Tuesday, January 27, 2009

New Year's Revolutions Message #5

Is Reckless Abandon The Same As Biblical Risk-Taking Faith?
Hebrews 11:23

As I had hoped and intended, last week’s message stirred the pot here at COG just a bit. I heard from many of you that the message on Noah and his willingness to believe and do a really hard thing for the Lord was just what you needed to hear. Others of you shared with me that the Lord has been speaking to you about the very thing we were talking about and that you were encouraged to take greater risks with your lives, time, resources, and ambitions in order to make much of Christ. I am sure that to others I probably sounded as though I was calling us to a sort of reckless abandon that lacked caution, preparation, planning and threw common sense out the window. And today I want to address that very issue.

Now, I don’t think any of us in this church who are really committed to making much of Christ have any misunderstanding about the fact that this kind of mindset will lead to a lifestyle that is willing to risk and even lose certain things that we hold dear for the sake of demonstrating that Christ is indeed our greatest treasure and pleasure in life. In fact, many of you who are already pursuing that kind of thinking and already making decisions about what you are willing to put on the line in order to make much of Christ. Thus, I am not in the position of having to convince most of you to pursue a lifestyle, which willingly risks its treasures and pleasures for the glory of God. But, I am in the position of helping us see how we are to do this.

So this morning we are going to look at just one verse in Hebrews 11 that sums up how one couple that made the decision to live by their faith and thus incur great risk—risking not only their meager comforts, semi-independence, and lives but also the lives of their two young children and an infant—did so.
And what we will see is that whereas, living by your faith necessitates the believing and doing of hard things as well as the taking of great risks—it does not rule out using godly wisdom to minimize the risk and the danger as much as God allows.

There are people who believe that living by faith means you should not give time or effort to planning, preparing, or taking any kinds of precautions so as to minimize the incumbent risks involved in any kind of ministry endeavor. Rather, they would say, that living by faith is a sense of “reckless abandonment” in which you just throw all caution to the wind and take no precautions whatsoever to minimize the risk because trying to minimize risk is kind of like saying you really don’t trust the Lord. And these kinds of people would advise you to just empty your bank accounts, not save for the future, not purchase health insurance, don’t think about retirement, don’t go to the doctor, give all your possessions away, and go live in a tent.

But is that what the Bible teaches and is this what Hebrews 11 is teaching as it highlights the lives of those people who did take great and life-threatening risk to make much of God. Did they in living lives of faith simply live their lives and make their decisions with reckless abandon throwing all caution and common sense to the wind? And does living by your faith require that you make decisions with reckless abandon giving no thought to the consequences and with little or no preparation or plan to minimize the risk you may encounter?

Well let’s find out. Go with me to Hebrews 11:23.

In yet another passage describing what it means to live by your faith in God, the author of Hebrews utilizes the example of Moses’ parents who although not afraid of the King’s edict because of their faith in God still took precautionary measures to keep Moses alive. Thus, they took a great risk in disobeying Pharaoh that could have landed them in prison or killed them—which would have left Miriam and Aaron as orphans in either case. Yet in taking this great risk they did not just throw all caution to the wind. They did not just walk around with Moses out in the open for everyone to see. No, for three months they hid him and then when they couldn’t do that anymore—they made a plan. Moses’ mother and father had a plan—a far-fetched and risky one—but nevertheless a plan.

But the interesting thing was that their actions were not all that different from what the other Hebrew parents did other than that Moses’ folks did not throw out all caution to the wind and they did their best to minimize the risk involved in their actions. Look at Acts 7:17-21. We are told in verse 19 that the parents of other little boy babies “would expose their infants and they would not survive”. The Greek word for “expose” is essentially the same as the word describing what Moses’ mother Jochabed did in verse 21 in “setting him outside”. The two words, which as I said are essentially the same both mean to “put out of” or “to expose” and can even mean “to cast out”.

So it could be that the Hebrew parents took their boy babies and either just hid them outside the home and the villages where they lived hoping they wouldn’t be found by Pharaoh’s soldiers or that they themselves threw them into the Nile River in obedience to Pharaoh’s command yet somehow hoping that God would intervene and save their baby from death. Interestingly enough, extrabiblical literature speaks about multitudes of stories from across the Middle East and Mediterranean of casting babies that either were sick, injured, handicapped, unable to be cared for, or born into a bad and dangerous situation into the waters.

Scholars believe that the reason for the widespread practice of doing this after the time of Moses reflects what happened in Egypt. Furthermore, these scholars have concluded that the parents’ intent in the majority of cases was not to kill their babies but to commit them to the providence of their gods whom they believed would take care of them if they the parents were worthy and strangely enough had enough confidence in the god to protect and save their baby for a life better than the one they could offer.

The idea that the vast majority of Hebrew parents put their babies into the Nile River in obedience to Pharaoh but all the while hoping and praying for some divine protection is probably the most consistent with the language, the history of the times, and extrabiblical literature. Irregardless of whether they threw their babies into the Nile or just left them hidden on the banks of the Nile—they did so with a blind faith in whatever god they believed in to protect and somehow deliver their baby if they were worthy and their baby was worthy.
In other words, they threw all caution to the wind and just hoped for the best.

But that is not what Moses’ parents did. Yes, they put Moses in the Nile but they had a plan to minimize the risk and the danger. They didn’t just throw their baby into the River and all caution and common sense to the wind and presume that God was going to intervene upon their behalf. Now, to be sure they trusted God and they desired to do the right thing, which was to keep their baby boy alive but this decision, even being the right one was a risk-filled one that could cost them the life of their baby boy anyway, their own lives, and the lives of their other two kids, Miriam and Aaron. They had a lot to lose if Moses was discovered in their home and a lot to lose if Moses drowned in the River. So, they came up with a plan, which minimized the risk and which God used to bring them success.

You know the story but let’s take a look at it anyway and see how this plan got worked out. Go to Exodus 2:1-10.

Note that Moses’ mom was not going to just throw her baby boy into the water to sink or be saved—No, she got him a wicker basket and then she covered the basket with pitch and tar so it would float and not sink. Her mom didn’t put the basket into the main current of the Nile but near the shore in the reeds so that it would not be swept away. And she just happened to put the basket near the spot where Pharaoh’s daughter liked to bathe. And after getting Moses settled, she stationed Moses’ sister Miriam—who according to most Jewish scholars was about seven years old at the time—close enough to see what would happen to Moses.

Verse 4 makes it clear that Miriam was stationed there for the express purpose of seeing what the outcome of her parent’s plan would be. In sending a seven year old little girl to do this, I doubt that Moses’ parents thought she would witness his murder. I think they really did believe God would deliver their little boy and wanted to know how He did it. In other words, they lived by their faith and took a great risk but did not throw all caution and common sense to the wind. They under the guidance of the Spirit of God came up with a plan that minimized the risk and the danger and which God used. Furthermore, I don’t think Miriam came up with her reactions and words to Pharaoh’s daughter on her own—simply much too complicated and stressful for a seven year old. No, I think she was coached by mom and when the time came to put the plan into action—she performed flawlessly—because she had been prepared by her mom. You see, taking great risks for God so as to make much of Him does not mean you don’t prepare to do so nor does it mean you throw away your God-given common sense to do so. It simply means that whereas what you are doing may be very risky—you do it with as much preparation, caution, and common sense as possible so as to minimize and be prepared for the risk. Now this does not mean that we should not do risky and dangerous things to make much of Christ—it simply means we don’t need to make them more dangerous and risky than they already are and if able we should try to reduce the risk and even prepare for it as God enables and allows us to.

One more thing—I have no problem figuring out when your kids are parroting your words spoken in the privacy of your own homes. I often hear them complaining about certain things—such as—say our new president. And when I hear them I hear you in their words, their expressions, and their mannerisms. All this to simply say that I don’t think for a minute that Pharaoh’s daughter didn’t know that Miriam had been told what to say and how to say it. Therefore, what you see is that God had already prepared the daughter of Pharaoh to respond favorably to Miriam in this situation. Thus, had Moses’ parents never stepped out in faith by obeying God they would never have known that He had already prepared the way for them.


CONCLUSION

If there is anything Hebrews 11 teaches us it is that choosing to make much of God in a world that doesn’t—will entail the risk of earthly treasures, pleasures, comforts, conveniences, personal ambitions, and a whole host of other things that could even include your health and your life. It also teaches us that taking risks for risks sake or to raise your level of respect among your peers so as to earn “bragging rights” or for anything other than the glory of Christ is foolish and in the end will leave you high and dry. And here in the little verse we considered today—verse 23—it teaches us that taking risks for the sake of making much of Christ in a world that doesn’t is not about just carelessly winging it or just diving into risky situations without a plan, preparation, and lots of prayer.


