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.
Chances are you have a very well thought-through mission and vision.
And that’s fantastic.
But have you ever thoroughly thought through the culture of your organization?
Here’s why that matters:
Your mission and vision determine the what and the why of what you do.
Your culture determines how your organization feels and behaves.
And, in most cases, your culture trumps your mission and vision. Often without anyone saying a word or even realizing it, you can undo a great mission by having a terrible culture.
If you’ve ever struggled with why a compelling mission and vision haven’t taken you further, maybe it’s time to look at your culture.
The truth is simple: A bad organizational culture will kill a great organizational mission.
Yes, You’ve Left Great Missions Behind Because of a Bad Culture
You’ve already left great missions behind because of bad organizational cultures.
You went to a home design store that had the exact product you needed, but you left because the staff didn’t care or because the owner treated you poorly.
You avoid a certain location in a restaurant chain you otherwise love because the staff always get your order wrong and the restrooms are rarely clean.
You didn’t stay long at the company you first worked for after graduating, not because it wasn’t in your field (it was), but because you really didn’t like the people you worked with.
None of these problems are really mission or vision problems. At their heart, they’re cultural problems.
And if you think about it, you probably have a few places you visit regularly not because you even like the mission or vision, but because you like the culture?
Ever go to a coffee shop or favourite restaurant when you weren’t all that hungry, just to hang out? Miss your college days because you loved the people you were with? I sometimes go to my favourite bike store even when I’m not buying anything because I love the vibe and conversation (and even the smell). That’s culture.
Your problem often isn’t what you believe as an organization, it’s how you behave.
(By the way…because culture problems are often people problems and sin problems, the phenomenon is wider than just church. So even if you don’t work in church, some of these signs might seem uncomfortably familiar.)
Here are 5 signs your culture needs to change:
1. You judge the culture around you, rather than love the people in it
For some strange reason, most of us in the church today are known for our judgment more than our love. This is almost criminal, as Jesus said that the defining hallmark of his followers should be love.
It is impossible to judge someone and love someone at the same time. Certainly, you can discern that there are issues. But to judge is to put yourself above someone. (I would cite scripture here, but I think we all know the Bible couldn’t be clearer about not judging outsiders).
Somehow we’ve flipped it. We let people on the inside off the hook and judge people outside. And then we wonder why our church isn’t growing and why our church is serially unhealthy.
Many churches aren’t growing because people judge more than they love. It’s human nature to gravitate to people who accept us (this explains everything from gangs to clubs to friendships), and I believe the point of the cross is not judgment but salvation through Christ.
If you lead a Christian church, your mission is to reach people, not judge people.
Even if you love people, someones Christians have this weird habit of behaving in ways that are just…strange.
When there is a significant gap between how you talk to people in the grocery store and how you talk to people in church, it’s a sign you might have a cultural barrier that new people will find hard to surmount.
I realize people have traditions, but sometimes these traditions get in the way of the mission. If nobody can understand what you’re saying because you speak in Christianese or some kind of insider code, well, how do you expect people to feel a sense of belonging before they read your book of code (which by the way, nobody bothered to publish).
I don’t want to have to convert people to my culture. I’d rather see them converted to Jesus.
When you need to convert people to your culture before they convert to Christianity, your mission is at risk.
3. What you think is contemporary, isn’t
Of all the lies we tell, the lies we tell ourselves are the most subtle and deadly. Far too many churches make a lot of changes to how they behave and declare themselves ‘contemporary’, when the truth is they just sound traditional in a slightly different way to outsiders.
If you’re trying to be a contemporary church (and I realize not everyone is), get some outside feedback as to whether people who don’t go to church really connect with your culture and style. The fact that your ‘people’ like it simply creates a self-perpetuating community.
4. You handle conflict poorly and indirectly
Conflicted churches rarely grow. And, unresolved, sustained conflict will kill almost every organization’s mission in the long run.
Ironically, churches should be the best at resolving conflict. Often, we are the worst, despite some incredible biblical instruction on how to do it.
If your church has years (or decades) of continual infighting and never resolves conflict directly, just one question: why would anyone join you?
5. You have a justification for every bit of criticism you receive.
Sometimes people love their not-very-effective culture.
Churches that are great at never changing their defective culture often have a handy justification for every suggestion for improvement that comes their way.
In fact, often that justification comes with a bit of arrogance toward the dummies who ‘just don’t get us’.
Sadly, a closed and mildly arrogant attitude will often shrink a group until it becomes a closed minded ‘us against the world’ kind of attitude. That’s too bad. Because Jesus died for the world too many church leader resist.
Unfortunately, many young believers – and some older ones, too – do not know that there will be times in every person’s life when circumstances don’t add up – when God doesn’t appear to make sense. This aspect of the Christian faith is not well advertised.
Is it a sin for a Christian to have a drink of alcohol?
It is an important question for our time. Millions and millions of Americans have been brutalized and devastated by the abuse of alcohol. I have had to deal as a minister with the shattered lives that occurred through the addiction and abuse of alcohol. This is not just an American issue but I live here so I will talk about what I know.
I am going to make some preliminary remarks and then do my best to back them up with the Scriptures and reason.
1. Jesus did make wine.
His first miracle was turning water into wine. I have heard many pastors that I respect go to great lengths to demonstrate that the wine that Jesus made was basically non-alcoholic. They talk about how the distilling of alcohol didn’t really happen until centuries later.
Problem: People got drunk in the Bible. There was such a thing as “strong drink” beginning in ancient times. Therefore, the argument that the wine that Jesus made was almost non-alcoholic seems farfetched to me and to most Bible scholars.
I don’t think Jesus made wine to have a party or to even enjoy it. I think He did it to demonstrate his divinity. Nonetheless, I am sure the people enjoyed it.
2. There has been a HUGE paradigm shift in American Evangelicalism concerning drinking alcohol.
It is hard to believe that most pastors now advocate drinking in moderation compared to how I grew up. Abstinence was just about THE litmus test for sanctification! The party line was almost “We are godly because we don’t drink!” That idea, although extreme, was a reality.
I think the reasoning behind it is simple: if you don’t drink you won’t ever have to worry about abusing alcohol. That is a decent argument. However, there has been a grace revolution in our thinking over the last 20 years. I think this paradigm is for the better but it opens up the can of debate that can lead to disunity. Sometimes debate is worth the possibility of disunity. Sometimes.
1 Cor 10:23 “Everything is permissible”—but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible”—but not everything is constructive. 24 Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others.”
