what our society calls “success.” But the fulfillment of your dream has little to do with what our society considers success–it’s much bigger than that. Are you dreaming big enough?
Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one. —Colossians 4:6
Driving home from a meeting yesterday, I heard a radio advertisement that got my attention. It was for a computer program that checks e-mails as they are written. I was familiar with “spell check” and “grammar check” programs, but this was different. This was “tone check.” The software monitors the tone and wording of e-mails to make certain they are not overly aggressive, unkind, or mean-spirited.
As I listened to the announcer describe the features of this software, I wondered what it would be like to have something like that for my mouth. How many times have I reacted harshly instead of listening first—and later regretted the words I had spoken? Certainly a tone check would have protected me from responding so foolishly.
Paul saw the need for us as believers to check our speech—especially when talking to those who are not Christians. He said, “Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one” (Col. 4:6). His concern was that our speech be graceful, reflecting the beauty of our Savior. And it must be inviting to others. Talking with the right tone to unbelievers is vital to our ability to witness to them. Colossians 4:6 can be our tone check.
“I call on the young men of America who must make a choice today to take a stand on this issue. Tomorrow may be too late. The book may close. And don’t let anybody make you think that God chose America as his divine, messianic force to be a sort of policeman of the whole world. God has a way of standing before the nations with judgment, and it seems that I can hear God saying to America, “You’re too arrogant! And if you don’t change your ways, I will rise up and break the backbone of your power, and I’ll place it in the hands of a nation that doesn’t even know my name. Be still and know that I’m God.” “
Thirteen years ago today, the U.S. suffered a terrorist attack the likes of which it had never seen before. The incident set off a series of aftershocks with deep and far-reaching implications. Although the U.S. has struggled mightily to extricate itself from the tangles of terrorism, that prospect has become increasingly bleak with the rise of the Islamic State, a turn of events that has left the U.S. with no choice but to refocus its attention upon Iraq. In my opinion , there remain three major problems that have yet to be resolved over these past 13 years, the sum of which has exacerbated the situation even as the U.S. redoubles its efforts to fight terrorism.
Now, let me make it clear in the beginning, that I see this war as an unjust, evil, and futile war. I speak to you today on the war in the Middle East because my conscience leaves me with no other choice. The time has come for America to hear the truth about this tragic war. In international conflicts, the truth is hard to come by because most nations are deceived about themselves. Rationalizations and the incessant search for scapegoats are the psychological cataracts that blind us to our sins. But the day has passed for superficial patriotism. He who lives with untruth lives in spiritual slavery. Freedom is still the bonus we receive for knowing the truth. “Ye shall know the truth,” says Jesus, “and the truth shall set you free.” Now, I’ve chosen to speak about the war in Middle East because I agree with Dante, that the hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in a period of moral crisis maintain their neutrality. There comes a time when silence becomes betrayal.
First, there exist certain peculiarities behind why al-Qaida attacked the U.S. These qualities point to egregious flaws in Washington’s Middle Eastern policy and remain an area that the U.S. refuses to address.
The U.S. made the decision to provide financial and material aid to jihadi organizations such as al-Qaida. At the time, the U.S. needed these fighters to disrupt the Soviets in Afghanistan, and as jihadi embraced the idea that “all [Muslims] under heaven are one family,” they were naturally loathe to permit the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan at the expense of their Muslim brethren. In this way, as the U.S. propped up al-Qaida, it was simultaneously grooming its own future adversary. After the Soviet withdrawal, the choice was simple for al-Qaida to fix its sights on the U.S. as its next target due to the Western power’s rejection of the establishment of a Palestinian state in favor of Israel, an agenda that runs directly counter to the interests of Palestinian Muslims.
And so despite U.S. claims that it opposes all forms of terrorism, the measures that it adopts have often only bred further terrorist activity, as the U.S. is unwilling to thoroughly digest and understand the factors underlying the terrorist mindset, and therefore cannot properly eradicate the root causes of this disease.
Second, why were U.S. policymaking mechanisms unable to prevent the Iraq War? The U.S. touts itself as a democratic nation in possession of the most sophisticated and scientific policymaking systems on the planet. Iraq was not party to the 9/11 attacks, and when the U.S. launched its “pre-emptive” strike on Iraq in the spring of 2003, it found that the Middle Eastern state had not even developed weapons of mass destruction. Yet while obviously lacking evidence, the U.S. still decided to launch the Iraq War. The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency’s shortcuts in its intelligence operations resulted in an inexcusable error on the weighty question of whether to go to war.
When the U.S. Senate voted upon the declaration of war, then-Senators Hillary Clinton, John Kerry and John McCain all made grave mistakes by giving their support. The three were all eventually to fail in their separate bids for the presidency, but setting the U.S. military on the path to invasion was an act of grievous irresponsibility to other countries, as well as to the U.S. itself. Regardless of whether a product of flawed judgment or pandering to the electorate, they all proved themselves unworthy of becoming president. Instead, it would be a state senator from Illinois who would go on to assume that mantle. That person, Barack Obama, opposed the Iraq War, was later elected to the U.S. Senate, and finally ended the war in his capacity as president.
Third, why has the U.S. not offered an apology for the damage done to Iraq? Although the U.S. military has since withdrawn, the war cost Iraqis dearly in personnel and property, as well as triggering a severe societal and economic crisis within the country. Despite this, the U.S. has yet to issue an apology for the invasion, hold to account those responsible for launching the war, or make recompense. The Iraq War not only backfired upon the U.S., but plunged the Middle East into chaos and shattered the stability of the region. Now, the Islamic State has proclaimed the establishment of a state in Iraq and Syria, fomented a widespread humanitarian crisis and forced the U.S. to take military action because of its violent inertia, all of which are inextricably linked to the initial U.S. war against terrorism. But is the feigned nonchalance with which the U.S. has responded the mark of a responsible power?
Thirteen years have passed since the attacks of 9/11, but the U.S. is still unwilling to reflect upon the reasons it was targeted or apologize to and compensate the nations it has harmed, a fact that will ensure the bitter lessons of that day go entirely wasted.