Please don’t wrongly interpret what I have said today to mean that it is better to play it safe than to risk it all for Christ. If that is what you heard—you weren’t listening. It is right to risk and it is right to risk everything for the sake of Christ and the glory of His Name. But know what you are doing when you do it and pray, prepare, and plan using the wisdom and common sense God has given you. Living by your faith does not preclude prayer, preparation, planning, and even precautions. If anything it demands them.

On September 12, 1853, Hudson Taylor set off from England for China where after arriving five months later he spent the rest of his life sharing the Gospel with the people of China and establishing a missionary movement that still even in secret house churches impacts China today. He was only 21 years old when he went to China all by himself with no family or real friends there to meet him and help him. In going, he risked everything—his safety, his health, his future in terms of an occupation, his ability to find a wife, and thus the opportunity to have a family, his parent’s dreams, and even his very life. But he was willing to risk it all for the sake of Christ and the glory of God. And he was prepared to risk it all for you see he spent two years before he left praying, planning, preparing, and pondering every precaution necessary to minimize the risk as much as possible so as to give him, humanly speaking, a greater probability of success.

He read everything he could get his hands on about China. He continued to work and save his money. He learned Greek and the basics of Hebrew as well as refreshed himself in Latin—all so he would be able to engage himself in translating the Bible into Chinese. Finding a Chinese copy of the Gospel of Mark and the Book of Acts, he, by comparing the words of his own English copies, he began the process of teaching himself Chinese. Somehow between all that, he began studying medicine under the tutelage of a doctor.

He also grew in his love for the Lord, his knowledge of the Word, and his dependence upon the Lord in prayer and came to believe that absolutely nothing was impossible with God. This was seen when on one day when he was visiting a pastor to borrow a book, the pastor asked him why he wanted to read such a lengthy book on China. When Hudson Taylor told him that it was because God had called him to spend his life as a missionary to China—the pastor then asked him, “And how do you propose to go there?” His answer was, that he didn’t know but that God did know and that he would rely upon God to get him there and take care of his needs. And in that exchange with the curious pastor—what I see is that whereas Hudson Taylor ultimately knew he was taking a huge risk in going to China, he could rely upon and trust God to take care of that risk and thus his needs. But knowing this and with a great trust in God to meet his needs—Hudson Taylor still prepared, planned, pondered, took precautions and prayed because that is what people who live by their faith do.

New Year's Revolutions Message #4

Be Revolutionary. Be Normal and Live By Your Faith
Hebrews 11:7


A lady in California was listening to the radio around rush hour in the afternoon and heard the traffic guy warning motorists that there was a car traveling the wrong way on the freeway. Well, realizing that her husband was actually supposed to be on that freeway coming home from running errands for her, she called him on his cell phone and told him that there was a car on the freeway going the wrong way. To which, he very excitably replied—“One—there’s not just one—there’s hundreds of them going the wrong way.”

Whereas we should be going with traffic on the roadways—when it comes to living our lives and making the decisions that really define our lives—it should be the norm for us to be traveling upstream and against the status quo of this world. You see, as Christians we are called to be different in many ways and that should be normal to us. And the reason for this is because we are different—if you are a believer you are in Christ and He is in you and by virtue of that union with Christ you have to be different and if you aren’t in any way, shape, or form—this would be a good time to become concerned. And the difference is going to be primarily seen in our affections, the kinds of decisions we make, priorities and ambitions we pursue, activities we involve ourselves in, and our reactions to whatever comes our way. And all of these things—our affections, decisions, priorities, ambitions, activities, and reactions will either express a life that possesses and is exercising true saving faith or a life which does not possess and thus obviously cannot operate by faith.

Now our text for the next few Sundays, which is Hebrews 11 must be seen in context with Hebrews 10:32-39, in that the kinds of people the writer of Hebrews is talking about in Hebrews 11 are examples of those who truly possessed and lived their lives by the kind of saving faith that is being spoken about in Hebrews 10. This faith that the writer describes for us in Hebrews 10:32-39 seems to be a radical kind of faith. In fact, some would call it fanatical and even unrealistic.

Interestingly enough, God calls it true biblical and saving faith and makes the point that this is what any normal believer’s faith should look like and do.
Now don’t make the mistake of thinking this is the kind of faith you need to conjur up in order to be saved. No. That is not the point of Hebrews 10:32-39. The point of theses verses is that this is the kind of faith that people who have been truly saved have and should be exercising.

Now it is also important to understand that we can possess true faith without always exercising it as true believers. We do that every time we choose to sin.
But, the point that these verses are making is that if the overall tenor and consistency of your life and specifically of your faith is such that you have little desire to take risks for the glory of God, little desire to do hard things for the sake of extending and expanding God’s Kingdom, and little desire to endure and persevere under your trials as a means of making much of Christ—you are not living by faith and thus you are an abnormal Christian—if you are a Christian at all!

Those who have been born again and are saved by the blood of the Lamb and have had their sins forgiven and have been declared righteous by God—shall live by their faith! (Hebrews 10:38) It is not an exhortation or even a command—it is a statement of fact. Interestingly enough, it is also in the future tense, which tells us that if you are a true believer but are struggling with consistency in living out your faith—do not despair because you will get there.

God’s work of conforming you to the image of Christ is the work of making you into a Christian who lives his or her life by faith—believing God and entrusting yourself to God to such a degree that you are willing to do whatever He asks in order to make much of Him and thus satisfy your soul. And after making this point, the writer then provides us with a whole list of men and women who did possess and exercise true biblical faith in their lives. But again, don’t make the mistake of thinking they are being hailed as extraordinary men and women of faith—because they’re not. They are being hailed as normal men and women of faith. In fact, it is really a misnomer when this chapter is labeled “God’s Hall of Fame of Faith” because the intent of the writer is not to portray these people as “super saints” who all had a dose of more faith than anyone else including us.

No, the writer of Hebrews is using them as examples of what normal saving faith in the life of a believer who simply exercises it looks like.

Having said this—let me also clarify that the faith that saves us is anything but natural—it is supernatural—but it is the same supernatural faith that every believer possesses. The faith of these people in Hebrews 11 is not a faith that is superior to ours—it is the same faith—and thus the tough, hard, engaging, costly, risk-taking, and joy-fueling things that they were willing and even desirous of doing should be normative for us as well. Like them, we should be normal saints living out a supernatural faith.

Now my intent is not to deal with every example of true biblical faith provided in Hebrews 11 or in the Bible for that matter—because as the writer himself said in verse 32—there just isn’t enough time to do that. But over the next couple weeks I do want to review some of the lives mentioned in this chapter on faith and show you the things that are true of all believers who are committed to living by their faith. And if, in doing so, we find that we possess the kind of faith they had but aren’t exercising it to the degree that they did—the most radical and life-changing new year’s revolution you could set for yourself today would be to purposefully start to live by your faith so as to make the kinds of decisions and set the kinds of priorities and involve yourself in the kinds of risk-taking, hard, and costly activities which make much of Christ for the glory of His Name and he satisfaction of your soul.

I hope that as we finish out short mini-series considering biblical truths that can revolutionize our lives that we see that Living by our faith will revolutionize our lives. And furthermore, this kind of living—living by our faith and living out our faith—should be the norm for us.

So, turn with me to Hebrews 11:7 where we will see how Noah lived by faith.

1. Believers who are living by their faith believe and do really hard things in obedience to God. (7)

Can you imagine yourself along with three other men building a structure taller than a 3-story building, 150 feet longer than a football field, and about as wide as this gymnasium and then building enough stalls and cages to house about 40,000 animals and birds?

That would be a hard thing—most of us would say an impossible thing especially in light of the fact that Noah and his sons did not have power tools, cranes, booms, fork lifts, back hoes, or Home Depot. And that may be why it took them about 100 years to finish it. But they persevered and continued building in obedience to God even when they never saw a rain cloud even once while they were building it.

True faith does hard things and doesn’t quit even when there seems to be no reason for doing what you are doing other than God told you to. And keep in mind, God required Noah to believe something that had never happened before, something totally unprecedented, unlikely, and with no hard evidence to even remotely support it. I mean—no one had ever seen rain before let alone a universal flood. But not only did God require Noah believe Him—He commanded him to build a boat 450 feet long, 75 feet wide, and 45 feet high—something no one had ever seen before and would ever see again until 1884 when the Italian Ocean Liner Euturia was built.

In essence, God’s command was not only hard—it seemed utterly impossible but Noah in living by faith took on the challenge and did a hard thing—an extraordinary thing—and to God a normal thing for any believer who would choose to live by faith. And if you have the same kind of saving faith that Noah had—and you are committed to living your life by that faith—you are going to be required by God to believe the hard things of faith and to do hard things for God that may indeed consume the totality of your life.

