When God Says No

In Mark chapter 5 we are introduced to a demon-possessed man running wild in a graveyard (read the story here). 

The man could not be held captive. He was so strong that he could break chains and shackles to pieces. He would spend night and day crying out and cutting himself. He had become a real concern to the locals (i.e. trying to bind him) and a danger to himself. Mark chapter 5 begins with Jesus meeting this demon-possessed man face to face. 

As soon as the demon-possessed man sees Jesus he bows down at His feet and begs Him to be merciful, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me” (Mark 5:7). After conversing with the demon-possessed man, Jesus casts out the evil spirits from him and finally the man was at rest. No longer would he have to live in the graveyard crying out night and day in agony. He had been delivered. Jesus rescued this man from his hopeless situation and brought him to his right mind.

After being rescued, naturally, the man desired to go with Jesus and to be with Him. He begged that Jesus would let him come along. The passage tells us, “As He [Jesus] was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed with demons begged him that he might be with him. And he did not permit him but said to him, ‘Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.’ And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled” (Mark 5:18-20).

The man in our passage begged Jesus for something and it was a good something – he wanted to be with Jesus.

But Jesus said “no” to his request. 

He denied the man’s request to go with Him and rather told the man to stay where he was and to become a missionary in his hometown. And that is exactly what this man did. He went away and began to proclaim how much Jesus had done for him. The man desired to do one thing, but Jesus had another plan for him. And now the area of Decapolis had a Christian evangelist actively sharing the good news of Jesus. In God’s wisdom, this man’s request was denied so that he could do the work Jesus desired Him to do.

Here’s where this meets you and I. 

You and I may cry out to God with our requests, even good, godly requests, and God may say, “no” to those requests. So often our gracious God answers our prayers with a “yes”, but at times He may respond to our prayers with a “no” or “not right now” and we need to know that in those instances it is for the best. God is by no means required to give us anything in prayer as if it were a conversation between equals. God may have other plans for us. Plans that are much better than we ever could’ve dreamed up. He may be sending us in another direction altogether. 

Bottom line: He knows what is best for us and we need to trust Him in that. 

When we pray we need to pray, “not my will God, but Yours be done” and trust in that knowing that God’s ways are better than ours.

Advertisements

Can You Explain the Gospel?

There are many questions we have to answer each day: what will I wear to work or school? What’s for breakfast? Lunch? And dinner? What project should I tackle first? How will I respond to this e-mail?  How will I accomplish this task? What will I say to this co-worker? How will I help this customer, client, or student? How am I going to pass this exam when I didn’t study?

There are many questions to answer each day.

But what if someone were to ask you today for a definition of the gospel, how would you respond? What is the gospel? How do you put it into words? The answer to this question is of vast importance. The gospel is the central message of the Christian faith and is something that all Christians should know by heart. So what is the gospel?

The short answer: The good news of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection on behalf of sinners (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).

To answer the question more fully allow me to explain.

It is important to know that the word “gospel” means “good news.” The gospel is the good news of Jesus Christ. But before the good news becomes good news we must first know the bad news. The bad news is that all have sinned (Romans 3:23) and the penalty for that sin is death (Romans 6:23). We have sinned against an infinite God and we deserve an infinite punishment. There is nothing that we can do to fix this, no good work or righteous deed can take away the punishment we deserve (Romans 3:20; Titus 3:5). This puts us in a bad position. We have sinned, we deserve punishment, and we cannot make amends for our wrong doing.

But the good news of the gospel is that God sent His Son Jesus into the world (1 John 4:10) to live the life that we were supposed to live but failed (1 Peter 2:22), and to die the death that we deserved in our place (Romans 5:8). Then three days later He rose victoriously from the grave defeating sin and death (1 Corinthians 15). He then ascended into heaven (Acts 1:9-11) where He rules and reigns at the right hand of the Father (Ephesians 1:20-23) and will one day return to judge the living and the dead (John 5:27-29).

And now all those who by grace turn from their sin and put their faith (Ephesians 2:8-9) in Jesus’ redemptive work will escape from that judgement, be forgiven of all their sin (Colossians 2:13-14), and will live for all of eternity with God (John 3:16). That is the gospel! That is the good news that we are to cherish each day. That is the good news that we are to share with this lost world.

The gospel is not only good news, it’s the best news! Let us never forget what God in His mercy has done for sinners like us.  Let your heart rest and rejoice in the graciousness of God.

When Will Christ Return?

“But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning—lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.” – Mark 13:32-37

We have all become accustom to hearing the predictions of the day that Christ will return. Joseph Smith, the father of the cult religion Mormonism, claimed that all Mormons alive in 1830 would live to see Christ’s return. He was wrong. Harold Camping not once, but twice, predicted the date that Christ would return. First, he claimed Christ would return September 6, 1994 and when that did not happen, he later stated that Christ would return May 21, 2011. Again, he was mistaken. Anyone who claims to know the day or hour that Christ will return is wrong. We simply do not know that information.