The truth of these words is beyond doubt, but the mission to which they call us is a most difficult one. Even when pressed by the demands of inner truth, men do not easily assume the task of opposing their government’s policy, especially in time of war. Nor does the human spirit move without great difficulty against all the apathy of conformist thought within one’s own bosom and in the surrounding world. Moreover, when the issues at hand seem as perplexing, as they often do in the case of this dreadful conflict, we’re always on the verge of being mesmerized by uncertainty. But we must move on. Some of us who have already begun to break the silence of the night have found that the calling to speak is often a vocation of agony. But we must speak. We must speak with all the humility that is appropriate to our limited vision, but we must speak. And we must rejoice as well, for in all our history there has never been such a monumental dissent during a war, by the American people.
Polls reveal that almost 68% Americans explicitly oppose the war in Middle East. Additional millions cannot bring themselves around to support it. And even those millions who do support the war [are] half-hearted, confused, and doubt-ridden. This reveals that millions have chosen to move beyond the prophesying of smooth patriotism, to the high grounds of firm dissent, based upon the mandates of conscience and the reading of history. Now, of course, one of the difficulties in speaking out today grows the fact that there are those who are seeking to equate dissent with disloyalty. It’s a dark day in our nation when high-level authorities will seek to use every method to silence dissent. But something is happening, and people are not going to be silenced. The truth must be told, and I say that those who are seeking to make it appear that anyone who opposes the war against ISIS is a fool or a traitor or an enemy of our soldiers is a person that has taken a stand against the best in our tradition.
I have seen the damage these wars can cause first hand. I am still trying to get compensated for the scars I came home with that aren’t visible to the naked eye. I have escorted hundreds of soldiers home in these coffins and some of them I heard their last words. They went something like this “Can we really trust that our death will make a difference”? or “Can we “TRUST” in our leaders back in Washington?
Now, since I am a preacher by calling, I suppose it is not surprising that I have three major reasons for bringing the Middle East and 9/11 into the field of my moral vision. There is…a very obvious and almost facile connection between the war in the Middle East and the struggle I and others have been waging in America. A few years ago there was a shining moment in that struggle. It seemed that there was a real promise of hope for the poor, the disenfranchised both black and white, through the Poverty Program. There were experiments, hopes, and new beginnings. Then came the build-up in the Middle East. And I watched the program broken as if it was some idle political plaything of a society gone mad on war. And I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like ISIS continued to draw men and skills and money, like some demonic, destructive suction tube. And you may not know it, my friends, but it is estimated that we spend $500,000 to kill each enemy soldier, while we spend only fifty-three dollars for each person classified as poor, and much of that fifty-three dollars goes for salaries to people that are not poor. So I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor, and speak on it it as such.
Societies in failure mode because of American wars of genocide to control oil resources and any other political nonsense they can use to mis-inform it’s citizens. Oh, my friends, if there is any one thing that we must see today is that these are revolutionary times. All over the globe men are revolting against old systems of exploitation and oppression, and out of the wounds of a frail world, new systems of justice and equality are being born. The shirtless and barefoot people of the land are rising up as never before. The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light. They are saying, unconsciously, as we say in one of our freedom songs, “Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me around!” It is a sad fact that because of comfort, complacency, a morbid fear of communism, our proneness to adjust to injustice, the Western nations that initiated so much of the revolutionary spirit of the modern world have now become the arch anti-revolutionaries. This has driven many to feel that only Marxism has a revolutionary spirit. Therefore, communism is a judgment against our failure to make democracy real and follow through on the revolutions that we initiated. Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism. With this powerful commitment we shall boldly challenge the status quo, we shall boldly challenge unjust mores, and thereby speed up the day when “every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the rough places shall be made plain, and the crooked places straight. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.”
A genuine revolution of values means in the final analysis that our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies. This call for a worldwide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one’s tribe, race, class, and nation is in reality a call for an all-embracing, unconditional love for all men. This oft misunderstood and misinterpreted concept, so readily dismissed by the Nietzsches of the world as a weak and cowardly force, has now become an absolute necessity for the survival of mankind. And when I speak of love I’m not speaking of some sentimental and weak response. I am speaking of that force which all of the great religions have seen as the supreme unifying principle of life. Love is somehow the key that unlocks the door which leads to ultimate reality. This Hindu-Muslim-Christian-Jewish-Buddhist belief about ultimate reality is beautifully summed up in the first epistle of John: “Let us love one another, for God is love. And every one that loveth is born of God and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God, for God is love. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us and his love is perfected in us.”
Wherever my story takes me, however dark and difficult the theme, there is always some hope and redemption, not because readers like happy endings, but because I am an optimist at heart. I know the sun will rise in the morning, that there is a light at the end of every tunnel.
I don’t know how to write about this tonight because I am in so much pain for the family that lost their child as I have also. My lost of children go further than one child. I lost Demir from Sickle Cell Anemia at the age of two while serving my country. I lost Audrey on her 21 st birthday and I lost Leander to a life sentence in California while Parris is lost in Maryland. I am fighting the good fight tonight not to lose myself from all this reliving of all these loses. I lost time and talents and the use of so many skills and education. As I press toward this vision to become victorious with the vision of Second Chance Alliance I am overwhelmed with grief from several paradigms within this life I now live. My passion to perform ministry and be an instrument of good for God is a daily fight. The thoughts of not being good enough because of all the blood on my hands from trusting my country and myself. I am rambling I know, It’s because of the pain, please forgive me.
REFLECTIONS OF MY SOUL
When nightmares persist,
and dreams seem too real;
When fear attacks,
and the mask is no longer steel;
When desire seems unquenchable,
and the eyes of others mirror what I truly feel;
REFLECTIONS OF MY SOUL
When life has no meaning, and the world is at a standstill;
When words have nothing to convey,
and laughter is the irony of the day;
and tomorrow’s serenity seem so far away;
REFLECTIONS OF MY SOUL
When music causes my body to sway,
and the expectations of falling in love
encourage me to face another day;
When a welcomed touch
radiate a warmth greater than heat, and a simple hug
brings about an overwhelming feeling of peace;
REFLECTIONS OF MY SOUL
When a child’s anger turns to rage,
and a mother’s tears fall because of pain;
When a father’s absence is provoked by shame,
and a friend’s life stolen by the cruelty of the game;
All you see…is reflections of me…
reflections of my soul.