You will be required to stay married when your marriage isn’t all it should be.

You’ll be required to keep working when you want to quit and move on to something easier and more fun.

You’ll be required to fix your broken relationships rather than running away from them.

You’ll be required to hang in whatever God has called you to for the long haul even when it never appears as though what God has promised—God is going to bring to fruition.

Those are some hard things and some of the hard things believers who are going to live by their faith will have to do and these are the things which will revolutionize your lives.


2. Believers who are living by their faith give attention to God’s Word for the purpose of doing His work His way so as to make much of Him. (7a)

Look at the first part of verse 7 again. Whereas in our last point we looked at what Noah did by faith—in the first part of verse 7, we see how he did it by faith. Note that it says that Noah, “in reverence prepared an ark”. This 3 word phrase is only one word in Greek and it means: to take heed to do something with careful attentiveness. In other words, Noah really paid attention to what God had to say to him in Genesis 6:14-21 when He gave Noah the instructions for building the ark. Thus, Noah made the decision, which would be quite novel today considering how most churches do church, to do God’s work in the way God had prescribed down to the nitty-gritty details. Thus, those believers who are truly living by faith are in the Word finding out what God wants and in the Word finding out how God wants it done. You see, how we obey God matters as much as the fact that we do obey God. Thus, anytime we are trying to do God’s work without paying attention to God’s instructions—we are not operating by faith.

Consider the example of David and The Ark of the Covenant in 2 Sam. 6:6-7. As David is bringing the Ark back home the Ark almost falls but Uzzah reaches out his hand and steadies it. But, Uzzah, in touching the Ark sins. It is interesting that in verse 7, we are told that God killed Uzzah for his irreverence. This word in Hebrew means an act of irreverent sin, caused by carelessness, negligence, and not giving heed to God’s instructions. That which made the sin “irreverent” was the fact that care was not given to obeying God’s Word in exactly the way He prescribed. You see, per God’s instructions in Numbers 4:15, no one was to touch the Ark directly.

Note as well—that part of Noah’s motivation in giving careful consideration to God’s Word so as to obey it was his concern for his family. One careless mistake in following God’s instructions in building the Ark would have been disasterous for Noah’s family. One moment of laziness in which he was just sick and tired of applying pitch to the seams on the Ark and the Ark would have taken on water and perhaps sunk with all of his family on board.

Just a note dads—are you keeping watch—careful, diligent, unrelenting watch over your lives, your homes and your families to make sure all is being done God’s way? Do you know what your kids are reading and listening to? Do you even care? Are you noticing their walk with the Lord? Is it healthy or has it gone dry and cold? What are you doing about your kids disinterest with God and the things of God? And how about your wives—are they flourishing under your watchful, careful, diligent, and loving leadership?

Christian dads who are living by their faith are carefully working to apply God’s commands and principles in their homes all the time! And if you’re too busy to know—you’re too busy and something probably needs to change and making that change may be the most revolutionary thing you will ever make for your family. And that doesn’t make a dad a great dad—it simply makes him normal in terms of what a dad should be.


3. Believers who are living by their faith will by their actions not only be different from the world—they will condemn the world. (7b)

Noah’s pursuit of a hard task for the glory of God condemned those who were pursuing easy tasks for their own comfort. Noah’s desire to obey God to the letter condemned those who were content with giving God lip service and token obedience.

Noah’s willingness to be made a laughing stock and a joke to his generation as he built an ark to save his family and thousands of animals from a flood when no one had even ever seen rain before condemned those of his generation who would never risk their reputations to outwardly do anything that might smack of being sold out to God and thus appear weird or different.

Noah’s willingness to sacrifice his time, money, tools, resources, and even time at home in his recliner condemned those who were too interested in their homes and their recliners and their toys to even thing about God’s work.


4. Believers who are living by their faith demonstrate that they have it and are indeed heirs of righteousness. (7)

Some have confused the last phrase in verse 7 to be saying that by Noah’s actions he became an heir of salvation as though salvation were by works. That is not what the writer of Hebrews is saying. The two word phrase “By Faith” that begins verse 7 is to be applied to each of Noah’s activities so that we see that by faith, Noah reverently built the Ark, thus saving his family. . . And that by faith he condemned the world as he made decisions and choices that revealed to them their lack of faith and obedience to God. . . And that by faith he became an heir of the righteousness or the salvation which is according to or through faith. Thus, in living by faith, Noah was living out his faith and that demonstrated to all that he was truly a saved man—a man of Faith.

The greatest assurance you and I can ever have that we are indeed truly saved and heirs of salvation is that we purposely and intentionally pursue the kind of lifestyle, make the kinds of decisions, and press on in obedience to the Word because we simply want to make much of Christ.

CONCLUSION

During his presidency, Abraham Lincoln would occasionally attend church in Washington D.C. with one of his assistants. One Sunday as they were walking back to the capitol, Lincoln’s assistant asked him what he thought of the pastor’s sermon. Lincoln thought for a moment and then told his assistant that he did not think it was very good. When his assistant asked him why—Lincoln replied that whereas the exposition of the text was complete and correct—the pastor did not apply the message by asking of them anything great.

So . . . let me ask you to do something great and revolutionary this week—Be a normal Christian and live by your faith. And if you do—if you’ll just be a normal Christian in the eyes of God and live by faith—live your life believing Him and entrusting everything in and about your life to Him—you will become—and here is the irony of it all—a great man or woman of God.

As the last Puritan of the 19th century, J. C. Ryle put it:

“In walking with God, a man will go just as far as he believes, and no further. His life will always be proportional to his faith. His peace, his patience, his courage, his zeal, his works—all will be according to his faith.”

In other words, you can go as far in the Christian Life as you want and your experience of God can go as deep and be as exciting and breathtaking and exhilarating as your faith will take you. So that, if you only have to trust God for small things—your faith and your experience of God will remain small. If your desire to make much of Christ remains small so that you have no desire to take the risks and do the hard things and remain in the tough situations that demand a greater faith than you have ever exercised before—your faith will remain small, Christ will continue to look small, and your life experience of Christ will remain small as well. If, however, you trust God and in fact put yourself in situations, for the glory of God, where you must trust Him for big things and big challenges and in big problems and in big ways—your faith and experience of God will be big because your God is Big.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Greater Sin?

On July 1, 1854, then private citizen, Abraham Lincoln, who while hoping to be chosen by the Illinois legislature to become a U.S. senator, wrote the following about the possibility of blacks one day, not only no longer being slaves, but serving in government. This short paragraph comes from his short piece simply entitled, Fragments: On Slavery.

“Most governments have been based, practically, on the denial of the equal rights of men, as I have, in part, stated them; ours began by affirming those rights. They said, some men are too ignorant, and vicious to share in government. Possibly so, said we; and, by your system, you would always keep them ignorant, and vicious. We proposed to give all a chance; and we expected the weak to grow stronger, the ignorant, wiser; and all better, and happier together.”

I do not think President Lincoln would be surprised that a black man is now the President of the United States of America. In fact, I think, he saw it coming as a result of properly understanding the words and the intent of the words rather than the inconsistencies, in terms of the practice regarding slavery, of our founding fathers. Given the undying passion by which he prosecuted a war that threatened to destroy from the face of the earth this nation and the risks he took in issuing forth the Emancipation Proclamation, I cannot believe that he was not in part fighting for this day that we have all witnessed, in which a black man has been elected President.

My hope is that in Abraham Lincoln’s far-reaching hope, President Obama, who has chosen to model the character of his presidency after Lincoln’s, will see in the very same words of our nation’s most sacred and foundational documents that the same truths that applied to him should be applied to the unborn.

Lincoln was not always as adamant and consistent in his own feelings about slavery as is oftentimes mistakenly thought. Just two years before becoming president, in a debate with Stephen Douglas, he said:

“I will say then that I am not, nor have I ever been in the favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races . . . There must be a position of superior and inferior, and I... am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race ... I do not perceive that because the white man is to have the superior position that the negroe should be deprived everything.”

Was he talking out of both sides of his mouth to win an election? Some would say, yes. Others would say, no; and that his views had simply not been solidified by the pressure that comes when the decision of what to do about a particular issue would be his to decide.

We all know where President Obama has said that he stands on the issue of abortion. We have heard him say that he is not in favor of abortion, but that it is necessary in defending the rights of a woman to choose. I think President Obama means well and I think he, by virtue of divine sovereignty and providence, which put him in office, is the man to lead our country, for better or worse. I also believe he like President Lincoln can be brought to see, through the pressure of the office and by the concerned, compassionate, courteous, consistent, and continual prayers of God's people on his behalf, that the words and the intent of our founding fathers' hope for this nation does indeed extend to the unborn and the born alike.