The above passage in Mark tells us that no one knows the day or time that Christ will return, only that He will return and we are to be ready. We may not know when He will return, but we can be sure that He will. And as a result we are to be, as Jesus tells us here in Mark, like servants diligently doing the Masters work until He returns. We should be making a concentrated effort to live for eternity even now. We should not be sleep-walking through this life spiritually, we should be awake and alert, actively pursuing a life that means something for Christ.

Paul echos what Jesus says here when he says in Ephesians 5, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:15-16). And also in Colossians 3 when he writes, “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth (Colossians 3:1-2). We don’t know when Christ will return, but we know He is returning and therefore we need to make the most of the time.

We get so caught up with work and school and deadlines and vacations and weekends and future plans that God gets placed on the back-burner. So often we live life and God is not on our mind and His work is not in our plans. And that should not be the case. D.L. Moody once said, “Our greatest fear should not be of failure, but of succeeding at something that doesn’t really matter.”

And what matters is Christ. What matters is living in light of eternity. Let’s be found diligently doing Christ’s work when He returns or calls us home.

Christmas in July

“Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Phil. 2:5-8)

A few years ago my Nephew Eli and I were playing with Lego blocks. We had stacked them all into a giant tower. It was our creation.  We designed it and we put it together. When we were finished he leaned in close to me and with a mischievous smirk on his face whispered, “Let’s knock it down.” And we could have done that. We designed it. We created it. We put it together. We could do whatever we wanted with it. It was our creation. I suggested, however, that we show his dad what we made, so we did. And then I believe we knocked it over. It was a lot of fun.

I enjoyed my afternoon designing and creating block towers with Eli. However, if you were to ask me if I would ever willingly become a block in order to save other blocks (if I could ever do such a thing) I would think you were crazy. Never would I lower myself to the point of being a block to save other blocks. Why on earth would I ever do that – not a chance.

But this is exactly what Jesus did for us. We are told in John 1:14 that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” He became one of us in order to save us.

Philippians chapter 2 tells us that Jesus (the Creator of the universe, who was God Himself) “emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

Jesus humbled Himself and took on flesh in order to die for sinful humanity, and as Paul makes clear in Romans 5 “one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:7-8). Jesus didn’t die for a people who were warm and welcoming toward Him, but He died for rebels far from Him. When it comes down to it how often are we willing to help those who are against us? Typically not very. However, Jesus lays down His life for sinners like you and me.

He left heaven, and all its splendor, to dwell among us.  Jesus came to save sinners. What a gracious God we serve. I know we are right smack dab in the middle of the hot summer months and Christmas is over and done with until next December, but it is never a wrong time to consider what God has done for us in Christ. God left heaven to become a “block” in order to save other blocks.

Are You Content?

“I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:11-13)

Not long ago a read a story about a man who became envious of his friends because they had larger and more luxurious homes. So he listed his house with a real estate firm, planning to sell it and to purchase a more impressive home. Shortly afterward, as he was reading the classified section of the newspaper, he saw an ad for a house that seemed just right. He promptly called the realtor and said, “A house described in today’s paper is exactly what I’m looking for. I would like to see it as soon as possible!” The agent asked him several questions and then replied, “But sir, that’s your house that you recently had me list. That’s your house you’re describing.”

So often we are like this man – discontent regardless of our circumstance. 

Whether we are rich or poor, successful or unsuccessful, old or young, we always seem to want more – never content with our lot in life. We often allow our circumstances to dictate our contentment. Our joy depends so heavily on bank accounts, good health, and fulfilling relationships. One day, we could be on top of the world and then something negative happens the next day and we are in the valley of discontentment.

Wouldn’t it be nice to be content regardless of your circumstances? That is how life was for Paul. He had learned to be content in all situations of life. Look at how he describes himself here in this passage. He writes, “I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.”

In all circumstances of life, Paul had learned to be content. Even in the midst of persecution, imprisonment, and suffering Paul was content. What was his secret? Paul tells us in the next verse. He writes, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” The reason Paul could be content in all situations of life was because he had Christ. He knew that in good times or bad times, in times of plenty or in times of want, no matter what, he had Christ and that was enough.

Paul’s contentment was not found in his circumstances, bank account, or status in world; his contentment was found in the God who gave His life so that he could live. Paul knew that one day He would spend eternity with God in heaven and that is where he found contentment. 

This is a good reminder for us. 

Regardless of our circumstances in life, if we have Christ we have it all, and in Him we can find contentment.