A MAN’S FEAR
A man’s fear –
Lives in the center of his existence.
It sharpens and crushes his emotions.
It shelters him from his enemies.
It trashes and destroys his joys.
Powerful as it is,
A man’s fear doesn’t let him live in peaceful awakening…
All the talk,
All the writing,
Won’t save a man from his own fear.
This fear has become
The very source of his life.
Only a man himself
Can cast away this monster out of his house.
It doesn’t matter
How much it is said…
Or the endless time spent in prayer.
The fear of a man
Is as stubborn and instinctive
As the lion’s fury.
It fills him with doubt.
It mocks his pretentious
Sense of stability.
I am a man!
I know what I’m talking about.
I’ve mated with this beast.
It now has become the host
And I, a guest to its domains…
Painful mourning –
Morning shouts –
Child’s sorrows –
Madness of the mind –
Anguish of the soul –
It encompasses all.
It is alive
And capriciously ahead
Of each step a man takes.
Fooling and tearing him apart
Manifesting his weakness
Any time he feels threatened.
A man’s fear
Is so rigidly
Rooted in his spine
That it has no origin
Nor an end.
It is undone,
It breathes life
But kills him inside.
A man’s fear
Dwells in his mind.
I lost communication with little Aaron and it pains my heart as well that I have a child out there somewhere that doesn’t believe I love him.
A tragic accident takes a husband from his family. The unexpected loss of a job leaves parents and children fearful and without provision. A young woman continues to wait for marriage, but each of her boyfriends says he still needs more time.
Sometimes we have the idea that if we just knew what direction to take, following God would be easier. But it never seems to work that way. How is God operating in our lives? Can we really know His will, and, if so, how can we know it?
“I’m totally confused. How in the world do I find the will of God for my life?” I cannot number how many times through the years I have heard that question. I am sometimes plagued by this question myself about what path am I to pursue to be in alignment with such a “Mighty God”.
I could probably list at least ten ways that God leads His children today, but I will limit myself to the four that I think are the most significant methods of God’s leading.
1. God leads us through His written Word.
As the psalmist said:
Your word is a lamp to my feet
And a light to my path. (Psalm 119:105)
Whenever you see the phrase “This is the will of God” in Scripture, you can count on it: that’s God’s will. You also know that to disobey is to reject His Word. Other clear indications of His leading are the precepts and principles in Scripture.
Precepts are clearly marked statements, such as “Abstain from sexual immorality.” That’s like saying, “Speed Limit 35.” What is speeding? Anything over 35 miles an hour. That’s a precept.
Then there are principles in Scripture, and these are general guidelines that require discernment and maturity if we are to grasp them. Paul writes of “the peace of God” guarding and guiding our hearts and our minds (Philippians 4:7). That’s like the sign that says, “Drive Carefully.” This may mean 40 miles an hour on a clear, uncongested road, or it may mean less than 10 miles an hour on an ice-covered curve. But it always means that we must be alert and aware of conditions . . . we have to be discerning. There is no sign large enough to list all the options you have when you’re behind the wheel. So you must know the rules of the road, follow the signs that are there, and use all your best judgment combined with discernment.
You will never, ever go wrong in consulting Scripture. Just be sure you pay close attention to the context. Don’t use the “open-window method,” letting the wind blow across the pages of your Bible and then closing your eyes and pointing to a verse and saying, “This is God’s leading on that.” If you do that, you could end up with “Judas went away and hanged himself” as your verse for the day! Don’t go there.
2. God leads us through the inner prompting of the Holy Spirit.
Read the following statement carefully:
So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. (Philippians 2:12–13)
The inner prompting of the Holy Spirit gives us a sense of God’s leading, although that leading is not always what we might call a “feel-good” experience. In my own life, my decision to accept the presidency of Dallas Theological Seminary was not an easy one. Ultimately, it was an “at-peace” decision, but it was not what I would have wanted or chosen. I found all kinds of ways to resist when the position was first offered to me. I wrote the president and the chairman a two-page letter, well thought through, carefully stated, and full of Scripture. It should have convinced anybody that I was the wrong person for the job. Except that God was busy convincing them—and, later, me—that I was the right person. Although it went against my own wishes at the time, I could not resist the compelling, all-powerful prompting of the Holy Spirit.
So I can testify from personal experience that you can believe you really know God’s will, and you may be dead wrong. But if you are, the prompting of the Holy Spirit will be nudging you within.
The mind of man plans his way,
But the LORD directs his steps. (Proverbs 16:9)
It’s easier to steer a moving car—just get the car rolling and you can push it into the filling station to get the gas. But it’s hard to get it moving from a dead stop. So you’re on your way, you’re making your plans, you’re thinking it through. In the process, stay open. By doing so, you may well sense inner promptings from the Holy Spirit steering you.
That inner prompting is crucial, because much of the time we just can’t figure it out.
Man’s steps are ordained by the LORD,
How then can man understand his way? (Proverbs 20:24)
(I love that!) When all is said and done, you’ll say, “Honestly, I didn’t figure this thing out. It must have been God.” Talk about mysterious! The longer I live the Christian life, the less I know about why He leads as He does. But I am absolutely confident that He leads.
3. God leads us through the counsel of wise, qualified, trustworthy people.
This does not mean some guru in Tibet or a serious-looking stranger at the bus stop. This refers to an individual who has proven himself or herself wise and trustworthy and, therefore, qualified to counsel on a given matter. Usually, such individuals are older and more mature than we are. Furthermore, they have nothing to gain or lose. This also means that they are often not in our immediate family. (Immediate family members usually don’t want us to do something that will take us away from them or cause us or them discomfort or worry.)