I love what John Piper said in a video I watched a while back. He intimated that although there is grace and “tee-totaling” is a choice not a law, as pastors we must not be cavalier in the advocacy of drinking alcohol.
I think there are way too many Christians that just blurt out a quick “yes” or “no” without really thinking through the complexities of this question. I used to be one of them.
I do NOT want to present the advocacy of drinking alcohol in a cavalier way. We live in a culture of addiction and abuse. Drunk driving, teenage alcoholism, child abuse stemming from drunk parents are HUGE issues. Moderate drinking CAN lead to alcoholism. It is a possibility so we must be extremely careful.
3. It is a sin to cause another person to stumble into addiction.
Romans 14:20 “Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a man to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble.”
If a mature Christian’s freedom causes a person to fall headlong into sin then it is wrong. This is not a warning for people who walk in grace to be stifled because they are worried about legalistic Christians criticizing them. This is a warning to make sure that we never destroy the work of Christ in a believer’s life by abusing our freedom.
The $10,000,000,000 question: Is it a sin to drink alcohol?
1. No, it is not a sin to drink alcohol.
I cannot find anywhere in the Scripture a defining verse or passage that says that alcohol is intrinsically evil. I have read tons of books, articles and sermons on this subject and I have never been satisfied that alcohol is intrinsically evil. If so, then taking Nyquil is a sin. So let’s ask a better question than this one.
2. Is it wise to drink alcohol?
Not necessarily. For many, many people it is unwise to drink at all. A person’s background, disposition and environment must be factored into this discussion.
Proverbs 20:1 “Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler; whoever is led astray by them is not wise.”
What this passage means is that wine and beer are powerful and one must not be led astray. The fact that one could be led astray by these liquid entities should give every Christian a heart check.
I have heard often people comparing overeating to overdrinking. Here is the difference: if you go to Cracker Barrel and eat 6000 calories of saturated fact you are not likely to get pulled over by the police because of your fat saturation level. You are not likely to drive into a mini-van and kill a whole family because of it.
There is the possibility that you may have gastrointestinal issues that cause the people in your vehicle to vomit but you won’t be going to jail for manslaughter. You are just guilty of air-quality slaughter.
3. Is it unwise to drink alcohol?
Not necessarily. A Christian can enjoy a glass of wine or a glass of beer and it not cause havoc in the world. Here are a few verses that my super-fundamentalist pastors never preached on when I was growing up.
Psalm 104:14–15 “You cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth 15 and wine to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine and bread to strengthen man’s heart.”
Ecclesiastes 9:7 “Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart, for God has already approved what you do.”
Isaiah 62:8–9 “The Lord has sworn by his right hand and by his mighty arm: “I will not again give your grain to be food for your enemies, and foreigners shall not drink your wine for which you have labored; but those who garner it shall eat it and praise the Lord, and those who gather it shall drink it in the courts of my sanctuary.”
4. Is it a sin for a Christian to drink in public?
I think the correct answer to this question is going to be found in the context of each unique situation.
Remember that we are not talking about getting drunk. We are talking about having a glass (or 2) of wine or beer.
If, by drinking a glass of wine, a Christian selfishly causes a weaker Christian (a former addict or one who may have an over proclivity to become one) then the answer is yes. Don’t guess and don’t go there would be my strong recommendation.
If a Christian is sitting down to a nice dinner with their spouse or friends and has no fear or guilt about drinking a glass of wine but has faith that God has given them freedom to do so then the answer is yes.
Romans 14:22-23 “So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves. 23 But the man who has doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.”
I have not addressed every single issue on this subject but I have tried to give us a “helicopter ride” over this subject. The possibility of fallout is okay with me because I really believe that a pastor must dive into the complex issues of our time with honest questions and thoughtful answers.
Facing tragedy, or life storms of any kind, can be extremely difficult. But in the midst of heartache and pain, you can find the hope and courage to go on. With God’s help, the help of caring family members and friends, and the encouragement found in the Bible and other resources, you will receive the necessary strength to overcome.
You may be thinking, I don’t know how I could ever get through this. Or you may be battling powerful feelings of despair, suffering, confusion, fear, worry, and even anger. These are all normal responses to tragedy.
But as difficult as this life storm may be, you are not alone. God is with you always. He loves you, and cares about what is going on in your life. He hears your cries and sees your pain. Moreover, He understands.
The Bible says, “And it was necessary for Jesus to be like us, his brothers, so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God, a Priest who would be both merciful to us and faithful to God … For since He himself has now been through suffering … He knows what it is like when we suffer … and He is wonderfully able to help us” (Hebrews 2:17-18 TLB). Whatever we endure, His care is certain, His love is unfailing, and His promises are secure.
You Are Not Alone
For he himself has said, “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5c)
On the morning of October 29, 2012, hundreds of thousands of people in portions of the Caribbean and the Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern United States faced their worst nightmare … “Superstorm Sandy.” This post-tropical cyclone with hurricane-force winds and its unusual merge with a frontal system affected 24 states, including the entire eastern seaboard from Florida to Maine and west across the Appalachian Mountains to Michigan and Wisconsin, leaving death, injuries, and utter destruction in its wake. Families everywhere, especially in hard hit New Jersey and New York, were jolted out of normalcy and the comfort and security of the homes and communities they once knew. They were thrust suddenly and unwillingly into the darkness and despair of loss.
If you and your family have ever been affected by a natural disaster like this, you may feel as if you’ve been abandoned by God. However, if trouble has hit your life in some other disaster or form of tragedy—the death of a loved one, a dreaded medical diagnosis, the loss of home and property, or the loss of your job, you are experiencing your own superstorm. You may feel as if your whole world has been turned upside down and wonder how you can possibly survive the loss. In times like these, you can feel very much alone.
But you are not alone. In the midst of unspeakable sorrow, God is with you. Even if you do not feel Him near, God is there. He promises to never leave you alone. Therefore, wherever you are, God is. He is with you before, during, and after the storm, never losing sight of you, or your suffering. Even as you ponder how you will begin picking up the pieces of your life, God is there … loving you beyond understanding, holding you up, and making a way where it seems there is no way. Reach out for Him today. He is a very present help in times of trouble (see Psalm 46:1).
Taking back your life …
- Psalm 139:7-10 says, “I can never be lost to Your Spirit! I can never get away from my God! If I go up to heaven, You are there; if I go down to the place of the dead, You are there. If I ride the morning winds to the farthest oceans, even there Your hand will guide me, Your strength will support me” (TLB). What assurance can you find in these verses of Scripture when you are feeling as if God has forgotten you?
