Enduring Hardships With Patience

What modern believers can learn from the patience of biblical saints like Abraham, Joseph, David, and Paul is that waiting upon the Lord has eternal benefits.

Look at Israel’s most memorable monarch. David left behind an incredible testimony of God’s faithfulness for each of us to read and ponder. He was committed to waiting upon the Lord, and as a result, he had the Father’s approval and blessing. We cannot underestimate the reward of living in divine favor. That isn’t a special state reserved for the “giants of the faith” like David. All who obediently endure until the Lord acts on their behalf abide in His favor (Isa. 40:31).

David didn’t receive his blessings because he was special; he was honored among men because he honored the Lord above all. And since he trusted in God’s faithfulness, he endured hardship with patience. We, too, can expect to be blessed when we wait upon the Lord.

Good news. Great news!

Have you ever wondered what kind of a righteous judge or fair judge is God? He doesn’t just pass over rape, murder, lying or other sins committed by man. Righteous judges don’t do that.

In other words, we feel outrage when God seems to simply pass over others sin and it would be good outrage if God were simply sweeping their sin under the rug. He is not.

God sees from the time of David and other biblical figures down through the centuries to the death of his Son, Jesus Christ, who would die in David’s place and in the future our place. God did that so our faith in God’s mercy and God’s future redeeming work unites repentant sinners with Christ. And in God’s all-knowing mind, David’s sins and future generations sins are counted as Christ’s sins and Christ’s righteousness is counted as our righteousness, and God justly passes over our sin.

The death of the Son of God is outrageous enough, and the glory of God that it upholds is great enough, that God is vindicated us when He passed over our sins and others. And, God maintains his perfect righteousness and justice while at the same time showing mercy to those who have faith in Jesus, no matter how many or how monstrous our sins.

This is good news. This is great news!

3 Examples of Fighting Faith

When Paul says that God fulfills our good resolves by his power through our faith, he means that we defeat sin and we do righteousness by being satisfied with all that God promises to be for us in Christ in the next five minutes, five months, five decades, and into eternity.

Here are three examples of how this might look in your life:

  1. If you set your heart to give sacrificially and generously, the power of God to fulfill this resolve will come to you as you trust his future grace in the promise: “My God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19). And the promise: “Whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully” (2 Corinthians 9:6). And the promise: “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all-sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:8).

  2. If you set your heart to renounce pornography, the power of God to fulfill this resolve will come to you as you trust his future grace in the promise: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8). “It is better that you tear out your eye than that your whole body be thrown into hell” (Matthew 5:29). Much better. Wonderfully better. All-satisfyingly better.

  3. And If you set your heart to speak out for Christ when the opportunity comes, the power of God to fulfill this resolve will come to you as you trust his future grace in the promise: “Do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour” (Matthew 10:19).

May God increase our daily faith in his inexhaustible, blood-bought, Christ-exalting future grace.

Staying Connected To Jesus

In the biblical passage John 15:4-6, it urges us to stay connected to Jesus. The image of Him as the vine and believers as the branches helps us understand that apart from Him, we can do nothing. It is possible to receive His salvation yet still act out of the flesh, distracted or separated from His direction and power. All believers find their focus wandering at times, but some have strayed so far that it’s hard to see their way back.

If you discover your heart is loyal to something besides Christ, it’s vital to acknowledge that this has happened. Identify which attitudes or activities are drawing you away from Him. Then repent and get whatever help is necessary to set aside diversions, insecurity, worldly desires, or anything else that draws your attention away from the Lord.

Once the distraction is gone, refocus on Jesus by reading the Word, praying, learning from biblical messages, and spending time with godly friends who will encourage you. After living outside of God’s best for a while, it can be hard to discipline yourself to function as the Lord desires. But remember that those who abide in God will bear much fruit (John 15:5).

Don’t delay. As Hebrews 12:1 urges, “lay aside every encumbrance” so you can run with endurance the race set before you. Acknowledge anything that is keeping you from living passionately and fully for Jesus Christ. Following His plan—in His strength—is the way to peace, joy, and contentment in life. Ask for His help and commit to action. There is nothing like living fully for God.

Christianity Is Not A Wellness Practice

[This is a great article and well worth the read. Very thought provoking. It is a reblog of a post at Samaritan’s Song blog.]

Wellness” is the big trend these days. And if you don’t know what wellness is, I can show you with a simple equation: it’s New Age thought + capitalism + our culture’s soul-deep hunger for wholeness and satisfaction.  It’s crystals and vitamin supplements and practices like “grounding” (walking barefoot!) and monitoring your aura.  It’s Gwyneth Paltrow’s goop brand, specializing in pseudo-scientific (read: quack) cures for all sorts of ailments imagined and unimagined.  It’s longevity diets and strange ingredients and promises of contentment, well-being, personal growth, and deep spiritual satisfaction.

If any of that sounds familiar to you from decades ago…well, it’s the old made new again.  “Wellness” is a modern re-purposing of practices and ideologies that have been around for a very long time, many of which have permeated even Christian culture in surprising ways.  (For a history of this with an emphasis on how it influences Christianity, check out L.L. Martin’s book Positively Powerless).  The difference between then and now is that wellness has become more of an economic juggernaut than ever before: hundreds of “gurus” and “thought leaders” are offering products and philosophies and making an obscene amount of money doing it.