In the end, what he does for or against the unborn is his decision to make. Whether we who know better, pray for him and this decision is ours to make. If we don't pray, and he doesn't change, the question that comes to mind is, "whose is the greater sin--his or ours?"

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

New Year's Revolutions Message #3 Mark 6:30-52 {January 11, 2009}

Learn How To Handle Your Disappointments
Or They Will Manhandle You!


While he was still very young, his father took a new job in the city, which disappointingly, meant this boy would have to leave his home, his school and his friends for a new town and a new school. Of course, he found the new school to be much harder than expected and children his age much more difficult to win as friends. So, he became a loner, who spent much of his time reading, painting, and of course dreaming of one day being accepted and important. Poor grades kept him from receiving his graduation diploma—so disappointed with himself he moved to Vienna to work and hopefully seek his fortune. He applied to the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts but was rejected twice, two years in a row. Now, more disappointed than he had ever been in his entire life he withdrew completely from family and friends and wandered aimlessly until running out of money. He went to Germany and became a soldier in hopes that this would bring him the recognition and importance he craved. He served valiantly in the Army and in fact was wounded in action twice in defense of his country but despite his bravery was never promoted to a position of leadership. So disappointed again, he got out of the Army, joined a group that was intent upon overthrowing the German government, and ended up in prison.

Well how did this young man deal with his disappointments he experienced in his life—he didn’t—and they became the breeding ground of the bad attitudes in his life that helped to foster a hatred and bitterness for a whole race of people whom he came to blame his disappointments. In the end, he sent millions of Jews to their deaths and started a world war that took million of lives in his bitterness over the disappointments he had experienced and in his quest to become so powerful—he would never be disappointed again.

Now whereas, none of us in this room could ever imagine becoming an Adolf Hitler—how many little personal battles and wars have we started with others simply because we too suffered some major disappointment or series of disappointments in our lives? How many arguments and fights have we gotten into with our spouses or other family members just because we were disappointed that something didn’t happen that we expected to happen or because someone didn’t perform the way we thought they should or would?

How many times have we gotten mad and left churches because somebody disappointed us? How many times have we quit jobs or even left ministries because we were disappointed by people who didn’t appreciate our work, pay us what we were worth, or even seem to give a lick about the time and energy we were pouring into the company or the ministry? How often have we spent hours and maybe even days or weeks sulking and pouting because we didn’t get the grades we thought we deserved, or the job we wanted or the house we dreamed of or the car we hoped for or the recognition we deserved? Or how many times have you been so disappointed by the weather that you got angry enough to spit?

Listen, disappointments hit all of us. They come in as many flavors as Baskin Robbins Ice Cream and if not dealt with correctly—biblically—they have the ability to grow into the kinds of bad attitudes and bitterness that will not only make you and I very difficult to live with but will also rob us of our joy and our opportunities to make much of Christ.

So this morning we are going to look at some men who were disappointed and who allowed their disappointment to become the bad attitude that robbed them of great blessing and happiness. As we do, I want us to learn the revolutionary truth of how to deal with our disappointments in life by seeing how not to deal with them. In effect, we either handle our disappointments biblically or they will manhandle us. So, again let’s learn what to do and not do when it comes to dealing with these very common bedfellows.

Turn with me to Mark 6:30-52 where we will see that:

">If we do not learn how to deal with our disappointments they will turn into the bad attitudes, which will make us difficult to live with, rob us of our joy in Christ, and ruin our opportunities to make much of Christ.

Thus, learning how to handle our disappointments in a biblical way will revolutionize our lives, our relationships, and probably our families and churches as well.


1. Disappointment In And With Our Circumstances In Life Is Often Caused By Delayed Or Unexpected Expectations. (30-33)

The disciples, who were sent out by Jesus in Mark 6:7-13 and who were apparently so successful that Herod himself had heard of their ministerial exploits (6:14), were excited to finally be home and have the opportunity to share with Jesus all they had experienced. Upon their return, after a fairly extended period of being gone, Jesus still ministering to the crowd says to them—let’s go to a quiet and out of the way place—in other words, “let’s get a way for a while.” But the crowd, who had consumed much of Jesus’ time, attention, and energy for quite a while followed them and in fact anticipated where they were going so as to arrive their first.

Imagine the disciples reaction, when thinking they were going to have some special time with the Lord alone—time to be refreshed and re-energized, time to have their spiritual and emotional tanks refueled—saw the crowds waiting for Jesus? They were, to say the least—disappointed and subsequently developed very quickly, a bad attitude toward these people who had just ruined their vacation.

Interestingly enough, the primary cause of anger, bitterness, and bad attitudes toward life is becoming disappointed over delayed or unfulfilled expectations. Whenever we develop expectations of what we would like to see happen in and for our lives and these expectations are delayed or dashed or simply never come to fruition we find ourselves facing the potential “joy killer” of disappointment. And if disappointment is not dealt with properly it will produce in us bad attitudes that will poison our outlook on life and ministry.

It is very important to note that the cause of the disciples bad attitude in this passage is disappointment over not having much desired and deserved time with the Lord alone—thus failure to see even good and godly expectations come to fruition can cause disappointment, which if left unchecked will develop into sinful attitudes.


2. Disappointment, Left Unchecked, Will Cloud Our Vision For Ministry. (34)

Note that whereas Jesus sees sheep—the disciples see only a crowd.

Note that whereas Jesus sees sheep without a shepherd—the disciples see only a crowd that has ruined their vacation.

Note that whereas Jesus welcomes them begins to teach them (Mk. 6:34)—the disciples do not interact with them in any way nor do they appear to minister to them, which is really quite odd because if you look at Luke 9:11 and compare it with Luke 9:1-2, which is Luke’s account of this event—the disciples had just spent an extended period of time doing the very thing Jesus is doing but seemingly are not lifting a hand to help as Jesus is ministering to a crowd of well over 5000 people.

REMEMBER—When disappointed with [1] Where you are; [2] Who you are with; and/or [3] What you are doing—you will develop a bad attitude toward life, ministry, and the people God brings to you to minister to.


3. Disappointment, Left Unchecked, Will Turn A Servant’s Compassionate And Giving Heart Into A Selfish Caustic Heart. (35-37)

The disciples, who only a short time ago were compassionately serving others by putting their needs before and above their own are now struggling to maintain that attitude. This is evident in that the only one who is said to have ministered to the crowd for the whole day was Jesus. It is seen in that apparently the disciples stayed away from Jesus for the better part of the day. [v. 35 “When it was already quite late they came to Him”] It is also seen in the dialogue between Jesus and His disciples in verses 35-37. Note what they say: “This place is desolate and it is already quite late.” The Greek word used here for “desolate” is the same word used by Jesus when He said, “Come away by yourselves to a secluded place. . . “

In other words, what they are saying is: Jesus, this is the place, the desolate place—the place you were taking us to and our time is fleeting. And then in v. 36, they did the unbelievable—they actually commanded Him to send the people away. The Aorist Imperative used here indicates an abrupt terse order. Thus they are in effect saying to Jesus: Jesus, this is our spot, the desolate and remote vacation spot you promised to take us to and this is supposed to be our time with you—so get rid of these people, send them away now!

Note in verse 36 the reason they give for sending the people away—so that they might go into the villages in the surrounding countryside to buy food. The only problem with this is that at this time of the day there would be no place with much food to sell. The food would have been sold much earlier in the day. The other problem with their suggestion is even if there was still food to buy where would they find enough for over 5000 people? In other words, they knew it was impossible to find food for this many people at this time of the day—but it was the only excuse they could come up with to send them away.

But check out Jesus’ response—He saw right through them and their bad attitude. He gives them a command, saying, “You give them something to eat!” In other words, If you’re so concerned for them and their hunger—YOU and You alone take care of them. (emphatic) Jesus, here, hits them right between the eyes with what their real problem is—its not a lack of resources that’s the real problem—its their lack of concern. You see, their disappointment turned into a bad attitude that robbed them of their concern and love for others.

Remember—Ministries do not fail for lack of money. They fail for lack of concern and compassion. Likewise, ministers do not generally fail for lack of ministerial giftedness as much as because they have lost their sense of compassion and care for the people God has called them to minister to (usually because of a series of disappointments).

