Being Hated For God

In his book, Taste and See, Pastor John Piper relates a true story of a conversation with a lady (call her Mary) who shared with him a most significant event in her life. Seems a dear friend of hers (Rachel) had married a Muslim man (Ahmed) who had converted to Christianity. Ahmed had made a return trip to his native country in Africa to visit with family and also to smuggle in copies of the Bible. He was caught and imprisoned and at Mary’s telling of the story was due to be executed.

Fast forward – the man was not executed but was ordered to leave the country and never return. Piper said that it wasn’t the danger of the mission, not even the threat of execution that impressed Mary. The significance of the event, for her, was that Ahmed took on the mission knowing almost certain exposure and the consequences that would bring. Additionally, Rachel had waited patiently for some indeterminable, though surely not short, time for news of her husband’s judgment. Both Rachel and Ahmed might as well have screamed, “God is sovereign, I will trust Him”.

Mary’s point was that Rachel was a living example of faith in God’s sovereign care as she waited to hear the outcome of her husband’s trial from three thousand miles away. Mary told Piper that through observing Rachel’s calm and patient trust she is being changed by God’s grace. Mary comments, “[God] is changing me so that I can glorify Him through the trials He has for me and my family to go through.”

Most of us live in relatively secure communities where we are protected by laws against such threats against our lives. But I wonder who of us would truly answer “Here I am Lord, send me” were we given a mission to one of the many places in this world where Christians are hated.

Oh God, give us men and women who count everything as loss for the surpassing value of spreading a message of salvation to a world of unreached peoples. Lord, raise up radical disciples who know the “dark side of missions” and count it all joy.

What do we mean “dark side”? Well, take the phrase “all the nations”. We usually think of this phrase in connection with the great commission in Matthew 28:19, “Go and make disciples of all the nations”. But there’s another use of the phrase in Matthew 24:9, “You will be hated by all the nations because of My name”. That’s the dark side of missions. The hatred will be as widespread as the harvest.

We must determine to be willing not only to love the nations, but also to be hated by the nations. That’s how Jesus accomplished His mission. He said, “If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first.  The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you. (John 15:18-19 NIV)

Pray with me that thousands would embrace the call to be hated for the sake of loving others. If your driving motive in life is to be liked and loved, you will find it almost impossible to be a Christian missionary. Missionaries are people who have decided that being loved by God is enough to enable love. We don’t need to be loved by others. Yes, it feels good. But it is not essential.

Loving, not being loved, is essential.

  

 

Stepping Out in Faith

"Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do." (James 1:22-25 emphasis added)

My wife has a little ceramic plaque in our bathroom with the quote, "Ships are safe in port, but that isn't what ships are built for".

There is the story of Daniel Smith who was the first mate on a ship. He ran the everyday operations of the ship with great skill and earnestness. He got along well with his fellow officers and the ship's crew had much respect for him. His orders were always carried out with no dissension or sullenness.  His captain came to him one day with the  great news that the admiral of the fleet was promoting Smith to captain and he was to be master of his own ship.

Soon Smith took over his new command, a beautiful three masted prize. Just as he had done before Smith soon had everything on board 'ship-shape'. The woodworks were freshly varnished and the brass was polished to a brightness not seen aboard the vessel in a very long time. The hull was repainted, and the ship even sported a brand new ensign.

Smith diligently ran the crew through exercises, emergency fire drills, and all the regular operations of a fine sea going ship. This went on for some weeks and finally the Admiral came aboard to see why Smith had not weighed anchor and put to sea. The Admiral looked around and was greatly impressed with both ship and crew. "Very impressive" commented the Admiral. "Now, Captain Smith, when do you plan to set sail?"

Each time I see our little plaque I am reminded of my responsibility to serve God in some way. He has, in His mercy and by His grace, saved me from a sinful life; He has given me talents and spiritual gifts by which He intends me to 'feed His sheep', and He has opened my eyes to His Holy Word that I may understand my role in His kingdom. He has provided all that is needed for His work.

I look at that plaque and I hear my Lord asking me, "When do you plan to set sail?

When are you going to stop planning? When are you going to trust in My plan and abandon yours? When will you set your fears aside and surrender yourself to me? I did not create you to sit and ponder, or meditate on how you will serve Me! Get up – go out – do!!

