Fit for Heaven

Allow me to be real for a bit…

“A lot of things change for a man when he turns 50…” I recently made that statement to my 24 year old son.  I think most men around the age of 50 would agree. I call it the “Reckoning Stage”; a stage where reality becomes real and we must reckon with the changes that have taken place in our lives.  If I had to list some changes I have experienced since I turned 50 nearly three years ago, they would include:

  • Talking less
  • Listening more
  • Having more compassion
  • Empathizing with people more
  • Being patient with people
  • Having less control
  • My body slowly failing
  • Being much more emotional than in years past
  • Appreciating life and people more
  • Periods of isolation
  • Regrets

That’s just to name a few… These changes are prompted by life.  By “life” I mean the things that happen in life; the natural flow of life, brought on by the fall of man.  Disappointments, failures (yours and people you love), crime, suffering, etc.… all of which are a result of sin.

I was channel surfing the other night and landed on a Sit-Com called “The Middle”; a show based on the life of an average middle class family.  By in large it’s a comedy, but from time to time the show has moments of sentimentalism, like this clip that shows the Dad summing up his “Reckoning Stage” stage of life well…

This stage of life is a natural.  The question that arises is “how do we handle it?”  If you’re a passionate person, this stage could wreck you.  It can twist you, choke you, depress you, and break you. 50 years of “life” can breed melancholy in you before you even realize it.  But it doesn’t have to…

Here’s the good news; if you’ve trusted in Jesus, 50 years of “life” is simply a tool to fit you for Heaven.  In other words, the more you see the pain and suffering in this life, the more you simply want to be with Jesus.  That’s the point and purpose…and that’s where I am. Don’t get me wrong, there’s so much here that I love and want to experience more, like family, church, etc., but it certainly doesn’t trump my desire to be with Jesus.  Even as life changes, God’s grace is at work, preparing me, molding me, fitting me for Heaven, for His glory and my good.

So when you see this middle aged man growing older, being more emotional than he probably should, know that it’s all being used by the King of glory to get my eyes off of earthly things and on to heavenly things… Jesus.

As always, Scripture sums it up perfectly:

For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. 2 For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, 3 if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. 4 For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. 5 He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.

2 Corinthians 2:1-5

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Unmet Expectations

“Unmet expectations”. These are not words that we may not voice frequently, but most of us certainly think it.  If you’ve been in a relationship for more than a minute, you have probably experienced unmet expectations. You may have even experienced a severed relationship because of unmet expectations. As a pastor, I’ve seen the nastiness of unmet expectations wreak havoc in many relationships; but it doesn’t have to happen. Here are some thing I ask you to consider…

  1. Many people begin relationships with lofty expectations.

Don’t deny it… You most likely have had lofty expectations of someone when you began a relationship; maybe even before you met the person.  Oftentimes these lofty expectations begin in our minds when we’re young, when the idea of romance initially takes root in your mind. It’s nearly impossible not to let lofty expectations begin, and even more difficult to keep them in check once they take root.  The question arises, “Where do these lofty expectations originate?”

The seeds of Lofty Expectations in relationships have a plethora of origins; such as:

Parental Influence.  You watch, sometimes subconsciously, the way your parents interact. This may cause you to mimic their relationship, expecting the same thing from your future husband or wife that you see in your Father and Mother.  From one perspective, if you’re a female, you may have watched your Dad being very romantic, often buying your Mom flowers, opening the door for her, calling her charming names, doing well financially, taking out the trash, mowing the yard, doing “man stuff”, etc., chances are you will have the same expectations of the male in your relationships. On the other hand, if you’re a male, you may have watched your Mom have great respect for your Dad, working hard, being frugal, preparing meals, making herself look nice, all while having a career, etc. Again, chances are you will have the same expectations of the female in your relationship.  Or you may have experienced things vastly opposite of what I just described and you expect your spouse to be opposite of what you grew up watching.  Regardless, you have expectations from watching your parents.

Societal Influence:

Like with parents, you form presuppositions from society.  We are bombarded by what I call societal agendas.  Every society has a standard, good or bad, and societies will push their standard through television, social media, etc.… People in these settings sometimes don’t’ even realize that these constant influences begin to form lofty expectations that we will impose on our future relationships.  In other words, we will expect our future spouse to act like the characters we’ve seen on our favorite TV shows or in our favorite book.

There are many other influences that help create lofty expectations… the point is, most of us bring lofty expectations into relationships.  But is this ok?  Do problems arise with lofty expectations?  Well, of course.  If not, I wouldn’t be blogging about it.

  1. Lofty expectations become unmet expectations.

Let’s make this as simple as possible; if you go into a relationship with lofty expectations, be prepared for lofty letdowns.  Lofty expectations, sooner or later become unmet expectations, and unmet expectations sooner or later lead to major problems within relationships, especially marriage. Your spouse may do well for a period, meeting your expectations, and you have a sense of accomplishment; “I did well picking this mate”, etc. But as soon as your spouse fails to do what you expect he or she to do, you’re let down. Lofty expectations have become unmet expectations, and the temporary happiness you had from your spouse doing what you expected has disappeared. Now what?!? The slippery slope of unmet expectations begins to do enormous harm.