Let me track down a rabbit trail for just a moment here—I share my pulpit with many men in this church from time to time—usually when I am on vacation or out of town on some adventure. But if you will notice, the only men who preach from this pulpit are men who have demonstrated a love and a concern for the people of this church. You see, it is one thing to love to preach. It is quite another to love those to whom you preach. There are many young men here as well as older men who want to preach—who want to be pastors and missionaries—that is good—in fact it is wonderful. But, just let me say to you that I don’t care how much you know if you have not demonstrated how much you care. Oh, don’t misunderstand me. I will be the first to tell you that you must study and study hard and long if you are to preach the Word of God to God’s people—but if that is all you do—you have no place ministering in this pulpit or any pulpit as far as I am concerned. There is time in every pastor’s day to be with the Lord in the hard, exacting, and rigorous study and prayer that it takes to bring you a message every Sunday. There is also enough time if you are not lazy to spend some time with God’s people on a regular basis. You know, I don’t go to work days because I am a great carpenter or know much about anything about building. I go because my men are there and thus, that is where I there undershepherd should be. So—with all that said—if you want to preach here you better be a “man’ man” like Jesus and you better demonstrate that you not only know the Word because you have spent time in it and with it—you better also demonstrate that you know our people because you have spent time with them and “in” them. Now let’s get back to the message.

Now note the disciples’ response to Jesus’ command in the second part of verse 37. “Shall we go and . . .” In essence, they say: “Are you suggesting that we go and meet their needs?!” I mean, you can just feel their condescending, better than they, selfish, bad attitude.


4. Disappointment, Left Unchecked, Will Turn A Ready And Willing Heart Into A Reluctant and Unwilling Heart. (38-45A)

So, Jesus, in response to their question asks them: “How many loaves do you have?” Note that there is no response recorded on the part of the disciples. So Jesus then issues two short, terse, and abrupt commands of His own—“Go and See!”

Then once Jesus got His answer (5 loaves and 2 fishes) He commands the disciple to have the people sit down. The NIV and KJV render this better in saying: “And He commanded them to make them all sit down . . .”

I think that the reason why Jesus has to command the disciple to Go and See how many loaves they have in the crowd and the reason he has to command them to make the crowd sit down is because they have to be commanded rather than asked because of their bad attitudes. But now look at verse 45. After feeding the 5000 and after the leftovers are collected, Jesus made His disciples get into the boat and go ahead of Him to the other side of the Lake.

The word “made” comes from the Greek word anagkazo. It means to force someone to do something or compel one to do something by force, violence, or verbal command. Thus, Jesus makes them do something they were not initially willing to do. In all of these verses you see a group of men that are not willing to immediately obey the Lord but are rather relunctant in their obedience—all because of a bad attitude that developed out of the disappointment they had experienced in not having their time with Jesus.


5. Disappointment, Left Unchecked, Will Turn Spiritual Laborers Into Spiritual Liabilities. (45B)

As Jesus was ending his time ministering to the crowd of over 5000 He had to send His disciples away because they had become spiritual liabilities rather than spiritual laborers. Their bad attitude was impeding Jesus’ ability to effectively minister to these people so He sent them away. They were essentially, interrupting the ministerial process and instead of Jesus being able to focus His attention on this crowd of people who desperately needed His attention—He is having to deal with some disgruntled sheep who are demanding His attention.

This happens all the time in churches doesn’t it?! I mean, how many churches are stagnant, losing ground, and essentially dead in the water because the leadership is having to deal with spoiled, disgruntled, unhappy, self-centered, members and attenders who got their nose tweeked by something that occurred or did not occur the way they thought it should?!


6. Disappointment, Left Unchecked, Will Rob Us of The Joy of Experiencing God’s Fellowship. (46-47)

The disciples should have been with Jesus on that mountain that night. Their vacation had really only been delayed but because of their bad attitude they had to be sent away and while Jesus was on the mountain they were in a boat on the Lake. Their disappointing circumstances were not handled properly and thus led to the bad attitude which robbed them of the joy of experiencing Jesus’ fellowship that night.

Disappointment left to itself is sin! It is the sin of unbelief in the sovereignty of God over your circumstances. And left to itself it prevents you from having fellowship with God.


7. Disappointment, Left Unchecked, Will Harden Our hearts And Blind Us To The Presence And Work of God Going On All Around Us. (48-52 with John 6:14)

According to verses 48-51, the disciples were utterly astonished to see Jesus walking on the water. In fact, according to Matthew’s account of this incident found in Matthew 14:33, they worshipped Jesus, saying “You are certainly God’s Son!” But look at verse 52 in Mark 6. While greatly impressed with Jesus for walking on the water—they had completely missed the significance of the fact that He had fed over 5000 people with five loaves of bread and two fishes. How could they possibly have missed the fact that this miracle also pointed to His deity? Their bad attitude developed as a result of their disobedience blinded them to the work of God in their midst.

The fact of the matter is that this happens all the time in the church. In well over 20 years of ministry, I think that pretty much without exception those people who have come to me complaining that God wasn’t working in our church or whatever ministry we were involved in were simply blind to what God was doing right in front of them—and they were blinded by their own bitterness that resulted from being disappointed by someone or something.

Turn with me to Hebrews 12:15 to see what the Bible has to say about these roots of bitterness that seem to pop up in our lives more often than they probably should.

First, of all when you find yourself becoming bitter toward another or toward even a group of people it is a sign that you are living “short of the grace of God”. In other words, you are not applying the same kind of graciousness toward those who have disappointed you as God did and does toward you and I when we sin against Him.

Second, this simple case of bitterness that you think is a personal thing and no one else’s business is going to be more trouble for you than you realize. You see bitterness is like crabgrass—once its in the lawn—it is almost impossible to get rid of without killing the whole lawn. And to finally get rid of bitterness—you will end up having to have it rooted out by God Himself and this will hurt and cost you more pain than you bargained for.

Third, your little issue with bitterness has the potential to defile others. In other words—it spreads.

You see, bitterness really can’t be contained. It spills out and as you tell your story of woe as to why you are bitter with so and so—the person you are telling either sides with you or so and so and now the root has become a vine that will effect far more people than just you.

Ultimately—people who have allowed their disappointments to turn into roots of bitterness cannot make much of Christ because they are consumed by making much of their bitterness and thus their disappointments.

CONCLUSION

So, How Then Are We To Deal With Life’s Disappointments?

REMEMBER—Our disappointments are God’s appointments for our good.

REGARD—Our disappointments as speed bumps not stop signs.

RESPOND—Appropriately to the cause of your disappointment as well as the disappointment itself in a godly manner.

1. If the cause is your sin—REPENT.

2. If the cause is someone else’s sin—FORGIVE & FORGET.

3. If the cause is someone else’s mistake—BE UNDERSTANDING.

4. If the cause is God’s direct providence—SUBMIT, TRUST & LEARN.





Monday, January 5, 2009

New Year's Revolutions Message #2 Mark 4:35-41


Learning The Facts About The Trials of Life

Many, many years ago, a man wrote the following in justifying his request from his employer for sick leave after being injured following a hurricane. When I got to the building site I found that a hurricane had blown some bricks off the top of the building. So, I rigged up a beam with a pulley at the top of the building and hoisted up a couple barrels full of bricks.

After I had fixed the damaged area I had a lot of bricks left over so I went back down to the ground and began to release the rope that was secured to the barrel of bricks. Unfortunately, the barrel of bricks was much heavier than I was—and before I knew it, the barrel started coming down so fast—it jerked me up. By the time I realized what was happening I was too far off the ground to let go of the rope so I hung on and halfway up I met the barrel of bricks coming down. I received a hard blow on my shoulder, but continued to the top where I banged my head on the beam and jammed my fingers in the pulley.

Then when the barrel of bricks hit the ground, the barrel broke open, spilling out all the bricks. I was now heavier than the barrel—so down I came much faster than I went up. Halfway down, I was hit with the broken pieces of the barrel, which were still tied to the rope and traveling fast causing severe pain to my shins. When I finally hit the ground, I landed on top of the pile of bricks and must have lost my presence of mind, because I let go of the rope, which caused the broken barrel to come down fast—hitting me on the head and putting me in the hospital.

I respectfully request sick leave.

Tough Days—we all have them and the fact of the matter is the Bible teaches us that we are supposed to have them because God has ordained that they are necessary to our spiritual growth and development. Passages such as 2 Corinthians 6:3-10; Philippians 1:29-30; 1 Thessalonians 3:3-5; 1 Peter 2:20-21; and 1 Peter 4:12 make it painfully clear that of the many things we are destined for as believers, persevering through tough days is one of them.

Therefore, since it is the case that God has ordained our trials and tough days for our good—it would behoove us to try and learn how to see them from His point of view so as to better understand why they are good for us and how to respond to them. You see, what you and I know about God, His purposes in our trials, and how to respond to them will go along way in helping us to reap the most benefit from them and this truly can revolutionize our lives. So, let’s turn to Mark 4:35-41 and we will see that:

Learning The Facts About The Trials of Life
Can Revolutionize Our Lives.