At critical moments in my own life, I have sought the counsel of seasoned individuals—and they’ve seldom been wrong. That’s been my experience. However, you must choose your counselors very carefully. And just as the best counselors are usually not your family, often they are not your best friends either. Wise and trustworthy counselors are persons who want for you only what God wants. Such persons will stay objective, listen carefully, and answer slowly. Often they won’t give you an answer at the time you ask for it. They want to sleep on it; they want to think and pray about it.
4. God leads us into His will by giving us an inner assurance of peace.
“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts,” Paul wrote to the Colossians, “to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful” (Colossians 3:15). God’s inner assurance of peace will act as an umpire in your heart.
Although peace is an emotion, I have found it wonderfully reassuring as I’ve wrestled with the Lord’s will. This deep-seated, God-given peace comes in spite of the obstacles or the odds, regardless the risk or danger. It’s almost like God’s way of saying, “I’m in this decision . . . press on . . . trust Me through it.”
The will of God for our lives is not some high-sounding theory; it is reality. We have looked at some of the ways God leads us into His will. Now comes the bottom line: we have to live out His will in the real world.
Doing God’s will demands a decision. And that decision requires faith and action. You can’t see the end, so you have to trust Him in faith and then step out. You have to act. Faith and obedience are like twins; they go together.
Hebrews 11:6 tells us that “without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a re-warder of those who seek Him.”
One day I bought an inexpensive model of the solar system for my son. Installing it required me to suspend each planet from the ceiling. After bending up and down several times, I was lightheaded and tired. Hours later, we heard a “plink” as Jupiter hit the floor.
Later that night, I thought about how our flimsy replica fell apart, yet Jesus sustains the actual universe. “He is before all things, and in Him all things consist” (Col. 1:17). The Lord Jesus holds our world together, maintaining the natural laws that rule the galaxy. Our Creator also upholds “all things by the word of His power” (Heb. 1:3). Jesus is so mighty that He keeps the universe in order simply by commanding it to be so!
As amazing as this is, Jesus is more than a cosmic caretaker. He sustains us too. He “gives life and breath to everything, and He satisfies every need” (Acts 17:25 NLT). While Jesus sometimes provides for us differently than we might expect, our Savior keeps us going whether we are brokenhearted, in need of money, or enduring illness.
Until the day He calls us home, we can trust that the One who keeps Jupiter from falling is the One who holds us up as well.
There are times when things look very dark to me–so dark that I have to wait even for hope. It is bad enough to wait in hope. A long-deferred fulfillment carries its own pain, but to wait for hope, to see no glimmer of a prospect and yet refuse to despair; to have nothing but night before the casement and yet to keep the casement open for possible stars; to have a vacant place in my heart and yet to allow that place to be filled by no inferior presence–that is the grandest patience in the universe. It is Job in the tempest; it is Abraham on the road to Moriah; it is Moses in the desert of Midian; it is the Son of man in the Garden of Gethsemane. There is no patience so hard as that which endures, “as seeing him who is invisible”; it is the waiting for hope.
Thou hast made waiting beautiful; Thou has made patience divine. Thou hast taught us that the Father’s will may be received just because it is His will. Thou hast revealed to us that a soul may see nothing but sorrow in the cup and yet may refuse to let it go, convinced that the eye of the Father sees further than its own.
Give me this Divine power of Thine, the power of Gethsemane. Give me the power to wait for hope itself, to look out from the casement where there are no stars. Give me the power, when the very joy that was set before me is gone, to stand unconquered amid the night, and say, “To the eye of my Father it is perhaps shining still.”
I shall reach the climax of strength when I have learned to wait for hope.
Strive to be one of those–so few–who walk the earth with ever-present consciousness–all mornings, middays, star-times–that the unknown which men call Heaven is “close behind the visible scene of things.”
If women would realize what an influence they have, they would be filled with pride. If men recognized how influential women are, they would be scared to death.”
It is said that we all influence at least 250 people in our lifetime. We each have the responsibility of leadership.
Every woman can be a leader. Yet results of surveys show that most women greatly underestimate their influence.
At home it can be organizing our children to clean the house or, more important, instilling values and morals into their lives. At the workplace, it can be motivating people for sales. We influence others by what we say and do–and by how we do our work.
We recognize that Mother Teresa was one of the great religious and humanitarian leaders of the world. When we aspire to be leaders, we must learn to discern between fame and greatness. Fame is Madonna; greatness is Mother Teresa. There is a tremendous shortage of and need for truly great leaders–leaders who are trustworthy, ethical, good, honest and who have high personal standards. The world is looking for honest and upright leaders.
Thankfully there are more women in leadership now than when I first began taking on leadership responsibilities. Being in leadership roles for more than thirty years–with greater and lesser responsibilities–I have learned a great deal about good leadership. What is a leader? “A leader is a person who influences people to accomplish a purpose.” How do you become a leader? “A leader correctly assesses a situation and knows how to take the next step.”
Whether you know it or not, whether you believe it or not, you’re a leader–an influencer. Your opinions are listened to and acted upon. The following nine principles will help you make the most of your influence:
1. Have a dream that will leave this world a better place
“Is there anything worse then being blind? Yes! The most pathetic person in the whole world is someone who has sight but has no vision.” So said Helen Keller.
Leadership is simply the ability to turn a dream or a vision of a desired future state into a reality with and through the cooperation of other people. To throw your life into something worthwhile, your dream must be worth dying for. What do you get excited about?
Have a big vision; something beyond your capabilities to keep you challenged. If we have aimed our efforts for this moment only–for ourselves, for the accumulation of material things, for pleasure–we will soon become dissatisfied and disillusioned with life. Former British Prime Minster Margaret Thatcher said, “There is little hope for democracy if the hearts of men and women cannot be touched by a call to something greater than themselves.”
Have a dream and vision that is greater then yourself–one that will leave this world a better place.
2. Know what your strengths are
To be leaders, we need each other to reach our goals. Each of us has only some of the skills needed to do a great job. We need to surround ourselves with people to fill in our gaps. Seventy-nine year-old Muriel Tower, an experienced entrepreneur, said, “You get things done through other people. Number one in business is get the best person for the job. Number two, delegate. Number three, supervise–go back and see that they did it.”