  1. Unmet expectations become relationship killers.

Once lofty expectations become unmet expectations, and remain unchecked, relationship damage is imminent. You need to understand this; you CANNOT expect unmet expectations to not harm your relationships. This is true in friendships, work relationships, etc., but mostly in marriage. It’s imperative that you know your spouse will let you down, as you will your spouse. It’s not difficult to understand that none of us are without sin; “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” (Romans 3:23). That includes you… and me… and your co-worker… and your friend… and your spouse… and your pastor… ad infinitum.

When you get upset because someone has not met your expectations, the very core of your relationship begins to crack, and if actions are not taken to repair it, those unmet expectations will cause irreparable damage and ultimately kill your relationship. Make no mistake about it, the more you are disappointed from unmet expectations in your relationship, the more your relationship is doomed.

  1. We have no right to have expectations of others.

The question arises, “Don’t I have the right to expect certain things from people in my relationships?” No… no we don’t. You have no more right to have expectations of others in your relationships than they have the right to have expectations of you. Bottom line; only Jesus has that right…He’s earned it, you haven’t, and never will.

When we expect others to act certain ways, do certain things, don’t do certain things, etc., we are acting as if we are the standard bearers; an attitude of, “you must live up to my expectations, and if you do I will reward you with a relationship, but if you don’t, you don’t deserve me.” In other words, arrogance raises its ugly head. This attitude and actions in a relationship stem from a fallen humanity, not from God. This idea is found in Galatians 6:1-5,

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each will have to bear his own load.

(Galatians 6:1-5 ESV)

So how do we approach relationships in a godly manner?

  1. Take your emphasis off others and focus on your relationship with Jesus.

There it is… it’s that simple. If you take your focus off the other person in your relationship and, “take the log out of your own eye…” (Matthew 7:5), your relationship will improve radically. In relationships, it is tremendously important to use the energy you’re exerting on others through unmet expectations, and use that energy to, “examine yourself…” (1 Corinthians 11:28). When this is done, relationships improve. Find your fulfillment in Jesus, not the person in your relationship.

Ted Cunningham rightly said,

Remember, people are not your source of life. Jesus is your source. Don’t ask others to take His place and fill you up. Jesus is an unlimited supply. The people in your life are limited supplies.

Yes, it’s healthy to search for a mate that is like mindeddsc_0100 theologically, and other areas, but the more important matter is, does he or she have a desire for God? If they do, they will improve over time, just as you will. You will never find the perfect person to be in a relationship, so don’t try. Seek someone who loves Jesus, someone whose desires are Godward, and encourage them, don’t have expectations of them. A Christ-centered relationship is sanctifying, each person in the relationship is being set apart by the Holy Spirit; this takes time.

Per Scripture, love is an act of the will; it doesn’t depend on how the other person acts. We are told to love…period. You can love the person in your relationship, regardless of how they act… this is what Jesus did. Marriage models the relationship of Jesus and the church; He willingly loved, even while we were sinners, and gave His life for us. We are to do the same in relationships. When we do, God is glorified and we are satisfied. If your relationship hinges on whether a person acts the way you expect them to, you are not modeling Jesus or pointing people to Him. On the other hand, when you love others, even when they don’t meet your expectations, Jesus is modeled and we are content.

I understand this may be a strange concept, it was to me at one time; but if we chew on it and adhere to it, it will radically change our relationships for the better…

Categories: bible, brokenness, Christians, Friend, Friendship, Glory, God, Gospel, Jesus, mercy, Uncategorized, unmet expectations | Leave a comment

Heavenly Affections

As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?

(Psalm 42:1-2 ESV)

I’ve grown so weary of bad news.  Day after day thousands of news outlets pour all their efforts into reporting tragic happenings; from images of flag-draped caskets to flooded streets and water rescues.  Video footage from drought stricken countries, war-torn nations, community violence, and school shootings have become commonplace and we’re barely even moved by the reports. It seems as if it never ends and certainly never gets better…especially if you’re a pastor.

Pastors often hear the worst things.  In counseling sessions, people pour out their hearts.  I will say this, nothing surprises me any more…nothing.  In nearly 25 years of pastoral ministry, I’ve learned that people endure horrendous and tumultuous events; and many on a regular basis.  I hear of financial failure, ruined relationships, bizarre addictions, and the list goes on… It never ceases.

Then there’s the video I saw today, of the little boy in Syria whose home was destroyed by a bomb.  He sits in the back of an ambulance, dirty, disoriented, and wiping blood off his forehead.  It was such a sad and sickening sight.

Sin is everywhere, and like a snail that leaves a slimy trial, or a tornado that leaves utter destruction in its path, sin devastates.  I’m sick of the result of sin.  I’m sick of it in my life, the life of my family, the life of the people I shepherd, and it’s far reaching effect throughout the whole of humanity.  In one sense, sin is the mother of disaster; where sin abounds, disaster thrives.  I am simply tired of it all.  The more suffering I see, the more I can be identified with Romans 8:19…

For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.

In other words, I long to see Jesus.  I long for the day when creation will be restored.  I long for the day that is described in the book of Revelation,

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
(Revelation 21:4 ESV)

Sure, there’s a lot I want to do, a lot of gospel I want to preach, but the more I see this world, the more I want to see Jesus.  David felt the same many years ago when he wrote,

O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.