- In Psalm 23, David pictures the Lord as the Great Shepherd who provides for and protects His sheep (His children). In verse 4, he says “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.” A shepherd uses his rod to protect his sheep (by using it to beat off wild beasts), and he uses his staff to guide them. What comfort can you find in knowing that God will protect and guide you during this difficult time?
- In addition to needing God’s presence in our lives, we also need each other. Talk with your family or friends about the way you are feeling, so that you can share one another’s burdens, and not feel so alone in your suffering.
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.
My motivation for writing this blog is twofold: First, there is a slow apostasy that is creeping in to many so-called Christian denominations. Many groups that claim the name of Christ are advocating anti-Christian principles. Second, it seems that the majority of Christians are not adequately trained nor sufficiently motivated to carry out the Great Commission: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20teaching them to observe all that I commanded you . . . “(Matt. 28:19-20). To carry out this commission, Christians need to be disciples and disciple-makers. It means knowing basic Christian doctrine, knowing the Bible, and being able to defend the Christian faith.
I’m not saying that every Christian has to be seminary trained, memorize the New Testament, and stand on street corners shouting about Jesus. I am talking about the basic knowledge of God’s word as well as the basics of evangelism and doctrine that helps to lead us to do what Jesus charged us to do: make disciples.
Apostasy means to fall away from the truth. To the degree that Christians adopt the ideas of the world above scripture they are committing apostasy. The world wants us to let things be, to adopt a policy of tolerance about other religions and ideas in contradiction to Scripture, and let the culture simply continue on its way towards increasing immorality and irreverence. Jesus has given us a commission to make disciples and to do this means we have to be prepared and Bible-focused in a world that is hostile to Christianity. Carrying out the Great Commission means that we have to be praying, studying, tithing, learning, being trained, being active, supporting the church, supporting missionaries, etc. Some churches do this. Others do not. But, all should be evangelistic–not for church membership or church growth but for making people followers of Jesus.
The Great Commission (Matt. 28:19-20) is the charge of Jesus to believers, to every believer, to be disciple makers. It is not aimed at just the pastor and the missionary. It is aimed at everyone in the church. But, perhaps you feel that you are not called to be a pastor, a missionary, or an evangelist–that just isn’t your calling. That’s okay. But, are you praying for those who are pastors, missionaries, and evangelists? Are you supporting them in your tithes? Are you using whatever gifts that you have in support of the church so that the Great Commission can be carried out by those God anoints to minister in whatever capacity it is?
The Great Commission is a commission of love given to us by the God of love. It is what Jesus asked us to do. People are going to hell. Jesus wants us to help as many as possible find salvation in Him. He wants us to beHis disciples and then make others into disciples as well. This is what He wants. Is this happening in your life and church? Are you contributing in some way to the building of the body of Christ, or do you only go to church and take in. If this is all you are doing, then you need to make some changes.
In America, too many Christians are comfortable with their lives, their DVR’s, their remote control TV’s, their air conditioned cars, retirement funds, and their polished preachers. Our comfort is important to us. But, it can lure us into a casual relationship with God because all our earthly needs are met. Such casualness destroys the urgency–the intimacy of dependence upon God that excites and motivates the believer into action when God miraculously and continuously provides our needs. I also believe that many pastors are failing to do what the Bible says to do: equip the saints (Eph. 4:12). I suspect far too many pastors are more concerned about not offending their own congregations with the whole gospel than spreading its truth lest people go find another church to be comfortable in. Growing in Christ means to become mature and daily pick up your cross to follow Jesus. The pastor is not there to baby-sit Christians. He is not there to simply comfort them and to make them feel warm and cozy, nor is he there to reflect the current social trends and morays of the secular environment. He is there to equip the saints, to call them to repentance and holiness, to present God’s word, to train them up to be more like Jesus (Eph. 4:12), and to help them mature in Christ so that they can become a people of action as well as a people of love.
The gospel is not only about being born again but is also about picking up your cross and following Jesus (Luke 9:23), about prayer, about supporting Christians who teach, about bearing one another’s burdens, about defending the faith, about standing up for righteousness, and much more. For too many Christians, picking up the cross and following Jesus is too much to ask. But it is, however, easy to drop a check in the offering plate and think that they’ve done their part as a Christian. This is nothing more than buying a way out of their responsibilities.
Is this too harsh?
If you think I am being too harsh, let me say that I know that there are many Christians who take their faith seriously, are learning and applying God’s word, and doing what they can to expand God’s kingdom whether it be by praying, tithing, witnesses, teaching, church work, or living godly lives. Likewise, I know that there are many pastors who labor to equip their congregations and who lovingly work to shepherd them with all sincerity and obedience to Christ. For you all, I praise God for His miraculous work in you.
Pastors have a huge job before them. They are to preach God’s word, teach the congregation, counsel, model godliness, and equip the saints. This is difficult to do, especially when secularism is slowly making inroads into the hearts and minds of Christians. Regarding moral issues, Christians, statistically, are in bad shape. According to Barna Research online, of those claiming to be born again, only 23% believe abortion should be illegal; 34% believe homosexuality is alright; 36% believe that a man and a woman living together is okay; 37% says profanity is acceptable; only 20% believe it is wrong to get drunk, etc. This is truly sad and dangerous. Oh sure, you may say they are not ‘real’ Christians. I hope you’re right. But, the statistics are real, and those who are truly born again should be out there fighting against abortion, homosexuality, drunkenness, etc., as well as praying for and seeking revival in Christian churches.
People are going to hell. The enemy is making converts to false gospels in the cults, false world religions, humanistic principles in schools, and moral relativism in society. Christians are not supposed to be keepers of the aquarium. They are supposed to be fishers of men. Christians are supposed to confront the world in a wise and loving fashion. This is what the Bible says to do; and to accomplish this, the Christians need a truly Christian Worldview with the desire to spread the gospel everywhere.
The Christian Church needs to wake Up!
Christianity is under an ever increasing attack. Here in America, laws are being passed to reduce and remove our religious freedoms. Prayer has been removed from schools, the 10 Commandments removed from courtrooms. Movies and TV routinely portray Christians as ignorant bigots. Universities constantly attack the absolutes of Christianity and some even promote Eastern Mysticism, witchcraft, relativism, and a homosexual agenda by having representatives of these lies come in and teach! Secular society as a whole is imposing its moral agenda upon all people, the church included, and it is working! Christians are starting to listen to the false teaching of a fallen world and recanting on biblical doctrines of the Trinity, the deity of Christ, of Jesus being theonly way, of moral absolutes, and of their being a Day of Judgment with the unsaved going to hell. This is the sign of apostasy within the church!