I Am Wrong When I Disagree With the Bible

Pastor Francis Chan once said, “When I disagree with something in God’s Word, I just assume that I’m wrong.”

These are tremendous words of wisdom. Today so many people, including many Christians, tend to make moral and ethical decisions based on their own feelings and emotions rather than on God’s Word. Someone might say, “I am not sure how I feel about that” in regards to something that is clearly identified as wrong in Scripture. But when it comes to the truth of God’s Word it is not about our feelings, it is about facts. It’s not about what is subjectively felt, but what is objectively true.

The content of the Bible is not true because you agree with it, it’s true because it is God’s Word (“Your Word is truth” – John 17:17). There may be things in the Bible that are contrary to popular public opinion, in fact we can be sure there is (God’s absolute sovereignty, salvation through Christ alone, waiting until marriage to have sex, marriage between one man and one woman, male headship etc.,), but we don’t believe it because it’s popular public opinion, we believe it because it’s in God’s Word. This is so important for us to remember in a world where truth is relative. The Bible teaches us that truth is not relative, it is absolute and we can find that truth in God’s Word.

The next time you are tempted to give in to something that is contrary to God’s Word because it is the popular public opinion, or the next time you come across a passage of the Bible that rubs you the wrong way, remember it is not true because you agree with it, it is true because it is God’s Word. The Bible, not popular public opinion, has final authority over our feelings.

Believe the Bible.

Trust the Bible.

Obey the Bible.

Don’t Sleep On Sunday’s Sermon

“And all the people gathered as one man into the square before the Water Gate. And they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses that the Lord had commanded Israel. So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could understand what they heard, on the first day of the seventh month. And he read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand. And the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law. And Ezra the scribe stood on a wooden platform that they had made for the purpose…And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was above all the people, and as he opened it all the people stood. And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground. Also…the Levites helped the people to understand the Law, while the people remained in their places. They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading” (Nehemiah 8:1-8).

In this passage we are told that the Word of God was read to the assembly from morning until midday and then it was explained so that the people could understand what was being read to them. There were several hours spent on the reading and explaining of God’s Word. Several hours!

Can you imagine if we spent several hours reading and explaining God’s Word to each other in our church services today? We would probably sit restlessly in our seats, anxiously looking at our watches, and murmuring under our breath, “When will this end; I have things to do?” But why are we this way? You will notice in the passage above that the people “…told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses…And the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law.”

So not only were these people attentively listening to the instruction of Scripture, but they were the very ones who demanded to hear it. And even more than that, we can see here in verses 5 and 6, that in response to the Word being opened and read that the people worshiped God. They asked to hear the reading of the Bible, they listened attentively while it was being read, and their response was praise and worship toward God.

When we open up God’s Word, whether we are alone at home or in a worship service surrounded by other believers, our response should always be praise and thankfulness to God. When we examine the words written in Scripture and see who God is and what He has done on our behalf, how could our response be anything but worship? 

Let us not be a people who drag ourselves to church and restlessly sit through the teaching and preaching of God’s Word, but rather let us be a people who hunger for God’s Word and desire to learn it. 

3 Ways to Pray For Your Pastor

In Hebrews 13 we are told that pastors must give an account for those they watch over (Hebrew 13:7). We see this again in the epistle of James where we are told that pastors will be judged with greater strictness (James 3:1) as they have tremendous influence over the church. Pastors have been given a very weighty task – to shepherd God’s people (Acts 20:28). This is an enormous responsibility that at times can be daunting. Certainly there is great joy in pastoral ministry. It is a tremendous privilege and blessing to shepherd God’s people. However, at the same time, the toll of ministry can truly cause pastors to become overwhelmed, discouraged, and even burnt out. It is so important that we lift our pastors up in prayer regularly, asking God to guide their every step.

Here are three ways we can do this:

Pray For His Walk with Jesus

It is important that we pray for our pastor’s spiritual growth. We want him to be a man who is walking closely with Jesus and who is striving to be more and more like Him everyday. Over the years the church has had it’s fair share of pastors who have fallen in moral failure. Certainly we do not want this to be true of our pastor. However, sin and temptation are never far away (Genesis 4:7). Therefore, it ought to be our prayer that God would guard our pastor’s heart from sin. The Bible calls for our pastors to be men who are above reproach (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:6 ) and that needs to be our regular prayer for him. This includes all areas of his life – his family relationships, his work relationship, his personal friendships, and ultimately his walk with Jesus.

Pray For His Preaching

Every week our pastors stand before their congregations and preach God’s Word (hopefully). This is one of the most important, if not the most important, things he does. God’s Word is spiritual nourishment to God’s people. It helps them to grow into mature, healthy believers. Therefore, it is important that the church is served a hearty portion of God’s Word each week. Pray then, that God would guide our pastors each week in their sermon preparation and study. Pray that they would rightly divide the Word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15) each time they step into the pulpit. And most importantly, pray that God would be magnified and that we would grow through the preaching of God’s Word.