As you are turning, let me just warn you that if you are really wanting and yearning for an experiential Christianity in which you really are walking with the Lord and not just reading about others who have, you’ll find the path to be anything but easy. We don’t get the streets of gold in the heavenly city until after we have walked with Jesus on the debris littered, rock strewn, ever-winding, and seemingly unending uphill roads of earth.

1. Trials often are the result of our willingness to risk earthly treasure for the sake of Christ. (35-37)

Storms of this magnitude (hurricane force) were common on the Sea of Galilee at night. When the cold winds from Mt. Hermon, which is 9200 feet above sea level collided with the warm winds over the Sea of Galilee, which lies 680 feet below sea level violent storms would often erupt that threatened to sink any boat on the water. One source I looked at, The Historical Geography of The Holy Land, stated: “The atmosphere, for the most part, hangs still and heavy, but the cold currents, as they pass from the west, are sucked down into the vortices of air by the narrow gorges that break upon the Lake. Then arise those sudden storms for which the region is notorious.”

Sailing at night also posed the risk of striking logs, submerged rocks, or even other boats. Thus most fishermen in this day usually did not venture out onto the Sea of Galilee in the evening when the atmosphere over the Sea of Galilee was still warm. But apparently the disciples were willing to take the risk of being caught in a storm at night in order to do the Lord’s bidding. In other words, they were willing to put themselves in a position, which could entail suffering and in fact the loss of their boat and even their lives.

With this in mind, let me suggest to you that there are many believers today who would never put themselves or allow themselves to be put into a situation that might entail suffering any kind of loss for Christ. Thus, they should not be too surprised that their lives have been lived pretty much problem free and thus, in a sense with no concept of needing Christ in any spectacular way. That is a tragedy because a life that is lived so as to play it safe and not lose anything is not really a life at all. It is simply an existence empty of the experience of God’s presence and power because to have that—you’d have to risk losing your earthly treasures.

Perhaps the questions we all, who claim the Name of Christ, need to ask ourselves are:

“Do the choices we make in regard to our finances, careers, purchases, vehicles, homes, time, parenting, education, marriage, etc. reflect a willingness to suffer for the cause of Christ?”

“Are we willing to take the kinds of risks that while putting us in the position of very likely suffering some kind of loss for Christ also puts us into the position of demonstrating that our real treasure is in Heaven?”

I think we have so domesticated the word “Christian” that we have no idea of what it really means to know and follow Jesus. Ask the common garden variety Christian what it means to live as a Christian and he’ll tell you its to read your Bible, pray, hand a homeless guy a buck, and go to church when its convenient, sunny, and his nose isn’t running. Even the Pharisees did that!

No, Christianity is so much more than those things—it is to be so hungry for Christ, so ravished for His experiential presence, so filled with desire to know Him that you’ll be willing to give up anything you have to have Him and suffer any loss to experience Him.

But again, let me warn you—if you take God seriously and adopt this attitude—it’ll cost you—just like it almost cost the disciples their lives, their boats, and their livelihoods. However, now that they are all in Heaven—do you think they have any regrets? No way! In fact, you know as well as I that there will be no one in Heaven who regrets risking and losing for the sake of Christ. There will be a vast crowd, however, who will regret not having risked more. Which crowd will you be in?


2. Jesus’ presence does not make us immune to or put us out of the reach of trials. (38a)

Neither the disciple’s willingness to go out on a limb for the sake of Christ nor the fact that Jesus was with them made them immune to the storm of their lives. If someone told you before you were saved that Jesus was going to give you a problem free life and that you'd never feel lonely or scared or angry or depressed or never want to sin again--they lied and they lied big time!

If you are pursuing Jesus with a passion you will be becoming like Jesus and the Scriptures are clear that we will experience the same sufferings that He, our Master did. In fact, we are promised a hard life not an easy life. James 1:2 doesn't say: "Consider it all joy if you encounter various trials" but rather "when you encounter trials". And the reciprocal truth in James 1:2 would be that we should consider it to be no joy when we are not encountering various trials.


3. Trials tempt us to doubt God’s concern for us. (38b)

In essence the disciples say: “Do we mean so little to you? With death staring us in the face, how can you sleep? Don’t you care whether we drown in this storm?”

There was nothing mild about their outcry. They lashed out at him in fear, anger, and hysteria. So even though willing to risk it all for Christ—when the storm came—they gave into their fears and lashed out caustically at Jesus. They lost sight of the fact that even in death—had the storm drown them—they were still in God’s care and receiving from Him His very best. In other words, even had their greatest fears been realized and they died—it would have been no big deal because they belonged to Christ and Heaven would be their destination.

Listen the worst thing we could ever lose would probably be our lives in the service of Christ but even if we do—the Bible tells us—it would be “great gain”. That’s what Paul writes in Philippians 1:21—“For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” But does Philippians 1:21 also apply when the person who dies is not us but a cherished love one. I mean would any of us be able to say at the funeral of a loved one that their death is actually gain not only for them but for us? I think that it does apply in this way and I think if we don’t apply it this way that we will never be willing to follow the Lord in any kind of endeavor or venture that may even put at risk, in addition to ourselves, our loved ones as well.

It is important to realize that on this boat trip with Jesus were men who were not only close friends—there were also at least two sets of brothers there as well—Peter & Andrew and James & John. Thus, when Peter agreed to go with Jesus, he put Andrew at risk and when John agreed to go he put James at risk and vice versa.

We must also realize that in saying “Yes” to Jesus, each of these men also put his family in a position of potential risk in that if these men died in a storm their families would obviously be affected in some negative way—but Jesus had this covered as well.

Regardless of who might possibly be lost—it would be gain for both—the one who died and one who was left.


4. Trials enable us to see and experience God and His grace in ways we never could otherwise. (39)

The disciples never would have experienced the miraculous calming of the storm had they never experienced the storm. Suffering is a universal Christian experience that is designed by God to glorify Himself in that your pain gives Him the opportunity to reveal Himself and His love for you much more powerfully and immensely than is possible otherwise.

It isn’t that God cannot reveal Himself without our suffering—He can.
The problem isn’t in God—it’s in us. We have no capacity for the depth and breadth of God’s love apart from pain and difficulty.

We are so satisfied with our limited happiness and convenient comforts that are represented in our neat, tidy, compact, and non-suffering existences that we don’t want God to all of a sudden interrupt our rut and trash our toys, all in the hope of showing us what our real treasure and pleasure in life could be. Therefore, God because He loves us—interrupts us, breaks our toys, and brings into our lives those experiences—those painful experiences that reveal Him and His love in ways that could not be experienced otherwise.


5. Trials reveal our level of faith or our lack of faith. (40 w/35 & 5:1)

It is interesting that Jesus had announced their destination before they departed and before the storm hit. Had the disciples listened to Him and took His words to heart and believed He had the authority, ability, and desire to honor His Word they never would have doubted Him. Thus, the storm revealed in them a lack of faith. Thus, the reason for Jesus’ first response to their fear, which is not recorded by Mark but by Matthew in Matthew 8:26.

Nevertheless, before we judge these men too harshly, the following facts must be kept in mind: First, the disciples were thoroughly frightened—they truly believed they were in danger and going to die—thus they reacted the same as we might under those circumstances. And two, their fear, anger, and harshness were mixed with some trust, even if it was a little. This is seen in that they did cry out to Him rather than anyone else.


6. Trials will ultimately make us better even if they temporarily make us bitter. (40-41)

Notice that after Jesus calms the storm, He is not done asking questions. You see, in verse 40, Jesus has a couple more questions for them, which now have nothing to do with their initial reaction to the storm’s arising but to Jesus calming it. He asks: “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

If you miss the tense of the question you will miss the whole point.

Jesus does not ask: “Why were you afraid?”

Jesus asks: “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

In other words, “Why after seeing me calm the store in response to your fears and accusations of me not caring for you—are you still afraid? Do you, after seeing what I have done still have no faith in my concern for you, my love for you, and my ability to meet your needs?” You see, whereas trials will always reveal the depth of our faith—they do not always build or mature our faith right away! And in asking these two very pointed questions, Jesus is making the point to His disciples that unless they changed their attitudes, they would, for the time being, miss out on what this particular trial was designed to do for them—which you will see in verse 41.

After Jesus’ pointed questions brought the disciples to their senses their fear and bitterness faded and they were able to experience what God had intended for them to experience in the first place—awe and amazement at Who Jesus is.