Again, let me add that not all Christians are apathetic and worldly. There are many churches with godly pastors who are teaching all of God’s word. There are many churches out there with members who are learning God’s word, who are making converts, and who are standing up for righteousness. It is because of people like them that the gospel is spreading throughout the world. There are more Christians alive now than ever before. But, there are also more Muslims now than ever before–more Mormons, more Jehovah’s Witnesses, more atheists, etc., than ever before. Let’s not give up nor become discouraged. Let’s support one another in prayer. Let’s study to show ourselves approved to God. Let’s tithe properly. Let’s witness. Let’s take risks for Jesus. Let’s do what He asks of us.
“All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matt. 28:18-20, NASB).
In March of 2014, I began my visitation to three Christian colleges. At each stop, I spent some time talking to professors, asking them what they’re seeing in their classrooms. And at each stop, the anguished answer was the same:
These kids know almost nothing about their faith.
It’s not that they are bad kids; it’s that the basics of Christianity are unknown to them. Mind you, these are college students who were raised in Christian homes, and who chose to attend Christian colleges. And yet, their teachers are discovering that when it comes to the Christian faith, most of them are blank slates.
Let me repeat: these are Christian students, in Christian colleges. In California, a Baptist theologian who teaches at an Evangelical college told me the ignorance of his students astonishes him. “It’s all Moralistic Therapeutic Deism with them,” he said. “Maybe you’ve heard of that?”
Indeed I have. MTD is the name that the top sociologist Christian Smith gave nearly a decade ago to what he calls the “de facto dominant religion among contemporary teenagers in the United States.” Simply put, it’s a pseudo-religion that says faith is about nothing more than “feeling good, happy, secure, and at peace.”
Three-quarters of Millennialls agree that present-day Christianity has “good values and principles,” but strong majorities also agree that modern-day Christianity is “hypocritical” (58 percent), “judgmental” (62 percent), and “anti-gay” (64 percent).
You’ve seen the statistics. If you’re in ministry, you’ve probably witnessed the problem firsthand. The Millennials (those born between 1980 and 2000) are leaving the church in droves, and staying away. Approximately 70 percent of those raised in the church disengage from it in their 20s. One-third of Americans under 30 now claim “no religion.”
There are 80 million Millennials in the U.S.—and approximately the same number of suggestions for how to bring them back to church. But most of the proposals I’ve heard fall into two camps.
The first goes something like this: The church needs to be more hip and relevant. Drop stodgy traditions. Play louder music. Hire pastors with tattoos and fauxhawks. Few come right out and advocate for this approach. But from pastoral search committees to denominational gatherings to popular conferences, a quest for relevance drives the agenda.
Others demand more fundamental change. They insist the church soften its positions on key doctrines and social issues. Our culture is secularizing. Let’s get with the times in order to attract the younger generation, they say. We must abandon supernatural beliefs and restrictive moral teachings. Christianity must “change or die.”
I think both approaches are flawed.
Chasing coolness won’t work. In my experience, churches that try to be cool end up with a pathetic facsimile of what was cool about 10 years ago. And if you’ve got a congregation of businessmen and soccer moms, donning a hip veneer will only make you laughable to the younger generation.
The second tack is worse. Not only will we end up compromising core beliefs, we will shrink our churches as well. The advocates of this approach seem to have missed what happened to mainline liberal churches over the last few decades. Adopting liberal theologies and culturally acceptable beliefs has drastically reduced their numbers while more theologically conservative churches grew.
There is no one silver bullet for bringing Millennials back to church. But here are a few actions to help us reach the next generation more effectively.
Adopt a Different Tone
As the culture has grown more secular, many Christians have struggled to adjust. The church once had pride of place in North American society. Now it seems we’re increasingly getting pushed to the margins. Christian morality is no longer assumed and our beliefs are suddenly considered strange.
This loss of cultural capital has caused many to shout louder in hopes of regaining influence. But adopting a shrill, combative tone only exacerbates the problem. It’s the surest way to alienate outsiders, especially Millennials. Author and historian John Dickson urges Christians to move from a posture of “admonition to mission.” Dickson lives in Australia, a decidedly post-Christian country. In our increasingly secular culture, it’s a lesson we need to take to heart. Let’s stop being shocked when our unbelieving neighbors fail to act like Christians and take a more winsome tone when we communicate the gospel.
Foster Intergenerational Relationships
I’ve read virtually all of the books on Millennials and the church, and I’ve adopted my own thoughts about Generation Ex (Read Generation Ex -Christians byIf there’s one lesson to take away from this corpus of literature, it’s this: inter-generational relationships are crucial. The number one predictive factor as to whether or not a young Christian will retain his or her faith is whether that person has a meaningful relationship with an older Christian.
We’re surprised when even our most ardent young people walk away, but we shouldn’t be. If they didn’t have relationships with older Christians in the congregation, in all likelihood, they’re gone. When they age out of youth group, they age out of the church. Churches must find ways to pair older Christians with teens and to engage Millennials outside the church (many of whom are starving for mentors). This is a touchy subject for me because I’ve seen my own kids abandon their faith and cultural teaching to the point of going to prison for life and living contrary life styles. My going to prison and losing their respect I feel contributed to their posture now, but I am going to worship and believe God for their return.
The number one predictive factor as to whether or not a young Christian will retain his or her faith is whether that person has a meaningful relationship with an older Christian.
Present a Bigger God
Many evangelical churches present a one-sided vision of God. We love talking about God’s love, but not his holiness. We stress his immanence, but not his transcendence. How does this affect Millennials? I like the way Millennial blogger Stephen Altrogge puts it in Untamable God.
Why are so many young people leaving the church? I don’t think it’s all that complicated. God seems irrelevant to them. They see God as existing to meet their needs and make them happy. And sure, God can make them feel good, but so can a lot of other things. Making piles of money feels good. Climbing the corporate ladder feels good. Buying a motorcycle and spending days cruising around the country feels good … if God is simply one option on a buffet, why stick with God?
Millennials have a dim view of church. They are highly skeptical of religion. Yet they are still thirsty for transcendence. But when we portray God as a cosmic buddy, we lose them (they have enough friends). When we tell them that God will give them a better marriage and family, it’s white noise (they’re delaying marriage and kids or forgoing them altogether). When we tell them they’re special, we’re merely echoing what educators, coaches, and parents have told them their whole lives. But when we present a ravishing vision of a loving and holy God, it just might get their attention and capture their hearts as well.