In order to be effective, you need a team to work with. We lead on the basis of our strengths; we gather our team on the basis of their strengths.
What is your leadership style? Are you a visionary? A person who can see the big picture and take risks? Or are you a detail person–an administrative type? You see the need for systems and order. You do things right and at the right time. You are efficient. Perhaps you are more of a sales person–a people gatherer. You love people and can sell anything to anyone, but don’t care about details. Or maybe you just love working by yourself. A hard worker–a producer. Let someone give you a track to run on and you’ll do it.
Before you are thirty years old, you can probably do all of those jobs without too much difficulty. But once you are over thirty, you realize you don’t want to do the things you aren’t good at. It uses up too much energy. When you know what you are good at, surround yourself with a team who are good at the other three.
When you have that team, meet with them regularly and have a purpose statement that you work toward. Review it often with your staff so you don’t lose your focus. Set short and long term goals, and evaluate two or three times a year to see how you are doing. Your team will be motivated toward reaching your goals together. Give credit where credit is due. Say “thank you” to the people you are working with. Encourage them often!
Understanding your strengths and the strengths of others is a key to effective leadership.
3. Strive for excellence
The people you want to influence will not rise to a higher standard of excellence than what they observe in you. The authors of Megatrends for Women write, “Male or female, the effective leader wins commitment by setting an example of excellence.”
We were hosting a dinner for influential women in three cities with a well-known, successful speaker. Of course we were eager to make a good impression, so we spent hours wording the invitations. However, when they were printed and we looked them over, we discovered–to our dismay–that the logo for our organization was printed upside down. It was a costly oversight.
After much discussion, we decided to reprint them even though we knew that the majority of the women would not even notice the mistake.
We wanted to influence leaders and we had to do things right, not only do the right things. Leaders must strive for excellence.
Strive for excellence and you will motivate others to do the same.
4. Be persistent
Mother Teresa was a determined woman. Margaret Thatcher was a determined woman. The key to being a good leader is endurance–being a non-quitter. You will be tempted to quit and be encouraged to quit by those who are friends and enemies. Be unwilling to throw in the towel. Be determined.
One journalist wrote of Mother Teresa: “When I met Mother Teresa, I discovered she was very tiny–less than five feet tall–and kept her head cocked to one side. She had gnarled hands and thick peasant feet that protruded from under her coarse white sari. Although there was no mistaking the aura of warmth and kindness that surrounded her, I felt I was in the presence of the most powerful, focussed and determined person I had ever met.”
According to a survey done by Deloitte and Touche, senior women executives rated Determination and Perseverance as the number one essential qualities for Women’s success in business. In order to leave this world a different place, you have to be persistent. Leaders don’t grow in a comfort zone. Leaders are not people with exceptional talent; they are people who have learned from their mistakes and get up and try again.
Persistence is a key to effective leadership.
5. Be willing to stand alone
If you have a passion, a dream or a mission, set measurable goals and work toward accomplishing them. You will find that many times you may have to work alone. You will probably be lonely.
People are looking for leaders who are willing to give it all they have, and they will follow–for a while. However, when the going gets tough, when pleasure and comfort compete with responsibility and long hours, followers will drop away. That is when you have to be sure that what you are doing is right, so that you will keep going.
James Cook said, “A person who wants to lead the orchestra must turn his back on the crowd.”
6. Be ready for resistance
One of the facts of life is that when you are in leadership, you have to solve problems.
Pastor Lloyd Ogilvie, for many years the senior pastor at First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood, California and now Chaplain of the U.S. Senate, once observed that “Everyone has problems; if you don’t have any now, you will have problems; wherever you work or live, you’ll have problems; or you just might be someone else’s problem.”
Sometimes we have the faulty notion that we should be able to go through life problem free–that if we have problems, something is wrong with our life. As leaders, we have to be responsible, no matter how painful it is. Running away is not an option.
We can easily fall into waiting for someone else to solve our problems. In her book, The Cinderella Complex, Colette Dowling writes about waiting for Prince Charming: “Like Cinderella, women today are still waiting for something external to transform their lives. We may venture out a little, but underneath lurks a wish to be saved, a deep yearning for dependence.”
You don’t need to wait for someone else’s help. You will have problems. Be ready. Expect it. If you know you are doing what is right, you won’t cave in when the going gets tough.
Facing problems and dealing with them by making good decisions is the difference between a leader and a follower.
7. Set an example for your staff
“Work hard and become a leader; be lazy and never succeed.”
I am amazed at how often people want a position, but not the responsibility. It is natural to want to escape responsibility; we all do it. However, being a leader means working long hours. It means being available to solve problems or give direction whenever necessary. Being a leader means being a servant, whether you are in your home or at work. You are always on call.
A leader works hard.
8. Be ethical
As I travel a lot, I gather stats from many different papers and magazines. USA Today stated that two in three adults believe ethics “vary by situation” or that there is no “unchanging ethical standard of right and wrong.” Only 18% of the people ages 20 – 30 said that there was one standard of right and wrong.
The Vancouver Province printed another study, which reflected that we tell 200 lies a day. Everything from giving excuses for our behaviour, to saying things like, “I hate to bother you . . . ” Don’t expect your staff or the next generation to do what is right if they see you doing what is wrong. It is incredibly important that we have a strong code of ethics to base our decisions and lifestyle on.
What set of values dictate your ethics–your behaviour? Or do you have a code of ethics? Do you have convictions that cause you to say, “I will never do that” or “For me, that is not an option?” If you don’t, sit down, think through and write down your non-negotiable code of ethics. Sometimes it can be the little things that erode your standards and–by the way–your self esteem. When temptation comes, you may very well do something that you will later be sorry for. Sometimes you have harmful situations to live with the rest of your life.
Margaret Thatcher once said, “I am not a consensus politician, I am a conviction politician.” What kind of leader are you? Do you have convictions of your own or do you live by the consensus of other opinions?
It is of utmost importance to have high ethical standards to be an effective leader.