(Psalm 63:1, ESV)

A “dry and weary land” gives you great thirst.  For those who are alive in Christ, he is consistently and perfectly creating a disdain in us for the things of this world and ever increasing our desire for him, to be realized ultimately in his presence.  Come Lord Jesus…

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The Mist of Life

IMG_0200I remember it like it was yesterday; sitting in the Band room of Hoggard High School on the last day of school in 1980, talking to Mike B.  Mike was a clarinet player and a senior; I was a lowly sophomore.  He had completed all the requirements to graduate High School and he was simply passing time, waiting for the bell to ring, signifying the last day of school was finally over.  On the Band Room wall hung a clock.  It was one of those classic, large, gold rimmed school clocks that had the second hand which made a distinctive “tick” each time it moved from number to number.  Although in the grand scheme of things the second hand was less important than the hour or minute hand, it seemed to make up for its lack of importance with its persistent, metronome like trek around the face of the clock.  As we sat there I directed Mike’s attention to the second hand and sarcastically said, “Mike… You see those seconds ticking by? Just think about it, those are seconds that you can never get back! Your High School years are over, you will never get them back…and those seconds will just keep on ticking by!  Just listen to them…tick…tick…tick…tick…”  As you can imagine, Mike was not amused with my sophomoric shenanigans, and responded with, “Can you possibly be more depressing?!?”

Thinking back on that moment over 35 years ago, what was meant to be silly teasing on my part, turned out to be a very true testimonial which plays out in everyone’s life! Since that day in 198o, if it had functioned properly, that second hand on that clock in the Band Room would have ticked between 1,103,760,000 and 1,106,764,000 times!  When I think about that fact, I am nothing short of amazed that so much time has gone by in what seems to be the blink of an eye. Over a billion seconds in the blink of an eye?!? As the saying goes, “That’s life!”

Yes, life flies by so quickly.  This is what the biblical writer, James was relaying when he said, “What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes”, (James 4:14, ESV).  In the grand scheme of things, our lives are like a mist that appears vibrant for a period, but then, seemingly before we realize it, is over, never to be recaptured. Just like those billions of seconds that seemed like they would last forever…tick…tick…tick…tick…gone.  Far too often we live as if our earthly lives will never end.  James tells us that our lives are very short and that Jesus should be the center of our lives. Let’s not waste even one of those seconds.  Live the precious seconds, those grace seconds, centered in Christ, for His glory and our good.  May that little “dash” between our birth year and death year on our Tombstone represent a life that wasn’t wasted.  May it represent a life that was surrendered to Jesus.

  A short, “mist” of a life surrendered to Christ translates into an eternity in His presence.

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Cleveland’s Messiah

If you’re a sports fan, and not from Cleveland, Ohio, be thankful. The following quote from Wikipedia is reason why, “The Cleveland sports curse is an ongoing sports superstition involving the city of Cleveland, and all of its professional sports teams.  Cleveland has three major sports teams: The Browns of the National Football League (NFL), the Cavaliers of the National Basketball Association (NBA), and Major League Baseball (MLB)’s Indians. The city’s teams have endured an unprecedented combined 156-season championship drought, having not won a title since 1964, when the Browns won the NFL Championship Game, two seasons prior to the first Super Bowl.”

That is the sad state of sports in Cleveland, but they had a ray of hope when, in 2003 their professional basketball team, the Cavaliers drafted the first overall draft pick Lebron James straight out of High School.  Lebron was a highly talented Shooting Guard in High School and was predicted to be an NBA super-star by many experts.  Their predictions came to fruition; by 2007 the Cavaliers were in the finals of the NBA Championship, but ultimately lost the series to the San Antonio Spurs.  It seemed as if the “Cleveland curse” was alive and well.  To make things worse, in 2010 Lebron left the Cavaliers to seek a championship ring with the Miami Heat.  He played four seasons for the Heat, reaching the Finals all four years and winning back-to-back championships in 2012 and 2013.

Life was great for Lebron but Cleveland was still reeling over his departure, and for all intents and purposes were nursing a root of bitterness from his perceived betrayal.  But then, in 2014, in an unexpected and surprising decision Lebron announced his return to Cleveland and the Cavaliers!

It didn’t take long for the basketball prowess of “King James” to make an impact; the Cavaliers were back in the NBA Championship series in 2015, but in the end lost to the Golden State Warriors.  Yet again, the Cleveland curse was alive and well!

Fast forward to early December of 2015.  Lebron and his Cavaliers had just suffered an overtime defeat at the hands of the New Orleans Pelicans.  Lebron had played well himself, scoring a season high 37 points, but his team seemed lethargic at best.  After being asked about the difference the return of two team mates may have, many were surprised by Lebron’s response,

“It’s only one guy in the world, ever, where everything will be all right when he comes back, and that’s Jesus Christ. Other than that, you can’t bank on nobody being OK.”

Who’d a thunk it?? I mean, we’re used to hearing these obligatory postgame interviews with oftentimes pithy quips from players who would rather be in the locker room showering, but Lebron’s statement was completely out of left field, and somewhat surprising!  Many may have ignored his response and urged him on to a more secular and SportsCenter worthy quote, but I was fascinated by what he said!  It’s as if this quote from Lebron James makes the entire “Cleveland Curse” make sense, at least from my perspective.