I’ll be talking more on this topic at http://www.yelp.com/biz/world-conquerors-church-oakland on Febuary 20th-22. Pray for our travel and a deeper dive into how churches can convey a compelling vision of God for Millennials, as well as the whole congregation.
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.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
Never has so much been crammed into one word. Depression feels terrifying. Your world is dark, heavy, and painful. Physical pain, you think, would be much better—at least the pain would be localized. Instead, depression seems to go to your very soul, affecting everything in its path.
Dead, but walking, is one way to describe it. You feel numb. Perhaps the worst part is that you remember when you actually felt something and the contrast between then and now makes the pain worse.
So many things about your life are difficult right now. Things you used to take for granted—a good night’s sleep, having goals, looking forward to the future—now seem beyond your reach. Your relationships are also affected. The people who love you are looking for some emotional response from you, but you do not have one to give.
Does it help to know that you are not alone? These days depression affects as much as 25 percent of the population. Although it has always been a human problem, no one really knows why. But what Christians do know is that God is not silent when we suffer. On every page of Scripture, God’s depressed children have been able to find hope and a reason to endure. For example, take 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (ESV):
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
Come to God with your suffering
You can start to experience the inward renewal that the apostle Paul experienced when you come to God with your suffering. God seems far away when we suffer. You believe that He exists, but it seems as if He is too busy with everything else, or He just doesn’t care. After all, God is powerful enough to end your suffering, but He hasn’t.
If you start there, you’ll reach a dead end pretty quickly. God hasn’t promised to explain everything about what He does and what He allows. Instead, He encourages us to start with Jesus. Jesus is God the Son, and He is certainly loved by his heavenly Father. Yet Jesus also went through more suffering than anyone who ever lived!
Here we see that love and suffering can co-exist. And when you start reading the Bible and encounter people like Job, Jeremiah, and the apostle Paul, you get a sense that suffering is actually the well-worn path for God’s favorites. This doesn’t answer the question, Why are you doing this to me? But it cushions the blow when you know that God understands. You aren’t alone. If we know anything about God, we know that He comes close to those who suffer, so keep your eyes open for Him.
God speaks to you in the Bible
Keep your heart open to the fact that the Bible has much to say to you when you are depressed. Here are a few suggestions of Bible passages you can read. Read one each day and let it fill your mind as you go about your life.
- Read about Jesus’ suffering in Isaiah 53 and Mark 14. How does it help you to know that Jesus is a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief?
- Use the Psalms to help you find words to talk to God about your heart. Make Psalm 88 and Psalm 86 your personal prayers to God.
- Be alert to spiritual warfare. Depressed people are very vulnerable to Satan’s claim that God is not good. Jesus’ death on the cross proves God’s love for you. It’s the only weapon powerful enough to stand against Satan’s lies. (Romans 5:6-8, 1 John 4:9,10)
- Don’t think your case is unique. Read Hebrews 11 and 12. Many have walked this path before you and they will tell you that God did not fail them.
- Remember your purpose for living. (Matthew 22:37-39, 1 Corinthians 6:20, 2 Corinthians 5:15, Galatians 5:6)
- Learn about persevering and enduring. (Romans 5:3, Hebrews 12:1, James 1:2-4)
WHAT YOU NEED TO DO
Try one step at a time
Granted, it seems impossible. How can someone live without feelings? Without them you have no drive, no motivation. Could you imagine walking without any feeling in your legs? It would be impossible.
Or would it? Perhaps you could walk if you practiced in front of a large mirror and watched your legs moving. One step, wobble, another step. It would all be very mechanical, but it could be done.
People have learned to walk in the midst of depression. It doesn’t seem natural, though other people won’t notice either the awkwardness or the heroism involved. The trek begins with one step, then another. Remember, you are not alone. Many people have taken this journey ahead of you.
As you walk, you will find that it is necessary to remember to use every resource you have ever learned about persevering through hardship. It will involve lots of moment by moment choices: 1) take one minute at a time, 2) read one short Bible passage, 3) try to care about someone else, 4) ask someone how they are doing, and so on.
You will need to do this with your relationships, too. When you have no feelings, how to love must be redefined. Love, for you, must become an active commitment to patience and kindness.
Consider what accompanies your depression
As you put one foot in front of the other, don’t forget that depression doesn’t exempt you from the other problems that plague human beings. Some depressed people have a hard time seeing the other things that creep in—things like anger, fear, and an unforgiving spirit. Look carefully to see if your depression is associated with things like these:
Do you have negative, critical, or complaining thoughts? These can point to anger. Are you holding something against another person?
Do you want to stay in bed all day? Are there parts of your life you want to avoid?
Do you find that things you once did easily now strike terror in your heart? What is at the root of your fear?
Do you feel like you have committed a sin that is beyond the scope of God’s forgiveness? Remember that the apostle Paul was a murderer. And remember: God is not like other people—He doesn’t give us the cold shoulder when we ask for forgiveness.
Do you struggle with shame? Shame is different from guilt. When you are guilty you feel dirty because of what you did; but with shame you feel dirty because of what somebody did to you. Forgiveness for your sins is not the answer here because you are not the one who was wrong. But the cross of Christ is still the answer. Jesus’ blood not only washes us clean from the guilt of our own sins, but also washes away the shame we experience when others sin against us.
Do you experience low self-worth? Low self-worth points in many directions. Instead of trying to raise your view of yourself, come at it from a completely different angle. Start with Christ and His love for you. Let that define you and then share that love with others.
Will it ever be over?
Will you always struggle with depression? That is like asking, “Will suffering ever be over?” Although we will have hardships in this world, depression rarely keeps a permanent grip on anyone. When we add to that the hope, purpose, power, and comfort we find in Christ, depressed people can usually anticipate a ray of hope or a lifting of their spirits.
Is it okay to get medication?
The severe pain of depression makes you welcome anything that can bring relief. For some people, medication brings relief from some symptoms. Most family physicians are qualified to prescribe appropriate medications. If you prefer a specialist, get a recommendation for a psychiatrist, and ask these questions of your doctor and pharmacist:
- How long will it take before it is effective?
- What are some of the common side effects?
- Will it be difficult to determine which medication is effective (if your physician is prescribing two medications)?
From a Christian perspective, the choice to take medication is a wisdom issue. It is rarely a matter of right or wrong. Instead, the question to ask is, What is best and wise?
Wise people seek counsel (your physicians should be part of the group that counsels you). Wise people approach decisions prayerfully. They don’t put their hope in people or medicine but in the Lord. They recognize that medication is a blessing, when it helps, but recognize its limits. It can change physical symptoms, but not spiritual ones. It might give sleep, offer physical energy, allow you to see in color, and alleviate the physical feeling of depression. But it won’t answer your spiritual doubts, fears, frustrations, or failures.