When the Lord God asked "Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?", there was no hesitation on Isaiah's part. He was quick to answer, "Here I am, Send me!" (Isaiah 6:8); and God also responded without hesitation, "Go and tell this people. . ." (vs 9).

There is a short verse concluding the narration of Jesus washing the apostle's feet. He tells them to follow His example and then He says "Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them." (John 13:17) Not only are we instructed to serve but there is the promise that we will be blessed when we do.

Jesus wrapped up His Sermon on the Mount with the parable of the wise and foolish builders. "Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. . .but everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man. . ." (Matthew 7:24-27 emphasis added) Both the wise and foolish builder 'hears these words', but it is the ones who 'put them into practice' who find themselves anchored to a rock – The ROCK.

I pray we would all weigh anchor and set sail for Jesus. Let us all be doers of the word and not hearers only.

Be blessed.

The Cost of Discipleship

Today we'll look at that portion of Luke 10:57ff and Matthew 8:19-22 where  it seems Jesus discourages, and even dissuades potential disciples from 'taking up their cross' to follow Him.

Read with me from Luke. "Now it happened as they journeyed on the road, that someone said to Him, “Lord, I will follow You wherever You go. And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” Then He said to another, “Follow Me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father. ”Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and preach the kingdom of God. ”And another also said, “Lord, I will follow You, but let me first go and bid them farewell who are at my house.” But Jesus said to him, “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:57-62 NKJV)

So in reading this we find that Jesus warns the first volunteer that he has no clue as to what he's getting himself into. Matthew's version of this event says the first man was a 'teacher of the law'. Our Lord had been rejected in so many places, from Jerusalem to Galilee and back again. Judea rejects Him (John 5:18), Galilee casts Him out (John 6:66), Gadara pleaded with Him to leave their region, and Samaria refuses Him lodging (Luke 9:53). Jesus knows what awaits the true disciple.

Previously in the chapter we learn that Jesus is now on His way to Jerusalem; on His way to the Cross of Calvary. He knows the hearts of all men (Jn. 2:24f.), so He must have seen that this 'teacher of the law' was not prepared to give his all. Though we aren't privy to Jesus' discernment here, we must conclude there was a hidden agenda; maybe deeply hidden, but not hidden from our Lord. And as He demands in the very first of His Ten Commandments, "You shall have no other gods before Me." (Exodus 20:3)

Jesus' statement that “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head” was a clear warning that discipleship is not a walk in the park. True disciples are often 'persona-non-grata'. More than rejected, disciples are vilified, ridiculed, and made sport of. If we are to take up our cross daily to follow Jesus there can be no distractions, no hindrance to our mission for His kingdom. No 'ifs, no ands, and no buts '.

Jesus  invites the second man to "follow me". And it appears the man is willing to do so, "but" he want to make conditions. Jesus says there are no conditions – "forget about the law" (burying his father). Bonhoeffer suggests the burying of the father was a law related issue, and in cases where abiding by a law separates you from following Christ, then we must become law-breakers. (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship; Pg. 60-61)

Similarly a third volunteer suggests he would follow, again with conditions. Jesus says "forget about your family".

So what is wrong with wanting to bury your father – or saying goodbye to your family? The message Jesus has delivered is that no personal agenda, no matter how seemingly necessary or desirable, is to come ahead of Him. We miss the point of being disciples if we put abiding by the law or attending to our family ahead of following Christ. These things are complimentary to discipleship, not commanded. Taking care of our family and obeying the law have become 'sacred cows' in our economy. The Bible teaches us to do these things; rightly so,  and even non-believers follow these basic ideals. But Jesus minces no words as to what is more important.

This is a hard message and many will find fault with it. Seldom is Luke 9:57ff a subject for a Sunday morning sermon. It is much too caustic, too bitter for our appetite. However the Hebrews author declares "…let us throw off everything that hinders…" (Heb. 12:1), and Paul reminds us,   ". . . do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind…" (Romans 12:2).

May the good Lord abundantly bless you and yours, and may you be a blessing to others.