Think about it this way, the whole “Lebron era” in Cleveland has been a source of hope for Cleveland sports fans; hope that the curse would finally be over; hope that this special player in the story would bring light to a dark state.  Some even referred to James as “The Messiah”!  But contrary to what many wanted him to do, he deflected the title and duty of “Messiahship” away from himself and on to the one who truly deserves the title of Messiahship and the only one who can do the work of the true Messiah!  In one brief, concise statement, poor grammar and all, Lebron James put it all in perspective.

Sports is fun, but in the grand scheme of things it’s nothing but temporary, and we would all benefit if we would back up a bit and observe a view of the “big picture” of life.  Sometimes sports can be a snapshot of the bigger picture; Cleveland sports most definitely falls into that category.  The “Cleveland curse” surely serves as a metaphor for the sin curse that all mankind is infected with.  We live in darkness because of the curse of sin.  There’s nothing, regardless of how hard we try, that we can do to remedy the curse ourselves.  We must look for someone who can break the curse, someone who is capable and willing to do the work of redeeming man from the curse of sin; someone who can meet the requirements and pay the penalty for the curse; someone who can truly win the championship for us!  Lebron clearly told the world who that person is, and he did not point to himself.  At that one moment Lebron was a modern day John the Baptist who, when some were calling him the Messiah said, “I am not the Christ” (John 1:21), but pointed them to the true Messiah, the one that could genuinely save them from the curse, and pointed them to Jesus. Kudos for Lebron!

Could it be that the entire Cleveland curse is indeed a metaphor for the gospel?  It certainly can be.  If we are wise we will use it as such and take the timely advice of one of the greatest basketball players of all time, Lebron “King” James, by getting our eyes off of temporary things and fallible people and fix our eyes on the genuine Messiah, Jesus Christ, because no one will be “OK” without Him! Look unto Jesus!

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God is Greater than our Messes

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I have several close friends who pastor churches much like the one I pastor.  We all love what we do and contribute an incredible amount of time, energy, and passion into it.  One of the major aspects of pastoring is what is called “preaching”.  Preaching, at least in the way my friends and I understand it and describe it simply means that we proclaim what the Bible says to the church when they gather together.  To each of us, this is a huge responsibility and an awe-inspiring task because we are telling people what God is saying and we are ultimately responsible to God for how we handle His Word!  Indeed, preaching the Word of God is a weighty thing.

Because of the weightiness of it, each of us want to do the best we can with the content of the sermon as well as the delivery, so we pour all we have into it every time we preach.  If you approach preaching the way we do, it takes a lot out of you.  It’s been said that preaching a 30 minute sermon as it should be equates to working an 8 hour physical job.  Now I’m not sure if that’s entirely true, but I’ve done both and by in large that’s been my experience.  So when you couple the importance of preaching with the mental and physical aspect of it, the final result can make for some high powered Sunday night and Monday morning preacher talk!

Case in point… every Sunday evening or Monday morning my preacher friends and I take to Facebook Messenger and discuss how our preaching went.  We discuss whether or not our sermon content was true to the text; if our delivery was suitable, etc… Recently it seems we all, at least in our estimation, “failed miserably!”  Normally there’s a couple of us that seemed to do at least “ok”, but that particular Sunday appeared to have been an across the board disaster!  Some of the words and/or phrases we used to describe our sermons were, “I laid an egg…”; “I preached a clunker…”; “It was a real dud…”; “a downright debacle”; and even, “A deluge of garbage!”  One of my friends even threatened to do what I have thought about doing several times in the past, “I’m calling all my church members and apologizing for that sermon!”  It seemed like the loathing of ourselves and our sermons went on for hours.  Maybe it was a case of “misery loves company”; regardless, it was a genuine loser fest for sure!

In one sense, we all felt as if we had let our people down, but more so the very One who had assigned us to the task of preaching, God Himself.  We commiserated with each other for longer than we should have, then we moved on, looking forward to an opportunity to “redeem” ourselves the next Sunday.  It was at that point of our pity party that one of my preacher friends said something that we all knew, but were too busy wallowing in our ineptitude to realize, “I’m thankful that our God is a God that redeems messes.”  It was a sobering moment and a magnificent reminder as well.  It reminded me that God doesn’t need me!  On the other hand, He has chosen me for the task of preaching and privileged me to partake in His mission of redemption.  He will accomplish His will with or without me, but He has highly blessed me in giving me the privilege of proclaiming the “unsearchable riches of Christ” through preaching. It’s certainly not because of my ability, but in spite of my inability.  That’s a wonderful truth in any task we attempt for God!

The apostle Paul put it this way in his letter to the Corinthian church, “And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. (2) For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. (3) And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, (4) and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, (5) so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (1 Corinthians 2:1-5, ESV).