If you choose to take medication, please consider letting wise and trusted people from your church come alongside of you. They can remind you that God is good, that you can find power to know God’s love and love others, and that joy is possible even during depression.
What do I do with thoughts about suicide?
Before you were depressed, you could not imagine thinking of suicide. But when depression descends, you may notice a passing thought about death, then another, and another, until death acts like a stalker.
Know this about depression: It doesn’t tell the whole truth. It says that you are all alone, that no one loves you, that God doesn’t care, that you will never feel any different, and you cannot go on another day. Even your spouse and children don’t seem like a reason to stay alive when depression is at its worst. Your mind tells you, Everyone will be better off without me. But this is a lie—they will not be better off without you.
Because you aren’t working with all the facts, keep it simple. Death is not your call to make. God is the giver and taker of life. As long as He gives you life, He has purposes for you.
One purpose that is always right in front of you is to love another person. Begin with that purpose and then get help from a friend or a pastor.
Depression says that you are alone and that you should act that way. But that is not true. God is with you, and He calls you to reach out to someone who will listen, care, and pray for you.
The word establish (sterizo) means to
fix firmly or
strengthen. Our heart is to be so wedded to the Lord that it cannot be moved despite the pressures brought against it. Becoming settled in the truth (2 Pet. 1:12), withstanding temptation, and enduring trials and suffering for our faith (Acts 14:22) all contribute to this work. Spiritual growth is a process that is not always easy but that bears
precious fruit. Believers, redeemed by
the precious [timios] blood of Christ (1 Pet. 1:19, NKJV), are of infinite value to the heavenly
Farmer. The word timiosis also used to describe the
precious stones that symbolize believers who are
built on Christ, the
foundation stone of God’s spiritual temple, the church(1 Cor. 3:11-12). Paul likens unstable believers, on the other hand, to wood, hay and straw that will not last and will ultimately be consumed by fire when Christ comes (1 Cor. 3:12-15). It is important, therefore, to ask ourselves on a regular basis whether our energies are really directed toward what we value most, toward what and who is most precious to us!
Each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is (1 Cor. 3:13, NKJV). Look at your life. What sort of work is it?
Peter. One of Jesus’ “top” disciples. Walked on water, healed the sick, and even raised the dead. Pretty impressive credentials.
And yet Peter was just a “regular guy,” just like you and me. He wasn’t perfect. He knew what it meant to mess up. And he messed up a lot.
But despite his flaws, Peter knew what a Christian should look like. He even gave us a checklist; you can find it in 2 Peter 1:3-11.
Here some ways you can live your faith:
- Know God. Peter says God “has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him” (2 Peter 1:3). So, to look like a Christian, we need to know God. And we do this through prayer, reading our Bibles, and hanging out with other believers
- Flee temptation. Peter tells us to “escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires” (1:4). Ask God often to protect you from sin, to give you the wisdom and courage to make good choices.
- Show your stuff. Peter shows us what a Christian looks like when he tells us to “make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love” (1:5-7). Memorize that list of qualities, then “make every effort” to live them out daily.
- Rate yourself. Peter says we should “possess these qualities in increasing measure” (1:8). Rate yourself on each of the qualities, using a scale of 1-10. (No 10s allowed, because 10s don’t leave any room for improvement!) Ask a trusted friend to rate you on each as well.
- Form a plan. First, thank God for those 8s and 9s; he’s working in your life! Now ask yourself: “How can I improve in these other areas?” Pray about it. Read Bible passages about those qualities. Think of ways to put these things into action. You might pursue “knowledge” through an in-depth Bible study, or practice “brotherly kindness” by doing volunteer work on Saturday mornings.
- Get a friend’s help. Ask someone to hold you accountable, someone who will ask you the hard questions about how you’re doing. Let’s say you struggle with self-control, especially in the area of gossip. You need a friend who’s willing to tell you when to pipe down. (Lovingly, of course!)
- Listen to God. Be sensitive to the “nudging” of the Holy Spirit. God will remind you when you’ve messed up, and he’ll let you know when you get it right.
- Don’t lose hope. Sure, you’ll make mistakes—just like Peter did. But as you seek to live a godly life, you can cling to this promise from Peter himself:
“For if you do these things, you will never fall, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (1:11).
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Moment of clarity; Sometimes your struggle is for someone else’s encouragement. We have been assigned and appointed to love one another.
We are all agents for one cause under one prime directive to service and make true the phrase. “Romans 8:28 And we know that ALL things work together for GOOD to them that love God, to them who are the “CALLED” according to his PURPOSE.”
My struggle/your struggle is the assignment that other agents are called to assist. This is the mystery of how God works not in the invisible untangle work of the Holy Spirit rather the inward dwelling and outward showing of the anointing under the Holy Spirit in the actions of agents that equate to Love!
Often some of our deepest personal problems are rooted in something we can’t control—dysfunctional family behavioral patterns that came before us. But we can control our choices, and each of us can choose life and good things!
In 1974 American singer and songwriter Harry Chapin recorded a song titled “Cat’s in the Cradle.” The song is about a father who is too busy to spend time with his son, instead offering vague promises to spend time with him in the future.
In time, the boy grows up to become a man very much like his father, focused on career and other personal pursuits at the expense of family relations. As the father grows old and finally has time to look back on his life, he deeply desires to get to know his adult son and have a meaningful relationship with him.
Sadly, the father comes to realize that his son is absorbed with the same materialistic priorities he had, and so a close relationship will never happen. The last verse concludes with this sad line: “ And as I hung up the phone it occurred to me, he’d grown up just like me—my boy was just like me.”
Family influence passed down
This song reminds us of the universal influence one generation has on another. Family traits are often passed down from parents to children, and this cycle has been repeated for thousands of years.
Some of these traits may be positive and beneficial—like nurturing skills, valuing hard work or education. However, negative and destructive behavior is also passed down within families.
When God calls us and opens our minds to follow His way of life, we may not be fully aware of how our new relationship with Him will not only change us individually, but can also have a wonderful influence on our descendants, impacting future generations.
Many people selfishly live only for today. They don’t understand or appreciate how one member of a family can impact other members. The Scriptures often remind us that it’s important to think generationally.
Consider God’s instruction in the Ten Commandments that “I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments” (Exodus:20:5-6).
It’s easy to believe from this scripture that God simply punishes those who disrespect Him and blesses those who love Him. But God is not a vengeful and angry Father who intentionally punishes great-grandchildren for the sins committed generations earlier by others.