Unholy Pride

One of the greatest problems that we men struggle with is our pride. I have often thought that God perpetrated a really cruel joke on the male of the species, implanting in our DNA such an insidious obstacle to Christian humility, and by extension, obedience.

Now I am sure I will hear from some of the ladies that they too are troubled with prideful tendencies and I don’t argue that, nor do I minimize or trivialize their burdens in this respect. It’s just that in a man I believe it’s more prevalent. It is, more often than not, part and parcel to his nature.

One thing is certain; the prideful characteristic in a man makes him rebellious to God and unforgiving, unloving to mankind. Pride is a learned attribute that has often been pressed on us by our culture. How often have we heard a complimentary “He was (is) a very proud man”?, or a disdainful “Have you no pride?”, as if he were flawed or incomplete without it.

So today let’s dissect pride and discuss how we will deal with it. Definition: ‘A company of lions.’ Oops – that’s the wrong one. Definition: 1. too high an opinion of one’s importance or superiority; 2. arrogant behavior; 3. gratification arising from one’s possessions or accomplishments; 4. conceit; 5. disdain. I’m sure we could take out the Thesaurus at this point and expand on that short list ad nauseum.

Muhammad is supposed to have said, “He in whose heart there is as much as an atom of arrogance will not enter paradise,”  and Thomas Aquinas wrote that “inordinate self-love is the cause of every sin.” Of the seven deadly sins pride is considered the greatest. In his Poor Richard’s Almanac, Benjamin Franklin wrote of pride, “To be proud of virtue is to poison yourself with the antidote.” Elbert Hubbard, an early twentieth century satirist, wrote, “There was one who thought he was above me, and he was above me until he had that thought.”

The characteristic of pride in a person sets us apart from God like no other. In my view it is sort of the CEO of a company of sinful characteristics; those being intolerance, impatience, and being judgmental and prejudiced.

I am intolerant of you when I tell myself that I don’t care about your needs, your wants, or your purposes. I have no respect for you and I hold you in contempt. As I am impatient with you I am saying that you are of less value than me and your time is less valuable than mine. As I judge you I adorn myself with importance and worthiness. In my arrogance I assign you in to an inferior category, to a class less honorable, a person less worthy than I.

In my pride I crown myself with lordship over you and view myself as either more worthy of respect, more honorable, or more valuable. As a Christian, my self appointed lordship is not consciously planned, intended, nor even realized. It is often the product of a subliminal fear of inferiority or desire to elevate our own self image.

So how do we overcome this tendency? How do we combat this most natural obsession for one-up-manship? From a logical point of view we must have a plan. One of my wife, Judy’s oft repeated clichés is “When you fail to plan, you can plan to fail”. From a biblical point of view we must make God’s Holy Word part of that plan. It does not matter if our prideful temptations are of Satan or of our own inherent sinful nature.

In Ephesians chapter 6, Paul tells us our struggle is “against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (vs12) That’s Satan and his minions, and somewhere among those rulers, authorities, powers, and forces I expect is our sinful nature. As Paul lists an array of armor for our defense, (the armor of God), the one weapon he points out is the “sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God”. (vs17b)

That my friends is our weapon against pride. As I have shared with you previously I have made 2 Corinthians 10:5 my life verse, my maxim, my mantra. It is my weapon of choice to combat the evil I encounter every day. “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” We don’t find “WWJD” written in the Bible – not in those exact words but 2 Corinthians 10:5 is about as close as I find; particularly those last ten words. “Take captive EVERY THOUGHT” and do what with the captive thought? “Make it OBEDIENT TO CHRIST” WWJD Pauline style.

Now obviously the scriptural verse that works for me may not be the same one that you lean on in that time of need. A few others I think of are Romans 12:2, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind…” or maybe Philippians 4:8, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things”. or Psalms 101:5, “Whoever slanders his neighbor in secret, him will I put to silence; whoever has haughty eyes and a proud heart, him will I not endure”. There are many more.

A few weeks ago I wrote about loving the unlovable and how as we do not love those we might consider unlovable, we then become the unlovable. Unholy pride makes us unlovable. I suppose I should state the obvious, that there is righteous pride that God honors. We can certainly be proud of friends and loved ones for hard won accomplishments. I believe we can feel proud of God using us as His tool to achieve something for His Kingdom as long as we acknowledge that it was by His will and His grace that we are used.