So there you have it; “God redeems our messes” and uses our inabilities and even our flaws for His glory!  So the next time you attempt to serve God but fail because of your inabilities, learn from it, endeavor in the power of the Holy Spirit to improve, and leave it to God.  He will indeed redeem our messes and make diamonds out of coal.
1 Corinthians 10:31

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Proper response to Christian Persecution

On Sunday, June 28th, 2015, I preached a sermon regarding Christian persecution from the book of 1 Peter.  In part the sermon was in response to a ruling of the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) which was reported by CNN like this,

In a landmark opinion, a divided Supreme Court on Friday ruled that same-sex couples can marry nationwide, establishing a new civil right and handing gay rights advocates a historic victory.
(http://www.cnn.com/2015/06/26/politics/supreme-court-same-sex-marriage-ruling/)

This ruling sparked what many would consider an avalanche of freedom for people to be vocal, act on, and even celebrate things that beforehand would have been considered immoral, and helped to solidify an anti-Christian sentiment in America.
Many pulpits across America were filled with preachers/pastors decrying the ruling, stating biblical standards for marriage, and generally helping their people understand what Scripture says about marriage.  I also stated what the Bible clearly says about marriage.  From the Old Testament to the New, it’s clear that marriage is between one woman and one man for life, or as John Piper unmistakably says it,

Marriage is created and defined by God in the Scriptures as the sexual and covenantal union of a man and a woman in life-long allegiance to each other alone, as husband and wife, with a view to displaying Christ’s covenant relationship to his blood-bought church.
(http://www.desiringgod.org/sermons/let-marriage-be-held-in-honor-thinking-biblically-about-so-called-same-sex-marriage)

I also stated that I respect someone much more if they simply say they disagree with Scripture instead of trying to justify it through Scripture, especially when Scripture is so crystal clear on the matter.  But I was “preaching to the choir”!  The folks I pastor already know what Scripture says regarding marriage and so called, “same sex marriage”.  But there was an overarching issue in the midst of SCOTUS ruling, and all of the reaction that the church in America, at least in my opinion, has not been prepared for; that is the issue of how to respond such rulings, and furthermore, how to respond to persecution in general.

I am convinced that the church has had the reigns in America for so long that the entire idea of persecution is foreign to us.  Sure, we hear about it in other places, in foreign lands, and we pray for those believers as they face incredible obstacles while striving to live out their faith in Jesus, but the idea that American believers will face persecution for their faith is almost more than we can fathom! But more and more, with each passing week and with each passing law that is blatantly contrary to Scripture, Christian persecution (to one degree or another) is an ever developing reality.  Therefore, we as the church must be prepared to respond properly in a post-Christian America that not only disagrees with a Christian worldview but actually celebrates, revels in, and sanctions a thoroughly secular and flesh driven worldview.  So my purpose in this lengthy blog is to point us to Scripture in order for the church to respond properly, or rather “suffer well” for the glory of God. 

1. Don’t be surprised by what is happening.
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you
 (1 Peter 4:12).

Why are we shocked when people attack us simply because we profess faith in Jesus? The Bible says repeatedly that believers will be ill-treated:

2 Timothy 3:12; John 15:18; Matthew 5:44; 1 John 3:13; Luke 6:22; Matthew 5:10; 2 Corinthians 4:8-12; Mark 13:13; Matthew 10:22; Mathew 5:11, and the list goes on…

Whether we have watered down the doctrine of Christian persecution in order to make Christianity more palatable, are focused on a so-called prosperity gospel, or any number of other reasons, by in large our churches have not been taught to expect persecution, and now that it has become a reality we are taken aback by it.  Much like the man who decided to become a boxer; he hired a trainer, worked tirelessly in the gym for months, and scheduled his first bout.  When the bell rang, signaling the start of the fight, he ran to the middle of the ring and started dancing around when suddenly his opponent hit him squarely on the nose, nearly knocking him down!  He then ran to his corner where his trainer was coaching him and with great surprise yelled, “He hit me!?!?”  Unfortunately that’s how the church too often responds to persecution!

Bottom line…as a Christian living in what has become a post Christian country, DO NOT be surprised when you are persecuted for/because of your faith in Jesus…rather, expect it!

2.  Rejoice that you are being reviled because of Christ.

Verses 13 and 14 say,

But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. (14) If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.
There is a reason that some people are persecuted… now mind you, this is not the case for everyone, but for those who simply lift up the name of Jesus, you will be persecuted and you are blessed because of it.  Why? Because the Spirit of God rests upon you…and that is a privilege!

3.  Don’t suffer for dumb stuff!

Verse 15,
 But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler.

There is enough to keep the Christian busy in this world by simply dealing with anti-Christian sentiment produced by our profession of faith in Christ and holy living…suffering well, for the glory of God should be the only thing we suffer for.  Suffering for dumb stuff like sin is a complete waste of time, energy, and testimony. DON’T DO IT!
4.  Don’t be ashamed of suffering, but glorify God during it.

Verse 16,

Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.

So, there is a reason you have been reviled, scoffed at, mocked, belittled, etc… It’s an opportunity to glorify God!  You must understand what is happening here.  When persecution comes, step back, put the wide angle lens on, and get the big picture.  God is bringing glory to Himself through our dependence upon Him in the midst of persecution and the spread of the gospel in the midst of persecution. 

5.  Respond to persecution properly.

Verse 19,

Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.

There are two extremely important truths that we must glean from this passage…The first is, TRUST GOD!  There’s no other way to endure persecution or to suffer well.  When we don’t trust God through it we will become extremely frustrated and even angry, which brings no glory to God or peace to us.  On the other hand, when we trust God in the midst of persecution He is glorified and we are satisfied.

The second truth is, CONTINUE TO DO THE RIGHT THING! When we as believers are in the midst of persecution it’s easy to become side-tracked… But we simply cannot afford to do that! Keep your eyes on the crucified Christ and continue to live a life that is surrendered to him.

Finally:
Here are a few things that we can expect to see when the church is persecuted:

·        – Regardless of how great America was/is, our faith is not in a nation, but in God alone.