A better way to understand this scripture is to realize that family dysfunctions and their consequences are passed down from parents to children and from generation to generation. Curses are the result of breaking God’s law, and many sins are perpetuated in the next generation by the poor example of the previous generation.
Repeating patterns of mistakes
Each human family has its own culture, including unique strengths and weaknesses. Some of these may be the result of genetic inheritance. For example, some families have a history of significant musical or athletic accomplishments passed down from parents to children, to grandchildren and even great-grandchildren.
Even though it takes great skill development to be an excellent musician or athlete, a certain natural endowment is inherited from birth. Modern science has also discovered that our genetics may even predispose us to certain diseases.
Other strengths and weaknesses within an individual family culture are the result of itsenvironment or choices. This includes values, priorities and decision-making skills. When negative choices and a bad home environment become deeply entrenched within a family culture, individual members can become self-destructive and unknowingly pass on these traits.
Some of us come from family backgrounds of defeatism, divorce, pessimism, selfishness, greed, anger, addictions and laziness. Unless we break this curse, these traits may be passed on to our children. One’s dysfunctional personal behavior becomes a model or example to the next generation, and the cycle can be repeated over and over again.
Often this continues until someone realizes that he or she can be the one to break the cycle and make a difference. By developing a meaningful relationship with God we will not only become more enriched and fulfilled, but we will also benefit many others, including our own descendants.
Abraham’s amazing example
A number of biblical passages show us why we should all think generationally. Perhaps the most striking is the example of Abraham.
Abraham was an obedient “friend of God” (James:2:23). He rejected the pagan sinful culture of his family line and chose to live a new and positive way of life. At God’s request Abraham left that environment and even his own family to follow the course God set for him. In doing so he would become known as “the father of the faithful.”
Because of Abraham’s willingness to abandon the sinful habits and practices of generations, God made specific promises to him about the future of his descendants. God told him, “I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth; so that if a man could number the dust of the earth, then your descendants also could be numbered” (Genesis:13:16).
Some of Abraham’s descendants formed the core of what are now known as the major English-speaking nations and many other nations. (To learn more about this fascinating topic, request or download our free booklet The United States and Britain in Bible Prophecy .)
God further told Abraham, “I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis:12:3).
Almost 2,000 years later Jesus Christ, a direct descendant of Abraham, would be born to atone for all sin and offer eternal life to all mankind. The entire world came to be blessed through Abraham because of his willingness to break with the patterns of past generations and embark on a new way of life revealed by God.
David, a man after God’s own heart
Another example of how powerful and important a personal relationship with God is can be seen in God’s expression of love for King David. Paul is recorded as quoting God in a powerful sermon by proclaiming, “‘I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after My own heart, who will do all My will.’ From this man’s seed, according to the promise, God raised up for Israel a Savior—Jesus” (Acts:13:22-23).
Jesus Christ was a descendant of King David, and both of them were physical descendants of Abraham. But did David’s personal relationship have a positive effect on any of his other direct descendants? Did this personal relationship between God and David have benefits for David’s great-grandchildren and beyond?
Let’s move forward in history to about 50 years after David’s death to a significant time in Judah’s survival as a nation.
Abijah (also spelled Abijam) was the great-grandson of King David, but wasn’t faithful to God’s law. Scripture records that he “did all the same sins his father before him had done. Abijah was not faithful to the Lord his God as David, his great-grandfather, had been” (1 Kings:15:3, New Century Version).
At first glance we might expect Abijah to be severely punished for his sins, and perhaps others along with him. Yet the very next verse tells us something quite different: “Because the Lord loved David, the Lord gave him a kingdom in Jerusalem and allowed him to have a son to be king after him. The Lord also kept Jerusalem safe” (verse 4, NCV).
More than 50 years after David died, God showed one of his descendants mercy because of the faithfulness of his great-grandfather! God said in effect, “I am not doing this for you, Abijah, but because of the relationship I had with your great-grandfather David, I will show mercy to you.”
Did David’s relationship with God benefit any of his other descendants?
Many generations later King Hezekiah lay dying while the nation was being threatened by powerful Assyrian armies. The king fervently prayed to God for deliverance and the prophet Isaiah was sent to him with this message:
“Thus says the Lord, the God of David your father [ancestor]: ‘I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears; surely I will heal you. On the third day you shall go up to the house of the Lord. And I will add to your days fifteen years. I will deliver you and this city from the hand of the king of Assyria; and I will defend this city for My own sake, and for the sake of My servant David'” (2 Kings:20:5-6).
More than 250 years after David died, God here showed mercy to his descendant because of David’s personal relationship with God. Notice that God even identifies Himself as the “God of David” and proclaims that He will both heal Hezekiah and protect the nation for “the sake of My servant David.”
Again, God says in effect, “Hezekiah, I am not doing this just for your sake! I am doing it because of My relationship with your ancestor David.” Do you see what a powerful influence just one individual can have, impacting his or her descendants for generations? Do you realize that you can be the Abraham or David in your family, setting a pattern that may bless your descendants generations from now?
A shocking example from history
How powerful can the generational influence of parents be on their own family and descendants? In 1874 a member of the New York State Prison Board noticed that six members of the same family were incarcerated at the same time. The board did some research, looking back a few generations to try to find the original couple who initiated this tragic family legacy.
They traced the family line back to an ancestor born in 1720, a man considered lazy and godless with a reputation as the town troublemaker. He was also an alcoholic and viewed as having low moral character. To make matters worse, he married a woman who was much like himself, and together they had six daughters and two sons.
Here is what the report revealed about the approximately 1,200 descendants of this couple who were alive by 1874:
• 310 were homeless.
• 160 were prostitutes.
• 180 suffered from drug or alcohol abuse.
• 150 were criminals who spent time in prison, including seven for murder.
The report also found that the State of New York had spent $1.5 million—a shockingly high number at the time—to care for this line of descendants, and not one had made a significant contribution to society.
Sadly, we can see by this example how the harmful dysfunctions of parents can be passed down from generation to generation.
A refreshing contrast
In contrast, another family heritage was studied involving a couple who lived about the same time. This second family study began with the famous preacher Jonathan Edwards, who was born in 1703. A deeply religious man, he lived a life of strong moral values and became a minister and a dedicated family man.
He married a deeply religious woman named Sarah who shared his values, and together they had 11 children. Eventually, Jonathan Edwards became the president of Princeton University. Here is what researchers discovered about the approximately 1,400 descendants of Jonathan and Sarah Edwards by 1874:
• 13 were college presidents.
• 65 were college professors.