Pray For His Leadership

There are many decisions to be made, people to counsel, and problems to solve when a person is in pastoral leadership. In each instance we want our pastor to lead wisely and in a way that honors God. We want him to be moving in the direction that God would have him go. This requires prayer. We need to pray that God would grant great wisdom to our pastor as he leads the church (James 1:5), meets with individuals, and plans for the future. We want each step our pastor makes to be guided by God.

Prayer is a crucial component to the Christian life and your pastor needs to be included in your regular prayers. Don’t just think of your pastor as the one who should be praying for and helping you – he is just as much in need of prayer as any person. Never stop praying for your pastor. He covets your prayers, he needs your prayers, and your prayers will have an impact.

 

4 Habits to Fight Sin

John Owen wrote these famous words: “Be killing sin or it will be killing you.” Likewise, Charles Spurgeon wrote “If you do not die to sin, you shall die for sin. If you do not slay sin, sin will slay you.” 

Great minds think alike, right? This idea was not original to Owen or Spurgeon it came long before them from the pages of Scripture.

Paul commands, “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions” (Romans 6:12).

John writes, “Do not love the world or the things in the world” (1 John 2:15).

Peter exhorts, “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct” (1 Peter 1:14-15).

Time and time again the Bible commands us to flee sin, fight sin, and hate sin. The one who has been saved by grace through faith is now called to live a life that represents Christ well (Colossians 1:10). We are to be holy as He is holy. A call to holiness is a call to wage war on sin.

How can we do this? The good news is that we do not do this alone (Philippians 2:12b-13).  God is at work within us to make us more like Him and we can have peace in that. But there is still work to be done. 

Here are four practical ways we can fight sin:

Scripture Reading 

It’s so easy to fill our minds with thoughts, plans, dreams, and fantasies that don’t honor Christ. And our actions will follow wherever we let our mind wonder. The Psalmist had come to realize that knowing, meditating, and memorizing Scripture was crucial in fighting sin when he wrote, “I have stored up Your Word in my heart, that I might not sin against You” (Psalm 119:11). Like a squirrel who stores up food to prepare for the long winter, so the Psalmist stores up God’s Word in His heart to prepare him for the long road ahead full of temptation. There are endless benefits of spending time in God’s Word.

Avoid Bad Company 

The Bible makes it clear that, “Bad company ruins good morals” (1 Corinthians 15:33). The people you associate with will have great influence on your life. The more time you spend surrounding yourself with morally corrupt people, the more you will become indifferent towards the sin that you so often see and experience. This is exactly the opposite of “do not be conformed” (Romans 12:2) and it will hurt you in your pursuit to fight sin. If you desire to wage war against your sin then you need to have people of godly character in your life. The people you are spending most of your time with should be those who love God and desire His best for you. Striving to have godly people in your life doesn’t mean you can never converse with sinners, it means your closest friends and mentors should be striving for the same thing you are – holiness!

Avoid Tempting Circumstances

In Mark 9 we read, “if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off…And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off…And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out…'”(Mark 9:43b-48). These verses can be summed up like this: if there are people, places, things, or situations in your life that frequently cause you to sin then you need to distance yourself from them. You need to do whatever it takes to remove yourself from those vices. If you constantly struggle with purity while surfing the internet then maybe it’s time to get rid of your internet or set up some accountability. If you struggle with drunkenness when you hangout with a certain crowd then maybe its time to stop hanging out with that crowd. If you tend to get really angry and lash out at others while engaging in a particular activity, then perhaps you need to back off of that activity – or “cut it off and tear it out” as Mark tells us. Yes, it will be painful, but this is how serious sin and it’s consequences are. If there are people, places, things, or situations in your life that cause you to frequently sin then you need to remove them from your life, at least for a time, until you get that sin under control.

Prayer  

Jesus in in Matthew 6 tells us to pray in this way, “Our Father…lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matthew 6:9b-13). Later in Matthew 26 Jesus commands His disciples to “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation” (Matthew 26:41a). Also in Psalm 141 the Psalmist prays, “Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips! Do not let my heart incline to any evil, to busy myself with wicked deeds in company with men who work iniquity, and let me not eat of their delicacies!” (Psalm 141:3-4). In all these verses we can see that there is a real correlation between fighting sin and prayer. If you desire to fight sin then you need to be a person of prayer.

Fighting sin is a lifelong battle. Praise God we do not fight sin on our own. God is with us and works in us to make us more like Him, yet we are still called to fight sin ourselves. We do this by meditating on God’s word, spending time with Godly people, avoiding tempting situations, and having an active prayer life asking God to help us fight sin.