The phrase “They became very much afraid” comes from a Greek phrase, which in English means: And they feared an intensely far greater fear. In other words, the fear and the amazement they experienced in seeing the power of the storm was nothing in comparison to seeing the divine power and majesty of Christ. In essence, what they experienced in seeing Christ calm the storm as well as the storm in their own hearts was a reverential worshipful sense of awe and amazement in realizing that the Jesus in their boat was none other than God Himself.

You see, when they moved from making much of their trial to seeing Jesus through the lens of their trial they were able to see something of the greatness of Jesus they had never known and quite frankly had never imagined. And this awe was then demonstrated in the continual over and over again [imperfect tense] stating of the question: “Who then is this that even the wind and the sea obey Him?”

You see, God never wastes our pain!

Even though the disciples were still upset and afraid, after Jesus calmed the storm—Jesus did not leave them in their bitterness and fear. He lifted them out of it and did not waste their really tough evening—rather He showed them His power and made them all the better for it.

It is so important for us to get a hold of this truth. We often become discouraged because we don’t react to our trials the way we know we should. Time after time and trial after trial, we often find ourselves reacting with seemingly no improvement. Yet, God is working in our lives and we need to rejoice in what improvement, regardless of how small there is. Perhaps, it is taking less time to realize your reactions are wrong and need correcting or maybe you are reacting with less fear, anger, and frustration. Be assured, God is working in your lives through the storms. He will not waste them.

Over the course of time and sometimes over the course of a lifetime, believers realize the fundamental truth that trials are God’s tools to accomplish in them and for them what could not have been accomplished otherwise. Thus, the reason, why the mature saints I know all agree with this statement made by Malcolm Muggeridge: “Looking over my 90 years, I realize I have never made any progress in good times. I only progressed in the hard times.”

Samuel Rutherford was a Scottish minister who, after pastoring for several years and also serving on the council that produced the Westminster Confession, was arrested for high treason—because of his protestant beliefs.
He was sentenced to death but before he could be burned at the stake he died in prison at the age of 61 years old.

While in prison he wrote some 220 letters, which are still preserved today. In one of these letters he expressed what he had learned about suffering.

If God had told me some time ago that He was about to make me as happy as I could be in this world, and then had told me that He should begin by crippling me in all my limbs, and removing me from all my usual sources of enjoyment, I should have thought it a very strange mode of accomplishing His purpose.

And yet, how is His wisdom manifest even in this! For if you should see a man shut up in a close room, idolizing a set of lamps and rejoicing in their light, and you wished to make him truly happy, you would begin by blowing out all of his lamps; and then throw open the shutters to let in the light of heaven.

And that my friends is what our trials do for us—they force us to turn from our artificial temporary joys to the source of all true and lasting joy—Jesus Christ Himself—our Sovereign Joy.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Freedom of The Press & Jesus

On Wednesday I was contacted by a reporter from the Independent, a small local newspaper with a circulation throughout the East Mountains and Estancia Valley. He asked me if I would provide the paper with a short pastoral perspective on the holidays and the new year by 1 pm that same day. I was on my way out the door and wasn't sure I could accommodate him, especially in just a couple hours but in the interest of trying to make much of Christ I agreed.

I banged out a short piece and emailed it to the Independent. Here is what I sent.

Christmas is over, the tree has dried up, the presents are stacked up, the trashcan is filled up, the credit card has been wracked up and we’re, well some of us are just plain fed up. Fed up with another Christmas that didn’t deliver what we thought or at least hoped it would deliver. Oh, it delivered a fast burn that brought excitement into our lives until the batteries wore out, but Christmas and all the trimmings turned into a slow fade, which has left some of us just as disappointed, discontented, disillusioned, and dissatisfied with our lives as we were before we went deeper into debt trying to buy another years worth of happiness and holiday cheer.

But, you know what, maybe the real problem isn’t Christmas’ failure to deliver as much as we are far too easily pleased. You see, our willingness to settle for artificial trees, plastic toys, paper plates, and disposable Christmas lights is very much indicative of the root problem we all struggle with—that of filling our lives with the throw-away-stuff of life so that we have no room left for what the Lord of life promises, which is life itself in Christ Jesus, the real reason for Christmas. Quite simply, we are so happy filling our lives with the transient things of life—we have missed the point of life, which is enjoying a personal relationship with our Creator through Christ Jesus His Son.

May 2009 be a year in which we aren’t so easily pleased!


And here is what the Independent printed:

Christmas is over, the tree has dried up, the presents are stacked up, the trashcan is filled up, the credit card has been wracked up and we’re, well some of us are just plain fed up. Let's fill ourselves with the real reason for Christmas this year!

Needless to say, they butchered what I wrote and really misrepresented the whole intent of it. I posted this here so that those of you who read the Independent will see what I actually wrote as opposed to what the Independent chose to print. I guess the freedom of the press applies only to the press when it comes to talking about Jesus.

New Year's Revolutions Message #1 Ephesians 3:14-21

Learn To Live Loved

The other night my family and I sat down and watched a great movie, entitled: Saving Sarah Cain, that had been given to us for Christmas. It was about a woman who was caught in the trap of constantly having to do and say things that she thought would make people think well of her, and be impressed with her, and admire her, and ultimately love her. And what was utterly ridiculous about it all was that she was already very much loved by those around her but just couldn’t see it because she was too busy trying to earn it.

As I watched the movie, I didn’t miss the producer’s point, which is that probably most of us struggle with the same thing that his main character Sarah Cain did—being so busy trying to do whatever it takes in our minds to compel others to respect, admire, appreciate, and ultimately love us that we don’t realize how loved we already are. But more than that—I think the problem most of us as Christians have is that we are so busy trying to prove to God how much we love Him that we don’t take into account the most important thing, which is realizing how much God loves us.

Just like Sarah Cain had to learn to be loved by others—we as Christians need to learn to be loved by God. This is the New Year’s Revolutionary Challenge I want to leave you with today—to learn to live as loved by God—as the Bible teaches you are.”

The reason I am calling this a revolutionary challenge is, number one, it is so foreign to how most of us live our lives and number two, it truly will revolutionize your life as it frees you from feeling as though you constantly have to perform and be firing on all eight cylinders 100 % of the time so as to earn the love of God or keep from losing it. It is revolutionary in that once you learn to live as a person loved by God you’ll find it so much easier to live as a person loved by others as well.

In many of the towns and villages in Iraq, there are marketplaces where the people come to buy and sell all kinds of things from food to crafts to farm tools and even small birds like quail and pigeons. The men who sell the quail and the pigeons have them tied to a pole, which they walk around in circles as long as the string is tied to their feet. When a customer buys one of the birds and it is taken off the string and put in a box or even left on the ground—the bird does the most interesting thing—it continues to walk in circles even though it is free.

Sometimes we act a lot like those birds. Even though God has done the great and wonderful work of freeing us from the penalty and power of our sins so as to enable us to freely experience the promise of His all-encompassing, totally unconditional, and fully accepting love—we just can’t believe that God really does love us—especially when we fail. So we just keep walking in circles frantically trying to earn His love and make up for our failings.

In other words, instead of believing that you as a child of God are freely loved by God without any strings attached like the Bible teaches—you are still walking in circles unable to spread your wings and fly because you don’t really believe God loves you the way the Bible says He does. And the interesting thing about this for most of us is that we have no problem believing God loves everyone else the way the Bible says He does—we just struggle with thinking that those wonderful and truly freeing promises of such a great love for sinners applies to us.

I also think we struggle with experiencing the love of God in our lives because for many of us our greatest sins and our most devastating failures occurred, not before we were saved, but after we came to Christ. In other words, we knew better and had no excuse for our behavior and our sin and even now have no excuse for our sin habits and this make us doubt even if ever so slightly whether God’s love for us may have changed—even if ever so slightly.

When we doubt God’s unbelievably great and all-encompassing, and fully embracing love for us, to even the slightest degree, we begin to die inside and unless through the grace of God and the power of God’s Spirit and the promises of God’s Word—we begin to finally see that God’s love for us is as deep and as high and as wide and as long as the Bible says it is—we will begin a journey down a path of spiritual suicide, in which whereas we continue to go through all the motions of Christianity—inside—we are dying as we lose more and more interest in the things of God, as we find less and less satisfaction in God Himself, as we isolate ourselves further and further from God’s people, as we grow increasingly more cynical, critical, and bitter about life, as the vitality and the passion for worship disappears--until we finally give it up altogether—having too much integrity to continue on as a hypocrite or simply becoming too tired to fake it anymore.