9. Let God be your guide
Elizabeth Dole, President of the American Red Cross, stated in an interview: “To me it’s very important to know I have a source of strength beyond my own. When I’m undertaking a difficult assignment or making a tough decision, I’m glad I don’t have to rely on my own energy, wisdom, and judgement.”
Twenty-four years ago, I realized I needed a source of strength beyond myself. The goals I had set for myself were not satisfying and even relationships did not fill my deepest need. At the ageof thirty-two, I gave the control of my life to God. He is that source of strength I needed. I simply prayed, “I want You to be my Guide from now until I die.” He heard me.
Initially, I was filled with tremendous joy, peace and satisfaction. I felt like someone really cared for me–accepted me unconditionally. It was like finding a missing piece to a puzzle after looking for a long time.
My goals, priorities and dreams started changing. My dreams became much bigger–beyond what I could personally do. My scope of interest grew from the home base to the community, from the community to the province, from the province to our nation, from our nation to the world.
I noticed many women in my world were not maximizing their abilities; I worked hard to encourage and train them to be the best women they could be.
Yet what is more important, I realized that if Jesus Christ could satisfy me and change my life so dramatically, He could do that for anyone. So I started telling people how they could have a personal relationship with God.
Find the power to change your life and your world–let God be your guide.
Oliver W. Holmes was quoted as saying, “I find the great thing in this world is not so much where we stand, as is what direction we are heading.” What direction do you think you will be heading 5 years from now? 10 years from now? 25 years from now?
As a leader, what direction are you heading? What direction are you taking the 250 people you are influencing?
Living with hope
If you are looking for peace, there is a way to balance your life. No one can be perfect, or have a perfect life. But every one of us has the opportunity to experience perfect grace through a personal relationship with God through his Son, Jesus Christ.
You can receive Christ right now by faith through prayer. Praying is simply talking to God. God knows your heart and is not so concerned with your words as he is with the attitude of your heart. Here’s a suggested prayer:
Lord Jesus, I want to know you personally. Thank you for dying on the cross for my sins. I open the door of my life to you and ask you to come in as my Savior and Lord. Take control of my life. Thank you for forgiving my sins and giving me eternal life. Make me the kind of person you want me to be.
The Message (MSG)
20-26 “In famine, he’ll keep you from starving,
in war, from being gutted by the sword.
You’ll be protected from vicious gossip
and live fearless through any catastrophe.
You’ll shrug off disaster and famine,
and stroll fearlessly among wild animals.
You’ll be on good terms with rocks and mountains;
wild animals will become your good friends.
You’ll know that your place on earth is safe,
you’ll look over your goods and find nothing amiss.
You’ll see your children grow up,
your family lovely and lissome as orchard grass.
You’ll arrive at your grave ripe with many good years,
like sheaves of golden grain at harvest.
A man who once wrote about the salvaging of old ships stated that it was not the age of the wood from the vessel alone that improved its quality. The straining and the twisting of the ship by sea, the chemical reaction produced by the bilge-water, and the differing cargoes also had an effect.
Several years ago some boards and veneers cut from an oak beam from an eighty-year-old ship were exhibited at a fashionable furniture store on Broadway in New York City. They attracted attention, because of their elegant coloring and beautiful grain. Equally striking were some mahogany beams taken from a ship that sailed the seas sixty years ago. The years of travel had constricted the pores of the wood and deepened its colors, so that they were as magnificent and bright as those of an antique Chinese vase. The wood has since been used to make a cabinet that sits in a place of honor in living room of a wealthy New York family.
There is also a great difference between the quality of elderly people who have lived listless, self-indulgent, and useless lives and the quality of those who have sailed through rough seas, carrying cargo and burdens as servants of God, and as helpers of others. In the latter group, not only has the stress and strain of life seeped into their lives but the aroma of the sweetness of their cargo has also been absorbed into the very pores of each fiber of their character.
When the sun finally drops below the horizon in the early evening, evidence of its work remains for some time. The skies continue to glow for a full hour after its departure. In the same way, when a good or great person’s life comes to its final sunset, the skies of this world are illuminated until long after he is out of view. Such a person does not die from this world, for when he departs he leaves much of himself behind-and being dead, he still speaks.
When Victor Hugo was more than eighty years old, he expressed his faith in this beautiful way: “Within my soul I feel the evidence of my future life. I am like a forest that has been cut down more than once, yet the new growth has more life than ever. I am always rising towards the sky, with the sun shining down on my head. The earth provides abundant sap for me, but heaven lights my way to worlds unknown.
“People say the soul is nothing but the effect of our bodily powers at work. If that were true, then why is my soul becoming brighter as my body begins to fail? Winter may be filling my head, but an eternal spring rises from my heart. At this later hour of my life, I smell the fragrance of lilacs, violets, and roses, just as I did when I was twenty. And the closer I come to the end of my journey, the more clearly I hear the immortal symphonies of eternal worlds inviting me to come. It is awe-inspiring yet profoundly simple.”
Tonight I am suffering with sheer grief about my church, my mind, my body and my spirit the trichotomy I am. The “Why” is because of the condition of the building and gathering at churches I sometime am able to frequent. People say I miss you but never call, people say I love you but abandon you, silent gang banging and clicks look upon you with disdain because of caste status or educational prominence. The church today is a place I am struggling to go and fellowship with. I am told that my sister and brother are those that love the Father, but I just can’t see that always in myself nor in my sister or brother. I am perplexed within myself because I feel some type of way about the behavior of others that make me contemplate the realism of emotions displayed within the corporate setting.
The Church renewed. Renewal means restoring the Church to the full intentions and specifications and blueprints of the One who founded it: Jesus Himself. Jesus founded the Church according to the blueprint that was in His Father’s mind. You and I are involved in renewing it, getting it back to that perfect plan that Jesus had, based on what His Father gave Him. Renewing the Church is not something that you and I do, really, but it’s something that God does through us if we will let Him do it. It is the power of the Holy Spirit that is the key factor in the renewal of the Church. It’s not our efforts. It’s rather our surrender and our willingness to be ready to be used by the Lord. But He is the one who does it. It’s His power.