Five Words Every Christian Should Know

At times we have the tendency to avoid big words or to shy away from them. It’s good to keep things simple but we must remember, the main thing isn’t the only thing. Here are five words that all Christians should know.

Regeneration

Regeneration is the gracious act of God whereby He brings to life the spiritually dead and causes them to turn in faith to Him (Ephesians 2:1-9). Each and every one of us is born spiritually dead – which means there is no desire, or even ability, within us to follow after God on our own (Romans 3:10; 8:7-8). We are dead in sin and cannot initiate a relationship with God. Therefore, it takes the miraculous work of God for us to be brought into a saving relationship with Him. He must first replace our heart of stone with a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 11:19) before we will turn in faith to Him. If it were not for God’s gracious work of regeneration, sinners would remain in their state of deadness forever. It is only by God’s grace that unbelievers come to life spiritually and turn in faith to Christ.

Justification

Justification is a judicial term that has huge theological significance. To be justified is to be declared righteous. It’s as if you were sitting before the judge in a court room and he declared you not guilty, although you were guilty. This is what has taken place in the believer’s life. By grace through faith in Jesus, the believer has been declared righteous (not guilty) before God (Romans 3:24-25). This declaration was not a result of self-works or effort, but of Christ’s work on behalf of the believer (Galatians 2:16). Therefore, when God the Father looks down on the Christian He does not see the sinners that we are but He sees His Son’s righteousness in us (Romans 5:18-19).

Propitiation

Propitiation has in mind the appeasement or satisfaction of God’s wrath.  As a result of our sin we have offended a holy God. We deserve punishment. That punishment is the wrath of God being poured out on us for all of eternity (Romans 6:23). God is just and therefore must punish sin. His wrath must be satisfied or else He wouldn’t be just. However, at the same time God is also merciful. In His mercy He sent His Son, Jesus, into the world (John 3:16) to satisfy His justice by absorbing the wrath that we deserve in our place (1 John 2:2). Jesus took our punishment in our place. At the cross of Christ we see both the justice of God (sin being punished) and the grace of God (Jesus taking that punishment for sinners) being poured out. Jesus’ sacrificial death satisfies (propitiates) God’s wrath for those who trust in Him.

Redemption

To redeem something is to buy it back. It is, as one person put it, “to transfer ownership to the one paying the price demanded” (Bob Burridge). Unbelievers are slaves to sin (Romans 6:20) and it’s consequence (Romans 6:23). We have all sinned (Romans 3:23) and therefore we are all slaves to sin and death. We owe an eternal debt for the offense (sin) that we have committed against God. We cannot pay our way out of this debt. Left to ourselves the weight of our sin debt will crush us and rightfully so. However, by the grace of God Jesus came to give His life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). He came to purchase His people by His blood. Ephesians tells us that, “In Him [Christ] we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses…” (Ephesians 1:7). Also Revelation 5 says, “…You [Christ] were slain, and by Your blood You ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9). Jesus has paid our sin debt by His blood and freed us from our bondage to sin and death. We are free to live for Christ and free from sin’s penalty only because Jesus paid our penalty. He redeemed His people.

Sanctification

To sanctify means to set apart. Sanctification is the work of God to set a special people apart for Himself and the work of Christians to grow in their in godliness. Those who by grace have come to faith in Christ are those who have been forever set apart by God as His special people (Acts 26:18, 1 Corinthians 6:11). This aspect of sanctification is God’s work. Christians, however, are also involved in sanctification. From the day that they come to faith in Christ to the day that they die, they are to be progressing in the faith. Although the believer is involved in this work he is not alone in it. God is at work within him. The book of Philippians makes this clear. Paul writes, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12b-13). Here we can see the believer’s responsibility to grow in the faith. He is called to work out his own salvation – prove it to be true by living righteously – but He is not called to do it alone. He is enabled by God’s power within him. The same grace that justified him sanctifies him. The Christian has been set apart from this world by God and is now on a life long journey to mature in the faith.

Five, simple yet profound, words to build your lives on. 

Born into a Hostile World

“The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.” (1 Timothy 1:15-16)

Most of us would agree that Christmas is a wonderful time of the year. We get to enjoy family and friends, lights and decorations, time off of work, vacations, gifts, and so much more. As much fun as Christmas is we need to remember that we celebrate because Jesus stepped into a world that was hostile towards Him in order to redeem us – sinners in need of a Savior.

Jesus Came Into the World To Save Sinners

Paul tells us that, “Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (v15). Jesus left the splendor of heaven to come to earth to live as a carpenter. The God of the universe humbled Himself by taking on the form of a servant and came to dwell among us.  This is truly remarkable when you think about it.