·         –Expect to see theologically shallow churches scatter.

·         –Expect to see gospel-centered churches rise to the top.

·         –Expect to experience God’s grace, mercy, and glory more than ever before.

·         –All of this gives us a great hunger for Heaven and Jesus.

·         –Use this as a divine opportunity to make Jesus known

Categories: 1 Peter, bible, cross, http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post, persecution, same sex, suffer well, supreme court, trust God | Leave a comment

Brokenness

“Brokenness”.  When most hear that word, negative images and thoughts are typically conjured up.  Images and thoughts about things that were once intact but now are cracked, even shattered, lying on the floor, unusable, unattractive, and worthless.  Most of us have accidently knocked a glass, vase, or other fragile object off of a table and watched as it shattered to pieces on the floor.  More times than not our first reaction is to fetch the broom and dust pan and try to sweep up all the broken pieces and dump them in the garbage can, acknowledging it’s complete and utter uselessness.  But on rare occasions we may attempt to pick up the pieces and glue them back together, restoring the object to usefulness.  Of course, the easy thing to do is to simply sweep up the pieces and toss them away, never thinking of the object again. But that’s far too simplistic in many ways, mainly because of the potential worth that still remains in the broken object.

A broken and repaired object can be of infinite usefulness if the break was not too severe and if the repair is completed properly.  This is even true with a broken bone in the human body.  Some say, at least for a period of time, the bone is stronger where it had been broken.  So there’s a sense of restored and even renewed strength after being broken.

Not only is there a sense of restored and renewed strength, but there’s the beauty trait.  There’s something beautiful about scars!  That may sound strange to some, but think about it, how often we look at an old vase, wrought with discoloration, a warped and distorted body, cracks throughout, and think, “What an incredible and lovely piece!”  It’s almost as if the more scars it has, the more attractive it is to us!  If you think as I do when observing a piece like this, you begin to imagine all the things the vase has been exposed to, all the things it has seen, heard, participated in, etc… You think about the changes it has seen and experienced, and how wise it would be if it were an animate being and able to speak aloud of its experiences. 

So brokenness, even in inanimate objects can be a beautiful, strengthening, and all around incredible thing.  If this is true with inanimate objects, it’s much truer with living creatures; more specifically Christians, or those who have placed their trust in Jesus Christ as Lord.  Brokenness, as difficult as it may be to endure, can have tremendously positive results when understood and tolerated properly.

You see, there’s a need for brokenness as humans.  We all have areas in our lives that are not surrendered to the Lordship of Christ, and that’s not healthy for anyone, especially ourselves.  Any area of our lives that are self-centered and not surrendered to Jesus only brings disappointment, strife, a lack of peace to us, and steals God’s glory.  We all, even as Christians, deal with this because of sin. John said in 1 John 2:16, “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.” It is that which causes us to take our eyes off of Jesus and fix our desires and passions on ourselves in one way or the other.  Again, no one benefits from that, and it’s a slippery slope that could ultimately devastate us.  So God will see to it that the things that separate us from Him are severed from us; but please understand that the severing process is indeed a difficult process.  This is more than an assumption on my part, for I have been broken, and it is indeed difficult!

Whether its money, pleasure, power, fame, or relationships that steal God’s rightful place in our lives, they all can be severed.  The fact is, Jesus is everything, and our lives will not be what they should be until we acknowledge and practice that.  When all is said and done, He’s all we need!  Yes, he has created friendship, for His glory, but when we focus on the friendship rather than our relationship with Jesus, He will break us.  I’ve often said God will arrange for even your most trusted friends to let you down, so your dependence will be in Him, not man.

Whether its friends that you depend on more than God, or something else, God will break us of it.  He knows exactly what each of us are bent toward and He knows how to break us of that bend…and He will break us of that bend. And that’s a good thing.  There’s nothing greater than for God, in Christ to be our sufficiency!  That’s the greatest joy known to man, and God will see fit that we ultimately find our joy in Him.  John Piper puts it this way, “God Is Most Glorified in Us When We Are Most Satisfied in Him”.  So all of this is for God’s glory and our good.

When the breaking process has been done, God graciously puts us back together.  He gently glues the pieces back together through the blood of Christ and the power of His Holy Spirit.  He restores us to a right relationship with Him, and the result is more than amazing.  Just like the vase that has fallen, shattered, and put back together, we will have scars; but those scars are constant reminders of God’s grace toward us and His love for us.  People see the scars and know that we have been through something significant, something that has helped make us who we are.  It’s a beautiful thing to see.  And just like the broken bone in the human body, once we are properly put back together, we are stronger than ever!

There’s much more to say regarding the issue of brokenness and I have only scratched the surface, but know this, when you are in the breaking process, God is working in your life to make you into something that is strong and beautiful; and while it is extremely difficult in the midst of it, when it’s over you will most certainly look back at it and rejoice, and say with David in Psalm 51:17,“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”


soli deo gloria
Categories: bible, brokenness, grace, Jesus, king David, Psalm 51, surrender | Leave a comment

Biblical Friendship

Biblical Friendship

I seriously believe that if people, especially men, understood biblical friendship, you would see a marked difference in our churches.  I believe the benefits of men understanding and practicing biblical friendship would manifest itself in the church in several ways, including:

·         Koinonia (κοινωνία) Fellowship.  Of course koinonia fellowship can be described as, “fellowship, sharing in common, communion.” The first occurrence of koinonia is Acts 2:42, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”  In other words, koinonia fellowship is Christ centered fellowship.  This is priceless to the church!