I really love the calling on my life and I really love doing the work and the abiding in Christ Jesus, because He gave so much for me to be able to bring glory to His Holy name. I want above anything to serve God and love with all my heart as to allow my life to be pleasing to God. I have every reason to be in fellowship with others and with Christ. No one heard my cry when I was in a comma for seven months from being shot in the chest but Jesus, no one heard me cry when I was in a pit in Libya and getting tortured beyond what I could bare, no one heard me when I was on a level four penitentiary facing death at every turn, no one heard me when I was hungry and strung out on cocaine living in the very vomit I created because I wanted bling-bling and women and candy paint on my toys. I really feel I need a Renewal and so does the Church. I want to understand these feelings because I want to be the hands of Jesus today!!! I am so fervent in my quest to be connected I try diligently to go to Saturday church and Sunday, I try to balance all this through the precious spirit of God because I am so disconnected without my God…. I am broken, the ministry is over whelming to me tonight, I don’t know who is real or what to do with these desires to let my difference make a difference. I feel ship wrecked and I am crying out to the God of the universe to help me find my place.
What Does The Real Church Look Like?
I believe with all my heart that God is going to re-establish His true Church – the real Church. I’m talking about the Church that He intended, the one that makes it possible for those who really believe in Him to see His purpose fulfilled in their lives. And what is God’s purpose? To see all those who believe in Him conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29). Through the ministry of the Holy Spirit working in the Church (His true Church), the Father wants to strip away everything in us that doesn’t look like Jesus.
The traditional church today doesn’t know much about that. Most “pastors” (if you read the article “Leadership in the Early Church” you’ll understand why I put the word pastor in quotation marks) preach an American gospel that’s designed to make people comfortable with themselves and with God. It’s an upbeat message of “I’m O.K. you’re O.K. Just live your life however you think is best (as long as you come to church on Sunday and give me your money). Don’t worry; God will meet you where you are. No changes are required, forget repentance, let’s just rejoice and be happy. I’ll see you in heaven. Remember, God loves you, besides, you don’t believe anyone is really going to hell, do you?” Church ministry today is designed to give people what they want, what God requires is irrelevant. And, that is what you would expect it to be when men are in charge, instead of God.
To see what the real church looks like requires a somewhat novel approach,we’ll have to look at the scriptures. I know it sounds crazy, but trust me on this. You won’t find what you’re looking for in church history books. After all, the first church wasn’t a Baptist church in Oklahoma or Texas (even though the Baptists claim they can trace their roots all the way back to John the Baptist, a claim John is probably not too happy about).
No, the first real church was Jesus and His 12 disciples. The first church was actually a training school for those who would establish the second-generation churches after Jesus ascended back to the Father. It was Jesus showing His disciples, first hand, how to have church. They met in houses and gardens, by the sea and on boats in the sea, in the middle of the road, on hillsides and on mountaintops. They met wherever Jesus happened to be. These meetings formed their understanding of what church was supposed to be and established a pattern for the next generation of churches.
Now, just for fun, let me describe to you what one of these meetings in this first church must have looked like. When it was time for the meeting, everyone got dressed up in their best suit of clothes, grabbed a hymnbook and a big, fat Bible to carry under their arm. Then they all made their way down to the building with the sign out front that said “First Church”. The marquee out front had the sermon topic for the day: “How To Overcome Anxiety In A Frenzied World”, and the name of the class that would meet that evening, “Divorce Recovery at 6 PM”. Everyone filed in, sat down in neat rows, eyes forward, and waited for the minister of music to start the service. They sang three songs, recited the Apostles Creed, sang another song, passed the offering plate and listened to a choir “special”. Then Jesus, looking resplendent in a shiny, blue, three-piece suit, with a really great silk tie, took the pulpit and delivered a comforting, somewhat humorous, thirty-minute sermon. Everyone felt good about what they had heard and complimented Jesus on what a splendid job He had done, and then they all went to lunch. And Jesus was relieved that no one was uncomfortable with what He had said and felt sure that most of them would return next week. And in the satisfaction of a job well done, He soon forgot about the whole thing and began to think about something really important, His golf game (His putting had been terrible the past several weeks). That sounds just about right doesn’t it? No?
Then how about this? Get out your Bible (I mean it, don’t read any further, unless you have your Bible), now read Matthew 5:1 to 8:1. What you just read was an account of one of the very first church meetings. The actual church was small, but there was a “multitude” of visitors that day and the sermon was really long. Then read Matthew 8:2-4. That was the next church meeting, but this time there was only one visitor. Now read Matthew 8:5-13. Here’s something unusual. The sermon was only about 20 seconds long (imagine that), and it was both confronting and judgmental. I’m sure some of the visitors were offended this time, and I don’t think they’ll be coming back. Then Jesus had another meeting at Peter’s house (Matthew 8:14-17); another the next day by the Sea of Galilee (8:18-22); then, later, in a boat (8:23-27); and still another the following day on the other side of Galilee with the disciples, two other guys, a bunch of demons, a herd of pigs and some more visitors from town (8:28-34).
Are you getting the picture? From Matthew 5:1 to 8:34, Jesus had at least 7 church meetings. Actually, He probably had many more than that. How do I know? Because, in reading these 4 chapters in Matthew, the Lord taught me the one, overwhelming principle illustrated in this first church. It’s really simple, but at the same time, really profound. What does the first church show us? What should every church learn from its example? What were the 12 disciples doing? Pay attention. Here it is: THEY WERE LIVING WITH JESUS!!! The function of the church, any church, is to enable believers in their walk with Jesus. It must promote the reality of living moment-by-moment, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, week after week, year after year with Jesus.