There are people who will not go into certain places in the world because they regard themselves too highly to be seen there in public. There are people who will not go into certain venues because they know that the people there hold a grudge against them. There are people who will not go into certain parts of town because they feel the environment is too hostile towards them. Whenever someone’s ego or safety is in danger by entering a situation often times they will not enter.

However, that is not the case with Christ. He came into a world that was hostile toward Him. He had every right to regard Himself as the most High Being and to look down on us. He had every right to hold a grudge against rebellious humanity and not come to save them. He had every right to turn up His nose at the thought of entering into a world that was hostile towards Him, but He came anyway. Christ came into the world to save sinners. He did not come to earth because we were a people who loved and adored Him and had it all together – not at all! Christ came here to seek and to save the lost. He came to pursue a people who were far from Him. He came to rescue a people who could not rescue themselves. And He even came for the worst of us.

Jesus Came Even For The Worst of Us

Twice, in the above verses, Paul mentions that he was the foremost of sinners. In other words, he is saying that he was the worst of sinners. In fact, earlier in 1 Timothy Paul describes himself in this way in v13, “I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent.” He was not a believer in Jesus Christ nor was he a friend of the Christian Church. He was in violent opposition to them both. Despite this, however, Jesus came to save him – a blasphemer!

Jesus came to save even those that we think are too far gone. The power of the gospel can soften the hardest of hearts and open the blindest of eyes to the beauty of Jesus. Never underestimate the power of the gospel or Jesus’ willingness to save the lost. The same Jesus that saved Paul, the persecutor of Christians, is the same Jesus that saves the vilest of sinners today. Paul was shown incredible mercy and still today we can witness that same mercy.

Jesus Came To Display His Perfect Patience 

Paul tells us that he “received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display His perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in Him for eternal life” (v16). Paul is shown tremendous patience as an example to us of how patient God is. God wants us to witness His patience. God could have wiped Paul out in an instant for his rebellion. But He showed tremendous patience with Paul in saving him. Let’s not test God’s patience by carrying on in sin, but let’s turn from sin and praise God for His merciful patience with us.

As we celebrate this Christmas season let us never forget the reason for the season – Jesus came to save sinners.

4 Lessons from 3 Guys

In Daniel chapter 3 we read an amazing story of persecution, faith, and deliverance (read it here).

The story begins with Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian king, building a large golden image for the purpose of corporate worship. It was simple, worship or be thrown into a burning fiery furnace. Once the command to bow or die went forward everyone obeyed, everyone that is, except for Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They were worshipers of the one true God – YHWH. Despite the tremendous consequences they faced, God alone was worthy of their worship and they would not bow to another.

In their refusal to worship another, they told the king, “we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” The king was furious and ordered that the men be sent to the burning fiery furnace. But to the king’s surprise, the men were unscathed as they stood calmly in the flames of the furnace. The fire had no affect on them. We read that a fourth man, One who looked like a Son of the gods, came to their rescue and delivered them from the fiery furnace. In v 28 we read, “Nebuchadnezzar answered and said, ‘Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and delivered his servants, who trusted in him…'” The God that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego trusted in (the only true God) came to their rescue and delivered them from the flames of the furnace. As a result, King Nebuchadnezzar praised God for His mighty work. The man who wanted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego dead for worshiping their God was now praising that same God.

This is an incredible story, but what does it have to do with you and me?

There are at least four things that we should take away from this story.

Peer Pressure

First, notice the incredible peer pressure that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego faced and overcame. They were being pressured to bow down to a golden image or die! It would have been very easy to give in and say to each other, “It’s not worth it, guys. Let’s just do what the king says and we will live!” But that is not what they did. God was of more value than their very lives. They were not only going to live for Him, but they were willing to die for Him. The pressure from the king didn’t seem to phase them.

We may never experience the same level of pressure that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego faced – do this or die – but there will be times when we are pressured or enticed into doing what we know is wrong. And in those times we need to stand firm and do what’s right even if that means there are consequences. We may lose friends; we might have family members that are disappointed with us; we may miss out on promotions at work, or other advancements in life; but as Christians we are called to do what’s right even when it costs us. We must recognize that God is of more value than life itself.

Worship God Alone

Second, notice Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego worshiped God alone. The passage tells us, in v18, that they told the king, “be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” Only one God was worthy of their worship and that was the only true God – YHWH.

We don’t bow down to golden images or pray to false gods but we are certainly guilty of worshiping idols. Whether we realize it or not, we have a tendency to serve false gods – the god of money, the god of success, the god of approval, the god of family, the god of hobbies and sports – you name it, it could be anything! There are so many things that rival God’s place in our hearts. But those things do not have the ability to bring us the satisfaction that God can. God alone should be the Treasure of hearts.