Let us all pray that God’s Holy Spirit will awaken us to our prideful inclinations, that we may turn away from those demonic and unloving propensities, and instead look for something positive in everyone we encounter whether they are near to us or far away.

Unchallenged Faith

“Faith never goes unchallenged for very long.”

You know how sometimes you come upon a line in a book that just stops you cold in your tracks.  That line about unchallenged faith did that for me; just stopped me dead.  I thought about however hard I try to be faithful and obedient, however diligent I am in worship and praise to the Lord, I still am nagged by temptations of the flesh.

I once thought that as I grew closer to God, as I repented from sinful practices, and ‘worked out my own salvation’, I would be immunized, somewhat at least, from the fiery arrows of the evil one.  Not so!  I think the reverse is true.  The closer we walk with Christ, the more righteous we become, the more arrows we find flung at us.  Could be we have just become more aware of our sinful tendencies.   The good news though, is that as we become more proficient with the “armor of God” to battle against those arrows, and we have fellowship with our Christian family to guards our backs, we are better able to deny Satan’s traps.

When we took up the cross and chose to follow Christ we did not lose our intrinsic sinful nature, nor sad to say, did we miraculously become invisible to the devil.  I am unsure, whenever any particular temptation comes upon me, whether it originates within my sinful nature or if it is of the devil.  Maybe it doesn’t really matter – what matters is what I do next.

Whatever the source, the outcome depends on our first reactions to the temptation.  The Bible tells us that “no temptations has seized you except what is common to man”, and that “in this world you will have tribulation.” (1 Cor. 10:13a, & John 16:33a)

The question is what do we do with that first hint of temptation?  James teaches us, “but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” James 1:14-15

Notice the progression?  ‘Each one’ is tempted by our own evil desire, then enticed, then sin, and finally death’.  We know there is no free ride for any of us.  But as we are being tempted, do we feed that desire just a tidbit?  One small compromise.  One little justification.  That, my friends, is how Satan works.  He won’t tempt you with something you would never do.  Satan could never tempt me into adultery but he might tempt me to be intolerant and unforgiving.  He could never tempt me to do drugs but he might tempt me to be prideful and judgmental.  He knows where I am weak.

Satan is not going to fight you unless it is to his advantage. 1 Peter 5:8 tells us that “the devil is like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour”. He won’t attack you where you are strong.  He knows your weaknesses and that is where he attacks.

So how do we lay aside these sins? It is a profoundly simple solution. So simple we have a hard time seeing it. There are 4 steps that I want to talk about that I have found to be beneficial.

1. Deny yourself.  If it were not a desire, it would not be temptation.  The problem most of us have to deal with is that we are not ready to deny ourselves.  You cannot hold on to your old sinful nature and reach for a life of spiritual fulfillment at the same time. You must let go of one or the other.  If you hold on to sin, you will never have the abundant, fulfilled life God has designed and offers to you.  If you are determined to follow fleshly desires, you have as much fulfillment in your life now as you will ever have.

One problem we have is that we always want one more sin.  “This will be the last time and then we’ll break the habit.”  The problem is that there is always something new and something fresh.  The ‘one more times’ never end.  You must be the one to end it.  You have to determine that you are willing to deny yourself the fleshly desires.  Don’t give in to the lie that you have been doing good and deserve a little sin.  There are countless ways to justify just one more sin, but you must be determined to say “No”.

2. Identify areas of compromises in your life.  When it comes to sinful habits, there is little need to identify areas of sin.  Most of us already know where we are weak.  We need to identify compromises.  The battle of temptation is not lost at the point of temptation.  It was lost long before the point of temptation.  The battle is decided at the point you choose to set the direction of your lifestyle.  The temptation battle is won or lost by how you choose to live your everyday life.  The key to resisting temptation is to identify the habits and compromises that bring you to the point of temptation.  When we want to give in we justify our actions by little compromises.  It is hard to justify a headlong leap, but inching closer to the line to investigate is easy to justify. When we are on the edge, it is only a little compromise that takes us over.