• 100 were attorneys.
• 32 were state judges.
• 85 were authors of classic books.
• 66 were physicians.
• 80 held political offices, including three state governors.
• 3 were state senators.
• 1 became vice president of the United States.
What a difference it makes in the kind of example and values that are passed down to the next generation! Strong moral values can indeed bring blessings and opportunities for generations yet to be born!
Rooting out weakness and sin
Many scriptures confirm that family cultures can be destructive. You and I are also a product of our own family’s heritage going back for many, many years! Some of the weaknesses we have are a result of them being passed down directly to us by our parents’ or grandparents’ personal examples. In some cases a family sin may go so far back that no one now knows where it began!
A responsibility we all have is to root out these weaknesses and set a better example for our own children and grandchildren. This commitment to overcome our weaknesses and change our lives can also richly benefit our siblings, cousins, nieces, nephews and other extended family members.
Studies show that families tend to reproduce their own culture and dysfunctions for generations. For example, selfish parents produce selfish children. An alcoholic parent is likely to produce alcoholic children. Spousal abusers often produce children who grow up and abuse their spouses or are abused by their spouses.
Parents with negative lifestyles and attitudes tend to produce offspring who are unproductive and discouraged. Research has demonstrated that approximately 90 percent of people incarcerated in the United States have had either a parent or close family member in jail before.
Habitual problems may go back for generations in your family, but you can be the Abraham or David in your lineage! You can be the one to make better choices and break the curse of generational dysfunctions in your family!
We need to recognize what is happening and make a conscious decision to, with God’s help, create a new, positive family heritage.
God told the people of ancient Israel that He loved them and wanted them to be a betterpeople by obeying His commandments. He wanted both them and their descendants to be happy and blessed. Through Moses He pleaded with them to make the right choices and proclaimed, “I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live” (Deuteronomy:30:19).
You can put a stop to it
If you have a family legacy of negativity, addictions, poverty, divorce, greed or selfishness, you can be the one to put a stop to it. All of us are dealing with issues from our family histories. Sometimes we must confront problems that go back many generations.
The good news is that we don’t have to do this alone. God offers us the help of His Spirit so we can put a stop to these destructive habits and make life even more productive for our descendants. God’s Spirit within us can literally change our lives as we move away from sinful habits toward a new, spirit-led nature (Galatians:5:19-25).
Some personal problems are so entrenched that we need to be humble enough to ask for help. Don’t be hesitant to contact a minister or health-care professional if you continue to struggle with a problem and realize you need additional support. There is no shame in asking for help and encouragement from others!
When we are faithful and have a deep relationship centered on obedience to God, He will not deal with our descendants like someone who doesn’t have a godly heritage. You may look at your family tree and not like what you see. However, beginning with you a new family tree can be planted that blesses everyone around it with the fruit of God’s Spirit, including joy, faithfulness and self-control (Galatians:5:22-23).
Think generationally in your life. How you live today and the kind of relationship you have with God can affect your descendants for generations to come and make their lives better! Why not become the Abraham in your family?
Your choices aren’t yours alone
The choices and decisions we make don’t just affect ourselves, but also our children, grandchildren and future generations yet unborn.
Have you considered that you never really make a choice alone? It’s been said that you are always taking your parents and your children with you throughout your life. In other words, most decisions you make are affected by the deep personal influence of your parents. On the other hand, your lifestyle choices and major decisions will also affect future generations of your family.
Even if you lack the personal desire to overcome serious problems for your own sake, do it for your family. Think generationally about how your behavior will benefit or harm your descendants.
God’s Word has shown us that He may have mercy on others because of the life we live. If you’re struggling with a serious problem, why not decide to stand in the gap and be the Abraham in your family! Make the choices now that will let others years from now see the changes you made personally and say, “Here is where it all turned around!”
We read earlier in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 30 that we literally have the ability to choose blessings or curses. Dysfunctions and sins that are allowed to continue may be passed down for generations. Yet we have also seen that God will bless the descendants of those who love Him.
For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also (James 2:26, NKJV).
He was a successful doctor and an elder in a high-profile church of several hundred members. He was a major giver to the church’s big projects, and his generosity encouraged others to be more sacrificial. The doctor was also a great preacher. When the pastor was gone he spoke, and everyone looked forward to his messages, which were theologically deep, heartfelt, and spiritual.
Then one day the truth came out. The doctor’s absence at church the previous Sabbath had not been because he was on vacation, as many had thought. No, he was found dead in his beachfront condo from an overdose of recreational narcotics.
Worse was the shocking revelation that in his bedroom were dozens of pornographic videos and magazines. The church was devastated, especially the young people, who had looked up to him as a role model. Though we must leave all judgment in God’s hands, the doctor’s actions certainly call into question the reality of his faith.
What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? (James 2:14, NKJV). How do we understand this verse in the context of salvation by faith alone? Read James 2:15-17; compare Rom. 3:27-28;Eph. 2:8-9.
The point? Though we are saved by faith, we cannot separate faith and works in the life of a Christian, a crucial but often misunderstood truth expounded upon in the book of James.
Faith without works. James gives a vivid illustration of this kind of phony faith (James 2:15-16). As we have already seen, obedience in the book of James is relational. So, how do we relate to a brother or sister in the church who is in need? Words are not enough. We cannot simply say,
Go in peace. God will provide, when God has provided us the means to help that brother or sister.
Of course, needs can be endless, and we cannot meet them all. But there is a principle called
the power of one. We are the hands and feet of Jesus, and we can help others one person at a time. In fact, that is how Jesus usually worked. In Mark 5:22-34 a man whose daughter was dying appealed to Him for help. On the way, a woman approached from behind and touched Jesus’ garment. After the healing, Jesus could have gone on and the woman would have left rejoicing. But Jesus knew that she needed more than physical healing. So, He stopped and took the time so that she could learn to be a witness for Jesus, to share as well as to receive. Then He said the same words we have in James 2:16, NIV:
Go in peace (Mark 5:34, NIV). But, unlike the words in James, in this case they actually meant something!
When we recognize a need but do nothing about it, we have missed an opportunity of exercising faith. By doing so, our faith gets a little weaker and a little deader. This is because faith without works dies. James describes it even more starkly: faith is dead already. If it were alive the works would be there. If they are not, what good is it? At the end of verse 14, James asks a question about this kind of workless and worthless faith. It comes across far more strongly in Greek than it does in most translations:
That faith cannot save him, can it? The answer James expects us to give is clearly
How can we learn to better express our faith through our works while protecting ourselves from the deception that our works save us?
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!