God Allows Suffering

Third, notice that God allows suffering for His glory. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego suffered extreme persecution and were even thrown into a burning fiery furnace (terrifying) for their refusal to bow down to the king’s golden image. Although God miraculously delivered them from the flames that surround them, He could have very easily kept it from going that far. Once Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego boldly refused to bow down to the golden image God could have carried them away to safety right then and there. However, these guys face persecution, get brought before the evil king, and are even thrown into the fiery furnace. They experience tremendous fear but then God delivers them. All of this causes King Nebuchadnezzar to praise God (v.26,28,29). God allows Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to go through difficulty to bring praise to His name.

God may cause us to go through difficulty and suffering for His glory and our benefit. Through suffering God shapes and molds us into the people He wants us to be. Just image how much Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego’s faith must have grown as a result of being saved from the flames of the furnace. Through suffering God brings praise to His name. King Nebuchadnezzar praises God after seeing the miracle of deliverance. God may be using suffering to bring about the same results in our lives. Our suffering is not vain. God has purpose for allowing it in our lives – His glory and our benefit.

Delivered by Faith

Fourth, notice v28: “Nebuchadnezzar answered and said, ‘Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and delivered his servants, who trusted in him…'” Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were thrown into a fiery furnace and left to die. Left to themselves there is no way they would survive. They were hopeless and helpless but then the God they trusted in delivered them and they were saved. It’s an amazing story of faith and deliverance.

The same God that delivered Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in that fire years ago is the same God that still delivers today. We need to know that each and every one of us deserves the flames of hell for our sinfulness. On our own there is no way we can save ourselves. We are hopeless and helpless. But for those of us who trust in Christ we will be delivered. Through faith in Christ’s life, death, and resurrection we will be rescued from the wrath we deserve.

Jesus is our Deliverer, our Hope, and our Treasure. Let Him forever be on the forefront of our minds.

It Never Gets Old

“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

“And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another…” (Hebrews 10:24-25)

A couple of years ago I had the privilege of attending the Ligonier National Conference. One of the great truths I was reminded of at the conference was the fact that it does not matter how many times you have read through the Bible or how many times you have heard a certain passage preached there is still so much to learn about Scripture and God. The pastor who made this point, mentioned how he loves to see 85 year-old saints who walk up to him with a big smile on their faces because they just learned something new about the Lord or had been reminded of something encouraging. We are never too old to learn something new. Nor can we ever hear the Bible preached enough. There is always something new to glean from Scripture. In fact, we will never know everything there is to know about God or the Scriptures. Therefore, we will always be learning.

It is so easy to come to a passage of Scripture that is very familiar to us and say, ‘I have already read that’ or ‘I have already heard that preached, so what could I possibly learn? I am just going to skip it.’ This is the complete opposite attitude that we are to have. Charles Spurgeon said, “Nobody ever outgrows Scripture; the book widens and deepens with our years.” The more we learn the Bible the more we realize how little we know and how much more we need to learn. The Bible is full of wisdom and truth. It reveals to us who we are (sinners in need of a Savior), it reveals who that Savior is (Christ Jesus), and it guides us in how to live. It is sufficient for faith and practice.

There is much for us to learn still from the pages of Scripture and much to be reminded of. We can never know it enough. We are told that All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. It is so profitable to us that we are to learn it and relearn it and know it well. One of the best ways to do that (in addition to your own personal reading) is in church where you can hear the teaching and preaching of God’s Word on a regular basis.

Therefore, let us not forsake the assembling together’ but rather let us be eager to meet together to grow in our knowledge of God.

President or Savior?

“When the people saw the sign that He had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” Perceiving then that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by Himself.” (John 6:14-15)

Election Day is tomorrow and many of us will be going to the polls to vote for the person we hope will be our next president. This is an important issue that requires much thought and prayer. However, it is not the most important issue.

We can see this in the Gospel of John.

In John 6 (go ahead and read it) Jesus is sitting on a mountain side with His disciples when a large crowd approaches Him. The crowd was following Jesus because of the miracles He had performed for the sick (v2). Much to their delight, Jesus performs another miracle by feeding the crowd. He takes five loaves of bread and two fish and provides enough food to feed five thousand men, in addition to any women and children who were also present (v9-12), and still had plenty left over (v13). Jesus had taken a meager meal and made it into a feast for thousands with plenty to spare. It was a remarkable feat that no mere man could have accomplished. Of course, no mere man had accomplished it, but the God-Man, Jesus Christ, had accomplished it. Then v14-15 tell us, “When the people saw the sign that He had done, they said, ‘This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!’ And “they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king.”