·         Stability:  Along with the koinonia fellowship produced by biblical friendship, comes stability in the church.  When Jesus is the heart of a local body of believers, stability is a natural outflow.  In other words, there’s no “backbiting”, gossip, etc., rather love, concern, and the like…

·         Ministry:  When Christ is the center of our friendships, ministry will be the norm.

So, to say the least, biblical friendship has tremendous benefits, not only to the church but to us as individuals…for these same benefits apply to us individually!

We Need Friendship


“Words are easy, like the wind; Faithful friends are hard to find.”
― William Shakespeare

Today friendship has fallen on hard times. Few men have good friends, much less deep friendships. Individualism, autonomy, privatization, and isolation are culturally cachet, but deep, devoted, vulnerable friendship is not. This is a great tragedy for self, family, and the Church, because it is in relationships that we develop into what God wants us to be… Friendships…are there to be made if we value them as we ought – and if we practice some simple disciplines of friendship.
 (Kent Hughes)

Not only these benefits, but more…especially as men.  Men treat friendship differently than women. If we ever speak about the new shoes we got it’s normally something like,

“Dude…got new boots…steel toes…yeah.”  “Cool…”

But fact is we need friendship as much as women…it simply manifests itself differently.  Most of us just want someone to be friend enough to understand what’s going on in our life.  We don’t necessarily need someone to share long conversations, just to know that someone genuinely understands our plight and shows concern.  If you deny this, you’re just dumb…
But that’s a difficult thing to find in our narcissistic society.  Just knowing that someone understands our plight, even if they do nothing about but understand, will often give us the energy to continue on… 

It was C. S. Lewis who said,

“Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: “What! You too? I thought I was the only one.”

Again, there are huge benefits to true friendship… –But the greatest benefit of biblical friendship is that it glorifies God!  You remember, I’m sure, the answer to the first question in the Westminster Shorter Catechism which is,

“Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever”.

This is what we are to be about!  This is the reason we exist and the reason we are given life…to glorify God and enjoy Him forever!  It’s what I call the spiritual circle of life…we glorify God, He is exalted, we rest in Him, He is glorified, etc…what a glorious picture!  This is true in true friendship as well. Hear this statement, Biblical friendship is a God created thing, created and given to bring glory to God. God is glorified in the things He has created, things such as marriage, the church, even friendship.  Marriage is indeed a picture of the godhead and is intended to point people to the godhead, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.  Think of it this way, in marriage you have two individual persons, both equal to each other, yet one willingly submits to the other for the glory of God.

The church likewise…  The people that make up the church are equal with those who are called to shepherd the church, its leaders, but they willingly submit to their servant leadership.
These two God created institutions were not designed and created by accident…no, not at all!  They were designed and created to point people to God!  By the way, that’s another reason both should be practiced properly/biblically.  That’s why we go to Scripture to understand marriage and church…so we can do them properly and point people to God through Jesus! I believe everything was created to point to a holy, awesome God! 

The same holds true for biblical friendship!  It has a unique design and creation in order for people to see Jesus in the midst of it!  So it’s clear that we should want to understand and practice biblical friendship, because it glories God and benefits us. So how do we do that? By examining passages regarding Christ-centered friendship…

What is Biblical Friendship?

So, we have to ask ourselves…What is friendship?  What does the Bible says about friendship?  I believe the best definition is found in the Bible…and it’s found in Proverbs 18:24…you know it well…
A man of many companions may come to ruin,
but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.
(Proverbs 18:24 ESV)
What do we have in this verse? 

1.  Masses of acquaintances don’t equate to friends…
-We have so many ideas of what makes a “friend”.  But this is for sure…lots of people around you do not friends make.  Facebook cracks me up at times; people brag when they have 1000 “friends”; chances are they are only genuine friends with a handful, if even that!  I really think we need to clarify by calling them “Facebook friends”… Truth is, you may have many people surrounding you and have no friends at all…

Here’s the second truth in this verse…
2.  One who sticks closer than a brother…
-Herein lies the biblical definition for true friendship… I think you can define it just as the verse does,
“…a friend that sticks closer than a brother.”

This is indeed the Old Testament (OT), but unlike what many believe, the OT is not a Jesus-less volume.  The OT is but a trajectory toward Jesus and the cross, and Jesus is all over this proverb!! It was Spurgeon who, when speaking of preaching said,

I take my text and make a bee-line to the cross…

That included the OT.  The same thought is true in this OT proverb; Jesus is all over it!  So we can also say that Jesus is the subject of this verse…and of friendship!  Here’s my declaration, there is no true friendship without Jesus!  Now if we had more time I could share with you what a Jesus-less friendship looks like.  But I will say that God’s grace rains on the just and the unjust and even those outside of Christ can experience and even enjoy bits of true friendship, but not nearly the full benefits of a truly Christ-centered friendship.

Friendship is the grace of God, centered in Jesus Christ.  Many will tell you that family is as close as anyone could get, but to be close to someone in Christ is an entirely different realm; it transcends earthly or natural family…it is indeed supernatural! 

