Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Michael Jackson

Most Americans know that Michael Jackson's memorial service aka "celebrity event" began today. How could they not? Full-blown, play-by-play television coverage dominated the major networks and even cable until the party ended. It was even reported by an ABC affiliate in Cleveland that U.S. flags were being flown at half mast in honor of this American icon. Well at least they didn't call him an American hero.

Again, most Americans know all about the death of Michael Jackson and a huge number of Americans watched his funeral event begin at Forest Lawn but my guess is that very few of us know about another man who died on June 25, 2009, the same day Jackson died. This other man's name is Lt. Brian Bradshaw. He was a soldier killed in Afghanistan in combat while serving our country. I doubt any of us saw let alone even heard about his funeral.

In fact, it might interest us to know that since June 25, 2009, six U.S. servicemen have been killed in Iraq and 13 in Afghanistan. Oh, they weren't American icons--they were just American soldiers, marines, and sailors who died for a whole lot more than Jackson appeared to have lived his life for.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Romans Message #53 July 5, 2009

Making Much of God In Our Trials
Romans 5:1-11

The pastor of one of the largest churches in the country has made the statement that long lasting trials in the life of believers are not the will of God and actually go against the believer’s DNA as a child of God Who desires His children to experience their best life right now.

In his view, Christians do not honor the Lord or make much of God by quietly enduring and persevering in their trials but by rejecting the trial and rebuking it as something unwelcome in the believer’s life.

During one sermon he said, about people inflicted with cancer, that all it takes is that individual's willingness to say, "This cancer is not welcome in my body. It goes against the DNA that it is in my body. I am a child of the living God...sickness and disease cannot live in me."

And he is not alone in his views—thousands of pastors and Christians believe the same thing—but is what they believe about trials biblical? And does it make much of God?

I don’t think so and today we will look at Romans 5:1-11 and see that:

Making much of God in our trials requires that we treasure the fact that they are God’s tools in our lives for our joy and His glory.

As those who have been justified by faith and who are peace with God and living under the reign of His grace we are to rejoice in the fact that whereas we continue in our experience to fall short of the glory of God, that God is not finished with us yet and that His plan is to bring us to the point of not falling short of His glory by conforming us to the image of Jesus Christ.

And God’s primary tool in making us Christlike and bringing us to glory are trials and tribulations, which He uses to refine us as well as to enable us to experience His love in ways we could not otherwise.

Therefore, the proper response to such trials that are necessary to our spiritual growth so as to be brought to the point of no longer falling short of God’s glory so that we finally are who He desires us to be so that we finally reflect His glory as He desires—is to rejoice in them for what they are and will ultimately accomplish in our lives.

When we rejoice in our trials, tribulations, temptations, and troubles because we realize they are the tools God is using to make us into people who truly reflect His glory rather than fall short of it—we are making much of Him because His glory has now become more important to us than our pain, inconvenience, and struggles.

And when this realization comes home to us and we actually do make more of Jesus than we do of our troubles by rejoicing in what they are accomplishing in us which will ultimately glorify Him—then we are able to experience in ways that we never could before--the great joy of God’s love for us right now in the midst of our troubles.

Thus, when we rejoice in our trials and our troubles and our tribulations and even our ever present and ever agonizing temptations—God gets the glory and we get the joy!

You see, Paul makes it very clear here in verses 3-5 that our troubles produces perseverance of faith, which is a tough faith that stands the tests of life without giving into the depths of despair that so often plague the unbeliever.

Our trials toughen us up spiritually. They make us exercise spiritual muscles. They drive us to the Word and to prayer. They turn our focus from the trivial to the essential and that is always good.

Not only that—they cause us to receive help, support, prayer, and encouragement from other believers and this encourages spiritual strength within us.

And this spiritual toughness results in proven character or literally just “proof”.

In other words, the fact that we persevere through our trials without leaving the faith and without deserting our Lord and without cursing His goodness is the proof that we are His and that we have true faith in Christ and that we are at peace with God and living under the reign of grace.

When our trials persist in making us chronically bitter toward God and the things and the people of God—rather than stronger—then the proof of our salvation is lacking and thus so is the assurance.

Therefore, how we respond to our trials over the long haul actually gives us great insight into where we are with God.

To continually respond incorrectly to your trouble and your trials can indicate only one of two things—either you have never been saved and your trials are revealing this lack of saving faith or you have been saved but are not growing in your faith—thus the trials are revealing a faith that is not proven because you are not growing.

When we persevere under and in our trials so as to see the proof of our faith in the quality of our responses to our trials—this in turn produces hope.

This is the hope or expectation that you really have been saved, you really are growing, God really is interested in you and thus is working in you, and that you will one day be all that He wants you to become—a person who no longer falls short of His glory.