Because the real battle of the Christian Faith and the real fight that we are all in is the fight to believe the promises of God especially as they relate to us as individuals and especially as they have to do with God’s love for us and His acceptance of us—I think we are all prone to falling into this great trap of living our lives thinking we are not loved and thus we begin to make decisions and behave in that fashion until we either burn out, rust out, or just cash out. And because of this proneness that we all have to doubt the love of Christ—NOT FOR OTHERS, BUT FOR US—the Bible goes to great lengths to repeat over and over and in a variety of different ways—just how much Christ loves us and accepts us and treasures us and delights in us and finds great joy in us who have trusted in Him for salvation.

So, go with me to one of those places—Ephesians 3:14-21, where I want us to see that:

If you are not experiencing the fullness of joy and the unbelievably great power of God at work in your life—more than likely it is because you have not learned how to live your life as one who is intensely, unconditionally, and passionately loved by Jesus Christ.

For you see, we cannot even begin to experience the fullness and power of God in our lives until we first learn to live as people who are indeed loved by God.

This is the first New Year’s Revolutionary Challenge I want to leave you with today—to learn to live as one who is as loved by God as the Bible teaches you are.”


1. Being able to comprehend Christ’s love for you so as to learn how to live as one who is loved by God will be a great fight. (3:14-16)

A. It requires prayer and especially the prayers of others on your behalf who also make it a point to tell you that this is what they are praying for in regard to you. (3:1, 14)

I have no doubt that we as individuals can go to the Lord in prayer on our own behalf so as to beseech Him to unleash His power in our lives so that we can begin to comprehend the love that He has for us. However, I also know it to be true and find it demonstrated here in Paul’s words that the battle of unbelief is won with fewer personal casualties when we enlist the help and the support of others in it and ask for prayer especially in this area of doubting God’s love for us. Even if we are not asked—this is probably the greatest thing you can pray for in regard to any of us here.

Furthermore, whereas, Paul did not have to tell us that this was his prayer for us—he did. And the reason he did is because knowing someone else is praying for you that you would be able to know and understand and experience how much Christ loves you—is in itself an affirmation of His very love for us in that He moved one of His own to begin praying for us in this regard.


B. It requires that God’s unlimited and infinite power be unleashed in our hearts through the Person of the Holy Spirit so as to overcome our tendency to disbelieve and doubt God when it comes to His promises regarding us. (3:16; Rom. 5:5)

Even though we have been saved and have been made into a new creation in Christ Jesus, we still live in sinful flesh. This flesh is still opposed to God and wants to run from Him every chance it gets. And this sinful flesh with its sinful lusts, which will not be removed from us until glory is continually assaulting our soul, Peter tells us in 1 Peter 2:11 so that we doubt the promises of God in regard to us.

In addition to our own personal sin struggles and doubts brought about by giving into the temptations of our sinful flesh, we also are being assailed by the world, and the demonic forces of Satan Himself whose favorite target is our conception of the love of God and the acceptance of God for us especially when we fail. And thus, with enemies as strong as this assailing our confidence in the promises of God and especially the promise of His great love for us—we must be strengthened with God’s Power as it is released to us through God’s Spirit in the very place where the battle of belief takes place—our inner man.


2. Being able to comprehend Christ’s love so as to learn how to live as one who is loved by God will make all the difference in the world in whether Christ and His joy are truly experienced in your life. (17a)

If I were to doubt Nancy’s love for me, even though she continually affirmed her love through her words and her actions—we would experience a strain in our relationship with each other. In fact, if I were to continually doubt and question her love for me regardless of how much she truly demonstrated her love for me the strain that would result would be such that neither her nor I would be able to be comfortable with each other. And whereas, given our convictions, we would not divorce—we would not be very happy either. Our marriage would lack joy, happiness, and vitality. You can be sure—we wouldn’t be recommending marriage to anyone.

A similar thing happens to us when we continually doubt Christ’s love for us. Whereas, Christ will never leave us nor forsake us, He isn’t very comfortable with us either and neither are we with Him and the result is a Christian life that lacks joy, happiness, and spiritual vitality. Just as I would never be able to experience the fullness of all that Nancy can be for me in our marriage if I doubted her love for me—The fullness of Christ as your Lord and Savior, as your friend, as your source of joy, meaning, and spiritual vitality cannot be experienced in the life of a believer who has given into his doubts so as to no longer believe that Christ loves him the way the Bible says He does.


3. Being able to comprehend Christ’s love for you so as to learn how to live as one who is loved by God so that you are rooted and grounded in love requires that you know just how much Christ really does love you. (17b-19)

In using the words that he does in verses 18-19, Paul is making the point that whereas, the great goal of the Christian is to comprehend Christ’s love for him—this love is incomprehensible. He is saying in effect that Christ’s love for the believer is inescapable regardless of which direction you take in life. His love for us is all-encompassing and knows no limits. And according to verse 19, it surpasses knowledge. In other words, just when you think you understand how much He loves you—you find that His love is exceeds anything you thought you knew. It also means that just when you thought you had come to the end of His love—having taken advantage of it to the point where you think—He could not possibly love me anymore—you find that He does and that His love for you cannot be diminished.

Once you begin to understand all this you’ll begin to understand that God’s love for you is as infinite as He is. And once you begin to understand this and believe this and appropriate this in your life you will find yourself as the end of verse 19 puts it, “filled up to all the fullness of God”. In other words, your capacity to experience God and all that God desires to be for you in and through Christ Jesus is dependent upon your comprehension of God’s love for you. If you don’t think God loves you very much then you will not experience God’s life and God’s fullness in yours to the degree that you could otherwise if you were to merely start accepting the fact that God does love you.

Now I realize that this is much easier said than done for many of us. As I said in my first point, living like a person who is loved by God, is a battle and in fact, may be the greatest battle we fight as sinners who have been saved by grace. You see, if we weren’t sinners any longer and were in our glorified estate right now where sin didn’t even exist we would have no problem receiving and accepting and reveling in Christ’s love for us and acceptance of us. But—right now, we are still sinners—oh we are saved and born again justified sinners—but the fact of the matter is we still sin and at time sin very badly. And this makes it very difficult for us when it comes to living like people who are loved unconditionally by God regardless of what we do or not do.

When we sin and we sin all the time—we lose sight of two essential things that we must be able to see and experience to live as Christians. First, we lose sight of God’s unconditional grace toward us and begin to feel as though we are no longer acceptable to God and must somehow make up for our sin and our deficiency so as to earn back our worthiness, so to speak, before God.

Second, we lose sight of God’s unconditional love for us and feel as though His love for us has diminished in proportion to the seriousness of our sin and therefore, we must make up for our sin so as to make ourselves worthy of His love once again.

These are the two traps we fall into every time we sin and these are the two traps that Satan delights in seeing us fall into because both of them put us on the road to spiritual destruction and powerlessness.

Folks, we have never been worthy of anything God can give us except Hell. His grace toward you and love for us is not, has never been, and never will be based upon our worthiness because the fact is we have never been worthy and are not worthy and never will be worthy of being loved by God. God loves us unconditionally in and through Christ Jesus Whose love for us is always and forever greater than our sin and our perpetual unworthiness in and of ourselves to be loved by Him.

You see if God’s love for us were conditioned upon our worthiness to be loved it would not be of grace and it would not be unconditional. But to live as an unworthy sinner in a state of unconditional love in which you believe and behave as a person who is deeply loved by God even in the midst of great and shameful failure or just plain constant failure is the fight of the Christian Life we are all in. And to win this fight—especially when we are so broken over our sin and our failings and feel so despictable and utterly worthless in God’s sight and are moving toward despondency and tempted to run from God—we need His power and His ability to help us regain our footing and His perspective on our lives and our sins. With that in mind, look at Ephesians 3:20-21.

You see, God not only loves you and I unconditionally in Christ Jesus—He also promises to enable us to experience that love and thus live as people who are loved—all for His glory and our satisfaction. The fight of faith for the Christian is to believe he is loved unconditionally, passionately, and powerfully by God all the time regardless of how he feels and in spite of all of Satan’s lies. And the fight of faith in believing you are loved unconditionally by God is empowered by God Himself as He promises the power to win the fight regardless of how unloveable you may feel.

CONCLUSION

I think my favorite story in the whole Bible is the Parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15. I have brought it up in many sermons. And I’d like to ask you to bear with me again as I bring it up again and share with you something I had not noticed before.

In verse 18, after the prodigal wayward son finally comes to the end of himself and decides to go home—he doesn’t say anything about going home. Rather, what he says is, “I will get up and go to my father.” That is always the start of the journey of living as one who is loved—you must get up and go to your Father in Heaven.

Pursuing the Glory of Christ as though He were the most important pursuit in all the world--Because He Is!

" Looking for the Blessed Hope and the appearing of The Glory of our Great God and Savior, Christ Jesus." Titus 2:13