The thousands that Jesus fed rightly perceived that He was the long-awaited Prophet, one like Moses, who had finally come. However, they wrongly perceived why He had come. They were seeking a political ruler, a king, one who could liberate them from the Roman Empire. They saw that Jesus had the power to heal the sick and provide endless amounts of food; certainly He could liberate Israel and reign as their king! They wanted Jesus to help them politically and materially. They were not looking to Him as a Savior from their sin; they were looking to Him as a king for their earthly benefit. But Jesus did not come to be a political ruler. He did not come to be an earthly king. He came to save His people from their sin. He came to seek and save the lost and give His life as a ransom for many. Jesus was not interested in political leadership – He was interested in spiritual transformation. He was not the Bread of the Temporal, He was the Bread of Life (v35).

There are a couple of takeaways for us as we head into Election Day tomorrow.

First, we need to realize, unlike many of those in John 6, that man’s most essential need is not a government or material needs or a presidential candidate that aligns with all our values and beliefs. Our most essential need is a Savior who can save us from our sin. Don Carson put it this way: “If God had perceived that our greatest need was economic, He would have sent an economist. If he had perceived that our greatest need was entertainment, He would have sent us a comedian or an artist. If God had perceived that our greatest need was political stability, He would have sent us a politician. If He had perceived that our greatest need was health, He would have sent us a doctor. But He perceived that our greatest need involved our sin, our alienation from Him, our profound rebellion, our death; and He sent us a Savior.” 

 We are a people who have offended a holy God by our sin and as a result we deserve infinite punishment. On our own we cannot make this right. No political policy or candidate can make this right. Only Jesus can make this right. Only He can fix our severed relationship with God the Father. He does this through His perfect life, sacrificial death, and triumphant resurrection – not political leadership. Politics are important. We should vote and vote wisely with Biblical principals in mind. However, we should not act as if all is lost if our candidate does not reach office. A president in not our Savior, Jesus is.

Second, we need to look to Jesus as our Savior and our Treasure. The crowds in John 6 looked to Jesus as the means (powerful king) to an end (liberation, provision, power). We too have the tendency to look to Jesus in the same way. We hope Jesus will bring us a better life now here on earth – better America, better career, better finances, and so on. But Jesus did not come to give us a better life now; He came to give us eternal life. We should not look to Him as a means to an end:

He is the end. 

He is everything. 

He is our Treasure.

As we go and vote tomorrow let’s vote knowing that regardless of the outcome Jesus is our Savior; He is our King, and He is our Treasure. If the election goes how we want or not, we have Jesus, and to have Him is to have everything. Jesus in John 6:35 says, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to Me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in Me shall not thirst.”

This government, this world, may not be what we want it to be, but let’s remember that our hope not in government or the world around us, our hope is Jesus and He is all we need.

The Walking Dead

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:4-5)

I was once told a story about a man who had died in the early 1900’s and because of his size, 6’10”, they were unable to fit him into a casket; he was simply too big. Therefore, they bound his legs back with some rope in order to fit him in the casket. The funeral service was closed casket and as the pastor gave the eulogy he spoke very highly of the deceased. Then all of a sudden, right there in the middle of the sanctuary as the pastor spoke, rigor mortis set in and the man’s previously bound legs popped back into place and knocked the casket open and everyone ran out of the sanctuary terrified, thinking the dead man had come to life. He, of course, had not.

Today there is great interest in the undead. We have TV shows, movies, holidays, and costumes all dealing with people who have died and come to life. Interestingly enough, the Bible speaks of Christians as those who were dead and have come to life spiritually.

In the verses above Paul tells us that “we were dead in our trespasses” and that God “made us alive.” This being “made alive” is known as regeneration. You see, we are born spiritually dead in our sin (Ephesians 2), and we are by nature children of wrath (Ephesians 2), who wanted nothing to with God (Romans 3), and were in rebellion toward Him (1 John 3). We are dead spiritually. And just as a dead person cannot do anything to make himself alive physically, neither can a spiritually dead person do anything to make himself alive spiritually. Therefore, in order for one to come to God in faith he must first be made alive spiritually – regenerated. This is the work of God by which He brings life to the spiritually dead heart. One author defines it this way:

“Regeneration may be defined as that supernatural work of the Holy Spirit of God which is performed in the life of a sinner whereby the sinner is given a new heart, being brought from spiritual death to spiritual life, and is made able and willing to repent of his sin before God and trust alone in Jesus Christ to be his Lord and Savior.”  (Bill Ascol)

Once you have been made alive by God your heart is softened and your eyes are opened to the gospel. And at that moment you come to realize your need for a Savior and your response is to turn to Him in faith and repentance.

Thank God, that in His grace, He gives life to undeserving, spiritually dead sinners, who want nothing to do with Him, so that they can turn to Him in faith.

O’ how thankful we should be for the amazing grace of God who is “rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.” 

Amen.