And this expectant hope will not let you down—it won’t disappoint you because the God of Love has poured out His love into your heart by giving us the Holy Spirit Who is the very guarantee and down payment and seal that He is going to finish the work He began in us.

So often, we see trials and tribulations and especially temptation as the evidence that God does not love us and is upset with us and even angry with us.

And the fact of the matter is that in our previous unsaved, unjustified, and unredeemed state this was true.

God’s trials and tribulations were not evidence of His acceptance and grace but of His wrath.

Romans 1:18 puts it pretty clear that the wrath of God is right now being revealed against all who suppress His truth in ungodliness.

Thus, unbelievers—who are unbelievers because they are suppressing His truth are under God’s wrath right now and much of that pre-hell wrath comes in the form of troubles.

Look at Luke 13:1-5.

In referencing these two events in which unbelievers were killed in tragedies, Jesus makes the point that they were not worse sinners than everyone else and that in fact—everyone who refuses to repent and believe will have a similar fate.

Now, we know that not every unbeliever has experienced a similar kind of tragic death such as being murdered or being crushed by a falling tower…..

So, we know that Jesus is not talking about the mode or method of death as much as He is talking about the fact that until an unbeliever repents of His sins He is under the wrath of God and that the tragedies in life he experiences are the result of being under this wrath as unrepentant sinners.

The trials and tragedies in life that the unbeliever experiences are what he deserves as one who is under the wrath of God for his sins.

But that all changes once we are justified by faith and enter into a relationship with God characterized by being at peace with God and living under His grace rather than His wrath.

Oh we still experience trials, troubles, and tribulations. Christians are murdered and do get crushed to death by falling buildings but not because they are getting what they deserve because God is mad at them because of their sin.

No—when Christians get cancer, die under tragic circumstances, lose their homes, their jobs, their health, their possessions, their loved ones, and maybe even everything that is dear to them—it is not because we are God’s enemies and living under His wrath but rather because we are at peace with God and living under His grace.

In other words, the trials of life are manifestations of God’s love for us and His unfailing commitment to do whatever it takes in our lives to bring us to spiritual maturity for His ultimate glory and our ultimate happiness.

And so, in verse 5, Paul makes sure we understand that our suffering should never be understood as a mark of God’s anger toward us or unacceptance toward us.

Listen, even the consequences that we experience for our sins are not evidence of God’s anger or unacceptance or punishment—they are the evidence that He loves us enough to discipline us so that we can mature and grow in sanctification and holiness to become the people He wants us to be.

According to Hebrews 12, God’s discipline in our lives for sin is the evidence that He loves us as our Father.

You must—never lose sight of the Cross and what happened there.

Christ took your place on the cross and in your place received all of God the Father’s wrath, anger, and punishment for your sin.

And God the Father did not hold some of His anger back to dish out to you when you sinned once too many times—No—all of it was poured out upon Jesus on the Cross.
We who are believers don’t suffer because God is mad at us, hates us, doesn’t like us, is fed up with us, or doesn’t love us anymore—No—we suffer because God does love us and loves us enough to do in our lives and bring into our lives what is necessary to make us into people who will never fall short of His glory again.

And if you look at verses 6-10 you see that our suffering is not a sign of God’s lack of love for us because of some ungodly act we commit as a Christian.

You see, He sent Jesus to die for us when we were ungodly people who were not Christians. (6)

Jesus died for us, thus demonstrating God’s love for us, when we were not good people but rather sinners. (7-8)

And much more than even all of that—having been justified by faith in Jesus who shed His blood for us and died for our sins—we are and shall continually be saved from the wrath of God for whatever sins we commit. (9)

And our suffering is not the result or the consequence of God’s anger or unacceptance or impatience or lack of love for us because when we were His enemies He reconciled us to Himself through the death of his Son Jesus and now that we have been reconciled we have the guarantee of our salvation from the wrath of God in the life of resurrected life of Jesus. (10)

And finally, we know that our trials are not God’s way of punishing us and venting His anger and displeasure toward us because we are right now in Christ completely reconciled to Him regardless of what we do or do not do. (11)

Listen to me—if you are a believer in Christ Jesus—you are completely reconciled to God right now and in fact, you are as reconciled as you will ever be.

And this truth should causes the believer to rejoice in God in the midst of His trials because He knows God loves Him and is showing him that he loves him through the trials of life. (11)

Thus to rejoice in our trials because our trials are the tools God is sovereignly using to make us into people who will more and more reflect His glory until the day in glory when we will never ever fall short of His glory again—is to really rejoice in God the One Who loves us enough to hurt us for our ultimate joy and His ultimate glory. (11)

Now I think there is something else we need to see here in this whole idea of having the right attitude toward our trials and it is that if we see them as God’s tools for our good we should respond to them as such and submit to God as He dispatches them to us and then puts them to work in our lives .