Many think of John 15 when friendship is discussed. There are some key truths in this passage about friendship:

 1.   Biblical Friendship for the Believer is Imperative.

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” (John 15:1-2)

If indeed friendship is a God created thing, created and given in order to bring glory to God, then it can be considered Christian fruit.  If we are dwelling in Christ, if you are alive in Christ, if you are a Christian, then you will produce fruit.  If you don’t produce fruit, as the passage says, there are severe consequences!  So friendship is a God created thing that is created and given to bring glory to God…therefore we should produce friendship…YOU ARE NOT AN ISLAND!

2.  Biblical Friendship for the Believer can only be done through Christ!

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:4-5)


Trying to be a true or biblical friend on your own strength is impossible!!  It simply cannot be done the way God intended it to be done.  It’s just like anything else a Christian strives to do, whether it’s pray, minister, give, encourage, read and understand the Bible, so forth and so on… If Christ is not the power behind it, it will fail!!  Some of us have made a mess of our friendships because we’ve struggled under our own power to be a friend.  You will do well tonight to understand this very elementary Christian truth; you can do nothing without Christ!!  
If any good work is done in me, it is not I Lord but Thee…

Think again about the quote from the Westminster Catechism,

“Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever”.

If man could do anything under our own power, then we would get the glory…but God will not share His glory with any man!!  But man cannot do anything in his own strength, including friendship, because Jesus is the Vine. We are but the branch that the Vine supports and sustains!

3.  Biblical Friendship for the Believer has Major Consequences. 

 If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. (John 15:6-11)

To sum Biblical Friendship up:
A.      Not abiding in Christ (for friendship or anything else) results in rubbish.
B.      Abiding in Christ (for friendship or anything else) has fruitful results.
C.      Abiding in Christ (for friendship or anything else) glorifies God and accomplishes our purpose for existing.
D.     Jesus is the Perfect Model of True Friendship

Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. John 15:13
Wanting true, biblical friendship?  LOOK UNTO JESUS!!

Categories: bible, Brother, Friend, Friendship, http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post, Jesus, John, John 15, Wilmington | Leave a comment

Proper remembering of sin

“And Saul approved of his execution…” From Acts 8:1, speaking of the stoning of one of the first deacons and the first martyr, Stephen… Can you imagine how the apostle Paul (formerly known as Saul) must have struggled with the fact that he was responsible for the torture, imprisonment, and even death of Christians!  No doubt those words, “And Saul approved of his execution…” must have haunted him and lived in the forefront of Paul’s mind consistently.  If Paul was like most of us, the thought of his former self, his former sin, probably consumed his thoughts and brought him much agony.  But we must remember that this was before God breathed spiritual life into him, made his heart of stone a heart of flesh, forgave his sins, and imputed the righteousness of Christ upon him!  Let that sink in for a moment… This was the same man whose life seemed to be devoted to extinguishing Christianity and anything to do with it!

If you read a bit farther into the Acts 8 you will find these words, “But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison” (ESV).  Say what you want, but this is a clear case of human depravity manifesting itself.  This was a self-righteous human doing what self-righteous humans do… Saul, in one sense was the worst of the worst; the epitome of ungodliness; a picture of evil!  He hated the thought of Jesus and Christianity; so much so that he practiced what could be called an inverse Holocaust.  Saul simply wanted to rid the world of what was known as “The Way”, or what we know as Christianity, and he was passionate and good at it! He continued that endeavor until God rocked his world!!

There he was, on his way to Damascus, no doubt thinking he was in control and would soon put an end to this nonsense they call Christianity; when Jesus appeared to him, blinded him with his glory, and breathed life into his wretchedly dead self!  This is when the Christian killer Saul became the Christ exalting Paul and his purpose and desire in life was to bring glory to Christ and to take the gospel of Jesus to the entire world!!

So what’s my point?  My point is God’s grace is more amazing than any human can fathom and, because of the sacrifice of Jesus, can cover the most wretched of sins.  A.W. Pink described Grace like this,

“…grace is something more than “unmerited favor.” To feed a tramp who calls on me is “unmerited favor,” but it is scarcely grace. But suppose that after robbing me I should feed this starving tramp—that would be “grace.” Grace, then, is favor shown where there is positive de-merit in the one receiving it.”

This definition describes the apostle Paul perfectly.  It also describes the remainder of humanity!  All of humanity has sinned against the Holy God, not only in our actions but with our nature as well.  Our sin is sickening to the holy God and He has every right to pour out his wrath on the whole of us!  But for those who have been redeemed, bought with and by the blood of Christ, that sin is a thing of the past, never to be held against us!  The amazingly gracious God has removed our sins as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103)!  In other words, there’s no sin so large that the sacrifice of the righteous Jesus can’t cover!

If we say our sins are too large or horrible to be forgiven, we are doing nothing less than cheapening the sacrifice of Christ, watering down God’s grace, and making a mockery of the gospel. So, as a Christian, when we think about our sin before Jesus made us alive; when we have those, “And Saul approved of his execution…” moments; remember that we have been redeemed from that sin and that the remembrance of them should only be used to remind of of God’s grace, mercy, love, and glory!! 

Rest in God’s grace…
Categories: grace, http://schemas.google.com/blogger/2008/kind#post, remember, sin, the apostle paul, wrath | Leave a comment

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