The problem is that lately I’ve found Christianity and the wellness movement intersecting in ways I don’t expect.  I ran across an article the other day that was advocating daily Bible study as a “path to self-fullness and embracing one’s healing energy.”  And in my browsing through Pinterest recently I discovered a Pin that encouraged believers to read the Bible as a series of “affirmations meant to celebrate the divine self.”  I’ve glimpsed prayer rooms (“war rooms”) decked out like spa retreats (and, indeed, I’ve written about those before) and meant to provide a “shelter” from the harrowing day-to-day.  Art and coloring Bibles encourage believers to express themselves in marker, pencil, and crayon all over the Word with pictures and words that occasionally obscure the actual text: the Bible as therapeutic coloring book.

Now, certainly not all of these things are negative in specific contexts.  I like to pray in pretty rooms full of my favorite things.  And I’ve written in my Bible before and I’ve even seen examples of Bible “doodling”/coloring helping people to understand and emphasize the text. But in other contexts, these practices can at times resemble what you see in the wellness movement, and here is why:

The “wellness” movement places a fundamental emphasis on self and the fulfillment of the self through “holistic” and “spiritual” means.

In other words, wellness is about you.  Everything that happens is to benefit you.  Every practice, every crystal, every coloring book, every affirmation, every supplement: they all exist because you are special and sacred and you deserve everything wonderful.  You are your own god/goddess.  The result is that at least theoretically, in the wellness movement, everything is a means to an end: the betterment and deification of you.

Any time we take a Christian spiritual practice and make it solely about our own benefit – any time we use a Christian practice to deify ourselves as sacred and holy – we’ve dipped into the wellness pool.  More simply put: any time we use God as a means to our own end, any time we make God a “tool” that serves the same purpose as a crystal or a supplement or a coloring book – we’ve lost the plot.

Because Christianity is not about self.  It is actually a faith about setting yourself aside in order to love others because you’ve come to understand the love of Christ.  As Christians we believe that Jesus is special and sacred and the embodiment of love, and so we set ourselves aside to serve Him.  In Christianity, everything we do is a means to an end, and that end is Christ – not the self.  Yes, we are the ultimate beneficiaries of a relationship with God – and, in the end, our relationship with Him is what offers the fulfillment, joy, and replenishment that the wellness movement purports to offer.  But our satisfaction, our desires, and the glorification of our selves is not the end goal.  It is not the highest good nor the inviolable sacred.  It can’t be, or God isn’t God.

So if coloring on a page of the Bible is getting you closer to God, you color.  If that spa-bedecked prayer room is where your relationship is growing and evolving with Christ, get on in there.  Meditations and affirmations from the Bible can be really useful if they keep you focused on living in Christ.  But if you’re using Christianity in the same way that you’d use yoga or herbal tea or reading your aura – if you are making it a means to the end of glorifying and fulfilling yourself – then you’re changing the fundamental nature of what the Gospel is about.

In his books, Timothy Keller frequently reminds readers that a great deal of sin and separation from God stems from our desire to control God – to make God something that is ours, that we use, that we control in order to please ourselves.  The problem, Keller points out, is that a relationship with God is antithetical to that way of thinking: the triune and dynamic God has invited believers to join into His great dance of love on His terms.  He is not there to submit to us; we are there to submit to Him.  The danger of the wellness movement is that it can encourage us, if we are not careful, to do exactly the opposite: to embrace God not as a deity, but as a neat and helpful technique to make our lives better.  To deify ourselves rather than Christ.

So feel free to go have some herbal tea or spend some time in your candle-lit “quiet space.”  I might even join you.  But in the process, don’t get suckered into the great lie of the wellness movement: that with enough time and energy (and boatloads of money), you can save yourself.

Christianity is not a wellness practice.  It was never meant to be.

He Knows Your Name.

When you see a flock of sheep what do you see? Exactly—a flock. A rabble of wool…all alike. But not so with the good shepherd. To him every sheep is different. Every face is special. Every sheep has a name, and that includes you! The Shepherd knows your name and he will never forget it.

He says in Isaiah 49:16, “I have written your name on my hand.” Your name is on God’s hand. Your name is on God’s lips. Perhaps you’ve never seen your name honored, or heard it spoken with kindness. If so, it may be more difficult for you to believe that God knows your name. But he does! Written on his hand. Spoken by his mouth. Your name! Keep listening…be sure to hear when God whispers your name.

God is there for you. Night and day He is watching over you just like the shepherd described above. Let the fact of God’s presence in your life be fully embraced by you. It is never ending. He loves you very much.

How do I know? He knows your name.

The Shadow Of Death. . .No Fear

I think it is safe to say that everyone at some time or other has thought about their own death. I know I have. When we think about death we do so with a limited knowledge of what awaits us on the other side of that veil. I’ve been reading a book titled, “Imagine Heaven” and in it, people, who’ve had near death experiences and came back to life, share their experiences.

After reading about their experiences I had a sense of relief that death was no longer something I should be afraid of because of what awaits me after. Look at it more closely through God’s eyes and what He did to give us a sense of hope about death.

What God did was to give us Jesus Christ. The reason Christ became human was to die. As preincarnate God, he could not die for sinners. But united to flesh and blood, he could. His aim was to die. Therefore, he had to be born human.

In dying, Christ defanged the devil. How? By covering all our sin (Hebrews 10:12). This means that Satan has no legitimate grounds to accuse us before God. “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies” (Romans 8:33). On what grounds does he justify? Through the blood of Jesus (Hebrews 9:14; Romans 5:9).

Satan’s ultimate weapon against us is our own sin. If the death of Jesus takes it away, the chief weapon the devil has is taken out of his hand. In that sense he is rendered powerless.

So we are free from the fear of death. God has justified us. There is only future grace in front of us and a heaven that is beyond description.