Look at Hebrews 12:5-11.

Spiritual training does not work automatically, it is not something mechanical…there is a correct way to respond to the Lord’s training, in order for us to receive the most benefit from it.

And the writer of this passage gives us three wrong ways to react to chastisement.

1. To despise it and not take it seriously or to heart.
2. To become discouraged by it so as to faint under it and quit.
3. To become bitter because of it.

In Hebrews 12:5, the word for “sons” is a word meaning “grown men” His point is, children and babies always feel like they are being mistreated when they undergo trials and tribulations in life, but grown men know that their hard times are for their good and they submit to them.

We are not babies, we are men and women who should know that God’s training through divinely ordained and orchestrated trials are for our good.

As spiritual grown-ups we shouldn’t faint, whimper, cry, sulk, and act like children who don’t know any better when God puts us through difficult and trying times for our spiritual good.

And how should we respond so as to treasure what our trial s are doing in us?

Look at verses 5- again.

1. REMEMBER the exhortations of Scripture. (5)

The word “addressed to you” (NASB), “speaks to you” (KJV), and “addresses you” (NIV) in verse 5 has the idea of “reasoning with you”.

“A better translation would be: ‘You all have forgotten the exhortation which reasons with you to help you understand”.

The Word of God does not merely give us general comfort, it reasons with us and tells us why we should be comforted. So you need to quit listening to yourself when you are hurting and start preaching the Word to yourself. (Ps. 42)

2. Remember who you are—“the sons of the living God”. (5-7)

3. Realize Whose training you are under and Who is scourging you and why. (6-11)

The Greek word for “scourges” is mastigoo, which does not just mean punishment but rather is used of all and any suffering which God ordains as good and necessary for His “sons” and “daughters” for their good.

You see, God not only “spanks” us when we have sinned so as to train us for good—He also brings into our lives all kinds of trials, tribulations, and suffering which He has providentially ordained for our spiritual good to mature us in our Faith.

4. Realize there is something worse than undergoing trials and suffering as a child of God—it is to have no trials and no suffering because you are not a child of God. (8)

5. Resist the urge to become bitter in your trials or to run from them-- by understanding what is happening to you. (11)

“If you become bitter toward your trials or try to escape them or become so discouraged you just give up—God’s training will do you no good in this particular place in your life.

And you will find yourself repeating this lesson in some other trial that seems distinctly familiar to you.

It only does you good if you submit to the process.

What is the process? You must persevere and endure through the trial.

The original meaning of the word which is translated as “trained” means “to be stripped naked”.

The word was used of athletes going into the gymnasium to be trained by a coach and the first thing they did was strip all their clothes off.

So, to get the sense of what the writer is saying listen to this rendering of the verse:

All spiritual training for the moment seems not to be joyful but hurts—yet to those who have been stripped down naked by it—it afterwards yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness—it makes you holy.

So the picture we have here is of ourselves being taken into a gymnasium where we are stripped naked.

But why are we stripped? Two main reasons…the first is that we may go through the exercises unhindered…

But there is another reason why we should be stripped…The Instructor takes us in and the Instructor looks at us and examines us. He is looking at us to see if there is balance and symmetry in our physical form.

The Greeks were very interested in this…So the Instructor strips us in order to see where a little extra exercise is needed to bring up a particular group of muscles or to correct a defective stance or posture or perhaps work on losing some flab.

Look at verses 12 and 13.

Here is the picture of a person having been stripped down only to reveal that he has a weak bone or joint, which was not visible until the trial stripped all that was hiding the injury away and it could be seen and repaired.

Listen, the moment we come under fire by trials we must say: “I am in the gymnasium…where God is stripping me naked of all of my pride, self-reliance, independence, and selfishness as well as anything else that shouldn’t be part of my make up so as to train me to be godly.

And then we must submit to the training our coach—the Lord Jesus says is necessary in and for our lives.

I do not know about you, but as I think about all this, I can honestly say that there is nothing that gives me greater comfort and greater encouragement than to know that I am in God’s hands, and that He so loves me and is so determined to make me holy and bring me to glory, that if I do not readily submit to his training and endure it, He will deal with me in another way.

He is going to bring me there. It is alarming, but it is glorious.

Humbly submit to God’s spiritual training in your life--whatever the cost, however great the pain, and enter into the joy of the Lord.”

We don’t make much of God or of our own spiritual growth when we reject our trials as being contrary to the will of God for our lives as so many Christians and non-Christians alike are being taught from thousands of pulpits across this country..

We only make much of God when we accept them as from His hand as the loving tools and reminders that He loves us enough to strip from our lives everything that does not please Him and which will not contribute to His ultimate glory and our ultimate joy.

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