The simple fact of the matter is that church is supposed to be the support system for believers in their continuous, uninterrupted relationship with Jesus. It should support them in their constant, openly transparent, submissive, obedient, life changing, transforming, renewing, Holy Spirit-led, love relationship with the Savior; and if you’re ever going to be conformed to the image of Christ, that is the lifestyle that is required. How can you be changed into something you haven’t experienced and submitted yourself to? And I don’t want to cover old ground again, but that doesn’t simply define a relationship. If you read your Bible (void of the prevailing religious bias and deceptions) you will realize that what I’m describing is salvation. The Bible doesn’t describe salvation as something that is accomplished in the past. It can’t be based on something you’ve already done (church membership, baptism, a profession of faith, confirmation classes, etc.). Salvation is a hope (actually, a confidence) that is based on what you are doing today. It is based on the firm commitment to a continual relationship with God that requires your submission to His will and purpose. It requires change (yours, not His). And I hate to mention this just now, but it involves suffering (really, you can look it up, try I Peter 4:12-19 for starters). If you just read the red letters in the Gospel accounts, you’ll see that Jesus never describes salvation as something that is quick and easy (only religion scribes using isolated verses do that). Instead, He presents it as something that is difficult, something that demands persistence and something that only a few will achieve (Jesus said there would only be a few that would be willing to travel the narrow road that leads to life).
Salvation is not based on what you know about God, Jesus made that perfectly clear. It’s not an intellectual exercise; it’s a lifestyle. It’s living with Jesus. The church is a group of people living with Jesus, sharing their experiences with one another, as they live with Him; nothing more; but certainly, nothing less! A community of believers undergoing change together, submitting to His will and purpose, being conformed to the image of Christ, as they are being saved (yes, salvation is a continuing process that has a starting point, but no ending point, read Luke 9:23-24; I Corinthians 1:18; Philippians. 2:12-13; Hebrews 3:14 and I Peter 2:2-3 in the NIV, a translation that actually gets it right).
I’m amazed at the number of churches today who claim to be “New Testament”, but have nothing at all in common with the churches described in the New Testament. On the other hand, it is equally amazing that I recently read of another church who described their search for identity and purpose this way, “In the absence of a clear model, we set out to create our own.” I couldn’t believe it, “In the absence of a clear model?” Give me a break! Why not just be honest and admit that you’re just another traditional church looking for new and innovative ways to attract more people, while trying to figure out how you can effectively entertain them while they’re there, so they’ll feel good about the whole deal and come back the next week. And at the same time, slip something religious into the mix, so they’ll think they had some gushy, sentimental encounter with God (you know, something they can deal with on their own terms, nothing heavy).
But there is a New Testament model. If Jesus and His 12 disciples were the first generation church, then those established by the disciples after Jesus’ ascension were the second generation churches. Now, it’s time to really pay attention again. Remember the principle illustrated by the first church wasliving with Jesus. He was there, physically with them, every day, every night, day after day, week after week, for almost 4 years. Then He was gone! Now these men, and others, began establishing churches all over the place (in Asia Minor, Europe and Africa). And the principle of these second generation churches comes through loud and clear. Are you ready for this? If you can remember what you’ve already read, you should be able to guess. Here it is:LIVING WITH JESUS IN A COMMUNITY OF OTHER BELIEVERS WHO ARE LIVING WITH HIM TOO!!!
Now I’ve said all this as an introduction to get to this place. I’m not writing a book on the subject; you’re not supposed to learn this stuff from books anyway (or from pastor’s sermons either, for that matter). You’re supposed to submit yourselves to God and let Him teach you. But, since there’s so much deception in the so-called church today, and in the absence of truth, it’s important to at least point those who are interested in the right direction.
Now I know what the problem is. I’ve heard the argument many, many times. “God doesn’t speak to believers any more. That’s why we have the Bible. He speaks to us through the written word. The Bible is our only source of faith and practice.” But now I have a real problem with that! THAT’S NOT WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS!!!
A look at Ephesians 4:17-24 might help. In verses 17-19, Paul is talking about living like Godless heathen in the futility of worldly reason, being ignorant of and estranged from God, and insensitive to any real spirituality (that is, being bound up in men’s thoughts, religion’s traditions and rituals, and experiencing no reality in God).
Then this is what we see in verses 20-24: “But this is not what you learn from following Christ! If you have really heard Him and have been taught personally by Him, as all true reality is found in Him, you will get rid of your old way of life, your old self that was on its way to destruction because of deceitful lusts. And then you will continually be renewed in your mind, with a fresh spiritual attitude, a new self, being recreated in God’s image, in righteousness and true holiness.”
Thank you Paul for clearing that up for us! In my mind, the key to understanding what Paul is saying here is found in the word translated “truth” in verse 21 (“true reality” italicized in my translation above). The word is aletheia in the Greek text and means, “the reality of a thing, as opposed to the mere appearance of it” or maybe more to the point, “the truth as opposed to error”. What Paul is trying to express is the fact that the true reality of Jesus is found in hearing Him and being personally taught by Him. That’s the spiritual reality or spirituality that I talk about in some of the other articles. Again, true reality is never found in man’s religion. The traditions and rituals of man represent only the mere appearance of God, and that’s not what He wants us to have.
And when we receive glimpses of this true reality from Him, the result should be that we accept Who He is and at the same time reject who we are and change. The result, then, is as Paul says in the passage – we get rid of the old self that is on its way to destruction and embrace the new self that is being recreated in God’s image, reflecting His righteousness and holiness!
Now, what does this have to do with what the real church looks like? I’m glad you asked. The answer is found in the very next verse, Ephesians 4:25. This is what it says, “Therefore, rejecting outright everything that is false, let us all show forth this true reality to those who are likeminded with us, for we are all members of the same body.” This is what the real church should look like today: likeminded people (those with the courage to pursue Him on His terms, not theirs) who meet together to share with one another the true reality of Christ in their lives. What has He taught you and how have you changed? This is the real church: those who are being conformed to the image of Christ, sharing their experiences with one another, encouraging and supporting one another as they go.
I’ll end the blog with this, it tells us what God intended and what the Scriptures describe (this is a simple explanation of Colossians 2:5-7): believers standing together, drawing strength from one another (verse 5), determined to live with Him and be like Him (verse 6), and having the very foundation of their lives firmly established on the things He is teaching them and being thankful for His participation in their lives (verse 7). Now that’s what the real church looks like.