3. Establish for yourself disciplines. Job 31:1 says, “I have made a covenant with my eyes, why then should I look upon a beautiful woman.” That is discipline. Make a covenant, or commitment, and stick to it.  This is where the rubber meets the road. Which do you want?  Do you want to let go of your sinful nature, or do you want to let go of your relationship with God?  You will not fall into righteousness.  That takes effort and commitment.  Anyone can fall into sin.  Just do nothing.

Sin will always find you and sin will lead you if you allow it.  You have to pursue godliness.  Satan does not come at you with the club of temptation.  If he did, most people would have little trouble identifying him as an enemy.

What he does is cast that lure of temptation.  He will cast the carrot right at your feet.  You can compromise and have a little taste before he pulls it in.  Then you have to make the next compromise.  Have another little taste and he’ll pull it farther down the trail.  When you have dropped your defenses, he will move into position and then he gives the fatal blow. You are in his corner now and you are distracted by your desires and vulnerable.  That is how he always works.

The battle is won or lost when the lure is put before us.  Don’t look.  Don’t touch.  Don’t taste.  It is that simple.  If you never compromise, you will never fall back into temptation.  Your character flaw will not be your weakness.  If you are sitting in the mall and that beautiful girl walks by, don’t look.  If you catch yourself looking, turn away.  Obviously you cannot help but see.  It is that long stare or second look that draws you in.

The problem is that we don’t want to turn away.  But if we are not willing to deprive ourselves of a small compromise, how will we ever expect to resist when temptation hits us between the eyes?  We will always lose.  It only takes one compromise to start that slide toward temptation.  When you refuse to look, at first you will feel like you are missing out.  But soon you will find that you aren’t missing anything except the frustration you felt when you kept caving in to your habitual sins.  Your flesh nature has to be cut off at the earliest point.

The question is, how bad you want control over your life.  You can submit to God and live in the Spirit, or live in temptation.  There is no middle ground.  You don’t have the power to crucify the old nature.  You must submit to God and let the Holy Spirit crucify your sinful nature.  You also have the right to forfeit that power and allow sin to control you.  The choice is yours.  You cannot be devoured in God’s presence.  You must be drawn away before you can be devoured.

4. Feed your spiritual nature. We have all fallen into sin.  Each time we sin or compromise our relationship with Christ, we feed our old sinful nature.  To live a victorious life the way God intended, we have to shift that balance of power away from our sinful nature.  Before our surrender to Christ we spent most of our lives allowing our old nature to grow and it became very strong.  The disciplines I spoke about will starve that old nature, but you also must feed the spiritual nature.  Sinful habits fill our nature, removing those will leave a void.  You can’t leave a huge void in your life.  If you do, the sinful nature will return.  You must fill that void with knowledge of the Holy Spirit.

Like I said earlier, you don’t fall into righteousness.  You can’t feed your spiritual man once a week, once a month, or once a year and expect to be healthy.  You need to feed it every day.  Prayer and Bible study are disciplines you must make time for.  Make yourself accountable to someone who will challenge your forays into sinful desires. Start small and develop consistent habits.  Take a time each morning to read the Bible.  To help concentrate, I have found it helpful to write down what points I find in scripture.  Pick out a meaningful verse or group of verses and put them on a 3×5 note card or a sticky note and place them in a conspicuous place.  One verse I have found to help me deflect those arrows of temptation is 2 Corinthians 10:5b; “we take captive every thought and make it obedient to Christ”.  How challenging is that!!

God knows we are creatures of the flesh.  He knows that we are weak and unable on our own to deny the flesh.  That’s why He first sent Jesus to offer forgiveness, and then sent His Holy Spirit to indwell us.  It is only by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit that we are able to deny our sinful desires.  Learn to lean on Him.  No matter how sinless you may think you are, don’t bank on your own power to resist the devil.  The Bible tells us to “lean not on your own understanding”.

We have an indomitable warrior at our command – the Holy Spirit that lives within us.  We feed Him with our prayer life and the consumption of, and obedience to His Holy Word.  Feed the Spirit or feed the desires of the flesh.  Whichever we choose will determine the direction of our lives.

Until next time, may God bless you and yours and may you be a blessing to someone else.